Updated: Jul 25, 2019
The following is the sixth 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.
Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works?
The previous post explored whether the Courtroom model implied Christ’s atoning death on the cross was inadequate. This seemed to imply a theology of salvation by works. This is implied also in Chapter 3 of Operating in the Courts of Heaven, when Henderson states,”A legal transaction has no power if it is not executed. . . When someone is saved, it is because of the legalities of what Jesus did on the cross. . . Every legal issue that separated God and man was taken out of the way. . . Notice though that people that are saved have to be ‘reconciled back to God’. They have to legally grab hold of what Jesus did and make it their own. . . We must legally apprehend, for ourselves, what Jesus legally provided for us.”
It is our job, according to the Courtroom model of prayer, “to execute and administrate [God’s] judgement on Earth.”
If applied to Christian living alone, this view is innocuous. We are kingdom people with kingdom lives and kingdom tasks to carry out. If Henderson’s use of the word ‘judgement’ here seems uncomfortable, what he means roughly correlates to God’s desires, or moral commands.
When applied to petitionary prayer, it becomes strange and irregular. Petitionary prayer is usually thought of as a request that God act when you are unable to achieve the outcome alone. We may, with our declaration, agree with his word and judgement on the matter. We may express our gratitude that the ruling was made. We may trust that the matter is safely in God’s hands to resolve. What then but to continue your daily walk with him?
But on the Courtroom model, after being granted the ‘legal precedent’ by the judge you are thrust back into the action. And what are we expected to actually do? What does Henderson think we can accomplish with the legal ruling now obtained? Are we able to do now do what we were previously incapable of? The serious points here are obtaining a legal precedent and being required to execute said judgement represents another example of a bloated ontology; far more things in the universe than are necessary, and petitionary prayer has become a matter of trusting in your own efforts, at least partially, rather than a matter of asking and fully trusting in God to accomplish what you alone cannot.
When applied systematically through the whole of our prayerful activity, including prayers of repentance for salvation from sin, sola fide (the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone) is compromised. This doctrine states the acquisition of our salvation is wholly a work of God’s grace, and we have no merit in obtaining the outcome (Romans 5:1; Gal 2:16; Titus 3:5). Even the one condition of our justification: the faith in our hearts that turned us towards God’s provision, was a gift from God lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4:16; cf. Titus 3:7). So it is his favour, expressed in his will (John 1:13), his word of truth (James 1:18), and his Holy Spirit (John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5) that are the only means of our regeneration.
Contrary to this Henderson states that though Jesus has secured a verdict for our forgiveness and cleansing, we must execute the verdict of the cross (our justification) into place. So instead of the biblical picture, the application of justification becomes up to us. This is a dangerous aberration in orthodoxy which no proper Protestant, and even Catholic, could accept. Yet he goes still further. In interpreting Zechariah 3:1-7 he adds two more agents involved our cleansing; angels and prophets.
Elsewhere he states, “From our walk or conduct in holiness before the Lord, we gain authority in the courts of Heaven. When we walk in a manner worthy of His, Heaven recognises us.”
This definitely takes away from the work of Christ on our behalf. Much better to think our authority is based on the action of Christ and in his gracious gift of authority through adoption; not our walk of holiness. In fact, to be holy is to belong to God. So belonging is upstream and our upright conduct flow on from that downstream. He has ordered his scheme precisely upside-down.
In the remaining posts we will see one of the most concerning problems with the book; the way the scriptures are handled.
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.