Posted by: rogermitchell | August 25, 2012

The Fall of the Church CH5: myths and obstacles

[If you haven’t visited this blog for a while, or are a newcomer, I need to explain that I am inviting your collaboration over the book I am currently writing. As you will see if you scroll down, this aims to make my research more accessible. Please comment! Today’s post is the latest draft of the final chapter. Before you read on, can I also draw your attention to my new video blogs, above.]

Chapter Five aims to clear the ground of some of the most resistant obstacles to the kind of mindset change required to extricate oneself from sovereignty thinking. From the experience of my own journey and interaction with many others on a similar pathway, these are threefold. They can be summed up as gospel myths, dealing with beliefs about the gospel narratives; promised lands, idolatrous perspectives towards the UK, USA and particularly Israel; and ghastly eschatologies, examining peculiar eschatologies consequent on the fall of the church.

Gospel myths, refer particularly to rationalistic skepticism about the historical reliability of the gospel testimony, and conservative evangelical insistence on submitting the gospel Jesus to the Old Testament scriptures. The chapter makes clear that while textual and historical criticism can shed real light on the gospel narratives, this needs distinguishing from rationalistic rejection of the gospel accounts because of the supernatural quality of their claims. Similarly, while biblical historians such as N. T. Wright have demonstrated the importance of recognising the Hebrew prophetic genre which provides the cultural context for the gospel testimony, this is not at all the same as submitting the incarnation to the Old Testament picture of God.

Promised lands, focuses on superior attitudes to the UK harping back to romanticised notions of nationhood such as those summed up in Shakespeare’s “this sceptred isle,” and notions of a past imperial “land of hope and glory” giving birth to the “mother of parliaments.” The chapter deals with similar notions now dominant in the USA such as those enshrined in the American pledge of allegiance to the flag, songs like “America, the Beautiful,” and the generally unqualified assumption that the American Constitution epitomises and ensures justice for all. The chapter then points to exclusive perceptions of the promised land of Israel as the source of these idolatrous attitudes and examines them in the light of the alternative perspective provided by the gospel testimony.

Ghastly eschatologies, examines unjust pre- and post-millennial rapture ideas prevalent in conservative evangelical, pentecostal and charismatic thinking about the last days, together with the Neo-Marxist sovereignty-based expectations of what they describe as a coming differentiated autonomy for the multitude. The origin of rapture thinking is traced to three sources: the hierarchical separation of material and spiritual worlds found in ancient Greek thought; the confusion between dominion and domination arising from a failure to exegete the OT through the testimony of Jesus; and a deep frustration with the perceived failure of the nineteenth century evangelical justice agenda. Neo-Marxist eschatology is traced to a further three sources: the modern enlightenment rejection of sovereign transcendence; an association of the kenotic and its servant motifs with the same supposedly transcendent agenda; and an allied inability to criticise the deeper imperial thinking of sovereignty as the means to peace.

The chapter finishes with a brief conclusion preparing the way the companion volume Discovering Kenarchy that will follow soon after this one.


  1. It’s all coming so thick and fast now, Roger, it’s hard to get a comment in – except to say it’s wonderful stuff!

  2. The high speed of output is not a criticism, by the way! I think you need to get it ‘out there’ fast!

    • No criticism understood, although I like it anyway. Now the outline’s done I’m working on writing the whole thing up, so there’ll be less to post. I’ll still be hoping for more feedback on what I’ve posted, so if you do get a minute…..

  3. […] EXCERPTED FROM Charismatic Church source […]

  4. Wow, this part sounds like lots of fun – love debunking myths and bad thinking especially when it has been so destructive. And I love the hint about the 2nd book. That’s one I’m looking forward to. I’m busy with my own writing, my head hurts with it all so I can offer no real comments except encouragement. c.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. Praying strength to you too as you write up your work.

  5. Roger,

    Suggesting such ideas that the pledge of allegiance is wrapped up in misplaced loyalty will join one in the “fellowship of the crucified” (thought borrowed from John Marsh in his book, Wayward Christian Soldiers). Of course you probably knew that already.

    We (the USA) are in the midst of an election year and we have dozens of prayer movements going on right now in the US intended to save America the beautiful. Dislodging those assumptions is going to take a humility to interrogate our motives, which in this case means the need to fix America so we can go about our lives free of hassle and/or take America back to her more godly foundations (which is hugely problematic even if we could).

    I don’t have suggestions as we are wrapped up in writing ourselves, but this is something we need to pray into. I hear the Lord saying, “steady, hold, stead now.”

    Happy to be here when I can. I am inspired and encouraged by your work and your life!

  6. I think our understanding of Israel in the purposes of God is long overdue an overhaul, given the heady views across the spectrum – and especially at the opposite ends. A kenarchic view of God and his kingdom seems to me to challenge conventional views head on, yet with a twist, ie. it’s the whole mis-configured sovereignty that lies behind the land and people issues, rather than the presenting problems, however deep they run. But it might provoke some flying dirt too! When Shlomo Sand’s explosive ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’ hit the fan, the backlash was immediate and explosive. Sand was exposing the mythology that surrounds the Jewish story, but the Christian one is also well fictionalised to suit the sovereign purposes of one group or another. Israel/Palestine is certainly heavy ground all round! But it really has to be taken on.

  7. Rereading the latest blog, I’m aware of all the scriptures that fly around in my head as I’m reading, backing one view or another of, say, the rapture or Israel, etc., often quite confusing – and I’m already committed to a kenarchic view! Clearly, whatever battleground you choose to argue on, the normal pull from most of your readership will be back to the perceived ‘solid’ ground of the biblical text. That is then not just about what is written, or even how to interpret it, but also how we treat the scriptures as revelation. There is no avoiding this battlefield and I’m wondering how you will tackle these great old-time theological monsters in both books and the course?!

  8. I think you are tackling a number of contentious areas. (Not for me, but some of my friends would definitely be struggling here.) I wonder if this might need more than one chapter? One chapter sounds a fairly light touch of the topic, which might be enough to convince those who are already converted, but might be a little too much for some to find digestible. I’m not sure where it has come from, but there is definitely a small (but highly influential) number in our church that are really getting into Israel and pre-millenial eschatologies. I’m not thinking that even two chapters will convince some of my friends, but a slightly fuller treatment might help stem the tide better.

    • You are certainly right here too, Ken. This is highly contentious stuff. But my argument is that it’s all of a piece and that its possible to demonstrate that fact quite simply. So my aim in writing a short book dealing with such explosive issues is to uncover their source, which I describe as the fall of the church. This will, I hope, help rescue some out of the pitfalls into which they have stumbled. My challenge is to expose the story clearly. For those who are moved to dig deeper there is my already published academic work and more to follow.

      • Well, if nothing else, you have certainly wet my appetite. I am looking forward to the book becoming available…

  9. Having worked hard to ‘weed your own garden’ of these three types of bindweed, you argue tightly and well for your theses. I encourage you in all that you write towards a tone shot through with mercy and invitation, so that the reader can pick up the hoe and go and do likewise.
    We do not need another punch up on theological points for its own sake but this analysis is excellent that also then has real signposts towards reforming into the new.
    Each person at a time, not a massive sweeping movement springing fully formed from the head of Mtichell.

    (I do not think you are falling for the traps I set out but you ask for feedback.)

    Good on ya.

    • hear hear

  10. Hi Roger. I was a few weeks ago surfing the net and came across this blog. I picked up on “ghastly eschatologies”. I am not a theologian but love the bible and love to see the Lord move in signs and wonders. I have always read the plain text as the plain text and inevitably believe that the tribulation and millenium are literal. I have no idea what neo marxist sovereignty is and didn’t know that my views were influenced by a frustration with a the nineteenth century justice agenda ( I have never studied british history of this period). I don’t understand modern enlightenment. I do believe that we are here to spread the gospel. I do inevitably believe that God still has a plan for Israel and we are called to love equally all peoples of all nations. Furthermore this view as far as i can tell has been around in writings that significantly precede the nineteenth century.

    I do feel you are making 2 plus 2 equal 6 and make assumptions about how people like me think. I certainly don’t believe i am even sublimally influenced by the issues you quote that i have never heard of.

    Interestingly i would say that the plain text interpretation i arrive at is because of a Hebrew world view and not a Greek one. I can’t see you can arrive at these conclusions if you have a Greek world view!
    I am happy to discuss further.

    • Hello Ian, Thanks for commenting and being happy to discuss further. I too love the Bible and am into signs and wonders, so that’s a start! I’ll make a few points and wait for you to get back if you want.

      i) It’s no matter if you know nothing of neo-Marxist eschatology. These are other examples of ideas about the future that can be obstacles to understanding the kingdom of God, which are relevant to my thinking, but perhaps not to you
      ii) You are right that I’m suggesting that unjust ideas about the millenium and rapture are obstacles to the gospel. I don’t know what your understanding of these are exactly, so can’t comment on whether your ideas would seem unjust in terms of the teaching of the gospels. You do say that you think tribulation and millenium are literal, and that God still has a plan for Israel, but not what these statements mean for you.
      iii) It’s possible that you assume that I and other surfers of this blog will understand what you mean because you are referring to what for you is “a plain text interpretation.” I confess that I don’t know what you mean by plain text, or a plain text interpretation. Perhaps a good place to start an ongoing dialogue would be for you to offer what you see as a plain text basis for your understanding of the tribulation, millenium and God’s future plan for Israel, or perhaps just one of these to begin with and we can take it from there.

  11. Hi Rodger. Thanks for replying. I don’t want to use a blog to write an essay so briefly i will start with point 3. I am not a theologian but profess to knowing some science particularly molecular biology. I was never comfortable with the theory of evolution and when i became a christian throwing it out was very easy. I believe in a literal 7day creation and to this day have found no evidence in the scientific literature or elswhere to sway this view. Indeed there is very considerable science evidence around to confirm a young creation. I accept this view is unpopular in the UK but my arrival at this is simply by reading the bible. God created in 6 days and rested on the 7th,. THe earth is 6000yrs old and the millenium is a literal 1000yrs. This is a pattern that seems to be repeated in scripture.
    The first 69 weeks in Daniel were literally fulfullied so why shouldn’t the 70th?
    When the bible speaks about Israel it means Israel and when it says the church it means the church. (I should stress that taking the bible literally does not deny the rhetorical device of figures of speech.) I hope this clarifies what i mean by the plain text. Incidentally going back to creation Genesis 1 provides the undergirding principles within science of reason and logical deduction. It is strange that Dawkins et al use this principle in their anti creation and pro evolution arguments.
    I don’t feel this backdrop is a hindrance to the gospel. Indeed people getting saved mostly don’t get saved through this kind of apologetic. I love using the bible to demonstrate the wonder and beauty and love of God. IF i ever wrote a book i would write one on the bible being perfectly perfect! It doesn’t matter which way you look at it or dissect it, it is divine and perfect revealing God’s wonderful redemptive love for us! And to think we never deserved it!
    Thanks for reading this and i am very happy to keep dialoging although you may feel this has little to do with your planned book!

    • Hi Ian,
      Knowing that you are someone with knowledge of molecular biology and reservations about the theory of evolution is interesting. But my question about what you mean by a plain text interpretation remains. You seem to be suggesting that the plain text of Genesis 1 teaches a literal 6 day creation with God resting on the 7th day. So how do you reconcile this with what, on the same argument, would be the plain text interpretation of Genesis 2 where the whole event is described as happening in a day (2:4; see also 5:1)? And how do you deal with the fact that the sequence of events is totally different in Genesis 2? For example, in Genesis 1 the plant life is created on day 3, and human beings are created on day 6, but in Genesis 2 it specifically says that human beings were created before the plant life (2:2-7).
      Like you, I’m not recommending that we start swapping essays on these topics on this blog, but I would like to understand your point about plain text interpretation because it was your reason for suggesting that I was making 2 plus 2 equal 6!

  12. Hi Ian, I am glad your experience is that this backdrop does not get in the way of the Gospel, unfortunately that has definitely not been mine. When I first became a Christian I was very enthusiastic about sharing the Gospel (believe it or not), and got into many conversations. Usually, within not too long, everyone of those conversations got side tracked by comments like ‘So do you believe in six day creation then?’, or some such. Once that happened, it was game over. I lost my enthusiasm for evangelism after a while, and it grieves me to think how much has been lost over an issue that I now believe to be so unnecessary.

  13. Hi Roger. Thanks for replying. As you know the discussion of Genesis 1 v 2 is not new. I believe the 2 accounts are complimentary not opposite. Genesis 1 is about the whole of creation and 2 focuses on man and the garden of Eden. It would take another essay to dissect this all out! Interestingly the NIV in 2:4 doesn’t use the word day (it does exist in the Hebrew I accept but space doesn’t allow to expand) and it also uses the pluperfect in Genesis 2:19. I do believe in a literal 6 day creation. Many of my colleagues and friends who are in the biological field do also. I do accept that the bible contains areas which are difficult to understand.
    My point about making 2 plus 2 equal 6 was based on what you say about why people are pre (or post) millenialists. I don’t identify with what you say about why, say, I am pre. I read the bible at face value and that is how it seems to me to read ie there is a literal 7yr tribulation and then the millenium which is a literal 1000yrs before the establishment of the eternal order. I havn’t changed my view in over 3 decades. Neither does that i believe influence my view of how to share the gospel. The Lord wants everyone saved (1 Tim 2:4) The concept of rapture is not tied up with Greek world view, it seems to me, but Hebrew world view. It is rather a fact of scripture and interestingly there are 7 of them.
    I guess what i found puzzling was your linkage that current “worldly” thinking influenced the eschatology whilst that is not either my experience or that of the many people I have networked with.

    Thanks for the continued debate!!

    • Hi Ian,
      I’m not sure that we’re are going to get too much more out of this discussion given the length of time you have been of one opinion! However, I will simply point out that reconciling two clearly different stories of the creation is not plain text interpretation. The ‘plain text’ is a contradiction. To decide that the Bible is the kind of book where different stories have to literally agree is to bring an outside hermeneutic to the book. Your hermeneutic appears to be a nineteenth century modernist one, which submits the Bible to a positivist, ‘scientific’ view of truth. I prefer to stick with the Jesus/ Holy Spirit hermeneutic and remain open or agnostic about the things I don’t understand yet.
      Love and blessings on your journey!

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