Category Archives: Bible

One by one: Tony Campolo comes out for gay marriage

Here’s something you might not hear in your church this week, but should: So many well known and well respected Christian leaders are ‘coming out’ in support of LGBTQI inclusion; are WE wrong to not?

Tony Campolo, author, theologian and outspoken evangelical leader, has today announced that after much prayer and study, he has changed his position on gay marriage and now believes that the church should be in favour of it. One by one, evangelical thinkers and theologians are changing their positions. Tony is a significant figure, as he has long stood against affirming gay marriage (while being in favour of churches improving their affirmation of celibate gays). This is an important milestone in the church’s journey of change on this issue.

Tony made the announcement a few hours ago via his blog.

He says, in part:

… Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.

As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.

Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

One by one, until the ripple becomes a wave, and the wave becomes a flood. That is how it has always been, with any major shift in society.

Thank you, Tony, for having the courage to make this stand. May many more pastors and Christian leaders be encouraged now to follow your lead, and help us change this dreadful error in our interpretation of the Bible.

UPDATE ON 10 JUNE 2015: Brian D. McLaren, long time friend and collaborator with Tony (who also opposed him on the gay marriage issue for many years, while still remaining friends), has commented on Tony’s statement as well as the Christianity Today editorial. It’s well worth reading here.

Sermon: How to be a church entering a new land

I have not posted much on the blog recently due to work pressures. But a few weeks ago, I was able to preach at Heronbridge Christian Church, and the sermon was recorded.

I preached on the need for us to adopt the same mindset Moses and Joshua had to when they were leading the people of Israel into a new land. It requires a change in mindset and a future-focused attitude, not one that clings to the past or is frightened of change. I took the opportunity to overview an understanding of generational theory, and talk about some of the major disruptive forces shaping our world right now as well.

The sound file is available on their website here.

You can download my slides and follow along if you’d like to.

Let me know what you think.

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. Your church needs to hear this, but probably won’t: no-one is getting “left behind”.

The movie 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.

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

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:

Continue reading What is the ‘Unforgivable Sin’?

It’s time to end “innocent Biblical literalism”

Here’s something you might not hear at your church this Sunday: stop reading the Bible (at least, stop reading it literally). 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, Brian.

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.

Continue reading It’s time to end “innocent Biblical literalism”

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

Here’s something you won’t hear at your church this Sunday: God won’t save aliens. (Really? Why would you hear that? Well, according to Ken Ham and young earth creationists this is – ahem – Gospel truth.)

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 Adam’s 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:

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

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:

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

It’s all about the Bible – and it’s important!

The major debates raging in Christian circles these days all actually distil down to one big issue: how we interpret the Bible.

Many people treat the Bible as a combination of scientific textbook and heavenly constitution. If we believe this, then we can use verses and phrases to prove key points of differentiation and detail. We still have to explain away any competing statements or interpretations, but our approach is to look to the Bible for proof in the sense that modern day scientists, jurors or lawmakers would understand. The extreme view – which is completely untenable, but is still the idealised view of many conservative Christians – is that all of the Bible is “literally” true.

Liberals might find themselves on the opposite extreme claiming that the Bible contains little more than myths, legends and poems, and that it can really mean anything we want it to.

But maybe there are other ways to look at the Bible, that find a middle way between these two extremes.

This is the conversation that has taken hold in our time.

Brian McLaren recently created the following list of up-to-date resources for those who want to pursue this journey. I certainly do, and have found these very helpful:

Watch Steve Chalke’s video here:

Restoring Confidence in the Bible from Oasis UK on Vimeo.

Join in. This will define the future of Christianty for the next few centuries.

Rational responses to the Noah movie

In recent weeks, conservative evangelical Christians have complained about the Disney movie, “Frozen” (proclaiming it’s theme tune to be supportive of gay rights), campaigned against World Vision withdrawing funding for third world children, and now are up in arms about the Hollywood movie, Noah. It can be embarrassing having to wear the label “Christian” alongside these whiners and moaners.

The movie, Noah, was recently released. It is a fictional tale based on the Biblical account. It includes some content from the book of 1 Enoch (it is stunning how many Christians show complete lack of knowledge about the books that nearly made it into the canon of Scripture, and have been accepted as extra-canonical but nevertheless Biblical by more than half of all the Christians who have ever lived). It also includes some references to other ancient flood myths, including the most powerful one, the Gilgamesh Epic, that actually predates the Biblical account (again, most conservative Christians show complete ignorance of these other accounts of creation, the flood and antiquity, even though an understanding of the version Moses wrote must take into account how it interacted with these more ancient myths).

The movie, Noah, is a fictional account of the Biblical story, taking some license with the very short version in the Old Testament. It contains typical amounts of extra material designed to build drama and excitement, and does a good job of incorporating a variety of source material. But it does contradict the Biblical account in a number of ways, and dramatically changes how Christians would prefer God to be portrayed. As such, should Christians still watch it?

I believe that we absolutely should. And we should take the opportunity to talk about it amongst ourselves and with our children. This really does come down to how we handle truth. Conservative Christians try to handle truth by not engaging with error in any way. Well, “the elders” of their churches should engage with error, effectively becoming guardians and censors, warning “the flock” of dangers and steering them away from error. I prefer the approach which teaches people how to spot error for themselves, and to raise their ability to handle truth wisely. This involves, amongst other things, teaching people how to have conversations about truth, how to investigate, how to think and analyse, and how to ask questions – all the time relying on the Holy Spirit to teach and guide.

For the most balanced and rational review of the movie, I’d suggest Greg Boyd’s which you can find here. You can also read Tony Jones’ take on the movie – a more theological reflection on the nature of the Bible and how we should interpret it.

Video: The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality

Following my post yesterday about the madness of evangelical responses to World Vision’s stance on gay employees, I was sent a link to this video of a one hour workshop that looks at the Bible and homosexuality.

If this is an issue that concerns you, then this video by theology student Matthew Vines is well worth watching. It will challenge your traditional perceptions of what the Bible says on the topic, but you will see that those who want to remain Biblical, true to Christ’s teachings and holy, do not have to reject homosexuality. The ways in which the historical church interpreted Scripture is not necessarily correct.

But watch the video and make up your own mind:

Please don’t add comments here if you have not watched the whole video. Please add constructive comments only.