Earthy heavenliness

Adrian Lowe sent me a commentary extract this morning from a Jewish rabbi. I quote it below (simply changing the word ‘man’ for ‘human’ etc., as the original grates just too much).

From a Jewish perspective, humanity’s singularity derives from the fact that they, alone within creation, are fashioned from… the upper and lower spheres of creation. Only humanity is at once a member of the animal kingdom and at the same time a philosopher, poet, artist and sage. A person is a creature in conflict, continuously striving to reconcile heaven and earth, the two realms that define their existence. Sanctity, for the Jew, is to be found in that reconciliation, in the investiture of the physical world with holiness through concrete actions that sanctify God’s name.

Enough to get on with for today!

What words can we use?

Words have meaning. Probably the true meaning is what is attributed to those words rather than the ‘root word means’ (cringe when your favourite preacher does that). Some words, in certain contexts, probably simply become unhelpful as the hearer cannot make the adjustment needed to enable the word to be the bridge that brings across a healthy concept. Gayle and I do not use the word ‘Christian’ in Spain. One could use it, but by the time all the qualifications are put in, perhaps the listener will have switched off. We tend to use ‘follower of Jesus’, acknowledging that phrase also needs explaining. Indeed one might wish to suggest that the ‘God’ word is too loaded with meaning already to be of use! Where does one stop? (I was very struck by Michele Perry’s phrase that ‘our words create worlds’.)

In one of the Zoom groups someone said I am not sure I like the ‘saved’ set of words. Again not without validity. If saved immediately communicates ‘saved from hell / saved from the wrath of God’ we are going to face a difficulty in using it. We have moved so far from ‘saved for…’ when we use the saved set of words. (I have been so blessed in one Zoom group where there is a view shared from a Catholic perspective, and another coming from an Orthodox viewpoint when looking at such concepts.)

[And ever so important and got nothing to do with this post… to accompany the current three books in the series I have been writing some articles relating to those books. Find them at For the techies – pages are stored in JSON files, and loaded via javascript, with the text in MarkDown format. Thought you might like to know (David in Alsace?). A lot faster than accessing a database.]

Words, can they be redeemed? Some maybe can’t or in certain contexts might not be able to be redeemed. Then we come to the New Testament. That presents another challenge to us. Here are a few words used that could be (could be??) misunderstood:

  • basileia – kingdom (of God) and Empire of Rome.
  • eirene – peace. Peace through the cross; peace by the sword (with the temple to peace built on the hill deicated to war in Rome.
  • ekklesia – ‘church’ or Roman governmental office.
  • king of kings = Caesar or Jesus (as also Saviour, lord, lord of lords).
  • son of god – Caesar or Jesus?

The terms are so obviously parallel, and used without an immediate explanation of ‘Jesus is Lord, but not like Caesar and not like…’

And the painful word ‘despot‘ – well not really, the Greek word despotes is used of Jesus and of God is used some 5 times in the New Testament. We might get the word despot from this but it does not get its meaning from the word despot!

I find it interesting that the New Testament easily used words that were in common use all with an Imperial meaning already stamped on them. They were greatly redefined though as they could only be understood through a Jesus’ lens.

Some words we might not be able to use as they have become too corrupted; some we might have to use with explanations; all words we have to use through the Jesus lens of our lives. As Francis of Assisse said

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

Beyond constant change

‘Constant change is here to stay’ was a catchphrase from years back. True… but we are stepping beyond the ‘constant change’ right at this time. I wrote a little yesterday from Pope Francis ‘change of era’ statement, and today I received an email… but a little background first.

Two days ago as I was walking the dog, and I know exactly where I was, I was thinking about Bob Mumford. Truth be out, I have not thought of, nor prayed for him in decades. I do not know the last time I heard his name. Bob was well known in many circles connected to the New Church Movement, and was one of the writers in the influential New Wine magazine of the 1970s / 80s. He moved away from the ‘heavy shepherding’ tendency and as far as I know was always seeking to be on the cutting edge. So into my heart comes his name… I hesitated to pray for him as I was not sure if he would still be alive or not (I now know he is 90 and still focused!!) but one aspect of his deposit spoke into my situation. Anyway… today comes an email from Chris Larkin and in a line that said ‘One of these friends in the US yesterday [the day Bob’s name came to me] sent me a booklet by Bob Mumford…’

[Here is a link to the booklet]

I find it interesting that I come across Pope Francis 2015 speech a few days ago (yesterday’s post) and then Bob and his article a few days later. Both are coming from a more conservative end of things than I do but both are saying in their contexts ‘change of era’. Here is an extract from the article I give the link to above:

I am deeply convicted that this present threshold is the transition out of a 500-year season in Church history. Much of what has been embraced as “the Scriptural norm” within the Church is being challenged and modified. In 1994 I locked myself up with sixteen books on Church History with the determination to understand the pattern of its progress from Pentecost to our present day. I discovered that since its birth the Church has gone through a major and often convulsive transition approximately every 500 years. Somewhat surprisingly, I discovered that much of society was often sharing in the same spasms of transition.

It so resonates. I still hold that we will see some tangible relief this year to the current pandemic, with a sigh of relief and proclamations of ‘back to normal’. Next year though will show us clearly that there is no going back, as difficulties bite at a deeper societal level. The era change will become even more visible. As I wrote yesterday I have no idea if into the crises we will witness the (always) soon return of the Lord, or we have thousands of more years. If the latter it becomes clear that it cannot be a thousand more years of exploitation, ‘for in the time you eat from that tree you / we will surely die’. The unsustainability of life-styles that has developed over the past centuries cannot be projected into the future.

Let’s come back to how all this might affect those who have been touched by the Spirit of God (‘they received the Spirit just as we did’ being a major continual criterion) and seek to follow the path of their Saviour (a political term related to the inhabited world). Pope Francis is not suggesting the end of the Roman Catholic church, but for something very different to come out and through it; Mumford is not suggesting the end of charismatic church, but suggesting something very different come out and through it. I do not have any issue with either institution, though am not identified with either. I have no issue because I have no spare energy to work out if I should have an issue – my energies are focused on what I should be involved in, what I should be doing (maybe a little bit of ‘what has that to do with you’ as Jesus said to Peter concerning his colleague John?).

For some years I have been saying that the future is connected to

The multiplicity of the small, and
the richness of diversity.

One size does not fit all. I am very exercised by Paul’s work in the Imperial world, what I consider he thought was filling up what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ. He understood his global world, the one-world government situation, the engagement of the ekklesia as the means of keeping everything aligned to Rome, so was very busy in seeking to see in every polis another ekklesia, this one being the ekklesia of Jesus Christ. Deeply political, with no alignment to the right nor the left, but to heaven’s values, with a work to be done. A challenging work, without any coercion or top-down legislation, seeking to align each polis to heaven. I consider what we have focused on – church (ekklesia) is not lining up too favourably with Paul’s work, and our focus on individual salvation falls short of the strongly political message of Paul (imagine for a moment what was the content of the daily lectures that lasted two years in Ephesus). So in that sense, uncritically, I suggest we are so pre-Pauline.

The situation has shifted. One might say we are in a global scenario, heading toward a one-world government. But that would be to miss some huge elements. The Bible teaches there has always been since the Garden a one-world government system. It simply calls it the ‘world’, controlled by ‘the devil’. No need, and hugely blinding, to shout about the ‘deep state’. It is also to miss the point that we are not only being globalised but also tribalised at the same time. This means we cannot do what Paul did (where is the ekklesia and polis today? things have changed since the first century) but we must work for the same apostolic vision, and with the same apostolic element of ‘with great patience’.

Diversity. It is here. The stranglehold of Reformed theology is coming to an end. The use of the Bible to limit us within fictional boundaries is coming to an end. The mess of reducing the clarity of in / out based on belief systems is here. The growing importance of ortho-praxy as being an element in the Gospel being Pauline or just ‘another gospel’ is here. New monastic movements that develop rhythms, some with common purses, connecting into the oppressed situations that they find in their contexts, many with wonderful testimonies of healing will arise (reminds of numerous times I prophesied this during the ‘Sowing seeds’ era!). Believers who are more connected to those without faith than those with faith will arise, yet deeply connected to a few believers… moving away from the weekly synagogue rhythm (an exilic development to protect faith) and more to the three-times a year connection is here. And if it is going to move us forward and not simply side-ways a deep feminisation, for as I suggest in one of the books (go on you will have to buy it now!!) ‘if anyone is in Christ there is a [feminised] new creation. This we really have to discover what that will entail, and some of the keys will be discovered in hearing what is rising in the town square, for that is where wisdom is crying out.

What will arise in the Catholic world? What will arise in the Charismatic institutional world? What will come through from the Orthodox or Coptic traditions? I don’t know.

Change of era

I really keep up with things… always on the cutting edge of every trend… so just picked up on Pope Francis speech of 2015 (did you notice how cutting edge I am?).

He spoke to a gathering of Italian Catholics in Florence that the Church must be open to change while rejecting a “controlling, hard, and prescriptive” style. Here are a few extracts:

It is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism. We are not living an era of change, but a change of era.

Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, queries, but it’s alive, and able to unsettle, animate. Doctrine has a face that isn’t rigid, a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh: that of Jesus Christ.

He called in the same speech for the Catholic church to be ‘a free Church that is open to the challenges of the present, never on the defensive for fear of losing something.’

It was the phrase:

We are not living an era of change, but a change of era.

that caught my attention. A clever turn of phrase but something that captured the wider scenario. I recently wrote in a newsletter using the analogies of the current time as being either, we have entered a storm, winter or the beginnings of an ice-age (analogies not original to me). The first two are simply a variation on the ‘era of change’ phrase. The difference simply being of time duration; the third analogy of course would mean a before and after of immense proportions. An after that is not visible to current sight.

Looking wider than changes being encouraged within the Catholic church, or the church that is essentially shaped from the ‘gathering’ the changes are visible within our world. Elections being stolen… or democracy not being respected… are serious accusations, but perhaps we are witnessing the end of an era, for after all elections have been pretty much settled for decades not by democracy but by money and the power that money can exercise. Now with an emphasis on ‘the seven mountains of influence’ we are in danger of adding to the erosion of genuinely hearing the diverse voice from the public square (see the Michele Perry’s critique that I referenced in a previous post:

This week Jeff Fountain (YWAM and the Schumann centre) interstingly pikced up on the ‘Seven Mountains’ in his weekly word newsletter:

I was actually present the first time Loren spoke on what he called ‘mind moulders’ in August 1975. He talked of these spheres as ‘classrooms’ through which nations could be discipled. Given his pentecostal background, it was an epiphany for him about the implications of the gospel for all areas of life. Those from Reformed backgrounds would have recognised echoes of Calvin’s understanding of society, especially as taught by Abraham Kuyper. Others however embellished the idea, creating the Seven-Mountain teaching that God wanted Christians to infiltrate all these areas to dominate and rule non-Christians with ‘Christian principles’. This was not Loren’s emphasis. I am allergic to this power-based concept which unfortunately has been widely embraced. 

The change of era scenario means that we can be looking for quick answers, and the ‘Seven Mountains’ comes into give us a quick pathway. The question we have to ask of all such pathways is whether it is the pathway of ‘those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes’.

The comment of Paul that not only signs and wonders accredited his work but that they were accompanied with ‘great patience’. A long term vision. In writing the four foundational books (by foundational I mean they are pretty much foundational to me – probably not sufficient to erect a tower block on!!) I have suggested, non-critically, that we are pre-Pauline, that we do not really know what he was up to with his ‘got to get an ekklesia in every city-state, province of that blasphemous empire’… In that sense all our best work is probably a prelude to catching up to what he was about, and then a challenge awaits us! I do not think Paul would be doing today what he did then. But he would have the same vision, captivated as he was by the Gospel. So, if that be true, we have to somehow find a way of going from pre-Pauline to post-Pauline (yet being faithful to Paul!). Change of era.

Change of era and a long term vision.

But Jesus will come back soon. Yes… we can spell the word soon but the calendar does not help us.

Paul probably anticipated a very soon coming, maybe in his life-time. We might well think Jesus will come back way soon… maybe, maybe not. We might even go through a crisis that seems to set the whole world back decades / even centuries and have to find a way of moving forward. Maybe. Loads of maybies cos I think we are somewhere between the winter and ice-age scenarios.

Either way change of era; great patience. Uncertainty… if we can hold in we come to place of openness.

A Subversive Movement

The third volume is out in the series Explorations in Theology. A Subversive Movement tries (wish I could put ‘succesfully’ at that point of the sentence) to take the theme of Volume 2 – ekklesia, the Signficant Other to Jesus to carry on the mission of Jesus, now beyond the Jewish world to the transformation of the Imperial one-world government of Rome – and to apply it practically.

I push away from ‘Seven Mountains’ and from ‘Kings and Priests’, and any concept of a Christian nation… but want to see how we can be present within all aspects of society, but carrying a different Spirit, and also learn how to live with compromise.

Just how catastrophic?

Or what if?

In the last post I used the term ‘anthropecene age’ (big word… no expert here with keyboard I assure you!). The suggestion with the use of this term is that since the ice age we have lived with a reasonably consistent climate, but that there has been a huge shift due to our behaviour and that the next era will not be settled in the same way. Add to that the increase in pandemics in the 20th and now the 21st centuries and it seems likely that we have to think of the future as markedly, as opposed to marginally, different to the past. [A while back someone sent me a very helpful paper on the church and the pandemic, suggesting that there were three analogies that might help us think through a response. If it is a storm, it will pass, so just shut down until it is over; if winter then think a little longer term, make sure the supplies are in place etc., but again it will be over, just the time till things are back to normal will be longer. But if it is akin to an ice age we should not be thinking this will be over, and we will not be able to predict too accurately what will come out the other side. I consider this is not a storm, and it is something more sever and longer lasting than a winter….]

It gets me thinking… and, although I understand the hope that everything will get back to normal I am really not convinced that is the case. What if this coincides with a couple of awesome scenarios? What if we really will see something along a ‘third phase’ outpouring of the Spirit. From Pentecost of 2012 I have been declaring that that is what we are entering into. Let me explain… I see a pattern in Peter’s prophecy in Acts 2: this [outpouring] is for you, your children and for those afar off. What does ‘afar off’ mean? Does it simply mean they get pulled into ‘us’… or as per Peter / Cornelius is the discovery that God is already present in and among ‘the afar off’ for ‘us’ to find out?

Then what if…

Come on there has to be a lot of ‘what if’s?’ if we are going to get our heads to no longer determine what is and what is not.

What if Paul was very smart but only had revelation to a point? Sure revelation way beyond the likes of you and me, that I don’t think is to be disputed. After all you have to have serious revelation to go about planting (right word?) an ekklesia where there was already an ekklesia, planting / initiating the true body of people who would make sure that their polis (city / city-state) was transformed. The ekklesia of Jesus was where he pinned his hopes, not the one that was sanctioned by Rome that already existed. So given he had incredible revelation; but what if he saw the first step on the process. What would he consider today? Would he think primarily geographically, because I am sure he was shaped by discipling ‘all nations’ (ta ethne: I know we like to think of ethnic language when we consider this, but it was simply an overarching term for all those that are not seeking to live from a covenant relationship with God… now that opens up whole communities that we need to think about, and arguments about sovereignty being restored to nations when the nation -state of today is NOT the nation of the Bible is likely to cause us to miss this moment… Blah de blah…)

But beyond the blah blah, maybe we need to think again about the first step in our context, and as we enter this so named ‘anthropocene’ age. And maybe we need to be already thinking about steps 2 and 3… steps that Paul perhaps did not have sight of; after all he was keen to get to Spain so that the whole of the Imperial land could be impregnated with the first step. Until the first step is complete maybe there wasn’t revelation for the steps beyond?

What if…?

Looking in the mirror

I appreciated the comments on the article by Michele on the ‘Seven Mountains’, also the one by Stuart suggesting that there is always the danger in throwing out the baby with the bath water. Given that Michele articulated it so well, and that I am also in agreement with her I thought I would write a kind of parallel post here. [And of course it gives me an opportunity to let you know that Volume 3 is out in the next few days… A Subversive Movement, where I say in the preface that I consider that the language of Seven Mountains is probably not redeemable. I was very struck by Michele’s comment that ‘our words create worlds’.]

My middle name is ‘opinionated’ (along with a few others such as ‘uninformed’, ‘biased’, ‘not so smart’) but I try and dismiss opinions I have about what I cannot influence and over what I do not carry responsibility for. I find – for me, because of the above middle names – that is very helpful. I travelled many years to the USA, until 2009, but when I realised I was not carrying responsibility for the land there I had to leave that to others and then keep my mouth shut. In recent weeks I am seeing afresh that we can look that direction but what we are viewing is a mirror not a window. For that reason I will make a few reflections (no pun intended).

Conspiracy. Hard to prove wrong, particularly as the goalposts continually move. Back (way back) in the day credit cards were highly suspicious… now we are all glad for them. The vaccine, and Bill Gates… (glad I use open source, Linux… I will be so safe.) Many of the current conspiracy theories will just disappear, but conspiracy theories will simply live on. (There were ones in the first century, and I find it very amusing that John in Revelation pulls on a few for his visions, sending them up in the process!!!)

And the early church following Paul’s lead knew they had to get control of Rome, install a god-fearing Caesar. So they worked tirelessly for this, rejoicing at every change of legislation that favoured them. [I am still searching for the text that will back that up, but just give me time… Oh can’t find it… Oh yes does not exist!!!]

No that just was not the focus. I have no doubt that the gospel was political, indeed political before personal (volume 4 to come) but politics that were not and can never be wedded to a political party, can never bow at the feet of nation-statehood, nor simply (and simplistically) look for ‘godly’ legislation that for example becomes single-issued. All the above far from dealing with contrary spirits to the Gospel will simply strengthen them, as all ‘right/wrong’ dividing lines do when they are not subject to the ‘life / death’ divide.

The church in Europe is post-Christendom. Thankfully. Although we have quite a catch up to make with that reality, there are circumstances here now that will help us. I am so positive about Europe, secularised Europe. Thankful for the genuine revival movements of Asia but the time line of Europe is different. (And if I can say it, the USA is the child of Europe so follows the time line here not the time line of (e.g.) Asia.) In the situation that has no hope of restoring Christendom, that is secularised, what an opportunity to re-discover the political Gospel that is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes; the Gospel that will enable us to endure persecution, not the supposed ‘persecution’ of legislation that affects my life-style!! Thank you believers in China for enduring and continuing to endure through your great tribulation. Your suffering produces fruit elsewhere as well as in your land.

There are debates about ‘false prophecy’, about what might still happen. In the mirror I think what I see is that we might have restored to us the political Gospel in such a way that we are not preoccupied (if that word was Spanified it would read ‘worried’) about legislation and whether it marginalises us or not. [I write this as I see in Europe, and in a part of the world that I am still connected to, Brazil, a huge shift of allegiance to the right that shouts pro-life on one issue but is not so pro-life with regard to the next generation at many other levels. Allegiance… no Jesus broke the ‘which Caesar has your allegiance?’ line of things. Left / right… no.]

And as for left / right I watched a Spanish commentator living in the USA shake his head in disbelief. He said in the US Biden can be labelled a ‘communist’, but his policies in Spain would make him a comfortable fit with the PP party (right wing inheritors of Franco’s Falange party!!). It becomes so convenient to put a label on someone quickly.

Not sure we really want a Cyrus… We can be so quick to draw lines from ‘that’ to ‘this’. However not sure if we would really want a Cyrus if the parallels are really to work. 1) the people were not in their own land, but captive; 2) the one raised up was not one of theirs. Now make the parallels, although it is very hard to do so as point 1 above does not fit, but hey ho… Maybe we could go for something like it was discovered that there was major interference in the Brexit vote but God raised up a Cyrus straight out of Brussels to come and he (always a ‘he’ when from Brussels!) made some edicts that declared it all had to be reversed. OK just a little humour… but time to back off from the quick analogies we make, particularly when we pull on one part that is certainly far from analagous. Come on people, come up a little beyond the 666, revived Roman Empire stuff. So little, little, little in the Bible abut anything that comes close… but last time I read it so much about following Jesus where he goes.

OK back to the mirror as we are living at the turn of an era. (Currently I pick up language of moving from holocene (stable climate for millenniums) to an anthropocene (the effects that will long shape the future from our abuse of the planet) era. We, as believers, might use different language, and I like the ‘Christendom’ language, or the third aspect of outpouring (‘to those afar off’) . Regardless of language the mirror helps us see what we need to give attention to. So in summary!!

  • A recovery of the political Gospel, what I term the Pauline Gospel. A positive, crazy vision for a transformed world (although his language is much better, replace ‘world’ with ‘creation’). This has nothing to do with post-millennialism (nor pre-, nor a-), but has everything to do with an obsession that the whole of society can be changed to be in some measure a reflection of heaven and heaven’s values. Those values being rooted in how we see others – and so how we talk about them, write about them, tweet etc.
  • Taking a true pro-life stance. Life for everyone, which means that we who have life will have to become life-givers, not life protectors.
  • A by all means vote for a party, a person but connected with a ‘but I am not too serious about it, and it is not a matter of life and death’ stance.
  • A renunciation of all other allegiances other than the one to Jesus. All allegiances colour our perspective (what we see will make us blind in other areas) and our ‘prophecies’ will be skew(er)ed. Skewed and skewered I fear.
  • Get up each morning happy that we have another day to influence the future, not through promoting our nation, nor our ‘church’ but the presence of Jesus that will deeply inconvenience me but bless someone else, particularity someone I once labelled as an enemy.

‘Seven mountains’

I am enclosing a link to a recent post that a friend of Gayle and I put up. If the language of ‘Seven Mountains of Influence’ doesn’t mean anything it is still worth a read, for the language and theology is gaining much traction. I write about it in the preface of the book that is due out next week. I have wondered if it is just language and if the language can be used without the underlying theology of domination. I know people who use the language and are far greater servants that I am… but ultimately I am not convinced the language is redeemable. And Michele makes this clear – ‘words create worlds’.

Michele has her convictions as I have mine. Even if you do not share ours I do suggest a read of her post will be highly insightful. [I would certainly consider that the underlying theology has had a big part to play in the all-but unbelievable activities in the USA these past years… and writing as a European, I am very aware that we can think we have a window on the USA… it is not a window it is a mirror.]

Michele Perry was our first visitor to Cádiz. We had boxes still to unpack and she arrived in our first week there. She stayed for a week or so and we have stayed in touch since then. She is a remarkable and a courageous woman in the extreme. It took 5 flights to get to us, travelling with a suspected form of malaria. She was a pioneer missionary in a war torn land (including AK47’s pulled on her). I could multiply comments about who she is. I am certainly humbled to connect in a small way and observe her authenticity. (Her wider blog is worth following.)

Here is the link:


Interrogating the ‘young’ Bible

One of the concepts I have been working with I put into the form of a rhetorical question. ‘Imaging interrogating the young Jesus (maybe 12 years old)….’ He grew up in his culture, a culture that did not view women very highly and saw Gentiles as rank outsiders (even ‘dogs’). Fully human meant that he did not float above the surface but was shaped by his culture. The remarkable feature is that he came to a place of full maturity – what we could term ‘truly human’ and by the time he was 33 was mature and became a source of salvation for all. Interrogate the 33 year old Jesus and his answers would not have simply stood out in his culture but would make our perspectives look tame. I am all but double that age, growing up with advantages he never had and am no where close to half that level of maturity.

[David Leigh in one of the Zoom groups opened my eyes to some fresh insight how Jesus was so far ahead, in spite of his culture, when in the Temple at age 12 he is questioning the ‘experts’, and it seems clear the questions were pushing them in terms of their interpretation of the Law.]

In the night – always happens – the ticking of the brain in the night… I was thinking that there is something similar going on with the Bible. Interrogate the ‘young Bible’ and we might be shocked by what comes back to us. Ask the mature Bible and we get a different take on things. [Of course the riders are many. So much of what we have was put together and edited in the period of the Babylonian exile, but we still get early ‘young Bible’ perspectives bleeding through.]

It is just another way of saying that the Bible is not a flat book, with all speaking at the same level, or that we are impacted by a trajectory ever moving forward, ultimately guided by life, not by right and wrong. So no big ticking of brain, more a trickle.

Chapter 4

The Message

Today we have the book we call the Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments. There are genuine questions concerning the make up of the books, why some are included and other writings were not. Huge discourses have been written concerning that. And such discussions are far beyond the scope of this book, not to mention beyond the intellectual prowess of the current author! The above difficult question we simply dodge, and get right into a quick guide as to how we read what has been (more or less) accepted that has meant to guide the Christian faith.

The Bible assumes the existence of God. There are no great discussions but right at the outset it simply says that ‘God spoke’. S/he speaks therefore s/he is! Presented as a generous being who shares with humanity, giving choice and autonomy, and inviting humanity into partnership for the future well-being and enjoyment of creation. In story-form (and I probably should have bitten the bullet and just used the word ‘myth’) there were two main trees in the garden of Eden. One was the ‘tree of life’ indicating that humanity was made for eternity (not indicating that humanity is immortal, that being a later Greek, Platonic concept), and one that if eaten would result in ‘death’. This word ‘death’ is much more than a reference to something physical but something deeply personal and emotional, something corporate-wide, and something even cosmic-wise.

Two deeply contrasting words, but words we can relate to. We have all said something along the lines of, ‘I really came alive when…’ And the ‘when’ becomes, in some measure, ‘I was doing what I was born to do’, or as the Spanish graphically describe it, ‘when I was in my salsa’ (sauce). Death is just the opposite, and we have probably all had experiences when something inside of us has ‘died’.

Digging a little deeper into the forbidden tree, and remembering that the encouragement was to eat of all the trees, just avoid the fruit from this one tree. Humanity is instructed to avoid this one tree for the consequences of eating from it will be the release of a flow of death to one and all. That tree was named as the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’, and the temptation was to eat of it as it was thought that it would give us the ability to draw the lines, deciding what is right and what is wrong. Rights and wrongs! There are some pretty much accepted rights and wrongs, and that is both helpful and understandable. But when we move beyond those basic agreements so much of the ‘right and wrong’ paradigm results in divides, and for sure the world of religion has perfected the use of that paradigm.

It seems to us that the original paradigm was not to decide what was right and wrong but to search out the path that brings life, life not simply defined as being in one’s salsa (important as that is) but how to respond so that we enable those we come into contact with to come increasingly into their salsa.

Although as we read further in the Bible we encounter Israel and how they received the law we should not think that this was as simple as a list of ‘rights and wrongs’. There is a key instruction that came through the person attributed in bringing them the ‘law’ that says,

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

Life and death were two possibilities, with the encouragement to choose the path of life. The law simply was an (inadequate) guide to what that path might look like. A helpful path as it instructed how to live well within society, how to respond to one’s neighbours. Yet not a perfect guide. We see this with the instructions about the death penalty, where it worked on the basis of ‘an eye for an eye’. That remains an ongoing principle where the punishment is to fit the crime, but not go beyond it. However, we also read that God responded directly to the first murderer (Cain who murdered his brother Abel) by protecting him so that others would not take vengeance against him. God did not comply with his own law, or better put, the law (God gave) did not comply with God. There is no need, when we read the laws in the Old Testament, to simply take them as we read them, but again to see them as signposts pointing in a direction, that direction being the path of life.

Over many centuries it would seem the Jews lost sight of the ‘life and death’ paradigm and elevated the ‘right and wrong ‘ paradigm, with many discussions on how the law should be applied (such as how far one can walk on the Sabbath day). They moved away from seeing the law as being a servant to help us discover the path of life. If the above comment seems a little hard on ‘the Jews’, it is only because their response simply helps us see what is a universal tendency; we lose sight of the ‘life and death’ paradigm.

Let’s jump ahead to consider Jesus and in particular his death. We have already said that his death on a cross satisfied the Jews, as it indicated a just punishment for a blasphemer, and it satisfied the Romans, sending out a clear signal that all were to comply with their customs and laws. But it runs deeper than simply an act at a specific time in history. It occurred at a precise time known, by the biblical writer Paul, as ‘the fullness of times’.

Backtracking… Abraham and the nation of Israel were chosen to enable the other nations to be the best they could be, but they became self-obsessed, simply wanting to be as one of the other nations. The choice of a king (Saul being the first, with the next two, David and Solomon, perhaps being the best-known ones) was very critical in the history of the nation of Israel. The result was a hierarchy with the major flow of resources being to the centre and to the ‘top’, rather than a distribution of wealth and authority throughout the land. By the time of Jesus the religious leaders claimed they had ‘no king other than Caesar’. If the nation that was meant to be different, so that others could see, learn and imitate, was just the same as all the others, all possibility of Israel being an agent for change had gone. This seems to be what the term ‘fullness of times’ means. The time when there was no hope for the future.

Jesus’ birth was announced as good news for the world:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2: 14).

Peace to the world. Not the Pax Romana where there was a wealthy centre and a powerful elite, who promised benefits… benefits if one complied! Peace on earth, or in the Hebrew language, shalom, something very positive, much more than the absence of war, and much more than peace imposed through military means.

We consider the best way to describe the death of Jesus is that it was in some strange way a roadblock to the path that we were all on, that dead-end street. Somehow God was in Jesus saying enough is enough. It is almost as if the tree (the cross) that Jesus died on was that very tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’. He said enough to the divides, the lines that push people away; the cross (or maybe the resurrection of Jesus) was the announcement of a new time, a new humanity, a new trajectory, a new guiding system. Or maybe an old guiding system brought back into view – the ‘life and death’ paradigm.

Of course all the above takes a measure of faith to accept, and I am simply presenting my faith concerning the death of Jesus, accepting that if it be true that the above will not totally explain what took place at the cross. We do however reject any idea (such as was common in many religions) that God had to be placated, had to be satisfied in order to forgive us of our many sins!

The announcement at the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus right through to the resurrection (and beyond), was to bring hope to the world. In the last chapter we looked a little at Paul and how the message gained traction in the Roman Imperial world, and it had to be that it was essentially a message of hope. It might have been dismissed as wishful thinking, or an impossible dream, but it certainly could never be reduced to mean ‘private faith expressed in religious activity’.

Beyond Jesus we have the initialisation of the ekklesia (translated as ‘church’, but the problem is we know what church is and therefore project back into the Bible that what we know must be what was being encouraged to grow throughout the then known world). This ekklesia consisting of people who willingly lined up under the person of Jesus to live for the prosperity and well-being of all others, so that the world might be as good as it could be, and where all could benefit from the belief that God is generous beyond belief, that each human being carries some reflection of God (‘image’).

Practical questions are provoked by the Person of Jesus, and the message of the Gospel. How we answer those might differ among those who claim to align to Jesus and take the Bible as a written source of authority. On some issues I am far from clear, but I think it is time to draw the ‘theoretical underpinnings’ to a close. To summarise what I have proposed that should inform anyone trying to articulate some answers to the practical questions, I suggest the following:

  • There has always been a generosity in God, a pouring out of life for others. There has never been any act, and with that I am particularly thinking of any sacrificial act, that has brought God round to loving us. Love is the nature of the God described in the Bible.
  • Jesus ‘emptied himself’, poured out his life and in doing that showed us the nature of God. He was fully human and yet also fully God. The third aspect I wrote about (‘truly’ human) we do not share with him. In that he shows us what we are to be. At no point did Jesus sin, but he developed and grew to maturity, pushing through every cultural barrier.
  • Those who align with Jesus are to reflect that generosity; growth toward true humanity is to act in a way that humanises all others.
  • We cannot and should not quickly wade in with proclamations of what is right and wrong but have to use the measurement of what brings life and what brings death.
  • We should not simply look to the Bible as a text book but as a story, that outlines a journey past, and points to a journey beyond its pages. We have to seek to follow the trajectory even if it seems to conflict with certain texts. Compliance to the story takes precedence over a blind obedience to the text.
  • We have to think of a whole new way of society relating together as being descriptive of the outworking of the good news coming into our world as a result of the birth of Jesus, understanding the Gospel as containing much more content than aspects of personal devotion and private faith.
  • We might not get it all right; and I suggest that perhaps it is not so important that we get it right. We are all involved in a journey; ‘life’ not ‘right’ has to guide; ‘love’ not ‘vested interest’.

Religion in all its forms might have some helpful input to the journey, but religion, regardless of how it is defined, will fall short of (of course my perspective) what we can see was initiated when Jesus was born. A baby entered the world. And God entered the world at a whole new level to journey with imperfect people. People who don’t know all the answers but can seek to humbly make a few suggestions and contributions.