Thursday, 29 May 2008

Using Hebrew in Pastoral Ministry III

Why do I need to work with the Hebrew when I can never do it as well as the 'professionals?'

This is perhaps the strongest reason for not keeping up with Hebrew – the investments seem huge and the pay-off seems minimal. I can spend 4 years studying at college, a chunk of time each week keeping it up but when I come to work on the text for a sermon I can barely do more than produce a basic translation. I am still heavily reliant on commentaries for serous insight. Why keep going? Let me give you several reasons why I intend to keep going:

-I think my Hebrew is actually getting (very slowly) better with use. Certainly reading regularly means I can read more fluently. At college I tended to concentrate on getting to know our set-texts in detail, but I am now reading a little more widely and my fluency is (very slowly!) improving.

-Even if my Hebrew is still pretty rudimentary, the tools for serious engagement are there – that is the potential to evaluate the insights of commentaries.

-In practice I read the Hebrew in parallel with the English – and rely on the English. However, I use the Hebrew to check insights I gain from reading the English. So, I recently preached a sermon on Jeremiah 30. Reading the English I noticed the repetition of first person verbs from the Lord's perspective. For example:

v8: I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

I got quite excited about this and was ready to go to town on it in my sermon. However, a very quick scan of the Hebrew showed me that the personal pronoun (for emphasis) was only used a couple of times throughout the chapter. While it is still true that the LORD is the subject of most of the verbs, the Hebrew is not quite as strong as I thought the English was.

So, in short my interaction with the Hebrew is not particularly profound, but it is something that I want to continue to develop and something that I think is already and will continue to be valuable.

Next time: Some conclusions...

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Using Hebrew in Pastoral Ministry II

I am too busy and Hebrew is too difficult to maintain after college.

Hebrew is a difficult language to keep up. I am not speaking from a great deal of experience being only out of college a few months, but the following are ideas that I have heard from others or am intending to follow myself:

i. Most importantly be convinced it is important. Perhaps this post is in the wrong place as we haven't dealt with all the objections yet, but unless you are convinced that it is worth keeping up with Hebrew you never will.

ii. Practically, I think 'little and often' is the key. I have worked out that I have about 15 minutes a day to keep up my Hebrew, so I try and read as much as I can in that length of time. But however much time you have, it seems better to do it every day than just reading big chunks once a week say. I also try and read aloud which helps with my concentration.

iii.One of the books that I have been most excited to buy this year is the Reader's Hebrew Bible. This contains the text of the BHS but footnotes every word that occurs less than 100 times in the Hebrew Bible. This has two advantages. Firstly, it means that you can read the Hebrew text without constantly looking up a lexicon. The editors label the footnotes as 'glosses' – which they are. And they emphasise that they should not be used instead of lexica for detailed exegetical work. Secondly, when you come across a word that does not have a footnote, it means that you should know it. This forces you to pause and try and remember the word rather than simply looking it up. Words that appear more than 100 times are listed in an appendix and as there are only about 500 (?) of them, this is a manageable amount of vocab to maintain.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Using Hebrew in the Pastoral Ministry I

Questions are frequently raised about the value of Hebrew for the Pastoral ministry (see for example the debate here). The pain of learning Hebrew is thought too high for the limited gains that a busy Pastor can draw form working with the OT Hebrew.

I thought over the next few posts I would address three reasons that we might think like this.

Firstly, at the most fundamental level, some might argue that since the NT is the final revelation of God, the 'shadowy' OT is of limited value – and with it the study of Hebrew. Now that we have the superior NT we don't need the OT (good as it may have been at the time). So, I know one well known preacher who never preaches on the OT. He doesn't deny that the OT is the word of God but argues that since we are NT Christians, he should concentrate his efforts on the NT. Now, I imagine that very few evangelicals would express it this way, but nevertheless this can be our underlying, sub-conscious attitude to the OT. The NT is where the action is and we preach the OT occasionally to ease our consciences. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that when Paul says this he had the OT in mind:

2 Tim3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Now, the NT is Scripture too and brings all of these benefits, but the OT – on its own if you like - is able to thoroughly equip us for every good work. And if we don't have that conviction about the OT then we will never give it the place it deserves.

Further, the OT does give us so much value that we would lose if we only preached from the NT. It is not so much that the OT gives us anything we would lack if we didn't have it. Rather, I think, it fleshes out and exemplifies much of what the NT teaches.

Take the example of Romans 6:22 But now [...] you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.

You get much of the same imagery in Jeremiah 30:8-9

8 "And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

But why preach on these verses when you have Romans 6:22? Well, the problem is that when we read of being enslaved to God in Romans 6 it can evoke a negative image to us because of contemporary examples of slavery or because of our post-modern distaste for authority. But actually it is Jeremiah – who expands on what slavery actually looks like, who helps us to understand it:

10 "Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid.

You see being God's slave is not a negative thing. It is not what we would describe as servitude – it is not slavery in the modern sense at all– no it is a life of quiet, of ease of not being made afraid. It is a life verse with God on our side to save us. It is being in a relationship with God where he makes an end of our enemies. Jeremiah helps us see what a positive thing slavery to God is. That it is more the idea of being bound to someone in a dependent relationship rather than being mistreated and cruelly worked to death. I think Paul expected his readers to read his words on slavery with an OT understanding. So the OT and the NT complement each other so well that we can't neglect the OT without impoverishing our understanding.

Next time, we will get down to the nitty-gritty of using Hebrew: I am too busy and Hebrew is too difficult

Saturday, 17 May 2008


'Although people in the Middle Ages saw God as demanding more than we could humanly accomplish, people in the twenty-first century have constructed a picture of God that has moved in a different direction. Today postmodernity seeks to make God "nice", affirming, supporting and uplifting the individual. They see God less as king or lord and more as friend or therapist. This requires that God be less demanding, more tolerant, and especially nonjudgmental about the wayward behaviour of his human creatures. Today it is often more offensive to affirm God's wrath than to affirm his love. It is not uncommon to hear about any intimation of God's wrath in the statement "God would never do that," or "I would never believe in a God that would do that." This "God-Lite" grows out of a society that affirms a therapeutic individualism and an egalitarian inclusiveness. In such a culture, God is seen as one who is willing to overlook my shortcomings because my good intentions are present.'

Kolb and Arand, 'The Genius of Luther's Theology' pp.84-85

The horns of a dilemma

Here's the problem. Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday. And the Book of Common Prayer requires us to say the Athanasian Creed. But the Athanasian Creed is very long, and has the phrase 'touching his manhood', which the four teenage boys who sit in the front row are not going to be able to say without cracking up. And yet it is a brilliant creed, and given that I am preaching on the Trinity it would be helpful. So we're going to say it, but I fear it may put people off the great truths of the Trinity more than help them discover them. We'll wait and see. Oh, and I also can't be shown up by a Baptist. See here.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Christologia - Chapter 2. Opposition to the Church

It’s been a while since Owen has featured – on the blog that is – Cam and I are still drinking and reading the great one – but the blogging is a little behind. That said, I’ll try and fill you in on chapter two (although it will involve some skim reading on my part (of Owen) and that’s never a good thing).

Building on the foundation he set of Peter’s confession of Christ, and Jesus’ words to Peter, Owen addresses part of those words – that is, that the ‘power and policy of hell’ will be ever raging against the church built on the person, office and grace of the Lord Jesus. He identifies that in both rage and subtlety, Satan uses two agents in his attacks – the unbelieving world (from outside the church) and heresies (from within).

Starting with the attacks from outside, Owen rightly sees that Jesus himself was victim to these – first in his temptation, then in his crucifixion. And, as the master, so too the servants: ‘And he hath assured his followers that such, and no other (at least for the most part) shall be their lot in this world.’ And yet in these attacks Satan cements his own undoing. First and most obviously in the cross, but also I would add, in the strengthening of our faith in the one who has overcome the evil one.

The early church was also victim to these outwards attacks – first from their Jewish countrymen – then from the Roman Empire. And I’m sure had Owen been writing now he would have listed page upon page of the atrocities committed against our brothers and sisters. But he isn’t, and instead turns to the other attacks – ‘by pernicious errors and heresies.’ Here we get an overview of many of the heresies of the first four centuries, and Owen helpful compartmentalises them. There were attacks which introduced other doctrines and ‘notions of divine things’ – gospel plus heresies if you will. Other attacks focused specifically on the denial of the divine nature – upon Jesus not being pre-existent (Ebionism) upon him being a lesser divine being (Arianism), upon his human nature being questioned (Docetism). Lastly, Owen sees that there were attacks upon the hypostatic union (that Jesus was one person with two natures) – most notably says Owen was Nestorianism.

And then, like all good theologians, Owen takes the lessons of the past and recognises that there are present situations where these same issues are coming to a head. He lists a number:

  1. He identifies the attacks the Socinians make on the divine nature of Jesus.
  2. Owen also sees that many around him ‘expressly deny not his divine person, yet seem to grow weary of any concernment therein’. That is, people are happy to be spiritual, to be religious, but to do so without any recourse to Jesus himself. They are, suggests Owen, implicitly denying the divine nature of Jesus, and therefore the foundation of true religion.
  3. Some prefer reason, and say that ‘the common notions of Divine Being and goodness will guide men sufficiently unto eternal blessedness’. It’s a Mick Dundee ‘Me and God – we’re mates’ approach.
  4. Some (and here I struggle to understand Owen) it appears, ‘have so ordered the frame of objective religion, as that it is very uncertain whether they leave any place for the person of Christ in it or no.’ I think what he means is that some have their theological systems – their ways of relating to God and knowing him – so sown up, that the personal mediatorial work of Christ is redundant.
  5. Others so focus on the religiosity of religion – on the form and outwards trappings – and on the discipline of personal holiness – that Jesus is effectively unnecessary. The only place Christ has in this pattern is as an example of how to be good.
  6. Owen also sees that people are encouraged in their displacement of Christ. Writers suggest alternative schemes of religion, those who protest and assert the centrality of Jesus are mocked, and love for Christ ‘is traduced as a mere fancy and vapour of distempered minds or weak imaginations.’ The idea of ‘preaching Chris is become a term of reproach and contempt.’
  7. Lastly, Owen recognises that the cause, or ‘that which all these things tend unto and centre in, is that horrible profaneness of life – that neglect of all Gospel duties – that contempt of all spiritual graces and their effects…’ That is, people’s doctrine is screwed up because their lives are screwed up. Doctrine often follows practice. People want to live or behave a certain way, and soon their theology is used to justify it.

And of course, we would have to be blind to not see the similarities with our time. And not because we are reading ourselves into history, but because Satan is doing what Jesus promised he would do – raging against God’s church. What denomination doesn’t have someone in an established position who would deny the divinity of Jesus? What church doesn’t have a member who thinks that we should just follow Jesus example and love each other? Who hasn’t spoken to a neighbour or friend or family member and heard a self-justifying – ‘I do my best – I don’t need Jesus – God loves a try-er.’ God’s church is still attacked – Satan is still throwing himself against her gates.

Owen’s purpose is not only to bolster us as we stand firm on Christ, but also to equip those who ‘declare and represent [Christ] unto men in the office of the ministry’. His concern is theological, and therefore necessarily pastoral – so that ministers might stop people from wandering away from Jesus in the face of these attacks. The way he will do that is to set forth ‘some few things concerning the person of Christ’ (sure, if by ‘some few things’ you mean 400 pages!). Owen states three things before he does this: First, he recognises that he might go about things in a way different to how others might address the topic. Second, the topic he is about to embark upon is unsearchable – he makes no attempt to understand the person and work of Christ perfectly. ‘Only I shall endeavour to represent unto the faith of them that do believe, somewhat of what the Scripture doth plainly reveal – evidencing in what sense the person of Christ is the sole foundation of the church.’ Lastly, he is not going to attack the people who attack the church in the ways he has set forth (he’s done that elsewhere). Rather, he is going to attack their conviction – he’s playing the ball, not the man.

Owen’s point in this chapter has been to set out the truth of Jesus’ words to Peter. Satan has, is, and always will attack the church. But our comfort and hope comes from the rest of Jesus’ words. The church is built upon Him. The living Lamb is our foundation, the conqueror of death is the one upon whom our faith is built, and therefore we do not need to fear. And as we travel with Owen to see the glory of Christ, may we be strengthened in our faith, and equipped in our ministry to proclaim Jesus as the only ground of true religion – the only basis for confidence before the face of God.

An Unbloody Sacrifice

The Press here in Canterbury yesterday published this story. It tells of a woman who has made the hard and lonely decision to give her baby (when it is born) up for adoption. Wonderful, I thought. She is to be congratulated and praised for taking this hard road, and avoiding what she thinks is the ‘easier’ road of abortion – a choice that she says she has made in the past. She speaks of her knowledge of the difficulty that couples have in trying to adopt, and says that this was one of the factors in deciding to continue with the baby and pass it over for adoption. An open adoption, too, where she can be part of this child’s life, and vice versa.

Oh, and her husband can be part of the child’s life. And her two existing children as well. You see this isn’t a choice being made by a 14 year old girl who has no possibility of supporting this baby. This isn’t a P addict who knows she may, when high, harm her baby. No, this is a 34 year old, married, mother of two – who already has a family which she presumably loves, planning to give away her daughters' baby brother or sister. Why? These are her words, and the only reason given in the article:

"With everything growing, the costs of everything - we have two children - another baby on board would be harder."

Now, I realise that it is a short article, that no information is given about their wider family, about struggles with health, and mental illness, and so on. It may be that this family is on the poverty line, that they have budgeted to the hilt, and there is no money left at all. It may be that this is tearing her heart in two, but that if she keeps this baby other members in her family will go without food. If that were the case then things would obviously be different. And, to be fair, the Press doesn't always report things as accurately as they might. But there is no indication that this is the case. She doesn't say - "I desperately want to keep my baby but I know it will mean the rest of the family can't eat".

Fuller information might (and I stress might) change my position, or my tone. But this woman is giving away her child because it is going to make her life harder. That’s what she says. And that ‘hardship’ isn’t linked to mental stability, it’s linked to her financial situation. It is going to bring a financial burden which, given other financial burdens, will make her life harder. I’m sure she’s also thinking of her children and her husband. With another mouth to feed life wouldn’t be as ‘good’ for them, either. How altruistic.

But what if life isn’t about being easy? What if it isn’t about being financially stable? What if relationships matter more than money? What are you going to say to your child when s/he asks you why s/he was given up for adoption (because, remember, this is an open adoption). What do you say? Because we wanted a plasma?

Welcome to New Zealand. Home to bloodless child sacrifice. We now literally offer up our children to the gods of materialism.

Thursday, 15 May 2008


It is fascinating to read some of the blogs from our American brethren and how specific they are about their politics. Do you think this is helpful / Biblical / necessary? Does the American situation lend itself to this sort of comment?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Genesis 1-3: A Parsnipian case study

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [...] Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation' [...] and it was so. The land produced vegetation [...] And God saw that it was good.

That means, parsnips were like this:

But then...

To Adam he said: 'Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you "you must not eat of it": cursed is the ground because of you...'

And so that means I get parsnips like this:

Bring on the new heavens and the new earth when parsnips might be peelable once more.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Encouragement from Fellow Workers

In God's grace, the day after writing on the encouragement we can receive from fellow workers, we get a call from David and Julie Moore, who are over in NZ and are coming out to see us today. Dave pastors the Unichurch at Hunter Bible Church, and was in my year at college. We slummed it together in the death trap (aka the King Street Study Room) and were modern Trinitarian thinkers together. Great to have him here today as I am preaching on the Trinity this Sunday (it being Trinity Sunday in the lectionary, and I'm a big time lectionary fan), and it will be good to throw some ideas around. It will also be a particular joy to see them today as on Friday I am taking the funeral of a woman who suicided, and am going to find it particularly difficult. All the support I can get in that will be welcome indeed.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Encouragement from Fellow Workers - Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

The penultimate encouragement the Hughes urge us to take is from fellow workers. Personally, I found this chapter incredibly helpful because it deals with the issue of depression. Let me be clear – I don’t think I suffer from depression. I have known and worked with people with different forms of depression, and it is an incredibly debilitating place to find yourself in. I am not comparing myself to them. But I also don’t know many ministers who won’t testify to the blues, the doldrums of ministry when this gospel work just gets you down. Mark Driscoll speaks of ‘bread truck Mondays’, where he wakes up and wishes he could just go and drive a bread truck – no people, no pressure, and when you get hungry you’ve got fresh bread to eat. The Hughes’ quote Luther, Spurgeon, Whyte, and others, who speak of the difficulties of ministerial depression. And they go on to quote Paul in 2 Cor 7:6 who speaks of his own depression (see the NASB) and to exegete this text so as to get to the cause, and the cure, of this malaise.

They identify that Paul’s depression was due to him being physically worn out, being pressured, and being fearful. I’m not sure I could tell you a week, in fact probably a day, in the past three months where I haven’t felt one, and sometimes all three, of those things. They are just the reality of ministry, it seems. Helpfully the Hughes identify that these factors come from Paul’s very heart for ministry: ‘The bigger the ministerial heart, the greater is the potential for the flesh have no rest – conflicts without – and fears within.’ While they don’t go on to address it, they implicitly touch upon a ‘cure’ for ministerial depression. Harden your heart. You won’t find ministry hard if you don’t care about the people you are ministering to. You won’t be hurt by them if you don’t love them. Brothers, watch that you don’t slip into this cure. It sounds perverse, and I’m sure some of you will strongly disagree, but make sure that you keep on feeling for your flock. Love them. Share your life with them. Rejoice in their victories and grieve over their failures. Depression in ministry is bad. But not feeling at all for your people surely has to be much much worse.

The Hughes’ go on to see that Paul himself was comforted by the coming of Titus. It was this relationship which buoyed him and in particular the message that Titus brought – that the Corinthians loved him, they were concerned for him, they felt for him. They then turn to a number of practical steps. Cultivate those relationships where you are encouraged by others, and where you can encourage others. They suggest keeping every encouraging note that has been sent to you about your ministry. I myself have done that, and while the collection isn’t very big (!), there are few things more encouraging than pulling out a note from someone I really respect and reading that they think I’ve done good ministry, and urging me to do more. Friends, keep up those relationships. If you don’t have them, go and make them. Let your brothers and sisters share the pain and heartache of ministry, and urge you on in your faithfulness and proclamation. Look out yourself for people that you can genuinely encourage, and think about how you do that. I’ve found that a handwritten note means far more to people than a phone call, an email, or even a face to face comment. There are plenty in the world, and unfortunately in the church, who would discourage us from our work. Let’s spur one another on, encouraging each other in the task set before us. (images and

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Encouragement from the Ordinary - Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

I hope you’ll forgive the prolonged period between instalments on the Hughes’ book (a little thing called clergy conference got in the way). Anyway, back to it. The Hughes are setting out in the second part of their work, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, a series of encouragements to pastors. The next they turn to is encouragement from the ordinary.

Essentially, they say that we can take encouragement from the fact that God uses ordinary people to do his work. This is a vitally helpful point given their earlier comments on the encouragement that comes from the call (see here for my comments/rant). Their point is thoroughly God-glorifying – God’s greatness is seen most clearly in our ordinariness. They take the disciple Andrew as an example – first called, but not a prominent apostle. He is characterised by his thoughts for others (John 1:40-42), his optimism of Christ’s power (John 6:5-9), and his belief that all were welcome to come to Jesus (John 12:20-22). They also turn to 2 Cor 4 and Paul’s language of jars of clay. While they run the risk of seeing ordinariness as itself something to boast in (see, for example, their comment that “Ordinary Andrews become vehicles for the extraordinary. There is glory in the ordinary!”), I believe that their primary point is theocentric – God uses the plain, ordinary, usual things of this world for His glory.

It results in three suggested responses – to thank God for our ordinariness, to thank God for any extraordinary gifts he has given us, and to thank God for the call to ministry, for “it is the ministry that fosters in us a profound awareness of our ordinariness and inadequacy.” While personally I find the last of these three responses a little odd given the direction of the rest of the chapter, I can understand why they include it. There is encouragement from the ordinary. There is encouragement that through these frail and weak men and women God is pleased to have his gospel go forth. There is encouragement that we bring nothing to the table, and yet God is bringing all things in heaven and earth together under the headship of Christ through the ministry of his people.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Joy of Christian Fellowship

Last night Amanda and I stayed in Christchurch and had dinner with the ministers and staff of three other evangelical churches. Everyone present was a friend. We were all committed to the proclamation of the risen Jesus as Lord and Saviour, to seeing people come to love him in faith and repentance, to godliness in lifestyle and ministry. We laughed (hard). We ate (well). We relaxed in each other's company and quietly rejoiced at what God is doing in our little city. I have to say it was one of the best nights we have had in a very long time and made me long for heaven.

However, a glaring omission was brought to my attention. I have left the website of one of these churches off our blog. So, please do visit The site is being updated in the next few weeks, so make sure you come back to it. Mea culpa, slim. Mea maxima culpa (that means my bad, by the way).

Friday, 9 May 2008

The Courage to be Protestant

I am currently reading this book by David Wells. In many ways it is a summary of Wells' four previous books. At the same time, it progresses his overall argument and seems much more pointed and less anylytical than the previous volumes.

This book is stirring call to turn our backs on pragmatism and return to Biblical ministry and should be read by anyone in or interested in the ministry of the Gospel:

It is time to reach back into the Word of God, as we have not done in a generation, and find again a serious faith for our undoubtedly serious times. It is now time to close the door on this disastrous experiment in retailing faith, to do so politely but nevertheless firmly. It is time to move on. It is time to become Protestant once again

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Paging the Trinity

I have just returned from my first clergy conference, where all the clergy from around the diocese get together. Let's just say it was 17 different kinds of interesting. There were some reasonably good talks on community (given by a guy who used to work for a Baptist church, no less). But the highlight for me was a minister being interviewed and asked what theological exploration he was doing at the moment. He responded that he was exploring Eastern Christian spirituality, and had come to the conclusion that the West had not placed enough emphasis on the Holy Spirit (fair cop, possibly). However, the greatest comment came a bit later when he said that the doctrine of the Trinity had not really been taught in Western theological colleges until the two Karls came along (Barth and Rahner).

Right. So Calvin the 'theologian of the Holy Spirit' didn't deal with the Trinity. And Owen's two volumes on the Spirit, and his work entitled 'Communion with the Triune God' didn't actually address the doctrine of the Trinity. C'MON people. READ!

But the terrible thing was that everyone sat there nodding in agreement.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Jonathan Christian Orr...

...was born at 1:17 this morning (AEST). 3.710 kg. Mother and baby well. We are very thankful to God.

Monday, 5 May 2008

How nice would this be

David Field has posted that John Frame's next volume in his A Theology of Lordship series is out in June. Which means I can get it in NZ in 2010. Still, looking forward to it.

Sunday, 4 May 2008


The blogging world (or our little part of it, anyway) waits with baited breath for news of the latest addition to the Orr household. Will it be another Orr Junior, or will Emma have an Orrette (and Pete learn how to braid hair)?

I would like to think that the But Now community can take part in this joyous occasion by suggesting names for the little one.

Factors to consider include:
Irish ancestry
Biblical pedigree
Great Irish sporting namesakes.

Given that there aren't any of the latter, please focus on the first and second.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Ethical plagerism

A smattering of quotes from the opening chapter of Resurrection and Moral Order (Oliver O'Donovan):

Christian ethics must arise from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A belief in Christian ethics is a belief that certain ethical and moral judgements belong to the gospel itslef; a belief, in other words, that the church can be committed to ethics without moderating the tone of its voice as a bearer of glad tidings.

Whether it appears as law or as licence, the ultimate fact about life according to the flesh is that it is a refusal of life according to the Spirit.

We shall argue for the theolgcal proposition that Christian ethics depends upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

We are driven to concentrate on the resrurection as our starting-point becuase it tells us of God's vindication of his creation, and so of our created life.

Man's life on earth is important to God; he has given it its order; it matters that it should conform to the order he has given it.

The order of things that God has made is
there. It is objective, and mankind has a place within it.

In speaking of man's fallenness we point not only to his persistent rejection of the created order, but also to an inescapable confusion in his perceptions of it.

The Spirit forms and brings to expression
the appropriate pattern of free response to objective reality.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Encouragement from the Call - Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

The Hughes’ next turn to the encouragement that comes from the call. By this, they mean the call to minister. I realise that I am on shaky ground, but it does frustrate me that many evangelicals (And others), for a long period of time, have insisted on using this word to refer to the desire and process of moving into full time vocational ministry. The Bible doesn’t use it that way – it uses it to speak of being called to union with Christ through faith by grace. Leaders are then appointed, by guidance from the Holy Spirit, through the church. My frustration is that by using the word ‘call’ to refer to the movement into ministry, we are significantly devaluing the biblical call. We’ll return to that in a moment.

Hughes is very careful to make clear that his experience of the call (and here I use the word in the call-to-ministry sense that the book uses it) is not normative, and that the actual experience of a call may be very gradual and gentle over the course of their lives. Helpfully, and graciously, Hughes identifies people like myself who question the idea of a specific call to ministry. He identifies two concerns that such people have – that it turns ministry into an uberprofession – and that it strengthens the gap between laity and clergy. However, he in turn responds that ‘the ministry is the highest of calls. We must never downplay or minimize it. Not really an answer, but this book isn't about that issue.

Given his premise, the rest of the chapter turns on how Christian ministers can gain encouragement from their call. Those whom God calls, God empowers for their ministry. ‘Your call means that you have the [God given] power to fulfil it!’. And again ‘…when God calls one to the ministry, he gives the requisite gifts to fulfil that ministry.’ Hughes then turns to the call of Isaiah as the classic call. There he identifies that four things were included and evident – a vision of god’s holiness; a vision of our own unholiness; the grace of forgiveness; the obedience in response to the call. The conclusion – ‘we can all relate to Isaiah’s classic call because its elements are common to the called.’ I couldn’t agree more – but only if we revert back to the biblical use of the called concept, and realise that these things are characteristic of all God’s people – not just those who feel that they have been called to full-time vocational ministry.

My great concern is the unspoken implication. If God gifts those he calls and provides those he has called with power to do that ministry, what happens if you were never called? No call – no gifts. No call – no power. In ministry with no gifts and no power? No thanks.

Brothers and sisters, whoever desires to be an overseer desire a noble task. It's a desire that we have. Is it God given - Yes. Recognsied through the body - Yes. Accompanied by a some sort of spiritual conviction - Yes. Validated by a specific 'call' - possibly, but, I would suggest, not necessarily. Yes, of course God gifts his people – he gifts them for the good of the body. Yes, of course God gives his people power – the power of the resurrected Christ. But can I suggest to you that to glean your encouragement from the fact that God has called you to be a minister, and therefore must have gifted you to do that, is misplaced encouragement.

So can I suggest that our encouragement comes not from the fact that God has called us to be ministers, but from the fact that God calls. He is a God who calls his people out of darkness and into the kingdom of his Son. His call is effectual and powerful. When he speaks, through us, by his Spirit, people listen. Lives change. Raging rebels submit. There’s your encouragement. God calls. Our ministry is his ministry through us.