Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Jesus in Genesis 15


image copied from redeeminggod.com

As I started started sharing in my previous post, Jesus can be found all throughout the pages of Genesis. This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of all of those places and but every now and then I will post something on a specific chapter or story that stands out for me. And today I want to reveal how I believe Christ plays a primary role in Genesis 15. This is the chapter where God makes an everlasting covenant with Abram, promising him descendants as numerous as the stars. Verse 6 famously says, “And he (Abram) believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness”.

There are two specific areas that I want to highlight in this chapter; the first is that in the very first verse it tells us that the exchange happens between Abram and ‘the Word of the LORD’ who appeared to Abram in a vision. Now we 21st Century Christians like referring to the Bible as the Word but as I have argued elsewhere, nowhere does scripture itself make such a claim, on the contrary, scripture states explicitly and repeatedly that Jesus is the true Word of God. You can click here to read an article I wrote on the subject elsewhere but for this particular piece let me just highlight two examples:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1
He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. – Revelation 19:13.

So when the Word of the Lord comes to Abram in verse 1, this is not the Bible or even just a message but a Person. This Person starts speaking to him and says, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” That sounds awful Jesus-like to me already, but then notice how Abram responds to Him in verse 2, “But Abram said, Lord God…”; so Abram calls this messenger ‘Adonia Yahweh’, a name which he repeats in verse 8 as well. Notice that throughout this chapter it is the Word of the Lord that is speaking with Abram. In verse 7 He says of Himself, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), who brought you out of Ur…”. Yahweh is the name above all names but when it is used it can be referring to any member of the Trinity (see here for more on that).

So I am convinced that this is Jesus speaking to Abram in chapter 15, otherwise the chapter would most likely have started by simply saying something like, "Now after these things the LORD..." instead of, "Now after these things the Word of the LORD..."; but the significance of this is even more remarkable when we consider the symbolism of the covenant itself. Though it would seem barbaric to us today, the Word of God instructs Abram to take a three-year old heifer, a three-year old ram and a three-year old goat (plus a dove and a pigeon) and to cut them in half, placing the severed pieces opposite one another with a pathway between them to walk through. This was pretty standard covenant ritual stuff back then, but normally, the two parties would both walk between the animal parts (see Jeremiah 34:18-19) with the implication being that the person who broke the covenant would suffer or accept a similar fate. The ceremonial ritual would then be binding on the two parties. What is interesting here though is that in this particular instance the (Word of the) LORD passed through the animal pieces (verse 17) but Abram did not (verse 12).

Unlike the Mosaic covenant which was conditional upon Israel’s faithfulness to God, the Abrahamic covenant is an everlasting covenant not dependent on our ability at all. As it is the blood of Jesus that makes us heirs according to the promise and Abraham’s seed, this story suddenly has so much more meaning to me. Jesus makes a covenant with Abraham and his seed which promises land, descendants and blessings and Jesus actually does die for us.

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to Him as righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham... And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:6-7, 29

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Jesus in Genesis




The Bible is, from beginning to end, a book about Jesus. The Old Testament prepared a people for His coming and the New Testament recorded His life as He walked the earth and then the continuance of His life manifested through the body that we like to call the early church.  I have just started going through the book of Genesis with two friends and thought that I would share some of the parts that stand out for me as we go along. Last week we went through the fist two chapters and we were astounded to see how much of the Christ was in there. The reason we did the first two chapters together is simply because the first two chapters form a chiasm which I’ll share at the bottom of this post. When one sees the pattern you can’t help but feel awe and see the creation narrative afresh. But before I get side-tracked, here are some of the interesting connections that we made.

Jesus is the beginning

The book of Genesis starts with the words, “In the beginning”, we can simply interpret that as, “At the start” but I believe that there is more to it than that.  In several passages in the Bible we are told that Jesus is the beginning (see Col 1:18, Rev 3:14, 22:13). So if one reads Genesis and says, “In Jesus, God created the heavens and the earth…” it is quite theologically correct to do so. You might object and say that I am putting words into the author’s mouth but didn’t John do the same thing? At the start of Johns gospel we read,

“In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”. 

John is basically making the same point that I just made. But it goes even further, verses 4 and 5 of John’s gospel continue with the theme of light and darkness as do verses 4 and 5 of Genesis which seems to be deliberate and hardly a coincidence. In verses 7 and 8 John goes even further and reveals that Jesus is the true light. Whether the author of Genesis comprehended the full extent of his own words is unknown, but after reading John it is hard to unsee Jesus all over the place in those very first words of Scripture. 

Jesus is our Sabbath

This is kind of important as the chiasm below suggests; the Sabbath builds up to the main point that the author was trying to bring out in Genesis 1 and 2 which is that it is God who both blesses and sanctifies us; He has done this of course in and through Christ (Eph 1:3 & Heb 10:10). Why does the Bible say that God worked and then rested? Was the all powerful God tired? Of course not. Was it to set a pattern for mankind to follow (7 day weeks, 6 days work and 1 day of rest)? Maybe to some degree. Mostly though, I believe that it was to point us to Christ. You won’t notice this in most Bible translations because they say that God rested on the seventh day which makes more sense grammatically I suppose but the Hebrew actually says that God rested in the Sabbath day which is how the more ‘word for word’ versions like Young’s Literal Translation put it.

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11.

Jesus the firstborn, new Adam and bridegroom

The story of how Adam was in a deep sleep and had a bride taken from his side is also very similar to the story of Christ and His church. Jesus too ‘slept’ and His side was pierced and opened on the cross. In resurrection we will “be like Him” (1 John 3:2). Interestingly, Eve was not made from the dust as Adam was but was ‘built’ (literal translation of the Hebrew again) out of His side. This reminds me of when Christ said that He would build His church (Matt 16:18). Paul got in on this as well, in Ephesians 5:30-31 He quotes Genesis 2:23-24 and says:

For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Paul adds at the end though in the following verse,

 “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

I found this all very exciting and I hope that you did too. He is the beginning, He is Light, He is our rest and our Life is in Him. It's all about Jesus, hopefully there will be more bits like this to share as we continue to go through Genesis. If you have anymore to share that I missed, please add them in the comments below. Here is the chiasm as promised as well, notice the 'mirror images' building up to the main point.
 
A Literary Structure of Genesis 1:1—2:25 by Klaus Potsch

a 1:1-3 bareness of matter
  b 1:4-5 separation of light and darkness
    c 1:6-8 separation of the waters above and the waters below
      d 1:9-10 separation of dry land and the sea
        e 1:11-13 fulfilling of the earth
          f 1:14-19 filling of the sky with lights to govern and to measure time
           g 1:20-23 filling of the waters below and the waters above with animals
             h 1:24-25 filling the land with animals (living beings)
               i 1:26 God's concept of mankind
                 j 1:27 creation of mankind, transfer of image
                   k 1:28 mankind's habitat - the earth
                     l 1:29-30 the basis of food for the living creatures
                       m 1:31 the heavens and earth made, day 6
                         n 2:1 God creation completed in content
                           o 2:2a God's creation completed in time
                             p 2:2b God rests on the 7th day
                               x 2:3a THE HOLY GOD BOTH BLESSES AND SANCTIFIES
                             p' 2:3b God rests on the 7th day
                           o' 2:3c God's works created and made
                         n' 2:4a the heavens and earth created (finished, completed)
                       m' 2:4b the heavens and earth made in a timespan
                      l' 2:5-6 basis for life in the garden plants, moisture
                    k' 2:7a man's origin = dust
                  j' 2:7b man's creation, transfer of life
                i' 2:8 man's place = the garden
              h' 2:9 filling the garden with plants (tree of life)
            g' 2:10-14 filling the garden with water
          f' 2:15-17 filling the garden with a caretaker + measure for good and evil
        e' 2:18 fulfilling Adam's life
      d' 2:19-20 separation (discerning, naming) of the animals
    c' 2:21-23 separation of man and woman
  b' 2:24 separation of parents and children
a' 2:25 bareness of man

Chiasm taken from www.inthebeginning.org

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Why Substitutionary Atonement is Not Necessary for Evangelical Faith



Life has been a bit crazy and for various reasons writing is something that I just don’t seem to get around to much anymore. So this post is about 2 months later than was intended which too bad as it was somewhat as a response to an article posted by Owen Strachan which you can read over here entitled ‘Why Substitutionary Atonement is Necessary for Evangelical Faith’.  Malcolm Yarnell and Owen Strachan’s ‘resolution’ was presented to The Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in an effort to persuade the committee that the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is the ‘burning core of the Gospel message’ and should be defended and presented as such.

So if you have read a few of my posts before you would know that I strongly disagree with that viewpoint and therefore I would like to list some of the points that Owen and Malcolm brought up and add some commentary of my own to them. There are 20 points in total so this post will be split up into two. Perhaps you will agree with my comments and maybe you won’t, either way, I hope that my arguments can add perspective and cause others to not be so quick to excommunicate anyone and everyone who sees things a little differently than they do. We all agree that Jesus saves, THAT is the gospel message and what makes us Christians, as to the nuts and bolts of HOW the cross and resurrection save us there should be room for discussion. We have not passed from death into life or darkness into light because we have all the right answers. Rather, we are saved because we are in Christ. It’s not that our answers are not important either, they are. If the truth sets us free then error will put us in bondage. For all I know the authors of the article are beautiful, godly brothers whom I could learn a lot from and I am not going to write them off as easily as I think they might be persuaded to do from their side. Anyway, let’s test what they have to say about penal substitution and why I think they’re wrong.

  1 - Without penal substitutionary atonement, there is no satisfaction of the Father’s just wrath against sinners. 

This may be my biggest gripe with PSA (penal substitutionary atonement) right off the bat. PSA firmly declares that the death of Christ was to fix a problem not with man but with God. Father is angry and incapable of freely forgiving others or showing mercy. Only blood can satisfy His righteous anger. Reflect on that for a moment. The problems of sin, separation, death, the earth under a curse and the sway of Satan all become secondary issues with the primary focus being shifted to Gods need to balance opposing attributes (at least in the way that they are presented) of love and wrath.

2 - Without the satisfaction of divine wrath, there is no forgiveness for sin. Without forgiveness for sin, there is no gospel. 

There are countless examples of both God and Jesus freely forgiving people and nations in the Bible. Where was the wrath that reigned down on Ninevah or the woman who was caught in the act of adultery? Ideas like this come from taking verses like Hebrews 9:22 out of its context. It’s true that without forgiveness for sin there would be no gospel but fortunately God is not like us and He does not harbor unforgiveness in His heart. The impression I get is that Owen and Malcolm are mistakenly connecting forgiveness to eternal life. When Jesus was hanging on the cross He prayed to His Father saying, “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Did all the Pharisees, spectators and Roman soldiers present receive eternal life because Jesus forgave them?

3- The “anti-violence” model of the cross of Christ weakens the Bible’s teaching by recasting the atonement as a basis for pacifism (in contradiction of Romans 13:4).

Isaiah 53:9, just one verse removed from the favorite PSA proof text, tells us that in Christ (who is the exact image of the Father) is no violence. It’s not that the cross was not violent and ugly, the question is, whose violence? Isaiah 53:3 says that He was despised and rejected by men and we hid our faces from Him. PSA has switched the roles and projected our actions onto God which is inconsistent with the pattern revealed in the gospel messages given throughout the book of Acts which consistently says that wicked men killed Him but God raised Him up (Acts 2:36, 3:14-15, 4:10, 5:28).

4 - God is perfect in His holiness (Isaiah 6:3) and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4), as He is also perfect in His love (1 John 4:8).

Amen! But this is not a conflicting character triangle, God reveals His holiness, how His ways are not our ways, in Isaiah 55 in that He seeks the restoration of those who do not deserve it rather than their destruction. Holiness in this chapter is directly tied up with Gods mercy. Likewise justice is also mentioned many times in conjunction with Gods mercy. For PSA, mercy is the total opposite of Justice as it is giving someone what they DO NOT deserve. Yet scripturally speaking, justice has a very different meaning. Zechariah in chapter 7:9 gives us a proper definition for justice:

This says the Lord of hosts: Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.

‘True justice’ is not contrary to love and mercy, neither is true holiness.

5 - On the cross of Christ Jesus the perfect love of God perfectly applies the perfect justice of God to satisfy the perfect holiness of God in order to redeem sinners (Romans 3:26).

Like the previous statement, this one is true but misleading because the authors have a wrong understanding of justice and holiness, thereby arriving at different conclusions as to what it means. The PSA interpretation of justice here is actually quite confusing though because how can killing the innocent and letting the guilty off freely be considered a just payment? Imagine a man is wrongfully sentenced to death for a murder and years after his execution the true culprit is identified. Is it right to say, “Oh well, we killed someone else so the guilty party is free and exempt from prosecution’. No, justice means making things right again. In the original languages it actually means the same as righteousness. The cross reveals Gods love (John 3:16) by making things right (restoration and undoing the work of sin, Satan and death) to satisfy Gods holiness.

6 - The denial of penal substitutionary atonement in effect denies the holy and loving God the exercise of His justice, the overflow of which in a sinful world is the outpouring of His just retributive wrath.

I’m not sure where the idea of Gods wrath being poured out on the Son is taught in scripture? And I am not sure how not affirming PSA prohibits justice or wrath in any way and reveals Gods loving nature either. Scripture has a lot to say about Gods wrath but where is it linked to the cross (Isaiah 53:10, Hebrews 9:22 and Matthew 27:46 are not good arguments).

8 - The denial of penal substitutionary atonement thus displays in effect the denial of the perfect character of the one true God.

I wish this point was elaborated on more so one could know exactly what is meant by the perfect character of God and how PSA reveals it. How does slaying ones only Son exhibit perfect love? How does punishing the innocent in place of the guilty display perfect justice and how does retributive violence demonstrate perfect holiness?

9 - The denial of penal substitutionary atonement constitutes false teaching that leads the flock astray (Acts 20:28) and leaves the world without a message of a sin-cleansing Savior (Romans 5:6–11).

Because the doctrine of penal substitution is only 500 years old one must logically conclude from the above statement that from the time of Pentecost until the time of John Calvin the church was always under false teaching. There are other atonement theories which more directly and scripturally deal with the sin-cleansing Savior such as the Christus Victor model. All atonement theories struggle with the question of evil and present a message of a sin-cleansing Savior, PSA is not unique in this at all except insofar as its particular explanation.

10 - The denial of penal substitutionary atonement necessarily compromises the biblical and historical doctrines of propitiation, expiation, ransom, satisfaction, Christus Victor, Christus Exemplar, and more.

This is another confusing statement as most people who do not hold to a penal substitutionary view of the atonement would hold to something else, like ransom, Christus Victor or moral influence views. While I believe that there are elements of truth in most theories I think it should be obvious that PSA is not the pillar of truth that all other theories are built on. I simply cannot see how belief in any of the doctrines mentioned above is weakened or denied if PSA is rejected.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my response.
In the meantime, why not check out my article on a better way of understanding the atonement by clicking here or by clicking on the image of my book on the right for a free PDF copy.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Empire Baptized - Wes Howard-Brook (book review)



About a decade ago I came to the frightful realization that the church has potentially being more influenced by Augustine and Constantine than it has by the teachings of Jesus. Then after spending the last four years studying what the Bible teaches about the fate of those who reject Christ I came to the conclusion that Plato deserves a place a place alongside the other two aforementioned names as well.

Recently, I decided that I would one day like to publish a book on heaven and hell which means that I have being in the process of acquiring as many books as I can on the subject of heaven and the new earth as I can get my hands on. This is primarily why I jumped at the opportunity to review Wes Howard-Brook’s new book Empire Baptized – How the Church Embraced what Jesus Rejected (Second – Fifth Centuries). The book, while not at all being about what I was looking for did prove to confirm a lot of my suspicions regarding the enormous influence that Platonic thought has had on the church.

Let me start by giving a basic run down of what the book is about. The author submits that there are ultimately two religions. The religion of creation and the religion of empire; Empire Baptized documents the churches transition from the former to the latter between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD. It would certainly be beneficial to read Howard-Brook’s previous work ‘Come Out, My People’ which lays the foundations that this book is built upon, nevertheless he does share a neat little table contrasting the two 'religions' in Empire Baptized as well. Some of the contrasts would for example be that the religion of creation emphasizes the one God who is creator of the heavens and the earth, He is intimately involved with His creation and reigns supreme, the earth is the Lords and we are tenants in the land. Religious ‘obligations’ can be summarized in loving God and neighbor expressed in right relationship with them. The religion of empire however focuses on religious duties performed in sacred temples performed by the priestly elite. Serving God or the gods is done primarily through loyalty to the ‘empire’. Hierarchy plays a vital role and the land belongs to the kings and those who can afford to buy it or take it by force.

This is a well researched book and it opened my eyes to the fact that there were several key figures who all contributed to the gradual shift in the church that moved it from being a cross-bearing, enemy-loving and non-violent grass-roots movement to a sword wielding, materialized version of its former self.  Ultimately, hierarchies lead to classes, which lead to abuses and oppression thus embracing an approach to God that had been rejected by Jesus. Focusing his attention on Carthage, Alexandria and the surrounding regions, the author has documented the impact that several historical figures have had on the church. From Marcion, to Clement of Alexandria, to Tertullian, Origen, Constantine, Ambrose and many others, we see a progression of thought as the church distanced itself from its Jewish heritage and identified more and more with Greek philosophy, Gnostic thought which separated the physical from the spiritual and imperialism first on an ecclesial and later at the political level.

This book paints a far different picture of the early church fathers than what one might be familiar with. I was surprised to learn of Marcions role in getting Paul’s epistles canonized and dumbfounded by the more Gnostic than Christian contents of Clement’s writings. I was surprised to learn that even those who were persecuted by the state generally held high positions in society and were financially backed by wealthy ladies and how supercessionism contributed to the new way of reading the Bible to the point that even in those early years the Scriptures would have been read and interpreted through a very different lens to the one the New Testament writers themselves would have used.

On the negative side, the book sometimes assumes a prior knowledge on certain topics which means that it’s probably not meant for beginner students. Some huge claims are sometimes made such as that the pastoral epistles to Titus and Timothy were fraudulently written in the name of Paul, these are big things to say and I wish that he spent a little time unpacking such statements, the end notes that I did find on such matters were hardly satisfactory.

As a whole though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I love church history and I love theology and there are not enough books out there which document how the former has shaped the latter. I would recommend it to anyone who has similar interests.




You can visit the authors website by clicking here or purchase a copy of Empire Baptized by clicking over here.


I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Why my theology has changed so much





“The message of Jesus changed the world, until the world changed the message.”  - Bruxy Cavey

Over the last decade my beliefs have changed quite a bit on a number of topics. This might be alarming to some people but I contend that there is a very good reason for the change in so much of my thinking. Let me go back to what I see as the crossroad where all of this started and explain.

My story 

I had a Charismatic upbringing complete with all of the bells and whistles but in my mid-twenties I became restless with the general lackadaisical attitude around me and started searching for something else. I soon found myself in a church that could best be described as Armenian/Reformed (if that is even a thing?), we did not hold to TULIP but Calvinistic undertones to our thinking were everywhere. We viewed ourselves as the church that was destined to save the world from false doctrine. We constantly studied doctrine, taught doctrine and were self described as a church centered around sound doctrine. I took pride in being the go-to guy who had a Bible verse for anyone who needed one in any situation. Despite the many areas where both of these churches were lacking, God was still working in them both and I took a lot of positives out of both experiences.

It was around 2008/2009 when the contrast I saw in the book of Acts to the church today became too much to ignore. I wanted more, the emotional entertainment driven-church had left be frustrated, the intellectually superior/performance driven approach had left me disillusioned and I was not confident that the more traditional models centered on rituals would be any better. And so after much prayer my wife and I started meeting simply with other believers in our home. There was no program or clergy, we just got together around the dinner table to talk about life and God. If someone had a song, question, teaching or word to share we encouraged them to do so. This was and still is awkward and difficult at times but has been deeply rewarding over the years.

While a change in my intellectual understanding of what the church is as well as the practical application of living it was intently done, I was very much naive as to how far the ripple effect would reach. We never set out to recreate the ‘Acts church model’, what we did set out to do though was let Christ build His church, let Him be the head and let the Spirit lead us, what we discovered very slowly is that the church starts to exhibit ‘book of Acts like qualities’ organically rather than artificially. People start getting together more, praying, ministering and looking out for one another naturally. Now this is not a post about ecclesiology but I did want to lead up to this point. In the past my faith was centered around various church traditions, church meetings were central to my faith and the head-pastor was central to the meeting. The Bible was central to the sermon and the seminary-trained orator was the authority to interpret it for us.

Christ alone

      I never realized it at the time but Jesus, despite the songs we sang and the prayers that we made, was sharing His throne with a host of things that I had put up there with Him. My faith has changed and is changing. By taking a step back I was able to start seeing things more clearly. This Jesus is not just a good role model to be imitated; He is not just your ticket into heaven or just the right name to use at the end of your prayers. He is the One in and through which all things were created and continue to exist. He is the Light, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Word, the Firstborn, the Head of the Body, the All in All, the Alpha and Omega, the Lion and the Lamb and the Great I AM.

GOD, who at various times and in various Ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2). 

I used to employ a flat reading of the Bible; I believed that the best biblical hermeneutic was to let scripture interpret scripture, actually I unknowingly mostly let Plato and Augustine interpret scripture but that is a story for another day. Nevertheless, I would like to boldly suggest that letting scripture interpret scripture is good practice but is actually only the second most important rule of biblical interpretation. The first rule of hermeneutics I would say is to let ‘Jesus interpret scripture’, the one whom the author of Hebrews says that God has spoken to us through in these last days. Moses and the prophets gave us a glimpse of God’s glory (Exodus 33:23) but Jesus IS the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). How does this work practically? Let me borrow a quote as an example from a friend who recently made a comment about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as it relates to Deuteronomy 25:1-3 and the message of fairness or as he called it, 'the principle of reciprocity'.

“An eye for an eye does not make the whole world blind, as Gandhi suggested, but enforces relational and social justice. Put differently, it forces us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us by putting us at the receiving end of our own actions. Thus, the law and prophets are never abolished in Jesus’ famous statement in Matt 7:12, but fulfilled. If we can do unto others as we would have them do unto us, then we will no longer need the restraint of a written code that exists to protect our neighbors from our selfish unjust actions (and vice versa), neither the penalty of an “equal measure” to restore the scale and also serve as a deterrent for further unjust actions”.

Jesus is the truth and in Him we are confronted with the rule of faithful thinking about God. Using Jesus as the lens to which we approach all of scripture will cause us to rethink much of what we have previously assumed to be true in much of our theology. Acknowledging Christ above all as the center, the Word and our final authority permits us to see that. Why do I now think differently and write about such things as the church, the atonement, heaven and hell and so on? To answer that let borrow a piece from one of Baxter Kruger’s recent articles which resonated with me.

“The Christian church is summoned to be the sphere within creation where this Son is known, embraced and taken with profound seriousness. The church is called to be the community in which the light of Jesus Christ is allowed to shine, where the truth of all truths is allowed to question every assumption... The Christian church is called to proceed in earnest faith and joy, obediently bringing every thought captive to Christ. It is the church’s great privilege and calling to think through the implications of the stunning reality established in Jesus Christ for every sphere and discipline of human thought, from theology proper to ecology and international politics, from sin and human brokenness to economics, education and healing. No leaf is to be left unturned until the staggering implications of Jesus Christ’s identity and existence are understood and received in all joy. In this calling the Christian church is the witness to the human race and to the cosmos of Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, the Anointed One, the rhyme and reason and the Lord and life of all creation, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Answering the criticism toward my previous post on hell



I have posted many times about hell over the last few years but for some reason, my last post (which you can read by clicking here) which questioned the doctrine of eternal conscious torment was picked up on and spread like a wild-fire across the internet, racking up 11 000 views in the few days since I posted it already. I have had a hard time just trying to keep up and respond to all of the comments on the blog and in various Facebook threads. So I thought that I would attempt to answer all of the questions, clarify all of the misunderstandings and share a few reflections of my own on everything over here. Below are six areas which I would like to address.

Scriptural objections to my article

The three main scriptural objections that came up were Matthew 25:46, Revelation 14:11 and Revelation 20:10 which are the same three that I addressed in point 1 of my post which makes me wonder if people actually read the article or just experienced a knee jerk reaction to it. I am not going to repeat myself here so I will deal with 4 other verses that were mentioned instead, 3 below and 1 in a later point.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2

The above verse makes a contrast between those who receive the gift of eternal life and those who do not. The shame and contempt referred to however are directed toward those who do not receive immortality. Think of Hitler, the world remembers him with contempt and shame but he is very much dead. A similar understanding can be made for those who will experience the second death in the Lake of Fire.

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. – Matthew 25:41.

Matthew 25:41 speaks of an eternal (Greek aionios) fire rather than of immortal souls residing in an eternal fire. The idea presented consistently throughout scripture is that the fire is unquenchable and will not be put out until it has consumed everything within it. Furthermore, the word aionios also literally means ‘age-during’ as it appears in the Youngs Literal Translation of the Bible. Aionios can indeed and usually does mean eternal but can also refer to a specific period of time defined by an age as well (depending on its context). For example, Romans 16:25-26 says “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages (aionios) past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith.” The obvious interpretation here is one of a specific age rather than eternity otherwise Paul’s statement in verse 26  could not be true. Similarly, Hebrews 9:26 says “Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages (aionios) to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Obviously, eternity has no end, the aionios here refers to the central point in history which is Christ’s time on earth and more specifically, His crucifixion and resurrection. So to recap, Matthew 25:41 does not mention eternal conscious suffering, only an age-during fire which consumes everything in it (Hebrews 10:27).

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:43-44 (context up until verse 48).

There are two points to consider regarding this passage. The first is that nowhere does it refer to the duration of the persons existence in hell, that is something that gets read into the text based on our preconceived ideas. The second point is that Jesus was quoting directly from Isaiah 66:24 which says, regarding those living in the new heaven and earth, that they will “…look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me (God). For their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched”. In case you missed it, the worms were feeding on corpses. Is it not more plausible that the message in the warning is that the worms do not die and the fire cannot be quenched until they have done their job? Or are we to believe that the worms are immortal and the corpses as well?

General misunderstandings 

Some of the feedback I received was based on a misunderstanding that I was trying to remove hell from the Bible. This was not my intention at all. Personally, I do believe that Gehenna should rather be translated as ‘Valley of Hinnom’ which is the actual English name for the place Jesus made reference to on multiple occasions. The word hell itself originated in the 8th century AD and probably should not be in our English Bibles at all, literal translations like Young’s prefer to leave the term untranslated as Gehenna which is probably for the better. Yet that in no way takes away from the amount of evidence in the Bible that a grim ending awaits those who reject Christ. A study on the word hell yields a handful of verses in our English Bibles but a study on the fate of the lost yields hundreds of verses that should not be taken lightly. So when I speak of conditional immortality, I do not endorse the idea that there is no torment or repercussions awaiting people in the afterlife, I am simply saying that eternal life is the reward and inheritance awaiting those in Christ alone.

After-death experiences and Luke 16

Someone sent my wife a testimony of a person who had claimed to have been to hell. A few other people also brought to my attention the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 as proof of eternal conscious torment. There is a lot that could be said on both of these points but I just want to make one observation about both stories. In chapter 20 of the book of Revelation it speaks of something known as the Great White Throne Judgment where the dead are raised from their graves and judged according to their works. Death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire along with anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life. Herein lies my point, Luke 16 is a parable that mentions conscious torment of a man 2000 years ago, all the videos and books we see about people visiting hell are written in the present age. Even if they are real, they precede the Great White Throne Judgment and Lake of Fire which is the second death (20:14). So even if people were actually suffering in Hades right now, these stories have no bearing on what occurs in the Lake of Fire to which no one has as yet been cast into. This reasoning sounds to me as if when someone dies they go to get burnt but are kept alive in flames (Augustine used the example of a Salamander that can survive inside of a fire as his proof that the fire does not consume, I would not recommend testing his theory out), at a later stage, they go for judgment and then they go back to get burnt again in the same setting and in a similar, ongoing manner. I find this exegesis to be rather confusing.

Jesus

I should have anticipated this but a few people took exception to me saying that I couldn’t see Jesus torturing people for eternity, stating that Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else. Now it is true that Jesus did warn about the consequences of rejecting Him many times but that is not necessarily an endorsement of eternal conscious torment, consider Matthew 10:28 which says:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

That sounds more like a warning of total destruction to me than it does eternal conscious torment. On a bit of a side note, you have probably heard people say before that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. It is an often repeated assumption but its simply not true, about 3 percent (roughly 60 verses) of what Jesus said can be categorized as possible references to hell. In contrast, nearly 10 percent (192 verses) of what Jesus said was in reference to heaven, eternal life and the Kingdom of God.

This will lead to more sin

One of the comments I received a lot of is that if judgment consists of a measurable amount of punishment according to ones deeds and they are not granted eternal life but will ultimately perish then there is no consequences for sin and we might as well not follow Jesus and just live recklessly. I don’t even know how to respond to that honestly. Sin still has consequences and death is still punishment. Still others seemed concerned that the gospel would not be attractive enough without the threat of eternal conscious torment to influence a persons decision. But in Romans chapter 2 Paul says that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, perhaps that is why nowhere in the New Testament do we see the apostles using hell as a motivational tool in their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I see a larger problem behind these questions though in that they reveal that we do not believe that Christ alone is sufficient to sanctify us and cleanse us from sin. We do not trust that the goodness of God can bring people into the Kingdom and so we adapt an insurance salesman strategy, relying on fear to 'seal the deal'.

Accusations against me

In the last week I have been called all sorts of things, here is a small sample of what has been written to me:

“As much as you claim to have researched the subjects in question, it's pretty clear that your research already has predetermined outcomes in mind, and selectively ignores the powerful truth that counters them.”
“fanciful twisting of scripture”
“You have been listening to doctrines of demons for too long. “
 “You have a deep rebellion against authority. Shut down this blog and seek council.”
“Do you know how dangerous it is to spread these lies in a Christian forum as a "Christian" author?”
“You are denying Christ.”
“Please check the truth before posting opinions.”
“I offered you salvation through Jesus Christ, and how to get it. Please let me or one of us lead you to Christ if you don't understand.”
“The conclusions of a delusional millennial mind.”
“Burn this blog or.. woe to you from God on High!”

I have shared this because I want to make a few comments about these responses. I get that what I am saying is radically different than what most people have heard before. As one friend said to me, “hearing about annihilation for the first time…it’s initially quite fearful…almost as if a huge ‘pillar’ under-girding your faith is about to collapse…what is the gospel without hell? It is still the gospel”. So I get that the reactions can be quite harsh but let me say a few things in my defense. Firstly, no one likes been vilified and ostracized, I have not written these posts or reached these conclusions lightly. Day after day I hear of people who lose friends, are denied church membership or even employment opportunities because their studies led them to conclude that conditional immortality carried more biblical support than eternal conscious torment did. So no, my view is not the ‘easy choice’ some insinuate that it is. Secondly, I have provided a list of well over a hundred scriptures without commentary to show how the Bible consistently deals with the subject of the fate of those who do not know Christ. If it appears that I have twisted scripture then read that list by clicking over here free from the biases that I might be imposing on them. Thirdly, I do not believe that ones intellectual, eschatological persuasions are a salvation issue. Yes, they are certainly important as they depict a certain image of God in the world and we are called to 'not bear false witness' so let’s flesh this stuff out together and move toward a right understanding. But is Christ your Lord? Great! Let’s proclaim the love of God and the way to eternal life through Jesus side by side. Hopefully, we will figure out and agree on the finer details together along the way.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Ten reasons to stop believing that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment





Like many Christians, I grew up in churches that believed and taught that most people would spend the rest of eternity burning in flames. A place of eternal consciousness where every moment was occupied with unimaginable tortures; some said that there were demons in hell who were skinning humans alive or forcing sulfur down peoples throats and prodding them with hot irons. Still others said that the people were engulfed in flames and trapped inside deep dark pits; in all the various scenarios the wounds would heal and the suffering would never cease. Some churches believed that Satan and the demons had no authority in hell and that they would be burning along with the rest of fallen humanity with God and His angels substituted in to fulfill the role of tormentors. Ultimately though the story was the same, heaven was the promise and hell was the sales pitch strategy for those wishing to avoid such a fate. Church was the contractual obligation to be fulfilled and the sinners’ prayer was the signature on the dotted line.

While there can be no doubt that there are very bad and eternal consequences for rejecting the life that Christ offers us. As a Bible believing Christian I no longer find anything in the opening paragraph that holds true when I look for it in scripture. So if you are tormented by the idea of loved ones suffering an eternal scenario like the one mentioned above, if you have come to reject or loathe a god capable of such atrocities or if you are simply willing to let the idea of eternal torment in hell be examined and put to the test then read on as below I offer ten reasons as to why I no longer hold to this view.

1 - The underwhelming support for it found in scripture.

While the imagery that I opened with is common in other writings such as the Quran, there is little support for it to be found within the pages of the Bible. Most of the verses we think of when we think about hell actually contain no mention of duration of punishment at all. Whether it is the rich young ruler, the weeping and gnashing of teeth verses or the place where worms feast on the corpses of God’s enemies, any ideas of eternal consciousness that we hold to we have imputed on to the texts ourselves.

When it comes down to it, there are only three verses in the entire Bible that could imply eternal conscious torment (hereafter referred to as ECT) which are Matthew 25:46, Revelation 14:11 and Revelation 20:10. It’s important to note here that these three verses when taken in isolation appear to contradict the vast majority of other verses in the Bible (see point 4) and so it is wise to consider the language more carefully. The two verses in Revelation for example are likely drawing from the imagery found in other places of the Bible such as Ezekiel 38-39 and Isaiah 34. In Isaiah 34:9-10 for instance, we see that the destruction of the Edomites is described with the imagery of sulfur and fires that would not be quenched and where the smoke ascends forever. Obviously the language here is meant to convey the severity and finality of the destruction rather than to be taken literally. We see something similar in Jude 7 as well which says that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the vengeance of eternal fire. Sodom, Gomorrah and Edom are clearly not still literally ablaze so we should concede at the very least that the language of Revelation might just have been intended to be taken likewise. As for Matthew 25:46, the eternal punishment mentioned in that verse is contrasted with eternal life. Surely then it makes more sense to understand eternal punishment as something contrary to eternal life? Something perhaps along the lines of the irrevocable loss of life, being dead forever or as eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

If I am wrong though and those three scriptures do support eternal conscious punishment, one has to wonder why God would have remained silent about it throughout the Old Testament and the rest of earth’s history? Why is something so prevalent in the modern church reduced to so few mentions in the last portion of the Bible? It does not make sense.

2 –  Hijacked terminology 

If ECT in hell is true, then the language used to describe the fate of those who reject God in scripture becomes confusing. The Bible speaks of those who will perish (John 3:16) but ECT says that they will never perish. The Bible speaks of those who will be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) or suffer everlasting destruction (Matthew 7:13-14, 2 Thessalonians 1:9), ECT says that they will never be destroyed for they are indestructible. The Bible says that those who did not follow Christ will be burned up or consumed (Matthew 3:12, Hebrews 10:27), that they will be ash (Malachi 4:1 – 3), they will waste away (Psalm 112:10), they will be no more (Ezekiel 26:19 – 21), they will melt like wax before a fire (Psalm 68:2), they will fade away (Psalm 37:1-2), they will disappear (Isaiah 1:31), they will wither (John 12:25) and that they will not live forever (Genesis 3:3). To play with the literal meanings of any of these phrases is to deny them completely, either you will disappear or you won’t, you will perish or you won’t, you will live forever or you won’t etc. I find there to be a deep irony in the fact that in order to defend ECT, one needs to take Revelation (a book full of wild imagery) literally and the rest of the Bible to be speaking figuratively.

3 - Death

Scripture speaks of a second death (Jude 8, Revelation 21:8), the standard answer to this is similar to the previous point. For those who teach the mainline view of hell death no longer means a loss of life but rather a separation from the omnipresent God. But if death refers not to dying but to simply being separated from God, then what does it mean when the Bible also says that one day there will be no more death (Revelation 21:4)? Or what happens when the last enemy (death) to be destroyed is conquered (1 Corinthians 15:26)? Will those spending eternity consciously being tormented in hell no longer be separated from God? What happens when separation is destroyed? By that definition death sounds more like Universalism to me than it does our modern, traditional view.

4 - Scriptures overwhelming evidence towards conditional immortality

Contrary to the doctrine of ECT, I find an abundance of support for the idea that people are not inherently immortal and that only those who are in Christ will receive the gift of eternal life. There are literally hundreds of verses supporting this, rather than add them here I have made a list of supporting scriptures which I am always adding to that you can look at and study by clicking over here. Simply put, though, I find the verses in the link to overwhelmingly, convincingly and consistently support the idea that whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life (John 3:36).

5 – Excessive Punishment

Even in the Old Testament where God sometimes seems to be more angry and willing to dish out punishment, we see a limit on what is to be meted out. Consider Deuteronomy 25:1-3 where it speaks of a guilty man found deserving of a beating, a condemned man was permitted to be beaten with the number of stripes in proportion to his offense and never beyond the number forty. If the punishment is to fit the crime then how does a life of 20, 40, 60 or even 80 years yield an infinite number of stripes?  Some have said that to sin against an eternal God is deserving of infinite punishment but does that not assume that the two words mean exactly the same thing? And if justice is to be carried out in the form of unending punishment does that not mean that God’s justice is never actually satisfied or realized?

6 – What would be the purpose?

Throughout scripture we see God’s restorative justice in action. That is to say that there is a purpose to His judgments. In extreme cases the wicked are wiped out by natural disasters or enemy groups usually with a remnant remaining behind. In less extreme cases people are rebuked or something bad will happen in order to provoke them toward repentance. The point though is that ECT seems to have no restorative purpose at all. The lost are forever fixed in their state and mercilessly kept alive to endure excruciating pain forever. They would simply continue to curse and be cursed.

7 – Biblical justice

Many people have argued that God must punish sinners eternally because His justice demands it but if we are to define justice as the Bible does, I believe it would look something like Zechariah 7:9 which says:

Thus says the LORD of Hosts: Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.”

So the LORD of Hosts says that true justice is to show mercy and compassion. The retributive (and then some) form of justice that ECT entails could not be more contrary to this way of thinking.

8 – Historical reasons  

No one can deny that for the last 1500 years the idea of eternal conscious torment has been the dominant view of both the Catholic and the Protestant churches. Importantly though, conditional immortality and even universalism were both well represented before the time of Augustine along with the idea of ECT. Now if I heard a doctrine preached and there was no evidence that early church held to it, I would be especially concerned and suspicious of it. But the ideas that I shared in point 4 are consistent with what was taught and can be found in the writings of men such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Arnobius. On the contrary, ECT’s history seems to extend beyond the Bible and early churches teachings; seemingly having infiltrated the church through a Hellenistic influence and the philosophy of Plato in particular.

9 – All in all? – Except for the 90 %...

The Bible proclaims a glorious future, it speaks of a new heaven and earth where there is no more death or sorrow and of a time where God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). I like to think of it as a restored version of the Garden of Eden where everything is “very good indeed” and God can be found walking in the cool of the day enjoying His creation and visa versa. But if wickedness remains and has not ‘passed away’ but continues to exist in those suffering unimaginable torments in hell then God is not all in all, He is only all in some and that is not success. For death, sin and rebellion have not passed away but have merely been confined to an underworld prison.

10 – Jesus 

Lastly, I do not see Jesus whom scripture reveals to be the exact image of the Father, that is to say, the truest and clearest revelation we have of who God is and what He is like, as someone who would stone an enemy, much less burn them alive. Jeremiah 32:35 speaks of the Israelites who burned their own children as sacrifices to Molech in the Valley of Hinnom (which is called Gehenna in the New Testament and then translated as hell in English). The verse continues on and says that this was an abomination to God that had “never even entered into His mind”. We know that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and that He even went so far as to allow Himself to be killed by His own, so the idea that He has had a change of heart and has gone from “forgive them for they know not what they do” to “let’s burn them and keep them alive forever” seems odd.

In conclusion, the more I have studied this over the years the more I have become convinced that hell, whatever it might actually be, is not a place of eternal conscious torment but more of a symbol of the utter hopelessness that awaits those who reject Christ. Yes, there will be a resurrection of the dead and consequences for rejecting the Gospel but it will most likely look very different to what we have previously imagined. The purpose for resurrecting those outside of Christ only to have them suffer a second death is still a mystery to me but there must be a purpose behind it that I am yet to understand. What I do know though is that if He is our life then rejecting Him is to reject eternal life itself.




If you want to explore the idea of conditional immortality further here are some helpful resources containing blogs, podcasts and more.

http://rethinkinghell.com/ 
http://www.afterlife.co.nz/
http://www.truthaccordingtoscripture.com/index.php#.WRGZ01V97IU

I have also written a follow up article to this one in response to the questions and criticism that it received on this link

http://wrostoll.blogspot.co.za/2017/05/answering-criticism-toward-my-previous.html

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Why I have an Arabic letter tattooed on my wrist





I have a tattoo of the Arabic letter nun on my right wrist and I get asked about its meaning all of the time, especially from Muslims who instantly recognize the symbol and are curious about it. So a year and a half after getting it I have decided to write about its meaning if only to help me to offer a coherent response to others the next time someone inquires about it again.

Before I start, if you think that Christians should not get tattoos then you can read another post on that topic by clicking over here. If we are good to go, the letter nun is the equivalent of the English letter n and is the first letter of the word nasrani. Nasrani is what Christians are called in Iraq (it directly translates as Nazarenes) and the symbol was originally used by ISIS to identify Christians in the Mosul area. The ultimatum for these Christians was to either leave Iraq, convert or be killed. A mark that was originally meant to bring shame however has since become a symbol for the persecuted church and a call for Christians around the world to stand with and pray for those who are enduring suffering. According to some reports, some sympathetic Muslims have also joined in a show of solidarity with the ‘We are N’ movement holding leaflets stating, ‘I am Iraqi, I am Christian’, or marking themselves with the symbol as well.

On a popular level, the symbol represents the idea of rejecting injustice and showing respect to one another. It is also a reminder to pray for those who are been persecuted and even killed for their faith. On a personal level though, the symbol speaks to me of the cross of Christ in a more powerful way than an image of an actual crucifix would. Today the crucifix image can be seeing on half of Hollywood’s celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Ozzy Osbourne, it has become fashionable and devoid of any power. But the nun speaks of following Christ not just in life but even when the threat of death is real. It reminds us that Jesus conquered not by killing but by dying, violence begets violence but good overcomes evil. Every time I see it, I think of Matthew 5, I thin of Romans 12 and of the book of Revelation, I think of the believers in the persecuted church all over the world and I am encouraged by their witness. The Kingdom of God does not advance when it flexes its muscles but only when it opens its heart and responds with love in kindness and service to others. I am thankful that I live in a land where I do not need to fear for my children because of our theology, I do not have a persecution complex. But I am challenged to live out The Way in the smaller areas of my everyday life. Whether it is helping others financially even though we cannot really afford it or helping someone with a task when it is not convenient or just being nice to someone when it is not reciprocated. There is an abundance of ways to live sacrificially in the service of others.

In short then, the symbol on my wrist reminds me of Christ and of a better way of living.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter Sunday and the Baptism of Jesus




There is much speculation as to why Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. Obviously He was without sin so at first glance John’s baptism of repentance can be a bit perplexing. But within the context of the atonement as identification rather than substitution as I presented it in my previous 2 posts things start to make a bit more sense. With Jesus identifying with man and the Spirit falling on Him we see the completed circle of identification. In the gospel of John we are told that the day after John the Baptist baptized Jesus, when he saw Him coming again, he said to the crowd… “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” This is remarkable, for it reveals that John understood through the vision of the dove that Jesus was identified with the Holy Spirit in His baptism. In Matthew’s account we also see the Father identifying with Jesus in this scene:-

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

So the water baptism of Jesus reveals to us the gospel message of Him identifying with man. It also reveals the Spirit as well as the Father identifying themselves with Jesus in order that we might be identified with them! 

Pure gospel!



See part 1 in this series by clicking here
and part 2 by clicking here.


This post was adapted from chapter 8 in my book Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 128-129.


Friday, 14 April 2017

Why Baptism and Easter are inseparable




Yesterday I made a case for speaking of Christ's death using the language of identification rather than substitution. Today I want to continue that thought by looking into baptism a little bit.

I have heard many times before people argue over whether baptism is necessary for one to be saved. I am one of those who believe that it most certainly is necessary but unlike most in that camp, I am not referring to the act of water baptism (though I do think it is important). Rather, when I speak of the necessity of baptism I am referring to having ones identity tied together with Christ’s which water baptism is symbolic of. Most people I believe do not think of baptism in this way but rather they think of it in the same manner that one thinks of vaccinations. You get saved, you get baptized at church (usually after doing some sort of membership or basic Christian principles course) and you pretty much forget about your baptism after that. I see more to it than that, let me quote my friend Jeremy Meyers on the deeper meaning of baptism which I think is brilliantly laid out for us in his book Dying to Religion and Empire. In one particular section Jeremy had the following to say:-

“In Greek literature, “Baptism” rarely refers to what we think of as “Baptism with water.” Instead, the word refers to a wide variety of events or ideas. It is used to refer to a sinking ship or a drowning person, and also to someone who is overcome by sickness and disease and “sinks” into death. In some Greek references, it refers to people who sink into sleep, intoxication, or impotence, or even to those who are overwhelmed by faults, desires, and the magical arts. So “Baptism” does not inherently include any idea of getting dunked under water, but rather refers to being immersed, overwhelmed, or overcome by something else. When a person undergoes baptizma, it means they are no longer who they were before, but are now fully identified with someone or something else.
Therefore, whenever you see the word “baptize” or “Baptism” in Scripture, it would be wise to stop and change the word into “immersion” or “identification” and then ask yourself, “Immersed or identified with what?”

This helps to clear up some confusing passages in Scripture which talk about 'Baptism'. Take 1 Corinthians 10:2, for example, where Paul writes about the Israelites being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The idea Paul is conveying is that the people of Israel fully identified themselves with Moses, and he with them. In the cloud and in the sea, Moses and Israel became one. We read something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as well where Paul says that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The idea he is getting across is that we are all one in Christ. He is stressing our unity in our identification. Baptism therefore is intrinsically connected to Christ’s work on the cross. Just as Israel was baptized into Moses, the church has been baptized into Jesus. Paul says in Colossians 2:12 that we were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

In one of the most powerful portions of Scripture Paul latches on to the concept of identification and union with Christ when he writes:-

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” - Romans 6:3-8.

In Christ, we are more than just forgiven; we actually become partakers of the divine nature. Not that we become ‘gods’ ourselves but we receive it as a as a result of our union with Him. In Jesus, the One who overcame sin, we have freedom from sins heavy yoke. In the Elect One, we ourselves become elect and enjoy the privileges of Sonship. Yes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ”.

Can you see how the cross reaches far beyond merely someone else paying your debt? We are Christ’s very own Eve, members of His body, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Paul referred to this as a great mystery between Jesus and the church.

Even the verses that most clearly seem to advocate for substitutionary theology, like the ones describing the Old Testament sacrifices (see Leviticus 1 through 4) are understood by most scholars as a system of covering through identification with the animals by the laying on of hands on the animal’s head. Likewise when Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” was not speaking in a substitutionary manner, for the very next verse in chapter 6 verse 1 goes on to say, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

I believe that Jesus Himself was trying to convey this same message during the Last Supper to His disciples, He was not speaking about the divine pardon but rather a divine union. The secret to the Christian life is Christ! Just look at the language Jesus used in John 14 through 15 as I have highlighted some samplings of it below.

“In my Father’s abode are many dwellings…the Father dwells in Me…I in the Father and the Father in Me…and He will give you another Helper that He may abide in you forever…He dwells with you and will be in you…I will come to you…At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you…we will come to Him and make our home in Him…Abide in Me…He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit…by this the Father is glorified…as the Father loved Me, I also have loved you, abide in My love”.

If that does not make your heart dance then read it again and again until it does. Write it out, stick it on your bathroom mirror and read it daily until the penny finally drops. This is what makes the gospel so amazing and so beautiful. If you were looking forward to a six-bedroom, double-storey mansion up in heaven one day boy are you going to be surprised in the best possible way!




Adapted from my new book Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 123 to 127.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Cross: Substitution or identification?



This post is an adaption from a portion of a chapter on baptism in my new book. Like much that is discussed therein, I have tried to ask different questions surrounding the fall, Christ’s death, resurrection and the gospel in order to gain new insights into what they are all about. For today (Good Friday), I would like to discuss the death and resurrection of Christ not from a substitutionary perspective but rather by using the language of identification.  This is not necessarily an objection or challenge against the answers and the conclusions we have reached in the past, but rather I feel that in approaching things from a new perspective we stand to benefit from fresh insights related to Christ’s sacrifice.

Now the typical presentation that we have of the atonement presents Christ as our substitute, the Lamb of God who dies a substitutionary death on behalf of mankind. This theology presents Jesus as the one who knew no sin who became sin for us and suffered a penalty on our behalf that we might escape its consequences. There is certainly an idea within Scripture of Jesus dying as a substitute. I do believe that there is some truth and merit in this way of thinking. Nevertheless, I believe that the substitutionary framework we have wrapped the cross in is insufficient when speaking of Christ’s death.  Because when one really starts to think things through we quickly run into problems with this kind of language.

Consider what the ‘instead of’ language does to the message of the cross. The common perception is that Jesus, the innocent Lamb who knew no sin became sin for us and we in turn received the righteousness of Christ. This I believe is good and true but I do not believe it accurately fits inside the substitution box. If it did then what penalty did Christ suffer in our stead? We know that He died on the cross and was raised back to life three days later; the innocent for the guilty. But did Christ die physically that we might escape death in this life? Or did He suffer eternal conscious torment in hell or annihilation so that we don’t have to? The answer to all of those questions is no and this presents a major problem with our substitutionary lenses that we read the Bible with because most people have the idea that Jesus died so that we don’t have to and that righteousness is ‘imputed’ on us but never really a part of who we are.

In reality, even though Jesus died for us, we still have to die as well, and even though He suffered for us, it was not some sort of ‘an eye for an eye’ legal exchange that was happening. There is simply no satisfying answer from those who teach that sinners must be tortured in hell for eternity but Christ could absorb that exact punishment in a few hours on the cross. If you believe in the eternal conscious torment of the unredeemed, think for a moment about the total number of people who have ever lived and multiply that number by the hours those people would spend in hell. The sum is impossible to do and nonsensical even to attempt for what number can be multiplied with infinity? So rather than speaking of Christ as a substitution I believe the word identification to be more accurate when we are discussing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and this is why.

Christ identifies with man

How does a lifeguard save a drowning man unless he himself gets a little wet? Imagine for a minute a little boy who has a terminal illness, his body is simply not strong enough to fight off the disease which is killing him. But consider for a moment, what if his father’s body was strong enough to absorb and fight off the disease? Imagine that they could do a transfusion where some of the child’s blood could be put into the father’s body where a resistance could be built up against the disease and then somehow this blood could be given back to the child who could now fight the disease off. Medically speaking I am not sure if this makes sense or not (although I believe anti venoms for snake bites are made using this sort of concept) but the illustration bears some resemblance to what I believe God did in Christ for us. Consider what Hebrews 2:14 says:-

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.

Notice that there is more than simply a substitution going on here. Hebrews 2:14 says that Christ shared in the same. He identifies with man by entering into our story as one of us. We who were powerless to save ourselves from death and from the devil, the one who had the power of death, have now been rescued through HIS death and resurrection. We who were powerless to resist sin have by grace been rescued by the one who knew no sin yet identified Himself with our sins. We who were condemned and under a curse have now been redeemed by the One who became a curse for us. We who were poor have been made rich by the one who took on poverty for us. How does God save man? By becoming one Himself and doing what we could not in conquering the disease that had stricken us.

Man’s identity in Christ

Here I believe is where substitutionary language really begins to fall short because we are not born into the family of God through substitution but through identification. Christ did not die so that you don’t have to. No, Christ identified Himself with us by getting down in the muck with us and walking with and dragging us out of it hand in hand.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved and gave Himself for me. – Galatians 2:20.  

For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:3.

Notice the language in all of these Scriptures is that of togetherness rather than one in place of the other. Substitution language says ‘BECAUSE of Christ’ but identification says ‘IN Christ’. The difference is subtle but it can be the difference between having a religious and intellectual understanding of what Jesus has done for us versus the power of His indwelling life within us.

But God, who in His rich mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
 – Ephesians 2:4 - 6.



Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; and behold, all things have become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17.

But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17.

This list could go on and on, there are more than two hundred places in the New Testament which make use of language that says something along the lines of ‘in Christ’, ‘in Him’ or ‘with Christ’. The reason should be obvious by now that the cross was not merely the divine pardon but the glorious union between God and man in Jesus Christ. We do not overcome death by avoiding it; we overcome it by being raised up through it unto everlasting life in Christ. Herein is our advantage, when this sick, terminal man puts on Christ and clothes himself with immortality, death is swallowed up in victory.

 O Death where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?






Adapted from Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 118 to 123. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Book update: It's here!



It took me 4 years but it is finished! My book, 'Seeing the Cross with New Eyes' has finally been published and is now available on Amazon. The goal was to have it out before Easter so I am thrilled to have made my deadline. Below is a short description about what you can expect to find inside of it as well as a few endorsements that some fellow bloggers and authors were kind enough to write for me. There is also a Kindle version in the works which will hopefully be available by the end of the month. The book is an easy read and reflects how my personal understanding of God and the atonement has shifted over the years, I hope that it touches people and opens their eyes to a more beautiful God than they had previously imagined possible. You can view it on Amazon by clicking over here.

Book Description

Why did Jesus have to die on a cross? Was it to appease His Father’s wrath or was it to undo the effects of the fall in Eden? In his first book, Wesley Rostoll tackles the tough questions surrounding the atonement, eternal life, the Book of Revelation and more; offering us fresh perspectives into the cross that will transform our understanding of the gospel message.

Seeing the Cross with New Eyes presents us with a Christ-centered theology and understanding of who God is and what He is like. It reconciles the image of the Father with what we see revealed in the Son. It is the witness of a lamb-like King heaven-bent on redeeming His creation.

Endorsements

Millions of people around the world are asking what the crucifixion of Jesus has to do with “real life.” Sure, we Christians know that the cross helps us “go to heaven when we die,” but is that really all there is to the cross of Christ? Wesley Rostoll’s book shouts a hearty “NO!” to that question. Beginning with Genesis 3 and taking us through the Old Testament and into the New, Wesley shows what the crucifixion of Jesus was all about. Jesus didn’t die to start a new religion or buy forgiveness of sins from God. Rather, Jesus died to reveal to us what God is truly like and to lead us into the life upon this world that God always desired for us. Read this book and start living today!

Jeremy Myers - Author and Bible Teacher at RedeemingGod.com

Wesley adds his voice to a growing movement to re-examine Christian doctrine on the atonement. Writing from an evangelical view of scripture, he shows serious difficulties with understandings of our salvation that emphasise God’s wrath and His inability to forgive without someone dying, and makes a good case that Jesus died to defeat all evil, to begin a new stage of God’s kingdom on earth and to give us life in that kingdom. This short book is a useful stimulus and reference for those seeking new understandings.

Eric Hatfield - Apologist and blogger at  theway21stcentury.wordpress.com/ and
is-there-a-god.info/

Wesley Rostoll adds his important voice to a growing chorus of those who are asking questions about God, the Cross, Christ and the Kingdom - finding a God who looks like Jesus, and a more life-giving, hopeful Gospel in the process. 'Seeing the Cross With New Eyes' will challenge you, and open your own eyes as it does, to a God of Relationship and Love, and your wondrous inclusion within.

Brandon Chase -  Writer/Podcast - Life|Love - brandonchase.net


If you have already read it, I would greatly appreciate some love in the form of an Amazon review.
If you are willing to do a review for me on your blog, reply in the comments below and I will arrange a PDF copy for you. Thank you!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Weird Miracles of Jesus: Walking on Water



In my previous post I spoke about the peculiar nature of some of Jesus’ miracles and suggested that the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana had symbolic significance. Today I want to look at another one of Jesus’ miracles that at first glance seems slightly odd which is the time that He walked on water. Usually Jesus’ miracles were clearly helpful to other people but walking on water is a bit odd, one might even take it for a bit like showing off. But this was Jesus and that would hardly fit His profile. Now a lot has been said about the faith lessons that can be learned from Peter’s stepping out of the boat and subsequently sinking into the water but I believe that there was something deeper going on beneath the surface (see what I did there?). Yes, there is a lesson in faith to be learned in the story but there is more.

Beginning in John chapter 6 we see that immediately following the water-walk that the crowds are said to have been unaware of how Jesus had gotten across the sea therefore they asked Him how He had arrived, Jesus says to them in verse 26 that, “You seek Me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”. I believe then that this was more than a miracle but a sign as well communicating something else to us.

The sign I believe that walking on water reveals is that Jesus was and is God. Let me explain, in the previous chapter (John 5) we see that the Jews sought to kill Jesus because He said that God was His Father, thereby making Himself equal with the Father (verse 18).  So how exactly would walking on water be a demonstration of that? According to the Torah, Yahweh had power over the sea and most Jews would have been familiar with the passages below:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. – Exodus 14:21.

And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea. – Exodus 15:8.

He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm. – Job 26:12

This one is particularly interesting because in Matthew 8 Jesus calmed a storm simply by rebuking it. We read a similar verse in the Psalms as well:

He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. – Psalm 107:29

Perhaps even more convincing is this gem that I stumbled across in Job:

He alone spreads out the heavens, and treads on the waves of the sea. - Job 9:8

Then this one as well:

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters - Isaiah 43:16

So Jesus was clearly doing something beyond amazing by walking on water, He was doing something only God Himself could do. In fact, in Matthews account when everyone saw Him walking on water and started freaking out. Jesus called out, “It is I, do not be afraid”. This is actually a poor translation and most English Bibles get it wrong. Jesus does not say, “It is I” but rather, “I AM” This of course is a reference to Exodus 3:14. It is fitting therefore that when Jesus climbs into the boat that it says that those who were in the boat ‘worshiped Him’ (Matthew 14:33). Were a bunch of Jews deliberately breaking one of the Ten Commandments or had they grasped something of whom Jesus was in that moment? I believe that it was the latter. Perhaps Jesus walking on water was not so strange then after all...

To see the previous post in this series, click here.