A thorough analysis of what is wrong with the Church and with evangelicalism in particular would take me far beyond my intentions, my research facilities, my energy and indeed my expertise. All I am concerned with here is theology or doctrine. Convinced way back in the 1950s (1* It was at that time that I realized that liberalism was devastating the Methodist Church in which I had been brought up. It was with great gratitude that I discovered as a student at Nottingham that belief in the authority and inspiration of the Bible could be cogently defended. Two publications in particular were godsends to me: ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God by J.I.Packer and Our Lord’s View of the Old Testament by J.W.Wenham. Both of these can still be read with profit at the time of writing this (August 2011). Would that the authority of the Bible be more widely recognized and appreciated today. The Bible is a blessed and wonderful book, a miracle in itself.) that so-called experts biased by denominational allegiance and enlightenment presuppositions were dubious guides, I have endeavoured over the years to arrive at my own understanding of what the Bible teaches. (It would seem that scholars in general accommodate themselves to their environment. This is perhaps a survival strategy. However, as I was reminded by an email recently, while the ark was built by amateurs and stayed afloat, the Titanic was built by experts and sank!) It did not take me all that long to discover, even within evangelicalism where the Bible is purportedly regarded as the final court of appeal, that there are serious discrepancies between biblical and generally received teaching. Eventually, after having dismissed Pelagius in favour of Augustine, I discovered that Augustine himself, whose impact on the churches both Catholic and Protestant has been enormous, was susceptible to radical criticism. So now with England my home country in turmoil (August 2011) I venture to suggest that Christian influence which has been gradually diminishing is likely to continue to do so unless Christians are prepared to question their beliefs, repent and seek God’s blessing in these tumultuous days (cf. 2 Chron. 7:14). After all, unexamined and uncorrected tradition was a problem throughout both the OT and NT (cf. Mark 7:1-13), and it remains so today. So, what is radically wrong with our basic thinking? What have we inherited from our forebears (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18) that is poisoning our relationship with God and with our fellow man? Why has God himself apparently become our enemy (cf. Isa. 63:8-10, etc.)?
(For more extended treatment of the following topics the reader should consult the articles listed on the Home Page)
The traditional ‘Christian’ worldview is built on the idea of original perfection. Augustine of Hippo misunderstood Genesis 1 and assumed that references to the goodness of creation meant perfection. But this is to turn the Bible on its head. Only the eternal God is perfect and, as created, temporal man is by nature imperfect or immature (cf. Heb. 3:3). He is only potentially made like God or in his image, but his ultimate goal is to be completely like him (Mt. 5:48), a feat quite beyond the capacity of fleshly animals. Because they sin, Adam and all his posterity fail to inherit the promise of eternal life (Gen. 2:17) – with One exception, the second Adam (Rom. 8:3, Heb. 2:14f.). He alone achieves man’s full potential, is perfected (Mt. 19:21; Heb. 2:10; 7:28, etc.) and becomes the exact imprint of the nature of God (Heb. 1:3 ESV). In him God completes his plan of salvation as believers are conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).
See further my:
If Adam was not a sinner until he broke the law (commandment) of which he was initially ignorant, he could not possibly have been originally righteous since righteousness can only be gained by keeping the law (Dt. 6:25; Rom. 2:13; 6:16; 1 John 3:7, etc.). In his ignorance, like Jesus the second Adam (Isa. 7:15f.), he was neither good nor evil (cf. Rom. 9:11). He knew neither the one nor the other until he had first learned and then broken the commandment (Gen. 3:22). Original righteousness is thus an absurdity. Even Jesus himself as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) was also born in ignorance (Isa. 7:15f., cf. Luke 2:40-52) and was not acknowledged as the Holy and Righteous One, the true Son of God, until he had finished his work (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 John 2:1).
See further my:
The dogma of original sin, which teaches that we all sinned ‘in Adam’, seems to be almost universally accepted in the West, though not by the Jews and the Orthodox. The problem is that it is nowhere to be found in the Bible and, if it were, the Bible would contradict itself. Texts like Psalm 51:5 are not only misinterpreted, they are frequently mistranslated. If original sin or sin ‘in Adam’ is taught in Romans 5:12 which is flanked by Romans 4:1-8 and 6:23, then Paul is at odds with himself. In Romans 7:9f. he clearly teaches that he himself ‘imitated’, or rather repeated, Adam and Eve’s sins at the beginning (pace Art 9 of the C of E). If original perfection, as opposed to original goodness, that is, usefulness (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3f.), is a myth, so original sin and ‘fall’ are likewise myths. These are clearly alien to Scripture. For (a) we are all born like Adam ignorant of law (Dt. 1:39; Heb. 5:12-14) apart from which there is no sin (Rom. 4:15; 7:9f.), (b) we all learn the commandment/law from our parents (Prov. 1:8; 4:1-9; 6:20, etc.), and then (c) when the commandment eventually dawns on our consciousness (Rom. 7:9f.), we all break it, sin on our own account (Ps. 106:6; Rom. 5:12; 6:23) and thus lose our innocence.
See further my:
Traditional covenant theology in its various forms is at odds with what the Bible itself teaches. The idea that God made a covenant with creation which lacks conscious intelligence is manifestly false. The word ‘covenant’ implies at least minimal agreement or response. Thus a unilateral covenant is a contradiction in terms. In light of this it is less than surprising that in the Bible creation is commanded (Gen. 1, cf. Rev. 4:11). And animals which are part of creation are so too (e.g. Ps. 1 K. 17:4; Mt. 10:29; Luke 8:24f., etc.). This ought to alert us to the fact that initially Adam, though physically adult, received a single divine commandment like an infant. Thus the first covenant was established with Noah by which time mankind had developed somewhat from original infancy and animal ignorance. It was a temporal not an eternal covenant (Gen. 8:22). The law too was temporal (Heb. 8:7,13) and also related to this world and the flesh (Rom. 7:1; Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10). By contrast, the promises made to Abraham and David (Ps. 89:28,34) had eternity in view and were fulfilled in Jesus who himself established an eternal covenant (Heb. 9:14f.; 13:20). The new covenant has a heavenly orientation but because it overlaps the old, misunderstanding is ready to hand. We need to note that believers in Jesus are spiritually reborn before they have sloughed off their flesh.
See further my:
Traditional theology is dominated by a so-called disastrous Fall. But if Adam, not having kept the law, was never righteous, from what did he fall? Obviously at worst he lost his innocence as all children do. This is proved by the fact that the sinful parents in the wilderness all died but their innocent children entered the Promised Land (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:3,29-33). So the word ‘Fall’ used with respect to Adam is quite inappropriate. After all, all children eventually lose their innocence and become sinners as Jesus indicated (John 8:34, cf. James 2:10). Just as Adam and Eve (after a fashion) broke the commandment and became transgressors, so did Paul (Rom. 7:9f.) and the rest of us (Rom. 3:23). Since all fail to gain life by keeping the commandment that promises life (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16), all sin by breaking that commandment and so earn its wages in death (Gen. 5; Rom. 5:12).
Curse and Corruption
Since it had a beginning in time, creation was subjected by divine decree to corruption (decay) from the beginning (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12). Land was only ‘cursed’ to the extent that it was abused or neglected (Gen. 3:17-19; Prov. 24:30ff.) by man whose job it was to tend and care for it, that is, to exercise dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15). Since it has a beginning (Gen. 1:1), creation must by divine decree have an end (Mt. 24:35; 28:20), and since it is physically visible (Rom. 1:20), it is transient by nature (2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 12:27). From the start it was therefore neither capable of nor intended to be restored or redeemed (1 Cor. 15:50b). It is by nature ephemeral (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 2 Cor. 4:18).
See further my:
Contrary to Manichean and Greek teaching, Scripture teaches that the flesh which derives from the earth is good, that is, serviceable (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3f.). Like the earth, however, it is inherently transient (Gen. 6:3). The flesh being intrinsically mortal (Rom. 6:12; 2 Cor. 4:11) is fed by perishable food and so perishes; the spirit is fed by spiritual food and endures (Mt. 4:4; John 6:22-63). This being so, our natural bodies need transformation by necessity (2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; Phil. 3:21).
See further my:
First, traditionally, regeneration has been regarded as the antidote of original sin. Two points need to be made here. First, as we have seen, original sin as traditionally conceived does not exist and in any case cannot be either transmitted or legitimately imputed to the innocent (Ex. 23:7; 1 K. 21; Prov. 17:15; Ezek. 18; Luke 23, etc.). Second, regeneration in Scripture is seen as a necessity not because of sin but because we are mortal, corruptible flesh by nature. The clear implication of John 3:1-8 is that the fleshly or natural man as such cannot go to heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50), thus rebirth, birth from above or spiritual birth is a ‘natural’ necessity. Second, precisely because the flesh, like the earth, is inherently corruptible, futile or subject to decay (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12), it must be replaced by a spiritual (1 Cor. 15:44) or heavenly body, one that is ‘not made by hand’ (2 Cor. 5:1). In other words, since all material (visible) things are ephemeral, the NT points to the eternal or what is ‘not made by hand’ (cf. Mark 14:58). And since man cannot keep the law which promises life (Rom. 3:20), he must look to Jesus who did keep it for salvation (Heb. 2:9-13).
See further my:
The prophets of the OT were given only limited revelation and were naturally earth-centred in their outlook (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). In light of this it is not at all surprising that faced with universal corruption and decay they thought in terms of healing and restoration (1 K. 13:6, etc.), even of the restoration of the earth (Isa. 65:17-25; 66:22). In other words, they had an understanding of earthly but not of heavenly things (cf. John 3:12,31). Since chronologically they preceded Jesus, they lacked the revelation that he brought (Heb. 1:2, cf. John 8:23). However, the covenant that Jesus inaugurated was, in contrast with the temporal old covenant, eternal and could only be fully implemented or consummated in eternity. So in the NT the new creation is not the old restored but the eternal heaven, the throne of God (Mt. 5:34, cf. Heb. 9:11,24). For example, when Peter refers to the world to come he does so by quoting Isaiah (65:17) but significantly adding the words ‘where righteousness dwells’ (2 Pet. 3:13). If we ask where righteousness dwells, all we have to do is recall the Lord’s prayer to remind ourselves that it dwells in heaven (Mt. 6:10, cf. v.33; 5:10,20). (On righteousness, see F.F.Bruce, Hebrews, p.20.) Corresponding with the new heavens and new earth is the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2) which, since it is the reality and not a shadow, is also not the old restored. Rather, like the temple (Mark 14:58), it is the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22, cf. 11:16; 13:14) and since we are born from above, it is our mother (Gal. 4:26). Needless to add therefore our citizenship is heavenly (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19; Col. 3:1).
So the currently (2011) widespread notion that the present creation will be redeemed because it was once perfect but is now ‘fallen’ is a palpable error. The truth is that the present material creation which was ‘made by hand’ (Ps. 102:25; Isa. 45:11f.; 48:13) and hence plainly transient (Ps. 90:2; Mt. 24:35) will be replaced by one that is ‘not made by hand’ (2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 1:12; 9:11,24; 11:13-16).
See further my:
The Resurrection Transformation of Jesus
It is widely held that since Jesus was transformed at his resurrection, so the present creation also will be transformed. The idea is a complete fallacy contingent on the ideas of original sin, fall and curse referred to above. There is in fact no connection in Scripture between the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of creation. As already noted, just as it is necessary (Gk dei) for flesh, and therefore the incarnate Jesus, to undergo new birth (John 3:7), so it is necessary (Gk dei) for flesh to be replaced at ascension transformation (1 Cor. 15:53). This was decreed by God from the beginning and gloriously fulfilled in Jesus. But since all men and women sin, they are completely unable to gain life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) and achieve the immortality and incorruption needed to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:53). Jesus, however, kept the law (Mt. 3:17; John 8:29; 15:10), died on our behalf and brought both to light for the rest of us (2 Tim. 1:10).
See further my:
The Order of Salvation
Because they believed in original sin our forebears assumed that regeneration was its cure and, not surprisingly, placed it first in the order of salvation (ordo salutis) and so baptized babies. This, however, is to stand theology on its head. Regeneration is our goal not our beginning. Adam was promised life if he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5). Along with all his posterity (Rom. 3:23; 5:12), he failed (cf. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16, etc.). Jesus, however, was an exception and succeeded, but he had to keep not only the one commandment of his early childhood but the ‘law’ of his time of testing in heathen Egypt (cf. Eve), then, following his bar mitzvah (Luke 2:40-52), the entire law of Moses (cf. Adam). In this way he pleased his heavenly Father, received the Spirit at his baptism and was born again. Thus, having gained life in accordance with the promise (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.), he then fulfilled all righteousness (Mt. 3:15). This involved his dying voluntarily and vicariously for his sheep and preparing himself for his return to glory at his ascension having finished the work he had been sent to do (John 17:4). In this way he became our pioneer (though unless we are among the end-time saints our pattern or paradigm is David, Acts 2:29,34; 13:36) into heaven itself (Heb. 2:9f.; 12:1f., cf. John 17:24). Since he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), as his disciples we follow him wherever he goes (John 12:26; 14:3,19). And as the redeemed from humankind we are first fruits for God and the Lamb (Rev. 14:4).
See further my:
Justification and Sanctification
It is imperative to realize that if what has just been sketched above is correct, then justification which for sinners is achieved by faith precedes sanctification which in the NT relates primarily to regeneration. While our forebears believed that because of original sin, faith was the fruit of the new birth, Scripture clearly implies that despite personal sin faith is always possible as Hebrews 11 would seem to show. Not for nothing did Paul say that the law, on which sin is necessarily founded and defined (Rom. 4:15; 7:8; 1 Cor. 15:56), promised life (Rom. 7:9f., cf. Gen. 2:17). In other words, if we are capable of sin, we are also capable of faith (cf. Rom. 4:5) for both are based on knowledge (law). Recognition of this is hugely important since it shows that though sin and death are rampant throughout the OT, so is faith (Heb. 11) and therefore justification (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-8). By the grace of God faith is relative (cf. Eph. 2:8) and therefore possible to all, even the heathen and children who attain to knowledge (Heb. 11:6) and understanding of (the) law (Rom. 7:1,7). According to Revelation 7:9, for instance, the number of the saved is massive and worldwide.
The Implication of Tradition
Since regeneration has traditionally occupied first place in the order of salvation, inevitably those who are not born again have been considered to be eternally lost. For Augustine who taught infant baptism and hence infant regeneration, all who were not baptized were damned as sinners ‘in Adam’. Hence the heathen were considered a massa damnata (or perditionis) or a damned mass. In line with such views it was almost inevitable that both the heathen and especially the Jews were persecuted by the medieval church and the Inquisition, though sometimes with the best of intentions. The truth is that while only those who put their faith explicitly in Christ can be assured of their salvation in this life (1 John 5:13, cf. Heb. 12:21), it is by no means certain that those who do not are damned in the next. After all, they may exercise a relative faith in God especially in their minority as many under the old covenant did.
This brings me to the doctrine of recapitulation barely referred to in the Bible (cf. Rom. 13:9; Eph. 1:10) but everywhere implied. It was of course taught by Irenaeus only to be virtually expunged from the ecclesiastical map by Augustine. The truth is, however, that we all begin at the beginning (cf. Dt. 1:39; Rom. 7:9f.; 9:11) and as individuals, like Jesus himself, recapitulate the covenant experience of the race (cf. Rom. 1-3; 7-8; Gal. 4:1-7). When Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection, he made it plain that he interpreted for them the things about himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 44f.). His concern was not merely with prediction of his coming but with his relationship with the world throughout the whole of history. To embrace the world in his atonement (1 John 2:2, cf. Heb. 9:15) he had as the second Adam to assume what needed to be saved (Heb. 2, cf. Gregory Nazienzen). In light of this we can readily believe that the time will come when a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb will cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9f. ESV).
See further my:
Those who believe in infant baptism which implies regeneration in Christ and is part and parcel of the new covenant have to all intents and purposes cut the old covenant out of their canon. If Jesus as the second Adam began at the beginning (cf. Isa. 7:15f.) and first recapitulated his forefathers’ heathen experience (Mt. 2:15) and life under the law (Luke 2:40-52) then, after his baptism, pioneered the future history of the race (cf. Eph. 4:9f.), so do those who believe in him today.
See further my:
My basic quarrel with tradition is that it presents us with a radically erroneous worldview and is far from being an adequate presentation of what the Bible teaches. Augustine of Hippo’s obsession with sin blinded him to the recognition that the material creation was inherently imperfect and defective quite apart from sin. (Note how Paul deals with the natural difference between the body of flesh and the body of glory, 1 Cor. 15:42-53.) After all, there are two ages, the first giving way to the age to come. Thus his teaching regarding original perfection, sin, fall and restoration led to his providing a thoroughly distorted framework which has perverted the understanding of the church ever since his day and, in effect, put the church at odds with history, experience and the genuine findings of modern science. He seems to have completely missed the fact that development, diminished responsibility and recapitulation are intrinsic to the biblical worldview.
See further my:
The reader who wants fuller support for my contentions should consult the articles listed on the Home Page
Some of my essays are not yet on my website but can be received on application via the Contact page