Rob Bell and Martin Bashir

Here’s a great interview conducted by Martin Bashir in which he presses Rob Bell on the contents of his new book, Love Wins. Bell is obviously struggling, especially with this question from Bashir:

“You’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture. . . . What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you, and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easier to swallow. That’s what you’ve done, haven’t you?”

What makes the King James Version great?

imgresLeland Ryken is the father of my friend and colleague, Dr Philip Ryken. This is Phil’s first year as President of Wheaton College where his father is the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English. Leland is the author of numerous articles and has contributed, written or edited more than twenty books, and in this article he reflects on the greatness of the King James version of the Bible. It’s an excellent article that is worth reading.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the most important event in the history of English Bible translation.  In fact, the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611 was the most important event in the history of book printing as a whole, inasmuch as it is the bestselling English book of all time.  I tell my students that the publication of the King James Bible was the most important event in the history of English and American literature. Continue reading “What makes the King James Version great?”

The Creation-Evolution debate

imgresSometimes we may be inclined to think that everything that could be said about the creation-evolution debate has been said, but in this article, Tim Keller re-visits the discussion and makes some interesting points. It was a paper  entitled “Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople” which he gave last year at a conference sponsored by his church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Other papers are available through the Biologos Forum website.

He addresses the perception that many people hold, namely, that if you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution, and if you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God. Are science and faith irreconciliable and mutually contradictory?

However, he does recognise the real difficulties that evolutionary theory presents for Christians. Keller writes, “In my estimation what current science tells us about evolution presents four main difficulties for orthodox Protestants”. The four main areas that he identifies are these:

Biblical authority: accepting evolution means we must take Genesis 1 as non-literal. What is the relationship between faithfulness to the Scriptures and literalism?

Confusion of biology and philosophy: The strongest proponents of evolution (including Dawkins) take it as a “Grand Theory of Everything,” which essential is a worldview that attempts to explain all deep philosophical and existential questions through evolutionary biology. Does accepting evolution necessarily mean that we must accept this “Grand Theory”?

The historicity of Adam and Eve: If they are only symbolic in Genesis 1-3, how do we handle Romans 5 & 1 Corinthians 15, which tells us that our sinfulness comes from Adam? If we don’t believe in a historical fall, how do we explain our “fallenness”?

The problem of violence and evil: In Keller’s words, “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution” .

In pastoral ministry, Keller has found the first three areas as the most pressing concerns from parishioners. Before getting into his answers to these questions, there is a really remarkable statement that Keller delivers in regards to the role of the pastor:

In short, if I as a pastor want to help both believers and inquirers to relate science and faith coherently, I must read the works of scientists, exegetes, philosophers, and theologians and then interpret them for my people. Someone might counter that this is too great a burden to put on pastors, that instead they should simply refer their laypeople to the works of scholars. But if pastors are not ‘up to the job’ of distilling and understanding the writings of scholars in various disciplines, how will our laypeople do it?

It really is a big challenge for pastors and preachers, and another reason why churches need not only good and godly men as ministers, but men who can think clearly and assess arguments in order to communicate effectively to their flock.

This is an interesting and challenging article that people on every side of the debate may find stimulating. His conclusion is that “Christians who are seeking to correlate Scripture and science must be a ‘bigger tent’ than either the anti-scientific religionists or the anti-religious scientists.” The text of the paper is below the fold. Continue reading “The Creation-Evolution debate”

Heaney’s Miracle


A few months ago, Seamus Heaney’s twelfth collection of poems, entitled “Human Chain”, was published, and with much acclaim. The central poem, “Miracle”, was directly inspired by a stroke he suffered a few years ago. Recalling the people who helped him receive prompt medical attention, he draws on the biblical imagery of the men who carried a paralysed man to Jesus to be healed. In a radio interview Heaney said, “I realised the guys that are hardly mentioned are central… without them no miracle would have happened.”

As with many of Heaney’s poems, there is much more being said than is immediately apparent.

“Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,

Their slight light-headedness and incredulity

To pass, those ones who had known him all along.”

The only way some of us know that paid-out ropes burn our hands is because we have helped to lower a loved one’s body into a grave. It is a most solemn moment. The paralysed man’s friends, because of his illness, might have expected to have been his pall-bearers. But in this story when they lowered him into the presence of Jesus, it resulted in a remarkable outcome. They did so in faith, and it resulted in life and vitality that was both physical and spiritual.

Like Heaney’s poem, the story of the healing of the paralysed man operates on a number of levels. It is a wonderful story about the resourcefulness of the man’s friends in getting him in front of Jesus. They were men of faith. They really believed that God was at work through Jesus and that all their effort in getting their friend into the house where Jesus was present would be worthwhile. And it was.

But it is also a story about the remarkable insight which Jesus possessed with regard to human needs. Jesus penetrates beneath the surface of the man’s physical disability and addresses his underlying spiritual need. There were important issues in his life that ran deeper than his need for physical healing. He needed to be made right with God. He needed to be forgiven of his sin.

Jesus spoke a word of forgiveness to him and immediately he stood up, took what he had been lying on, and went home praising God.

The story also highlights how radically different Jesus was from the Jewish religious establishment. Luke records that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting in the house, watching Jesus and listening to him. They believed that the only way God forgave sins was within their system, through the temple and all the rituals of cleansing and sacrifices that went on there. If anyone could speak for God and declare to the people that God had forgiven their sins, then it was their priests, and particularly the high priest.

But Jesus cuts through all that traditional understanding and declares on his own authority, and in view of the faith of his friends, that this paralysed man was forgiven. He is claiming to speak for God in a way which challenges and undercuts the traditional channels of authority.

Jesus explains what he is doing by using a mysterious phrase, “the Son of Man” to describe himself. Jewish hearers would immediately recall a passage in the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel, where “one like a son of man” is brought before God and, after a time of great persecution, is given authority over the world. Many Jews understood that this person would be the Messiah, the one through whom God would set up his kingdom after Israel’s long suffering.

Not everyone would have understood what Jesus meant. His actions and words were part of God’s kingdom work and God would ultimately vindicate him. The healing of the paralysed man functions as a sign that Jesus’ authority was real and that he was Messiah.

No wonder the crowd was amazed. Luke says, “They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” The word “remarkable” in the original language means things you wouldn’t normally expect. For those people who followed Jesus, there were plenty more remarkable things to come.

When people come to Jesus today, even with a grain of faith, the remarkable and unexpected can and does occur. People who are helpless and paralysed by sin know new life and new freedom. People who are guilty are forgiven. And people who are spiritually dead come to life. It can be so remarkable that for those who look on it results in what Heaney calls “slight light-headedness and incredulity”.