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Because click bait.

Anyway, here is yesterday's Reading Between The Lines video: One Flesh

Essentially I just want to clear a space for a distinctive Christian sexual ethic and give some reasons for why we think in the peculiar way we do. In comments, a thoughtful YouTuber made some points (there weren't any "accusations flying" at all I just put that in my heading to be sensational). "CaptainMikul" (not a Christian) made some excellent points. I've interspersed his questions with my answers.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

I respect your view that I should have freedom in my own sexual ethic, but I don't think you get the (rather nasty) sub text of what you are saying...

Marriage, man and woman, sex: Ferrari, beautiful.
Not marriage, man and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Marriage, man and man, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Not marriage, woman and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
etc etc.

 

ME

Hey, thanks for commenting. You're right that I didn't go into the male-female aspect of marriage here which I know is a huge issue but I'm trying to keep the videos under 8 minutes.

This means that the Ferrari/Lada analogy is not about hetero/homo-sexuality. I don't have that issue in view at all in this video. The car analogy is simply about how we use sex. Is sex cheap? Is it for anyone or is it just for that one special person? Christians want to keep sex to "one careful owner" so to speak. That's the point with the car analogy.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

You're assuming that all Christians must share your sexual ethic. You're fine with me having my own and don't want to legislate against it, and I respect that. But to other Christians who have a different sexual ethic to Christians like yourself, who say their relationship is a beat up old car and that Christians believe that, can have a really damaging effect on them.

 

ME

On the issue of wanting other Christians to agree with me... well there are Biblical texts to be wrestled with. And I think I'm on safe ground to say "This is what Jesus taught about sex" and I think there are interpretations of Jesus' teachings that are valid and interpretations that aren't. People are free to believe what they like, but they are not free to re-write what was written. To use an analogy, You can be a free-market capitalist if you like, but you can't claim that this was the true meaning of Das Kapital. "Marxism" is not infinitely flexible in what it affirms and denies and neither is Christianity.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

And then your saying that this is because Jesus gets to dictate what is beautiful in your life. So the Son of God himself thinks that a guy and a guy are not beautiful? Why does he get to decide that, why does He even think that?

 

ME

Jesus gets to tell us the deal with sex if He created it. I'd totally agree that, if He was just one more wise guru we could weigh His thoughts as an interesting 1st century, Jew. But if He made us and knows how life works then His teaching takes on a different character. That's why the big question for a non-Christian is not "what do I think about Jesus' sexual ethics?" but "Who does Jesus think He is to be speaking like this?" That's the question I'd like non-Christians to be wrestling with.

Why does Jesus think sex operates like this? Well heaven and earth, man and woman, Christ and His people are these parallel pairings throughout the Bible (from the very first verse). And the Bible sees these pairs as "made for each other." Man and woman coming together is part of a cosmic love story. It mirrors the way God loves the world, the way Christ gave Himself for His people. It's about equal opposites combining in this life-giving way. No wonder then this how life comes to our species. Man and woman becoming one has been the way of life from the beginning. If man or woman "plays the field" that tells a different story to the cosmic love story. Likewise, Man sticking with man or woman sticking with woman tells a different story. For the Christian, sex means something beyond the sexual desires of the individuals involved. It is a proclamation of profound truths. Once again, I don't expect you to agree with this sexual ethic because you don't agree with the underlying "profound truths" but you asked why Jesus would even teach this stuff. And that's the beginning of a sketch of an answer.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

You seem alright, I doubt you have a bad bone in your body, but can you not see the problem of presenting as loving and beautiful a deity who dictates that others relationships are not worthy?

 

ME

Thanks so much for the tone and thoughtfulness of your comment. I don't see any problem with "a deity who" tells us what sex means in the world that he has made. The implications of that teaching are that there are more faithful and healthy uses of sex and less faithful and less healthy uses of sex. That seems absolutely consistent with a loving, beautiful God.

Let me finish with an analogy: If I was a Buddhist and this was a 7 minute video on the crazy-beautiful way of vegetarianism, would that be offensive? Imagine if I said in the video that "For Buddhists, meat is murder"? I imagine that most people would be completely fine if I said "Buddhists have a cosmic vision of life and meat-eating does not fit into it, so for us meat is forbidden." I don't imagine that there would be comments saying "I eat meat and I'm offended." Or "Some of my best friends work in an abattoir, how dare you say they are unworthy!" I imagine everyone would shrug their shoulders and say "Fair enough, I disagree, pass me the bacon sandwich." Why is this video different to that?

 

I haven't yet received a response from him. But I'm thrilled that people are interacting on the issue.

 

 

The OICCU asked me to speak last week on this title: Perverse Justice - How Can God Forgive Paedophiles?

Really it's about how God's justice relates to His forgiveness.

(Don't worry, the sound rights itself after about 30 seconds)

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NOTES

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I've been meaning to do this for ages but I've now met the excellent Chris the Witness online and our conversation has prompted me to write a short introduction to the Trinity with Jehovah's Witnesses in mind:

The Good News That God is Trinity:

Here's a 5 minute gospel explanation where the Trinity is front and centre:

It's Not So Strange, Really It Isn't

I hope from this video you can see that God's "THREE-ness" is not weird. It's good news. God is an eternal Father forever loving His Son in the communion of the Spirit. If that sounds strange, consider four sets of Scriptural evidence:

How God existed before the world began: There are many verses that speak of God's pre-creation life and they always describe a lively interplay of Persons (e.g. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Before the world began the Father was loving and choosing and speaking to His Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit (see for example John 17:5, 24).

How God presents Himself to us now: Jesus is constantly presented as "the Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1; John 20:31). In other words, He's the One anointed by the Spirit beyond measure, who is also the Son of the Father. To know Jesus is to be introduced to the THREE. But these THREE are clearly ONE. These Persons are united together in the closest possible love relationship. e.g. Jesus speaks of the Father being IN Him and He is IN the Father, and it all happens IN the Spirit (John 14:10, 16-18, 23). You simply cannot understand the Gospels at all without doing business with this united three-ness to God.

How we know God: The Bible is clear about how we know God. Jesus is the Way to the Father. The Father is known only through His Son (Matthew 11:25-27; John 14:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). This true spiritual knowledge can only happen by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13-16; 12:3). Therefore God is known as a Father revealed in the face of His Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How we are saved by God:  The Bible is even more clear about how we are saved. God the Father gave us His Son by the Spirit. If we receive His Son (i.e. believe in Jesus) then we get filled with His Spirit and brought before His Father. According to the Bible, believers are adopted into the very life of God (see John 1:12-13; 2 Peter 1:4).

These shouldn't be controversial points - it's basic Christianity. And the shape of it all is triune. When Christians articulate the doctrine of the Trinity they are not trying to impose an alien structure on the gospel but simply to explain the contours of that gospel.

Why don't I find the word 'Trinity' in my Bible?

The word "Trinity" is simply a convenient label to describe the truths above. In both Old and New Testaments God is described in terms of THREE-ness as well as ONE-ness. The word Trinity is trying to communicate this. God is a UNITY of THREE - a TRI-UNITY - a TRINITY.

No-one needs to use the word "Trinity" - it would be fine to drop it from our vocabulary. It's just that we'd soon end up wanting another word to describe what we find in the Bible. If we read the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, we meet the Father in the face of Jesus Christ. This united THREE-ness is foundational to our Christianity.

Deity, Difference and Oneness

As we read the Bible it becomes clear that the Three Persons exhibit deity, difference and unity.

Deity: Each Person is God. (cf John 17:3; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 3:17)

Difference: The Persons are distinct from one another. (cf Matthew 3:16-17)

Unity: The Persons are so united that they are "in" one another (cf John 14:10, 16-18, 23)

This last point should be obvious - there cannot be a Father without Him having a Son and the Spirit of the Son cannot be without the Son (cf Galatians 4:4-6). The Three do not simply get on well with one another - they constitute one another and have done so eternally.

One devastating problem for the Jehovah's Witness account of God is that, for them, Jehovah is not fundamentally Father. If Jehovah has not eternally had his Son then he is not eternally a Father. But for the Christian, God has always been life-giving because He has always had His Son; He has always been communicative because He has always had His Word (John 1:1); He has always been wise because He has always had His Wisdom (1 Cor 1:31); He has always been radiant because He has always had His Light (Hebrews 1:3). As an orthodox Christian I cannot help but think that Jehovah, according to the Watchtower, is life-less, mute, thoughtless and dark.

Roles, Authority and Being

From Scripture it's plain that there is a flow to God's life. The Father sends the Son. The Son never sends the Father. The Son obeys the Father. The Father never obeys the Son. Jesus can say things like "The Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). Paul can say things like "God is the head of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:3). Trinitarian Christians have never denied or been threatened by these verses - we rejoice in them. They speak of the flow of God: from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. The Persons take on different roles and there is clearly authority within the Trinity. We can speak rightly of a First, Second and Third Person of the Trinity. All this is perfectly straightforward. The problem comes when anti-trinitarians imagine a completely unwarranted conclusion: namely that such an authority structure makes the Son or the Spirit lesser beings than the Father. That would be a bizarre conclusion for two main reasons:

First, we know in every walk of life that roles and being are very different. If I told you "My boss is greater than I" you'd know exactly what I meant: he has authority over me. You would not conclude that my boss was a greater being than I, I hope! Similarly with the headship point in 1 Corinthians 11. The parallel is with marriage - husbands are the heads of wives as the Father is the head of Christ.

A JW once told me that 1 Corinthians 11:3 was Paul "completely ruling out the doctrine of the Trinity." I asked him if he thought this verse meant God was a greater being than Christ. He said "Yes." I asked him if, by parallel, I was a greater being than my wife. He paused and then said "Yes." Flabbergasted I asked for clarification. He said "Well you call the shots." I told him he clearly didn't know my marriage. At this point his female partner was so outraged that he had to pull her away from the door-step and down the street. I yelled after her: "You know that woman are equal in being to men... AND CHRIST IS EQUAL IN BEING TO THE FATHER!!" (They haven't been back).

It's obvious that roles and being are different. That's reason number one that the roles in the Trinity do not make the being of the Son or Spirit lesser. But there's a second, more fundamental, reason why we can't conclude that the being of the Son or Spirit is lesser...

Second, the Persons are completely and indivisibly united. We can't think of the Father without the Son, or the Spirit without the Father. There is no "being" of God underneath or besides the three Persons. The being of God is the one, unified life of love which the Father, Son and Spirit share. And so of course they all share in that life together. There isn't a separate or separable being of the Father and another of the Son. The Father-Son-Spirit relationship constitutes the unified being of God. There can be no "greater" or "lesser" when it comes to this being, because the Father, Son and Spirit in their life together are the being of God.

Some Objections

Chris tweeted me some verses to consider. I think that what I've said already will explain them:

In Revelation 3:12, Jesus calls the Father "my God." Very good. I should hope so. The Son has always looked to His Father in the Trinity's united life of worship and joy.

In Colossians 1:15, the Son is called the Firstborn. Does this make Him the first creature? Clearly not, because by Him all things were made so this very verse teaches that Christ is Creator and not creature. "Firstborn" in the Bible is about inheritance - David was the "firstborn" even though, physically, he was the eighthborn! (Psalm 89:20,27).

In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul calls God the head of Christ. Absolutely. In the same breath he says that husbands are heads of wives. If you think the role of headship entails a greater being then you blaspheme Christ and denigrate all women.

In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says the Father knows the hour of His return but He, as Son, does not. Again, within the flow of the life of God this is exactly what we would expect. The Father sends the Son. Jesus does not do anything of His own initiative. He entrusts all things to His Father and will go when sent. This does not undermine His divine identity but expresses it as the Sent One of the Father.

A Question of My Own

If you are a Jehovah's Witness, allow me to challenge you on your doctrine of God assumptions. Perhaps you think that unitarianism is an obvious or default doctrine of God. If you do, I suggest that this assumption comes from Aristotle and not from Scripture. I contend that Moses' doctrine of God is not and never was the Watchtower's. Moses and the Prophets spoke of a unified but multi-Personal revelation of God, from Genesis 1 onwards.

If you are a JW I challenge you to study these 24 Old Testament passages and see how a unitarian doctrine of God cannot handle the Scriptures - even the New World Translation. There has always been more than one Person called Jehovah - therefore the question is: to which Jehovah are you witnessing? Jesus is the eternal Son - whose eternal nature has always been to be Jehovah. Jesus is LORD!

In Conclusion

Last year I preached on John chapter 1. A JW who was 30 years in the Watchtower came to me in tears at the beauty of the Trinity. He'd never been taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, only the Watchtower straw-man version. I said to him "If Jesus is only a servant of Jehovah then all he can do is bring you into his own slavery." He said "That's exactly what it's felt like: slavery." I continued... "But if Jesus is the eternal Son, then He's come to share with you His life of love in the family of God." We prayed gratefully to the Father and that man was liberated from slavery into the freedom of the children of God.

I pray that you too will know this freedom.

 

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I've been listening to a lot of Muslim - Christian debates. Here are three that have interested me recently - each of them with Dr Shabir Ally.

Firstly there's James White vs Shabir Ally on whether the earliest witnesses to Jesus confessed His deity:

White argues that the earliest sources unashamedly confess the deity of Christ - the "Carmen Christi" of Philippians 2, the "NT Shema" of 1 Corinthians 8 and Mark's Gospel speak of Jesus as Yahweh. Fascinatingly Shabir seems to concede as much, at least over the Philippians 2 material, but then claims that this must be a corruption of the earliest beliefs. Why? Because we know that the Jews were monotheists (which Shabir conflates time and again with "unitarians").

Shabir wriggles off the hook because he claims that the Old Testament is unitarian. If this is so then NT trinitarianism must be a corruption and the Quran must be correct in saying that the Christians have changed their book. His wriggling is very unconvincing, obviously, because the evidence James brings is without question the earliest. All Shabir can do is to claim that beneath the Scriptures there must lie an original unitarian faith in Jesus that gets developed in trinitarian ways over time. It's all a "just so story" but he gets away with it because he asserts that the OT is unitarian.

The second debate I watched recently was Jay Smith versus Shabir Ally. Watch Jay's 35 minute opening statement from 17:55 where he brings devastating critiques of the historicity of the Quran and its transmission:

Shabir responds with numerological hocus pocus from 53:45. As Dr Ally waxes lyrical about the number 19 in the Quran your jaw will hit the floor (but not in the way Dr Ally hopes). It's astonishing that this would be put forward in a serious debate and take up so much of Dr Ally's argument. Jay's historical critique of the Quran remains completely unanswered.

But still Shabir wriggles off the hook because, well, we all know that the NT must be corrupt? Why? Because it changes the doctrine of God from the OT.

Ok then, step forward Nabeel Qureshi. I loved this debate. Just listen to Nabeel's opening statement from 8:15.

Here Nabeel is hitting where it hurts. I love that he questions whether Tawhid (Islam's unitarianism) is the simple doctrine of God that Muslims claim. Actually Tawhid involves Muslims in all sorts of difficulties. If Allah is alone, how can he break free from the prison of his own transcendence to communicate with creatures. Some Muslims speak of the word of Allah existing with him in eternity which is really the only way you could have true revelation from Allah. Only if the Quran is an eternal communication could it communicate the eternal God. But of course as soon as you say that you are threatening Tawhid because you have something alongside Allah.

In Christian theology the eternal Word who is God from God is not a problem. He's the solution. Without Him God must be mute and we must be left in the dark. Nabeel was right to press Shabir on the question of the Quran's eternality, it goes to the heart of the Islamic doctrine of God and forces the Muslim to the horns of a dilemma. Either God does not have an eternal word and thus we cannot know that Allah is transcendent or he does have an eternal word and Tawhid is completely compromised.

More fundamentally though Nabeel establishes that the OT, in its own context and on its own terms, is not unitarian at all and could not be read unitarianly. This is where I have found evangelism to Muslims gaining most traction. When you show that Yahweh is face to face with Abraham and then rains down judgement from the-LORD-out-of-the-heavens (Genesis 18:1; 19:24) you show that Moses' doctrine of God is nothing like Mohammed's.

Have a watch and enjoy Nabeel's arguments. And if you want another couple dozen more OT Scriptures - see these 24 verses that cannot be read unitarianly in the Hebrew Bible. We simply do not see a progression from unitarianism to trinitarianism in the Bible or history. What we see in the Scriptures is a compound unity to God with three Persons who may take divine titles. We see this from Genesis 1 onwards. Unitarianism is not the pure origin, it is the much later corruption. This corruption began with the Rabbis reacting against the early Christians and continued with the heresy of Islam (much aided by pagan philosophy).

One thing I admire about Islam is its comprehensive view of history. For them Adam is a Muslim, so is Moses, so is Jesus - and they all taught Tawhid. The Christian view of history ought to be similarly consistent. Adam is a Christian, so is Moses, so are all true prophets - and they were all trinitarian. These are the arguments that truly fight fire with fire in Muslim-Christian debate and these are the truths that make sense of our Christian faith: triune from the beginning.

Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896MISSION IN ISAIAH (audio)

Mission in the life of the church is often thought of as a balancing act.

On the one hand, church exists to glorify God. On the other hand, we exist to reach out to the world.
On the one hand, we worship God. On the other hand, we evangelise.
On the one hand we seek holiness. On the other hand we sully ourselves by going out into the world to make disciples.

Mission is considered a counter-balance to the other activities which we know to be important. And maybe we think it's a major counter-balance. Maybe we think it's incredibly important and the mission side of things dominates how we shape church life. At that stage the glory / worship / holiness people say "You've forgotten our core business in the church!" And the evangelistic people say "You've forgotten the lost!" And probably both sides will make excellent points as they debate each other. But they're both wrong if they think that theologically there's a trade-off. Theologically there's no trade off.

Here's my central contention for this morning: The glory of God, the worship of God, the holiness of God are thoroughly missional. Such that you cannot have the glory / worship / holiness stuff without the outreaching / evangelistic / missionary stuff. And if you think you can have holiness without outreach, you haven't just lost outreach - you've lost both. Because these things come together. It's a job lot.

This morning we're going to look at Isaiah and see that Glory and Worship and Holiness are thoroughly outgoing things because God is fundamentally an outgoing God. If that's true, what does it mean for our churches?...

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Jesus_washing_Peter's_feetYesterday I led a seminar on equipping Christians for evangelism. I opened up with a quiz to figure out where people were coming from. This is the quiz:

Here are four pairs of statements. Both sentences in each pair make good and honourable points, but if you had to choose, which would you lean towards...

A. Evangelism is about finding connections with what the world already believes.
B. Evangelism is about telling a very different story

A. Evangelism is more like leading people along stepping stones.
B. Evangelism is more like inviting people into an unfamiliar world

A. People’s stated objections to faith should be answered as asked with careful consideration.
B. We assume that, most often, questions are excuses because the questioner doesn't want to believe?

A. Our goal is cultural transformation and being taken seriously by the powers that be.
B. We are content to be an unimpressive church of nobodies.

I lean towards B in each of these pairs. I hear the concerns of A but I think we give the world better than they ever dared believe when we first tell a different story. We lead people on in the faith by proclaiming the strange new world of the Bible. We address questioners best when we see beneath their questions. And we transform culture by being a cross-shaped community, unconcerned for worldly power.

Both A and B reflect good and honourable truths, so in one sense it's a false dichotomy to get people to choose. On the other hand we do need to choose the way we pursue these things. And I say we take the hit by leading with B, all the while trusting that this is God's path towards A. In other words I think the way to get the glory which everyone wants is through suffering. The way to resurrection is through the cross.

Here's something that interested me. On three of these questions the room was split between A and B. I think A probably won each of the rounds but on one question A got 99% of the room and B got a couple of sheepish hold-outs. Which question? Number 4 - about cultural transformation. Everyone wants to shape culture and be taken seriously by the powers that be. No-one wants to be an unimpressive church of nobodies.

It seems to me, though, that God's power and wisdom are vindicated precisely in a weak and foolish looking cross and a weak and foolish looking church (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). This cruciformity does indeed carry God's power and wisdom and so will have a truly spiritual, transformational impact. But there's a shape to that transformation - down and then up. Are we prepared to go that path? Are we prepared to be unimportant? Are we prepared to look foolish - nuts even - before the world. I was surprised yesterday to see how few people were prepared to identify as unimpressive and how many preferred to be 'culture shapers.'

Maybe though, as the last vestiges of cultural power are being stripped from us, there is an opportunity for fruitful evangelism. Maybe if we embrace the "weak and foolish" label which the world is giving us rather than insisting on our own wisdom and credibility, we can truly walk the way of the cross. Maybe we'll actually reach the world when we stop trying to do so with our own impressiveness. Maybe we should stop demanding 'a seat at the table' and instead pick up a towel to serve.

"But people will think we're stupid, inconsequential servants!"

Exactly! Genius isn't it?

3

Genesis-7It's difficult to think of any piece of literature as supportive of the modern scientific enterprise as Genesis 1. All the necessary foundations are in place:

1. Laws Up Above

The ancient Chinese had incredible technology but not science as we know it. Why? Because however great their minds were, they didn't conceive of the world operating similarly according to a Great Mind. They didn't think there were ever-present, always-applicable laws of nature that governed the universe. They went out into the world and tamed it through technology but they didn't seek to press into the deeper laws of the universe.

That's because they didn't have Genesis 1. They didn't believe that "In the beginning God" and that through his word an ordered cosmos is created which shows all the hallmarks of dependable regularities - seasons and spheres with boundaries and signs in the heavens, all going round and round - evening and morning, evening and morning.The God of Genesis 1 is a God prior to nature and beyond nature, therefore He gives us every reason to expect laws of nature. This is absolutely vital if you want to do science.

It's not uncommon to find scientists today expressing their doubts that a "Grand Unified Theory" of everything may be found. That's quite consistent. To believe in a grand unified theory sounds remarkably like Genesis 1, and who believes that anymore? But actually it's belief in the God of Genesis 1 that will engage you further with the scientific enterprise. Disbelief will make you give up the investigation prematurely.

2. A World Out There

The ancient Greeks were smart cookies. All philosophy is footnotes to Plato and all that. Philosophy, mathematics, art and literature were all spheres of excellence for the Greeks. Science? Not so much. Because science requires you to believe in a stable and predictable world out there that is open to investigation. Science occurs when you make repeatable observations and check your theories against the cold hard facts. But Greeks didn't believe in cold, hard facts. They believed in minds and reason and laws but not in empirical investigation. To study something for the Greeks meant a journey within the mind - not a venture out into the field. And so, no science.

But in Genesis 1 you have a genuinely concrete, genuinely real world. It's not this second-class excretion from the gods, it's positively willed by God, different to God (contingent not necessary) yet at the same time declared very good. It's the kind of place you can move out into and have dominion over. It is open to us. In fact we are told to fill it, order it, develop it. Science is not just enabled by Genesis 1, it's virtually commanded.

3. Minds In Here

If human minds are the product of mindless operations which only honour survival, not intelligence (the two are not at all synonymous), then why should we trust our minds to understand the laws up above and the world out there. If we are a part of the cosmos thrown up by the cosmos with no higher calling than to pass on our genes then why trust a brain that whirs away according to its own survival imperative?

If you really want to have confidence in scientific endeavour then turn to Genesis 1 where humanity are specially created in certain relationships with the Orderer above and the world out there. The image of God is on us and the command of God is to rule and fill the world. More than this, if humanity is created in God's image it is because we are destined in Christ (the Image) for face-to-face fellowship with God. If that is so then we can have every confidence that the human mind is indeed capable of grasping those things above, even as we are sent into the world out there.

Genesis 1 is very far from being anti-science. It gives us these three building blocks and every reason to believe that they will triangulate to yield fresh insights. If we turn from the Bible, what right do we have to expect rational order to the cosmos? What right do we have to expect a comprehensible universe? What right do we have to privilege the processes of these 3 pound blobs of grey matter between our ears? Actually, to turn from the Scriptures is to weaken science, not strengthen it.

The realities spoken of in Genesis 1 provide the scientific enterprise with its firmest possible foundations.

2

writing on the wallRaising hell is either terrific fun (of the throwing-televisions-out-of-hotel-windows kind) or terrifically sobering. This is the sobering kind.

Here are three thoughts on speaking about judgement. These aren't the three most important things to say but they are the three things I think we're commonly getting wrong.

 

1) Our job is not to save God from the 'guilty' verdict.

So often I hear talks that seem to aim at getting God off of our "guilty" verdict rather than getting us off of His. If you aim at trying to save your hearers you'll present God righteously.  If you aim at justifying God, you'll save neither.

 

2) We don't bring hell to the world, hell is here. We bring reality and then hope.

According to Romans 1, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. All that sinful humanity chooses is already hell-bent. This means that earth's vision of heaven is heaven's vision of hell. As we herald heaven's vision, we're not saying 'Ah, life is rosy now but the pit awaits.' We say 'Don't you realise how life is the pits now? Don't you realise we've already fallen? Don't you see where this thing is already heading? Don't you want a way out?' In this way we don't introduce hell to people who are otherwise living it up. We point to the hell in our hearts and the hell in our world and say "Hell is here and it needs nipping in the bud before it goes viral. But we know Someone who takes it seriously. Jesus can handle your hell and give you His heaven."

 

3) The quintessence of hell is not sin's recompense so much as mercy's refusal.

It's fairly common to do a 'reverse Godwin' when speaking of judgement. We begin with Hitler and the justice of judging him, then we work backwards towards less flagrant sinners... like ourselves. I wonder though if that frames everything in terms of degrees of just punishment, and while there's a place for that I think leaning too heavily on this will come a cropper in the face of eternity. (You can tell people 'temporal sins against an infinite God = eternal punishment, QED" but I've never seen it convince anyone.)

Luke 15 finishes with the bad boy in the feast and the good boy outside, with weeping and wailing and the angry gnashing of teeth. This is pretty much every way Jesus describes hell in Luke's Gospel, but the question comes: Why is he there? Because he's so bad? No, because he's so good - too good for this mercy meal. Why is he shut out of the feast? Because his father is so cruel? No he's so kind - too kind for this moralist who insists on justice.

In Luke 15 "justice forever" is the motto of hell's inmate, not its Jailer. If we let shared concepts of "justice" do all the heavy lifting on this question it frames God's ultimate posture towards the world in terms of law. But what of the "wrath of the Lamb"? The anger of the spurned Lover? Is there an evangelical (and not merely legal) preaching of hell? Or do we always come back to a law which the New Testament says has been fulfilled by Christ (the curse and all)?

Similarly I worry that an exclusive focus on the justice perspective obscures, not only the gospel character of God but also the mad mystery of human iniquity. As we hear of Matthew 25's goats, certainly we're meant to think that their punishment is fitting, right and even that there is a poetic justice to it all. But we're also meant to think 'That's insane! Goats: hell is not for you! It's for the devil and his angels. Why are you following him!? Why won't you turn and live, for who can take any pleasure in your perishing?!' God certainly doesn't (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

Our preaching of hell should lead to a gospel appeal from the depths of God's own heart, not an 'all-sewed-up' accounting for sin's recompense. That's what I mean by an evangelical (and not merely legal) account of hell.

If you want a terrific example of preaching hell, check out Steve Levy:

 

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Here are 16 Quick Answers to questions of faith which I recently tweeted:

"Atheism isn't a belief, it's the absence of belief." Really? And I suppose anarchism is the absence of political convictions?

"If God made the world, who made God?" That's like asking "If the sun enlightens the earth, what enlightens the sun?"

"I don't believe in God." I probably don't believe in the god you're imagining either. Let's talk about Jesus...

"I could never be religious." Many say 'I could never be married' but then they meet The One. That's who Jesus is to me...

"How can u believe in the virgin birth of Jesus?" How can u believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos? Talk about miraculous

"Theres no need for God, science explains it all." I can explain that sentence. No need for you?

"If you grew up in 12th century Nepal you wouldn't be a Christian." If you grew up there you wouldn't be a sceptic.

"U believe we're born sick & commanded 2b well." No we're born hungry & offered Bread. As with the physical so the spiritual.

"Suffering rules out God." Which God? To be sure many gods are incompatible with suffering but what about the crucified God?

"To say Jesus is The One Way is narrow." But u insist on One Way to consider religions. That's narrow. The cosmic Christ isn't

"To say sex/marriage is for 1 man and 1 woman is homophobic." Think of a Buddhist. Is their vegetarianism carnivore-phobic?

"Religions cause all wars." Nope, about 7%. LINK God isn't the common denominator in war. Humanity is.

"Why doesn't God just forgive?" Ever tried it? It hurts! It means self-sacrifice cos forgiving a debt means absorbing the cost

"Christians are hypocrites." Christians are SINNERS so we must drop All masks including the worst one: the No-Hypocrisy-Mask

"I wish I had your faith." If I recommend my doctor, u don't need my faith in her, u need HER. U don't need faith but Jesus.

"If God knew there'd be suffering, why create?" Every parent knows their children will suffer, they give life nonetheless.

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We're about to hit 100 episodes so we're highlighting a few different episodes from the past two years. Here's a series I enjoyed from 2014:

 

THE DREADFUL DANGER OF BEING POLISHED

THE TERRIBLE TRAP OF TALKING ABOUT GOD

THE PITIFUL PRACTICE OF GAINING CONVERTS

THE WONDERFUL NEWS THAT WE'RE CONDEMNED ALREADY

THE LIBERATING TRUTH THAT YOU DON'T NEED TO EVANGELISE

 

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