Monday, 3 October 2016

Patmos – Baxter Kruger book review




Although I have visited C.Baxter Kruger’s blog before, this was the first time that I have read one of his books. The book description for Patmos really grabbed my attention and was enough for me to break my sabbatical from blogging to pick it up and to do a review of it; the novel is about a guy named Aiden (from modern North America) who somehow lands up in a cave on Patmos with the apostle John for company. What follows are three days of conversations and experiences that will forever change his theological views and his relationship with God.

There are several conversational topics that are brought up along the way, from John’s explanations of his own gospel and the book of Revelation to what he insists are poorly translated texts in Aiden’s modern English Bible. Many of the conversations that we are invited to share in are amazingly beautiful simply because of the centrality and emphasis of Christ in all of them. My personal favorite chapter deals with the nature of the Trinity which was highly insightful but then again what else would you expect from someone who runs a website called http://perichoresis.org/? The main emphasis in Patmos though is the idea of separation verses union. Did God in Christ reconcile the world to Himself or is mankind still separated from God but now able to find our way back home? That statement can be interpreted and misinterpreted in numerous ways and it probably will be by many readers. Many will no doubt read universalism into it which the book sometimes did seem to imply even though it never directly speaks of it.

One cannot help but draw comparisons with The Shack when reading Patmos. The concept is similar in that you have this story taking place in a remote place where a guy has this supernatural encounter resulting in a lengthy dialogue that turns the persons world upside down. The story is also used as a means to share certain truths about God (and destroy some false ones) which, on a personal note, I believe to be a powerful and underused method for teaching. I think that it is so easy to take a ‘left brained’ approach to God and systematically put all of our ideas into these neat little boxes that we can make sense of. But fictional works like Patmos and The Shack are probably closer to Jesus’ own style of teaching people about God and about kingdom living. Many of the red letters in the New Testament are found within the parables told by Christ Himself so there is definitely something special about conveying theological truths through the means of stories.

One of the small criticisms that I have is that even readers with a bit of a Charismatic background like myself might find it hard to keep up with the amount of dreams, visions and mystical experiences that are crammed into the three days which cover John and Aiden's time together. I found myself making a conscious decision to not think about it too much and chalk it off to a tool for the author to keep the story flowing and moving in the direction that he wanted it to go in. But let me emphasize that even if you disagree with the author on some of his ideas, Patmos contains so many wonderful ideas and truths that have for the most part been forgotten by the Western church at large, that one would be hard pressed to read it and not be touched by something of the beauty of Christ in it. I really did enjoy Patmos; it is more than just a novel in that it will have you chewing on the theology behind it just as much as the story within it. I love how it portrays the gospel as the news that Jesus is not just some accessory that we add on to our lives but rather it is the good news that He has received us into His own life. Our oneness with Christ and the oneness enjoyed between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as seeing in John 14 and 15 is perhaps my favorite portions of scripture and Baxter’s book expounds on this theme in such a way that you cannot help but excited about it. I highly recommend giving it a read.

You can learn more about the book or buy it by clicking over here and you can connect with the author on Twitter by clicking here.




I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Book update

Hi all

Just a quick message to those of you who have come here looking for new posts only to see that nothing new has been uploaded recently. The reason for this is that I have being working on my book on the cross again. I am pleased to say that the first draft has finally been completed and that I have started work on the second draft already. I am trying to keep the momentum going while it lasts but I am sure that I will be back here adding new content again soon.

Blessings.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

What is sound doctrine?



I am a theology nerd. If you want to have an awkwardly silent conversation with me just ask me about what I do for a living, tell me about your car’s engine and your new shiny phone or bring up some celebrity gossip. I just can’t bring myself to get excited about 'normal' things but ask me about how chiastic structures within scripture influences our hermeneutics (please do, I’m still waiting for this to happen at a party) and my face will light up and we will chat all through the night. So theology is important to me, it effects how we view God, how we view the world and how we treat others. And don't misunderstand what follows either, sometimes we need to correct people who are clearly teaching things that are in error and could cause division and harm down the road.

But I want to focus today specifically on what the Bible speaks about when it refers to sound doctrine which is a bit more specific than theology as a whole. About 9 years back I was in a church that believed its mission was to re-indoctrinate the church with our specific brand of fundamentalism. Right belief (orthodoxy) for us was more important than anything else, perhaps even more so than right living (orthopraxy). Of course this was not openly admitted, I’m not sure people were even aware of it but it was nevertheless evident in our fruits. This was what I thought of when I thought about sound doctrine. But let me shock you and state right at the beginning that sound doctrine has nothing to do with our opinions about Calvinism, our view of eschatology or what we think about dispensationalism. When the authors of scripture wrote about sound doctrine they did not have baptism or the cessationism in mind either. One friend of mine with a similar background says that his old church leaders complained that “when people start talking about love sound doctrine goes out of the window”. It is a common perception that sound doctrine refers to ones intellectual confessions apart form their actual lifestyles. So here is a statement of my own, when people start talking about love we are starting to discover what sound doctrine really is.

Let me explain by looking at scripture itself, many people call the Paul's letters to Titus and Timothy the Pastoral Epistles, if you are familiar with my ecclesiology then you are probably aware that I would disagree. I actually think that Titus and 1 Timothy in particular would better be known as the ‘Sound Doctrine’ epistles. Let’s look at some of the content from each epistle to see why I say that.

 In Titus chapter 2, Paul starts us off with these words:-

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

let me emphasize that at this point, Paul does not see a squirrel, put down his pen and run off after it, coming back hours later to continue with a new train of thought. No, Paul spells out the things that Titus should be training and teachings others that is in accord with sound doctrine. Verse 2 - 5 carries on:-

"Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

I hope that caused you to sit up straight, Paul is not talking about the qualifications of elders here but about what is important pertaining to sound doctrine. He mentions things like self-control, love, purity and kindness. One would expect Paul, of all people, to get into things like the atonement and the sovereignty of God, instead he continues on in the same manner, telling Titus to encourage the young men to be self-controlled and to be an example to them by doing good, showing integrity and so on. He even goes as far as telling him to teach the slaves to honor God by honoring and submitting to their masters. Paul then wraps up the chapter on sound doctrine by giving us the ‘why’ of it:-

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach." - Titus 2:11-15



Let me give credit where it is due, much of what I picked up above came from an excellent article written by Keith Giles on the same topic. But let me share a little extra from 1 Timothy as well.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. – 1 Timothy 1:3-7

From here onward Paul shares a little bit about things that are contrary to sound doctrine. Interestingly, he does not bring up either evolution or young earth creationism. Rather, he mentions things like ungodliness, sin, profanity, violence, sexual immorality and so on (see verses 8-10). The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to the saving grace and mercies of Christ and how THIS belief deliveries us from all forms of ungodliness. The next 4 chapters lay out much of what was covered in Titus chapter 2, the importance of prayer, modest dress, submission, self –control etc etc. This continues on until we get to chapter 6:3 where Paul starts to wrap up, he starts off this section with these words:-

Teach and urge these things.  If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. – 1 Timothy 6:3-5

Then again in verse 20 and 21:-

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you.

Wow. Doesn’t this change everything? I think I want to be a fundamentalist again and start pushing doctrine. But this time, it will be different; I’m not going to impose my philosophies on others and anathema those who disagree with me. This time, I am going to encourage others to good works, toward holiness and to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This time, I will look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 differently:-

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (not for a good college education but) for teaching, for reproof, for correction (toward right living), and for training (not in self righteousness but) in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped (not for recognition as a spiritual guru but for) every good work.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Jesus ruling with an iron rod – Bible translations gone wild





“...and He will rule the nations with a rod of iron” - Revelation 19:15

Perhaps it is because of how we use this phrase in modern language but whenever I have read this verse in the past I had this image in my head of some communist dictator just blasting anyone for the slightest of offenses. It always seemed so at odds with who Jesus is as revealed elsewhere in scripture. One could say the same thing about much of the book of Revelation actually. But as I have stated elsewhere, I believe that my previous understanding of the book of Revelation was deeply flawed and that, when read in the right way, it actually fits very well with what we read of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Much of the violent imagery in Revelation is actually written in a way as to purposefully contrast the violent ways of Babylon and the dragon with the nonviolent way of the Lamb (which is the title most often used of Jesus in Revelation). Consider for example the first part of the same verse I am discussing where it says that “From His mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations” and also 2 verses earlier how He rides in to battle with a “robe dipped in blood”. I see two choices here; one could ignore everything that Jesus previously said about loving ones enemies or about those who live by the sword and go with a violent interpretation of Jesus. Or one could recognize the same Jesus who conquers by laying down His own life (Rev 5:6-13) and realize that the blood on His clothes is His own (remember He is riding into battle) that was shed for His enemies and recognize that the sword is not in His hand but rather in His mouth, making it more likely a symbolic gesture that He wages war with the truth of His words rather than a literal sword gripped between His teeth.  

So what do I make of Him ruling with an iron rod then? Does Jesus finally give up on the good shepherd act for the superior way of a harsh overlord? You probably already figured that I am of the “Good shepherd” persuasion but allow me explain why. Firstly, the rod of iron mentioned here is believed by many scholars to be referring to a shepherd’s staff. To quote Eldred Echols from his commentary on Revelation entitled, “The Dragon’s Defeat”, “The crook is used to control the sheep. The hook was used to pull the sheep back into line”. This idea has support in Micah 7:14 which says “Feed my people with thy rod” in the KJV or as the NLT puts it, “Protect your people with your shepherd’s staff”. One is also reminded of Psalm 23:4 which says, “Your rod and your staff comfort me”; Psalm 23 is also of course the famous “The Lord is my shepherd” chapter.  The idea of iron might just be symbolic of strength or truth as it is occasionally used elsewhere in the Bible. But what makes this interpretation most compelling is the fact that the Greek does not actually say “RULE the nations with a rod of iron” but rather “SHEPHERD the nations with a rod of iron”. It is the same word we see in John 21:16 where Jesus says to Peter “FEED my sheep”. It is used again in Acts 20:28 where it says, “FEED and shepherd God’s flock”. In 1 Peter 5:2 again it is translated as “CARE for the flock that God has entrusted to you.” There are other similar examples in scripture as well but the point is clear.



Once I had discovered this I started to look up the Greek words in other verses where I could remember the word ‘rule’ or ‘ruler’ popped up. I remembered Jesus’ words to His disciples that the rulers of the gentiles like to lord and exercise authority over others. I remembered in John 12 where it said that Satan was the ruler of this world. The few verses I looked up with the word ‘rule’ in them all had different Greek words to the one used in Revelation 19. I subtitled this post Bible translations gone wild because this discovery was made during a Bible study and the 4 translations that we were working with all read “rule with a rod of iron”. Later on I discovered that only 5 out of 23 translations that I could find used the word shepherd rather than rule. One can only assume that the popular violent interpretation of the chapter as a whole as well as influence of past translations may have influenced the translators  to say ‘rule’ rather than ‘shepherd’ in most cases.



Despite my protests, one does however have to acknowledge the idea of wrath and judgement in the context of verse 15 as well but not at the expense of letting go of the God who also gave us the Sermon on the Mount. Understanding wrath as a handing over of someone to their own destructive ways (see Romans 1:26 and Isaiah 1:31) and viewing chapter 19:15 in light of chapter 16:6 we can see that evil has a way of destroying itself. The hugely anticipated battle in Revelation 19 is rather disappointing if you are looking for some action when you realize that God wins the war without a single shot actually being fired. Chapter 5:5 tells us that the battle has already been won on the cross. One of the central points John is trying to make in the book is that we don’t fight like the world does but rather we are victorious in imitating the Lamb.

And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony (martyrdom). And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. – Revelation 12:11

So if you are like me and this verse puzzled you in the past then take comfort, He is still the same yesterday, today and forever. Even in Revelation.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The "What if" question everyone has about nonviolent resistance.



Whenever the topic of nonviolence is mentioned in a conversation there is a question that without fail will always come up, the wording may vary but it will always be something along the lines of, “But what if someone had to break into your house and threaten your family?” It is a natural question to ask because everybody wants to keep their loved ones safe from potential harm and while I imagine that there are thousands of people out there better qualified to answer this question than I am I will nevertheless try to answer it first by using a simple illustration and then by looking at an example from the life of Jesus as well.

Imagine for a moment that there was a man who had two children, he loved both of them dearly despite their flaws and shortcomings. Imagine that one night the two kids got in to a fight and one pulled a gun out on the other. What would the father do? Would violence against the aggressor be his only option or might he try something else? No doubt he would first try to calm the situation down hoping that no one would end up getting hurt. His concern would be for not only the son whose life was in immediate danger but also for the son whose life was in danger of forever being ruined were he to pull the trigger. There might even be some physical restraint exercised in the ordeal but certainly the priority would be that no harm would come to either son. If the trigger were to be pulled the father might even resort to stepping in front of the bullet himself, giving his life to save another.

The big difference between the initial question that I asked and the story that I set up is that I made it personal by making the aggressor part of the family. No longer was the perpetrator faceless but we gave him an identity and value in the fathers eyes. Doesn’t our Father in heaven value all people in a similar manner? As humans we simply cannot know every person on earth so intimately and affectionately, we all have our favorites that we would do anything for, the people whom we have close bonds with. But God is not limited in the ways that we are, He knows each one of us by name. God saw us while we were still being formed in the womb; He can look at all mankind and say that He desires that none would perish.

There is a portion of scripture that comes to mind when I think about this scenario. It causes me to believe that God is like the father in the story I told, it is recorded in Romans 5:6-11:-

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for someone who is especially good. But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.



Follow me

While I was thinking about the classic, “what if someone broke into my house” argument I also realized that a similar scenario had indeed taken place in Jesus’ own life, leaving us with no doubt as to how a Christ follower should react in the face of violence. The story does not take place in a home but in a garden on the night of His arrest and the family He was with was not His flesh and blood relatives but the ones He Himself considered to be His real family (Mark 3:33-34).

Looking at the various accounts as they are recorded in the gospels we pick up quite a few details from this event. We know that it was night time and that Judas arrived on the scene with a large contingent of Roman soldiers and temple guards (John 18:3) who were heavily armed (Matthew 26:55). One of men with Jesus, identified as Peter in John’s account, goes into survival mode, takes out a sword and cuts a man’s ear off (John 18:10). Peter’s reaction was really the response that the question this article was written about would justify. Except that Jesus rebukes him for his action and despite the danger that He himself was in, we see something remarkable take place. Jesus’ response reveals that He was concerned with the well being of all parties involved. We see it as He heals the wounded man’s ear (Luke 22:51) and also in Him telling the soldiers that He was the one they wanted and to let His disciples go (John 18:8).

Jesus’ response reveals to us at least three things. Number 1, there is always an alternative to violence, even if it means laying down your own life for another. Number 2, the heart of God was for the well being of all parties involved. In the same way that He wanted to protect His disciples, He didn’t want to harm even those who sought to kill Him. Then lastly number 3, we do not overcome evil by doing evil but we conquer it by doing good. Romans 13:20-21 says, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Burning coals in scripture has a cleansing connotation (Isaiah 6:6-7), meaning that you do not conquer your enemy by becoming like him and destroying him but you overcome evil by showing him the love of God and making him like you.

This is nice theology in theory but one cannot say how they would react in the heat of a moment if they found themselves in a dangerous situation. I do however believe that nonviolence and enemy love can be learned as we learn to follow Christ. I used to drive around with a knife in my car and anytime I stopped at a specific traffic light where smash and grabs were common (both my wife and father-in-law have been robbed there), I would take the knife out thinking that I would not hesitate to thrust it into the arm of anyone who would break my window. After my initial encounters with Anabaptist literature and a more honest look at the Sermon on the Mount I ended up taking the knife out of my car and started praying for these people instead. For me it was a start, it wasn’t so much an embracing of pacifism but a deliberate action to renounce violence and start intentionally seeking the well being of others, even those who would harm us.

I don’t know how I would react if something had to actually happen one day, I hope that I never have to learn the answer to it either. I am pretty certain though of how Christ would want me to respond. It's not the easy way, it's certainly not the popular way but it is the way of Jesus modeled for us on the cross.

PS – I stumbled upon the website linked below last week, it seems to be a great resource for learning about nonviolence, if you want to learn more about nonviolence and if it actually works, check it out.
http://mettacenter.org/research-education/self-study/

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Does all really mean all? – Revisiting Universal Redemption





A few years back when I first decided to study the different views of hell I wrote a blog post on Universalism which is the idea that all people will eventually be saved. In my original post I dismissed it rather nonchalantly and have felt ever since that I needed to revisit it with something a bit more thorough. Over the last few years I have continued my study and while I am more convinced than ever that scripture teaches conditional immortality as opposed to universalism or eternal conscious torment, I do feel that I have a better understanding of where Universalists are coming from these days than I had previously. In fact, I can appreciate their understanding of the character of God more than that of the traditional view which paints a picture of a merciless judge whose anger is never satisfied and looks nothing like Jesus. Nevertheless, I think that they are in error and that the consequences of it are rather grave (pun intended).

So let’s get right to the question in the title of this post, does ‘all’ mean ‘all’ in the sense that Universalists believe it does? These are some of the scriptures that you might find come up in these sorts of conversations:-

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.  - John 12:31-32

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  – Acts 3:20

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. - Romans 5:18

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. - 1 Corinthians 15:22

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. - 1 Corinthians 15:28

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. - 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. - Ephesians 1:7-10

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:9-11

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. - Colossians 1:19-20

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” - Revelation 21:5

The case for Universalism might look compelling from the texts above nevertheless I believe that the ‘all’, the ‘everything’ and ‘the world’ as they are referenced above refer not to every human being but rather to all who are in Christ and the creation as a whole one day being redeemed. There are several reasons for believing this which I will lay out point by point while simultaneously revealing why I find universalism to be incorrect.

It’s not faithful to Jesus’ own teachings

One thing I admire about universalism is the focus it has on the person of Christ. I believe it accurately paints God as merciful, gracious and loving toward all. I too believe that God’s mercy, grace and love are beyond measure and comprehension! Likewise, I also believe that God desires that none would perish and that He wills for all men to be saved. I believe that God looks exactly like Jesus but it is precisely for this reason that I find it ironic that many Universalists cite Jesus as the reason they hold to their view. I had already started writing this article when I came across Benjamin Corey’s latest series of posts; he believes that the scriptural evidence points toward conditional immortality but has confessed that he is attracted to the idea of universalism, one of the things he said in a recent post is “the more I see God as revealed in Jesus, the more this position (universal redemption) seems to be the one most consistent with the doctrine of God as exampled by Christ”. This seems to be a common idea in the writings of Universalists which I find puzzling because Jesus’ own words throughout the New Testament seem to contradict the idea that all will eventually be saved. While I am in full agreement with them about the character of God as revealed in Jesus, I do believe it is dangerous to separate His character from His teachings, consider the following verses for example-

Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who actually do the will of my Father will enter. – Matthew 7:21

Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail – Luke 13:24

Jesus spoke often in this way and one has to ask, if ‘all’ means ‘all people who ever existed’ then what does ‘not everyone’ mean? It does not say that some will struggle to enter before eventually coming right. The idea Jesus gives is that the road that leads to destruction is a busy one in contrast to the road that leads to eternal life and that it is final in its destination.

Jesus’ parables seem to contradict universalism

Many of Jesus parables provide insights into the final judgment as well. The story of the wheat and the weeds reveals how the weeds will be gathered together and ‘burned up’ (Matthew 13:24-43).  The parable of the evil farmers says that those who the kingdom is taken away from will be ‘broken to pieces’ (Matthew 21:44). Similarly, the parable of the Great Feast says that those who ignored the Kings invitation were ‘destroyed (Matthew 22:7).

One of the things that I find to be vital to universalism is the idea that life after death is eternal for everyone and that there will be opportunities in the afterlife for repentance and union with Christ. But looking at something like the story of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25 where five of them ran out of oil and they were excluded from the marriage feast gives no indication that there is hope of a second chance for those who woke up too late to enter the party. These are all words from Jesus’ own mouth and it is just a few examples from one of the gospels. Similar words and parables are spoken elsewhere as well (consider Luke 19:27) but I feel the point has already been made that a Christ centered eschatology requires a holistic approach to both how He lived and what He taught.

A common false assumption

Many of the lists I see where scriptural evidence for universal redemption is presented use verses like 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 to point out that Christ died not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world and that God is no longer counting the sins of people against them. But I think it is a faulty assumption to tie forgiveness of sins and eternal life together as though they were the same thing. Yes, forgiveness is essential to restoring a right relationship with God but consider a practical example of what I am trying to say. If I forgive someone who has wronged me I have no ill feelings toward them but it does not necessarily mean that any sort of a relationship has been established between us because they might still wish evil on me.

Forgiveness is the first step toward reconciliation but it remains of no value to the offender if they do not receive it and make amends. Consider the men who crucified Jesus, His words to them were, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”.  Does this mean that His executioners were ‘saved’ because they had received forgiveness? I don’t think so; I just think that Jesus was not holding their sin against them. If I were in his place I probably would have been thinking, “these guys are gonna poop in their pants one day when they see me at the pearly gates” but, fortunately for us, God is not like me. This is why Paul follows verses 18 and 19 with verse 20 which says,”We speak for Christ when we plead likewise that you be reconciled to God”. Would the prodigal son have been restored to his position in the family if he had never gone home and instead remained in the mud with the pigs? No, there is no indication that the father in that story held anything against his son for wasting his inheritance but there is also no reason to believe that the son would have eventually benefited from his father’s love, mercy and grace had he never returned home.

Over a hundred verses suggest otherwise

There is a common saying that scripture should interpret scripture. In another post I have shared well over a hundred verses that speak of the end of those outside of Christ in descriptive language, using terms and phrases like perish, destruction, destroyed, the second death, consumed, burned up, melting away, ash and ‘as though they had never been’. Unlike eternal conscious torment which relies on three New Testament verses from two different books and universalism which relies mostly on some of Paul’s words and the last two chapters in book of Revelation, conditional immortality draws from almost every author and book throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

While I do not think that we should count up our proof texts in deciding on a winner, I do think that the weight of scripture leans one way and that the verses that are less clear should be interpreted in light of the ones that are more plainly understandable. A piece of the puzzle can be misleading when it is not viewed as part of a larger picture.

Does God always get His way?

While universalism makes room for hell, judgment and even free will, I think the idea that all mankind will eventually see things God’s way is a misplaced hope. Irresistible grace applied to the scripture that says that God desires that none would perish and all would be saved would contradict scriptures like Jude 10-11 and all of the other verses that speak of men perishing. If immortality or eternal life is a gift of God to those who are in Christ alone, it seems a dangerous assumption to say that that life will be eternally sustained (even if it takes a billion years) for those outside of Christ until they eventually repent of their own free will. The only scripture that comes close to saying something like that is Revelation 21:25-27 but I do not think in light of everything else we read in the Bible that infinite opportunities for repentance would be the best interpretation of those verses. The gates that are never shut simpy indicates to me that there is total peace and no outside threat to those in the New Jerusalem.

Does rejecting universalism limit grace?

Universalism says that “Love never fails” and that “God’s mercy endures forever”. Does rejecting universal redemption then reject these scriptural sayings? I believe not, for as someone once said, the immortal God came as a mortal man to earth and conquered death so that mortal man could live forever. On the cross love defeated the enemy we call death, this is the very definition the Bible gives us of love (1 John 3:16) thus Jesus, with his last breath, could whisper, “It is finished”. There is however I believe a place away from God where failure IS a certainty; a place where death IS inevitable, not because God failed but because men failed to recognize love and mercy when it was extended toward them.

Some may struggle with the idea of a loving and good God that pushes the ‘destruct’ button or the ‘torture them forever’ button on the wicked and I am one of them. I have written about that elsewhere so I will not repeat what I said over here again (though I would recommend reading that article by clicking over here). What I will say here though is that I agree with C.S. Lewis when he said that “The doors of hell are locked from the inside”. Sometimes, love and grace do not get there way, we see it now and we will see it later on before it can be said that Christ has become ‘all in all’. It cannot be said that it is a failure of love, grace and mercy if some are lost then anymore than it is a failure of love, grace and mercy when accounting for evil in the present. We know a day is coming when all the pain, the hate, the death and evil around us will be no more but we cannot deny its current reality.

What Christ in all means

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  – Acts 3:20

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. - 1 Corinthians 15:28

The popular view of hell imagines a future creation where Christ one day reigns in and through a small percentage of humankind while the vast majority of people suffer eternal conscious torment. I picture this (for illustrative purposes only) like heaven being located in, let’s say Australia with a giant wall built around it and every other place on earth is then hell where most of humanity went. In this view God’s justice is never in all eternity satisfied as He continually needs to torment those who rejected Him. This does not fit well with what I believe scripture teaches about the restoration of all things in Christ.

Universalists try to fix this by saying that hell will one day be empty; it is essentially in their view a place that is constantly decreasing in population. This makes more scriptural sense but ignores most of the things we have discussed above regarding the destruction of the wicked. So I agree that hell will be a place constantly decreasing in population, how I see it though is that hell is a place outside the city of God (Rev 21 & 22), a place where people have being left to their own destructive devices (Romans 1:25), a place where evil runs its natural course until one day there is nothing left but what is in Christ.

The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire. – Isaiah 1:31.

God as all in all then must refer to a new creation where, like in Genesis, we can say that everything, not just people but everything, the whole of creation is very good indeed. This leaves no room for continued evil but it does not necessarily mean universal redemption either. For me, conditional immortality is the logical conclusion to arrive at.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Unchurching by Richard Jacobson book review





I received a pre-release review copy of Unchurching from Speakeasy. As soon as I heard of it I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on a copy because I am a huge fan of Richard’s ‘Church Anarchist’ animated videos. If you have never seen them before, I highly recommend clicking here and checking them out. They are short, easy to understand and great at communicating simple truths about the differences between organic churches and institutionalized ones.

Richard’s book, much like his videos, reveals that he is a great communicator. I have probably read around 20 books on what it means to be the church, most of which were from the perspective of house/organic churches and I am glad to say that this is not just more of the same recycled information again. Unchurching adds fresh perspectives to the conversation while still covering the essentials as to what it means to be the body of Christ here on earth. One of the main themes in the book explores what it looks like to live in community and how to pursue that using the biblical illustration of the church as a family. He also takes a look at the priesthood of all believers, how institutional churches actually stifle it and how we can rediscover it once again. Two main ideas stuck out here for me; firstly, Richard’s perspective on how the 5-fold ministry equips the body for ministry is out of the box and refreshing. Then secondly, his treatment of the subject of men and woman as equals is fantastic. He takes us beyond the usual quibbles over headship and goes right back to Genesis starting with the first man and woman revealing God's original intentions for them.

I won’t go into his explanations here but I will comment that for the church to truly be one and for the priesthood of all believers to be fully realized I think Unchurching is a great catalyst for believers who are seeking to take a step in the right direction and realize it as more than just a doctrine that we give lip service to.

What I found to be most insightful and unique to this book though is the discussion around the institutional churches identity and how it is affected once it has taken the step to incorporate itself. There is a little bit of a history lesson showing where corporations come from as well as some legal talk explaining what corporations are. In essence, a corporation is a fictitious person that exists in perpetuity, so, when a church incorporates itself, it is the corporation rather than the congregation that legally becomes a church. What that boils down to is that you can leave a ‘church’ as can every other person who attends it and yet still have a 'church' in theory (even if it's just an empty building) which is alien to how scripture speaks about the community of believers. Richard then asks the questions, has the church in the process of gaining limited liability and tax exempt status sold its birthright? And what does the church lose when it does not value its identity? Regardless of how you answer these questions they are important ones to be asking.

I enjoyed this book even though it is, as the author states himself, meant for a specific audience. This book is primarily meant for those who are ‘unchurching’, not because they have given up on God but because they sense there is something more to being a community of Christians than attending certain programs in specific buildings on specific days. Unchurching is not about ‘unchurching’ at all but about pursuing a deeper relationship with God and those around us. Only those who are looking for that already will probably see it in this book and that is probably how it is meant to be anyway.

Unchurching has not being released yet, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy for review purposes but you can read a sample portion of the book as well as keep up to date with news related to the official release by clicking over here.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Gospel Next Door - book review




I grew up with what I assume to be a pretty standard understanding of the gospel story. Jesus died for our sins so that one day when we die we can go to heaven. Our time on earth could be thought of as a doctors waiting room where we simply hang around running down the clock, staying vigilant lest we don’t hear our name called out when it’s our time to move on to the great physician in the sky.

This is not the story of The Gospel Next Door though. Marty Troyer has delivered a message to us that the gospel is good news right now. This Jesus who brought good news to the poor, who healed the brokenhearted, set the captives free and gave sight to the blind is very much alive today in you and me and His heart has not changed. We are all missionaries’ right where we live, not in the traditional sense of the word but rather as Gods children on earth with the potential to powerfully impact our communities right where we live.

This book is full of stories from the authors own life as well as the people around him which connects the gospel to who God is and what it looks like when His people start to practically demonstrate the life and love they find in Him to others. The stories that are shared are really what make this read so powerful; it’s not just a neat little doctrine we can jot down in a notebook and forget about but a challenge to the church to recognize where God is at work in our community and to join in with Him. To quote Marty himself, “Love is possible. Hope is possible. Joy is possible. Taking risks, overcoming fears, dealing with negative emotions and anxiety, moving beyond habitual disobedience – are all now possible. The welcome and integration of strangers, extravagant generosity and simple living, serving the marginalized, working for the common good: these, too, are possible. I believe if God brought Jesus back to life, then even I can change!”

The Gospel Next Door moves beyond simple statements about loving and serving others. Whole chapters are devoted to exploring the devastation of war, to exposing modern day slavery and how our lifestyles unwittingly support it. One of the chapters explores the Black Lives Matter movement. All three topics revealed a degree of ignorance in my own heart toward the injustices in this world which I often simply never saw. Marty’s pastoral skills must have been at work here though because rather than shame, I felt encouraged to move forward from where I am. I am excited about the prospect of growing more and more into the role of seeking the shalom of my own city. Whether it is in paying attention to the things I consume and how they affect the people and environment to how I directly interact with those around me.

By the conclusion of this book I felt like an Esther, called to a time and place such as this. The gospel is about more than just sin management and the afterlife. Participating in restorative justice is a powerful way to prophetically claim the kingdom of God. This book reveals that far better than I can, I hope the Gospel Next Door falls into as many hands as possible.

If you would like a copy, it just went on sale today and you can get it on Amazon by clicking over here.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Women as equals in marriage and the church






This will be one of those posts that is bound to go down like a hotdog stand at a vegan festival. Nevertheless, I feel that it is important enough that I should put it out here. The idea that there should be a hierarchical structure within our churches and marriages separating men and woman is so deeply ingrained in our culture that few are even willing to consider that it might actually be unhealthy for us. Even now I can hear the objectors saying things like “but doesn’t it say somewhere in 1 Corinthians that the head of every woman is man” and elsewhere that “wives should submit to their husbands?” and the answer of course to both of those questions is yes, it does affirm both of those things in the Bible and we will address those scriptures and others as well in their proper context as this article progresses to gain a better idea of what scripture is actually communicating to us. For now though, I want to back up a bit and lay the correct framework for this conversation to be set in.

Oneness

Let’s start with the idea of oneness that is so prevalent in scripture. Going all the way back to Genesis we see that mankind was created in God’s image. God created and named humans ‘Man’ or ‘Adam’ (5:2). This does not come across in our English translations because the Hebrew word usually gets translated into multiple English words (man, mankind, Adam, human etc) but the reality is that Adam and Eve were meant to be one much like the godhead is one. Eve was bone of her husband’s bone and flesh of his flesh, God’s ideal had no hierarchy, man ruling over woman would only come later as a result of the fall. We see this in verse 16 in Genesis 3 where God tells Eve that part of the curse now on creation would include her desire will be to control her husband yet he would rule over her. The very first thing we read after God stops speaking in this section of scripture is that Adam named his wife “Eve” (in verse 20) and then God goes on to make them some clothing to hide away their nakedness. In some way then, Adam and Eve had experienced an immediate separation in oneness as a result of their sin.

It’s important to note that man ruling over woman was part of the curse because Christ came to redeem creation from the effects of the fall and as Christians we have generally taken to working with Christ in this. Paul says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. So we seek to prolong life with medication and healthy living; we invent ways of making child birth safer and less painful and we build machines that make farming easier. Yet the only part of the curse we have seemingly sought to uphold is that “man is to rule over woman”. So with that in mind let us go back to some of the most often cited scriptural arguments against gender equality and see if there is possibly a better way of understanding those verses in light of the rest of scripture.

Headship

But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. – 1 Corinthians 11:3

This is probably the most famous of the ‘headship’ verses; we also see something similar in Ephesians 5:22 as well though so we will take a closer look at both passages. It is pretty clear in both instances that man is the head of woman; what is unclear though is exactly what that means. In English, we use the word head to refer to someone in a position of authority; we have titles for such persons as ‘Head coach’, ‘Head of Department’ and ‘Head Chef’. But we have to understand that to a first century Greek-speaking Jew the word ‘head’ did not carry that connotation at all. To speak of the head as a person who was over others would make no more sense than it would to directly translate the word ‘cool’ in reference to something you considered to be awesome. Rather, when scripture refers to man as the head it should be understood to be saying that man is the source of woman. This should be obvious just by paying attention to the context of what Paul was saying. Consider verses 8 and 12 from the same chapter:-

For man did not come from woman but the first woman came from man...for although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. 

Paul is not in 1 Corinthians 11 saying then that men are to exercise authority over woman at all, rather, he is addressing a woman’s authority to pray and prophecy (see verses 5 and 10) because she is from man just as man is from woman (see verses 11 and 12a) and both are from God (verse 12b). Notice also how verse 12 reverses the order by saying that every other man is born from a woman, the idea expressed is not one involving hierarchy.

Likewise, Ephesians 5:21-33 can be read in a similar manner to 1 Corinthians 11. Most people summarize this portion by simply saying that woman should submit to their husbands and husbands in turn are called to love their wives. But there is so much more going on here than our 21st century eyes can see. Let’s start with verse 21 which says:-

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The next 12 verses should be read in light of that statement; following this Paul reiterates to the woman that they should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Then to the husbands he takes things even further, in Paul’s day woman were seen as little more than a man’s property, they had no rights, although a man could easily divorce his wife a woman could not do the same, a woman could not even testify in court. Into this context Paul says that a man should love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the church (verse 25). The whole idea here (as well as in chapter 6) is not about levels of authority but about following Christ’s example in serving and laying down our lives for others. When one loves as Christ does as husbands are instructed to do, it is almost impossible to see the difference between submitting and loving. Paul’s message to the husbands in this portion of scripture is not a ‘how to rightfully rule over woman’ but rather a reminder of his complete unity with her in Christ.

For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself (v28)...a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one (v31).

Submission

Like the verses about men being the head of woman, there are several scriptures that tell woman to submit to their husbands.1 Peter 3:1 and Titus 2:5 would be good examples. Interestingly, my NLT says in 1 Peter 3:1 that wives “should accept the authority of their husbands” which is a far cry from what the Greek actually says. Perhaps the translators decided the opposite of ‘submission’ was ‘to have authority’. This is simply not something we can conclude to be consistently true though, if scripture tells us to “be subject one to another” then everyone is to be under one another’s feet, assuming the role of a servant as we lift others up and serve the body.

The New Testament consistently calls us (not just woman) to submit to one another, children to parents, wives to husbands, slaves to masters, citizens to governments etc not because slavery, governments and male dominance are good things but because in doing so we are following Christ’s own example (Luke 2:51, 20:25 etc). And just as the New Testament calls for submission to one another it simultaneously and consistently warns us against exercising authority over others:-

"And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.' – Matthew 20:25-28

Even the church elders in chapter 5 verse 5 of 1st Peter are told to be subject one to another, they are warned in verse 3 not to lord over people but instead to lead through their example alone. The issue of trying to lord over another person is the same thing that Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 2:12 when he says that he does not permit a woman to rule or to have authority over her husband. The issue here is not a rebuttal of equality but of one trying to usurp another.

Following Christ’s example

So are wives supposed to submit to their husbands? Absolutely! Are husbands the heads? Yes! Now in light of everything I have said so far let us reconsider how we understand both of those answers. As followers of Christ, we are not called to exercise authority over anyone. Rather, we are called to love, serve and lay down our lives for everyone. The greatest must be like the least, the first as the last, take for yourself the lowest seat at the table and so on.
Husbands - love your wives as Christ in His self sacrificial way loved the church (1 John 4:10, John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Headship does not mean that you are the final and chief decision maker in your marriage. In fact, the only example in the New Testament we see regarding decision making within a marriage calls for mutual agreement (1 Corinthians 7:5). Interestingly, the verse just before this one is another which suggests mutual submission and equality (The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife).

In conclusion, Christ came to overturn the curse and we should live in light of it and work with Him as ministers of reconciliation. If you are using headship and submission as a means of getting your own way then you do not understand headship or submission.

Christ’s prayer for the church was that we, like mankind before the fall, would be one as He and the Father are one.

I am not only praying for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. – John 17:20-23

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:27-28

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Lord Willing? - Book review




My son was born with a congenital condition known as a hypospadias, which basically means that his urethra's opening was not where it should have been. We were told upon a visit to the Urologist that they would have to do corrective surgery when he was eighteen months old as his body was not big and strong enough to do the required reconstructive surgery before then. The day of the operation and the week thereafter were truly the toughest thing that I have ever had to endure. I lost my father when I was fifteen years old and I have experienced other valleys along the way as well that are simply part and parcel of living here on earth yet nothing can compare to the pain a parent goes through when their child is suffering.

Even though this was a fairly standard, low risk operation, it destroyed me to see my son in such pain, unable to even stand up for several days and screaming in agony every time he had to pee. I remember praying to God, sometimes thanking Him that we lived in a time and place where things like this could be fixed. Other times I was practically begging Him to remove the pain that my son was experiencing, then on other occasions I would be furious with Him for not honoring my previous request for healing. Never before had I felt so helpless in a situation and I am so thankful that those days are behind us and that everything turned out well in the end.

This brings me to Jessica Kelley’s book Lord Willing?, where she vividly retells the tragic story of her four year old son Henry's death from a brain tumor and where she explores what God’s role in that process was. The book starts with a bit of a background story as to how she went from believing that God was in total control of everything that happens on earth and that all of the pain and suffering around us was somehow allowed or designed by God to ultimately bring glory to Him. To how she eventually came to reject that views in favor of a what she calls the warfare worldview which states that although God is all powerful, He is not all controlling and does not specifically allow bad things like cancer, murder and sex trafficking to happen. This view states that the love of God demands that there was a degree of risk involved in creation. Hence the death, disease and destruction that we see all around us today are not the results of the will of God but rather the fruits of a fallen creation. For example, while Gods will can be seeing in the command “thou shall not murder”, some people choose to walk a path contrary to that will. Murder therefore is clearly not part of God's will. Throughout her testimony Jessica Kelley keeps pointing us back to Jesus, back to the cross and reminds us that the full revelation of what God is like was revealed on Calvary, this is what love looks like and she continually urges us to trust in this image of God.

The book continues with the story of the discovery of an aggressive brain tumor in her son, the treatment thereof and then finally the death of four year old Henry. It was absolutely heart wrenching to read and at times I simply had to put the book down because the emotion was just too intense for me to press onward. Jessica has done a masterful job in retelling her story, recalling the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the beauty of life and the ugliness of death in a manner that makes Lord Willing? so very human and easy to relate to.

From there on things shift more toward a theological discussion. Things that have been mentioned briefly up until this point, whether on the side of the more traditional ‘blueprint’ worldview or the lesser known ‘warfare worldview’, both get a thorough scriptural examination. While I might disagree with or admit uncertainty about some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what is presented, I am in full agreement with the overall model and picture that this book provides. There is evil in this world which God is at war with. We see it in Jesus when He cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead and rebuked a storm. But in war bad things happen, there is pain, there is suffering and there is loss. Yet when tragedy comes we can be certain that God wins in the grand scheme of things and that while He is still opposed, He is working to bring about good even when His will is thwarted.

My hope is that this book will fall into the hands of as many people as possible because to some degree or another we all experience suffering and loss and, in those moments, what we believe about God will either push us away from or toward Him. I believe that this book is a great tool in helping people to see God more clearly, I hope that it will help people to stand against evil and say, “this is not of God” and in the midst of life’s greatest trials we can with full assurance run toward Him and know that there is comfort in His arms, that He is good, loving and trustworthy.

I cannot recommend Jessica's writings highly enough. You can purchase Lord Willing by clicking over here and you can read her blog by clicking over here.



Saturday, 21 May 2016

Why did Jesus and Paul misquote Isaiah?




Once a week some friends and I get together for a little midweek Bible-study. For the past few months we have being going through the book of Isaiah and this week we tackled chapters 59-61. While there are a lot of incredible things going on in these chapters, the one thing that I wanted to write about today was the observation that we made on how both Paul and Jesus quoted from this portion of Isaiah in a way that most evangelicals I know would frown upon.

The first passage I would like to highlight is a familiar one in Ephesians chapter 6 from verse 14 to 17 which says:-

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

While Paul is not attempting to quote Isaiah verbatim, it is obvious that he is drawing inspiration from Isaiah 59:17 which says:-

He put on righteousness as his body armor and placed the helmet of salvation upon his head. He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.

The interesting thing about these two lists is that Paul has taken the body armor or the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation from Isaiah but has left out the robe of vengeance. Remarkably, Paul replaces the robe of vengeance in Isaiah’s list with the shoes of peace in his own. He also adds the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (which is not a literal sword but Jesus Christ who is the Word of God) to his list. I was wondering about these differences between Paul and Isaiah but the only related verse that I could really find on the armor of God was from Paul again in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 which once again omitted vengeance from the list saying only:-

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

Looking a bit closer at Isaiah 59 again I also quickly discovered that violence itself was strongly condemned (especially verses 6 and 7). On its own, this could be something I could just brush off but once I got to chapter 61, I started to see a bit of a pattern emerging. The first 2 verses in that chapter read as follows:-

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
    for the LORD has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the LORD’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

Many of us are familiar with this passage as Jesus once quoted it in a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. But like Paul, Jesus left out the part about vengeance. Luke 4:20 actually says that after reading up until the second last line quoted above that He stopped mid-sentence and “rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat back down”. Now usually when I am reading the Bible I will stop at the end of a chapter, sometimes if I am reading something deep and hard hitting I might only read one or two verses but I can’t ever recall stopping mid-sentence in something. Who does that? No one stops reading before the word 'and' and thinks, "yeah I will pick there again tomorrow". This action was not lost on Jesus' audience; Luke’s account continues and says that “everyone was amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips” (verse 22).
     These gracious words did not sit well with them. They were all for the day of the Lords favor as long as it rested on them and they were all for being liberated from oppression but they were not so keen on seeing their enemies escaping God’s anger. Jesus responds to them but telling them that although there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time during a three and a half year drought he was not sent to any of them but rather to a foreigner, a widower from Sidon. Likewise, many had leprosy in the time of Elisha but the only one healed was a Syrian named Naaman (verses 25-27). This infuriated the crowd to the point that they tried to throw Him off of a cliff right there and then.

As I have already mentioned, it would be easy to dismiss these verses if they were rare exceptions but we actually see this over and over again throughout the New Testament. Paul does the exact same thing probably about a dozen more times in the book of Romans alone where Old Testament verses that originally spoke of violent retribution against Israel’s enemies are intentionally edited to extend grace and mercy toward outsiders. You can see a long list of these subverted Old Testament texts in this excellent article by Derek Flood by clicking over here.

I don’t want to assume too much as to why Paul and Jesus did this. I’m more of a student than a teacher who likes to flesh out his thoughts by writing them out online. For now though I will share three impressions that I get from reading this.

1 – Firstly, the New Testament does not deny the punishment or the destruction of the wicked. There is still a strong sense of warning toward those who stray from Christ. These cautions are not just found in the words of others but in Paul and Jesus’ as well. Paul and the others then are clearly making a different sort of statement with their quotes.

2 – The shift in the New Testament seems to come from the idea of where violence and destruction come from. In the Old Testament there is a sense that everything comes from God Himself. Life, death, blessings, curses, creating and destroying, the Lord gives and the Lord takes. But from Christ onward death, destruction and suffering are more clearly presented as things that are adverse to God. They are portrayed as things originating from the devil or as the natural consequences of sin. God on the other hand is revealed as one who is at war with these things. He is the giver of life and creator of all that is good, He is the one who restores what has been stolen by the enemy.

3 – Apart from what is mentioned in the point above I think that the primary reason Paul and Jesus seem to reinterpret (or bring greater clarity to) what was written elsewhere is simply to proclaim that the Lords favor was on all people. The good news is meant to be a blessing to all nations reaching far beyond the borders of Israel. This was good news for the gentiles and a word of caution to the Jews that heritage alone was not enough to save them. Yes, there is a grave side (pun intended) to aligning oneself against God but that is not part of the gospel; that is what happens outside of the gospel.
 
Whether you agree with me on these points or not, I think that there is a comfort in knowing that when we read something that we perceive to be harsh, unjust or even morally repugnant in scripture, we can take comfort in the fact that Christ revealed to us the true image of God (Hebrews 1:3). He is the one that we are to build our theology and our very lives upon. Our own understandings and interpretations may fall short but we have a sure and constant person to fall back on.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:11

PS - One last final note, a few hours after posting this I began to consider that neither Jesus or Paul had technically misquoted Isaiah. One simply alluded to it while the other quoted correctly but not completely. The point remains valid though even if my title is a little inaccurate.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Unveiling of Christ

Hi all!

I have to apologize for being so quiet here of late. I have sort of pushed the blog aside so I could focus on writing my book about the cross. Even that has being hard to get time to do but this morning I managed to write out an introduction to one of the final chapters and I thought that I would share it here as a bit of a sampler for everyone. The chapter will be about the book of Revelation and how it ties in with everything else that I have said about the cross beforehand. This is what I wrote this morning and it's only a first draft but I hope you like it...



My desire for this chapter is twofold; first I would like to take everything that I have said about the cross up to this point and argue that this is the truest picture of what God is like. Then secondly, I would like to take our understanding of the atonement and make it something practical for you and me in the 21st century by pointing to the examples of believers in the first century and to Christ Himself. In achieving this I would like to go to a place which may surprise you which is the book of Revelation.

Revelation was a book that I was fascinated with as a youngster. I ate up anything I could find related to the end times; from the ‘Left Behind’ series to sermons and videos by other dispensationalist theologians. I went from holding to a pre-tribulation rapture viewpoint to a post-tribulation and later on still a pre-wrath escapist belief. I mention this only because normally when we talk about the book of Revelation we have something along those ideas in mind. We like to think of it as a book that reveals hidden information about the last seven years of the earth’s history before God destroys it and starts all over again.

While John’s epistle to the seven churches in Asia Minor does give us some insights into how everything eventually wraps up, I would like to submit the idea here that we have completely missed the point of the book if we read it this way. Allow me to deconstruct a little before proposing something entirely different.

Jesus, the same yesterday, today and until Revelation?

I remember about 9 or 10 years ago sitting in a home cell meeting and someone saying to me that the first time Jesus came as a lamb but the next time he is coming as a lion. I never thought much of it at the time, probably because I was in full agreement with him at that point in my life.

There is no denying that this popular perception we have of Jesus in the book of Revelation looks far different than the Jesus that we read about in the rest of the New Testament. The first Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to bless and pray for those who persecute us. The second Jesus kills his enemies. The first Jesus condemned all forms of violence; He rebuked His disciples when they wanted to call fire down from heaven to consume their enemies. Likewise, He rebuked Peter when He was getting arrested and Peter tried to defend Him and cut off a man’s ear. Christ’s words to His disciple in that moment, right before miraculously healing the man’s wound, was that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. The second Jesus has a sword coming out of his mouth which he kills his enemies with. The first Jesus took the blows of the Roman soldiers and then turned the other cheek and took more. The second Jesus strikes his enemies again and again and again as taught in the eternal conscious torment view of eschatology. The first Jesus bled for His enemies, the second Jesus makes his enemies bleed.

Reading the book of Revelation in the way that all the books, sermons and videos I heard growing up taught me to, I have to conclude that Jesus’ mercy does not endure forever as the Psalmist said. This Jesus is not different than us or the other gods, he is exactly like me and everyone else. He has limited grace and a dangerous fuse and when love, mercy and forgiveness reach a certain line they give way to violence, killing and punishment.

Please don’t misunderstand; I am not saying that the wicked get away with being wicked or that God sit’s by idly as evil spreads and devours. Neither am I saying that Jesus’ first and second comings will be the same, they will be different. All I am saying for now is that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever as is God the Father. With that in mind, let me offer one more reason that we should be cautious of interpreting the book of Revelation with Jesus as a God fashioned in the image of Rambo.

It is no secret that the Jews who lived in Jesus’ day were living under Roman occupation. Everybody was awaiting a messiah that would come to liberate them from this oppression. One who would set the captives free by overthrowing their Roman rulers and liberating the nation. Said another way, the Jewish people wanted their Robin Hood, their William Wallace, a new Judas Maccabeus to come and rescue them.

It is often overlooked that when Pilate offered the crowd the opportunity to release either Jesus or Barabbas during the Passover feast what kind of prisoner Barabbas was. Many scholars believe that Barabbas was a revolutionary of sorts that was involved in instigating a riot. Another thing that often gets overlooked is that Barabbas literally translates into English as ‘son of the father’. Some ancient manuscripts in fact give his full name as Jesus Barabbas! The fact that we have two men named Jesus, one who says He is the Son of the Father and the other whose name literally is ‘son of the father’ is too incredible to be a coincidence. What we have here is a true messiah and a false messiah, the true Christ and a counterfeit Christ. This was the kind of false messiah that Israel had mistakenly being expecting and wrongfully put their hopes in to rescue them from oppression.

I submit that today the church has largely fallen into the same error as Israel had. We are looking for a messiah who is going to come and kill all of the bad guys and free us from oppression. We choose and place our hope in Barabbas. Even though Jesus has already walked the earth once before, we say No! Next time will be different, next time He is coming like Judas Maccabeus or like William Wallace and the only difference is that He will be unstoppable. Could we be as wrong as Israel was? I think so and so I would like to offer an alternative approach to the book of Revelation, one that is not so much ‘future-centered’ as it is ‘Christ-centered’; one that brings us back to the cross.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Atonement of God by Jeremy Myers Book review





For the last three or so years I have being writing a book on the atonement. It is taking a lot longer than initially planned because soon after I started I realized that there were a few things that needed to be included that I simply was not confident enough to write about with any real conviction. So I have devoted much of the last few years to reading and studying what others have to say regarding the death and resurrection of Christ. This includes Jeremy Myers' new book which looks at the atonement from a non-violent perspective.

For those of you who are not familiar with Jeremy Myers, he is a well studied, prolific writer (do you ever sleep Jeremy?) who doesn’t just think outside of the box, I suspect that he is not even sitting in the same room as the box. Some may find this dangerous but I find it rather refreshing, even if you don’t agree with everything that he says, you can always guarantee that his writings will add perspective to the topic at hand.

Overview

Jeremy opens up The Atonement of God by first looking at some of the other models/theories of the atonement. Namely penal substitution, the moral influence theory and the ransom theory before presenting his own case for a non-violent Christus Victor model. He does a good job presenting each view fairly, giving praise and criticism wherever they are due. All is presented in a non academic, easy to understand way, perhaps aimed more at ones heart than the head. The rest of the book from there on is devoted to how this non-violent view of the cross has a ripple effect into other areas of our theology. Perhaps I should mention here that when we speak of the cross as non-violent, we are referring to God’s actions and not man’s (which were quite obviously very violence). The ten areas that he focuses on are how a non-violent reading of the cross brings continuity to the life of Jesus, how it reveals the truth about who God is and what He is like, how we interpret scripture, the truth about sacrifices, humans, sin, forgiveness, justice, violence and lastly the way to peace.

The good

There are a lot of good things to take away from this book, some of my favorite things about it though are how the atonement is presented in a way that allows us to not completely dismiss the other views but to take the good that is in them and discard the bad. I loved how the cross was presented as the culmination of Jesus’ entire ministry. That is to say that in His life Jesus overcame Satan (think of the three temptations in the wilderness), He healed the blind and set the captives free, He revealed God’s forgiveness to sinners and He raised the dead. In His death and resurrection Jesus does the same thing, no other view of the atonement places any real significance to the life of Christ which I see as problematic. The book also portrays a more Christ-like God, something which, at the least the penal substitutionary model clearly fails to accomplish.

Then finally, for anyone not familiar with the work of Rene Girard and mimetic theory in particular, this book is a great introduction to his ideas. Few people have written about mimetic theory in a way that is as easy to follow and understand but Jeremy has done a superb job of bringing these ideas across and making them practical for us today as well.

Things to ponder

Perhaps the biggest and most controversial issue in this book is how it deals with the violence of God in the Old Testament. The basic idea presented (as far as I understood it) is that just as Jesus bore our sin and shame on the cross, in a similar fashion the Father allowed false ideas about Himself (as one who condones war and killing) to be interwoven into certain parts of scripture. This was permitted not to throw people off but rather to reveal to us through Christ what is in our own hearts. It sounds crazy with a flat reading of scripture but through a crucivision (cross-centered) reading of the Bible an interesting case is made not only for a non-violent God but also for inerrancy as well. I suspect that along with Greg Boyd’s much anticipated and soon to be released The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, this view will gain some momentum going forward. For the record, I am calling this theory the New Perspective on Moses (you heard it here first :) ).

Conclusion

There were a few small things that perhaps I was not entirely happy with in the book, the reason why Cain and Abel’s sacrifices were accepted and rejected are described very matter of factly, which I am not sure we can be so dogmatic about. While I appreciate mimetic theory I think it belongs more within the moral influence framework of the atonement and I think that it is more an added bonus, than the real meat of the cross. Lastly, sin is also presented as not that big of a deal to God and I know what he meant, that sin is like a puddle of urine and God like the ocean (no real comparison). God is not threatened by sin nor is He powerless to save us from it. But even though Jeremy does say that sin is an issue that God addressed and it does matter because it destroys people who are the objects of God’s affection. I think people might get the wrong idea by what was written on the topic.

But like I said, this is a good read and well worth adding to your bookshelf. It will certainly challenge your ideas and add new perspectives as well. I am in complete agreement with the overall message of the book. That Christ died to save us not from a wrathful, violent Father but because the Father loved us. The salvific nature of the cross was not to appease an angry God but rather it was God, in Jesus, setting us free from sin, Satan and death.

Then in ending and if you remember one thing then let this be it. Make sure that after the conclusion of the book you continue reading the two Appendixes! They are phenomenal and were my favorite parts of the whole book! The first appendix deals with the wrath of God and the second with Hebrews 9:22. Fantastic stuff…

The Atonement of God is available on Amazon by clicking here.
You can also read Jeremy’s blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Is the second death eternal separation from God?




In everything that I have previously written on conditional immortality, there is an aspect regarding the fate of the lost that I have not addressed before which is the nature of death itself. The popular concept of hell today teaches that death is eternal separation from God which I would agree with but where I part ways with the traditional understanding of this is where that separation is believed to be an eternal conscious torment of the lost soul. The idea that the Greek word thanatos means separation and not death is simply incorrect which is what the first part of this article will try to prove.

Thanatos in Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The first thing that I would like to point out here is that I have not found a single translation thus far that translates ‘death’ in this verse as ‘separation’. The whole contrast that Paul is making falls apart if thanatos only means separation. The opposite of eternal life is not merely separation but rather eternal death.

The second point to make is that if Paul did mean to contrast eternal life with eternal separation he could have used the Greek word that actually means separation which is chorizo. We see the word chorizo later on in Paul’s same letter to the Romans in a portion of scripture that many of us know off by heart.

Who can separate (chorizo) us from the love of Christ? Can tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...(nothing) shall be able to separate (chorizo) us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  – Romans 8:35, 39

Chorizo seems like the ideal word that Paul could have used if he had meant to say what traditionalists think he said but instead he chose thanatos which is consistently translated as death. Consider the use of thanatos in Acts 23:29 where Claudius Lysias writes to Felix about Paul:-

I soon discovered the charge was something regarding their religious law – certainly nothing worthy of imprisonment or death (thanatos).

While physical death could be defined as the separation of the body and soul. Death can never be defined as a less pleasant form of life because it is the very opposite of life, the writers of scripture deliberately showed this to be the case as they consistently contrasted life with death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14, John 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 6:58, 10:28, 11:25-26, Roans 5:21, 6:23, Galatians 6:8, Hebrews 10:39).

Separation IS death

Even though I have spent some time explaining why I think death is, well, death… I do acknowledge that the wages of sin is separation from God as well (Isaiah 59:2, 1 Corinthians 15:56, Ephesians 2:1,12, Colossians 2:13). Some of these verses even speak of sin as death AND separation as though they were the same thing. The important thing to note here is that they are referring to people in this life who were lost. They were spiritually dead and lost, much like the prodigal son who “was dead but has come back to life”, and was “lost but now is found” (Luke 15:32).

The biggest thing that traditionalists seem to overlook though is that separation does not lead to an eternal life of torment but to death in the lake of fire. Outside of Christ, there is no life:-

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. – John 3:36

One must be in community with God, who alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:15-16) to receive the gift of eternal life.

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life. – John 6:40

I am the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. – John 6:51

And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:11-12

Notice that John’s wording above is slightly different than Paul’s. The contrast here between those who inherit life and those who do not is as clear as it is in Paul’s writings but it avoids the debate over words like thanatos.

Separation therefore is much easier to understand as the eternal state of non-existence rather than as eternal torment. Is the second death eternal separation from God? Yes it is but it's not eternal conscious torment.

They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from His glorious power.  – 2 Thessalonians 1:9

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The significance of the life of Jesus




Easter has just passed and everyone has been posting about the death and resurrection of Jesus which is fantastic. The cross is at the center of our faith, it is at the heart of scripture, it is foundational to the gospel and it is the ultimate revelation to man of who God is and what His creation means to Him.

Originally I planned on getting in on this as well but at the last minute I decided to do something different this year and instead write something about the life of Christ. Now I know people generally celebrate that at Christmas time but I want to go beyond the birth story and say something about the entire life that Jesus lived while on the earth because I believe it was hugely significant as well. Consider this; most people believe that God needed a sinless person to die as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. But if this is all that was required then the thirty-three years that Christ walked the earth become relatively meaningless. Why did God not just let Jesus die as a baby? Why did He send an angel to warn Joseph in a dream of Herod’s evil plan to have all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem killed? Why could a mob that wanted to throw Jesus off of a cliff not touch Him? Clearly, the life of Christ matters and should be included in the story that covers the death and resurrection as well.

So while many people have posted this week about the meaning behind the death and resurrection of Christ, let me share a few thoughts as to why I believe the life of Christ was equally important to us as well.

1 – Christ reveals God to us

The prophet Isaiah said that a virgin would give birth to a son and call him Immanuel which means, ‘God is with us’. Jesus was not just another prophet, sent to deliver a message to a certain people at a certain time in history. No, Jesus revealed something far greater; He showed us what God is truly like. God walked the earth as a man; He exemplified holiness as He went about His daily life, obedient in every way to the will of His Father. Jesus healed the sick, He lifted up the lowly, He gave power to the powerless and He befriended all the wrong people. He also warned the people of the destructive nature of sin and the need we have for God, His life stood in contrast to the religious leaders and kings of the earth. Jesus revealed a God to both the Jews and the Gentiles which many had never dreamed existed.

2 – Christ set up and established His church

More than anything else Jesus spoke to people about of the Kingdom of God and simultaneously, He invited people into its reality. Nowhere would God’s reign be more manifest than through the life of Jesus and then by extension through those that He called into His assembly. Kingdom teaching was more than the pulpit style transfer of information. Jesus chose twelve disciples and for three years invested everything He could into them, showing them how to live in and through Him. Pentecost is often pointed to as the birth of the church but certainly the foundations were laid during the earthly ministry of Christ.  

3 – Christ left us an example to follow

I have heard it said that the word ‘Bible’ stands for ‘Basic instructions before leaving earth’ which is not entirely false but not entirely true either. In reality, the Christians call is to abide in the vine and to be imitators of Christ; nothing more and nothing less. If we take a look at some of Christ’s most famous teachings like the Sermon on the Mount, we don’t just read about a set of instructions but we see a living example of how to carry this out. In Jesus we see the poor, the humble, a suffering servant who hungers for justice. He is merciful, His heart is pure and He is called the Prince of Peace, He was persecuted for righteousness sake (see Matthew 5:3-12).
 
4 – Christ fulfilled the Torah

One thing often pointed to in Christian apologetics is that Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s coming messiah. Those who knew the scriptures would have known exactly who Jesus was by the signs He fulfilled. But Christ also fulfilled the scriptures in other ways as well; in His own words he also fulfilled the Law of Moses. Then there are all of the Old Testament types and shadows, He was the new Adam, the bridegroom, the rock that gushes life giving water, the kinsman redeemer, Israel and so much more.

5 – Christ’s death was a continuation of His life’s work

One day when Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth He went to the synagogue and read from Isaiah, He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring God News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that the captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free and that the time of the Lords favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19). The gospels record how during Christ’s earthly ministry He healed many sick and blind people (physically and spiritually) and set free those who were tormented by demons. In a sense you could compare Christ’s life and death to that of Samson’s. Where His calling was carried out throughout His life and completed on a larger scale in His death.

 There is a view of the atonement known as Christus Victor which basically says that Christ, through His death and resurrection, conquered sin, Satan and death. I would say that His life demonstrated the same (though on a smaller scale) as prostitutes became followers, tax collectors became liberators, Satan was overcome through the temptations in the wilderness and demons were forced to obey His commands and finally dead people were raised back to life demonstrating His power of the grave.

There are probably a dozen other things we could point to about the importance of the life of Christ, these were just the first five that I could think of, I would love to hear what else you think should be on this list as well.