Archive for January, 2013

Unbiblical Evangelicals: 25 January

January 25, 2013

‘I read everything else in the Bible now through the lens of Jesus, not the other way around. He’s the incarnate and so that’s my home.’

So writes Sarah Bessy commenting on Rachel Held Evans’ blog The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart.

Rachel wrote that she is horrified at the apparent callousness of Evangelicals who are not troubled by the genocide in the book of Joshua, nor by the prospect of non-Christians being tormented forever in hell. They think that if that’s what the Bible says, it must be OK. It sounds horrible but it must be God’s will so there’s nothing to be worked up about. What is in these Evangelical hearts?

Sarah rightly points to the core of the problem – reading the Bible the wrong way. When you read ‘through the lens of Jesus’ you start knowing that cruelty and violence are wrong, enemies are to be loved not massacred and the love that flows from our hearts is supremely important. Anything that does not fit into what we know about and from Jesus is to be rejected or to be put on the shelf until we can integrate it with Jesus. Parts of Joshua fall into this category.

This ‘Jesus lens’ approach is the Biblical approach. (The technical term for ‘approach to reading the Bible, or other literature’ is ‘hermeneutic’. Just in case you have come across the word and wonder…) This is surprising because the Evangelicals who do not use the ‘Jesus lens’ think they are being entirely Biblical. They aren’t. Where does the Bible itself say that the Bible is to be read their way, treating all of it as equally authoritative? Nowhere. Where does the Bible itself say that the Bible is to be read with a ‘Jesus lens?’ Several passages in the New Testament.

Mark 9:5-7 recounts the Transfiguration:
Then Peter said to Jesus, `Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, `This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ (NRSV)

A voice from heaven (what could be more authoritative than that?) tells them, and us, to listen to Jesus, not to Jesus alongside Moses and Elijah – ie not alongside the Old Testament. Jesus is the Son, not a prophet. He is of a completely different order. (Hebrews 1) Pay attention to him, him alone!

Jesus himself confirms this by saying that wise men hear his words and act on them – not the words of the Old Testament. (Mth. 7:24-27) Jesus said his disciples are to learn to obey all he commanded, not all Scripture. commanded. (Mth 28:20) Paul and Peter write that Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone. (1 Cor. 3:11, 1 Peter 2:6,7) You start the building with Jesus. If you start with Joshua you end up with a skewed building.

Jesus also said that we are to read the Old Testament entire and follow what it says. Jesus had a way of saying two almost contradictory things. We start with Jesus, listen to Jesus and then we look carefully at all of the Old Testament. Reading with a ‘Jesus lens’ is another way of saying the same thing.
Conservative Evangelicals object to the Jesus lens. The more theological say that it is illegitimate to form a ‘canon within the canon.’ The canon of the whole of Scripture is the main thing. It cannot be subdivided in any way. Where, though, does the Bible itself say this? The voice from heaven and the New Testament give a different message. Conservative Evangelicals are reading Scripture in an unbiblical way. This needs to be said more clearly and more often.

Further, the voice from heaven and the New Testament do not say ‘pay attention to the recorded sayings of Jesus’ but ‘Listen to him!’ The record of what he said is of great importance, but he is also alive and speaking today through the Holy Spirit. It is vital that we have a personal relationship with Jesus today, having our hearts warmed and healed by his, abiding in him, in his love. So Sarah Bessy writes: I just like to sit with my head resting on Jesus while I figure it out. That’s just what we are all supposed to do. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth, including telling us things that Jesus could not say before, (John 16:12-14) We read Scripture not only having read the Gospels but with Jesus with us, his heart and his mind alongside ours.

Has this Jesus lens, Jesus priority, been explained and argued elsewhere? I would love to know more. Has Gay Marriage been looked at fully with the Jesus lens, the Jesus priority? I am working on this at the moment and am keen to compare with others. Please comment.

If you want to know what happens when you use the Jesus lens to look at Hell, see The Lie of Hell You see that Jesus used two different words which have been translated by the one word ‘hell’ and that changes everything.

Roger Harper


Hell Interview and Pictures: 7 January

January 7, 2013 now has an interview with me about my book The Lie of Hell ( For about 40 minutes, you can hear some of the background, main points, and recommendations. Chris Date, the interviewer, says that he wants to encourage people to buy a copy for themselves.

Chris asked me about my assertion, new to theology, that the traditional doctrine of hell was finally fixed by the influence of Islam. In the early Middle Ages hell was often seen very differently to how Dante or Jonathan Edwards saw it:


This is part of the front of Lincoln Cathedral. It is hard to date exactly, as the early Cathedral suffered fire and earthquake, and was rebuilt, probably incorporating elements of the original. This carving was probably made by 1250 AD, and could be earlier.

Hell’s jaws have been opened wide by the King, Jesus, and his adjutant. Jesus has bound up and gagged the puny devil and trampled on him. Central to the picture and the message is Jesus pulling people out of hell.

A very similar picture, and message, is on the cover of The Lie of Hell. This is part of the great fresco in the Chora in Istanbul. It is probably somewhat earlier than the Lincoln carving.

front cover

From one end of Europe to the other we see Jesus the Saviour saving people from hell. This message was also seen, and heard, in the medieval Mystery Plays, popular in Western Europe, routinely including a scene of Jesus proclaiming freedom to souls in hell and releasing them. This rescue in art and drama is known as ‘the harrowing’ of hell.

By the time of Dante (c1315 AD), and with the help of Dante, the dominant picture was very different. Over the door of hell were fixed the words ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ People in hell were there forever, with no way out. Jesus was nowhere near. He was now solely enthroned in heaven. The devil was no longer puny, bound up and under Jesus’ feet. The devil was huge, menacing, powerful, free to endlessly torture and munch the ‘souls’, with Jesus watching, or at least knowing, unconcerned.


This is the oldest painting of its kind in England, in St Thomas’ in Salisbury. It was painted around 1475 AD (see )

A significant change took place in understanding and pictures of hell between 1250 and 1475. At that time the biggest influence on Christianity and the source of major developments was Spain, where Christians and Moslems lived and studied together. In the Qu’ran, in virtually every Surah from the earliest to the last, hell is proclaimed, taught, warned of, as the fiery place of eternal torment from which there is no escape. This overwhelming Islamic certainty about hell significantly strengthened Christian teaching of a similar hell. Christian teaching about Jesus rescuing people from hell faded into the background.

One specific influence was The Night Journey of Mohammed to Heaven by Ibn Arabi, which many historians consider helped Dante form the plan of his Divine Comedy – Hell and Purgatory and Heaven.

You may notice that, in the Salisbury painting, the people being taken to hell are chained together. Nowhere in the Bible is there a description of the condemned chained together. Instead, the Bible talks of each person being judged according to their own deeds, implying no lumping of people together. Surah 14 of Qu’ran, verse 49, reads ‘Thou wilt see the guilty on that day linked together in chains.’

The hell of eternal torment is originally more Islamic than Christian.

Roger Harper