Raised with Christ: Review part 8 and conclusion

This is the concluding part 8 of my review of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ, which I started herepart 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

Adrian concludes his book with two chapters about how the resurrection gives Christians hope for the future.

In chapter 18 he looks at the future hope for individual believers. He notes how this helps us to endure difficulties in this life. But he rejects how

many Christians associate “going to heaven to be with Jesus when we die” with a disembodied “spiritual” resurrection. (p.243)

He also rejects the idea of “soul sleep”, noting that “Our spirits are already with Christ in heaven” (p.244, citing Ephesians 2:6) and suggesting that after the death of the body

We remain distinct, aware beings, but in heaven we still await our eternal destiny of a physical resurrection. When we die we only become aware of what is already true of us. (p.245)

The very same bodies that are placed in our tombs will one day rise again. … We will, however, be changed from being weak, frail, and mortal into being glorious and eternal. (p.246)

In passing Adrian quotes Spurgeon agreeing with me that resurrection bodies have blood (p.243).

In his concluding chapter 19 Adrian moves on to the broader hope of the “The Resurrection of All Things”. He looks at the renewal of creation without death. associated with “the actual revealing of the resurrected children of God” (p.250). Thus he answers the question of where our resurrection bodies will live, which (in agreement with N.T. Wright’s view) will not be in heaven as popularly understood:

in the new creation heaven will be a place on earth as the heavenly Jerusalem descends. We will live on earth with renewed bodies … (p.252)

Adrian then looks at the judgment to come at the return of Christ. He ignores controversial issues of chronology as he describes three possible outcomes: condemnation, leading to real pain, but not for Christians; being saved “as through fire”; and rewards for those who have been faithful.

The last section of the chapter is a look at the kingdom of God, which is eternal, but already present now, as

God himself is living inside us! We experience the power and presence of a Jesus who is living, active, and doing things today. …  The kingdom really is now and not yet! (p.259)

We have already been raised with Christ, and yet we are waiting for the final day when our bodies will be resurrected with Christ. (p.261)

Adrian may have in mind some of his more conservative and “cessationist” Reformed friends when he writes:

It is sobering that Paul warned us that in the last days there would be people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). I trust that none of us deny the power of Jesus’ resurrection to work in our lives and change us. But I hope that as we have been studying this subject, we are now more desperate than ever to see his transforming power at work, changing everything in our lives and in those around us. (p.261)

Adrian fittingly closes the book by quoting Ephesians 1:17-21 as a prayer for his readers.

I nearly wrote that I was pleasantly surprised by “Raised with Christ”. I was certainly pleased by it. But I wasn’t really surprised to find that Adrian could put aside the sometimes polemical tone he uses on his “blog” and write something as well argued and positive as this book. As I would expect it is not at a high academic level, and this occasionally comes through in minor weaknesses in the argument. But this ensures that the book is accessible to ordinary people with a reasonable education.

The only significant reservations I have are really because, as an Arminian charismatic suspicious of much “Reformed” evangelicalism, I do not fit into Adrian’s target audience. That is why I found somewhat grating the way in which he keeps quoting Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, and Piper, as well as older Puritans. But I know that for Adrian’s intended audience of Reformed readers, “cessationist” as well as charismatic, these are the traditionally accepted authorities, and so it is important for Adrian’s case to show that these preachers and writers support it.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone whose background is “Reformed” or conservative evangelical and whose faith seems to be somewhat doctrine-centred and dry. In fact I can think of people I might like to give it to. I would think that anyone like that who read this book would find it acceptable – and if they then took its message to heart their faith would be transformed. I hope and pray that God uses the book in this way to revitalise many Christian lives.

Raised with Christ: Review part 7

This is now part 7 of my review of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ, which I started herepart 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.

Chapters 15 and 16, which have been written as one long chapter, are central to the book in that they take it beyond theoretical teaching to show the effect that the resurrection should have on the lives of Christians. Here Adrian teaches that we, his readers, should have a relationship with the risen Jesus, including assurance that God loves us and an experience of the Holy Spirit.

Adrian illustrates this in terms which his intended readership can appreciate, with examples and quotations from older Puritans and from recent Reformed writers. He shows how these people rejected dead orthodoxy and experienced a real relationship with Jesus. He rejoices that

In recent years in many churches there has been a coming together of a love of the Bible and a desire to know God personally. (p.205)

In all this Adrian navigates skilfully through the various controversies connected with the charismatic movement. He avoids one issue:

Unfortunately, over the last few decades the controversy about whether or not the gifts of the Spirit are for today has largely obscured the more fundamental question – are Christians today able to experience a truly personal relationship with Jesus? (p.196, emphasis in the original)

But later on Adrian tackles head on the issue over terms like “baptism with the Holy Spirit”, “sealing with the Spirit” and “receiving the Spirit”, arguing against many conservative evangelicals that all of these refer to an experience which may follow conversion. With the help of quotations from John Piper and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he thoroughly demolishes the arguments that Christians fully receive the Holy Spirit at conversion and that his primary role is to bring people to faith. Rather, he argues, receiving the Holy Spirit is a conscious experience, and may come after someone starts to believe. He writes that

Jesus died in order that we might taste heaven even here on earth. That is the role of the Spirit when we are aware of him at work in our lives. He is a gift, or foretaste, given to believers until the day comes when we are finally reunited fully with Christ. (p.219)

(Oddly, no mention here that Jesus rose again.) Christians who have received the Spirit

have been given a tangible awareness of God’s love and empowering presence as a reality in their lives. (p.221)

This seems to be what Adrian means by having a relationship with the risen Jesus. He is not denying that

Becoming a Christian is actually a secret act of the Spirit in regenerating us and joining us to Christ and imparting faith to us. … However, … it would be wrong for us to insist that we have experienced the Spirit in all his fullness automatically. (p.223)

He then points out the danger for all believers of thinking that they “got it all” in the past, whether at conversion or at some subsequent experience, with the result that

we miss out on the repeated times of blessing and refreshing that God wants to pour out on us. (pp.223-224)

So, he says, we should ask the Holy Spirit to come on us and fill us.

In the course of his argument Adrian manages to make the same mistake that I pointed out here in a preacher at my own church. He writes:

… faith in God (which from Ephesians 2 we know is itself a work of the Spirit) … (p.215)

No, Adrian, Ephesians 2 does not teach this. That is clear from the Greek, but even your favourite ESV doesn’t actually say quite this. Read what I wrote. Now you may be able to get this teaching from elsewhere in the Bible, perhaps even from Galatians 5:6 which I have been discussing (see the long comment thread), but not from Ephesians 2. This of course illustrates the danger of offering authoritative written teaching without a proper theological education.

In chapter 17 Adrian points out that

We did not accept Jesus to selfishly enjoy all the benefits of salvation. We have a job to do. (p.227)

That job is “Our Mission from the Risen Jesus”. Part of this is described as “to be full of God”:

Many of us seem to show by our conversations that we are more excited about the latest iPhone than we are about Jesus. … As we become excited about Jesus and begin sharing him with others, we will receive still more joy and satisfaction from him. (pp.227-228)

While much of what Adrian writes about mission is standard evangelical material, he does bring in the resurrection:

When called to do so, we can undertake brave projects that are so large, we will need miraculous assistance to complete them. What shall we do that would be impossible if Jesus was not alive? … Because the tomb is empty and Jesus is on the throne, we will also be victorious irrespective of what is happening in today’s world. (p.229)

Adrian then starts to “explore the changes that Jesus’ resurrection can make to our local churches” (p.233): joy in our meetings; love seen by outsiders; works of mercy; and we will no longer be ashamed of the gospel. He closes the chapter with a reminder that it is the risen Jesus who sent us out, who “provides the power we need to equip us for service” (p.235), and has promised to be with us for ever.

Concluded in Part 8.

Raised with Christ: Review part 6

Sorry for some delay to the continuation of this series. I have been busy blogging on other matters, both here and at Better Bibles Blog.

As I write part 6 of this review of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ, which I started herepart 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, I note Adrian’s report that the book has now been launched in the UK, although not all Christian bookshops yet have it in stock.

In chapter 11 of the book Adrian writes that in response to the resurrection we Christians should let ourselves be transformed to live holy lives, not to earn salvation but in response to it.

By gazing on the resurrected Jesus we will be transformed and will find that Jesus himself is at work within us, changing our appetites and desires. (p.148)

Our biggest problem is that we do not see Jesus as he is. (p.149)

Adrian argues that how we should see him is not still as the one suffering on the cross but as the resurrected one. He continues by looking at the two picture of the risen Christ in Revelation chapters 1 and 19. As we see him as he is, the appropriate reaction is “reverence, awe and wonder” (p.156), but not terror, because we belong to him.

In chapter 12 Adrian moves on from the individual to the corporate, and discusses revival, times when “the church seems to be resurrected from a state of near-deadness” (p.160). He writes that “Today we do not speak much about revival” (p.160). That may be true in his circles, but in some of the circles I move in there is never-ending talk about revivals – history of past ones, rumours of present ones, and hopes of future ones. So it is interesting to see Adrian’s take on this matter. For him

Revival is nothing more than a wide-scale outworking of Jesus’ resurrection power. … “a powerful intensification by Jesus of the Holy Spirit’s normal activity.” … the Spirit of revival is always available to us. Thus, when a revival comes, we should recognize it as a greater manifestation of normal Christianity. (p.161, quoting Stuart Piggin with Adrian’s emphasis)

If we experience personal revival and it begins to spread, then, history suggests, church growth will result. (p.162)

In other words, revival is not something exceptional which we should just long for, but is what should come about if we as Christians are individually revived and live in the light of that. Adrian illustrates his point from stories of revival in Acts and in church history. He also points out that

Today, from a global perspective, we are seeing the largest revival the world has ever seen. (p.166)

He remembers how as a teenager he was involved in a mini-revival which I was also on the edge of, and which I talked about in one of my first posts here. He avoids commenting on controversial recent “revivals” in North America, with effects around the world, such as the Toronto Blessing and the Lakeland outpouring. But he does agree with the expectation of many of those who talk about revival today:

There is biblical warrant to optimistically expect a global end time revival before Jesus returns. (p.167)

This leads Adrian into chapter 13, “Reviving Prayer”, which he calls “potentially the most important chapter in this whole book.” (p.169) He recognises how revival always follows special seasons of prayer – but Christians are expected to do God’s work as well as pray.

However, I was a little concerned at Adrian’s suggestion that some particular kind of prayer will produce revival, and that the prayers of Elijah, as commended in James 5:16-18, are the best model for that. Certainly there is a lot to be learned from what Adrian has to say about Elijah at prayer, but I’m not sure why he links this to revival. Also he fails to recognise that 1 Kings 17:1 is a record that Elijah “prayed fervently that it might not rain”, that this kind of declaration in God’s name is a part of prayer. Perhaps, applying to revival what I concluded here, if our prayers were a little less “Please, God, send revival, if it is your will” and a bit more “As the Lord lives there will be revival” (at least if we have heard from God that this is his intention), we might see a bit more of the revival.

In chapter 14, “God’s Reviving Word”, Adrian finishes the part of his book about revival with a look at how God speaks today, primarily through preaching and by speaking personally through his written word. Adrian’s emphasis on how God’s word is alive is a welcome contrast to the picture which sometimes comes out of the Reformed camp, of the Bible as a collection of lifeless propositional truths to be analysed and synthesised into a sound theology. Adrian illustrates his understanding with a selection of verses from Psalm 119. He concludes with:

We must learn to feast on God’s Word and to drink in his presence through prayer. If we want to be connected to the power made available to us through Jesus’ resurrection, God’s Word and prayer are the most effective tools we can use to access that power. (p.194)

Continued in part 7.

Raised with Christ: Review part 5

Daniel Kirk (no relation, thanks to Doug for the link), writing about Lent which started yesterday (for those of us in the western tradition, so not Esteban for whom it started on Monday), notes:

Even worse than pretending that [Jesus] hasn’t come yet, however, is pretending that he isn’t raised yet, that he isn’t Lord of all, that we are living in a time of cross without resurrection. …

And so for Lent this year, I am giving up stopping talking about the resurrection. Though I can’t promise I’ll blog on the resurrection every day for forty days, I will blog about it at least a couple times a week, reflecting on the reality that we truly live under right now.

Well, I’m not going to try to match Daniel. But I will continue my own series on the resurrection in the form of my ongoing review, or précis, of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ, a book whose aim is to stop Christians “pretending that [Jesus] isn’t raised yet, that he isn’t Lord of all, that we are living in a time of cross without resurrection”.  This is part 5 of the review I started herepart 2, part 3, part 4.

In chapter 10, which is just about the mid-point of the book, Adrian comes to what looks like the heart of his argument, with a chapter “Resurrected with Jesus”. His main point here is to identify being raised with Christ with being born again. He appeals to John Piper to support what he says about

the frightening prospect … that many churches are full of people who have not actually been born again. (p.135)

Yes, there seem to be so many Christians who always, not just during Lent, seem to be “living in a time of cross without resurrection”, not pretending but really living like that. They may listen attentively to all kinds of sound Reformed teaching about the cross. But if they have never been taught and accepted for themselves that Jesus is alive and can give them new life, then have they really been born again to that new life?

Adrian continues with an interesting point about us, those of us who are truly born again, being seated in heavenly places:

It may seem a bit fanciful, but I sometimes like to think of our current life as being a bit like a form of virtual reality. The true reality is, we are already seated in heaven, no matter what is happening to us in this world. (p.139)

As I was preparing this post I came across the article on which I based my previous post, Our world may be a giant hologram. Perhaps Adrian’s fancy ties up with what scientists are discovering, that reality is not so much what we see in the world as what happens in another realm. If God is in that other realm, and is the one in real control of what happens in our world, then we too as Christians are seated in that realm with him – and what we see in this world is only a “hologram” of our real selves. Of course this is speculation – and mostly mine, not Adrian’s.

The last part of Adrian’s chapter, “United with Christ”, is perhaps more difficult at least for me, as it discusses the concept of our federal identity with Christ. This idea is not popular in this individualistic modern world, yet it explains not only how we can be forgiven through Jesus’ death but also how because he is alive we also have new life.

We are united to both his death and resurrection. … All that he is, all his credit, all his life, are imputed to us, and … a change does happen within us. We begin a whole new type of life and become an entirely new kind of being. (p.142)

Indeed, Adrian, but surely that should be “imparted”, not “imputed”, as you are talking about a real change in us. I know you don’t want to put yourself on the “wrong” side of certain Reformation controversies by talking of “imparted righteousness”. I know you want to be consistent with what you wrote on your blog about imputed righteousness in support of Piper, and against N.T. Wright, for example here. But what you are talking about here is imparted righteousness, not as the basis of salvation of course, but as the starting point for the new life in Christ. We are not just counted righteous and left to continue in our old life, like people “living in a time of cross without resurrection”. We are actually made righteous, given a new life of righteousness, in which we are expected to live. Indeed

We form a community of the newly created, and the family of God’s people is incomprehensible to those who are not yet spiritually alive. (pp.142-143)

Sorry, not much of Adrian and quite a lot of me in this post, but this review series is continued in part 6.

Raised with Christ: Review part 4

This is part 4 of the review I started herepart 2, part 3.

In chapter 6 of his book Raised with Christ Adrian Warnock starts a survey of what the Bible teaches about the resurrection. He begins in the Old Testament, looking at passages in every part of it which describe or at least hint at this concept. He acknowledges that

I am deliberately writing from the perspective of a New Testament Christian, looking back at these accounts with the benefit of hindsight. It is not clear how many Old Testament believers truly had a full-orbed view of the resurrection. In many of the verses we will examine, a different interpretation is possible. (p.81)

Well, this is something of an understatement! It is clear to me how many Old Testament believers had this view: none at all. The only passages Adrian looks at which clearly refer to resurrection proper, as opposed to long life, survival as a disembodied spirit, or resuscitation of a corpse, are the ones from Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel. And since these authors knew nothing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ they clearly did not have “a full-orbed view of the resurrection”. Also Adrian ignores many critical issues about text and translation in the passages he quotes.

But at least Adrian realises that he is not doing proper exegesis but instead reading the New Testament back into the Old. And he has some basis for doing this in that the New Testament itself uses some of these passages to support its teaching on the resurrection. Nevertheless Adrian has by no means made his case, in general terms rather than about a few writers, that “in the Old Testament people did believe in God raising the dead” (p.94).

In chapter 7 Adrian continues his run through the Bible, looking briefly at the Deuterocanonical books with one citation of 2 Maccabees, and then going on to the gospels and references to “Resurrection before the Cross”. He shows how Jesus predicted his own resurrection and also confirmed what was at that time the hope of many Jews, of a general resurrection at the end of time. Again Adrian ignores critical questions and assumes that all words attributed to Jesus were actually uttered by him “before the Cross”. This is of course what his popular evangelical audience would expect, but is likely to leave his book less than fully acceptable to more sceptical or scholarly readers.

Then in chapter 8 Adrian looks at the Acts of the Apostles. He starts this with a quote:

What have the Romans ever done for us? (p.103)

which would once have been highly controversial in a Christian book, as these words are from the 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which was widely condemned as blasphemous at the time. Standards of acceptability change from generation to generation – but Adrian, or his publishers, chose not to give a precise source for these words.

The point of the quotation is to lead into the question which is the title of chapter 8, “What Did the Resurrection Ever Do for Us?” Adrian discovers by looking through Acts that, according to the early apostolic preaching, what the resurrection did for us includes our salvation, forgiveness and assurance, the sending of the Holy Spirit, physical healing, our own resurrection, and final judgment. It is almost shocking to find Adrian agreeing with G.E. Ladd’s words

The whole gospel is encapsulated in the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. (p.115)

Indeed Adrian adds that the cross must not be neglected. But he accepts that at least in Acts it is the resurrection which has the greater prominence.

In chapter 9 it looks as if Adrian is going to continue his look through the Bible with the letters of Paul, starting with Romans. But in fact this chapter, “Raised for Our Justification”, consists almost entirely of the exegesis of these words taken from Romans 4:25. Perhaps he is deliberately transitioning here into the more theme-based second half of the book. Although he starts by quoting N.T. Wright, he entirely fails to engage with the insights on justification offered by the “New Perspective on Paul”. Instead he cites Puritan and Reformed comment on this verse to make his case that the resurrection prompts faith in us, vindicates Jesus, and makes it possible for him to actively bring us salvation. Thus Adrian can conclude:

If we too quickly say it is the combined work of Jesus that saves us, there is a real danger we will make the resurrection a mere auxiliary to the cross. It is helpful to consider the work of the cross and resurrection and what they contribute to our salvation. However, the message we should take away is that it is union with Jesus himself, the one who died and was raised, that saves us. (p.131)

Continued in part 5.

Raised with Christ: Review part 3

This is part 3 of the review I started herepart 2.

In chapter 4 of Raised with Christ Adrian Warnock considers why the resurrection has been neglected. His heading “The Resurrection Has Missed out on the Beneficial Effects of Controversy and Heresy” (p.62) seems an odd claim, at least to me, as an Anglican who remembers well the controversies about David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham. Remember how (as I mentioned here) he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and how three days after he was consecrated bishop in York Minster, in 1984, that famous building was struck by lightning?

This sub-section gives Adrian the chance to digress into condemning Steve Chalke for his view of the atonement, an aside which will endear him to some readers but infuriate others.

Another of Adrian’s suggestions, that “Our Neglect of the Resurrection Could Be Part of a Satanic Strategy” (p.65), may well be true, but doesn’t offer us humans an excuse. And is it really true that “The Bible Appears to Rarely Mention Resurrection” (p.66)?

More to the point surely is the first of these sub-sections, “The Resurrection Could Be Eclipsed by the Prominence of the Cross”. Indeed, in many Christian circles the crucifixion, and very often just one interpretation of its significance, has been given such an overwhelming prominence that all other doctrines have been eclipsed. In some churches, I suspect, every sermon is about some aspect of the cross. While I am not much of a supporter of church calendars and lectionaries, at least they ensure that a preacher following them gives the congregation a reasonable balance of different topics.

However, as Adrian points out, the resurrection has not been completely ignored even among Reformed evangelicals. He praises Spurgeon for preaching on it regularly, and quotes Mark Driscoll on the importance of giving a proper balance of attention to the crucifixion and the resurrection.

In chapter 5 Adrian seeks to demonstrate “The Importance of the Resurrection in the Bible”. He starts by arguing that even in a cross-centred chapter like 1 Corinthians 1 teaching about the resurrection is implicit. From this he leads into an interesting argument that

New Testament writers … so presuppose that the death and resurrection of Jesus are intertwined that they refer to either one of them and intend for us to understand that they mean both of them. (p.74)

He defends himself from any accusation of novel teaching by quoting Calvin saying much the same. Thus, for example, concerning the phrases “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) and “Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18),

both descriptions of Paul’s preaching mean essentially the same thing. Without the resurrection, the cross was just another senseless death …, and without the cross there would be no need for a resurrection. Both must be preached, and they must be preached together. (p.76)

Thus he comes to a conclusion which may startle some of his “Reformed” readers:

It is only through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that salvation is possible. … Christ Jesus himself is our salvation. (p.77)

Indeed. In some circles the cross is given such overwhelming prominence that anyone who put anything else on the same level as it would immediately be suspected as “unorthodox” because of “downplaying of substitutionary atonement” (words used here about Brian McLaren, apparently for calling the atonement “a facet of the gospel” and noting that “for Jesus, the gospel seemed to have something to do with the kingdom of God”). I hope that Adrian’s readers don’t at this point entertain suspicions like this, but instead allow their own thinking to be restored to a more biblical balance.

One might expect Adrian to conclude the chapter with something like my last sentence. But perhaps he was afraid to – although as I mentioned Mark Driscoll got away with such a call. Instead Adrian digresses into a homily about human mortality and the hope which each one of us can have (but for which he has not yet given the biblical basis) of personal resurrection.

Continued in part 4.

Raised with Christ: Review part 2

This is a continuation of the review I started here.

In chapter 2 of Raised with Christ, “The Empty Cross, the Empty Tomb”, Adrian Warnock looks at the evidence for the resurrection. But I am a little confused about how he justifies doing so:

Human reason alone cannot prove to anyone that Jesus rose from the dead. … To persuade our intellect to believe in the resurrection requires not only rational arguments but a gift of faith from God. Christianity is, however, a reasonable faith. So we need to study the evidence for the resurrection and be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). (p.31)

I wonder, if we can’t persuade anyone unless God gives them faith, and since presumably (at least in Reformed thinking) any faith God might give them is entirely effectual, what is the point of rational arguments which cannot help the matter? A better “reason for the hope that is in you” might be a personal testimony. Or perhaps faith is not simply a gift of God, as I recently argued elsewhere.

As Adrian starts his discussion of the actual evidence he touches on a subject he is sometimes thought to be obsessed with. But what he writes is not what some might expect:

[Jesus] was no mere conservative follower of the culture of his day. Jesus gave great dignity to women. He treated them as friends and was willing to sit with them and teach them, defying all traditions of the day. … Here was a teacher who did not despise women. He did not see them merely as servants to wait on the men. … It was in the events of the resurrection that Jesus gave the highest honor to women. … To then appoint [women] as the first messengers of the good news … shows the total absence of prejudice in Jesus. (p.34)

Well, I can’t help wishing that the Christian leaders that Adrian approves of would follow Jesus’ example here, being “no mere conservative follower[s] of the culture of [our] day” but showing “total absence of prejudice”, going out of their way to give “great dignity to women” and “not see them merely as servants to wait on the men”. But for Adrian, writing last week on his “blog”, the role of a wife seems to be “helping to shape [her husband], all the time doing so in a submissive and honoring way” – which sounds to me rather like a servant role.

Adrian then retells the biblical accounts of the resurrection, based on a rather standard harmonisation of the four gospels. He passes on a strange suggestion from Ralph Martin and Peter Davids, for which he quotes no evidence, that during the following 40 days “Jesus makes frequent journeys between heaven and earth” (p.37). (Good for his frequent flier points, no doubt!) He shows that the resurrected Jesus had a real physical body, but without discussing whether it had blood.

Thus in this chapter Adrian manages to put together, from the biblical accounts, a coherent narrative of what actually happened on that first Easter Sunday and in the following weeks. The problem at this point is that this narrative will only seem at all convincing to those who already accept the Bible as a true account of ancient events. And most of those people are already Christians.

So Adrian needed to continue with his chapter 3, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” Most of this is given over to brief discussion and rejection of seven possible alternative explanations of the biblical evidence. This follows a pattern of Christian apologetics familiar at least since Frank Morison’s 1930 classic Who Moved the Stone? (not referenced by Adrian). The only new insight here is into hallucinations, based on Adrian’s experience as a psychiatrist (p.51). The chapter closes with a summary of early extra-biblical evidence supporting the resurrection.

The main weakness of the argument in these two chapters is its failure to engage properly with critical scholarship. Adrian begins and ends chapter 3 by quoting claims by apologist Gary Habermas that “critical scholars have even admitted” (p.56) that none of the alternative explanations are tenable. But has he read what any of these critical scholars are actually saying? He has at least interacted with N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, and refers to how in that book Wright “counters six conclusions that liberal scholars have come to about the resurrection” (p.56). Nevertheless I suspect that anyone well trained in critical methods in theology would be able quickly to demolish Adrian’s arguments here.

Early in chapter 3 Adrian quotes some words which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put on the lips of Sherlock Holmes:

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. (p.44)

No doubt Adrian intends that by proving all the alternatives impossible he can demonstrate the “improbable” resurrection to be true. The problem for him, and for this whole line of argument, is that in our materialist society, as indeed in ancient Greek society (compare Acts 17:32), most non-Christians presuppose that the bodily resurrection is impossible – and so conclude that one of the alternatives, “however improbable, must be the truth.” Unbelievers will change such presuppositions not in response to logical argument but only by undergoing a paradigm shift. Perhaps that can only happen if they receive “a gift of faith from God” – but I do know of people who have been pushed into such a shift through personal testimony of God working in power today.

Nevertheless, these chapters should be useful for strengthening the faith in the resurrection of young Christians and of those whose churches have neglected to teach on this subject.

Continued in part 3.

Raised with Christ: Review part 1

I thank Adrian Warnock and his publishers, Crossway, for sending me a complimentary copy for review of Adrian’s new book Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have had many disagreements with Adrian. But I am very pleased that he has put his Bible knowledge and his sharp mind to good use in writing about the neglected subject of the resurrection and its implications.

Anyway, I had better be nice to Adrian as, in an endorsement on the cover, Mark Driscoll calls him “my friend”. I wouldn’t want to meet Mark Driscoll on a dark night after being nasty to one of his friends! 😉

I propose to review this book in a number of posts, as I read through it. So far I have read the Foreword by Terry Virgo, the Preface, and the introductory Chapter 1.

In the Preface Adrian notes that he writes “as an ordinary Christian, and not a theologian” (p.15). Indeed he writes for a popular audience. But of course that is no excuse for making theological errors. I suppose I wonder, as I start reading, how well he will do, without formal theological training, at avoiding doctrinal pitfalls. Well, I will see – and point out in this review anything serious that I find.

Here is how Adrian starts chapter 1:

“WHAT! DID JESUS COME BACK to life again?” This was the surprised reaction when a young Englishwoman heard about the resurrection of Jesus. (p.19)

It is indeed amazing that a woman, old enough to be a mother and living in a country so full of Christians, could be so ignorant of basic Christian teaching.

She hadn’t rejected the gospel. No one had ever told her about it! (p.19)

Well, indeed. But perhaps she had heard a presentation of the gospel not including the resurrection. Such presentations are produced not only by liberal Christians who have doubts about the resurrection, but also by good conservative evangelicals who strongly affirm its truth – but only when someone else brings up the subject!

See for example this version of The Bridge – A Gospel Illustration, attributed to Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg, which mentions Jesus “coming to earth as one of us, and dying on the cross to pay the death penalty we owed”, but not his resurrection. Someone could be taken through this presentation and told that they had become a Christian, “immediately adopted into His family as His son or daughter”, without hearing even a word about the resurrection.

Adrian continues his first chapter by explaining “HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO BE WRITTEN”:

I was asked to preach on Easter Sunday 2007. … Preachers don’t often talk about how they decide what to speak about. … I woke suddenly in the night. A simple phrase was burning in my mind: “Adrian, preach about the resurrection.” (p.21)

I must say I am amazed. In what other Christian tradition would it take a voice from God (at least that’s what Adrian implies this was) to get a preacher to choose the resurrection as his or her sermon topic for Easter Sunday? Some of us Anglicans may not have much to say on the subject, but at least it is the default theme on this one Sunday of the year. One wonders whether in New Frontiers (Adrian’s church grouping) this doctrine ever gets a mention, barring divine intervention.

Adrian goes on to consider the current state of the church, which he sees as “general decline” but with “many encouraging signs”. I would agree. I might not agree on exactly which signs are encouraging, but I do accept the one example Adrian names: Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle. However, I have a problem with how Adrian divides the churches which are attracting growing numbers of younger people into “Two distinct groups”:

One group, calling itself the “emerging church,” is willing to change everything about church to better fit in with postmodern, informal, twenty-first century culture. By some, even the message is adapted for increased appeal.

The second group, the “young, restless, and reformed,” is also willing to change many aspects of church organization, worship meetings, and the style of music. However, they seek, if anything, a more traditional message than their parents … (p.25)

It is clear that Adrian prefers the latter group. But I wonder if it is helpful to make this kind of distinction. If we leave aside those by whom “the message is adapted”, whether “for increased appeal” or just to be “more traditional”, what really is the difference between a relatively conservative “emerging church” and one like Driscoll’s Mars Hill? They would probably disagree about women in leadership, but not much else. Is this the unmentioned shibboleth which separates Adrian’s two groups?

Anyway, if Adrian is writing primarily to those who neglect the resurrection in a misguided attempt to hold to “a more traditional message than their parents”, then I can only wish him well, and hope that his readers understand that their message needs to be not so much “more traditional” as closer in its overall balance to the teaching of the New Testament.

Continued in part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8 and conclusion.

The Prodigal God

James Spinti has got me thinking with a series of posts about Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God, recently published in the USA and soon to be here in the UK. Each post consists of a quote from the book and one of James’ “idle musings”. These posts start here, then here, here, and here, with probably more to come as James seems to be less than a third of his way through the book.

Keller, and James, manage to put their fingers on some raw spots in today’s church life and perhaps also in our personal ones. Here is an example of Keller’s writing, from this post:

We see that the elder brother “became angry.” All of his words are dripping with resentment. The first sign you have an elder brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe that if they live a good life they should get a good life, that God owes them a smooth road if they try to live up to standards.


Reimagining Church: Review, part 1

A few weeks ago Ben Witherington III (BW3) posted a multi-part review of Frank Viola’s book Reimagining Church, which was followed by a conversation between Viola and BW3 about the issues raised. I offered my own response to part 1 of BW3’s review, and later reported on the ongoing debate. I was also sent my own copy of the book. I have now read part 1 of the book, “Community and Gatherings”, representing almost exactly half of the book. Here I am offering a review of this part, or perhaps more precisely my general reflections on it. I intend to continue reading part 2, “Leadership and Accountability”, which promises to be more controversial, and I will share my thoughts on that here in due course.

I must say that I was a little disappointed by the first half of this book. The strength of BW3’s criticism had led me to expect something far more novel and controversial! What in fact I found, at least in part 1, is mostly material to which I reacted “Well, of course! Doesn’t everyone believe this?” It turns out that most of the issues on which BW3 disagrees with Viola, apart from the one of hierarchy which I will come back to in another post, are peripheral matters in Viola’s argument, or places where he has allowed himself to be carried away by hyperbole. Sure, there are places where Viola’s exegesis is not as strong as it might be, but, for example, he is following a common evangelical understanding in seeing the “Let us make …” in Genesis 1:26 as reflecting the Trinity.

Now I wonder if my reaction is so different from BW3’s because of differences between the British and North American church scenes. I have heard it said that the North American church is five years ahead of the British, in every trend whether good or bad. But on this matter I can’t help wondering if the British church is ahead, and by about 25 years. Viola is basically promoting the vision of a house church movement which he has been involved in for 20 years but is presenting as something novel to his primarily North American audience. Maybe this really is new to most North American Christians, or maybe they just have short memories. But my memories, based on over 30 years as an evangelical Christian, go back to a British house church movement which probably started in the 1960s and was certainly influential into the 70s and 80s. I was never personally involved in such a group, but had close contacts with some who were, and heard a lot of teaching from that direction, mostly in the early 80s.

Specifically here in Chelmsford but relating also to national trends, that was a time when many Christians who had been touched by the charismatic movement were re-examining what it meant to be church, and contrasting what they found with their experience in rather traditional churches. Many, some of whom were and still are my friends, left to set up and join what started out as house churches. These churches soon outgrew the homes they met in and started to meet in hired halls, but they kept many if not all of their house church distinctives as well as a generally charismatic approach. And in practice these are many of the same things which Viola is now teaching in America, 25 years later.

In other ways some of these house churches took a very different direction from what Viola teaches in terms of leadership and authority. To a greater or lesser extent they became involved in the shepherding movement, of which one of the leaders was Derek Prince but from which, as I mentioned in passing recently, he later dissociated himself. One of the groups I had close contacts with in fact put themselves under the leadership of the infamous Bishop Michael Reid, whose teaching on authority must be the complete antithesis of Viola’s. But I will come back to this issue. At least one other Chelmsford house church group from that time is still in existence, as Chelmsford Community Church which identifies itself as

born out of the house-church movement, around 30 years ago.

Personally, in the 1980s I didn’t join one of these house churches, but in 1985 I did move from a traditional evangelical Anglican church to my current church which although officially Anglican was, and still is now, very much focused on church as community rather than institution. I can’t claim that we put into practice every part of Viola’s teaching, but, except concerning leadership, we acknowledge the principles Viola teaches while making allowances for the more traditional preferences of some of our members, and for what we are required to be and do as Anglicans.

But perhaps I am wrong to claim that the house church movement is a British invention. I just retrieved from my bookshelves a book which I have kept since the early 1980s, although mostly unopened: The Community of the King by Howard A. Snyder, published in 1977 by IVP in the USA. This book is referred to and quoted by Frank Viola, and indeed much of what he writes, at least in part 1 of Reimagining Church, is very similar to what Snyder was teaching 30 years ago – although perhaps Snyder is more cautious than Viola in recognising that even new forms of church are still institutions with structures. That Viola is dependent on Snyder and others of his generation doesn’t make his teaching wrong, but it does explain why there is little in it which is new to me.

It is also worth noting that Snyder’s book, which includes explicit positive teaching about the gifts of the Spirit, would probably have been accepted in its day only by charismatics; whereas Viola deliberately avoids suggesting that charismatic manifestations are of the essence of his house churches.

So, to return to Viola’s book: he starts by asking his readers to reimagine the church as an organism rather than an organisation, as a community modelled on the Trinity as a community of three. While he rejects “Biblical Blueprintism”, he is strongly opposed to the religious tradition which has shaped so many of our churches. He recognises that the “DNA” of the church will produce different forms in different environments, but accuses traditional churches of violating this “DNA” by forcing the church into unnatural forms.

Viola continues by reimagining church meetings. Here I think BW3 is right to criticise his classification of four kinds of church meetings, at least if he intends rigid distinctions between them rather than different emphases. But he is right to insist that regular gatherings of the church should primarily be for “Mutual Edification”, allowing every member participation. He notes how the Reformation embraced the principle of the priesthood of all believers but did not allow this to be worked out in practice in the church.

Perhaps the most revolutionary part of Viola’s teaching is on the Lord’s Supper. He rejects the idea of distributing token pieces of bread and drink in favour of sharing full meals, “The Lord’s Banquet”. It would be very hard for traditional churches to fully embrace this teaching. But in practice churches like mine have regular potluck style meals very much like what Viola proposes, as well as celebrating the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist in a more traditional way.

The next sacred cow Viola tries to slay is that of the church building. He makes a good point that the early church generally met in homes, although BW3 is surely right to object that there were exceptions to this. And Viola makes a good case for why this is right and proper, including pointing out (p.89) the scandal that in the USA alone

Christians give between $9 and $11 billion a year on church buildings. How much freer would their hands be to support the poor and needy as well as to spread the gospel if they didn’t have to bear such a heavy burden?

Archbishop John Sentamu noted last week (thanks to David Keen for the link):

It would cost $5 billion to save six million children’s lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they now tell us that action for the poorest on the planet is too expensive?

But if the church just in the USA can find twice that $5 billion for its own buildings, shouldn’t the Archbishop also be calling for some of that money to be spent instead on saving children’s lives?

But a problem Viola doesn’t address in detail is the one which the 1980’s house churches here in Britain quickly faced: what happens when a congregation grows too large for a home? Perhaps this is not such a problem in Viola’s central Florida. But here in Chelmsford there are few homes which can comfortably house meetings of more than about 20 people; gardens are often no larger and the weather can never be relied on. Viola writes (p.85):

What did the church do when it grew too large to assemble in a single home? It certainly didn’t erect a building. It simply multiplied and met in several other homes, following the “house to house” principle (Acts 2:46; 20:20).

But if a group of about 20 divides, or multiplies, because it has filled a home, it becomes two groups of only ten, each not really large enough to be a viable independent church or provide a broad base of fellowship for its members. In fact they become the spiritual equivalent of nuclear families, rather than the extended family model which is more appropriate for the church. Also if each group needs several leaders, it can be very hard to find an adequate number of people who have the necessary gifts and maturity to lead even a very small church.

It is for reasons like that that many churches like mine have adopted a home group or “cell church” model, offering a combination of small group meetings in homes with larger central meetings. But of course the central meetings require a building, owned or hired by what is then necessarily some kind of officially organised church. Viola does allow for large group gatherings but apparently only on special occasions, not regular ones which might encourage ordinary Christians to find their sense of belonging in a larger group.

Viola is right to point out that the chief New Testament model for the church is the family. But it is not the modern American or British nuclear family. It is really not at all clear what kind of size of church Viola has in mind, although his final example implies an “organic church” of more than a dozen or so. He is indeed right that many people today are looking for the kind of close community offered by this family model of the church. But churches like mine work very hard on offering community like this without going all the way with the house church model. And the very visibility of a church building at the geographical heart of a community draws into the family people who might never be reached through home based fellowships.

On church unity, Viola makes some good points, and a historically debatable link between sectarianism and the clergy/laity divide. He is right to look for unity primarily not through doctrine but through “organism”. But he goes too far, in my opinion, in expecting Christians from very different traditions to join together in the same house church. Indeed in his example he notes that “the sparks began to fly” and there was a messy split before a new consensus emerged among the survivors. In practice, and especially if we are talking about quite small groups, house churches of the kind he recommends will work best if the members take rather similar positions on basic issues which divide evangelicals. Each house church should of course also accept the validity of other positions, and not allow any barriers to fellowship with groups taking different positions. It is somewhat ironic that Viola comes on strong about things that fragment the body of Christ but doesn’t recognise that for house churches the walls of a house necessarily do this. He rightly considers inadequate the kind of ecumenism in which only church leaders meet together. But his readers are left in the dark about what unity should mean in practice, in a city where there are more Christians than can fit into one home.

Viola sums up this part of the book by studying how church practice links with God’s eternal purpose. Although some of the details are exegetically debatable, he certainly makes a good point that the mission of God is far more than to save individuals, it is to build a new community.

I can see why Viola’s book annoyed a good scholar like BW3. If I look at it as an academic monograph I can find significant weaknesses. There is exegesis which is not fully justified in the text, and perhaps not all of it is justifiable. There are generalisations and flights of hyperbole which would not be expected from a careful scholar. Contrary opinions are dismissed without proper analysis. And there are conclusions reached without being fully explained.

But Viola does not intend his book to be an academic monograph. I’m sure he would have written very differently if he had intended it as such. It is written not for scholars, not even for theologically educated church leaders, but “To every Christian who has reimagined church”. It is written to make ordinary Christians think, to react, and to discuss the issues raised. Indeed each chapter closes with questions for reflection and discussion. A judicious use of provocative hyperbole helps to make a book fit for such purposes.

Well, I have written over 2,000 words on this already, nothing like BW3’s 26,000 in four parts but still quite a lot. So I will leave this review here for now, and read on into the more controversial part about leadership and accountability.

Updated 1st October to add some links, also to clarify what Viola had to say about multiplying groups and to add the sentence starting “Viola does allow for large group gatherings …”