Why I Believe

YellowSign 002This week I received an email (along with a bunch of other pastors) from an atheist who seemed to be genuinely inquiring about why we believed what we believed. The person explained their reason for getting in contact like this…

I’m really just emailing to ask, what does religion do for you? Does it give you hope? Fulfillment? Purpose? Why is religion a good thing?

What a cool email to get!

Many of my friends and family are in a different place when it comes to these kinds of things. Some are religious, some aren’t. I’ve thought from time to time about why I’ve found faith to be such an attractive thing, so I appreciated the opportunity to talk about it, and I thought it might be helpful to put my response up here.

My reply wasn’t particularly planned, it was just my off-the-cuff response to this person’s question. Maybe that’s more revealing than if I had spent a bunch more time on it.

So, what is it for you that either draws you to faith in God or pushes you away? Here’s my answer… Continue reading

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

I’ve just finished Tom Wright’s latest book, this one on the topic of the atonement, ‘The Day the Revolution Began’.

I have a recurring experience with Wright’s books. I start them, excited, ready to have my paradigm shifted. About half way through, I think, ‘This is a helpful corrective, but I can’t help but feel he’s overstating things a bit.’ Then, I finish with a feeling of bemusement, grateful to be reminded that there’s more to [insert theological issue here] than some simplistic, popular examples would indicate, but also thinking that Wright seems to regard his proposals as a fair bit more revolutionary (ahem) than they really are.

Still, this was a worthwhile read. There’s so much I could say about it, but I’ll focus on just two things. Continue reading

Christians and Israel

It’s not often that New Zealand gets international political attention, but we certainly did so this week when our government co-sponsored a UN resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements.

As expected, my Facebook feed has been lighting up like a busy switchboard as Christians I know react with outrage. That’s because many Christians today see the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. For them, criticism of Israel is like ice cream on a sensitive tooth.

I’m aware that this is a highly controversial topic, but I’ve never bought into that line of thinking myself. I’m also aware that people who hold the above view (let’s call them Christian Zionists) are often unwilling to consider other interpretive options. So, I’m not writing this blog post to convince them. Instead, I want to offer some thoughts for the people who’ve seen or heard Christian Zionism, and felt a bit confused, or uneasy, or overwhelmed.

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to land there. And, here’s some mixed news: there probably aren’t any easy answers. The truth is, this subject, more than most, calls for nuance. So, let me try to offer some…   Continue reading

Why I Want To Be Left Behind

empty-suitIn some Evangelical Christian circles, saying, “I don’t believe in the rapture,” is a bit like saying, “I enjoy kicking puppies.”

People are often shocked and surprised to hear it. And yet it’s true… I don’t believe in the rapture. At least not as it’s commonly understood.

But let’s back up a little bit. What exactly is the rapture? Well, at a popular level, it’s the belief that, at some point before Jesus’ final return (there is debate about exactly when), believers will be “raptured” to heaven. Planes will crash as pilots disappear,  and there will be lots of spare clothes lying around for everyone.

As strange as it may sound to people who are unfamiliar with this doctrine, it has widespread acceptance among many Evangelical Christians. For many, it has simply gone unquestioned, so when it is questioned, they feel disturbed.

So, why don’t I believe it? Continue reading

Earthquakes & End Times

In New Zealand we’ve recently had a rather severe earthquake; 7.8 on the Richter scale, centred in Kaikoura. Thankfully, there were very few casualties, though the damage to infrastructure was significant.

In the wake of the quake, social media filled up with all kinds of comments, many of which were in response to some very unfortunate remarks from a prominent Kiwi televangelist. For a great engagement with some of the biblical issues at play there, I recommend this post by Frank Ritchie.

However, judging by social media, the quake has also seemed to exercise the end times enthusiasts. My experience in Christian ministry over the last 7 years has taught me that there are a lot of these folks out there in our churches. Usually their enthusiasm is fueled by pop-theology done by teachers with not much credibility beyond an internet following.

Why do these teachers and this subject get so much air time in the evangelical Church?

To be fair, some of it, I think, is a genuine sense of fear and intrigue. After all, the bible does say things like, Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:7-8). Continue reading

New

I’ve been wondering about the insatiable desire to say something new, especially in the Christian academic and publishing worlds.

If you want to get a PhD, for example, you probably want to discover something new, or at least present a fresh angle. Likewise, if you want to get noticed as an author or academic. Sometimes, it seems to me, this sort of drive leads to the kind of hyperbole which can come across as self-parody. At other times it can lead to biblical scholars presenting work which could have been presented as another helpful angle, instead as the solution to the Church’s last 2000 years of bumbling about in the dark. (I think of N.T. Wright here, who’s work I otherwise enjoy).

I’m reading Richard B. Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament at the moment, and I’m finding it really worthwhile. But, I did just come across this paragraph (on page 199), where Hays responds to the suggestion that his ethical framing of the New Testament is “dependent on the mainstream Christian tradition of canonical reading that goes back to Irenaeus”. You can almost hear the huffing and puffing when Hays responds. Continue reading

Scot McKnight at Laidlaw

Over the last two days I had the opportunity to go to Laidlaw College’s “Mission of the Church in the 21st Century” conference, which featured Scot McKnight.

Instead of regurgitating my notes, I figured I’d write about my personal response, particularly to McKnight’s content. So, here are some scattered thoughts on a fascinating couple of days…

Scot McKnight is one of my favourite biblical scholars, I think because he’s so accessible. I can understand what he is saying! This was reinforced at the conference. He was immensely engaging, and without a doubt the funniest Christian academic I’ve heard.

In his first address, he contended that we are using the biblical word “Kingdom” in ways the New Testament doesn’t, and that the word is more synonymous with the word “church” than the generalised good works which we often ascribe it to.

In his second address, McKnight gave a very clear and concise overview of the New Perspective on Paul, and then explored how it gives us theological resources for multiculturalism.

McKnight’s third address explored the biblical meaning of the words “love” and “grace” in contrast to cultural, and sometimes, he contended, misguided theological understandings.

My thoughts are going to assume some familiarity with the above terms and debates, so my apologies for that. If you’re interested, McKnight’s first talk, at least, is available for free on iTunes (under the title “General Session 3 – Leadership Conference 2013” from New Life Conferences).

Continue reading