The kingdom of God – a ticket to heaven?

ticket

I was talking with an evangelical minister recently, about social justice and the mission of the church. He felt evangelism should be clearly our highest priority, because it has “eternal consequences”.

I suggested that wasn’t how Jesus saw things – his main message and highest priority seemed to be the kingdom of God. But the minister’s response was: “But Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world.” In other words, getting people into heaven was Jesus’ highest priority, and should be ours too.

I must admit I was flabbergasted. So I decided to look again at the gospel Jesus taught.

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Should christians accept everything in the Old Testament as truly from God?

otbattle

I was intending getting onto some more positive topics, but I decided I needed to have one more look at this matter.

My previous post, Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?, examined an incident where Jehu became king of Israel by killing the former king, Joram. In discussion on that post, a reader suggested there were ways to interpret these difficult Old Testament passages that didn’t discredit the accuracy of the revelation of God’s character as they believed I was doing.

So let’s have a look in more detail.

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Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?

chariot

Arguments rage about the Bible and how we should interpret it, especially about the Old Testament. Conservative christians are often critical of those who take a “liberal” view, which conservatives see as destructive and unfaithful, while sceptics tend to see the conservatives as not following the evidence.

Is there any way to break through on this question? Are there any clues in the Bible itself?

It turns out that there is much food for thought.

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The real story of Jesus’ birth?

nativity

The Christmas story is known and loved by many people who wouldn’t call themselves “christians”. The details are well known: angels, a stable with straw and animals, shepherds, 3 wise men with gifts, etc, and in the centre a glowing mother and a perfectly formed baby.

Historians are not so sure about all these details, but this week isn’t a time to be sceptical. Especially as I recently came across a historical analysis that makes more sense of some of the details in Luke’s account, and so gives us a much better insight into Jesus’ birth.

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Another king?

Critical issues:
I think this post raises a crucially important matter for christians today.

king-tut

It was mob violence, but at least it didn’t lead to a lynching. Jason and a few friends, converts of the apostle Paul, were dragged before the city officials and angry accusations were made:

“These men [meaning Paul and company] …. are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)

The officials released them on a bond. But, of course, the charges were quite accurate. Jesus is the king.

But it seems many christians no longer believe this …..

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Red letter christians?

red-letter-christians

We are visiting family in the US right now, and the recent Presidential election is on everyone’s minds here.

Reports are coming in that apparent white supremacists have been attacking, verbally or physically, people who belong to minorities such as blacks, Muslims and Latinos. Right wing christians are expressing relief that Hilary Clinton, who they vehemently oppose because she is seen to be pro-abortion, pro gay marriage, pro political correctness, anti freedom of religion, and dishonest, didn’t get elected.

Meanwhile the people I have moved amongst have the opposite reaction. Shocked by Donald Trump’s victory, critical of his many obvious flaws and failures, concerned for the safety and wellbeing of people from minorities, including women, and feeling let down by the right wing christians overwhelmingly voting for Trump.

The nation is divided, and so is the christian church, though Trump appears to have the majority in each case. How should christians who fear the worst react?

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A wave of the Spirit we should be catching?

surfer

I came across a blog post today that summed up what I think has become a significant movement within christianity.

Learning from a “hippie heretic”

The post was This Nameless Movement of God on Chuck McKnight’s blog Hippie Heretic, and it was based on just one premise (taken from fellow blogger Brian Zahnd):

“God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like—but now we do.”

The unstated, but clear, corollary of this statement of belief is that if there is any portrayal of God that is less than the character of Jesus, then it must be a misunderstanding.

This leads Chuck to 5 statements he rejects.

1. God had to punish Jesus for our sins (penal substitutionary atonement)

Jesus’ death was about more than just punishment, so penal substitutionary atonement is an incomplete (Chuck would say “wrong”) understanding. I have discussed this further in Why did Jesus have to die?.

2. God will punish sinners forever in hell (eternal conscious torment)

Close study indicates this is not what Jesus taught – see Three views on hell and judgment. A more detailed study is at Hell, what does the Bible say?

3. God meticulously plans all events (theological determinism)

This is the view of some Calvinists, but instead of glorifying God as Reformed doctrine tries to do, it seems to diminish God.

4. God has ever sanctioned or participated in violence (just war theory)

Did God really command his Old Testament people to kill and annihilate? Did Jesus command us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek if attacked? How can these ideas be reconciled? Should we be pacifists and peace-makers today?

5. God’s inspiration of scripture entails a text that is free from human mistakes (inerrancy)

It doesn’t look like this is the case, and there are good reasons for believing it isn’t true (see In what way is the Bible a special book?). And rejecting this teaching doesn’t necessarily lead to anarchy and loss of faith – in fact it may increase faith.

Spirit or heresy?

Most of these are “hot button” issues, dearly loved by many christians.

But there seems to be a new wave of thinking that Chuck has summed up well in these 5 rejections.

(I think this new wave also includes the rediscovery of the Kingdom of God and of the importance of christians to be caring for the poor, the marginalised and the hurting as part of our living in the Kingdom.)

Forty years ago, I came to the conclusion that the church was entering a time of change that would prove as important as the reformation. Already we have seen charismatic gifts going mainstream, the breakdown of denominationalism, the growth of simple or house churches and an increased emphasis on social justice, community welfare and the environment.

I believe the matters Chuck has raised are a next step, and I see more and more people, good faithful christians, rejecting these teachings in favour of the picture of God given to us in Jesus.

I believe this is a new wave of the Holy Spirit, and I think it will lead to much contention, but eventually much good.

Watch and see.

And join in!

Photo: MorgueFile

Five ways inerrancy is killing christianity

handcuffs

I don’t believe the Bible is necessarily without error (i.e. inerrant). It doesn’t specifically claim to be, and I don’t think any of the arguments for inerrancy stand up to scrutiny.

But I’m not going to argue about that here.

Rather, I want to suggest ways that this doctrine, which I believe is not Biblical, is also doing great harm to christianity.

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