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.

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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 Responds

After lots of traffic to my post about the Swinging Vicar, it is only fair that I provide a link to the Mail of Sunday article giving her side of the story.

She claims that she’s never had sex outside of her marriage, but,

Despite everything, she insists that she could never rule out the idea of ‘swinging’. ‘I wouldn’t break up with Mick if he had sex with someone else,’ she says. ‘But it would be in a swinging context. I certainly wouldn’t have an affair. Sex, as long as it’s not harmful or abusive, can be a wonderful thing.

So she isn’t exactly a traditionalist.

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.

Anglicans Promote Atheism

The Church of England is apologising to Charles Darwin. Given that Mr Darwin is dead, this seems rather pointless. But then the Anglicans have never been put off by pointlessness. It rather typifies much of the Church of England. According to The Daily Telegraph:

“The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Not only are they apologising to him, they are trying to make it up to him. Part of the way they are doing that is by creating (if I can use that term) a section dedicated to him on their website. Or perhaps the website just evolved that way.

The Telegraph further notes, “The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.” I’m sure those sections of the Church of England that believe in creationism have already used up their dismay on the all of the other moves that have been directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching. They have approved bishopettes to go with their priestesses.  Abortion is a necessary bad but according to the General Synod there are “conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative.” So is it really that big a jump to promoting atheism?

I hope Mr Darwin, wherever he may be, feels vindicated.

Women in Pointy Hats

The principal beneficiary will be the Roman Catholic Church, but Orthodoxy in Britian may also benefit from the decision made by the Church of England House of Bishops. The bishops have decided that it is time for the purported consecration of women to join their number. At the same time, they have left opponents out in the cold.

Heretofore, those in the C of E who have faithfully received the sacraments from men of God were cared for under the shepherding guidance of “flying bishops” – officially known as episcopal visitors – authorised to cross diocesan boundaries to care for parishes objecting to women priests. If the General Synod approves the legislation, flying bishops will be no more and all of the Church of England will be ruled by women. For many Anglicans, any pretense of valid orders and valid sacraments will be gone.

As far as I’m concerned the C of E can do what it wants to do. I’m not opposed to women priestesses or bishopettes. As far as I’m concerned, just like any other Protestants they don’t have valid sacraments, so it doesn’t matter what they do. Since this new development will push more people out of the C of E, perhaps I should even view it as a positive development.

Being rather ecumenical as I am toward Rome, I’m not bothered that most of them will swim the Tiber. I know that most western Christians find Orthodoxy a difficult fit – something that I think is probably as much to do with the non-essential cultural and liturgical aspects of Orthodoxy as anything – but Rome has valid sacraments despite some theological deficiencies. Some, due in part to lingering anti-papal attitudes, will cross the Bosphorus instead.

The huge number of clergy threatening to defect to Rome will boost the declining numbers in vocations there. Perhaps this will enlighten the Holy Father to the possibility of extending the Eastern Catholic practice of married priests to the West as a normality rather than a concession to certain converted clergy. Thus, if played right, the knock-on effect of the Anglican decision could be quite significant. I’d still call it a long shot, though.

Even if they are only Protestant clergy, I still can’t get over the cringe factor of seeing a woman pose as a priest in a black shirt and white collar. No doubt I will double cringe at a woman in a cope and mitre.

Another Religiously Motivated Attack

A couple of months ago, I mentioned the incident of a Anglican vicar being attacked on the grounds of his church in Wapping, East London by Muslim youths.

It’s happened again, this time in Bethnal Green. Rev Kevin Scully was attacked on Tuesday afternoon. He’d been taunted with religious abuse before. He took their football last Saturday when they had been hurling it against the church cross. They came back, fueled under age by the alcohol forbidden by the Qur’an and beat him up.

He ended up with two black eyes, cuts and bruises. He told the East London Advertiser, “One of them was instigating the violence. I thought the other two were going to stop it, but in the end they joined in. Even a passer-by who saw what was going on and tried to intervene got a kicking too. I was punched twice in the face, hard, hit again, and kicked from behind. I crouched down to ward off the blows before running to the Rectory and calling police.”