Showing posts from April, 2011

Rob Bell and Love Wins: Does it really preserve freedom?

I am indebted to Aaron Ironside of Radio Rhema who inspired this idea about RB's book this morning, after we had conversed on the show about the book. Aaron spoke of how it would work, if people stood before Christ at his return, and then were sent to destruction, and then had the choice of getting out. Aaron made the excellent point that they would of course want to get out, having met Jesus and wanting out of the horror of the hell (whatever it looks like). I thought it was a very interesting point.

I thought about it a bit more and want to push the idea further. As RB affirms in his book, and I agree in my book What's God Up To (Chapters 1-3), the gospel involves the idea of volition (I prefer this word as there is no such thing as freedom in a sense). That is, God gives 'freedom' to humanity to respond to his desire for relationship. This is an essential component of genuine love, as encapsulated in the old saying, if you love something, Set it free... If it comes …

Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Response

I have just read through Love Wins by Rob Bell (RB). For the uninitiated, this book has created a storm of controversy in the US over its universalistic gospel. Rather than giving a complete breakdown of the book with its strengths and weaknesses, here a few responses.
First, good for RB for asking the question about the universality of salvation. There are a range of questions in it like: If God is love, will his love not melt the heart of even the worst of all sinners ultimately? Is death the end of all chances – is there further hope for the lost after death?  There is nothing wrong with asking the question and stimulating debate. These are good questions that we must continue to ponder.
Secondly, Rob can really write. The book is compelling and seductive. I enjoyed it and felt myself drawn in by the compelling picture of God, love, life, hope and eternity. Rob has a poetic edge; he is easy to read – pleasing to today's reader who, in the main, does not want complexity.

The Glorious Cross of Christ

Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
As we come to Easter and we consider the death of Jesus, it is good to ponder what it means.
First, the cross speaks of our salvation. On the cross Jesus, completely without sin, took upon himself the corruption of all humanity, and died in our place for us. Jesus, both our high priest, and the final sacrifice for sin took to himself human depravity and all its consequences. He extinguished it in the seeming humiliation of brutal death by crucifixion. Because of his righteousness, God raised him from the dead on the third day. Now, God offers us in Christ, the ultimate final sacrifice for sins, the gift of salvation. If we accept his completely free offer by saying yes to this Jesus as saviour and Lord, we will experience the power of the resurrection and receive eternal life with God and his people –a life that begins now! The cross then represents our justification, where God's voice booms out over all creation saying 'pardoned, acquitted, no…

Is it the End of the World?

Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
There is some speculation around that current events indicate that the end of the world is nigh. This is no doubt due to Jesus' predictions of wars and earthquakes as the end approaches. It is certainly true that our news is full of earthquakes and Middle Eastern turmoil. So, is this the beginning of the end?
The first thing is to admit that we just don't know. Jesus himself did not know when the end would come. There are texts that point to Jesus returning like a thief in the night, surprising most of the people of the world. So, his return may be imminent. But, a sensible Christian does no claim too much on the basis of a few world events.
Secondly, such events are not really that unusual. Seismologists tell us that the number of earthquakes remains constant. The difference for us in NZ is that one hit us! Further, we are now able to watch their effects dramatically on live TV! The truth is that there have been earthquakes and turmoil since …

New Zealand Christian Leaders Gather in Waikanae

Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
Over the last week, some 200 Christian leaders from all over the nation came together at El Rancho in Waikanae for the 6th New Zealand Christian Leader's Congress. The Congress is a significant cutting edge event, a must-do for many of the Christian leaders of the nation. The leaders came from many denominations, parachurch organisations, colleges and the business world. The theme this year was a vision for 2020, 'The Gospel in the Decade Ahead.' The Congress was launched by Rev Dr Stuart Lange and Angelene Goodman from Laidlaw College who spoke on 200 years of the Gospel in NZ. The presentation was brilliant, speaking of the way in which Christianity was fused into the nation from the beginning and formed the basis for the Treaty of Waitangi. This was followed over the next few days by a range of speakers on the gospel from a range of perspectives including its content and proclamation, economics, global issues and mission, creation, just…

When Truth and Unity Collide

Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
The latest controversy over Destiny Church highlights one of the core tensions of Christian faith, truth 'versus' unity. The NT writings make it clear that unity is of critical importance with it being emphasised especially in Jesus' great prayer of John 17, and in many of its letters (e.g. 1 Corinthians; Philippians; Ephesians 4; Romans 14-15; Philemon). One of the gospels great truths is love, the power that holds us together and gives power to our witness (e.g. John 13:34-35). Truth is equally important in the NT with many warnings against false teaching and prophets (e.g. Acts 20; 2 Corinthians 10-12; Galatians; Colossians 2; 1 John; 2 Peter; Jude). Preserving the one gospel is critical to ensure the survival of the faith. The tension occurs when unity comes under threat because of clashes over truth. When this happens, this is the one of the most difficult challenges Christians can face.
Over the history of the church there have been a…

Bishop Tamaki and the Resurrection

Published in Challenge Weekly in 2011
The latest controversy which has broken out over Destiny and Brian Tamaki raises important questions. If it is true, as Cult Watch and Garth George have claimed, that Bishop Brian denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus and is asserting that all believers are Christs and divine, this position is not in line with historical evangelical Christian faith.
The first question raised is whether Jesus' resurrection was bodily or spiritual, or in some sense, both. As Garth George demonstrates in his article in this paper, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian belief. Late last year I blogged on this myself, going into some detail to demonstrate from the NT writings that the Jesus who entered the tomb killed by the Romans, was the same man who left it ( The Jesus who died is the one who was raised with the same body now transformed. In many ways his resurr…

Time for a Revolution?

Published in Challenge Weekly in 2011
Revolutions are in the news. The media is dominated by events in the Middle East and especially Egypt where protestors continue to call for the resignation of Mubarak and the formation of a democratic state. On Waitangi Day Hone Harawira's nephew Wi Popata called for a Maori revolution to overthrow our supposedly 'racist' government.
This got me thinking, do we need a revolution in NZ? The truth is, I think we do. The revolution I am thinking of is not the sort of revolution that we are seeing in Egypt or that which Popata is calling for. The last thing we need is a violent political revolution. As I read the Bible, this is not the stuff of God's people who pattern their lives on the example of Christ who died on a cross rather than call for his angels and people to storm the power of the then world, Rome.  
Rather than these flawed alternatives, I am talking about the people of God in this nation rising up not to overthrow the gove…

The Maori Party and Christian Unity

Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
The current tensions in the Maori Party centred on Hone Harawira has got me thinking. Whatever you think of the Maori Party, it has done amazingly well. Formed in 2004, they have five MPs and sit in coalition with National wielding a disproportionate degree of influence considering they gained only 2.39% of the vote in 2008. Yet now there is evidence of growing divisions with even talk of a new party under Hone Hariwira. Unsurprisingly, it seems much of the problem relates in large part to a desire for power and influence.
Studying Philippians as I am, this has me thinking about unity. Jesus was big on unity. In John 17 he pleads with God that his people would be one as he is one with the Father. That is, that we in our relationships reflect the perfect harmony of the Trinity. Elsewhere, he warned of the dangers of disunity when he said, 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will …

A New Year, A Fresh Start

Published in Challenge Weekly 2011
I love New Years. Genesis 1:14 tells us that the marking of seasons, months and years is part of God's creation. I love the start of a new year because I can take stock, reflect over the year that has gone, and start afresh. It is kind of like a new birth, a resurrection. I love the rhythm of a holiday over summer in which I can laze on the beach, go for a walk, read a few good books, and forget the challenges that are about to restart. I can reflect on 2010, the good, the bad and ugly, close the chapter 2010, and open the chapter, 2011.
New Years are great times to come to God in reflection, examine our lives, and consider where we can grow. In 2010 I had some of the greatest highs and lows I have experienced. I got to see the cities of Paul in Europe, I published a book, my wife and I brought our first home, and my kids did amazing things. I also suffered a terrible disappointment which I have struggled to overcome. After a nice break, I can now…

Don’t Miss Christ This Christmas

Published in Challenge Weekly 2010
I have mixed feelings about Christmas. On the one hand it annoys me greatly. This is due to the incessant stripping away of almost anything Christian and its replacement with every possible excuse for rampant consumerism, materialism, gluttony, alcohol abuse and even family violence, which peaks at this time. The way most Kiwi's celebrate Christmas demonstrates perhaps more than at any other time, how much we as a nation are rejecting our Christian heritage. Sometimes I think it should be renamed, '-mas,' as there is no Christ in it for most.
On the other hand, for those of us who know and believe the story, it is a glorious time to stop and consider what it means. It tells us that God is a God in control of history. The story is full of fulfilled prophecies with Jesus born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), born of a virgin (Is 7:14 Greek Version), a descendent of David (Matt 1:6), from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10) and more. It shows that God act…

Pike River Tragedy

Published in 2010 in Challenge Weekly
The Pike River Mine tragedy has stunned us all. What a tragic loss of life. May God bless the families who have lost their loved ones! The event raises so many questions doesn't it? It raises the question of why suffering, death and such horror. What can we say? 
The first thing to say is that we live in a fallen world where death and suffering remain woven into the fabric of everyday life. Romans 5:12 tells us that suffering and death entered at the Fall and Romans 8:19-23 tells us that, tragically, creation remains in bondage to death and decay. This means that despite our best efforts to prolong life and avoid suffering, we will continue to experience it. This means that, sadly, such things will continue to happen. Yes, God does miracles and believers should pray, hope and believe for them. Yet, the truth is that decay and death remain the last enemy to be defeated and so such things will continue to blight our existences. This is why all peo…

NZ a Republic?

Published in Challenge Weekly in 2010
Our national anthem begins, 'God of Nations...' This is a great statement theologically, summing up the biblical truth that the world, despite its seeming chaos, is in fact under God's sovereign control as he shapes history toward its glorious climax. As such, NZ being part of the Commonwealth has been one dimension of this. Our participation in the Commonwealth has used by God as he has worked out his purposes over the centuries. Not that it has all been good, the British Empire has been guilty of horrendous injustices. Yet, God has worked in these and through them seeing his gospel go to the ends of the earth.
Today, as I ponder the media circus around the news that Prince William is getting married to Kate Middleton, it is bringing me to the point where I think, 'enough is enough!' Aside from the good news this is to those in their families, who cares? More importantly, should we care? It seems to me it is a royal time for NZ…

The Problem of Abortion

Published in Challenge Weekly in 2010
So it seems that, after Sweden, NZ has the second highest abortion rate in the developed world. Last year alone, 4000 NZ teenage girls had abortions. Last week Close Up (Oct 28) told the story of Rachel who, with dreams of being a professional dancer, had an abortion after giving no thought to keeping or adopting out her baby. Such is the world we now live in.
On Close Up Mark Sainsbury described this as shocking; yet in the same breath says, 'the issue is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion, the issue is about why so many teenagers end up in this position.'
With respect to Mark Sainsbury, it is not just about too many teenage abortions, but it is about the rights and wrongs of abortion. Every year in NZ some 18,000 babies are aborted. Globally, in the last 40 years, over a billion abortions have been conducted. Surely the question of the rights and wrongs of abortion remain!  
The evidence suggests from a Christian worldview, it is …

To Drink or Not To Drink, That is the Question

Published in Challenge Weekly in 2010
Alcohol is very much in the news at the moment. One example is the tragic death of James Webster due to binge drinking. Another is the University of Otago study which demonstrates that alcohol in NZ costs around the same price as bottle water! While it is arguable that bottled water is a waste of money and overpriced, this is a sad state of affairs. While our politicians toy with the alcohol laws refusing to make the substantive changes needed, the problem deepens. Alcohol abuse is also very personal to me as many years ago I lost a very close relative to vodka. So how can we Christian's respond to this ongoing problem?
Generally speaking, the Scriptures do not prohibit alcohol drinking. Jesus was criticised for drinking with sinners and also turned water into wine at a wedding (Luke 7:34; John 2:1-10). Paul forbade getting drunk rather than drinking itself (Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 2:8; Tit 2:3) and even once mentioned alcohol's medicinal benefit (1…

What to do about Paul Henry?

Published in 2010 in Challenge Weekly
The latest antics of Paul Henry should make us Christians think. First, he intentionally mispronounced the name of Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in a crass way which is unrepeatable in Challenge. Secondly, speaking to John Key on air of the replacement for Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, "Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?" This has led to a belated apology for causing offence and a ten day suspension. In my view it raises some interesting questions for us as Christians in a multicultural age.
First, there is the issue of political correctness. Many people, including a number of Christians like myself, are rather fed up with demands for political correctness. It seems we cannot speak in humour without offending someone. The question here is: did Paul Henry cross the line this time? Many would say no and laugh it off. The question then becomes, when does it cross the …

Presbyterians on the Rise: General Assembly 2010

Published in Challenge Weekly 2010
Over the last few days I have attended the Presbyterian Affirm conference followed by the Presbyterian General Assembly in Christchurch. For the uninitiated, Presbyterian Affirm is a network for Action, Faith, Fellowship, Intercession, Renewal and Mission (AFFIRM) within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ). The General Assembly is the bi-annual gathering of ministers and elders from churches across NZ who meet for worship, fellowship, encouragement and to discuss Presbyterian business. The Affirm conferences are always inspiring with like minded evangelicals and charismatics gathering to give glory to God, for ministry, inspirational teaching, and fellowship. This year's conference was no exception. The worship was led by Darryl Tempero of Hornby Presbyterian. The speakers included Murray Robertson formerly senior pastor Spreydon Baptist and Jim Wallace of Bethlehem Presbyterian. Murray Robertson spoke of trends in the NZ churc…

Father’s Day 2010

Published in 2010 in Challenge Weekly
So it's Father's Day this Sunday. I believe that Father's Day is an excellent time for the Dad's among us to take stock of what it means to be a husband and Father. I am a Dad. I am blessed with three lovely daughters in their late teens and early twenties, so I have some idea of what is involved. To me, the most challenging and rewarding thing I have done in my life is being a Dad. As I have gone about being a Dad, the Bible has given me great guidance.
The first thing is to consider God as 'Father'. This is the favourite name given to God in the Bible. The ancient picture of manhood and fatherhood was a picture of power and strength. The God of the Bible is strong, but he is more. He is full of love, mercy and gentleness. He protects us, provides for us, nurtures us and comforts us when we are struggling. He disciplines us when we step out of line, but only because he loves us. The supreme way God demonstrates fatherhood …

The September Christchurch Earthquake

Published in late 2010 in Challenge Weekly
As I write, it is the day after the Canterbury September earthquake. I want to wish all those in Christchurch whose lives have been so deeply affected all God's blessing and strength.
I have been pondering a theological response to this event. Some might see it as the judgment of God, a warning shot to NZ or even Christchurch itself for her idolatry and sin. While this is possible as the Scriptures do warn of such events, it is a dangerous position to take without revelation to that effect. Usually when God brings such judgment there is a warning with consequences. Whether or not this right on this occasion of which I am dubious, we believers should take time to ponder whether we are truly living full of for God full on, turn from sin and seek to honour him.
Another possible perspective is to see here a pointer to the imminent return of Christ based on the signs of the second coming (Matt 24). This is possible, but seismic studies do not s…

Europe and Islam

Published late in 2010 in Challenge WeeklyHave you noticed what is going on in our world? Almost daily some issue concerning Islam and western relations is in the news. As I write it is the Commonwealth Games in Delhi under threat from the Mujahideen. Before this, it was the threat to burn the Quran in Florida. The Ground Zero mosque remains a burning issue. Recently, France banned the Burqa. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a consequence of this tension. A little further back we have the Bali bombings, 7/7 in London and 9/11 in New York. The threat of Al Qaeda casts a shadow everyday; where and how will they strike next? We live with continuous tension between Islam and the western world. Here in NZ with a small Muslim population, thankfully this is not yet a real issue. But, as we look around, the temperature is rising.
On my recent trip to Europe I felt this tension strongly. In Turkey, the most secular Muslim country, I was taken aback by their nationalism and religious fervo…

Easter – a time to imagine: Auckland Church Leaders share an Easter message

Something I wrote which was adapted with input from Richard Waugh in particular, and a few others who contributed minor adjustments. Published in the NZ Herald Saturday 3 April; see
Imagine there is a God who is loving, just and good. Suppose this God formed the world, full of beauty and with people like us in it. Imagine God's plan is for a world full of goodness, beauty, and love, free of horror, suffering and death.
Consider that this world was corrupted and became flawed, no longer utterly good but a mix of beauty and torment, suffering and joy, life and death. It is now a perplexing place; full of goodness and love, yet broken with the horror of earthquakes, tsunami, war, disease, struggle, and the inevitability of death.
Imagine then, that God resolved to 'save' this world; to deal with the horror and suffering. How might that look? For many, it would look like a revolution with God coming deci…