Published Articles

Why Hell?

Over the last few years Hell has become quite a hot topic (please excuse the pun but I just couldn’t resist it).  Rob Bell stirred up the flames of controversy with his book ‘Love wins’ and more recently Francis Chan has responded with his ‘Erasing Hell’. Bell and others claim that Hell can’t possibly exist as a ‘place’ of endless punishment because God is all loving. Chan, and most other evangelicals, claim that although the idea of eternal Hell is disquieting to say the least, it is unequivocally taught in scripture. I am not going to add to the debate concerning the biblical validity of Hell. I am satisfied that the scriptures, and Jesus in particular, provide ample evidence of its existence. I believe in the inspiration, authority, and trustworthiness of the Bible and so I see no point in re-asking the question ‘does Hell exist?’ because the biblical answer is a clear ‘yes it does.’ I want rather to ask, and attempt to respond to, a related but different question; why does Hell exist?’ A reasonable answer to this question will help those of us who are struggling to evaluate the various alternative theories that form the basis of the current debate. The immortality of the soul/spirit is one such theory – if the immaterial component of human nature does not exist eternally then perhaps there is no need for Hell and God could simply annihilate ‘sinners’. Another strand is Universalism – everyone will ultimately be saved, perhaps even the devil, and so Hell is redundant. I won’t attempt to address these issues in this short article but Bell and Brian McLaren have stated why they believe there is no purpose to a hell, so I want to state two reasons why I believe there is a need for Hell.

One reason Hell exists is because God is righteous and just. In Deuteronomy 32:4 God is described as, ‘a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he’.
Again, Abraham appeals to God’s character of righteousness with, ‘Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25). We come to understand what is right and fair because God has established the standard of justice and righteousness. Yet we know through observation and logical deduction that great injustice is not always punished, or even accounted for, in this life time. However, if God is righteous and just then how can a Hitler, Stalin, or Bundy receive the same eternal treatment as a Billy Graham? If there was no Hell then there would be no reason to believe that God was righteous and just.
Another reason Hell exists is because of the consequence of sin, which is death.
God told Adam that he would die if he chose to sinfully rebel against Him. Thousands of years later Paul wrote that ‘sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.’ (Romans 5:12). Unregenerate humankind exists in a state of separation from the presence, life, and wisdom of God. Unless people are spiritually born again (John 3:7) they remain separated from God. There is no biblical indication that this separation does not continue after physical death and there is ample biblical evidence that it does (Matthew 25:41-46 et al). This on-going, post-earth separation makes Hell a necessity. By the way, on earth nobody is totally separated from the influence of God because He is present by His Spirit through the church. However, Hell is characterised by an absolute separation from God. God is good, merciful, and loving so a state devoid of His qualities is indeed hellish.

I am a passionate advocate of Christocentric interpretation of scripture (see http://www.satsonline.org/userfiles/Peppler,%20The%20Christocentric%20Principle-A%20Jesus-Centred%20Hermeneutic.pdf) and it is significant that Jesus spoke more about Hell than anyone else recorded in the Bible. He taught, alluded to it, and told several parables concerning it. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3) and in Him ‘all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). So what Jesus said is definitive, and He said that the original reason why Hell was created was to provide an eternal abode for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Unfortunately, He made this statement in the context of the fate of those who do not live out a relationship with himself and His disciples.

Does Hell exist? Yes I surely believe it does. Is Hell necessary? Yes it is, as an eternal consequence of Gods righteousness and justice, and man’s rebellious separation from Him.

Why Hell? Read More »

The Mystery of the church

In Ephesians Paul uses the word ‘mystery’ four times. He writes of ‘the mystery made known to me by revelation’, his ‘insight into the mystery of Christ’, and how God has appointed him to ‘make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery’. In verse six he states the mystery in plain terms; ‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus’.

To us modern day multi-cultural Christians this hardly seems a mystery at all, but to the Jews of Paul’s day it must have been a shocking revelation.
The Jews were the chosen few and the Gentiles were the lost many, and now Paul was saying that these blasphemous goyem were included through Christ Jesus in the people of God! What an outrageously radical idea!

Paul’s mysterious revelation goes even deeper. He was a student of ancient Jewish mysticism and would have been familiar with the concept the Rabbis’ called the Adam Kadmon, the Heavenly Man, or what later became known as the Cosmic Christ. This mystical being was believed to be the final revelation of God, representing the fusion of the divine with the human. His head was in the heavens and his body was on the earth and as such he filled the entire cosmos. Paul uses ‘Cosmic Christ’ type language extensively in Ephesians and is suggesting to those in the know that the church, the mysterious body made up of all types of people, is the Adam Kadmon. That’s why he writes that God’s intent was that ‘now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Ephesians 3:10-12). Jesus is the head in heaven and the church is the body on earth!

Now, it may not be particularly relevant, or mysterious, to us today to accept that Jews and Gentiles alike make up the Body of Christ, but it is certainly relevant to know that the church is in some sense part of the mystical co-joining of divinity and humanity. Now we can understand why Paul wrote  that ‘God placed all things under his (Jesus’) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way’ (Ephesians 1:22-23).

So the Gentiles as well as Jews are part of the church, and the church is the Body of the Cosmic Christ. But there is more, there is a third level of mystery that Paul is revealing in Ephesians. He writes of the riches of God’s ‘glorious inheritance in the saints’ (1:18) and he ends his wonderful prayer in chapter three with ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus’. The blessings of Israel are now the blessings of the church. Ephesians 3:6 states that ‘through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.’ They are therefore the blessings of each of us who are part of the church. But here’s the thing; the promises and blessings that Paul prays for are for us, not in isolation, but as members of the church. The blessings set out in Ephesians, and elsewhere, are corporate! He writes that we (plural) ‘may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (3:19), and in chapter four verse thirteen he continues, ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ Do you know of any single person apart from Jesus himself who has attained to this? No, because the promise applies to us corporately as part of the church, and not to us as independent individuals.

This idea of our corporate identity is as shocking to many of us today as the revelation of Gentiles being included in the church was to the people of Paul’s time. Why do I say this? I believe this because for centuries now Christians have been taught that Christianity is all about ME; what I can have, my health, wealth and happiness, my eternal destiny, and my personal relationship with God.  Yet this idea is utterly alien to Jesus’ message because He said that it’s all about others, giving, and community.

Now, if I believe the ‘I lie’, then what is the church to me? Well, it’s a supplier of services of course. It’s there to supply me with life principles, friendships, music, community projects, and so on. The church is a supplier and I am a religious consumer. No wonder church leaders moan about the fact that only 20% of their church members are active, committed, and growing spiritually. No wonder Christians move from one local church to the next when they feel that their needs are no longer being met. Why not, because if one supermarket no longer stocks the brands I like, or raises the prices, then I move to another supermarket without a thought – so why not with church?

What a tragic misunderstanding! We miss God’s purpose for us almost entirely, and we miss so much of His blessings, when we fail to see that we are saved into the body of Christ, the church, not into a self-centred consumerist individuality. This is indeed a mystery, but a glorious and blessed mystery!

The Mystery of the church Read More »

The liberal ‘gevaar’

In many evangelical circles, and certainly amongst most fundamentalists, the world ‘liberal’ carries with it a definite emotional and theological charge.

Liberals are seen as threatening the Faith and undermining true Christian theology. Liberals have a nefarious agenda; they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and so on. Liberal theologians, on the other hand, are concerned at what they observe as a lack of love and compassion for the human condition among fundamentalists. They also take exception to what they perceive as the naïve and uncritical spiritualisation of evangelicals. Some, like bishop Spong for instance, even contend that unless they save Christianity from unscientific supernaturalism it will become first irrelevant and then extinct.

So what is theological liberalism?  I would describe liberals as people who hold the following theological beliefs:  Concerning the Bible, they generally believe that the scriptures are no more inspired than other important literary works. As a result, they subject the Bible to rigorous ‘higher’ criticism and discount much of its historic reliability and factual accuracy. Concerning salvation, they understand regeneration as a reprogramming of the individual mind and the transformation of the structures of society. Liberal theology is both humanistic and anti-supernatural. On the positive side, this results in a focus on compassion for people and consideration for the human habitat. On the negative side, it strips Christianity and the Bible of everything that cannot be logically explained. Angels have never been scientifically evaluated therefore they cannot exist. A miracle is merely the mythological name given to a natural process we do not yet fully understand. Rebirth is actually just a way of describing the process of intellectual and moral transformation. The virgin birth is superfluous… and so on. I need to note though that there is a continuum from old fashioned liberalism on the one end, through neo-liberalism, evangelical orthodoxy, to fundamentalism on the other end. Some fundamentalists regard the average evangelical as somewhat liberal, and many liberals see little difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists.

As an evangelical, I have very real problems with most that goes under the heading of theological liberalism. I accept that the Bible has a human aspect to it, but I do not accept that it is anything other than divinely inspired and authoritative. If, as many liberals contend, most of the New Testament is simply a record of the philosophy of Paul of Tarsus, then it provides only limited help in the 21st century and no certainty for an eternal future. If the Gospels record the embellished mythology of overzealous first century Christ-followers, then perhaps Jesus did not do what they say He did and His teaching is no more definitive than that of any other wise man of His day. If man is essentially good, then sin is just a religious word for social dysfunction. If right and wrong, morality and immorality are genetically or culturally determined, then homosexuality is just a matter of personal preference or predisposition, and abortion on demand a societal convenience.

If science stands above scripture as the yardstick of truth, then tomorrow’s truth will not be the same as today’s truth and both will be uncertain.
If God is an archaic name for cosmic group consciousness, then the possibility of a personal relationship with him, her, or it is an absurd idea. If Jesus was just a radical Jewish teacher and activist then I am without a saviour and my only hope for the future is my own effort, the success of my particular race or society, and a lot of luck. If this is what the Christian Faith truly is then it isn’t worth saving.

I see no point to a liberal Faith of the kind I have described. However, a note of sober caution is in order. Liberalism is not the only aberration within the greater body of the Church. In my opinion, extreme fundamentalism, on the other side of the continuum, with its harsh separatism and exclusive definitions of biblical inerrancy, creationism and so on, is an ill-conceived over-reaction to liberalism. In its own way it does just as much damage to the credibility and vitality of the Christian Faith.  Naive and slavish literalism denigrates the rational aspect of biblical faith; fixation on non-fundamental doctrines fragments the church; separatist pride and lovelessness opens the chasm between church and world even wider than it already is.

Another caution is that we should recognise the liberalism in our own views and practices. When we focus on societal change as the Faith priority, then we are comfortably in line with the liberal agenda. When we practice our Faith as an essentially private matter, largely unconfined by the demands and restraints of church life and doctrine, then we are being distinctly liberal. When we respond accommodatingly to unbiblical societal norms with the mantra, ‘different strokes for different folks’, then we are surely liberals at heart. So perhaps, rather than being as concerned as we often appear to be with only  the liberalism we identify in the institutions of the church, we ought also to examine the insidious incursion of it into our own lives and thinking.

I can’t speak for you, but I actually don’t want religion of any type, liberal or other; I want a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible and as illuminated by the Holy Spirit … so help me Father God.

The liberal ‘gevaar’ Read More »

The hope of glory

When I was ten my parents decided to give my older sister piano lessons. I asked them why I too could not be taught to play the piano, but they dismissed the idea out of hand. This really upset me! My parents were often out in the evenings for business or church functions and so every time they went out I executed a cunning plan. One of their favourite LP’s was Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto number one, and so each time I was alone I put this record onto the turntable, sat at the piano, and laboriously learned to play two minutes of the first movement. One evening after supper I asked if I could play something on the piano. They smiled indulgently at each other but their smiles turned into open mouthed surprise when I flamboyantly played the first few bars.

Now the truth is that I was no child prodigy, just a brat with a good ear and perseverance. I can’t help wondering what would have happened if my parents had mistakenly believed that I was a master musician in the making, and insisted on three lessons a week and endless hours of practice. How frustrating and heart-breaking that would have been for everyone.  No matter how many hours I practiced I could never be like Tchaikovsky; it just isn’t in me.

I suspect that many Christians feel frustrated and defeated by constantly trying to be LIKE Jesus and failing time and again to imitate Him.
They never say so out loud, but inside they often say; “I just can never be like Jesus! I try and try but I keep falling short and it’s frustrating me terribly. I love Jesus and its breaking my heart that I can’t be like Him as He expects me to.” Some people give up when this realisation dawns on them and become closet-Christians, or they lapse into living the Faith life in guilty failure. To make matters worse, these folk often have to endure a regular Sunday dose of moralistic preaching which just serves to make them feel even worse about themselves.

Len Sweet and Frank Viola write the following in Jesus Manifesto; ‘the “good news” is that Jesus doesn’t want us to be “like” Him. He wants to share His resurrection life with us. He doesn’t want us to imitate Him; instead, Christ, the Unspeakable Gift, wants to live in and through us. The gospel is not the imitation of Christ; it is the implantation and impartation of Christ. We are called to do more than mediate truth. We are called to manifest Jesus’ presence. That “we” means you’ (http://www.thejesusmanifesto.com). Are they right? Actually, they are not alone in proclaiming this message. Dr Jim Fowler writes in one of his essays that ‘the Christian life works by the out-working of the life of Jesus Christ. Christians must give up trying to make the Christian life work by their own efforts and orientations, and allow the life of Jesus Christ to be lived out through them.’ (http://www.christinyou.net)

Instead of examining the theology of this, I want rather, in this short article, to touch on some practical implications. If we are oriented to imitating Jesus then will we not end up practicing just another form of works-oriented religion?  It sounds a noble idea to imitate Jesus in our daily lives but success will surely depend largely on how well WE can do this. However, if we understand that it is Christ within who seeks to manifest His life through our lives, then the criteria for success will be His initiative and our yielded cooperation. Instead of putting on our faith life from without, we manifest it from within. This is closer to what Jesus himself taught, modelled and prayed for (see John 17:20-23). It seems that we are not called to perfectly imitate Jesus Christ, but to manifest His life through our lives – not imitation but incarnation.

Jesus’ life is loving and kind, and so to manifest His life is to be loving and kind. His life is holy, and so to manifest His life to be holy. Jesus’ life is anointed and miraculous, and so to manifest His life is to live in the anointed miraculous. His life is a life of giving and sacrifice, so to manifest His life is to live a life of giving and joyful self-sacrifice.

For the last 30 years I have taught that the purpose of life is to come to know Jesus, to become like Him, and to help others to do likewise. It is time I amended it to read;

‘the purpose of life is to come to know Jesus, to manifest His life through our lives, and to help others to do likewise’.  Know Him and show Him.
 

The hope of glory Read More »

The great creation debate

Over the last several years there has been quite a lot of Christian media coverage given to the evolution versus divine creation debate. The subject is not a new one, but of late the Young Earth Creationist camp has been making its views known fairly clearly and dogmatically and this has sparked responses from Christians who hold other views on creation.

I am not a trained scientist and so I am not competent to comment significantly on the scientific aspects of the debate. I also do not claim to be a theological ‘expert’ on the subject. Despite both of these limitations I do feel able to make some cautionary comments on the subject. Job 38:4 records God’s challenge when He asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” I believe this applies equally to both scientists and theologians. Human beings were not present when God created the heavens and the earth. Scientists were not present at the creation to observe and analyse. They develop their hypotheses from the geological record and logical assumptions. Theologians were not there either and we develop our doctrines from a logical understanding of the scriptures. So an essential requirement in the evolution/creation debate, on both sides, is humility.

A second preliminary consideration concerns who the parties are in the debate. On the one hand Christians are engaged with atheist or agnostic sceptics like Richard Dawkins, but it seems to me that the more heated debate is occurring between Christians. Evangelicals are taking issue with Liberals, but bible-believing Christians are also fighting with other bible-believing evangelicals. I say ‘fighting’ because some of the debate is beyond robust.

The main ‘camps’ in the Christian debate over evolution and creation are the Young Earth Creationism camp, The Progressive Creationism camp, the Intelligent Design camp, and the Theistic Evolution camp. Bruce Waltke has written a paper on ‘Barriers to accepting the possibility of creation by means of an evolutionary process’ (http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Waltke_scholarly_essay.pdf) and as an appendix he attaches the findings of four surveys administered to Pentecostal seminary faculties between 2004 and 2009. The last of these surveys revealed that only 23% of the respondents were Young Earth Creationists and 19% were evolutionary creationists. So we need to note that neither of these positions enjoys majority support even among Pentecostals.

I recently read comments by a scientist who described himself as a Christian Theistic Evolutionist claiming that a prominent Young Earth Creationist was implying that those Christians who do not agree with his views do not therefore believe in a real Adam or an actual fall. He then points out that as a Theistic Evolutionist he does believe in a real Adam and Eve, a Garden of Eden, a real Fall, and in the authority of the Bible. So we all need to be careful how we classify and characterise other sincere Christians.

I believe that, instead of fighting each other over the ‘how’ of creation, Christian scholars with a particular interest in this area of study should engage each other in a non-confrontational way on some of the underlying issues in the debate. For instance, we need to discuss what the various views say or imply concerning the character of God, the trustworthiness of the scriptures, and key doctrines such as sin and salvation. As an example, the idea that God created the earth some 6,000 years ago with the appearance of great age says something about God’s integrity and transparency. Disbelief in an actual Adam and original sin seriously affects the evangelical understanding of salvation in and through the last Adam (1 COR 15:45), the Lord Jesus Christ, and so on. These, and other serious doctrinal and faith issues, should be resolved through considerate and careful debate. I for one would certainly appreciate more of this kind of exchange and less polemic dogmatism in Christian magazines and journals.

My appeal to both scholars and editors is to air the underlying faith issues in the debate rather than the endless ideas on how God might have created, or when He created. As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ I am far more interested in, and impacted by, what the creation issue has to say about God’s character, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the key doctrines of the evangelical faith.

So my appeal is that we make the subject of creation a great debate rather than a great ‘barney’.

The great creation debate Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.