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.
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....