Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway!

Welcome to another Friday giveaway. This week I am offering a book on the social and historical context of Jesus. K. C. Hanson and Douglas Oakman have a second edition of Palestine in the Time of Jesus (Fortress, 2008). Here is the blurb.

Hanson and Oakman's award-winning and illuminating volume has become a widely used and cited introduction to the social context of Jesus and the early Jesus movement. This second edition updates all the discussions in light of more recent scholarship, improves clarity and readability of diagrams and maps, provides additional diagrams and images to enhance the book for student use, and includes new classroom resources, for professors and students, on a Companion Web site.
Along with an overview of the ancient Mediterranean worldview, Palestine in the Time of Jesus explores major domains and institutions of Roman Palestine: kinship, politics, economy, and religion.

Here is a review of the book from RBL.

So sign up to win. I will pick the winner this Sunday, May 29th. As you now know, once the winner is announced the lucky individual will have five days to claim the prize before it goes back on the shelf for another time.

Good luck.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Biblical Eschatology or Rapture Theology?

It's no secret that I don't believe in the rapture and that I think it tends to foster poor praxis. I have said here before that it creates an escapist attitude and that it is not a good motivation for evangelism.

The recent "rapture scare" has only reinforced my thinking as we witnessed those who sold everything to proclaim the date and warn others of the impending doom. Now they are left to pick up the pieces and deal with the choices they have made.

In the Washington Post, Kyle Roberts and Adam Rao have a good article on the differences between rapture theology and biblical eschatology. As part of their critique of rapture theology and the recent "rapture scare" they offer three helpful points that distinguishes biblical eschatology from rapture theology.

Affirms the inherent value of the earth and motivates care for creation. Rapture theology suggests that we are “just passing through” this temporary dwelling place. Eventually we will escape this world and find our final home in an ethereal realm, a “heaven” filled with mansions and streets of gold. Again N.T. Wright helps to re-frame our expectations. God’s plan is for “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), what Wright calls “life after life after death” (pp. 148ff). Since the goal is the re-creation and redemption of this world, we have motivation to care for and cultivate it now.

Offers a compelling vision for resistance against evil, injustice, and all forms of oppression in the present world order. Rapture theology generates an “escapist” mentality whereby our best hope for dealing with injustice, wickedness, and hopelessness is to simply fly off to a perfect spiritual world unhampered by sin and finitude. Most harmfully, Rapture theology sees injustice, oppression, and even natural disasters as predictive signs of the end of this life for Christians, rather than as the evil and discord they really are.

Redefines Christian mission as anticipation of and participation in the kingdom of God. Salvation, as Wright suggests, enables us to be witnesses to and signs of the ultimate salvation of the cosmos, as well as participants in that salvation (p. 200). That’s why the biblical witness says that Christians are to be agents of reconciliation with those who do not yet know God and are to participate in the restoration of the cosmos (2 Cor. 5:20). In contrast, rapture theology suggests a sudden, disruptive end to that project, cutting off hope for reconciliation and renewal

Well said!
You can read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NT Wright on Hell and Rob Bell

The controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book seems to have subsided as quickly as it arose. But there are still a lot of people talking about it and that is a positive thing in my opinion. Whether you agree or disagree with Bell, he has got us talking about the nature of salvation and hell.

One thing that many have noticed is the huge influence that N.T. Wright has had on Bell's own thinking. Indeed, reading some sections of Bell's Love Wins is like reading sections of Wright's Surprised by Hope.

Trevin Wax has posted some responses from Wright about the reality of Hell and Bell’s take on Hell.

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on. There’s something quite disturbing about that, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So, I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.

Having said that, I am not a universalist. I’ve never been universalist. Someone quoted a theologian saying, “I’m not a universalist, but maybe God is.” That’s kind of a neat way of saying, “OK, there’s stuff in Scripture which is a little puzzling about this, and we can’t be absolutely sure all down the line.” But it seems to me that the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision. How that works and how you then deal with the questions which result I have written about at some length.

I don’t think myself that Rob Bell has quite taken the same line that I did in Surprised by Hope. I haven’t actually had the conversation with Rob since his book was published. So, one of these days, we will and we’ll have that one out. I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell. And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are. I think Rob is saying, “Hey wait a minute! Start reading the Bible differently. God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.”

You can read the rest of the post here where Trevin provides some responses of his own.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Benefit of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

This is a bit off the grid for me. But I found this to be an inspiring piece that we could all benefit from.

J.K. Rowling was asked to give the commencement speech at Harvard University in 2008. She talks about her own life and what she learned from failure and the importance of imagination. Thanks to Jonathan Robinson who includes this video as part of a series which he titles "Preachers who are not Preachers."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Religious People are Only Marginally More Comfortable with Death

A recent survey in the east of England reveals that the religious are only slightly more comfortable with death. Here are some of the statistics.

Asked how comfortable they felt about talking about death generally, 76% of those affiliating to a faith or belief system said they felt comfortable. For atheists and those with no religion the figure was 69% (64% for those with no religion alone).

The gap narrowed somewhat in respect of conversing about respondents’ own deaths. 71% of those with a faith felt comfortable about discussing that scenario against 69% of atheists and those with no religion combined (or 65% for those with no religion alone).

Unsurprisingly, those in the East of England who were comfortable discussing their own death were more likely to have expressed their spiritual or religious preferences for end-of-life (47%) than those who were uncomfortable (21%). But the same was true for all other end-of-life wishes.

You can read the rest of the article here.

This is somewhat surprising since one of the focuses of religion is on death and the afterlife. From a Christian point of view, believers are taught not to fear death. Indeed, death and the afterlife is sometimes used as a scare tactic in evangelization. I think of questions asked by people like "if you died today where would spend eternity" or the famous Chick tract comic "This was Your Life." But according to the statistics, non-believers, in the East of England at least, aren't all that more scared of death than believers.

What do you make of this? Should believers fear death or look forward to it? Does confidence in an afterlife translate into a absence of fear when it comes to death?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Giveaway Winner!

This week's winner is Jeremy Miller!

He is the lucky winner of a new copy of Child's Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Fortress, 1979).

Jeremy, send me your details at and I will send you the book. You have five days (till Thursday) to claim your prize or it goes back on the shelf or another time.

Check back again next week for another giveaway.