Rowland Croucher recently had a piece on his website called The Gospel Question. It is from a Bible study that Rowland runs at his Wednesday Koinonia group. Much of what is said reflects my recent pieces on ‘What is the Gospel?’. It starts off with the following:
I suspect that many of us resonate with McLaren’s re-interpretation of what constitutes the Gospel – that in fact Jesus was announcing Good news” “the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Like many I have grown up with the epistle to the Romans serving as “our theological headquarters.” It was refreshing to read someone who, like many of us, would like to see the Gospels and the stories of Jesus become more primary in our understanding of life and faith.
Read the rest of this great study here.
This is the final in a 3-part series on how many – if not most – Christians have a deficient view of heaven and of what our eternal destiny is.
This is where the Gospel touches something deep within us, something that tells us that there really is hope, that what we are doing really is worthwhile in the end, that there really will be a day when everything will be put right. And it is not a hope in the sense of ‘gee I hope it happens.’ It is a hope based on historical fact. If we don’t believe that, it would ultimately be empty and unfulfilling and wouldn’t be real hope.
If God hasn’t come to earth in the physical person of Jesus, and if that Jesus wasn’t physically resurrected, then nothing really matters. We can make our own meaning and do all we can to bring justice while people are here. But if deep down we still know that it is not everlasting – that in the end everyone still dies and rots in the ground – then there is ultimately no justice, and no hope, and we come back to this sort of philosophy of a Richard Dawkins which says,
“In a universe of blind forces and physical replication, some people are going to get hurt, others are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Another Richard, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, says that the human soul can live without success but it can’t live without meaning. Deep down we all crave significance. We all want to be part of something that matters, something that lasts. Rohr quotes Albert Einstein who said,
“The only important question is this: Is the universe friendly or not?” Can it all be trusted? Is the final chapter of history victory and resurrection or a dying whimper?”
This is the second in a 3-part series on how many – if not most – Christians have a deficient view of heaven and of what our eternal destiny is.
The fact is that God loves the material world. Matter matters to God. After all, God made it and said over and over that it was good. And if God says it is good then who are we to deny its goodness by living our lives as if it’s not that good?
The overarching theme throughout the whole of the Bible is that God is in the business of making all things new. When Jesus says this, what part of ‘all’ aren’t we getting? This earth, the whole created order, will one day be made new. Everything we see and touch and feel today will one day be renewed, including our bodies. It is in this sense (and this sense only!) that God is a materialist.
God loves the physical, and says it is no less valuable than the spiritual. In fact, God doesn’t even separate the spiritual from the physical like we do. That idea is more of a Western construct than a biblical one. We can be assured that the works we do now in our efforts of justice and poverty alleviation are not in vain. We are not fighting for a better world which will one day be destroyed while we escape off to heaven and leave it all here to rot, as too many Christians still believe.
We are also not fighting a losing battle, where the wicked and the corrupt always win. One day the tables will be turned; the first will be last and the last will be first. There will be a day when there will be no more tears and no more pain, because those things will all be of the past. That is the great hope we have, and the great news is that we get to be a part of it right now.
This is the first in a 3-part series on how many – if not most – Christians have a deficient view of heaven and of what our eternal destiny is. Is God a materialist?
The statement, ‘God is a materialist’ can be taken a couple of ways. One is that it is an oxymoron, because materialism is seen as the idea that there is nothing in existence beyond the material, so to talk of God, a non-material being, doesn’t make sense. It’s like talking about a square circle. The other way this statement can be seen is in the sense of a prosperity doctrine where God will bless you materially when you follow Him.
It probably does not need any explaining to say that neither of the above descriptions of this statement is what I am referring to when I say that God is a materialist (at least I hope I don’t have to explain that!).
So what am I saying?
Let me ask you a question. Do you believe you’re going to spend eternity up in heaven with God? I recently asked that question in a talk I gave on this topic, and almost half the audience put their hands up. Let’s get this straight right from the start. Despite what we hear in many of our churches and despite what we sing in many of our church songs, our final destiny is not up in heaven with God. It’s actually much better than that. Let me explain.
This is the third of a 2-part series on ‘What is the Gospel?’ Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Eternal life is not having a never-ending party – the great U2 concert in the sky. N.T. Wright uses a good analogy to illustrate the wrong thinking we have about heaven and eternal life and its idea of everything being ‘perfect.’ He tells the story of a keen golfer who died and went to heaven. When he got there he got his golf clubs out and teed off on the first hole and straight away got a hole in one. He couldn’t believe it. This was amazing! He finished his round and came back the next day and this time he got a hole in one on the first and second holes. He was ecstatic. Heaven was great! The next day he got holes in one on the first 3 holes, and eventually he was going around the course in 18 shots, getting holes in one every time he played. He soon realised though that this was all rather boring.
Yesterday we started looking at what the Gospel is. Today we continue by looking at how we have reduced the Gospel to salvation only, and a wrong theology of salvation at that.
Our faith has been reduced to an escapist fire insurance that has nothing more to say to the issues that face the ordinary person in the street. When it is all about going to heaven when you die, there is no ultimate concern with issues of justice, caring for the environment, and politics. Too many Christians still believe that “helping the poor is good but if they’re all going to end up in hell, what is the point? Surely the most important thing is to secure their eternal destiny. That is what really matters in the end. The other stuff is just temporary.”
The problem with this type of thinking is that it is just not biblical. And because the Bible reveals a God who addresses every aspect of life, this type of thinking can also lead to tragic consequences. Take the case of Rwanda. At the time of the 1994 genocide, this central African country was 94% Christian. So how could a country where almost everyone identifies as Christian let 800 thousand of its people be butchered in a matter of a few months? The reasons are complex, but research and interviews conducted there reveal that part of the reason is that the messages coming from the pulpits of Rwanda’s churches was largely about the afterlife. It had nothing to say to the issues facing the population in the here and now.
I’ve been thinking alot recently about meaning in life and how we all need something bigger than ourselves to give us purpose. I have found that the type of life I have lived for many of my adult years has been a life without meaning. It has ultimately been a life that is futile.
What do we mean when we talk of meaning in this way? Deep down we all have cravings for significance and purpose. Numerous books have been written about these issues over the years. Titles such as The Search for Significance, The Purpose-Driven Life, and Living on Purpose have been best-sellers. Why is that? Why are self-help books so popular? It is surely because of something deep within us that craves something deeper than what we are experiencing in our daily routine.
One of the things we tend to lose when we focus so much on following Jesus is the fact that he died for our sins. We lose sight of the forest for the trees. Jesus’ death on the cross served a number of purposes, which are ultimately tied to the fact that he died for the sins of the world.
Sin has long been a dirty word in much of the church. It smacks of condemnation and conjures up images of hellfire and damnation. But what Jesus did in dying on the cross for our sins is just the opposite. Think of the worst things you’ve ever done. Sin has consequences; that’s just the way life is. We really do reap what we sow. If we sow destruction, we reap it; if we sow peace and love, we reap that. Sin in my life has produced tears, pain, agony, shame and despair. How can anyone not take that seriously? How can anyone dismiss that as not so bad? Anyone who does is not in their right mind. A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we don’t take our own sin seriously and want to get as far away form it as possible, we will inevitably make the same mistakes again and again.
I had a read of Tom Wright’s John for Everyone this morning. I looked at John 3:1-13 which is the passage about being born again. As I read it and Wright’s explanation of it, the truth of what the good news really is dawned on me again. We don’t need to be born again so we will get into heaven when we die. Jesus didn’t come down from heaven to show us how we can get there with him. The good news is that, ultimately, heaven is coming here, and that has already started in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus coming down from heaven was the beginning of heaven coming here, the beginning of the new creation, of the new heavens and the new earth.
This passage has been among the most loved of Christians – particularly evangelical Christians – for years, and rightly so. John 3:3 is one of the verses you learn when you learn the four spiritual laws (something else which gives a twisted understanding of the Gospel).
I firmly believe in the need to be born again. After all, Jesus did say it, so we can’t just dismiss it. But we need to understand what Jesus really meant, and in what context he was saying it when he had his famous conversation with Nicodemus. Like everything when we read Scripture, we need to look at this passage in context. The whole context of Scripture is that it is a story, the story of God’s salvation plan, yes, but more than that, God’s redemption plan for not just humanity, but for the whole of the created order. Jesus said “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5, emphasis mine). And so it is in that sense that when Jesus talks about the need to be born again, he is talking about our need to be born of the Spirit of God to be able to do the works of God. This is what transformation is all about.
N.T. Wright’s latest book, How God Became King, discusses the reason we often miss the real story of the gospels, why the creeds say what they do and why they don’t say many other things, and how and why the Gospel writers use the Old Testament to explain particular events in Jesus’ life and ministry.
The book also answers a question that many evangelicals ask – why did Jesus live? That is, if he came to die for our sins and was raised to give us new life, why do the gospels spend so much time talking about his life? The following talk by Tom Wright in January this year helps answer these questions. I also plan to read the book to get more detail.