Category Archives: Others’ stuff

Apocalypse

The book of Revelation, sometimes also called ‘Apocalypse’, ‘The Revelation of John’, or even (incorrectly) ‘Revelations’ (like ‘Trivial Pursuits’, ‘Cliff Richards’, or ‘Tescos’; all pluralised words that definitely shouldn’t be 😉 ) is probably the most confusing book in the entire Bible, and it is certainly the most confusing in the New Testament.

Its weird imagery often reads more like a nightmare than anything else. And, in fact, so uncertain were the early Church as to its origins or relevance, that it was almost left out of the Canon of Scripture that we know today. The early Church fathers, in considering whether to include the book of Revelation into the Canon, took the decision to include it only under the following strict conditions: 1) It was not to be used for any major doctrine or in any liturgy of the church; 2) It did not have the canonical authority of the other New Testament writings; and 3) It was never to be taken literally in any way, but only metaphorically, as an encouragement for Christians about to undergo major persecution and bloodshed. Naturally, these conditions have been conveniently forgotten, or more likely never even heard of, by those in the church today who love to misuse this book to the detriment of others.

Of course, because of what I am increasingly thinking of as ‘Chalke’s Law’, which states:

“There are some people who will always find the angry verses in the Bible to confirm their obsession with anger and exclusion” (Steve Chalke)

…the book, with its weird and (on the surface) violent imagery is just perfect for those certain Christians who rejoice in – and indeed savour with eager and gleeful anticipation – the idea of the horrific mutilation, deaths, slaughter, and then endless torment of those who don’t agree with them, to the tune of rivers of the blood of the ‘unrighteous’ to the depth of a horse’s stirrups. Yes, that imagery is there in Revelation, but of course it doesn’t mean what it says on the surface.

This is because we need to remember that Revelation was written in the ‘apocalyptic’ style (which is why in some quarters it’s referred to as the ‘Apocalypse’), and as such it is written in a sort of code, some of which has been lost to antiquity, but some of which can be inferred by its historical context, and from whom the book was written to. In fact I think this is why, in some apocalyptic writings, the author is instructed to ‘seal up what is written’ *, because it concerns things that need to be worked out properly. A good example of this would be in Daniel 12:4; the second half of the book of Daniel is written in the apocalyptic style, as are parts of Ezekiel. For more on this subject, I would far rather defer to more learned scholars than myself, who know far more about it than I do. For example, N. T. Wright’s ‘Revelation for Everyone’ would be a good starter; it is a very informative book and is written in a style that is very easy to understand.

The worst thing that can be done with apocalyptic literature like Revelation is to read it literally, because it was never intended to be read as such, and indeed the misuse of this book by ignorant people (ignorant in both or either senses of a) not knowing, and b) being unimaginably unintelligent) has caused untold harm to millions of people all down through history. Indeed, I would say that no book has been misinterpreted and misapplied to others’ detriment as has Revelation. And all because people haven’t a clue what they are doing with this most lethal, and yet most blessing, of all the books in the Bible. The very last thing we should do with most of this book is to take it literally.

And yet, so much of modern theology, in terms of both ecclesiastical theology and common theology, is based on passages in Revelation. Without discussing these ideas specifically here, the concept of Heaven as an afterlife idea and the concept of ‘hell’ being a lake of burning sulfur, are both concepts which are strongly based on passages from Revelation. Even the ‘Pearly Gates’, where St. Peter is reportedly employed as a receptionist; even they are entirely from Revelation. Reference for the Pearly Gates? Revelation 21:21 is where that comes from. Go and take a look 😉

So, read in the light of the idea of an angry, retributive ‘nasty god’ like that found in much of the Old Testament, Revelation will of course be seen as incredibly bad news for most people, most of whom are going to be sorry they were born, according to the gleeful claims of those ‘certain Christians’ I mentioned above.

However, read in the light of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the King of Love, the book can in fact instead be seen as excellent news for everyone. Again, I have here neither the time, the knowledge, nor indeed the inclination to expound on why this is the case; instead I would again refer you to people who really know what they are talking about. However, I would like to share with you today a brilliant piece by my friend Mo Thomas, where he presents an opposite view to the Evangelically-accepted ‘violent’ view of Revelation. No-one should read Revelation without having to hand several huge pinches of salt, and the definite guidance of the Holy Spirit to glean what it means for us today, and, more relevantly, what it means for you personally today. Formation of major doctrine from Scriptures in Revelation is a serious error, as we have already seen. Personally, I happen to think that formation of any major doctrine is also an error, but that’s just me 😉 I’d far rather live a life in the Spirit, completely unbound by others’ doctrines, rules and strictures. I’ll listen to others’ ideas, of course, but let’s just say there’s a lot of bones I spit out while I eat the meat 😉

Anyway, less of the masticatory** digressions; I will hand you over to Mo:


The term for “Revelation” is the Greek “Apocalypse”, or the “unveiling”. John’s revelation then in the scripture is primarily about the “unveiling” of the Person and Work of Jesus, not primarily the symbols, timelines, and events. But once seen through this lens…the symbols, timelines and events start coming into focus.

The subversive nature of the apocalypse can trip up many who are looking for a violent overthrow when Christ returns, much like the Messianic expectation of those in the 1st century. This type of overthrow requires a calamity-filled blood-soaked eschatology, which unwittingly fosters a perspective of escapism – with no authentic desire to engage and participate in God’s Kingdom here, now.

Here’s the thing. The book of Revelation may just be the most non-violent war scroll ever recorded in the history of apocalyptic literature. But we can’t ever see this unless we read as it would have been interpreted by those 1st century folks. It would have filled them with hope in the midst of evil Empire, Roman oppression. Victory is achieved – not by the methods of war and violence, but by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.

What better way to motivate hope for our role in the Story than to paint an optimistic view of the Shalom and Care of God for all that He reconciled to Himself, for His Cosmos.

The subversive way of the Slain Lamb continues to make its way forward.
________________

“Jesus is not coming back to renounce the Sermon on the Mount and kill 200 million people.

If that’s your reading of Revelation, what can I say? Lord, have mercy.”

– Brian Zahnd
_________________

The brilliant, subversive narrative we find at the end of our Bibles hinges on the throne room scene in Revelation chapter 5, where John hears an announcement for the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He turns, expecting to see a ferocious beast that tears His enemies apart, limb from limb, as Israel had long hoped and expected.

Instead, John turns and sees a tiny Lamb, looking as if it had just been slain. Ahhhh… the crucified Christ! From that point on, we no longer see ANY mention of a lion. But 29 more times, we see the Lamb of God, the prevailing theme of the Story.

This is masterful apocalyptic literature.

Yes, this King is victorious, and He reigns in power. Yet, this power is most clearly and succinctly displayed on the Cross, where we see that He would rather die for His enemies than kill them.

The book of Revelation is the Apocalypse, the “unveiling”, of Jesus the Christ, who displays His Power as the Crucified and Risen and Victorious Lamb. Don’t distort the brilliant subversion by making it a literal book about “end times” and Anti-Christ figures and the necessity of bloody violence.

Make it about our Beautiful King, the Crucified One who overcomes.

Rev 5:13. And I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth [in Hades, the place of departed spirits] and on the sea and all that is in it, crying out together, To Him Who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb be ascribed the blessing and the honor and the majesty (glory, splendor) and the power (might and dominion) forever and ever (through the eternities of the eternities)!

Come, let us worship.

Shalom

– Mo Thomas


Regarding the return of the ‘Warrior Jesus’, and regarding a couple of other Revelation points, I once put it like this:

“If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, it follows that He will be the same Jesus when He returns. The angels at the Ascension said that ‘this same Jesus…’ will return; they never said He’d return as someone different. In addition, the passage (in Revelation 5:6) about the Lamb on the throne describes Him as a Lamb, not as a Lion. He will return as a Lamb, because He left as a Lamb. That whole scene is about the literary bait-and-switch of the throne of a mighty King, the King of the Universe, in fact, being the Lamb looking as if it had been slain in the centre of the throne. The power and right to rule comes from the power of God, which is the power of the Cross – as in, the submission of the Lamb to the point of death, thus showing where true power actually lies, in the self-giving nature of God and NOT the desire to lord it over others.

“Furthermore, Revelation is very much a book of metaphysical imagery and weird Apocalyptic, coded writing. To interpret it literally would be a mistake, for most of the book at any rate. I personally think that Revelation is something where John was seeing things that were very hard to describe from a human point of view, and so they need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Or a dose of magic mushrooms”.

As one final comment, and as a general tip for reading Revelation, I would say that if you come across a passage in that book that the Spirit does not make come alive for you, then by all means feel free to set that passage aside until such time as She does make it come alive for you. Some of it you may never understand, and this is not surprising as the book was in fact not written to you anyway (Rev 1:4). But that’s all right. We don’t have to ‘get’ it all; not by a long chalk.


*Yes, that’s why there’s a sealed scroll for the header image. Much of Revelation is still sealed for many people, including myself, and the ‘Secret of the Lord‘ notwithstanding 😉

**Related to chewing. Just so you know.

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If I’m Wrong…

Here’s an excellent article by Ryan Harbidge, on the Evangelical misuse of the idea of ‘Pascal’s Wager’:


If I’m Wrong

Sometimes religious people post stuff on social media that just makes me roll my eyes.

This meme is one of them.

It originates from the thinking of Blaise Pascal and is thus called “Pascals Wager”.  It is one of those which has been making the rounds online lately.  This is a classic manipulative tactic designed to target your deepest existential fears. It’s an attempt to bypass your ability to reason with the intent of herding you into the corals of fear based religion.  I would like to point out some problems with the thinking it represents:

There is an assumption going on in the background that the only reason we are brought into material existence is to see if we can pass a divine final exam. To hopefully come to find and believe in the only correct information about God. The purpose of acquiring this information is not for the good of this life either. It is only so you can escape this earth someday and more importantly….escape the default destiny of being tortured forever in hell for the crime of not finding the right information in time.  The end goal is to end up in some blissful place called “heaven” for eternity.   Based on this thought process which is the foundation of evangelical Christianity, there are two logical ways of thinking about this meme.

1.  There are thousands of religions around the world.  Apparently there is only one belief system which will exempt you from eternal torture. Christians claim that theirs is the only one.  However, most other religions make the same claim.  I’m not much of a gambler. In fact, I once had to walk through the casino on a cruise ship to get to another part of the boat.  I saw the slot machines and was about to put a quarter into one, when I realized I would likely never see that quarter again.  I put it back in my pocket and kept on walking.  The stakes are much higher and the odds are not in your favour in this supposed eternal gamble.  Wouldn’t it be smarter to embrace and practice all religions?  I would be much safer becoming a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist Christian just as a start!  Exhausting, yes.  But hey…who wants to be tortured forever?  Might be worth it to diversify.

2.  Most Christians believe that hell is a place where the presence of God is absent. They also believe that somehow, while loved ones who died without believing correctly are being tortured endlessly, they will be enjoying heavens bliss.  I won’t presume to know your capacity for relationship with dodgy people, but for me, I would have a real hard time trusting someone who claims to be good and merciful, then finding out that he tortures people in his basement.  I just couldn’t bring myself to have a close, vulnerable relationship with that person.  Why?  Anyone who tortures someone else—for any reason is a monster and cannot be trusted!  If the religious people are right and God is truly like that, then God is indeed a monster. If heaven is a place where that god is, heaven is really hell.  “Hell” is an excellent name to call a place where you are trapped for eternity with someone you can’t trust. Someone you cannot ever feel safe around.  Knowing that people you love—people this god claimed to love while they were in physical form are being mercilessly tortured with no chance of reprieve. Also, if hell is a place where that god is absent, it must be heaven.  It becomes a place of bliss.

What if Jesus was right?  What if there isn’t and never has been some quid pro quo intellectually or morally for enjoying a nice afterlife?  What if Jesus was simply introducing to us a way of living (the way of Christ) which shows us how to be fully human and live fully alive on this earth as we were meant to live?  What if the “heaven” we create on earth from living this way simply continues in the afterlife?  What if we have always been unconditionally loved and accepted by a God who is incapable of doing anything else and all we need to do is to participate in the love and acceptance we have always had?

If I’m right, we live in a very safe universe where we truly can be at peace, where we can experience joy, where authentic relationship can flourish as we live in a reality which is saturated with love.

If I’m wrong, we’re all screwed.  No matter what you believe.

As brilliant as Mr. Pascal was, his thought process is rooted in the wrong presuppositions. I choose to believe Jesus and His way of living!

– Ryan Harbidge, shared with his gracious permission.


Here is the link to the original article

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Hell’s Escape Route

Here is a superb short piece by Jacob Wright, on the silliness of relying on others’ near-death experiences to ‘verify’ the existence of Hell:


“Many times when “Eternal hell cuz Bible” starts unraveling as I explain the original language of scripture to people, they will then turn to “near death experiences” (NDE’s).

“Besides the fact that the only NDE’s that Christians have heard are ones that line up with their beliefs, and NDE’s across the world by no means line up with evangelical Christian belief, I also pointed out one glaring problem with the ones that seem like they do. The people that supposedly went to hell and came back to tell about it are just proof that you can get out of hell and it’s not irreversible. They went to hell and got out. He said, ‘Well yea, because a defibrillator works, and it got them out.’

“So there it is. A person is sentenced to eternal damnation for not choosing Jesus and is in hell and a defibrillator gets them out. Once a person is in hell, a defibrillator can save them from eternal damnation, and yet God can’t. That’s hilarious.

“Excuse me while I go ponder the excruciating stupidity that can only pass under religion”.

– Jacob M. Wright

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From the Menu…

More bite-sized quotations for your upbuilding:


“Religion hates Grace because Grace puts ALL people on the SAME level”
– Cindy DeGroot

“The quickest route to a mediocre life is that of constantly concerning yourself with the opinions of others”.
– Jeff Turner

…and related: “what other people think of me is none of my business.”
– Anon

“Some are so busy desperately seeking their purpose, that their purpose is having a hard time catching them”.
– Jim Potts

“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”.
– Phil Drysdale

[Said of a Pharisee troll who had got really annoyed with a group of us on Facebook and then disappeared like they always do] “It’s his pets I’m worried about. I do so hope he won’t kick his dog or his cat around the house because of his being in a radge with us…”
– Me

“You are the Crowley to my Aziraphale”
– Ellie

“There are some people who will always find the angry verses in the Bible to confirm their obsession with anger and exclusion”
– Steve Chalke

“To me, the very fact that we can trot out a verse that says one thing, then someone else can come along and counter that with a verse that says the exact opposite, shows me that, despite Evangelical claims to the contrary, the Bible does in fact contradict itself. So, for all those who believe that the Bible is infallible and does not contradict itself, you might want to think twice before contradicting one Scripture passage with another. Otherwise, Foot. Yourself. Shooting. You’re. The. In. Rearrange to find a well-known phrase or expression”.
– Me

“The Old Testament contains an awful lot of violent killing bracketed by “God told me to”. Then along comes Jesus and says, “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you”. How you deal with this apparent dichotomy goes to the heart of your theology of God”.
– Rob Grayson

“Christianity is an innocence trip, not a guilt trip”.
– Jeff Turner

“Always remain teachable. But let the Holy Spirit lead you as to who should be allowed to teach you”. – Derrick Day

“There seems to be a presumption amongst Fundamentalists that if someone else is happy or, worse, laughing, then there must be some kind of ‘sin’ involved somewhere along the line 😉 ”
– Me

“People who come pre-loaded with an argument rather than interest aren’t ready”
– Dave Carringer

“A Community of believers that actually takes Jesus seriously will never force a person to choose between being honest and being accepted”.
– Jeff Turner

“The Religious of Jesus’ day complained that He was a glutton and a drunkard. Sounds like He was enjoying life pretty much to the full, while at the same time preaching how much God loved people. To me, what they found offensive was that someone could take life so lightly while at the same time taking God so seriously. Religion can’t cope with that”.
– Me

“I’m arriving at a peaceful place that allows another to believe [a doctrine], and graciously not allow them to tell me I must”.
– Matt Merry

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Hell shall not perish…

“Except that that’s not what it says.

“Belief in Jesus is the core of being a Christian, not belief in Hell”.
-Me

“Let’s be clear. When the Bible speaks for example of the word of God that is quick and powerful (Heb 4:12) or the word of God that builds faith (Rom 10:17) it’s not speaking of the book. It is telling us of the word that God speaks to you. What He says to you can change your life in an instant”.
– Don Keathley

“If we think the Love of God must be balanced out by the Holiness of God, then we understand neither one”
– Jeff Doles


Yes, I realise that ‘From the Menu’ means the same as ‘À la carte’, the title I used for my last item of short and edible quotes 😉

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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 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:

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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, because 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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