Friday, December 22, 2006

Apocalypse Noun

Here's the (only) essay I did for one of the highlight-modules of this semester - 'Biblical Theology and the Book of Revelation'. I'd be interested to know what others who did the essay think, and what others who didn't think about how what is discussed in the essay could be put to pastoral or evangelistic use.

(NB: This essay is based on a particular reading of Revelation, not new to the church by any means, but unfamiliar to most of us in the contemporary evangelical UK scenario. In this view the book is primarily about the events of AD70 when God judged Old Israel and made way for New Israel (Church). Obviously the last three chapters at least are still 'future' to us.)

(NB: Bible references are mainly in the footnotes, sorry, but hey, I was working to a word limit)

How does John use the idea of ‘name’ in the book of Revelation and what is its significance?

The idea of ‘name’ is used frequently in John’s Apocalypse. This is indicated by the occurrence of the Greek word /oνομα/ (or variant) 34 times across 29 verses of the book.[1] This essay will seek to show that John’s usage is largely rooted in an Old Testament Covenantal use of this concept, interpreted Christologically. It will also seek to show that the term is thus used as a tool (one of many John employs throughout the Apocalypse) for establishing his central contrast[2] between Babylon and the New Jerusalem, between the Kingdom of Satan and that of Christ, between idolatrous Israel coming under judgment and the New Israel awaiting promised salvation.[3] This essay will proceed by examining and discussing the various uses of the name concept.

The first usage of ‘name’ in Revelation (2:3) introduces one of the main ways the concept is used – to describe the faithfulness of God’s people. This same usage occurs three other times in the letters to the seven churches (2:13, 3:4, 3:8) each time as a commendation of the church for allegiance to Christ in various different ways. Reflection on the possible background for this usage suggests it is best understood in a covenantal sense. Throughout scripture the name of God is connected with a revelation of his character which he alone can fully know and reveal.[4] To know God’s name is to know him and be in an intimate relationship with him due to his self-revelation.[5] John in his gospel has already ably shown the relationship between the revealed name of God and Christ’s own name,[6] and these texts in Revelation assume such a link. To be faithful to Christ’s name is to trust in his self-revelation and to maintain identification with his character. This is seen in the way it is associated with commendations for faithfulness in suffering, doctrinal purity and perhaps even public witness.[7] This fidelity amounts to covenant faithfulness, as is confirmed by those texts in the Old Testament which relate the name of God to covenant faithfulness on the part of his people.[8] In this way then ‘name’ functions to flesh out aspects of the appropriate response to the message of the book which John is calling for in his readers.[9]

A similar Old Testament framework is doubtless behind John’s usage of ‘name’ with respect to the blessings promised to the faithful throughout the book. So in 2:17 the faithful are promised a ‘new name’ written on a white stone, evoking both their future vindication by Christ and the stones of remembrance worn by Aaron in the most holy place.[10] This ‘new name’ could be understood to be either the believer’s name or the name of God/Christ as revealed to the believer and placed on him in 3:12 and 14:1.[11] However, if this ‘name’ is understood as “the divinely-ordained definition of himself as belonging to the covenant of the Lord Jesus Christ”[12] then neither option is mutually exclusive of the other.[13] In other words, God will faithfully remember those who overcome, protect them and bring them to share in Christ’s victory (as suggested by his ‘name’ in 19:16) because they are marked out as belonging to him by virtue of faith-union.[14] This ‘new name’ thus suggests the typological fulfilment of prophetic ‘new covenant’ promises in Christ and in him also the Church.[15]

Similar ideas are in view in 22:4, 14:1 and 3:12 all of which describe God’s people as in some way bearing his name or having his name put on them.[16] This must be understood in the light of the Old Testament references to Israel as those called by God’s name, which is often related to blessing and salvation, including protection from and victory over their enemies. [17] This is confirmed by the similarity between the naming of these passages and the forehead sealing in 7:3 and 9:4 which is undoubtedly ‘a sign of ownership and protection’ and covenant membership.[18] Of all of these passages, 3:12 emerges as highly significant for our consideration of John’s usage of the ‘name’ concept not least because it contains three interwoven[19] ‘name’ promises for the faithful which in turn gather together several differing strands of Old Testament uses of the concept. Christ promises to “write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…and my own new name” in the context of the believer who overcomes being established as a pillar in the temple. Thus 3:12 juxtaposes all the major Old Testament images related to ‘name’, i.e. God’s revealed Covenant Name, and his people, the city of Jerusalem and the temple - all of which were said to bear his name.[20] The inclusion of Jesus’ own new name may indicate that the basis on which these Old Testament allusions are being used and applied to the Church is Christological.

The same covenantal background is operating in those texts referring to the believer’s own name in relation to covenant blessings. 3:5 undoubtedly has as its background the proposed covenant expulsion in Exodus 32:32-33, Deuteronomy 9:14 and Psalm 69:28, as well as the books in Malachi 3:16 (referring to an Israelite remnant remaining faithful to God’s name) and Daniel 12.[21]

Together these undoubtedly indicate the guarantee of enjoying the blessings of Revelation 21-22, in particular God’s presence (given the link with God’s own name in all the allusions).[22] In addition however we must ask why these Old Testament allusions would be used by John unless he wished to portray the church as enjoying the fulfillment of a variety of Old Testament types, shadows and promises, in and through Christ. The self-understanding he wishes to impart or confirm to the seven churches is that in Christ they are the new Israel, the new temple and the new Jerusalem.This is confirmed by James Jordan’s outline of the “sequence” of “God’s Covenant-making” and the renewal of the Covenant throughout redemption history. Both the ‘Declaration of God’s new Name” and a new name for his people and/or “new world” are included in the sequence.[23] It would seem that such Covenant confirmation at least partly governs John’s usage of ‘name’.[24]

Therefore, thus far we conclude that John, by using the ‘name’ concept in these specific ways, is expounding his conviction that the Church is the Covenant people of God, constituted in Christ and awaiting full enjoyment of all the covenant blessings.[25] The importance of this covenantal concept within John’s usage of ‘name’ becomes clearer when we consider usages of the concept in connection with the forces of Satan and his counterfeit kingdom, to which we now turn.

Much like the letters to the seven churches, the section running from 13:1 to 15:4[26] contains several inter-related uses of the ‘name’ concept, 9 in total found in 8 verses. Of particular interest here is the way that the name concept as applied to the beast from the sea and his followers provides a contrast with the naming of Christ and his followers both in this section and elsewhere in the book. In 13:1 the beast wears blasphemous names on his forehead and proceeds (13:6) to blaspheme the name of God (in contrast to those who wear God’s name and fear it, 11:18 and 14:1). Poythress, who sees the beasts and the dragon together as a “counterfeit trinity”, suggests that the beast out of the sea is presented as a counterfeit Christ, not least because his blasphemous names contrast with Christ’s “worthy names” in chapter 19.[27] The names on his forehead thus signify “imitation of Christ’s true kingship.”[28] Similarly the beast mimicks Christ’s “covenantal headship” by sealing his followers with his name/number, an act which perhaps suggests that not only are they owned by the beast but also “that his followers will be like him”.[29] This mirrors what we have already seen regarding the usage of ‘name’ in the letters to the churches. Beale’s suggests that several texts (e.g. Exodus 13:9, Deuteronomy 6:8) about the place of the torah in Israel’s covenant relationship with the LORD stand behind the imagery of a mark on the forehead and the hand in 13:16-17.[30] This is obviously all the more poignant if ‘those who dwell on earth’ signify apostate Israel and the beast from the land represents apostate Jewish leaders.[31]

17:5 draws out a further contrast when Jerusalem the harlot (who sits on the beast from 13:1)[32] is named in contrast and then contrasted with the description of the bride in 19:7-8 and 21:2.[33] It is also possible that, together with the passages which describe ‘royal’ Babylon’s demise (18:2, 7,10 21), a contrast with Christ’s victorious name in 19:16 is intended.[34] Similarly in 13:1-15:4 ‘name’ is used to highlight the inevitable failure of the beast and his followers, not least because imitation itself implies defeat - Satan can merely counterfeit God the Creator and his Kingdom.[35] This is further supported by the possibility that the 8 ‘name’ statements in this section are arranged in a loose chiastic structure as below.

A. Rev 13:1 The beast and his blasphemous names.

B. Rev 13:6 The beast blasphemes God’s name.

C. Rev 13:8 Those not written in the book of life worship the beast

D. Rev 13:16-17 The beast marks his followers

D’. Rev 14:1 The 144k are marked with the Lamb and his Father’s name

C’. Rev 14:11 Those who worship the beast (and receive his name) will be judged.

A’. Rev 15:2 Vision of those who conquered the beast and its name.

B’. Rev 15:4 All nations will fear God’s name

If correct, this structure emphasises the vindication of God’s name and kingdom and the defeat of the beast. It could be that the inverted order of A’ and B’ is there to highlight the importance of the vindication of God’s name as blasphemed in B by making it not just the end of the cycle but also the eighth ‘name’ statement and therefore naturally associated with resurrection, victory and vindication.[36] Certainly this structure implies that the central contrast being made is between the worshippers of the beast and the worshippers of God, between unfaithful Israel and those faithful in the new covenant, whose divergent futures are described by John in terms drawn from Israel’s own covenantal history regarding the writing or blotting of names within God’s book.[37]

Thus it seems that ‘name’ is being used throughout this section to help establish a contrast, a contrast that is framed in covenantal language and imagery. This is because ‘name’ is functioning as a facet of the central contrast John wishes to establish throughout the book - the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem. Apostate Israel had abandoned the covenant for an idolatrous relationship with Rome, and were standing in opposition to God’s new Covenant people who will inevitably triumph since they are marked with the name of him who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.[38]

However, this is not the only way in which John uses ‘name’. In particular, 3 texts (6:8, 8:11 and 9:11) emerge as not obviously related to covenantal concepts. These usages seem to form something of a set, being located within cycles of seven. In particular two (8:11 and 9:11) of them could be identified with Satan in either an indirect or a direct way.[39] The uses of ‘name’ here are not inconsistent with John’s relation of name to character[40] elsewhere in the Apocalypse as described above. It should be added that Satan is strongly associated with the beast’s kingdom and that both he and Death share that kingdom’s fate.[41] Thus whilst not identical, these other occurrences are far from unrelated to John’s main usage of ‘name’.

In conclusion, for John ‘name’ is predominantly a covenantal biblico-theological concept which he employs in the Apocalypse as one tool among many to establish the central contrast in the book between Babylon and the Church, both in terms of their covenant status and divergent futures. As such, meditating on this theme will further facilitate the promised blessing[42] of the reader.

[1] Or 35 times if a textual variant of 21:12 is accepted.
[2] David Field, “The harlot Babylon and the bride Jerusalem”, (Lecture notes, Oak Hill Theological College, 2006).
[3] Thus a specific preterist reading of Revelation is assumed throughout this essay. See generally Ralph E. Bass, Back to the Future - A Study in the Book of Revelation, (Greenville, USA: Living Hope Press, 2004), and David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance – An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987).
[4] Carl B. Hook, “New Song”, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: 567.
[5] See e.g., Exodus 3:13-15, 6:3, 34:5-7. “Name”, DBΙ: 582-586 Cf. comments on 2:17 in G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation – A Commentary on the Greek Text, (NIGTC; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1999) 254 - 255.
[6] For e.g. in the many ‘I Am’ statements (e.g. John 14:6) and in John 17:11-12. Raymond B. Dillard, “God, Name of”, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: 295-297. 297.
[7] Beale, Revelation, 229, 246 & 256.
[8] See e.g., Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 24:16, Psalm 5:11, 7:17, 9:10, 20:7, 22:22, 61:5, 102:15, and Micah 4:5.
[9] Note the similarity between 3:8 and 1:3, especially given the relationship between ‘word’ and Christ’s name in 19:13. Also, Vern Poythress argues that the commendation in 3:4 functions as an incentive to others to be faithful and gain the reward of 3:5, thus it can be claimed that this is one way in which the commendations function throughout the letters. Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King – A Guide to the Book of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2000) 91.
[10] Exodus 28: 9-12 & 29. Beale, Revelation, 252-3, also Bass, Back to the Future, 119, and also Chilton, Vengeance, 55.
[11] Bass, Back to the Future, 120, Beale, Revelation, 254.
[12] Chilton, Days of Vengeance, 55, my italics.
[13] Hence Beale, in arguing that 2:17 should be linked with 19:12ff. argues that “those who know Christ’s name share in his character and end-time power.” He also argues that the 21:2 description of the church as the New Jerusalem, together with 3:12 shows “that the name written on “overcomers” (3:12) becomes synonymous with their very identity.” Beale, Revelation, 254, 257-258.
[14] Bass sees the ‘new name’ idea as primarily concerning ownership. Beale relates it to ‘identification’ and the promise of ‘final reward’ to those who trust in Christ. Bass, Back to the Future, 120 and Beale, Revelation, 254-255. Cf. “Name”, DBI, 585-586.
[15] See, Isaiah 62:2 and 65:15. Beale, Revelation, 255-256.
[16] See e.g., Beale, Revelation, 253-254.
[17] See e.g., Numbers 6:22-27, Deuteronomy 28:7-10, Isaiah 43:6-7 & Daniel 9:19.
[18] Poythress, Returning King, 92. Cf. “Name”, DBI, 585-586.
[19] Beale suggests they are in fact one promise and should be understood this way. Beale, Revelation, 293.
[20] Exodus 3:13-14, Deuteronomy 28:10, 1 Kings 8:28-29, 11:36, Daniel 9:19. Cf. “Name”, DBI, 585.
[21] Beale, Revelation, 279-281.
[22] Beale, Revelation, 293-294 and Bass, Back to the Future, 140 and Dan Lioy, The Book of Revelation in Christological Focus, (Studies in Biblical Literature 58; New York: Peter Lang, 2003) 129.
[23] James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes – Developing a Biblical View of the World, (Brentwood, Tenn,: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1988) 129-131.
[24] Some have suggested that the entire Apocalypse should be read as a Covenant document either for renewal or lawsuit or both. Martyn Calvin Cowan, “New World, New Temple, New Worship – The Significance of a Preterist Reading of the book of Revelation for the theology and practice of Christian Worship”, (Unpublished diss., Oak Hill Theoligical College, 2004). Chilton, Vengeance, 18-24 and also David Field, “Covenant Structure and the Book of Revelation”, (Lecture Notes, Oak Hill Theological College, 2006) 5-9.
[25] Beale comments on the relation between Christ and the fulfilment of covenant promises. Beale, Revelation, 256.
[26] Wilcock suggests viewing these passages as a discrete section, containing a further cycle of seven visions. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation – I Saw Heaven Opened, (BST; Leicester: IVP, 1991) 115.
[27] Poythress, Returning King, 17-19 & 139-140.
[28] Beale, Revelation, 684.
[29] Poythress, Returning King, 19-20 and Beale, Revelation, 716.
[30] Beale, Revelation, 717 and also Bass, Back to the Future, 316.
[31] Hence David Chilton suggests the passages about Rome speak of her “only in relation to the Covenant and the history of redemption.” Chilton, Vengeance, 135 & 139.
[32] Revelation 17:5.
[33] Poythress, Returning King, 21-22
[34] Lioy, Christological Focus, 151
[35] Poythress, Returning King, 23-24
[36] Cf. David Field, “Number”, (Lecture Notes, Oak Hill Theological College, 2006) 4 and also Poythress, Returning King, 147.
[37] Revelation 13:8 and 14:11 & Exodus 32:32-33.
[38] David Field, “Harlot”, 3.
[39] Bass, Back to the Future, 240-241 and Beale, Revelation, 502-503.
[40] Cf. “Name”, DBI, 582-3
[41] Revelation 13:4, 20:10 & 14-15
[42] Revelation 1:3

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Confusion at the Evangelical Centre

Bishop of Durham Tom Wright has employed his considerable intellect and skill as a rhetorician in a passionate (almost vitiriolic?) critique of the covenant mentioned in a previous post (see here). Wright's comments can be found HERE.

He makes some valid points in many respects, comments which must sting coming from a self-confessed evangelical. He may well be right about the political inadequacy and bad-timing of the covenant, I'm not sure. He also exposes the fact that the model of ecclesiology assumed in the covenant is not exactly in line with traditional Anglican thought as he sees it. IMHO these valid points he makes probably demonstrate the ultimate untenability of evangelicals remaining within the CofE as it currently stands, rather than strengthening the case for Wright's methodology for achieving reform.

More worryingly, the Bishop seems to 'buy' the popular representation of the type of evangelicals he is criticising. At the same time he seems to sincerely believe that the majority of the bishops in this country are orthodox and that things are in a generally decent condition in the CofE. From my limited experience, I certainly do not recognise the CofE Wright seems to be living in.

This more positive picture relies partly on a dogged belief that whilst the paper definitions of the denomination remain orthodox all is relatively well. This, I would contend, is position hard to maintain in the face of long-term ignorance of and deviation from these paper definitions.

Thus, one of the major differences between Tom Wright's approach and those of his opponents seems to be Wright's faith in the structures to produce reform and renewal. Of course this is no surprise since he is a Bishop and who'd want to be a Bishop unless you believed that inhabiting the structures of the CofE would effect change? I do wonder however if Wright could ever conceive of a situation where revolt against and within the structures of the CofE would be valid, when it would be right to seek alternative oversight, when it would be ok to disobey central authorities for the sake of the gospel.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ashes to Ashes

It's over.

In the end, the best side won.

My humble suggestions for salvaging something of the series? Jones out, Reid in. Captaincy to Strauss to give Flintoff a chance to play his natural game. Possibly play another batsman (and drop Mahmood) and let Flintoff drop down the order to take the pressure off and get him bowling better. Collingwood can always be the fifth bowler if necessary.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Anglican Fellowship

Curious developments in the Church of England (taken from Anglican Mainstream website read here.):

A small group met with the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tuesday December 12 and presented A Covenant for the Church of England on behalf of a wide group of Evangelical and Charismatic members of the Church of England with the support of a number of Anglo-Catholic leaders.

The Covenant is the fruit of an ongoing process reacting not to a few local or immediate difficulties but responding to widespread concerns in the national and global church.

The group were listened to carefully and as a result of the meeting it was agreed that there would be further discussion of the issues raised in the Covenant to find a way to maintain the unity in truth of the Church of England.

Click here for the covenant itself.

After a quick read, the covenant seems pretty direct and is a very welcome development as far as I'm concerned. And I am supportive of what my brothers and sisters (who are older, wiser and more godly than I) are trying to do in making this important (perhaps historically significant?) move.

But, as always for me with questions regarding the CofE, one thing nags at the back of my mind. And it's this phrase:

...with the support of a number of Anglo-Catholic leaders...

Call me uncharitable (and yes, I don't know the individuals Anglo-Catholics involved or what they believe etc. etc.), but I find it very difficult to be satisfied with a rallying call which fails to address the differences between Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical theology. I'm totally unconvinced that the problem in the CofE is only with liberalism. I'm not prepared to say that the matters over which Anglo-catholics and Evangelicals are often divided are of no consequence to fellowship. But that's maybe one of the reasons I'm not a CofE ordinand (although I am currently a member of a CofE congregation).

Maybe I'm reading too much into the covenant but talk of a developing two-way division in the Church seems to me to be a papering over of the other major division(s?). Said enough now, better shut up.

(It strikes me that these posts and comments are sort of relevant to this issue in some way)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Church Planting in Southgate

Here's an assignment about Church planting that I did earlier this term (NB I haven't included the appendix which was a copy of the survey I used for research purposes. Hopefully this doesn't make anything confusing). I'd probably change bits of it on reflection, but then that's part of the point I guess. Anyone up for actually doing a plant in Southgate some point next calendar year do get in touch!

Outline a potential Church planting strategy for a congregation to follow in Southgate. In doing this you will construct, conduct and evaluate an area survey with at least 20 responses from non-Christians.

Church planting is one of the most biblical and effective means of promoting the growth of the gospel.[1] This paper aims to outline a potential Church planting strategy by considering the way a Church-centred evangelistic mission to the people of Southgate[2] might take shape. Given the limited nature of the research and reflection conducted for this paper, as well as providing a provisional picture of what a Church planting strategy might look like this paper will also suggest how a congregation could proceed to refine and implement this strategy. The structure of presenting this strategy is largely derivative.[3]


To establish a network[5] of Churches in the north London area of Southgate. This is part of a wider vision for transforming the city of London by[6], in particular, aiming to see 15% of the city in bible-teaching Churches by the year 2020.[7]


To make disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ of the people of Southgate by planting a Church-planting, Reformed, Evangelical, Bible-teaching, Evangelistic Church.


It is essential to have a clear picture of the spiritual climate in Southgate, and as detailed a picture as possible of the target community when devising a strategy.[8] This profile has been constructed from both qualitative (chiefly from a brief survey of people in the area)[9] and quantitative research.[10] However, it must be stressed that this research has been limited in scope, and a greater volume and detail would be required before a plant was finally launched.

1. Overview – Quantitative Research
The 12,103[11] people who live in Southgate are an ethnically diverse mix[12] with high proportions of Asian/Asian British (8.85%[13]), Black/Black British (4.16%[14]) persons, as well as a high proportion (14.10%) of people who define themselves ethnically as ‘white’ but neither British nor Irish. This ethnic diversity is matched by religious diversity; whilst 57.71% of people in Southgate define themselves as Christians,[15] 4.33% of the population are Hindus, 6.99% are Jewish, 6.33% are Muslim.[16] People who live in Southgate are generally very well educated, with over a third of the population having qualifications of level 4 or above.[17]

2. On the Ground – Qualitative Research[18]
The area survey interview covered three main areas. The first set of questions aimed to research attitudes towards Southgate itself within the local community. This purpose is to uncover felt needs which a new Church might be able to address.[19]

People cited the quietness/greenness of the area, its convenience (through public transport), the shops and other facilities as well as the friendly people as the main aspects of the area they enjoy. That most people surveyed were readily able to cite reasons for enjoying Southgate may indicate a general satisfaction with life in the area. This was confirmed by the high proportion of people who had nothing to say in answer to questions 3, 4 and 5.[20] This must be set in context however with the negative comments interviewees did make. Of the concerns and problems listed in Q3-5, the most common were traffic congestion[21] and crime/policing related issues,[22] especially the need for a greater police presence. Other negatives raised about Southgate included the lack of facilities for young people and the expense of living there (in particular the cost of housing). In general those who had lived in the area the longest were more negative, with two people expressing the feeling that the area has deteriorated during their time living there.

Secondly the area survey focused on the personal beliefs of the participants, with a view to compiling a ‘spiritual profile’ of the community.[23] In general people expressed mixed views on both destiny and luck, but most were cynical about horoscopes,[24] reincarnation[25] and Guardian Angels.[26] The majority expressed strong belief in God (13 people gave it 5, only 2 people gave it a 1or 2). However, this does not necessarily reflect well formulated beliefs. Rather, Q7-9 revealed a general vagueness on questions of religion and spirituality. Three people stated they had ‘no religion’, and others defined themselves as ‘spiritual’ rather than religious. One Hindu (of 2 interviewed in total) defined themself as ‘open’ to working out what they believed, as did one person who was raised as a Jew. Several others expressed a similar distaste for dogmatism or fanaticism in religious convictions. Whilst three people called themselves atheists, all three rated their belief in God at 4 or 5; it could be that by answering ‘atheist’ to a question about religious self-definition they meant ‘non-religious’ or ‘not a Christian’. Similarly whilst 5 people described themselves as Christians (to which can be added 1 Orthodox person and 1 Catholic) few were able to give clear definitions of what ‘God’ meant to them in Q8. The most popular answer to Q8 across all participants was that God is a ‘higher power’.[27] Few people expressed overtly negative views about the existence of some sort of god. Slightly more were negative about ‘Jesus’ in Q9.[28] The most popular answer here was ‘Son of God’[29] - giving the impression of familiarity with Christian language even if not doctrine.

Some of these findings were confirmed by the answers given in the third section which focussed on Church-going. Here the aim was to learn of past or present Church experience, the general profile of the gospel in Southgate, and begin to ascertain attitudes towards a new Church initiative in the area.[30] 5 people interviewed were Church-goers, although only 2 mentioned ‘God’ in Q10b. Of the other 16, 7 had Church-going experience in their background (usually during childhood). The reason attendance lapsed usually fell into two categories – either circumstantial (e.g. move of location, busyness due to birth of children) or belief issues.[31] In this section it emerged that existing Southgate Churches have a low public profile, with six people in Q11 and 2 in Q12 raising this in various ways; some people said they didn’t know there were any Churches locally. This might help explain why 10 people felt they were unable to offer any answer to Q11. 3 others said they thought the Churches were doing a good job but only for those already attending. This perhaps relates to the fact that several people were taken aback at Q13 and 14 – the perception being that Churches exist for those who already attend and not for ‘non-religious’ people like themselves. Similarly, some responses to Q12-14 mentioned an increase in Church community involvement and the need to publicise assertively and attractively (suggesting they felt existing Churches didn’t do this). Amongst the other answers given to Q13, people said they thought they would give a Church a try if it put on activities for their age group (whether pensioners or youth or early twenties) and sought to help people with various problems.

3. Conclusions about Southgate
The people of Southgate appear to be well-educated and relatively satisfied with life in Southgate, albeit with concerns over traffic congestion and increasing crime (especially among the young who lack decent entertainment facilities in the area). They are ethnically diverse, although not necessarily well-integrated as a result.[32] This ethnic diversity is matched by great diversity on religious issues. If there is a theme uniting this spiritual diversity it would seem to be vagueness. Many people are open to spirituality of some sort although suspicious and or entirely ambivalent of organised religion (some because of negative experiences in the past). No-one expressed overtly negative feelings at the idea of a new Church in Southgate, with some even suggesting that it would be a good thing and citing reasons they might join. This said, although there are some Church-goers in Southgate for many others ‘Church-going’ is not even ‘on the radar’ because they are ‘not religious people’ – a fact perhaps unwittingly confirmed by the low-profile of existing Churches in Southgate.

This picture of the context of Southgate begs the question - what sort of Church(es) can reach Southgate?[33]


1. Targeting
Although the long term aim will be to reach all the social and ethnic groups within Southgate, in the first few years it is unlikely SCC will have the resources to be able to do this adequately. Instead the aim will be to reach the natural networks of Church members, which, given the nature of the sending Church is likely to be white middle class people. [36] At the same time however, SCC will look to find Church members who are willing and able to cross cultural barriers for the sake of the gospel and pioneer work amongst other ethnic groups. The long term aim will be to have homogeneity at the small/’feeder’ group level but heterogeneity across the Church as a whole.[37]

2. Size
The initial size of SCC will be approximately 50 adult members, currently members of the sending Church who already live or work in the Southgate area. The aim is to be small enough to provide the impetus and flexibility for growth whilst being large enough to resource an outsider-friendly Sunday service and several small groups.[38]

3. Evangelistic strategy[39]
Given the general ambivalence towards ‘organised religion’ (in some cases negative history) any evangelistic strategy must take a long-term and relational approach.[40] This, together with confidence in the power of the gospel, is the basic philosophy around which the following potential strategy has been formed.

3.i. Small groups
The basic unit of Church life in SCC will be a number of small groups (initially five).[41] This is where primary pastoral care, bible application and friendship evangelism can take place. Small groups can give the homogeneity, flexibility, informality and relational structure most helpful for evangelism and discipleship amongst those ambivalent to organised religion.[42] All Church members will be expected to commit to a small group.[43] In effect small groups will be ‘little Church’ whilst Sunday services will be ‘big Church’.[44]

3.ii. Sunday services
Although small groups will be central to SCC, a major part of Church life will be a regular outsider-friendly Sunday service. This is because of the benefits of larger gatherings for worship in both sustaining members[45] and evangelism. The aim would be to build up the membership as well as publicly make a fresh, ‘less religious’ presentation of the gospel to Southgate. Accordingly, a more ‘neutral’ venue (e.g. one of the local schools or a sports/community hall) would be suitable for at least the first phase of the Church’s life until an outsider-friendly reputation is established.[46] Services would last no more than 1.15 hours, but would not insult the relatively well-educated people of Southgate, addressing the bible to the mind and the emotions,[47] with applications for both Christian and outsider. These services should be well-organised but with a degree of informality, i.e. with room for controlled spontaneity and interaction. Although the emphasis will be on the communication of the Word, thought must be given to appropriate use of images for the purpose of teaching a wide-range of learner types. The aim will be to appropriately experiment with format during the initial planting phase and if necessary beyond. Leading up to and during this time many other questions will need to be settled.[48]

3.iii. Children’s/Youth ministry
It is expected that SCC will have a Children’s Ministry from the outset given the number of children in the area[49] and the suggestion by some survey participants that they would welcome Church involvement with their children. These would run concurrently with Sunday services.

3.iv. Involvement in the local community
In the survey, the basic need for facilities and activities for young people appeared to be related to the fears many expressed regarding crime and the need for a greater police presence. SCC must therefore investigate the possibility of running youth-targeted community projects. This may prove difficult initially without property and potentially great expense. Whilst seeking to materially serve Southgate, it may also be that such service will gain an audience for the gospel. Whilst it is not obvious how the Church can serve in relation to other felt needs (such as traffic and busyness) much consideration should be given to these areas before SCC launches and should be viewed as integral to fulfilling the Church’s mission.

3.v. Publicity
Although relationships are key, SCC will not seek to be purist in this sense, choosing rather to use whatever means seem viable for raising the profile of the gospel in Southgate. As an area highlighted by some in Q14 of the area survey, publicity will need to be of a high quality both in terms of design and production. The aim will be to market SCC as a Church for the community of Southgate both in terms of welcome to Sunday gatherings and practical involvement in the community.

4. The Church Planter
The main leader of SCC will fulfil the biblical requirements for Church officers[50]. As well as this he will share the vision for Southgate and London outlined in this paper. He will be able to communicate in a post-Christian environment and will have had some formal theological training. It will be the planter’s job to recruit a Steering Committee[51] and develop a leadership structure in the first two years of the plant.

5. Timetable
December 2006 – Church Planter appointed
January 2007 – Church Planter recruits Steering Committee
January to April 2007 – Steering Committee conducts further research, theological reflection and strategy refinement.
May to June 2007 – Church Planter and Steering Committee recruit the remaining core members from the sending Church.[52]
August to November 2007 – Church plant begins to meet together, train together, assess one another’s giftings,[53] consolidate vision ownership. Evangelistic contacts made during research phase are followed up during this time, as well as whole Church planning on how to increase community contacts.
December 2007 – Official public launch with Christmas programme.

6. Becoming a Network

6.i. Leadership training
Growth requires multiplication of ministries which in turn requires multiplication of leadership at all levels of Church life. From the onset SCC will look to provide ministry apprenticeships with the express aim of training future Church planters for Southgate and London. Similarly small group leader training will take priority over other adult education programmes in Church life. Annual evangelism training will be run for all Church members. Leaders of specific ministries will be expected to train future leaders.[54]

6.ii. Venue/Property needs
Whilst SCC will not be initially ready for purchasing large property,[55] from the outset the possibility of more permanent space within the area will be investigated. Any building(s) should be suitable for the public image of the Church as outsider friendly different from perceived religious norms and consistent with SCCs aim to reach Southgate specifically.[56]

6.iii. Connectedness/ Church Government
In becoming a network of Churches/congregations across Southgate theological and logistical reflection must be given to how future plants/ congregations will relate to one another. This will partly depend on whether the Church Planter wishes to develop his role to become an overseer of several Churches and their leaders. The demands and practicalities of fulfilling the mission and vision of SCC must be allowed to play a significant role in answering these questions.

[1] Timothy J. Keller, “Why Plant Churches?” 6.p. [cited 5 November 2006]. Online
[2] ‘Southgate’ for the purposes of research was defined as Southgate Ward.
[3] In particular this paper is indebted to the model for a Church planting action plan given in Timothy J. Keller and Allen J Thompson, Church Planter Manual (New York: Redeemer Church Planting Center, 2002), 105-109. It is also based on Tim Davies and Christ Church Working Party, Christ Church Central Launch Presentation, (Unpublished document, Sheffield, 2003).
[4] Assuming the definition of vision in Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992), 234-238.
[5] Network is used throughout with reference to the concept of a ‘movement’ found in Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 105.
[6] Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 105.
[7] Cf. Peter Jensen, “How can we reach our 10% goal?” n.p. [cited 5 November 2006]. Online Also, 15% was suggested a more noticeable figure by Chris Green during a sermon in 2004.
[8] Malphurs, Growing Churches, 165.
[9] See Appendix. The survey was based on “Oak Hill Community Survey Project – Street Interview,” 2.p. [cited 25 October 2006]. Online
and Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 76. and Malphurs, Growing Churches, 167-168.
[10] Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 69-73.
[11] “Neighbourhood Statistics Key Figures for 2001 Census (Southgate Ward),” n.p. [cited 3 November 2006]. Online;jsessionid=ac1f930dce5b05e380a7bba41ea86c4ddf229a4b56c.e38OaNuRbNuSbi0Lah0PaNyQbxaQe6fznA5Pp7ftolbGmkTy?a=3&b=5942137&c=southgate&d=14&e=16&g=332790&i=1001x1003x1004&m=0&enc=1&bhcp=1
[12] 80.72% white as against 90.92% in the UK as a whole. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[13] Compared with a percentage for all of England of 4.58%. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[14] Compared with a percentage for all of England of 2.30%. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[15] The figure for England is 71.74%. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[16] Compare with figures of the whole of England of 1.11%, 0.52% and 3.10% respectively. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[17] 35.17% as compared with a total for England of 19.90% and 30.99% for London. Level 4/5 covers First Degree, Higher Degree, NVQ levels 4 and 5, HNC, HND, Qualified Teacher Status, Qualified Medical Doctor, Qualified Dentist, Nurse, Midwife or Health Visitor. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[18] Based on the results of Survey in Appendix which was conducted with 21 people outside Southgate Tube Station. All of the participants either lived in the Southgate area or studied/worked there regularly. The statements made in this section will assume that these 21 participants are in some way representative, although more research would be required before this was confirmed.
[19] Malphurs, Growing Churches, 169. Cf. Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 77.
[20] 7, 4 and 5 people respectively.
[21] 7 people in total across the three questions.
[22] 6 people raised this sort of issue as a greatest need in Q5.
[23] Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 91. Cf. Malphurs, Growing Churches, 259.
[24] 18 people giving this a rating of 1 or 2.
[25] 11 people rating their belief at 1, although 7 rated their belief at 4 or 5.
[26] 14 people rating their belief at 1 or 2, although 6 people rated 4 or 5.
[27] 7 people answered in this way.
[28] 3 people doubted his existence or expressed overt disbelief ‘in Jesus’.
[29] 7 people answered using this phrase.
[30] Cf. Malphurs, Growing Churches, 167-168.
[31] E.g. one person raised a Catholic stated they had left Church attending behind because the religion was misogynistic and they had problems with several articles of belief.
[32] Only one participant highlighted this.
[33] Cf. Malphurs, Growing Churches, 259-260.
[34] Essentially this section is derived from the need to answer the three questions posed in Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 84. and questions found in Malphurs, Growing Churches, 259-272.
[35] Suggested name only. ‘SCC’ from here on.
[36] Malphurs, Growing Churches, 170-171.
[37] Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 94. It may well be that as the Church grows into a network of congregations by evangelism that greater thought is needed on how these congregations relate to one another so as to pursue gospel-based heterogeneity.
[38] This is based on conversations had with various UK Church planters during early 2003.
[39] Reference has been given here to various questions found in Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 93-96.
[40] Stephen Timmis, “Church Planting: Key Principles,” in Multiplying Churches – Reaching Today’s Communities Through Church Planting (ed. Stephen Timmis. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2000) 122-123.
[41] This is taken from a cell Church model. “What is cell?” n.p. [cited 5 November 2006]. Online
[42] Malphurs, Growing Churches, 215-218.
[43] Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 98.
[44] See, e.g. Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 95.
[45] Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 95.
[46] A Church’s identity can be linked to the meeting place. Lyle E. Schaller, 44 Question for Church Planters (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 84 & 122.
[47] Malphurs, Growing Churches, 179.
[48] E.g. The when and how of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the place and logistics of congregational singing.
[49] Over 17% of the population are 0-15 yrs old. “National Statistics,” n.p.
[50] See, e.g. 1 Tim 3: 1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9.
[51] This is essentially the same idea as the ‘leadership team’ in Malphurs, Growing Churches, 248.
[52] Malphurs, Growing Churches, 275.
[53] See, e.g. Keller and Thompson, Planting Manual, 84.
[54] Ideas taken from talks on “Ministry Mulitplication” by Archie Poulos at Oak Hill in 2005.
[55] Perhaps until membership passes the 200 mark. Thinking here has been influenced by Schaller’s distinction between ‘temporary’ and ‘permanent’ meeting places. Schaller, 44 Questions, 60-64.
[56] i.e. SCC must resist the temptation to find cheaper property outside of the area.

Monday, December 04, 2006

CUs in the Guardian

THIS article from the Guardian the other day is worth a read. It's by Richard Cunningham (Mr UCCF) and comments on the recent problems some CUs have been experiencing (see other posts with this label for more information).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pilgrim's Progress and Justification

This is a great little excerpt from Pilgrim's Progress which is my current loo-reading of choice. Christian and Hopeful are in conversation with Ignorance about where he stands with God. Ignorance has recently denied that his heart is bad.

IGNORANCE: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.
CHRISTIAN: How! think thou must believe in Christ, when thou seest not thy need of him! Thou neither seest thy original nor actual infirmities; but hast such an opinion of thyself, and of what thou doest, as plainly renders thee to be one that did never see the necessity of Christ’s personal righteousness to justify thee before God. How, then, dost thou say, I believe in Christ?
IGNORANCE: I believe well enough, for all that.
CHRISTIAN: How dost thou believe?
IGNORANCE: I believe that Christ died for sinners; and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, through his gracious acceptance of my obedience to his laws. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to his Father by virtue of his merits, and so shall I be justified.
CHRISTIAN: Let me give an answer to this confession of thy faith.
1. Thou believest with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the word.
2. Thou believest with a false faith; because it taketh justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to thy own.
3. This faith maketh not Christ a justifier of thy person, but of thy actions; and of thy person for thy action’s sake, which is false.
4. Therefore this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave thee under wrath in the day of God Almighty: for true justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its lost condition by the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness; (which righteousness of his is not an act of grace by which he maketh, for justification, thy obedience accepted with God, but his personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands;) this righteousness, I say, true faith accepteth; under the skirt of which the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquitted from condemnation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Here is a short selection of verses about the gospel. It is always an interesting exercise to compare your 'gospel' with the bible's, to see what is missing, what is underplayed, what is over-emphasised perhaps in your own attempts to present the gospel. This list is by no means comprehensive (and of course, simply listing the verses that mention 'gospel' is not the best way to give a full definition of what the gospel is anyway), but still should provide some food for thought and a little taste of the dazzling, multi-faceted unity of God's gospel.

Mar 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mar 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Act 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Rom 1:1-4 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Rom 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

Rom 2:16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

1Co 15:1-8 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

2Co 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Gal 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."

Eph 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

Eph 3:6-7 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power.

Eph 6:15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.

Phi 4:15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

Col 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,

1Ti 1:11 in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

2Ti 1:10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

2Ti 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,

Rev 14:6-7 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

So true...

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Monday, November 27, 2006

So-so essay about Open Theism

As I gear up for my second year doctrine essay it has made me revisit my first year 'effort'. It's not that great, though the issue it deals with is important and some people might benefit, so here it is (admittedly slightly changed from the form in which it was handed in). Might be worth also looking at THIS previous post.

Is God free in Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism, and does this matter? Discuss with reference to the doctrine of creation.

Classic Theism defines God as ‘free from various limitations’, asserting by this ‘His entire freedom to be Himself and to act according to His own nature and will’.[1] However Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism has recently sought to re-define God over against many aspects of Classic Theism. This essay will argue that the result of this re-definition is that God is not free as classically understood. In Open Theism God is significantly (albeit voluntarily) dependent upon his creation to enact his will. God’s freedom is sacrificed in Open theism for the sake of establishing and maintaining human libertarian freedom. This essay will proceed by defining the extent to which God is free in Pinnock’s theology, moving to a consideration of the importance of this by showing that Pinnock’s vision of God has serious theological and pastoral implications. Much of the discussion will focus on the doctrine of creation since it is in this area that the issue of God’s freedom comes into sharp focus.

Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism proposes a model for understanding God in his sovereignty which is significantly different from the ‘aloof monarch’[2] of Greek philosophy (which he claims has unduly influenced Classic Theism). In his model God’s relational nature means he is ‘open to the changing realities of history’ and ‘interacts dynamically with humans’.[3] However, Pinnock is at great pains to assert that in Open Theism God remains sovereign and therefore (to some extent) free. Over against Process Theism, the ‘Open God’ is self-sufficient and does not need to create the world.[4] God is sovereign and free in creation and has exercised his freedom in choosing to create a world that ‘delights his heart and pleases him’ in which he can demonstrate his most fundamental attribute - love.[5] This in Pinnock’s view necessitated a world where creatures are ‘free beings’ such that humans are ‘able to respond to God’[6] as his partners. Humanity enjoys ‘real give and take relationships’[7] with their creator, relationships in which God is affected and changed by the free choices that human beings make. In creating such a world God, although powerful enough to exercise universal control, ‘willingly surrenders power’, choosing not to predetermine everything in his creation, so as to delegate significant power to humanity.[8] This self-limitation to make ‘room for creaturely freedom’ is properly understood to be ‘freely chosen, not compelled’ and ‘voluntary’ – hence Pinnock argues that Open Theism presents God as free to create, engage in relationship and show graciousness.[9]

However, the limitation of God within Open Theism is of such an order that God has ‘made himself dependent on’ the world in ‘some important respects’.[10] Although voluntary, God’s dependence on the world proves substantial when Pinnock unfolds the nature of the creation-creator relationship. God delegates power to human beings and thus makes himself ‘vulnerable’ - in love he gives humanity the ‘room to rebel against him’.[11] This has led to a world in which ‘evils happen that are not supposed to happen’ and which God could not possibly have known would happen beforehand.[12] Likewise, God neither completely knows nor foreordains the future of his creation, but has set goals which he then works out ‘ad hoc in history’.[13] Even in the working out of these goals God is limited to using those means which will not override free human choice.[14] God’s will can be (and often is) frustrated by human decisions, [15] consequently God has to adapt and re-arrange his plans as he works towards his goal of a renewed creation.[16] In this sense humans are ‘co-workers with God, participating with him in what shall be hereafter’ - a future that is co-determined by God and ‘human agents’.[17] Thus the shape of God’s plans and workings are (at least partly) contingent upon his creatures. This by definition means that God is not free to do all that he desires.[18]

Curiously, Pinnock seems to claim at various points that this Open view of God gives God more freedom than Classic Theism. For example, the Open God is not timeless which would be a limitation of his ability to relate to his creation, leaving God trapped in a kind of stasis.[19] Accordingly, in Open Theism God is ‘transcendent’ in some respects (such as immunity to ageing, able to fully remember the past) but is in time (at least in part) and experiences ‘the succession of events with us’.[20] However, it is exactly this sense of experiencing time with humanity that means that God faces ‘a future that is open’[21] in which his will can be frustrated. Pinnock argues that this in itself enables God to be more free than if he’d predestined everything.[22] In his view God is flexible in how he works out his plans, even when it comes to fulfilling his own prophetic word, hence ‘God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own…he is free to strike out in new directions.’.[23] However, we should note that this apparent freedom and flexibility is due to God prizing human freedom to the extent that he will ‘adjust his plans because he is sensitive to what humans think and do’.[24] When God created humanity he ‘placed higher value on freedom leading to love than on guaranteed conformity to his will.’[25]

This vision of human freedom provides a key to understanding the sense in which God is limited in Pinnock’s theology. Open Theism assumes that humans have libertarian freedom - the absolute freedom to decide to ‘perform an action or refrain from it’[26] unconstrained by God’s predetermination or foreknowledge or their own inherited nature.[27] This libertarian view of freedom has traditionally been distinguished from compatibilist freedom – the freedom to ‘act according to our character or desires’ even if our actions are determined by something external to ourselves (such as God).[28] Classic theism has historically denied the reality of libertarian freedom for God or his creatures (even God is constrained by his own nature) [29] at the same time as asserting a version of compatibilist freedom[30] that sees God as the ultimate and first cause of all things. This is closely tied to an understanding of God as the creator but also the upholder of all things. Since God sustains creation he must have full knowledge of it and be in control of all that goes on within it,[31] such that even sinful human acts happen because God is sustaining the being of those who are committing them. Human beings are responsible for the decisions they make, whilst subject to God’s sovereignty, such that even sinful acts can be simultaneously ordained by God for his own (good) purposes. Such an understanding arises from the biblical data,[32] establishes human accountability, and (crucially for our discussion) understands God to be sovereign and free to accomplish all that he desires for his creation, in, despite and through human actions. In Open Theism, whilst libertarian freedom is strongly asserted for humanity, God is denied freedom of spontaneity since his desires are often thwarted or disobeyed by human actions - even to the extent that God must change his plans in order to maintain his overall goals.

To summarise, in Pinnock’s Open Theism, although God is free and sovereign in his initial act of creation, he subsequently acts in relation to creation in ways that are constrained by human liberty.[33] God is not free to accomplish all that he desires but is dependent on creation. We must now proceed to a consideration of why this revision of God’s freedom matters theologically and pastorally. We will discuss two broad areas – the doctrine of redemption (including concerns relating to soteriology and eschatology) and the doctrine of God.

Regarding the doctrine of redemption, since God is not free to accomplish his plans independent of human choice, the decisive factor in individual salvation is human choice,[34] as Pinnock himself virtually admits on occasion.[35] It seems difficult to ascertain why this does not mean humanity can claim at least partial credit for redemption, an idea repugnant to the plain statement of scripture. [36] This creates a disparity between God’s activity in creation and redemption. God was sovereign in creating human beings, but needs their co-operation in re-creation.

It follows that just as God’s will for the redemption of individuals is contingent upon their decisions, so too his plan for the redemption of the world in a new creation is dependent upon the role of human agents. As such the future is ‘partly settled and partly unsettled’ in Open theism.[37] This has serious consequences for eschatology, since in Open Theism ‘no-one knows how God, pursuing an open route strategy, will win the final victory over sin’.[38] Pinnock is keen to retain strong conviction that God remains faithfully committed to his goals for creation[39] and that they will be attained, but the assurance for this is that God is ‘a kind of master chess player’. Pinnock points to the fact that it has taken God over 2,000 years so far since Christ ‘to bring his kingdom in’ to support his view. Although he relates this to God’s patience and long-suffering desire to see many redeemed, the overall impression is that God is taking a long time because he has to struggle with free agents in opposition to him.[40] Additionally, Pinnock offers little reason for why humanity thwarting God’s plans (as at the Fall) is only a possibility ‘in the short term’.[41] Since human beings and the ‘powers of darkness’ have absolute freedom to follow or resist God’s will,[42] it seems at least logically possible that human beings could continue to frustrate the attaining of God’s goals for his creation indefinitely. Since God did not know what Adam would use the freedom he gave him (nor can he know what any other human being will do now or in the future),[43] and since God has no absolute control over such choices, it seems difficult to imagine what God would be able to do were humanity as a whole to resist his offer of grace resolutely and indefinitely. Since many humans evidently do exercise their God-given freedom in this way, it seems there is no answer in Open Theism as to why such a situation could not arise.[44] This allows logically for at least a potential stalemate in the chess game between God and those who oppose him. Pinnock doesn’t take his Open Theism to this conclusion, in fact there are several times where he is keen to give assurance that God will achieve his goals. His system is unable to offer any basis for being certain of this however. Since God neither knows nor foreordains the future, and the unfolding of his plans interact with human beings who can (and do) express their freedom in rebellion against him, there is no certainty that God’s goal of a new creation will ever arrive.[45] Even at best, Open Theism makes the attaining of God’s goals contingent upon human decision; if faith is the ‘condition for the concrete realization’ of individual salvation, then logically it is the condition for the renewal of the creation as whole.[46] Although Pinnock insists God is more powerful than humanity,[47] it is abundantly clear that human choice (an area in which God has limited freedom to act) is crucial for the achievement of God’s goals. Similarly, it is unclear why the future sinless state of the new creation is guaranteed under Open Theism, since Pinnock is ambiguous over whether human freedom remains libertarian in the new creation.[48] Logically speaking, if libertarian freedom is essential to the kind of relationships God intended in his creation, a redeemed creation could not be the fulfilment of God’s goals unless it was retained. Pinnock speculates that ‘a process of transformation that results in a confirmation of character’[49] will render human rebellion impossible. Since even God cannot know whether this will happen, and has voluntarily restrained himself from ruling it out, this seems a slim basis for trusting his promises that the blessedness of the new creation will be eternal.

Additionally, since presumably it was not God’s intention that Christ be crucified before the foundation of the world (if God did not even know the Fall would occur[50]), the cross is belittled in God’s plans, becoming his response to the de-railing of his creation project. Also, since Open Theism cannot guarantee against the possibility that the grace of God demonstrated at the gospel will simply stop working to reconcile humanity to God,[51] the efficacy of the cross is called into question.[52] When Pinnock asserts that ‘when Plan A fails, God is ready with Plan B’, it seems sensible to assume that God would be more than ready to supplement (even replace) the cross should the situation demand another means of wooing humanity.

Whilst Pinnock does not take the logic of his system to all of these extremes,[53] his system does allow for (even logically leads to) such possibilities, demonstrating the extent to which the logic of the gospel is compromised. This is inevitably disastrous for the honour of God’s name and the assurance of his people. Why should the Church trust God to be the best chess player when at times his game has let him down? This is a reasonable conclusion from the way Open Theism limits God’s ability to accomplish all that he desires.

Thus it has already emerged that Open Theism’s limitation of God gravely affects the doctrine of God by casting doubt on his truthfulness and faithfulness. This is confirmed when the consequences of a limited sovereignty for the scriptures are explored. Since God delegates a degree of power he cannot retain control over all aspects of the scripture text. Pinnock acknowledges this as a natural consequence of human libertarian freedom, but suggests that the alternative is ‘what amounts to a dictation of the text’.[54] By contrast he argues that God inspired scripture through ‘stimulation and invitation’ rather than control.[55] As a result scripture ‘expresses his will for our salvation’ – language that seems cautiously far from scripture being words that God could ‘claim as his own’.[56] The problem however is not just the conclusions that Pinnock draws himself but the further conclusions that could be drawn from his system and against which his system offers no safeguard. Open Theism leaves too much room for imperfection in the scriptures - since when God acts in history he is prepared to settle for second best because he values human freedom,[57] why not so in the production of scripture? This has serious consequences for the inerrancy and reliability of scripture, God’s truthfulness and our ability to truly know him.

Likewise, God’s goodness is compromised by Open Theism’s limitation of his freedom. In Pinnock’s system love is a defining attribute of God.[58] However, his definition of love is such that God can and does change his plans and ways because of human actions and because of his emotions. For Pinnock, impassibility is ‘the most dubious of the divine attributes discussed in classical theism’, and as result he postulates that God ‘actually suffers because of his decision to love’.[59] Patristic theology correctly understood impassibility as implying ‘perfect moral freedom’ – meaning that God cannot be diverted from his good will - rather than that he ‘surveys existence with epicurean impassivity from the shelter of a metaphysical insulation’.[60] Pinnock thus goes farther than simply asserting that God experiences emotions and asserts that God ‘changes for our sakes’ with all persons in the trinity suffering at the cross ‘in different ways’.[61] If God changes in this way due to human actions his will is no longer solely ‘determined from within’ and can be ‘swayed from without’.[62] It is small wonder then that a God who is thus open to human contribution is not free to accomplish all that he desires but experiences frustration. However, God is not free to be absolutely good and loving since he is not absolutely independent.[63] By contrast, Frame argues that in the bible it is because God is ‘too strong to be defeated’ that he is able to love (Romans 8:35).[64] A God who is unable to accomplish all he desires cannot be good and loving to the absolute since his love may be thwarted. God may be love in Open Theism but he does not exhibit this quality perfectly. Although this is the reverse of what Pinnock himself argues,[65] it does seem difficult to imagine how God’s love is perfect if its goals are unfulfilled. Open Theism logically suggests God may well be forced to judge someone even though deep down his will would be to love them eternally – God is thus bound by human decision, even in his love. If God’s primary attribute (as Open Theists would have it) cannot be shown to be something which he displays to perfection then surely the whole system is called into question since it cannot be a valid model for understanding the one true God of the scriptures.

Similarly God’s wisdom is compromised if God is not free. Pinnock depicts God as a risk-taker,[66] limiting his freedom for the grand project of a world where human freedom is real and love is possible.[67] As such God is responsible for the possibility (but not the actuality) of evil.[68] However, sin and evil is outside of God’s control, since God did not know the fall would happen for certain and does not know what human beings even now will do with their free choices.[69] As such Open Theism leaves us with a picture of a God who entered into a risky creation project which is now victim to the free rebellion of humanity which God can neither control nor entirely foreknow. God remains the sustainer of a creation which he has chosen not to control, yet all the while it denies his loving purposes. We are left without the assurance that God has any greater plan[70] in mind by the evil which runs rampant in his world.[71] PInnock is most insistent on this point saying that if God foreknew Hitler’s evil

‘…it would imply that he thought Hitler’s evils could serve a purpose and that it was better that, on balance, they happen rather than they not happen. Surely not! God gave Hitler freedom but it was not settled ahead of time how he would use it.’[72]

Extreme evil creates problems for any theological system, but, whilst God’s (apparent) ‘culpability’ in Classic Theism is that he permissively wills evil for a greater good (which we don’t fully see or fully know now, but God does), in Open Theism God can be charged with the short-sightedness that made evil possible, and is able merely to react to it by trying (not always successfully) to make the best of a bad situation. Although Pinnock argues that the world we have as a result is worth the risk God took in creation,[73] others have concluded that, given the number of God’s ‘risks’ that have ‘failed’, the Open Theist God is hardly worth trusting as ‘the paradigm of wisdom’.[74] If Open Theism were true it would be hard to argue that in creating the world and limiting his freedom God has not made an almighty blunder. [75] Since God is responsible for the possibility of evil, is he not negligent to have limited himself from controlling it?

Finally, Open Theism effectively leaves God as merely the most powerful among a number of powers in his creation. As such his Kingship and Lordship are undermined and in many ways resembles one of the gods of ancient polytheism,[76] needing to exercise his rule and move his plans forward by the consent of the other powers especially humanity.[77] It would seem that God’s sovereignty is diminished to elevate humanity to something akin to god-like status. In practice[78] the vital distinction between the creator and his creation is broken down because God is dependent on what he has made, thus Frame argues that ‘if God limited his sovereignty, he would become something less than Lord of all, something less than God’.[79]

It seems therefore that in Open Theism the glory of the Creator and Redeemer God of scripture is at stake. The relationship of the creator to the creation is of such importance that if his sovereignty is restrained then redemption, eschatology and the very character of God are affected. Behind Open Theism lies Pinnock’s belief that ‘unless the portrait of God is compelling, the credibility of belief in God is bound to decline’.[80] It is hard to see how Open theism’s picture of God is an adequately compelling object of faith.

[1] This is a quote regarding God’s freedom as understood in Patristic Theology. Classic Theism has followed the church fathers in this regard. See G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, (London: SPCK, 1952), p. 4.
[2] Clark H. Pinnock, The Openness of God, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994) pp. 103-4.
[3] Idem.
[4] Ibid. p. 109.
[5] Ibid. p. 110.
[6] Idem.
[7] Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001) p. 35.
[8] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 109 & 115.
[9] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 109, 112 & 117.
[10] Pinnock, Mover, p. 31.
[11] Pinnock, Openness, p. 115.
[12] Ibid., p. 115.
[13] Ibid. p. 113.
[14] Pinnock, Mover, p. 139.
[15] ‘The will of God is not something that is always done but something that can be followed or resisted.’ Ibid., p. 40.
[16] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 113. See also Pinnock, Mover, pp. 40-2.
[17] PInnock, Openness, p. 116. See also Clark H. Pinnock, ‘From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology’ in The Grace of God, the Will of Man, General Editor: Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989) pp. 15-30 (p. 20).
[18] By contrast, see Psalm 115:3, 135:6.
[19] Pinnock, Openness, p. 121.
[20] Ibid. pp. 120-1.
[21] Idem.
[22] Pinnock, Mover, p. 51.
[23] Idem.
[24] Pinnock, Openness, p. 116 .
[25] Pinnock, Mover, p. 41.
[26] Ibid. p. 41.
[27] John M. Frame, No other God – Α Response to Open Theism, (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2001) p. 120. See also Pinnock, Mover, p. 128.
[28] Frame argues that compatibilist freedom is an important concept in scripture, although he also argues that scripture doesn’t call this kind of relationship between will and action ‘freedom’, preferring to reserve that term for true moral freedom – the freedom to do what God says is good. By contrast, he does not regard libertarian freedom as a biblical category at all. Frame, No Other God, pp. 124 & 131-2.
[29] Ibid., p. 128. Also see how Pinnock effectively agrees that God in himself doesn’t have libertarian freedom in Pinnock, Openness, p. 118.
[30] Or ‘freedom of spontaneity’.
[31] In Job 42:2 Job, having listened to a prolonged monologue from God asserting his sovereignty in sustaining and creating all things, declares ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.’
[32] There are numerous examples in scripture where human sin is simultaneously ordained by God for the accomplishment of his own good plans. See for example Mark 14:21, Genesis 50:19-20.
[33] Thus Pinnock says ‘Creation placed limits on God’s freedom to act subsequently’. Pinnock, Mover, p. 136.
[34] This follows from a libertarian view of human freedom too. Likewise, the extent of human depravity is altered if humans have libertarian freedom, which in turn affects the extent to which salvation is by grace alone.
[35] ‘What was praiseworthy about Abram was his faith, i.e., his open responsiveness to the will of God (Heb. 11:8). His salvation was by grace but conditioned on an obedient response.’ Also ‘God called Abram and he freely responded…In the stories about Abraham, we see a man’s confidence in God mature and God’s confidence in a man grow.’ Pinnock, Mover, p. 40 & 42. See also Pinnock, ‘Pilgrimage’, p. 23.
[36] Frame, No other God, pp. 74-83.
[37] Pinnock, Mover, p. 137.
[38] Ibid., p. 52.
[39] Ibid., p. 43
[40] See Idem.
[41] Ibid., p. 42.
[42] Ibid., p. 40.
[43] Ibid., p. 138.
[44] Pinnock writes ‘…scripture suggest one can be finally impenitent and be excluded from the kingdom…The fact that God does not override the possibility of human refusal is attributable to the value he places on freedom.’ It is not clear what assurance there is that the history of redemption won’t grind to a halt in the face of corporate persistent refusal to accept grace. Were Open Theism true God would be (voluntarily) unable to achieve his redemptive purposes in such a situation. Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love – A Theology of the Holy Spirit, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 190.
[45] Ibid., p. 52. See also Pinnock, Openness, pp. 115-116.
[46] Pinnock is unclear as to how the final consummation will come about, though he is clear that it will. Presumably, if humanity simply en masse refused to turn to God then God would either have to rethink how to persuade them (which in turn could potentially fail too) or cut short his plans for saving as many people as possible and usher in judgment and re-creation ahead of schedule! Either way, what God wants has been frustrated. See Pinnock, Μοver, p. 52.
[47] Ibid., p. 53.
[48] Ibid., p. 31.
[49] Idem.
[50] Pinnock, Mover, p. 138.
[51] This is not to say that Pinnock has no objective element to the atonement in his theology, he clearly does. However, by making Jesus’ life and death that which sets in motion ‘a process of salvation and healing’ which ‘must be laid hold of by faith’ (which Pinnock understands to be generated by human choice), logically a situation could arise whereby the message of the cross simply ceases to work due to human stubbornness. In Pinnock’s system, whilst God would not need to establish an objective means of atonement to better Christ, there is at least the logical possibility that God may well need to come up with a new means of wooing humanity other than the message of the cross (or accept the defeat of his plans to reconcile – either way the efficacy of the cross is somewhat undermined). Pinnock, Flame, pp. 96-7.
[52] Pinnock suggests that God knows what will ‘bring his people round’ in reference to the statement in Romans 11: 26 that ‘all Israel will be saved’. But this does not make sense in Pinnock’s system, since many people do not repent. The God of Open Theism obviously has no foolproof way of reconciling people to himself. Pinnock, Mover, p. 128.
[53] See footnotes 41, 42 & 43 above.
[54] Pinnock, Mover, p. 129.
[55] Idem.
[56] Reformed theology would argue that whilst scripture was not dictated, God oversaw all aspects of its production, including the views, circumstance and background of the human authors, such that all the human words and idioms of scripture are exactly as God intended them to be. God worked through the human authors and their decisions so that their words are simultaneously his words. Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine – Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, (Leicester: IVP, 1999) p. 39.
[57] Pinnock, Openness, p. 116.
[58] Being ‘loving’ in the way Pinnock has defined thus becomes the yardstick by which other doctrines such as impassibility are measured. See Ibid., pp. 114, 119.
[59] Ibid., pp. 118-9.
[60] Prestige, Patristic, p. 7.
[61] Pinnock, Mover, p. 58.
[62] Prestige, Patristic, p. 7.
[63] Logic suggested by Prestige, Patristic, p. 4.
[64] Frame, No Other God, p. 56.
[65] Pinnock, Mover, p. 58.
[66] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 124-5.
[67] Love is, of course, just as possible in a deterministic view of God’s relationship to his creation. Human will/desire/choice is a reality - albeit within the overall sovereignty of God who, in the case of believers, alters their desires such that they can start to trust, love and obey God.
[68] Pinnock, Mover, p. 47.
[69] Pinnock uses the example of Hitler. Ibid., p. 138.
[70] Ibid., p. 47.
[71] This appears to negate the comforting pastoral effects of many passages of scripture (as well as contradict their plain sense). See Proverbs 16:4, Romans 8:28-30, Genesis 50:20 and Frame, No Other God, p. 74.
[72] Pinnock, Mover, p. 47.
[73] Ibid., p. 140.
[74] Frame, No Other God, p. 209.
[75] Pinnock himself suggests that the Open view legitimises the questioning of God’s wisdom. See Pinnock, Mover, p. 137.
[76] This comparison comes from information about Polytheism given by Dr Mike Ovey in CD1.1 lecture notes 2006.
[77] ‘God does not monopolise the power…God willingly surrenders power and makes possible a partnership with the creature.’ Pinnock, Openness, p. 113.
[78] We say ‘in practice’ because Pinnock argues that God in himself is powerful enough for total sovereignty. Idem.
[79] This, he argues, is because in the scriptures sovereignty is tied to God’s very nature. See Frame, No Other God, pp. 130-1.
[80] Pinnock, Openness, p. 101.