New Mayan Calendar Find: World Won’t End in 2012

The BBC reports a new find of “the oldest-known Mayan astronomical tables”, as part of a find of wall paintings at a site in Guatemala. Indeed, Mayan art and calendar at Xultun stun archaeologists, and should also stun armchair predictors of the end of the world. For it seems that among the discoveries are
Mayan art from Xultun

astronomical tables, including four long numbers on the east wall that represent a cycle lasting up to 2.5 million days … representing a calendar that stretches more than 7,000 years into the future.

So no longer can it be claimed that according to the Mayan calendar the world will end this year. There is apparently no more basis for predicting an apocalypse on 21st December 2012 than there was for Harold Camping’s similar predictions for 21st May and 21st October 2011. (Why does everyone go for the 21st of the month?) And it looks likely that these New Age doomsday merchants will end up with as much egg on their face as Camping already has.

Well, Harold Camping has repented of his false predictions, although only after the event. We can only hope that the people looking to the Mayan calendar will do the same, preferably before the day, and spare us all a circus in the build-up to that date.

Hell: Evangelicals and Universalists Share an Error

FireKurt Willems has followed up his interesting series Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? by publishing a guest post by Dan Martin Burn-them-all vs. Universalism: A false choice. In this post Dan explains why he rejects both universalism, the teaching that no one goes to hell but all are saved, and what he calls the “Burn-them-all” position, that the great majority of human beings are sent to eternal punishment. He also calls the latter “the Evangelical position”, but I would prefer to call the conservative evangelical position, as by no means all who call themselves evangelicals would take this line. John Stott was well known as an evangelical who taught something very different.

To me the most interesting part of Dan’s post is in a parenthesis:

(Note, of course, that the error of universal immortality is one committed by those who espouse eternal conscious torment as well; it’s not just a universalist concept)

This follows his discussion of how universalists seem to assume that every human being, or at least every soul, is immortal, and the only alternative to eternal punishment is eternal bliss. The point of the parenthesis is that conservative evangelicals seem to make exactly the same assumption. But where does this assumption come from? The immortality of the soul is a fundamentally Greek concept, not a biblical one. Dan explains further:

It is quite possible that only God’s followers actually go to heaven–for that matter, that only these win immortality–and that the rest die or are annihilated …  Furthermore, this concept has some circumstantial biblical support…from Genesis 2 & 3 where man is only immortal when granted access to the tree of life, to John 3:16 which posits life-vs-death, not eternal-good-life vs. eternal-bad-life.

I would suggest that the biblical support for this is more than “circumstantial”, but is actually quite strong. It is a consistent theme in the New Testament that eternal life is the inheritance only of God’s holy people. The alternative seems to be destruction: there is remarkably little in Scripture to suggest that the wicked survive beyond the final judgment, when they are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), surely an image of annihilation rather than of torment.

Some will surely object by pointing to the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), where the rich man is said to be in torment in Hades. Now Hades or Sheol is where, according to the Old Testament, all the dead went, and indeed we see that righteous Lazarus is in the same place, although in a separate section of it. In the New Testament we learn that this stay in Hades is only temporary, until the general resurrection and the final judgment. It is at that point that, it seems, the wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire, also known as Gehenna or “hell”, and only the righteous are admitted into the fullness of God’s kingdom.

This is basically the annihilationist or conditional immortality position held for example by John Stott. As Kurt Willems notes in part 7 of his series, it was also the view of some of the church fathers. It is more biblical than the traditional evangelical one, which is strongly influenced by Greek ideas of the immortality of the soul, as well as by mediaeval images of torment in hell, which were introduced in a fruitless attempt to frighten people into correct behaviour. In Kurt’s words,

The idea that humans are innately immortal is foreign from biblical thought. Greek philosophy fuels this assumption.

This position also resolves the neatly the apparent contradiction involved in a God of love sending most people to eternal punishment. In Dan’s words:

The idea that immortality itself is a gift to the faithful and not the nature of all souls, actually fits the bill both for the reward of those who love God, and the exclusion/damnation of the rest, without making God into the torturing monster we read in (for example) the works of Jonathan Edwards.

Dan concludes his post as follows:

So…will all but a few burn in hell, or will everyone eventually be saved?  Biblically, probably neither.  But after all, “what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22, out of context!)

Indeed!

Quantum Theology: Camels Dancing on Satan’s Grave

Phil GroomI love it! Phil Groom has published, at his at least for the moment badly misnamed Phil’s Boring Blog, a wonderful post I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave. Warning: some religious people might find some of the language slightly offensive, but the rest of us will find it hilarious. I’m not sure where the recently discovered manuscript of Revelation comes from. But the rest of this, at least if you don’t quibble about every detail, gives a fantastic (in both senses of the word) overview of God’s purposes for the world. Here’s an extract:

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything.

“Quantum theology” indeed!

Quantum Theology: Camels Dancing on Satan's Grave

Phil GroomI love it! Phil Groom has published, at his at least for the moment badly misnamed Phil’s Boring Blog, a wonderful post I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave. Warning: some religious people might find some of the language slightly offensive, but the rest of us will find it hilarious. I’m not sure where the recently discovered manuscript of Revelation comes from. But the rest of this, at least if you don’t quibble about every detail, gives a fantastic (in both senses of the word) overview of God’s purposes for the world. Here’s an extract:

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything.

“Quantum theology” indeed!

Harold Camping Repents of "Sinful" Predictions

Harold CampingLast year Harold Camping, the now 90-year-old founder of Family Radio, became notorious for his predictions of the Rapture on 21st May and the end of the world on 21st October. Nothing special happened on either day. But even afterwards Camping insisted that his general approach in predicting such events was correct, and he was mistaken only in the details.

But now, it seems, he has changed his mind. The Christian Post reports that Harold Camping Admits Sin, Announces End to Doomsday Predictions. In a letter to his radio listeners, the basis of the Christian Post article, Camping has written:

We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours! We humbly recognize that God may not tell His people the date when Christ will return, any more than He tells anyone the date they will die physically.

We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return. In fact for a time Family Radio fell into that kind of thinking. But we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.

We were even so bold as to insist that the Bible guaranteed that Christ would return on May 21 and that the true believers would be raptured. Yet this incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible. However, even so, that does not excuse us. We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement. We are so thankful that God is so loving that He will forgive even this sin.

So we must be satisfied to humbly wait upon God, and trust He will guide His people to safety.

I admire Camping for being prepared to publicly ask God for “forgiveness for making that sinful statement”.

Last June, after Camping suffered a stroke, I wrote:

I pray for a quick recovery for Harold Camping. I pray also for a genuine repentance and a return to the true gospel message with which he started.

The first prayer was apparently answered. I am pleased to see signs that the second one is also being answered, if perhaps more gradually. Camping also writes:

God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.

I now hope and pray that through this Bible study God will turn him away from his more general theological errors back to the true and powerful gospel of Jesus Christ.

Harold Camping Repents of “Sinful” Predictions

Harold CampingLast year Harold Camping, the now 90-year-old founder of Family Radio, became notorious for his predictions of the Rapture on 21st May and the end of the world on 21st October. Nothing special happened on either day. But even afterwards Camping insisted that his general approach in predicting such events was correct, and he was mistaken only in the details.

But now, it seems, he has changed his mind. The Christian Post reports that Harold Camping Admits Sin, Announces End to Doomsday Predictions. In a letter to his radio listeners, the basis of the Christian Post article, Camping has written:

We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours! We humbly recognize that God may not tell His people the date when Christ will return, any more than He tells anyone the date they will die physically.

We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return. In fact for a time Family Radio fell into that kind of thinking. But we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.

We were even so bold as to insist that the Bible guaranteed that Christ would return on May 21 and that the true believers would be raptured. Yet this incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible. However, even so, that does not excuse us. We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement. We are so thankful that God is so loving that He will forgive even this sin.

So we must be satisfied to humbly wait upon God, and trust He will guide His people to safety.

I admire Camping for being prepared to publicly ask God for “forgiveness for making that sinful statement”.

Last June, after Camping suffered a stroke, I wrote:

I pray for a quick recovery for Harold Camping. I pray also for a genuine repentance and a return to the true gospel message with which he started.

The first prayer was apparently answered. I am pleased to see signs that the second one is also being answered, if perhaps more gradually. Camping also writes:

God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.

I now hope and pray that through this Bible study God will turn him away from his more general theological errors back to the true and powerful gospel of Jesus Christ.

Under-Realised Eschatology vs. "Dominionism"

Brian LePortBrian LePort of Near Emmaus writes an excellent post Jesus and the Occupy Movement. There is a lot that I could say in response to this and concerning the Occupy movement. But I am still busy here in the USA, so I only have time for this quote, which is peripheral to Occupy but central to the more basic issue of Christian involvement in politics:

Another approach is an under-realized eschatology wherein all “change” in this age is not worth pursuing. There is no hope for good to prevail until Jesus establishes his Kingdom on earth. If we oppose violence we are trying to “establish” the Kingdom of God. If we oppose greed we are trying to “establish” the Kingdom of God. Often this comes from people who are quite comfortable with the current dynamics of this world. This allows them to ignore Jesus’ Kingdom activities which challenged the systems of the world and that he expected his disciples to continually reenact.

This is certainly an important insight, that those who object strongly to Christian activity in the political world have an “under-realised eschatology”, that is, they don’t understand the extent to which the work of Jesus in saving the world has already been accomplished. These people complain about so-called “dominionism”, which they see as Christians trying to take control of the world, because they fail to see that Jesus has already defeated the powers of evil and set up his kingdom.

Ironically only yesterday I reacted in a comment to the opposite error. Phil Whittall, in his review of When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson, questioned “why God has to invade His own earth and infiltrate governments that He presides over”, suggesting an over-realised eschatology in which God is already in complete control of the world and so Christian activity to take this control is unnecessary. I pointed out how this contradicts 1 John 5:19; it also goes against what we see in our nations today.

In contrast to both of these positions, I would take a middle line, that God’s kingdom has been inaugurated on earth and is already breaking into the world system controlled by the evil one. On this basis the Christian responsibility is to seek to extend this kingdom, not so that the church can take control of the world but so that God can, so that Jesus can truly reign as King.

Of course this raises all kinds of questions about how the kingdom should be extended in practice. Certainly some of the ways that have been suggested, such as the Reconstructionist agenda of imposing Old Testament law on modern society, are sub-Christian and quite wrong. But we must resist the under-realised eschatology which leads to passive acceptance of the wrongs of this world – especially when this is used as an excuse by comfortable and prosperous Christians to refuse to do anything about the evil and the suffering which they see around the world and very often even in their own neighbourhoods.

Cross or Resurrection 7: Jesus is Coming Soon

I have just one more brief part to add to my series on what is determinative for the Christian life, before drawing my conclusions. I have looked at John the Baptist, at the life and teachingthe death on the Cross, and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and at Pentecost. Finally I want to look at the expected Second Coming of Jesus, and at those Christians who seem to centre their faith on looking ahead to that coming – to the Rapture, to the Millennium, or to the final Day of Judgment.

Harold CampingThis year’s most notorious preacher of the End Times has of course been Harold Camping, whose prophecies of the Rapture on 21st May and Judgment Day on 21st October attracted widespread ridicule, especially when nothing unusual happened on either day. Camping’s clearest error was to ignore the clear biblical teaching that the exact dates of the end have not been revealed to human beings, as Jesus taught:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Mark 13:32 (NIV)

It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Acts 1:7 (NIV)

But Camping’s error was deeper than that, and its depths are shared by many more Christians, especially those of a more Fundamentalist persuasion. Their fundamental mistake is to focus more on what is coming than on what needs to be done in the present. Yes, Jesus warned us to be ready for his coming, but also that we need to be working faithfully until he does. Paul had no time for those who gave up work to wait for Jesus to come.

We mustn’t forget that Jesus is coming. But we can’t expect to know when. As Jesus told us, wars and earthquakes are not signs that the Day is imminent (Mark 13:7-8). So we shouldn’t make this the centre of our Christian life.

Concluded in Cross or Resurrection 8: Finding the Balance.

How much power does Satan have in the world?

I was rather surprised by a reaction I received to my post Lance Wallnau’s Apocalyptic Vision of the Kingdom. Rod of Alexandria, who usually posts at Political Jesus, chose Joel Watts’ blog Unsettled Christianity for his post, addressed to me, Thanks, Peter! More Evidence Dominionists Reject Christus Victor.

Rod of AlexandriaIn this post Rod looks at an issue which was not at all in focus in Lance Wallnau’s video or in my post about it, and jumps to an unjustified conclusion about Wallnau’s view of the Atonement. He then compounds his error by generalising this view to “Dominionists”, that extremely ill-defined group who, if Wallnau is to be included, must include anyone who accepts that some Christians should be involved in politics. I wrote more about this in comments on Rod’s post.

My main point here is rather different. It springs from what Rod wrote in his post and his own comments on it. In the post he expounds his own Christus Victor view of the Atonement. He writes that in this model

The Devil is defeated, he has no ground to stand on … Satan is defeated and is stuck here, with only the ability to lie. … Satan is in retreat—this is the message of hope of CV atonement; he cannot hide, he has been exposed.

I would totally agree, although I am not as committed to a specific model of the Atonement as Rod seems to be. And I am almost sure that Lance Wallnau would agree. Although I summarised part of his teaching as “Satan taking his last stand on earth”, I did not mean to suggest that Satan has firm ground on earth on which to take this stand.

But Rod claims that Wallnau’s “views of Satan … contradict the claims of Christus Victor”. When I objected he responded by linking, indirectly, to a YouTube video of Wallnau saying something like “Satan Hand Picks Our Government Leaders”:

Here are some of Wallnau’s actual words in this video (length 2:34):

Satan determines which ones he is going to get the most out of and promotes them to the top (1:10). … And the false prophets and counterfeit priesthood of Satan isn’t necessarily wearing clerical robes. They’re dressed in suits and they have Gucci briefcases, but they are his priests in many cases, because they were hand picked for that assignment at the top of the mind moulders, because he gives it to whom he wills (1:53).

“Right Wing Watch” who posted this seem to expect viewers to be shocked by it. But to me it looks as if Wallnau is hinting at much the same as the Occupy protesters, attributing the ills of our society to a few people “dressed in suits and they have Gucci briefcases”.

Rod seriously misunderstands Wallnau here:

Wallnau also believes Satan has the power to determine who is in power: … he totally is anti-everything Christus Victor, if not a dominionist. No CV affirming Christian believes the Devil has that sort of power.

But Wallnau says nothing about “power to determine” anything at all. Yes, he uses the word “determines”, but in the context he is clearly using it in the sense “decides, chooses”. He clarifies this later with “hand picked”. In other words, he is teaching that Satan chooses which of his followers, his “priests”, are fit for promotion to the top of one of the “seven mountains”, of which, we must remember, government is only one.

Rod clarifies his objection to this teaching of Wallnau by denying that Satan has “the power of election, to choose who is in control of the world”. But he accepts that Satan has “the ability to lie”, and this is the only power that the evil one needs to put his chosen people on the mountain tops – if his followers are in the majority, or even if they are a minority but the others keep out of politics or retreat into monasteries. This is because Satan, the great deceiver, is also the great persuader. He only needs to get a few key people behind him to persuade those who pull the strings of power in our world, or even a whole electorate, to choose his candidates for the highest offices. By the way, here I don’t want to imply that any specific office holders, or potential ones, are Satan’s candidates.

To support his claim that Satan’s power is limited, Rod quotes Hebrews 2:14, in an anonymous version which reads, in part,

so that through death [Jesus] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

This reads rather differently in NIV:

so that by his death [Jesus] might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.

Hebrews 2:14 (NIV)

The Greek verb katargeo, rendered “destroy” in Rod’s version, is probably better understood as “make powerless”, hence NIV’s “break the power”. But if it does mean “destroy”, it is clear from other Bible passages that this destruction was not already accomplished when Jesus died and rose again. The cross may have made Satan’s final annihilation inevitable, but it is apparently only at the very end that it will actually happen, when he is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Meanwhile, as the apostles specifically teach and as I commented on Rod’s post, Satan is alive and active in the world, in our current “church age” after the Resurrection and Pentecost:

Peter: Satan can fill apparent Christians’ hearts (Acts 5:3);

Paul: Satan can scheme and might outwit Christians (2 Corinthians 2:11);

Paul: Satan can block Christians’ way (1 Thessalonians 2:18);

Peter: The devil prowls around and might devour Christians (1 Peter 5:8);

John: The evil one controls the world (1 John 5:19).

Now Rod is correct that Satan has

a power to deceive and over the lives who believe his lies, but nothing more.

But he doesn’t need anything more to exercise his control over the world.

However, the situation is not quite as bleak as I have painted it, because we Christians are in the world. The apostle John writes to us that

the whole world is under the control of the evil one

1 John 5:19 (NIV)

but also that

the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

Indeed Satan has no power over us, because he can only tell lies and we know the truth. We need to recognise his lies, but we have no reason to be afraid of him. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can proclaim this truth, refute Satan’s lies, and expose his deception. But we can’t do this by hiding in holes in fear. Instead, like Jonathan and his armour bearer in 1 Samuel 14:1-23, we need to boldly climb the mountain, confront the enemy, and take back the world for God.

Is this “dominionism”? Maybe. But surely it is better than letting Satan rule the world through his chosen candidates.

Lance Wallnau's Apocalyptic Vision of the Kingdom

Lance WallnauLance Wallnau sent me a link to an interesting new video (19 minutes) outlining some of his teaching: Increasing Access to Peace and Glory in Every Shaking. (Sadly the “embed” feature doesn’t seem to work in WordPress, but this link does.)

Lance is infamous in some circles for the leading role he takes in promoting the Seven Mountains Mandate. This has been accused of being “dominionism”, but, as I have argued before, it is nothing of the sort: it is just Christians being urged to play their full part in whatever field of human activity they find themselves in, including politics.

In this video Lance shows how his Seven Mountains teaching fits into a wider picture, an almost apocalyptic vision of the kingdom of God coming to earth. He starts to present this at about 6:53 in the video. He starts by agreeing with N.T. Wright that the future hope is not us going to heaven but heaven coming to earth. Indeed he sees heaven, which he identifies with the kingdom of God, as currently coming near to earth. As a result “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28, NIV).

One small issue I found in this video is that Lance uses the word “literally” about the movements he sees, starting at about 8:45. I am sure he wouldn’t really claim that his third heaven is above the earth, with the second heaven in between, in one of our real physical dimensions. Rather he is talking about movement in some kind of spiritual dimension. In this case it might have been better to avoid the word “literally”.

The result of this process of heaven invading earth, Lance says, is chaos but also new possibilities. He sees Satan taking his last stand on earth. As Christians we are in a place, the kingdom, that cannot be shaken, but to remain unshaken through this we need to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The believer’s edge, advantage for life in this world, is to live in the authority which this gives us, the authority to plunder the strong man’s house.

This picture may not be the same as many of you may be used to. I would accept that some of the details need to be worked out more fully. But I hope the video is enough to show you all that Lance Wallnau is not pushing the “dominionist” message of legalism but has a totally different vision of Christians living the life of God’s kingdom in our world.