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Showing posts from February, 2009

A Trio of Current Concerns in Pauline Studies

As I am scoping out my thesis and trying to figure out which are going to be the most fruitful lines of enquiry there are three major shifts that have been going on in Paul studies over the last few decades. Depending on who you talk to you will receive different answers as to how important they really are to understanding Paul, but as far as I am concerned they are all important for me to take into account at this stage.

1. The shift from viewing Paul as being in opposition to 1st century Judaism to seeing him as a product of it. (This often goes hand in hand with seeing Paul not as a convert to Christianity but as a Jew who had found in Jesus the messiah)
2. The shift from viewing Paul as a writer-of-theology to a writer-to-people. This might seem like hair splitting, but much scholarship has attempted to extract systems of Pauline theology from the letters. Now a greater appreciation of the unique circumstances that each letter was written to suggests that Paul's letters (w…

Changing Tack

Since getting my proposal approved last year I have been reading and thinking about both my topic and the issues around it which I need to take into consideration. My original thesis proposal suggested that the meat of the issue was around Paul's sources, i.e. those ideas current in Paul's time which he could draw upon to construct the image of the church as Christ's body. However I have pretty quickly come to realise that this is barking (to some extent) up the wrong tree. While it is important to be aware of all the different ways the word for body could be used in the ancient world, i.e. the word's 'linguistic horizon' or 'chamber of resonance,' two other issues come before this and are more decisive: firstly the literary context of the metaphor and secondly the particular historical situation in which it was used. What this means is that rather than having to look for a single generalised explanation of Paul's meaning when he uses the phrase …

Treachery and Child Sacrifice

Still talking about contextual theology here is an example from someone working among tribes in Indonesia. Don Richardson missionary and writer is cited here saying:

When Caroline and I lived among the Sawi and learned their language, we found that they honored treachery as a virtue. This came to light when I told them the story of Judas betraying Jesus to death after three years of friendship. They acclaimed Judas as the hero of the story. It seemed as if it would not be easy for such people to understand God’s redemption in Jesus. But lo and behold, their way of making peace required a father in one of two warring villages to make an incredible sacrifice. He had to be willing to give one of his children as a peace child to his enemies. Caroline and I saw this happen, and we saw the peace that resulted from a man’s sorrowful sacrifice of his own son. That enabled me to proclaim Jesus as the greatest peace child given by the greatest father. In Lords of the Earth [one of his books], t…

Jesus = God?

"I suppose I want to say there that the critical thing about being a Christian is not that we know who God is ahead of time and then fit Jesus into that package, but that we take the risk, as John 1:17ff tells us to take, and Colossians 1 and so on, of looking hard at Jesus and thinking the word “God” as we do so, if I can put it like that, and then drawing our appropriate conclusions. That means you cannot pre-judge who Jesus is by some template, e.g., the picture you have of God at the moment, and therefore I see this as actually committing each generation of the church to look even longer and harder at who Jesus really was – the real human being Jesus – in the faith that it’s when you discover this Jesus that you discover who God really was."

From Tom Wright speaking in conversation with James Dunn.

The Image of God

Translated from the Spanish of Francisco de Aldana by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Let me know what you think :-)


O Lord! who seest, from yon starry height,
Centred in one the future and the past,
Fashioned in thine own image, see how fast,
The world obscures in me what once was bright!

Eternal Sun! the warmth which though hast given,
To cheer life's flowery April, fast decays;
Yet in the hoary winter of my days,
For ever green shall be my trust in Heaven.

Celestial King! O let thy presence pass
Before my spirit, and an image fair
Shall meet that look of mercy from on high,
As the reflected image in a glass
Doth meet the look of him who seeks it there,
And owes its being to the gazer's eye.

Who Am I?

A poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written whilst imprisoned by the NAZIs during World War II. Bonhoeffer was eventually executed by the NAZIs. This poem was use to great effect in a scene in the film Agent of Grace. If you haven't you should watch it. Let me know what you think :-)


Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire form his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly, as though it was mine to command.
Who am I? They tell me I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I really then that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath,
As though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds
Thirsting for kindness, for neighbourliness,
Tossing in expectation of grea…

Why You Should Fast

Of the three works of piety Jesus seemed to expect his followers to perform (Matt 6:1-18) fasting is by far the least talked about and most neglected. You should fast because:

Practical reasons:
It detoxes your systemIt saves money on groceriesIt trains your system to burn fat for energy (unless you overdo it!)You enjoy and appreciate food much more after the fast
Spiritual reasons:
It reminds you to pray throughout the day and creates the time and space to do so by eliminating mealsIt is a symbolic self emptying to demonstrate a desire to receive God's SpiritApart from its Biblical association with social justice (Isaiah 68) it also creates empathy with those who are hungryIt creates a respite from consumption and is hence dramatically countercultural (unless you are a supermodel)It trains the body to submit its base desires to a higher purposeIt demonstrates the body's fragility and weakness and helps create a sense of dependency on GodUnlike prayer and almsgiving which are by …

Acts 1:1-11: Sermon Outline

Here is the outline of the sermon I preached this Sunday (08/02/09), questions for discussion at the bottom.
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all the Jesus began to do and teach from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God. While staying with them he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
• Acts is a sequel, and like all good sequels starts with both a recap (of Jesus’ ministry on earth) and links the two parts together (how we got from A to B, from Christ to the Church).
• Jesus ministry/work is not finished with …

Phil Baiden's faith journey, thus far...

[My thanks to Phil, a regular commentator on this blog, for sharing something of his story about moving from Liberal Christianity to a Reformed faith. Phil has also started his own blog, check it out, but only after you have read Xenos :-p]

A while ago Jon asked me to write about how I came to be where I am now – a historically Reformed minister in a liberal mainline denomination. Jon and I were at school together and were also involved in church youth events in East Kent. We once shared a two-man tent together on a church camp when we were 16. And yes, it did smell bad.

However, as I moved from Kent and began my A-Levels I entered a period of rebellion from the church. The Jesus I'd been taught about in Sunday School wasn't fitting with the Jesus I was reading about in the Bible. So I left it. I still believed in God but there was no way that Jesus was anything more than a bloke with some weird ideas.

I went off to Sheffield to study for a Bibli…

The problem of evil: the mathematics of humanity

One of the things I didn't think that Rowan Williams did particularly well in his interview with John Humphreys was deal with the 'problem of evil' in a very satisfactory way. The 'problem of evil' (POE) is an old chestnut which goes something like this:

God is both all powerful and totally good/lovingAn all powerful and totally good/loving creator God would not make a world with evil in itEvil exists in the worldTherefore there is no GodNow it is no.2 which contains the assumption where the argument falls down on a philisophical level because, of course, we humans have absolutely no way of knowing what an all powerful totally good being might or might not do. However, RW rightly recognised that in Humphreys' case, as with many people, the argument is not really a logical one so much as an emotional one. That is, at some point someone witnesses enough evil, or something so evil, that they find belief in a good God unconvincing. (Of course there are many other re…

Matt 6:9b-10: The Lord's Prayer Revisited

πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς Which we uually translate something like:
Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be thy name
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

But we tend to read 'hallowed' as being a stament of fact, i.e. 'your name is holy.' But this takes us away from the original Greek where the archaic 'hallowed' is perhaps better rendered 'sanctified.' Our English translation also misses two other things present in the Greek. 1) The repetition of the word σου (your/of yours) at the end of three phrases which links together name, kingdom and will. and 2) the use of the imperative form of each verb. Perhaps my translation here (which is poor English) demonstrates those features.

Father of ours, who in Heaven is,
Sanctified must be the name of yours
Coming must be the kingdom of yours
Happening must be the will of yours
As in Heaven,…