Sunday, July 25, 2010

An answer to a comment

I tried to write this as a response to a really good comment on my previous 'don't make me angry' post - but it was a bit long. So here it is as a post... don't read on if you get wound up by wishy-washy liberalism of the Anglican variety, cos here it comes... And it's not terribly well worked out either, as it was an off the cuff reply to a comment... You'll soon see why it was a bit long to be a comment....

Thanks all for your comments! I really appreciate your thoughtful and thought provoking response so I'm going to address the third comment particularly. I may not do that very well and there are plenty who could respond better than me. And I do recognise that in our interpretation and understanding of Scripture I may well be far from you... and not necessarily right!

My experience of Reformed doctrine (it's the tradition I came to faith in and one I grew up in) was that it made the Gospel exclusive - only to those who grasped on a certain intellectual level and made a certain commitment to Jesus Christ and along with that came a certain way of seeing the Bible and a set of doctrines which had to be subscribed to; particularly that of original sin, inerrancy of Scripture and a literal interpretation of the Bible as it stands in the canon of 66 books. Along with this came certain understandings of a seven day creation, headship of men over women and a variety of other viewpoints that come with that particular way of viewing Scripture. There was (and is from those of my friends who remain in this tradition) a sense of 'we've got it right and everyone else has got it wrong' that pretty much discarded any of the history of the Church in the 1800 or so years between the early Church and the evangelical revival of the Victorian era. There was also a feeling that in some way this interpretation of faith was the only one to lead to salvation - and everyone else was consigned to eternal punishment. In my experience this isn't a straw man, it is a significantly narrower understanding of faith than I would subscribe to, and that the historic formularies of the Church bear witness to. I seek (and often fail to find) a balance between Scripture, reason, experience and the history and tradition of the Church - and though I see Scripture as having primacy and 'containing within it all things necessary to salvation' I don't worship the Bible nor do I think it infallible. When Paul talks in 1 Tim 3.16 of all scripture being 'God breathed' he is arguing that the early Church should not discard the Law, Prophets, Wisdom and History of the Jewish People which we now call the Old Testament. He is not claiming inerrancy for his own writings, nor even that his own words are Scripture, nor the Gospels which weren't written at that time. The reformed Churches I grew up in (and still have connections with) tied this all up together, and it went hand in hand with an attitude which I could only describe as judgemental, with Grace as a kind of 'afterthought' on God's part in response to sinfulness. So I don't write from an attitude of looking from the outside and I was part of such communities for most of my formative years, and it grieves me that neither they nor the wider (New Frontiers) community they were a part of have moved beyond such understandings.

2. Everything I have seen from Driscoll (and I have seen and heard a lot) I have found contains a sort of false humility, particularly when he addresses movements similar to his own and says 'these guys (eg McLaren, Rob Bell) are wonderful but wrong, I love them dearly and some of what they say is right (ie in accord with me) but they aren't preaching the Gospel'. I find that arrogant and offensive, and I think he's an inadequate theologian. Though he mentions his qualifications, much of the 'learning' he refers to seems only to serve in backing up what he has decided is the case before he reads it and his view of Scripture seems to be 'this bit of the Bible backs up what I believe and should challenge you to believe what I do' rather than coming out with or being challenged by anything that isn't in his narrow field of faith. There are very few ministers of any tradition I have found quite so objectionable. I come from this tradition, and I have been a part of it, and think that at one time I was being groomed for leadership in it but I was challenged when I actually read the Bible without it being interpreted in that way, when I read well beyond the boundaries of what was 'acceptable' to the tradition I was in, when I was confronted with material, both Biblical and otherwise, which I had to struggle with and consider and work out, prayerfully, for myself and distinct from what I had been told it said.

3 I don't see hell in Scripture linked to condemnation of non-believers. It refers particularly in parable form, and I think as hyperbole, to those who call themselves followers and fail to walk worthily (sheep and goats, wedding feast, wise and foolish virgins) but as a place of eternal torment for those outside of a certain way of believing I haven't found compelling Scriptural evidence. On a purely analogous level, any punishment that has no purpose but to punish people (ie that has no redemptive quality) is simply torture. I can't see that a God who loves the world and sent his son into the world not to condemn it but that it might have life would then consign the majority of the human race to perdition because they didn't sign on the dotted line in the right way. God's Judgement I would say is ultimately 'for' us, rather than 'against us' and the ultimate choice of rejecting God (which all have) isn't met, i believe, with punishment, but with non being. The Doctrine commission of the C of E in an excellent report called 'The Mystery of Salvation' says 'Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.' That chimes with my understanding, and amongst the pictures of lakes of fire 'for the devil and all his angels' in Revelation there is the picture of the New Jerusalem in the centre of which is the tree of life, of which only the citizens of the New Jerusalem can eat. If that is the case, then bearing in mind it is 'picture language' then those who choose not to enter the New Jerusalem have no life. This makes me an annihilationist, I know, but I think it is Biblically consistent. Only a God who delights in torture (hence my throwaway but not measured comment of a Sadistic God) could ever torment eternally. I could go on more and more, but I would recommend looking for a second hand copy of the the book 'The Mystery of Salvation', it's very well written and challenging, and very scriptural!!!

4 - the Ultra prevenient Grace is a emphatic way of saying God's grace comes first, God's first thought is a 'yes' to humanity, and that the eternal state of God's being is love, as shown to humanity in his grace. As one of my theological lecturers said to me as an undergraduate 'why do we have to interpret it as being saved from something, surely being saved for life with God is more consistent with God's position of love as exhibited through Scripture?' He also said 'Why do we claim that the ultimate freedom is to say 'yes' or 'no' to God, surely the greatest freedom is that God allows us to say 'yes' to himself, as God says 'yes' to us'. That's where I come from.

I preach the Gospel of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection as an invitation to life in all its fullness, not to being saved from hell. It's becoming who God has made us to be, it's sharing in the freedom of the children of God, it's faith, hope and love. The concept of 'Advocate' (which we often translate 'Judge) in Biblical times was not of someone seeking to prove your guilt or innocence - that's more of a Roman invention, (like the Pater Familias as head of the household) - but of someone seeking to judge for you, ie in favour of you, who would speak on your behalf. I believe that God shows himself to us, and that this will be our final judgement, that when we stand and face him it won't be to explain our actions in life, or justify ourselves, but to respond to him. I believe that this will be what brings us to life or not, and that those who even in the face of God choose to reject him will then have chosen not to partake in the eternal divine reality which we often refer to as 'heaven'. I also believe that in the face of the Glory of God there is a chance that all will choose him, and I am not the one to judge who is in or who is out. If Jesus could pray 'father forgive them' for those who nailed him to the cross, who am I to decide if someone is worthy of God's forgiveness and grace.

Here endeth the sermon.

Garbled? Probably, but I live in the hope of Grace, and in the knowledge that in the death of Jesus Lord and Saviour of the world, death has been conquered, and sin has no power.


Andrew said...

I am not going to even attempt to justify my view of scripture and therefore why I subsequently believe it teaches certain things as I realise there is no point. You have come to the conclusions that you have and as much as I obviously disagree with much of it I see little to be gained from trying to convince you otherwise lest it create much division between us which I hope not to do.

However there are a few points I would like to make.

1) I can't speak for the paricular New Frontiers church you grew up in but having attended New Frontiers churches for some 12 years now I don't see what you saw. Of course NFI is broadly Reformed in its theology and therefore that is refelcted in the requirements to become part of the NFI family of churches. However within that there is a broad spectrum of understandings and beliefs about particular doctrines. Sorry to use a Driscoll analogy but there are closed handed and open handed issues. Closed handed being the core doctrines that define the Christian faith and are largely agreed upon by most orthodox believers. Then there are the open handed issues of doctrine which frankly most, not all, of what you listed fall under. These are issues we hold to as important but would not fight over and divide over if someone held different views that still fall under the category of biblical orthodoxy.

Because of this we work in unity with a wide variety of churches who hold different open handed views. There is no whiff of judgemental attitudes that would say you can't be a Christian unless you hold to every one of our beliefs be they open or closed handed issues. I am perfectly comfortable working alongside a brother who holds to an Arminian postition becuase we still agree on the core beliefs. The how's or process of salvation is secondary. That we evangelise and preach the Gospel unto salvation is what ultimately is our primary calling.

Finally on this point again I 100% disagree with your view that Grace is a kind of afterthought. To me Grace is the root of why I am Christian. Grace IS the Good News of the Gospel. I live under Grace not the law. Terry Virgo's whole ministry is around the Gospel of Grace. NFI is a Grace centred family. Of course there are individuals within it that are less than Grace filled but that is true for everywhere even the CofE ;-)!

2) I am not going to try to defend Driscoll. He's big enough to do that himself!

3) As for Hell again I could argue for it biblically but since the framework of how we view scripture is so vastly different again I see no point. But I cannot see any support biblically for the Annihilationism position and to me it undermines the whole message of the Gospel of Grace.

4) Of course your view of the reason for salvation and how we are saved is light years from mine. Again our different biblical approaches has much to do with that.

However I have one question. Your view seems to indicate that AFTER death a person has a choice once they are face to face with God. Where is that in scripture? Choose God or choose nothingness. Your view that all may be saved is almost if not Universalism.

I understand Jesus as our advocate but that he is our Adovcate before God the Father if we are His sheep. So we are then Justified and made righteous by Christ instead of being judged for our sin. But you know that!!

Anyway those are my thoughts. Peace and Blessing!

Alastair said...

Andrew, it doesn't matter what view of Scripture you have I'd be interested to know where the doctrines you hold as key come from Scripturally. I have used Scripture to explain my understandings, quite deliberately and made reference to parables that are often used to justify the damning of non-believers which contain no such teaching. I also know that Scripture doesn't say a lot of things you and I have been told it says, and it does say a lot of things we haven't been told, I particularly learned that in my Greek Studies and the Biblical Study parts of my degrees. I love Scripture, my own personal, devotional and academic life have been immersed in it, and it has primacy in the way I understand and interpret the world. But I also know that there's stuff in there that is wrong - because, particularly if one reads it chronologically rather than in the order it appears in our Bibles you see attitudes changing, moving, growing, being discarded and being reinterpreted. It IS NOT good to smash the heads or our enemies children against the rocks. It is not good to persecute those of a different race. It is not good to rape and murder concubines and then send dismembered parts of them to one's enemies to make a point. It is not good to put tent pegs into people's heads. It's not good to murder entire families, or tribes, or even races because they are not the same as you or have committed a trivial offence. Scripture itself moves on and grows and develops, it does contradict itself and it doesn't conform to any doctrinal norm.

You may be interested to know that the first time I heard of the Rev 21 tree of life/non-being illustration was at a Spring Harvest seminar from an Evangelical theologian who had devoted his life to the study of 'Hell and Judgement'.... I am very pleased to be in a Church that holds to such a view as well. I also think that the work of Christ was 'once - for all' and yes, salvation could be universal as God is, but that's not my decision it's God and I wouldn't presume to tell God what she can do and why.

Andrew said...

Rather than me write out a load of scripture etc... I will link to some teaching that gives the viewpoint that I have. People far more qualified than I to teach on the difficult subject of Judgement and Hell.

R.C Sproul is doing a series on Hell Currently. First two here:

Wayne Grudem:

Alastair said...

Disappointing podcasts, not particularly good theology or good methedology. Nothing I've not heard before nor done particularly well.

Alastair said...

I was wrong, it's not just 'not particularly good' it's abysmal. It's not even particularly aware of any other culture than post Victorian westernised society. Certainly no awareness of the concepts behind the Greek text despite quoting Greek words. Bad theology, depressingly bad.

Melli said...

I have intentionally NOT responded to this post for several reasons... but right now I just want to step in and say that this seems to be turning into some mud slinging and neither of you should allow that to happen. To my knowledge NO ONE has yet returned from Heaven OR Hell to let us KNOW what it is or isn't. It is all conjecture...

Having just finished a 9 month study on the book of Ezekiel, and trying to come to ANY kind of "truth" about what the last few chapters MEAN... and having read and discussed sO many different views and opinions, I think the best ANY of us can do with END TIMES and ETERNITY is wait and see. We have been warned to BE READY ... and HOW to be ready ... and that is what we should focus on.

Just MY opinion...

Alastair said...

Thanks Melli, as always a thoughtful and helpful comment :-) I do think we need to thrash out the stuff that is important in faith, it's not mud slinging and I certainly don't feel animosity towards Andrew - in fact I should be more explicit - Andrew is a good man whose willingness to go through this stuff I am very grateful for, and I'm not dismissing it, I am following up on what he recommends and considering what I says!

I do feel angry at Sproul et al because their Theological method and interpretation of scripture is so deeply flawed and those podcasts 'cast a shadow' over my whole day yesterday. I think we do need to hold our teachers to account (and I include myself in that). One thing that completely bamboozled me is Sproul boldly stating that Matthew 25:31–46 (The Sheep and Goats) is about those who believe in Jesus - yet nowhere in that text does Jesus say anything about belief, it is all about how people act towards their neigbour. I think that if teachers are going to consign most of the human race to damnation, they should at least have the courtesy to use what Jesus says, rather than telling us something is there that isn't. That's why I get cross.

Not cross at Andrew, or you, but definitely at these teachers who influence thousands of people.