A proof of the Virgin Birth?

It is a little past the Christmas season when people might expect to see such stories. But I have only just come across this: a post by Anglican Curmudgeon, written in November this year, called The Physics of Christianity: Frank Tipler on the Virgin Birth.

I have come across Frank Tipler before. He is certainly a mathematical physicist with top credentials, as is clear from the Wikipedia article about him. His best known contribution to physics is his Omega Point Theory, an argument that the universe will end by collapsing into a point singularity. But he is also considered something of an eccentric because he has dared to identify this Omega Point with God!

Back in the 1990s I read Tipler’s book The Physics of Immortality (1994), supposedly written for a “popular” audience but in fact mathematically complex enough that I was glad of my postgraduate studies in mathematical physics. In this book Tipler argues that as the universe collapses into the Omega Point an infinite amount of computer power will be available, and will be used to provide for everyone who has ever lived an eternal life in a perfect, but virtual, universe. The problem for me is, in what way would that simulated future in fact be my future – especially if there is potentially a large, even infinite, number of simulated futures for me?

It seems that Tipler has now written another “popular” book The Physics of Christianity (2007), in which he has gone beyond his earlier claims that physics implies the existence of God and immortality in rather general terms, to more specific claims in which he

identifies the Omega Point as being the Judeo-Christian God, particularly as described by Christian theological tradition.

Anglican Curmudgeon has read this 2007 book (I have not) and describes it as

one of the most remarkable books about Christianity that I have ever read. In fact, the book is so remarkable that I have decided, at the risk of my reputation as a reliable curmudgeon, … to tell you instead about some of the things which this amazing book shows are inescapably correct about traditional Christian belief.

The example of Tipler’s brilliance which the Curmudgeon chooses to highlight in this post (he promises a series of further posts, and has written the first of them) is in fact not a matter of mathematical physics but one of genetics. Now this is not really Tipler’s field, not the Curmudgeon’s, nor mine. But if what Tipler has discovered is indeed correct, it is quite amazing! I must say that it is so amazing that I cannot quite believe it. It is the sort of thing I might expect to find in a cheap thriller, but not in a supposedly non-fiction book by a respected scientist.

This is what Tipler claims to have discovered, from what I can tell from the short extracts quoted in the Anglican Curmudgeon post: the bloodstains on both the Shroud of Turin and on the Sudarium of Oviedo (supposedly respectively the burial shroud and face cloth of Jesus) contain a unique form of DNA, exhibiting both the very rare XX male syndrome (a human genetically female but physically male) and some other unique characteristics which I do not understand. Tipler writes that he found, in raw data from analysis of the bloodstains,

the expected signature of the DNA of a male born in a Virgin Birth!

The Anglican Curmudgeon writes:

Thus The Physics of Christianity not only provides a physical explanation for how the virgin birth reported in the New Testament would be possible, but it also uses the available physical evidence to provide a stunning verification of Tipler’s hypothesis—a verification which is all the more amazing because it is based on reported results that were never properly presented or interpreted by those who obtained them.

It is for this reason alone that I commend Frank Tipler’s book to all who wish to ground their faith on the physical evidence and common sense that God has given us. Professor Tipler is a unique breed: he is someone who has followed the available evidence, and who has worked out the consequent mathematics, to a conclusion which, no matter how much his colleagues might wish to avoid it, shows that:

A. There is definitely a God Who created the universe in which we find ourselves (to be faithful to his proof, I should use the plural, “universes”—but more on that later);

B. This God indeed has an only-begotten Son, Jesus, who together with the Holy Spirit constitute three separate persons forming one indivisible trinity;

C. The Son—Jesus—although existing before (and throughout) all space and time, came to this planet and took on the form of a man, the product of a unique and one-time Virgin Birth; and

D. Evidence for that unique and one-time birth, as well as for His Resurrection itself, has been waiting for nearly two thousand years for mankind to develop the skills and technology needed to assess it.

It is, as I say, a remarkable thesis, in what is an even more remarkable book.

Indeed – if the thesis is in fact true.

Ahmadinejad's Christmas message: good words, a shame about the speaker

There is understandable outrage, especially among Jews and reported by Ruth Gledhill, that President Ahmadinejad of Iran has been invited to present Channel 4 television’s alternative Christmas message tomorrow. It is indeed offensive that this man who has denied the Holocaust and called for the destruction of the state of Israel, and whose country persecutes followers of any religion but one, is being given such a prominent voice in the media of this free democratic country.

But perhaps as Christians we should be looking at the message rather than at the messenger. Whatever Ahmadinejad may have said in the past, the message he is offering this Christmas is largely what needs to be said to the world today. Ruth Gledhill has the complete text. In fact apart from a brief mention of “one of the children of revered messenger of Islam” there is little in this message which could not have been spoken by an evangelical Christian. Here is an extract:

Jesus, the Son of Mary is the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.

All the problems that have bedevilled humanity throughout the ages came about because of humanity followed an evil path and disregarded the message of the Prophets.

Now as human society faces a myriad of problems and succession of complex crises, the root causes can be found in humanity’s rejection of that message, in particular the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings of the divine Prophets, especially those of Jesus Christ.

For Ahmadinejad “the divine Prophets” included Mohammed, but apart from that this could be a Christian message.

Of course it also has its controversial parts, such as

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.

Ahmadinejad doesn’t name the powers he has in mind, although we can guess. But he is no doubt correct. Of course Jesus didn’t take a public stand against the “bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist” power of his time, Rome, and refused to lead a rebellion. But he stood with its poor and oppressed victims, and the principles he taught are clearly opposed to such powers.

The response to oppression which Ahmadinejad recommends, just as Jesus did, is not violence but repentance:

The solution to today’s problems can be found in a return to the call of the divine Prophets. The solution to these crises can be found in following the prophets — they were sent by the Almighty, for the happiness of humanity.

I would not of course endorse this in the way it is probably intended, as a call to embrace Islam. But indeed the solution to today’s problems can be found in a return to the gospel message which God sent to the world through Jesus – a Prophet indeed, but far more than that, our Saviour and our Lord.

Ahmadinejad ends with these sentiments:

Once again, I congratulate one and all on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity peace and brotherhood for humanity. I wish you every success.

I wish and pray the same for all of you my readers!

The Faith of Christ

There has been quite a storm of blogging about the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ pistis Christou, literally “(the) faith of Christ”, which is found in a number of Bible passages, including Romans 3:22. Traditionally this has been translated “faith in Christ”. But in recent years many scholars (especially as part of the “New Perspective on Paul” movement), and at least one translation, the NET Bible, have preferred to understand the phrase as “the faithfulness of Christ”. The noun πίστις pistis can indeed mean “faithfulness” as well as “faith”. Also many people consider that the simple Greek genitive construction is more naturally understood as “subjective”, i.e. with Christ as the subject of faith or faithfulness, rather than as “objective”, i.e. with Christ as the object of faith.

But not everyone is happy with this new interpretation, not least the pseudonymous blogger NT Wrong. Now I generally avoid reading pseudonymous blogs, unless there is a good reason for not giving a real name as in the case of Roger Mugs. So I have not read Wrong’s own arguments. But I have read various reactions to them, most notably those of Doug Chaplin, who grants Wrong no mercy, here, here and here. The matter has also been discussed at Better Bibles Blog, in a post which also links to a number of others.

I will not attempt here to settle the question of what the Greek phrase can or cannot mean. If the many scholars who have looked at the issue cannot settle it, then what chance have I? But I will express some more theological thoughts about this matter.

Several blog commenters have questioned whether there are only two alternative understandings, “faith in Christ” and “the faithfulness of Christ”. Indeed there are not. There is a third alternative which I would like to suggest: “the faith of Christ”. And while that English expression could be understood in a rather general way, something like “Christian faith”, the meaning I have in mind is “the faith which Christ had”. That is, I am suggesting that human salvation depends in some sense not only on our faith but on Jesus’ faith.

I thought I had blogged before about Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that Jesus did not have faith, but all I can find is a passing mention in this BBB post. The great mediaeval theologian’s argument was that Jesus as Son of God was omniscient and so had no need for faith. But I see two inadequacies in this argument: firstly, Jesus as a man on earth chose to limit his omniscience and so did know everything about the future; and secondly, the implied definition of faith as intellectual assent to propositions not known to be true is highly inadequate.

Against Aquinas there is a biblical argument, and not only from the phrase I am discussing here. True, I don’t think that anywhere does the Bible speak explicitly of Jesus believing or having faith. Probably the only example of Jesus being the subject of the verb pisteuo “believe” is John 2:24, where in context it means “entrust”.

But it is in Hebrews 12:2, which should be understood as the finale of the great Hebrews 11 chapter on heroes of faith, that we see that Jesus had faith, and how it relates to our own faith. Here we read that Jesus was “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (TNIV). The word translated “pioneer” means something like “the one who opens up a new path”. And so this expression suggests that Jesus was the first to tread the new and better path of faith  (compare 11:40) and to open up the way for others to follow. As the rest of the verse explains, he did this by enduring the cross, “for the joy that was set before him” which he could see only by faith.

On this understanding or model of Jesus’ life and death, as a model or guide for our faith as well as the opening up of a path, it should be clear how πίστις Χριστοῦ pistis Christou can be understood, according to its literal rendering, as “the faith of Christ”. Of course on this model there is no clear distinction between “faith” and “faithfulness”: Jesus’ life of faith meant faithfulness to his calling, and the same should be true of our life of faith. Romans 3:21-22 can then be understood as the righteousness or justice of God being revealed to us through the way in which Jesus lived his life of faith which led him to the cross. This life of faith then becomes an example to us but also more than an example, indeed an atoning sacrifice.

The youngest ever bishop: not Nazir-Ali

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is in the news again, this time because an aide of Archbishop Rowan Williams used a (moderately) rude word about him in an article which was sent to 10 Downing Street and to 43 diocesan bishops. The most detailed and explicit account I have seen is in The Independent. Ruth Gledhill of the Times also reports the story, more briefly and with asterisks in the word in question. She gives her own ringing endorsement of Nazir-Ali, and also posts a transcript of an interesting BBC interview with him (to be broadcast on Radio 3 at 20:45 tonight, in progress as I write, so I’m surprised Ruth is allowed to publish the transcript in advance). Anglican Mainstream has posted an extract from the transcript.

But the BBC interviewer, Joan Bakewell, makes a small error in her introduction when she says:

As the youngest ever Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali was only thirty-five years old when he was appointed Bishop of Raiwind in his native Pakistan.

He may have been the youngest Anglican bishop at the time, but he certainly was not the youngest ever. I don’t know exactly who was. The preface to the Church of England ordinal (in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) states that

every man which is to be ordained or consecrated Bishop shall be fully Thirty years of age.

I knew a man who was consecrated as an Anglican bishop as soon as he reached that age of 30. So he might have been the youngest ever. He also had the distinction of being a bishop for more than 60 years, very likely another record.

I was actually rather surprised to find a Wikipedia article about Bishop John Dickinson, which confirms my memory of this gentle man. From what I heard, he was consecrated in 1931 as soon as he reached the canonical age because of the urgent need for anyone to serve as bishop in Melanesia. Perhaps this was because of the disgrace and resignation of Bishop Frederick Molyneux – Gene Robinson is not the first gay bishop, just the first to be openly gay.

After only six years service as a bishop, Dickinson returned to northern England and became a country vicar, as indeed he remained until he retired. I think it was then that he married my mother’s first cousin Frances. In 1946 he officiated at my parents’ wedding in Westmorland (now Cumbria). I’m told that he walked 20 miles across the open moorland of the North Pennines, carrying his vestments, to get there. My mother thought of him as highly eccentric, but his decision to walk may have been partly from poverty.

I remember visiting his vicarage in a tiny village in Northumberland, probably shortly before he retired in 1971, and getting a taste of rural parish life as he drove me around for part of a day. I also remember visiting him and his wife in their retirement home. Despite his unusual start in life, to me he was a good kind example of a traditional country vicar.

PS Wikipedia appears to report that Bishop Daniel Tuttle became a bishop in the USA aged 29, and so illegally, but this conflicts with a Time Magazine article which implies that he was 31.

Who is this Jesus that we must believe in?

I found at Jeremy Myers’ blog this retelling of the story of the Good Samaritan, apparently taken written by Quester from a book:

One day, a theologian decided to challenge a street preacher. “Preacher,” he asked, “what must we do to be saved?”

“What is written in the Gospels?” the preacher replied. “What do you read there?”

The theologian answered answered: “It is through Jesus that we are saved. We must believe in Him.”

“You have answered correctly,” the preacher replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the theologian wanted to justify himself, so he asked the preacher, “And who is this Jesus that we must believe in?”

In reply, the preacher said: “A man was walking downtown, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stole everything, even his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him to die. After he died, Jesus came to him, wearing a frayed loincloth and a crown of thorns. Blood dripped from his hands, feet, brow and side. He was beaten but not broken, and there was a fanatic gleam in his eyes when he raised his head to snarl,

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Mt. 25:41b-43)

Again, Jesus came to him, blond and blue-eyed with a sad smile and a pure white robe. He sat in the midst of quiet children and clean sheep and gently told the man,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt. 7:21-23)

A third time, Jesus came to him, almost unrecognizably: a young, Jewish man with traces of sawdust on his faded blue jeans. When he saw the man he took pity on him. He went to him and healed his wounds, tears of compassion falling down his face. Then he took the man up in his arms, and carried him to our Heavenly Father. “Look after him,” he said, “I have paid for any debt he may owe.”

“Which of these three do you think was a saviour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The theologian replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

The street preacher smiled, “Go and do likewise.”

Hmm. Which Jesus do we believe in? Which one do we imitate?

Avery Dulles (1918-2008) on Jesus' Atoning Death

Since this blog is back on the subject of why Jesus died, I thought it would be interesting to link to the views of the recently deceased Avery Dulles, a Roman Catholic cardinal described by John Hobbins as “an enthusiastic supporter of the Evangelical Catholic movement” (John’s link replaced by a more appropriate one). Michael Barber has posted an extract from Dulles’ writing which is of great relevance to the atonement debates on this blog and others.

Here is a large part of what Michael quotes from Dulles:

One person may represent another, but cannot substitute for that other except in a merely functional way. As Dorothee Sölle has brilliantly explained, substitution is the definitive exchange of reified objects, whereas representation is the provisional intervention of persons on behalf of other persons. To retain this distinction, it seems preferable to avoid speaking of “substitutionary atonement” in the case of Jesus Christ. Sölle herself proposes to speak rather of Christ the Representative…

Because there is no mechanical substitution of one person for another, the representative death of Christ does not automatically remit the guilt of sinners. The merits of Christ are not simply imputed to us by some kind of juridical fiction; rather we are truly and inwardly healed through the infusion of the grace that flows from him. We have to allow ourselves to be taken over by Christ as he stands in for us. This we do by appropriating Christ’s action on our behalf through free and personal acts of faith, hope, and loving obedience…

Does the vicarious nature of redemption mean that Jesus is punished in our place? Some authors, indulging in very powerful rhetoric, describe in lurid terms the way in which the wrath of the eternal Father was visited upon the guiltless Son, so that he felt rejected and even hated by God…

Against these views, I would insist that Jesus remained at all times the well-beloved Son, living in close communion with the Father through the incomparable grace that flooded his soul…

The advantages of the representational sacrifice theory, and the answers to the objections raised against it, may be clarified by a review of the alternative theories described at the opening of this paper. In some ways the sacrificial interpretation, as I have proposed it, resembles the first theory, that of penal substitution, but the differences are important. Both theories maintain that Jesus suffered terrible ordeals and thereby won for sinners a release from the pains they deserve. But the penal substitution theory makes it appear that God punishes the innocent in place of the guilty, thereby suggesting that God is unjust. The theory of representative headship, by contrast, looks upon Jesus as one who offered satisfaction, rather than endured punishment. These are true alternatives. As Anselm insisted, sin requires either punishment or satisfaction; satisfaction takes the place of punishment… Satisfaction is voluntarily given, whereas punishment must be coercively endured. Satisfaction, unlike punishment, can be offered by the innocent as well as by the guilty.

Punishment, as an act of justice, must be strictly proportioned to the offense, but satisfaction, as a work of love, may be superabundant. According to Thomas Aquinas, Christ “offered to God more than was required to compensate for the sin of all humanity.”

For more of this, read Michael’s post, or follow his link (which I have not done) to the whole of Dulles’ article.

What Dulles wrote seems to me to make a lot of sense. Penal substitution is sometimes seen as a mere variant of Anselm’s satisfaction model of the atonement. But Dulles makes it clear how different it is – or at least how different certain popular understandings of penal substitution are. And it is against these popular understandings that writers like Steve Chalke and Jeffrey John reacted so strongly.

But, to be fair, the position of the more careful proponents of penal substitutionary atonement, such as J.I. Packer, is not so different from that of Dulles. Packer writes:

The Trinitarian principle is that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together, as in creation, so in providence and in every aspect of the work of redemption. … It was with his own will and his own love mirroring the Father’s, therefore, that he took the place of human sinners exposed to divine judgment and laid down his life as a sacrifice for them, entering fully into the state and experience of death that was due to them. Then he rose from death to reign by the Father’s appointment in the kingdom of God.

I would be surprised if Dulles would have had serious disagreement with Packer’s article.

What or who are we saved from: my thoughts

In my previous post I asked simply “What or who are we saved from?”, repeating a question asked by Brian McLaren. I am grateful for five comments so far, not counting my own one. Now I will move on to giving some kind of answer.

TC, MzEllen and Alastair are of course right that the question as originally posed presents a false distinction, with an implication that the answer is either/or when, at least according to these three, the correct answer is both/and. But is it really a matter of both/and? I would suggest not, at least not in the way this is sometimes understood.

So, are we saved from God? Does God hate us and want to destroy us, until Jesus somehow persuades him not to? This is how the matter is sometimes presented by popular preachers, and by the church noticeboard in my town which (I am told) proclaims “God hates you”. I am with Ferg on this:

I always found it a strange concept to think that God would send Jesus to save us from Himself.

To me, this idea is not only immoral and repugnant, it also goes against the Bible which, while occasionally (but only in the Old Testament and one quote in the New) stating that God hates sinners, consistently proclaims God’s love for the world and for humankind, and that that is why he sent Jesus.

Of course the Bible does speak of the wrath of God being poured out – but on what? Read Romans 1:18 carefully: this wrath is revealed not against sinners but against human ungodliness and wickedness. True, those who fail to heed God’s warning to separate themselves from ungodliness and wickedness find themselves experiencing God’s wrath, but they are not its intended target:

God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thesssalonians 5:9 (TNIV)

From this perspective, the gospel is like a flood warning. God is sending his wrath as a destructive flood (now metaphorically, but the literal flood in Noah’s time prefigures this) to cleanse the world of all kinds of wickedness. Anything that the flood touches will be destroyed. But first he sends a warning to every human being (Romans 1:19,20), to flee from the coming wrath (Matthew 3:7), separate themselves from evil and find safety in Jesus Christ.

So, yes, we need to be saved both from evil and from the wrath of God. But this is not because God is or ever was against us: rather he is always for us and wants the best for us, which is our eternal salvation. His wrath is a danger only to those who ignore his warnings about what will certainly happen to those who stay in the place of evil which will be destroyed.

What or who are we saved from?

This is the question being asked by Brian McLaren, as reported by John and Olive Drane, thanks to Sally for the link:

One other thing we’ve been thinking about is the way Brian focused the atonement debate, with this question: what or who do we need to be saved from – from God (who is angry with us), or from evil, which is against both us and God?

Before I attempt to answer this question, I will give you, my readers, the chance to tell me what you think.

Todd Bentley speaks out

No time at the moment to post about anything else, but this one needs a mention:

Thanks to my commenter Rhea for the link to a new article about Todd Bentley, which reports both the statement by Fresh Fire Ministries which I reported last week, and a response to it from Todd himself. Todd denies several things stated by Fresh Fire. Specifically he denies leaving his wife Shonnah to be with his former nanny. Here is part of the new article:

On Tuesday, Bentley said there had been no sexual immorality between him and the former nanny. He claimed that for two years no “spark or interest” in the former staff member existed, and that the two developed only an emotional relationship several weeks after July 1, when Bentley filed for divorce.

He admitted, however, that the budding relationship was “absolutely” bad timing.

“I would call it an inappropriate relationship, in the sense that it was too soon, too quick, and should’ve never happened the way that it happened,” Bentley said. “Emotionally, she had stepped in to comfort me as a friend would.

“But I never left my wife to be with another woman,” he said. “There was nothing premeditated or inappropriate in my heart. I had never even entertained the idea that I liked this girl. It never went there.”

Claiming to have gone through years of counseling with his wife, Bentley said he is divorcing her over “irreconcilable differences.”

He denied disconnecting from his children and told Charisma he is in constant phone contact with them and plans to see them as soon as he sorts out issues with his visa.

Meanwhile Rick Joyner

did express disappointment with FFM’s recent statement about Bentley and said he tried to persuade them not to send the letter in its current form.

“There is almost always another side to a story, as there is to many of the things they presented in this letter,” Joyner said. “Sometimes the truth is found somewhere between the two sides, but if we’re going to ever get to real healing and reconciliation I don’t think this kind of thing helps.”

Indeed. The truth must lie somewhere between what Todd says and what the Fresh Fire board has written. I hope that this frank exchange of views helps rather than hinders the process of restoration and healing for Todd, Shonnah and all involved.

As with my last post about Todd, I welcome rational discussion here. I will not tolerate comments which simply condemn Todd in ways which will not contribute towards his hoped for repentance and restoration.

Can Christians fall away? The examples of Bentley and Obama

Every time I write about Todd Bentley, as I did on Monday, there is a huge jump in traffic to this blog. So I feel justified in writing on a subject in which there is a lot of interest. Or is this just tickling my ego? Whichever may be true, here is another post about him, and about Barack Obama. To be more precise, it is about the way we evangelical Christians react to people like these two.

What do these two have in common? It is that they were both at one time doing what good evangelical Christians should do, and now neither of them is doing. Obama responded to an altar call and had what I have called “a clear evangelical conversion experience”. Bentley started with this and went on to become an international evangelist with a major (but controversial) healing ministry. Obama, at least to some extent, rejected evangelical theology and became something of a universalist. Bentley’s rejection was in a different direction, a fall into sin from which he has not yet repented.

As an evangelical I might say that these two have fallen away from the true faith, in very different ways. But can a true Christian do this? Jeremy Pierce seems to deny it, when he writes, in a comment here concerning what I called Obama’s conversion experience, that

Obama seems to me not to have had such an experience, and if he had then I think he would have a very different attitude toward scripture (for one thing, actually believing it and following it when his inclination is to reject it as making God too cruel).

In other words, Jeremy seems to be claiming that Obama’s low view of Scripture and generally liberal theology is proof that he never had been a genuine evangelical Christian. I find this an astonishing claim, in the light of the evidence that many former evangelicals have drifted into liberal theology.

Let’s first detach this claim from the issue of whether such people will ultimately be saved, which I have discussed here before – something which cannot be known in the present, especially as there presumably remains a possibility of them repenting of liberal ideas and fully returning to the evangelical fold.

But what are the implications of Jeremy’s claim? If tomorrow the pastor under whose ministry I was converted, or who baptised me, or from whom I regularly receive communion, turns away from his faith and professes liberal ideas, where does that leave me?

I can’t help wondering if Jeremy would also hold that Bentley’s persistence, for the moment, in sin is proof that he too never had been a genuine evangelical Christian. There are certainly plenty of people around who cite this sin as evidence that his ministry was never genuine and the whole Lakeland outpouring was some kind of fraud. But does such reasoning make sense? I don’t think so.

Let’s remind ourselves that the church rejected Donatism, the sectarian teaching that ministers of the gospel who denied the faith could not be restored, that their repentance could not be accepted. My own Church of England clearly teaches, in Article XXVI, that the ministry of even the most sinful ministers is valid. This article directly contradicts any suggestion that baptism by an apostate or backsliding pastor or exercise of spiritual gifts by a sinning Todd Bentley is invalid. It even more clearly rules out any conclusion that baptism by a pastor who later becomes an apostate or backslider or exercise of spiritual gifts by Todd Bentley before he fell into sin is invalid.

So how should we relate to a Bentley or an Obama? Both apparently started well but then went astray. There are plenty of biblical examples of this, such as: King David, at the time of his adultery; King Solomon; the Galatians as addressed in Galatians 3:1-5; Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:19-20. In none of these cases is there any suggestion that these people were not at first genuinely following God’s way. Now I admit that that suggestion is made about the “antichrists” of 1 John 2:18-19; but I hope no one is going to suggest that either Obama or Bentley is the Antichrist! The biblical response to such people is not to condemn them or write them off. It is, as demonstrated by Nathan and by Paul, to call the backslider to repentance, which may involve what Paul calls being “handed over to Satan”.

At least in the case of King David this process actually led to repentance. So this can happen. My pastor told a story of how he was visited by a pastor who had been suspended from ministry for an adulterous relationship, together with his lady friend, also a Christian. They maintained to my pastor that their relationship felt so right that it must be good and holy. He asked them if they prayed together. They, with some embarrassment, said “no”, exposing to themselves that they still felt shame about their relationship. He suggested they should pray together. Shortly afterwards they realised that their relationship was wrong and repented, and the man was eventually restored to ministry.

So this restoration can happen. Let’s continue to pray that it happens with Todd Bentley, and quickly. As for Barack Obama, we can pray that his eyes will be opened to more of the truth of the gospel, and of course, in line with the verses immediately following the ones about Hymenaeus and Alexander, that he will turn out to be a good President who will make it possible for his nation and the world to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”.