On the ‘intermediate state’

At Spring Harvest I was sharing the ‘Radio 4’ sessions with Ann Holt of Bible Society every morning (they offer the teaching material in several formats, named after radio stations to give a flavour of the style; R4 is thoughtful and academic; ‘Radio 2’ mainstream and popular; ‘Edge FM’ deliberately alternative; and ‘Talk FM’ very interactive; it’s a nice way of dividing people up). I was also doing various lectures and discussion sessions on ‘heaven and hell’ in the afternoons and evenings, sharing with Steve Chalke and Russ Rook amongst others. The theme was eschatology, ‘One Hope’. The teaching material stressed the ‘this worldly’ nature of Christian hope (looking for the resurrection of the body and the transformation of the Earth, rather than the immortality of the soul and our removal to heaven). Most people bought this quite quickly – the Bible and the Creed are clear enough on the matter, after all. And hearteningly few were of the opinion that anyone not carrying a pledge card from a Billy Graham crusade was immediately and necessarily condemned to everlasting torment. Oddly, the question that arose, and obviously bothered people, was the ‘intermediate state’: what happens to us between death and final resurrection? In theological terms, it is an abstruse and rather irrelevant question, however, I quickly found some material Mike Higton and I prepared in a paper on ghosts we published a few years back, and gave a bit of input on this, but found myself wondering why it obviously concerned people. (My flippant response, before I spotted how much it was mattering to at least some, was ‘the destination is clear and certain; who cares if the route is slightly obscure in places?’) Talking to folk, I think the reason for the interest was fundamentally pastoral: people want to know where Grandma is now. And that matters–it speaks to people of God’s love and care. A useful reminder of the need for theology to be responsible to the...

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New Bibles

We are on the way back from two conferences, the Society for the Study of Theology in Durham and Spring Harvest in Minehead, of which more in another post. I wasn’t expecting my major book purchases from the two weeks to be new bibles–frankly, I’ve got several more than I use as it is… We nevertheless came back with two more, just because they seemed to genuinely add something. The first was the first sight, at Spring Harvest, of the fruit of a project I’ve known about for a while, Bible Society’s Poverty and Justice Bible. Conceived in part as an antidote to the plethora of ‘Sanctified Students’ Daily Walk Bible with Exam Helps’ or ‘Working wives’ five minute holiness devotional Bible’, this is a Bible which highlights what the text is actually about, rather than what we’d like it to be about… Something like 3000 verses are highlighted as referring very directly to issues of poverty and justice, and there are 50 thoughtful bible studies in the centre pages. The translation used is BS’s own Contemporary English Version. The other is The Jesus Storybook Bible, published by Zonderkidz (is there a viler-named publisher anywhere?!). It’s a children’s story Bible, with good re-tellings of various Biblical narratives (and other bits–it has a go at Isaiah, for instance), but with a very deliberate slant. The introduction says, in part, this: …some people think the Bible is a book of rules … But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes … but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all… No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book or heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves … There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center [yes, it’s American…] of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit.. And so each story ends with a hint of how it is a part of the big story. The tower of Babel: ‘People didn’t need a staircase; they needed a Rescuer. Because the way back to heaven wasn’t a staircase; it was a Person. People could never reach up to Heaven, so Heaven would have to come down to them. And one day, it would.’ The birth of Isaac: ‘And one day God would send another baby, a baby promised to a girl who didn’t even have a husband. But this baby would bring laughter to the whole world. This baby would be everyone’s dream come true.’ Bibles for adults and children that suggest that the text is about Jesus, and about justice, instead of about pandering to our selfish desires and pathetic insecurities – this could be very, very...

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