How to escape the Bible with your theology intact

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

There is a way of using the Bible to support your theology that really just amounts to doing everything in your power to avoid what the Bible has to say so that you can escape from the ravages of Scripture with your precious doctrine still intact.

Without naming names, over the last year I have had several conversations about the doctrine of hell with people who advocate the doctrine of eternal torment, where they argued in a manner very much like John in the following conversations (right down to the same phraseology, eg “equally likely as an interpretation” and “use Scripture to interpret Scripture”):

Karen: Hi John. Have you read passage A? It seems to pretty clearly deny the doctrine of eternal torment. It says that one day the lost will be destroyed. They will die and be gone. Don’t you agree?

John: No, I don’t think so. I think eternal torment is equally likely as an interpretation. Continue reading “How to escape the Bible with your theology intact”

Episode 056: Material Salvation

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

In this talk, I ask the question – What difference does it make if the Bible teaches we are physical creatures, rather than dual body-soul beings? How does that impact on  anything else we believe as Christians?

From gender identity to mental health more generally, to salvation, the way we view human nature has a profound impact.

 

 

“You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Did Jesus say that believers would never ever die, indicating that even when their bodies die, they will live on with him in glory? You might have heard that, but what if he meant something different, promising that we would be spared the fate of disappearing into death forever?

I get some resistance to the biblical concept that human beings are frail and mortal, “dust of the earth,” that we return to the dust when we die, and that there’s no heavenly life to be had while our bodies lay in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Sometimes people even pit Bible verses against this biblical idea. One verse at a time, I think we can see that these objections fail, and the overall clear biblical portrait of human nature and death remains intact.

One of those objections comes from a particular interpretation of Jesus’ saying after raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:25-26:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Never die. That gives pause to some people when they consider my view that immortality is received at the resurrection and that the dead are really dead in the grave, not living on as immortal souls. They wonder if this claim by Jesus must mean that if we live and believe in him now, we cannot lie dead in the grave without our souls living on in glory, because we will “never die.” It’s a good question to ponder, but there’s already a reasonable response to this worry, quite apart from the observation I’ll make soon. Jesus is here talking about those who live the new life that he has just referred to: Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live – that is, via the resurrection. So when Jesus goes on to say “whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” he’s talking about the life of immortality after the resurrection. Continue reading ““You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?”

Purgatory requires dualism

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.

Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,

[I]f the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.

Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.

I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism. Continue reading “Purgatory requires dualism”

Calvin and the Marian Doctrines

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Calvin did not accept the Marian doctrines. Without wanting to sound too rancorous, I have to say that anti-Protestant polemics can be the worst.

I’m sorry. I know that’s a very one-sided thing to say, but I encounter anti-Protestant polemics more than anti-Catholic polemics, because I’m not Roman Catholic. Sometimes the phenomenon goes by the name “Catholic apologetics,” as though it’s really a pro-Catholic thing, but that’s not how some of these warriors-for-Rome present themselves. They’re about claiming scalps in arguments.

I love some Catholic theologians and philosophers – and Catholic people in general. So I’m not going to refer to these people as just “Catholic scholars.” It would be unfair to Catholic scholars in general to lump them all together, which is why I keep open a category for anti-Protestant polemics, separate from Catholic scholarship. It’s a let-down for me, because some of the finest work in philosophical theology today has been produced by Roman Catholic Scholars (think Brian Leftow, Brian Davies, Edward Feser – EDIT: My mistake, Brian Leftow is not Catholic. He’s Anglican. But he sure writes like the best Catholic philosophers), so to turn from such fine minds and work to online blunt-axe-swinging warriors is a bit like swallowing the cheapest bourbon and cola money can buy after sampling a fine port.

That somewhat frustrated preamble aside, here’s what moved me to write this post. The other day I saw yet another anti-Protestant polemicist make the familiar claim: “Most Protestants would be surprised to learn that all the early Reformers accepted the Marian doctrines.” That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close (the part about all the early Reformers was central to the claim), and I’ve seen the claim made numerous times.

Continue reading “Calvin and the Marian Doctrines”

Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Don’t create a church’s stance on marriage in order to make people happy or stop them from leaving.

In early 2017 (when I started writing this article, since which time it has sat gathering dust) the general Synod of the Church of England voted on same-sex marriage. Well, sort of. The General Synod voted not to endorse a report by the House of Bishops on Same-sex marriage. The report affirmed the biblical and historic Christian view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. To be specific, there are three houses in the General Synod. The House of Bishops voted in favour of the report. The House of the Laity voted in favour of the report. But the support of all three houses is required, and the House of Clergy alone voted not to endorse the report, confirming the widely-suspected reality that the clergy are the more liberal element of the Church of England.

There were many issues discussed at the time and obviously I wasn’t present. On Twitter however I encountered a speech by activist Lucy Gorman. When I saw it I raised a criticism of it, but Lucy quickly blocked me so I can no longer see the portion of the speech that was shared there. Ever the believer in dialogue, I found this a little disappointing (especially since she had initially asked me for my view on the suicide of people who felt hurt by the church, but then told me that she didn’t really want to talk about it with me and blocked me).

So let me bring the issue to you, dear reader. Continue reading “Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy”

Liberal Anglicanism’s love of confusion

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

THE RECENT Wellington Anglican Synod provided another example of how progressive Christianity is a beneficiary of unclear and confused thinking. Brothers and sisters on the left of the theological spectrum, I love you. But this is a problem you have.

I’m Anglican. I also oppose the liberal tendency of some Anglicans to want to constantly update the theology and practice of the Church to bring it “up to date” with the progressive concerns of the day, and one of the main such concerns of the day just now is the church’s view of sexuality and marriage. Continue reading “Liberal Anglicanism’s love of confusion”

Episode 055: The Direction of Change

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Earlier this year, the Synod of the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Polynesia made the decision to allow the blessing of same-sex relationships alongside marriages (but not to perform same-sex weddings, because they aren’t marriages – yes, it’s a confusing position). The Sunday after this decision was made, it was my turn to preach.

I took the opportunity to remind us all that yes, change occurs when people come into contact with the Church. But it’s not supposed to be the Church that changes.

 

 

 

Kephalē in the New Testament: A survey

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I backed out of writing this series about those biblical passages about women in ministry not too long ago. It wasn’t because the evidence is hard to find or interpret, but it was partly because I had so little hope of anybody listening. They’d agree, I assumed, if they already held an opinion that they saw me affirming, and they’d disagree if they saw me affirming a view they didn’t already hold. The evidence rarely seems to really matter on this issue. People will find a way – any way – to make it fit an ideology. What would be the point of writing about this? But here I am, venturing into that series.

After a cautionary introduction post on what I am about to do (which I insist you read before you read this blog post), this is the first of my blog explorations of the contentious biblical passages about men and women in the church. Any comments you make on this post or any posts in this series must conform to the guidelines I gave in that cautionary post. Talk about the evidence and the issue strictly defined by the blog post. That’s all I’m prepared to allow. Behave or I’ll kick you out. I’m deliberately being boring so as to discourage the elements that make this issue frustrating.

Why would I want to be boring? Here is why: You will probably have seen people who get caught up sharing exciting links on social media about scientific issues. Vaccines cause autism! The earth is flat! Homeopathy cures cancer! Climate change isn’t happening! Quoting what people have said, citing anecdotes, attributing evil motives, citing cultural or traditional pressure, complaining about vested interest – these are all the sorts of things that fly thick and fast in discussions about theories like these. What is less common is the boring approach of slowly, slowly, slowly checking every relevant piece of data. It is not sexy. It does not make for good Buzzfeed articles. But if you want to know what is true and what is false when it comes to the theories that should only be formed after the ponderous work has been done, this is how you do it. The boring way. I am going to write several blog posts about the meaning of one Greek word, kephalē. Fun times.

Alright. Here we go.

Continue reading “Kephalē in the New Testament: A survey”

Pope Francis is an annihilationist

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Based on the evidence currently available, we should view Pope Francis as an annihilationist, and attempts from within the Vatican to downplay this fact are unconvincing. The current Pope does not believe the doctrine of eternal torment, affirming instead the biblical doctrine of conditional immortality: That the saved will have eternal life, but the lost will not live forever – not in hell or anywhere else. Continue reading “Pope Francis is an annihilationist”