Transcript of my sixth talk exploring the issues around Christianity and Peak Oil. This is about 7600 words, click full post for the text.
Good morning and welcome as we renew our sessions this morning talking about the end of the world, a suitably judgemental theme for Advent. The genre of apocalypse; the best examples in the Bible are the book of Daniel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation in the New Testament, the end of the biblical sequence as a whole, it was a very influential genre between around 200 BC to 200 AD OK? It was very much the flavour of the thinking of those times and it has its roots in particular political events going on at that time, in particular the rule of the Roman Empire on the Promised Land, and the sense within the Jewish people that things weren't going as they had been promised and so the sense of hope and expectation got transferred into something a little bit more cosmic rather than focusing down on the concrete historical expectations. Maccabee, are people aware of the Maccabean revolt which was successful for a while in the second century BC, that was very much the political side of this environment, the Maccabee's led the revolt of the faithful but they ended up getting slaughtered. They had a kingdom for about twenty, thirty years but the Maccabeans, who were seen as righteous ended up getting slaughtered and you started to get a sense at this time of a future hope for the faithful which wasn't wholly bound in to the present history. So you had the adoption of the Resurrection becoming more prominent now.
Now apocalyptic as a genre has different forms, as you can imagine from reading Daniel and Revelation there are all sorts of visions going on, lots and lots of symbolism, all these beasts with various horns and things sprouting out of their heads and it is very much something which is politically applicable. So the beasts for example are normally gentile kingdoms, and the horns coming out of the beasts are the rulers of the different gentile kingdoms. So you can map quite closely, not perfectly, but quite closely a lot of the symbolic language in something like the book of Revelation on to the environment of the first century, the political environment of the first century. So that's that.
Now there are two different forms of apocalyptic - they can be vertical and the gnostic apocalypses are examples, very good examples of this and this is really where someone is lifted up into the realm of the angels, into the cosmic heaven and they see the truth, and we were talking a little bit about the gnostics before - about gnosticism is all about gaining access to the heavenly realm through understanding the truth and leaving the world behind. That's not actually Christian apocalyptic but there are elements of that which come in. So you have a vertical sense of apocalypse, which is going up into the heavenly realms, but you also have a horizontal realm of apocalypse which is much more biblical, so for example, Isaiah 24 is an example of this, where God brings the present structures of the world to destruction in order to accomplish his purposes within the world. So it is very much embedded in the historical narrative. Does that make sense as a general distinction?
So various themes in apocalyptic, that history is coming to a close. There is a cosmic cataclysm and there is a consummation of God's purposes and a recreation, and this has its roots in the prophetic criticisms of the status quo. You can see how it grows out of the prophecy, especially in the Old Testament. As I mentioned Isaiah 24 to 26 is a good example, but Ezekiel that definitely counts as one of the visionary sorts. So it has its roots in the prophetic literature. The one thing to be aware of which I have quoted in a couple of sermons recently, don't need to listen to it really, "within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, in other words 250BC to 200AD, within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, covering a wide range of styles, genres, political persuasions and theological perspectives, there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor which they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events". (Tom Wright)
Apocalyptic was a genre that was spread more widely than the Jewish people, and so you had the further Eastern apocalyptic literature which was much more about the end of everything. The Jews were much more concerned in having their roots in a prophetic side about criticising the unjust political arrangements and seeing God's activity as breaking into the world to act to bring about his purposes. So going back to the differences between the vertical and the horizontal, Jewish apocalyptic was much more concerned with the horizontal, God acting in history, not so much about leaving the world behind, destroying the world and being lifted up into the heavens. Alright, there's a very, very political thing.
Now, TEOTWAWKI, "The end of the world as we know it." One of the things of the internet you get all these acronyms and this one comes up quite a lot. There are lots of ways in which, I've gone through the list here, but I realise we can add in the fear of nuclear war, which was much more prevalent say in the sixties or seventies. There are all these different ways in which we as a society, or elements within our society, fasten onto to something which forecasts imminent doom. And there is a particular if you like mental structure which fastens on to these things and says this is why we are doomed, no this is why we're doomed, or add them all together and this is why we are doomed, and what's going on is that we are actually echoing the cultural shape of apocalyptic. In other words even if we are not aware of it we are interpreting events and information through the lens of apocalypse. OK? And people might say this is something that I have come across a lot in terms of debates and so forth, and they say, "Hang on I can't be influenced by apocalyptic because I'm not a Christian, I don't believe in that sort of stuff." Well it's a little bit like saying, "I've never read any Greek literature, I've never read Plato, therefore my thinking isn't shaped by it." It is something which is diffuse throughout our civilisation, OK. It is part of if you like the bedrock of our thinking, the river bed through which our thinking flows like the water.
So apocalyptic is very, very influential in the way that we, our culture understands, there is if you like an historical memory of this promise that the world is going to come to an end, and so there is a bit of us as a community which fastens on to these things, saying this is why we are doomed, and it starts to replay this process of apocalyptic.
Now it has a common shape. The world is wicked. Which is not really up for dispute, but the world, our present social arrangements and structure is wicked and God's wrath is coming to destroy it through this doom, this apocalypse. And the righteous will be redeemed and the wicked they will be punished, and what you then have is a new creation, OK? And there are lots of examples of this, I wonder how many of you are familiar with the 'left behind' sequence, which I have talked about sometimes before, which is semi-Christian version of this. The one which is fairly clear is about peak oil, you get, I have mentioned before, these people called doomers, and they say that because of peak oil, because of the contraction in available energy, because of the way that people react when they go hungry, they start to kill each other, civilisation throughout the world will collapse and in order to survive you have got to go off on all these survival courses, learn how to live off the land, go and live in a hut somewhere in the mountains, wait for all the cities to destroy themselves and then you will inherit the earth. And these are rampant atheists who develop this argument and can you see that the shape of what's being described - you've got a wicked world, you have got the righteous who will learn their survival skills, you've got the wicked who will be destroyed in the cities, there will be a great doom and collapse and then the righteous will come down from the hills and inherit the earth. In a new creation, a new garden of Eden. It's the shape that I am trying to get at. Does that make sense?
And you can see it on global warming, that's another one, James Lovelock, making these predictions about the world's going to come to an end, everyone’s going to be flooded, oh, but the British Isles won't be a bad place to live, and we need to hang on to our science and technology, because obviously that's what's is going to save us and then after the cataclysm then there is this new world within which we can live. This isn't the Christian vision of apocalypse.
Quote from James Allison "The commonly held understanding of hell [i.e. this punishment of the wicked] remains trapped within the apocalyptic imagination, that is, it is the result of a violent separation between the good and the evil worked by a vengeful God. It seems to me that if hell is understood thus we have quite simply not understood the Christian faith."
A challenging quotation.
Drawing on what I said last week about wrath, let's have a think about what is Jesus saying about the end of the world? Jesus having his agony in Gethsemane, quotation from a particular song that I like, "Everyone’s having a good time except Jesus who can't help talking about the end of the world." Because Jesus uses this language. But what is Jesus doing with the language of apocalyptic? Well, as I say he was living in the midst of the time when this language was prevalent. When everyone accepted this apocalyptic framework, that was if you like the common language of his time, but he is subverting it. He is subverting it, he is doing something different with it, if I can put it like this, he is not a doomer, he had something much more positive and inspirational to share.
Now the trouble with apocalyptic, what you might call the doomer perspective, it that it is dualist. It's all about splitting up, you have got splitting up between the good and evil. You have got a split between heaven and earth and you have got a split in time between now and the future. OK? And what Jesus does is overcome these dualisms. And just to work back, I'm going to talk mostly about that one, but that, do you need much persuading that Jesus is overcoming this division between the righteous and the wicked? You know he comes to sinners, not to the righteous, he spends all his time having meals with the prostitutes and the tax-collectors and the religious authorities criticise him for it. He is trying to overcome this division between those who are pure, who keep all the purity laws and so forth and those get excluded for various reasons, because they haven't got the right number of limbs, or they can't walk, he spends all his time with those who are wounded, not with those who are righteous. Make sense? That's the thing about that. That's if you like just a social side.
And this one, the great division between the realm of heaven and the realm of earth, symbolised by the curtain in the temple which gets torn into, the one word rejection of that is incarnation, you can't get more fundamental to the Christian belief. So at the heart of Christianity is an overcoming of these dualisms, these splits - think of that as being incarnation, think of that as Jesus going to the wounded, and I am going to spend most of my time thinking about between now and the future. Because what Jesus is doing is if you like bringing the end of the world to bear on how people live in the present moment. That's his agenda if you like.
Now a way of describing it, and I'm sorry to use long words, a way of describing it is to say that Jesus shifts our perspective from apocalyptic to eschatology. Eschatology is simply the study of the last things, the eschaton is the end, it's the full stop. It's the last moment the last judgement. So eschatology is the study of the last things, and the last things are of course the major theme in Advent as we look forward to Jesus second coming.
And so a phrase we might think of if is that we live in the end times, in other words Christians are called to live in the light of the end of the world, in the light of the last judgement. Now most of the time when Jesus is talking about this, he uses images that are sudden. They will come like a thief in the night. OK. Or think about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, or the story about looking after your house, he emphasises suddenness, the immediate nature of it and so we have to live always as if it is about to happen. I saw a tea-cup, a mug the other day which said "Jesus is coming, look busy". Which captures something. And there is a phrase, I'm sorry to use the jargon, but it captures things, there is a phrase which Christian theology uses to talk about this perspective and its called a realised eschatology. What that means is that the end of the world in breaking in an applicable way now. So we live in the light of it now. It is not something that is happening in the future to which we needn't pay any attention.
Think of a bus driving along a mountain pass, imagine that the driver has absolute certainty and conviction that he will get to his destination safely. And that if for example he should go off the edge of the mountain, there are these wonderful angels who will lift the bus back on to the road. OK? That bus driver will view things rather differently than the bus driver who doesn't have that certainty but expects something dangerous to be possible and therefore pays attention to that present moment and lives if you like consciously and attentively to ensure that he drives properly and doesn't go off the edge of the cliff. Apocalypse is the first bus driver who has got a certainty about where things are going and therefore doesn't need to worry too much about what happens in the meantime. That's the 'left behind' understanding. OK? That's the understanding that says, "Yes let's have a war between Israel and the Arabs because that will bring about the Second Coming." It is that ideology.
But realised eschatology, what I am describing, says that we have to concentrate and live in the light of it now. We actually have to pay very very close attention to each moment in time because the judgement could be just around the corner. Does that make sense? Right. And we have a different way of describing it, we talk about it as being living in the Kingdom. You know, lots of standard Christian language and doctrine has its roots in this perspective. So we talk about as being living in the Kingdom. And I want to talk about it slightly differently about imagining a different future. This is Stanley Spencer’s "Cookham Resurrection" as if you like the vision which structures Christian ways of thought that that which was inaugurated on Easter morning shapes and conditions the way that we live here and now, OK? This is the foundational moment for Christian life and we live in the light of that.
So I want to talk about the nature of Christian imagination, but certainly this applies to me, I suspect it applies to others as well, there is this temptation to long for an apolcalypse in the way that I have been describing which is a little bit gnostic and dualist. And it is rooted in a hatred of the present system and a desire for judgement. For all these wicked oil companies who are exploiting the world, pumping out carbon dioxide, which are going to cause lots of destruction in the world, it is saying this is wrong – aaaargh! It is a very human response that those who are suffering or those who care about those who are suffering to long for God to act, for there to be same cataclysm and to say aaargh destroy it because it is causing so much pain. That if you like is the psychological root of the desire for apocalypse. And it is closely tied in to this sense of judgement and discrimination. It doesn’t even have to be I am innocent, so much as they are guilty, God destroy them, God damn them, OK.
But of course this is not the Christian perspective, because we are taught ever so clearly and directly that we are not to judge. And what this means isn’t just I’m not going to blame someone for something, it’s a let go the whole game and business of judging, of blaming, that whole game is what actually drives apocalypse, it drives lots of other things as well but we are to let go of this business of judging. Not in the sense of letting go of discrimination, of seeking to discern what the will of God is, but to stop playing the game of them and us, to stop playing the game of this lot are the righteous, we keep the rules, we keep the law, and that lot aren’t. It’s to accept that everyone is in the same boat, that we are all sinners, like it or not, we are all liable to judgement, and therefore giving up on judgement as a whole, not just sort of other people, but also ourselves, if you like we are set free from the curse of the law as Paul puts it. That’s what Paul’s talking about. We let go of this business of judgement.
Now Jesus says we must be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect and it gives this wonderful image of what that perfection is. He says the Father sends the rain on the just and the unjust, there is no judgement on the rain, it is not the wicked have this dark cloud above them pouring down rain and thunder and lightning, there is something much more generous and open-hearted about the perfection which we are called to follow. So this is very much at the heart of the Christian vision, that we let go of this process of judgement, of seeking to separate out the good and the evil. Think of what original sin is, when you bite the fruit you get the knowledge of good and evil, and what Jesus is doing is overcoming that original sin, He is taking away the consequences of that knowledge of good and evil and therefore “I’m good, you’re evil”, or even “I’m evil and you’re good.” Both of them are actually quite a long way from the Christian point of view, you need to let go of this process.
And the heart of it is a settled acceptance of the Father’s will. This is the Gethsemane moment. Not my will but thine be done. And therefore allowing God to be in charge of this process of judgement. And therefore being obedient. Obedience is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Not being good, it’s all about obedience. And it is to have our imaginations shaped by who Christ is and what He shows. To follow in the steps that He has laid out for us. Which brings us to how we hope because hope is a fundamental Christian virtue. It maybe the Christian virtue. Faith, hope and love, put them all together.
The fundamental claim that roots all of Christian life and behaviour is that the Kingdom has begun. Now I have talked to you about everything being rooted in the Easter morning event. This is the good news, the evangel, that there is a new King. And remember this is what the original evangelists were, they were the heralds sent out after a battle to proclaim that a battle has taken place, there has been a victory, there is a new King. That’s what an evangelist is. OK, and Paul takes up this language and uses it to talk about Jesus, there has been a battle, there has been a victory and now there is a new King. And if you like the whole point of being a Christian is to live under this new King, this new authority.
And the Kingdom is breaking into the world as we speak, it’s not something that will be accomplished all at once at the end of time, it is something which is beginning, we are engaged in this process of starting to live by the rules of the Kingdom before we get to that point. That’s what the Church is. The Church is that community which lives by the rules of the Kingdom. In other words the Church is all those who accept that Jesus is Lord. Think of it like that, and live by it. That God is in charge, that His purposes will be accomplished. It is not up to us to achieve the salvation of the world, the world has been saved. We don’t have to save the world. You know: we don’t have to stand up giving talks about peak oil in order to save the world.
And a phrase which I am very fond of: we are resident aliens, if you like, we are immigrants within this community, we have ways of life which don’t belong to the world, we have ways of life which belong to the Kingdom, which is coming but not fully here yet. So we belong, our ways of life, our hearts are set upon a different Kingdom. And one of the crucial things about Christian hope, I said it’s a virtue. The point about virtues is that they are rooted in a decision, a settled will and they are practiced, they are a habit. It’s not that we feel hopeful. Christian hope is not a feeling, it doesn’t rest upon our emotional make-up. It is a decision to act according to this information about the new King. It’s a decision and a way of life. It’s not an internal emotional state.
I want to read a passage to you, this was a photograph I took on the beach this morning and I don’t know if you can see, there is a man here working on the beach digging up some crustaceans, mussels I guess, can you see it? And you’ve got his reflection, his actual body is here but his reflection is there. The point about the photo is that it’s before the dawn, the sun hadn’t come up but it is light. I think it’s a very good metaphor for where we are now, that we know the sun is rising and we can see as a result of that light but the sun hasn’t actually dawned yet. So have that as an image and this is John Chapter 3 verses 14 –21. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This is the verdict. The verdict if you like is the crisis, this is the judgement. “Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
We’re all working here in the darkness, and before we know about Christ we don’t really know whether our work is good or not. Once the light starts to dawn we can see the nature of the lives we are embedded in, and once the light comes up and we can start to see, that is when the crisis comes, that is when we have a choice to make. Do we stay trapped in the works of darkness or do we go towards the light? I love this bit. “They will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” What’s that fear? It’s the fear of judgement. It’s the fear of being condemned. And it is the removal of that fear of condemnation which enables the walking into the light. The whole point about the good news it is that the process of judgement doesn’t have to apply. And the way it does apply and there is some very good, interesting parables that Jesus uses that talk about this, think about the parable of the talents, “Out of your own mouth, your judgement comes.” But if you believe that you are going to be judged and condemned for what you have been doing, then you resist what’s coming. But if you trust in God being benign, you are enabled to walk into the light. That is really the kernel of Christian hope, that we can change from how we have been. That we can turn towards the light and start to welcome it, as it comes, and that is a theme that runs throughout John’s gospel, it’s just particularly clear there I think.
So, the Christian imagination, it’s actually not about imagining the apocalypse because that’s the worldly vision but Jesus’s imagination is rather more rooted in love, it’s not about wrath in the sense of God getting very angry with the wicked, this is what I went through a couple of weeks ago. But the revelation, the light which is coming in, is about the truth of who we are. And it is to say it doesn’t have to be like this, this world which is not set up in the way that God intends us to live, this is not God’s intention. But the light which is dawning is revealing what God’s intention is, and it exposes the truth about who we are and how we live and therefore it sets us free from these processes. We now have a choice. Whereas before we were simply in darkness and we did not know, now we have the choice because the light of Christ is dawning. When Jesus says “I come not to bring peace but a sword”, this is what He is describing. That whereas before there was if you like a peace in the darkness, now that the light has come up the choice comes, the choice can be painful and there will be a clash between those who turn towards the light and go towards the light and those who stay in the darkness and don’t want people to go to the light, because it threatens their comfortable darkness. This is why those who turn to the light will be persecuted. That’s the way of the cross.
And it is profoundly political, small “p”, profoundly political in implication because it’s all to do with the structures of our lives, it’s about how we live, the choices that we make from day to day. And the wonderful thing is that the Kingdom is breaking in. Now. That’s the realised bit, realised eschatology. And we can share in it now. This is what the life of the Christian community is for. That we share in this Kingdom life which is the light, which leaves all the judgement and condemnation behind, because that is all about the apocalypse. Not about Christ’s vision of the end.
And this wonderful word “Metanoia” which gets translated as repent, which is fair enough, but it’s about changing our hearts, setting our hearts on the light, turning our hearts away from the darkness and turning to the light. Hence you have Jesus’s first words in the Gospel of Mark, “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, turn your hearts around and believe in the Good News.” That was true then, and is just as true now, it will remain true for as long as there are Christians, until He comes again in glory. Amen, come Lord Jesus.
I’ve got some other things I want to say, but I am going to pause there for any questions, comments. Does it make sense?
What is Y2K? The year 2000 the computer bug, not a bug really the way in which the computer systems were built up just to have two digits, so ’98, ’99, they realised that when it got to year 2000 the systems would be reset and because all the banking systems were built on this old technology they thought aaagrh this is going to cause a financial collapse, economic collapse, end of the world as we know it, blah, blah,. I hear varying things about Y2K, that some people say, oh it was all nonsense we got through it, and I read other things about people who were actually involved in reprogramming computers for banks who say actually we came very close to something very nasty happening, but because it was a problem with a deadline that was clearly understood, they could actually solve it and sort it. And there was a huge amount of effort put into solving it and sorting it, but those who I have read about and read stories from who were involved in the reprogramming said, Oh it was serious, thank God that we actually managed to solve the problem in time. Of course everyone thinks of the Y2K problem of being this great panic and illusion. There we go.
Redemption or salvation is the overcoming of those divisions, within us as much as anything else, that’s what the healing of our hearts is, that we are no longer if you like terrified by the darkness we’ve got and through not being terrified of it, through not thinking this darkness within me if going to expose me to terrible judgement and hellfire, through not being afraid of it we are healed of it and therefore that darkness gets redeemed and turned into something good. The problem is precisely the fear, and I keep quoting this, the command repeated most often in Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” To sum up the Bible, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic.” Bit of a sacrilegous comment!
Yes, I think the last judgement is rooted in that passage from John I read, that it’s not something where someone is angry, it’s not driven by anger, or wrath in that sense, it’s driven by – do you turn to the light? It’s like it is self-imposed, those who turn to the light are leaving judgement behind, but those who resist the light are embracing judgement, does that make sense, so Jesus is the judge, He is the arbiter, all judgement has been handed over from the Father to the Son. He is if you like guideline, but He doesn’t judge people, when you look at how he relates in His ministry to all those who are excluded or wounded, think of the Samaritan woman at the well, for example, He doesn’t judge or condemn, He invites. It’s either you leave behind this process of being caught up in the game of sin and judgement and separating out the good and the bad, or you actually turn to Him and allow Him to shape your life. So there is still a judgement but it’s not, this is the point to the James Allison quote, that hell is not to be understood through the apocalypse in that sense, through eschatology. It is the end of the world, it is a judgement but it’s not about wrath, which is what I went into a fortnight ago.
The way, it’s interesting how it’s translated, because I can’t remember exactly the Greek word, it’s the same word for judgement crisis and decision. So you could say that the last judgement is the last decision. That’s your last chance to turn to Christ. To turn to the light. The crisis is something which applies each and every moment that we are alive. That’s really the point that we live under that judgement every moment, and therefore how we live, we are exposed to judgement now and we make that choice here and now, we make that choice about whether we stay in the realms of darkness or we turn towards the light. I will go on to the next just handful of slides, because it will make the point clearer.
It’s not about moralism. To give a one sentence point, it’s not about, Christianity is not about moralism. We are halfway through this sequence of talks and I thought it might be a good moment to just review where we have been and set out where we are actually going, because we began by talking about Jeremiah, because I think Jeremiah is a very appropriate prophet for our day. He was living at a time in the twenty, thirty years before the exile and he said to the authorities we are living in a time of judgement and you have not been obedient to God, you are trusting in your own strength and power and therefore terrible things are coming, and of course then terrible things did come, Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was torn down, all the leaders were taken off into exile, there was huge slaughter and so forth, and I think we have much to learn from Jeremiah and that scriptural strand of thinking that he represents. I then spent two sessions talking about the world problems that we face, at the beginning about peak oil, this is what I am particularly interested in and I think it’s the one which is really shaping our current world events in a profound way.
But then really stepping back from that specific problem and talking about the problem of exponential growth, in terms of human population, use of resources, availability of land, soil, farmland and so forth, water, that these are all together, they all wrap up, these are all common symptoms, of I believe a spiritual problem. But really this is if you like, the context of our judgement that we are going to experience. And then I am doing three sessions setting out in theological thinking some theological tools, if you like, which will then be applied.
Now the first theological tool was idolatry. That we can’t put anything in the place of God, and that if we put our trust in something else, because I talked mostly about science as a technique, but idolatry can apply in all sorts of ways, it is about how we structure our lives, and that if we structure our lives around something which isn’t the living God, then we are actually embracing death in a very literal, concrete sense most of the time. So that’s the first tool, idolatry, discerning where there is idol worship.
The second tool is the language of God’s wrath and I was wanting to disentangle if you like the pagan sense of wrath as being an angry God who has had his pride offended and therefore jumps up and down in anger and wants a sacrifice to appease, and a more Christian and Jewish sense from the temple period, where God is benign, acts only from love in order to redeem the people whom he loves, and therefore the ways in which our language of God’s wrath can apply is only in terms of us as a culture, as people, experiencing the consequences of our actions.
So for example, in the trivial sense, if you put your hand in a fire, you will be burnt. This does not mean that God’s angry with you, it means that this is the nature of the creation he has bestowed upon us. And that creation is consistent and established on certain rules and structures, and if we go against those rules and structures, like putting your hand in the fire, then we will experience pain as a consequence. OK, so that’s what I’m wanting to say that that’s a Christian sense of God’s wrath, not the pagan sense of a God leaping up and down because his pride has been hurt.
And then today talking about apocalypse, distinguishing again a more pagan sense of apocalypse as something which is certain and doesn’t actually have a daily application now to what I think Jesus is talking about as something which is bearing in upon us each and every moment of our lives, and that we have to change our lives according to that vision of the end of the world, and we have to change our lives now: "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand". OK, that I think is a crucial theological resource for understanding things. So does that make sense? That’s the first half and these are the tools. What I want to do is go on and apply those tools in particular contexts. So next week I am going to do a talk called The Green Bible, because the Old Testament in particular is full of commands and advice about how we are to live in the world. And we have systematically gone against those commands because we have been worshipping idols. And therefore because of the way we have damaged God’s creation, we will experience God’s wrath as the consequences of that idolatry. OK? But because God is not wrathful and opens up this vision of the future for us, it’s not final. So it’s not doom, it’s eschatology to go back to what I was saying earlier. There’s a whole session next week, hopefully over time as we go through each one you will see how these theological concepts which I have been outlining apply and make a difference.
The one after that, I’m really going to be talking about social justice, poverty, world-wide poverty and the way in which this is so radically going against God’s commands. You know there are two thousand specific verses in the Bible about poverty and about poverty being abhorrent to God and our culture is built upon the widespread acceptance of poverty, think about the story of Dives and Lazarus in Luke’s gospel. The rich man enjoys all the fine things while there is a beggar at his gate and it’s not that the rich man has done something active against the beggar to cause him to be poor, it is simply that the rich man ignores him, and the rich man is then plunged into hell. OK, so that’s the theme for that one.
Then I want to talk about, specifically about Islam and terrorism and if you like why the Islamic perspective sees the West as the realm of Satan, because actually I think there are some very theologically astute criticisms made from that perspective which we need to listen to. But also to talk about the way in which foreign relations are dealt with in the Bible, because in the Old Testament especially, there is a lot about how the rulers of a society are to behave with regard to international affairs, and then finally I want to talk about worship. About the New Covenant, about how we are called into a different way of worshipping and how there are different ways of worshipping within different religions, within Christianity itself, but I want to really come down to the roots of what the New Covenant is about. OK, applying those concepts still.
And then the last handful I am going to be talking really about the Church, beginning with one of my favourite verses from Hosea, “With you is my contention O Priest.” Hosea Chapter 4 has this wonderful description of the way in which the idolatry of the community has led to environmental devastation. “Therefore the lands mourns and the fish die.” I mean how appropriate can a Biblical verse be in an environment where our fisheries are collapsing through so much rapacious greed being applied to how we fish as a community and society. And he goes on and says, “With you is my contention O Priest.” In other words it is because the religious authorities got it wrong that the world has gone wrong. And so I will have a bit of a rant.
Then penultimate session about discipleship, if you like the contention bit is going to be about all the bad things about the church and the discipleship bit is about describing the positive vision of what the church is for. Jesus doesn’t say go and convert everyone to Christianity in a sort of intellectual sense, he says go and make disciples of all nations. The church’s business is the making of disciples, and disciples are people who live in the light of the Kingdom. They live according to the laws of the Kingdom, they live according to the practices and customs of the Kingdom, not of the world. And so in that session what I want to do is spell out what it means to be a disciple, and how the church needs to function in order that what the church does is make disciples.
And then the last session I’ll sum up and gather the different threads together. So this is half time, done some necessary spade work, and hopefully over the next three or four sessions you will see it being applied and that will hopefully really help to make the concepts work and make sense for you as you see them being applied to different contexts.
Hang on to the image of the bus driver that I used where a faceless bus driver says he is going to get to the end no matter what, whereas I think the Christian bus driver is paying very close attention to every moment, because at any moment a lorry could come round the corner and knock him off, for example. So I’m not fatalist but having said that I do think there is something important about accepting that God is in charge and that God will achieve his purposes in the end. Let me give you an analogy, this is something that my theology tutor gave to me many years ago which I think is wonderful, that God is the perfect dancer. Think of “Strictly Come Dancing” or whatever, and we are the bride, we are taking the female part of the process and God is groom taking the male part of the process, and therefore God leads, and our purpose is to follow God’s lead. But the thing is we get things wrong, we’re not really that good a dancer. But God is so good a dancer that he can take our mistakes and incorporate them into the dance so that his purpose, his dancing is accomplished. We still have the ability to make mistakes, we still have the ability to experience God’s wrath falling down upon us, but God remains in charge, God remains the one leading the process and his purposes will be accomplished in the end, which I think gives a good balance between our ability to choose and God’s sovereignty. Does that make sense?
I think we are on the dance floor already, I think that’s what … we are embedded in the work of the world already. The invitation to the dance is the invitation to turn towards the light. I think there is that but it’s – you know do we actually join in with the dance, not worrying about whether we are going to get the steps right, or do we refuse to go onto the dance floor because we are so terrified that we are going to make a mistake and be condemned for it? This is why The Lord of the Dance is such a good hymn. A lot of it is tied up in it. The dance goes on. Shall we stop there? Thank you very much for coming. Next week the Green Bible, all of God’s commands about looking after our environment.