When fishes flew and forests walkedAnd figs grew upon thorn,Some moment when the moon was bloodThen surely I was born.*With monstrous head and sickening cryAnd ears like errant wings,The devil’s walking parodyOn all four-footed things.*The tattered outlaw of the earth,Of ancient crooked will;Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,I keep my secret still.*Fools! For I also had my hour;One far fierce hour and sweet:There was a shout about my ears,And palms before my feet.
A few months ago a highly skilled chap called Gary made an oak cross for the church as a leaving present. What follows below is his interpretive explanation of what he has made, and why he made it like that. It is marvellous!!!
Having had the best part of the weekend in Oxford (Baptist Union Assembly), I must say what an inspiring place it is. I’m sure the sun shining was a major factor, not to mention the incredible falafal wraps I enjoyed, with a decent pint at the famous pub favoured by C. S. Lewis and the Inklings.
I wandered around the oldest University in the world, Balliol College (£2 entry fee!), established in the 13th century, and counts among its past students Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, and in 1360 AD John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English – a dangerous thing to do.
The main entrance to the college is on Broad Street, and it was here that a terrible event took place in both 1555 and 1556. This cross marks the spot where three Reformers were burnt at the stake for their part in the Reformation, accused of “heresy”, i.e. Protestantism.
Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester); Nicolas Ridley (Bishop of London); and Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), were burned alive on this spot. To the left is Balliol College, and to the right are some shops, including outside seating areas for the coffee drinkers. It is an incredible thing to see and think about. This sign to the left of the cross describes the scene:
My youngest son (17) brought me a CD for my birthday recently (a minor miracle in its own right), and was very interested to know my thoughts on the song ‘Take Me To Church’ by Andrew Hozier (aka Hozier).
I was very impressed with the CD overall, the thoughful lyrics and quality of music (I am a 44 year old with a broad range!). But my ordained antenna (a self-depricating allusion) were alert to my son’s interest in my thoughts (a first since he was 12)!
I will admit to enjoying the ‘funky groove’ of the tune (does that make me sound like a doofus?)! Though I must confess I needed help with the ‘hermeneutics’ of the song. And confession is a big deal. I needed help to interpret the phrase meanings and word meanings and big picture meanings. It was like trying to interpet the Bible – I needed some background info!
First the song that came to me as a gift from my teenage son (suspicious in its own right), then the blog post by Denker, suberbly written, on a very popular Christian website have made me think: If Calvin wouldn’t approve of all Calvinists (and he wouldn’t!), why on earth (or Heaven) would Jesus ‘approve’ (this term needs more work but please indulge me) of all Christians?
In fact, Jesus’ approval of all Christians is not even the point. As a Protestant protestant (Baptist), and a human being in general, it is totally right that Hozier feels this rage – for heaven’s sake, I do. Catholic abuses of children (and anything else for that matter) are a foul satanically fueled outrage of the holiest order! GOD IS OUTRAGED!!!
Hozier’s Irish Catholic background is the fertile soil for his rage, a rage incidentaly, that could have been a hell of a lot worse. In the ‘actual interview’ he impressed with his genuine desire to be sensitive. Here you will find no ‘anti-Christian Dawkins rage’ (which isn’t even that scary anyway), but a thoughful, hurting, talented, God-imaged young man.
We reap what we sow! A Catholic doctrine of celebacy is more unnatural than any ‘sin’ the Mother Church try to denounce!
I am a man, a Christian, (yes! Born-again, if you can get over the ‘Americanist’ hullabaloo that this phrase conjurs up), a British citizen, a heterosexual (OMGosh – it’s not illegal you know), a son, a brother, a husband, a (grand)father, a redeemed follower of Jesus! My salvation is not determined by any of these: my nationality, my sexuality, my progenity, my ‘whatever’! I am saved from my ontological state of sin, my alienation from God, my ‘natural’ bent away from the rightness of righteousness, and the wholeness of holiness. I have been rescued from ‘Adamic-apple-loving’ to being grafted in to the Christ-vine.
I am saved (and I tell you all, I know I am saved) because I believe what Jesus said. Jesus has saved me. The only institution I answer to or respond to or yield to is the Kingdom of God. Why? Not because I’m holier-than-thou (an evening in the pub with me will convince you I’m not), but because a sin-drenched humanity is so in desperate need of Christ and His grace that I will put all my puny sin-eggs into His great magnificent salvation-basket.
So Andrew Hozier, thank you. I don’t know whether you believe in Jesus as He is, not as we think He is, but your song is a greater prayer than many prayers I’ve heard.
And Jesus Christ Himself knows that. And He hears you. He hears us. All. He hears your ‘Amen’. And I am convinced he says ‘Amen’ to your ‘Amen’.
“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Romans 11:32
Hozier’s Song on YOUTUBE.
Lyrics to ‘Take Me To Church’ here.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
In baptism, we experience and partake in something extraordinary.
It is the belief and practise of a Church to baptise, to dunk, to plunge people into water, whilst promises are made.
Extraordinary yes! Weird? Certainly.
What makes rational adults choose to do such a brazenly embarrassing thing? In front of their friends and family too! In front of witnesses!
Not only is Easter Day the high point of the Christian calendar, but Baptism is the high point of human experience.
It is no accident that without water there can be no life.
It is not a qwerk of creation that water is the key to life.
It is not by accident that Jesus links Himself with Living Water (Jn 7:24).
So what does this all mean? We have all heard of baptism before, some have been done themselves; some have seen many baptisms and others have only seen and heard what the TV or the papers have said.
Christianity is about water; It is about Baptism. Most of our lives we try to order and control ourselves. We try to look good, stay dry; as our English proverb goes, we try to ‘keep our heads above water.’
This wonderful painting is by Christina Ramos over at christinaramosart.com
Jurgen Moltmann in his foreward of Nicholas Ansell’s The Annihilation of Hell – Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jurgen Moltmann:
“A foreward is not an afterward and also not a critical review. A foreward should open the door and point out the worth of a book so that it can be properly read and discussed. Nicholas Ansell’s book on The Annihilation of Hell and Universal Salvation is so far-reaching and profound a theological and philosophical work that a brief foreward can’t really do it justice. I’ll limit myself here to some biographical references, a few factual observations, and then an attempt to bring the theology of grace and the theology of faith into a theological dialogue.
Any theology of grace will be oriented for God’s sake to the universal triumph of grace. Any theology of faith, however, will start from the human decision of faith and will result in the separation of believers from unbelievers. The universalism of salvation, on the one hand, and the particularism of faith on the other hand, are on two different levels. What is important is to closely connect them.
Since my theology studies in Gottingen, where I wrote my dissertation in 1952 on the “hypothetical universalism” of the Calvinist theologian Moyse Amyraut, who taught at the theological Academy of Saumer in the 17th century, the idea of universalism has not let go of me. Amyraut’s idea, that the universal offer of grace is merely hypothetical until faith grasps it, I considered inadequate. Then I read Karl Barth’s new doctrine of election which appeared in his Church Dogmatics 2/2 and became convinced by his theology of the cross: On the cross of Christ, God took the guilt of sinners upon himself in order to give them his gift of grace. I continued to think through this dialectical universalism of salvation and found in Christ’s resurrection from the dead the beginning of the destruction of death and thereby “the annihilation of Hell.” Many Easter hymns in the German Lutheran hymnal celebrate the “destruction of Hell” by means of Christ’s descent into Hell and resurrection from Hell. In the Orthodox Easter liturgy, the destruction of Hell through Christ is also celebrated. Those who descend into Hell should “abandon all hope” according to Dante. But the Christ who descended into Hell is the “hope of the hopeless” (spes desperatis).
I then took up an old desire of Karl Barth and Helmut Gollwitzer, namely to reform the doctrine of the LAst Judgment from the perspective of the crucified one who will come to judge the living and the dead. Here I had the Old Testament notion of “divine judging” for help. According to Psalm 96, God will come to judge the earth, and the earth will rejoice and the fields will make merry. In this instance, “judge” means raise up, set straight, heal, and bring to life. How could it be otherwise in the Christian anticipation of God’s Final Judgment and coming kingdom! In fact the so-called “Final Judgment” is penultimate; what is truly final is the new, eternal creation in which God becomes “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
At this point another thought came to me: with the forgiveness of sins and the overcoming of death, God is concerned primarily with the expulsion of the godless powers of evil, of sin, of death, and of Hell from his beloved creation. Isn’t our question as to whether all or only a few will be saved not an anthropocentric and in many cases even a selfish one? For God, it is about God’s glorification of all his creatures. The salvation of the new humanity is only a part of this. If we look to the glory of God, then the universalism and particularism of human salvation are relativised. The “annihilation of Hell” is an action of the cosmic Christ, whose reign is universal. “Universal salvation” is only the human part of the “salvation of the universe.”
I must stop here, since I’m only writing a forward. But you can see how stimulating this study by Nicholas Ansell has been for me. I hope the same holds true for his other readers. There is much to be gained by considering this work and then thinking further on one’s own.”
Paul claims he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19).
Not to be disobedient is to be deliberately obedient; intentionally faithful; God-wardly focused. Paul clearly could have been disobedient, and that’s the point. Other things could have crowded in, worthwhile things, ministry and Gospel things even, but he had to be obedient to (not his) but the heavenly vision, a heavenly vision given by Heaven’s King.
I randomly opened a page and read this:
“If we lose the vision, we alone are responsible, and the way we lose the vision is spiritual leakage…”
He continues along these lines and then writes,
“Though it tarry, wait for it….We get so practical that we forget the vision. At the beginning we saw the vision but did not wait for it; we rushed off into practical work, and when the vision was fulfilled, we did not see it. Waiting for the vision that tarries is the test of our loyalty to God. It is at the peril of our soul’s welfare that we get caught up in practical work and miss the fulfilment of the vision.”
An objection might be raised here about the necessity of doing “practical work,” but without careful, biblical infused thought, the point would be missed. God’s vision is not anti-practical work per se, but He is against us when we lack the spiritual fortitude of being in Christ and enjoying salvation’s benefits and goals by attending to matters that we find “practical”, Forsyth’s “the sin of bustle.” This is a heretical bastardisation of the Christian faith, and a chief enemy of the believer.
Christmas isn’t usually the time to talk about evil, or of Satan’s ultimate destruction, but that is precisely what Christmas, the coming of God in Christ, means. Evil encompases all the chaos and dysfunction in the world, all the rebellion against God; and God’s salvation means an end to all that, and the return to a new heavenly order of holiness.
The coming of Jesus is God meeting His own requirements for not only sin’s penalty, but the whole moral order of the universe. It is, in the end, God working to satisfy His own holy Name; and Jesus is the only One who can do that.
P. T. Forsyth wrote in Work of Christ that “An unsatisfied God, a dissatisfied God, would be no God. He would but reflect the distraction of the world, and so succumb to it.” Yet holiness must be satisfied, and nothing created can possibly do that. Similarly, neither can God’s holiness be satisfied whilst any vestiges of unholiness, namely evil (i.e. hell), remain. The destruction of evil is the fulfilment of God’s unsurpassing reign and joy of His holiness in all the New Creation for all people, everywhere. Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 15:28 means? That God will be all in all? Thus if evil exists, what else does “all in all” mean?
Evil has no future because God is holy.
That means, as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God into the world, we remember and partake of God’s renewing of the whole cosmos to put an end to evil, but not to put an end to rebels, such as we, the human race, are.
Forsyth wrote in a brilliant sermon entitled The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen,
“If evil is to be permanent in any part of the universe, then God is there foiled and the Cross of Christ of none effect . . . . .So long as evil lasts there will be Hell. If evil should cease Hell would be burned out. Now if Christ’s Cross means anything it means the destruction of evil everywhere and forever. The work of the Cross is not done while there is a single soul unwon to the mastery of Christ and uninfected by His Spirit. . . . If we believe in the Cross then we believe there will come a time when evil shall everywhere cease and sin no longer be.”
Evil has no future because Jesus has come, and remains by His Spirit.
Evil has no future because Jesus has satisfied God’s own holiness.
Evil has no future because God will be all in all.
“Die sin must or God.” When Jesus was born, sin’s fate was sealed. When Jesus died, sin was defeated forever. When Jesus rose from the dead, sin was left behind in the tomb. When He returns, sin will be erradicated forever. The New Heaven and New Earth will know no sin.
That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.
Note: This post was spurred by my reading of the excellent chapter on P. T. Forsyth by Jason Goroncy in ‘All Shall Be Well’ entitled ‘The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity.’ And also the brilliant collection of Forsyth sermons in Goroncy’s ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’, which has been mentioned on this blog before.
Helmut Thielicke said of the Cross of Jesus Christ, where silence and salvation met:
“There the night of darkness dispatched its last troops against God’s Son; the demons were released and the ugliest instincts since Adam unchained. But God said nothing about it. Only a dying man cried aloud in that silence and asked why – yes, why – God had forsaken him.
God still remained silent, when even dumb nature began to speak by a shuddering gesture and the sun withdrew its light. The constellations cried out but God was silent. Yet it is precisely at this point that the great secret of that silence conceals itself. This very hour, when God gave no word, no syllable of an answer, was the great turning point of world history.
This was the hour when the veil of the temple tore and God’s heart was opened to us with all his surprises. By being silent God was suffering too; by being silent he entered with us into the brotherhood of death and the deep valley, knowing all about it and … doing his loving work behind the dark curtains. The silence of that night on Golgotha is the basis for our life.
What would we be without the cross? What would we be without the knowledge that God sends his Son to us in the silent abysses and dark valleys, that he becomes our companion in death – while his ‘higher thoughts’ are already pressing on mightily toward Easter…. There is no silence of indifference in God (nor in Jesus); there are only those higher thoughts – and not for one minute a silent fate. The woman who comes to Jesus knows that. Therefore she waits out the silence and never draws back her outstretched hands.”
This great quote comes from a brilliant sermon by Jason Goroncy on Matthew 15:21-28 here.
I love the Bible and I love preaching from the Bible. Today alone I tried to prepare a sermon for Sunday. I tried scattered prayer and random reading of various books. I even ate a bag of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk ‘Marvellous Mix-Ups’ with Maynards (which were freakin delicious by the way), in the hope of some sugar-fuelled divine inspiration.
Until I opened my Bible and actually began reading the Word of God for itself.
P. T. Forsyth writes that the greatest reason why the preacher must return continually to the Bible is that the Bible is the greatest sermon in the world.
And I agree. So much value does he place on preaching that he writes that with preaching, “Christianity stands or falls.” But he adds what I think is a treasure beyond words for the one who preaches, since preaching “is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself.” Yes! With preaching the revealed Word of God, Christianity stands or falls.
The Bible is not nationalist. Although God’s purposes are worked out through that Old Testament rabble known as “Israel”, God is not a Semite, nor is He a Zionist, nor is he a nationalist – contrary to popular belief – which would be a fair point among some observers of the plight of some parts of Western Evangelicalism. And for that, a fair critique could be levelled.
But as I said, the Bible is not nationalist, nor is it a history of Israel, but it is a history of redemption. It is not the history of an idea, but of a long divine act. Its unity is a dramatic unity of action, rather than an aesthetic unity of structure. It is a living evolving unity, in a great historic crescendo.
It does not exist like a library in detached departments. It has an organic and waxing continuity. It is after all a book. It is a library, but it is still more a canon. You may regard it from some points as the crown of literature, for it contains both the question and the answer on which all great literature turns.
It is the book, as Christ is the Person, where the seeking God meets and saves the seeking man.
(with help from P. T. Forsyth and his ‘Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind’)