Descent into hell

Thought, Sola Panel


Recently on a feedback card at church, someone commented:

“I thought Jesus didn’t descend into hell! Just that he suffered the death we deserved.”

The answer is: yes and no! The question raises complex issues that cannot be easily answered in a short space.

So let me take a long space. (And if you are interested, read on, read slowly, and re-read if you need!)


Keeping the solas together

Thought, Sola Panel

One of the aims of the Sola Panel is to go back to basics, to remind ourselves of the importance of the ‘solas’ (i.e. scripture alone, faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, glory to God alone). This post will look at one way in which these solas all fit together. (more…)

Does God feel our pain?


Does God feel your pain? For many of us the question is a bit odd, like asking ‘Is God good?’ or ‘Does God love?’ We turn to John 11 and its description of Jesus being moved at Mary’s weeping, and his own weeping at the site of Lazarus’ grave. It is common to use this as proof that God is affected by our suffering, mourning, and death: that he shares it and does not stand aloof from it. “Don’t blame God,” we implicitly say, “He’s going through the same pain and suffering you experience. He cares.” (more…)

Problems with ‘the call’

Everyday Ministry

This is the third in our Sola Saturday series on giving up your life for Christ in anticipation of the July/August issue of The Briefing. In our first post, Robert Doyle looked at the concept of giving up your life in the context of worship. Then Dave Andrews tackled the important question “What should I be doing with my time [as I give up my life]?” This week, Philip Miles deals with giving up one’s life in missionary service and the problems with the theology of ‘the call’.


Interchange: When God uses a word, it means what it says



(This post is the second responding to feedback on Mark’s series on impassibility. Read the first.)

Martin Shields’s second point is, in my view, the most important of all. He argues that God is no Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Macmillan, London, 1871, chapter 6.)

Most of us agree with Alice that large anthropomorphic eggs sitting on walls don’t get to use words with completely different meanings. Words mean what they mean. And that’s Martin Shields’s second great concern:


Interchange: Keep your theological frameworks out of my reading of the Bible



[Update: Corrected the spelling of Martin Shields’s name.]

Martin Shields offered a series of very thoughtful concerns in response to the last post in my series on impassibility. In the process, he raised a bunch of key issues to do with how we read the Bible. His concerns are profoundly important questions that affect far more than the issue of impassibility. So I’m going to offer in these four posts what I think is at stake in Martin Shields’s concerns and why I disagree with him in the hope that the debate might stimulate all of us forward as we live in the knowledge of God.


The God of love (3): Impassibility and the possibility of a good law


(Read parts 1 and 2.)

We have been turning our attention to the question of whether God is impassible—that is, that God is in no way affected by the creatures he has made, and cannot die or suffer. Last time around, we explored how impassibility was a key element in the early Christian understanding of creation—that God made everything from nothing, and did so as a free choice out of pure goodness. This time around, we turn our attention to God’s law. (more…)

The God of love (2): Impassibility and the possibility of a loving creator


(Read part 1.)

We have been looking at the question of whether God is impassible—whether God is ever the object of other people’s actions or only ever the subject of his own—whether he moves others but is never moved by them. As I suggested last time, this often raises the question for people of whether God has emotions—whether God is moved by what happens to us, good or bad. As it seems to us fairly obvious that God has to have emotions to be able to love, the notion that God is impassible is a prime contender for the ‘Most Unbiblical Abstract Philosophizing Award’. We just know that emotions are everything.

The God of love (1): Star Trek and the impossibility of impassibility


Spock vs. Data

Star Trek, in all its reincarnations, is a great show. It is so pretentious in its aspirations to say something meaningful and so inane in its working assumptions, that it works as an almost perfect mirror of the values and concerns of the society that existed when it was televised. The highly evolved and civilized Federation of the future almost always reflects the concerns of the slightly left-of-centre-leaning portion of North American society who were the target of the show’s producers. The ‘Federation’ is simply ‘the Democratic Party writ large’. And so the show acts like a great expression of the cultural intuitions of the societies to which we belong and live and minister in. (more…)

Countercultural rebellion

Life, Thought

Carl Trueman is the Academic Dean and Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, as well as a Consulting Editor for Themelios. Paul Grimmond caught up with Carl when he was in Australia in 2009.


Do we pass on more error than we realize?


In every culture, stories are begun (and go on to prosper) because they explain something important to us. In Christian circles, it’s often the best sermon illustrations that are passed on, from one to another. But I’ve come across two illustrations that preachers regularly use that are untrue. What should we make of them?

New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ


New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ

Thomas R Schreiner

Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2008, 976pp.


It seems obvious what we mean when we say “Paul teaches” or “Jesus says”, but what do we mean when we say “the New Testament teaches”? The New Testament is a small library of books by several authors—authors who, it is popularly argued, apparently did not share each other’s manuscripts or they would be more in agreement with one another! While they share a common subject and a common context, is there really a coherence to this group of texts to the point at which we might say “This here is the teaching of the New Testament”? For example, influential Durham scholar James Dunn has argued that the New Testament is more diverse than unified—more a cacophony than a harmony. Many scholars remain persuaded of his case. (more…)

In defence of doctrine

The whole business of doing ‘doctrine’ has become quite unfashionable in the Christian world. But, as Michael Jensen argues, nothing is more important and essential because the gospel itself demands it. (more…)

Is God a mystery?

Up front, Sola Panel

Is God a mystery? I think my answer is “No”, “No” and “Yes”.

No, God is not a mystery in the sense of being a mysterious force—an overpowering Other whom we encounter primarily in the realm of feeling through mystical techniques and experience. We do not merge with the mystery of God by exiting our consciousness or by being absorbed like a drop into his ocean. We can get to know him as a person because that is how he graciously relates to us—person to person, through speaking to us and listening to us. (more…)