Mumford and Sons sing ‘Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ – BRILLIANT!
Mumford and Sons sing ‘Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ – BRILLIANT!
Not Catalyst Olive, as one guest poet humourously suggested, but Catalyst Live!
Anyway, I’ve digressed already! The event held in Manchester and Reading this week by the BMS team has been very well received. There were many highlights, many of them great, some funny and some weird, but that’s a bit like me so I was happy with that.
There was a stupendous tumbleweed moment during the Q&A with Jurgen Moltmann and John Lennox. Moltmann was asked a question about his universalism (I forget the details of the question even though it was stated twice – and quite differently both times), and his reply caused a reaction in the gathering as if someone had let off a stun-grenade! SILENCE….then murmering, then another question was asked. The two men behind me were talking about it the whole while we spent trying to get our coffee.
Moltmann’s reply also seemed to cause the wonderful John Lennox to contort his face in some kind of disapproving horror (was he surprised by this reply? Had he never read any of Moltmann’s writings? Have I over-interpretted his face and the crowd reaction?). Maybe, but for now, I’ll assume not.
How does Moltmann’s theology of ‘hope’ interact with faith as a pre-requisite for securing one’s eternal security/destiny? “Do you believe all will be saved?”
“Yes. Yes I do!” Boom. Silence. Tumbleweed. Murmerings. Next question…
This was very exciting. Had the Catalyst Live team forgotten that arguably the world’s greatest living theologian was well known for his universalism (Baptist supremo Nigel Wright has written on universalism in the theology of Jurgen Moltmann)? Had they bargained for Moltmann’s brutal but refreshing directness, his honesty? Well I say “bravo” to the BMS and Catalyst Live team for inviting a theologian who you must have known would not shrink back from his conviction. In fact, why not invite speakers around this subject alone for next years Catalyst? You’d have to find a bigger venue and expect a lot of nasty people, writing nasty letters on why they are upset that hell, in the end, will be empty – according to Moltmann (and many others I might add)!
It is a curious thing, that when we come to Scripture, the hell texts really do mean what traditional theology has taught; whilst when we come to universalist texts (of which there are many), traditional theology tends not to deal with them in the same way. So what tends to happen is we latch on to certain texts, believe a certain theological eschatology around them and ‘fix’ ourselves like oak trees in the ground of certainty. Or we don’t think too much about it and live with a kind of mushy eschatological agnosticism: we can’t really know and God will sort it out in the end.
But in reality, the hell texts and the universalist texts (not to mention John Stott’s position – the annihilation texts), sit there, in our Bibles, inter-mingling with each other. All the while we fail to see that the universalist texts offer us hope that perhaps all will be saved; and the hell texts warn us not to take this for granted. And so it is the Bible, not we, who are the controllers and masters of Scripture, for here is evidence of Scripture controlling and mastering us, as it should!
The Bible, by offering us both visions, will not allow us to settle down with a comfortable scheme of how the future will pan out (we are such control freaks)! Instead it invites us to respond with hope yet without complacency. This was Moltmann’s emphasis, he taught us about biblical hope – in Christ no less – a hope that given his personal standing, credentials and sheer theological genius, could never be accused of being complacent.
Nigel Wright himself in the above mentioned essay wrote, “Scripture is given not to bestow upon us all the answers but to create a narrative context in which we may live and which certain matters remain constructively if agonizingly open.” The wisdom outlined by Wright can help to preserve us from complacency and self-satisfaction. God truly does know the human heart.
Finally, the reason why I find this Scriptural and theological tension not only fascinating but challenging is because most Christians in the Western world do advocate that the vast majority of humanity will be punished for ever in a hell of fire. What is tragic about this is the temperature of their blood, twice as hot as hell, as they defend their view against the one that God might actually accomplish the salvation of every person, as He declares in Scripture. They seem to want people there and they would be disappointed if there wasn’t. Of course, it goes without saying they know where they’re going!
Here is a quote I found on the Baptist Times web site in response to an article that suggested we need to talk about hell – If Jurgen Moltmann is world-class, likewise Anthony Thiselton who wrote, “…we should not characterise the Augustinian tradition of eternal torment as “the orthodox view.” At least three very different views competed in the early church, all of them seeking some support from Scripture” quoted in The Last Things, pg.148.
I end with something Moltmann actually said yesterday, in contrast to Dante’s words written over the entrance to Hell ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here,’ Moltmann said, “The abandonment of hope is to be in the entrance of hell.” And it is precisely because he understands the hope offered in God, a God who does not abandon, a God known to us as ‘The God of Hope’ that he can say, with no shame, that this God, revealed in Christ Jesus, will rescue his people, his grace will trump our weak faith and petty lives and neat theology. I love that he added sometime later in his talk, “We are expected by God.”
Indeed we are.
Thank you Catalyst Live 2013
In this talk, Richard Cunningham considers why Jesus had to die on the cross. He refers to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, and covers six misconceptions about the Cross while explaining its real significance for our lives.
Six misconceptions about the Cross:
1. The Cross is something sentimental
2. Jesus chose to die to start a new religion
3. The life and teaching of Jesus are separate from his death
4. We don’t see the danger posed by God’s holiness and our sin
5. There must be another way to be forgiven apart from the Cross
6. I’m not bad enough to need the Cross
While clarifying these misconceptions, Richard explains the true significance of the Cross for our lives.
“Nothing but the resurrection can explain the birth of Christianity.”
“It is still the Cross, not the tomb, that the Church had chosen to be the primary symbol of faith.”
The painting is by:
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Italian 1490-1576
It has nothing to do with Richard Cunningham or the UCCF. He may well have chosen a completely different portrayal of the Crucifixion, and who could blame him? Not me.
John Calvin commented on the problem of Christians giving up on meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), as they have done from the beginning until now, and we all know churches and maybe even our own friends and family who have done such a thing, he said,
“There is so much peevishness in almost everyone, that individuals, if they could, would gladly make their own churches for themselves…This warning is therefore more than needed by all of us that we should be encouraged to love rather than hate and that we should not separate ourselves from those…who are joined to us by a common faith.”
For some people, if they don’t like something or someone, they leave the church. This is individualism trumping the gospel; a decision that is often devoid of gospel content, and never borne out of the agony of prayer. When was the last time we heard of someone leaving a church because of heresy? How many people leave because they were hurt and refused the medicine of the gospel to bring healing and reconciliation? The priority is rarely the Gospel-of-Christ and almost always the ridiculous parody of the gospel-of-self. Scripture warns us most clearly in Hebrews 10:25 and elsewhere to be alert to this. This is evidence of secularism in the church. And it must not be.
The Church is a Gospel people and we do things the Gospel way. Any other way is a dead end.
On a lighter note, I thought “peevishness” is a much under-used word today.
“If we fix our eyes upon the place where the course of the world reaches its lowest point, where its vanity is unmistakable, where its groanings are most bitter and the divine incognito most impenetrable, we shall encounter there – Jesus Christ. . . The transformation of all things occurs where the riddle of human life reaches its culminating point. The hope of his glory emerges for when nothing but the existentiality of God remains, and he becomes to us the veritable and living God. He, whom we can apprehend only as against , stands there, for us.”
“The gospel declares the victory of the Lord Jesus over death by deposing death of its power (i.e., evil) through the cross and by robbing death of its prize (i.e., human lives) through the resurrection. As a famous Greek hymn says: “Christ has risen, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the grave.” Death, armed with evil and law, was no match for the Prince of Life. The gospel is not simply about how God deals with the individual’s personal sins, a transaction of sin and righteous ness to clean the slate; yes, that is true, but the gospel declares so much more, namely, God’s victory over the personal and impersonal forces of evil: the world, the flesh, and Satan. The gospel is an invitation to live in fellowship with Christ rather than to suffer under the tyranny of evil. The gospel means emancipation from the slavery of evil to the freedom of a new and authentic humanity. The gospel of Christ blesses us with the news that a world ravaged with evil is not how it ought to be, nor how it can be, nor how it will be. The gospel whispers to us that Jesus means freedom.”
“To study the God of the gospel
- the God who handed over his Son,
who raised him up again,
and who sent his Spirit into our hearts -
is to be propelled toward the study of God’s triune being,
his divine attributes,
his actions of creation and revelation,
as well as the divine purpose and plan for all things.
“In the gospel we do not find a catalogue of human religious sentiments offered up for our perusal,
no buffet of philosophical theories for us to snack on.
In the gospel there is no unearthing of relics and ritual to ponder
like broken pottery pieces from a dead civilization,
nor are we offered merely modern mantras promising nice things for nice people.
“To the contrary, the gospel offers us much more,
something much better than anyone could envision:
the gospel is the offer of God himself.
“For in the gospel, God is the giver and gift all at once,
a gift of life and love that comes by sharing in the life and love that is in his Son.
“This is the God of the gospel,
the God who commands the attention of our intellects,
the God who pushes the boundaries of our imagination,
the God who stimulates our creative energies in art and music and literature,
and the only God worthy or singing or studying about.”