Saturday, 28 November 2015

Destined for the Throne, by Paul E. Billheimer

'By these means God has exalted redeemed humanity to such a sublime rank that it is impossible for Him to elevate them any further without bringing them into the Godhead itself.'

Destined for the Throne is a book I have read several times. I first read a battered copy of the original edition and then later bought the revised edition that was published after the author's death. This is one of the most encouraging books I have ever read, as it underlines the power of prayer and the glorious future of God's people.

This book has been the target of fundamentalist heresy hunters, which led to the cleaned-up edition that tones down some of the more radical statements in the first edition. In the first edition, Billheimer says something along the lines of believers being destined to become 'little gods,' which is absolutely true, but is a pretty toxic thing to say in Evangelical circles. More problematically, some of his ideas about prayer come close to those of the Word-Faith movement and the "name it, claim it" brigade on TBN. Yet even in my fundamentalist days, I could see that despite a few objectionable notions, Billheimer had caught on to a deeper and richer truth about the church than most Christians seemed to possess.

The late Paul Billheimer argued in this book that the highest destiny awaits redeemed human beings. They are to be exalted above the angels and to be partners with Christ in governing the entire universe. In the revised edition, he avoids calling redeemed human beings 'gods' but had he kept that word, it would have been Scriptural given that the angels are called gods in Psalms and the saints will be glorified above the angels. Billheimer also took an high view of the church. He argued that the formation of the Bride of the Christ as the celestial partner and co-ruler is the goal of all history and the entire purpose of the universe. Billheimer did not indicate that he takes the Scotist view of the incarnation, but he comes close and his ideas fit neatly with the Primacy of the Incarnation.

Moving from this eschatological understanding of the church, Billheimer argued that through prayer, Christians are being prepared for the government of the universe. He explains that it is God's purpose to make believers His partners in ruling and so has deputized to the church the outworking of His power. In other words, God only does what the church asks Him to do. At times, our author uses some awkward language about God being 'helpless' without prayer, but this should not be understood as God lacking the power. Rather, the divine economy makes use of prayer as the means (to use a Calvinistic phrase) of God accomplishing His purposes. I think this idea is not incompatible with an high view of sovereignty, despite the author being a Wesleyan. He got himself into a bit of a theological tangle with his idea that prayer is the determining factor in whether a person becomes a Christian or not (as opposed to both free-will and divine predestination).

Destined for the Throne takes an high view of praise and worship. Billheimer points out the image in the Psalms of the universe as a cosmic choir of praise. He views praise as a way to establish our faith and to identify ourselves with the victory of Christ. This reminded me of the value of our Liturgy of the Hours, which combines the praise of the Psalms with intercessory prayer.

Apart from the role of the church in the consummation, Billheimer does not get into the details of eschatology. I think his views would complement an optimistic Postmillennial eschatology that sees the victory of God's church in history through the power of prayer and intercession.

It would have been nice if Billheimer had been a Catholic and so able to connect his ideas to the heavenly intercession of the saints and the cosmic queenship of Our Lady. In terms of praxis, he recommends congregations to establish a planned program of prayer meetings, as might be expected from a revivalistic evangelical. Catholics have better things with the rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours and above all, the mass. However, it would be nice to see more parishes offering matins and vespers as a means of participation in corporate prayer.

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