Posts for June 2012
5 Posts found

Theology’s wrong turning.
Posted: 29 June 2012 in Scripture

I hope my readers will excuse the departure from the usual format, but I have a rant I want to get off my chest.

I hope also that John Selby Spong will excuse me for taking his name in vain, but in him we have a former Anglican bishop who has difficulty believing any of the articles in the Apostles’ Creed (and I do mean any). Does he call himself an atheist? Not at all, he is a “believer”. In him, I suppose, we have the end point of that piece of foolishness which is commonly known as liberal theology. Naturally that craziness did not come from nowhere, and it has its roots in the loss of confidence which befell theologians when science became the “in” thing – having, as it did, tangible results it could put on display (like electricity). Religion came to be thought of as being old fashioned and pretty irrelevant, with nothing tangible to offer. Scientists became the new high priests.

The temptation then befell theologians, which they did not for one moment resist, of trying and make themselves relevant by adapting themselves to the spirit of the age. They too wanted to be somehow scientific. They didn’t stand much chance of aping the physical sciences, so perhaps they could settle for second best with things like history and philosophy. For a discipline which had those pretensions, things like miracles and the Ressurection, which decidedly did not fit in with the scientific world view, were a bit of an embarrassment. So a gradual junking of the Bible and the Creeds took place, becoming ever more daring in how much it was prepared to discard as time went by. Finally we arrived at John Selby Spong and others like him.

The only problem was, of course, that nobody was fooled by a theology defined as something other than the study of God’s revelation. Even before the Spongs came on the scene, people could smell a mile off the odour of something which had lost confidence in itself, and which was now trying to clothe itself in garments more fitted to the spirit of the age. The solution offerred for the evident lack of progress in persuading people that religion had anything to offer was – more of the same.

In giving us the benefit of his wisdom, former Bishop Spong says that, if Christianity is to survive, it must change. In one sense he is right, but not in the sense he intends. If Christianity is to survive, it will have to be a case of back to the future. Theologians will once again have to return to their proper task of working out the implications which follow from reading the Eternal Word of God. Adhering to biblical revelation will not necessarily get you a theology which is very easy to live with, nor will it gat you one which is “scientific” in any sense, but it will get you one which is coherent, and which does due justice to the eternal glory of God. Theology will once again need to be a discipline which stands on its own two feet, without trying to ape another. Then, although it might sound a bit old fashioned (eternal truths by definition do not change) at least a few people might notice that it no longer has the smell of something in terminal decline.

Having said all that, systematic theologies which spend half their pages railing against the theory of evolution won’t help much either. In doing so, they too betray a basic lack of confidence that the Bible is compatible with modern scientific knowledge, and Richard Dawkins needs no help from them in putting that idea out into the public domain.

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Acts 4.10-12 – The uniqueness of Christ as the means of salvation, and its implications.

Posted: 28 June 2012 in Acts

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

It is sometimes asked, sometimes by atheists trying to make Christianity look stupid, but also by sincere Christians, whether people who have never heard of Jesus can be saved. This is not going to be a popular answer, but so far as I can see, it is no. The Bible says, more than once, that there is no means of salvation other than Christ, and there does not appear to be any exceptions mentioned. Behind the idea (and desire) that the answer might be yes, lies the thought that people, who have never heard of Christ, might be able to achieve salvation by living good lives. The problem there is that it was because that is not possible that Christ’s sacrifice (and faith in that sacrifice) was and is necessary.

An analogy might help. A man is due to make a journey from London to Edinburgh (he lives in Britain). He drives to the petrol station to fill up with petrol, only to find that the garage has run out of petrol. It just so happens that the trains are on strike the following day. Obviously, the man is not culpable for the the negligence of the garage owner, but the fact remains that he now lacks the means of making his journey to Edinburgh. Similarly, people can find themselves in the position of lacking the means of salvation, through no fault of their own.

God is not being unmerciful in his dealings with man. He showed his mercy in the sacrifice of his Son. But if somebody, for whatever reason, lacks the necessary (and that word has to be emphasised) means of salvation, then they will stand condemned. Justly so, because, as with all mankind, original puts their spirit in a state of constant rebellion against God, and their only hope of salvation would have been through Christ. When Jesus gave his disciples an expicit instruction to evangelise the whole world, he therefore did so for a very good reason.

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Jude 1.1-8 – The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints
Posted: 27 June 2012 in Jude

Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.

This passage is a reminder that the faith once delivered to the saints is not available for us to recast in order to conform it to our own ideas. God has revealed to us the way of salvation, and we cannot change it. One of the tagets St Jude appears to have in his sights is the corruption of God’s revealed will known as the gnostic heresy – the notion that our salvation comes through the acquisition of a humanly constructed wisdom (and one only available to the initiated few). In the light of what the Bible, and Christian theology otherwise has to say on the subject, it hardly needs to be said that this idea is fantestical. Men cannot achieve their own salvation. But the temptation to think that it is always there, and, reading the various things posted which get on the internet, it is pretty obvious that even Protestants too easily slip into the idea that salvation is through their own efforts.

In my opinion, the phrase “the last times” is one heard far too often on the lips of evangelicals. There seems to be an itching desire to know something that, according to the Bible, is unknown even to the Son, but only to the Father (Mark 13.32). Nevertheless, we are living in the last times in one sense. We are living at a time when God has completed his revelation to men, and we have all things necessary for salvation. Until Christ comes again, there is no new prophesy to be had, and no new revelation to be received. We are to live with the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and attend upon God’s word every day.

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Genesis 3.12-14 and Romans 5.12-14 – Science and the truths of God
Posted: 26 June 2012 in Genesis, Romans

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

What seems to bug many Christians today, especially in the United States, is the idea that science poses a challenge to the truths of the Bible. Most famously that is supposed to be the case when it comes to the opening chapters of Genesis.

Well, I would beg to differ with them about that. One of the most important truths to be found in the Bible is that God is creator of all things, in heaven and in earth. That remains the case whether the big bang theory is true or not. Atheists might like to entertain the idea that science can dispose of God, but Christians ought to know better. Christians are sometimes heard to say that something does not come from nothing. As an argument meant to convince an atheist, that is perhaps less than water tight, but it is something the Bible reveals to be true, and so it can be said, without qualification, that it must be true. What is more, science, as science, poses no challenge to it.

Not only is God the creator of all things, he is the sustainer of all things, and nothing can exist except through his sovereign grace. The Creation provides more than adequate grounds for all Christians to praise and worship him. But perhaps, even more important for Christian theology than the Creation, is the doctrine of the fall. And that is because it impinges directly upon our need for a saviour. If there was no fall, Christ’s sacrifice was meaningless, and, if evolution is true, then Genesis 3 obviously cannot be literally true. But having made that negative statement, it is necessary to go on and say that the doctrine of the fall most certainly is true. The Bible reveals its origin to lie with us, and it also reveals the whole of humanity to be now under the curse of sin. We are all culpable in God’s eyes. Maybe, in our curiosity, we would like to have more in the way of explanation, firstly as to how that came about, and secondly about we can be guilty for something in which we (apparently) had no active part. But since we now know that Genesis 3 gives us theology, not history, we must be content to live with what is revealed. Without seeking, with itching ears, information which most likely is beyond our comprehension, and which, anyway, God has seen fit not to give us.

A theologian I know of made the remark that if he thought there was a conflict between the theory of Evolution (which he didn’t) then he would have to heed the Bible. I can see his position, in fact I probably share it. What God reveals to be true must, of necessity, be true. He is omniscient, and does not lie. Nevertheless, it is perhaps just as well that there is no necessary conflict, because amongst Christian biologists there seems to be almost universal agreement that evolution is true – albeit with the qualification that, like every thing else, it flows directly from the will of God.

Of course you wouldn’t hear that last bit from Richard Dawkins, but there is no immutable law which says that anybody has to pay a blind bit of attention to Richard Dawkins.

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Ezekiel 14.9-10 and Psalm 33.14-15 – The Paradox of Predestination
Posted: 25 June 2012 in Ezekiel, Psalms

And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;

From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.

Both of the above passages contain a thought which the biblical writers seem to have taken for granted, but which modern man has great trouble in accepting. Namely that the actions of all men are both directly under the providential control of God, but that men nevertheless are morally responsible for their deeds. In God’s eyes sin is always culpable, and will always bring judgment upon the sinner. That is also something the inspired Word of God makes perfectly clear. Here, of course, is a paradox which would do any quantum physicist proud. But both physicist and theologian are required to live with their respective paradoxes. Unlike the physicist, however, there is no chance that the theologian will ever have his paradox resolved, because it is something which lies buried deeply within the mystery of God. It is revealed to us, but not explained.

Jesus told his disciples to address God as their Father, and for those chosen to be God’s cildren – those who were born of God (John 1.13) – that is an approprite appelation. But perhaps we can guess that predestination exists, at least in part, so that we can tremble before the God who is Lord, thereby giving him the fear and reverence which is his due. And lest we forget that, in addition to being Father of his children, he is also the Lord of all Creation – disposing all things according to the good counsel of his own will.

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