Friday, 25 May 2007

Richard Turnbull: telling it how it is

The headline in The Independent is certainly eye-catching: "The man who says we are all going to hell". It is, however, inevitably misleading, since the man they are referring to is only Richard Turnbull, the principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, who made the comment in a welcoming speech at the Reform Conference last year. (You can read a transcript of it here.)

Of course, the man who really put the cat amongst the pigeons regarding the dangers of hell was called Jesus, and what he said has already been widely reported. To give just one example, amongst his last reported comments to his followers was this: "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." (See John 15:6)

No doubt, the columnists at The Independent (a paper that has never lived up to its name when it comes to reporting Christian affairs, as witnessed by this 'Leader' on the same subject) would regard this as best not mentioned. But the rest of us should surely be grateful to Turnbull. He has told it like it is, and now the rest of us have to do the same.

Recently I have been visiting a local couple to prepare them for their child's baptism. The previous visits have been enjoyable and, on my part, encouraging as we have explored what Christianity means. On the last occasion, I decided to run through 'Two Ways to Live', a presentation of the gospel which uses six pictures to make six basic points about what it means to be a Christian.

This is how I presented it: (1) God has made us to live under his rule, (2) We have rebelled against his rule and gone our own way, (3) Therefore God judges us and we face both physical and spiritual death, (4) Jesus has died for our sins, taking their punishment (yes, penal substitution was in there), (5) God raised Jesus from the dead, and now he reigns in heaven as King, (6) We are called to give up our rebellion against God and live under Jesus' kingship.

The problem is, I wanted to leave out step 3 - that God judges us, and condemns us to death and to hell. I was happy to talk about God and creation, happy to talk about Christ's death and resurrection, happy even to talk about living under his rule. But I felt awkward and embarrassed talking about judgement and hell. And I know I'm not alone!

In fact, the whole point of the article in The Independent is surely to seek to embarrass Turnbull and those who share his views. Take this closing remark: "One blogger on a liberal Christian website jokily suggested that Dr Turnbull was himself a secret liberal, who has infiltrated the evangelical movement to discredit it from within."

Hell is an embarrassment to many of us. And that is why we should be thankful to Richard Turnbull. What would Jesus do? He would tell it like it is, which apparently means that hell is a real and present danger to all of us.

So, thank you Richard. You've put all of us on the spot, where we belong!

Revd John P Richardson
25 May 2007

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

Why “Open” means closed and “Conservative” means radical

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  1. Hi
    "(4) Jesus has died for our sins,"

    I enjoyed your piece while taking a break fom preparing my Sermon on Acts 2:1-11 for tomorrow. Tunbull needs all the encouragement we can give him not to mention our prayers.

    As I read through your piece I noticed that you used "rebel"pretty consistently all the way through except that when you came to what Jesus died for, you went back to "SIN". Why? It is our complicity in the rebellion of A&E against the rule of God that caused the crucifixion. So why not say
    "4. (4) Jesus has died for our Rebellion...".

    May the Holy Spirit fill you too to overflowing this Pentecost.

    L'Chaim! Ifan....

  2. Hi Ifan, and congratulations on such a 'close' reading of the text. You picked up pretty well exactly how my conversation with the couple went. I used 'rebel' earlier, because I wanted to avoid jargon and, most importantly, to explain the character of what had gone wrong (we spent a lot of time on some of the stages - much more than my outline indicates). I did, however, revert to sin later in the conversation because, as I said to them, it is important to 'tell it how it is' in the language the Bible uses. Maybe I was overcoming my own embarrassment at that point. It shows how the desire not to mention things can creep into our conversations at the most serious level and why I think Richard has done us all a favour.

  3. Fact is that very few of those 72% of people describing themselves as 'Christian'on the census would match up to the conservative evenagelical definition - indeed, the british dislike for 'God-botherers' is notorious.

    As someone who is utterly opposed to everything conservative christianity stands for, I can only thhank Turnbull, the Christian Institute and other like-minded souls for their ineptitude - it has helped those of us who recognise that the church is an irrelevant sideshow in the UK< and that what matters is changing the civil law. Conservative Evangelicals helped the gay rights movement enormously, for example, by the extremism of their stance, which helped to make ours look all the more reasonable.

    Thank you, and do keep up the good work

  4. I note you used John when telling us we are all going to Hell. It always is John when it comes to the nasty stuff. Elaine Pagels of course writes that John (the last of the "official" gospels?) was written to counter Thomas, which took an altogther different view of Christ and his teaching.

    I'm a Christian, but you probably wouldn't recognise me as one - and that's a good thing. Increasingly I have come to conclude that the Church is the establishment's response to the revolutionary teachings of Christ.

    It's little wonder that the Church of England is dying out. Its Rome-built doctrine was all very well for middle-ages man who thought the world was flat and the sun orbited the earth, but things have moved on.

    Sceptism to the hocus pocus in the bible is the only sensible response, yet filter the rubbish away (ie, most of the Nicene creed) and look again at the likes of Thomas and you find the real God-given Jesus who needs none of the nonsense to provide salvation.

    Now there's a message to share with a discriminating, educated, 21st Century public. Yet, like Islam increasingly harking back to a bygone age, the CofE seems only to have one gear - reverse.

  5. Hi Nick. Ah yes, the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas
    (I presume you mean this one, not the Infancy Narrative 'Gospel of Thomas'.

    But here, too, Jesus talks of judgement:

    (57) Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a man who had good seed. His enemy came by night and sowed weeds among the good seed. The man did not allow them to pull up the weeds; he said to them, 'I am afraid that you will go intending to pull up the weeds and pull up the wheat along with them.' For on the day of the harvest the weeds will be plainly visible, and they will be pulled up and burned."

    However, I reckon this must be a favourite:

    "(114) Simon Peter said to him, 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.'
    Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'"

  6. Hi! I enjoyed your post and wholeheartedly agree that Dr. Turnbull should be thanked and supported! May God bless him!

    On a lighter note, interesting that you should mention 2 ways to live! Our church is holding a 4-week workshop about it, which I am attending.

    A lot of people get turned off about the notion of hell and I think it is partly due to the fact that they do not understand the biblical concept of God's holiness and man's utter sinfulness. There's also a lack of understanding about what heaven and hell really are. Aside from streets of gold, fire & brimstone, what makes heaven heaven and hell hell is the presence or absence of God, the source of all good things and the ultimate Good.

    I think it was Don Carson who mentioned that when we share the gospel to (let's say...) people with materialist worldviews without engaging their assumptions about the world, the people we talk to eventually taint and judge the gospel based on their existing worldview. There's a mismatch right there because Christianity includes a transformed worldview that's incompatible with other worldviews. If you make it submit to any other view, it becomes something other than itself. Anyway, I really haven't been able to articulate that well (and I've obviously overused the word "worldview"!) but a better source for understanding what I've just said is "NT use of OT Part 1" available from =)

    Thank you for your post!