500 years later – a new reformation

This post is a revised version of my 2014 post The new Reformation.

Martin Luther with iPhone

Martin Luther is examined for heresy.

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, and, it is often said, began the Protestant Reformation.

40 years ago I came to the conclusion that the church in the western world was, in the next few decades, going to go through changes as significant as the Reformation. I felt we had moved away from the truth in several important areas – inward looking and hierarchical churches with structures that hinder rather than help the mission of Jesus, dead orthodoxy in many christians’ lives (including me), and failing to heed Jesus’ teachings on non-violence, acceptance and the perils of wealth – and God surely wouldn’t allow this to continue unchecked.

I think we are now in the middle of this new reformation, and here are some of the signs I see.

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Self-giving love and the New Testament

As a young christian I was told that the love God has for us, and the love he wants us to have for others, is a self-giving love, for which the New Testament writers used the Greek word agape. This understanding was reinforced by reading the CS Lewis book, The Four Loves, which spoke about the following Greek words:

  • eros – romantic or sexual love (this word isn’t found in the New Testament);
  • storge – natural affection, as in a family (not used in the New Testament in this form, but used 3 times in compound words);
  • philia – friendship (this word and its derivatives is used many times in the New Testament);
  • agape and agapao – self giving love (by far the most common word for “love” in the New Testament).

Preachers, authors and bloggers still have the same understanding today, and sometimes build take-home lessons on the difference between philia and agape.

But it seems that the meaning of agape may not be as distinct as we have been told, and the two words may not have had very different meanings back then.

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It was kind of amusing and revealing at the same time

The church I attend is part of a denomination which, based on the teachings of Paul, doesn’t allow women to be the senior minister in a congregation or to preach to a mixed gender audience.

A few weeks back a young woman, bare-headed and wearing casual clothes, led the prayers in the Saturday evening service we attend. Immediately afterwards, the Bible was read, and the passage from 1 Corinthians 11 included this statement:

“every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”

Then a few weeks later, a young women read the Bible passage for that day, from 1 Corinthians 14, which included this:

” Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak”

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Knowing the Way – scripture, experience, learning, tradition and the Holy Spirit

In the discussion on my previous post, Nate has questioned my approach to authority and christian belief. I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, and I said that most christians accept other sources of knowledge also: “reason and evidence, church teaching and tradition, and the Holy Spirit”.

And so he asked: “Why does the New Testament speak so much about false teachers, if it’s perfectly fine to get your beliefs from private revelation?” and “How can there be such a thing as “truth” when each person’s version is just as good as someone else’s?”, and then saw problems “if I took my own random thoughts and feelings as revelation from the supreme creator of the universe”.

These are fair questions, and I think another blog post is better than a long comment to answer them. It also gives me the opportunity to set out how I believe we know truths about God. I hope other readers are interested too, and will also comment.

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“The light given” – does it make sense?

My (internet) friend Nate has a blog, Finding Truth which I regularly read. We disagree profoundly because Nate is an atheist and former christian, while I still follow Jesus. So we cross swords occasionally, often disagreeing (amicably) with the approach the other takes to questions, evidence and arguments. He is gracious enough to welcome my critical comments, just as I welcome his here.

His latest post is The Light Given, and my disagreement is deep enough to make it difficult to express it in a comment on his blog, so I am commenting here, in the spirit of friendly disagreement and (perhaps) discussion.

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Does archaeology show the Bible is true? Seven facts

I’m sure you will have read, and heard it said, that archaeology confirms the accuracy of the Bible. But you may also have heard from sceptics that the Bible isn’t historically accurate. So which is true?

This is a complex matter with a wide variety of conclusions among the experts. I have tried to investigate as impartially as I can, and it seems that both views are true (sometimes) …. and false (sometimes).

Here are seven statements I think can be known to be true.

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Book review: The Jesus Legend

jesus-legend

Some books on Jesus and the New Testament are clearly apologetic in nature, seeking to argue or defend a certain viewpoint, whether it be sceptical or believing.

Other books clearly aim at being academic, impartial, seeking to advance academic opinion.

This book, which is almost a decade old, is kind of both. I have only recently read it, and I think it is worthy of a review.

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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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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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