Our Greatest Sin

Posted in Biblical Theology, Church with tags , , , , on 10 February 2008 by msjohnson

Rebellion against God. It’s the primal crime of the human race. And the guilt of it lies over every man, woman, child and nation: trying to live without God in control.

Your average person is not living a life of dramatic wickedness, only one of mundane godlessness and average selfishness; and yet the biblical warning is that this is the root of all sin: godlessness.

Rebellion against God; in which your decent, nice, and friendly neighbour is neither decent, nor nice, nor friendly to God.

He is the God who made us for himself and who sustains their lives every day. And yet he’s un-thanked and unwanted, and kept on the margins of their lives and their societies. They may have a kind of religion, because that kind of tames God, and keeps him in a box. But it’s not the true God and its not true religion. Our fallen humanity substitutes religion for God.

— Peter Lewis, Cornerstone Church

Church History (what is it good for?)

Posted in Church on 17 April 2007 by msjohnson

I am almost finished reading a superb book about Church history by Bruce L. Shelley. It is called ‘Church History in Plain Language’ – and it’s most certainly that. It is written in a wonderfully narrative-ish style, and is gripping enough for me to get through the 490 or so pages.

Before I began the book, a Christian friend of mine expressed surprise that I would bother to read up on such a topic (especially such a lengthy one). He was also unconvinced about the usefulness of Church history knowledge – particularly for the layman. So the question I’d like to address is: what is Church history good for?

To begin with, I’d like to use the reasons that Shelley himself outlined in the prologue. He wrote that “many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. That is hardly what God had in mind. The Old Testament is sprinkled with reminders of God’s interest in time…” Shelley further pointed out that ignorance of our history leads to vulnerability to cults (distortions of Christianity), a “shocking” case of spiritual pride (our way is the only way), and a lack of a wider context for any work in the Church (e.g., “how shall we use our time and effort?”). Shelley pointed out that study of Church history can give us the means to separate the “transient from the permanent, fads from basics”.

In addition, I would like to add that although we have the Bible for our own study today, our interpretations of the writings are coloured and shaped by our Christian ancestors. Why do we take this passage to mean one thing, that passage another? A quick glance into the past can make it clearer. There are also many valuable lessons to be learned looking though the corrective lens of hindsight. We don’t want to make the same mistakes again, do we?

For me personally, it has been a humbling experience. As I glimpsed into our past, it became surprising to me that God would choose to get anything done by us at all! We made so many stupid mistakes. It became obvious that God has his plan (whatever it may be), and manages to accomplish his will through us, by his choice.

My study also gave me an appreciation for the wider body of Christ, which is the true Church. I was suffering from some of the spiritual pride Shelley described. Now, I am in favour of denominationalism, but I was interested to discover that this idea came about in order to encourage unity though diversity (or at least, it stopped those who differed from killing each other). A denomination, by its original definition, did things the way it felt was right, but at the same time recognised that Jesus’ Church is much bigger – and there may be other ways of doing things. It seems now that I had too high a view of my particular way of doing things, and too high a view of mankind’s capability in the Church.

With this in mind, I encourage any Christian, even the layman, to investigate our Church history.

Things I’d do if I were an Evil Overlord

Posted in Random on 1 March 2007 by msjohnson

Right…so you are an Evil Overlord. What should you be doing? Thankfully, you can now learn from the grisly deaths of a few previous ones. How? There exists an amusing list of tips, do’s, and don’ts that I would advise any Evil Overlord (with a trusty Legion of Terror) to consider. I have to say I was impressed. If you aren’t even likely to become an E.O. (not far from CEO, eh?), the list is a good read anyway.

On a similar note, I am of the opinion that there is room for another equally useful list, ‘Lessons Learned from Hollywood’, that should be mandatory reading for all schoolchildren and scriptwriters (tiresome cliches anyone?).

The first few entries would go:

1. Never, ever, go into an abandoned building (especially if the front door is unlocked and slightly ajar).

2. Never split up when exploring a hazardous environment.

3. Always design robots with an easily accessible on/off switch (and prevent the robot from being able to reprogram it).

4. Better yet, don’t make AI at all.

I welcome any suggestions that the reader may have.

Leaflets anyone? [an A..Z on leaflet giving]

Posted in Random on 11 February 2007 by msjohnson

Today at my church (Beeston Free Church), our assistant minister, Craig Langstaff, gave an illustration that I thought very instructional. He outlined how to effectively administer leaflets to passers-by. While highly amusing (and culturally insightful), a quick scan may be quite appropriate given that this week is my university’s mission week, and there will certainly be a lot of leafleting…

The tips are as follows:

  1. You must be absolutely convinced that the leaflet you hold is the most important thing the recipient could read.
  2. As a result of the above, you must be ‘on the front foot’. That is, leaning torward the person, confidently handing them pure gold. Mind you, it is not good to be over-confident, lest they thing you are trying to assault them.
  3. Perfect timing is essential. You cannot offer the leaflet too soon (and they have enough time to think and get flustered), and you cannot be too late (and they have too little time to think).
  4. If you are proffering to a large group (say at a bus stop), it is essential that the first person accepts – in this way the rest of the group is likely to follow suit. Whatever happens, a group of people is likely to follow the first person.
  5. If you find that a number of people have refused a leaflet, you are better off pausing for a bit, until the people passing do not know why you are there. You are thus more likely to give a leaflet, and so to subsequent passers-by.

I can’t wait to put this into practice!

(By the way, the above was used to illustrate an inherent fear that we all have, of being outside the group. We are all sheep at heart!)

God Ordained that Evil Be

Posted in Biblical Theology on 10 February 2007 by msjohnson

I recently read a very intriguing article entitled, ‘Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?’ by John Piper. The paper seeks to reconcile a Sovereign God and the inescapable presence of evil in the world; without implying that God is not fully in control, or that he does not see all ends. The following is a summary of the article (including direct quotation).

“God does not delight in evil as evil; rather, he wills that evil come to pass” (as evidenced by his control over natural and moral evil in this world) that good may come of it.

What good?

“It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionally effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all…

Thus it is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not e, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also that the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . .

But is this beneficial to us? Piper explains that because our happiness consists in the knowledge of God and the sense of his love (he made it that way), evil is necessary as the means by which we gain the greatest insight and knowledge of God.

But if God ordains evil, is he evil himself? The short answer is no. “God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his ‘positive agency’”.

But is permitting evil, evil? Again, Piper explains: “God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.”

So we have a God who is in control of everything, and knows everything that will pass; who, in his perfection ordained that evil come to pass in order that his character may be perfectly manifest, resulting in his highest glory, and our greatest capacity for happiness. In that light, it seems possible to conclude that (considering all ends) the entirety of human history has been wrought by God to display his glory in the most perfect manner.

Remarkable – and challenging at that! It is not easy to accept first hand; so please study the topic further if you need to. Let me know what you think…

What is your Assyria?

Posted in Hosea Studies on 10 February 2007 by msjohnson

Last night, our nine20 group (part of the Christian Union) studied the first chapter of Hosea. The book starts off with some pretty shocking stuff if you think about it – God commanded the prophet Hosea to marry a known prostitute.

Why?

God was making a point about how Israel had treated him. Hosea’s life was to be a ‘microcosm’ of Israel’s relationship with God, and in turn, how God felt and reacted. The following points summarise the understanding of the passage that we discussed:

– Israel’s relationship with God was like a marriage – and Israel was an adulterous wife because she was worshipping other things (Baal and more), and also turning to other nations such as Assyria for security. Israel should have been faithful to God, not turning to other ‘lovers’ for satisfaction and security.

– Because of this, they were destined for destruction, rejection and no forgiveness (these are illustrated by the names of Hosea’s children). This was to happen regardless of Israel’s future actions.

– But God also promised to remain faithful to his ‘Abrahamic’ promises (Genesis 22:17, 32:12) and restore something of the Davidic line. It gets a bit tricky here: was this section only applicable to Judah, or to both Israel and Judah? And if the latter, should it then be more applied to sometime in the future (as Israel has not since been reunited). It seems to me, on the face of it, that it applies to the return of the exiles (Judah), and to the future – where Christ is the one head of verse 11.

– We noted that the book was written to both Israel and Judah, so it can be concluded that the prophecy was what will happen, and a warning of what could happen (in the case of Judah).

So, considering that the God of Israel then is the same as the God now, what can we learn? We can see that God is faithful, beyond that which we can imagine (verses 10-11). Also that God is merciful – like Israel, we at one point were not a people; we really shouldn’t be saved, but thank God for his mercy! We also can see that God is just, and serious about sin (and our actions have real consequences). Finally, it is possible to see that God’s love is a real thing. He is intimately involved with Israel – he cares how faithful they are.

So what about us? We can praise God for his faithfulness, mercy, love, justice and Sovereignty. We can also rejoice because Christ is that head of Israel – and he was the perfect Israel (and we receive God’s mercy because we are united with him).

We should also look soberly at ourselves. What is our Assyria? God is very serious about our trust in him. Who, or what, do we look to when things are tough, or simply ordinary? What is our Baal? How do we get our pleasure and satisfaction? Is it from our husband, Christ?

I was reminded of the sermon at Beeston free, on Sunday. I tend to get by autonomously – without much help from, or reference to, God. Our culture worships the self – and preaches self survival. Make you own life, and “live it your way”… But that is clearly wrong; Israel was punished for as much! Not only that, but we are God’s people, called to live for each other, and with the help of our family.

Penal Substitution as a Valid Theory of Atonement

Posted in Biblical Theology, Penal Substitution on 10 February 2007 by msjohnson

I am writing in response to posts about the doctrine of ‘penal substitution’ (hereafter referred to as, p.s.) on the anti-NUCU facebook group. For all the posts up to this one, please go here

I am aware of my limitations regarding theology (a number of you are far more well read than I), and so I would point you to a book by John Stott entitled, ‘The Cross of Christ’ (IVP). It is a book that addresses all of the issues raised thus far. However, not having the book at home, I can’t use it for this post. I have instead ripped off whole sections (some parts word for word) from a reference book called ‘Evangelical Dictionary of Theology’, edited by Walter Elwell, Baker Book House.

The following list comprises a summary of the arguments raised against p.s., and the reasons behind them. I will attempt to address each of them in turn. If I misrepresent any of the following arguments supplied by Andrew and Alex, please inform me.

(1) P.s. is “a recent phenomenon”, an orthodoxy that was never meant to be.

(2) P.s. contradicts the ‘revelation of God in Christ’. (i.e. it is not consistent with Biblical teaching). The following points comprise the working out of this statement.

(3) P.s. entails a conflict between the Godhead (in particular the Father and the Son). In a sense, the Son insists on mercy, and the Father insists on justice.

(4) P.s. implies a justice system, independent of God, that he “is subject to”.

(5) P.s. fails to account for the fact that “forgiveness is God’s nature”, and that “blood is not necessary to obtain forgiveness”. Further, the Old Testament (OT) understanding of sacrifice is not of substitution, but of identification and public repentance. And sacrifice was not necessary for forgiveness in the OT.

Alex and Andrew subsequently made some further points:

(6) Substitution is not a Pauline doctrine.

(7) Jesus never said that it is his death that saves us.

(8) Jesus could not take eternal punishment, as he was on the cross for a few hours, and indeed, did not suffer eternal punishment.

The crux of the matter is, is there only one valid atonement model (Section A)? And is penal substitution a valid Biblical atonement model (Section B)? These two questions are addressed in the two sections below. Section C addresses points (7) and (8). Continue reading