Sorry!

Sorry for some strange problems on this blog this evening. The blog is not appearing correctly, at least intermittently, and commenting is failing on at least some posts. It looks like a problem in WordPress or at my ISP. No time to investigate further now, so I will have to leave it now until the morning.

Did God sink the Titanic? Thomas Hardy and John Piper

RMS TitanicArchdruid Eileen has posted an interesting poem by Thomas Hardy, The Convergence of the Twain. And it seems that this is a genuine poem, not a Beaker Folk satire. According to Wikipedia, it was published in 1915. And it is relevant today because it commemorates the sinking of the Titanic, 100 years ago today.

What is shocking to read is that Hardy, the 19th century novelist who became a 20th century poet (his last novel was published in 1895 and his first poetry in 1898), clearly blamed God for sinking the Titanic. The iceberg that sank the TitanicIt is “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything” who prepared the iceberg, and when “the Spinner of the Years // Said ‘Now!'” the collision took place. And Hardy seems to imply that this is judgment on “the Pride of Life that planned her”. But we also note that the poem depersonalises the disaster by saying nothing about the horrific loss of life.

Now Hardy was well known for his religious scepticism, and leaned towards agnosticism and deism. So it is hardly surprising to see a somewhat jaded image of God in his poem.

But I can’t help wondering what John Piper would say about the Titanic disaster. Well, he has tweeted the following, an argument ably demolished by Alan Molineaux:

When the Titanic sank 20% of the men and 74% of the women survived. That profound virtue was not nurtured by egalitarianism.

But that doesn’t apportion blame for the tragedy. Quite possibly Piper is preaching or writing on the subject today. But in the absence of any record of that so far, I can only argue by analogy with what he recently wrote about tornadoes:

Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?

… God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.

Tornado near Dallas, Texas, April 2012So Piper’s God commanded these tornadoes to devastate towns and kill many people. Presumably he would also say that God told the iceberg to cross the path of the Titanic. But where Piper disagrees with Hardy is that he doesn’t see such disasters as judgment of specific evil. Rather, they are a word to everyone, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

But is this God who chose, for no fault of their own, 38 people to kill with tornadoes and 1,514 to kill with an iceberg really the Christian God we learn of in the Bible? In his article about the tornadoes Piper quotes verses about God sending winds and others about people being killed by winds and other disasters, but none of these passages say explicitly that God sent the winds or other means which killed people. He quotes Matthew 8:27, but ignores the context in the previous verse: if God sent that particular wind, why did Jesus rebuke it? The language used in such passages hints at demonic activity in that storm on the Sea of Galilee. And if in that storm, why not also in destructive storms and other disasters today?

I don’t claim to know what caused these disasters. Perhaps we should put the blame mainly on humans, who took the risk of living in areas known to be prone to tornadoes and of steaming at full speed across a sea known to be studded with icebergs. For some the risk did not pay off.

But in the end what matters is not the anyway inevitable death of our mortal bodies, but that through Jesus Christ we have eternal life and the hope of new and glorious resurrection bodies.

N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God

N.T. WrightThis is how N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham and now a professor at St Andrews, ends a paper on Scripture and the Authority of God:

Scripture is then part of the Spirit-given means, along with the koinonia of the church and the strange new-Temple significance of the sacraments, by which the people who find themselves in Act 5 [i.e. the church age] are able to improvise appropriately as they move towards the ultimate goal. The Bible is not an end in itself, in other words. It is there so that, by its proper use, the creator may be glorified and the creation may be healed. It is our task to be the people through whom this extraordinary vision comes to pass. We are thus entrusted with a privilege too great for casual handling, too vital to remain a mere matter of debate.

Amen!

This paper, adapted from something Wright wrote in 1991, has been published in six parts over the last month at The BioLogos Forum: N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 (the quotation above is taken from part 6). This seems rather unconventional material for BioLogos, but it is certainly an excellent paper.

Why can’t we tolerate post-gays as well as gays?

There has been quite a lot in the news today about an advertisement which Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust proposed to run on London buses:

NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT!

Cranmer gives a detailed report, and notes, with a reference to David Cameron’s Easter message, that

these plucky Christians are merely doing what the Prime Minister exhorted them to do: ‘ fight back’.

But Cranmer has not as yet reported the latest development, for news of which I thank Stuart James. He writes that

Transport of London have just Tweeted:

Anglican Mainstream ad just brought to our attention and will not run on London’s bus or transport networks

And:

We don’t believe these ads reflect TfL’s commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London

It seems that Boris Johnson, who is campaigning for re-election as Mayor of London, spoke out against the ad – as did his two main opponents in the election, according to the gay news service Pink News. It is not clear whether it was this intervention that led Transport for London to drop the ad. Johnson is reported as saying:

London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.

Well, Mr Johnson, your language points out the problem: London is tolerant of anything except what it labels as “intolerance”. The proposed ad says nothing intolerant of gays. It certainly does not “suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from”. But the gay lobby sees its very existence threatened by the suggestion that people might be able to change their sexual orientation. So it tries to silence the voices making this suggestion by making entirely spurious accusations that they are anti-gay and so intolerant, which means that London has to be intolerant of them.

Yes, Mr Johnson, this is an issue of tolerance. It is one of refusing to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. You are slandering and discriminating against people who identify themselves as previously gay and now straight. You are breaking the rules in your own authority’s Code of Conduct, which explicitly apply to you as Mayor:

Respect for Others

You should promote equality by not discriminating unlawfully against any person, and by treating people with respect, regardless of their … sexual orientation …

Now I don’t want to be seen as promoting the post-gay cause. I don’t know if the controversial treatment to turn gay people straight actually works. I’m not sure that the strategy of Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust is a good one. But I want to defend the right of people to identify themselves as post-gay and publicise their existence, just as I defend the right of people to identify themselves as gay and publicise their existence.

It seems to be politically correct to attempt to change one’s gender by hormone therapy and “gender reassignment surgery”, and ethical for doctors to offer these treatments for people who want them. Why is it considered so politically incorrect to attempt to change one’s sexual orientation, and unethical for doctors to offer therapy which might cause such a change?

Why can't we tolerate post-gays as well as gays?

There has been quite a lot in the news today about an advertisement which Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust proposed to run on London buses:

NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT!

Cranmer gives a detailed report, and notes, with a reference to David Cameron’s Easter message, that

these plucky Christians are merely doing what the Prime Minister exhorted them to do: ‘ fight back’.

But Cranmer has not as yet reported the latest development, for news of which I thank Stuart James. He writes that

Transport of London have just Tweeted:

Anglican Mainstream ad just brought to our attention and will not run on London’s bus or transport networks

And:

We don’t believe these ads reflect TfL’s commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London

It seems that Boris Johnson, who is campaigning for re-election as Mayor of London, spoke out against the ad – as did his two main opponents in the election, according to the gay news service Pink News. It is not clear whether it was this intervention that led Transport for London to drop the ad. Johnson is reported as saying:

London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.

Well, Mr Johnson, your language points out the problem: London is tolerant of anything except what it labels as “intolerance”. The proposed ad says nothing intolerant of gays. It certainly does not “suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from”. But the gay lobby sees its very existence threatened by the suggestion that people might be able to change their sexual orientation. So it tries to silence the voices making this suggestion by making entirely spurious accusations that they are anti-gay and so intolerant, which means that London has to be intolerant of them.

Yes, Mr Johnson, this is an issue of tolerance. It is one of refusing to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. You are slandering and discriminating against people who identify themselves as previously gay and now straight. You are breaking the rules in your own authority’s Code of Conduct, which explicitly apply to you as Mayor:

Respect for Others

You should promote equality by not discriminating unlawfully against any person, and by treating people with respect, regardless of their … sexual orientation …

Now I don’t want to be seen as promoting the post-gay cause. I don’t know if the controversial treatment to turn gay people straight actually works. I’m not sure that the strategy of Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust is a good one. But I want to defend the right of people to identify themselves as post-gay and publicise their existence, just as I defend the right of people to identify themselves as gay and publicise their existence.

It seems to be politically correct to attempt to change one’s gender by hormone therapy and “gender reassignment surgery”, and ethical for doctors to offer these treatments for people who want them. Why is it considered so politically incorrect to attempt to change one’s sexual orientation, and unethical for doctors to offer therapy which might cause such a change?

C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time Magazine

C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time MagazineThanks to Brian LePort for linking to a “rediscovered” Time Magazine cover story, from 8th September, 1947, featuring the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis.

In his post Brian looks mainly at Lewis’s interesting remarks on anthropomorphic language – apparently quoted from his then forthcoming book Miracles.

I agree with Brian, and with Lewis. But this is the quotation I would like to share with you, not from Lewis but from the article’s author:

Lewis (like T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, et al.) is one of a growing band of heretics among modern intellectuals: an intellectual who believes in God.

65 years later, are believers still considered heretics, in those circles? And is their band still growing, or shrinking? The world needs more people like C.S. Lewis: forthright Christians with academic integrity and writing skills, or perhaps other media skills for our rather different age, who can speak God’s truth into our popular culture.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron’s religion?

Be NiceOnly this evening I came across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), in Allan Bevere’s post Jesus Without the Church? Not! The term was apparently coined by Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian (which I have not read). Bevere quotes Ben Gosden‘s summary definition of the beliefs of MTD adherents:

  1. Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
  2. Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
  3. Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.

John Meunier has given a rather more detailed description of Advanced MTD, to which Kenda Creasy Dean herself gave an appreciative response.

Dean, Meunier, Gosden and Bevere all suggest that MTD is the typical religion of American churches, at least from their shared perspective in the United Methodist Church. Indeed Meunier writes that

This religion is so deeply embedded into our congregations that digging it out will be fatal to most. Like a cancerous tumor, it has invaded too many vital organs to be safely dug out.

I can’t help wondering if this MTD is in fact just as deeply and fatally embedded into most churches here in the UK, especially but not only in the Church of England. Perhaps the “therapeutic” side is not so strong here. But the deism is probably even stronger: nobody expects God to intervene just because “someone needs an answer to a problem”.

This, it seems to me, is the kind of religion which Prime Minister David Cameron professes, as seen for example in his Easter message, in which he spoke of two roles of faith:

Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions …

And for him “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity” are “values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance”. But there is no mention here of God intervening in anything, except Cameron perhaps implicitly rejects this in his sceptical remarks about the Resurrection, which I discussed in my post Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection.

Nor is there any explicit mention of the “Therapeutic” aspect of MTD, but this is implicit in his remarks about tolerance and in support of gay marriage. Cameron clearly believes that homosexuals have the right to have anything which they think will make them happy, and anyone who seeks to deny this, even with the intention of “strengthening our institutions”, is considered intolerant and beyond the pale. Now he is entitled to his opinion on this matter, but it is one more characteristic of MTD than of true biblical Christianity.

So, what can we do? It looks as if Cameron wants to encourage MTD in this country, at the expense of genuine Christian faith. But when so many of our church leaders are adherents of MTD, what can the rest of us do? Well, I guess we can show MTD to be false when, in response to our prayers, we see God intervene to set our nation to rights. So let us pray!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Cameron's religion?

Be NiceOnly this evening I came across the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), in Allan Bevere’s post Jesus Without the Church? Not! The term was apparently coined by Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian (which I have not read). Bevere quotes Ben Gosden‘s summary definition of the beliefs of MTD adherents:

  1. Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
  2. Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
  3. Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.

John Meunier has given a rather more detailed description of Advanced MTD, to which Kenda Creasy Dean herself gave an appreciative response.

Dean, Meunier, Gosden and Bevere all suggest that MTD is the typical religion of American churches, at least from their shared perspective in the United Methodist Church. Indeed Meunier writes that

This religion is so deeply embedded into our congregations that digging it out will be fatal to most. Like a cancerous tumor, it has invaded too many vital organs to be safely dug out.

I can’t help wondering if this MTD is in fact just as deeply and fatally embedded into most churches here in the UK, especially but not only in the Church of England. Perhaps the “therapeutic” side is not so strong here. But the deism is probably even stronger: nobody expects God to intervene just because “someone needs an answer to a problem”.

This, it seems to me, is the kind of religion which Prime Minister David Cameron professes, as seen for example in his Easter message, in which he spoke of two roles of faith:

Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions …

And for him “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity” are “values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance”. But there is no mention here of God intervening in anything, except Cameron perhaps implicitly rejects this in his sceptical remarks about the Resurrection, which I discussed in my post Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection.

Nor is there any explicit mention of the “Therapeutic” aspect of MTD, but this is implicit in his remarks about tolerance and in support of gay marriage. Cameron clearly believes that homosexuals have the right to have anything which they think will make them happy, and anyone who seeks to deny this, even with the intention of “strengthening our institutions”, is considered intolerant and beyond the pale. Now he is entitled to his opinion on this matter, but it is one more characteristic of MTD than of true biblical Christianity.

So, what can we do? It looks as if Cameron wants to encourage MTD in this country, at the expense of genuine Christian faith. But when so many of our church leaders are adherents of MTD, what can the rest of us do? Well, I guess we can show MTD to be false when, in response to our prayers, we see God intervene to set our nation to rights. So let us pray!

A Harrowing Saturday for Jesus

What was Jesus doing on Holy Saturday, the day between his death by crucifixion and his first Resurrection appearances that Easter Sunday? I started to suggest an answer in my post When did Jesus come back to life?, but I realise that my proposal raised more questions than it answered. I also touched on the issue in yesterday’s post The Communal Resurrection of Jesus. But there is more that needs to be said here, partly in response to the comments on those two posts. So, although Holy Saturday has passed for another year (except for Eastern Orthodox believers who celebrate it this coming Saturday), here is another post about what Jesus might have done on that day.

First, what happened on Friday afternoon? After hours on the cross, Jesus cried out “It is finished!”, and committed his spirit into the hands of God. His body then died, and its death was proved by the Roman soldiers. The lifeless corpse was taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb. The tomb remained sealed until Sunday morning.

The Harrowing of Hell, from a fourteenth century manuscriptBut this does not imply that the soul and spirit of Jesus were dead or annihilated. The biblical picture seems to be that when humans die their souls leave their bodies and go to a place of the dead, known as Sheol or Hades. This is not a place of punishment, but one of shadowy but apparently conscious existence. And the Christian tradition reflected in the Creeds, with somewhat obscure biblical support (Acts 2:31, 1 Peter 3:19, 4:6), is that the soul of Jesus also went to Hades (for which “hell”, in older English versions of the Creeds, is a misleading translation). But apparently Jesus went there not to rest like the other dead, but to announce his victory, to preach the gospel, to break open the gates of Hades (compare Matthew 16:18), and to set free at least some of those held captive there.  He seems to have transformed Hades into the Paradise which he promised to the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). This is the traditional doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell.

But when he did this, was Jesus dead or alive? Or is that question meaningful? Clearly his body did not go to Hades, which is not a place for material bodies. But his soul never died, for human souls never die when their bodies do. The apostle Peter seems to teach that Jesus went to Hades after he had been “made alive in the Spirit”, or “… the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18-19). Perhaps Peter means that Jesus was spiritually alive while this happened, but his body was still dead. Or Peter could mean that this took place after his Resurrection, but this would make the sequence of events even more obscure.

So what did happen to Jesus’ body? A normal human body would have started to decay immediately, and would soon have started to smell (compare John 11:39). But we read that the body of Jesus did not decay (Acts 2:31). Instead, as the apostle Paul writes, it seems to have been transformed into a new resurrection body, in a process analogous to a seed being planted and growing into a new plant (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). But just as in the natural this process takes time, so we can understand that time may be needed for this spiritual transformation of a body.

Meanwhile what happened to those whom Jesus released from Hades? At least some of these people can probably be identified with the “holy people who had died” who appeared in Jerusalem after Jesus’ Resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53). Now these people, unlike Jesus, had presumably mostly been dead for a long time, so their bodies would have decayed, and their bones had most likely been collected into ossuaries, according to the practice of the time. I suppose we must imagine these ossuaries breaking open, and the bones arranging themselves into skeletons and then putting on flesh, as in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones coming to life (Ezekiel 37:7-8). But this was a process which might have taken some time.

So perhaps I will take back my suggestion that on Holy Saturday Jesus and these “holy people who had died” were simply resting and waiting for Sunday morning. Rather, the living soul of Jesus was busy freeing the souls of these saints from Hades, while in tombs on earth he was preparing their new resurrection bodies along with his own. To take the idea from Phil Groom’s comment, that day was a time not for “Rest in Peace” but for “Resurrection in Progress”. Then on Sunday morning the souls of Jesus and the other departed came together with their new bodies, and the great Resurrection took place, of Jesus and together with him of the Old Testament saints.

Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (3)

This is the third of the series which started with Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (1) and continued with Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (2). Again, I am not at all trying to make an anti-Semitic point, as should be clear in what follows here.

CrossIn parts 1 and 2 of this series I have shown that in the four Gospels the Greek word Ioudaios, generally translated “Jew”, is in fact used mainly of Judeans, inhabitants of the southern part of the land of Israel around Jerusalem. It is only when the word is used by Gentiles and Samaritans, or in conversation with them, that it has the wider meaning of “Israelite”.

Before making some concluding observations, I want to look briefly at how this word is used in the rest of the New Testament.

In the Gospels the focus of the story is on the land of Israel, but in Acts it is suddenly opened up to include the whole world, or at least those parts where Israelites live. So immediately we see the word Ioudaios used, in 2:5,11,14, as it would have been by Greek speakers right across that world, as a synonym for “Israelite”. Oddly enough, this does not last. In 2:14 Peter calls his audience Ioudaioi, but by verse 22 the same people have become Israelitai, as also in 3:12; in 5:35 Gamaliel uses the same word, as do Paul in 13:16 and some Asian Jews in 21:28. Meanwhile Ioudaios is not used again in Acts until the action moves into the Gentile world in chapter 9. From then on the word is very common, and mostly used as Gentiles used it, of all Israelites.

The word Ioudaios is not common in the letters of Paul, but is again used mainly in the Gentile sense, indeed often in contrast with “Gentile” or “Greek”. A probable exception here is 1 Thessalonians 2:14, recently discussed by Daniel Kirk (no relation), where “Judean” fits the context better.

Ioudaios is not found in any of the other New Testament letters. It occurs twice in Revelation (2:9, 3:9), in both cases of enigmatic groups of people who claim to be Jews but, according to the author, are not; these are most likely Diaspora Israelites who were considered religiously apostate.

So, it seems to me, in translation we need two different renderings of Ioudaios, “Judean” for most of the Gospel references but excluding the ones on the lips of Gentiles and Samaritans, and “Jew” for almost all occurrences outside the Gospels.

A clear consequence of this choice of renderings, but by no means the motivation for it, is that it removes any biblical justification for blaming the Jewish people as a whole for the death of Jesus. If anyone is to be blamed, it is a small group of Judean Israelites, stirred up against Jesus by their leaders, and the Roman authorities under the weak Pilate.

Another clear consequence is that the Jesus of the Gospels was not considered to be a Ioudaios, at least by his fellow Israelites. This explains why, especially in John, he is often portrayed as being opposed to the Ioudaioi. But what may have been a secret to Jesus’ contemporaries is revealed in Matthew and Luke, and is perhaps implied by Mark’s use of the title “Son of David” (10:47,48, 12:35) and by John’s reference to the Messiah being from Bethlehem (7:42). This mystery is that Jesus was in fact a Judean, born in Bethlehem in Judea, a member of the tribe of Judah, and indeed a descendant of King David and of the whole royal line of Judah (Matthew 1:6-11). The New Testament record seems to imply that he was the rightful heir of the Davidic line, the true king of the Ioudaioi in both senses. And, as he told the Samaritan woman who called him a Ioudaios (John 4:9,22), in both senses “salvation is from the Ioudaioi” because it came through him.

So perhaps we should conclude that Jesus was not a Jew among others, he was the one true Jew, the forefather of a new Israel constituted not by physical descent but by faith in him. This was never intended to replace the old Israel, but it was intended to broaden that family to include Gentiles. But this is a controversial issue which I do not want to get into here.

So, as I conclude this series, have I rejected the claim in its title, “Jesus was not a Jew”? No, because I added “according to the Gospels”, and within those narratives Jesus is not one of the Judean people referred to as Ioudaioi. But within the wider narrative of the New Testament we recognise that Jesus is in fact a Jew par excellence, fulfilling in himself all the requirements and prophecies of the Old Testament as well as all the promises of the New.

This Man, who died for our sins, and rose again from the dead to show that he is more than just a man, is the great King we should follow, not only the King of the Ioudaioi but also the one which we Gentiles, grafted into the true Israel, acknowledge and serve as King.