Tag Archive | Bible

Will tomorrow be the ‘end of the world’?

Maybe, but I’m suspecting no. [Greg adds: Suspicion was correct.] Readers will no doubt have heard about a Christian group going around, informing the world that 21 May 2011 is the day that God will issue his divine judgment upon the earth. This is said to include an event called the ‘Rapture’, in which Christians will be taken from the earth before God begins a period of judgment that is called the ‘Great Tribulation’ or the ‘Seven Year Tribulation’. Their efforts have spawned a waves of both curious attraction and intense ridicule (which they expect, going up against the ‘Antichrist’ – see 1 John 2:18). One public Facebook event, ‘Post rapture looting’, has, by this afternoon, amassed more than half a million ‘attendees’ prepared to take full advantage of the potential ‘end’ and illegally acquire new stereos in the event of a ‘Rapture’.

If I was going to even begin to really analyse the many facets of this convoluted and heterodox belief system it would take thousands upon thousands of words and I suspect that out of my own personal frustration I’d actually want the world to end after all. I am not trying to pick on these Christians, as I am certain that they truly believe the things that they are preaching, and that if I was convinced the world was going to end on 21 May 2011 I could only hope to demonstrate the passion and fervency to make that fact known like they are. But I really think they’re wrong.

Where do they get these ideas? Well, without getting into the interpretive and mathematical gymnastics required to extrapolate ‘THE END OF THE WORLD IS 21 MAY 2011’ from the Bible, it’s important to know why these people have been looking for this date.

We must begin our brief exploration of this issue in the Book of Revelation, which is probably one of the most misunderstood sections of Scripture. In American Evangelical Christianity (especially within the belief systems called Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism) there is a widespread view that the Book of Revelation foretells the end of the world in very literal terms. What is meant by ‘literal’, I can’t quite grasp, but it’s some way of applying a particular interpretive method described as ‘literal’ that is a somewhat willy nilly version of what we might understand as literal-minded (according to the OED, ‘having a literal mind; characteristic of one who takes a matter-of-fact or unimaginative view of things’, the term ‘literal’ being used ‘to denote that [an accompanying noun] has its literal sense, without metaphor, exaggeration, or inaccuracy; literally so called.’).

According to this interpretation (and there are many variations), the Book of Revelation is entirely futuristic and eschatological, that is, something that takes place at the end of all things. I’m not interested in exploring the legitimacy of this view right here, right now, but I will say that some startling insights for the Book of Revelation come from reading 1 and 2 Maccabees (considered apocryphal by most Protestant denominations) help illuminate the Second Temple Jewish context of the New Testament and the Book of Revelation and lead to some dramatically different interpretations of things like the ‘Seven Year Tribulation’ and the ‘Antichrist’.

Either way, this literalistic/futuristic view believes that God will bring judgment on the earth according to a complex set of events and periods of time. One of these events, as mentioned earlier, is called the ‘Rapture’. The concept of the ‘Rapture’ is primarily based upon one reference in Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, which states,

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This passage provides those who hold to the idea that the Book of Revelation informs us that God will judge this world during a period of ‘Great Tribulation’ with a bit of relief: they won’t have to endure this period of judgment. But in light of the Second Temple Jewish context of the Book of Revelation, I don’t believe in this future ‘Seven Year Tribulation’, and my disbelief is not a result of a lack of faith in God or an interpretation that isn’t ‘literal’ enough. I merely believe that the best understanding of this issue within the Bible would indicate that the great tribulation in the Book of Revelation 4-19 is a reference to the occupation and oppression that the Jews experienced in the Second Temple Period (i.e. the ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes is the ‘beast’ from Revelation 13:5-8; see 1 Maccabees 1:20-28).

While I generally hold to this preteristic (as opposed to futuristic) view of Christian eschatology, I do believe that God will bring about his kingdom in its fullness at some point in the future. I certainly wouldn’t say that these doomsday folk are wrong in believing that there is something significant to come, but I do have trouble with their views on what that looks like and how/when it happens. With regard to the pressing issue of time (being that I may only have 24 hours before the end [15 in Australia!]), the time of God’s full bringing of his kingdom, the end of the authorities of this earth, Matthew’s Gospel (24:36) records Jesus as saying,

But about that day and hour [of my return] no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

I do not believe that the arithmetic these doomsday folk have derived from the Bible to draw the conclusion that the end of the world is tomorrow is actually faithful in any way to the content and purpose of Scripture. Even if the Bible was explicitly clear about this date, when tomorrow rolls by without the end of the world, God would not be made a liar. God is not the Bible. The Bible is a result of God inviting his people into his story. St Paul writes that no one will know when the end will come, as it will come as a ‘thief in the night’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

I don’t think we should waste our time with conjectures about when the unknowable will come to pass. Every Christian generation from the Apostles to our present generation has anticipated the immanent end, but no Christian generation has ever been the Church that loves and serves in the power of God’s Spirit; the Church that fights for the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised; the Church that extends to all people an open invitation into God’s loving family through the wholly effective death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the Church that has become what it is called to be. That is our goal and that is our priority. I hope that if tomorrow isn’t the end, these doomsday folk will experience the love and grace of God in a way that will encourage them to divert their incredible faith and energy back to the task at hand.

(Originally posted at Things & Stuff)

Our ‘100th’ Post: 100 Things We Love

Recently, we realised that we were coming up on our 100th post here at Lost in the Cloud.  It’s only been a little less than a year (and we are actually cheating in bringing some of our posts over from our time at Criticism As Inspiration, which account for more than 1/3 of this total), but we felt like it was an occasion we wanted to mark.  Being that we are incredibly fond (or freakishly obsessed) of lists here at LITC, we decided to simply post a list of 100 Things We Love (split about evenly, though there are a number of items that would end up on both of our lists, which are marked with an asterisk [*]).  We have decided not to list out all of our family & dear friends, as well as our favourite films/bands/theologians/etc. which we have previously made space for elsewhere.  This is just a stream-of-consciousness exploration of our affections, listed out alphabetically.  We hope you enjoy & thank you for reading!

Among other things, Elijah loves…

  1. Amoeba Music, Hollywood*
  2. &s (ampersands)*
  3. Autumn-winter succession*
  4. Baseball – Detroit Tigers
  5. Being a member of God’s Church*
  6. Building/repairing electric guitars
  7. Burritos
  8. Deuchars IPA
  9. Disneyland (because in spite of the consumeristic lies it sells, it remains magical)*
  10. Dressing up (especially in a kilt)
  11. Dundee Contemporary Arts
  12. Ecclesiastical architecture
  13. Failblog.org
  14. Finding creative ways to higher ground while in the wilderness
  15. Football – Celtic FC
  16. ‘Friscalating dusk light’
  17. The City of Glasgow
  18. Griffith Park (and all that’s within, such as the Griffith Observatory, Bronson Caves, Los Angeles Zoo, William J Mulholland Memorial Fountain, the Autry, Travel Town, etc.)
  19. Tim Hawkinson’s artwork
  20. Hiking/camping
  21. The history of music in the recording era
  22. Incredibly arid climates
  23. Incredibly wet climates
  24. Innocent Smith’s Musical Circus/Parkside Upper Quads Philharmonic Orchestra
  25. Joshua Tree National Park
  26. The City of Los Angeles
  27. McSweeny’s
  28. Millionaire shortbread
  29. Moleskine journals
  30. Nice ‘N’ Sleazy
  31. The NRSV translation of the Bible*
  32. The number ‘44
  33. The Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, St Andrews
  34. People (especially those who are humble, patient and tender)*
  35. Printed media (books/book covers, street literature, record sleeves, etc.)
  36. Road trips in California
  37. St Mary’s College
  38. Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park
  39. Silence
  40. Single malt whisky*
  41. Space/aircraft
  42. Thoughtfulness*
  43. Typeface/setting
  44. Urban exploration
  45. Vegan Express, Los Angeles
  46. The wisdom of my elders
  47. Wormit Parish Church
  48. Writing music with Greg & Justin
  49. Writing utensils (STABILO point 88s; Dixon Ticonderoga Mediums; Staedtler Noris HB 2s; Pilot G-2 0.38s and 05s)
  50. Handwritten correspondence*

Among other things, Greg loves…

  1. Amazon(.com/.co.uk)*
  2. American Romanticism
  3. Archives Bookshop (In Christ is a close second!)*
  4. Backyard time with an 18 yr. old bottle of Glenfiddich & thoughtful conversation with authentic men (whether in La Mirada, Long Beach, or Marina Del Rey)*
  5. Banksy’s wit*
  6. BBC adaptations of classic works of literature, particularly of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell & Charles Dickens
  7. Bic black “round stic Grip pens”, fine point
  8. Biola Residence Life & Hope North RAs
  9. The BioLogos Forum
  10. British spelling and punctuation
  11. Cambria, CA (especially Supper Club vacations)
  12. Close reading of the Bible, literature & pop culture*
  13. Craig Thompson’s artwork, most notably in his graphic novel, Blankets
  14. Deep bass notes and thick kick drum sounds
  15. Delicious Library
  16. Domenico’s Pizza
  17. Drawings by and notes from my kids
  18. Elijah Wade & PUQ performing at Punk N’ Pie (which I believe is the same as Elijah’s #24)…twas a most epic performance (x 2)
  19. Extraordinary moments (car crashes, explosions, injury to the groin shots) caught on video, displayed on YouTube/Failblog.com/Spike TV
  20. Footnotes (digressive comments or noteworthy book references)
  21. Fuller Theological Seminary
  22. God’s covenants (though not necessarily in a Reformed “Covenantalism” sense)*
  23. Grace Brethren Church facilities crew, mid-90’s (including “crass Fridays” with Mark & Bill)
  24. Indie music, in most of its hybridisations*
  25. The iPhone (particularly playing Skee Ball with my kids and Words With Friends with Mark, David & Matt B.; and occasionally, Tim)
  26. Libraries*
  27. Magazine subscriptions (currently down to four since Paste went belly up – The Week, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, Christianity Today – but once as high as fourteen)
  28. Making mix CDs*
  29. Mint.com
  30. Mixing cereals (current favorite = Crispex & Honey Smacks)
  31. Moby Books Illustrated Classics
  32. The Muckenthaler Mansion (where I married the most wonderful girl)
  33. Multiple-view books on theological topics
  34. The number ‘22
  35. The paintings of Patty Wickman & Mark Tansey
  36. People who ask good questions in conversation
  37. The Perry Bible Fellowship*
  38. Postconservative evangelical theology
  39. Powell’s Books (and Portland, OR in general)
  40. Questioning things*
  41. The Radical Reformation
  42. Redeemer Church
  43. Short story, novel, screenplay, lyric, or poem concepts & bits
  44. Thinking about impossible endeavours (e.g. making a film of the whole Bible)
  45. Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramels
  46. Weather in the high 60’s-low 70’s & overcast/cloudy
  47. A wide selection of beverages in the fridge (including Coke, Cherry Coke, Coke Zero, Peach Snapple, Arizona Green Tea & Henry Weinhard’s* root beer)
  48. Wind rustling through tree branches
  49. Writing on Lost in the Cloud*
  50. Zappos.com (Michele hates that I love this…like 2 pair of shoes for $250 hates it)

The Mirror & the Telescope, Part I

THE MIRROR & THE TELESCOPE, PART I:  TOWARDS A DUAL-SUBJECT APPROACH TO BIBLICAL REVELATION

Here is a trustworthy statement, worthy of full acceptance:  The Bible is filled with lies, wickedness, and bad theology.  [Pause]  Now before you begin gathering wood to burn me as a heretic, it must be said that this sentence is an accurate assertion that any signer of the “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy” could affirm.  Of course, there is some equivocation in the phrasing:  I should say, “the Bible is filled with examples of lies, wickedness, and erroneous theology.”

Now I know how Joan of Arc felt...as the flames rose to her Roman nose.

We see lies in Scripture, accurately recounted, from the beginning until the end:  in Genesis alone we see deception in the words of the serpent in the Garden, as well as from the mouths of Cain, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons, Potiphar’s wife, Joseph, and many more.  Examples of wickedness in Scripture include murder, brutality, rape, gang rape, incest, incestuous rape, and attempted genocide.  We may also find many examples of bad theology in the form of worship of idols (sometimes led by Israel’s leaders, such as Aaron in Ex. 32:4-5), false prophecies from those who claim to be true prophets of YHWH, and even the claim in Psalm 14:1 that “there is no God” (don’t worry, we’ll qualify this later).

The existence of these elements in the Bible is unquestionable; however, the purpose they serve in the text may sometimes perplex the thoughtful reader, particularly when one considers the classic concept of Scripture as “revelation.”  Most Christian definitions of “revelation” look similar to what we find in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:  “the term is used primarily of God’s communication to humans of divine truth, that is, his manifestation of himself or his will.”

The question then is how do examples of lies, wickedness, and bad theology serve to reveal a “manifestation” of God or his will to us?  How does the presence of these disturbing aspects in the written “Word of God” act as divine self-disclosure?  In order to answer that question, I would like to argue that the Bible actually has two subjects of its revelation:  God and humanity (see footnote 1 below).  To use an analogy, Scripture acts as a mirror and telescope:  it is a mirror that accurately depicts and evaluates the human condition; and it is also a telescope, revealing the transcendent, eternally “other” Divine Being.  And ultimately, Christ serves as the mirror in the telescope, perfectly imaging near to us the fullness of God in heaven.

How a reflecting telescope works...

While many treatises on revelation focus primarily on the Divine subject, there are some theologians who have noted the significance of the divinely inspired revelation of the human subject in Scripture.  Ben Witherington poses the idea that “maybe the Bible is meant to be as much a revelation of human character as of divine character, and how the two do and should interact.” (Living Word, 24)  Although this is more of an aside for Witherington, his comments touch upon the need for students of Scripture to reconsider what it is exactly that we see the inspired Word as revealing to us: only God’s nature, or humanity’s as well.

I believe that we need to make more of Witherington’s conjecture that the Bible is indeed “as much” about humanity as it is about God, for the simple reason that as we consider the whole of Scripture, we see that large sections, particularly in the historical works and poetry of the Hebrew Scriptures, focus much more on revealing humanity than divinity.  For instance, God tells Job’s friends that “they have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7); does this then cast much of this book’s contents into theological suspicion?  Being that the reader has seen what caused Job’s suffering in the prologue, we know at the very least that their accusations against Job are faulty—what about their theological ideas?  Could it be that Job’s friends serve as examples of bad theology, but they speak in ways which still accurately reveal authentic human perspectives?  This example suggests that we must distinguish in Scripture between theological source material (what we can say about God) and anthropological source material (how we see human beliefs and experiences depicted).  Furthermore, we must differentiate accurate theological ideas from erroneous ones (i.e. persons may say something about God in Scripture, but it does not mean it is true), as well as between accurate or positive anthropological material (including those Biblical figures we should emulate) and false ideas about or negative examples of humanity. (Footnote 2)

[In Part II, we will explore why it is that humans would need revelation about…humans.]

Footnotes:

  1. Of course there are more subjects in Scripture, such as animal and plant life, the cosmos, angelic beings, etc. but God and humanity are clearly the primary subjects of revelation
  2. It must be said that the Bible exists as more than informational “source material;” it also “performs” God’s covenantal actions (as Kevin VanHoozer has suggested) as well as transforming us into people who are “on mission” with God to heal and redeem the whole creation (as N.T. Wright has proposed).

See PART IV for Works Cited

The Church (II): Exploring the Gospel

Part of my aim in defining the Church is to define the Gospel, arguably the central tenant of the Christian religion, and from a suggestion in a comment by Ryan B. I will express more of what I believe the Gospel is.

I believe that the best way to learn the Gospel is to explore the Scripture and how the Church has understood the Gospel. I believe that there is a common thread/trajectory running through the Scripture (and I believe this trajectory is also present in what Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha). Therefore, as a precursor to the Gospel, the proclamation of God’s decisive action through Jesus Christ, I believe one must examine the main theological thrust of the Scripture from the first book to the last.

In the first three chapters of Genesis we learn that:
God is preexistent in relation to the universe. God by his own good initiative created the universe (time and space). God created Earth and all of its inhabitants and they were all good. God created humanity and gave humans something unique among all created things: the Image of God. God gave humans a charge, which the humans disobeyed (the Fall). As a result of this disobedience mankind (and the cosmos) is in an unnatural, fallen state (original sin).

This is where the Abrahamic Covenant comes into play, arguably the primary way in which God wants to work to fix the brokenness caused by the Fall, the beginning of the Gospel.

God did not abandon humanity; by his own good will and grace God chose the descendants of Abraham, the Children of Israel, to be a vessel for his glory and blessing to the world. Throughout the Old Testament God continually worked through the oftentimes-disobedient Children of Israel, and this culminated in the coming of the Messiah.

Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the Christian religion, the climax of God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus is the Son of God, incarnate through the conception by the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is essential to the Christian religion. In basic terms, the doctrine of the Trinity asserts that the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are eternally existent as one God (in essence) in three persons. Jesus is both fully man and fully God in the divine mystery of the Hypostatic Union. Jesus lived his life demonstrating the presence of the promised kingdom of God. Jesus lived his life fulfilling what mankind and Israel had failed at. Jesus—though he was tempted in all things—lived a sinless life. Jesus was tried, crucified, died, and was buried. Three days later Jesus was resurrected in glory (in a body) as a “first fruit” of the eventual resurrection of the Church. Jesus ascended into heaven and is at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit was thus given to demonstrate the power of God and the presence of his kingdom through the Church. In this, God has extended the invitation to all of the earth (using the language of the Abrahamic Covenant) to participate in his active kingdom, resulting in inevitable action from the Church.

In my estimate, the work of God in history is currently at a plateau. The resolution to the climax of the Son of God’s presence on earth has yet to happen. But this plateau is an exciting time, when God is actively pressing his kingdom forth through his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time Jesus Christ will return to earth, and in doing so he will resurrect the Church, recreate the heavens and the earth, and fully judge all that is in rebellion against him.

I believe that these are generally the primary tenants of the Gospel, things that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox can agree on. Looking back on my words above they resemble a bloated Apostles’ Creed, and I suppose that is where a lot of my Ecumenical tendencies find their roots (though I am more partial to the Nicene Creed). I believe that the authority to determine what is the “orthodox Gospel” is found within the Scriptures as well as in Church history, for the Holy Spirit has been and remains active in both elements.