Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where is the Garden of Eden?

Last weekend my two year old son and I watched the F1, and we raced model cars around the living room floor. One was real racing, the other was a model. Just because the model is more real to my son than what he's watching on TV doesn't mean it is.

In her final programme uncovering the Bible's buried secrets Francesca Stavrokopoulou claims to be able to overthrow the Bible by claiming that Adam was a gardening King in a Garden where he walked with God, and that garden was where Jerusalem is (a city whose temple was built after the pattern of Eden). She speaks of the strangeness and appeal of a God who could be known so intimately! She's an atheist - but she's not so far from the truth here...

In a persistent theme she wants to throw out sin and amplify her own innovative voice: 'my idea that Adam is a king'. Again the observation isn't so strange, nor innovative. To anyone reading the Bible seriously many of her discoveries are not so new! Sure they challenge some common perceptions, but no evangelical insists the fruit was an apple, for example. Many of her claims are wilder than the myths she seeks to debunk...

Stavrokopoulou announces that the events of Genesis 2-3 aren't from the beginning of time but from a mere 2500 years ago - dislocating them from the text in which we find them. She claims:
'I believe Eden is the ancient Jerusalem temple... everything points to the temple being the real Eden... and the exile from Jerusalem is the real expulsion from Eden...the failure of the kings is the real Adam, which lets the rest of us off the hook... '
Which is close except she's confusing shadows and models with reality. Toy cars with F1 racing.

Even if you don't join those dots G.K. Beale excellently shows in his The Temple and the Church's Mission that the progression flows through the Bible from Eden to the Tabernacle to the Temple and through to Jesus and the Heavenly Tabernacle and to a global garden in which man and God dwell together. (just read Genesis 2, then Exodus 25-31, John 1, Hebrews 8 and the Revelation 21-22 to do the work yourself). Eden is great but not the point.

I do agree however that you can make a good case geographically that Mt Eden where the Gihon flowed is Mt Moriah where Hezekiah blocked up that river - and where Abraham declared that The LORD will provide (he knew the Triune God), where Solomon built his temple and where the Son of God was crucified.... the King who is our head so that Adam's sin marks all his people, and Jesus' victory wins for all his people.

Curiously when you make the Temple the real Eden you ought to have to deal with the question of why the place was so intensely bloody. Stavrokopoulou's answer? No sin, no blood. And yet then how do we explain the evil and injustice and suffering and present absence of intimacy with God? Its fair enough to say that the Biblical story of Man commiting spiritual adultery (2 Cor 11:1-3) and causing death to reign over all creation (Romans 5) isn't palatable, but it has a lot of explanatory power for our world.

If our first Head didn't sin, we struggle to see the need for our second Head to come and be our High Priest and Sacrifice. We end up musing that it's a nice story for man and God to dwell together, but nothing more than the imagination of a child. Genesis is exquisite literature and we need to take it seriously, strip it of myths but not to rip it apart but to read it freshly.

Whilst there are many enjoyable aspects to this BBC series it does seem to be burying the real story of the Bible. The story in which, in Ray Ortlund's words: "The Lover of our souls won’t let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever." . The story of vague conspiracies, progress and shock discovery is deeply unmoving. By comparison the true story is, like our Christ, much more real and much more excellent, not a pursuit to return to Eden but to the new life of the new Eden.

Watch Bible's Buried Secrets on iPlayer

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Does God have a wife?

When Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou asks on the BBC 'Does God have a wife?'  the answer is surely something like this:
...the Father sent the Son into the world to give himself up for his bride, for the Father loved his Son and did not want his Son to be alone but to have a wife who could enter into the roomy life of the Triune God. This bride is a people gathered from all the peoples of the world who are not royal in themselves but become glorious by virtue of their marriage to the king who loves them. Kate Middleton wont be Queen because she's worth it but because our future king loves her and marries her - so with the church - Christ is our glory, though indeed we will be his! And today the Son is betrothed to the church and there is going to be the most phenomenal of weddings at the climax of history - so Francesca,  do you know our beloved (and if not can I tell you more about him), and would you like to seek him with us, and would you like to be at the wedding?
Consequently, it makes sense that the answer to the question: what is the message of the Bible? would be this: "The Lover of our souls won’t let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever." (Ray Ortlund)

Monday, March 28, 2011

How does the LORD allure us?

Adapted from puritan Jeremiah Burroughs on Hosea 2:14 'I will allure her'. Our LORD allures us with himself in his gospel. Our LORD says:
I will open the beauty and excellency of the infiniteness of my grace and goodness and set it before them to allure them. I will spread before their souls the beauty of my Christ.
My people pursued their lovers.

They went after KPMG, PwC and Lloyds TSB; for money offered comfort and control. They went after celebrity gossip, social media status and pornography; for they offer intimacy. They went after H&M and Ben & Jerrys and HDTV; for retail therapy, over-priced ice-cream and Brian Cox talking science break the numbness of life.

Did their lovers offer comfort and gain, honour and respect? Yes – but I will bid more. I bid more and will so persuade their hearts that they shall come to enjoy more in me that they possibly could enjoy with all their lovers. Then my gospel will have its full and gracious effect in the hearts of men and women, in finding all that the world can bid is out bidden.
The gospel outbids all other lovers. Christ outbids all. He himself is more wonderful and beautiful.
More at Jeremiah Burroughs - An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea

Watch on iPlayer: Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe: on how the light was the life of men, kinda....

Friday, March 25, 2011

He Loves Us (He is Jealous for me)

I spoke at Bath Uni and Bath Spa Uni CU's joint meeting this week. Over 150 students, and a handful of church leaders from the city, gathered to give thanks for the last year of student mission and to look to the next year. I had the honour of preaching. MP3: He Loves Us (Hosea 2:14-20)

  • 1. He brings
  • 2. He woos.
  • 3. He betroths
  • The Evangelists Heart
  • The Evangelists Task
  • The Evangelists Aim
After the talk Sarah and James led us to sing Here is Love, of Jesus the Saviour of the world and we sang John Mark McMillan's He Loves Us. They were great choices. Dean chose In Christ Alone and He Loves Us after I preached on the same text in Cardiff last month. I really like McMillan's song though I find the lyrics are a bit sloppy in places - cutting the tree line in half sings oddly and a few of the phrases are probably too poetic for congregational singing. And it's about the only song on this theme of the affections and jealousy of God that anyone seems to know. I intend to keep preaching stuff but we need lyrics. Songwriters: please give us more songs to sing on this theme, please serve us!

Further reading on this whole area of God's passion and jealousy I recommend:
Jeremiah Burrough - An Exposition of Hosea
Ray Ortlund- God's Unfaithful Wife
Richard Sibbes - The Sunshine of the Gospel

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Husbands love your wives

Elders are a gift to the church, and I find it a huge privilege to be in a church where Andy Arscott is the lead elder. We younger men need those who are 30 years ahead of us who will watch over us and humbly walk ahead of us in the Christian life, especially in key areas such as marriage.

Download mp3: Andy Arscott: Family Matters - Husbands love your wives

Love Wins More Than You Can Imagine

There's been a lot of blog ink spilled over the book already and I'll aim not to duplicate too much of it. I received  a free copy from the publisher and I'm thankful to them for that. I know they think this book will prove to be really significant, and I want to be nice here. Sales will be high but this is a Rebecca Black of a book, it's just not very good.

Rob Bell is a big selling author (Velvet Elvis etc) and pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, not to be confused with Mark Driscoll who leads a similarly named megachurch.

He's known for being an outstanding communicator. I think he's fun with words but probably not actually that good a communicator. When challenged he argues he's misunderstood, which can only happen for so long before you have to ask why. His style is very accessible (though having only 150 words per page grates after a while). He constantly asks questions and rarely answers them which while provocative is a bit annoying.

He asks some really good questions but I'm rarely satisfied with the choices he makes in answering them.

Summary of the book.
1. The first chapter essentially raises lots of questions, including the script of the infamous publicity video. Bell's ability to ask question is great, though you could learn that from Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism.
2. Chapter 2 argues for a physical future, which is fine though it begins to sound like social justice is the gospel. And I'm all for justice - but Tim Keller's Generous Justice gets you there better.
3. This chapter is called Hell. "Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course. Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs." (p71) i.e. Hell is bad stuff now - and again bad stuff now is really bad and we should take more action. It's argued at length that judgement is basically restorative since Sodom & Gomorrah are described as having a future. This feels like a very wooden way of reading the texts, which are referenced not unpacked. When Jesus says it'd be better for Sodom & Gomorrah than for those who reject the gospel he's not saying they get redeemed... he just isn't.
4. This is called "Does God get what he wants?" though by the end of the chapter we're told it's the wrong question, we in fact get what we want, p117: God graciously grants us that option (of walking away) though the gates of heaven are never shut (p114) so we can always come back... so assuming we eventually come to our sense God will get what he wants (all of us) and we will get what we'll want (God). The view of love here sounds very nice but it's really wooly, it lacks passion and heart and jealousy and commitment. If someone unknown had written this or preached it I really think no one would be listening, at least not for long.
5. Dying to live. This argues for a multi-coloured approach to the cross which is ok until all the bloody options are relegated to the past since they were just there to relate to old cultures. There's a nice argument that the resurrection is John's 8th sign in his gospel - the start of a new creation week. Sounds like vintage Tom Wright. I'm not really sure what point this chapter is making. Read Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope - it's way better.
6. There are rocks everywhere. Paul says Jesus was the rock in the desert, therefore Jesus is all over the place where we've not noticed... and big warnings against judging people's futures. John 6,12 and Matthew 13 and 25 are referenced without reference to what they say about judgement.
7. The good news is better than that. This is Rob Bell's version of Keller's The Prodigal God (he says so at the back of the book). Just read Keller instead.
8. The End is Here. It's all about love. Though, I'm not sure what it is or what this love is.
Take away Rob Bell's name and all the publicity and I'm not sure anyone would read this book. Martin Bashir says he thinks Bell is trying to make sense of his cold deity fundamentalist upbringing, and I think I agree. Bell argues on p174-5:
"...the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Chritsinas: they don't love God. They can't, because the God they've been presented with and taught about can't be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable. ... what kind of God is behind all this...  Hell is refusing to trust, and refusing to trust is often rooted in a distorted view of God. Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting 'the gospel' is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn't safe, loving or good."
And I agree. I meet Christians who have a cold lonely barely-Trinitarian view of God and there is little sense of the unity of the Father and the Son, there is a 'God lurking behind Jesus' etc. What's lacking is Trinity, and what's lacking is a strength of love that wont just let us go but in which the Father is passionately jealous for his Son and his people and therefore does burn furiously against those who scorn his Son and abuse his Son's bride.

Love is the answer but without Trinity you have to throw away hell or you have to throw away the Father. Bell asks an understandable question but hasn't got an answer, and what he sketches leaves me ambivalent, far removed from the authority that I'd expect from the gospel which would compel and excite my heart. I don't want to say 'Farewell Rob Bell' - I just find myself saddened that he's not caught sight of our God whose heart loves way more than he imagines.

You want to see how love really wins, try out Mike Reeves on the love of God. When I think of the students I work with I imagine (and hope) if they were to read Love Wins they'd find themselves saying, "No, God loves better than that".

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jeremiah Burroughs on Preaching and the Heart

Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs is in the Sibbesian camp:
"That which comes from the heart will most likely go to the heart, though I know god can take that which comes but from the lips and carry it to the heart when he pleases, yet ordinarily that which comes from the heart goes to the heart, therefore ministers when they come to speak the great things of the gospel should not seek so much for brave words, and convincing ways of man's wisdom but let them get their own hearts warmed with that grace of the gospel, and then they are most like to speak to the hearts of their auditors.... Otherwise they speak with the tongues and men and angels, yet become like the sounding of brass and the tinkling cymbal. This is an expression even of a Jesuit, it was then a great shame, that god's ministers should not labour to speak so as that they may speak to the hearts of people: you must be desirous of such kind of preaching as you find speaks to your hearts, not that comes merely to your ears: how many men love to have the word jungle in their ears, and in the mean time their hearts go away and not one word is spoken to them? But when you find a minister speak to your hearts, close with it, bless god for it, and count it a sad day when you go from a sermon and there is not one word spoken to your hearts in that sermon." JEREMIAH BURROUGHS ON HOSEA, P495.
I want to be a preacher whose "heart is warmed with that grace of the gospel." Burroughs also observes: "The goodness of God in the Gospel is so rich that the truth is because the hearts of men are so vile, and so ready to abuse it, we are almost afraid to preach it." 
Does my own preaching near scandalise me? Am I shocked that such good news can come to people such as me? Affect me! Move me! And what happens when the gospel comes to people? What does Christ do when he has us?
"Christ as soon has he is married to the soul takes it as it were by the hand and walks to the Galleries and there opens his heart to her. There is many a sweet tune that a gracious heart has with Christ in his Ordinances, where Christ opens even his whole soul to it... Here is the furit of our union with Christ. Oh that our hearts were inflamed with desire after further conjugal communion with him!"
Sourced from the google books edition of Burrough's Hosea Commentary. Anyone wanting to buy me a copy of the new edition feel free... looks great but a bit pricey! Really looking forward to preaching Hosea 2:14-20 soon - and hoping to spend a lot more time in that book in the coming months.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunday, March 06, 2011

UCCF Forum South West 2011

Here are the mp3's from Forum SW where Pete Greasley and Jim Walford were our main speakers.
The conference was for student leaders in the South West.
Workshops related to CU values were also held (not recorded).

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Necessity of Atheism

My first post is now up at Newfrontiers' Theology Matters:
The Necessity of Atheism

In other linkage: Don't miss Faulks on Fiction, only on iPlayer for a few more days. Faulks on Fiction: The Hero, The Lover, The Snob & The Villain. A great insight into story.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Love Wins: How do you talk about heaven and hell well?

It is very difficult to talk about hell and it should be.

It's a subject for anguish and tears, and because it's almost impossible to be heard when you mention the word. I spoke on the subject evangelistically a couple of years ago and got a lot of flack for it.
It's hard to speak of, hard but necessary,

I do however think this is by far the best way in:
Kings English: I am a jealous God. Glen writes:
"We are very far here from the popular conception of God as some distant omnibeing indifferent to the plight of his creatures. Neither is he some stern patriarch in the sky unwilling to reveal his feelings lest he lose face. Here is a God with His heart on His sleeve. “I am jealous” He says. In fact a few chapters later He will say “My name is Jealous.” (Exodus 34:14).
God loves with a burning, faithful, marital, rightly possessive, rightly jealous love.
  • First of all the Father loves His Son in the power of His Almighty Spirit. It is a marriage like love, a burning, faithful, rightly possessive, rightly jealous love.
  • And then He loves His people – those who are married to His Son – the bride of Christ, the people of God. He loves us with a burning, faithful, rightly possessive, rightly jealous love.
  • And throughout the bible God’s people, for their part, are called to be “faithful.” Not simply “obedient”, “faithful”! And when we sin we’re not just called “transgressors”, we are called “adulterers.”
To be on the inside of God’s jealous love is a wonderful thing. It is to be rightly possessed and secure and guarded and desired. It’s the sunshine of His love.
To be on the wrong end of His jealousy is a terrible thing. Because for those who demean or threaten or harm the objects of His love (either His Son or His people) they will feel that jealousy as the consuming fire of His judgement."
Whether or not we'd then say what Rob Bell infamously may or may not say in his forthcoming book
I don't know, though I'm a little intrigued.
But in the end it's true Love wins, for us or against us.
The Christian's future is an easier subject but one over which confusion abounds. We're meant to give a reason for the hope that we have. But what is our hope? On Sunday I was preaching on 1 Thess 4:13-18. Sermon can be downloaded here. (You'll be able to read more on this in my article in next Month's UCCF:NB magazine.)

I loved seeing how in 1 Thess 4, our future will be physical and personal, resurrected with Jesus, vindicated with Jesus and living on this liberated world with Jesus. What happens to Jesus happens to us.
We believe in the death of death in the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christians in the resurrection of Christ... in which love wins by catching us up to be with our God in his world