I read this tweet from a friend this morning:
I’d like you to weigh in on this. I heard a lady speak once, probably a fundamentalist, who said she only reads the Bible. No study notes, no commentary, no early church mothers and fathers, because those are man’s opinion and she wants the Holy Spirit alone to speak.
On the face of it, this might sound like a good idea, but plenty of twitterati were ready to point out that no one is immune from interpretation and bias, and I assume the lady in question also listens to the sermons of her pastor or priest. So I replied as follows:
I can’t add much to all the good points that have been made. However it did occur to me that without reading other books she cannot find out what her pastor or priest might have been wrong about in their sermons (assuming she listens to those).
Just think about all the different opinions over the years about faith, works, grace, the Holy Spirit, charismata, healing, hell, heaven, universal salvation etc. Read John Piper and Tom Wright and David Bentley Hart for different readings of the same Bible.
NT Wright says that we concentrate on getting folk into future heaven instead of rescuing them from current hell. David Bentley Hart maintains that what we have been taught about the atonement, and the salvation achieved there, is not what the early church believed.
And that brings me to my theme today: a truth worth restoring.
Years ago, when we last lived in the UK, we attended a church which was part of the New Frontiers group led by Terry Virgo. Terry wrote a book called Restoration in the Church which showed how, beginning with the Reformation, the Holy Spirit inspired men and women through the centuries to restore various important New Testament truths to a church which had largely – though never completely – forgotten them.
First was Luther, Calvin and others with the emphasis on faith and grace as opposed to works (and indulgences!).
Then the Anabaptists, Wesleyans and others right through to Azusa Street where we were reminded that the Holy Spirit is very much alive and active even if some have attempted to “dispense” with Him.
Unfortunately I don’t have the book with me in Japan and can’t find one to consult online so I have probably missed a few important restorations.
Out of Azusa Street came the Pentecostal movement and from that the Charismatic movement which added the other gifts of the Spirit – or charismata – to that of speaking in tongues, which often seemed to be the main emphasis of the Pentecostal denominations.
Then the ministry of healing for every member of the church was restored by such people as John Wimber of the Vineyard. John pointed out that Jesus commanded his disciples – including us – to do everything he had shown them, including healing. So healing was not only a ministry for particularly gifted people, but for everyone. Recently we have benefited from the example and teaching of Robby Dawkins (also a Vineyard pastor) who says – and has written a book called – Do What Jesus Did and not just WWJD (What Would Jesus Do, which is also a good question at times).
So we have seen that truths can be forgotten and restored – also that very often each phase of restoration opposes the next, but that’s another sad story not for this post.
Recently I have been reading N T (Tom) Wright and J D Myers, who point to other forgotten truths or misreadings of the New Testament writings. Heaven and hell are not principally in the future, but are (also) here now and it is our job to rescue those in today’s hell and translate them to the Kingdom of Heaven – as Paul wrote to the Colossian believers – not simply to help them avoid hell in the next life. He has rescued us and we are to rescue others.
For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
Hell is a kingdom of darkness and destruction that is set against God’s kingdom of heaven in this life.The two kingdoms are at war with each other, and while one brings light and life, the other brings death and devastation. So rather than ask, “What is hell?” the real question is “Where and when is hell?” And the answer to this question is that hell is a kingdom of darkness that rules and reigns upon on this earth. It is the way of living that humans are sadly accustomed to as “normal,” but which Jesus came to rescue and liberate us from. Hell is here, on this earth, and many people are living in it.
Myers, J. D.. What is Hell?: The Truth About Hell and How to Avoid It (Christian Questions Book 4) (Kindle Locations 1312-1317). Redeeming Press.
The most important thing to say at the end of this discussion, and of this section of the book, is that heaven and hell are not, so to speak, what the whole game is about. This is one of the central surprises in the Christian hope. The whole point of my argument so far is that the question of what happens to me after death is not the major, central, framing question that centuries of theological tradition have supposed. The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood within that context—not simply in the sense that we are only part of a much larger picture but also in the sense that part of the whole point of being saved in the present is so that we can play a vital role (Paul speaks of this role in the shocking terms of being “fellow workers with God”) within that larger picture and purpose. And that in turn makes us realize that the question of our own destiny, in terms of the alternatives of joy or woe, is probably the wrong way of looking at the whole question. The question ought to be, How will God’s new creation come? and then, How will we humans contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in his new world?
Wright, N. T.. Surprised by Hope (pp. 184-185). HarperOne.
We are rightly sceptical of new teachings that might just be what we want for our “itching ears”, or might even be “doctrines of demons”.
A time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
2 Timothy 4:3
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.
1 Timothy 4:1
But some of those “new teachings” are actually old teachings, as were the teachings of Luther, Wesley, Wimber and others.
One of the most recent “new teachings” is that all men will be saved. We’d certainly like to believe that, but we’ve been taught for centuries that only the elect will be saved, or at least that only those who pray the sinner’s prayer before death will be saved. And what of the others? Apparently God will torture them for ever in hell, or, at best, annihilate them.
But what if this is not a new teaching at all, but the restoration of a forgotten truth?
Paul writes this to Timothy:
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.
For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Read that again!
God our Saviour … wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.
He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
Here’s David Bentley Hart:
It is hard to know how often one hears it said, for instance, that the gospels or Paul’s epistles teach that, on the cross of Christ, God poured out his wrath on sin, or that the Son was discharging a debt humanity owed the Father, or that Christ’s blood was shed as a price paid by the Son to the Father to secure our release from the burden of that debt. And, supposedly, this was all inevitable not simply on account of sins we have individually committed, but because we have inherited a guilt contracted by the first parents of the race (which, of course, must be a purely imputed guilt, since personal guilt is not logically heritable).
All of us, we are told, have been born damnable in God’s eyes, already condemned to hell, and justly so. And yet God, out of God’s love, races to rescue (some of) us from God’s wrath, because God would otherwise be technically obliged to visit that wrath upon us, if lovingly, on account of that ancient trespass that bound us helplessly and damnably to sin before we ever existed; at the same time, however, God also lovingly fails or declines to rescue many of us, because he lovingly grants us the capacity freely to love, even if he lovingly withholds the conditions that would allow us to recognize him as the proper object of our love … (and so on).
In the end, somehow, justice is served, love is vindicated, God is good; of that we can be sure.
Happily, all of that is degrading nonsense—an absolute midden of misconceptions, fragments of scriptural language wrenched out of context, errors of translation, logical contradictions, and (I suspect) one or two emotional pathologies.
It came as a great consolation to me when I was still very young to discover that, in the first three or four centuries of the Christian era, none of these notions had yet taken root, in either the East or the West, and that for the most part the Eastern Christian world had remained innocent of the worst of them up until the present day, and furthermore that the New Testament, read in light of the proper tradition, turned out to contain nothing remotely like them.
Hart, David Bentley. That All Shall Be Saved (pp. 24-25). Yale University Press.
David is saying that what we thought was true is not what the early church knew to be true!
As Paul says, “This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”
But we had forgotten or ignored it!
That truth is so much better, for God truly wants everyone to be saved and this is a truth worth restoring!