Category Archives: Insights

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 😉

10

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.”

30

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 😀

00

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:

00

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 conscious 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:

00

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…

00

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

10

What Grace Looks Like

And the grace of our Lord overflowed to me, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. – 1Tim1:14
And here’s what that looks like:

Brilliant. Although as an Aspie, I don’t like ‘mess’, I can cope with Grace spilling out and just getting everywhere. That’s what it’s for!

The Bible is full of references to God’s huge, vast generosity. It speaks of,

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost”

– Is 55:1

Romans 5:5 says, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”

Or even Jesus’s water-to-wine trick in John 2, where He made between 120 and 180 gallons of the strongest wine He could make and gave it to the wedding guests (Jn 2:10). Generosity exemplified, through Jesus.

Ephesians 1:7: “ In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us”.

Or in 1 John 1:3 –

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

An old preacher friend of mine once described the word ‘lavished’ as how children spread Nutella on their toast. You want to know what ‘lavished’ looks like? Here you go:

Or even better, this one:

That’s the way to do it; nice and thick. Faaaaar too much more than necessary, but still it’s absolutely essential to do it that way. Why skimp on it? 😀

I could go on. God is unreasonably, unfairly generous. And that’s the way that God does things. He lavishes, pours out, drenches with, His goodness, His Spirit, and His Grace. He doesn’t skimp on things like that; He doesn’t skimp on anything. All we need to do is just to be

Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!


Pouring out of Grace picture from Phil Drysdale, and used with his kind permission.

I should also add that the caption for the picture was this:

“I don’t care how much you screw up. Where sin abounds (whatever your definition of sin) grace abounds all the more!

“God isn’t running out of patience, love, grace, faith etc. For you. God believes in you and loves you and there ain’t nothing you can do about that”.

10

À la Carte

Another haul of wise and/or funny sayings. Bon appetit!


It is the love of God that draws out the inherent goodness of humanity, not the goodness of humanity the draws out the love of God.
– Jeff Turner

I don’t work for Jesus. He act through me. That’s the whole difference
– Frank Tværåli-myren

The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches. And at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world in the same way that they do
– Barbara Brown Taylor

If anyone calls you a heretic, chances are that they haven’t taken the time to think about whether or not what you say is true
– Stephen Morris

There can be no salvation from something if the thing we need saving from causes the only qualified Savior to squeamishly tuck tail and run away. If sin had the power to separate man from God, God would lack the power to separate man from sin. Therefore, the only possibility for salvation is that God must be able to salvifically sit right there with us in fellowship, even in our darkest moments and biggest messes.
– Jeff Turner

Imagine there is no eternal hell awaiting anyone after death.
And now imagine you have to make a case for why Jesus is worth following.
If you have nothing left to say without the threat of unending punishment, you have missed something important.
– Zach Christensen

I have always believed that people who claim to be Christian but put me down for what I feel and believe are doing nothing but trying their damnedest to be the Holy Spirit in my life. I’m not supposed to be Her in my own life let alone someone else’s
– Kenn Burroughs

“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
– G.K. Chesterton

Don’t bore your friends with your troubles. Tell them to your enemies who will be delighted to hear about them.
– Fortune cookie

But at the centre of my walk is Jesus; He never changes, and He’s constant. My understanding of Him, however, is not constant, else how can I ever learn more about Him?
– Me

“Unless you have the power to harness the wind and direct where it blows, don’t assume you get to determine where and among whom the Holy Spirit is at work. If your theology sets limits on the Spirit, it’s not theology, it’s ideology
– Tom Fuerst

We come to God as we can, not as we can’t
– Joy Welford

00

The Bottomless Pit

There are people, and this is especially common amongst controlling types, (who actually depend on this mechanism for their control), who ration their approval towards their victims.

People who look up to them try anxiously to please them, to appease them and to win their approval. But the problem is that this resource of commitment, devotion and being anxious to please is wasted on these people because they do not value it except only as a means of measuring how much those unfortunate people are trying to suck up to them. It’s like throwing your attentions into a bottomless pit. I know people like this and they use these tools deliberately as a means of control – the tacit or overt withholding or dispensing of approval – in order to make others do their bidding. Being Aspergic, of course, this sort of manipulation goes straight over my head, and it’s only by examining a situation really carefully and logically that it becomes clear to me. But it’s true nonetheless; there really are people who behave like this. No doubt you too will know someone like that.

I had been thinking along these lines for some time when, true to form, I found something where another believer echoes similar thoughts. In this case, it was the brilliant Jeff Turner, whose thoughts on this complement mine nicely – partially because they’re not identical! – recently shared a short piece which clicked with me immediately. Here it is:

“I dare say that there are thousands reading this who live for the opinions of people whose approval they will never get. When it comes to fundamentalist types, as wonderful of people as they might be, some of them just aren’t budging. They’re fearful, terrified, and have convinced themselves of the rightness of their beliefs, though they were blindly received, and remain both untested and unexamined. Maybe you’ve become a pariah to them; a heretic, unsaved, or some other epithet they render powerless through endless repetition. They may be parents, children, old friends, former pastors or leaders, or something else entirely, but whatever the case, you living your life seeking their approval, and refusing to move on until you get it, is a fruitless endeavor. Some people will never approve of you because some people refuse to think and move forward themselves. I’m not saying cut these people out of your life, but, please, for your own wellbeing, cut yourself free of them. They know that they hold you in bondage by withholding approval. Do not let such ones be in control of a life you fought very hard to have”.

This is excellent advice on all counts. I love how Jeff can so concisely express these things and yet be so easily readable. I do tend to ramble, myself 😉

It also occurred to me that people who ration their approval, like those we have talked about above, are usually those who also believe that God is impossible to please in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons. They believe (although they would not describe it in so mamy words) that god holds them too on the whim of his own approval. And they project that on to their congregations and that’s how they control them. As Jeff says in his book, Saints in the arms of a Happy God, “…In our Western traditions God is often presented as being cold, austere, distant and judgmental. We imagine Him surrounded by dark clouds, with a scowl sprawled across his angry mug…He’s very eager to be pleased, but, unfortunately, extremely difficult to please….the God that a large percentage of us imagine and pay homage to is disgruntled, disappointed, and disapproving”. And this is spot on. Many, many believers have been taught that this is the normal way of things, and that this is the way God is.

But He’s really not. The Kingdom of God is supposed to reflect the character of its King, and if the Kingdom of God is supposed to be ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14:17), then it follows that these will be at least some of the attributes of God’s character too. If that’s the case, then those who lead by the underhand techniques we have been talking about here are not really displaying many of those attributes, if we’re honest! And as I have said before, these people do not represent God, nor do they carry His authority.

No, God is full of joy, laughter and goodness, whereas Religion is full of grey people who think everything has to be really serious all the time. They think you can’t have any fun in case you fall into ‘sin’.

Maybe it’s like in Job 1:5, where the old guy makes a sacrifice for his children after they have been partying, ‘just in case’ they have ‘sinned’:

“When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom”.

But God isn’t all serious like this. God Himself laughs for the sheer joy of all He has created, and all He has planned, and is supremely happy and joyful. He loves to delight and surprise us, and He rejoices with us when we too are delighted. God likes you, just as you are.

And therefore I believe in a happy God. Do you?

 

10