Monday, 31 March 2008
Carson's Dad was a faithful pastor who worked for many years in French Canada without seeing much fruit at all. At one point he actually resigned from the ministry because he did not believe that he should continue given the fruitlessness of his ministry. This book is actually a wonderful encouragement to every Christian to remain faithful first and foremost and let the Lord take care of the results. If you are in full-time ministry, this book will re-orientate your priorities. If you are not it will still encourage you as a Christian and help you care for your own minister. (It also gives you a great insight into Don Carson - e.g. he spent a period helping establish a church plant and visited around three thousand homes to get a bible study started).
Last week I attended my first ‘ministers fraternal’ – a meeting of different ministers from around mid-Canterbury. One of the things we spoke about was how we made decisions – the start off point being that the guy leading the discussion recognized in himself, and in others, that many decisions we made were based on ‘common sense’. So, given that we’re Christian, how do we make decisions?
The responses were intriguing. Representatives from the Roman Catholic church recognized that in their polity, decisions were made within a hierarchy – they did what they were told. Brothers from more Pentecostal congregations spoke of handing things over to the Lord, letting the Spirit guide them, receiving confirmation of their thoughts through Scripture, etc.
In the conversation the implicit thought was that ‘common sense’ was too worldly and not spiritual enough. The presupposition seemed to be that that the spiritual is contrary to, or at least distinct from, the intellect, the ‘normal’ workings of the human mind.
However consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:17-24. Gentiles live in the futility of their thinking. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Remember that this in Ephesians 4 – the so called ‘imperatival’ part of Paul’s epistle. And yet action is inextricably linked to the state of your intellect. It is their thinking that is futile, and this futility characterizes their behavior. The reason for their alienation from God is their ignorance (agnoian), which itself has come from the hardening of their hearts.
Paul goes on to speak of the change in the Ephesians, speaking of them coming to ‘know’ Christ, being ‘taught’ in him, etc. This new knowledge leads to a new lifestyle (hence his ‘putting off/putting on’ language).
This isn’t neo-Gnosticism. It isn’t trying to divorce the spiritual from the cognitive. The point is that you can’t. To be spiritual is to know, to be taught in Christ. To be unspiritual is to be ignorant – to have futile thoughts. Of course in no way am I implying that my brothers at that meeting fell into the ‘futile gentiles’ category – absolutely not. But we need to watch that we don’t tear apart that which must stay together – the working of our minds and the working of the Spirit.
Sunday, 30 March 2008
As usual, I came down from the pulpit absolutely exhausted, but pushed on with prayers, and communion, and greeting new people and so on (no staff teams here!). And observed afterwards the most enthusiasm that I have seen since we arrived here. Enthusiasm for the sermon? No. Enthusiasm for the unity that we have in Christ (another major theme of Ephesians that we've been pushing over the past weeks)? No. Enthusiasm for the new coffee plungers that I bought this week that were producing (for the first time, I might add), real coffee at church. Somewhat depressing? What do you think.
But then I get home, and see that a group of guys in the UK who pray for the work here in Methven have sent through this (arriving at exactly the moment I stepped out the pulpit, if you're into that kind of thing):
...Rico [Tice, at the London Men's Convention] spoke of 2 Cor 4:1-6 as his job description today. I pray we all, especially those somewhat isolated physically in small NZ towns, will not lose heart but boldly proclaim the message we've been given...
Somewhat depressing? Hardly. In God's grace he uses his people just when we need it. And so in light of God's word, we'll keep at it. Month in, month out. In season and out of season. Setting forth the truth plainly and trusting that God will feed his people not only with good coffee (now), but also with his timeless and perfect word which will equip them for their service of each other and him.
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Some of you have seen what has been posted at Anglicans All - an online forum with an NZ feel for debating a variety of Anglican issues. There have been a few feisty posts (not from me!) and until now I haven't said anything. However, this was posted this morning (it is moving on from Rowan William's Easter sermon):
An extract of the post:
"In recent years, a number of Christian writers, inspired by French critic and philosopher René Girard, have stressed with new urgency how the Bible shows the way in which groups and societies work out their fears and frustrations by finding scapegoats."
"Because we compete for the same goods and comforts, we need to sustain our competition with our rivals and maintain distance from them. But to stop this getting completely out of hand, we unite with our rivals to identify the cause of the scarcity that makes us compete against each other, with some outside presence we can all agree to hate."
Of course, Rowan was speaking here of material goods for which we compete against one another; but it could equally be applied to those spiritual goods (acceptance, forgiveness) which we are withholding from other members of the Church (and others outside of the Church), because of our paranoia about personal holiness, which we perceive as entirely lacking in people of another theological perspective.
Is this not a lesson to all of us - of the need to step back a little before proclaiming our own righteousness in belief and action, being all too ready to separate ourselves from the Common Table at the Eucharist, and issuing anathemas to the groups whose beliefs we are disposed to discredit?
It will be interesting to see how, for instance, protestant Archbishop Jensen of the Sydney Archdiocese, whose expressed desire is to legitimise the ministry of lay-presidency at the Eucharist, is able to find theological convergence with, say, the anglo-catholics of the Global South who will be gathering with him at the GAFCON conference.
Is their joint hatred of homosexuals and women in the ministry going to be enough to create a new provincial ministry in the Anglican Church?
I don't know whether it was the particular crispness of the morning, or the extra strong coffee, or what, but I couldn't help it. Here's my response (not that it's particularly biting by any means).
I’ve been following the discussion on Anglicans All for some time now, and, until this point, have read from a distance. I realise that in your last post you are referring to a specific situation and are seeking to foster debate on the archbishop’s sermon. Good on you. The topic can be debated. However, I do find it somewhat difficult (and, may I say, somewhat inconsistent) to hear you speak of Jensen’s ‘hatred of homosexuals and women in the ministry’ only 53 words after you’ve said: “Is this not a lesson to all of us - of the need to step back a little before proclaiming our own righteousness in belief and action […], and issuing anathemas to the groups whose beliefs we are disposed to discredit?” Maybe my difficulty comes from the fact that maybe “all of us” doesn’t mean all of us, and “hatred” doesn’t actually mean hatred. I confess that it is getting so hard now-a-days to know what words actually mean.
Why don't you have a wander over to Anglicans All - I don't think you need to register to read the posts. And any suggestions you have for other response will be gladly received (by email or comment here).
Another tasty morsel from the parish magazine...
Easter has been and gone. For many of us the signs are strewn around the house – Easter egg wrappers, other signs of a long weekend, or maybe hyperactive children still coming down off their sugar highs. But over time Easter will pass away and we’ll look forward to what is coming up this week, this month, for the rest of the year. This isn’t a bad thing – we can’t live lives that refuse to deal with the present and only focus on the past. But as Christians, we live present lives that are permanently affected by the past.
We have just celebrated Easter, and will do again next year, but in the days in between out lives will be affected by Easter. The Bible says that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile – we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). The fact that Jesus died and rose again affects us because by believing in Jesus we are united with him – united in his death where our sins are dealt with. And united in his resurrection, where we are given new life. And it is that new life which we now live. It’s that new life which we lived on Easter Sunday, the same new life we live today, and the same new life which we’ll live sometime in October (and all the days in-between). Because we are united by faith to Jesus who has risen from the dead, our lives are now different.
That means that we don’t just ignore Easter – ticking it off as another event on the church calendar which we’ll come back to next year. We look forward to this week, this month, this year because we live each day united with Jesus in his resurrection. There is a confidence in all we do, because we know that we have been made spiritually alive. There is a purpose to our lives, because as we work on the farm, mind the children, visit the grandchildren, we do so as people who are playing a part in God’s universal plan. We do so as people who have been joined to God’s Son, the king and ruler of all we see. We do so as people who are on their way to heaven, and who are urging others to join us. For, as God says, if only for this life we have hope in Christ, then we are to be pitied more than all people (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Friday, 28 March 2008
Are there certain mistaken hermeneutical presuppositions made by conservative evangelicals that play into the hands of liberal critics?A slightly different but related issue being perennially discussed here in NZ is the place of the whole Scriptures in our theological and ethical formation. For example:
Absolutely. And one of them follows directly from the last part of my answer to your last question. The approach, famously supported back in 1976 by Harold Lindsell in his Battle for the Bible (Zondervan), that it is an all-or-nothing approach to Scripture that we must hold, is both profoundly mistaken and deeply dangerous. No historian worth his or her salt functions that way. I personally believe that if inerrancy means “without error according to what most people in a given culture would have called an error” then the biblical books are inerrant in view of the standards of the cultures in which they were written. But, despite inerrancy being the touchstone of the largely American organization called the Evangelical Theological Society, there are countless evangelicals in the States and especially in other parts of the world who hold that the Scriptures are inspired and authoritative, even if not inerrant, and they are not sliding down any slippery slope of any kind. I can’t help but wonder if inerrantist evangelicals making inerrancy the watershed for so much has not, unintentionally, contributed to pilgrimages like Ehrman’s. Once someone finds one apparent mistake or contradiction that they cannot resolve, then they believe the Lindsells of the world and figure they have to chuck it all. What a tragedy!
Thankyou for your response to my question - as to whether there is any part of Scripture you could no longer support (or believe in). Indeed, you have provided just a few items which might embarrass you to have to subscribe to in today's world. However, I particularly noted your reference to 'development in certain ways in Scripture' that might just support my contention that 'not all of Scripture as it is presented to us is to be relied upon for guidance in today's world'.
I repeat your third paragraph here:(3)Clearly we find development in certain ways in Scripture. The
punishments prescribed for the community to enact in Leviticus are
remitted by the teaching and example of Jesus. The question of
whether we are authorised to continue such development beyond
Scripture (e.g. on the basis of the Johannine understanding that the
Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth) is a large one. The Roman
Catholic church offers one answer, the Pentecostal church another,
and the liberal wing of the Anglican church yet another. Speaking as an evangelical who has consciously refrained from becoming RC, or Pentecostal or a liberal Anglican I continue to work theologically on the basis of being grounded in Scripture - the whole of Scripture.
You talk here about 'The punishments prescribed for the community to enact in Leviticus are remitted by the teaching and example of Jesus'. Precisely! The moral and theological concepts of Jesus are not always those of the Old Testament. Nor, I suspect, are some of the teachings Paul in line with what Jesus himself might have taught. In other words, the Dominical teaching is, par excellence, the teaching that is commended to the Church as primary, in its engagement with the world on matters of theology, orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
With regard to your statement in your note (i), you infer, that to say Jesus said nothing about homosexuality is 'a false statement'. That may be your opinion. But there again, are you the expert here? You say that Jesus never 'abrogated' the moral aspects of the Law. However, he certainly made sure that the woman caught in the act of adultery was not stoned! Was that not an abrogation of the Law!
You have also implied that Jesus 'by implication' did say something about homosexuality. I cannot personally find any evidence of that. can you tell me where i might find it? However, we'll stretch a point and say that there might be a possibility that his teaching about heterosexuality applied equally to homosexuality. Then, the very same proscriptions would apply. No more and no less!
You say that a "proper engagement with Scripture at this point would incorporate a careful study of the relationship between 'law' and 'gospel' - with particular reference to Pauls 'law of Christ' " The verse which you quoted say just this: "You should carry each other's troubles and fulfil the law of Christ". It is interesting that, in my J.B. version, this section is headed: 'On kindness and perseverance'
. This heading alone indicates that Christ's 'New Commandment' - to love - is paramount in our relationships one to another - whether those relationships are of marriage, kinship or friendship.
In my understanding of orthodoxy, Peter, if God does not condemn something, then God cannot help but bless it. Remember, Jesus came not into this world to condemn the world, but to redeem it. We are all sinners, and Christ came into the world to save sinners - that's you and me, and every single person that God has created in the divine Image and Likeness of God's self. It is my job and yours, as clergy in our Church, to proclaim the Good News of God's love for all God's children. My hands were meant to bless, not curse. Why? Because that is my calling and vocation - not to condemn people to hell, but to show them the way to heaven.
Such an approach seeks to (impossibly) posit the person of God over the words of God, and I think, is seen implicitly in the practice of standing for (only) the gospel reading. Biblical Theology, Divine authorial intent, and, somewhat ironcially, a truly Christological hermeneutic need to be applied to the second author's position. When I get the time...
Thursday, 27 March 2008
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Monday, 24 March 2008
Written by Howard Benton.
Directed by Wesley Enoch.
I was not sure what to expect as I waited for Paul to begin. On the one hand a sign had warned me that the play contained blasphemy and might lead to offence. On the other, as I read the program notes my interest was raised. They displayed a level of sophistication that isn’t often present in contemporary examinations of Christian subjects. So, one of the articles on faith eschewed the usual ‘blind leap in the dark’ line and discussed how faith ‘engages the whole person – their emotions (trust, hope, peace), their intellect (belief), and their will (faithfulness, fidelity)’. Even more encouraging was the comment that ‘[g]enuine faith […] requires not only intellectual integrity, but psychological integrity’. The director himself commented that this play was not ‘about disproving the validity of the Bible and its stories’ but rather ‘an investigation and reiteration of the power of faith’.
The play starts with Paul and Peter in prison in Rome the night before their executions (tradition has them both dying in Rome). Sharing a cell together they have the opportunity to reflect on the last 30 or so years via a series of flashbacks – starting with Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Some of the play’s portrayals are both accurate and moving. So, when the converted Paul first shares the Lord’s Supper with Barnabas, the scene is presented very sensitively and it was easy to imagine it happening this way. Later we see Paul boldly and engagingly witnessing to his gaoler – again something we could easily imagine. Paul’s interaction with the squabbling Corinthians is amusing and the play manages to do what countless preachers have failed, namely to situate 1 Corinthians 13 in its proper context!
However (you knew there would be a ‘however’!), it is the portrayal of events surrounding Paul’s behaviour that the play really shows its hand. As much as the liner notes might argue that the play is not concerned to question the validity of the Bible, a central claim of the play is that Jesus did not rise from the dead. The play recognises that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, an explanation needs to be given for the amazing spread of Christianity. This is disclosed at the end of the play as Peter tearfully reveals that he, James and Jesus – who had survived the crucifixion – had staged the Damascus Road encounter to stop Saul from persecuting the Church. James, Peter and Jesus later continue the deception by commissioning Paul to preach to the Gentiles – with the proviso that he send money back the Jerusalem church. What they didn't count on was both the extent to which Paul would embrace this new understanding of Jesus' resurrection and Paul's ability as a persuader. Even Peter himself, is, amazingly, convinced by Paul's message. This all comes out as Peter faces his execution. 'I lived with two Yeshuas', he sobs, 'the one I knew and the one you preached'. Paul refuses to believe Peter and the play ends with him again persuading a now seemingly demented Peter to chant 'Christ is risen' over and over and over gain.
And so ultimately the play is disappointing. Not only do we have this unbelievable Damascus Road fake, and the tired old 'Jesus-was-married-to-Mary-Magdalene
-but-the-truth-never-came-out-because-she-was-a-prostitute' line, but more fundamentally there is a failure to understand the importance of the resurrection to Christianity. At one point as Peter is confessing his deception, Paul effectively quotes 1 Corinthians 15:19 'If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied' and so we might as well 'eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'. The play thus does recognise that the resurrection is the key to Paul's understanding of Jesus but rejects it. Peter immediately rails against Paul, 'You're always so harsh!' Here is the key to the play: Paul was wrong – the resurrection does not matter. In fact at the end of his introductory article in the program notes, Brenton makes it clear that his view:
is that Jesus will never return and there is no God. But if Paul had not believed and had not written to the Corinthians and the Romans we would all be immeasurably impoverished. He was profoundly wrong but also mysteriously right.
In other words, as with Jesus, it is Paul's ethical teaching that matters. And yet there is a stronger conviction running through the play. There is no ambiguity with respect to the resurrection – no ‘it might be true or not but that’s not the point’ - no, the resurrection is rejected out of hand. Even though Paul’s ignorance might not affect his message, we are under no illusion that Paul was wrong – plain and simple.
Ultimately, then, the play raises this question of historical fact that it is not equipped to answer. It recognises that the phenomenal spread of Christianity needs and explanation but can only imagine an implausible fake combined with the force and persuasiveness of Paul's preaching. Interestingly, the description we have of Paul by the Corinthians is that ‘in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amount[ed] to nothing’ (2 Cor 10:10). Hopefully, this play will force people to look more closely at the Paul of the New Testament. It does capture some of the features that make him so intriguing but, in comparison to the presentation in the New Testament, misses the depth, power and historically-rooted nature of his theology. Really everything stands or falls with the historical resurrection of Christ. A claim that the play raises but dismisses and so, sadly, finally misses the point of Paul altogether.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
The danger of men's souls lieth not in a disability to attain a comprehension of longer or more subtile confessions of faith [than Peter's], but in embracing things contrary unto, or inconsistent with, this foundation thereof. Whatever it be whereby men cease to hold the Head, how small soever it seem, that alone is pernicious.
Saturday, 22 March 2008
Gilbert treats Bell fairly, but, as you would expect from anything from 9 Marks, with theological acumen and biblical insight. His conclusion is that NOOMA repeatedly refuses to address the foolish and unpopular parts of the gospel, is vague (at best), and is essentially just another form of religion:
'Bell would never use this word, but I believe what he’s presented in NOOMA is really just another religion that’s not so much different from any other religion in the world. For the gospel of NOOMA isn’t finally about the Son of God who lovingly dies in his people’s place to redeem them from sin and save them from God’s righteous judgment. It’s about the really great teacher who says, "Change your life. Live this way."'
This review also includes a summary of each of the 19 DVD's. Given the popularity of NOOMA, this review is valuable and necessary reading.
Friday, 21 March 2008
"Great" he replied. "I'm not an intellectual - I don't want to hear fancy language. But he [Blomberg] helps me understand who Jesus is".
Let us pray that people would walk out of our churches, and away from conversations with us saying the same thing. Particularly this Easter, let us speak simply and clearly the gospel message of the death and resurrection of God's Son.
Owen's words are a timely reminder for those of us fortunate enough to have spent time studying theology:
By some men's too much understanding, others are brought to understand nothing at all.
From Sermon: The Strength of Faith. Works 9:20.
Pray that that wouldn't be us, but that we would boldly preach that simple message that sinners can be forgiven, prisoners set free, and rebels reconciled.
Thursday, 20 March 2008
"...This rant from a 'learned doctor' sounds like a lecture in demonology. Not too surprising, though, as this is the off-the-cuff reflection of a disappointed and bitter re-asserter, who wants the Church to go back to the first century of the Church environment..."
Christ is risen!
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
It is difficult to even know where to begin. Of course this is a collage from a movie - I haven't seen it and maybe (!?) the movie as a whole is more subtle and nuanced than this clip portrays. Of course there is an aspect of the atonement which this piece captures - the concept of one for many, and it attempts to deal with the pain of the Son's death.
But the problems with it monumentally outweigh the benefits. The Son's death is labelled as a tragic mistake, and indeed is seen simply as an accident. The Son himself has no intention to die for the passengers on the train - he slips and falls (cf Jn 10:18). Here indeed is child abuse.
What is more, the passengers on the train are 'saved' - but with no reference to the Father or the Son. They simply carry on in their 'pre-salvation' lives, completely ignorant of what has happened for them. Surely, if anything, this clip promotes universalism!
I do appreciate what this clip, and similar illustrations in sermons, attempt to do. As with any articulation of the gospel, not all things can be covered at once. However, I have to conclude that this is such a distortion of the gospel that I wonder if it is any gospel at all.
Preach the gospel this Easter. Preach the glories of the triune God who took on flesh that our sin might be borne and punished in him that we might be forgiven. Preach that any who turn to Him, with their doubts, worries, fears and anxieties can be released and freed and born to a new life in Christ. Preach that grace has been given, sin has been conquered, death has been defeated and that creation will never - can never - be the same again.
Preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. But don't preach the bridge.
And on that journey he provides the sustenance – his own Spirit who comforts (Jn 16:7) and crys out (Rom 8:15-17) and his Scriptures which teach, correct, rebuke, and train us in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). He has also provided us with his church, our family, who walk with us, as well as those who have walked before us, and speak to us from our shelves.
And be ready for bad weather. Anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12) and face trials (1 Peter 1:6ff), but we take heart for God is sovereign, and protects us from what we cannot bear (1 Cor 10:13).
12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
The judgment of God against human wickedness is always a terrible thing to contemplate. It is hardly possible for us, embrolied as we are in the sinfulness of humanity, to see clearly the rightness of God's ways. It is very important for us to take care here and humbly listen to the word of God, not passing judgment on it, but allowing it to illumine our minds.
By the standards that we might apply to ourselves, Eli was not an excessively wicked man. [...] The trouble with all of this is that Eli is not being judged by us. It is the Lord who said that his sons were blaspheming and that he did not do what he should have done. It is not for us to sit in judgment over the Lord. He is the God of knowledge, by whom deeds are weighed (1 Sam 2:3). There is a certain absurdity in responding to this passage as though we know more about Eli's innocence (from the few pages that we have!) - and have a keener sense of justice - than the Lord does!
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Maybe we could have a prize for the first correct answer. What do you think Dave? You need to be quick becuase one of our many readers is sure to get it quickly.
One of the most basic rules of any journey is to let someone know where you are going. Whether it be boating, a walk in the bush, or a long-distance trip in the car, you always let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. If it’s a long journey you might check in with that person occasionally, to let them know how you’re going, how you’re progressing. Why? So that if you get into trouble someone else can help you. So that someone else knows your situation and can step in if you need it.
The Christian journey isn’t really any different. Our walk with Christ is our own, but we are not alone as we walk. God in his kindness has given us brothers and sisters – a family in the church – so that we might bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:1-3), that we might encourage each other and spur each other on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25); and that, if our brothers and sisters get into trouble on their journey, we might gently restore them and by God’s grace, set them back on their journey with Christ (Jude 22-23; 2 Tim 2:25-26; Gal 2:11ff).
So from time to time tell someone how you're going, and keep an eye out your fellow travellers. Don't attempt this journey on your own - it's too long and too important - and we want to do all we can to ensure that we all make it to the finish line.
Monday, 17 March 2008
Monday, 3 March 2008
It is commonly said that what matters is not the destination but the journey. It isn’t not so much where you’re going, the thought goes, but how you get there. The maxim is applied to life, and, at times, to the Christian life. But like so much in theology and Christianity more widely, it is not an either/or, but a both/and. For a journey requires a destination in order to be a journey. Otherwise it’s called being lost.
Paul’s letters are full of imperatives. He was clearly concerned with the journey, with how Christians lived their lives. But he also was clear that Christians knew where they were going. They have a goal, a prize, a destination. And what they do now matters, because of that. The journey is informed by the destination.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Cor 9:24-25).
Saturday, 1 March 2008
Since moving back from
Over the next week or so I plan to post a series of reflections of what a journey (of any sort) involves, and how these concepts might be applied to the Christian ‘journey’. This is with the view that we might sharpen our language, and help those ‘journey-ers’ who like the language but really have no idea what the Christian journey involves. Any thoughts you have on the metaphor would be welcome.