What does the decision on women bishops mean?

As you will be well aware, General Synod this week voted not to approve the measure to allow women to be ordained bishops. Was this the most important thing that happened in the news? No. Does it spell the end of the Church of England? No. Is it a reason to leave the Church? No. Does it fatally compromise the Church’s life and ministry in this country? Contrary to some reports, I believe not. I do not think that having women bishops is of the esse of the Church. (I don’t think having any kind of bishops is, but that is another story.)

But we do need to reflect on what has happened here.

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Why does God allow people to do evil?

This article was printed in the Winter edition of New Wine magazine, and is reproduced here by permission.

We are confronted almost daily with the reality of evil people at large in our world. Robert Mugabe is the latest in the long line of villainous leaders to dominate headlines. President of Zimbabwe since 1980, he has inflicted untold misery on his people—so why has he been allowed to continue? It is striking that Western policy in recent years has often appeared to be shaped by response to individuals, evil leaders who need to be toppled. So the second Gulf War in Iraq was directed specifically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. And it was seen to be a triumph of Western action that Gaddafi was deposed as leader of Libya. However evil certain systems or cultures appear to be, it is evil people that we feel the need to focus on.

Questions in Scripture

Scripture appears similarly to be concerned with evil individuals, and the challenge they offer to our understanding of God’s love and power. What will God’s response be to evil and obstinate Pharoah, oppressing and enslaving God’s people? asks the writer of Exodus. What will God do about a succession of kings of Israel and Judah who ‘do evil in the sight of the Lord’? asks the writer of 1 and 2 Kings. How can God not only allow the foreign leader Cyrus to flourish, but actually make use of him in liberating his people? asks Isaiah. What sense can we make of the tyrannical kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius as we face tyranny in our own day? asks Daniel. The questions continue to haunt us.

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How should Luke 16.19­–31 shape our view of heaven and hell?

The story of the rich man and Lazarus appears on first reading to depict a detailed ‘map’ of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, but is this the right way to read it?

First, it is worth noting that the words ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ themselves do not occur in the parable. The NT talks about post-mortem life in a range of ways, not all of them easy to reconcile with one another. Perhaps the most controlling one would be the idea of ‘sleep’ as used by Paul in, for example, 1 Cor 15. ‘Heaven’ in the NT mostly appears to refer to the realm of God’s presence, reign and reality, and the central NT hope is not that we will leave the earth to go to heaven, but that God’s realm will come down to the earth (see Rev 21). (See Tom Wright’s Grove booklet for the most accessible exposition of this.)

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Undesigned coincidences and historical reliability

Dr Tim McGrew of the Library of Historical Apologetics just posted a fascinating document in a private Facebook group of which I am a part:

Sometimes two historical records incidentally touch on the same point in a manner that would be very unlikely if one of them were copied from the other or if both were copied from a common source. For example, one account of an event may leave out a bit of information, leaving some natural question unanswered, while a different account indirectly supplies the missing detail and, in so doing, answers that question. When this happens, the best explanation is that both records are grounded in the actual historical event; that is why the two bits fit together so well.

Forgers do not want to leave loose ends like this that might raise awkward questions; they take care to tie everything together neatly. But these are just the sort of things we would expect to find in authentic records of the same real event told by different people who knew what they were talking about.

He then goes on to give some key examples from the gospels:

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