Saturday, 27 April 2013

Beautiful Lies

"But I fear, that as the serpent deceived Eve by cunning, so your thoughts will be lead astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus, or if you receive a different spirit or gospel from the one you accepted from us, that you will indulge it readily enough".  1 Corinthians 11:3 & 4.

Back in the 1970's, Paul Billheimer published a 'revolutionary' book on Prayer and the overcoming Christian life. Nestled in the second chapter of this work, was his teaching about the 'supreme rank of redeemed humanity'.

This is what he stated: "Created originally in the image of God, redeemed humanity had been elevated by means of a directly conceived genetic process known as the new birth to the highest rank of all created beings...
Angels can never have the heritage, the genes of God - they can never become partakers of the divine nature...
2 Peter 1:4 speaks of us being partakers of the divine nature, impregnated with His genes, called the seed or sperma of God...
Here is a completely new and exclusive order beings - a new species.
Thus, through the new birth, we become the next of kin to the trinity".

(Destined for the Throne, 1975 edition).

It should be noted that Billheimer didn't view this, in any sense, as physical process in the present, but as a spiritual reality. Sadly, in his use of language, however, there was allusion to another ancient Gnostic teaching doing the rounds amongst certain popular 'faith' teachers at the time that found such a teaching very useful indeed...

Back around the 9th century, the Jewish Kabbalist's introduced a new wrinkle into their writings: "Two beings [Adam and Nachash] had intercourse with Eve, and she conceived from both and bore two children. Each followed one of the male parents, and their spirits parted, one to this side and one to the other, and similarly their characters. On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial -- good wine mixed with bad."(Zohar 136)

Christianity was entirely silent on such a notion until modern times. Then, in the 1940's, American faith teacher William Branham began to introduce, by revelation, this notion into the growing revivalist and pentecostal strains of American Christianity, where it became an essential part of 'latter rain' theology. During the 70's, this teaching was thrown into the mix of  dualstic 'revelations' which defined the ministry of men such as Copeland, Hagin, Swaggart and others engaged in 'faith' ministries. What is shocking is just how enduring such errors can be - they are still doing the rounds, so it's imperative we look at the Bible's teaching on the matter of the nature of our being alienated from God, not because of sex, but because of sin, and what it truly means to be adopted and thereby redeemed.

To begin with, the scriptures make it abundantly clear that we're not expelled from Eden because of Eve's succumbing to the lie of the serpent (you shall be 'as god's' by eating from a particular tree in the garden), but because of the willful disobedience of Adam.  Sin, Paul affirms, came into the world through one man, and death through that sin, which spread to all men (Romans 5:12). All the emphasis on Eve, therefore, having children from 'Adam and the Serpent', is not only nonsense (see Genesis 4:1 & 2), it's entirely irrelevant to the reason we are fallen - because we all come from Adam, we are all concluded under sin (Romans 3:9-19). We can seek to make all kinds of religious or racial distinctions until the sun turns to blood, but they are of no value or merit whatever (as Jesus tells those who thought they were special because they biologically descended from the Patriarchs - what truly mattered was to do the will of God, which is to believe on His begotten Son).
Secondly, if the big sin was Eve having sex with a serpent, why was Adam hiding, feeling equally guilty for also having 'eaten' of the fruit of the tree? It makes no sense.

Genesis does indeed record some very strange events in the times after Eden (Genesis 6 and 11 in particular), but these in no way change the reason why we are fallen - the disobedience of Adam.

Mankind was made in the image or likeness of God in a very particular manner.  The use of the Hebrew word tselem in Genesis 1 reveals that we were made to represent God's nature and character - to express and proclaim this amidst creation. We are, therefore, an image which 'is like' the creator in certain respects. The goal, therefore of our being redeemed is to restore and renew what was lost in the fall - to make us, once more, those within creation who express something of the reflection of the 'weight' and the splendor of the relationship that is shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of creation is yearning for that day.

Billheimer's book was amended in its later editions to omit the material I've referred to here. Sadly, most of the 'revelations' we've touched on above continue to be evident amongst 'anointed' teachings in many sections of the modern church. 

How readily, tragically, we still receive 'another spirit' and 'another gospel'.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

All we need is a miracle...

"By the Word of God, the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged and perished".

2 Peter 3:5&6.

Emptiness and darkness. Then, void and water. Not, we would say, what could be called ideal conditions for creating the universe. What is described appears to be more like total desolation after what was has been destroyed than the initial stage of creation, but that, surely, is the reason why Genesis chapter 1 provides us with such a clear and vivid description of how the heavens and the earth began. The 'nothingness' which we begin with isn't sufficient at all to furnish and produce what will come from such bleak beginnings.

The same problem comes up several times in the creation account. On day five, for example, we read of God commanding birds and winged creatures to come from the waters (1:20). As Martin Luther notes in his commentary, "who would conceive of the possibility of bringing such creatures from the water - beings which, clearly, could not continue to exist in water?"
We're back to our original conundrum. God 'works' to bring about form and substance to our world, but we are really none the wiser about what has happened here - how is it possible?

Through employing reason and examination, we seek to unpack the mystery. We define all manner of schemes of measurement and hypothesis to unweave the fabric of our reality, believing we have the tools for the task, but the very notion that we can - the possession of a capacity, a need to know - tells us more than any model or theory we may devise which 'best fits' our present level of comprehension.

Luther shows us how Genesis zero's in on the answer to the matter.
"God speaks a mere word, and immediately, life is formed from the water".

The defining requirement for life, then, was not what 'natural' element (water or earth) it appeared from, but the Word of God, which causes it to be. As with the creation of light on the first day, so here - it is when God says 'be' that things are so.

It's vital we see this, because what is true of God's work in creation is equally the case when it comes to His work in redemption.

Think of the Crucifixion.
When we examine this in a 'natural' fashion, we see nothing but desolation and tragedy. Our empirical tools lead us to only one conclusion - the life of the one known as Jesus of Nazareth was terminated in a cruel fashion, but the rational definition of this event entirely robs what has occurred of its true power and significance, because it does not have the ability to truly 'see' and penetrate the event itself.
This is no everyday execution of a common thief, or even the mere death of a troublesome teacher. The Gospels speak of an event, a moment in history, which continues to impact upon the purpose of our very existence.

What we are confronted with in both of these (and other) occasions are events where the Word of God creates a reality which is far deeper than what we now determine or measure as real, and it is this reality which must take precedence amongst what we can see and hear.

The desolation which is in evidence 'in the beginning' and, so very often, in our analysis of our existence, is the absence of the Word - surely, the most miserable famine of all, for "all things are made by this", and without it, nothing which has been made exists. The same, of course, is true in human reason - God becomes unnecessary, even absurd, when we define life as something entirely possible from, essentially, nothing.

The purpose and intention of God, woven into the very fabric of all that is, is to 'speak' to us of the fact that all we are comes from and will continue to have relevance because of only one thing - His living word. This wisdom, as rare as the most precious stones, continues to 'cry out' to this, if we have the means to listen.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The End of the Line?

"At its very heart, Christianity is about facing the real world. It’s not about fanciful illusions, where we just accept ourselves as a slightly evolved species, essentially just here for a good time, but a faith which drags us before the deepest longings and understanding in our souls – that the beauty we know in love, the majesty we view in creation, the passion we encounter in life, resonates with the fact that there is much, much more going on than the oft vaunted facile/popular escapism (philosophically and practically) often tagged ‘life’".  From a review I wrote in 2008.

Over a decade ago, after watching Richard Dawkins taunt a group of theologians on television, I recall conversing with friends about the dangers of Christians seeking to hold to a theistic evolutionary view of our origins (he was making the argument that if you hold to Darwin's theory, you make the need for God redundant). The response at the time, of course, was that there was room for both - God used the evolutionary process to bring about the development of life, whilst the origins and purpose of this were clearly still His domain.

It's been interesting, then, to see how over the last few years, the 'progress' of naturalistic views of our origins have, essentially, removed the need for our first parents, and recently, how thestic theologians have, again, followed such reasoning, advocating the need to do away with any concept of a historical Adam.

The actual conclusion, which clearly illudes such thinking, is that you may as well throw in your faith and be done with it. 
If there was, in fact, no Adam, no Eden, no Fall, then there is essentially no design to what has transpired, no paradise lost, no true purpose to the incarnation and to the cross - Christianity (and, in essence, all monotheistic religion which aspires to a form of redemption from this present age) is no more than a grand illusion. If our history is in fact concluded in our consciousness deriving from a pool of randomly- developed hominoid genes which, of themselves, were a result of chance processes forming life, then the very notion that sin, death, pain and suffering are spawned from something entirely alien to the cosmos - evil - is indeed fanciful and absurd, and we are, without question, locked into a cycle of meaningless futility. Our 'natural' estate is to merely exist, briefly, amidst a cold universe which itself is no more than a fluke, probably in the throws of a long but inevitable death. Nietzsche was right when he argued that once we have 'killed' God, we are only left with despair.

Christian optimism is the backdrop which has informed our culture for centuries, but if Christianity itself is now stripped from our world-view, if that sense of destiny defined by an order beyond our own with regards to existence is lost, what replaces this, when soberly comprehended, will be terrifying indeed. Modernity is a brutal force which leaves us without hope, empty and alone - orphans in a freak event termed existence. The reality, as Dawkins himself notes, is entirely bleak and pessimistic, especially if the grand intentions of scientism fail to deliver us from our present growing fragility in a world teetering on the eve of disconnection from enormous troubles.

It flies in the face of popular thinking to believe there is an alternative, but, beyond our ability to 'speed' data around, there is nothing new here. In the 1920's and 30's, as European thought continued to shape our society to the beat of man's ambitions being the true determining factor of the age (with dark and heinously tragic results), some theologians began to realize that the only solution was to return once again to the Word revealed through the message of scripture, and to affirm the validity of that message in the face of massive opposition. We are faced with the very same choice. Do we submit to the consensus which surrounds us today, and see the principal truths of faith dissolve, or do we reject this and affirm the rightness of what scripture reveals?

In the second epistle of Peter, we are warned of the dangers of the message of false teachers. They will speak with an air of authority, with the promise of liberation, but they seek to merely tie men to the immediate and the material, negating any reference to the divine in relation to us or the work of creation. Such 'works', says the Apostle, will be found wanting, exposed and removed on the day when the new is seen.

Christ's incarnation was for the primary purpose of rescuing those who stemmed from Adam (Luke 3). If we are to find aid and meaning in this broken world, it must be here, for no where else can our kind find deliverance from the prison of our short but alienated existence.

The choice is, as it always been, entirely clear - meaning or oblivion?

"Therefore, beloved, as you wait for what is coming, be diligent  in standing in Christ, and thereby be at peace.
 Count upon the patience of God in these troubles - for there is the surety of our salvation. Do not be carried away by the
folly of those who are unstable in what they know and teach, but mature in the goodness and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, now and forever".

Further reading:
Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, Edited by Norman Nevin (IVP).
Moral Darwinism by Benjamin Wiker (IVP).

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

What really counts

Without a vision, it's written, we perish, but what should that vision be? What will lead the church in the right direction? Here's a key place to start.

Monday, 1 April 2013


A selection of helpful thoughts and quotes from Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians:

"Grace does not bring such a change in us that we become perfect in all things. There yet remains certain dregs of the old nature and corruption. Someone naturally inclined to anger, for example, although mollified by grace (so he becomes more meek and gentle), knows that this natural vice is not utterly quenched in their flesh... Therefore we should not have confidence in our own thoughts which create a confidence that we are entirely purged from old vices".

"We must wrap ourselves in Christ and know Him to be wrapped in our sins, our malediction, our death, and in all our evils, as He is wrapped in our flesh and blood... this is the singular consolation for all Christians".

"The Law requires and exacts of us our works. The (gospel) promise offers to us the spiritual and everlasting benefits of God, and these are offered freely for Christ's sake".

"The lack is not in Christ, but in us, when we do not put off the flesh, to which sin continuously cleaves as long as we live".

"Therefore, do not judge according to the notions of sin and the flesh or the law, which trouble us, but only according to the promise of God and fixed point of faith, through which Christ has been promised and delivered to us, who alone is our perfect and everlasting righteousness".