I Want to Go to Heaven, but I’m Not Going to Stay There

Last night I finished N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. When I was writing the blog entry Joe Klein, Rick Warren, and Heaven I came across a review of the book and it piqued my curiosity. Based on my reading of Wright, I realised that I had fallen into the same misconception as Joe Klein.

Both Klein and I were writing from the presumption that dying and going to heaven (or not) is for eternity. It’s not that the New Testament teaches this, but only that it has become presumed in much of Western Christianity, from which I built my theology and Klein has used as his straw man. Wright demonstrates that the New Testament is much more concerned with the Resurrection. He emphasises the centrality of Jesus’ Resurrection (having long been one of the most vocal scholars  in the battle against liberalism and the mythologising of Gospel)  and clarifies how death is simply the way station on the on the road to our own resurrections.

As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t entirely agree with Wright’s view of the saints in heaven, but it is closer than most Protestant perspectives. He is mostly concerned with distinguishing his view from the Roman Church. At times he refers to ideas that have been preserved in Orthodoxy and lost in the West.

In the last part of the book, Wright explains how he sees this theology of the Resurrection as it affects the role of the Church today. While Wright eschews the liberalism of the Social Gospel, as an American Christian, I have not had the same view as Wright regarding the role of the State, particularly in the welfare of the individual or in the intervention with business or the free market in effecting social justice. Unlike some Amazon (and other online retailer) reviewers, I don’t think that this makes Wright a neo-Marxist or neo-socialist. Rather, I think those reviews substantiate Wright’s view that conservative Christians in the US have tied conservative theology and conservative economics so closely together that to challenge any assumption of the latter is to lose any credentials as a proponent of the former.

I think it is good that Bishop of Durham and highest ranking evangelical in the Church of England has challenged some of the presumptions of evangelical American Christianity. Most Americans get very defensive about any challenge to anything American, especially by Europeans. This may be because most European challenges to most things American are based in nonsense rather than good theology. Tom Wright is not talking nonsense. This is not wishy-washy Emerging Church neo-liberal evangelicalism.

This is a book which focuses first on personal and cosmic eschatology. It is not a pop-theology revelation of The Revelation. It is a look at what the New Testament and the early Church viewed as the hope for the Christian, the essence of the Gospel. Wright’s view is that if we are hoping for life after death we are too short-sighted. We have to re-focus on life after life after death and this will change the way we look at ourselves and our place in the world.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Every chapter in it is almost worth the entire price. It is so good that I have ordered copies of it for a couple of friends. Even though I haven’t ordered a copy for you, you need to go out and get it anyway.

Debating Whether or Not to Share the Gospel

Now you would have thought the answer would have been in the long tradition of missionaries sent throughout the world. Or maybe they would have seen the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  But no.

The General Synod of the Church of England is going to debate whether the C of E bishops should report to the Synod on “their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in multi-faith Britain” and give examples of how the Gospel should be shared.  In other words, the issue is whether the church should try to convert non-believers in any religion and remarkably more controversially, adherents to non-Christian religions.

A lay member of the Synod put a motion forward for July’s meeting of the Synod, but it was not heard. It appears enough pressure was brought to have it put on the February agenda. Of course it could always be shelved at the last minute again.

In the Church of England they like to avoid controversial things like sharing the Gospel.  In February the Synod meeting will also debate whether clergy should be banned from being members of the British National Party. This is probably because there were C of E clergymen on the BNP membership list that was stolen and published on the Internet.

There will be a presentation on “the implications of the financial crisis and recession”. The Church is worried that the economic downturn could damage the its billion-pound investment in the stock market as well as takings in the collection plate.

This is all much easier to deal with than the claims of the Gospel. After all, if you go around saying Jesus is the only way to God, then you are likely to offend the Muslim community. If you dare to state the obvious that this means you should attempt to convert Muslims, then you stand in direct confrontation with the stated Muslim aims of convert Britain to Islam, and the C of E doesn’t like confrontation.

As the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the newly appointed Bishop of Urban Life and Faith (wherever that diocese is) said earlier this year, “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are learning to respect one another’s paths to God and to live in harmony. This demand for the evangelisation of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities.”

At the same time, a church spokesperson explained, “We have a mission-focused Christian presence in every community, including those where there are a large number of Muslims. That engagement is based on the provisions of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” That’s right, the C of E’s engagement with missions is based on the ECHR, not the Bible or the Tradition of the Church.

The Swinging Vicar

I’m a bit surprised the Church of England has been so harsh on Teresa Davies.

Sure, there was the problem of showing up so drunk for services that she visibly swayed from side to side.

And then there were the swinging holidays in the south of France. She and her husband advertise on swinging websites. She admitted to the tribunal that she and her husband meet strangers for sex. She had previously denied she had sex outside of her marriage.

As a result a church tribunal has banned her from serving as a priestess for 12 years. I’m sure they will hear from the swinging lobby within the C of E on this one. After all there seem to be strong lobby groups for others who openly have sexual relationships outside of marriage. If anything, this seems to be a case of heterosexual discrimination. Maybe it will even go to an employment tribunal.

Within the team ministry in Daventry, she was given special responsibility for children’s work. She won’t have to give that up entirely. She’s now training to be a Religious Education teacher in schools. She can bring her values into that values vacuum that is British education.

If that doesn’t work out, after a few years she can always go back to being an Anglican priestess.

Women Bishops May Be Beating Their Husbands

In an appropraite follow up to the previous blog post, the Ministry of Justice is reporting that the number of arrests for violence carried out by women has doubled since 2003. Violence now accounts for 35% of arrests and is the most common category of crime committed by women.

By these statistics, there are the equivalent of 240 violent attacks by women in the UK each day. But this really doesn’t tell the whole story, especially when it comes to domestic violence. According to a report prepared for GMTV,

British police attend 75,000 domestic violence cases a year where men are the victim although this could be at least half the real figure as surveys show 50% of men haven’t called the police when attacked, putting the figure to 150,000 a year or more.

Since there are no women bishops in the UK yet, we can’t ascribe any of these attacks to them.  After all, we are in a place where it is culturally acceptable for women to beat people.

In the US 3.2 million men each year are the victims of domestic violence. This sounds like it’s a place where it is culturally acceptable to beat your husband. Using the logic of Catherine Roskam, chances are there are some women bishops who beat their husbands.

Enough is Enough

So while the Catholics are baptising the children of unrepentant, flagrant fornicators, the Anglicans have a whole other thing going on. At least this is in the news.

The Anglican Communion has been split in two like the veil in front of the Holy of Holies. I can’t believe it has taken so long to happen. There have been ruptures and breakaway groups and flying bishops, both across diocesan lines in England and across intercontinental lines in America. Now we are talking about at least half of the Communion saying enough is enough.

They are finally having the testicular fortitude and intellectual honesty to start referring to a false gospel.

Robert Pigott, religion correspondent for the BBC, gets it. The rift is not about homosexuality.

In reality, the dispute centres on how strictly Anglicans should interpret the Bible, and whether, for example, it should be read as ruling out active homosexuality as a sin.

Homosexuality is simply the presenting issue – the human behaviour that exposes radically different approaches to the Bible, and helps to make this such a fundamental dispute.

It is not coincidental that the same bishops who are promoting the normalisation of gay “marriage” are also the ones who don’t believe in the Resurrection or the exclusive claims of the Gospel. After all, the Presiding Bishopette of the Episcopal Church doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation. She’s echoed by Bishop Marc Andrus of California, who told the BBC,

The only need is that which St Paul expressed, that each of us should be ready to give witness to the faith that is within us. St Paul saw no need to seek to convert, but simply to make clear the origins and the dimensions of one’s own faith. God leads each of us in the spiritual path that leads to communion with the Divine.

So Jesus, whoever he might be to you, is a way, a truth, and a life, but everyone comes to the Father (or Mother, or whatever God or Goddess is to you) using the path of their own choosing. The Bible does talk about taking a path of our own choosing.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.

The Scandal of No Scandal

Peter Phillips is 11th in the line of succession to the British throne. He was on the verge of losing his place in less than three weeks. He was planning to marry a Roman Catholic. He could marry a Buddhist or a Muslim or even a Baptist and keep his place. It’s only Catholics that pose a problem.

He will now remain in the succession. He’s still getting married to the same person. His intended, Autumn Kelly, has conveniently converted to Anglicanism. She has been receiving instruction from the Dean of Windsor and was confirmed in the C of E. None of the news articles indicate which bishop confirmed her.

This has raised hackles on various sides of the argument. Reading the comments on the various online newspaper articles, some people are outraged that she would have to leave her faith for him to keep his place. Others ostracise her for giving in. Some think he is being selfish for making her leave the Catholic Church rather than giving up his place.

I really don’t see what all the kerfuffle is about. News articles all say they don’t know whether she was a practicing Catholic. If they would read their own articles they would realise that she wasn’t. She has been living with Peter for a long time without the benefit of marriage. They have a flat in London and a cottage in Gloucestershire.  They live in open fornication.

The question I have is why she was confimed in the Church of England in the midst of what should be scandal. Sadly, this says a lot about the C of E.

Terrorism in the East End

I may get regular verbal abuse and heckling in my own classroom for being a Christian, but at least I’m not a vicar getting attacked on the grounds of my own church. There is a constant campaign of vandalism against St George-in-the-East in Wapping. The attitude is typified by shouts of “This should not be a church, this should be a mosque.”

In addition to being yet another example of teen yobbish behaviour – an epidemic throughout this country – it is also a low-grade example of Islamic terrorism. Besides being just downright nasty, these pustules of society are using their faith as an excuse for causing harm and destruction. They have also been fed on a diet of ideas (whether a home or at the mosque or both) that they should be able to settle in an area and Islamify it, driving out the Church.