(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Fitting the baptism of John into the missional narrative

I think I would be right in saying that much “missional” theory these days accepts that in our post-Christendom and post-modern cultural context there is likely to be a significant transitional period between first serious exposure to the “gospel” and conversion. People don’t simply get saved. They set out on a journey. This seems to me to be true to the extent that, in many instances, we have to reckon with large numbers of people—communities almost in their own right—who are attracted to Christ, even to the life of the church, but who remain fundamentally uncommitted.

In the New Testament context these were the “God-fearers”—Gentiles who were drawn to the ethical monotheism of synagogue Judaism but for whom it was a step too far to become proselytes. We would probably call them “seekers”, and we get frustrated with them after a while because they never seem to want to find what they are looking for.

Who is the father in the parable of the prodigal son?

Who is the father in the parable of the prodigal son? We mostly take it for granted, of course, that the father is God and that the central point of the story is that God forgives the repentant sinner. I have pointed out before that this is not a story about personal salvation by grace rather than by works—the younger son rejoins a family which still includes the older hard-working son; and I recommend reading this post in conjunction with the earlier one. But on a bumpy flight down to the south of France a couple of days ago I began to think there may also be grounds for questioning the traditional attribution of paternity. I can’t check the details of the argument at the moment, but I will sketch here my reasons for suspecting that the father is not God but Abraham.

Kester Brewin on the failed “mutiny” of the prodigal son

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I offered to review Kester Brewin’s Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates, And How They Can Save Us . Probably something that spoke rather more directly to the “emerging church” than this book does. Kester is a “teacher, popular blogger, and pioneering alt.worship fire-starter based in London, England”. He was one of the people behind the now defunct Vaux, and he has written a couple of other books—The Complex Christ, which I have somewhere, and Other, which I don’t. I sense he’s not quite my sort of “emerging church”—I imagine he would regard me as too evangelical. But I would like to meet him one day. Who knows.

Hellbound, Universalism, Hell and Heaven, and The Coming of the Son of Man

Robin Parry has a lively review of Hellbound: The Movie on his Theological Scribbles blog. According to Robin the “focus was primarily versions of eternal torment vs. versions of universalism”. Annihilationism, which I would have expected to have entered the ring as the main challenger to the reigning traditional view, apparently doesn’t get much of a look in. Robin’s assessment may simply reflect his personal bias. Or it may point to the fact that Universalism really is coming to be viewed as the leading alternative to the pernicious and unbiblical doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

What does it mean to be “born again”?

When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3), does he have in mind the Protestant doctrine of personal regeneration? Or is he saying that Israel, represented by the devout Pharisee Nicodemus, is in need of national regeneration? Or neither? Or both?

The traditional view can be illustrated by a statement from John Piper, quoted by Mark Driscoll:

What Nicodemus needs, and what you and I need, is not religion but life. The point of referring to new birth is that birth brings a new life into the world. In one sense, of course, Nicodemus is alive. He is breathing, thinking, feeling, acting. He is a human created in God’s image. But evidently, Jesus thinks he’s dead. There is no spiritual life in Nicodemus. Spiritually, he is unborn. He needs life, not more religious activities or more religious zeal. He has plenty of that.

Disorganised Religion Day

The Mennonite Centre Trust and the Anabaptist Network are holding a Disorganised Religion day in London on 3rd November to explore “how alternative ways of understanding the bible might help us recover how we can live distinctively in 21st Century Britain”. They will have Lloyd Pietersen there, whose book Reading the Bible After Christendom will presumably set the parameters and direction for the conversation. More details can be found on the London Mennonite Centre website.

I’ve signed up already. I don’t entirely buy the Anabaptist line—I think that we have to accept that “Christendom”, for all its failings, was in important respects the fulfilment of central New Testament hopes, not a lamentable aberration from pure New Testament ecclesiology. But the Anabaptists take the post-Christendom context much more seriously than most strands of the post-modern church, and I expect this to be a stimulating event.

No other name by which we should be saved

I am not a universalist. I do not think that the New Testament teaches that everybody will be “saved”, though it appears that the political landscape of the new creation will be more complex than we may have thought. The framing soteriological argument in the New Testament is not that humanity needs to be saved (in a universal present) but that Israel needed to be saved (in a particular past). Individuals, whether Jews or Gentiles, were “saved” insofar as they participated in a community that would survive the wrath of God both against Israel and against the pagan world. Jesus clearly thought that few Jews would be saved. Paul presumably believed that most Gentiles were “perishing” (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).

Understanding the big picture of the Bible: a guide to reading the Bible well

Ask yourself: What interest does your pastor have in the New Testament texts? What does he or she want to do with them? What does he or she need to do with them? Or if you yourself are a pastor or minister or vicar, what interest do you have professionally in the New Testament? Whom do you need to impress or persuade or instruct or keep quiet? And then ask yourself: Is it likely that your or your pastor’s interest in the New Testament matches the interest that the authors of the New Testament had in the story that they were telling? Is it likely that we have the same perspectives or presuppositions or preoccupations or pressures? No, of course not. We use the Bible in our churches and in our personal devotional life today in a manner and to an end for which as a historical text it was not designed.


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