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No-one is ever going to be “Left Behind”

Apparently Nicolas Cage’s latest movie, “Left Behind” is horrid (see movie website and trailer here). Critics are absolutely panning it, and from a few reviews I’ve read it sounds like another of Cage’s duds (I like him, and he has done some really great movies, but he’s done some stinkers too). But even if the movie itself was any good, the premise is bad. In fact, horrific.

It is based on the second best selling book series of all time (after Harry Potter) by Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins, “Left Behind”. This 12 book series tells a variety of stories about the rapture, and what happens in the aftermath of all the world’s Christian believers disappearing “in the blinking of an eye”. Especially in conservative Christianity, this 150 year belief (yes, it’s not something the historic church has believed) that comes straight of dispensationalism, has taken hold and is even an article of faith for many (by writing this blog, I am guaranteeing that I will be getting a long list of loving comments… watch my Facebook feed for evidence of the wrath of the faithful).

The problem is that this concept is entirely unbiblical. Not only does the word “rapture” never appear anywhere in the Bible, the two verses that the concept is based on have been badly misunderstood on the basis of a very simple misinterpretation of a single Greek word. I also think that the whole concept of a rapture goes directly against the central message of the Gospel itself, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I am not a lone voice in this. Some very significant Biblical scholars have carefully debunked the concept.

Let’s start with that Greek word. The word for *meet* (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) in 1 Thess. 4:17 (see also 1 Cor. 15:51-54 and Phil. 3:20-21) was a technical term that described the custom of sending a delegation outside the city to receive a dignitary who was on the way to town. The delegation would go out to meet the guests and then immediately return to the city with them – basically just escorting them into the city. Luke uses this term in this way in Acts 28:14b-15: “And so we came to Rome. The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) us.” Therefore, what Paul is suggesting in 1 Thess. 4:17 is that the dead in Christ will be raised, caught up with Jesus in the air, and then come straight back down to earth with Jesus. That is in fact where Jesus is heading: to earth. This fits pastorally with what Paul’s trying to say in the rest of 1 Thessalonians, as he encourages persecuted believers to understand that they will be vindicated when Jesus returns.

The whole Bible points to the fact that this earth will be renewed and restored to fit God’s original creation plan. It’s an incorrect view of the end times that sees Christians being “rescued” from a “dying” planet that is then destroyed. In fact, the Bible says the opposite: God comes down, establishes a new Jerusalem, restoring this earth. This may be figurative language, but it’s the best we’ve got, and at no stage do we see this earth being done away with, or being left to rot. God’s game-plan has always been to bring heaven to this earth. Not to take us away from earth into heaven.

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Just for fun (but also serious): 10 Things That Drive Us Crazy at Church… That Probably Shouldn’t

I found this on the ChurchLeaders.com website. It’s really very good. Read the original here, with all the attached multimedia and clips that add to the humour.

10. Loud Music
9. People Using iPads Instead of “Real” Bibles
8. Coffee in the Sanctuary
7. Youth Group Attire
6. Long Sermons
5. Church Parking Lots
4. Pastors Asking for Money
3. Women in Leadership
2. Overly Happy Greeters
1. The Much-Feared Meet-n-Greet

Source: ChurchLeaders.com

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What is the ‘Unforgivable Sin’?

My friend, Brian McLaren was asked this question recently, and I thought his reply was superb. Brian’s book, “Everything Must Change” (Thomas Nelson, 2007, buy on Kindle) helped to form my sense that our generation needs to face the reality of systemic problems, corporate sin and broken systems.

And we can do something about this now.

For the first time in human history, we now have access to cheap, fast and effective global communication tools and also the potential to co-ordinate our activities and efforts more than ever before. From vitally important things like eradicating polio (nearly done, just as smallpox has been already) to silly, but effective memes like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge doing the rounds right now, we’re proving to ourselves that we can deal with big, complex, systemic issues.

For many Christians, though, the starting point is accepting that we should put as much emphasis on corporate and societal sins as we do on individual sin and salvation. That’s why I think Brian’s answer to a question about the “unforgivable sin” against the Holy Spirit mentioned in Matthew and Mark is so important:

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It’s time to end “innocent Biblical literalism”

Commenting on two intersecting issues: Christian evangelical college education in America and the evolution-creation debate, Brian McLaren made some excellent points about the underlying cause of some of the biggest issues in evangelicalism right now: an innocent literalism in interpreting the Bible. I don’t offer any solutions in this blog post, but just a good analysis of the problem from my friend:

Faith and Science in Evangelical Colleges

by Brian McLaren

A recent Huffington Post article details the ongoing struggle of Evangelical colleges over the theory of evolution.

Beneath this struggle is biblical literalism, which was the conceptual womb of many Evangelical colleges. In the commentary to my most recent book We Make the Road by Walking, I call this the “innocent literal” approach. It is diametrically opposed to what I call “critical literal” approach. (I propose a different alternative altogether – a critical literary approach.)

Innocent (or naive) Biblical literalism lies behind several other struggles too, including:
– Inability or unwillingness to rethink sexual orientation in light of new biological, psychological, and sociological science, resulting in ongoing stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, including their own sons and daughters.
– Inability or unwillingness to address the science of global warming, which has staggering consequences for life on our planet.
– Inability or unwillingness to see beyond a facile good-guy/bad-guy typology of the Israel-Palestine situation, which results in a prolongation (even an apocalpyt-ization) of a conflict that needs to be resolved.
– Inability or unwillingness to grapple with full equality for women as well as men, nonChristians as well as Christians, people of all races and nationalities, etc.

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Churches in 2024: How Technology Will Enhance Mission, by Captera

Last week, I spoke on the impact that smartphones will have on churches. You can listen to my session and download my slides here.

One of the resources I discovered while doing my preparation was the Captera church management blog. Captera provides software for a number of different markets, including churches. Their blog includes some excellent insights into how technology will enhance churches and mission in the future. One of the entries I enjoyed most was “Churches in 2024: How Technology Will Enhance Mission”. You can read this here, or an extended extract below:

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church-technology-of-the-future

Smartphones and the church of the future

Yesterday I spoke at the Gracepoint Fast Forward leaders conference. My topic was “Succeeding in a Changing World”, and I focused my attention on the impact of mobile smartphone technology on the way we might do church in the future.

You can listen to the 55 minute session on SoundCloud here or below, and follow along with the slides by downloading a PDF here.

For more information about our church, click here, and to get information about our Fast Forward conferences follow the Facebook page here.

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By their fruit you shall know them: Ken Ham, young earth creationism, aliens and compassion

In Matthew 7, Jesus told his disciples that they were to beware of false prophets – people who would teach untruths and lead people astray. Jesus then gave a very simple test: no bad tree can produce good fruit, so just look for the “fruits” of their teaching. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told what spiritual fruits are: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Where we see a breakdown or lack of love, joy, kindness, etc, we need to be alert to potential false teaching.

I was interested, in this context, to see Ken Ham’s latest pronouncements. Ken Ham is one of the world’s foremost young earth creationists, basing his pseudo-scientific views on a literal interpretation of the Bible’s accounts of creation. Young earth creationism is scientifically indefensible, and in my opinion fits into the “false teaching” category. All truth is God’s truth, and when someone denies plain truths evident in nature, they’re being just as false in their teachings as those who teach false theology.

Last week NASA announced that they expect to find alien life within a few years. Ken Ham and his organisation, Answers in Genesis, released a statement calling on NASA to stop wasting money. There is no alien life, Ham claims, because all life descends from Adam, and Adams sin affected the whole universe. (Stick with me on this ‘logic':) Since Jesus died on this earth, no aliens would be able to be saved. God wouldn’t do this. Therefore, ipso facto, there can’t be aliens, so NASA is wasting money.

Huffington Post reported on this issue by stating the obvious implication that if aliens exist they will go to hell. Ham denies he said this. But here is what he actually said:

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homosexuality questions

Answers to Kevin DeYoung’s questions for Christians who support gay marriage

A few days ago, Kevin DeYoung, author and senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, wrote an excellent article for the Gospel Coalition website entitled, “Five Questions For Christians Who Believe The Bible Supports Gay Marriage” (read it here). It is exactly the type of contribution we should be having on this important issue: clear, calm, reasonable, rational and inviting engagement. This is typical of Kevin’s style and contribution.

His five questions are really important. And they are addressed to Christians precisely like me: God-fearing, Jesus-following, Bible-believing, evangelical Christians who have become convinced “that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship.” This is a topic I have spent over a decade researching, discussing and praying through, and am convinced that the traditional view on homosexuality is incorrect.

Here then are some answers, hopefully offered in the same tone as the original questions. For reasons that will become apparent, I’ll answer them in reverse order:

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We Make the Road by Walking

One of the most anticipated books of the year is released today. My friend, Brian McLaren, launches his latest book, “We Make the Road by Walking”. I know that this book has been almost a decade in the making in his mind, and a full year of focused writing. Early reviews have been brilliant, and I am looking forward to getting my copy.

Here’s why you should get a copy.

This book is designed to take us on a journey through the Bible and the Christian faith in a year. It’s 52 chapters are short reads with reflections and group study guides. Organized around the traditional church year, each chapter reflects on a different story from Scripture and invites contemplation, discussion, and action.

People who are committed Christians, but have lots of questions, doubts, and frustrations with the version of faith they’ve been given and would like a fresh start are really going to get a lot from this book.

As Brian says: “You are not finished yet. You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take?”

Read more about the book here. You can read the first three chapters online here.

Buy it:
Amazon.co.uk Paperback
Amazon.co.uk Kindle
Kalahari – in South Africa

UPDATE: Here is a review by Tony Jones.

UPDATE:
May online resources are now springing up to help you work through the book with small groups, families, etc.

Here’s one for families.

Graeme Codrington's musings on a new kind of Christianity