Wat moet ons met Jurie van den Heever doen? (1)

jurie-vd-heever-kerk1
My weergawe van Jurie se voorblad simboliseer die woorde van Rom.1:22-25: “Terwyl hulle voorgee dat hulle wys is, het hulle dwaas geword…
hulle wat die waarheid van God verruil het vir die leuen en die skepping vereer en gedien het bo die Skepper wat geprys moet word tot in ewigheid.”

(Apologies to English readers. I am reflecting on a new Afrikaans book that is causing some disturbance in the Christian community over here. The author, a well known South African palaeontologist, suggests that churchgoers should drop the idea of an almighty, omniscient and all knowing God, who has a son named Jesus, for a “natural spirituality” or “ecomorality.” How can one not say something?)

“A man can no more diminish God´s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling `darkness´ on the wall of his cell.” -C.S. Lewis

Wat maak ‘n mens met Jurie van den Heever en sy nuwe boek? (“Wat moet ons met ons Kerk doen?”)

Ek sou graag niks wou doen nie. Toe ek tien jaar gelede my verhouding met denominasionele Christenskap gebreek het, het ek belangstelling verloor in kerkpolitiek en alles wat daarmee gepaard gaan.

Ek het ook belangstelling verloor in geeslose fakulteitsteologie en die absurde idee dat daar ‘n kousale verband tussen akademiese geleerdheid (van watter aard ook al) en kennis van God bestaan.

So ek hou gewoonlik verby boeke soos Jurie s’n.

Maar ek kon nie help om op te merk dat Jurie se boek vir ‘n rukkie hier in Bloem se Exclusive Books ‘n “bestseller” geword het nie. Dit beteken dat mense die boek lees, en (soos dit dikwels gaan met nominale kerkmense) dat van hulle glo wat hulle lees.

En so het ek met ‘n sug my kopie gekry (teen ‘n pynlike prys van 10 Cappuccinos), en ook begin lees…

Jurie se “Kerk”

Die boek gee ons wel insig in die probleem van Jurie se kerk (Hy is klaarblyklik steeds ‘n NG lidmaat – vandaar die “ons”), maar dit het eerder met Jurie se denkwyse en benadering tot teologie te doen as met sy gevolgtrekkings. Jurie openbaar op ‘n besondere wyse die psige van ‘n lidmaat wat ontnugter is met ‘n kerkgod wat geskep is in die naam van godsdienstradisie en menslike oorlewering. (Daarmee suggereer ek hoegenaamd nie dat alle NG mense ‘n kerkgod aanbid nie.)

Dit is Calvyn en Calvinisme net waar jy kyk, en natuurlik Augustinus. Kuyper en Dooyeweerd steek ook kop uit.

En hier is Jurie se voorstel: Ons moet breek met ‘n middeleeuse Augustiniaanse paradigma wat daartoe gelei het dat die Christelike godsdiens en teologie nou in ‘n krisis verkeer. Maar let op: Dit is nie net NG lidmate wat moet herbesin oor hul geloof nie, maar sommer ons almal.

Huh?

Dis Jurie se reg om sy kerk aan te vat, en te besin oor haar teologie. Maar hy behoort dit daar diep binne in sy kerk te doen. Wat hy nie moet doen nie is om God en Jesus Christus op die markplein aan te vat, en sy aanval te verdedig met absurditeite wat lewensvreemd is vir gelowiges wat buite sy kerktradisie staan.

Hierdie is ‘n ou laai van ongelowige/afvallige susterskerklidmate en -professore. God is onder verdenking want die “kerk” het allerhande vreeslike goed aan ons gedoen, soos om apartheid te regverdig uit die Bybel, en ons te verbied om te dans, en ons te dreig met ‘n hel waar demone ons gaan martel as ons na Rodriguez se musiek luister, en en en. Nou is ons kwaad.

As die kerkgod val dan tuimel sy aanbidders saam na benede. Dit maak seer en dis ‘n verleentheid. So kom ons kyk wie ons kan saamtrek.

Met groot respek: Ek ken nie hierdie god van wie jy praat nie, Jurie. Hy het niks met my uit te waai nie, en dit voel vir my ‘n bietjie verwaand dat jy insunieer dat ek en ander oor ons geloof moet besin omdat jy joune verloor het (of nooit gevind het nie). Jy laat my dink aan ‘n vreemdeling wat my in die middel van die nag wakkerklop en vertel dat ek my vrou moet los omdat sy huweliksverhouding nie op dreef kom nie. Hy het my innige simpatie, maar ek gaan nie na hom luister nie. En ek sal almal in die straat af vertel om hom ook te ignoreer.

Weet Jurie dat daar talle gelowiges wereldwyd is wat nie ‘n saak het met Augustinus se teologie nie, en hordes wat oortuig is dat Calvyn nooit die God geken het in wie se naam hy sy teologiese opponente laat opsluit, martel en verbrand het nie?

Weet hy van die Hervormers se terreurveldtog teenoor groepe soos die Anabaptiste, en dat lg. sal giggel vanuit hul bloedbevlekte grafte as hulle moet hoor dat iemand oor Christenskap wil herbesin op grond van goed wat Augustinus en Calvyn kwytgeraak het?

Weet hy dat die “kerk” (die ander een) ‘n formidabele mag was om apartheid tot ‘n einde te bring?

En so kan ons aangaan…

Die Christenskap waarteen Jurie ten velde trek is ‘n karikatuur wat soos Frankenstein se monster aanmekaargeweef is vanuit ‘n seleksie van denominasionele persepsies en onkundige afleidings, meesal vanuit die Calvinisme en hiper-fundamentalisme, en is (genadiglik) nie verteenwoordigend van die Christelike geloof soos dit in die eerste eeue bestaan het nie, en steeds in menige vorme buite institusionele denominasionalisme bestaan nie.

 Jurie se god

Die god waarteen Jurie in opstand kom is net so karikatuuragtig.

Om maar een voorbeeld te noem: Jurie drup van sarkasme as hy die Bybel se skeppingsverhaal gebruik om na God te verwys as ‘n “nutsman.” En dan noem hy God ‘n leuenaar omdat Adam en Eva kwansuis nie oombliklik gesterf het soos God gesê het nie.

‘n Mens sou graag vir Jurie wou herinner dat die “dood” ietsie meer is in die Bybel as om bloot jou laaste asem uit te blaas, maar dit sal nutteloos wees. Jurie weier botweg om die Skrif te gebruik om die Skrif te interpreteer (‘n majestieuse hermeneutiese beginsels), want hy glo nie in die inspirasie van die Skrif nie. Die Bybel het ook maar net ge-ewoleer, soos alles rondom ons. Daar is nie sprake van enige intelligensie agter die skerms nie.

Dit is dus onmoontlik om vanuit ‘n geloofsperspektief ‘n sinvolle gesprek met Jurie te hê. Dit is jammer, want ek sou graag vir hom ‘n paar goed wou sê. Soos dat geen boek in die wereld meer eksplisiet is oor die versluiering van God as die Bybel self nie, en dat God oral daarin getuig van sy gewoonte om sy spore uit te vee vir mense wie hom soos ’n navorsingsobjek wil benader.

Hierdie karaktertrek van God het niks met moedswilligheid te doen nie, en alles met liefde. As die ontdekking en kennis van God, en ons toegang tot hom, met dieselfde voorwaardes gekom het as wat vereis word deur die fossiele in die grotte waaroor Jurie so lekker praat, en wat onlangs weer in die nuus was, dan was ouens soos Jurie ons profete en ons was die leke. En dan het die ongeletterdes van hierdie wereld nie net ‘n sosiale agterstand gehad nie, maar ook ‘n geestelike een.

Die Bybel sê dit werk andersom. God ontsluier nie homself, of antwoord die vraag oor sy bestaan, op ‘n wyse wat afhanklik is van die nuutste “navorsingmetodiek” waaroor Jurie so opgewonde is nie, en waartoe hy uitmuntende toegang het as ‘n geleerde wit professor nie.

Nee, hy doen dit op ‘n manier wat toeganklik is vir ‘n weeskind in die strate van Calcutta en ‘n enkelouer in droogtegeteisterde Midde-Afrika wie haar kinders aan die lewe hou met broodkrummels en gebed.

Jurie sê hy slimmer as sy. Haar gebede is “selfterapie” en niks meer nie. Daarmee verwoes hy die hoop van elke slagoffer van ongeregtigheid wie ooit in sy/haar diepste nood vir God aangeroep en op hom vertrou het toe niks anders meer gewerk het nie.

Jurie kan nie aanvaar dat God homself kan openbaar buite die sfeer van dit wat ons “wetenskap” noem nie. Hy kan nie aanvaar dat die wyse waarop die Bybel oor God se selfopenbaring praat ooreenstem met die wyse waarop ‘n vrou kies om haarself te ontsluier vir haar man nie, en dat dit haar prerogatief is om dit te doen soos en wanneer sy wil nie, en dit te beperk tot ‘n verhouding van wedersydse liefde en kennis wat kopkennis (en Jurie se geliefde “rede” waarna hy so dikwels verwys) transendeer nie.

Nie alle ontdekkings hang af van die inisiatief of slimmigheid van die ontdekkingreisiger nie, veral nie as dit heilige grond is wat ontdek word nie.

En dit laat my weer dink aan die man wat my wakkerklop in die middel van die nag. “Ons moet herbesin oor jou verhouding met jou vrou,” se hy vir my. “Ek het navorsing gedoen, en die Victoriaanse beskouiing van die huwelik is nonsens. Jy moet uit hierdie ding kom. Daar is geen intimiteit of seksualiteit in jou huwelik nie. Ek sien niks nie en en ek vind geen bewyse daarvoor nie. Ek weet. Ek is ‘n Paleontoloog.”

Ek onthou ‘n vakansie lank gelede. Ek het my 1985 Honda XR500 saamgevat, en soggens vroegskemer by die huis uitgesluip terwyl almal geslaap het. Ek het langs die wit strande afgery tot by die langste strand, met die koelte van die seebries in my gesig. Daar het ek tussen die golwe geswem en dryf, waarna ek op die strand gaan sit en kyk het hoe die son opkom oor die magtige Indiese Oseaan. Ek het my verwonder oor alles – die seemeeue, die branders, die sout op my lippe, die onuitspreeklike heerlikheid van die lewe wat God vir ons geskenk het. God was oral, en hy was so sigbaar soos die dag wat rondom my ontvou het. Ek het met hom gepraat, en gepraat – in verwondering oor sy beeldskoonheid, en oor die voorreg om te kan wees. Daarna het ek ‘n entjie opgestap met die strand, tot waar ek kon kofffie kry en sit en skryf oor God. Ek was betower, en vredevol, en gelukkig.

Dit het my jare geneem om uit te vind dat hierdie ongelooflike emosie nie vlietend hoef te wees nie, maar dat dit so deel van ‘n persoon kan word soos asemhaal. Om God te sien, en dankbaar te wees, en te vergeet van jouself en jou ambisies, is binne bereik van ons almal. En daarmee saam die onuitspreeklike vergenoegdheid en vreugde wat die saad is van alle selfloosheid en liefde en geregtigheid teenoor ander.

Selfterapie? Daar is net twee moontlikhede, Jurie. Of jy weet nie waarvan jy praat nie, of ek is die briljantste terapeut wat nog ooit geleef het. Veral as ek in ag neem hoe mislik, miserabel en depressief ek was voor my terapie.

(Word vervolg)

Why I will be Praying with Angus on Saturday

images-23I have never been to one of Angus Buchan’s meetings.

This is not because I have anything against Angus, or his meetings, but because I stopped attending huge Christian gatherings many years ago.

There are a number of reasons for this, and I am not even sure I understand all of them. When I stepped out of denominational Christianity, I stepped into a world where crowds did not matter, where personal relationships took precedence over group dynamics, where celebrity preaching and performance worship were exchanged for nights with friends and their Bibles around kitchen tables.

So I don’t have a problem with huge Christian gatherings. I just happened to embark on a route where I stopped running into them.

I do have a problem with something else, though: Bandwagons.

As a young Christian, someone told me that as light attracts insects, revival fires tend to attract strange people with strange agendas and even stranger teachings. Anyone familiar with the history of spiritual awakenings will know what I am talking about.

Whether we like it or not, Angus Buchan’s ministry has become a type of brand here in South Africa (brandwagon?). As it is with great brands, a lot of people are attracted to it for the sake of the spectacle. You can make money out of a brand. You can promote your cause because of a brand. You can spread your teachings under the name of a brand.

Some of us believe that this is the greatest danger facing Angus’ ministry: People who would like to use his wagon for their band. And so we resolved at our fellowship to start praying for Angus instead of just praying with him.

For those with misgivings about Angus: Remember that there is no problem with someone functioning as a type of “spiritual uncle” for South Africa, as long as such a person does not see himself as a mediatory figure between God and the rest of us, or make any absurd assumptions about his authority. This is why a lot of us appreciate the fact that Angus does not have some or other ridiculous title tied to his name, that he does not wear a religious costume and that we cannot pin him to a denomination.[1] Also, it is as clear as daylight that he has been instrumental in turning many South Africans to God.

These are great credentials, and they dare not be ignored by those of us who have turned our backs on institutionalised Christianity.

But I will be lying if I say that some of us are not concerned. There’s been a lot of Dominion talk amongst some of Angus’ supporters – the type of triumphalist theology that is especially popular amongst certain segments of the Religious Right in the USA, and that sometimes gives one the impression that God is more interested in penetrating the governments of this world than establishing his own Kingdom as an alternative to them.

There are also emails flying around promoting questionable spiritual warfare tactics, and strategies to bind and loose, and recipes for breaking curses, and so on – and some of them seem to be riding on the back of Saturday’s gathering.

And then there are those who are crusading for something called a New Apostolic Reformation, and who connect their particular vision (which happens to be highly controversial) to Angus’ gatherings.

The point is that quite a few of us have lost the taste for all of this. We have been there , we have done it, we have a cupboard full of T-shirts. And so we gravitated towards a different understanding of Christianity – one that doesn’t see strongholds as places and entities outside of us to be overthrown, but as our own miserable opinions that differ from God’s wisdom and will – opinions that take our thoughts captive and leave us entitled, greedy, narcissistic and unjust, and that call for a heart circumcision followed by a progressive renewal of our minds.

At least this is how we interpret Paul’s teaching on strongholds.[2]

Of course you may differ, and indeed it is your right. I just don’t think Angus’ wagon is the place to do it. Neither do I think it is the place for promoting any of the stuff mentioned above.

You see, none of my misgivings has anything to do with Angus’ call to come and pray for our country and for one another. And so I have no objections about Saturday. On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful and noble thing for the body of Christ to show their solidarity and unite in fervent prayer. (I would have thought the same if Joe Soap organised it.)

I also think that the snooty liberal professors at some of South Africa’s famous theological faculties, who speak condescendingly about Angus and his gatherings, accomplish nothing except to provide further proof that they are in fact heretics. How can anyone with a heart for God criticize an earnest appeal to believers to unite in prayer?

This is why someone like me, who have drifted away from the big stadiums and big names, and who have no inclination of returning there or endorsing anyone’s agenda, felt a stirring within when I began to think about this particular gathering.

And this is why I decided that I will be there. We are followers of Christ. Let us pray together! What could be more wonderful than that?

But let us cut the background noise. Let us leave our pet doctrines and agendas at home. Let us commit ourselves to what this is, and not try and turn it into something else. South Africa has enough hijackers as it is.

[1] I am not trying to be nasty. Jesus spoke against ecclesiastical titles and tailoring one’s clothes for the sake of making a spiritual impression. And Paul condemned factions in the church. See Matthew 23:5-12 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 2:1-5.

[2] See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 11:3

Mansions in Heaven?

pexels-photo-87378One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Matthew 12:6

The idea that heaven looks like a celestial version of a luxurious suburb where the rich and famous live, lined with multi-storey “mansions” that have been prepared for us by Jesus, derives from the King James Version’s translation of Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3:

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

The word “mansions” is an unfortunate mistranslation of the Greek “moinia,” which is the plural form of “moné,” a word which is more accurately translated as dwelling place, abode, lodging or room. Thus, modern translations have dropped the usage of “mansion” and typically use “room” or “dwelling place.”

But here is the interesting thing: As always, the Bible is its own best interpreter, if one would only look. The word moné only appear twice in the entire Bible, and its second appearance is but a few verses on, in John 14:23:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Thus, the dwelling place that Jesus said he would prepare for us in the Father’s house is the very dwelling place that he said he and the Father would bring back and make with us!

Even more amazing, Jesus spoke these words to clarify his statement in verse 20:

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This sentence makes it abundantly clear that the dwelling that has been made possible by Jesus is reciprocal, namely us in Jesus/the Father and, at the same time, Jesus/the Father in us.

How will all of this this happen?

Verses 16 to 19 answer this:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.

With this in mind, we are ready to re-read verse 3 which immediately follows the KJV’s “mansions” statement:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

For Jesus to receive us “unto himself,” so that we can be “where he is,” is to receive us into the very dwelling place “in the Father” that he alone had enjoyed since eternity before time. This is the “dwelling place” that he had to go and prepare for us in order to receive us into it so that we can be “in the Father” as he is “in the Father” and so that both he and the Father can indwell us.

It now seems incredible that one could miss the obvious meaning of Jesus’ statement. The “coming again” of verse 3 is clearly not a reference to Jesus’ second coming on the clouds, but a reference to his coming through the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by another one of Jesus’ statements in the very passage that we are busy with. Note verse 26:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Ultimate Aim: Abide in Christ

If any doubt remains, note that the whole of John 14 serves as a precursor to John 15, a chapter that gives us the following statement right in its introduction:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.[1]

Firstly, note the reference to the reciprocal indwelling: Us in Christ, and Christ in us.

Secondly, note the word “abide.” As you may have picked up, it closely resembles the noun “abode” spoken of earlier, and is in fact its verb form. This is not only true in English but also in Greek. The Greek word for abide, believe it or not, is “menó” which happens to be the root word from which “moné” is derived!

Thus, to abide in Christ, as we are told to do in John 15, we first need the abode of John 14! Put differently, we cannot dwell in Christ unless he has first prepared a dwelling place for us in which to dwell!

The logic and simplicity of Jesus’ teaching is astounding once we see it, and provides us with profound insight into the central aspect of the Spirit’s ministry: To enable God to dwell in our midst, according to all the Scriptural promises in the Old Testament, by dwelling in us and allowing us to dwell in him.

One of the main problems, it seems, is that we derive our understanding of the Spirit’s work from the book of Acts rather than from the teaching of Jesus, especially as it has been recorded in John’s gospel.

Whereas Acts focuses on the effect of the Spirit’s outpouring, Jesus’ teaching focuses on the reason behind it.

The difference is monumental: Note that Acts is all about the activities of a church who have experienced a divine life exchange due to the fact that they have received the dynamic life and presence of Christ in the place of their old carnal lives.

This is the result of the Spirit’s infilling, and can be compared with the way in which a young man’s schedule and habits may be completely changed as a result of having entered into a relationship with the woman of his dreams.

But to say that the purpose of a romantic relationship is to receive the power and ability to change one’s lifestyle is to put the cart before the horses and to lose all romantic perspective!

Yet this is exactly what we have done by elevating the power of the Spirit above the relational dynamic between God and humanity made possible by it.

The Location of the Father’s House

Finally, let us note that the KJV’s “mansions” that we have now identified as “dwelling places” or “abodes,” are prepared by Jesus in the “Father’s house:”

In my Father’s house are many mansions…

What and where is this house of the Father?

Again, Scripture is its own best commentator. When Jesus was twelve years old he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Feast of Passover, without his parents’ knowledge. They looked for him for three days before finding him in the temple. When they finally did, this is what he said to them:

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?[2]

Similarly, earlier on in the gospel of John we read the well known story of how Jesus drove the money-changers and religious merchandizers out of the temple in Jerusalem.[3]

Note Jesus’ words while he was doing so:

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

When Jesus spoke about “my Father’s house,” he was referring to the temple! There is not a single example in the entire Bible where he, or anyone else, uses the phrase in any other way.

This is where it gets really interesting. The incident with the money-changers continues in John’s gospel to include the following conversation:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Whilst we are told that Jesus was referring to the “temple of his body,” there is a clear play on words here. The “destruction of the temple” hints to an event that Jesus predicted elsewhere,[4] and that was literally fulfilled in 70 AD when the Roman armies sacked Jerusalem under Titus.

But it also refers to his crucifixion, which explains what he meant when he said that he would raise it up in three days.”

Here Jesus begins to expand our understanding of the temple. It will no longer be a building made with bricks and built by human hands. It will be the resurrected body of Christ.

As we know from the rest of the New Testament, Jesus was not only referring to his physical body, but to the regenerated saints who would become his dwelling place, thus his “body.” We are raised with him, we are in him as he is in us, and so we are called his “body:”

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.[5]

So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.[6]

It follows naturally that if we are the resurrected body of Christ, then we are also the rebuilt temple that he spoke of to the Jews, namely the place of his indwelling through his Spirit. This is not just a logical inference, but the exact way in which the Bible refers to believers:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.[7]

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?[8]

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”[9]

In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.[10]

If the “Father’s house” is the temple, and we become that temple, then it follows naturally that we also become the “house:”

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope of which we boast.[11]

…you will know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.[12]

Once we see the glorious outcome of it all, it becomes extremely simple to understand why Jesus had to prepare a dwelling place for us in his Father’s house before we could become that house. The “rebuilding” of the house necessitated such a preparation, and makes perfect sense when we consider another verse that refers to this issue:

…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[13]

The bricks of the temple had to be replaced with living stones, and Christ had to prepare a place for those stones to be laid. Thus, we are given a ”dwelling place” in the Father’s house, but we also end up becoming the very fabric of that house, enabling God to dwell in us through his Spirit even as we dwell in him.

The Chambers in the Temple

There is one last point to consider, and it is to be found in Peter’s words quoted above. Note that the living stones are also identified with the priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices.

To “dwell in the temple” was no New Testament invention, and neither was the idea that there were specific “rooms” or “abodes” in the temple to enable such a dwelling. This is clear right from the beginning of the history of the temple:

Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” Then David gave Solomon his son the plan of the vestibule of the temple, and of its houses, its treasuries, its upper rooms, and its inner chambers, and of the room for the mercy seat; and the plan of all that he had in mind for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts; for the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, and all the work of the service in the house of the Lord; for all the vessels for the service in the house of the Lord…[14]

The description of the chambers in the temple bring to mind Jesus’ words “in my Father’s house there are many rooms,” and illustrates the ridiculousness of imagining that he was referring to heavenly mansions that resemble the estates of the Hollywood elite.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about these chambers in his famous Wars of the Jews:

Now, about the sides of the lower part of the temple there were little houses, with passages out of one into another; there were a great many of them, and they were three stories high…[15]

These chambers had a variety of functions, which included priestly service. This dated back from the time of God’s first “house”, the Tabernacle:

…the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning.[16]

It goes without saying that the disciples who were listening to Jesus’ words in John 14:2 would immediately have thought of these priestly chambers and the functions associated with them. This was Jesus’ way of preparing them for the very truth that he would establish a new “priesthood” in his “Father’s house,” and that this would be linked to his return to them, when he and the Father would make their home with those who have placed their faith in Christ..

This could only take place through the “Spirit of truth” who would be sent to “dwell with them and be in them.” Here we find the true ministry of the Spirit, and a fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose, namely to have an offspring in his image and likeness with whom he would dwell eternally.

 (The above is an excerpt from Romans: the Big Picture)

[1] John 15:4

[2] Luke 2:49

[3] John 2:13-22

[4] See Matthew 24:2

[5] Ephesians 1:22-23

[6] Romans 12:5

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

[8] 2 Corinthians 6:19

[9] 2 Corinthians 6:16

[10] Ephesians 2:21-22

[11] Hebrews 3:6

[12] 1 Timothy 3:15

[13] 1 Peter 2:5

[14] 1 Chronicles 28:10-13

[15] For Josephus’ description of the temple, see The Wars of the Jews, V 5: 1- 6

[16] 1 Chronicles 9:26-27

The Basics of Life

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-3-50-04-pmRevien and I have just returned from an unforgettable weekend spent on a Free State game farm with a group of over 30 believers.

There were no special speakers.

There was no set program or agenda.

There were no presentations, projectors or video clips.

The were no musical instruments, except for a guitar.

I knew almost everyone in the group, and so I was aware of some imposing academic qualifications and remarkable professional accomplishments. I also knew how incredibly gifted and skilled some of these people were. And I knew that quite a few were involved in areas of selfless, sacrificial service that would qualify them to be sainted by the Pope.

But hardly anyone else knew, none of it mattered and nothing was ever mentioned. We were mere brothers and sisters, and what we had in common far outshone everything else we had done in our lives, both good and bad.

Our common ground, I believe, can best be described as a simple conviction that the fullness of God is to be found in Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ has made himself unimaginably accessible to each and everyone of us.

If this truth does not strike you as mind-bogglingly profound, then it can only be because the reality of it has never dawned on you.

The fullness of God… Can we even begin to imagine what this means? Those famous Hubble telescope images testify to one small part of who he is. The rainforests of the world to another. The beauty of romance, and of music… The inexplicable nature of young children… The ocean… The fragrances, from flowers to freshly ground coffee beans… The tastes…

The list goes on and on, and still we are nowhere close to describing or comprehending his fullness.

God poured the totality of this fullness into Christ, and then Christ invited us to come to him and partake of him as a starving man would partake of a banquet prepared for a king.

This is who he is. This is what he has done for us.

Most of all: He knew who he was dealing with. He knew what he had to to for the whole thing to work out and not be undermined by our imperfections.

And so he bypassed us and gave us a single instruction: Forget about yourself and look at Jesus Christ. Behold him, hear him, trust him. That’s all you need to do. Learn from him. Do so, and you shall find yourself coming face to face with the living God…

If you believe this, I mean truly believe it, then you will soon experience an unintended and inevitable consequence: You will begin to lose the taste for depictions of him.

Mere words will no longer suffice. Screaming men in suits will no longer seem to channel him. Neither will hulky youth leaders with Jesus tattoos and designer specs, or trance-like worship songs sung by beautiful girls with angelic voices, or fog on the stage, or feathers from angels’ wings, or street healings, or football stadiums filled with people…

When compared with the face of Christ, all of it will seem like the dust of death. This disturbing awareness will become progressively stronger, and you will not be able to shake or suppress it.

It will be a natural consequence of another awareness rising up in you, something that you may never have experienced and that you do not have words for. And then, slowly but surely, you will begin to understand: This thing that I am experiencing…this is the love of God…this is love for God.

I spoke and preached about faith for more than three decades, and I realize now that I hardly knew what I was talking about. What I have just described is faith. Faith is not, as some have suggested, a type of positive mindset magic that can coerce God into falling in with your plans. Nor is it a confessed belief in a series of propositional statements called a “creed.”

No, faith is to simply look away from yourself and to look to the Author of Life. This is what Abraham did, and this is the only thing that will ever qualify any person to be worthy of the name “child of Abraham.”

Believe me: Apart from this, no salvation exists.

And so God has given us faith and love, and a way to him that is so simple that a child can find it, yet too simple for those of us who think that he needs our gimmicks to turn him into an object of interest.

What type of a god needs an atmosphere in which to reveal himself? What type of a god requires dimmed lights, and mood music, and the astounding facilitation of his presence by some or other dynamic individual who knows just “how,“ in order to show up?

I’m not sure. The hypnotic prerequisites for this type of manifestation makes me think that he is not really a “he,” but an “it” – a god of our imagination.

The good news, as mentioned earlier, is that Jesus Christ knew who he was dying for. He understands our pagan inclinations. He understand our propensity to redefine faith and turn it into something “we must do.” He understands that sheep fall prey to wolves. He knows all of it, much better than we can ever imagine.

The fullness of God indwells him, remember?

And so he is patient with us. He will even allow us to see something of him whilst pursuing his presence in the most ridiculous of manners. But this is not to endorse our behavior. It is to assist us to turn from it. Whilst we are presuming on the riches of his kindness and forbearance, he is giving us time to repent.

Which brings me back to the weekend. And to an observation of what happens when a group of people who have been spoilt for the God-facilitation industry come together in the name of the One who has spoilt it for them.

It is an amazing thing to share a common interest in the Christ who is within us. It is to stare at one another in utter wonder and amazement, knowing that the revelation of the Jesus in my brother is complimentary to the revelation of the Jesus in me.

It is to behold one another as though one is beholding Christ, knowing that we will encounter dimensions of him in and through one another that is not accessible anywhere else.

And so we had to force every conversation to come to an end. Our insight into the mystery of God expanded again and again. It would have been no different if he was sitting there in our midst, speaking to us, revealing the Father to us.

In fact, that is exactly what he did. He was there – in his body.

A wise brother said something towards the end of the weekend: “You cannot put the wind in a box.” And we all understood. There is a depth of understanding and “knowing” that is restricted to the fellowship of the body. When we “behold” Christ in one another, we see things that are not seen when we are by ourselves. We cannot capture these revelations, box them, take them home, turn them into information and retrieve them at leisure. Moses and Elijah won’t camp on mountains.

And so we left, longing for our next gathering, longing for that part of Christ that can only be seen when we come together as his members and display the miracle of God’s fullness in our love for one another.

What do Ernest Becker, René Girard, Anders Nygren, Daniel Gilbert and the Book of Romans have in common?

Romans small3
Many moons ago I heard about a book that won the Pulitzer price for General Non-Fiction in 1974: The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. The title intrigued me, and so I ordered it from the USA. (I could not find a single copy in the whole of South Africa…)

The book blew my mind. To this day I regard it as the best “non-theological” commentary on the human condition that I have ever come across. I followed it up with Becker’s Escape from Evil, and the experience pretty much repeated itself. And I am still working through his The Birth and Death of Meaning. Slowly…

I don’t think these books are everyone’s cup of tea, but they exposed me to a line of thinking that helped me greatly to understand the predicament of being human, as well as my Christian faith.

The only other scholar in the field of the human sciences whose writings had a similar effect on me was Rene Girard. His work on mimetic desire, conflict and scapegoating is fast becoming legendary. It is also becoming extremely popular, which is perhaps unfortunate. Girard has been, and is being enlisted as an apologist for a number of causes and doctrinal novelties that I doubt he would have personally endorsed. Sadly, this is often the case with profound thinkers who are no longer with us.

Added to this, Girard is a human being and his insights are certainly not complete or perfect. One does not have to agree with every tenet of his theory to gain much from it (the proverbial fish and bones). To elevate him to the status of guru is unwise. Many of his views do not sit well with conservative evangelicals, but that does not have to create an either/or conflict. His main contribution is in the field of anthropology, and his readers should consider for themselves what the implications are for their theology. For instance, the notion that you HAVE to reject the penal substitution theory of atonement in order to gain much from Girard is, in fact, not true. His work is multifaceted, and can be thought of as a series of self-contained units, each flowing into the other. There is no need to follow him slavishly, or to adopt each of his conclusions.

I have often thought of these two men as Cyrus-like servants of God, in the sense that they fulfilled a spiritual purpose without knowing that they were doing so, or at least the extent to which they were doing it. I suspect that Girard discovered it along the way, but that he was too modest to actually make something of it.

To elaborate on these purposes would fill a book, so I will refrain. Suffice it to say that Becker’s assessment of the human condition is pretty dark and damning, and that he suggests, as an objective scholar and social scientist, that “primitive Christianity” may be the only answer to the succession of failed immortality ideologies and “hero-systems” that have marked the human race since the dawn of time. Biblical Christianity, of course, takes the problem of death really seriously. Modern Christianity, according to Becker, is simply another “hero-system” or effort to deny death, and thus he relegates it to the same status as all other immortality ideologies. (All Restorationists may now applaud.)

The irony of these scholars’ work is that it has been mostly overlooked by mainstream theologians and believers (Girard’s work is finally being noticed, as mentioned, but this only happened relatively recently), seemingly because it did not come in the stereotypical theological wrapping. But this is in fact what makes it so powerful. As young researchers neither of them were crusaders for a cause or motivated by some or other belief system that created a research bias and predisposed them to looking for clues that would fit into an existing schema. They truly “stumbled” upon the powerful truths that they ended up articulating for the rest of us, and only later related it to the sphere of religion.

My all-time favourite interview is of Girard telling how he discovered that the Decalogue’s Tenth Commandment reveals mimetic desire to underlie all divine moral codes, and that it did so millennia before he came up with his theory. He notes that he finds it absolutely befuddling that this obvious fact has been overlooked by theologians. (First five minutes of interview – you can skip the rest).

To me Becker and Girard’s work represents two sides of the same coin: Mimetic desire is in fact the subjective response to the reality of death, and thus our greatest and most sophisticated effort at denying death. (Eve found the power to dismiss God’s warning of impending death through the enchantment of desire).

What we covet is in fact the life of the neighbour, and the closest we can come to this is to appropriate his/her possessions. In the process the neighbour is “sacrificed” to effect the life-exchange and overcome death. Our fascination with vampirism is but one testimony to this subconscious drive within.

This, of course, is where the gospel comes in. My greatest companion volume to Becker and Girard is Anders Nygren’s Agape and Eros (another largely forgotten work) – a book that shaped Karl Barth’s theology significantly.

Barth beautifully summarises Nygren in these words:

Love, as Eros, is, in general terms, the primordially powerful desire, urge, impulse, and endeavor by which a created being seeks his own self-assertion, satisfaction, realization, and fulfillment in his relation to something else. He strives to draw near to this other person or thing, to win it for himself, to take it to himself, and to make it his own as clearly and definitively as possible. In Agape, however, the one who loves never understands the origin of his search as a demand inherent within himself, but always as an entirely new freedom for the other one… And because he is free for him, he does not seek him as though he needed him for himself as a means to his self-assertion and self-fulfillment…. He loves him gratis. That is to say, he desires nothing from him, and he does not wish to be rewarded by him.

The book that completed the puzzle for me was Daniel Gilbert‘s Stumbling on Happiness. His groundbreaking work in regard to affective forecasting reveals that we desire things because we anticipate that they will make us happy. In this way we become slaves to our projections of a happy future self who inevitable ends up being grumpy about everything we have accumulated and achieved for him/her when we finally meet him/her.

Gilbert is not a believer, but his insights into the things that make humans tick are worth noting – and a lot of fun to consider alongside a Bible open to Ecclesiastes.

I was blown away when I discovered the book of Romans to be an eternal and majestic exposition of all of the above, especially Paul’s interpretation of the Mosaic law as a vehicle to reveal that God handed humanity over to desire as a result of rejecting him, and that none of us, no matter how religious, can suppress the power and dictates of desire, and so we “all have sinned”.

It is indeed impossible to understand the much disputed Romans 7, or even Romans 2, without these insights. In Romans 7 Paul represents the religious persona trying to do good but being tripped up by desire, revealing him/herself as a lawbreaker and in need of a saviour. In Romans 2 he hints at this by telling very “righteous” people that they were doing exactly the same as the “sinners” whom they were judging.

To conquer covetousness, and in the process fulfill the intention of the law as revealed in the tenth commandment, something called “love” is needed, that is, the ability to joyfully take what is mine and hand it over to my neighbour, as opposed to taking what belongs to my neighbour and appropriating it for me.

Agape is therefore diametrically opposite to covetousness, and here Nygren is helpful.

This suggests a reversal between the subject and object in the sacrificial drama, and this, again, is where Girard becomes helpful. The identity of the scapegoat is changed, and the “living sacrifice” is revealed as the only one with the ability to live this life of love and service and so fulfill the law by proving him/herself to be covet-free.

However, to do so, the underlying death-conquering motive that manifests in denial, mimetic desire and “heroism” must be dealt with, and this can only happen where there is an actual participation in the life that is really life. Hence, an identification with the life of God (as opposed to the apparent life of the neighbour) is necessary as the first step to be delivered from acquisitive, mimetic, erotic desire.

Romans 4’s Abraham reveals this action as something called “faith:” “My body is as good as dead, but God can give life where there is none!” The acknowledgment of “my body of death” is imperative as a basis for faith, and so Paul’s despair in Romans 7 as a result of his inability to conquer mimetic desire is intended to produce this very cry “who shall deliver me from this body of death” as a precursor of the faith that followed and that would lead to an impartation of Spirit-life in Romans 8, and thus to the new identity of a “living sacrifice” in Romans 12 (one who has died yet is alive, like Isaac & Christ) who is finally able to live the life of love and service expounded upon in chapters 12 right through to the end of the book.

Interestingly, the introductory passage to the “practical” section of the book, in the first verses of chapter 12, reveals that the “renewing of the mind” has to do with not thinking higher of oneself than you ought to, but to think with sober judgment, namely as a particular, single member in this new, resurrected body of Christ.

Thus chapters 1 to 11’s covetous narcissistic self that seeks to be served is exchanged in 12 to 16 with an “alive” sacrificial self that seeks to serve, and who never thinks of itself outside the boundaries of its particular calling in the community of the saints. Thus the rivalry that is prohibited by the tenth commandment, underlying and constituting the covetous self, is done away with completely. Envy and inferiority, as well as pride and arrogance, are also done away with.

In the place thereof, an identity with a very particular calling and equipping, whose life is shared with others, is encountered, embraced and accepted. The only rivalry that is left is revealed by Paul (tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure) to be the following: Outdo one another in showing honour! (12:10)

I have been long convinced that most of our psychological ailments spring from the cognitive dissonance triggered by the failure of our death-denying, hero-aspiring tendencies.

In other words, our failure to keep up with the Joneses drives us mad. And so it should, for God is telling us to go back to the right tree. I have found in Romans a paradigm to challenge our most basic and dearly held presuppositions, rather than just another “therapy” aimed at helping us to live up to our delusions. In fact, in my experience virtually all efforts at therapy represent efforts to assist us to better deny death and to better actualise or authenticate ourselves.

The converse is also true. I have been completely astounded at the impact of going the opposite route, namely using the above truths as a basis for counseling (anti-counseling?) brothers and sisters in the Lord. Truly, only those who are willing to lose their lives can find it, and any therapy that is not based on this truth is tantamount to doing interior decorating on death row.

Ironically, the Buddhist insight into desire as the cause of suffering and its related ideals of selflessness and Nirvana are now being “discovered” by many Christians, causing them to reject Christianity in favour of a philosophy of selflessness and slow, restful religion. Yet Buddhism or any of its derivatives cannot compare with the majestic way in which Paul expounds these very same things – the “primitive Christianity” referred to by Becker.

The Bible has a much more sophisticated and practical approach to desire and selflessness than what you can find in any branch of Buddhism, or anywhere else in the entire universe for that matter, but you have to read carefully to find it.

(This post was originally a comment on the blog of David McAnulty)

Goodbye, Mr Cauvin

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 8.01.26 PMHere’s a scenario…

It’s the year 96, and John is on Patmos. He’s had a second vision, and it is extremely disturbing. He is told not to disclose it, which relieves him greatly. The vision is dark and absurd beyond anything he could ever have imagined, and he is convinced no one would believe it.

In the vision he is shown a strange type of rectangular scroll, one that glows and that can be unrolled by pressing a circle on it. It contains a discussion amongst followers of Christ during the start of the great apostasy.

The discussion is about something called Neo-Jehanism. Turns out a man by the name of Jehan is going to become a big name amongst the saints centuries into the future, and gather millions of followers behind him. But not everyone will find him or his teaching appealing, and so another saint by the name of Zoonhermans would rise up and oppose him, also gathering millions of followers behind him.

 Ultimately the schism would become so absurd that it would be be narrowed down to something called the Five Statements of Jehan, composed to refute the arguments of Zoonhermans’ followers. During the times of the end, the Five Statements would be summarized by a set of letters that would serve as a type of code for determining whether one is a “Jehanist” or a “Zoonhermian.”

 The befuddling thing about the vision is that saints from all over the world would feel the need to place themselves into one of these two categories, and provide reasons for doing so.

 To make matters worse, each group would be severely divided amongst themselves: The Jehanists would be made up from hundreds of strange named clan-types who would constantly be bickering and arguing amongst themselves: The Elders, the English, some from the Immersers, and so on. The Zoonhermians would be made up of clans like the Method Makers, the Festival Goers, the Gift Receivers, many from the Immersers, and so on…

It’s winter here in South Africa. A friend gave Revien and I a truckload of wood last week, and so the two of us spent the best part of Saturday sipping Cappucinos and listening to the crackling of a blazing fireplace and some great music.

That was the nice part.

But then I began to fiddle on my Ipad, and stumbled onto a five year old Classic iMonk post with almost three hundred comments. The Calvinists and Arminians were at it again, and of course I felt obliged to follow the whole thing and ride it out. Right to its very end.

But it left me feeling strangely empty and fatigued. And wondering what on earth the point was of it all, and what Paul and Peter and John and the others would have had to say about it.

To make matters worse, I spent the previous Thursday doing research for a project that involved tracing the origins of Calvinism’s famous TULIP acronym, only to be reminded that it never existed before the twentieth century.

For those who are interested: Its first known use was in 1905, when the American Presbyterian minister and hymn writer, Dr. Cleland Boyd McAfee, was heard using it at the Presbyterian Union Of Newark New Jersey.

And even then it was not fully developed. McAfee’s “U” stood for Universal Sovereignty, not Unconditional Election.

Of course it is said that the so-called Five Points are much older than that, dating from 1619 and the famous Synod of Dordt, where they were stated in response to the Five Articles of the Arminian Remonstrants. But even that does not solve the problem of TULIP’s relative late arrival at the Calvinistic party. Not all Calvinists are wildly excited about the acronym, or convinced that it faithfully represents Dordt. As Kenneth Stewart put it in  The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect:

There is the striking fact that twentieth-century writing on behalf of TULIP has only very infrequently engaged with the actual Canons of Dordt of which the acronym purports to be a paraphrase or summary. This meant, and means that writers have been implying the fidelity of the acronym as a rendering of Dordt’s meaning without ever being pressed to demonstrate that this fidelity exists in fact. To call the paraphrasing of Dordt by TULIP a ‘broad brush’ approach, is arguably too kind! Why has there been no inquiry as to whether there is actually a true correspondence between this alleged paraphrase of Dordt, and the actual intention of the Canons – widely available in English? We may well be overdue for a revisiting of the Canons of Dordt themselves – even to the point of quoting them, or making a fresh compressed summary of their actual contents.

That explains something I have often wondered about, namely why many Dutch Reformed dominees here in South Africa have never even heard of TULIP.

Thinking of all this, my cheery Saturday morning mood dampened, and in its place memories arose from over a decade ago. That was my post-Pentecostal period, during which I, too, earnestly tried to become a Calvinist.

The thing that I could not wrap my head around at the time (perhaps I should say heart) was double predestination, a term derived from John Calvin’s assertion that the decree of election is symmetrical with the decree of reprobation. In plain English, it means that the God whom I had come to know as the ultimate source of love had chosen to damn some to the very extent that he had chosen to save others.

Some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. (Institutes iii, xxi, 5)

To make matters worse, the “eternally damned” weren’t mere stats on some theological pie chart, but a significant portion of the very broken children, teens and widows that I had been ministering to for years as a pastor and shepherd. God chose the majority of them to be damned forever and no one shall stand in his way? Has God then become my opponent in the ministry? Was Jesus even aware of this? Would he be angry if he found out?

These were the crazy thoughts that haunted me. And so I devised a plan: I would become a four-point Calvinist. I would not limit the atonement, and my acronym would simply be TUIP. That would allow me to have the best of both worlds. I could still listen to MacArthur, and distribute recordings of Sproul’s The Insanity of Luther, and read Piper’s The Pleasures of God, and introduce a younger generation to Francis Schaeffer’s Trilogy, and collect Pink’s books, and dislike TBN.

I could have all of this without the nagging thought that there was something darkly terrifying about God, that perhaps he did not love my children as much as I did but hated them, that perhaps the whole unfolding nightmare would drive me to a place of such insanity that I would want to escape from this terrifying God, revealing myself to be one of the reprobate after all, and ultimately suffer the inevitable fate of joining the rest of them in a cosmic concentration camp where we would suffer forever without the merciful prospect of death by gassing or gun or suffocating under a pile of corpses – all of this so that God’s perfect sovereignty and justice would prevail.

I figured that I would never have to worry about any of this again. Calvin’s reference to a “secret decree” under the guise of God’s loving exterior would never give me another sleepless night, and I would never even have to wonder whether the decree was still secret after Calvin caused it to leak out.

All of this would magically vanish through a simple subtraction!

Which brings me to the flashback. I had to test my plan, and so I presented it to one of the brethren of my newfound Reformed community. The man had a formidable intellect, and was regarded as one of the more mature men in the group. I told him that I had made peace with the fact that I am a four-point Calvinist, and asked him for his opinion. His response was immediate and to the point: “We have a name for four-point Calvinists. We call them…ARMINIANS!”

Pop. That was it. There was no way out.

During that time another brother, whom I had grown to respect and love, proved to be somewhat more gentle in his approach. He used the term “inescapable conclusion” in reference to TULIP’s L.

And then there was the discussion where all of this was applied to the hopeless fate of non-elect children dying in infancy, which was perhaps the single most disturbing experience of them all.

I’ll spare you the rest. In the end, it all became too much and my effort to morph into a follower of a dead Frenchman by the name of Jehan Cauvin failed spectacularly. Which, in the long run, turned out to be one of the best things that had ever happened to me.

I put it all behind me, and conceded that my reasons for wanting to become a Calvinist (Cauvinist?) were infinitely stupid in the first place. It really had nothing to do with a desire to rethink my view of God, grace, election, free will, the atonement or anything else. These questions had been settled in my heart and mind years before, as a result of the teaching of the Bible, prayer, study, contemplation, fellowship, and simply walking with Jesus Christ through the thick and thin of life for two decades.

No, the reasons why I was attracted to Calvinism were all circumstantial. I can list them, but it is really unnecessary as the late Michael Spencer himself has already done a wonderful job in another one of his classic posts: Why Calvin is cool: An infomercial for Calvinism.

Note that Spencer starts the updated post with the words “Even though I am no longer a Calvinist, a lot of this essay is still true…”

Here’s some extracts from the post, providing us with a synopsis of Spencer’s reasons for calling Calvin cool, and perhaps providing some penetrating insights into the real reasons for Calvinism’s recent resurgence. Ironically, none of them has anything to do with the stuff that almost drove me batty over a decade ago, and ALL of them are to be found in other expressions of Christianity. (If one would only look!)

“Calvinists have their problems, but going the openness route or denying the authority of Scripture are not dangers in the near future…Calvinism is fired up about missions…Calvinism is the strongest resistance to the excesses and errors of the church growth movement…Calvinism is warmly God-centered…Calvinism is contending for the Gospel…Calvinism is evangelistic, when practiced and not just debated… Calvinism has a wonderful reverence for history… Calvinism has the best approach to cultural issues… Calvinism isn’t detoured into fads (Jabez, Left Behind etc.)… Calvinists are great apologists… Calvinists aren’t on television…”

Those things were all true, and wonderful, and available without having to become a double predestinationist! (or whatever it is called).

And so, in the end, I was happy to write a dear John letter to Mr. Cauvin. The whole thing was just a bad affair. I was attracted to him for the wrong reasons, which blinded me to his dark side and simultaneously ruined any possibility of other, more wholesome relationships.

These were the memories that surfaced on Saturday. And the, for a moment, I felt like phoning my old friend who had trashed my dreams of becoming a four-point Calvinist. I wanted to ask him: “How could you? How could you use a novel and questionable doctrinal construct, not a century old at the time and a babe in comparison with the doctrine of the rapture that you so despise, to bully people into a category of your own making and subject them to a ridiculous stereotype that flatly ignores their personal histories of following the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching of Scripture to the best of their abilities?”

But of course it would be useless. I realized how little effect humanitarian considerations have on Calvinists when I read John Piper’s response to Thomas Talbott’s On Predestination, Reprobation, and the Love of God: A Polemic.

In fact, I reread it just now, and experienced a near irresistible temptation to get back in the fight and tell the whole world why Piper is wrong, and how both Scripture and common sense contradict him at every point, and why it is not okay to pray for your children thinking that they may be reprobates, and…

But then I’ll just go back there, and I’m not sure I want to do that.

Bye bye, John…

 

Death and The Prosperity Gospel

burning_money_symbol_picture_2_165377In the mid-nineties I enjoyed a rare privilege. With the help of an Afrikaans journalist I had traced the whereabouts of a man who was, at the time, the most notorious Christian in all of Southern Africa. I showed up on his Capetonian doorstep one sunny afternoon, and he kindly invited me in. What followed was one of the most memorable conversations of my life.

My fascination with him had begun many years before, whilst attending a week-long seminar where he spoke about the cross of Christ. He was by far the best Bible teacher I had ever heard, and remains so to this day.

In fact, his clarification of sin and salvation changed the course of my life.

But for a number of reasons his ministry nosedived soon after I met him, leading to an extremely public media crucifixion by the ecclesiastical establishment in South Africa. The whole affair ruined his reputation to such an extent that the remnant of his teaching ministry went underground, mostly in the form of cassette tapes. There it remains to this day.

Naturally, I was befuddled. How could a message of this profundity, this calibre, simply be wiped off a Christian landscape riddled with so many radically inferior versions of the same truths?

I was determined to find out, and hoped that my visit would reveal an answer.

It did. From the very lips of the man himself. Oh, we spoke for hours, and enough was discussed to fill a book, but a single statement stood out – one that has never left the back of my mind.

Over the two decades since then, it has both haunted and helped me countless of times.

It was simply this, and even now I can recall the moment when he uttered the words:

“I hate religion too much.”

I got it. And in that moment I knew that I was attracted to his teaching for more reasons than its sheer brilliance. I had the same problem, and it threatened to damage my work for the Lord in the very same way. I hated religion (perhaps I should say “religiosity,” to distinguish it from the true religion spoken of by James) too much. And I especially hated certain types of religiosity more than others.

Those words saved my life, for without them I would have fulfilled what I thought was God’s calling on my life: To become a crusader for the truth.

It sounds noble, doesn’t it? But we were never called to lay our lives down for the truth. We were called to lay them down for Christ, and the difference is monumental.

Note that I am speaking for myself here, and not for my friend who taught me this lesson. His hatred of religiosity came with its own hazards, and I respect him too much to speculate about them. But in my case it manifested as a dangerous substitute for God’s actual calling on my life: To forget about myself and my own offenses, and to proclaim his immeasurable greatness and the incomparable delights of losing and finding our lives in him and him alone.

So why am I going on about all of this?

Simply because I read a New York Times article this morning that stirred up all of those old emotions. And, like an old recovering addict, I had to subdue them by applying my golden line in a calculated, cognitive, emotionless manner, coupled with the closing of my eyes and a very deep breath:

“You hate the prosperity gospel too much.” 

If only you knew what it takes from me not to expound on this statement, not to explain why I hate it so much, not to at least leave you with some shred of information that may inspire you to also… you know?

The intoxicating potion is beckoning, as always, but I will refrain, albeit it with shaking hands. The glow of exposing the hucksters, of naming names, of storming into the fight… Alas, it is no longer for me. To quote Nietzsche (of all people), I fought the dragon, and in the process I became the dragon.

But I am quite happy to provide the link to the article (bet you are relieved!), for I think it is magnificently written. Also, the author has clearly, and graciously, been spared the dark offense that turned me into a poor apologist for this particular cause.

And so I heartily recommend Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me by Kate Bowler.