Sunday, 29 November 2009

Out of the Theological closet: I am an Annihilationist (Pt.2)

So what are the key passages? I shall mainly be sticking to the NT as the OT is at best vague, although there are a few passages. Sheol seems to be completely interchangeable between a literal place, and a grave. Pretty much all of our understanding of Hell comes from the NT, and we use the OT as a secondary source, interpreted from the NT. I shall start by referring briefly to various OT texts before moving on to looking at specific NT texts.

Psalm 9:17, along with various others seem to suggest that Sheol is the place of the wicked. However there are other texts that suggest that the righteous are there too, for example: Psalm 16:10; Psalm 86:13. The issue then is not whether the righteous go to Sheol, but rather where is their final resting place.

Rev 20:11-15: Odd place to start? Maybe, but what this text say is that Hades gives up the dead and if their names weren't found in the Lamb's book of life (implies some names were) then they were cast into the lake of fire [Gehenna?]. What is interesting however is that Hades is also cast into the lake of fire, the second death. This proves that it cannot be the same place as Gehenna [Hell] as it is temporary and destroyed.

Matt 10:28: We all know the passage yet we seem to skim over the obvious interpretation for one that fits our preconceptions: "Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in [Gehenna]" God will destroy those who do not fear him. That is what fire does; destroy. One doesn't throw wood (Matt 7:19), chaff (Matt 3:12) or weeds (Matt 13:40) into a fire and expect them to burn forever, rather that they be destroyed. There are loads of verses that talk about God destroying the wicked, overwhelming amounts in fact. Look here for examples(although not all applicable). We will address the criticism to this in a moment.

Mixed images: This is not one passage but rather a criticism from various passages. If one is to take the literal view then how can Hell be both darkness (Matt 8:12) and have fire (Matthew 5:22)?

Obviously these are just a few examples, and there are as many as there are mentions of hell, as obviously the Annihilationist uses the same passages as all other interpretations. I would just like to address one moral question before we go onto address those passages which are often used to counter-act Annihilationism. My question (which I like to note can up after I held this doctrine) is this: If God punished sinners for all eternity is he just? Obviously there is a punishment to fit the crime, but once their punishment is dealt out is it just to continue. There are generally two rebuttals to this: 1) Sin is so bad that there is no end to the punishment. Is this however consistent with the picture of God as a just judge? 2) People continue to sin in Hell and therefore heap up unending punishment for themselves. Is God unable therefore to punish fast enough to end it or his he prolonging it out of spite? With that said, let us address some of the texts set against Annihilationism, and afterwards address any other criticisms facing it.

Luke 16:19-31: Often known as 'The Rich Man and Lazarus' we see a description of the rich man in torment (of fire) in Hell [Hades]. Surely this shows an eternal Hell? Well there are a few things to be said here: 1) It no-where says his torment is eternal, 2) He is in Hades, which we have already seen is destroyed, 3) I have already stated that there may be temporary torment in Hades, 4) It is a parable meant to encourage one to listen to the prophets and therefore look after the poor. (It is also possibly a cheeky mention of Jesus' resurrection, "they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.") There is no reason why this should be taken literally. Does this go against Annihilation? No, if anything it is against the 'traditional' view.

Luke 3:17; Matt 25:41; Isa 33:14: Unquenchable, eternal, everlasting fire. Surely these images prove that the punishment is eternal/forever? Well, oddly enough no. This was something that shocked me when I came across it too. Firstly, all these verses talk of the fire, not of the punishment. Secondly, these words are misleading in the English. Unquenchable is quite literal: Cannot be put out. Possibly denoting an eternal fire (See revelation), or possible a strong fire. Eternal is more interesting. We use it generally as a synonym for everlasting/forever, however it has more then one meaning in the Greek. It can also mean complete or strong. You will have to look that up yourselves as I don't have the space to use here. It is worth noting Jude 1:7 which says, "just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."(ESV) Here it says that they underwent an eternal fire (obviously we know that since Sodom and Gomorrah aren't still burning) that this isn't used in the way we do. It is also worth saying that the word used here in these examples, as in some other examples, is 'Aionios'(Gk), lasting an age, literally 'age to age'. Eternal is a metaphorical interpretation and not literal. Similar can be said of 'everlasting fire'. Everlasting in this case is 'olam'(Hb), lasting an age. Everlasting is an interpretation and not literal.

Rev 14:9b-11:"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." Here we see a warning that those who conform to the beast, etc, shall face God's fury and be tormented, the smoke of which shall rise for ever and ever. There are a few things to note: 1) Revelation is cryptographical. That is it uses encoded images to covey messages. It is not to be taken literally e.g. Horsemen, lamb, sword from mouth, 144,000, etc. This suggests that the image of smoke rising for ever and ever is also a picture. The use of the concept of smoke rising for ever and ever is used else where in the Bible where the literal meaning is not intended. For example Isa 34:9-10 where Edom's smoke is said to raise forever, when it obviously doesn't. I would like to suggest that this too is a picture stating the justice will be served and that it will never be forgotten that God is just. 2) Even if it were literal the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, it never says that the actual torment does. (On a side note I take the Beast to be Nero, the image to be a bust of him and the mark of the beast to be the document that proves you worshipped him.)

Rev 20:10: "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Here we find an odd mix. Firstly, we must again note the Cryptographic nature of the book and therefore not take the images literally. Secondly, it is the devil, the beast and his false prophet that are 'tormented day and night for ever and ever', and not the average non-believer, however (as you can see from my interpretation above of whom the beast is) it is still people being tormented. I take this, as above, to be symbol of God's justice.

Mark 9:47b-49:" ...thrown into [Gehenna], where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched". Again this passage is used often to counteract this view. We have already looked at the concept of unquenchable flame to a point but I would like to look at it a little further and also at the worm. Remember what Gehenna is. Here Jesus is using the image of a rubbish tip: worms eating your flesh and fire burning your remains. It is an image, not literal. What is often missed here is that Jesus is quoting the OT: Isa 66:24, "And they [believers] will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." So those whose 'worm will not die, nor their fire be quenched' are dead bodies, not eternal living, tormented peoples. They are an everlasting sign of Gods judgement, not of torture.

Matt 14:42: "...there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." I think this phrase is often miss-understood as meaning that the people are in pain. I was always taught this and thought so, however when I look at how the Bible actually uses the phrase it gives a completely different story. Look at the following: Job 16:9; Psa 35:16; 37:12; 112:10; Lam 2:16. In each of them the phrase is used not of torment and agony but rather anger, disgust or contempt. It makes sense that those who God casts out will feel anger, disgust and contempt for God.

Ok so those are the passages but what about further, logical criticism:

Does fire always destroy?: It is often said, and rightly so, that fire from God doesn't always destroy. Also, God is described as a 'consuming fire', yet we aren't consumed. So, in theory, the eternal fire could torment people forever without them dying (Ex 3:2; Dan 3:25; Heb 12:29), however the problem that this interpretation has is 1) In all the case that fire doesn't destroy it is either symbolic of God's power and justice, where people either are destroyed or are amazed they have survived: Deut 5:26; Isa 33:14;Heb 10:27;Rev 1:14. 2) Or it generally saves: Dan 3:25; 1 Cor 3:13. What I am getting at here is that one must take each case at a time: Where fire is used upon the wicked it destroys, where it is used against the saints, it refines.

Annihilation is good news for the wicked and prevents effective evangelism: Is it better news then eternal torment? Probably, but we must remember that God is just and fair! Is it good news however? Certainly not. How is an eternity without God good news? We have already seen that those cast out from Gods presence will gnash their teeth (anger and contempt) and weeping (extreme sadness). As for its effect on evangelism the 'Turn or burn' approach only really works if the person believes in hell in the first place. Secondly, aren't we calling people out of darkness and into light. Isn't it a relationship with Jesus we are after rather then an escape from hell? Imagine a wedding where the vows are being said, and after the groom has talked about his love for his bride, his bride turns as declares that it’s better then not being married. I find evangelism is much more effective if we preach that God has come to save us and redeem back to how it's meant to be, rather then that you're going to burn for all eternity unless you submit! Also, what has effectiveness to do with truth?

I think this will have to do for now. I have gone on too long already, however if you want to read further then I suggest this online article, "Why hell is not eternal torment. Why the "Conditional Immortality" doctrine is true and biblical." as a good starting point. It also contains further suggested reading.

Till Next Time!

Out of the Theologlical closet: I am an Annihilationist (Pt.1)

Well, we have come to our final post in the 'series'. The likelihood is that I will post more on each of the subjects in future giving a little more depth and addressing some subjects that I've skimmed over or ignored all together (e.g. Christian Perfection in Wesleyan thought). So, on to today’s confession: Annihilationism.

I often get the feeling that when people hear that one doesn't believe in the 'traditional' view of hell they are spewing some hogwash akin to this (Thanks Contemporary Calvinist). I don't disagree with Hell because I feel that it is not possible to see this as consistent with God's character (although I admit it has some problems), nor do I see it as an affront to the mind, but rather because I believe that people today understand as hell is not what the Bible teaches.

I won't bother giving a 'traditional' (I use apostrophes as I do not believe this view goes back to Christ) definition beyond the following as it is not the point of this post: A literal place of eternal torment for those who reject God. Let me also give a quick definition of Annihilationism with which you can use to manoeuvre in this post: Annihilationism is the belief that ultimately those who are not followers of Christ will be destroyed. There are various forms of this (as with the traditional view) but I hold that this involves some form of punishment before destruction too. With that said, as has become common place; let me give you a little background.

I was raised with the common evangelical view of Hell and fervently kept this through University. I was quite emphatic about it and saw it as an important part of evangelism ("turn or burn", although not that crass). Things changed however, and this may sound odd, when I was looking at what the bible said about the soul. However what I discovered lead me to look closer at what hell is and how the two concepts tie together. We will look at this together in this post and a few of the 'key' passages in relation to hell and see where we get to.

Before I go any further I want to, yet again, knock a false view that some people can hold toward Annihilationism. I take this quote from

"Dorothy Sayers, who died in 1957, speaks a wise and faithful antidote to this kind of abandonment of truth.

There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the “cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell,” or “the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms.”...

But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not “mediaeval”: it is Christ’s. It is not a device of “mediaeval priestcraft” for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ’s deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from “mediaeval superstition,” but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it.... It confronts us in the oldest and least “edited” of the gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realizes, until one reads the Evangelists through instead of picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ. [emphasis mine] (A Matter of Eternity, 86)"

Now I respect my sister in Christ but I must disagree with her. I do not believe that this doctrine came from God but indeed, as she rejects, that it came from the (probably well intentioned) church later on. I wish to demonstrate that by reading the Biblical texts with an open mind, and with a fair reading, we will see that this well intentioned doctrine of Hell is found wanting in the Bible.

So what is it that led me to look here? I was challenged, although I can't remember who, to look at what the Bible says about the nature of the soul. The standard view is that souls are immortal, and by their very nature, do not die when our bodies do but live forever. It as suggested to me that this was a later idea influenced by Plato. After looking into this I discovered that this was indeed true. I will admit here that my view of what a soul is can be rather puzzled. Is it a synonym for a person, a word to describe the fullness of a person? Is it a separate entity, a 'spirit' which indwells a body (I would argue but are inseparable)? Answer is I don't know and it seems to be a rather confusing mix. I'm quite open to being enlightened on the matter. However, what seems quite clear is that it is not ontologically immortal. Here are a few texts which address the subject:
Gen 3 ~ Eat the fruit and die. Seeing as they are only alive as God breathed (soul-same word) into Adam that may infer that his soul will die.
Ezek 18 ~ The soul who sins will dies. (Here soul seems to mean person)
This however, as I'm sure you're shouting now, is at best loose.

It also came to me that the Bible speaks of Immortality being granted to the believer as a gift granted to the believer? If that was the case then how can the soul (of an unbeliever) be ontologically immortal? Here are a few texts:
Rom 2:7 ~ Eternal life given to those who by doing good seek glory and immortality.
1 Cor 15:53-54 ~ Mortal clothed with (given) immortality showing that death has been swallowed up.
1 Tim 6:15-16 ~ Only God is immortal.
2 Tim 1:10 ~ Jesus has destroyed death and brought immortality through the gospel.
So here immortality is of God and is granted to those who accept the gospel. I think this makes clear then that the soul isn't immortal in itself but rather has immortality granted (redeemed?) through the gospel.

This obviously lead me to ask what this means for the concept of Hell. Either the 'traditional' view is incorrect or God must make people immortal so that he can punish them forever, which seems inconsistent with what the Bible teaches about immortality. What we will do in a moment then is look at the 'key' passages which relate to this debate. Before we do that we are going to address where the word Hell comes from. As with many concepts we use English words to translate Biblical concepts. E.g. Evangeline=Gospel, Ekklisia= Church. The same is true with Hell. It is a Pagan word, of Norse background and related languages and traditions (so Wiki tells me), to refer to the after life, the hidden place. Nothing wrong with that in itself as Jesus does it (Hades= place of the dead in Greek mythology) but what I am concerned with is that this one word is used to translate various works which signify different things. They are: Sheol (Hb)/ Hades (Gk), Gehenna (Gk) and Tartarus (Gk).

Sheol/Hades: Hades is the word that is used to translate Sheol in the NT (E.g. Acts 2:27 quoting Psalm 16:10). It is the place where all the dead go once they die, believer and unbeliever alike, till 'the day' when they will be resurrected and judged. A debate can be made for a separation of Hades (as in Greek mythology) for the good and the wicked, E.g. Luke 23:43 "Today you will be with me in Paradise") although its difficult at this word is only used 3 times and the other two are used to talk of Heaven/New Earth. I think there is a case for separating them however as 2 Pet 2:9 seems to suggest that the ungodly will be punished whilst being held: "if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment". I must say I'm not set on this, but it is a possibility. Anyway, here are the words used:

Gehenna: Properly 'Valley of Hinnom'. A valley outside Jerusalem, which by Jesus' time was a rubbish pit used to burn rubbish in. In the OT it was a place where people sacrificed their children to Molech, built [temples] for Baal, and used fortune-telling, omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and necromancers. (2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; Jer 7:31; 7:32; 19:2; 19:4; 19:6; 32:35) Of particular note for out study now is Jer 7:32-33, "So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away." It is also worth noting that it was here that criminals were thrown after crucifixion and probably where Jesus would have ended up if it weren't for Joseph asking for the body to bury.

Tartarus: The lower region of Hades where the Titans were kept in Greek mythology. It is only mentioned once in the Bible, 2 Pet 2:4, "...God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment..." In Greek mythology the Titans, the sons of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Heaven) [N.B. Uranus was Gaia's husband and son!] were held here. (Anyone noticing a similarity with I Enoch?) Anyway, this is the place where the [fallen] angels were locked ready for judgement, and I do not feel if actually relevant to this debate so we shall not address this any further in this post.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Out of the theological closet: I am (for want of a better word) Egalitarian.

"Jesus is lord" proclaims the new woman Vicar to the congregation. Immediately cries come from the congregation, "Heretic! A woman preaching to men, despicable." In this post we're going to do what I did: look at the few passages that even mention the concept of women preaching to, and having authority over men and see what they say. It is only women preaching to and having authority men mentioned as both sides agree that women can have authority over and preach to women and children (Titus 2:3-5; Prov 6:20). Obviously we haven't got space to do an in-depth study of each but rather shall be a few comments from which you can see how I came to this conclusion and hopefully from which you can go and look for yourself.

As per usual, disclaimers: Firstly, I obviously use this in the Christian sense. Secondly, Egalitarianism has certain connotations to it. Generally it is seen as being held by militant feminists who are convinced that they are as good as men. Strictly meaning it comes from the French, égal, meaning equal. It is the belief that we are all equal in God's sight and are all called to use our gifts to his service. Now I know that the majority of Complimentarians today would argue this to be true also: Men and women are indeed equal and both must use their gifts to the glory of God and respond to any true calling they have from God. They however would argue that women will not be called to minister to men. Thirdly, much thanks must go to Rev. Simon Woodman of South Wales Baptist College who taught me regularly at Cardiff University, who helped me via e-mail on this subject even after I graduated, and (before he does me for plagiarism, of which there is a lot) of who's essay, 'A Biblical Basis for Affirming Women in Ministry' I have borrow extensively from and based much of this post on. Thank you Very much Simon. So then, what position do I hold?

The sense I am using it in doesn't fit with either position really. What I mean by it is this: Women and men are equal in status and in the eyes of God, but that doesn't mean they are the same. I am not arguing for a Gnostic position of androgyny! I don't think that any Christian would argue that it is either what is true, nor what they would want; rather the Bible celebrates both men and women! I shall not get into what these roles are now however as it is rather complicated, as I'm sure you are all aware. What I am saying though is that there are no distinctions in Ministerial roles between the sexes. I.e. Women are allowed to teach and have authority over everyone, including men. It is also worth noting that I was a Complimentarian throughout most of my adult life, and only became 'Egalitarian' once I left university.

There are various places people go to defend their position, which often involves looking at Biblical female character and their calling, including Deborah (Judges 4:4-10) , Junia (Rom 16:7) and Prisca (Rom 16:3) among various others. These however tend to depend on ones views. For example, was Junia even a women and if so was she an Apostle, or just known to them? What we will do now instead then is look at the 3 passages which tend to be used as the major defence of the Complimentarian position: 1 Cor 11:2-16, 1 Cor 13: 33b-36 and 2 Tim 2: 8-15.

1 Cor 11:2-16
The key part to our debate here is verse 3, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."(All references from ESV.) If man is the head of woman, in the same way Christ is the head of man then surely women cannot have authority over men, right? I will be honest here and say that of the 3 passages that this is the only one of which I am unsure of, however evidence leads me to conclude that the interpretation mentioned above is incorrect. Those who have looked at this passage before are likely to come across the debate on whether 'kephale', head, is to be translated authority or source. I would argue that the traditional translation of authority is incorrect; however it is not as clear cut as some make out. One must then understand what Paul means by this analogy. We understand head to mean 'authority', however at the time it meant source. The head was the place where nourishment entered the body. See for example Eph 4:14-16 and Col 2: 19 where Paul uses headship in this way. It is also worth noting that it may also mean, 'the head of the wife is her husband', and is indeed what some translations go for. This would make some difference but is not enough to bother too much about here. What Paul is getting at here is the interdependence of everyone. This is back up later in Vs 11-12 when Paul states, 'Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.’ It is also worth being aware of the fact that the orthodox position is that the father and the son are co-equal, and not that Christ is subordinate. (See John 1:1-3; 10:30; 14:9, 11; 16:15; 17:11, 21.) In fact John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople AD 398-404) used the word ‘heretic’ to describe those who would seek to understand ‘head’ in terms of authority, preferring instead to see headship as denoting origin and source. (Kroeger, Head, 1993, 377.)

What I do think is thoroughly important is the passage comes immediately before relating to not abusing our freedom in Christ to damage one another. That’s right people, context! Take particular note of 1 Cor 10: 31- 11:1, 'So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ'. It seems to me then that women were causing issues in the Corinthian church by eating meat sacrificed to idol (with the men) and causing a social raucous by whether they covered their head or not, whether they ordained their hair and whether they listened to the men in the church. Perhaps they thought that as they have freedom in Christ they no longer had to listen to men, but Paul tells them otherwise, 'whatever you it for Gods glory'! I would argue therefore that this passage, found in the section about orderly worship incl. head coverings and not abusing your freedoms, is about forfeiting your freedom for the good of the church and the glory of God. This passage cannot therefore be used to argue for a Complimentarian position.

11 Cor 14:33b-36
Again we find that this passage sit in the context of Paul talking about orderly worship, but this time in relation to prophecy and tongues. It has been argued that this passage was added in later since 1 Cor 14:26-33a and 36-40 are about prophecy and tongues, and yet 14:33b-36 is about women speaking. The shock may come here when I say I agree with Don Carson (a famous Evangelical Complimentarian) on this passage. (See his article, '"Silent in the Churches": On the Role of Women in
1 Corinthians 14:33B-36'
). He argues that it is original and is therefore in this context for a reason.

Immediately we are on the defensive as it seems to contradict 1 Cor 11:4-5 which reads, 'Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.' So is a woman allowed to speak in church or not? Carson argues in the article stated above that, 'Paul has just been requiring that the church in Corinth carefully weigh the prophecies presented to it. Women, of course, may participate in such prophesying; that was established in chapter 11. Paul's point here, however, is that they may not participate in the oral weighing of such prophecies.... In that connection, they are not allowed to speak---"as the law says."' He then goes on to argue that by 'the law' Paul is referring 'to the creation order in Genesis 2:20b-24,{45} for it is to that Scripture that Paul explicitly turns on two other occasions when he discusses female roles (1 Corinthians 11:8, 9; [1] Timothy 2:13).' I agree with Carson here and shall say no more on this matter except that I disagree with him on the implications of referring to the law. It is also worth noting that it seems as if it was common place for people to shout out and ask questions, as it was with men in synagogues; however this seems to have been interrupting the service. Perhaps this too was a reason why they weren't allowed to speak. Perhaps the two are connect: Women were falsely weighing prophecies, and asking why others were interpreting them as they were. This too then refers not to whether a woman may speak in church but rather that she must place the church and the glory of God first. With that said Paul lays down a way in which women may in future be able to weigh prophecies in V 35, 'If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church'.

1 Tim 2:8-15
This is the passage that kept me as a Complimentarian for so long. It seemed clear to me that this cannot be cultural as the reason that women must not 'teach or to exercise authority over a man' was set not in culture but in scripture, 'For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.' However, thanks to Simon Woodman (once again) I was challenged to ask myself '...whether Paul is saying that all women are inherently more easy to deceive than men, and that therefore no woman is ever fit to teach. Or whether Paul is using the story of Eve to illustrate the particular situation facing the women in the church in Ephesus' No, not even Complimentarians would argue, I think, I hope, that women are more easily deceived. Rather it makes more sense that Paul is using this passage analogously, as he does in 2 Cor 11:3, to make a point. If we wrote it today it may go something like this, "Just like eve was deceived in her ignorance and lead Adam into sin, don't let the women in your church lead you astray in their ignorance'. Of course Paul didn't leave it there but rather, as he did in 1 Cor 14, left a way for this to ignorance to change in V 11. This then too is not, as with the others, teaching that women cannot speak in church ever, but rather that they should not teach in their ignorance in case it leads to error and leads the church astray, thereby dishonouring God.

It seems clear to me then that the very passages that are used to teach Complimentarianism do in fact teach the opposite. Paul was arguing that women should be educated and should listen in church, as well as ask their husbands at home (something that the pagans weren't allowed, and which women to an extent weren't allowed to in synagogues either), but until such time as they are ready they should forfeit their new rights and not speak in church for the benefit of other believers and the glory of God. It would have, of course, discredited the church is they allowed women to teach in a culture where women were inferior to men and therefore stifled evangelism. Of course today Christian women are educated in both a worldly sense and in the Gospel, and it is acceptable, if not required, that women are allowed to teach and have authority. One may in fact argue the reverse then, that we are sinning by not allowing women who are called into their role and indeed stifling evangelism by saying that women are not allowed to teach in a society where it is almost expected. We should then judge women on the same criteria as men: Are they able and has God called them?

Till Next Time!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Out of the Theological Closet: I am an Arminian (Ed.3)

Firstly, I'd like to say that this post is not to be a thorough defence of Arminianism. I strongly suggest that for a thorough defence of the system that you look at the Society of Evangelical Arminians (Widget on the right hand side tool bar), and look at the fantastic Classical Arminianism blog. I also suggest you read the short tractate by John Wesley entitle, "The Question, "What Is an Arminian?" Answered by a Lover of Free Grace" and of course the works of Arminius himself, many of which can be read here. I will however be explaining what Arminianism really is, and dispel what some people claim it is, but is not. I will look briefly at some of the major objection. The manner at which I will be doing this on the whole is in comparison to the 5 points of Calvinism, often known as TULIP. It is not that these are complete opposites as some assert, quite the contrary in fact, but that it gives us a good base line.

As always here is a little of my background: I was brought up in a church which, from what I could tell at the time, was simply based on the Gospel and had no real affinity to any soteriological system (in this sense). I was however taken under the wing of one of the Deacons (or Elders: They were one post in this church) who was a Calvinist. I was obviously effected by this and came to call myself one also. I had done no real study into the subject at the time but simply took him, and his interpretation, at his word. Eventually I moved to Wales for University and began to realise that there the Calvinist/Arminian debate was huge so I decided to do more research on the subject. What I came to at first was that Calvinism was inconsistent with the core Gospel, and with who God had revealed himself to be. It was only gradually that I came to realise that Arminianism was the system which best explains how the Gospel works. If you are now screaming at the monitor the likelihood is that you are Welsh, or heavily involved in a Welsh reformed church. If however you can't fathom what the issue is then I suspect that you are not. Either way I invite you all to read on and decide for yourselves, with prayer, what is right.

So let's start with the negative. Arminianism is not Pelagianism, or Semi-Pelagianism. Pelagianism is a system propagated by an English monk, later deemed a heretic, who claimed that we are not effected by original sin and are therefore able to choose God on our own. Jesus was more of a good example, rather then a way of freeing us from Sin. Semi-Pelagianism claimed that we were in some way effected but there was a joint venture between us and God. This is often what Arminianism is falsely accused of. Obviously it is not Calvinism either which claims that God does everything, including pre-destining some to belief and other to reject. In other words we have no free will, no choice, in relation to our salvation.

A disclaimer before we go any further. Arminianism, as it is with Calvinism, is a varied system. Mine resembles that of Mr. Wesley more then that of Arminius. Also, the Calvinism I will be dealing with is a caricature used for literary purposes and doesn't necessarily express the views of those who hold it. So, with that said, what is Arminianism: Arminianism is a belief in God's grace first and foremost, with an acceptance of our God given free will and responsibility. Arminianism is the belief that we are all spiritually blind and are in need to God's grace. The difference comes in the concept of Prevenient (that which comes before) Grace. Arminians hold that through grace alone, and not of humanity at all, that God call each of us and enables us all to make a choice as to follow him or not. We are created in the image of God and have free will, however due to sin we are spiritually blind and therefore our free will is marred. Prevenient Grace is a form of common grace where in God allows us to see him and therefore choose with our restored free-wills. As Mr. Wesley says, "I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which "enlightens every man that cometh into the world [Jn 1:9].""(Wesley's Works, 8:52). Isn't our choosing taking away from Gods grace? Arminius explains, "A rich man bestows, on a poor and famishing beggar, alms by which he may be able to maintain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it? Can it be said with propriety, that “the alms depended partly on the liberality of the Donor, and partly on the liberty of the Receiver,” though the latter would not have possessed the alms unless he had received it by stretching out his hand? Can it be correctly said, because the beggar is always prepared to receive, that “he can have the alms, or not have it, just as he pleases?” If these assertions cannot be truly made about a beggar who receives alms, how much less can they be made about the gift of faith, for the receiving of which far more acts of Divine grace are required!"(Works of James Arminius Vol. 1, Article 27) Arminians also hold, as do some Calvinists, that Jesus died to redeem all people, and not a limited, predestined number. Let us continue then with a comparison with the 5 points of Calvinism:

T - Total Depravity. This teaches that there is nothing in man that can save himself. He is spiritually blind and helpless due to the effects of sin. Obviously the reason given for this varies. I would argue that we are depraved by sin and therefore have a sinful nature, rather then the R.Catholic concept of original sin. (See Eph 2:1-10)

U - Unconditional Election. That we have nothing of ourselves that deserves election but rather all of Gods grace, and nothing besides. Arminians would disagree as to the meaning of this election. The key to understanding what Arminians mean by election is choice. I argue that God has elected and in will save those who he as foreseen will choose to respond to the Gospel (Molinism). The issue here then is not of the concept but of the how. i.e. not arbitrary (See Eph 2:8-9; 1 Pet 1:2)

L - Limited Atonement. This is where they differ. Arminianism believes that Jesus came to redeem all mankind and not just a few who he will later force to believe. Of course, to borrow a phrase, it is "sufficient for all and efficient for" those who believe. (See 2 Cor 5:14-15; 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 3:9)

I - Irresistible Grave. They also differ here. Arminianism argues that due to Gods prevenient Grace mankind is able to either accept or reject the Gospel by being enlightened to the truth of the gospel. God will not force anyone to believe. God enables salvation by grace. (See Acts 7:51-52)

P - Perseverance of the Saints. This is a point of which even Arminians disagree. I believe that a believer once saved is able to reject God and loose their salvation. (See 1 Cor 10:12; Heb 4:1)

Till next time!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Out of the Theological closet: I am not a 6 day Creationist.

A bit of background is always helpful I feel. I was, from my GCSEs till my second year of University, a strong 6 Day Creationist. From that period until now my view on this has gradually changed, and I'm sure is going to alter again as new evidence comes for and new ideas are presented. Where I stand at present is, I suppose, as an agnostic. Let me expand a bit further.

As I have already said I was for a long time a solid 6 day-er, mainly due to my views on Genesis. Not helped, as I'm sure everyone can empathise with, by those that taught (on both sides) that evolution kills God. This of course, due to my strong conviction in the truth of Christianity, lead me to take up and defend the position which I was convinced at the time showed God, and attacked that which I believed lead to a him being pushed out the picture, so to speak. I got all the books I could on the subject so that I could have a strong apologetical stance on the issue, which I believe I did. I was a big fan on Ken Ham, Monty White and Answers in Genesis ministries in general. Michael. J. Behe's book, 'Darwins Black Box' became almost Deutero-canonical for me.

So where did it all change? There were 3 real steps:
1) I was actively involved in the Cardiff Christian Union, whilst at university. I found that instead of aiding the God debate, creationism actually destroyed it. I had to make a decision on where to go from here. What I concluded at the time was that even though it was correct it was a red-herring and therefore is to be avoided where possible. What I found was that even when I made a strong case for creationism, the mere mention that I questioned evolution placed me as a nutter not to be listened to. I decided that it was Christ crucified that I was to preach, not God the builder.

2) I looked at the reason for Genesis 1-3. Seriously, I mean why is it there? A nice story for the kids? Why do we need to know the ins and outs of what God made and when? Wouldn't Genesis 1:1 be enough? Then we looked at Genesis as University and I was convinced of it. Genesis very closely resembles Babylonian creation myth: Enuma Elish (EE). Each generation of the gods of the EE myth parallel the days that God creates on. E.g. Generation 1: Apsu (the god of water) and Tiamat (god of chaos and bearer of earth and sky) parallels day 1 of creation (Gen 1:1-2). Now there are various reasons given for this but I believe it to be intentional. Something along the lines of, 'You worship creation as Gods but you are wrong. Our one God created everything, including what you believe to be gods and has in fact placed them under our control'. You will notice that much of Genesis is in poetic prose, and not as history. I believe that it is also to counter-act the theology of pre-determinism found in many pagan theologies. (Genesis 2-3)

3) Due to the points above I attempted to re-evaluate the evidence with an open mind. What I discovered was that the evidence was more tipped towards evolution then I had first accepted. However I was still aware that evidence doesn't lead to much unless interpreted, and that much of the interpretation was indeed biased. Of course we all know of falsified evidence (on both sides I might add) that means that we have to approach with a great deal of scepticism. One only needs to think of the peppered moth incident!

4) I looked at when the 6 day-ers began and the history behind it. What it came down to was that it wasn't even addressed until Darwin (as you might expect) and even then most of Darwin’s supporters were Christians. The idea of creationism as we know it now is an extremely late (1920's American) take on the Bible and is a minority view in the extreme. This period was largely influenced by the documentary "Did Darwin kill God?". You can see it here.

So where does that leave me now? Basically I’m on the fence. I have disregarded 6 day creationism on 2 grounds: 1) That it is an extremely late, extra-biblical concept, and 2) the evidence (and interpretation of it) is stacked against it. So am I an evolutionist in the sense used today? No, because: 1) God is certainly involved in creation. I think that is is very clear from simple observation and the idea that matter comes from nothing is scientifically absurd. It seems obvious that there must be, as Aristotle notes, an 'unmoved mover'. 2) There seems to be much evidence contrary to established evolution. The geographic columns are mixed up, people keep forging evidence which if it is so solid seems absurd, and both carbon and uranium dating are unreliable. None of these of course means that evolution is incorrect but rather that I'm not ready to put all my eggs into that basket yet. Perhaps in time my position will change but for now this is where I stand.

I think the Church of the Nazarene sum it up well when they say:
"The Church of the Nazarene believes in the biblical account of creation (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .”—Genesis 1:1). We oppose any godless interpretation of the origin of the universe and of humankind. However, the church accepts as valid all scientifically verifiable discoveries in geology and other natural phenomena, for we firmly believe that God is the Creator." (Articles I.1., V. 5.1, VII.)

Till next time!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Out of the Theological closet: I do not ascribe the Bible with the title 'infallible', or the like.

Before I get too deep I would like to make a couple of points through which you may interpret this, and subsequent posts: 1) I belief the Bible is important to Christians and is a gift of God which was breathed of him. 2) This belief is relatively new and many who know me will know the fervour with which I defended Infallibility in the past. 3) All of these 5 heterodox beliefs that I am commenting on (including this one) came whilst I believed in the infallibility of scripture. With that said, let us continue.

Belief in Infallibility seems to be a defining point of Evangelicalism. If you can remember my post on Doctrinal Basis you will hopefully remember my annoyance at how many Doctrinal Basis put the belief in the Bible (whatever that belief may be; though usually infallibility) before any other belief e.g. Christ. Not that it isn’t an important doctrine but rather that we must put things into perspective. Christians are not those, as is often said, who follow the Bible but rather those that follow Christ! The Bible has a very important place in our following Christ but is subservient to it. I.e. We read the Bible as we are followers of Christ, not the other way around!

Let me give you a little more background to how I am where I am. As I've already said I held inerrancy whilst I was coming to this conclusion and it is not something I've come to lightly, I promise you. I was looking at the prophecies in Ezekiel concerning the fate of Tyre (Ezek 26; 29). Problems with it were mentioned in passing in a comment of someone’s blog so I decided to look them up. I suggest you go and read them for yourself if you’re not sure what they say but a quick recap follows. It is part of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. In 26 Ezekiel reports that God talks about how Tyre is mocking the downfall of Jerusalem. God declares that he is the enemy of Tyre and will utterly destroy it through Nebuchadnezzar leaving just a bare rock. In 29 we read the God is now giving Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar because he fought Tyre yet neither he nor his army got anything for it. The Problems we have is that we know from history that 1) Nebuchadnezzar never destroyed the City of Tyre (that is on the Island, despite trying), only the coastal Tyre, and 2) that Nebuchadnezzar only, at best, gained control of part of Egypt temporarily (although this is less of a problem I feel).

This is not to say that there are no possible answers to this critique. The most common are that later on, Alexander the Great fulfilled this prophecy by conquering Tyre and destroying it. What I found however is that I wasn't letting the text speak for itself, nor for God to speak, but rather I was placing my belief in Infallibility of Scripture over and against the truth. To me the text clearly states that it is Nebuchadnezzar that would do the conquering, anything else is to stretch the text. It is also held that perhaps this is a prophecy about the return of Christ and the ultimate judgement of nations. This however seems unlikely as it is girded in the middle of prophecies which talk of literal events in time. I had to decide where I stood on this matter and I concluded that from what we know of the text and of history that I could not, with a clear conscience, hold that this passage was without any doubt correct. I had to abandon what I had always been taught about the Bible. I had to start again.

I started with the concept of whether the Bible has to be infallible for it to be any use to the believer. To be honest I had started asking this before I came to this position, brought on by questioning those who held what I now hold. I concluded that the answer was no. The Bible no-where calls itself perfect and infallible but is rather something we use to describe what had been observed by some. I also concluded no-where is it said that a believer must believe the Bible to be perfect to be a believer. In fact there is nothing that one must hold in regard to the Bible for one to be considered a Christian.

I took a closer look at the traditional passage people use for upholding this doctrine: 2 Tim 3: 16-17. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Scripture is therefore useful for us. It seems a rather weak word to use if it was perfect. It is also quite odd, if it were perfect and it was a required doctrine, that Paul (or for that matter, Jesus) didn't make more of a point of it. In the context he was instructing Timothy, giving him last advice, urging that he stick to sound doctrine. If it were that important one would expect that here, of all places, he would say so. I often get the idea from what people say of the Bible that it is either a part of the God-head to be worshipped (see sermon by Steve Anderson) or something akin to the Qu'ran where God personally wrote every word. It just isn't true! We know that fallible, finite mankind wrote the Bible and believe that God has inspired what they wrote.

I think it is also worth mentioning here where the Bible gets it's authority from. I think we often treat the Bible like a book of magic spells when in fact it is just a book. The power comes from the living God behind the book. I have in the past written of the fact that the Word of God is Jesus and not (innately) the Bible (see here).

I think the biggest problem is that of a syllogism: 1) God is perfect, 2) the Bible is from god, 3) therefore the Bible must be perfect. I used to think this too but I feel that it is actually erroneous. It would be the same as saying: 1) God is perfect, 2) mankind is from God, 3) therefore mankind is perfect. We know this not to be true, so why are we so convinced by the first syllogism and not the second? I now hold to a form of Divine Accommodationism: That God uses the imperfect to express the perfect. We hold that when it comes to the church yet seem to struggle when it comes to scripture. How can the finite fully express the infinite?

I'm not saying that the Bible definitely isn't perfect. I am open to being proved wrong as new evidence is brought forth. Perhaps the early sources we have about Tyre are incorrect and we may find something that proves that the Bible was right. If so then great, I have no problem with that at all! However I feel it rather dangerous to label the Bible beyond what it claims for itself; that is God-breathed. Till then I think that it is better to stick to what we definitely know about the Bible, that it is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

I think that will do for now but before I go I must thank 3 people in particular for their support in this matter: Firstly is Mick Hough, the rector of my local church (St. Peter's, Woodmansterne). I had only just moved to the area when I started struggling with this concept. I met with Mick, who didn't know me, and talked about where I was. Thank you Mick for your support. Secondly I also Must thank Robin Parry of Theological Scribbles whom furnished me with a list of helpful books. Lastly I wish to thank James Hall, a friend of mine, who often puts up with my incomprehensible blathering as I search for the truth. This is not to say that they hold the same views as me, or nor, but rather they were a blessed light in a dark time. Thank you.

Till Next Time!

Thanks to Letters from Camp Krusty for the image.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Out of the theological closet!

It seems as there is a theme in the blogosphere of outing ones shall I say?.....heterodoxy, so I thought I'd join suit. Of course it all depends on your starting point (N.B. that I have spent the last 4 years actively involved in Welsh Evangelicalism) but I pray that all those that are my siblings in Christ will treat me open minded and critically, but with love.

So there are 5 points I wish to make, all of which I will just mention here and will, in the near future, expand on in separate posts. Some of which may be new to any of my regular readers, and some not.

1) I am an Arminian. This is as opposed to Calvinism, Pelegianism and the like.

2) I am not a 6 day Creationist. I use the negative here as I'm not decided as to where I fall in the debate, but I am aware that I no-longer fit into this category.

3) I am (for want of a better word) Egalitarian. This is not to say that I think they are the same but rather that both men and women are allowed by God, as revealed in scripture, to undertake any role within the church.

4) I am an Annihilationist. This is not to say I do not believe in judgement for the wicked, but that their final place is that of total destruction and not eternal torment.

5) I do not ascribe the Bible with the title 'infallible', or the like. This is not to say that I don't think that the Bible is breathed of God, I do, but rather that we must not place scripture in a position that God, or the Bible itself, doesn't place it. (I ask for particular patience on this fact I will probably expand on it first.)

I reveal this not to be controversial but rather for a clear conscience. These five points have settled with me over the last year or so, and I have mainly hidden them from those I know out of fear. Fear of rejection from the community I love, fear of hurting and damaging the faith of those people and the fear that instead of bringing hope and help to those who struggle with similar issues I would instead just bring more people into that confusion. I have, however, come to realise that what is hidden will be revealed, so I pray that it will be of benefit. As Paul wrote to Timothy , "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2 Tim 1:5-7. So also then I hope to fan into flames the gift of God and not stifle it for any reason, sincere or otherwise. I also think that each of out Theologies should be open to the community of believers particularly, so that we may help and effect each other for the glory of God.

Till next time!

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Luther song

Ok, so who was it who said that those who have no sense of humour quote? Well yet again I am forced to steal this post from Faith and Theology blog but it's so good I'm sure you won't mind. Enjoy.

Here's a little song about Martin Luther. It's sung to the tune of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious":

(Thanks to Natania's friend for the vid link)

Mirabile dictu!

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh...

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St Peter's profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints' Bull'tin board:
"You cannot purchase merits, for we're justified by grace!
Here's 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!" Oh...


They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
"Are these your books? Do you recant?" King Charles did demand,
"I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!" Oh...


Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting "George" as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin's model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh...


Let's raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that 'catholic' is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh...

Till Next Time!

Friday, 6 November 2009

I think my wife's a Calvinist

Thanks to Faith and Theology for the original post. Please check them out for 2 more theologico-musicals, and much more.

A History of Christianity

The BBC are currently broadcasting a new series presented by Diarmaid MacCulloch on the History of Christianity. It is a 6 episode series of which the first episode has been aired already and can be found here on iplayer. I only caught glimpses of the episode (of which I plan to watch in full asap) but it looks rather promising. It is aired at 2100, Thursday on BBC4.

His book, 'A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years' has had raved reviews from people, including Rowan Williams, so I hope that this series will follow suit.

Till Next Time!

The Ehud and Eglon Song

If you've not read it go do so now. Judges 3!
Then listen to a rather graphic Sunday school song.
Thanks to Beatthedrum for the link.

You can find the song HERE

Also please see below as the author, Matt Blick, has posted where you can get the song chords as well as download some of his other work!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A modern lament

I forgot about this song that a Christian band called Skillet did. Ok, so it's nowhere as near as dark as the Psalmists but it's one of the few modern examples I know of. Enjoy!

Where are the hymns of lament?

I've noticed of late that there are no real hymns of lament!
'Abide with me' comes to mind then I get a stretched.
Anyone know any? Please post below if you do.

It seems like a rather big gap in our worship. Of course there are loads of Psalms of lament yet we seem to have ignored the genre today. If we are to worship at all times, and come as we are, do we not need, as the Psalmists at least seemed to, need to come and lament as to rejoice?

Even Jesus lamented, although in this case in words;

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
(Matt 26:36-46)

It seems to be looked down on in church now. You are expected to be happy and joyous all the time and if you're not then it is seems as you lacking something in Christ.
I think it's time that we re-established this genre in our worship and learn to mourn with those who mourn, as well as rejoice with those who rejoice.

Till next time.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

I want this T-shirt

From Inhabitatio Dei, via Sub Ratione Dei, from source Letters From Kamp Krusty. Obviously not just me that likes it then!

Till Next Time!