Archive for July, 2013

The Lie of Hell – Death is not the final chance: 31 July

July 31, 2013

‘I’ve heard about you. I’ve been thinking of buying your book on hell,’ said a Yorkshire Vicar over lunch at a Church Leaders Day last month. He said he had thought through the topic much. We talked about some of the Scriptures to do with ‘hell.’ A friend, sitting with me, suggested strongly that he buy the book. He didn’t leap at the idea, but asked more questions. We looked at Revelation 14:9-11 which I explained as I do in ‘The Lie of Hell.’ ( Something seemed to click. ‘I think I had better buy the book,’ he said.

6 days later David Munby wrote to me. ‘I have almost finished your book and have found it brilliant and convincing. I think every pastor should read it.’

Later that week David preached to his Thursday evening congregation:
‘I have always struggled with the idea of hell – as I’m sure many of you will have. It’s hard enough to accept for believers and virtually impossible for non-believers. So we tend not to talk about it, cos we are embarrassed about it. And some of you will be aware that I have felt for a while that the traditional interpretation of hell was unbiblical and didn’t make sense, but I have struggled to find a satisfactory understanding of all the relevant NT passages which does make sense. Well, last Tuesday I went to a day conference on worship and prayer where I met a vicar called Roger Harper, who is also a writer, and his latest book is called ‘The Lie of Hell.’ Which I really recommend if you have the chance to read it. And I found I agreed with most of his conclusions and have got really excited about the whole thing. Now you wouldn’t expect someone to get excited about hell, but you might understand someone getting excited about there being no hell…’

David went on to explain that Hades and Gehenna are distinct and all that follows. See for his 2 talks on ‘The Lie of Hell.’

One of the controversial arguments in the Lie of Hell, which David Munby picks up enthusiastically, is that Jesus having the keys of Hades means that he can take people out of Hades. Even after death people can repent and turn to Jesus. It’s harder then than now and, if we repent and turn now, we avoid much unpleasantness, to say the least. Death as we know it, is not the final chance. The second death, after the Final Judgement, is the final chance, but that is quite different. People can turn to Jesus after death ‘postmortem repentance.’

This week Jerry Walls explained why he also supports post-mortem repentance: Jerry is currently Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist Church. He has written books: ‘Hell: The logic of Damnation,’ ‘Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy,’ and ‘Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation.’ Rachel Held Evans introduces him: ‘Jerry holds a traditional view of hell in the sense that he believes hell is a place of conscious, eternal misery. But he says he agrees with C.S. Lewis’ famous line that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” His view is a modification of the traditional view in the sense that he believes God always welcomes sincere repentance, even after death. Unfortunately, he says, some will never exercise that option.’

Rachel asked Jerry about Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,..” Doesn’t this mean, as it has often been explained, that death is our final chance? Jerry replies: ‘… notice: it does not say judgment is immediately after death, nor does it say, (if there is an immediate judgment) that it is final. Indeed, most traditional theology holds that the final judgment is yet to come. So there could well be a preliminary judgment immediately after death that would judge one’s life to that point, but that judgment could still allow for repentance…’

Amen. It’s a pity that Jerry does not recognise that this repentance after death is for those in Hades, rather than for those in Gehenna after Final Judgement. He plays down far too much what the Bible says about the final destruction of the unrepentant wicked.

But Jerry is brave and clear and to be applauded. If God is truly gracious He will do all that He can to win all people to Himself. If He doesn’t give them a good opportunity to turn in this life, that opportunity must come beyond this life. The only alternative is to say that, as some people don’t have a really good opportunity to turn to Jesus in this life, that’s all God wants. If God isn’t bothered to give people a really good opportunity to turn to Him, then He’s not Love, He’s not the Shepherd who leaves 99 to search for the 1, He’s not the God and Father of Jesus. If God is as we know Him to be, death is not the final chance. AMEN!

Roger Harper


UK Government promotes low UK wages: 15 July

July 15, 2013

2 weeks ago Vince Cable, UK Government Business Secretary, was lauding employee ownership – Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, said ‘The benefits of employee ownership are clear…. Giving hard-working people a real stake in their company is a hugely underused tool in unlocking growth.’ Vince Cable said ‘As we rebuild the economy, there has never been a more important time to support different ways of running a business.’

Last week Cable announced plans for the future of Royal Mail: The company will be owned by shareholders with only 10% of shares set aside for workers. Somehow, in a week, Cable and Clegg had changed their minds about meaningful employee ownership. Or were they simply saying one thing while ready to do the opposite? Hypocrisy.

Alternatives for Royal Mail exist. Cable and Clegg, before they became part of the Government, promoted selling less that 50% of shares. An Employee Benefit Trust could own most of the shares, a model proved to work elsewhere. Cable last week visited and lauded Arup, a large and successful building engineering company owned by such a Trust.

Royal Mail workers have not been impressed by the 10% sop handed to them. They know that the new owners will consider it their paramount duty to maximise profit for shareholders. This will mean minimising wages. Royal Mail wages will drop to the level of wages in other, minimum wage, delivery companies. Royal Mail workers will have no effective say in this decision, nor in any company decision.

For years the UK has run a low wage, high share value / share dividend economy. Recently we have been keen to benefit from low wages overseas, transferring manufacturing to low wage countries thus preserving share values. Before that we had low wage regions in the UK. After the Second World War, Ford planned to open a factory on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent. The owners of the pottery factories lobbied hard against this because they were not prepared to raise wages to compete with Ford. Nor were they prepared to make less profit for themselves. The pottery owners won and Ford went elsewhere. (This history was told me by ordinary people at the local hospice when I worked there.)

At the same time as Ford were losing their bid to pay Stoke workers a better wage, German leaders were working out how to structure their devastated economy. They specifically rejected the low wage, high share value approach, which they called ‘manchesterism.’ They equally rejected a State controlled economy. They consciously followed a middle path, inspired largely by Roman Catholic social teaching, and ultimately by ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ They enshrined in law that the overseeing Board of a German company has to be composed equally of representatives of shareholders and representatives of workers.

Another way of describing the UK low wage, high share value economy is that we prioritise financial services above everything else. If there is a conflict between the interests of the City of London and any other interests, the City wins. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that this is precisely the approach which has put us in our economic depression. ‘I believe the jury is now out as to whether, since the reopening of the Eurobond markets by S.G. Warburg & Co. in the early 1960s, financial services have been a net benefit to the U.K. economy as a whole…. financial services must serve society, and not rule it.’
‘The jury is out’ is polite Eton-speak for ‘we know but most people won’t yet admit.’

The contrast with Germany is stark: their companies survive and grow, ours don’t. Our companies, run for the greater good of ‘financial services’, are bled until they either fold or are sold cheaply to foreign companies. Our Government, including our Lib Dem Ministers, have decided to continue and support our low wage, shareholder owned, City-controlled economy. They have not learnt the lessons of the past. There indeed has never been a more important time to support and promote different ways of running a business. Our Government, knowing this, fail to do it. Expect UK wages to fall – thanks to Vince Cable et al.

Roger Harper

Summer Reading: 1 July

July 1, 2013

A reader, Philip Tyers, wrote that he was re-reading my A British Crash. ( ‘Why?’ I asked:

Why do we read books for a second, a third, or more times? Because they offer the nutrients we need.

So if I need refreshment in the sense of living in a loving world, I might turn to Anne MacCaffery and her Dragon books, or to Ursula Le Guinn’s Tales of Earthsea, especially the latest stories which seem to add extra depth and wrap things into the future.

If I need to regain my sense of the reality of a loving God, William Young’s The Shack does it again and again.

But if I need to revive my positive vision of multicultural city life, where God is gently and normally at work in ordinary people, I re-open A British Crash. It shows life as I know it to be, deep down, among the ordinariness and tragedy. It does not prescribe, but provides a mirror in which I perceive afresh.

Personally, I read books once, making notes of anything significant. There are too many books unread to go over the same pages again.

Conversely, plenty of books turn out to be a waste of time or worse. The stories can be well written and well structured, but if the author’s view on life is pessimistic or callous, I end up feeling besmirched. Reading is like going on holiday with someone. The company can be interesting and engaging but you may not want the same for your next trip. With some people, you want to come home early.

Half a Martin Amis novel was enough. I took the unusual and drastic decision not to finish. J K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was the same. Well written and well told, it is a more serious, sharper, version of the TV show Little Britain. ‘See all these dysfunctional, disreputable, despicable, typically English people and how they attack each other (under the shadow of a ruined monastery – a defunct Christianity).’ Having been told that the end is the same but worse, I decided it was not for me.

George Eliot is great company. I have read most of her books. Adam Bede is still my top holiday reading recommendation. Here is a great sympathetic ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ story, with depiction of spiritual and church life as normal, together with thought-provoking insights into spirituality and morality. An ‘eye witness’ account of John Wesley preaching sets the tone.

William Young of The Shack is good, living, company. Not as accomplished a writer as some, he has a great, humane, imagination and enjoys tackling big questions head on. Cross Roads, the book after The Shack, gives us a humorous-serious spiritual story, another direct depiction of the Trinity, and a cameo role for C S Lewis. The first half has a bit too much theologising. When the story later predominates, it’s better.

Rachel Held Evans thinks holidays are for heavy reading, not light. See I disagree. Holidays are for coming away and being refreshed, which, for me, means coming away from theology and book research. We need to make time for the ‘heavy’ reading in the working year, and week. Sabbaths and holydays are for the lighter. Adam Bede and Cross Roads are light with heavy bass notes. Just right.

I haevn’t read MacCaffery or Le Guinn yet. I look forward to coming to know them, maybe this summer.

Do you have reading recommendations? Please comment.

Roger Harper