Tuesday, 29 April 2008


"Do you think of a heaven up above,
a place where there's no hatred, only love,
do you imagine angels in the blue, is it too far from you,
can it be true?"
from the song, 'Heaven' by Cloud.

Whilst reading David Berlinski's startling work, 'The Devil's Delusion' yesterday, he made a statement regarding the Biblical affirmation of God that made me stop...
"If God is one, He is one absolutely, because not only does He exist, He must exist - His existence is necessary".
My pause was followed last evening by a documentary which was seeking to examine if there was any reality or merit to so-called 'miraculous' (signs and wonders) phenomena or whether these were either predictable or, in some cases, a form of mental distress or illness.
What became apparent to me, in the light of the thought touched upon by Berlinski, was that if the Biblical affirmation is true, then we can actually spend a great deal of time looking in totally the wrong direction for 'evidence' of God.

In the Psalms, we often see that it is by reflecting upon the very world around us - the work of His hands - that we can begin to encounter the reality of the divine.
The intricacy of the way our frames are woven together in secret, the magnificence of the vista of a star-filled sky, the glories and splendour creation displays openly and, when we explore it's deepest domains, leaves us in a state of marvel and awful realization, and there is a reason why.

The scriptures inform us that God's holiness (His essential character) is expressed in a particular fashion - the world is "filled' with His glory.
Now glory is not a word we use often, expect perhaps in terms of fame, but here we gain a clue -
it's a word which speaks of significance (someone being known because of who they are or what they have done). What we're being told is that when we honestly look at the splendor of creation, we will evidence a 'weight' in these things that communicates to us the importance of the one behind such marvels.

Amidst the hotch-potch of weather we are having here at the moment, there was a few days last week where the temperature went up a few notches and the sun appeared. These few changes triggered something in me - Spring was here, and I wanted to 'taste' it.
I proceeded to enjoy two very satisfying evening walks amidst the nearby woods.

We don't have to look very far to find heaven - to see God's 'weight'.
The reality is all around, if we open our eyes, so we must take the opportunity to
'taste', to 'see', that God is there, and is indeed good.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Where do we go from here?

"Like those who have received a contaminated blood transfusion, we have inherited Adam's guilt and corruption...which means as well as being capable of incredible artistic, intellectual and cultural accomplishments, we are also capable, due to the fall, of unbelievable cruelty and harm". Michael Horton - Rebels without a Cause.

Theology these days can often appear like the ocean on a lengthy crossing in an old sailing ship - you're constantly scanning the horizon for a smudge that may offer the hope of somewhere solid to drop anchor and plant your feet. That's why C S Lewis' sage advice about making proper use of the map (the scriptures) is vital - you're certainly not going to make land if you don't, and getting to a point where we're substituting the real for illusion is a terrible situation.

That is what troubles me about some aspects of contemporary (often termed 'post' evangelical) teaching. Are certain ideas leading us to safe harbour, or leaving us adrift?

I'm certainly not against thinking hard or asking questions - it's key to encourage genuine growth to get ourselves and others to test what we believe and why - but some of the answers reached at present are, well, worrying.

To provide an example, in his popular books, 'Velvet Elvis' and 'Sex God', Rob Bell makes some statements about the issue of creation and the fall of humanity:

"God has left the world unfinished. And with every action, we are continuing the ongoing creation of the world" (SG Page 64). This connects in measure to a statement on the page before this - "in the creation poem that begins the bible...the movement of creation is away from chaos toward greater harmony".

"Is the greatest truth about Adam and Eve and the fruit that it happened or it happens...we have all taken of the fruit" (VE Page 58).

Now, I want to say here that I understand what the writer is seeking to aim for in these and other passages. Rob Bell's 'shake the tree' approach to how we relate to what God is seeking to say to us is most certainly of value, and we do indeed need to be examining ourselves in that light, but there is, equally, a need to see the historical connection to these truths.

We live at a time when its popular to dismiss the early chapters of Genesis as outdated myth, and of no bearing upon us, but that is a grave error.
Over the last few weeks, I have been re-reading Dr David Rohl's astonishing and controversial work, 'Legend - The Genesis of Civilisation'. Whilst approaching the subject entirely from a scholastic perspective (and therefore reaching some conclusions concerning God and theology I would reject), he is convinced that the book of Genesis is essentially a genuine historical record - that the Patriarchs were real men, and that Adam, Eve and Eden were entirely real. The archaeological material he produces to support this view, from a range of ancient cultures, is astonishing, and certainly grants a case to be made that the record of Genesis is no mere myth.

It's with this in mind that I think we need to be careful about how we approach and discuss the Biblical material concerning Creation, Eden and the Fall.
There was a 'completeness' to God's work on the 7th day.
There was a place where we once openly communed with our Creator.
There was a moment when we became exiled as a race from that paradise.

It's because of these realities, that God is now at work in Redemption.


Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Empty Vessel

"The Vacuum left results in an explosion of mystics on the one side and sceptics on the other...
what is lost is the truth of the revelation of God in Christ".
Jacques Ellul - The Subversion of Christianity.

Everyday, I watch it fly around and buzz past - the pink bus.
It hurries through my estate to keep it's schedule, rushing hither and yon, passing the rest of us who are about our daily affairs, as you might expect a bus should,
but there is something wrong with this picture.

Around eight out of every ten times that I see this sight, the bus is totally empty -
a bus without passengers!
Doesn't that defeat the entire object?

Now I'm sure that my observations here are invalid (the bus service couldn't afford to run if they were!), but what would it be like to be traveling on a bus which you understood was taking you to a particular destination, but in reality wasn't going anywhere near where you thought?

There is a very popular excursion doing the routes of our world today that tempts many folks aboard. It's advertises itself as 'truth', but the reality is diabolical. The small print on the 'enlightenment' ticket assumes all manner of unwarranted presuppositions - the physical universe is meaningless, progress can only be made by an evolution of mind (spirit) from the 'superstition' of the divine being something above or beyond ourselves, that we must not tolerate the 'ignorance' of a view which makes us more than a highly developed combination of energy.

Once aboard, the magical tour truly begins, with lectures and books and inter-active events which lay out just why 'God' is unnecessary, why 'Jesus' should be viewed through gnostic and not Christian beliefs, why all that really matters is you becoming... you. Occasionally through the window, you are invited to take in the spectacle of a big top tent, where many who 'do' church are giving out a very similar message -
the teaching of the Bible isn't literally true - there was no Adam, no fall, no tie to this world... just do good and the 'god' inside you will do the rest.
The 'buzz' and the 'vibe' is oh so good - rationalism, enlightenment, progress, that most of the passengers fail to note that the radio is playing a very different song ..... "This is the road to Hell".

It's not popular today to de-construct such a nightmare, but a sound understanding of History, Science and Biblical scholarship requires nothing less. This lie is so often viewed as totally compelling, but in reality it is totally miss placed, and merely diverts us from taking a far more important journey...

"It was a wonderful vehicle, blazing with golden light... The greyness outside the windows turned from mud-colour to mother of pearl, then faintest blue, to a brightness that stung the eyes...
I rolled down the window - delicious freshness came in".

C.S.Lewis - The Great Divorce.

Friday, 11 April 2008

The Spiritual Man

"Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions... The others hope to achieve a spiritual reality by either negating or ignoring matter, calling it illusion (maya) or a minor transition
to something higher... Christianity, focused upon the Incarnation, regards matter as the vehicle truly marked as the instrument of the Spirit". William Temple.

As I walked through the wind, hail and rain today of a typically English "Spring" morning (!), I found myself reflecting on just how good, how right it felt to be dressed in my body. I know we all have moments when being physical is troublesome - aches and pains, stress and illness, but in those moments when our flesh allows us to engage with the world around us properly - even in the heart of a rainstorm - we can re-discover the vivid joy of being alive, of tasting all that 'He has made beautiful in its time', and that is truly wonderful.

It makes me consider eternal life.
Remember how it began, there in the garden - humanity 'naked and unashamed' in rich communion with God and creation. How do we find ourselves feeling when we consider that vision of the first temple?
Does it make us long to be comfortable in our bodies?

The Apostle Paul certainly wants us to consider it well.
In 2 Corinthians, he talks about how this current 'tent', though it perishes in death, will become a 'house' provided by God to clothe us forever. It is when we are thus adorned, he writes, that we will no longer be 'naked' (without an immortal body), but appropriately dressed for the eternal (chapter 5 verses 1-5). This marries with his earlier teaching in 1 Corinthians, where, again, he describes how the mortal, through resurrection, is clothed in immortality (chapter 15).
There is something vital here we have to realize - the body you have is not something discarded forever at death. Yes, it will go into the ground, will become dust, but though it be destroyed in this fashion, 'in this flesh, I will see God' (Job 19:26).
Being clothed in this body - redeemed, renewed and resurrected - is at the very heart of our understanding of redemption. It is because of this reality, notes Paul, that the entire created order is waiting, groaning for the day when this 'glorification' takes place that it to can share in this liberation (Romans 8:20-23).

So, the next time you find yourself smiling as you enjoy the spring weather because you feel 'comfortable' in your frame, think about the garden, about Adam and Eve enjoying that majesty and beauty, and then remember the precious promise that is ours - those days will be seen again.

"Not in another flesh, but in my own shall I be resurrected.
Some think the soul will be clothed with another body, but it would be improper to call that a resurrection.
If the body did not rise again, the believer would not be completely happy, for, though a soul can subsist without the body, yet the desire is always for re-union.
If only the soul exists in heaven, then we are never truly redeemed".

Thomas Watson - A Body of Divinity.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The Truly 'Spiritual' world.

"First, they flourished in their regular communion with a God who met them in the heart of a universe pulsating with beauty. Then, they enjoyed the deepest, most un-scared intimacy humans have ever known, and lastly, they knew the great delight of living on a world entirely made 'good'...that is the 'peace' which is evident in God's handiwork".

Paraphrased from Michael Wittmer's 'Heaven is a Place on Earth'.

We can often imagine it would make so much difference...
Encountering 'God' in a fashion that is so 'above and beyond' the normal -
yes, that would do it!

As that entire nation stood on the verge of tragedy, they witnessed just such a miracle...
the deliverance from the tyranny of Egypt, but for most of them, it was of no value.
Soon, they were back to their old ways, harking for the very diminished humanity they had escaped.

We live in a world where so much today is conformed to the moment - the popular view, the current data, the 'right' understanding of exactly who and what we are. How much is actually lost in succumbing to such a situation?
In like tempo, the modern church can so often mimic the very 'spirituality' of those who escaped Egypt - we grasp for God in ways that leave us starved or merely seeking to satiate a miss-placed 'godliness' - hence Paul's vivid reminder of what was and is in 1 Corinthians 10 - but we, like those alienated by unbelief, can be divorced from the God who is here.

We need to realize, as Gerhard Forde so aptly notes, that ' Grace saves nature not by adding something to it, not by raising it to a supposedly higher level, but by allowing it to become what it was intended to be - the good (pleasing) creation'.

In His talk with Nicodemus, Jesus tells us that the 'judgment' which has already fallen is that when 'light' is there, we prefer darkness;
give us the noise of an excited 'signs and wonders' crusade where we can loose ourselves in the 'god' of the moment, but do not give us the blunt reality of baptism, where we become swallowed, with all creation, into Christ's death and resurrection! Speak through the latest prophet of 'peace' or rationality to MY goals and gain, but do not take me to bread and wine, to be joined to God in THAT fashion!

Do we see what is conveyed to us when God's word takes the common and invests this with
the eternal?

God seeks to bring us to a stark reality.

Here, at the heart of time and space, is one who has met us, face to face,
and there, He has stemmed our folly, has acted in a manner we cannot accept, unless He opens our eyes and harries us in!

When the great day comes, how sudden, how astounding, the realization:
God is HERE - heaven is pitched on earth, and we all stand on holy ground!