Archive for June, 2012
29 Jun 2012
I'm always delighted when I hear people speaking about the true Christian hope for the future: not that we will escape this earth and go to heaven for eternity, but that Jesus will return to this earth, and that we will live here for ever.
But sometimes the language we use doesn't convey that clearly. Here are some words and phrases I often encounter.
- Heaven. Sometimes we use the word "heaven" as a convenient shorthand for the Christian hope. I suppose the justification would be that it's familiar language, and it conveys the idea of being with God for ever. But it really makes me uncomfortable. It's wrong: we're not going to heaven for ever. And being with God for ever isn't the only thing it's important to believe about our eternal hope. Alternatives: earth, eternity, etc.
- The new creation, the new heaven(s) and the new earth. This comes from Revelation 21:1. But, very literally, that verse says, "And I saw heaven new and earth new". I suspect that "a new heaven and a new earth" is grammatically fine as a translation (but what do I know? I still try to multiply the letters together when I try to read Greek!), but a few verses later, we read of the one on the throne saying, "Behold, I am making all things new". Note: making "all things new", not "all new things". The problem with saying "new X" in English is that it sounds like "replacement X" (e.g., "new car", "new shoes"). But we're not looking forward to a "new creation" in the sense of a "replacement creation". The creation itself is looking forward to being set free, not to being replaced. We're looking forward to the present old-and-worn-out creation being turned into the dazzling-and-made-new creation. I don't think that "the new creation" conveys that idea adequately in English. Alternatives: the renewed creation, the heaven(s) and the earth when God makes them new.
- We will ... in the new heaven(s) and the new earth. So where are we now? "In the heaven(s) and the earth"? That just sounds weird. Alternative: we will ... on the renewed earth.
- There. "When we've been there ten thousand years". When we've been where? Where's "there"? Alternative: here. Or instead of being all Platonic and contrasting life "here" with life "there", talk about life "now, in this present age" and contrast that with life "then, in the age to come".
- At the end of time. When Jesus returns, will all clocks stop? Alternatives: in the age to come, when Christ returns.
28 Jun 2012
A hymn, not so much sung by us, but sung by the whole creation. We know what we think about God's redemptive work, but if the whole creation could sing, what would its song be? What is the whole creation's hymn of hope? What does the whole creation think about the prospect of Christ's return?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the whole creation might be somewhat ambivalent about the future. True, at the present time the creation is groaning in pain, but on the Day of the Lord won't the whole creation be disposed of completely, as the Lord takes his people "home" and consigns his creation to the flames of destruction? If that is the picture, what would creation sing? "Creation longs for his return, when Christ shall 'put it out of its misery' and annihilate it"?
Not at all. Creation longs for Christ's return, because God's plan is not to destroy his creation, but to remove the dross from it, to purify it by fire, and to set it free. No wonder the rivers and hills rejoice at the thought of God coming to put everything right!
Here's the final verse of Creation sings the Father's song, by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend:
Creation longs for His return,
When Christ shall reign upon the earth;
The bitter wars that rage
Are birth pains of a coming age.
When He renews the land and sky,
All heav'n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King!
And here's the whole thing:
26 Jun 2012
The basic message: globalisation bad, localisation good.
The first part of that was powerful and convincing: global consumerism—in which the global corporations are king, and in which endless growth in GDP is the goal—is really messing everything up.
The second part of the message was equally explicit but much less convincing: that if we embrace localisation, we will enter a state of perpetual bliss. That's just madness. Now, I'm definitely very much in favour of localisation, but the problem with the human condition is much, much deeper, and changing our patterns of production and consumption won't resolve it. So let's pursue localisation, and embrace it for the good thing it is, but let's not make an idol of it.
Anyway, here's the trailer:
19 Jun 2012
"But we had hoped," said the downcast travellers, "that he would pay off our debts, get us out of this crisis, and set us free."
The stranger listened patiently. Their disappointment was understandable. A promising young leader, hung up on bankruptcy charges, friendless, penniless, disgraced. But—couldn't they see?
They listened intently. They heard his words, but... It was getting late. They had somewhere to stay, but he did not. "Please, be our guest, no trouble, we insist."
But then—what is this?—their guest, their honoured guest! Should they say something? Did he want them to say something? They could not. Speechless, they looked on as the guest served the bread to them, the hosts.
Into their bewilderment there came a strange sense of familiarity. Almost as if they had seen it before. One who should have expected to be served, serving others. One who should have expected to receive payment from others, instead footing the bill. One who belonged in high society, treating the jobless and disabled as valuable, as equals, as family. One who should have demanded oaths from others, instead making binding commitments to them, to stick with them, whatever the cost.
But what a cost! Had their situation really been so bad, that it took this much to deal with it? Had it really been necessary, for him to give them not just bread—but to die?
But here he was. The stranger. The guest. Finally, they saw. It was as they had hoped—and more. Their real debts had been paid. The greater crisis was already over. They were free.
18 Jun 2012
Great stuff in Margaret Killingray's Word for the Week at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC):
The Christian church has, over the centuries, been tempted by several contrasting ways of living in this world. Some have simply prayed for Christ's return at the end of time, meanwhile enduring this uncomfortable and disaster-ridden world, where the main task is 'winning souls'. Others pray for the kingdom to come now, seeing it as their task to get on with the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern and action.
Continue reading here.
13 Jun 2012
Good evening and welcome to my lecture. For those who lack knowledge my name is Professor Singen Smedley and I am a vastly erudite and important scholar.
This evening I will be lecturing you on the topic – how we became enlightened.
8 Jun 2012
I've been pondering the issue of creation and evolution for years, and I thought it was about time to set out my current thinking on the area. This is all provisional and subject to change, but the points below are things that I'm fairly sure about.
If you desperately want to label me with one of the common labels, then "young-earth creationist" or "six-day creationist" would probably be most appropriate. Except that I don't think the earth is young or that God created everything in six days.
- The basic narrative of the Bible is creation–fall–redemption. The "physical" history of life, the universe and everything is inseparably part of that narrative. The creation was good, was corrupted at the fall, and is being restored and renewed following the redemptive work of Christ. (Listen to this talk by Steve Lloyd on Creation and the Story-Line of the Bible.)
- Human death, and other things such as cancer, agony and violent death in humans or animals, are not good, were not present before the fall, and will be abolished when all things are renewed in the resurrection. (See the Steve Lloyd link above, and his points in a debate on creation and evolution.)
- All human beings are descended biologically from Adam and Eve (and only Adam and Eve), who were created thousands (not millions) of years ago. (See this book chapter by Michael Reeves on Adam and Eve. That almost rhymed.)
- It was necessary for Jesus to undergo human physical death in order to deal with the problem of sin, because human physical death is a consequence of sin.
- It follows from points 2 and 3 that all fossil-bearing rocks (or at least the vast majority of them) were laid down after the fall, probably during or soon after the flood, thousands (not millions) of years ago.
- Compared with the above points, the age of the universe and of planet earth are issues of little significance for Christian theology and biblical interpretation. Even if the universe and planet earth are old, that doesn't necessarily mean that the biosphere is old, or that the fossil-bearing rocks are old. My working hypothesis is that God created plants and animals on earth a few thousand years ago, prior to which the earth had existed without life for billions of years.
- "Faith" and "science" cannot be isolated from each other. There is a deep interaction between the two, which is relevant at every level.
- Evolutionary models for biology and geology have significant unresolved issues. This perhaps hints that there are scientific grounds (and not just theological grounds) for exploring alternatives. However, these unresolved issues do not imply that those models are wrong, or that they are bad science. (See my post on Evidence for young-age creationism.)
- Scientific models built on young-age views have major unresolved issues. But they also seem to show some signs of possessing explanatory power in certain areas in which the evolutionary models are weak. This perhaps hints that there are scientific grounds (and not just theological grounds) for continued research into young-age models. But, even if those models have strengths, they are currently far from compelling. (Again, see my post on Evidence for young-age creationism.)
- The truth about the origins of everything cannot be determined simply by looking up the definition of the word "science" in a dictionary.
7 Jun 2012
Great quote from James K.A. Smith:
At its heart, the Kuyperian tradition has emphasized the lordship of Christ over all things and hence affirmed creation and culture as realms of God's redemptive in-breaking grace (Col. 1:15–20). Rejecting the functional Gnosticisms of fundamentalism and otherworldly pietism, neo-Calvinists have emphasized a "transformative" project—or at least the importance of cultural labor that is restorative and redemptive—undertaken by a people fueled by grace and informed by revelation’s claims about how things ought to be. Redemption, then, is about bodies as much as souls and is about social bodies as much as individuals. In Christ, our creating and redeeming God effects a redemption that is nothing short of cosmic and nothing less than cultural. The wonderworking power released by the resurrection redeems us from punishment but also retools the arts to the glory of God; the ascended Christ grants his Spirit to empower us to overcome sin, but the same Spirit also equips us to probe into the nooks and crannies of cell biology, trying to undo the curse of disease. In short, the Great Commission is the announcement of the Good News that Christ has made it possible for us to take up once again humanity's cultural mandate. God's grace is as wide as his good creation, and he gathers us as a people to take up our creational task of forming and transforming creation for his glory.