Updated: Jul 30, 2019
The following is the eleventh post in a series looking closely at the teachings of Robert Henderson found in his book Operating in the Courts of Heaven. I first suggest some theological questions that require answers before the teaching is embraced whole-heartedly, then evaluate the biblical passages used to back-up the teaching.
The five stage process or ‘unbroken chain’ securing salvation?
We have see that the biblical justification for the existence of the heavenly books and council is absent. See links to these posts below. Henderson seems to recognise this when he states that to understand them we must look at Romans 8:29-30. Unfortunately, there is no further justification given. Henderson simply assumes the courtroom model has been established at this point as biblical. Below is an examination of his usage of Romans 8:29-30 for the model and a critique of his conclusions.
Romans 8:29-30 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
According to Henderson Romans 8:29-30 unveils a five-step process on how to identify and birth the intentions of God in the earth. These steps are shown by the words (i) foreknew, (ii) predestined, (iii) called, (iv) justified and (v) glorified.
According to Henderson the first two stages of foreknowledge and predestination refer to the eternal council of God “before time began.” There, outside of time in the eternal realm, the agenda for each individual person, business and nation, etc. was set and recorded. The distinction between the two stages is not made clear.
2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
Citing 2 Timothy 1:9 he concludes that we find our purpose when we discover the grace that has been given for it. This is to say when you enjoy something, are good at it, have success in doing it, and others are influenced by your doing it, you have found your kingdom purpose. This is obviously deficient;
- it gives a superficial answer to the serious problem of finding your kingdom-purpose written in the heavenly book,
- it does not satisfy the text of 2 Timothy 1:9, and
- it fails to provide further justification to the courtroom model.
To the first, if operating in the courtroom of heaven is deemed important, then discovering the contents of the books is equally important. It is pastorally irresponsible to burden a person with the responsibility of finding out what is written about them in their heavenly book with nothing more than the bare instruction and the guidance of identifying what they’re good at and is in their heart through the Holy Spirit. Henderson has obviously provided a superficial answer to an important question that deserves some gravity and depth of thought.
Additionally, consider how Eric Liddell, known more today for the Oscar-winning 1981 biographical film Chariots of Fire than for suffering a lack of basic food and medicine as a missionary during 1943 at the hands of the Japanese in Weihsien Internment Camp. There Liddell gave his life to God in complete surrender; helping the elderly, teaching Bible classes at the camp school, arranging games, teaching science to the children, and with supernatural cheerfulness throughout distinguished himself among all those he was interred with as a follower of Christ. In such a miserable conditions, is it reasonable to believe that he found success, was good at and enjoyed doing all these activities which he came to know as his kingdom purpose? Is it not more plausible that giving himself over to the work of Christ he found himself more cheerful, despite the success or lack of it he attained? It appears that Henderson has gotten the truth of the matter upside-down again.
Second, personal enjoyment, gifting, success and influence only scratch the surface of the ‘holy life’ Christ has saved and called us to. A more penetrating reading here would have taken the complete sentence into account.
2 Timothy 1:10 …but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
A reasonable exegete would have mentioned that the grace that was given them was given in Christ before time began (referring to Christ’s pre-existence, not our predestination or God’s foreknowledge concerning us) and is now revealed in Jesus Christ through his life, death and resurrection. The verse is Christ-centred in its theology: focusing on the person and work of Christ to define the ‘holy life’ rather than our own subjective experiences and shifting priorities. The same Christ-centeredness is true of Romans 8:29 – a follower of Christ should seek to be conformed to the image of his Son
Third, one cannot interpret a text or word by misinterpreting another. Having done nothing to justify the existence of books or the council before time began, he does not establish the courtroom model of prayer with the teaching of this passage; that the call to a holy life and the grace to live it was given to us in Christ before time began.
The called stage is apparently when we begin to discover the contents of the books. This stage is poorly defined and in essence repetitive of the previous two.
The justified stage is where, according to Henderson, the action of the courtroom trial takes place, accusations of the enemy are silenced, and when God makes the judgements with respect to your prayers. This is the most critical stage. For it is the centrepiece to the courtroom model and the essential key to its biblical legitimacy. Unfortunately, Henderson disappoints. The only justification he gives to read this huge amount between the lines is the definition of justified as “to be rendered just or innocent.”
The glorified stage is where the contents of the books are realised; the purpose or destiny is achieved; the answer to prayer provided.
Henderson has given no further clarification, and none of the required justification for the Courtroom model. The question remains, however, on how best to interpret these verses in Romans 8.
The context of the chapter speaks extensively on the action of the Spirit in life, present suffering and future glory. Here is a more fruitful field to plough for a theology of prayer (esp. 8:14-18). The Holy Spirit here is so closely linked to the person of Christ he is actually called the “Spirit of Christ.” (8:9). It is through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross (8:1-3) that we are foreknown, predestined, called, justified and eventually glorified (8:30), and the one qualification for all this depends on whether we put our trust in him (10:4).
Rather than separate events or distinct acts of one after the other, it is better to interpret this verse with the long tradition history of commentators: that this ‘unbroken chain’ of foreknowledge, predestination, being called and justified occurs chronologically simultaneous to each other, and ultimately assures our glorification – which is how we are to be conformed to the image of the resurrected Christ (cf. 8:11).
- Here I refer to his ‘walking the holy life’ as the source of authority instead of one’s sonship by being adopted by God, See Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works? in this series.
- See the previous two posts in this series, The heavenly books, and Heaven’s council
- See this compendium of commentaries for further reading on the tradition history of commentators on this verse. https://www.studylight.org/commentary/romans/8-30.html
In “The Courtroom on Trial?” series of posts, some theological problems with the Courtroom model of intercessory prayer are discussed. These include;
- Is the nature of the Courts of Heaven obscured by the limitations of human language?
- Does the courtroom model suggest God is not the ultimate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest either God is not all-knowing or heaven is imperfect?
- Does the courtroom model suggest Christ’s atoning death on the cross was inadequate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works?
- Does Operating in the Courts of Heaven imply a theological method that prioritises personal experiences over biblical revelation?
Following these the exegetical problems are discussed. These include;
- The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
- The heavenly books
- Heaven’s council
- The five stage process (Romans 8:29-30)
- Simon Peter’s courtroom trial (Luke 22:31-32)
Finally, I provide my own conclusion and recommendations.