Does Adrian Warnock take the Bible literally?

I had intended to drop the issue of Adrian Warnock versus Rob Bell. But Adrian’s latest post Is Rob Bell a neo-liberal who does not take the Bible literally? goes into a lot more detail about why he refuses to accept Bell as an evangelical. As such it reads a bit like a response to my post Rob Bell, Adrian Warnock and limits of evangelicalism, although it does not mention what I wrote.

It is really interesting to see what Adrian considers to disqualify someone from being an evangelical. One of them seems to be speaking to ordinary people and observing the world, and then allowing that to inform one’s theology. Another is to ask questions. Of course Jesus based much of his teaching on what he observed in the world and from ordinary people, and asked lots of questions. Is Rob Bell wrong to follow the same methods?

Perhaps most telling is the apparent claim in the title of his post that anyone who “does not take the Bible literally” is not an evangelical but a “neo-liberal”. More specifically, Adrian’s charge against Rob Bell is that

he no longer takes the Bible literally whenever it is possible to do so.

The problem with this argument is that no evangelical, indeed no one as far as I know, actually takes the Bible literally, even with the qualification “whenever it is possible to do so”. I made this point in one of the first blog posts I ever wrote, at Better Bibles Blog in 2005, Does God have a long nose? Pinocchio by Enrico MazzantiSee also the related post, here at Gentle Wisdom in 2008, Love takes a long thyme, in which I also wrote about

the Pinocchio approach to Scripture: the more you misrepresent it, the longer your nose and so the greater your love!

Well, I am not seriously accusing anyone of that. But I do claim, as explained in those posts, that anyone who does not believe that God has a long nose, literally, does not take literally the whole Bible in its original language texts. This is the clear teaching of Exodus 34:6 in the Hebrew, and it is possible to take it literally, at least as a description of the body of Jesus, God become flesh. Does anyone do so? Not as far as I know. Not even Adrian himself takes the Bible literally. That means that on his definition there are probably no evangelicals at all, and we should all be described with Rob Bell as “neo-liberals”.

Another example: the biblical word for “hell” as place of punishment is literally Gehenna, the name of a specific and literal valley outside the walls of Jerusalem. As it is quite possible to take this literally, why don’t “Reformed” evangelicals teach that their place of “eternal conscious punishment” is physically located in that valley?

So, the real issue between different evangelicals is which parts of the Bible they take literally. But where does one draw the line? And what exactly does it mean to take the Bible literally?

Surely it is better to accept the current standard definitions of evangelicalism, such as the British Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith and the American Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. In these the Bible is described as inspired by God, as authoritative for believers, and in some cases as infallible or inerrant. But these statements do not prescribe that it must always be taken literally, no doubt because the good evangelical scholars who prepared them recognise that this is impossible.

Rob Bell, Adrian Warnock and limits of evangelicalism

Before I completely leave behind the debate between Rob Bell and Adrian Warnock, I want to share some thoughts on what this issue can tell us about the limits of evangelicalism.

Premier Christian Radio: The 'Heaven and Hell' DebateThe full debate is available as an online video, courtesy of Premier Christian Radio. This post is based on an extract from it posted on YouTube and also on Adrian’s blog, in a post where he asks, Has Rob Bell demonstrated clearly that he is not an Evangelical any more?, and answers his question with

because [Bell] has a very different approach to the Bible, it is hard to accept him as an Evangelical.

Here is part of that extract from the debate:

AW: To my mind, even in our interview today, you seem to have cast doubt on a very literal interpretation of certain Bible passages, and to me, that causes me problems in recognising you as an evangelical.

RB: … The book is my attempt to be true to the Scriptures and … to give this story its proper due, and to highlight perhaps things that are sitting right there in the text that people haven’t heard. So the idea that somehow I’m dismissing the Scriptures, then why do I spend so much time trying to get out what they really say?

AW: I never said you were dismissing them. I said you had a different approach to them.

But is Bell’s approach to the Scriptures really so different from the standard evangelical one? Or is the issue more with the conclusions that he comes to from it?

A major problem with the whole evangelical enterprise is that the Bible cannot be interpreted for life today without bringing to the text a whole range of presuppositions. Traditional “Reformed” evangelicals bring one set of presuppositions. Adrian brings a slightly different set. I bring yet another set. And then Rob Bell brings his own presuppositions. As evangelicals each of us interprets the Bible using more or less the same principles, but each comes to a different set of answers. The difference between those answers is not because some of us are rejecting the authority of the Bible, nor even for the most part with our approach in interpreting it, but because of our different presuppositions.

Now the “Reformed” camp may want to limit evangelicalism to certain sets of acceptable presuppositions and conclusions, perhaps only the ones Adrian describes as “a very literal interpretation”. Thereby they would exclude Rob Bell, and perhaps myself. Some of them might even exclude Adrian, for example because he accepts the charismatic gifts. But if the definition of an evangelical is someone who accepts the Bible as the inspired word of God, then it certainly includes those like Rob Bell who come to non-standard conclusions from those Scriptures.

I am very glad that at least here in England evangelicalism is quite broad, broad enough to include people like Rob Bell, and myself, who do not always follow the traditions of interpreting the Bible. After all, one of the essential characteristics of evangelicalism is that it puts the Scriptures above human traditions, which include traditional methods of interpretation and traditional conclusions. Therefore I resent the attempts of some, such as Adrian, to exclude from the evangelical camp those who do not follow the tradition which he reveres. The camp can and should be broad enough to include Bell and myself as well as Adrian and his heroes.

God isn't a "vicious tormenter": Rob Bell's blasphemy?

I started to watch and review the video of Adrian Warnock’s interview with Rob Bell.

Premier Christian Radio: The 'Heaven and Hell' DebateThe part I have seen so far shows the reasonable face of Adrian who has “no intention to be hateful to [Bell] or to anyone”, a brother in Christ who shares with me a passion for the Resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit.

But then I read Adrian’s follow-up post Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell – How DARE you question God?, and suddenly I saw, or read, a completely different Adrian: one who responds with “How DARE you?” to anyone who questions the received “Reformed” concept of God, a person showing hate and condemnation for anyone who doesn’t preach a God of hate and condemnation.

Adrian quotes some passages from Rob Bell’s book Love Wins which he describes as “verging on blasphemy”. Here is the main one:

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good. Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye. Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can.

And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don’t love God. They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.

So, Adrian, if you reject these words of Rob Bell as “verging on blasphemy”, can we take it that for you God does indeed “become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter. … Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye”? Is this the kind of God you believe in? If so, how can you profess to love him? Or has Bell hit the nail a bit too much on the head about Christians who “don’t love God. They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable”?

As I wrote in a comment on Adrian’s post (and I credit him with allowing the comment to stand):

Do you love [God], or do you actually hate and fear him, and protest your love out of fear that he might damn you for not loving him? If so I don’t want anything to do with your God.

But this is the same Adrian whose book Raised with Christ I described last year as

well argued and positive … 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.

Why do we see such a different Adrian in his new post? The only way I can explain this sudden complete changes of his attitude is that he is suffering from something like dissociative identity disorder, the PC name for a split personality. And he has shaped his God to have a similar disorder, “Loving one moment, vicious the next”. He should see a psychiatrist. Oh, he is one!

Gandhi and Rob Bell, newfrontiers and Hell

Phil Whittall, who blogs as The Simple Pastor, is the leader of a newfrontiers church. But in many ways he is very different from the face of newfrontiers presented on the blogosphere by Adrian Warnock, lover of Puritans and scourge of egalitarians. For one thing, Phil is an Arminian. For another, he seems much more interested in simple living and treating the earth responsibly than in strident theological debate.

Mohandas Karamchand GandhiSo it was something of a surprise to read the first part of what Phil wrote, in answer to a provocative question by Rob Bell, on Is Gandhi in hell?:

I guess the answer to that question depends on what you think should happen to racist, sexual pervert who believed in reincarnation. For that, according to a new biography of Gandhi is exactly what he was.

Phil continues with quotations giving evidence for these claims, although he was no more racist than anyone in his time, and I’m not convinced on the “sexual pervert” claim.

This sounds like what Adrian might have written, as a way of defusing the reaction to his probable “Yes” answer. After all, to many people, even many Christians, Gandhi is one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century, and it would be a real shock to be told he is in hell.

But then Phil turns the tables on Adrian and those who think like him, and gives a true Christian answer to the question:

as Rob Bell insists we don’t know for sure what has happened to Gandhi so be wary of definitive statements as if we are the ones who judge. … God’s grace can reach someone who is a racist, pervert and believes in reincarnation and save them to the uttermost. Whether it has or not, time will tell.

Adrian Warnock reopens comments

It is more than three years ago that Adrian Warnock closed his blog to comments. I was very critical of this at the time. My main argument was that a blog without comments lacked any kind of accountability. In fact it was a monologue rather than a blog.

So I am very happy to see that Adrian has now switched comments on again on his blog. He is using a new Facebook comment system, which I guess is open only to Facebook members. We’ll have to see how that works in practice.

I hope Adrian doesn’t have the same problems with comment wars that caused him difficulties back in 2007. I will try to restrain myself from stoking up any such battles. But I do intend to start reading the blog again, and commenting from time to time.

I hope to remain friends with Adrian, and not just in the nominal Facebook sense. After all, I am much less critical of his thinking than I was having read, and reviewed, his excellent book Raised with Christ.

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.

Effective prayer: James 5:16-17

The last part of James 5:16 has come to my attention recently from two different directions.

It was one of the passages I looked at  for my post at Better Bibles Blog about the meaning of energeo in Galatians 5:6 – this verb, in fact exactly the same form of it, is used in a similar way in both these verses (and I note for Mike Aubrey‘s benefit that both are in split noun phrases, the specifically Greek construction “hyperbaton”). Joel Hoffman also comments on this verse in his post on Galatians 5:6.

And then the same sentence came up again as I read chapter 13 of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ and prepared part 6 of my review of that book. Adrian quotes this part verse from ESV (p.172 of his book):

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

The ESV offers a marginal reading:

The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power.

The TNIV rendering is

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

So which of these, if any, is correct? If James’ usage of energeo is similar to that of Paul (and that is something which should not be assumed), then I can apply the conclusion I came to in my BBB post, and which is supported by J. Armitage Robinson, as linked to in a comment at BBB by Tony Pope. That conclusion is that the passive of energeo, as found here, implies a divine or superhuman agent and can be understood as something like “be set into operation”. The implication of this for James 5:16 is that the prayer he has in mind is set into operation by God, that he is the one who makes it effective.

It is hard to be sure, in the absence of any definite articles, whether the participle of energeo here is to be understood as attributive (“effective prayer”) or predicative (“prayer is effective”). But if James had intended a double predicate as in the TNIV rendering it seems odd to me that he would use an indicative verb and a participle in parallel in this way. So it seems more likely to me that the participle is attributive.

Thus I come down to preferring the ESV marginal reading, but with “effective” to be understood as “put into effect by God”. Prayer, even that of a righteous person, is not powerful simply because of the form of words, but only as God works through it and makes it effective. And since energeo in the New Testament is often linked with working of miracles, surely this verse implies that God intervenes supernaturally, miraculously, to put our prayers into effect.

James’ first example of this kind of prayer certainly had a miraculous effect:

Elijah … prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

James 5:17 (TNIV)

I note that “prayed earnestly” here is literally “prayed with prayer”, probably a Hebraic idiom of emphasis. As Adrian points out, there is no record in the Bible of Elijah saying any normal kind of prayer to this effect. What is recorded is these words of Elijah, addressed to Ahab:

“As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

1 Kings 17:1 (TNIV)

Surely this is what James had in mind as Elijah’s prayer, which was emphatic or earnest – and effective. That implies that this kind of declaration in God’s name is a form of prayer.

So perhaps our prayers would be more effective if they were a little less “Please, God, do such and such, if it is your will” and a bit more “As the Lord lives such and such will happen”. First, of course, we need to know from God’s word that “such and such” is in line with his general will, and then hear from God that it is his intention for our situation. But if as we pray, instead of making pious wishes, we listen to God to know what he wants to do and then declare that he will do that, then we too will find that God makes our prayers effective.

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.