Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wikipedia and Cheating

This story, saying that Wikipedia is considering changing its editorial policy and making it more difficult for just anyone to edit is bad news for one of my random ideas.

My idea is this: How to get a high mark in an arts subject at university.

  • Find out who the examiners are or are likely to be, what subjects they know a lot about, and what areas they know a lot less about.
  • Find an area they don't know much about but which is on the fringes of the topics that are likely to come up.
  • Learn how it fits in with the topics they do know about.
  • Write an exam essay on it, making up a lot of the data that the examiners won't know.
  • Just after the exam, edit Wikipedia to say the same as you said in the exam, but in slightly different words...

Like most of the best methods of cheating, this is of course only slightly less work (if at all) than actually getting the good mark honestly. My personal favourite method is designing phase-conjugated contact lenses, one of which would look normal, but when both worn at the correct angle, could make an image of some important piece of information appear in front of your eyes. Of course, someone who could design and use such a system could probably get a very good mark on a physics exam...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two Films about Germany and WW2

Over the last week, I've been to see a couple of quite different films, both set in Germany, and both giving sympathetic portrayals of at least some of the Germans during WW2.

The Reader

The Reader is about a teenage boy who falls in love with an older woman, who has quite a few secrets. I won't say much more, because I think one of them was meant to be a twist, though I thought it was pretty obvious from the start. The woman is played by Kate Winslet, in her usual role of woman who can't keep her top on for more than 5 minutes. What is it with Kate Winslet and getting her top off? There's a kind of moral that it's better when we don't keep things secret and actually learn to talk about stuff, but that just seemed cheesy. Overall, I thought the film was fairly good, but pretty relentlessly depressing.

Valkyrie

That can't be said about the other film - Valkyrie, even though pretty much all of the good characters die at the end (well, it's a historical film about the failed von Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler - what do you expect?).

With one major exception, it's really really well made and done. I hadn't realised that von Stauffenberg did it largely because of his Christian faith - there's a great bit early on where he argues that his citizenship in heaven (or possibly in the "Sacred Germany" - Germany as a Christian region, which it had been for so long before the Nazis) trumps his loyalty to his country. His final words are "Long live our Sacred Germany." Except that whole idea is toned down a bit so that people who wouldn't recognise the allusion probably wouldn't get the point. Nor had I realised quite how close they got to succeeding...

The one exception was Tom Cruise, who managed to act as von Stauffenberg using only one single expression through the whole film - a kind of intense, efficient, ruthlessness, with very little warmth.

But having said that, it's still a great film, and one which I'm glad I watched.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hell - Getting a Balance

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

Last time I wrote about Hell, I showed that one of the extended pictures the Bible uses for Hell is eternal conscious torment. But it's important that we don't leave it at that - that we teach the "full counsel of Scripture". Because there's another important picture...

"As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all people will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. "And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to the whole human race."
Isaiah 66:22-24, TNIV

We get the same picture repeated in Revelation 22:1-6 and 14-15. Inside the city is the tree of life and those who have been forgiven - who have "washed their robes" (v14). Outside are those who have not been forgiven, excluded from the tree of life and hence from eternal life.

This is the same picture as we get from thinking about the Bible's teaching on resurrection. It teaches both that everyone will be raised from the dead (Daniel 12:1-2) and that resurrection for the believer is participation in Christ's resurrection, who rose with a greater body than he had before, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15). So what does that mean for the unbeliever?

Because the Bible gives two different pictures, it is clear that at least one of them is metaphorical (incidentally, they broadly correspond to eternal conscious torment and to annihilationism). So we can see something useful if we compare the two pictures and see what is common to both.

In both, there is continued existence for the unsaved. In one case, as suffering prisoners; in the other as corpses. That is why the argument that the Lake of Fire is described as the "second death" doesn't imply annihilation - death isn't annihilation; it is the conversion of a living body into a dead body. It therefore seems only fair to say that the final state of the unsaved will be that they still exist, but only as the ruins of their former selves. This links back to what I wrote earlier about the final ruined state of the unsaved.

In both, there is shame and disgrace that lasts forever.

In one of them, God is present; in the other, they are excluded from God's presence. It seems fair to say, then, that they will be reduced to the stage where they cannot be conscious of God's presence - they will have lost the last remnants of the image of God.

At the end, all people will worship God, because the others will not be people any more.

Hell - Rough Outline of my Thoughts

Over the last month or so, I've done a number of posts on Hell. This is a kind of index for them...

Introductory Quotes

Qualifying annihilationism

Arguing about words - some arguments that don't work

Why I am not an Annihilationist

Getting a Balance

What are people like in Hell? - some quotes to support the idea of everlasting ruin

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why I am not an Annihilationist

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

In my recent essay on Hell, despite the fact that a lot of the arguments are inconclusive, I ended up concluding that annihilationism (the belief that those who aren't saved eventually cease to exist) probably doesn't fit with what the Bible says. This is why.

John Wenham, a noted annihilationist, says that Revelation 14:9-11 is “the most difficult passage” for his point of view. It's also very hard-hitting.

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."
Revelation 14:9-11, ESV

Lots of scholars, particularly annihilationists, link the smoke going up for ever to the destruction of Edom in Isaiah 34:9-10. Greg Beale, who wrote quite possibly the best commentary on Revelation summarises:

The image of continually ascending smoke in Isaiah 34 serves as a memorial of God's annihilating punishment for sin, the message of which never goes out of date... Therefore, the imagery of Rev. 14:10-11 could indicate a great judgement that will be remembered forever, not one that leads to eternal suffering.

However, Beale eventually rejects this point of view on the grounds of the parallels with Revelation 20:10, where there is clearly everlasting conscious torment, at least for Satan (see later), and because of the “torment” - the word is basanismos, which is never used of annihilation.

Therefore ... “the smoke of torment” is a mixed metaphor, with “smoke” figurative of an enduring memorial of God's punishment involving a real, ongoing, eternal, conscious torment.

...

It is not the smoke of a completed destruction, but “smoke of their torment.” The nature of the torment is explained in the second part of v11: it is not annihilation but lack of rest.

I honestly cannot see a way of reading Revelation 14:9-11 in its entirety which is compatible with annihilationism. Some people (e.g. Fudge) note the smoke rising forever, but don't really consider the fact that it's the smoke of their torment. Others (e.g. Powys) see Revelation 14:9-11 as a hypothetical threat for those who go back on their belief in Jesus, but which God would never actually carry out. I cannot find anyone who comes up with a credible interpretation of this passage which doesn't involve some form of eternal conscious tormented existence for at least some of the unsaved.

The other really important passage here is the idea of the Lake of Fire in Revelation 19-21.

and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Revelation 20:10, ESV

Gomes writes of this:

By juxtaposing the words “day and night” with “for ever and ever” in 20:10, we have the most emphatic expression of unending ceaseless activity possible in the Greek language.

Even Fudge admits that this seems to be everlasting conscious torment, though he argues that while the lake of fire torments the devil, for people, the lake of fire is annihilation, basing this on its description as the “second death” (20:14, 21:8). He argues that the Beast is an abstraction, though fails to describe what it means for an abstraction to be tormented “day and night, forever and ever.” However, as Pawson points out, it seems that at least one human – the False Prophet – does indeed suffer everlasting conscious torment.

Also thrown into the Lake of Fire are Death and Hades (20:14), anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life (20:15) and various groups of sinners who are excluded from the New Jerusalem (21:8). It also seems that Fudge's argument that the Lake of Fire is immediate annihilation does not work. The Beast and the False Prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire in Revelation 19:20, and are still there in 20:10, where they are joined by the devil and will be tortured for ever. Those who are excluded from the New Jerusalem and the Book of Life are thrown in in 20:15. In Revelation 21:8, we are told that their “part” will be in the lake of fire. And in Revelation 22:15, they still seem to exist, simply “outside”.

Although we need to be careful when drawing concrete conclusions from a book which uses language in such a non-concrete way, it does indeed seem that Revelation teaches some form of continued existence for the unsaved, even some form of eternal conscious torment.

Oh, and the other solid argument is that almost no-one is on record as believing annihilationism from AD 150 to 1650. As doctrines go, it looks like a late innovation to me...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Letting Go...

The other day, at dinner, I was chatting to a couple of my good friends, from different churchy backgrounds to me. We all admitted that there had been times in the last few years when we had faced a difficult decision. We had to choose to be willing to let go of our backgrounds (in my case conservative evangelicalism), and whether others would think us "sound" or whatever, and be willing to follow Jesus and the truth, wherever it went, even if it went to liberal catholicism (for example).

None of us had moved much as a result of letting go, but we'd all moved to nearly the same place. And we all strongly identified with the tradition we'd come from (conservative evangelical, charismatic, etc), but often now found ourselves often on the outside of it. As a friend of mine put it, he often finds himself falling between several stools. And as I responded, that's a lot better than landing directly in the poo.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lifestyle Apologetics, Glory and Suffering

Some more quotes from "Christian Leaders of the 18th Century" by J.C.Ryle.

[Whitefield] was among the first to show the right way to meet the attacks of infidels and sceptics on Christianity. He saw clearly that the most powerful weapon against such men is not cold, metaphysical reasoning and dry critical disquisition, but preaching the whole gospel - living the whole gospel - and spreading the whole gospel... Infidels are seldom shaken by mere abstract reasoning. The surest arguments against them are gospel truth and gospel life.

"His fundamental point was to give God all the glory of whatever is good in man. In the business of salvation he set Christ as high and man as low as possible."
John Wesley, speaking about George Whitefield

The tools that the great Architect intends to use much, are often kept long in the fire, to temper them and fit them for work.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hell - Arguing About Words

Overview of my stuff about Hell.

One of the things that really interested and saddened me in reading and thinking about the whole annihilationism / eternal conscious torment debate was the extent to which it often shows the truth of 2 Timothy 2:14.

Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.

A large portion of the debate consists in arguments over two (or three) groups of words - the words translated into English as "destroy" or "destruction" (two groups in Greek) and "eternal". In both cases, the arguments show something interesting, but in neither case do they show what the people using them want them to show. Which makes me wonder why people keep using those arguments - it's almost as if they've made their minds up and then try to find evidence to back up their decision...

The Meaning of "Eternal"

The Greek word translated "eternal" is aionios, and it is often used as an argument that there is eternal conscious torment. However, as Fudge points out in his book "The Fire that Consumes", it might mean "eternal in effect" rather than just "eternal in duration". It seems clear that the description of what happens to the unsaved as "eternal" means that it doesn't end - that Hell isn't like Purgatory in the medieval Catholic doctrine. But it isn't clear from that word whether Hell is somewhere people go and stay forever, or whether it's a sentence of extinction which lasts forever.

The Meaning of "Destruction"

The other word group that gets cited a lot on the other side of the debate is the idea of "destruction", which is used to describe what happens to the unsaved after death. There are three words used in Greek - apollumi, apoleia and olethros.

Apollumi means "destroy", but the meaning in Greek is much broader than in English. For example, it is also used of the lost coin, sheep and son in Luke 15. Apoleia is also used to mean "wasted", like the perfume in Mark 14:4, and olethros is used a lot in the Old Testament to mean "cut off".

So the word "destroy" doesn't mean that the unsaved are annihilated. It does mean they are changed, or ruined, but doesn't necessarily imply annihilation.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Infighting and Church Politics

A Happy New Year to all of you!

Quiz question: After King David had conquered so much of the Promised Land, according to 1 Kings, how did the first bit of that land cease to be under Israelite control? How did the destruction start?

The answer is not what you might expect...

In 1 Kings 9, Solomon tries giving away some of the Promised Land to Hiram, King of Tyre, but Hiram doesn't want it.

King Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, because Hiram had supplied him with all the cedar and pine and gold he wanted. But when Hiram went from Tyre to see the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. "What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?" he asked. And he called them the Land of Cabul, a name they have to this day.
1 Kings 9:11-15, NIV

But the first bits that are clearly conquered by outsiders are done so far more because of infighting among the Israelites, specifically between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Asa [King of Judah] then took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the LORD's temple and of his own palace. He entrusted it to his officials and sent them to Ben-Hadad son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, the king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus. "Let there be a treaty between me and you," he said, "as there was between my father and your father. See, I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me."

Ben-Hadad agreed with King Asa and sent the commanders of his forces against the towns of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel Beth Maacah and all Kinnereth in addition to Naphtali.

1 Kings 15:18-20, NIV

Quick and easy moral from those stories - the destruction of God's people starts when the leaders are more concerned about looking good than about living in the way of God's promises, and when they are more concerned with winning their own little internal battles than about helping God's kingdom to grow.

When church politics is about trying to look good in front of others rather than genuinely being faithful to God (even if he disagrees with us) or when it's about our side winning whichever stupid internal Christian v Christian battle we're fighting at the moment, it leads ultimately to the destruction of God's people and is therefore Wrong.