Sunday, May 31, 2009
The biggest misunderstanding in Christendom is this: that God's power and knowledge are entirely bent on not letting bad things happen to those who believe in him, so that when bad things do happen some sort of explanation must be sought. This misunderstanding is based only on our belief that God is interested in the same things we are: our security, comfort and pride. That is, that God is like us. Of course only a quick skim through the Bible is guaranteed to show you a God rather contemptuous of our security, comfort and pride. In fact if you value those things the very last thing you should ever do is get to know Jesus. Jesus, the author and perfecter of Christian faith, showed us what true living was when his naked and damaged flesh was hung up for ridicule and slow death one Friday. In fact the better question is: how come so many people who claim to be good don't have more bad things happen to them? How come so many of these good people have so much security, comfort and pride and God does nothing to relieve them of it? Does God really love them at all?
Friday, May 29, 2009
Firstly, Christianity most certainly is a religion, in that it is framework for making sense of life, or a world view. All world views are religious, even atheistic world views, and even the most undecided of agnostics will have a religious framework for making sense of their life. It is just human nature. But I guess strictly, while it contains a world-view Christianity claims to be something more than just a way of understanding life, the universe and everything.
Secondly, the word relationship is particularly unhelpful. In general we only use this term regarding personal relationships for boy-girl relationships that are somewhat fuzzy and undefined. "I'm in a relationship" generally means that one is romantically involved but not to the extent of being fully committed. Sadly this half committed, emotionally variable, type of relationship characterises many western Christians' relationship with God. They understand that they have a relationship with God but they are not quite sure where they stand. They sing love songs to God on Sunday, but during the week are never quite sure who or what they are really committed to. And when God seems to not be around as much, or to let them down, they wonder about calling the whole thing off.
In the Bible the relationship between God and God's people is not fuzzy and undefined. It is correctly understood as covenant relationship, that is a relationship clearly defined by a contract between both parties to which both parties are fully committed. It is the relationship of:
creature to creator
helpless to saviour
servant to lord
sinner to forgiver
slave to master
disciple to teacher
redeemed to redeemer
child to parent
wounded to healer
This list is hardly exhaustive, but I think it is a representative sample of appropriate biblical analogies. So does anyone know how we can work that into a catchy tag-line??
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The individual judges serve as examples of the way God saves his people. Like a road sign, they point to the reality ahead without actually representing it in great detail. All the judges point to Christ one way or another but Samson does so in a way that is especially significant:
1: A baby announced by an angel that is set apart for God's saving work
2: A person stirred-up by the Spirit of God and empowered by the same Spirit
3: A person whose greatest victory takes place through his humiliation, defeat, and death
There are of course many ways in which Samson does not represent Christ, but this broad outline of his life story in the three narrative sections of Judges 13, 14-15, and 16, clearly corresponds to the ministry of Jesus Christ and so Sampson serves as an important signpost pointing towards the saviour who will fulfill God's saving plan once and for all. And because of this the message is not "don't be like Samson" but "be like Samson - as and when Samson is like Christ." Which is something you wont find in the newspaper.
Let me know what you think :-)
Friday, May 22, 2009
This concept of collective guilt is very distasteful to the individual. They do not see how it can be right for them to be blamed for those things done in the past by people long since dead. But injustice is not just perpetrated by individuals but also by societies -often without even the conscious assent of individuals in that society. It is not that we who prosper in NZ should feel guilt about things in history over which we had no control, but that as a society we need to take responsibility for those members of our society who -also through no fault of their own- have inherited negative cultural legacies, and will inevitably be presented with a range of bad choices which the middle class will never face. So much crime is not actually a sign of a particular individual or group of people being inherently evil, but simply a symptom of a society in which whole groups of society are disenfranchised and dis-empowered before they are even born. Only when those imbalances have been redressed does it make sense to blame the individual alone for their bad decisions.
Part of the work of the church therefore is to bring justice to the criminal, to recognise that the one who sins has also been sinned against. It is so easy to prosecute a mugger, burglar, or murderer. It is much harder to prosecute the society that created the conditions in which that human would become a criminal. In taking responsibility for those who society has sinned against the church bears the burden of society's sins and creates a place of redemption where the criminal can find both forgiveness for what they did but also restoration for what was done to them. The church's unique demographic, composed as it is of self-confessed sinners in need of a saviour, leaves it uniquely qualified for the task. The church's Lord, the redeemer and renewer of all creation, means it is also uniquely called to that task.
If you like that, have a look at this. Either way, let me know what you think :)
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I really like this song. As a song writer myself I always struggle with songs that are too direct. This one manages to be programatic without being too blatant. It also seems to be an antiwar song but I'm not sure, it might just be about death in general. They are getting a lot of airplay at the moment on Christian radio, which is good. If there has to be such a thing as 'Christian rock' it might as well be as interesting as this.
let me know what you think :-)
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Phil says of me: "He’s a nice guy. He’s very tall and he grows a fine beard. He’s very up-to-date with all the latest theological goings-on." Of which only the second point is really 100% true, but I would give a 50% rating to the 1st and third propositions, altough I would hasten to add I am working on bringing the 1st up closer to the 70% mark, whereas I am quite content with the level of the third!
So I should say of Phil: "I love Phil, he is a genuine, integral and compassionate human being. I love the fact that he is a mainline minister who teaches doctrine not platitudes, and I am sure he is a great blessing to his two congregations." What follows is not a qualification of that but actually stems from that respect and affection. I am not attacking Phil, but an argument he makes, and I do so because although I am not sure I can convince him, I am sure he respects me enough to try and understand what I am saying.
So here is the deal. Phil seems to be equating contemporary critique of the reformers with chronological arrogance, that I feel I somehow know better because I stand at a latter point in time. On the other hand Phil advocates humble study which avoids novelty or construction, because to go beyond or to contradict the reformers would suggest that he is somehow better or wiser than they were. This whole edifice is however built upon a funamentally false assumption: that is that theology can ever take place in the abstract, as it were in a vacuum. Luther constructed his theology against the context of a Medieval Catholicism that had lost sight of the essential truths of Christianity. Calvin constructed his theology against the context of a Europe still in turmoil as a result of the reformation and a protestant Europe attempting to work out what life would/should be like without the Roman Catholic Church in control. Both reformers, and many of their contemporaries, were seeking to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to their particular historical and social contexts. Their theology when read today is an excellent example of contextual theology but it simply should not be imported wholesale into your present day context. To do so is not humility but anachronism.
I don't care if you are a fan of Calvin or Wesley, Edwards or Gregory of Nanzianzus. All these theologians are wonderful examples of people applying the gospel of Jesus Christ to their contexts. They can even be excellent and fruitful sources for constructing theology today. (In fact all theology should be done with a view to what has already been done) But they can never be the last word. Standing on the shoulders of a giant in order to see further is not arrogance or disrespect it is appreciation for and appropriation of what they worked for and achieved. ( it is also a way of avoiding their blind spots even while you struggle to recognise your own!)
When I seek (and urge you) to see further than Calvin or whoever, it is not because I conceive of myself to be a better Christian, or even a more able theologian (I simply don't) but because I must. Because Calvin never saw the 21st century and this is where we are. The truth of God in Jesus Christ never changes, but the application and communication of it must change in every new historical, cultural and linguistic circumstance that God's people are called to be witnesses in. This is not arrogance but the continuing reforming of God people to be the blessing God calls them to be to God's world. The pastor/theologian is the bridge between God's unchanging truth and the ever changing world, one bank of the river never moves but the other frequently does, and hence so must the bridge if it is to continue to serve God's purposes faithfully.
Let me know what you think :-)
Friday, May 15, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
"Theology is the practice of all Christian people growing in their knowledge of God amidst their various life activities and church practices. The academic discipline of theology is not entirely separate from, or more important than, ordinary Christian growth in biblical discernment. Rather, professional theologians ought to pursue the same practices as lay Christians but with different intensities of inquiry, amounts of time, and levels of expertise."
[Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice, pp188–89]
"and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with his saints."
- 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
Love and holiness are so often played off against each other. You get 'love Christians' who know that all you have to do is love and accept and help people and that is Christianity in a nutshell. And you get 'holiness Christians' who are terrified they might accidentally associate with the wrong type of person, or with someone who holds the wrong doctrine, or even watch a movie that is not quite pure. Living in each extreme is pretty easy. Doing things a much harder way are those poor souls trying to be 'balanced Christians' who recognise the law of love but also the importance of holiness and try to find a mediating position between the two masters as if God is some two headed monster with conflicting personalities to be satisfied! But watching the way Jesus, or Paul went about their business it is clear that the love/holiness thing should not be understood as a tension - or a choice of which side of Christianity should be face up this time; like tossing a coin to see if we demonstrate love or holiness in our next action. Instead holiness is only Christian holiness when it is transformed by love, and love is only Christian love when it is transformed by holiness. Holiness without love is mere religion, and love without holiness is idolatry. They are not two sides of a coin, but two lenses in a telescope that both need to be brought into focus for every activity and together provide a view of the Christian life, of each other, and of all, that neither can alone.
Let me know what you think :-)
(BTW this is my 100th post on this blog!! Thanks for stopping by :-))
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
"Christ's body and its parts: An Ecclesiological Metaphor in 1 Corinthians"
Metaphor theses and questions
- That the use of mele (member) must be taken account of as well as soma (body) in appreciating this metpahor (contra Yorke)
- That how the metaphor is used in varied locations and constructions in 1 Corinthians has ramifications for discussions of development across the corpus
- That the Metaphor is used and presented in such a way as to suggest the concept is already extant among Corinthian church - possibly through Paul's earlier letter or ministry. (this is necessary for those who wish to interpret 11:29 as being ecclesiological, although even with this it remains a moot point)
- How does this metaphor interact with other metaphors in 1 Cor?
- That the source question is both an old-chesnut and a dead-horse.
Interpretational/Theological theses and questions
- That the Christological character of the body cannot be reduced to possesion (contra Yorke) but neither can it be identified wholesale with Christ's resurected human body (contra JAT Robinson) and so some theological middle ground must be exegetically uncovered. (3:23 could be important in this)
- Should the metaphor be understood primarily as theological (Jewett) or idealogical (Martin) engagement?
- What place does the metaphor have in the overall ecclesiology of 1 Cor?
- How does the metaphor relate to themes of resurrection and eucharist and Spirit? (i.e. is it purely rhetorical in function or does it contribute in other ways?)
- To explore the potential of this metaphor (once correctly exegetically comprehended) in contempory (multicultural) Urban church settings
- To explore and critique contemporary concepts and practices of church membership in light of the metaphor
- To work towards a 'higher' evangelical ecclesiology
That should be enough to keep me busy don't you think?
Would of course value any other ideas, suggestions, questions that spring to mind :-)
Friday, May 8, 2009
[Source: NT Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, p154-161]
And that heavily abridged quote will have to be the last from that book, of which I have quoted far too much already. But Wright is so interesting because what he says makes so much sense and answers so many questions that have been operating like the proverbial elephant in the room for so long. Wright is also impressive in his ability to write enormous tomes of scholarly work at the same time as churning out accesible but serious popular level stuff. This is the only reason why he gets so much flack. many other writers in the 'new perspectives' movement of Pauline scholarship are far more antagonistic to traditional protestant understandings of Paul, but they are making no attempt to engage a popular audience, which Wright does so well. Anyway the next task on my Wrightian reading list is to start his massive Christian Origins and the Question of God series. He has only written 3 out of the 5 projected volumes and if I start soon, I may get to read the first three before the next one is published! Let me know what you thought about the quote :-)
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
When Jesus the Christ returns as Lord and King to redeem and renew creation all human wisdom and invention will also be taken up and integrated into the life of eternity. Scientists, inventors, engineers, artists, gardeners, farmers, and all the rest will somehow find their vocations transformed and incorporated into the Kingdom come, where God is all and in all. But not all human work is capable of being translated into the new age: arms manufacturers, military, police, and politicians, among others, will be rendered unnecessary by the coming of the King. This is why all preachers and theologians need a hobby. The time will come when people do not need to be taught about God, because they will know God. They will not need to read about God, because they will see God. There will be no need to tell people what God is like, because they will be like him. In a world like that there will be no need for pastors, Bible teachers, or authors of books about God. Having faithfully completed their essential work they will find themselves suddenly redundant. This is good news indeed! (And not just for those who find listening to sermons hard work!!)
I first heard the call of God to preach and pastor when I was halfway through a music degree at Lancaster University in the UK. It came as a surprise. It also came as a frustration; I had musical plans, dreams, and ambition, did I have to stop all that to go and do something else now? However, the more I explored that call, the more I realised how great the urgency was. The neglect and misunderstanding of God’s word is pandemic throughout God’s people, and, like so many things in life, if you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem. I soon experienced the joy and fulfilment that come from faithfully ministering God’s word to people. Here I am ten years later and the call and joy are still there – I am enthusiastically studying and applying God’s word and trying to encourage others to do so through my work at Carey and involvement with church. But the frustration is still there also. I know that I am half the musician I could be, if only I could find more time to practise. I know that I have had so many great ideas and flashes of musical inspiration that have had to be ignored because of other commitments. My song book is full of half finished compositions. Events like music week are great fun, and a good opportunity to dust off the guitar, but they are also a reminder of unfulfilled ambitions and dormant dreams. (Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming that I would have been ‘a great success’ as a musician or anything – I mean, who knows? I am just talking about creative fulfilment.)
However, there are no regrets, only the expectation that eternal life is going to be spent glorifying God – with all God’s people – in the renewed creation. And so I keep up my frustrated musicianship where I can, in anticipation of the day when Bible teachers become surplus to requirements and I can finally get on with making the music that God has put in my heart. Amen, come Lord Jesus!
Monday, May 4, 2009
(Sorry all my wondeful American friends, but really as a tribe you have so much to answer for... like nearly as much as the British!! ;-), you are a young nation, I'm sure you will grow out of it.)
But really this does raise once again the whole issue of study Bibles, green Bibles, and Dude-Pimp-My-Bible! Bibles...
Personally the only thing I want in my Bible is really great crossreferences which make up for the fact that I havent yet memorised the entire scriptures in Hebrew and Greek because I'm so lazy.
Judges looks back to MOSES – they have a covenant, an exodus, a Passover, a seminal nation forming event... but that seems a long time ago now (2:12, 17, 20, 3:4)
Judges looks forward to DAVID, a golden age when a king will rule in righteousness and bring unity and security: an end to conflict inside and outside. (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25 – no king, this is why things are so screwed up)
But Judges actually lives in the middle where it just seems like chaos.
• God’s people are unfaithful... repeatedly
• God’s people are surrounded by enemies who attack them
• God’s people are divided and often attack each other
• God’s people are influenced by the hostile pagan culture around them
• God’s people seem weak and helpless compared to their enemies
• Moses was a long time ago and David isn’t here yet and it is just chaos, anarchy, madness.
And yet, this is not chaos, anarchy or madness after all
• 2:14, The Lord let the enemies overpower them
• 2:23, 3:4, the Lord allowed the pagan nations to remain for his purposes
So when God's people were unfaithful, God allowed their enemies to overcome them, which would have the effect of making them cry out to God, who in his mercy would send them judges or leaders to be his method of bringing salvation...
And surely this is where the action is, what we have been looking forward to, the mighty macho men (and women) who acheive great things and kick but! But here is the thing, the leader/judges might get interesting stories, but it can all be summed up in 2:18-19. The judges were great while they lasted, but when they die things just go back to the way they were before, or even worse.
Unfaithfulness, Anger, Repentance, Rescue: A cycle with no purpose?
Testing through conflict or compromise, both tests of faith. The chaos is not outsude of God's sovereignty and the cycle is not meaningless, but is God's means to form his people.
Time to learn, time to become, time to be formed, time to be refined, time to get to know God
Last Sunday was ANZAC day and serves as a good illustration of how events in a nations past can shape that nation. Gallipoli was a meaningless wasteful military disaster, and yet for Kiwis has become a symbol of nationhood and has arguably shaped the whole national psche and character. History is important, the stories we tell about our past shape our identity. And for the people of Israel these stories of the Judges are vitally important as part of their history, as part of how God has shaped them as a people.
The fact is much of Judges should sound quite familiar to us.
• Like Judges we are stuck between times, not Moses and David, but Jesus’ incarnation (as bringer of the New Covenant and Passover lamb) and Jesus' return (as victorious King of all Creation). We are in the middle too!
• We are faced with the same conflicts and compromise with our surrounding culture.
• We, as a people, are plagued with unfaithfulness and division and would often rather spend our energy attacking each other than dealing with the true enemy
• We often see great victories when we work together,
• But individuals and small groups can have massive consequences when God is with them
We see God raise up leaders and movements that seem to win for a while, but always fade away within a generation or become stagnat institutions
And if Judges is God’s word to us today, which it is, then surely the first word that it speaks to us is, ‘anarchy, chaos, madness? Maybe from your perspective. But God knows what he is doing, what he is allowing to happen, for the testing and training of his people, that they might grow, be formed, and that they might know him.’
In Judges the good and the bad are all mixed in together... great triumphs and huge disappointments. There is victory, but also defeat and also apostasy. This is what life is like in the middle, and this is what it is like for us now. And strangely this is very comforting, it removes the need for us to attempt to manufacture the ultimate world changing revival, or alternatively to let things get so bad Jesus is forced to return. Rather the King will come in his own time, and in this time we just need to get on with the job of being faithful in our little corner praying and watching for victory, but also accepting and surviving defeat when it comes our way.
So as we read Judges we watch the parallels but also need to watch the differences:
• The type of conquest, success is not measured in real estate but faithfulness and transformation
• The type of weapons, war is not waged with swords but prayer, love, forgiveness, preaching and witness
• The enemy are not to be slain but loved and forgiven
• We do not take up our swords but our crosses,
• The Holy spirit is not available to only some but to all,
• And, best of all, we already know the name of the King that we are waiting for!
Amen! Come Lord Jesus, come!