NZ Rail Maps: Overlay Webmaps Development Preview – Greater Christchurch

First published on NZ Rail Maps
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Good afternoon. Here is this week’s update summary for the NZ Rail Maps Project. So far, in order to aid the development model for the new web site, we have created two different development previews: Volume 1 (North Auckland Line) and Volume 6 (Wairarapa Line). These have reflected several development levels proposed for the maps:

  • The Volume 1 preview demos a map style that has two layers, being selectable from Diagram layers and one era of aerial photography, both available at various zoom levels.
  • The Volume 6 preview demos a map style that has around 16 layers, being selectable from Diagram layers and 15 eras of aerial photography, all available at zoom levels 12-19. It is an advance on the Volume 1 preview by providing for a much greater range of aerial photography in web maps. This has subsequently been modified by adding a transparent overlay for part of the Wellington railway yards.

Last week we started work on a new preview originally proposed to be of Wellington station. With further consideration, we have now changed this to be a preview of Greater Christchurch. The intention is to add four transparent overlays and thus make it possible for users to overlay various levels of symbology on top of their chosen era of aerial base maps. Using the Greater Christchurch area instead enables more evaluation of it by people we work with in Christchurch and with considerably more information included in all of the maps, it will be quite detailed and comprehensive and thus showcase very well what is possible to be achieved in this web maps system. In other words, it will be good advertising 🙂

As we are currently reviewing the completeness of information included in the Greater Christchurch maps and there is a fair amount of editing/updating needed, it will take several days to complete all of the source layers to the preferred standard. Mostly, there are several yards and sidings which have only been partially completed to date, and these will have to be added. Once this work is complete, the generation of the web maps will be relatively straightforward.

As we detailed in previous posts, once the new preview has been completed and any issues corrected, we will be in a much better position to determine what is the best development model going forward. The next stage after that being the development of automated scripts to speed up much of the maps generation from the various volumes. At that point the focus will go back onto actual production versions of Volume 1 (still requiring some digitising work), and Volumes 5 and 6 (mostly completed in a previous format).

So look forward to the Greater Christchurch preview, we expect it to be very good.

Christian Controverser: Dispensationalism In Depth [4]: Denying The Sacrifical Atonement Of Jesus Christ

First published on Christian Controverser
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Parts beyond the first three weren’t originally planned, but have been added because we realised there is a whole lot more to the dispensational theology than purported predictions of future events, the part that people most often remark about. We are indebted to Alistair Donaldson for his in depth analysis of the topic, which you can read more about in his book (see at end for details). At this point, on digging into the depths of dispensationalism and becoming more familiar with some of its more extreme propositions, a reader may well ask the question, is it possible to dispense with some parts and keep only the parts that are useful for a specific purpose? The answer, clearly, is no. All of the components and beliefs of dispensationalism come down to a set of core assumptions, and one of those is that Israelis and Gentiles are different and are treated differently in the New Testament era, which is contrary to Scripture. This knowledge allows us to assert that dispensationalism is more than a differing of doctrinal viewpoints such as are common within different churches or denominations, and is starting to resemble a serious heresy or false teaching. The basis of the differing treatment of Israelis and Gentiles inherent in dispensationalism is what gives rise to the teachings regarding, for example, the restoration of the Jewish temple and animal-based sacrificial atonement system. That alone is contrary to all conventional teaching about the sacrificial atonement of Jesus having superseded the old temple-based system (clearly taught in Scripture). Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the core dogma of the Christian faith, dispensationalism can thereby be considered heretical to this core teaching.

It also becomes clear what one of the possible motivations for teaching dispensationalism is. If a doctrine is shown to be anathema to key beliefs of the Christian faith, why would churches persist in proclaiming its particular message? The answer seems quite plain: these churches gain purported extra spiritual favour with God, and undoubtedly real material favour with the present government of Israel for the support they have given to it. Thus, these churches are getting some kind of spiritual “brownie points” for their activities. Dispensationalist churches and ministries are prominent features of the church landscape in Israel. It is notable that dispensationalism is well and almost primarily established in Pentecostal churches, as these institutions are well known for flaky theology, due to the tendency of Pentecostals to elevate the superiority of the charismatic experience of the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit over the bedrock grounding of all knowledge and experience of personal faith in theological truth, something that is essential to developing spiritual maturity for all believers.

Now to resume our theological discussion of this matter regarding key dispensationalist heresy. A key belief of dispensationalists is that the primary reason for Jesus’ first coming was to help bring about the restoration of the Davidic kingdom of Israel. This was clearly a key assumption of sections of the Jewish community of the era, and one of the beliefs some of the disciples put onto him in their discussions, as recorded in the Gospels. The teaching then asserts that because Jesus was rejected by Israel, the restoration of the kingdom would be deferred until his second coming. From that, we get the inference of what is known as the “church age” – the period between the first and second comings of Jesus in which the New Testament church has been established. The big problem, however, is that the assumption that it was intended that Jesus become the king of Israel in the Gospel era rules out the real reason that he came, which was to become the perpetual atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, and superseding the animal-based temporary system of sacrificial atonement practiced through the Jewish Temple rites. The latter contention is well supported by scripture, whilst the former enjoys none. We have to come to a realisation that nowhere in the Bible is it stated that God has two forms of salvational intent: one for the people of Israel through the Temple system, and one for the Gentiles through Jesus Christ. (And as we have just seen, the dispensationalists essentially deny that Jesus should have ever gone to the Cross, anyway.) It has always been God’s intention that the coming of Jesus and his crucifixion would supersede the Jewish temple system of temporary atonement. He would become the one lasting antoning sacrifice for all, clearly taught in Scripture.

So, with the realisation of the different treatments of two groups of God’s people under the theology of dispensationalism, we come to the understanding that dispensationalism has crossed over from merely being some teachings about the second coming of Christ, a tribulation period, a rapture and a time of millenial rule, into the realms of serious anathema to core dogma of Christianity. (Dogma is a term that refers to principles of Christian faith that are shared by all major churches and are core beliefs that can not be altered or changed in any way. So for example, the Roman Catholic Church shares with Protestant churches a number of key dogma.) The parts of Christian theology that are negotiable between different churches and ministry are called doctrine. If this were just a doctrine it would not be such a serious issue, since differences like this are common and accepted as being inherent to the separation of different denominations of churches. However, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most fundamental beliefs that the Christian church is founded upon and as such, any compromise or alteration of this basis is heresy.

In Part 5 of this series we’ll take a look more closely into the futurist timeline proposed as a sequence of events by dispensationalists. Part 6 will sum up everything to date and Part 7 is a personal acknowledgement (originally published as Part 4 and subsequently pulled). We acknowledge the work of Donaldson (2011) as providing the key framework and inspiration for this series and recommend it to all students of serious theology.

Bibliography: “The Last Days of Dispensationalism” by Alistair W Donaldson. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, US – 2011.

Christian Controverser: Dispensationalism In Depth [3]: Broken Promises, Straw Men, Outlandish Claims & Unholy Alliances

First published on Christian Controverser
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Anyone who has followed dispensationalism for any length of time soon becomes aware of the many claims made by its proponents that present day and future events are foretold in the Book of Revelation. The key ones, of course, are the rapture, seven year tribulation and millenial reign. However, ardent dispensationalists have brought significant discredit to their cause by creating dates when they supposed the world would end. This foretelling of the Second Coming has been in actuality occurring for thousands of years despite its complete failure in all predictions to date. We also fail to understand why dispensationalists persist with these practices despite the very clear statement in Scripture that no one will know the hour when Jesus will return, “not even the angels in heaven”.

As noted in a previous part, historicist eschatology, which in some ways resembles futurism (dispensationalism), was popular at the time of the European Reformation, as the reformers labelled the Catholic Pope as the antichrist. Such sentiments continue to be expounded to the present day. In research for this part we consulted certain works produced by Barry Smith Family Evangelism, a notable New Zealand based dispensationalist ministry from the 1960s to the early 2000s. The ministry closed down after its founder’s death and has not operated since. Smith’s apparent first book “Warning” (1980) expounded a number of key themes that continually pop up in one form or another in most dispensationalist propaganda. (He went on to write at least another four or five books in the same theme, each one updating the same message, but none achieving any of its core claims. We have retained these books mainly for other useful ministry teachings they contain, rather than the dispensationalist message)

  • That a one world government would be established following the formation of the European Economic Community, the ten horns referred to in Daniel being the 10 nations that made up the EEC. As everyone now know, there are much more than 10 nations in the current European Community.
  • Henry Kissinger must be considered a key candidate for the one world leader. The numerics of his name add up to 666.
  • There would be a major financial crash that would lead to the imposition of a single world currency. EFTPOS and credit cards were the mark of the beast (the symbol for “Bankcard”, a credit card available in Australia and NZ, incorporated three 6’s.)
  • A computer called “The Beast” existed in Brussels that would be able to record everyone’s personal information and keep records of all their transactions.

There was quite a lot more detail but we have just illustrated some of the key claims. The pattern followed in each generation by dispensationalist authors has been similar. A supposedly irrefutable and guaranteed set of claims has been made about world events, complete with dates. Inevitably, the outcome over centuries has been the failure of the predictions, but the followers are enjoined to believe the bigger picture is still happening behind the scenes. This is the basic modus operandi that sustains all secular conspiracy theories, which in essence these beliefs are: that the conspiracy will live to fight another day.

But the church is supposed to be different from the world. We are supposed to be the ones with answers that are inviolable truths to resolve common questions about the relevance of faith in our society, rather than providing answers to contrived questions about world events that can’t be sustained. In other words, the ministry that churches have built around dispensationalist teachings are a great distraction from the message of preaching the Gospel. When people live out their personal faith as Christians, they expect to hear messages that uplift them in their faith and show evidence that God is at work in their lives. The problem with dispensationalist teachings is that they don’t produce any such evidence for the people who hear them. Since the events being prophesied don’t occur, it follows that the messages are not fulfilling any kind of exhortational purpose in believer’s lives. Therefore, the ministry purpose being achieved is very questionable. The dispensationalist message encourages people to be fearful about their future life under the possibility of a tribulation and a series of horrific world events resulting in great loss of life and human hardship. That message is not in keeping with an unction to glorious holy daily life of a believer. It has also been suggested that some people have been so devastated by the failure of foretold events to occur that they have abandoned their personal faith. Surely this is counterproductive and the establishment of a shaky theological foundation into the life of a believer will have long term negative consequences such as these.

The core problem for exponents of dispensationalism is their belief that they are shaping destiny and that their cause is just and true. America is a democratic nation as it stands now, yet they are crusading for a cause that will seek to establish a theocratic government, which involves closing down any avenue of competition. In pursuit of this cause, they enjoin the church at large in the US and worldwide to sign up to their cause which is seen as a righteous war between good and evil. But in reality it is a subplot between lesser and greater levels of evil and the subtext that underlines every action of it, the pursuit of political power, is a major corrupting influence. The reality is that the Christian Right in the US has become focused on getting this dispensationalist cause of action pursued by the Government there at all costs, and that involves alliances with secular forces that have not the slightest concern about the church or the cause of the Gospel. In the process the church has become so entrenched in the politics of the side it has chosen (the Republican Party) that it has been wilfully blinded to the hypocrisy of what it has signed up to.

Here’s an example: CBN (Christian Broadcast Network, a major US church backed broadcast TV network) this very afternoon on our local channel Shine TV broadcast a “news exclusive” which was a story that claimed Facebook and Twitter were engaged in censoring an important news item concerning the Democratic Party candidate, Biden, and his family’s business dealings in Eastern Europe. The quest for CBN’s favoured political candidate Trump to win at all costs is so desperate despite Trump’s many failings as a serious leader, which have made him a laughingstock and the butt of many jokes, that they are prepared to broadcast all of this blatantly one sided political propaganda in favour of the Republicans. This latest report was produced by the US Senate, which is currently Republican controlled, and the US political system has become so morally corrupt and self serving that it is a wonder that any Christian leader in that nation can sleep at night backing Trump along with the rest of their rotten government. In other words, the dispensationalist churches have sold out to the pursuit of political power, and the key teachings in this theology are largely tailored to suit a set of political outcomes that have become a huge, unwelcome and rotten distraction from the core purpose of the Gospel message. Now, whilst all that dispensationalist nonsense has been going on, has anyone with an ounce of sense in church leadership in the US noticed that:

  • American has become the world’s most unequal developed nation. Financial wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a handful of billionaires and trillionaires, along with the power that comes with it. Meanwhile, poverty, homelessness and other forms of social deprivation are becoming increasingly entrenched. The health system in the US is so unequal that people who are out of work can’t get any affordable health care at all (unless they qualify for Medicare).
  • Whilst believers are enjoined by dispensationalist ministers to watch out for a future one world government that will be able to maintain surveillance over all of its citizens, the reality is that private for-profit corporations are able to do this already. Google, Amazon and Facebook already collect so much personal data about everyday US and world citizens who use their services that their potential power over individuals is arguably greater than many governments in less free countries. These companies are able to operate more or less unfettered in their US home because the Republican Party has a vested interest in greasing the wheels for these companies in anticipation of large financial contributions to election campaigns.
  • The US political system turns a blind eye to corrupt electoral practices and voter suppression tactics that in any other country would be anathema. As an example, in a Republican state, the governor can decree that only a handful of polling places will be open in geographically large black (Democrat voting) counties where people have to travel long distances and queue for hours to vote. People outside the US were shocked by the outcomes of the 2000 presidential election when the Supreme Court ruled on partisan lines that vote counting would cease. People outside the US are shocked by the amount of power that is concentrated in a body of justices with lifetime appointments who are inevitably acting on the interests of the political party that appointed them.
  • We could go on at length but that’s enough for now….

Well, we had no intention of going off on a diatribe about US society and politics but we think this is just a very important problem for the church in the US – they have become too accommodating with secular society in signing up to a common pursuit of political power that they have allowed themselves to be dragged in way over their heads and are now rubberstamping whatever the US president or Republican party decides is good for themselves. A large amount of this is vanity on the part of dispensationalists, that their branch of the church is God’s chosen instrument of righteousness that will usher in the second coming of Christ and the millenial rule. The truth is somewhat less flattering: God is at work around the world, and people are achieving a whole lot more tangible outcomes for the kingdom through traditional forms of evangelism, rather than the distraction of dispensationalism. As we’ve noted, this form of theology is largely unsupported outside the US because its message does not in reality achieve a useful purpose. It only achieves any sort of purpose in the US because they sincerely but mistakenly believe they are a chosen instrument of leading the church in a new direction. Ultimately it is highly questionable that that direction has on the balance of probabilities improved the lives of the majority of the US’s own citizens, let alone the Church worldwide.

The reality is that sooner or later the corrupt US political system will fall, and with it the dispensationalist branch of the church. Then people will be asking how they got entangled with politics in the first place and why all this effort was wasted for no good cause.