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Why I am not a Universalist – 5 initial reasons against Universalism

I'm about to read The Evangelical Universalist. A dear brother and friend gave me a copy this morning, asking me to consider it carefully and prayerfully, for both his sake and us all. Before doing this, I though it would be good to give a 'calibration' zero point for future reference: this is where I'm starting from before I begin reading. That way when I post reflections throughout and a proper review after, we can refer back to this.

 
Before I being let me stress, as I've commented elsewhere, that I realise this is a very serious subject, sensitive to many as it should be to all, involving deep complexities for some. It comes with my sincere prayerfulness and genuine heartfelt sorrow over the fate of the wicked, but even more so a passion for the truth and God's glory and holiness to be seen in all his judgments.

 
I have no formal theological training. I'm just a Christian and a prolific reader of the Bible and have been so for many years.

 
With this in mind, here are 5 reasons why I am not a Universalist; these are my initial reasons against Universalism and the things this book at the very least needs to correct me on if it is going to make any proper case for Universalism:
1.The Bible really does teach 'eternal' punishment

2.The Bible really does teach 'eternal' sin

3.Jesus taught a hell of 'permanency' and 'finality'

4.There is no textual evidence of any 'reversal' of the last judgment

5.Universalism cannot be justified from the texts that Universalists take support from
What follows is a brief (and rushed, 'last minute') description of each argument, as I'm about to go away for 4 days to spend time with family and read, pray, read, pray.

 
1. ‘Aionion’ (eternal) punishment

 
Re: ‘Aionion’ (eternal) punishment and Mt 18:8; 25:41, 46; 2 Thes 1:9

 
‘Aion’ means ‘old age’ and is used of the never ending ‘age to come’. This lead to the derivative adjective: ‘aionion’ - which means “eternal” or “everlasting”. The certainty of this adjective meaning ‘endless duration’ is unquestionable because of the following:

 
1). These words are used to describe God. This same adjective denotes God as “eternal” king (1 Tim 1:17), “eternal” God (Rom 16:26), God “forever” (Rom 11:36), and God blessed “forever” (2 Cor 11:31). If this adjective is fit for describing God it cannot possibly have the meaning of “limited duration”.

 
2).The same adjective is used for both eternal punishment and eternal life (Mt 25:46). Neither can be more limited than the other. If the state of the reward of the righteous in Mt 25:46 is an endless duration so must it be describing the duration of punishment of the wicked.

 
2. Eternal sin

 
Re: Eternal sin and Mark 3:29; Matt 12:22-32; Heb 6:4-6 & 1 Jn 5:16

 
The unforgivable sin in Mark 3:29 is explained by Jesus thus: “he is guilty of an eternal sin”. The very oldest manuscripts have this translation. This is actually far worse than some translations that inadequately translate this as “in danger of eternal damnation/judgment” (The ESV and NIV are right to translate this as “guilty of an eternal sin”): This is a sin committed as an event at one point within time, for which there is no forgiveness forever beyond that point. That is the meaning of “neither in this life or in the life to come” : he has committed an ETERNAL sin.

 
1 John 5:16 adds to this also. In the context of praying for the sins of others, and God granting forgiveness: “there is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” There are two examples within the NT that describe this specifically: The unforgivable sin of Mt 12:22-32 & Mk 3:29, as well as the sin of Hebrews 6:4-6 of which it is impossible to bring back to repentance. In these instances the Holy Spirit is so outraged that no further access to his forgiveness will be granted.

 
Therefore John tells us in 1Jn5:16 in these situations not to pray for that sin or that sinner. Why? Because it is against God’s will. God will not ever forgive that one sin once committed. It is impossible for him to bring them back to repentance because that would require a second crucifixion of Jesus.

 
So let me ask you, how could you believe that this person has still a possibility of salvation in hell, with the following being plain in the Bible about these people:

 
  1. Eternally sinful – since their unpardonable sin puts them in a state of permanent rejection of God’s spirit
  2. No one praying for them (in this life or the next)
  3. God never to forgive them for that one sin of the past & present so they will be eternally unforgiven for it
  4. God unable to bring them back to repentance (he has no second son to crucify; no second spirit to offer them) so that they are eternally unrepentant

 
3. Jesus intention to describe a hell of permanence and finality

 
The intention of Jesus’ descriptions, his metaphors and his explanations of hell, together with the gospel writers, is to communicate both 'permanence' and 'finality', and they give nothing to the contrary. Below is just a sample:

 
A. Jesus descriptions:

 
  • Mk 9:43; cf Lk 3:17 “the fire does not go out”
  • Mk 9:47-48 “their worm does not die & the fire not quenched”

B. Explanations:

 
  • Mk 3:29; Mt 12:32 “he has committed an eternal sin”...”will not be forgiven neither in this life nor the life to come”
  • John 3:36, “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him”

 
C. Jesus’ metaphors

 
  • Mt 25:10 the “door is shut”
  • Mt 8:12, Lk 13:28 they are “thrown out” and “thrown outside”
  • Lk 16:26 the chasm is impassable
More references could be given. Again, the intention of these Gospel references to hell, mostly from Jesus, is to communicate both 'permanence' and 'finality' in God's sentence on the unrighteous, and these references also at the same time communicate neither anything to the contrary, or anything additional to temper this.

 
4. There is no textual evidence of any 'reversal' of the last judgment in the NT

 
I cannot find one saying that plainly speaks of an end of punishment for those condemned to hell. Can you?

 
If Jesus wanted to teach anything other than eternal damnation and continuous punishment, why did he not leave one saying plainly indicating so?

 
In the NT there is no indication whatsoever that punishment of sin ever ceases. The last judgment of the wicked is permanent.

 

5. Universalism cannot be justified from the textual 'support' that Universalists rely on

 
There are leagues of verses that Universalists 'interpret' as implying that 'all' (meaning every person in existence without exception) will finally be saved, But from what I understand they fall into three categories:

 
  1. God’s good 'will' toward all (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9)
  2. The universal 'scope' of the cross (2 Cor 5:19; Col 1:20; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9; 1 Jn 2:2)
  3. The 'wide' reach of the atonement (Jn 12:32; Rom 5:18; Eph 1:10)
But to interpret any of these references to use them to show that God will in the end save 'everybody' is clearly...

 
  1. Going beyond what the writers have actually said
  2. Going beyond their intention
  3. Ignoring the contexts of these references in which there are usually other references to either condemnation of the wicked or a final divorce of good and evil

 
---

 
Bibliography: New Bible Dictionary; Evangelical Dictionary of Theology; Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

Universalism - Whether to draw the line?

I've been having a great discussion with an Anonymous writer about Universalism, following this article, in which I pointed to three situations in which the Bible commands Christians to break fellowship: 1) with questionable 'Christians', 2) with false teachers, and 3) with disobedient but true Christians. In these situations the Bible calls for disunity.

"What about Christian Universalism?" was the question. Is Evangelical Universalism an example of something falling into the category of theologoumena (Something that is neither a teaching that all orthodox believers are expected to adhere to, nor something that they must avoid at all costs)?

I've got permission to publish the full dialogue to-date here on this blog. My reasons for doing this are two fold:
  1. I want to continue the conversation in a space dedicated to this question.
  2. I want to make this available generally for the benefit and contribution of others.
We pick up the trail here:


Anonymous said...

It's hard to know the best way to ask the question, I'll have a go.

I'm an Evangelical Universalist. I believe almost everything a Calvinist Evangelical believes, except that God will give people the opportunity in Hell to repent and accept Jesus as King. Therefore, eventually Hell will become empty and He will have permanently eradication Evil everywhere, including Hell.

I believe God tells us this in His inspired Word in many places, and that there are logical and biblical ways to view some of the passages that appear on the surface to teach otherwise.

To relate it back to your post, should I break fellowship with my mainstream church? Should my church break fellowship with me? Does this view of Hell fall into the category of Theologoumena?

December 14, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: Theologoumena, and Universalism

It's also hard to know the best way to answer your question, as I don't know your context, history, practice, involvement in church, to name a few important factors in giving a reliably and complete response. But I'll also give it a go.

Starting with the first aspect to your question which relates to theologoumena: 'Does Universalism fall into the category of something that is neither a teaching that all orthodox believers are expected to adhere to, nor something that they must avoid at all costs)?'

No the view of hell that is created by Universalism does not fall into the category of 'theologoumena.' All recipients of God's special revelation through his word are called to repent and trust in Christ now in this life in view of certainty of otherwise eternal judgment following death in the body. This is an elementary truth of Christianity (Hebrews 6:3).

And so universalism is something that should be avoided because followed it through to it's consequential conclusions, its endpoints distort almost every other doctrine of the Bible including every other aspect of the gospel: from creation to new-creation; from sin and evil to God's righteousness and justice; from the Bible's notion of pre-destination and justification to condemnation and everlasting judgment; from our understanding of the cross through to his second-coming and his eternal purposes which he accomplished in Christ.

As mentioned earlier all doctrine is interrelated and interdependent and we must humbly accept all of God's word as God's word, regardless of what we would otherwise believe and presently want to believe: hard bits and easy, likable and not, emotionally comforting and emotionally unthinkable, intellectually satisfying and intellectually torturous.

However, and it is a big HOWEVER: the same applies to Arminianism and for that matter every other common misunderstanding of any key vital gospel truth, as with every other man-made doctrinal system that has its origin in our history rather than His story.

These things are common and I have NOT in my article placed these types of general difficulties in doctrine and thinking among Christians necessarily into the category of 1. Questionable Christianity, 2. False Teaching, or 3. Disobedient but true Christianity. It's of course possible that belief in Universalism could and does spill over into one or multiple of those categories, but not necessarily.

Because of this the answer to the second aspect of your question -- about whether or not you should in good conscience break fellowship with your mainstream Evangelical church -- depends a lot on a number of things you need to consider, some of which I will try to briefly list (not comprehensively) in a follow on comment.

December 15, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: Whether Universalists should break with mainstream Evangelicals

There are a number of factors that need to be considered together and held together within the one decision, like separate arcs of the one circle:

(1). It depends on your direction

Are you on the way in or on a journey directed outwards; that is, are you working through these questions and struggling through with these difficulties and wrestling with concepts of universalism that you can't help presently entertaining, or are you becoming increasingly set in that paradigm and becoming further entrenched in a new mindset that is leading you to further revisions of doctrine? I know you'd want to say neither, but if forced to put yourself on one side of the fence, which would it be?

If your on the way out in your thinking, then leave. If you're on the way in (albeit ever so struggling and maybe never getting there but always trying), then stay.

(2). It depends on your fruit

Are you displaying in good conscience the fruit of the spirit, and increasingly so, so that the Holy Spirit testifies with you and reveals to others that you are more and more being given over to abounding love that comes from a certain faith in Christ's work for you to give you the hope of eternal rescue from everlasting damnation; or are you increasingly being given over to divisiveness, contention, dischord and questioning of the faithful work of evangelists and preachers who hold unswervingly to Jesus' warnings about a hell whose torment does not die?

If you are growing in the fruit of righteousness and the obedience that comes from a love of the truth, then stay. But if you are becoming a threat to the faith of others and potentially endanger the work of good teachers by your universalism, then leave.

(3). It depends on your self-control

Are you able to recognise that universalism is serious and so outside what others you respect consider to be an acceptable reading of the New Testament that you have enough doubt in yourself to at least be happy to remain silent in your views in this area; or are you resolved to spread your ideas and increasingly passionate about their importance, determined to voice them and possibly even convert others to universalism?

If you've got the self-control of the former, then stay, but if the latter, then go.

(4). It depends on whether you're a leader, let alone a teacher.

Leaders are required to give account for all of their beliefs and should be open to question by the Christian community let alone their church members; teachers even more so will be judged more strictly and must like all elders and senior leaders in the church conform to a full soundness of doctrine, regardless of whether they are required to teach on every point of 'orthodox' belief.

If you're a leader let alone a teacher, and not prepared to step down in that role, then go. If your not in that role, or you're prepared to step down temporarily until you work it through, or indefinitely if the end is not insight with your struggles in this area, then stay.

--

It's hoped that these variables will help you to form a framework for how you might assess that decision and evaluate what you should do. It's still not a complete answer. I'd like to talk about the examples of C S Lewis, John Stott, Mark Driscoll, because those things help get practical with real scenarios. I'd of course like to talk more directly about the subject of Universalism with you to find out whether you're convinced that you've considered that position adequately and are open to a re-think. But tempted as I am, I won't go there. You've not asked me that question, and I've said enough already for now.

December 15, 2010

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you taking the time to explore this with me. Like you, I'll break my response into the two issues.

"the view of hell that is created by Universalism does not fall into the category of 'theologoumena.'" Not surprisingly, I disagree. However, I'm not surprised that you say that, as I think it right to question things, particularly things that aren't mainstream :)

"All recipients of God's special revelation through his word are called to repent and trust in Christ now in this life in view of certainty of otherwise eternal judgment following death in the body. This is an elementary truth of Christianity." I totally agree, except for the "in this life" restriction of God's mercy. Where do you find this restriction in the bible?

"its endpoints distort almost every other doctrine of the Bible" That's a very big statement, remembering that I hold mainstream Evangelical views, as far I know, on almost all other doctrines. Please give me an example, of what and how another doctrine is distorted?

"we must humbly accept all of God's word as God's word, regardless of what we would otherwise believe and presently want to believe: hard bits and easy, likable and not, emotionally comforting and emotionally unthinkable, intellectually satisfying and intellectually torturous." I totally agree, although I humbly suggest that there are many passages that Calvinists don't accept on face value. For example, "we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe."(1Tim 4:10b ESV) Note the Greek word translated "people" is anthropos, i.e. humans. This is a good passage as it also shows God is the only Saviour and that there's still a definite benefit of being a believer now.

"as with every other man-made doctrinal system that has its origin in our history rather than His story." Please show me how Universalism has it's origin in our history whereas somehow Calvinism doesn't?

"These things are common and I have NOT in my article placed these types of general difficulties in doctrine and thinking among Christians necessarily into the category of 1. Questionable Christianity, 2. False Teaching, or 3. Disobedient but true Christianity. It's of course possible that belief in Universalism could and does spill over into one or multiple of those categories, but not necessarily." Sorry I don't understand what you mean here?

December 15, 2010

Anonymous said...

"(1). It depends on your direction" I've been a mainstream Evangelical Christian for about 25 years. About 10 years ago I came across Universalism but ended up leaving it in the too hard to prove basket. 6 months ago, I came across some very well written and biblically based books which presented the arguments for it. I've rigorously discussed and prayed about it with my family and an Anglican Minister. And briefly with one of my church leaders, who said he'd have to look into it more before giving me his opinion. The more I look into it the more bible passages leap out of the page as God reveals them. So obviously it's not something I've taken on-board lightly, but neither is it something that I would give away lightly now that I believe it to be biblically true.

"(2). It depends on your fruit" Well I'm glad you asked, because it's be really remarkable. I've found myself loving people more, praying more, reading the bible more, obeying God more and generally thinking about God more. Hopefully, people who know me see the fruits too. Obviously it saddens me when preachers teach endless conscious torment (ECT), but I realise they're probably doing so because that's what they have been taught/believe, and still love, pray and support them. If I knew them personally, I might have a quiet conversation afterwards but probably leave it at that.

"(3). It depends on your self-control" Obviously when I see people misunderstanding the bible or even worse misrepresenting God, I feel the urge to speak. However, so far I have restrained myself a lot, for the sake of harmony. It's only possible by God's Spirit for people to see His Truth, so I may try to explain things, like I'm doing here, but it's up to God what happens next. I try not to push it on people, if that's what you're getting at.

"(4). It depends on whether you're a leader, let alone a teacher." I'm not a leader or teacher, and never have been. I agree that they need to be held extra accountable.

"I'd like to talk about the examples of C S Lewis, John Stott, Mark Driscoll, because those things help get practical with real scenarios." Please do, as I am a fan of CS Lewis and Mark (I just haven't read much of John Stott).

"I'd of course like to talk more directly about the subject of Universalism with you to find out whether you're convinced that you've considered that position adequately and are open to a re-think." For now, anonymously is all I can do as I don't want my family to loose their community over my beliefs. Hopefully, one day we can talk more directly :)

December 15, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Can I first say well done for adopting your sincere approach and genuine questioning: As you say, it is right to question these things, particularly if you find you’re beginning to cease aligning with what has been mainstream Christian thought throughout church history.

And let me also so that I deeply believe the discussions on this topic (in particular) should always be given accompanied by a sincere sadness of spirit (if not weeping, at least a broken heart) as we contemplate God’s sentence on the unrepentant. And so in this regard I genuinely ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy as I approach this topic with a far from adequate godliness, remembering Christ who wept over Jerusalem and Paul who could have entertained the notion of being accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his people.

December 16, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: Where do you find a “in this life” restriction in the Bible on the possibility of God’s mercy?

Throughout the NT but three quick examples for the sake of brevity:

1) Matthew 12:32. Whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven “either in this age or in the age to come.” The context is people’s response in the present life. The second reference to the age to come thereafter keeps this text from being ambiguous. All sins will be forgiven men except this one sin; in other words, this is the sin that condemns people to hell: despising the Holy Spirit. This is unforgivable because, as God has no other Son to offer for our sins if he be rejected, God has no other Spirit to make Christ’s work effectual to us if the Holy Spirit is despised.

2) Hebrews 6:2ff. It is impossible to bring back to repentance those who have fallen away after once being enlightened in this life, because they are crucifying Christ a second time. Although of course this verse does not apply directly to your ‘average Joe’ who simply continues in unbelief in this life up until his death, it does apply indirectly to all as a clear warning of the consequence of rejection in this life leaving no possibility for future repentance or mercy thereafter.

3) 2 Thessalonians 1:8. Those who do not know God or obey the gospel, at Christ’s coming (which is at a discrete finite time-event) will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction. The following reference to being shut out from the presence of the Lord unavoidably must go together with the notion of eternal punishment, so that this sentence is irreversible.

In the NT all descriptions of judgment – whether ‘fire’, ‘punishment’, ‘destruction’, or ‘judgement’ – are described as eternal and so irreversible.

December 16, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: An example of Universalism distorting other doctrines:

Please note that I realise that universalism is very diverse with as many different varieties as people writing about it. So this of course makes it difficult to give examples that are specifically true in all instances. While I’d want my criticism to take into account the complexities, the examples below are generalisations.

Two quick examples for now: (If all have the hope of eternal life both before and beyond death, then --)

1.The biblical doctrine of sin is leaked of its full gravity: instead of sins against an infinitely holy and glorious God being infinitely evil and so deserving eternal punishment, sin is less serious because regardless of the greatness of God sins against him are committed by finite and ignorant people and do not deserve the punishment that God in his justice has promised to deliver.

And rather than people being inescapably sinful except for the mercy of God to give them repentance and faith by his grace alone, so that those in hell continually refuse to acknowledge God and so deserve continual punishment, instead every person has the ability to turn to God and will do so if pressed hard enough, even if it requires preliminary torture in hell to cause them to change their minds.

Consequently God’s justice cannot demand eternal punishment because that would be ‘unjust’, because the sins of every person in this view do actually come to an end. Punishment, rather than God’s spirit, causes people in hell to eventually stop sinning. And where they stop sinning, God’s punishment must stop. By default then at that moment they must be admitted into eternal life by God.

2.The biblical doctrine of eternal punishment (Heb 6:2) is gutted: rather than it paralleling ‘eternal’ life (as in Mt 25:46), which all agree to be truly everlasting, ‘eternal punishment’ adopts a nullified definition of “eternal” (no longer actually meaning ‘everlasting’ as eternal life does) together with a demoted definition of “punishment” (no longer referring to deserved and ‘final’ justice without mercy, but instead it actually becomes another form of mercy because it serves to actually ‘discipline’ people in order to teach them and so cause them to repent).

December 16, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: 'Many Calvinists don’t accept many passages on face value'

Agreed: Already reaffirmed that point in previous comments related to Infant Baptism.

December 16, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: 1Timothy 4:10b, “God, who is the Saviour of all people”

Don’t make too much of ‘anthropos’, which may even be translated as ‘husband’ depending on context. From the little Greek I know, and checking back with my Gk-Eng dictionary anyway, ‘anthropos’ means when plural: People; mankind, humanity; husband; son; servant.

The verse just reads “all men,” similar to the way for example that Acts 2:17 speaks of “all flesh” receiving the outpouring of the Spirit, not at all meaning all flesh ‘on the planet’.

God is of course also elsewhere referred to as the Judge of ‘all’ and the Father of ‘all’, but in those situations we would not dare to conclude from those references alone a Universal ‘judgment’ on all nor a Universal ‘adoption’ of all. Only when we look at these texts with a broad view within their context, as we need to with all texts, including 1 Tim 4:10, do we keep ourselves from speculating about them from isolation. We see from the broader context what is intended by the reference to “all” and “saviour” (and “judge” and “father” of all):

There was only ever one Saviour for all Israel in the context of Israel’s history. The Prophets of Old declared that. But this fact did not result at that time in ‘salvation’ for all Israel, because the people of which God was Saviour rejected him as their Saviour. And the permanent destruction of the 10 northern Israel tribes by the Assyrians, only leaving Judah behind, is a grim picture (albeit on the temporary stage of his kingdom as revealed in Israel as nation) of the irreversibility of God’s final judgment when it falls.

That is the context and language that the New Testament picks up. This is why Paul adds the reference, “the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe” because they are the ones of whom he is not only their only possibility of finding a Saviour, but also the ones of whom he does in the end give salvation.

It may be, in my view, quite impossible from some of these references ALONE to know definitively which of several possible meanings of the word “all” is in view (whether it means ‘every instance without exclusion’ or ‘all categories/types without exclusion’ -- two example of different meanings of the use of ‘all’).

We need to start with verses that we can be 100% clear about, and work back from there to allow those to set the context for others that may on face-value be read in multiple ways.

For example the “all flesh” in Acts 2:17 can’t be read as meaning every single individual in existence without exception will receive baptism in the Spirit. Firstly we bring to this text a context that helps us see that it is immediately restricted to a subset: God’s people. And within that, Israel were excluded by default (‘no-one will see the KOG unless he is born again’) and included only when/if they believed, as did Peter himself. And of those who believed, then in context “all” without distinction were to be recipients. However, judging by in the immediate context of the reference itself, it seems that “all types” of people was most likely the type of use that is view: ‘all’ meaning women as well as men, young as well as old, servants as well as free, all types of people in this new age will have the Spirit.

December 16, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: 'How has Universalism had its origin in our history whereas somehow Calvinism hasn’t?'

Both do. You know of course about the origins of Calvinism as a Reformed system of Theology, and I agree that unfortunately it can and is often used to interpret the Bible, rather than coming to it in order to comprehend it in its own, and endeavouring to strip away those ideas that we bring to it in the first place.

And I assume you understand the origins of the doctrinal system that has emerged through history that is now Universalism. Until recently only a small minority have held to Universalism. I’m aware of Origen’s view which was later condemned at the 553AD Council. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Arnobius of Sicca and his defence in 300ish. And of course then came Aquinas’ views. By my reading, Universalism only emerged ‘seriously’ in the English world in the late 1800s and then into evangelical theology in the late 1900s, but now has very recently been defended in detail. Before that it was only a very small minority of writers, to my knowledge. And these views go against the very widely held views of the majority of writers & scholars throughout history.

My question, then to you, is that if you had never read CS Lewis in the first place, much less the recent big defence you discovered 10 years and that you read only 6 months ago, would you honestly think that you would have arrived at these new beliefs, just by: 1, reading the Bible alone, and 2, getting it to bare on your thinking so as to, 3, continually revise your own understanding into conformity with it by, 4, a continual process of stripping away your own false understandings that come from natural presuppositions that we all unavoidably bring to the bible, which effecting our comprehension of it?

That’s why we need to take serious care to bring our presuppositions to the Bible in order for them to be stripped away, rather than allow them to sit over the Bible and change our reading of it, and so ‘interpret’ it for us; whether Calvinism or anything else. In fact, it is not our business to ‘interpret’ the Bible; our job is to ‘comprehend’ the Bible’s own self-interpretation of itself.

December 16, 2010

Joe Towns said...

Re: Not understanding what I meant reference back to my original 3 categories in my article.

What don’t you understand? The original article talks about: 1, Questionable Christians, 2, False Teachers, and, 3, Disobedient but true Christians. A sincere Evangelical Universalist (as you’ve described yourself) who is otherwise living as a Christian in fruitful obedience (as I believe you are from your description) does not fit into any one of these three categories unless of course you begin teaching Universalism, which I believe would begin opening you up to the charge of ‘false’ teaching.

December 16, 2010

Infant baptism - Open to opinion?

Have you heard of this noun, 'theologoumenon'? I hadn't the first time I came across it either (bad joke):

Theologoumenon
A theologoumenon is a theological opinion. This word is often applied to opposing arguments in a theological debate, where both sides are rigorously orthodox. This happens because we possess sufficient knowledge to assure our salvation, but we do not possess all knowledge, and we cannot satisfy our curiosity about every matter. For example, scripture does not teach us precisely what demons are, so theories about demons are theologoumena (http://www.kencollins.com/glossary/theology.htm).
After posting an article Where to draw the line, about when the Bible calls for disunity, I was asked this question:
"What about things which fall into the category of 'theologoumena' (Something that is neither a teaching that all orthodox believers are expected to adhere to, nor something that they must avoid at all costs)?"
Do you think there are theological positions or practices in the church today that fit into this category?For example, would you say as some do that infant baptism falls into this category?

Differences in understanding

There are some practices by Christians and even in the church which may not neccessarily be against the gospel or out-of-line with it and they come from legitimate differences in understanding and belief. And here this diversity within the church is a display of the power of the gospel in allowing human difference in undestanding while still controlling the way we relate to one another in love.

There are examples of abstaining from things, other examples of practicing extra things. Three significant passages to consider which bare weight come to mind: Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 14 (not an exhaustive list). Whether abstainence from food and drink or observance of special days and seasons, or speaking in tongues: not everybody knows as much as everybody else (1 Cor 8:4-7).

The 1 Corinthians 14 example is of particular significance. Here Paul clearly regards their practice of tongues to be something quite different to what had been given on the day of Pentecost, and not a 'desirable' practice for and in the church. Yet he still regards is as a good gift from God if constrained in its use by love as powered through gospel-thinking. And he says, significantly, “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). Something that helps Christians maintain a focused adoration on God and brings no mutual or individual harm is a good thing. However, this is not reason enough for a theological position teaching that 'every' body should follow suit. More here on that here.

Infant baptism

Infant baptism fits into this category I think. It cannot be justified from Scripture. It is a tradition that has been brought into the church and grown and institutalised and incorporated into denominational doctrinal systems. And unfortunately it is not uncommon to begin 'thinking' and consequently corruptly practicing infant baptism in a way that is counter-scriptural, unspiritual and against the gospel. And if Apostle rebuked Apostle when behaviour misaligned with the understanding of the truth (Galatians 2:11) then we should be doing it with one another.

However, that need not necessarily be the case. Many Christians think with respect to this and baptise their infants in a God-glorifying way that does edify the church. In a similar way even the Corinthians were able to speak in tongues in a way that could achieved the same. Though I personally would not baptise my children and do not understand baptism this way, I realise that “not everybody has this knowledge.” And so I do not and would not 'preach against' infant baptism, but only teach for understanding with the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8: "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up".

Recommended reading

If you're interested further in my understanding of baptism and what I empirically believe about infant baptism beyond this (baring in mind these comments above), refer to Beasley-Murray's excellent book, Baptism in the New Testament (Paternoster, 1972).
 
His treatment of the subject of baptism generally reflects my own understanding closely as does his final chapter “The rise and significance of Infant Baptism.” He's also got a postscript at the end on “Baptismal reform and Inter-church Relationships.” Would strongly recommend this book to be more widely read and understood.

What is Core versus Peripheral in the gospel and Christianity?

One of my readers has remarked, "Every denomination seems to have it's own set of core doctrines," and asked "How would you define the core Gospel?"

I replied with a question of my own, "What do you mean by 'core' Gospel?"

And the reason is this: The Bible doesn't seem to encourage us to think in terms of what is 'core' vs what is 'peripheral' (Unless we're in the context of a Romans 14 discussion). Instead we're asked to think about that is 'true' Gospel or not; what is 'same' vs what is 'different'. E.g. Galatians 1:6-9. It's either in or out of the Gospel; on or off track; part of or not a part of and so against.

Of course the Gospel message is as big as Genesis to Revelation, but can be summarised as simply as "Jesus is King".

Paul's rebuke in Galatians 2:15-21 picks up the centrality of God's grace in justification by faith through the death of Christ. But it would be a mistake to look at key passages like these and relegate other doctrines, for example our doctrine of creation, to the 'non-core' bin. In 1 Timothy 4:1-6 we see that our doctrine of creation is pivotal to pure doctrine generally.

Every doctrine of the Bible is interrelated and interdependent. And so we're on dangerous ground as soon as we start taking any aspect of the Bible's teaching and putting bits into the 'essential' bucket and others into the 'optional' bucket. For example, if we say that the doctrine of creation is core but the Sovereignty of God not; or repentance is core but baptism is not.

If the Bible teaches it, it is core. All of the Bible's message is the Gospel and it is all essential.

Yes every denomination has differences and commonality in its beliefs compared to others. And if any of these teachings, as with any of our own beliefs, are contrary to the teaching of the Bible at any point, then we/they are in error at that point need to repent for being against God's word.

When I get to it I do hope to clarify what I believe the Bible's essential gospel message is: what I've phrased elsewhere, "the gospel of the Apostles of the New Testament" -- the message that was entrusted to the 12 apostles and to Paul, who even refers to it as 'my gospel'. Anything else was'another' and 'different' gospel and so false (See Romans 1:1-5; 16:25-26; cf. Rom 2:16; 2 Timothy 2:8).

Romans 1:1-5:11 is a brief unpacking but the whole book of Romans is a fuller explanation of the Apostle's gospel. Galatians starts with is a defense of Paul's apostolic authority and sets a good context for beginning to understand the uniqueness of the Apostles authority over the message and our dependence on them (Galatians 1:1-12ff.)

And hence the authenticity of the gospel is also strongly dependent on their Apostle's authorship of the New Testament, and so it's consequent authority. We need to go by it rather than denominational formulations or systems of doctrine constructed to sit over the New Testament.

Why Talking Christianity?

I've been asked the question. Why the sister blog to Talking Pentecostalism? I've got two big reasons and a dozen smaller less significant ones. I'll spare you the micro and go big picture:

1. Mapping a trajectory for foward growth for my original audience & providing more positively

Yes this blog has a broader focus, but is still related to my original blog. I wanted to provide in time something of a more staple diet for my readers to move on to, either because their interest in the topic of Pentecostalism has been exhausted, or because they want to see what I believe about the full spectrum topics relevant to current Evangelical discussion and thinking. I want to provide a full diet with diversity and richness as well as breadth. The goals of Talking Pentecostalism is to narrow for that.

What if somebody 'converts' from being a Pentecostal as I did? They can't read my apologetic and critique forever, which can tend to have more of a negatively constructive approach; they need to 'move on' to the positively constructive stuff I want to supplement with this blog.

Recent comments on my blog have helped me to realise I need to pick up a bigger goal:
"Every denomination seems to have it's own set of core doctrines. How would you define the core Gospel?"
Or again
"I was looking for a clarification of what you meant by "the gospel of the Apostles of the New Testament"
This is an example of something I might tackle and hope to answer on this blog, and point my readers of Talking Pentecostalism through too there.

2. Symbolising the division that Pentecostalism has created within Evangelicalism, and our inevitable disunity

Although Pentecostalism is part of the family tree within Christianity, I do see it as being a sick and suffering branch. Akin to the sort of situation that would warrant Paul writing the sort of letter of which the Corinthians, Galatians and Colossians were recipients.

I don't put Pentecostalism in the category of something like Catholicism or Eastern Orthoxody. These I believe to be corrupt forms of Christianity - these religions are more than sick. This is false spirituality, and dead religiosity, because their beliefs and practices amount to idolatry.

I also don't put Pentecostalism in the category of a cult, such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses. These are not sects that came from Christianity, but were wild derivatives from the very start; they did not ever have a true origin with the family of Christianity, but were separate adaptations from the beginning, similar to Islam. A cancerous cell that begins multiplying might be a more fit metaphor here.

But Pentecostalism sits firmly within the family of Protestant Evangelicalism. Many Pentecostals share much in principle with Reformed theology and share a vast array of agreement with Calvin (from my reading of the Institutes anyway).

But like shifting techtonic plates, there has been an enormous movement away from some core emphases that New Testament Christianity centres on; and of course, there have been some huge additions. All of these things warrant serious concern and would be why by my assessment Pentecostalism is in league with the gross immaturity and worldliness of the Corinthians.

So there needs to be a degree of disassociation by Evangelicals generally with Pentecostals. It's in these situations that the Bible calls for disunity. I've described the sort of Biblical position behind this logic here: Where to draw the line.

--

And by the way Mikey, Pentecostalism is spelt with 2 'e's and only 1 'a', not the other way around (I know you love to be corrected on spelling!)

The 'Gospel Circle' - How the Gospel relates to the Bible as a whole

Some really helpful reflections here. Mikey Lynch picks up Phillip Jensen's comments in The Archer and the Arrow about how to avoid "making the gospel just one central part of the Bible on the one hand, and not making everything the Bible says the gospel on the other."

The gospel is likened to a circle because it's various elements ('arcs') are not only interrelated and interdependent, but self-reciprocating. And "for any true circle, one arc of the circle implies the whole."

So sin following creation leads to judgment because God is creator. And his judgment teaches us about what it means for him to be the Creator. And it teaches us what sin really means. And it also teaches us about salvation. And judgment leads to salvation because God is the judge. And salvation leads to new-creation.

Mikey I think your questions are important:

"If I just preached these arcs would they necessarily imply the rest of the gospel?" and "If I just preached these arcs, would I have preached the gospel truly, even if not fully?"


I think if we preach each arc properly without going beyond it we are preaching the gospel. Because as we teach that God is creator and judge, part of what we see when he brings his judgment is his commitment to creation, and his faithfulness to himself resulting in his ongoing grace and his purpose to bring renewal to creation - which is the message of the gospel.

Again if the arc we're dealing with shows the sinfulness of people, that same arc will bring out the righteousness of God more clearly, leading to him revealing his righteousness - which is the message of the gospel.
So each arc contains the same direction looking both forward and back as all the others. I think sermons can be the same: a sermon on judgment can contain the same forward and backward perspective as one on salvation, and give the gospel message on its own.

One test of this is to put ourselves back in to the shoes of an OT preacher, say Noah, and ask if we can still preach 'his gospel' today in a timeless way. He was a "preacher of righteousness" in his day. And the Ark (not intended pun) was a massive visible word-picture to his generation leaving them without excuse. As Noah spoke to people about what God was going to do and what he, Noah, was doing with the Ark, I think he was preaching the gospel - a message of good news for those who were being saved, and a message of bad news for those who were not.

Now of course if we today preach from that time in salvn history and stay on that arc re. sinfulness and judgment, when we apply it to people today with a correct understanding of what it means in a timeless sense and in a relative-to-now sense, I don't think we need to simply put '2 ways to live' over the top of it in order for it to become the gospel.

But by explaining to people fully what God did there in the past (Noah's time) and what that means about both God and us in a timeless way, I think we are not making a jump to appealing to people straight from that to repent and turn to God in faith. I.e. we can 'herald' the word of the gospel right then and there without a full exposition of Jesus' work on the cross to make their forgiveness possible.

Of course know that we can do that because of Jesus' coming, but because it's always been possible prior to Jesus' coming, there is this timeless element to the gospel in the Old Testament and throughout Scripture. Rahab's conversion with the spies prior to the judgment at Jericho is a classic example of course.
I'm not wanting to advocate for permission to cease making forced references to Jesus as a 'tack on the end' simply by leaving out Jesus altogether and worse forgetting the centrality of God's eternal plan for the cross and the natural climax of it in the unfolding flow of the Bible narrative.
 
I guess I'm just trying to reflect a confidence that I think it is possible to both at the same time preach the gospel truly and do as Jensen says, 'not preach the entire circumference of the circle, but just the arc(s) of the gospel that God puts in front of us in the passage.'

Or is this what you mean by "making everything the Bible says the gospel"? If it is, then I reckon it's fair game. Don't we want every sermon to be a heraldic exposition of the gospel from any and every part of Scripture?

The dangers of conversational preaching

Mikey posts here about the dangers of conversation brought out in Phillip Jensen's The Archer and the Arrow:  Ouch indeed!

I think this is really important. Preaching must always be 'heraldic' - it means to 'herald' or proclaim the message that God declares. So it carries his authority because by leaning on the authority of the Apostles and Prophets who authored the Scriptures, true preaching give a message that comes as the very word of God.

I think it's fair to say that the rise of the 'conversational' approach seen in the modern 'bible talk' can undermine the very act of preaching. I think a lot of this may have unwittingly grown on us undetected from within our culture of anti-authoritarianism.

More of my thoughts on preaching here where I've summarised some of John Stott's stuff.

The hardest thing I've had to do in my adult life

Was give the gospel talk at my Grandad's funeral in February 2006. I understand that Grandad had requested me, one of his many grandsons, to give a short gospel sermon, knowing that many of our family are not Christians.

Here is the script: JESUS' WORD OF ASSURANCE (Luke 23:38-43)


I pray that in time many more of our family will turn to Jesus as our King and Saviour.

Change is a two way street

If you haven't studied chemistry you may not have heard of Le Chatelier's Principle. But you'll know old Newton who said every action causes an opposite reaction. The chemistry equivalent describes change as a kind of two way stream: if you heat something up it adjusts by loosing mass, or something.

I find this law effecting me on the macro in the most frustrating way. We're everyday constained by the same dynamics. If I give time for family I lose energy. If I eat to gain energy I lose precious time. If I take time for myself my relationships suffer. I can't do anything without something else happening. It's a natural constaint: change is a two way street.

We're stuck with it so we live with it, but gosh I'm looking forward to the end of time's tyranny. Eternity is hard to imagine, but I can't wait to get used to it.

A publisher's poor pitch: John Owen's work on the Spirit

The only gripe I have with Christian Focus Publication's edition of John Owen's work on the Spirit, The Holy Spirit--His Gifts and Power, is the blurb--which Owen didn't write of course!


How did the publisher ever expect it to get wide readership amongst one of its biggest target audiences today, Pentecostals and Charismatics--those who need to read this book the most--when they've pitched their back of cover thus:



"The fraud and manipulation, which abounds in the church under the pretence that it is the work of the Holy Spirit, make this book required reading. Things excellent in themselves and acknowledged by all Christians are often counterfeited; the more worthy any thing is, the more destructive is the abuse of it.
All believers must "try the spirits" because false prophets and false teachers deprive us of liberty. Some people claim to know the Spirit's inward enlightenment, but the darkness of Satan fills their imaginations. This false light is of no use to the souls of men; it is in opposition to Christ and his work. The only way to tackle this is by giving a plain and scriptural account of the nature and work of the Holy Spirit..."

The vast majority of the actual book (in Owens tone) comes across much more neutrally than this--I.e directed at every Christian, not just targetting the deluded believer or the false teacher. It is applicable to everone (Owen of course wrote before Pentecostalism existed), and it is broard in it's appeal and relevance, comprehensive on the whole topic, and targeted at general understanding.



So why create unnecessary resistance with a lead sentence using words like "fraud" and "manipulation"?!?!



The other issue is the Old English. What average Evangelical can cope with it? It needs to be made more accessible to your average Pentecostal Joe.



Thus even more reason for me to get my act together on my blog for Pentecostals and Charismatics with serial summaries!



YAY! I love a good reason to Talk Pentecostalism!

Prayer hints for the sleepless & copeless

This is awesome.

10 prayer hits that are just what we helpless and copeless need to plaster onto every wall -- home, work and shed!

For a quick taste, here are her ten leading sentences...

10. Stop feeling guilty about not praying well.
9. Thank God for things.
8. Don't stop be interested in your godliness.
7. Expect to pray short prayers.
6. Pray for your friends, family, church and government leaders.
5. Choose a time when you might actually remember to pray and try and plan to pray then.
4. Keep asking God to help you to trust him, and to teach you how to trust him in your situation.
3. Read the Bible.
2. Pray with someone.
1. Pray.

Thank you Jennie Baddeley!!!

Vanity of the mind

"Almost all that we see or hear is vain" says Owen, describing the world as full of what has it's source in people themselves; the mind is the source of all vanity with which everything is now overflowing.

As a Christian what I find challenging is tending to all the remains of this pride still evident in my thinking.

How do I do this?

At the very least I'm planning on continuing to read John Owen... Could do far worse I'm sure. But rubber needs to hit the road too, right, somehow?!

Growth in grace

John Owen says "Growth in grace depends on the use of grace".

He references 2 Peter 1:

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

I know I've been extremely slothful in many godly virtues for many years, at the same time though wanting to grow spiritually!?!

Doing nothing while wanting God to do something seems to be the folly he's targetting.

But what do you think? Is there a balance to this, or a tension to hold together with this? Or should I just face up to my own lack of effort?

The Holy Spirit by John Owen

John Owen (1616-1683) is one of the best known Puritans, meaning I
probably don't need to introduce you to him.

But what I would love to introduce you to and strongly recommend is
his book, The Holy Spirit--His gifts and Power:

It is a seriously excellent treatment of the subject, being both
comprehensive and concise, refreshing and deeply challenging.

I lost my first copy on holidays in Sydney and straight away ordered
another one from Amazon which I now have for $20-something including
postage!

It is so good I'm tempted and now seriously contemplating serially
blogging short summaries and reflections on route during my second
read through...

Stay tuned at Talking Pentecostalism.

A list of Paul's prayers, side-by-side

It is such a worthwhile exercise to get all of Paul's actual prayers, put them side-by-side and read and reflect on them all together in one go. Here's a list i've put together. What we can learn from this for our pray is mind boggling. All of these prayers I think are for Christians, except for this first one. Even that says a lot!

Romans 10
1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.

Romans 15
5May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 13
7Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.

Ephesians 1
15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[1] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 3
14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family[1] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Philippians 1
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.

Colossians 1
9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[2] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption,[3] the forgiveness of sins.

1 Thessalonians 3
9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

1 Thessalonians 5
23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

2 Thessalonians 1
11With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.[1]

2 Thessalonians 2
16May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 3
2And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. 3But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.

2 Thessalonians 3
16Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

New issues & advice for grads | 21 modern proverbs for young adults

Workplace growth


  • How you respond to your boss is more important than clearing your in-tray;
relationships are the most important aspect of work.

  • Choose a job to be a Christian, not to have a career;
a Christian mindset is all about your motives.

  • Don’t go near Facebook at work;
holiness is about the things you don’t do that others do.

  • Keep going to op-shops and packing your lunch;
being difference is about all the little things people don't notice. 


Financial growth

  • Give a % of your income and increase that % the more you earn;
don’t go backwards in the grace of giving.

  • Leave your credit card at home & clear it straight-away on every use;
credit is addictive and deceptive.

  • Let your wife allocate & process your giving payments;
giving is a gift, so delegate it.

  • Every time you treat yourself to a new bestseller, spoil someone with a recent favourite;
do something about your sources of pride.


Personal growth


  • Expect more than a prang or two and a few parking fines;
you will experience significant difficulties and troubles ahead.

  • Don’t spend time listening to yourself or looking at yourself in the mirror;
you are your worst enemy.

  • Read authors you disagree with;
it helps to assume you've got at least 10% of everything wrong.

  • Whatever you want to do at the end of your life, begin it now;
if it’s worth doing, it’s worth starting on it sooner.

  • Get some ducks and draw more;
if you loved it as a kid you could do with it as an adult.



Relational growth


  • Choose friends unlike yourself;
if you know only your counterparts you’re surrounded only by your weaknesses.

  • Get to know your neighbours;
it's those in front of you that are hardest to love and who need you most.

  • When you marry you will meet yourself and your own ungodliness;
God gives us spouses to help us grow up.

  • Find a baby sitter and pay her well;
it’s better to invest in time and people than the stock market.


Spiritual growth

  • Get the audio Bible and get really used to it;
use technology to make your life deeper, not more shallow.

  • Put prayer into your early morning coffee ritual;
don’t let your top priorities compete – combine them and you’ll get both done. 

  • Leave the TV off more often and don't turn up the music;
fighting through your nothingness is your best opportunity every day.

  • Schedule time and reminders to think about the End;
being a Christian is harder than any job you will ever have.

Two young ministers

I've been emailing Dr Paul Barnett (now retired Bishop of North Sydney) and Dr Peter Jensen's (currently Archbishop of Sydney) Diocesan Registrar and Archbishop's Executive Officer, Dr Philip Selden!

They have graciously allowed me to publish their co-authored book of 1973, The Quest for Power | Neo-Pentecostalism and the New Testament.

In a series of posts featuring consecutive exerpts from the chapters and appendices of the book I've been able to re-publish the complete book.

The re-publication of this book on my site Talking Pentecostalism has been well received and welcomed, since this book is now out of print, and largely inaccessible within and outside of Australia, and some who are well read in the authors' other writings did not even know that they had produced this work in their earlier years.

The Quest for Power is particularly concise and Barnett and Jensen's insightful comments are now accessible to all. I have no doubt that they are already proving to be extremely helpful for my audience, and will continue to be so.

So I just want to say a huge "thank you" to Paul Barnett and Peter Jensen!  It is very much appreciated and I pray that God continues to spread the effect of your work and writing far and wide with his blessing.

The back blurb is now quite funny:

"In this book two younger Australian ministers, who are involved in theological teaching, share insights which have arisen out of practical experience at St. Barnabas, Broadway, where they exercise a team ministry. It is their desire to relate the truth of the New Testament to the claims of the neo-pentecostal movement."
Younger ministers indeed... in 1973! :)

To have a look, even read the thing, it's all here.

Now there's no excuse...

I've been meaning to finish reading John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion for 4 years now!!!

But one awesome recent find for my iPhone has now given me no excuse...

'Audiobooks Free' is an application that's given me the whole darn thing on my head phones... That and much, much more. You can browse the hundreds of free audios by author or genre. And all of it is the very classics and ancient texts or pieces of antiquity that you've always 'in your dreams' wanted to be able to access easily and get time to read.

So next on my list is Augustine's City of God, then it's Eusebius' History of the Christian Church.

But for now I'm midway through listening to Calvin's first book, and of course, still going... Makes washing the dishes every night even more enjoyable. I'll be at it for weeks and months I'm sure. But don't worry: I'm sure to get there before another 4 years slips by?!?!

The ultimate system for audio Word junkies

I've been a junkie of the audio Bible since casette tapes. I wore through a couple of sets of NIV audio New Testaments until I invested in excess of $200 on the whole NIV Bible on CD. That was a big investment at age 18 but they've been invaluable to this day, and still going strong, lap after lap, some 13 yrs later.

But my best mate and cousin Jim has just recenly sold me on a set of ESV MP3s that gave me the whole bible on my iPhone for only $20. Now I'm a junkie like never before!

Not only do I have the audio Bible without backgroung music, I've found the ESV translation excellent to listen to even though I've found it hard to get into when reading the text from a hard copy.

But in addition, having the ESV app right there on my iPhone means that wherever I am I can always have the option to follow along with the text while listening. These two working together, the ESV iPhone app combined with the MP3 audios from the iPod, with the absolute portability and ease of use of the iPhone, makes it the ultimate system for junkies of the audio Word. I've always got my phone with me. Now I've also always got my audio and text Word systems with me to pull out within seconds notice.

Now my son Elijah at age 5 can get his hands on all my CDs, not just Matthew or Mark if I'm feeling generous.

No singing John 3:16!?

Why don't I know any tune to John 3:16?! It's probably the most famous verse in the Bible but that doesn't make it any easier to teach to 3 and 5 year-olds. But not even Colin Buchanan has put it to song!

Would be the first verse I'd put to music if I could 1. Write music, 2. Sing and 3. Keep it simple enough for kids.

I find teaching memory verses to children really hard. So if anyone out there knows him, please put in a request to Colin for me would you? Pretty please?

Jesus loves sinners: Mark Driscoll

This sermon by Mark Driscoll put me under a high beam. In Luke 5:27-32, Jesus pursues Levi - a guy despised in his day. Driscoll describes Jesus as a missionary coming into human history and culture and loving sinners and bringing them to God.

Mission is Jesus coming to sinners and mission is exactly what we are called to, exactly where we are. Consequently hospitality is a fundamental part of Christianity: Jesus comes to hang out with sinners like us.

Do we welcome the people that Jesus welcomes? Are we a church that will always have doors and arms right open to anyone and everyone? The challenge is that our homes would be open, that our lives would be open, that our schedules and budgets would be open, that we would welcome sinners and that we also would be changed so that by being in community with them we might be saved from our own proclivity toward religiosity.

Driscoll ends with these words:

"... To the drunks, the addicts, the perverts, the victims, the porn stars, the prostitutes, the adulterers, theives, the obese gluttons who think a waste is a terrible thing to mind, the twilight fans, the murderers, the mommy's boys, the losers, the freaks, the geeks, people who think wrestling is real, red knecks, guys who own action figures, chain smokers, everyone who does not use a turn signal while texting and talking on the phone in their car, men who live with their mothers, women who get paid in dollar bills, dudes in dresses (seen it at Mars Hill), democrats, republicans, the guys at the gym who walk around the locker room naked singing Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer, mormons and anyone else who wears sacred under breeches, whoever is responsible for the creation and ongoing sale of men's Lycra biking shorts... yoga instructors, witches, pot heads, meat heads, crack heads, dead heads and meth heads... people who don't recycle, the rainbow-loving tree-hugging ... lefters, and religious people who do not know what I am talking about because these subjects were not on The Little House on the Prairie or covered in their Home School co-op,

-- I have good news for you: You are welcome at Mars Hill. Jesus loves you. You'll fit right in. And because He died for your sins, you get to repent."

Ungodly leaders: Rod Chiswell

There are far too many examples around the world of leaders holding positions in the church while living with blatant disregard in wilful disobedience to God’s commands. Rod Chiswell asks how can this happen?


Zechariah (in chapter 11, 4-17) reminds us that worthless shepherds gain prominence amongst God’s people when the people themselves begin reject God’s word. This explains what has happened today in many parts of the Anglican Church in the UK, Canada, and America, even in Australia.

God had Zechariah play out two parables, enacting firstly the part of a good shepherd and then of a worthless shepherd. On one level these parables are a reflection of Israel’s history and a warning to them about their future:

Though Israel were a flock not cared for and led into sin and finally to their slaughter by bad leaders, the flock on the whole were just as bad as their leaders, rejecting the good shepherds God had given them.

  • As punishment God increasingly sent them worthless leaders, giving them over to evil and finally abandoning them.
  • Israel repeated this history by reject Jesus, who came as God himself to lead them. And this history is still being repeated today.
When God’s people give up on sound teaching, they gather around themselves bad leaders (2 Tim 4:3). This is exactly what had begun to happen even in the early church, who only 60 years after the ascension of Christ, are warned by him that he would not tolerate their tolerance of false teachers (Rev 2:14).

Just because it may be the case now that we are committed to studying and applying God’s word, we must not become complacent in our attentiveness. When God’s word is preached faithfully by godly leaders, but their word goes out largely unheeded, we are warned by God of what his response will be: our responsibility is to respond to faithful leaders with obedience; if we begin to let go of obedience, God’s punishment will be to give us over to our disobedience, and we will then be in danger of his abandonment.

Self-centred religion: Rod Chiswell

In Zechariah 7, God’s people come with a question about tradition and get an ear-full in return for their hollow and self-centred religion. When we act as if our churches exist merely to meet our needs, when we become precious about the way things are done and annoyed with change, we betray the same need today to hear their rebuke. This sermon flawed me.

God targets four areas his people had neglected (Zechariah 7:9-10):

1. Failure to administer true justice

  •  We should truly seek to hold accountable those in the wrong and vindicate those in the right.
  • When we see laws being made that fail to protect the innocent we should use our democratic system to make our voice heard as Christians.
  • Ordinary Christians can have an extraordinary power when we choose to speak against injustice.
2. Failure to show love and compassion

  •  Our ‘neighbour’ is the one who we come across who is in need. When we sanitise our lives by avoiding getting involved with the needy, we show hollow religiosity.
  • When was the last time you put your family out in order to help a needy person?
3. Failure to care for the vulnerable

  • Do we recognise and give priority to those in our midst who are vulnerable to oppression and exploitation: the single mother, the divorcee in pain, the widow, the foreigner?
  • These are the people we should be seeking to befriend, and with whom we should be sharing our lives and what we have.
 4. Failure to think good of others

  •  When we become critical of our society, judging other’s motives, failing to give them the benefit of the doubt, we fail in the same way.
  • Thinking badly of others leads to evil because it causes us to fail to love those around us.
  • God wants us to do good to our enemies, praying for those who hate us.

True Repentance: Daniel Montgomery

Matthew 3 presents John the Baptiser, Jesus coming with God’s reign and rule, and reveals what it means to truly repent. This is a fast passed, upbeat, warm and deeply probing sermon from Daniel Montgomery (Sojourn Community Church, Kentucky).


True repentance:

• Involves acknowledging that Jesus is God’s king. We turn from our kingdoms and queendoms because God’s kingdom is coming, including God’s judgment. If we think of Jesus merely as our teacher we’re living in unbelief. We must walk with him as Lord because he is King, he is God.

• Always involves baptism. We acknowledge our need to ‘come clean’ with sin in a completely open, public and unashamed way. By turning to Jesus in baptism we are saying “to death with sin!”

• Is as much required of sincerely religious peoples as any. Whether we rely on our past Christian zeal, our spiritual upbringing or our visible service in ministry, an axe and a fire of judgment await anyone deceived by their religiosity.

• Brings real change; Jesus always brings real fruit. It’s not enough for us to only seek to leave our sins behind. If we are merely sorrowful for our sins we haven’t known the freedom of him who not only died for sins but lived and was raised for our life: he lived as our substitute and was baptised to fulfil our righteousness; he now lives again for us. We are credited with Christ’s riches, and we are imputed with his righteousness.

• Always leads to joy with God. Repentance is a response to his invitation to enter the joy of the triune God. We come to live in relationship with the living God, who is marked by joy.

• Is a gift that comes from God. We can’t generate it. Jesus alone gives the ability to turn from sins to him. Others can talk about it, point to it, but only Jesus can bring true change.

• Is not just a once off and then if you screw it up you’ve lost your chances. It’s a way of life: we can do it over and over. We have the daily gift of coming back under the reign and rule of Jesus the King.

So surrender to Jesus, stop trusting in yourself and if you haven’t been baptised, God commands you to go public with your faith. So do it and don’t delay!