All posts by Tony

To Answer Your Question…

As my regular readers will know, I often get involved in online discussions about things theological.

While often these discussions should really be in “air quotes” – so, “discussions”! – where people are simply trotting out their standard ideas, Scripture bombs and whatnot, and are not interested in answers, on one recent occasion things appeared to be different.

First off, the fellow in the discussion stated that REPENTANCE!! was required for ‘salvation’, and then asked his question (although actually it was four questions):

“Serious question gentlemen…
“Did humanity ever have a need to be saved? Did Jesus need to come to save us?
“If yes, what did we need to be saved from? And secondly, when did we actually move from unsaved to saved (time wise, when did it happen)?”

For some time now, I have been trying to express what ‘salvation’ is, and to get a bit more of a handle on it. So I thought, right then, here’s the perfect opportunity. My answer, then, was this:


To me, the problem with salvation depending on repentance* means that it is works-dependent. I don’t mean ‘works-dependent’ in the sense of ‘working for our salvation’ or ‘earning a place in heaven’ or ‘trying to be good’; it’s not that.

No, it’s this: if salvation is dependent on that kind of repentance, then what it means is that it boils down to just one single work: that of repentance. But it’s still a ‘work’; it’s something we do; it’s something we feel we can do whereas in reality we actually can’t.

Therefore, even if the only work we needed was that repentance, then it is still works – based.

This is why Grace, Faith, and all the other amazing things that God has done for us are gifts; indeed they have to be so.

This leads to the point of ‘salvation’ (sōzō or ‘wholeness’); what ‘repentance’ (in the sense of changing your mind) does is to allow us to see this. Salvation, or being ‘saved’, is that we get to live in the knowledge of what Jesus has done in showing God’s love for us. Knowing that God loves just the same us no matter what we do or don’t do. That’s the definition of ‘unconditional’. What we are saved from under this is an incorrect view of how God feels about us.

And once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. But for those who have not yet seen it, they can’t understand it, because if they did, they would have seen.

So my answer to the questions above – and I am trusting that they are not leading trap questions – then:

1) “Did humanity ever have a need to be saved?” We did need to be saved from our faulty perception of how God sees us. ‘I hid because I was afraid’. (Gen 3:10)

2) “Did Jesus need to come to save us?” Yes, Jesus did need to come to save us; Jesus came (amongst many many other reasons) to save us from that faulty perception. Over the millennia since Adam, humanity’s perception of the anger of God had grown to huge proportions and Jesus came (amongst many other reasons) to set that record straight.

3) “If yes, what did we need to be saved from?” Answer in (2) above

4) “And secondly, when did we actually move from unsaved to saved (time wise, when did it happen)?” is an interesting question because it depends on firstly believing that we had some sort of wrath or hell to be saved from, and having to ‘do’ something (i.e. ‘works’, even if ‘only’ repentance as explained above) in order to become saved at a particular point in time.

If it is true, however, that we simply needed to be saved from that faulty perception, then the problem lies with us, not with God, and so there isn’t a time at which ‘being saved’ actually happens with regard to that problem, which actually never existed.

(And that is, I believe, the ‘original sin’: it is that we have this faulty perception of God that He’s mad with us all the time and therefore we have to ‘do’ something about that. Even if it’s ‘only’ repentance. And let’s be honest, Evangelical theology, despite its proclamations of a ‘loving God’, actually does believe that God is in a radge with most people, for most of the time. Even many of the ‘saved’ are constantly obsessed with ‘sin’ and are paranoid in case they fall foul of that ‘wrath’; if they put one. toe. out of line, they think, then hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Hell you go)**.

So, the point at which we were ‘saved’ is not so much the point at which God was suddenly not mad with us any more, but the point at which we realise the truth that He’s never been mad with us. Sure, the ‘Lamb [was] slain from the foundation of the world’ and this means to me that as far as we are concerned, God has never been mad at us. So yes, we have always been saved, but that also lies in tension with the need to realise the brilliance of the truth *now*, so that we can enjoy it in this life, and thereby be increasingly ‘made whole’ – sōzō – as the magnitude of what God has done for us is revealed to us in increasing measure. Wow!

*(I am using the term ‘repentance’ here in the Evangelical sense of turning away from ‘sin’ and turning towards God; that’s usually how it’s understood in Evangelical thinking)


So that’s the reply, in its raw and uncut form; the only changes I have made are to insert the Scripture reference for ‘I hid because I was afraid’. And the cartoon below 😉

At the very least, this small essay/answer expresses the state of my understanding at present. It passes the ‘Thomas Merton test’*** that “…“If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually”, because my thinking and ideas have evolved to this point over the last few years. Hopefully, you can glean a lot of encouragement from that, both from the essay and from the idea that growth implies a changing of ideas.

Anyway, it transpired that the chap asking the questions actually was just pushing his own ideas and trying to get people to agree just with his ideas. I mean, yeah, that’s fair enough in one way, but to make it look as if he’s willing to discuss things with an open mind was the trap. Usually, these traps are simply leading questions to set up the target for a broadside, and to be fair this wasn’t the case in this instance. But it wasn’t a discussion as such. As one respondend put it, “…you’re looking for YOUR answer based on your flawed premise. That’s a game, not a conversation”.

But it still made me think, showing that even in the most difficult online “discussion” (those air-quotes again!), we can still learn something. And that is in itself something to remember.

Peace and Grace to you 🙂


**There is a cartoon for ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to Hell you go’:

 

***Apparently, it was not Thomas Merton that said this. But I like the quote, whoever it was that said it 😉

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Not The Same Story

Here’s a great gem of wisdom from Jeff Turner:


“Any message that begins with an offended deity, and ends with its appeasement through sacrifice, stems from the same system and primitive thought process that moved the Aztecs to sacrifice their fellow humans, and Moloch worshippers to throw their children into the flames. No matter what you change the god’s name to, or how you reimagine the sacrificial process, it’s still just primitive, sacrificial religion.

“The Gospel is not this same story with different characters. It is, rather, the exposure of this story, and its god, as poison, and the revelation of an entirely new and revolutionary way of seeing oneself, humanity and God. The Gospel is not merely a retelling of the same old violent myth, but the revelation of God as a self-giving, others-centered Family, who so cherishes creation, that he will suffer within our mythology in order to rescue us from it.”

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Hell’s Illusion – Part 6

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Hell's Illusion

Here is the final episode of Dr. Don Keathley’s groundbreaking series aimed at debunking the Evangelical Church’s doctrine of Hell as a post-death place of conscious, fiery torment for ever and ever. (The first part of the series is here, in case you missed it; I heartily recommend listening to these talks in sequence, as each one builds on the knowledge we gain from the previous talks).

The freedom you will gain from watching this series – freedom from fear, from condemnation, from sadness and despair – is immeasurable. Feel the weight lift off you! Feel the despair simply drain away! These are words of freedom 😀

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Hell’s Illusion – Part 5

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Hell's Illusion

In this penultimate episode in his classic series teaching about the catastrophically erroneous doctrine of ‘Hell’ as taught by the Evangelical church, Dr. Don Keathley hammers another nail into the coffin of the Hell doctrine by discussing seven logical impossibilities that the doctrine has going for it. (The first part of the series is here, in case you missed it; I heartily recommend listening to these talks in sequence, as each one builds on the knowledge we gain from the previous talks).

Being a professional scientist, this logical approach argued from the Bible, which exposes the contradictions in the Bible that would have to be exploited were the Hell doctrine to be true, really appeals to me. This is my favourite episode so far in the series!

Take it away, Don:

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Hell’s Illusion – Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Hell's Illusion

Continuing Don Keathley’s brilliant series debunking the myth of Hell as an everlasting consctious torture chamber overseen by God (why are we even having this conversation?!), here is Episode 4 in which Don explains the Church’s use of three further ‘pillars’ which prop up the doctrine: Hell-fire (Gehenna-fire), Destruction, and the concept of ‘free will’. The first part of the series is here, in case you missed it; I heartily recommend listening to these talks in sequence, as each one builds on the knowledge we gain from the previous talks.

Over to Don:

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Hell’s Illusion – Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Hell's Illusion

I’m continuing today with the best series I have ever seen on the idea of debunking the long-standing, but completely wrong, doctrine of Hell – that is, eternal conscious torment after death.

In this talk, Dr. Don Keathley takes on the first ‘pillar’ of the Evangelical doctrine of Hell by explaining the misuse (probably deliberate) of the Greek  word ‘Aion’, (translated into English in the Bible as ‘Eternal/everlasting’), by the historical Church. Probably in order to keep people under their control, of course!

Ok, it’s a 50 minute talk but it would be 50 minutes well spent 😀 . I certainly never regretted watching it…

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Hell’s Illusion – Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Hell's Illusion

Today, we continue with Dr. Don Keathley’s series on ‘Hell’s Illusion’. (The first part is here, in case you missed it; I heartily recommend listening to these talks in sequence, as each one builds on the knowledge we gain from the previous talks).

Personally, I have always wondered why, given two contradictory Bible verses, or indeed two contradictory doctrines that are both based on Bible verses, why so many mainline Evangelical Christians will default to the Bad News side of things, rather than the Good News. After all, the word ‘Gospel’ actually means ‘good news’! I’ve expressed this concern before in my blog.

Of course, the main example that springs to mind is that of the doctrine of Hell. Rather than believe the Good News that so many are realising in these days, that there IS no eternal conscious torment after death, these people still would rather believe the Bad News, and hold on tight to that awful doctrine, rather than let go and float free of it.

And I think that the reason why they default to the bad news is because that’s all they have ever known. Think about it. They simply know of no other system. If you take away the bad news that they have believed all this time, then their worry will be this: what else in their secure, all-worked-out system have they got wrong too?

As we saw in the last talk in this series, just about all the denominations in Western Evangelical Christianity are essentially based on one or the other of the two belief streams known as Calvinism or Arminianism; most Evangelical belief systems are therefore based on one of these two streams (not both; they are mutually exclusive). Despite their major differences, however, both of these streams rely on the doctrine of Hell to work properly. Therefore, to disbelieve in Hell is to take away one of the central pillars of the belief systems of Evangelical Christianity, and in fact if this pillar is taken away, the whole lot collapses for want of a better doctrine to hold the whole thing up. It’s all they have ever known, and the entire edifice depends on it.

And actually that’s not a bad thing, because it helps us realise that if a doctrine depends for its survival on something other than Christ, then it needs to go.

So, here’s the second in the series of talks by Dr. Don Keathley, in which he examines the four words from the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures  which have been erroneously translated into the single ‘English’ word ‘Hell’ (although actually the word is Norse in origin):

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Hell’s Illusion – Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Hell's Illusion

My regular readers will know that I do not believe in the idea of Hell; the place where the wicked/unbelievers/anyone that you don’t like will burn for ever in eternal fire. I just don’t believe in it at all, for many reasons: a non-exhaustive list being personal; theological; experiential; and also at a deeper level that is between me and Jesus (sorry!) I do believe that bad people can create a hell on earth for others, and for themselves too, and that that’s what Jesus was talking about in the Bible passages where He supposedly is talking about Hell. But that’s nowhere near the same thing; not even close.

I would love to be able to collect all my thoughts and ideas on the subject. I have done so to some degree in the past, with some blog articles and with my ‘Hell Resource Page’ (accessible via the ‘Resources’ tab in the menu on each page of my blog). But when there are teachers around of the calibre of American pastor and excellent Bible teacher Dr. Don Keathley, then the teaching and resource is right there and so why not share it?

Many of my friends, both online and in real life, agree with me that this is some of the best teaching debunking Hell that there is. And I will therefore be sharing one video every three days, to give you time to digest each message before the next one. Alternatively, if you just can’t wait, the talks are freely available on YouTube 😀   But I do recommend that you listen to them in order!

So,  here is the first episode in Don’s series of six talks, shared here with his enthusiastic permission. In this talk, Don begins by explaining how the doctrine of Hell has historically become the lynch-pin of modern Evangelical doctrine.

The talks do represent a fair amount of investment in terms of time; each talk is about 40-50 minutes long. But if you can at all make the time to listen to these excellent videos, they will transform your life. They have certainly helped me, becuase they have confirmed that I am not the only person in the faith that is thinking along these exact same lines!

Over to Don:

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Three Years

This entry is part 37 of 37 in the series Fiona

Today, it is three years since my love and soul-mate Fiona passed into the Presence of her Lord.

I so miss the feisty, spirited, funny, gentle, talented, generous, gorgeous, wise and above all deeply loving lady that she was.

We have kept her memory very much alive, in so many ways, the chief of which is that we recall the things that she did that were kind, funny and generous, when we are reminded of her by doing those things ourselves. And that’s significant because it means that in a lot of ways we are continuing to be Fiona to ourselves and to others.

We will say things like, ‘Mum would have found that hilarious’, or ‘I think Mum would have done it like this’. And then we laugh about it. And we are sure that ‘that was what Mum would have wanted’ 😀 Because she was that kind of person.

I still dream about her often. I still see little signs of her around the house: pictures, of course, but also little things that she made or set up that had her figurative ‘fingerprints’ all over them. Processes she set in place that we still use. I still see myself doing things that I learned from her, either directly or by ‘absorption’. I still see her attitudes in things I do.

What a privilege! What an intimate, close-up way of remembering a life so precious! So much of what she was to us is still with us…but the house still lacks the light of her presence. The gap she has left is still immense. And yet, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I will see her again. Even though I may have to wait some decades, and of course I am not ‘wishing my life away’, still I know that she is there ready to welcome me, alongside Jesus, into that glorious Place where she now is. What a day that will be! 😀

On the first anniversary of Fe’s loss, I posted on here a track of my talented daughter Ellie singing the lovely song ‘Fly to Jesus. Fe would have been so proud of her. Well this year she would have been even more proud of her, because just a couple of weeks ago, Ellie put on prerelease her first ever EP, Autumn. Ellie has created this EP in the face of a debilitating illness, putting in work on it whenever she has been able, and now the finished product is out there and soon to become available. I am so proud of her and, like I said, I know her Mum would have been too!

The album is due to be released on 9th November, and all profits from sales will be going to Rowcroft Hospice, the place where Fiona was looked after in her final days on this earth. Rowcroft do such incredible work with cancer patients during their illnesses, with their families, and with end-of-life care.

Here is the link, then, to Ellie’s EP album – Autumn, on Amazon (and it’s also available on places like Spotify and iTunes too). And there are preview clips too.

Four songs written and performed by one of the most talented young musicians I have ever known – and that’s not just parental bias, you know! 😉 But yes, again, Fiona would have been so proud of her! Click the album cover graphic below to go to the Amazon UK prerelease page (on 9th November, it will become the sales page):

She has also released one of the songs, 365, later today as a single. If you listen to this, you will need a big box of tissues…

Here’s the YouTube video:

…and it too can be purchased on Amazon, as a single:

Fiona, you would have been sooooo proud of our Ellie! 😀


Edit: I have just looked at the previous post in the series, ‘In So Many Ways…‘. It’s almost identical in content to this one (apart from the plug for Ellie’s EP!). I find that interesting because to me it suggests that what we have left, after losing Fiona, is reasonably constant in its occurrence and its quality. In other words, these little habits I describe in this piece, I also noted in the previous one. So to me that means that our lasting legacy from Fiona is already in place and established. And that’s good news.

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The Messiah at the Monastery

Here is an awesome tale shared recently by my online friend Mo. I need add no further commentary:


 

Once a great order, a decaying monastery had only five monks left. The order was dying. In the surrounding deep woods, there was a little hut that a Rabbi from a nearby town used from time to time. The monks always knew the Rabbi was home when they saw the smoke from his fire rise above the tree tops. As the Abbot agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to him to ask the Rabbi if he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot at his hut. When the Abbot explained the reason for his visit, the Rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the Abbot and the Rabbi sat together discussing the Bible and their faiths. The time came when the Abbot had to leave. “It has been a wonderful visit,” said the Abbot, “but I have failed in my purpose. Is there nothing you can tell me to help save my dying order?”

“The only thing I can tell you,” said the Rabbi, “is that the Messiah is among you.”

When the Abbot returned to the monastery, his fellow monks gathered around him and asked, “What did the Rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the Abbot answered. “The only thing he did say, as I was leaving was that the Messiah is among us. Though I do not know what these words mean.”

In the months that followed, the monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the Rabbi’s words: The Messiah is among us? Could he possibly have meant that the Messiah is one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one of us is the Messiah? Do you suppose he meant the Abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even so, Elred is virtually always right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. Of course the Rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah?

As they contemplated in this manner, the monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah and in turn, each monk began to treat himself with extraordinary respect.

It so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the beautiful forest and monastery. Without even being conscious of it, visitors began to sense a powerful spiritual aura. They were sensing the extraordinary respect that now filled the monastery. Hardly knowing why, people began to come to the monastery frequently to picnic, to play, and to pray. They began to bring their friends, and their friends brought their friends. Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the older monks. After a while, one asked if he could join them. Then, another and another asked if they too could join the abbot and older monks. Within a few years, the monastery once again became a thriving order, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

– Author Unknown: Adapted from the Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by Dr. M. Scott Peck*


*Yes, the same Scott Peck whose work I shared so extensively in my series on Spiritual Growth

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