Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brevard Child's theology of the Bible

Just came across this excellent and concise theology of scripture from an interview with the late Brevard Childs:

"The divine and human dimensions of Scripture can never be separated as if there were a kernel and a husk, but the heart of the Bible lies in the mystery of how a fully time-conditioned writing, written by fragile human authors, can continually become the means of hearing the very Word of God, fresh and powerful, to recipients open to faithful response."

I think I might have to put that up on my study wall...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ian Mobsby on Post-Christendom church

Ian Mobsby was this week Carey college's after lunch speaker. He seemed like areally good bloke with a fascinating story. He was talking alot about the change from Christendom, that is where the world in which we live is essentially a Christian one, to post-Christendom, where Christian are on the margins of a secularised society. His main thing seemed to be that church were clinging to traditional ways of doing church which had worked during Christendom but were now not applicable. He was surprisingly non-judgemental but just quite matter of fact in how he felt 'traditional' churches needed to change.

He advocated moving from:
Traditional ways of doing church to ones which are designed to engage with our communities.
A pastor model where the onus is looking after people who are in church to a missionary model where the focus is on reaching those in the community.
Shallow communities to ones that went deep.
Emphasising doctrine and head knowledge to emphasising praxis and right living.
Expecting everything to be paid for to being entrepenurial and sacrificial in service.
Preaching Jesus is your best friend to a robust Trinitarian preaching.
Therapy for individuals to establishing communities into which individuals can become integrated.
Expecting results in a few years to being in mission for the long haul.

Let me know what you think :-)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Infant Baptism

Here's some new and very interesting thoughts on the old credo vs paedo baptism chesnut. (that is the old debate over whether you can/should baptise babies or only believers) let me know what you think :)

A couple of thoughts on the Temple in 1 Chronicles

So, I am reading through Chronicles this month and have (as tends to happen) spotted some things I hadn't seen before. here's a couple around the theme of the Temple:

1 Chronicles 17. David decides to build a 'house' (i.e. temple) for God because he feels it is wrong that he lives in 'a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant lives in a tent.' But God stops him and instead promises to build a 'house' (i.e. family line) that will last forever. This is one more example of how this God, in contrast to the other gods of the ancient world, needs nothing from human hands but yet gives abundantly, not in return for favours done, but because it is God's pleasure/will to show love.

1 Chronicles 21:28-22:1. God's wrath comes against Israel for Davids sin in taking a census of all the fighting males. I've not yet figured out exactly what the problem was, but that is a question for later. God's wrath here takes the form of a 'pestilence' and a 'destroying angel'. God himself stops the destroying angel from destroying Jerusalem and the angel comes to a halt at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. David then builds an altar and offers a sacrifice. Afterwards David decides that this is the spot where the Temple should eventually be built. First it is worth pointing out that God's wrath relents not because of the sacrifice but before it happens. Again, this is a radical reversal of the way ancient people tended to think gods operated. Instead, the sacrifice, David's act of worship, is a response to God's action - not a cause of it. And so this is the significant thing about the location of the Temple, it is put where God's anger stopped and his mercy began. It is put at the point where God's mercy has already taken place and our only task is to respond to what God has already done.

I think perhaps for Christians both things point (especially the second) towards the cross of Christ as our primary topos (place) of worship. When we worship 'at the cross' we are not worshipping to influence God actions towards us but in recognition of what God has already done through Christ.

Monday, March 16, 2009

NT Wright on the desctruction of Jerusalem in Paul's thought

Continuing the futurist/preterist discussion started by Sarah B, here is a pertinent quote from Tom Wright who argues that the destruction of Jerusalem was the imminent apocalyptic event that Paul was aware of and that the second coming of Christ and renewal of creation was something much further away on Paul's eschatalogical horizon.

"[T]here are some passages in Paul which are often taken to refer to this final apocalypse, but which Paul probably did not intend that way. When he speaks of God's wrath coming 'at last' upon the inahabitants of Judea (1 Thessalonians 2.16) he is probably not thinking of the great moment he describes in chapter 4, but of an interim judgement, warned of by Jesus himself, on the city and on the people that had rejected their messiah. Indeed, when he grieves over his fellow Jews in Romans 9-11, I think part at least of that grief is conditioned by his awareness that they are living under the shadow of impending national disaster. Likewise, when he writes in 2 Thessalonians that the young church should not be worried if they got a letter saying that the Day of the Lord had arroved, it is clear that he cannot be referring to anything of the same order as the renewal of creation in Romans 8 or the royal presence of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4 or 1 corinthians 15 - still less to the end of the space-time universe, which the Thessalonians themselves would presumably have noticed. Her again I think Paul is aware - and his allusions to what we know as Matthew 24 and parallels may bear this out - that early tradition included solemn warnings from Jesus himself about the imminent destructino of Jerulsalem and the Temple. This is the event which had to happen within a generation; and this, I think - though this is boud to be controversial - is why Paul felt a sense of urgency in his mission to the gentile world, which has commonly been thought of as a feature of his apocalyptic style theology theology. It was not that he had to save as many many people as he could, a quick representative sample, before the ultimate end of things. It was that he had to plant stable Jew-plus-Gentile churches on Gentile soil before the event occured which would make Jews blame the Christians for letting the side down, and which woul invite Gentiles to sneer at Jews for having lost their home and capital city. Here as elsewhere, when we understand Paul's apocalyptic theology we will find it rooted within and referring to, actual historical events."

[Source: NT Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 56]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Situation for Christians in Pakistan Worsening

A Christian leader from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province told Barnabas Fund last week how the Taliban are trying to enforce their interpretation of Islam on the whole nation. “That is why the religious minorities fear for their safety and their future,” he said. He described how Christians, desperate to blend in for safety’s sake, are beginning to dress like Muslims and the Christian men to grow beards so that they look like Muslims.

Parts of the North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan, are now almo st ungovernable, as a wide range of militant Islamic groups are currently engaged in violent insurrections. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, pleads: “Please pray at this time for the Christian minority in Pakistan, especially those in the North West Frontier Province, where the Taliban are gaining increasing power and enforcing an extreme version of sharia (Islamic law). Sharia is inherently biased against non-Muslims and also prescribes the death sentence for Muslims who choose to follow Christ. The position of the Christian community is increasingly vulnerable. They need your prayers.”

The Christian community in Pakistan is drawn mainly from the poorest parts of society, and many Christians do very menial work. They are despised by the majority society and often discriminated against. Sometimes they are subject to violent attack, especially Christian women and girls. A slow process of Islamisation over recent decades has gradually eroded their rights and liberties, and in the current situation this process looks set to continue at a far more rapid pace.

[Source Barnabas Fund]

What's wrong with the songs we sing?

For many in the west church life in the 80s and 90s was marred by what is often called the 'worship wars.' Clashes between generations over what was appropriate content for worship in church, usually, but not necessarily, between those who wanted to sing traditional hymns and those who wanted guitars and 'choruses'. By and large I think these days people have realised how destructive such behaviour is and take a more relaxed attitude towards things, almost anything goes... And if you don't like it go down the road to another church that does it your way.

But here is a complaint from academic John Stackhouse about a certain contemporary Christian songwriter's worship songs.

Two of his points I think are perhaps nit picking: the lack of rhyming and the mixing of metaphors. In contemporary song rhyme is not essential and even many of the great hymn writers of yesteryear were not shy of forcing the odd rhyme from two words that really didn't. More to the point Hebrew poetry (the Psalms) didn't rhyme at all but used parallelism instead. And again, although it may be bad English to mix your metaphors it was something many of the biblical writers seemed to enjoy doing.

But, I do think he has a point that often songs are 'put out there' long before they are finished. Rather than being crafted carefully and patiently and critically. They are merely thought of, written down, recorded on a CD, and sent round the world, long before any process of biblical, theological, and communal reflection can take place. I wonder if this comes from a misplaced assumption that if something is Spirit inspired that there should be no further work done on it. However even that most Spirit-inspired work of art, the Bible, shows signs of careful editing and organisation. The Spirit does not give us inspiration in order to deny us the act of creation, but to stir us to it. Or maybe it just comes from laziness, after all most people are quite happy to buy the CD and sing the song because although the lyrics are half finished, the production, packaging, and marketing are absolutely first rate!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Does all the different parts of the Bible say essentially the same thing?

Just a primer for you before the next post on "the Nitty Gritty" from the blog of NT lecturer Chris Tilling. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Gospel for Eunuchs: A Sermon on Acts 8:26-40

Here is in rough outline the flow of thought from the sermon I preached this morning.

A man is returning home from coming to worship at Jerusalem, he is an official in charge of the treasuries of Ethiopia and as a sign of his prestige rides in a chariot. Philip, following the instructions of an Angel and the prompting of the Spirit runs over to the chariot and hears the man reading from Isaiah.

Why Isaiah?
The official is also a Eunuch. As a foreigner there would have been some restrictions on his worship at the Temple, but as a Eunuch he would have been considered ritually unclean (Deut 23:1, Lev 21:20) and it is unlikely he would even have been allowed into the Temple. And yet something about Judaism has attracted and convinced the Ethiopian eunuch to be a worshipper of Yahweh. Who knows, perhaps it was the attraction of a God who, in contrast to most other ancient deities, was neither sexual himself nor demanded sexual acts as part of his worship; perhaps it has some connection with the extraordinary fact of 120,00 Ethiopian Jews living in modern day Israel today, or perhaps this man had already had some touch of God's Spirit upon his life to draw him closer and prepare him for the revelation of Christ? That is all speculation, but what I do know is is that if I was a eunuch and a worshipper of Yahweh, my favourite scripture would be Isaiah 56:3-7. Here a eunuch finds an extraordinary promise that despite his deformity God would find him acceptable, that God could give him something even better than children and grandchildren, if he lived in covenant relationship with God.

Why Isaiah 53:7-8
So why was the eunuch reading this bit? As Christians we are used to reading this as being about Jesus. We read those words and we understand that the prophet spoke them pointing towards how the messiah would die on the cross. But for the Eunuch he must have been struck by how the experience described mirrored his own of being castrated... humiliation, injustice, his descendants destroyed before they ever had a chance to live, his life blood taken from the earth as the family tree finds a dead end in him. That's why the question for Philip is "who is this about?" It could have been about him.

How is the news about Jesus good news to this eunuch?
Philip starts with this passage. This passage that describes the messiah suffering humiliation, injustice, and destruction of his potential at the hands and for the purposes of others. But that was not the end of the story. Because despite what others had done to the messiah God contradicted all of that by raising Christ from the dead to eternal life. Because of Jesus enduring Isaiah 53:7-8 the day promised in Isaiah 56:5-7 was now dawning. Something better than children was being offered to the eunuch. Because everlasting acceptance and honour were his if he would live in covenant relationship with God through Jesus. The eunuch's final question to Philip is incredibly poignant "is there anything to stop me from being baptised?" All his life he had been prevented from worshipping, from acceptance, from being a whole human in a society in which having children was how you secured your immortality, and now his question is one final doubt.. "is there anything?" And Philip answers this question "no!" because in Jesus no deed done by us or to us can cut us off from God's acceptance and grace.

So what?
1.) This story shows us something of how the Spirit of God flows. Prompting and prodding us towards the eunuchs of the world, those whose lives are without hope or meaning by the world's estimation. The Spirit calls us to find them, walk alongside the, join them, find out where they are at with this God stuff, and then starting with where they are at, tell them the good news about Jesus Christ.

2.) It tells us too that those things of the world which we might be tempted to measure ourselves by, either positively or negatively, our offspring, our legacy, our success, are nothing compared to the being accepted by God and to enter into his eternal life. If we are willing to live in covenant relationship with God there is nothing to stop us, no matter who we are, what we have done, or what has been done to us by others.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"The Nitty Gritty" on Paul, Salvation and the rest of the Bible no. 1

Phil Baiden has raised some pertinent questions in regard to what I posted here concerning current trends in Pauline scholarship and my own (provisional) take on them. I am going to respond to Phil's questions in reverse order, and over two posts.

can you tell me what an objective, forensic view of salvation is?
Firstly it is worth saying that not all objective views are forensic, and neither are all forensic views objective. But in protestant christianity they tend to go together.

An objective view of salvation is usually contrasted to a participatory view, i.e. objective views focus on us as objects of salvation who are largely passive where as a participatory view would focus more on how both God's initiative and our response are necessary. A subjective view by contrast would see all the onus on us to acheive our salvation (which would be Biblically untenable).

All scriptural language in regard to the atonement is by necessity analogical (see here), that is the reality of God's atoning work in Christ is beyond words but a number of different images are used to describe it, for example the language of being 'in Christ', ransom, redemption, and Christ's victory. All the analogies point to what Christ has accomplished but no individual analogy can encompass all that Christ has acheived. Forensic views of salvation take the scriptures' use of law court imagery (justification, penal substitution, no condemnation, etc) and make this the controlling analogy by which all other analogies must be interpreted.

The question for me is not whether scripture uses forensic analogies to describe salvation, they certianly do, but whether this is the primary motif by which salvation should be understood. Paul has traditionally been read by protestants as advocating first and foremost a forensic view of salvation and everything else in Paul is then fitted into that. However I am increasingly of the opinion that being 'in Christ' and the work of the Spirit in the believer are far more important and central features of Paul's theology than justification. If this is the case then salvation moves from being something that is primarily done to us in a cosmic law court (objective), so to speak, to being something we are invited into and particpate in here and now. This does not mean justification is not important, but it becomes subsidiary to one or more other more central analogies.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting Your Message Across

Today I walked past a poster in a bus stop. It was promoting Telecoms new global roaming packages. Now I walk past this bus stop twice a day and I can promise you no one sitting in the middle of penrose industrial estate waiting to catch a bus will be choosing a mobile phone plab on the basis of its international roaming - they would be far more interested in free texts each month or novelty ring tones. That advert was in the wrong place and talking to the wrong people.

I was watching on TV Paul Merton in India the other night and he encountered a group called 'the god-busters.' This was a travelling group of atheists who went around trying to convince people that belief in god(s) was superstitious nonsense. Expecting Dawkins like lectures on the irrationality of God, and how evolution proves the non-existence of God and other such lines of attack, I was surprised to see them pushing needles through their skin and using them to pull an SUV down the road. Rather than using verbal arguments the god-busters were demonstrating that many of the miracles performed by indian holy men could be performed also by atheists, therefore there was no need to believe in god(s). Now while I would love to see Dawkins or Hitchens work with these guys I can't see such a presentation going down well at a university debate in the west.

But what it shows it that the right words to get your message across in one context will completely fail in another. And yet so often people present their ideas and programs as one size fits all for evangelism, worship, church growth, discipleship, and all the rest. This is one reason why Paul's letters vary so much in style and content and use of terms. Rather than being the work of different people or imitators, they are the work of a highly skilled contextual theologian who understood that to get his message across he had to think hard about the way to say it in that particular time and place and to those particular people.

The question for us is, how well do we understand the context in which we live and good are we really at getting our message across?