Its all Change Around Here

Life in the limey residence is going to be different from now on.

Firstly, it’s because I now have a job. It is a big relief, but it is not quite what I was hoping for. I find myself being slightly more junior and at a lower salary than I wanted. This was always going to be a risk when my wife and I made the decision to relocate three years ago. Being this far from London has an effect on the types of job available and the corresponding salaries. Still, there are some prospects and the role will give me some valuable experience so I will be focusing on that rather than the negatives. The true is, we can afford to live and there are many who are worse off.

What it also means is that I am now out of the house by 7am each morning and arrive back home again at a similar time. Gone are the days when I can work from home, I am now a regular commuter, something I have not done for several years. That will take some adjustment, I enjoyed being home when limey daughter got home from school. I also enjoyed doing the school run on occasions. Those too are now in the past and we’ll have to adjust. I think I will miss that the most.

 

There is other news from the Church.

A vote recently took place to change the rules of the Church. The proposal was that women should be allowed to preach. Until now, the rules stated they could not, I don’t know the exact wording or what the exact change is. This is a vote that has been expected and anticipated since the split of last year when a bunch left the church to set up on their own. The leaving group basically consisted of the more fundamental attitudes. That’s a bit of a simplification, but the effect is that those left are a more liberal bunch and that means a vote like this can actually be considered and discussed.

Unsurprisingly, the vote was overwhelmingly in favour and the rules have been changed. In anticipation of this change my wife was primed with date and a passage and is to become the first woman to preach in the church. She has put many hours into her preparation and with about three weeks to go has it completed.

Over the years she has preached a number of times, sometimes in our church at the time and sometimes as a guest preacher. Since our move, she has preached as a guest in a local church a few times and has another engagement in just a couple of weeks. In all that time I have not seen her put the effort into a sermon that she has for the one she has just completed.

I am sure she’ll have other sermons to preach now and I fully expect that there will be several a year. The pastor continues to be a good and supportive friend and I know that he will encourage my wife in her ministry.

There was a time when I enjoyed hearing her preach, I liked how she explained certain passages and she makes an effort to use clear and concise language. I never enjoyed a sermon that went into intellectual theology to such a level that it required mental gymnastics. My wife avoids this and I think that is why she is so often appreciated when she preaches.

However, I haven’t heard her preach for more than four years and when I asked if she wanted me to attend this landmark event, she deemed it not important that I attend. I would have gone had she wanted it, but I think for her it is better that I don’t sit there disbelieving most of what she has to say. It’s not a specific problem in our life, but there are still areas where we need to work things through. Hmmm, that sounds worse than it actually is, please read that last sentence as an over statement and certainly don’t assume there are marital issues as a result, there aren’t. It’s simply some areas haven’t been discussed into minute detail because we haven’t had the need to do so.

So, life is different and we’ll adjust to the newness of it and however we adjust we’ll make sure it’s for the better. One thing it does mean is that I’m spending a lot less time sat at my computer in my office reading blog and failing to write stuff. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole other issue.

The Fear of Hell

In my life as a Christian I have heard a few sermons on the subject of hell, but none has really made much of an impact on me. Certainly not enough to stick in my mind, I am unable to recall any of these sermons, let along count them. I don’t think the number is huge, but there have definitely been a few. What I recall best is various conversations and varied opinions on the subject.

I pretty much always believed that hell was a real place; after all, you can’t have a real heaven and not a real hell can you? Many others I know take the view that hell is just not being in the presence of God; in other words, hell rather than being an actual place is simply not heaven. I always had an issue with that logic as you can’t have you next life not in heaven and not actually be somewhere else. The counter to that is the always convenient get out clause of “you can’t know what the afterlife will be like”. Hell therefore would always be a subject on which you could guarantee a variety of opinion, but very little meat to back up a viewpoint.

The teaching that I can best recall on the subject has always focused more on the assurance of being saved rather than the fear of not being saved.

The Trouble with Reading

My long held views on hell came when I read the book “The Road to Hell”. I found it an easy read and I found the conclusions logical and there was nothing that I objected to in the theology. Even now I will agree that if you are going to profess faith, this book on hell will be a useful guide.

The biggest single impact the book had on me was its warning to those with the responsibility of teaching others. The book made the point that all the teaching that Jesus gave on the subject was to his disciples (and possibly also those who already followed him) I can’t remember if that second clause was made in the book, that’s me covering my own memory; it was about 17years ago so I can’t claim to be recalling it perfectly. The key point being that the teaching on hell by Jesus was not to those who were unsaved but to those who Jesus was training to be his fishers of men. I never did check the bible to confirm that fact as claimed so I would welcome comment from anyone who has made that check.

The point that is made is Jesus would not have reserved his teaching on hell for those he was closest to if it wasn’t of critical importance to them. If hell was for the unsaved, why preach it to the converted? The conclusions drawn on the subject parallels with other biblical subjects that issue warnings to teachers, specifically “it would be better for a millstone to be tied round your neck than to lead one of my flock astray”. The essence being that hell is preached to the followers of Jesus because it was a warning to them and not a tool to be used to scare people into conversion. More crucially, it’s a warning to those who would lead and teach.

There is much more in the book about hell than just this and I think what I have recalled above probably just comes from a single chapter. It is however, my take away message from the book and what struck me most on reading it.

Motivating fear

At the time that I read the book, I had been in youth work for about five years and would be for most of the next decade. The message of the book did serve to focus me somewhat. I wanted to make sure that the message I gave was true and in keeping with the Bible. I didn’t want to invoke a hellish punishment by leading young people astray.

On balance I think its an unhealthy form of motivation but I also think that its also a good way of reminding those with responsibility and authority that they do have someone that they are answerable to and that they can’t manipulate with impunity. For those that still believe, I think it can be a good reminder of who holds ultimate authority and it is certainly more useful than preaching hell, fire and damnation to the unsaved.

 

The Prophesies of Jesus’ Crucifixion

Last week one of the church members preached a sermon on the prophesies of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was an interesting sermon and despite having spent many years as a Christian and been to a quite a few Christian conferences, it is not one I think I have heard before. This made a nice change and, given the Easter period, nicely topical too.

The sermon basically said that there were 33 specific prophesies related to Jesus’ crucifixion and then ran through a list of each source prophesy. Time constraints meant that the fulfilment of each could not be gone into, but the reference for each fulfilment was helpfully out up on the OHP. Certainly a lot of effort had gone into the sermon and for me, it was the first time I’d really sat up and paid attention to a sermon in a very long time.

Is self-reference valid?

A big problem I have with this sort of claim for the fulfilment of prophesy is that the prophesy and the fulfilment and the interpretation is all held within the bible. Prophesies and fulfilments really do need to have reliable external sources to back up both ends of the claim. Using the bible to self-reference its own prophesies has got to be an obvious opening for criticism even from the most ardent of believers. More than that, each fulfilment appears to be retrospectively matched with the prophesy that is deemed to fit best. This is something that I find deeply unsatisfying.

I won’t dwell on this though, so moving on…

Thinking Sceptically

I can’t remember all of the prophesies discussed and I certainly didn’t count to see if there were 33 mentioned in the sermon. What I did do with each one though was run a quick mental check to see if I thought that each prophesy was specific enough and how well I thought it matches the fulfilment without too much call to interpretation.

What I did find was that in my opinion too many of the reported prophesies are not specific enough for my satisfaction. I found that this even applies to the more famous ‘Servant King’ prophesies found in Isaiah.

Back at home after the service my wife asked me what I thought of the sermon and I briefly explained the above and how I found it interesting but not convincing. I found myself being a little surprised when she used the word ‘sceptical’ in her own description of her thoughts about some of the items. This surprised me as I didn’t expect it, her faith is not going through the same crisis as my own, so it was surprising to hear her use that phrase. Maybe my own experience is having an effect on her. Pushing her in the same direction that I have just travelled in matters of faith is not on my agenda so I am not going to pursue it. I guess we’ll just have to see what transpires in that matter.

Striking the Heal and Broken Bones

There is one prophesy that I wish to pay more attention too because it’s the stand out item that I took away from the sermon.

The sermon made reference to the traditional idea that crucifixion involved crossing the feet and nailing them to the front of the cross with a single nail going through both feet. However, recent evidence apparently shows that this is probably wrong and the more likely way of nailing the feet to the cross is one foot either side of the vertical and one nail through each heal securing the feet.

Reference was then made to the Fall from the Garden of Eden and the serpents curse, which involved mention of the serpent striking the heal of man. This is apparently now a prophesy for the method of Jesus’ foot attachment to the cross. This is what I mean my retrospective application of a loose phrase that is not a specific prophesy.

My wife agreed with my concerns over this item but she did also point out that the Genesis phrase used is an odd phrase and why would it be said like that if not intended for future reference? She makes a good point, however one should also consider that this is being taken from the English translation, the original language version should really be used here to see what the actual phrase was and how the English translation fits with that context. This actually applies to all of the prophesies to be honest, so it raises the valid question of why should a sermon such as this be taken seriously when it only refers to the English language version of the Bible?

I then pointed out that surely a nail driven through the heal to secure that foot to a cross would effectively render the heal bone broken, thus negating the no broken bones prophesy. My wife suggested that was being overly picky and that the context of the no broken bones prophesy is specific to the practice of the Roman soldiers breaking the legs of the crucified in order to hasten death. She makes a good point, again.

My own memories of the no broken bones prophesy is that it was a literal and wider prophesy relating to the whole life of Jesus. Now that I am older I am happy to accept that it’s a more specific intention and that the heal bone issue is not covered, however it is another example of how non-specific the wording combined with retrospective application leads to joining up events in a manner that suits the reader. As such, I can’t accept this as reliable prophesy and fulfilment.

After the sermon, I had asked the church member in question the same question about the heal and the broken bone and he said it was a good question and he would talk to a Christian doctor he knows and come back to me. We’ll see what happens on that one.

Personally, the whole sermon was interesting and engaged me, but ultimately I found it intellectually and spiritually unsatisfying and it confirmed for me that my decision to move to atheism is the right one.

This video was shown in the Church service yesterday

Yesterday’s Sermon used the following video as an introduction and link to the sermon.

Its a clever video and makes its point in a slick and impressive way. I am sure if I still called myself a Christian I would have enjoyed it. Several of the congregation around me seemed to enjoy it, judging by their positive murmurings and head nodding when it ended.

However.

All the way through the first half, my mind was screaming out “this is not how I think, this is not how atheists think, this is a straw man built on what misguided Christians think the godless live”.

So I switched off. I can’t remember what the sermon was about now.

So today I find myself faced with the first disappointment of the paster of our new church.