Archive for the 'Creation' Category

16
Jan
13

chalke turns the grace of God into licence

Steve Chalke recently, ‘conducted a dedication and blessing service following the Civil Partnership of two wonderful gay Christians.’  Why?  He wanted,

‘to extend to these people what I would do to others: the love and support of our local church. Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ.’  

That a Civil Partnership is not a marriage does not appear to concern him, to say nothing of the plain condemnation of homosexual practice in Scripture.  The overriding concern for him is simply: ‘the Church has a God-given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded.

Inclusion is all, repentance and conversion (changes of belief and behaviour) and the plain commands of Scripture don’t seem to matter.   Chalke has decided homosexual relationships within a Civil Partnership are acceptable to God and should be celebrated –  everything must bow to this absolute.   Further, he wants to convince us this is so.  How does he go about it?  Read his article for yourself.  It will help you to see first-hand the manipulative sleight-of-hand to which people like Chalke resort.

He attempts to undermine our confidence in two thousand years of uniform interpretation (as, of course, he must).

‘Traditionally, it is argued that the injunctions of both the Old and New Testaments against homosexual activity are irrefutable, and therefore any attempt to interpret them in new ways betrays the Bible. Things, however, may not be as we thought.’ 

Genesis does not after all, it appears, provide a universal creational model, homosexuals for one are excluded. We have misinterpreted some passages that appear to condemn homosexuality and others are the subject of scholarly debate and so we cannot be certain (is any text that says something unwelcome free of scholarly debate).  Readings which understand texts to condemn homosexuality are minority views (though they are not so historically, nor among most Conservative Evangelicals, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics are they so presently).  The church has got it badly wrong in the past (solar system and slavery trotted out as usual examples) and minority views triumphed (his previous argument suggested accepting homosexuality was not a minority view while this one assumes it is). And his trump card, the Bible plainly and uncompromisingly forbids women teaching and in leadership yet we ignore what it says so why do we insist on obeying its commands on homosexuality?

This last argument seems to me to be particularly disingenuous.  I wonder if Chalke has always argued the texts teaching patriarchy are so uncompromisingly plain? Somehow, I doubt it.  However, it suits him now to concede the patency and cogency of these texts for he can charge with inconsistency those who ‘reinterpret’ these yet don’t treat the homosexuality texts with the same favour.  Better, he can insist that the hermeneutic (a ‘wider hermeneutic’ and presumably more sophisticated one than ‘simple exegesis’) that guided the acceptance of women in leadership despite prima facie evidence to the contrary ought to be employed in the texts that forbid homosexuality.  As he says, Here is my question: shouldn’t we take the same principle that we readily apply to the role of women, slavery, and numerous other issues, and apply it to our understanding of permanent, faithful, homosexual relationships? Wouldn’t it be inconsistent not to?

For Chalke, this ‘principle’ or ‘wider hermeneutic’ is a ‘trajectory hermeneutic’.  The Bible, it appears does not speak with ‘one voice’.  Although God’s self-revelation is fully revealed in Jesus, apparently what is revealed is not necessarily complete or accurate for a ‘trajectory’ hermeneutic will help us to arrive at the truth that is appropriate to this point in history.   Paul, a Christ-appointed messenger, was clearly mistaken to see homosexual behaviour as ‘against nature’ and place those who lived an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle outside of the kingdom.  He was clearly not inclusive enough.  Presumably, the problem was that his heart was not as compassionate as that of Chalke.  Though, perhaps he can be excused for his misguided and cruel exclusions since he did not have Chalke’s light; he did not live as far along the trajectory of evolving truth.   Jude was clearly mistaken when he spoke of ‘the faith once and for all delivered to the saints’.

The hubris is breathtaking.  The evil is palpable; it is insinuating, coiling, and serpentine.

Let me be clear.  Chalke, in avowing this (considered) libertine position, is not a brother in Christ who is simply a little misguided who should be welcomed and not judged.  He should be judged.  He is fully aware what he promotes and its implications.  He is wolverine, a false teacher, a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ twisting the Scripture to his own destruction.  He ‘turns the grace of God into sexual licence and so deny’s our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ’ (Jude 4).   Chalke’s actions towards homosexual people are not loving and gracious they are anything but so. It is not loving to declare pure what God finds abominable and to bless what God curses. To say ‘peace’ when there is ‘no peace’ is the most cruel of all lies and the hallmark of a false prophet.  Such false prophets have rejected the word of the Lord and there is no wisdom in them (Jer 8:8,9).  From such we must ‘turn away’ (2 Tim 3:5).  

These are strong words, I know.  Some will find them hard to stomach.  I do not ask you to judge whether they are politically correct but whether they faithfully echo the voice of the Lord as found in Scripture.

02
Jan
13

new year… new creation

The new year has arrived.  I hope you will find it a year when you prosper in body and soul.  I hope it will be a year when the righteous flourish and the wicked fall.  I hope it will be a year when nations experience God’s goodness as a faithful Creator and his saving grace in Christ. I hope most of all it will be the year when the Lord Jesus returns in power and great glory, with the voice of the archangel and trump of God, overthrows all evil and establishes his everlasting Kingdom in a new heavens and new earth.   I fervently hope it will be the year when new creation (already initiated in the hearts of those in Christ 2 Co2 5:17) is fully and finally realized.

I hope for this ‘blessed hope’ because it is in it that our destiny as ‘God’s sons’ will be consummately realized and revealed (Roms 8).  It is only in the return of Christ that wars will cease, wickedness will be overthrown, and God’s people will truly prosper in body and soul.  It is by his Coming that suffering, sorrows, tears and death will be no more; former things forgotten.  No Green utopianism will accomplish this, nor an economic formula (whether fiscal or monetary), nor social engineering, nor a political agenda, nor any other human enterprise.  Only God’s intervention in history in a final and apocalyptic salvific sense will bring renewal and new creation.

The arrival of new creation in its fulness is the arrival of final and ineffable glory, the light that dispels all darkness.  Some speak as if the coming regeneration is simply Eden restored.  This is a great mistake for the first and former is always only a shadow, a type of the fulfilment.   The fulfilment always eclipses the promise and the new always exceeds the old.  We see this in the progress between the old covenant and the new covenant.  At every point the new covenant is ‘better’.  It is based on ‘better promises’ (Hebs 8:6), has a ‘better hope’ (Hebs 7:19), has in Christ ‘better sacrifices’ (Hebs 9:23), introduces a ‘better life’ (Hebs 11:35) in ‘a better country, that is a heavenly one’ (Hebs 11:16).  Christ is the messianic prophet priest and king who surpasses Moses, Aaron and David.  At every point the realization transcends the OT expectation and promise.  This is how our God is.  He is a lavish generous God who gives in ways that ultimately ‘eyes have not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart imagined.

What is true in the progress from old covenant to new covenant is equally true in the movement from old creation to new creation.  Adam was the acme, the zenith, of the first creation, yet he is ‘of the earth’; he was ‘a man of dust’, the second man, by contrast, is ‘of heaven’ (1Cor 15:47).  The first man, Adam, became a living soul, the second a life-giving spirit; Adam received life but Christ gives life (1 Cor 15:45).  In the old creation corruption and mortality were possible (and actual) in the new creation we have only incorruptibility and immortality (1 Cor 15:54).  Paul designates the first creation ‘natural’ and the new creation ‘spiritual’ (1 Cor 15:44).  Now we should be clear that for Paul natural/spiritual is not a Greek dualism of physical/non-physical.  Christ, in resurrection, had a physical body, but no longer a ‘natural’ body, rather it was ‘spiritual’.  This seems to mean that the resurrection life which infused and energised it was ‘of the Spirit’ and not merely biologically earth-bound.  This would seem to articulate with Paul’s distinction between ‘heavenly bodies’ and ‘earthly bodies’ (1 Cor 15:40).  Just as God has fitted sun, moon, stars for their heavenly function (and glory ) so the resurrection body is fitted for a ‘heavenly’ existence; clearly Christ’s resurrection body is fitted for the sphere in which he now lives (indeed it is fitted for heaven and earth) and so too will be all who are raised to resurrection life.

Contrast is clearly as significant as continuity between the two creations, if not more significant.  In the original creation marriage was instituted because it was not good for man to be alone; however, in the new creation there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, all are as the angels in heaven, for the eschatologically new creation finds man in Christ crowned with glory and honour never attained (or attainable) in the first (Hebs 2:5-9).  Note too that in the first creation Adam is given stewardship of the earth but in new creation ‘all things in heaven and earth’ (a merism for the entire universe) are subject to Christ and the new humanity of which he is head (Ephs 1); all things are subject to him, that is, save God (Hebs 2:9; 1 Cor 15:27,28).  Paul insists that we should not be surprised at the radical disjunction and transformation new creation will bring.  He reminds us we see this principle in the present creation; a mere kernel of seed transforms through death into something that transcends its promise (1 Cor 15:37,38).  Thus the human body of the believer that belongs to the old order and old creation is sown in corruption, dishonour and weakness but is raised to immortality, glory and power (1 Cor 15:42,43).  That new creation means something incomparably more wonderful than merely Eden restored should be beyond dispute.

In describing the new creation, Revelation draws some of its imagery from Eden, but Eden does not exhaust it – imagery from the New Jerusalem, the eschatological city of God  is also employed.  And indeed, the Eden and the New Jerusalem images while suggesting correspondence also suggest a fulfilment that eclipses the original; the images are morphed and exploded to create a kaleidoscopic picture of a reality that defies description.  If there is a river in the eschatological Eden then it is in Revelation ‘as bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and the lamb’ (Rev 22).  It runs not through Eden but down the middle of the street of the New Jerusalem.  The tree of life is not merely a tree in Eden but has become a great tree that straddles the river and has fruit that heals (in Eden the tree could sustain life but could not heal).  There is no sun in this eschatological Eden for the light is the glory of God himself.  Nor is there darkness or night; the potential for evil is no more.  The ‘new Eden’ meta-morphs the original.  Of course, it is all imagery, but it is imagery intended to convey a reality more glorious than all that has preceded, more glorious than we can at present grasp in literal language.  However, we understand it, the overture (old creation) only hints at the symphony of new creation that is to follow.

Our hope is a new creation inconceivably blessed and irradiated with a glory that is indescribable. We wait patiently in 2013 for this ‘hope of righteousness’ that is, life lived in the glory of God.  While we wait, we may suffer all kinds of hardships.  Christians will be mocked and treated unjustly.  We will be hated, misunderstood and misrepresented.  We will suffer for righteousness sake, and for Christ’s sake, and we will have to stand steady in faith through the various trials of life that all men face, but all these afflictions will work for us an eternal weight of glory.  It is this glory for which we long and look and in which we hope.

My prayer in this coming year is this:

Rom 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

30
Nov
11

the story’s end is vital to rightly read the story

Douglas Green, in discussing Psalm 8 (here) makes this important and wise observation:

‘biblical texts should be read (by and large) in the context of the unfolding story of redemption. The meaning of a text varies depending on the way it is related to the larger story in which it is embedded. Each part of the unfolding story (including individual psalms) “make sense” on their own as the story unfolds; they have provisional meanings, which are discerned through grammatical-historical exegesis. But these earlier parts of the story will “make sense” in a different way once the climax of the story is known. The meaning of the parts is shaped by the whole, which, in an unfolding story, means that the parts only “make ultimate sense” in the light of the climax of the story. Now I admit that the Bible is not quite an unfolding story, but it is a book that takes its general shape from the history to which it bears witness. This connection to the metanarrative of redemption means there are (at least) two ways of reading Old Testament texts. The “first reading” can be variously named: reading towards an unknown conclusion, reading without the benefit of the conclusion, reading a text in the context of the story as far as it has unfolded. It is like the way we read a novel or watch a movie for the first time: we make sense of the individual parts in the context of what we have read or seen so far. But there is also is a second way of reading Old Testament texts, one that is distinctly Christian. It is fundamentally an act of rereading, or reinterpretation of earlier provisional meanings, in the light of the (sometimes surprising) Christ-ending to the story of redemption. Just as scenes from a movie watched or book read a second time can have quite different meanings once the ending is known, the same is true for Old Testament passages re-read in terms of the whole canonical story of redemption.’

 

Amen.

16
Nov
11

what is the mission of the church?

Kevin De Young and Greg Gilbert have written a book called ‘What is the Mission of the Church?’.  It has touched a raw nerve in the younger American evangelical scene.   Some have written fairly critical reviews of it (see here for an inventory of these).  De Young and Gilbert have responded here.

The debate is important for it affects what we understand to be our responsibility to society as Christians.  It is well worth taking the time to read the online discussion at the very least.  I have not read De Young’s book but I know my overall position is nearer to De Young and Gilbert than to those in the ‘missional’ camp (followers more of Christopher Wright and N T Wright).  The problem with the more ‘missional’ or ‘transformational’ paradigm, to my mind, is the biblical meta-narrative assumed.   Its advocates believe the story of the Bible starts with creation and see God’s mission as restoring creation.   They are, in my view, wrong in both counts.

  • While the biblical narrative begins with creation, creation is not the beginning of the story.  The ‘true’ beginning is only revealed as the plot unfolds.  The real beginning is God’s plan in eternity.   God’s plan is Christ and all who find their election in him, information not available in the story’s first chapter (Eph 1).  In other words, God’s goal was never Adam and the first creation but Christ and the new creation.  The End does not complete the Beginning; the Beginning is simply a prologue for the End.  Adam was only the type, Christ is the antitype.  Or, if you like, the Second Man was always the First.
  • If ‘transformationalists’ get the beginning of the story wrong, they also get the end wrong too.  The dénouement is not a return to the beginning but a new beginning that eclipses all that has gone before.  New creation is not creation restored or regained, it is creation radically reconfigured.   The missional perspective builds too much on continuity and does not give nearly enough credit to discontinuity.  They do not credit new creation with being just that, ‘new’.

The result of a misread plot is a skewed understanding of the act in the drama where we find ourselves now.  The task of the church is not to transform society but to bear witness to society of God’s new creation by proclaiming the gospel in word and life.  Of course, with the life of Christ in our hearts we will seek to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith’ (for that is what Christ did) but that is somewhat different from seeing our mission as ‘the flourishing of creation’.  We will of course respect creation as good stewards of it but what we wish primarily to see flourishing is not creation, but new creation, which in my view is a very different thing.

12
Sep
11

a real adam and eve

Evangelicals are now being pressed by other evangelicals not only to jettison the literal historicity of the creation narrative but also the historicity of Adam and Eve.  The first is just conceivable but the second seriously strains any integrity in biblical interpretation and seriously compromises the biblical salvation narrative.  A few blogs consider some of these issues (here, here, here , here, here, here, here, and here) both biblically and scientifically and are well worth a read.

01
Feb
11

living as new creation… in old creation (2)

Col 3:3 (RSV)
For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

In a previous post I argued that the fundamental reality that shapes our attitude as believers in this world is that we have died to it.   Our new creation status teaches us that through death to the old creation (age, world) we are free from the enslaving forces that rule in it.

But what of the features of that old world that we may call ‘creational’?  We understand that belonging to new creation means I need not lie or cheat or embrace sensualism or drunkenness but am I therefore free to ignore God’s initial ordering of the original creation?  Am I free to ignore for example the old creation’s structures for marriage?  After all in the full realisation of new creation there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage.  Such questioning and reasoning is perhaps not as outlandish and improbable as it may first seem.  It was precisely this kind of reasoning that led to some of the bizarre behaviour of the C1 Corinthian Church.

Th Corinthian Church recognised they were new creation.  They knew that new creation was a creation profoundly different  from the old.  They rightly grasped new creation was based not on ‘flesh’ but ‘Spirit’.  They knew that in the ultimate new creation there would be no marriage and so they reasoned that they should not marry in the present, nor should they have sexual relations within marriage.  Indeed married couples, eager to live ‘spiritually’ in the full realization of new creation ,they argued, would be better divorcing.  Read 1 Cor 7 for a more complete grasp of their thinking.

In fact, many of the other problems of Corinth stem from their new creation deductions; an over-confidence in how wise and spiritual they were (1-3); living as kings and not under the cross (4); as new creation people they believed the authorities of the old no longer applied and so all things were permissible – a view Paul does not so much contradict as qualify (6);  sexual immorality didn’t really matter because physical things like sexuality were part of the old order not the new creation which was spiritual (6-8); an obsession with spiritual gifts, especially those that seemed most ‘spiritual’(12-14); women discarding symbols of male authority and taking a leading role in churches (11,14); no need for a physical resurrection for they were already ‘spiritual’ and living in the eschaton (15).  In fact, they suffered from what some call ‘over-realized eschatology’, that is, they thought new creation had arrived in its fulness not simply in a first phase.  Furthermore, they seemed to have a Greek idea of ‘spiritual’ where spiritual means immaterial.whereas in the Hebrew biblical world spiritual is not opposed to the ‘material’ but to the ‘natural’.

It is of course not only the Corinthians that struggled with understanding the implications of new creation, so too do modern Christians.  Some point to Scriptures like Galatians 3

Gal 3:28 (ESV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

and ask why we uphold hierarchical creational distinctions within marriage and the church which belong to the old creation.  We, they say, are new creation and these no longer apply.

So how do we grapple with this issue?  If a controlling paradigm in Scripture is that we are new creation people living out the implications of new creation in the midst of the old creation how does this work?  If being dead to the world means no longer viewed as living in at and thus no longer bound by its authorities and codes then what about male and female roles, the place of marriage, attitudes to authority etc.   Am I free in some areas but not others?  Does the Bible teach that some aspects of the old creation may (must) be discarded but others upheld?

In fact that is exactly what it does.  It argues that as new creation people we uphold all that God intended for creation before the fall and are free from all that is added to creation after the fall.  Some say this is because new creation (grace) is simply Eden (nature) restored.  But that is clearly not so.  As egalitarians point out there is no hierarchy based on gender in the final new creation.  In fact, as we noted earlier,  there is no marriage in the new creation.  In the old creation Adam was given Eve as a wife – a valuable companion and help – but in the final form of the new creation there is neither marriage or giving in marriage.  New creation is not simply old creation restored.

Although there are continuities between the old creation prior to the fall and new creation in its final reality there are significant discontinuities above and beyond marriage.   In the first creation before the fall man was innocent; he had no knowledge of good and evil.  This is not so in new creation.  In new creation humanity there is no such naïve innocence, a knowledge of good and evil is intrinsic (think of Christ as the prototype of new creation).  New creation is holy (abhorred by sin) not innocent (ignorant of sin).    Mortality was possible in the first creation (and happened after sin entered) but new creation in its fulness is life and immortality (2 Tim 1:10).  So great are the differences that Paul (speaking of the body specifically but which we may probably regard as a metonymy for the whole)  could refer to the first creation as corruptible and the new creation as incorruptible, the first ‘natural’ the new ‘spiritual’, the first ‘weakness’ the  new ‘power’, the first ‘humiliation’ and the new ‘glory’ (though some of these may refer specifically to fallen creation).   In other words it simply won’t do to frame  new creation as little more than a return to Eden, however beguilingly simple a soundbite it is to describe grace as nature restored.

The relationship is more complex.

Let me suggest a way of thinking about the  relationship of new creational believers living in old creation that, although it doesn’t quite satisfy either, seems much nearer  the mark.

New creation  believers living in an old creation recognize and respect its God-given realities, regulations, and rationale while being free from them.

It is more complex, I know, and  we don’t like complexity but sometimes answers are not as simple as we would like.  Let me try to unpack it a little.

It is a mistake to think we have died only to the sinful and fallen.  We have died to the whole creation as a controlling paradigm.  Paul insists we see our true identity not in terms of our role in the old creation but our place in the new.   Our obligations flow now from our new position in Christ.  The springboard for our behaviour and our responsibilities is who we now are ‘in Christ’. Although we live in this world and respect and ratify its God-ordained structures, we do so out of honour to God who created it and not because we belong to it and so are obligated to it.  All that God created was good and we uphold and honour it while here out of honour to God.  Thus we obey authorities because they are appointed by God (Roms 13).  We submit, as Peter writes,  ‘for the Lord’s sake’ to every human institution (1 Pet 2:13).  In fact, this text in 1 Peter helps us understand our relationship (as new creation people) to the old creation to which we no longer belong but in which we still live.

1Pet 2:11-25 (ESV)
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.  Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly…

Peter establishes our true relationship to the world: we are sojourners and exiles (pilgrims and strangers) and live separate from the passions that belong the world we are passing through.    In reality, as new creation aliens, we are not properly subject to old creation authorities.   We are ‘free’.  However, we do not use our freedom to rebel, instead we subject ourselves to human institutions ‘for the Lord’s sake’ and because we are ‘servants of the Lord’ who recognise he has appointed them for good.  We recognise we are serving and submitting to the Lord and not to men (Col 3:23).   Thus Peter defines new creation identity and our dynamic for living in the world, in the old creation.

Paul does the same in 1 Cor 7.  There Christian slaves are reminded that they are  the Lord’s freemen and Christian masters that they are the Lord’s slaves (1 Cor 7:22)   Christians are to think and function in terms of their new creation identity and dignity not their identity in the old.  Elsewhere in Scripture Christians are said to be the judge of angels and so should be able to judge (1 Cor 6) and should be judged by no-one (1 Cor 2:15).  As new creation heirs together with Christ we are to remember that we are not subservient to anything or anyone for everything belongs to us (1 Cor 3:21).  We share in the reign of Christ.  We are sons of God.  This is our identity and destiny. Paul recognises even when he is destitute his true position in Christ – he is someone ‘having nothing yet possessing all things’ (2 Cor 6:10).

Yet Peter calls for submission to authorities.  Why? For the Lord’s sake.  It honours God when we subject ourselves to what God has ordained in creation.  Thus wives submit to their husbands (good or bad) not simply as obliged by creation or even convention but as ‘as unto the Lord’ (Eph 5) and, ‘children, obey [their] parents (good or bad) in everything, for this pleases the Lord’ (Col 3:20), and, ‘slaves, obey [their] earthly masters… as [they] would Christ…  as servants of Christ’ (Eph 6).  Old creation hierarchies are honoured while we live here as strangers and pilgrims (1 Cor 11:1-10; 1 Tim 2:12-14)

The true model of this tension is of course Jesus himself.  He was new creation living in old creation.  He was the heir living as a servant.  He came to be about his Father’s business yet returned to Nazareth and was subject to his parents (Lk 2:51).   As the Son he could have commanded stones to become bread to alleviate his hunger (as Satan suggests) but he chose rather to live as a man depending upon God.  He truly had nothing (birds of air have nests… son of man nowhere… show me a penny…) yet possessed all things (Peter sent to find coin in the fish’s mouth… multiplied loaves and fishes…).  Authority was rightly his but he submitted himself to the authority of others (Jn 5:26; Matt 26:53).  His submission to authorities was really a submission to God.

1Pet 2:18-25 (ESV)
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Christ was ‘the Son’.  He was ‘the Lord’.  All the powers of the universe were rightly his.   Yet knowing this he did not exploit this right rather he was content to remain unknown and unrecognised and suffer what ever indignities came his way as in faith he waited God’s time to ‘act justly’.  He had come to live out all the relationships of everyday life in this world as an act of devotion to God and was content to wait for God’s day of vindication when who he really was would be revealed and every knee would bow.

As Christians, we are like Christ, sons of God and new creation living incognito in the old .  We live with our true life and identity hidden (Col 3:3).  We are free from all things but subject ourselves to all.  We are poor but possess everything.   We await by faith the day when we will be vindicated and revealed for who we really are to the whole of creation (Roms 8).

The final blog in this series will consider the tension between living in the old creation while living for the new creation.

06
Jan
11

does god care more for people or plants?

The malevolent ingenuity of Satan and the muggable incredulity of Christians never ceases to amaze.  If there is a cockeyed way of thinking then Satan will suggest it and we will embrace it.  One that  deserves a place in Satan’s Hall of Fame for C21 delusions is the idea that somehow God cares more about plants than people.  Or to dress the barmy belief up in more respectable clothes (and let’s face it to be credible it demands all the theological help it can get) the trendy teaching that God’s big concern is the salvation of the Cosmos rather than the Church.

Now if we were simply hearing that God intends to renew creation that would be fine.  It would be eminently biblical and have an honourable tradition.  Evangelicals have always believed this despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise.  But we are not simply being told that God cares for creation and intends to renew it.  We are being told this is God’s main concern.  We are being told the gospel that focuses on the salvation of individual sinners is a gross distortion of the gospel.  The salvation of individual sinners from sin is a selfish concern, a ‘redemptive myth’, or at best ‘bit part’ in God’s great Cosmic drama of salvation.

Kevin De Young, obviously aware of this trend, has a helpful blog about it here.  He well says,

Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners.

Precisely. It is hard to believe that any could read their Bible and think anything else.  Read the story of creation.  The great drama of creation in Gen 1 does not reach a crescendo in v1 when God creates the heavens and the earth.  Nor is it in the creation of light (day one), nor the separating of waters below and above the firmament (day two), nor the separating of land and seas (day three)… the climax and crescendo of creation is day six when God makes man in his own image and likeness and personally breathes into him the breath of life.  Man is the focus and prime purpose of creation.  He it is, who bearing the divine image, God intended (and intends) to ‘crown with glory and honour’ and give ‘dominion over all the works of his hands’ (Ps 8).

It is not the plants in the garden that God comes to savour in the cool of the day, he comes to have fellowship with Adam.  The heavens and the earth, an arena of divine glory, were nonetheless designed for man’s blessing (Gen 1:26-30; 9:1-3).

When sin enters the world and brings destruction, God’s first concern is man.  It is man he clothes.  Indeed, it is in Man that a serpent-slaying deliverer will be found.  God will himself become man (in the final analysis this nutty notion is an assault on the value of Christ himself).  God’s love ultimately is not creation, nor even angels, but the seed of Abraham (Hebs 2).

Throughout the OT, while God is concerned about his creation, his chief desire is a relationship with humanity.  The rich images of OT relationship underline this.  He is a Father to Israel.  He is a Husband to his People.  He is a Lover to those he has set his love upon.  He does not ‘know’ creation, he ‘knows’ his people (Amos 3:2).  It is his people he loves ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jer 31).

The NT is exactly the same.   Joseph was told in Matthew’s gospel to call the child ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’.   The gospels, we are told, are concerned with a bigger picture, yet here, right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover that Jesus has come to ‘save his people from their sins’.  Yes Matthew will speak later of the renewal of all things (Matt 19) but his concern even then, as he speaks of the ‘new world’ are those who will share with him in the life of that new world, the sons of the kingdom (Matt 19:23-30).

In new creation, as in old creation, God’s primary concern is not with property and plants but with people.  Like any good Father his primary love and chief absorption is not with his capital or chattels  but his children, not his real estate but his sons and daughters.  They are his heirs, a new heavens and earth is but part of their inheritance. In marvellous, staggering, dumbfounding grace God has made us his kin and bequeathed to us all he has (1 Cor 3:21).

Jesus argues from the self-evidently greater value of people over plants to convince his people not to worry.

Matt 6:25-30 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

De Young points out that in Roms 8 creation’s future is contingent upon Christians and not vice versa.

Rom 8:18-22 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We could glance too at the picture of new creation in Rev 21.  What is interesting in this chapter is that only the first verse of the chapter mentions the new heavens and earth.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with describing, not the glory of the new heavens and earth but of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ and it is in her that the glory of God resides.  The high point of redemption is not a new heavens and new earth wonderful though that is but as the loud voice from the throne cries in joy and triumph,

Rev 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Just in case the point has evaded us, God’s joy and glory and fulfilment is in his people not plants.  That evangelical theologians are prepared to argue otherwise is simply a proof of how wily Satan is and how wacky (though wise in their own conceits) some theologians can be.

28
Sep
10

old earth, young earth…

I know next to nothing about cosmology.  Indeed, I know next to nothing about science itself.  I am glad that many Christians with a science bent and an able mind give themselves to wrestling with the questions involved in relating the current cosmologies of science to that of the Bible.  The issues are not incidental.

One big question for me is how to reconcile Scripture to an old earth cosmology.

It does seem to me, tentatively, that it is very difficult to arrive at an old earth through Scripture.  My difficulty is not so much with Genesis 1-3 per se.  Although these chapters have a narrative that reads as history (and literal), and although they are part of a book that otherwise is historical, it is just possible that they present the story of human origins like a parable, presenting truth, beyond the understanding of those to whom it was given, in a way that they could grasp.  There are undoubtedly some fairly stylized literary features at work in the composition of Genesis 1-3 that make a parabolic/mythological reading possible.  Possible, I would say, though not probable.  The burden of proof certainly lies with those who believe it is myth (not untrue, simply not literally true) to prove their case – preferably from the Bible rather than science.

My greatest difficulty with viewing chapters 1-3 as anything other than literal is that the rest of Scripture seems to treat them as literal and indeed builds some of its most fundamental truths on its literal historicity.  More of this in a moment.

Take for instance the words of Moses at the giving of the Law

Exod 20:8-11 (ESV)
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Moses appears to base the seven-day week of Israel on God’s seven-day week in creation.  There is no suggestion he views these creation days as anything other than literal.

Or take the teaching of Jesus regarding divorce in Matt 19:

Matt 19:3-8 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

Jesus equates the lives of Adam and Eve with ‘the beginning’.  The expression ‘the beginning’ does not normally refer to merely the beginning of the human race but the beginning of all things, indeed Mark specifically speaks of ‘the beginning’ as ‘the beginning of creation’  (Mark 10:6; 13:9).

Consider too that Paul builds a whole theology of the gospel in Romans 5 on the historicity of Adam (Roms 5:12-21).  Does it not seem special pleading for us to insist on the historicity of Adam (and Eve) in Gen 2,3 yet demur at the historicity of Gen 1.  If Genesis 1 is mythological (parabolic) then surely we must say the same for Gen 2,3.  Yet Scripture forbids us to do so.

You see my problem.  Coming to Genesis 1 from a purely biblical perspective there is little reason to read it as anything other than literally.  It is hard to escape the suspicion that it is only the voice of science that gives weight to the mythological reading.

What then are we to make of the old earth claims of science?  The first question I ask is how certain are they?  How far are they based on theory and how far on fact?

I ask too, is it not possible that scientists mistake the age of the world forgetting that when God created a new universe he created a mature earth.  Jesus turned water into wine that had all the hallmarks of age even although it was made at that moment.  Why can the same not be true of creation?  In fact, arguably, Jesus in this miracle is revealing something of his creatorial credentials; he, in this his first miracle, is simply doing what God did in the beginning.  He is the Creator.   To put the question in more basic terms, why should Adam not have a belly button?  And why should we claim that if he did God is deceiving us?

If we choose to believe in some form of uniformitarianism then it is not because God has suggested we should.  Indeed he has given us his Word which has long since told us he made the world and did so in seven days.  Paul’s view is that creation itself tells us there must be a Creator which should immediately make us realise that we cannot assume too much about origins.

Sometimes the Genesis flood is said to be localised.  Again the evidence of Scripture suggests otherwise.  We are expressly told that the flood was world-wide (Gen 6:17).  Could the dislocation of a world-wide flood account for fossils and anomalies in rock structures?  Or are the anomalies beyond being accounted for by a universe created aged and an earth distorted by flood?

I worry when we start from science rather than Scripture.  I worry because science is incapable of leading to a Creator.  The ‘why’ questions of science are not really ‘why’ questions but ‘how’ questions.  Science explores the mechanics of creation but since its  perspective is purely mechanistic it can never lead to a maker.  Physics is by definition not interested in metaphysics; its concerns are much more lowly and mundane.  Thus science will never posit a Creator if for no other reason than such a ‘theory’ is unprovable by scientific experiment.  If you couple this with the innate hostility to God of the human heart, science will posit multi-universes and any and every other mechanical solution but never suggest a Creator for science is both mechanistic and humanistic.  The question is how far Christians involved in science play along with, or worse still begin to embrace the rules of the game.  And what does this do to their Christian faith?

These are but a few ruminations.  Are they seriously naïve?  If so why?




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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