Monthly Archives: October 2016

REFLECTIONS ON GOD (1)

What follows is a series of reflections on GOD. The assumption I work on here is that the Bible we work with is the Bible God has brought into being and that He superintended that production via prophetic and apostolic witnesses who were part of the OT & NT covenanted People that gathered the Scriptures together to form a canon.
The business of teachers as teachers is to interpret the biblical text as we have it so we can understand what the prophetic & apostolic witnesses meant and then to speak of the significance of that prophetic/apostolic witness to the believing Church in each generation. They are to do that to enable the Church to be faithful to its calling as the Body of the living Lord Jesus Christ who is the fullness of God made known to humankind (Ephesian 1:22-23; 4:12-16; Colossians 2:9).

  1. THE BIBLE’S CENTRAL CHARACTER IS GOD

What’s God “made of?” Is God a cloud of shimmering/pulsing light? What’s the light made of? Is God a specific localization of “energy”? What is that and what is it made of? Is God a localized conglomeration of elementary particles?
Is the “Trinitarian God” three separate human-like persons? One human-like body and three heads or a human-like body that changes into another & then another and ceaselessly does that?  God is said to be “spirit” (John 4:24), what does that mean? Is “spirit” some sort of ultra-refined “substance”?
If God is any of that or anything like that, where is God “located”? Is God located in a particular place or is God like space itself and is everywhere?
Is “God” just a word for “the harmony” we see in creation (as Einstein thought). Is “God” just a word for the grand mystery of “being” as Tillich thought? Is “God” a word we use as the ultimate “explanation” for things we don’t and can’t understand?
Believers who rely on the Judeo—Christian Scriptures for their convictions speak of God as a “Person”. They recognize the difficulty of using a word like “person” but they use it to distinguish “God” from a “force” or “power” or “an impersonal reality”. Think, perhaps, of “gravitation” or “wind” or an abstraction such as “existence”—they wish to stress their conviction that “God” has something in common with humans, whom they say “God” created and chooses to have dealings with. “God” reveals Himself to humans in human terms—that is, in ways that humans are capable of understanding though that understanding must have limits.

These believers have come to speak of “God” as “He”. They came to do that because the primary witness about God (the Bible) speaks of God in that way (“He”). But they recognize that God isn’t “a male” so that “He” tells us nothing about God’s essence, that is, “His” essential nature. They recognize that God is not “a female” so they don’t speak of God as “She”—the word would tell them nothing of God’s essence, “His” essential nature. They don’t speak of God as “it” for that would suggest an “impersonal” reality.
When such terms are used (and they are used from time to time) those who use them use them to keep from saying nothing and they sometimes use them to offset a stress that they believe has hurt various segments of human society. There are those who believe in God and speak of God as “her” or “She”. They don’t mean God in his essential nature is “a female”—they believe that human males have been oppressive and abusive and that calling God “He” has helped to maintain that oppressive status quo. They want females to be treated as equals with males and since God is no more male than female it’s about time God was called “she” to redress a long history of oppression. There’s no denying that in some ways that makes perfect sense.
Even if we take the position that God revealed God’s self with the word “He,” the question is: are we required to stay with “He”? No one disputes that God made his entrance into human experience as a male (Jesus Christ); the dispute would be if that divine choice was meant to have any permanent significance! Could “He” just as easily entered as a female without affecting anything, any truth, “He” wanted the human family to come to know and bear witness to?

This discussion is further complicated by the Genesis narrative of human creation—the male is first created and then the female is created out of the male. (Even those who don’t believe Genesis 2 is to be understood literally believe it has theological purpose though it might have no theological significance for the generations that followed. But Paul’s use of it in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-3 suggests it does (and see Matthew 19:4-6.)
Paul who would have well understood that God in“His” essential nature was not a male said this In 1 Corinthians 11:2-3, “…I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (NKJV) This might mean that while males and females are equally the image (and glory) of God, “He,” in some ways, willed that they function differently in their imaging God. (Perhaps more on that in a later piece.)
What these believers know about God depends entirely on the biblical witness, which tells them of what God did as well as what He said about what He did.

GOD’S KINGDOM & NOT OURS

Look at Me, this Lord & Christ of ours would say: I am not just a sweet, compassionate, kind and brave person you should ­want to live like. I am that but I am more than that. I stand for things, I mean things, I am a message about things, I embody massive truths that affect the entire universe.
I embody the truth that Sin is a cosmic predator, a parasite that feeds on and corrupts every little child born into this world.
I alone, because of who I am am the measure of your sins.
I alone protect you from what you would become if the Holy One had not sent me to rescue protect and keep you and others like you from becoming a festering center of evil purpose and conduct. I am the historical and concrete expression of God to the rescue!
Because your sins are not the heartless, cruel, sleazy, arrogant and brutal kind—and they’re not!—you’re fiercely tempted to think you needed only to be fine-tuned and with a little help you would hardly need rescue? You’re also fiercely tempted to distance yourself from the sinful human family of which you’re  part.
Your genuine uprightness and decency can hide the truth from you that without My Father, His Spirit and Myself there’d be no you as Our chosen messengers; the entire human family, you included, would have been blessed if you were obliterated rather than to live on eternally as expressions of satanic and demonic self-feeding and eternal ceaseless sinning and never-ending sameness.
I am the proof that you were in danger of not just death but in danger of such corruption and moral ugliness that you would have been horrified at the sight of your soul in a mirror. Did you think I came just to fine-tune humanity? No, humankind turned loose a power that would destroy GOD if it could.
I, myself, the Incarnate One, am the historical and concrete proof that despite humanity choosing unfaithfulness and alienation that the Godhead chose faithfulness and reconciliation because in me God has chosen to permanently take into the divine experience the experience of humanness. I chose to be made in the image and likeness of sinful humanity and by doing that I both condemned and frustrated Sin that had set up home in humans (Romans 8:3).
You didn’t call Me—I called you!
You didn’t one day say, “I think I need saving, I will go find a Savior.” I sought you! I opened your heart and I without coercion wooed you to myself and I came to live in you and save you and keep you saved so that in you as my BODY the truth about GOD would remain alive in the world.
I am in my person the message [not just the doctrines about me]—my very personal existence about whom the doctrines are spoken, I am the message that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
PRAYER:
(Holy Father, Open our eyes and help us to focus on the Incarnate one that we might see the sinfulness of our sin and the threat it has been to us and the awful breeding and crawling pit of evil we’d now be floundering in. Thank you for patiently but eager gladness working with us down the centuries—hating with an undying hatred that reptilian thing that takes pleasure in corrupting the innocent that we would finally become rapists and plunderers of our fellow-poor and defenseless and even to rejoice in it.
Bless us with such a vision of your gracious and redeeming self in the Person of your gallant young Prince who indwells us your blessed people. And in our joyful wondering at our good fortune and how happy you are that you brought us home to you, help us to think of all who are wretched all their lives in hopeless ignorance, abused and in a life-long agony we have never known. As we eat together in our Eucharistic Supper will you receive our genuine though feeble thanksgiving and help us somehow to be your helpers even while we believe unswervingly that the kingdom of God is indeed the kingdom OF GOD and not our kingdom. You know, Holy Father, how easily we come to think like gods rather than the image of the one true God. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)

SAVING THE “UNSAVEABLE”

Death in scripture has more than one face. It isn’t only God’s righteous judgment on sin (Romans 1:32) it’s also closely associated with sin which Paul says is death’s sting (1 Corinthians 15:56) and so death is seen as an enemy of life with God (15:26, 54-55). Biological death is more than the loss of physical life; it’s a sign of something more terrifying; it’s a sign of humanity’s moral and spiritual estrangement from God. The teeming million that are put away out of our sight, the terminal wards and the mass graves in far-flung countries all scream forth the presence and power of sin in the human family.

Is there any saving of us? With these harsh realities ceaselessly battering our senses is it any wonder whole nations and tribes are locked into nothing more than making it through another day? But there is a Savior! And the hope He gives is not born out of any mere sunny optimism. It is the living hope offered by someone who knows the world as it truly is and has overcome it. Saying no to its seduction and sadness, saying no to its squalor and narrowness, saying no to death and despair He comes alive from the dead to say, “I can save you!”

I love the way He took it on himself to save the unsaveable and to heal the unhealable. When expert opinion, buttressed by rolling centuries of human failure, was certain that we were a lost cause He came, rolled up His sleeves and went to work. And I think what pleases me is that He did much of His costly healing and saving work while we were oblivious to it.

(Patiently wrestle a wee bit with the Scottish wording what follows.) In Maclaren’s novel Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, Lord Kilspindie’s famous London doctor looked in on Saunders and said he couldn’t live more than three or four hours, much less through the night. Saunders’s wife Bell was beside herself and while waiting for local doctor MacLure she sobbed her heart out to Drumsheugh, a close family friend. When the old man arrived he confirmed the big city doctor’s word that the man was terribly ill and under threat of death. Bell was sure she already saw the shadow of death that never lifts lying plainly on the man she adored and needed; but after examining the man he had known since childhood, MacLure insisted, “It’s hoverin, Bell, but it hesna fallen.”

“Do you think, Willum, he has a chance?” whispered Drumsheugh. “That he has, at ony rate, and it’ll no’ be your blame or mine if he hesna mair,” growled the old man, taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves. And with the London doctor’s viewpoint in mind, he said, “It’s maybe presumptuous o’ me tae differ frae him, and it wudna be verra respectfu’ o’ Saunders tae live aifter this opeenion.”

Drumsheugh later said it made his blood race all the way to his fingertips to see old MacLure’s bracing himself for the battle. “For a’ saw noo there was tae to be a stand-up fight atween him an’ deith for Saunders.”

The distraught and worn-out wife was sent to bed and he and Drumsheugh prepared for a no-holds barred brawl with the intruder. The fever raged and the disease attacked but MacLure dabbed and bathed, massaged and prayed, thumped and turned his patient, listened intently and then quietly barked out orders to Drumsheugh to get or do this or that. Through the long night, promising nothing but giving no quarter, MacLure, with iron face, fought for the life of a man who knew nothing of all that was being done to and for him. A bundle of jerking skin and bones that rasped with every tortured breath he took, was lifted and laid back down by a big old doctor who was as gentle as a woman with a baby; often on his knees as he worked beside the low cot on which Saunders lay.

Weary himself from the heat and tension of it all and hearing the old man say they were holding their own, Drumsheugh went into the darkness of the surrounding fields for a breath of fresh air while MacLure continued his ceaseless vigil for every sound or change in temperature or appearance. It was the hour before daybreak and he could just make out the forms of the sleeping cattle. Sitting down he could hear the gurgling talk of the distant stream as it made its way over the stones. An owl hooted, startling him and reminding him of a childhood fright when he ran home to his mother; now a long time dead. He looked at the shadow of his own dark, cold house on the hill, a place with no loved one in it and then back to Saunder’s lighted house where love was sleeping in hope and where love was fighting in earnest self-giving for the life of the man. Lonely himself and weary with the wrestle, an indescribable sadness came over him; how futile and mysterious this life was.

But in the middle of all this weariness he sensed a subtle change in the night, and the air around him seemed to tremble as if somebody had whispered. He lifted his head eastward and the grey of a cloud slowly reddened before his watching eyes. The sun wasn’t yet on the horizon but it was on its way; and the cattle stirred, rose and stretched, a blackbird uninvited, burst into the first song of the morning and as Drumsheugh crossed Saunder’s doorstep the sun was just showing itself above a peak of the Grampians.

The look on the doctor’s face said things were going well for the sick man. MacLure said, “it’s oer sune to say mair, ­­but a’m houpin’ for the best.” Drumsheugh leaned back in a chair to rest and before he dozed off he saw the old man sitting erect in his chair, a clenched fist resting on the bed and eyes bright with the vision of triumph in them. He awoke with a start to find the room flooded with sunshine and all evidence of the night’s battle gone. The doctor was leaning over the bed, talking to Saunders, and giving him a sip of milk and telling him to go asleep again. The patient went into a deep, healthy slumber.

The old man put on his vest and jacket and went out into the sunlit air and Drumsheugh followed him without a word. Out they went through the dewy garden, past Saunders’s corn that was ready for the scythe and into an open field. Suddenly the doctor dragged off his coat and threw it west; his vest went east and he began shaking and jumping. As he danced in unrestrained delight he was shouting. “Saunders wesn’ to live throught tha nicht, but he’s livin’ this meenut, an’ like to live…it’ll be a graund waukenin’ for Bell; she ‘ill no’ be a weedow yet, nor the bairnies fatherless.”

And then, as though Drumsheugh’s look was rebuking him, he said, “there’s nae use glowerin at me, Drumsheugh, for a body’s daft at a time like this, an a’ canna contain masel’, and a’m no’ gaiein’ tae try.” It was then that his friend realized the old man was attempting the Highland fling. Later, talking to his friends about the whole matter, Drumsheugh confessed, “A’ hevna shaken ma ain legs for thirty years, but a’ confess tae a turn masel’…the thought o’ Bell an’ the news that wes watin’ her got the better o’ me.”

And so the two friends, shaped by their age and a community’s reserve in expressing itself, threw off the restraints of custom and in the face of a glorious triumph danced and laughed their way home on a glorious morning.

The word spread throughout Drumtochty and nothing else was talked about when the glen was gathered outside the church that following Sunday morning. Just at that time they saw the doctor approaching on his horse. If only it wasn’t Sunday; what a cheer they would send up. As the old man got nearer the pent up feelings grew stronger. If only it wasn’t “the Sabbath”. As he came up to the crowd up went a cheer of “Hurrah!” and “Hurrah again!” and a hat was seen waving on the other side of the church wall. It was the minister’s—of all people! The doctor’s horse couldn’t bear it and carried him off in a canter while the conservative Drumtochty glen regained its decorum. But not without a lingering satisfaction.

Isn’t that a great story? But the biblical Story goes way beyond that. The Dragon Slayer offers more than simple life from the dead or the continuation of life as we now experience it, he offers resurrection life. The destruction of death promised in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 is a complete obliteration of death by the introduction of glorious and deathless life! Adam and the risen, glorified Christ (“the last Adam”) are not just two individuals; they represent two modes of living. Those merely united to Adam experience only “soul” life in a “natural” (soul) body but those who are united to the living Christ now live life that is life beyond sin, life that exists not because of “breath” or any other “natural” power source. And on day they will fully experience that resurrection life as their representative now fully experiences it. Their bodies will undergo a transformation and be made like his own glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21 and Romans 8:10-11).

The guarantee of our glorious resurrection is the Christ! He is the “first-fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23), which says that the whole harvest is on the way. In the Old Testament the first- fruits represents the whole crop or the whole flock (in the case of sheep, for example). In offering the best of the first ones to arrive, the worshiper confesses that the whole belongs to God and by offering that portion the whole is dedicated to God. Representation is a central element in this as it is in all other offerings. (A tithe confesses all their prosperity belongs to and comes from God; a day confesses the same about all days, etc.)

It’s while reflecting on things like these that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper really come home to us. Willam Willimon from Duke preached a grand lesson he called Don’t Forget Your Baptism in which he connected these vital gospel truths to the ordinance. Nevill Clark from Oxford in his Interpreting the Resurrection offers this, “It is in baptism that the Resurrection reality is ever and anew proclaimed. Here the Easter event is made contemporary and visible. Here the earth trembles, and the stone is rolled away, as the power of the new age moves decisively forward in the work of re-creation. For the baptized man has put on Christ, has been re-clothed in his risen life, has been drawn on across the chasm and given the freedom of the new world.” (I confess that when I was being baptized into the Christ I didn’t see it in such a glorious way. Praise God for his inexpressible grace and mercy and generosity!)

And the church (the body of Christ) lives only in the power of the resurrection. His resurrection was the beginning of the “New creation” (compare 2 Corinthians 5:17) and his final coming will be the consummation of it. So on each new “Lord’s day when we eat the bread and drink the wine (as “one loaf” and “one body” –1 Corinthians 10:16-17) we become announcers (not whispers or mutterers) of the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

O precious Lord Jesus who heard that we were sick unto death and refused to believe that we were beyond healing; who labored and sweated over us with such self-denying as no mortal has ever known and who, when we were returned safe and sound from the clutches of death by your own selfless work, rejoiced and were glad beyond our knowing because we were rescued. Thank you for doing for us things we didn’t know you were doing and doing them without waiting for us to ask your help. For all this and more we are thankful beyond our ability to tell, though we know we are not thankful enough. Take our sinner’s gratitude and let it be only an acknowledgement of and not the repayment for what we owe you. Thank you for wrestling in the dark with the baleful and brutal intruder so that we wouldn’t sink without trace and thank you that you find us precious enough to rejoice over. And because of who you are and what you have done, because you feel about us as you do, we commit ourselves to your service and your keeping with full assurance and gladness of heart. And how pleased we are to know that the day is coming when that resurrection life you now experience and keep in trust for us will be our own actual experience and we will serve you eternally and better then than now. Amen.

WHY I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO HEAVEN (3)

When I say “the old view” of eschatology I mean the one that says the saved will be bodily raised and go to live in “heaven” forever. When I say “the new view” I mean the one that says the saved will be bodily raised and live here on the planet forever.
One shouldn’t hear the “old view” described as the “going to heaven when you die” view as if that were the whole of it (I hear that regularly and I’ve heard it even from a gentleman and scholar, NT Wright.) All the teaching I’ve ever heard about personal eschatology included bodily resurrection at the return of Christ. There was talk about an “intermediate state” that was experienced at death and the “final state” after resurrection and judgment. I’m pretty sure that at death those in Christ go to be with Him in “heaven” (Acts 3:21 and see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, does that suggest anything about “Paradise”?) while waiting the coming resurrection (Philippians 1:21-24; 3:20-21).

Again, a brief summary. When I was younger I believed if I belonged to Christ I would one day be raised from the dead, it would involve my physical body, the one that I always lived in, it would become glorious and deathless and I would go to heaven to live forever. I would go up to heaven the way Jesus did and the physical universe would be destroyed. I believed that because that’s what I heard taught and plain scriptures were offered that seemed to prove that.  There were always questions such as, “Would babies rise as babies and then grow into adults?” “Would people who weren’t good-looking or badly over-weight rise looking the same?” “What happens when animals eat you and your body becomes their body?” “Would we know each other and if we did would we be sad that some beloved one didn’t make it?” We had no satisfying answers but we just knew that there would be a happy ending—and we sang “No tears in heaven, no sorrow given” and believed it because Revelation 21:4 said so.
This was a satisfying theological outlook especially since everyone in the world I lived in was poor and there was plenty of abuse to go around. And when we thought about all the poor people all over the world the idea that somehow there’d be a happy ending suited us just fine. The sermons were all about getting forgiveness and living right so that when we died we wouldn’t go to an even worse hell than countless people all over the world already lived in.
The “old view” and “new view” offer a happy ending.

It makes sense to say that preaching/teaching/study is shaped by current concerns in the times we live in. No one in the Bible preached about “Stem cell research—the Pros & Cons” or about “Guidelines when electing a President or Prime Minister” or “Global Warming & Our Response.” It’s clear that ecological concerns feed the resurgence of interest in creation and God as the Creator (I don’t say ecology is the only stream that feeds the “new” interest but it does give the “new view” social, political and moral support; does it not? (“God wills that we be involved in ecological and world-improvement concerns,” is a big thrust now—almost fashionable,  as is Lady Wisdom.)

As we’d expect in these days, that interest is linked by writers to humanity’s “abuse” and “rape” and “vandalizing” of God’s beloved creation (nice romantic choice of word). Would anyone deny that many in our sinful human family have engaged in rapacious enterprises? I wouldn’t! And with a host of others I would say that was proof that humans need to be delivered from sinfulness within if change is to take place and that the sinfulness we need delivered from goes beyond the usual evils that church-people and moralists speak about. Sin is a plague that defies exhaustive description.
We must have correct diagnosis and we need a cure if there is a cure. We’ll make no one angry (well, perhaps a few) by saying we need to look after the creation in good gardener fashion.
Using the Genesis 1 & 2 narrative some offerings supporting the “new view” stress that outside the Garden of Eden the planet remained in chaos—the chaos named in Genesis 1:2. If that’s true, God hadn’t finished His creative work (how does the Sabbath fit in to that view?).  If He had completed His creative work and “rested” then He purposed a chaotic and unformed planet that needed “subdued”. (Once more, how then did Sabbath fit in with that view? God didn’t fully create, He left an unformed creation to give Humankind a job and the Sabbath was to speak of not working? I’m certain that Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20 is linked with the truth that God had provided all and the 7th day was to celebrate thatby not working.) If I understand correctly—and do correct me, please, if I’m missing the point—the vast areas of the planetary chaos that God chose to leave unformed are God’s will and HIS responsibility and not humanity’s.
I KNOW this is repetitive but I wish it to be. We’re told that God created Humanity as a junior partner to transform that original chaos into a garden like Eden (Genesis 1:28 and “subdue” is used to support the “chaos” view).
This may be true but it generates lots of questions—does it not? Who’s responsible for the chaotic state on the planet—God who created it that way and called it good or humanity that found it that way when they opened their eyes?
Was Humankind faced with a chaotic planet before it rebelled in the Garden?
If so, the vast chaotic appearance of the planet is not Humanity’s doing! It isn’t Humanity’s failure; it didn’t originate at Humanity’s Fall or sinful Rebellion! The planet didn’t become chaotic in response to Man’s sin. It was all God’s doing, Lady Wisdom was responsible for its deserts, wildernesses, tsunamis, tectonic plate movements, meteor collisions and the extinction of dinosaurs and other life forms—she created it that way? (So what happens to the way the Genesis narrative tells it?)

This was the state of the planet when God created Humankind and Lady Wisdom lovingly gave humanity the task to turn it into a garden?
And to destroy the planetary chaos God gave them the job to tend the garden?
If God’s mission is to “restore” the creation to its original status (via humans) what is He “restoring” it to if Lady Wisdom created it marvelously chaotic in the first place?
Did God speak to some chaos (whatever it was) which takes the form He willed it to be, but the rest of it resists His efforts? Or, did He only will some of it to have form and the rest He willed to be dark chaos?
So then either dark chaos successfully resisted God or Lady Wisdom lovingly (Psalm 136) willed creation to be mainly chaotic so humankind would have a job. Am I thinking clearly here?
If I were an evolutionist and wanted evolution to be God’s chosen way of creating, that’s probably how I would express it. “God created the material universe (humans included, of course) via evolution. Maybe that’s why I’ve heard NT Wright quoted as saying Adam & Eve were probably two “humanoids”. Do you know if he did say that? Help me there please.
And if God created bedlam and chaos and purposed Humankind to fix it, what kind of humans did he create? Titans? If the chaos (so evident in swamps, vast deserts freezing wildernesses and so forth) is even now currently beyond humanity’s power to fix who should we blame? Did rapacious humanity create the Sahara, the arctic poles, the disease carrying insects and parasites? Are those what we’re dealing with when we speak of the HUMAN rape, vandalism and abuse of Lady Wisdom’s beloved creation? Did she create these or didn’t she?
Before we talk about humanity’s “rape” and “vandalizing” of Lady Wisdom’s planet and non-human creation we need to remember that according to versions of the “new view” God and Lady Wisdom lovingly set humanoids (?) on a half-made chaotic planet to begin with and lovingly said, “Fix this!” Should God not take a lot of criticism?
And when we speak of humanity “raping” a beloved creation (is that the same one Genesis says God further wrecked and ruined and then said He wouldn’t do it again?) Are we talking about the same one that Lady Wisdom lovingly created, the one that GOD wrecked and ruined?
And when we speak of the entire human family, as rapists and vandals and abusers of the creation, are we speaking about the powerless, the abused, raped, humiliated and butchered billions?
Is it not irresponsible and callous speech to look at the human family as it has lived century after century through rape and technological ignorance, being vandalized, humiliated, starved and butchered by a handful of war-lords and their vicious cronies and speak of THEIR failure to live up to a divine mandate to fix a chaotic planet?
This is the story of the gospel of God’s mission?
It’s astonishing how the millennia old gospel of human enslavement and God’s rage to suffer and redeem it from Sin and bring it to glory, joy and immortal life in righteousness can be hi-jacked by another truth (a debated issue that may well be truth). Human responsibility becomes central, the beloved non-human creation created by Lady Wisdom becomes the center of concern and an entire human family that has been plundered, raped, pillaged, starved, beaten, butchered and damned is “the bad guy”. And we say all that thinking it will persuade people to repent and get involved with God’s mission?
There are numerous questions you can raise that make one wonder about the smooth narrative that can be created out of the biblical witness in favor of the “new view”. NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope is something of an extended proclamation but since it’s a much disputed topic one might have expected to read some response to obvious objections to what he was preaching. Even a word or two about his use of Revelation 21 & 22 as a picture of what is actually going to happen in the yet future despite Revelation 1:1, 3; 22:6 & 10 would have helped. Middleton and others ignore such texts as if they weren’t there.
Walter Brueggemann has no interest in historical questions and has bracketed them out (BW Anderson in his Contours makes a point of noting that and said he would like to see G.E. Wright’s interest in history and faith brought back into consideration). WB approaches the Bible as simply literature  and shapes it according to his theological and moral tastes/understandings and writes a book called The Bible Makes Sense. Jack Miles did the same thing with his God: A Biography. They make for smooth, pleasing and sometimes entertaining reading but both of them are judges of the Bible rather than the Bible being theirs. When asked if the Exodus actually occurred and if God revealed himself in it, WB’s response is, “We can’t get beyond the narrative.” He means “that’s what we’re told in the text but we can’t say it actually happened.” Reminds me of  of Goldingay’s tart remark, “We know the canonical Christ was raised from the dead but we want to know if Christ actually rose from the dead.” Exactly! It’s all very well to have a text that says things (what text doesn’t?–oops, I forgot about reader response and Stanley Fish and co.), but is what the text says true, is there an actual event that corresponds to the claim that it happened?
I’m not much interested these days in discussing Darwinian evolution. If real proof is ever offered in its favor and presuming I can grasp it, I’ll be glad to embrace it (I’m fairly sure that’s true). I have a sneaking suspicion that the “new view” (certainly some versions of it) require the theory of evolution to make it work. Correct me if I’m wrong in saying that.
But supposing we have several more generations ahead of us, interest in all these questions will wither—scientific advancement in the medical and technological (AI) fields will swallow it all up, the “new” stress on the Bible’s story of God’s mission will be too hard to “make fit” and it won’t matter how we present the biblical witness. After all, it’s only literature. Were that to happen we’d hear again of people who would long for a word from God in the midst of a famine. I’m sure I heard a prophet saying that sort of thing to a generation of his own.
I must stop. God enabling I mean to talk some more.
God bless!

WHY I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO HEAVEN (2)

When I was much younger than I am now I thought if I was right with God through Jesus Christ I would go to heaven and live eternally with God. I never denied the resurrection of my physical body. I thought I would bodily go to heaven forever.
I’m certain I was taught that at His coming I’d be one of those who would meet the Lord “in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) My view of the nature of the resurrected body was unsophisticated, maybe even crude. The one thing I’m sure of is that I wasn’t a Platonist, a Gnostic or a Utilitarian and I didn’t despise the body.
My thought that I was going to live in glory in heaven forever came from texts like Colossians 1:5 where Paul spoke of the Christian’s hope that was laid up for us in heaven. Seemed plain enough. He even said the Colossians had heard about that hope in the gospel. “…Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven of which you heard before in the word of the truth in the gospel…”
Paul speaks of “the hope of eternal life…” Titus 1:2 and 1 Peter 1:3-4 has Peter speaking of the “living hope” which is ours through the work of God in Christ’s resurrection and he says that living hope involved “an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled and fadeless” that is “reserved in heaven for you.” That sounded straightforward to me.
If someone had explained to me, “Ah, but you see you hold that view because you’re a Platonist, a Gnostic and a Utilitarian that doesn’t think much of the human body,” I would have thought him to be silly or maybe someone who liked to show off how much he knew.
I know I heard sermons that used Psalm 102:25-27, which says that God would remain eternally but the earth and the heavens, “they shall perish.” And I know that the Hebrew writer uses that very psalm in 1:10-12. I just took it that the heaven and earth would perish. Understand, I don’t recall thinking all this through with exegetical rigor or theological acuteness but then there are some things that don’t seem to demand that.
Isaiah 51:6-7 speaks of the heaven and earth being destroyed, Jesus in Matthew 24:35 and Luke 21:33 speaks of them passing away and I took their word for it as I was taught to do. I didn’t know what Cerinthus, Plato or John Stuart Mill thought about anything—not that it would have made any difference what they said. I was a young Christian who like countless others believed the Bible was the Word of God. Jesus, Paul & Bible writers I knew but who where these other men? 
The Bible said a day would come when we would rise bodily from the dead, meet the Lord in the air, be with Him always and since it also said that the heavens and earth would be destroyed the truth seemed crystal clear; our eternal inheritance was currently reserved in heaven for us so we must go to heaven and live here eternally.
Then, of course, there was always John 14:2-3 where Jesus, who was going to heaven, said “I go to prepare a place for you” and then He said He would return, receive them to Himself in a reunion and (presumably) take them finally to that prepared place. It all seemed very simple to me and no one every taught anything different.
Now, all that seems simple is not always simple. I understand that now that I am much older and I do understand that my views in my younger days were received from working-class people, non-theologians who in many ways over-simplified. I now understand this also that even scholars blunder around, change their minds, following fashions, using the wrong texts to support what may well be the correct view. (I do recall four OT scholars–three in particular–saying many true things in support of a patently false proposal; they’re named in Job and then there’s 42:7-8.)
Though there are other things that are now hazy about those days, one thing I’m sure of beyond dispute and it’s this: I believed I was going bodily to heaven to live forever there with God. This next thing  I say with a little less conviction though not with uncertainty, I knew “heaven” did not mean “up in the sky“. I thought there was “a place” that we would all go to that was not just “somewhere up in the sky.”
My suspicion is that millions believe in a resurrection of a physical body and that then the re-embodied person is deathless and that they go to “heaven” to live eternally after the return of Christ and the judgment. And I’m pretty certain they believe that for the same reasons I believed it when I was young–there are numerous texts that seem clearly to teach that.
Then there’s this. We don’t prove the “we will live here on this planet for eternity” view by proving that God loves his creation or by reminding people how beautiful it now is and how much more beautiful it could be if we treated it as faith-filled gardeners and cultivators. All these things are true but they are not sufficient as proof of the much-disputed “new view”.
There’s this also, it doesn’t help to correct the mistaken views of “the rank and file” of us if you tell us that the reason we don’t accept this non-traditional view is because we are shaped by false philosophy and false theology. Perhaps those who write books in favor of the “new view” are not writing for “the rank and file” of us but for peer review; but their scholarly peers do not constitute the Church (though thankfully they’re a part of it in many cases).
It isn’t difficult to write a literary treatment of the Bible while you bracket out all historical questions (as a number have done), carving up the canonical text into pieces that do or do not suit our moral or theological taste. One very prominent OT scholar has vacillated more than once on how biblical creation materials should be viewed–at one time he viewed them as almost criminal and more recently he now gushes in praise of those who take creation materials to establish the “new view”. He’s been having difficulties with his (new) “paradigm” apparently; I’m sure that’s what he said when he was explaining why his writing was slipping and sliding. Maybe I’m mistaken but I’m sure when I first read his work on turf and land that it was little more than a “physical metaphor” for life with God.
Of course scholars must be allowed to change their views—they’re only human; but it’s precisely because they’re human that they slip and side and even become bored and come up with new paradigms. It wasn’t that long ago that Hauerwas who was a leading voice in narrative theology expressed his deep pleasure at the revival of systematic theology. And it was even more recently that B.W. Anderson dryly commented on a colleague’s post-modernism and hoped for a return of G.E. Wright’s biblical theology that was tied close to history.
Finally for now, there’s no doubt that “we’re going to live in heaven eternally” has difficulties but so does the “new” view that “we’re going to live on this planet eternally.” I think many of us still believe that Jesus went to heaven, body and all, and has been happily living there for 2,000 years until He returns (Acts 3:20-21).
God enabling, I mean to continue this.

WHY I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO HEAVEN (1)

When I was a great deal younger than I am now I thought I was going to spend forever in heaven. I believed then as I believe now that if I am “in Christ” when I die I go to heaven. That is, something identifiable as Jim McGuiggan survives biological death and I go to be with the Lord Jesus.

But I also believed (and continue to believe) that there would be a bodily resurrection and that I would be raised from the dead. I didn’t think that life after death was the entire story. I thought (though I hadn’t it all worked out; nor do I now have it all worked out). I thought that I would live as an embodied being in heaven.
I thought, you see, to the degree that I thought about it at all, that while it was a physical body–my body–that it would be a glorified body and while a glorified body was an actual body that it must be at home in heaven (however “heaven” was to be understood).
I’m pretty sure that I understood quite well that Jesus Christ had been bodily resurrected but I wasn’t sure that the resurrected body of Christ, which must be the body that was crucified–I wasn’t sure that it was already “glorified”. Somehow, I thought, there had to be a distinction between the resurrected body and its glorification (I still think that) but I didn’t know what that meant exactly (I still don’t).
One of my difficulties was that Jesus in parting with the disciples arose into the air. At least that’s what the biblical text says in Acts 1. (NT Wright, following Farrow, says that the ascension of Christ into the air was a “physical metaphor” (I believe that myself, but that’s a discussion for another time, perhaps). But what I was to do with the Acts 1 scene that generated difficulties? Was I to believe that He physically levitated or not? Was I supposed to believe that He did not physically ascend? If He did not, did He simply in historical fact suddenly vanish? If that is what happened, how would we know it? Did He just walk off into the distance and finally couldn’t be seen? If He did that, what happened then? And how would we know? Did He just enter “God’s space”? And what does that mean? Did He takes his physical body with Him?
The other difficulty was: if Jesus physically lifted off the ground until some sort of cloud took him out of their sight (as Acts 1 says) did he continue to travel through space until he came to a place where God (in this case, the Holy Father) was waiting for Him? I couldn’t go for that even then and I can’t go for that now. So what did happen? I know that I read that He was “taken up in glory” and not just “into” glory.
1 Timothy 3:16. Hmmm.
My guess is that he physically ascended into the sky and that He did that to teach us something about His reconciling humanity and humanness to God and about what lay in the future for humanity as He represents it. But I’m currently compelled to believe that Jesus did bodily ascend into the sky (no matter how many truths it was to teach us) and that then in his glorified body He was able to enter a new way of being, a way that we aren’t able to be in our current physical bodies.
I think there is mystery in all this that we aren’t able to penetrate in this phase of life under God. A maor reason for that impenetrable mystery is that we don’t have the experience of another mode of being, we don’t know what such a mode would be so we have no speech in which to utter it.
Moving on from there. Jesus is now as much a human as He was when He was here in His earthly ministry days. He is not now “dead” therefore He is an embodied being; He now “exists” in a bodily form that doesn’t take up space. I say that because if I say He takes up space then I have Him out there somewhere, forgive me for this image, like a visible astronaut without a space ship.
I heard NT Wright, following others, speak of “heaven” as “God’s space”. I think we only talk that way because we don’t know what we’re talking about but we’re not able to stay silent. It reminds me of a comment I heard from Michio Kaku, the celebrated theoretical physicist. He was telling us about mysteries that scientists work with and he spoke of a “singularity” and the gentleman interviewing him asked, “What does ‘singularity’ mean?” Kaku smiled and said, “That’s a word we use when we don’t know what we’re talking about.” I do understand that we must use metaphors in living discourse but they can’t be used to take care of a difficulty if the difficulty remains as a serious obstacle to our proposals. I haven’t said that very well. Let me illustrate.
NT writers want to speak of the currently invisible Christ’s royal dominion, His kingly authority but they want to tell us that His royal authority is given to Him by His Holy Father. They say things like, “Jesus sat down at the right hand of God.” There’s no need for us to say that somewhere out in space there are two thrones and sitting on them is the Holy Father and His Son. They use the image of earthly kings sitting on thrones to speak of the kingly authority of God and His Son. In this case Jesus actually, really, has royal authority and the metaphor helps us to grasp that truth. I can’t grasp what “space” means when we say “God’s space”. What truth is it that God’s “space” is trying to convey? Someone will surely help me with that.
Back to my uncertainty. Jesus is a human, even now. God is said to His God. A number of texts say that and among them are 1 Peter 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:3. If He is indeed a human He is an embodied being and if His body is a physical but glorified body (Philippians 3:21) then the glorified body must be capable of living in another mode of being. Does that sound correct to you? If, then, Jesus is alive and living life in a physical body and is brimful of life as a human in currently another mode of being might we not be able to do the same since he is going to transform the body of our humiliation into the likeness of His own glorious body? Philippians 3:21.
So how is all the above relevant? Well, you see, I hear so much talk about how silly it is to believe we will spend eternity in heaven because we are humans and humans are supposed to live here on earth. But it would appear that Jesus has been enjoying life in “heaven” as a human and He has been doing it for no less than two thousand years. Would that not be possible for us also? If Christ can do it for two thousand years could He do it for two million and if He could do it indefinitely why couldn’t we? Whatever we propose “heaven” to be, it isn’t this planet and Jesus has lived there in a physical body for millennia. And Paul thought that even prior to the resurrection being with Christ is better than remaining in his current phase of living.
None of this is enough to deny the teaching that the creation will be renewed at the coming of Christ. That isn’t my point. My single point is that it isn’t out of the question that all those embraced in the saving work of God could be bodily resurrected  and live in heaven. Those who teach that the cosmos is going to be renewed seem to think that that means the blessed final state can’t be “in heaven”. I hear it said that the “going to heaven” viewpoint is a form of Gnosticism but that would only be true if it included a denial of a bodily resurrection, which it does not. Certainly it would not be my view.

It’s almost fashionable now to say that “We’re going to spend eternity in heaven with God” is the result of our buying into Platonism and even  worse into Gnosticism. I don’t know this, of course, but I would suspect that multiplied millions down the years who never heard of Plato or Cerinthus thought they were going to be resurrected and spend eternity with God in heaven. I know that I for one (with help from various writers) rejected Plato’s doctrine of “forms” and the Gnostic notions and still believed in a bodily resurrection as a human and still believed I was going to heaven to enjoy life with God. It’s just too simple to brand a doctrine as a form of heresy or a false philosophy because they might have some element in common. The view that “we’re going to spend eternity with God in heaven” is positively opposed to Gnosticism because it believes in the resurrection of a physical body. It’s physicality doesn’t prevent Jesus living “in heaven” do why would it prevent all who will be raised and glorified as He has been?

Understand that I think I’m as aware as the next person that we are shaped by earlier philosophical, theological and whatever fashions but maybe saying that going to heaven as embodied, resurrected beings to spend eternity with God has nothing in common with Gnosticism or Platonism.

Maybe we came up with that eschatological view because there were Scriptures we read that made us think that way. Why do we have to be saddled as heretical? The “traditional” view (heaven forever for bodily resurrected humans), has been around a very long time. Should we think that the scholars down the generations were all religious Platonists (like Augustine) or Gnostics such as Cerinthus? Maybe we came up with our (mistaken?) traditional view because we misinterpreted many texts. And if that’s the case, perhaps the best way to help us is to deal with the problem texts. 

In the end, our eschatological views will stand or fall on what the Holy Scriptures teach us about it. Before we shoot the dog thinking it’s rabid we need to make sure that the foam around his mouth didn’t come from his chewing soap.

I’m one of those who’s big on narrative theology though I’m something of a novice in it. I take long walks with those who specialize in it and listen eagerly to their discussions. So I don’t think that grammatical accuracy and knowing something about the original languages and  doing serious exegetical work provides all the answers but neither do I think that stringing together a lot of verses from here and there, coming up with analogies that might illustrate what we assert, using metaphors that allow us to make proposals that might or might not be true–I don’t think that settles anything either. Somewhere in the middle of all this worthwhile search for clarity and truth we need some careful exegetical and expositional work so let’s allow for some serious work on authorial intent and then we can talk about “theological significance” or how we should “interpret” what the writers said.
With the resurgence of interest in creation theology it’s fashionable in some circles (it seems) to belittle the “going to heaven” school. In my opinion the personal salvation truth has been over-stressed and has hindered our sense that we are a covenant People with a mission to the world that includes a genuine interest in social and physical well being in life now rather than speaking of God’s chosen as a mass of free-standing individual Christians. I think that in some quarters “individualism” has become a substitute for the the truth that we are “personally” saved in and by Christ and that it has hurt our commitment to congregational life and that hinders God’s purpose. Be that as it may, while the “going to heaven” school can bear sour fruit under the “right” circumstances so can a over-stress on our responsibility to the creation and all the elements that go to make up human life.
The “social gospel” movement had those in it who jeered at talk about “mansions over the hilltop” and said we should be more concerned about “houses here and now for the homeless.” Walter Rauschenbusch and those who rolled up their sleeves and got into the work of helping the poor did us a favor in many ways but so did those who continued to speak of the need for forgiveness and a vertical gaze. A phrase I heard when I was younger rises unbidden now and then–I’m pretty sure I heard it from Francis Schaeffer–“Nature always eats up grace.”
I know there’s risk in just about everything we say and teach. I don’t deny that we’ve been made in the image of God and were granted dominion over creation–a dominion that was to be exercised in and as the image of God. But believers too wrestle with pride and self-glorification and as the old Adam screwed it up it’s certainly possible for post-Adam believers to do the same.
Newbigin, as I recall, was quick to remind us that it’s astonishing how quickly the “Kingdom of God” becomes a Church Program and responsibility. It never really does, he reminded us, but before you know it the entire discussion becomes “us”. Speech about the kingdom of God becomes speech about the Church and we take the Kingdom of God into our hands. I do hear those who vigorously advocate the restoration of the creation viewpoint warn against that by reminding us that we are to see ourselves as God’s partners (junior partners) in His purpose. Indeed that’s true and warnings are appropriate but God had that arrangement with Adam and Eve and they didn’t stick with it. The “old man” (Adam) might be dead when we’re baptized into life-union with the the “new man” (Christ–Romans 6:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49) but the old man’s deeds still cling (Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 3:9-10) and he wasn’t satisfied with being the image of God.
Sigh.
Next time, God enabling, I’d like to look at some texts that led me to think as one of the “going to heaven” school and make mention of difficulties that I haven’t seen touched on by the “we’re not going to heaven” advocates.

SATANIC MESSENGERS & POWER IN WEAKNESS

                                            2 CORINTHIANS 12:1-10

“I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

  1. Focused background to the text
  2. What Paul is really after in the text?
  3. Questions generated by the text
  4. Why was the thorn given to him?
  5. In light of the precious question, who gave it to him?
  6. What did it arrive as?
  7. If it was “given” for a holy cause how was it a messenger
    of Satan?
  8. How so such things arrive?
  9. How much and what kind of power does Satan have?

    See Luke 7:18-23
    What his disciples told John
    What John said to Jesus through his disciples!
    What could John’s words mean?
    In light of 7:11-18 & John 1:29-34, is it likely he
    doubted Jesus was the Messiah?
    What did Jesus say by the words He spoke?
    What might or does it signify & imply that God says “no”?

(Make your own list.)
a.
b.
c.
d.
Paul said his thorn in the flesh was a satanic messenger and a hindrance to his ministry for God. Let’s call it X. So anxious is he to bring glory to God that he wanted all “hindrances” removed and in particular in 2 Corinthians 12 he wanted removed. Whatever was Paul saw it as weakening his capacity to glorify God but the Lord told him that it is in weakness that His power is perfected.

What does that mean?

Why didn’t God choose Melchizedek rather than the weak-bodied Abraham with the barren wife?

Why does He allow Israel to each rock-bottom and “resurrect” them as in Ezekiel 37 from dry bare bones?

God has placed his treasure in clay jars and has used sinful humans to gain his end: that the glory might be God’s and not ours (1 Corinthians 2:5; 2 Corinthians 4:7).

But what does that mean?

How do those texts look alongside Philippians 2:6-7?