Friday, 10 October 2014

On my youthful eschatological fear of Crocodiles: Some thoughts on the Resurrection of the Dead

When I was very young I was fascinated by crocodiles. Yet I was also terrified of them. Now, I lived in Northern Ireland, so there wasn’t all that much risk of encountering a crocodile in the village and thus meeting a grizzly end. But that didn’t matter, because, you see, my fear was not of the grizzly end – for, as rather a young child I had little concept of how horrid such a grizzly end would really be - but rather, my fear was of what would come next, after said grizzly end. So, it wasn’t so much a risk assessment terror I had of crocodiles, as an eschatological terror.

And then one day the unthinkable happened. Our pastor was called as a missionary to South Africa, which meant that his two children – my friends – would be moving to a land where there actually were crocodiles. This led to two things: 1) excitement that they would be able to send me a postcard of a crocodile from South Africa (which they duly did), and 2) the great fear that my friends could possibly be eaten by a crocodile (a fear which, however, was not great enough to cancel out the importance of the postcard request).

At that age I had no real concept of violence and suffering. Yet, I did have a real concept of something else, something which made my being-eaten-by-a-crocodile fear very important for me. And what was this? It was the resurrection of the dead. For you see this was my crocodile fear: if you got eaten by a crocodile, how would you get out of the crocodile at the resurrection. (As I’ve said, I was very young, so the intervening death of the crocodile, never mind any other unpleasant consequences of being eaten, didn’t feature at all in my thinking: for me it was all a question of how you would get out of the crocodile’s tummy.) So perturbed was I about the possible fate of my friends – missing out on the resurrection because of getting eaten by a crocodile – that I had no other choice but to ask my father about this dilemma.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

On the Church and On Sin: With a (former) Tory MP and a Catholic Priest

What with the Extraordinary Synod going on in Rome this week, the Roman Catholic Church has been in the news a bit of late. And as a result of all this pre-synod hype in the media, two Roman Catholics wrote two of the best articles I read last week. One was an article in the Catholic Herald by a priest. The other was an article in the Spectator by a former MP. You should read both of them. (But if you're not going to read both, then please at least read the second one!)

Now, maybe that seems a bit odd. I am, after all, both a Pentecostal pastor and an Ulster Protestant. And as such, I'm convinced that very significant aspects of Roman Catholic theology are seriously wrong. I still believe that justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't read, and even learn from, Roman Catholics. Although we are justified by faith alone, it is by faith in Christ alone, not faith in the right formulation of the doctrine of justification!

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith's article expresses something to which we so often officially believe, but practically forget: the ontological reality of the Body of Christ:
One needs to distinguish here between a group of people who are united sociologically (for want of a better word) and a group of people who are united in Christ, which is a theological reality. Unity in Christ is something we are always on the way to achieving, if we were not constantly impeded by our sins. Thus we should be in a constant state of repentance for our sins, in that they frustrate the unity that Christ prayed for and which He bequeathed us on Calvary... This is the true fault line: those who believe in the Body of Christ and our vocation to belong to it through baptism, and those who believe the Church needs to catch up with the world, and other such dreary clichés. St Paul had to put up with a lot of them, because he writes: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).That was sound advice in the first century, and it remains sound advice today.
Lucie-Smith's mention in there of sin as not only a personal problem, but also an ecclesiological problem (i.e. our sins impede our unity in the one Body of Christ), resonates too with the second article.

Louise Mensch has written in the Spectator an article which is, at the same time surprising, powerful, profoundly sad, and beautiful. And this is not an article by a priest or theologian, but rather by the ordinary (albeit prominent) Catholic in the pew. This is an ordinary believer dealing with sin and church and salvation and Jesus and grace. It's not someone rolling out the official line before the Synod, but rather someone who, in the eyes of the world, should be advocating change, doing the very opposite of all worldly expectations. And why? For the simple reason that she believes.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

These are the Bones of Elisha (Declaring the Word of the Lord)

One of the most curious events in all of Scripture is found in a single verse in 2 Kings 13. That chapter records the death of the prophet Elisha, and yet, there’s still one more story of Elisha here some time after his death. 2 Kings 13:21 tells us:
So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.
Elisha was dead. And yet when a corpse was thrown into his tomb hastily in an attempt to hide from marauding bands of Moabites, the man came back to life simply by his corpse touching Elisha’s bones. Even as miracles go, that one’s quite impressive.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Money, Money, Money (Must Be Funny, in a Rich Man’s World!)

‘Not the Pentecostals! Watch out – they’ll be trying to get all your money.’
     – The reaction when a new Christian told her Muslim uncle that she’d got saved and           started attending a Pentecostal church. 
‘Hello, I’m calling from [“Christian” TV channel]. We have some great deals on advertising during our broadcasts and wondered if the church would be interested.’
     – A phone call yesterday. 
     – the amount one American church is appealing to raise to produce a worship album 
$750 plus expenses
     – an American amount recommended as a gift for visiting preachers 
‘US pastors paid up to $300,000 - are Church of England vicars getting a raw deal?’
     – recent Headline in Christian Today

£5.75 million
     – the amount of money an evangelical church down south is trying to raise for               building improvements.
     – the amount two American pastors are raising to produce a six minute teaching video
Money has been on my mind a bit of late. Not my money, but what evangelicals and Pentecostals do with their money, and our reputation when it comes to money. The statement at the top of the post, made to me by a new Christian last week, opened my eyes with a nasty start to the reputation of Pentecostals among the wider world when it comes to money. And I think the phone call I got trying to sell advertising time on "Christian" TV was the last straw. It left me shocked and appalled by the low to which we have sunk in this country (not only with what we do with money, but also with our notion of "success" and the accompanying lack of trust in the power of God's Word - Christ grows His Church by His Word, not through marketing and advertising!).

Monday, 6 October 2014

Walking on Water Redux: Darkness and Water

I’ve been writing about Jesus walking on the water at the Easter before Easter – the Passover before the Crucifixion. So let me just wrap this up today (and then I promise I'll change the subject). At that second Passover of His earthly ministry Jesus fed 5000 people, then He walked on water,and then He told everyone that He is the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35) and that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you’ (Jn 6:53). So, we’ve got 2 of Jesus’ most famous miracles and one of His most difficult sermons. But what on earth does that have to do with the ultimate fulfilment of the Passover the next year on Good Friday?

Lots. For example the Passover Sacrifice is connected to His flesh given for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). But what I want to focus on is the walking on water. So how does that fit in with Passover and Good Friday?

John 6:17 tells us that ‘it was already dark’ (Jn 6:17). Now, we’ve just been told that it was ‘evening’ (v.16), and at Passover time in Israel sunset is at about 6pm, so it’s basically dark all evening. Then why does John mention that it was dark? Well, John likes to point out details of what happened that remind us of the spiritual reality. Yes, it was dark physically, but by highlighting it, John wants to point out something more.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Who Knew Not Walking on Water was so Controversial! (A Bit of a Response)

My post from earlier in the week about walking on water (or not, as the case may be), has proved to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written, and lots of people have been in touch in various ways either to critique it or ask questions. (To be fair, it's probably also the post that's had the most encouraging feedback as well.) Now, of course in writing a short blog post, I didn’t show all my exegetical working (after all, it’s not a maths exam), but as it’s raised questions, let me show a bit more of the background thinking and respond to some of the objections. This post is really written as a reply to some comments from Chris Anthony which ended up being far too long for the comments section (so that’s why it looks like a response to an individual, because in a sense it is). However, as Chris raised some of the common points brought up by several others elsewhere, I thought it would be helpful to post this reply in its own right. You can see Chris’ comments at the bottom of the original post, and I’ve replied to some issues there already (like the text of Job 9:8).

Peter may have walked on water for a moment. I’ve been aware of that all along as it (seems to be) stated explicitly in the text. (In fact, it may well be an inceptive aorist here, meaning that he stepped onto the water to begin to walk, but without any implication that he succeeded in walking at all. But for the benefit of the doubt, I’ll just read it as ‘walked’ here.) So my claim from Job 9 has always been in the full consciousness of Peter walking on the water. Which means that I’m convinced that Peter doesn’t contradict or undermine that argument. Why not?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Jesus Walked on Water So You Don’t Have To!

When Jesus walked on the water, He didn’t come along urging His disciples to step out of the boat. He wasn’t doing it to show the disciples what they should be doing. He didn’t walk on water to give them a great challenge. He wasn’t calling them out of the boat to walk on the water FOR HIM. No! It’s the other way round entirely. Jesus walked on the water for THEM.

But, you ask, what about Peter? He stepped out of the boat. Surely we should be like him?! Well, maybe not. Three of the Gospels tell us of Jesus walking on the water, yet only Matthew mentions what Peter did, which suggests that Peter’s role wasn’t the most important part of what was going on. For, you see, this miracle is all about Jesus and points us to Him, not Peter. It’s Jesus who is at the centre.

And what does Matthew really tell us about Peter anyway? Does he tell us that this was a fantastic thing that Peter did and that all the other disciples should really have done the same thing? Does he urge us to follow Peter’s example? No, not at all!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

We eat His flesh; We drink His blood: An Apostolic View of the Breaking of Bread

I wrote a journal article a few years ago on the theology of the Breaking of Bread among the early Apostolics in the UK. (You can find basically the same material in pp.6-13 of this paper.) The basic jist was that D.P. Williams and other early Apostolics didn't believe that the Lord's Supper was just a memorial. (They weren't Zwinglians!)

So the other day I was getting quite excited to find some new material that I hadn't seen before from D.P. Williams on the Lord's Supper, where he writes that at the Table, 'we eat His flesh; we drink His blood.' (And before anyone gets carried away and thinks that I or D.P. Williams have gone Roman Catholic and started to advocate transubstantiation, have a look here.)

Anyway, for some reason this non-Zwinglianism doesn't seem to be all that well known a fact. And today I think I might have discovered why that is.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Pentecostal Theologies: 2 Reviews

I've been trying all week to write a review of Amos Yong's Renewing Christian Theology to post here. The problem is I've written about 3 different reviews now, and each time it turns into a massive essay. So maybe I'll come back to it again, for there is a lot in there that I'd like to interact with (and by that I suppose I really mean argue strongly in the other direction). But in the meantime, I thought I'd just post here the short review I wrote for Amazon. And while I'm at it I'll give you a quick (and much more positive)  review I wrote for Amazon of another recent work of theology by a Pentecostal systematician: Simon Chan's Grassroots Asian Theology.

Amos Yong with Jonathan A. Anderson, Renewing Christian Theology: Systematics for a Global Christianity (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014)

Academically, this will be a significant book. It's engaging, constructive, provocative, and incredibly readable too. Particularly to be appreciated is Yong's application of theologia crucis to Pentecostal distinctives.

Catechetically (i.e. for teaching the faith in the church) this won't be a helpful book. (But then, that's not what it was written for in the first place!) It's light on several key doctrines (Person of Christ/Hypostatic Union, orthodox Trinitarianism) and doesn't even touch on others such as faith, grace, works and justification. It's also, at significant moments (e.g. doctrine of Scripture, nature of the atonement, approach to other religions), considerably removed both from traditional Classical Pentecostal theology (think Pearlman, Williams, Arrington, or Horton) and from the beliefs of typical Pentecostal churchgoers (at least in the UK).

Monday, 1 September 2014

Going to University in Leeds? Looking for a Church?

Sorry to my regular readers, but I'm hijacking my own blog today. September has rolled around and the new academic year will soon be upon us, which will mean tens of thousands of students arriving in Leeds at the University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan/Leeds Beckett University, and Leeds Trinity University, as well as the colleges. So, I thought I'd write today to any new students coming to Leeds and looking for a church when you get here. (And if you happen to know any students heading off for university in Leeds this year, then pass this on to them!)

1) Why it's important to get into a church right from the beginning of your time at university

The first few weeks at university are full of new experiences, busyness, and getting used to a new routine and a new way of life. So sometimes new students are tempted to think 'Oh, I'll find a church in a few weeks when everything's calmed down a bit and life is less busy.' The problem is that things don't really calm down a bit, life's never really less busy, and and you've started the habit of putting off going to church.

In fact, church isn't another busy thing to add to your first week. No - it's a rest from the busyness of your new uni life. True, it might not be the same people and things might not be done the same way as your church back at home, but even despite the differences, there will be something there that's the same — or, rather, someone. Jesus is the same. And even if you don't know anyone in your new church yet, even if all the songs are different, even if it doesn't have the same weekly round of meetings that you're used to at home, the most important thing is exactly the same: Jesus.