Art from N.T. Wright's old home saved for tourists

N.T. Wright, the world renowned theologian and former Bishop of Durham, may be enjoying his new job as a research professor at the University of St Andrews – which is probably best known today as where Prince William met his bride Kate Middleton. Auckland CastleBut Wright (no relation I think to Chris Wright who I quoted earlier today) is very likely missing his old home, Auckland Castle, which

has been the home of the Bishops of Durham for over 800 years

– but apparently no longer. The BBC reports that the castle is to

become a leading public heritage site, bringing tourism and economic regeneration to the North East.

The works by Zurbaran have been at Auckland Castle for 250 yearsBut there is good news:

Plans to sell off 17th Century paintings which hang in the home of the Bishop of Durham have been shelved after a £15m donation.

Church Commissioners said selling works by Spanish Baroque artist Francisco Zurbaran would have funded Church efforts in poorer areas.

But the donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer means the paintings can stay in Auckland Castle.

The Church of England is acutely short of money. So it is not surprising that they decided to sell these assets to fund “Church efforts in poorer areas”. But it would have been a major shame for these wonderful paintings to be taken away from where they

have hung in Auckland Castle, in a room specifically designed and built for them, for 250 years.

So God bless Jonathan Ruffer for providing the £15 million needed to save them. I trust that this money doesn’t disappear into the church’s coffers but is indeed used to fund its work in poor areas.

George Warnock, Latter Rain Pioneer

Update 5/24/16: I have just heard that George Warnock passed away yesterday, age 98. More to follow.

George H. WarnockI have heard quite a lot, recently as well as longer ago, about the teachings of George Warnock. He is best known for his 1951 book The Feast of Tabernacles, which is featured by Wikipedia among others as one of the main sources for the controversial charismatic teachings about Latter Rain and the Manifest Sons of God.

I had thought of George Warnock as a person from church history. So I was a little surprised but very pleased to discover that he is alive and well and living in his native Canada, or at least he was in 2007 at the age of 90. I also discovered that he has a personal website, which includes complete texts of all his writings, which “may be copied and pasted, reprinted and distributed – without charge.”

It seems from his biography on that site that George has spent most of the 60 years since he wrote his book working as a carpenter. He offers some interesting Reflections Along the Way, which explain why he did not continue to be involved in the Latter Rain and Charismatic movements.

This George is not to be confused with Adrian Warnock’s son, born in 2007, who may in the future take after his father and the older George as a Christian author, but is a bit young for that at the moment. I don’t think the Canadian George is related either to Adrian or to to the Methodist minister blogger Dave Warnock.

The Feast of Tabernacles: The Hope of the ChurchGeorge Warnock’s website includes the text of his 1951 book The Feast of Tabernacles: The Hope of the Church, with a preface by the author from 1980. I have only skimmed the book, and I will not attempt to defend all of Warnock’s exegesis. But in many ways it seems ahead of its time, a forerunner of the charismatic teachings of the last 20 years or so. Here are some extracts:

The Church of Christ is literally filled with carnal, earthly-minded Christians who sit back in ease and self-complacency and await a rapture that will translate them out of the midst of earth’s Great Tribulation at the beginning of the Day of the Lord. To this generation of world-conformers God speaks in no uncertain terms: “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.” (Amos 5:18). In the vast majority of evangelical circles we are taught that any moment all God’s people shall be caught up, raptured, to be with the Lord in the air–to escape the Great Tribulation which soon shall visit the earth. It is not true. The saints shall be “caught up” all right; but “every man in his own order.” (1 Cor. 15:23). What that order is does not concern us right now; but the fact remains, we are nowhere taught that the saints are going to escape the hour of Great Tribulation by way of rapture. …

Sudden cataclysmic judgments shall fall upon the earth, the ungodly shall be “taken” suddenly as in a “snare,” but the righteous shall be “left” in a place of safety. (From Chapter 6, The Blowing of Trumpets)

This is exactly what I have been saying.

Then, apparently outlining the teaching on the Manifest Sons of God:

We are sure of this, however, that the Church is being robbed of her glory in not knowing that there is rapture for her even now, while waiting for Rapture, and there is resurrection here and now while we wait for Resurrection. There is no doubt whatever that God holds many secrets for future revelation concerning the order of events and the nature of the Resurrection. But in this we are confident: before this cherished rapture or resurrection takes place, there is to arise a group of overcomers who shall appropriate even here and now their heritage of Resurrection Life in Jesus Christ. God has placed His only Begotten at His own right hand in the heavenlies, until all his enemies have been placed under His feet. (Ps. 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:25,26.) There He shall remain, in obedience to the Word of the Father, until there ariseth a people who shall go in and possess their heritage in the Spirit, and conquer over all opposing forces of World, Flesh, and Devil. We are not inferring that the saints will go about in glorified bodies. But we are speaking of the saints reaching out and appropriating even here and now in their earthly temples the very Life of Christ, of entering into their heritage in the Spirit, of participating in the Melchizedek priesthood and kingdom, and of living the very spotless, immaculate life of the Son of God Himself in virtue of His abiding presence within. (From Chapter 14, The Feast of His Appearing)

Warnock goes on to suggest that these “overcomers” might be preserved from physical death, but avoids making this a definite teaching. He perhaps gets a bit carried away when he describes how “They shall be completely triumphant over all the powers of darkness that are arrayed against them”. But it seems clear that he is teaching, as I do, that this overcoming life is not for a select few but for any believer who lays hold of it.

I wonder, how many of the people who use the phrases “Latter Rain” and “Manifest Sons of God” as brushes to tar their fellow believers with have actually read books like George Warnock’s? If they did, they might discover that these doctrines are not major demonic deceptions, but good biblical teachings, which may at times have been exaggerated by the over-enthusiastic, but remain important for God’s purposes today.

Election: not to be saved but to save others

Calvinist and “Reformed” Christians teach that God elects, or chooses, some people (most would hold that this is a small minority of people) to receive his grace, forgiveness and eternal salvation – and that those he decides not to elect have no choice, but are abandoned to the hell that they deserve as punishment for their sins.

Chris Wright : Langham Partnership InternationalChristopher J.H. Wright, also known as The Rev. Dr. Chris Wright, International Director of the Langham Partnership, has a different take on this, in his 2010 book The Mission of God’s People (p. 72):

Election [ie the choosing] of one is not rejection of the rest, but ultimately for their benefit. It is as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of their number to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is not so that she alone gets saved, but that she is able to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued. “Election” in such a case is an instrumental choice of one for the sake of many.

In the same way, God’s election of Israel is instrumental in God’s mission for all nations. Election needs to be seen as a doctrine of mission, not a calculus for the arithmetic of salvation. If we are to speak of being chosen, of being among God’s elect, it is to say that, like Abraham, we are chosen for the sake of God’s plan that the nations of the world come to enjoy the blessing of Abraham (which is exactly how Paul describes the effect of God’s redemption of Israel through Christ in Galatians 3:14).

Thanks to Mark of Every Tongue for quoting this, and to Jeremy of Till He Comes for linking to Mark’s post.

Indeed! God didn’t choose us Christians to be snatched away to heaven and saved, so that we can gloat as we watch the rest of humanity suffering tribulation on earth and eternal torment in hell. He selected us for a mission – and I use the word in the popular sense of “Mission Impossible” as much as in the Christian jargon sense. That is, God chose us to be members of his team, with the task of rescuing those who are bound for hell and transforming this world into his kingdom.

This, as I wrote yesterday, is the purpose of our salvation. But it goes back further than that: it is the purpose for which God

chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ …

Ephesians 1:4-5 (NIV 2011)

We are called to be his sons (including women as well as men), manifested in this world. I don’t agree with the more extreme aspects of Manifest Sons of God teaching, especially as most of the descriptions of it I can find are from its enemies – although I was interested to read that, in line with what I have written,

The rapture, according to this doctrine, will be of the wicked – not of believers.

Nor do I accept the idea that this is something for only a chosen few. However, I agree with the basic principle behind this teaching, that God is raising up today a task force of believers empowered by the Holy Spirit to make the kingdom of God a reality in this world. This is God’s calling for everyone he has chosen to receive his grace, everyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. Don’t settle for second best!

Salvation is not deliverance from hell

The furore about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has drawn a lot of attention to hell. But surely we Christians should be focusing our attention elsewhere. For John Wesley, by Nathaniel Hone, oil on canvas, circa 1766John Wesley was surely right when he wrote (as quoted by John Meunier):

By salvation I mean, not barely, according to the vulgar notion, deliverance from hell, or going to heaven; but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth.

— From John Wesley’s “A Further Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion”

Sadly far too many people still have this “vulgar notion”, coupled with an unbiblical longing for a Rapture to take them quickly away from this world. Our biblical calling is quite different: not just to seek the personal restoration which Wesley writes about, but also to work towards the restoration of our world according to biblical principles.

New discovery "as important as Dead Sea Scrolls"?

The BBC Today Programme has a report In pictures: Biblical bounty?, an illustrated outline story that

Ancient sealed books, discovered in a Jordanian cave, may shed new light on the early years of Christianity.

Ancient sealed books, discovered in a Jordanian cave, may shed new light on the early years of ChristianityThe books have survived because the pages are made of lead. But all this seems rather speculative given that “the text in Ancient Hebrew” is mostly in code. The link with early Christianity seems to be in some of the images, but these can surely be interpreted in other ways.

The BBC reports some extravagant claims about this discovery:

the books may have been made by the followers of Jesus a few decades after his crucifixion. … “as important as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” … “the major discovery of Christian history”.

Well, we will have to see. If the text can be decoded and confirms the claims about who wrote these books and when, then indeed this could be a discovery of the first importance. But failing such confirmation the books will be no more than a historical oddity, worthy of a place in “a Jordanian museum” but not of worldwide attention.

UPDATE after half an hour: There is more on this story in another BBC report, which is largely about how these books have ended up in Israel and how the Jordanians want them back. The following may be of particular interest:

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Evangelical Alliance responds to Rob Bell "Love Wins"

Rob Bell: Love WinsThe Evangelical Alliance (here in the UK) has just published a response to the publication of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. The response is in two parts: a review of the book by Derek Tidball, and a Statement which reads like a press release.

I mentioned this book in my post of a few days ago Heaven, Hell and Bell. I still haven’t read the book. But both the review and the statement seem to be a very sensible take on this controversial issue.

It was interesting to read, in the Statement section of this response, a summary of the conclusions of the Evangelical Alliance’s 2000 book The Nature of Hell. I particularly liked this part of the summary:

absolutist assertions that these and other categories of non-professing people are saved risk being at least as arrogant as absolutist assertions that they are damned. The destiny of such people is God’s to determine, and it is determined by his grace alone.

Women in 1 Timothy 2: sense from Ian Paul

Revd Dr Ian PaulIt was only this morning that I discovered Psephizo, the blog of Revd Dr Ian Paul, who describes himself as

on the staff of St John’s, Nottingham (one of 11 Anglican colleges in England), currently as Dean of Studies and teaching New Testament and Practical Theology.

This morning I borrowed from Ian Paul for my post The Rapture? Why I want to be Left Behind. His similar post Why I want to be Left Behind was the first I had seen on his blog, but there is a great deal of other good material there.

Of particular interest to me was his series Can women teach?, in three parts: part 1, part 2, part 3. This is in fact part of a longer series, for as Ian writes at the start of each post in the series,

I am in the process of writing a Grove Biblical booklet with the title ‘Women and authority: key biblical texts’ which aims to explore all the key texts in 28 (or more likely, 32) pages! Due out this month.

The material on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is apparently a section from the Grove Booklet, or a draft of it. As such it is an eminently sensible brief introduction to the main issues with this passage. It interacts in scholarly but concise way with the main arguments for and against taking this passage as prohibiting women from teaching. The discussion fully justifies the conclusion concerning

the picture emerging from careful exegesis of this text, as a corrective that, far from suggesting hierarchical order of men over women, is restoring equal partnership in the face of arguments for a hierarchical ordering of women over (or independent of) men.

The Rapture? Why I want to be Left Behind

Ian Paul writes on his blog Psephizo Why I want to be Left Behind. He refers to Matthew 24:36-41. This is one of the main passages used to support the teaching on the Rapture, the idea that at some time before Jesus returns to earth all Christians will be taken away from the earth – and those Left Behind will suffer the worst of the Great Tribulation.

But Ian notes that in this passage the teaching in verses 40 and 41 that some “will be taken” seems to parallel “the flood … took them all away” in verse 39. Thus the ones who “will be taken” are not the ones God is rescuing from disaster but the ones subject to his judgment. So not surprisingly Ian concludes that when this happens he wants to be left behind. So do I!

I note that in the original Greek the parallel is not quite so clear as different verbs are used for “took … away” and “will be taken”. This explains Dick France’s earlier caution about this interpretation, mentioned by Ian. But the parallel seems clear to me even if it is conceptual more than verbal.

Meanwhile the other passage used to support the idea of a Rapture before the return of Jesus teaches no such thing, in fact precisely the opposite. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 it is very clear, from the Greek word epeita “After that” which links these two verses, that it is only after “the Lord himself will come down from heaven” that “we who are alive … will be caught up”. There really is no biblical basis for the popular idea of a secret pre-Tribulation Rapture, which was in fact first put forward clearly as recently as the early 19th century.

So Tom (N.T.) Wright, as quoted by Ian, is surely right about the Matthew passage when he writes:

There is no hint, here, of a ‘rapture’, a sudden supernatural event that would remove individuals from the terra firma….  It is a matter, rather, of secret police coming in the night, or of enemies sweeping through a village or city and seizing all they can.

Thanks to Simon Cozens for the link, in a comment on Eddie Arthur’s post The End of the World Is Nigh (or Is It?).

Syrtis = Sirt: Danger on the Coast of Libya

The shallow waters and sandbanks of the Syrtis, off the coast of today’s Libya, are mentioned in the Bible, in Acts 27:17, as a place of danger for the Apostle Paul, when the ship taking him to Rome was carried away by a storm. The sailors steered the ship away from the Syrtis, and the outcome for Paul was shipwreck and divine deliverance in Malta.

The Syrtis is now known as the Gulf of Sidra, but the old name survives with less change for a city on its shores, Sirt, also known as Surt and Sirte.

This city looks likely to be in the news over the next few days. The BBC reports today that

Libyan rebels have recaptured four more towns and are moving quickly towards Muammar Gaddafi’s heartland of Sirte. …

Sirte is the Libyan leader’s birthplace and stronghold, his heartland. From now on the going will get much tougher for the rebels.

Just over a week ago I was hopeful for Libya. Gaddafi didn’t go as quickly as he promised, with his lies about a ceasefire. But it is good news that now he seems to be on the run. The UN intervention has reportedly been remarkably effective with very little collateral damage – I hope that is the truth, not just propaganda.

The battle for Sirt which is surely coming in the next few days will be dangerous for both sides. Very likely it will be decisive for the future of Libya. How appropriate it is that a biblical place of danger has now become a place of danger for Gaddafi.

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