What the feature on Bell reveals (alongside the cover article focusing on Bell’s book in the previous edition) is the fact that if it’s a tricky business for Christians to grapple with Bell’s new look at the reality or not of hell what we can be pretty sure of is that it’s not just challenging for the church but damaging to our witness to the world.
Here is how Time summarises (inaccurately admitedly) the debate in the book.
‘Is Hell real?..He [Bell] thinks we can’t know, because the biblical discussion of salvation (as with so much else) is contradictory. Some passages say only those who explicitly acknowledge Jesus as Lord will find eternal peace. Others claim that, in Jesus’ own words, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail’ and Jesus’ sacrifice means universal salvation.’
Now I don’t think Bell would want to use the word contradictory to describe Bible texts. He would no doubt prefer to describe texts that teach on heaven and hell as ‘in tension’ and should be left to sit alongside each other in such a way that cannot be resolved by us in this life.
But the damage is done when the world looks in and sees what appears to be an evangelical pastor prefering to talk of salvation as a mystery and the Bible as a book which does not speak clearly about heaven and hell. He goes so far as to say in interview with Time ‘I don’t take a position of certainty because of course, I don’t know how it all turns out.’
That Time includes an evangelical pastor in their top 100 most influential people in the world ought to be good news. The tragedy is that they include Bell because he is an evangelical who prefers to ask questions about final realities and to do so in a public way in the publishling of his book and tour.
The consequence of Bell’s position is, as the Time feature reveals, to leave non-Christians confused as to the message of the church and confused as to whether it’s possible to really know anything from the Bible which appears to be a book of contradictions. After all if a mega-church pastor revels in the ‘contradictions’ of the Bible and finds himself with more questions than answers why should a non-Christian looking in from the outside believe they should arrive at any answers.
Did they even sleep that night? How can we ever think ourselves into the situation of those first disciples on Easter Saturday. How can we begin to even imagine what it must have felt like to see every hope evaporate and every confidence in God shattered. Was their decision to leave everything to follow this man of God nothing but a huge mistake. Was their conviction that this man Jesus was God’s Messiah and that the Kingdom lay just around the corner nothing but a demonstration of their own collective god delusion.
Like a spiritual tsunami everything was swept away by the savage crucifixion of the very one they called ‘Lord and Master’. Easter Saturday was a day of utter bewilderment. It turns out that it was not only Jesus who felt abandoned by God.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a book written for Easter Saturday experiences. It speaks into those situations and circumstances in life that have the potential to rob us of every confidence that God is good and that he is ruling. The book is a book for those times when God’s providence is dark indeed and life makes no sense at all.
JI Packer in his book Knowing God writes;
What the preacher wants to show him [his younger disciple] is that the real basis of wisdom is a frank acknowledgement that this world’s course is enigmatic, that much of what happens is quite inexplicable to us, and that most occurrences ‘under the sun’ bear no outward sign of a rational, moral God ordering them at all.
Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it at all. Often and often what is worthless survives, while what is valuable perishes. Be realistic says the preacher; face these facts; see life as it is. You will have no true wisdom till you do.
God is at work in the darkness. The promises of God assure us that he is working out his purposes. Peter would one day stand before the crowds in Jerusalem and with conviction declare;
This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
No more so than on Easter Saturday are we reminded that
the truth is that God in His wisdom, to make and keep us humble, and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which He is working out in the churches and in our own lives.
This is the way of wisdom. Clearly, it is just one facet of the life of faith. For what underlies and sustains it? Why the conviction that the inscrutable God of providence is the wise and gracious God of creation and redemption.
And Easter Sunday would prove how sure that conviction is.
What is it about being famous that means you get given a platform to speak your mind on issues you don’t even understand. Journalism might reasonably be regarded as 80 per cent entertainment and 20 per cent information but if Ricky Gervais’s blog on Easter is any thing to go by I’d suggest it’s more like 95 per cent entertainment and 5 per cent information.
The blog is called An (Atheist) Easter Message from Ricky Gervais. But I struggled to find any reference to Easter in it at all. There’s no attempt to explain or interpret the Easter story, no mention of the cross or the resurrection just a rant about religion.
The most striking thing about the article is Gervais’s claim to have kept the law of God. Seriously. Here is a man who seems to genuinely believe he has kept the 10 commandments. He claims to like the teachings of Jesus and yet one wonders how anyone who has ever read the sermon on the mount could think that they have kept the law. If ‘do not commit adultery’ includes as Jesus insists never even to have looked at a woman lustfully then it’s remarkable that Gervais would claim to have kept it.
The 10 commandments are really a call to perfection as Jesus insists, Matthew 5:48, ‘Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.’
No wonder Paul argues that the very purpose of the law for those who will see it is to make us conscious of sin and to prepare us to receive Christ.
If you think you’re able to keep God’s standards, if you can make it on your own, well there can never be anything good about a good friday.
Here’s a great article from the New Statesman that introduces us to 30 leading thinkers including eminent scientists and philosophers and asks for their reasons for faith in God.
In a follow-up article the author Andrew Zak Williams assesses their reasons for belief.
The 2020birmingham initiative to see 20 churches planted in the city of Birmingham by the year 2020 would never have happened without the vision and generosity of Redeemer City to City. If the work of Redeemer is new to you then take a look at the video and join me in thanking God for its ministry.
The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.
So concludes The Independent newspaper in an article today.
It’s hardly surprising when a newspaper features another article on the tragic decline in church attendance in the UK. This time it’s the turn of The Independent to question whether there is a future for the church. The author of the article is certainly no friend of evangelicals (inside or outside the C of E) and prefers to use the disparaging language of ‘sects’ and ‘fundamentalism’ when referring to Christians who hold to the faith and beliefs of the 39 articles of the Church of England. The author recognises that evangelical Christianity is growing at a time when liberal, ‘doubting’, Christianity is emptying churches but chooses not to focus on that fact nor does he devote any time to the many evangelical parishes in the Church of England where the building is full on a Sunday.
Some of the stats are certainly questionable. The report claims that only 1.7 million, or 3 percent of the population, attend church once a month. In reality the figure is much higher. A 2007 study has the figure at 15 percent.
It’s clear that the sympathies of the author lie with a vague liberal Christianity when he writes
‘Having an established religion on the side not just of moderation, but tentativeness, gives this strand some extra strength. But it’s not the way faith is going at the moment.’
What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he calls ‘moderation’ and precisely what the public recognise as a gospel devoid of any real substance and a spirituality that mirrors the world. If that is what people are seeking then they also recognise that there are plenty of other places able to offer it without the need to ever set foot through the doors of a church building. In the end Liberal Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.
A great short video designed to show that how we say things often matters as much as what we say.
‘Train them for God, train them for Christ, and train them for eternity’ – JC Ryle’s 17 duties of Parents
‘Train well for this life, and train well for the life to come; train well for earth, and train well for heaven; train them for God, train them for Christ, and train them for eternity. Amen.’ So concludes JC Ryle’s sermon Duties of Parents based on Proverbs 22:6 ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’
The sermon is a must read for all who are parents or god-parents and for all who train or teach children at church and for all who wish to pray for parents in their responsibilities. But if you want the headings for all 17 points of this sermon then here is how JC Ryle urges you to train your children rightly:
1.train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would
2. train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience
3. train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends upon you
4. train with this thought continually before your eyes that the sould of your child is the first thing to be considered
5. train your child to a knowledge of the Bible
6. train them to a habit of prayer
7. train them to a habits of diligence, and regularity about public means of grace
8. train them to a habit of faith
9. train them to a habit of obedience
10. train them to a habit of always speaking the truth
11. train them to a habit of always redeeming the time
12. train them with a constant fear of over-indulgence
13. train them remembering continually how God trains his children
14. train them remembering continually the influence of your own example
15. train them remembering continually the power of sin
16. train them remembering continually the promises of Scripture
17. train them, lastly, with continual prayer for a blessing on all you do
Thanks to Richard Underhill who introduced me to this sermon at New Word Alive 2011.
Britons have become miserable because we are selfish, unfit and anti-social begins an article in yesterday’s Telegraph.
The article continues Experts say that unless we undergo a ‘radical cultural change’, the population will slide into unprecedented depths of despair and that rates of depression and suicide will rise.
We are according to the paper in a psychological decline.
So what is causing this bad state of mental health? According to experts the answer is that we do not give enough to others, have lost the art of connecting with those around us, and no longer possess a sense of belonging in society.’
Dr. Anthony Seldon comments;
“Young people now are being brought up grasping for what they don’t have rather than appreciating everything they already do.
“For everything we have gained in material wealth and sophistication in recent years, we have lost in happiness and the overall richness of the fabric of society.
“If we don’t act now, in the future we are likely to see increased levels of adolescent suicide and mental illness, and a culture in which taking anti-depressant drugs is the norm.”
What the research demonstrates is what happens when life turns in on itself. When we live for ourselves and are concerned only for ourselves it will have a profoundly negative
What about solutions?
So what answers does our society have to such a crisis? Well if the answers proposed by actionforhappiness.org are anything to go by, pretty much none! When you read down the list of suggestions they are nothing but a list of ideas on how to try and manufacture happiness in the absence of any meaning, purpose, value or direction to life.
How do you find happiness in a life devoid of hope!
Joseph Addison once said ‘the grand essential to happiness in this life are; something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for’
True and lasting happiness, the joy in life that we seek, are all rooted not in thinking positive thoughts about ourselves but through a knowledge that we are loved. Our joy is a joy derived from a relationship with the living God.
CS Lewis has so helpfully said:
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
You can’t make yourself happy! You can’t manufacture joy. It comes from a source outside of yourself. Our happiness is a gift borne out of a relationship with a God who is supremely happy in himself and so desires that we share our joy in him.
Lewis again: Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
The 10 suggestions for happiness put forward by a think-tank actionforhappiness.org show how desperate our desire for happiness has become and yet how even more desperate our search has become.
1. Giving. Do things for others – volunteer to work for a charity in your spare time.
2. Relating. Connect with people – get in touch with friends with whom you had lost contact.
3. Exercising. Take care of your body – go for a run.
4. Appreciating. Notice the world around – take time to appreciate wildlife in your area.
Worship. Notice the world around and thank God for his goodness
5. Trying out. Keep learning new things – learn a new language.
6. Direction. Have goals to look forward to – make resolutions and stick to them.
Hope. Realise that
7. Resilience. Find ways to bounce back – learn from defeats to do things better in the future.
8. Emotion. Take a positive approach – focus on the happy moments of your life rather than the sad.
9. Acceptance. Be comfortable with who you are – do not dwell on your flaws.
10.Meaning. Be part of something bigger – join a society or club.
Surely at no point in human history in the western world have we so manifestly demonstrated our need for God. We cannot make it alone. We need God more than ever for life now and for life eternal.
Final thought from CS Lewis. ‘Happiness is never in our power and pleasure rarely is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.’
A remarkable article in this week’s New Stateman magazine (thanks for the link, Lucy).
In which Brand attacks evangelical atheism, discusses his own faith and considers the design inherent in the universe. Well worth a look at the article in full but here’s a great quote.
There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.
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