Friday, 11 October 2019

Examining Penal Substitutionary Atonement Part 2

Welcome back! This is part 2 in a series taking a critical look at the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement which will end off by offering some more constructive ideas to pursue, if you need to catch up or are not sure what penal substitution is, part 1 can be view by clicking over here.

Logical Objections to Penal Substitution

What I said so far in part 1 might shock some people. On the Apprising Ministries website for example, Ken Silva posted an excerpt from an interview done between Phil Johnson and John MacArthur. They were discussing a quote from a Christian author’s book that also dared to question the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. This was what MacArthur had to say:-

“It sounds like the language of a flat-out anti-Christian pagan atheist mocking the cross of Jesus. That’s mockery. That’s…that’s outright mockery… But this is not even Christian thinking. There’s nothing about looking at the Word of God there. There’s nothing about trying to interpret the Scripture... This is the worst kind of stuff because it sows seeds of doubt in the most fragile…But that’s not even Christianity, that is an attack on Christianity so to call yourself an evangelical and attack the heart and soul of the gospel… That’s not an evangelical viewpoint, that’s a heretic. And that’s…and if you have this mass of ‘professing Christian people’ that make up the large part of the church, the visible church, with no discernment, with no real theological understanding, then this stuff can be very, very seductive to them (1).

I open with this because I realize that some people are going to look at what I have written and have the same knee jerk reaction as MacArthur did to another authors book. I certainly do not feel that I am not attacking the “heart and soul of the gospel” as MacArthur would say when I look at the weaknesses of the penal substitutionary model. As Christians we all affirm that Jesus saves. What we are looking at here though is HOW the atonement is salvific. While we can disagree on this and still be brothers, I believe it is still important to look at because the nature of the atonement has a lot to say about the nature of God Himself. As for me, when I began to meditate on these things, the walls of PST fell like a stack of cards built on an airplane landing strip. In addition to the scriptures mentioned in the previous post and ones that we will still look at, I had several logical objections against PST as well which had no satisfactory answers. Questions like these:-

1 – Does the cross deal with an offended God or with broken man? In Christ’s death and resurrection, who was He healing?
2 – Is it just to punish the innocent while the guilty go free? Would a judge pardon a man sentenced to death because an innocent man volunteered to take his place? What would you think of such a judge if such a scenario had to take place?  Could you call him just?
3 – Can God not freely forgive people? Forgiveness is something God expects of us, it is part of Paul’s definition of love, “love keeps no record of wrongs”. But according to a retributive definition of justice, God cannot freely forgive; He still demands that the debt be paid. Yet Jesus had no problem forgiving people of their sins while He walked the earth. Something here is amiss.
4 - Penal substitution claims that in order for God to satisfy His retributive justice, Jesus had to endure the exact punishment that was due for all of humanity. When we consider His suffering and death, albeit as horrific, excruciating and awful as it was, is it comparable with the whole of humanity throughout all ages (maybe a 100 Billion people) burning in an eternal lake of fire forever and ever? The transaction just does not seem to balance.
5 - It has been stated by some that penal substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse”(2). A Father who delights in the suffering of His only begotten Son at His own hands. While this is an extreme statement to make it is how many people interpret PST. It is incredible how many atheists blog about this as one of the main reasons why they reject Christianity. Are we turning people away from God with our message?
6 – Is Biblical justice retributive or restorative? Consider Zechariah 7:9 in your answer.

“Thus says the LORD of Hosts: Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.”
7 – All ancient religions and pagan deities required a sacrifice (oftentimes one’s own son or a virgin) in order to be appeased. How is God ‘set apart’ from the false gods in PST?
8 – Is sacrifice associated with cleansing or with punishment in scripture?
9 – Can God, who is one(3), ever separate or forsake Himself? Not just in the sense that the Father could not look on the Son but in that there are needs in the Father that are contrary to those found in Jesus. One cannot look on sin, the other is a called a friend of sinners, one seeks to punish, the other seeks to save. How does that work?
10 - If the cross was indeed about satisfying the Father’s wrath, did Jesus succeed? The Bible has much to say about God’s coming wrath, “the day of the Lord” is spoken of throughout scripture. How does it all fit together? Where is the scripture that directly speaks about God pouring His wrath out on His Son?

Penal substitution proof texts

Before we can proceed to what I think is a more accurate understanding of the atonement we still need to look at a few more verses that are used in support of PST. Perhaps you thought of some of them in response to my final question above. The big one that we must address is found in Isaiah 53:10 and it reads:-

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand (4).

This is the go-to verse for penal substitution in the Bible. It is the one and only place where in black and white it seemingly suggests that God found pleasure in executing Jesus and so it is vitally important that we address it here. My first counterpoint would be that the surrounding context, particularly verses 5 through 7, have already told us that it was wicked men who, thinking they were doing God’s work, were responsible for killing Jesus. If “it pleased God to crush Him” is indeed the best translation of this verse (and there is reason to believe otherwise) then surely the idea behind it would not be that God actually took pleasure in the torture and killing of His Son but rather it would better be understood within the concept that Jesus, being offered as our guilt offering, was within the framework of the godheads plan of redemption.

I just mentioned that I believe the words “It pleased God to crush Him” are not the best translation of this verse at all. It is interesting to see how the Septuagint translates this verse bearing in mind that the Septuagint would have been the translation that Jesus and those around Him would have had access to and read from. It is a Greek translation of the Old Testament and is hundreds of years older than the Hebrew texts that our modern Bibles are translated from. This older manuscript reads as follows:-

And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow. If you give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived offspring (5).

This is very different from what the latter Masoretic Text says and lines up beautifully with what Peter said on the day of Pentecost. Wicked men killed Him but God desired to heal Him from His wound and raised Him up again. Many of the early church fathers quoted this verse from the Septuagint translation in their writings as well, Clement of Rome in the Epistle to the Corinthians, Justin Martyr in the First Apology and Dialog with Trypho, Augustine in Harmony of the Gospels and John Chrysostom in Homolies on First Corinthians (6). In light of the older Greek manuscripts, the witness of the early church and the simple rule of thumb in letting scripture interpret scripture, this translation of Isaiah 53:10 seems to be the better of the two.

Jesus dies as a guilt offering

There is something else that we have not considered in Isaiah 53:10 yet as well. The very verse that is quoted to prove PST also contains a severe obstacle to the theory. Verse 10 speaks of an offering for sin, many translations including the NASB, the ESV and the Young’s Literal Translation equate it with the guilt offering described in Leviticus 7. The guilt offering was to be offered when someone had unintentionally profaned something holy. This is interesting because Isaiah 53 says that we thought that God was punishing Jesus when in actuality verse 3 reveals Jesus was despised, rejected and punished by men (7). It is also interesting that this type of offering would normally be associated with profaning the Temple or Tabernacle which both point to Jesus as well (8). In an act that completely went over the heads of the people; Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver and the crowds handed him over to be killed as their guilt offering. Why is this a stumbling block against the popular view of the atonement in today’s Westernized church? I believe it is because if penal substitution were true, then Jesus would have died to cover the Father’s guilt for profaning something holy, His own Son. Those are heavy words worthy of meditation.

In conclusion, I hope that one can see that to doubt PST is not to reject the gospel, it is not an attack on Christianity and it is not a mockery of the cross of Jesus as John MacArthur says. I hope that the points that I have made are at the very least compelling enough to be considered for further reflection. 

1 -
2 -
Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 182, 183.
3 – Deuteronomy 6:4.
4 – New American Standard Version translation used.
5 -
A New English Translation of the Septuagent, Edited by Albert Pitersma and Benjmin G Wright, 2007, Oxford University Press, Inc.
6 –  See Clement of Rome: (Epistle to the Corinthians, Sec. 16), Justin Martyr: (First Apology, Ch 51), Justin Martyr: (Dialog with Trypho, Ch 13), Augustine: (Harmony of the Gospels, Book 1, Section 47) and John Chrysostom: (Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily 38).
7 – Isaiah 53: 3-4.
8 – See John 2:19 and Hebrews 9:11.

Monday, 7 October 2019

A More Christlike Way: A More Beautiful Faith

Roughly four years ago I did a book review on Brad Jersak’s A MoreChristlike God, which was a fantastic work that destroyed the false images of God we have constructed that look more like Zeus or Mars and revealed the true picture of God to us as seeing in Jesus Christ. In this follow up, Brad fleshes out what it looks like to walk in Christ’s footsteps.

To be a good chef, one needs to know more than how to prepare a tasty meal, you need to know what ingredients to combine to best bring out the flavours but it also needs to be presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner as well. Brad, with a pastor’s heart and academic mind, is like a master chef who has successfully managed to bring his readers to the Lord’s Table and say, “taste and see that the Lord is good”. Even though I am well acquainted with his work, I was worried that this may turn into a performance driven, do better and try harder inspirational message that comes out of so many pulpits today. Fortunately that is not the case, using a metaphor from the book, true deconstruction (a word that can make me nervous), is not just about disproving truth claims but about learning to slow down, and be mindful of the way that we use language and the ways in which we discuss and practice truth and meaning. An analogy is used in the book with the way that one would go about restoring a priceless work of art, it may take years of careful work to remove what was not part of the original and bring out what was, but the goal is to restore it, to uncover its original beauty once again.    

A More Christlike Way does that by identifying four counterfeit ways and then through exploring seven facets or aspects of the Jesus Way. The Jesus Way is one that is rooted in love, it is self-emptying (kenosis), cross-carrying and Grace-energized and fleshed out for us in the Sermon on the Mount. A personal standout point for me is the author’s use of the word grace in a much more personal way, he uses it as a name for the Spirit much as many of us are used to using Word as a name for Jesus. Grace has become a more practical word for me because of it, it is not just about been nice and patient with someone but about learning to abide and walk in the Spirit of Father’s divine love. For example, learning to walk in grace and learning to walk in Grace would or could be two different things. This book will help you to walk that path, one of surrender, peacemaking and more in a way that encapsulates what it is to be fully human, embracing the way and participating in the life of the new Adam.

You can find Brad Jersak’s new book, A More Christlike Way on Amazon over here.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Examining Penal Substitutionary Atonement

We (Christians) all agree that the death and resurrection of Jesus somehow made atonement for our sins and reconciles us to God. What we all do not always agree on is how exactly the mechanics behind that works. The idea that God poured His wrath on Jesus when He hung on the cross is one of the most common, and fiercely defended theories held to by most in the church. The fancy name for this is penal substitutionary atonement and to some it is not a theory about how Jesus's death saves us but the gospel itself. I'm not convinced at all though. So I will be sharing a few excerpts from my book, Seeing the Cross with New Eyes here in my next few posts to show why I am not sold on this particular view and then, later I will propose something more in line with what I believe the Bible actually teaches.

Who killed Jesus?

Just as a good question can provoke thought and stimulate conversation, so too can a poor one mislead and steer us off in the wrong direction. Today I want to challenge what has been the predominant atonement theory within the Western church for the last five hundred years. I hope that from looking at scripture and asking some different questions that together we might develop a better understanding of the cross.

The atonement theory which I am speaking of is known by the term penal substitution theory (PST) or penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) and goes something like this. Man’s sin was the cause of a divine dilemma and a dichotomy existed between the love and justice of God in that because of His great love, grace and rich mercy, He desired to forgive us for our sins. Yet because He is also holy and just, the wrong that was done against Him could not go unpunished. On the one side of the coin God wants to redeem us while on the other side He needs to condemn us. PST tells us that God solves this dilemma and satisfies both His love and His justice by imputing our guilt onto Christ and Jesus then, in our place, bears the punishment dished out by the Father that we deserved. At the same time, Christ’s righteousness is then credited to us. This transaction is accepted as a full payment for mankind’s sins and satisfies both the wrath and the righteousness of God. The blood of Jesus assuages the anger of God the Father, the penalty for sin (death) has been paid and God can then forgive us and the relationship between man, Father and Son can be restored.

Although an earlier form of satisfaction theory was first developed and can be seen in the work of the 11th Century scholar Anselm of Canterbury, this view as I have described it above is credited to John Calvin in the 16th Century. It quickly gained popularity among the Reformers and went virtually unchallenged in the Protestant church for over four hundred years until the release of Gustaf Aulen’s book in 1931 called Christus Victor. Even today, many people are simply unaware that alternate understandings of the atonement even exist. Calvin’s ideas have continued to be taught through the ages by men like John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and John Piper (as well as by a whole host of people who are not named John). But before I get into what I believe to be a more plausible view of the atonement, let us examine a little more closely some of the reasons that penal substitution crumbles when its foundations are tested.

So what’s wrong with Penal substitution?

Firstly, I would like to raise some scriptural objections against the theory. One of the main ideas with PST is that God, in His holiness, cannot look upon sin. Habakkuk 1:13 is often quoted (in part) which says:-

You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.

It is even taught that when Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, that the Father had momentarily abandoned His Son. Yet this idea already creates a problem for us in that the Bible teaches us that Jesus is exactly like the Father and reveals His express image to us1. Colossians 1:15 tells us that the Son is the image of the invisible God; that means that God the Father is not a little like Jesus, He is exactly like Jesus! So one has to ask, if the Father cannot look upon sin or at sinners, how can Jesus? Is He less holy that He could befriend tax collectors, Samaritans and prostitutes? Technically speaking, if Jesus was too holy to look upon sin, then He would have had to raise Himself from birth and live somewhere isolated from humans. Jesus was even accused in His day of being a friend of sinners2. So which picture of God the Father is true? The one that PST gives us or the one revealed in Jesus? Going back to the Garden of Eden, who was it who hid from whom and who was it who sought the other out? In reality, scripture IS the story of God dealing with and seeking out fallen humanity. Yes, there was a veil that separated God’s manifest presence from people living under the old covenant but that was for their sakes, not God’s. In Luke 15 where we read the parable of the lost son Jesus portrays God as a Father who runs toward his returning son and greets him with kisses and an engulfing hug. This son would have been covered in dirt, the smell of pigs still emanating strongly from his body and clothes, something that would have repulsed Jesus’ Jewish listeners. Even so, the external would have been nothing in comparison to the internal mess the son had made for himself. Yet the father ran to him, he rejoiced and celebrated, not in private but by throwing a party with loud music and food.

So let’s revisit those two scriptures where God appears to turn His head away from His Son and see if we can view them with new eyes in a way that helps us to see things differently. As a reminder, the first verse that I mentioned was Habakkuk 1:13 which said:-

  You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.

That may seem like a pretty solid case for PST except that it is not what the whole verse actually says, this is the whole of verse 13:-

You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?

The context of Habakkuk 1:13 is around the prophets dismay at what was going on in his day. The wicked were prospering at the expense of the poor and the righteous. Habakkuk was crying out to God asking Him why God who is holy was seemingly sitting by idly and letting this happen. God’s answer to Habakkuk reveals that He was at work all along just not in the way that the prophet might have expected Him to be. In truth, God sees everything; in the opening chapter of Job He even has a conversation with Satan. Verse 6 says that there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD and that Satan ‘also came among them’. If there was anyone you think that God could not look at, it would be him.

The other verse to look at is Matthew 27:46 where Jesus famously uttered the words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Many believe that the Father briefly turned His back on His Son in the moment that our sins were laid on Him. Jesus becomes the picture of God’s love while the Father becomes the image of God’s justice and wrath. However, if we fail to realize that Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22 when He hung on the cross we are certain to miss the intention behind His words.

David’s Psalm is clearly about Jesus, verse 1 is the sentence that Jesus quoted on the cross, verses 7 and 8 reveal that the Christ would be derided by His enemies which is what we see in Luke 23:35, verse 16 says that His hands and feet would be pierced and verse 18 predicts that lots would be cast for His clothes. It is after verse 18 though that the tone of David’s Psalm turns from one of despair to hope and praise. It is verse 24 in particular that I want to highlight.

“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard”.

We can be sure that Jesus knew the rest of David’s Psalm when He quoted the first verse from the cross; including verse 24, many of those around Him would have known it as well. In fact, the very next thing that Jesus uttered was a confident, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”3. To drive this home, just before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He would be arrested, Jesus predicted in John 16:32 that His disciples would all soon leave Him but that He would NOT be forsaken by the Father!

“Indeed the hour is coming, yes, and now has come, that you will all be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet, I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”

This is why Paul could say that “God was IN Christ reconciling the world to Himself”4. Jesus reflected the Father’s image on the cross just as He did in the rest of His life. One can speculate as to why Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross, perhaps the reality of what was happening reminded Him of David’s words or perhaps He said it to encourage those around Him. Maybe it was simply said to fulfill what was written? Whatever the reason, we can with confidence declare that there were no conflicts of interest within the Godhead at work but rather complete union between Father and Son in every moment just as there always has been. He was not alone because the Father was with Him.
God was actively involved in the redemptive work of the cross.
The idea that the purpose of the cross was to appease the wrath of God could lead one to conclude that the death of Christ primarily satisfied a need in the Father but the Bible tells us a different story. John 3:16 does not say “For God was so angry…” but rather “For God so loved…” This verse tells me that the atonement was about something other than wrath appeasement. It was neither divine child abuse nor the actions of a neglectful parent abandoning His child but rather a rescue mission that the Trinity undertook in order to save as many as would believe. “For God so loved that He killed…”? No, Peter makes it abundantly clear in Acts chapter 2 that wicked men killed Him (Jesus) but God raised Him up5. “For God so loved the world that He gave…”? Yes, He knew what would happen as did Jesus but this was a price that they were willing to pay to bring us back into union with them. 

This is why Paul says that God was IN Christ reconciling the world to Himself6.
Isaiah 50:6-9 tells us a similar story of Father and Son together on the cross:-

I gave my cheeks to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help Me; Therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed. He is near who justifies Me, who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near Me. Surely the Lord God will help Me

Interestingly, the punishment that Jesus suffered on the cross that we have attributed to God in the penal view of the atonement; scripture not only flips on its head and attributes to man but actually predicts that we would think that it God was doing it! Not only that but we also preach that God hid His face when Jesus cried out while scripture once again says that it was us who hid our faces from Him! Isaiah 53:3-5 says the following:-

He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him; and by His stripes we are healed.

Jesus, speaking to the chief priests and the elders in Luke 22:53 described the crucifixion as “your hour, and the power of darkness”. God in the persons of the Father and the Son is not both the punisher and the punished, the violent and the sufferer, the killer and the martyr. Far from it! He is the Savior and the Lamb, the Afflicted and the Healer, the Martyred one who conquers death and rose from the grave!

In my next post we will continue to explore PSA.

1 – Hebrews 1:3.
2 – Matthew 11:19.
3 – Luke 23:46.
4 - 2 Corinthians 5:19.
5 – Acts 2:23-24.
6 – 2 Corinthians 5:19.

Friday, 4 October 2019

The Lord’s Supper According to John

"Hey Wesley, where have you been?"
I'm glad you asked, in order for me to focus on my next book the blog had to take a temporary back seat for a while but the good news I can tell you is that I have just completed the first draft of that book. So I have good intentions of posting more frequently here again. And as luck would have it, one of my friends who is part of our little house church, asked me if he could write a guest post on my blog. So the below is not from me but from my good friend Tim Sheasby, sharing some personal insights into the Lords Supper. Enjoy.

Well, everyone knows that John does not describe the establishment of the Lord’s supper. That is left up to the other gospel writers but there are still a few lessons to be learned from John. We know about how Jesus washed his disciples feet in the face of their personal opposition. You might recall how Jesus gave a new commandment – that we love one another. How did he put it? “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14).

But the lesson I want to share here is about the fruit of the vine. In the short period between the upper room, where Jesus had just shared the supper with his disciples, and Gethsemane, we find Jesus’ discourse about the vine and the branches. An in-depth study of this discourse in the first part of John 15 can teach us many lessons about our relationship with Jesus but there is one special thing I want to focus on here. That is the simple fact that Jesus identifies himself as the vine. And this identity of Christ as the vine relates directly to the communion he had just shared with his disciples (though not discussed directly in John’s gospel). Remember, in the other gospels, we read that Jesus took a cup of wine – the fruit of the vine – and declares “this is my blood”.

You see the fruit of the vine is important, not because of what it is, whether grape juice or wine, but because of where it comes from! In the same way Jesus' blood is not important because it is blood but because of where it comes from! It is because it is Jesus’ blood. It is the fruit of the vine – and He is the vine. To have access to the life giving blood of Jesus we have to be attached to the vine. We have to be “in Christ”
(2 Corinthians 5:17). But then as branches of the vine we produce fruit – the fruit of the vine. It becomes our job to share the blood of Christ with the lost around us or we become like the branches that need to be pruned and ultimately cut off and burned. We need to be proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

We are His body, signified by the bread of His supper and His lifeblood, the fruit of the vine sustains and cleanses us. Praise God for this most wonderful of gifts – the promise of our eternal life.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Praying in Jesus’ Name (what it actually means)

Of late I have been invited to a few churches and when I can, I generally say yes and go along. Now some things can always feel a little strange when visiting another church because they each have their own unique little quirks and ways of doing things. One thing that seems to be almost universal though is to hear people signing off their prayers with the words “in Jesus name, amen” or the slightly more formal, “this we pray in the name of Jesus, amen”. This is probably normal for you too but I always notice it because it is a habit our own little assembly fell out of a few years ago and so I don’t hear it as much anymore.

I think that when most people pray this way, it’s simply an unconscious habit that has been formed over the years and I am not against having some sort of ‘sign off’ when praying publicly either. We have all sat through those moments during corporate prayer with our eyes closed wondering, are we done yet? Discreetly opened our eyes to see 4 people still deep in prayer, one scratching his nose and 2 others staring at their phones. Once when one of my kids were still small they ended a prayer by saying, “the end”. I found it quite amusing but that didn’t quite sound right either so a hearty “amen” is both good and helpful in moments like those and if you still prefer the “in Jesus’ name, amen” then by all means continue as you were (but know that it means more as we will get too).

Beyond sign offs and habit though, I suspect that many people use the, “in Jesus’ name” mantra almost like it’s a magic formula used to make our prayers extra powerful and force God to sit up, take notice and honor our requests. The proof text for this would be John 16:23 where Jesus said, “If you ask the Father for anything He will give it to you in my name”. To share a little bit of my background, I attended mostly charismatic churches growing up where “in Jesus’ name” was a phrase that was probably repeated after every second or third sentence that was prayed, mixed in with some ‘binding the devils’ and ‘pleading the bloods’ for good measure. This kind of prayer taught me to ‘pray hard’ and try to stir up enough faith within myself that my words would break through to God and come to fruition.

Another Perspective

I’d like to suggest that one can pray in Jesus name without actually muttering the words at all. Rather than repeating a phrase, I believe that to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray a prayer that Jesus Himself would have prayed. Think for a moment about how people used to send messages to one another, maybe a king had a decree to share with his people or with another kingdom. To do so he would send out a man under his authority who would speak on his behalf. Ambassadors do the same thing today when, they do not speak for themselves but on behalf of the countries or organizations that they represent. Another example might be one who has been granted power of attorney to handle another person’s estate. In all of these examples the person represents someone else or something else speaking and acting on their behalf. The goal is never to use the authority given to them for selfish gain but to accurately represent another’s interests. If someone handling another’s affairs makes a decision, it is as if the person they represent themselves had made the decision and the outcome should honor and reflect that persons wishes. If a person speaks on behalf of a king, it is received as if the king himself had uttered the words in line with his will.

In other words, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray a prayer that you could imagine Jesus Himself praying to the Father. It is more than just willy-nilly supplications made in prayer or a prayer you might have repeated before every meal for the past thirty years. It is to approach prayer thoughtfully, considering Jesus’ heart first. Does my prayer line up with how Jesus lived? Does it reflect His kingdom focused agenda? Does it bless others and exalt God? To pray fruitfully is similar to been a good ambassador or a good power of attorney. One needs to know the mind and heart of the one that they represent in order to do a good job of it. This is why John said in 1 John 5:14:

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

This then is the key to developing a meaningful prayer life. Let it be more than a one way line of communication. Spend time with God, think about what matters to Jesus, let the things that move His heart move yours and provoke you to actions beyond words, try this and your prayer life will be transformed.

Friday, 5 July 2019

What is Hell?

It has been rather quiet over here on my blog but that does not mean that I have not been busy, I have been hard at work on a new book and am making good progress. Hopefully I will have some news on that project for everyone around about the end of the year. But for now, I wanted to tell everyone about Jeremy Myers' latest book that I was fortunate enough to write the afterword for (Brad Jersak wrote the foreword). For anyone who is interested in the subject of hell, it really is unique in much of its content. He does a great job of documenting how the traditional notion of hell developed over time and shows how warped much of our thinking has become in contrast to what the Bible actually has to say about hell.

While the book does touch on the three main views of hell, it primarily argues that the bulk (not all) of the verses that people generally use in discussing hell have nothing to do with the afterlife at all but rather, in their context, are specifically concerned with how to avoid 'hell on earth' in this life. Some of the arguments are quite insightful and persuasive making this a challenging and thought provoking read. Without sharing too much though, I thought that I would just share what I wrote at the end of the book with everyone instead. Here it is:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven – Jesus of Nazareth

Have you ever heard the old Johnny Cash song entitled No earthly good? It is a song about people who become so focused on heaven as an afterlife destination that they essentially neglect the present hellish realities that are all around us. One becomes so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. The lesson that we can take from it is that we can be very spiritual, invest our time in prayer, in church meetings, in studying the Bible and more but end up leaving the world behind with little evidence that we were ever here or made a difference while we were on it.

This is not the kind of Christianity that we see lived out in the pages of Scripture though. Jesus and those who followed Him early on had a bit of a reputation for been troublemakers. Not because they got up to mischievous acts but because they tended not to toe the line very well. They saw brokenness in the world, in the systems around them and in the people who were victims of it all and they chose to stand up and fight against it.

When Christ taught His disciples to pray as quoted above, He did not encourage them with the future hope of heaven but rather challenged them to bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. “Your kingdom come” has nothing to do with church real estate; rather it is a declaration of war against the kingdom of darkness, it is heaven invading earth with the knowledge that the gates of hell will not be able to stand up against the churches attacking army. Yet this is no ordinary army, most armies bring with them calamity upon the lands and peoples affected by them resulting in hunger, poverty and destruction. The soldiers of Christ though lay down their own lives sacrificially for others, instead of capturing they release, rather than oppress they set free. And instead of bringing death they bring life. Jesus, reading from Isaiah, once said the following:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. (Luke 4:18-19).

The more one thinks about it the more you realize that this was not just His mission on earth but the calling for all of those who belong to Him as well. It is our privilege to continue the work that Jesus started here on earth of serving the poor, participating in the healing process where we find brokenness, setting the captives free and proclaiming our LORD to those who are surrounded and entrapped by darkness.

Yes, the implications of trusting in Jesus for eternal life or refusing that gift extend far beyond the few short years that we are given before our bodies will one day be laid to rest. But the good news is that eternal life starts now in the present. The kingdom of God which began like a small mustard seed is growing day by day here on earth, light is overcoming the darkness and as it spreads the kingdom of hell is forced to relinquish ground and retreat. This is a battle that we are winning.

My hope for this book is that it will help to shed light on many of the myths that people have been led to believe surrounding hell and ultimately around God Himself. By properly contextualizing some key verses and understanding various words oftentimes associated with hell and punishment, we can learn to trust that God is indeed good. And it is because of His love for us that He warns us about the dangers of a life lived apart from His ways and guidance. When we fall off the rails, we don’t need to hide from God in the bushes like Adam and Eve tried to do, we know that the safest place in the world will be to run directly into His waiting arms where we will find love, mercy and help. This is what I take from Jeremy’s book and what I hope that you will find in its pages as well.

You can grab a copy of What is Hell? On Amazon by clicking over here.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

One Way Christians Can Vote

The general elections are once again just around the corner here in South Africa and as I do every four years, I go through a bit of an inner-struggle as to how or even if, I should make my voice heard on the big day. The Bible is pretty clear when it uses words like ‘gospel’, ‘lord’, ‘savior’ and ‘king’, words that were in there day, loaded with political meaning, that the Christ and the kingdom that He was ushering in would not just serve as a better version of previous kingdoms with improved ideologies; rather, it would provide a complete alternative that ran counter to all other kingdoms. Unlike the kingdoms of the world, His kingdom would not be concerned with material wealth or drunk with power, nor would it be associated with war, lying, greed or oppression.

Kingdom Conflict

Although we are told to live peaceably, pray for and obey our world’s leaders as far as possible, Scripture often portrays the worlds systems in a negative light, Paul said that our struggle is not against people but against rulers, the authorities, the dark powers in this world as well as spiritual entities opposed to the will of God (Ephesians 6:12). John said that the whole world lies under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19). Peter and the author of Hebrews speak of us as citizens of a heavenly kingdom who are ‘foreigners’ and ‘exiles’ among the nations (Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 1:17, 2:11).

In the end Jesus was killed for treason (John 19:12), a charge laid against Paul as well (Act 17:5-8) and that was kind of the pattern that was set until the time of Constantine when the Roman Empire invited the church into its bed initiating a shift where the church stopped carrying its cross and exchanged it for a sword. To quote from Tobie’s blog over at Natural Church:

Secular governance is a type of temporal governance allowed and sanctioned by God for the sake of the nations during this dispensation while the spiritual aspect of God’s Kingdom is being established in the hearts of regenerate people. When you mix the two you give the church a type of power that it was never supposed to have, and you give the state a sense of spirituality that it was never supposed to have.

To put it another way, you cannot marry light and darkness, you cannot serve two masters. The church in Constantine’s time made the mistake and succumbed to the temptation that Jesus had declined in the wilderness. When the church assumes leadership of a kingdom recognizable by lines that have been drawn in the sand, it has forgotten its mission of establishing a kingdom that is neither here nor there (Luke 17:21) but everywhere and in everyone who is under the lordship of Christ regardless of their color, culture or location. Moreover, the kingdom of God cannot be established through the use of power, it cannot be voted in democratically and it cannot maintain peace and order through rules and regulations. This is the internal struggle that I mentioned going through personally at the start of this post, it is the undesirable obligation to vote for the least ungodly candidate or party in order to minimize damage and hope that some good may come of their unlikely victory.
Now I am well aware that there are many parties selling themselves as Christian parties and I mean no disrespect to them nor am I questioning their intentions or motives. But I seriously wonder what a ‘Christian Party’ would look like should one ever come into power. Will it look like Catholicism burning its enemies at the stake or will it look like the early Protestants executing those that they deemed to be heretics, both acting under the authority of the state? Maybe, and it is a very big maybe, they will pay more attention to the teachings of Jesus and resist the appeal to exercise authority and control over others (Matthew 20:25), perhaps they would dismantle the country’s military and start practically loving those who call themselves their enemies (Matthew 5:44), perhaps they would start sending food and water into countries who they have bad relations with (Romans 12:20). Maybe one of the major policy shifts they would make would be to close all prisons in the country and institute something more in line with the restorative justice seen under the Mosaic Law where offenders had to make right with those whom they had stolen from (see Exodus 21:28-36 for example)? Maybe they would make it illegal for banks to borrow money to a citizen and charge interest on it (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)?
Someone once wisely noted that if you mix church and politics who just end up with politics. Yet the Bible seems to make a case for the existence of governments, serving a function as God’s tool to protect people, punish evil doers, maintain order, collect taxes and more (Romans 13). Yet the church should have eyes with a bigger calling in view, we should be acting as ambassadors for a different kingdom and telling people of a better way of doing things, we should be communicating a better way of living, we should be telling them of a king that they can put their full trust in. This does not mean that the church need be silent to the corruption, violence and social injustices of governments. We are blessed to have had men like Martin Luther King who stood up against racial injustice, men like William Wilberforce who played such a crucial role in bringing slavery to an end in England and, more closer to home, Desmond Tutu speaking of forgiveness and unity at a time when South Africa was transitioning out of the apartheid era and everyone was fearing the worst. Let them inspire us to continue speaking out against wars, against abortion and against those who are destroying the planet and irresponsibly using up its resources. But let us use the tools given to us by Christ and throw down those methods employed by the world.
I will be heading out next week to cast my vote, but I will be voting with my head rather than my Bible. Because in government I expect a party to rule well in how they utilize the money they collect. I’m hoping that someone will come in who provides more jobs and can improve the economy. I am hoping that crime levels will decline and that corruption will finally be dealt with. I am hoping that Eskom can find a way to keep our lights on 24 hours a day without resorting to ridiculous price hikes for consumers. But I am not expecting the government to share my Christian convictions or carry them out on our behalf. How can they? They are responsible for building a nation unlike the global one that we are called to advance. I cannot end off any better than in the eloquent words of Stanley Hauerwas:
“The church does not exist to provide an ethos for any other form of social organization, but stands as a political alternative to every nation, witnessing to the kind of social life possible for those that have been formed by the story of Christ.”