Quantum Theology: Camels Dancing on Satan’s Grave

Phil GroomI love it! Phil Groom has published, at his at least for the moment badly misnamed Phil’s Boring Blog, a wonderful post I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave. Warning: some religious people might find some of the language slightly offensive, but the rest of us will find it hilarious. I’m not sure where the recently discovered manuscript of Revelation comes from. But the rest of this, at least if you don’t quibble about every detail, gives a fantastic (in both senses of the word) overview of God’s purposes for the world. Here’s an extract:

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything.

“Quantum theology” indeed!

Harold Camping Repents of “Sinful” Predictions

Harold CampingLast year Harold Camping, the now 90-year-old founder of Family Radio, became notorious for his predictions of the Rapture on 21st May and the end of the world on 21st October. Nothing special happened on either day. But even afterwards Camping insisted that his general approach in predicting such events was correct, and he was mistaken only in the details.

But now, it seems, he has changed his mind. The Christian Post reports that Harold Camping Admits Sin, Announces End to Doomsday Predictions. In a letter to his radio listeners, the basis of the Christian Post article, Camping has written:

We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours! We humbly recognize that God may not tell His people the date when Christ will return, any more than He tells anyone the date they will die physically.

We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return. In fact for a time Family Radio fell into that kind of thinking. But we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.

We were even so bold as to insist that the Bible guaranteed that Christ would return on May 21 and that the true believers would be raptured. Yet this incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible. However, even so, that does not excuse us. We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement. We are so thankful that God is so loving that He will forgive even this sin.

So we must be satisfied to humbly wait upon God, and trust He will guide His people to safety.

I admire Camping for being prepared to publicly ask God for “forgiveness for making that sinful statement”.

Last June, after Camping suffered a stroke, I wrote:

I pray for a quick recovery for Harold Camping. I pray also for a genuine repentance and a return to the true gospel message with which he started.

The first prayer was apparently answered. I am pleased to see signs that the second one is also being answered, if perhaps more gradually. Camping also writes:

God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.

I now hope and pray that through this Bible study God will turn him away from his more general theological errors back to the true and powerful gospel of Jesus Christ.

Piper’s God is right to slaughter women and children

John PiperHenry Neufeld quotes some words of John Piper as a post title:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases

This was Piper’s response to a question put to him in an interview in the Christian Post:

Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?

Well, that is a very good question, and it has no simple answer. To be fair to Piper, he does go on to explore in more depth some of the issues of why large numbers of people die, and why God has sometimes commanded people to kill them. In this post I make no attempt to offer my own answer.

Piper’s main argument is that God has the right to do whatever he likes. Well, I would accept that God has the power to do whatever he likes. Unlike the gods of the ancient Maltese, he is not constrained by some higher concept of Justice – and Piper would be right to reject any suggestion that Justice constrained God to send his Son to die on the cross.

Nevertheless, for God, just as for humans, might is not right. The determining factor for what it is right for God to do is not that he is almighty, but his character, defined in such terms as love and justice. He has made this character known to us in the created universe, in the Scriptures, and above all through his Son Jesus Christ. In the same ways he has also revealed to us how he expects us to live. And since goodness and consistency are part of the character he has shown us, it is no surprise to find that, in general terms and making allowances for human limitations, what is good and right for him to do is also good and right for us. Certainly we see no sign of Jesus doing things which it would be wrong for us also to do.

By contrast, the God described by John Piper has the character of an arbitrary despot, one who asserts the right to do whatever he wants, even when this entirely contradicts the standards of behaviour he expects from others. It rather seems as if the deity that he worships is not in fact the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

Why can’t women appoint Anglican bishops?

It is a long time since I have commented here on the slow progress towards the Church of England accepting women as bishops. I haven’t really been following the discussions, which have dragged on interminably. But they may now be nearing an end. The Church Mouse has made a welcome return to blogging to report on the current situation, in a post with the unlikely title Ladies hats. It seems that within the next few days the General Synod may give the final go-ahead for episcopal women – or may throw the process into turmoil by accepting an alternative proposal.

I will not attempt to deal with the issues in detail here. But one thing puzzles me – perhaps someone reading this can enlighten me. I tried to post a comment about this on the Church Mouse blog, but the vagaries of the Blogger comment system defeated me.

The current proposals require any future female bishop to delegate to a male bishop her authority over parishes that object to women in the episcopate. “Sir Watkin”, in a comment on Mouse’s post, rehearses a common conservative Anglo-Catholic objection to these proposals, that this delegation of authority

will no longer work if the diocesan is female, and thus the priests and laity … aren’t convinced she is a bishop. They would be in the nonsensical position of accepting the delegation of an authority that the person delegating didn’t (from their perspective) have in the first place.

The Supreme Governor of the Church of England

The Supreme Governor of the Church of England

The problem with this argument is that Anglo-Catholics, as members of the Church of England, have accepted ever since the 1534 Act of Supremacy that the English monarch is Head or Supreme Governor of the Church of England, with all earthly authority over it including the right to appoint its bishops. Diocesan bishops are still appointed by the monarch, on the advice of the Crown Nominations Commission. Clearly by appointing a bishop the monarch delegates some of her own authority over the church, including giving that bishop the right to appoint suffragan bishops and priests within his diocese, as well as to celebrate the sacraments within that diocese – something which the monarch cannot personally do.

The point here is that the monarch is not a bishop, and is currently, as quite often in the past, a woman. The first woman to be in this position was Elizabeth I in 1558. Yet these Anglo-Catholics have remained within a Church of England headed in this way by a laywoman.

So this is my question to the Anglo-Catholics: If you accept that Queen Elizabeth II, a laywoman, can appoint diocesan bishops and delegate to them authority and the right to celebrate sacraments, why can you not allow that a woman appointed by her as a bishop can appoint a male subordinate bishop and delegate to him authority and the right to celebrate sacraments? I understand that you do not recognise the appointed woman as a bishop. But if the authority to act as a bishop can be delegated only by a bishop, or only by a man, then none of the diocesan bishops are validly appointed either.

I note that this is not an issue of the validity of orders, as it could be required that the subordinate bishop be consecrated by at least one male bishop, but of the validity of episcopal appointments.

Now I respect the argument that no lay person can have authority over the church or appoint any kind of bishop. That is the argument for which Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were put to death in 1535. Fortunately our current Queen does not assert her authority as vigorously as Henry VIII did, and does not count it as an act of treason to reject her supreme governorship of the church. So there is an easy way out for those who can only accept bishops being appointed by other bishops: they should move to the Church of Rome, all of whose bishops are appointed by the Bishop of Rome. The recent innovation of the Ordinariate has made things even easier for Anglicans who wish to make this move.

On the other hand, those conservative Anglo-Catholics who choose to stay in the Church of England should recognise that not only those they recognise as bishops have the right to appoint bishops and delegate authority to them. They should also recognise that the church is bending over backwards to make allowances for their minority position of not accepting that women can be bishops. And they should accept those arrangements with good grace and work for the peace, unity and general advancement of the church in which they choose to stay.

Newfrontiers Complementarian Accepts Junia as Apostle

Saint Junia the ApostleThere has been a great deal of controversy in recent years concerning the woman Junia mentioned in many translations of Romans 16:7, and described, along with the man Andronicus, as “outstanding among the apostles” (NIV). This has apparently stemmed from the reluctance of some to accept that a woman could be called an apostle. As a result some have argued that the name is in fact not the common female Junia but the otherwise unknown male Junias, whereas others have argued that the description should be understood as “well known to the apostles”.

Suzanne McCarthy has reported on this issue several times, most recently in a post The Junia Evidence: X transgendered again. Scot McKnight has written a whole e-book on the subject, Junia Is Not Alone, which I have not read. Both the SMc’s seem to conclude that the evidence strongly supports Junia being both a woman and an apostle.

Phil WhittallSo I was pleased to find today a self-proclaimed complementarian accepting this conclusion, and not attempting to force the Bible to fit the grid of his theology. Phil Whittall, who describes himself as “a church planter in the Newfrontiers family of churches currently in the south-east of Sweden”, writes a post Junia Or Junias?, in which he surveys commentaries and shows a clear majority of scholarly support for Junia as a female apostle – not as one of the original Twelve, of course, but as some kind of missionary. Phil concludes:

What is the consensus? Andronicus and Junia were an outstanding missionary couple who no doubt planted churches. Arguably they were apostles both because they witnessed the risen Christ and because they were sent. As a complementarian pastor I have absolutely zero problem with this. If anyone was ever to write a history of church planting in Sweden in the 21st century, I hope they’d write about Phil and Emma Whittall and not just me – we’re in this together, it is a joint venture all the way and yet our roles are different. For more on how this works out read this.

I am glad to read this from a Newfrontiers leader, and I have no real quarrel with it. It is fine that Phil and Emma have different roles, within their partnership and within any wider team they are in, as long as they have both freely agreed on those roles. But I would hope that they have chosen them not according to some dogmatic human position about which roles are for men and which for women, but on the basis of the different gifts and different callings which they have received from God.

Sadly, I don’t think that is what the Whittalls feel able to do, as Phil’s final link is to an article by Andrew Wilson, on an apparently official Newfrontiers site, which prejudges the whole issue by starting with The Presumption of Complementarianism. Well, at least he makes it explicit that Newfrontiers approaches Scripture with this presumption, which of course makes it no surprise that that is what they find there. I won’t attempt here to answer Wilson’s arguments in detail, but I note that his appeal to 1 Timothy 2:12 completely contradicts his claim to “passionately support and encourage women in ministry, prophesying, deaconing, worship leading, preaching, teaching, leadership, missionary work, church planting and so on … but I still believe that only men should be elders” (a point which he promised, in a comment  “25/01/2012 at 15:57″ to address “in next Wednesday’s post” i.e. on 1st February).

I can understand why Phil Whittall sees the need to defer to this official Newfrontiers teaching. After all, they are very likely sponsoring his and his wife’s church planting work in Sweden. But I wish he had left out of his post that final sentence with its link to Wilson’s post.

Totalizers and Tentative Investigators

Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic ExcursionThe following is taken from a post by Rick Kennedy at the Biologos Forum, part 5 of his series Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic Excursion. While it was written about college professors, I would suggest that it applies more broadly to writers, to bloggers, to preachers, and indeed to anyone who expresses their opinion:

One way to categorize college professors—an overgeneralization but a useful one—is to split them into Totalizers and Tentative Investigators. There are Darwinist and Christian professors of both types.

Totalizers use their classrooms to preach that if all people are perfectly rational they will all ultimately agree. Usually there is some sort of declaration that the progress of knowledge has one glorious end: light and magnetism will be understood, democracy and capitalism will prove to be the best systems for all situations, and natural selection will answer all questions about life. All rational people ride one train of progress together. Tentative Investigators, in comparison, are wimpy. Ask them a question and they give you at least two answers joined by “on the other hand.” The Totalizers are the more popular teachers, their books are easier to read, and the news media finds them easier to interview. Tentative Investigators are like cats. They can’t be herded and can rest easy in the midst of household chaos. Tentative Investigators don’t disagree with the notion that knowledge is progressing; however, they are pretty sure that progress is uneven, experiencing fits and starts, and that we can never be sure at any one point whether we are taking one step backward or two steps forward. Totalizers are often scared that someone—especially some religious or political authority—is going to block progress. Tentative Investigators are less worried that progress can be stopped.

Richard Dawkins is a Totalizer. Among the Greeks, Plato was a Totalizer. Plato preached a triumphal, Dawkins-style, one-size-fits-all rationalism. Socrates, Plato’s hero, in over a thousand pages of Dialogues, never finds himself to be wrong. Socrates is rational and never has to apologize. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists have a long tradition of waxing poetic about some ultimate simplicity that is supposed to exist in nature and/or God. Simplicity, especially in an aesthetic of “elegance,” is supposed to be guidepost to truths.

Me? I believe God is Truth, but my life and my Bible don’t give me any evidence of an ultimate simplicity. God, the personal God, the triune God, is Truth; however Isaiah warns: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

I would side with this author and count myself as a Tentative Investigator, against all the Totalizers who I so often see among vocal atheists and religious believers alike. While it would be too strong to accuse all Totalizers of being fundamentalists – and indeed some Christian Totalizers have quite different doctrines from Christian fundamentalists but similar attitudes – it is this assertion of certainty that one is correct and arrogant dismissal of other opinions that underlies fundamentalisms of all kinds.

Was Jesus born into a poor family?

Rod of Alexandria writes an interesting post God Is Santa Claus: How the Prosperity Gospel Poisons the Spirit of Christmas (which he also links to at Unsettled Christianity, thereby kindling Joel’s apparent ire). I agree with most of his criticism of prosperity churches and ministries, and indeed of any churches which allow their life to “center around the wallets of the monied, and their interests”.

But I disagree with Rod on one point. He writes (corrected by me):

In Luke 2, when our Jewish Savior was presented at the temple, his family was so poor, Mary and Joseph had to give two doves or pigeons, according to the law of Moses (Luke 2:24). The author of Luke had in mind Leviticus 5:7 (NIV): “Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.” Mary and Joseph could not even afford one of the lambs that was probably in the manger with them the night Mary the Theotokos gave birth to our LORD.

First, I would correct Rod’s reference to Leviticus. The passage Luke had in mind is surely not 5:7, concerning the sin offering in general, but 12:8, which is specifically about purification after childbirth. But the wording is almost identical. Even in 12:8 one of the birds is for a sin offering, implying that there was considered to be something sinful even in Jesus’ birth.

Two turtle dovesAs Rod notes, Mary and Joseph chose to offer not a lamb and a bird, but the poor person’s alternative of two birds. Very likely what they brought was the first alternative in the Hebrew, two turtle doves – not on the second day of Christmas but on the 33rd day, according to Leviticus 12:8.

In other words, Rod is claiming that Mary and Joseph were poor. But is there in fact any evidence for this?

First, let’s consider the evidence from them bringing the supposed poor person’s offering. I researched this a little a few years ago, and from what I remember there is very little evidence of what offerings were actually presented after the birth of a baby around the time that Jesus was born. (If anyone reading this knows of any evidence, please mention it in a comment.) On this basis we can only speculate. But my own guess would be that, given a free choice between offering a lamb or a second bird, and given human nature, most people would choose to give the bird. It would very likely have been only the ostentatiously wealthy and religious, such as the Pharisees, who would have offered a lamb – and made a big show of doing so. I doubt if the really poor brought even birds as offerings for each of their many children, especially if that involved a long trip to Jerusalem every time, which may be part of why the Pharisees dismissed them as ignorant of the law and cursed (John 7:49).

Anyway, even if Mary and Joseph were normally quite prosperous, their finances would surely have been seriously stretched by the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the stay in Judea of more than a month, probably with little chance of work for Joseph. (Here I assume a traditional understanding of the biblical nativity stories.) In these circumstances a lamb would have been a significant expense even for someone quite wealthy.

So, if we discount this evidence from the offering in Luke 2:24, what can we say about the economic status of Jesus’ family? Well, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in this field. But it seems clear that they were not in the main class of the poor of the time, agricultural day labourers like the ones in the parable who were waiting to be hired for work in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Joseph, by contrast, was a skilled craftsman – the Greek word tekton means not so much “carpenter” as “builder” (Matthew 13:55). Very likely he found good building work at the Romanised city of Sepphoris, near Nazareth.

More than 30 years later Jesus himself was known as a tekton (Mark 6:3). But by the time of his ministry he had apparently moved away from Nazareth to Capernaum. Very likely one reason for this was that that was the home of his relative Zebedee, whose fishing business was profitable enough to support not only his sons James and John but also hired workers (Mark 1:19-20). So, although his standard of living was surely well below what would now, in the West, be considered the poverty line, Jesus was by no means among the poor of his own time.

Yes, Jesus did become a homeless wanderer who had “no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), but that was not because of his family background, but because he chose to follow his Father’s call into itinerant ministry.

Yes, the Apostle Paul did write about

the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

(2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)

But the poverty that Paul had in mind here was far more than physical want. Ironically, if this verse is about Jesus’ material poverty, it must also be about his followers’ material riches, and so it must justify the prosperity gospel which Rod criticises. And the context in 2 Corinthians 8-9, a passage on a collection for the poor, requires that this verse cannot be taken purely spiritually. Nevertheless it can hardly be taken as a literal statement of Jesus’ socio-economic position.

So, what can we conclude? Jesus and his family were not rich people. But neither were they poor, by the standards of their time. It may be anachronistic to speak of a middle class, but to the extent that there was one they were in it. Jesus’ poverty and dependence on voluntary support during his ministry (Luke 8:1-3) were because he voluntarily gave up his building work for the work of building God’s kingdom. At the end, although he could have avoided it, he submitted to the ultimate poverty of being nailed naked to a cross. And this became the way to the Resurrection which brought true riches, not only to himself but also to us who follow him.

Under-Realised Eschatology vs. “Dominionism”

Brian LePortBrian LePort of Near Emmaus writes an excellent post Jesus and the Occupy Movement. There is a lot that I could say in response to this and concerning the Occupy movement. But I am still busy here in the USA, so I only have time for this quote, which is peripheral to Occupy but central to the more basic issue of Christian involvement in politics:

Another approach is an under-realized eschatology wherein all “change” in this age is not worth pursuing. There is no hope for good to prevail until Jesus establishes his Kingdom on earth. If we oppose violence we are trying to “establish” the Kingdom of God. If we oppose greed we are trying to “establish” the Kingdom of God. Often this comes from people who are quite comfortable with the current dynamics of this world. This allows them to ignore Jesus’ Kingdom activities which challenged the systems of the world and that he expected his disciples to continually reenact.

This is certainly an important insight, that those who object strongly to Christian activity in the political world have an “under-realised eschatology”, that is, they don’t understand the extent to which the work of Jesus in saving the world has already been accomplished. These people complain about so-called “dominionism”, which they see as Christians trying to take control of the world, because they fail to see that Jesus has already defeated the powers of evil and set up his kingdom.

Ironically only yesterday I reacted in a comment to the opposite error. Phil Whittall, in his review of When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson, questioned “why God has to invade His own earth and infiltrate governments that He presides over”, suggesting an over-realised eschatology in which God is already in complete control of the world and so Christian activity to take this control is unnecessary. I pointed out how this contradicts 1 John 5:19; it also goes against what we see in our nations today.

In contrast to both of these positions, I would take a middle line, that God’s kingdom has been inaugurated on earth and is already breaking into the world system controlled by the evil one. On this basis the Christian responsibility is to seek to extend this kingdom, not so that the church can take control of the world but so that God can, so that Jesus can truly reign as King.

Of course this raises all kinds of questions about how the kingdom should be extended in practice. Certainly some of the ways that have been suggested, such as the Reconstructionist agenda of imposing Old Testament law on modern society, are sub-Christian and quite wrong. But we must resist the under-realised eschatology which leads to passive acceptance of the wrongs of this world – especially when this is used as an excuse by comfortable and prosperous Christians to refuse to do anything about the evil and the suffering which they see around the world and very often even in their own neighbourhoods.

Cross or Resurrection 8: Finding the Balance

With this post I conclude this series. Perhaps “Cross and Resurrection” was not the best title for it, as it has in fact ranged much wider than these two events. Here are the previous posts:

In each of the preceding posts, apart from the opening one, I warned against the dangers of taking one aspect of the faith, and of the New Testament narrative, as the central focus of Christianity and as determinative for the Christian life. In each case I named a particular stream within the church which sometimes strays too far in focusing on one aspect to the neglect of the others.

The key to the Christian life is to find the right balance between these matters. Each of them is important and indeed necessary for a proper Christian life. Tightrope walker Ramon Kelvink Jr.But no one of them is important enough to be the central focus, or to cause the others to be neglected. The Christian life must begin with repentance and forgiveness, made possible through the Cross, and continue with the new life inaugurated by the Resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit – always taking Jesus’ life on earth as an example but remembering that he is now reigning in heaven and will come again at the end. If anything here is missed out, there is a serious imbalance which needs to be corrected. But if we keep the right balance, the Christian walk is a straightforward, if not always easy, one.