Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Greetings

I know it has been a lean year for my long suffering blog readers, but as a sign i still love you, and that the rivers of xenos have not yet run dry, here is some traditional Christmas excess, two sumptuous carols from the UK, where my thoughts often turn to distant family and friends in the northern hemisphere at this time of year as I put on my suntan lotion and check we've got our boogie boards for the beach ;-)



 Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Human Will Power is Not Enough

Today there was a wonderful convergence between the lectionary readings and my own circumstances. In ministry one of the most useful character traits is stubbornness and resolve, the ability to keep doing what is right regardless of the opposition or discouragement. It doesn't really matter how talented you are or enthusiastic if you will give up when the going gets tough. The pastors that make a real difference are more than a flash in the pan, they go the long haul and take the licks. But simply being stubborn, or even optimistic is not enough.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

brick-a-brack 131212

My poor neglected blog friends, here are some tasty treats to keep you sweet, till i get some time and space to do you some home baking of my own.

 
enjoy! and let me know what you think. :-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Theological Ministry: An Oxymoron?

Not according to Sarah Coakely 

You have to also learn how not to drop your theological insights in a crisis. Because the theological will actually inform the decisions that you’re making, and it’s part of the tragic disjunction that we tend to think, “Oh, systematic theology -- I did that in seminary. It’s not going to have any implications for whether I refer this person to the hospital [or] how this person’s background of abuse might be healed in some shape or form.” We tend to assume that systematic theology doesn’t help us with those things. And that, I think, is a fundamental mistake.
and Roger Olsen

Anyone who truly comforts the afflicted among God’s people and also afflicts the comfortable in the right way. Notice my qualifiers: “truly” and “in the right way.” They are there for a reason. Not all “comfort” is ministry, nor is all “affliction” ministry. That’s where theology comes in. It is necessary to the tasks of comfort and affliction if these are to be carried out with depth in a truly Christian manner. Without theology these tasks of ministry become therapy or spiritual abuse respectively. Comfort all too easily degenerates into telling people what they want to hear or even enabling them. At its best, without sound theology informing it, the ministry of comfort differs little from secular psychotherapy or social work. While there is nothing wrong with these in their proper contexts, they are not in and of themselves “Christian ministry.” They become that when proper theology is appropriately added to them. Similarly, affliction all too easily escalates into controlling people and abusing them. At its best, without sound theology informing it, the ministry of affliction differs little from character formation or discipline. These also have their place, but they are not in and of themselves “Christian ministry.” They become that when proper theology is appropriately added to them.
Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Luke 14:28-33: A new interpretation?

I'm preaching on Luke 14:25-35 this coming Sunday and my companions as I preach through Luke have been the commentaries by Green and Marshall. (I find usually reading more than a couple of commentaries for the purpose of preaching a waste of time). However on the subject of the two parables in Luke 14:28-33 I find them both unconvincing and have subsequently come up with my own interpretation. It probably isn't new or unique, but it seems so satisfactory to me I am surprised neither Marshall nor Green even mention the possibility. I'd appreciate your thoughts, whether you think my alternative reading has any merit, and whether you know any other commentators who have suggested something similar.



What they say

Jesus is talking about the need to hate our families and take up our crosses to be his disciples. He then tells two parables, one about understanding the need to estimate the cost of a building project before starting it to avoid ridicule and one about the need to surrender to and enemy that has greater forces than you. Jesus concludes by saying, "in the same way [as in the parables] any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." Both NIV and NRSV subtitle the section "the cost of discipleship."

For Green Jesus uses these parable to "highlight the importance of considering the conditions he has placed on authentic discipleship" and "by extrapolation [he] insists that such assets as one's network of kin . . . are an insufficient foundation for assuring one's status before God." (Green, NICNT p566)

For Marshall, the parables show "just as one should not attempt a venture without having sufficient resources to complete it . . . so a disciple must be continually ready to give up all he has got in order to follow Jesus. The connection of thought could be smoother, and this confirms that originally independent saying have here been joined together." (Marshall, NIGTC p594-95)

Effectively then, for both Marshall and Green the parables serve as warnings to potential disciples to weigh carefully if they will be able to see their discipleship to the end. In other words, "don't become a disciple unless you are ready to give everything else up." But Marshall does note that this interpretation of the pericope is not very smooth, leading him to doubt the integrity of the passage. Might I be so bold as to suggest it is not the passage that lacks smoothness but that particular reading of it? A reading that renders Jesus warning people off becoming his disciples instead of inviting them to do so?




A better way?

Because we come to this passage with a "cost" mentality we see the parables as primarily about having the resources to see things through, and Jesus demanding that we be willing to give up everything to follow him. But the parables in question do not address resources, in the sense that there is no question or possibility of change in the resources of the characters in the parables. Under the previous reading this becomes a very fatalistic message: either you have what it takes to be a disciple or you don't. But in each parable it is a case of the character realising the true extent of his resources and acting accordingly.

But Jesus does not conclude the thought by saying "in the same way everyone should take stock of their resources for discipleship before following me." He says "in the same way you should give up everything you have." The parables are not about what we can achieve with our resources, but what we should give up.

In v28-30 the character gives up a tower (representing security, stability, wealth?) he cannot build, and in v31-32 a king gives up a kingdom (representing power, autonomy, sovereignty, wealth?) he cannot hold on to. So what point could Jesus be making? Is it not that those things which might come between us and being a disciple of Jesus (our excuses - cf Luke 14:18-20) are not things which we can hold onto or maintain in our own strength anyway? By giving up our social and material possessions to follow Jesus are we not just giving up what we were bound to lose anyway?

In both parables those who "give up" are held up as examples of the wise, and then we too are called to "give up" in order to become dsciples. Suddenly the flow of thought couldn't be smoother, and suddenly rather than trying to put off less committed disciples with a high price Jesus is actually encouraging us to follow him because what he is asking us to give up is beyond us to acheive or hold onto anyway.

In the words of Jim Elliot, martyred missionary, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

America through the eyes of others


Images like these have a powerful effect on my perception of the USA (both borrowed from James).





It is funny, because so many of my favorite musicians, authors, bloggers and theologians are American. But the overriding mental image I have of the USA is governed by the reactionary racist greedy obnoxious and unbelievably imbecilic. There is something in the idea that it takes 10 positives to overcome a negative, but the idea that a pastor feels OK to put something like that on his notice board must cancel or someone wears a t-shirt like that (and it looks official - is it really?) counts for more than one negativity point. Vinoth Ramachandra puts it so well,


Democracy in the US is now largely a sham. The US Supreme Court has interpreted the US Constitution in a way that removes all restrictions on campaign spending. What this amounts to is that rich American individuals and corporations can buy presidents and congressmen. The support of a billionaire now counts vastly more than that of an ordinary citizen, making a mockery of the principle of “one man, one vote”.

how any sane person can vote for Romney/Ryan simply baffles me! One belongs to the class of tax-dodging parasites. The other proclaims himself to be an unashamed devotee of Ayn Rand’s militantly atheist creed of glorified selfishness and ruthless greed. And they both have absolutely no understanding of the world beyond the U.S. One cannot imagine deeper depths of moral bankruptcy and intellectual sterility to which the Republican Party can sink.

I am not saying you have to vote for Obama, he is certainly not perfect, and maybe there are good reasons to vote for the other guy, but I'll be honest if it does go against Obama most of the rest of us on planet Earth will just be thinking it is the racists and the greedy rich who have got their way because that is the message you have sent us. Feel free to disabuse me of that notion, but if you do it with abuse, you'll be proving my point.

America, sort your life out, and then maybe you'll have more success when trying to help the rest of the world.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hurtado on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician Woman



Hurtado writes,
Since the assigned lection a few Sundays ago on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), I’ve intended to comment on what appears to me a surprisingly widespread mis-reading of the passage.  Essentially, the “dogs” (who Jesus says here must wait till after the “children” have eaten before they can be fed) are taken with an extremely pejorative connotation as feral mongrels, and the scene is read as if Jesus is pictured insulting the woman and treating her with contempt. 
Read the rest, you'll be glad you did, first on the how we should understand the dogs in question (not to mention the connection to the gentile mission), and second as to how the parable connects with the woman's own life. This was a real ah-ha! moment for me. Those two posts justified wading through the other 100 worthless posts clogging up my reader. ;-)

For a totally different discussion of Moses' use of canine imagery and women try this old Xenos post.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Doctrine of Errancy


Andrew Wilson throws down a bold and extraordinary challenge to the critics of inerrancy. As one such critic, I'm grateful for the provocation. I know there are more subtle, nuanced and persuasive views of inerrancy out there but Wilson gives a good grass roots sketch of the motivation for the doctrine. He starts like this,

There are a bunch of reasons for [holding to inerrancy]: theological (what would it say about God if his word was incorrect?), anthropological (isn’t the idea of the pot telling the potter that he got it wrong somewhat problematic?), even Christological (Scripture is affirmed as both divine and human, like Christ, and to use the latter to argue for the flawed nature of the former could pose substantial problems for our view of Jesus - which is evident when you find people saying that Jesus, in his humanity, made a mistake about the historicity of Adam).
To which I would rather briskly reply,
  • it is not God's words that contain errors it is our Bibles (and yes we should distinguish between the two), 
  • when I observe inaccuracies in the Bible I am not telling God he got it wrong but observing what is actually in the Bibles I have access to (rather than deciding before hand what the Bible looks like and then twisting it to fit) - these Bibles have all been through a long and imperfect human process of transmission, collation, translation, interpretation, and editing for marketing purposes
  • and no the scriptures are not divine and human in the way that Christ is.  No orthodox theologian has ever suggested they are, Christ is unique in that respect.(Peter Enns has wondered if the two natures of Christ is a good analogy for scripture in his book Incarnation and Inspiriation, but it isn't a good idea, mainly because you can hardly use a theological mystery to analogically explain a literary reality, analogies are supposed to work from the known and understood to the unknown, not the other way round, and as Wilson rightly points out it also causes Christological problems downstream).
But Wilson's main point and challenge is this:
But inerrancy also matters because it rules out what I call “the option of errancy” when interpreting Scripture. Put simply, this is the idea that if you don’t believe Scripture is inerrant, then when faced with a biblical “difficulty” (whether a genuine challenge or, more commonly, something you as an interpreter don’t like), you can always say that the Bible is mistaken on that point. You may claim that you don’t want to use it - and that may be true - but if needed, you know the option of errancy is sitting in your back pocket, like a Presidential veto, as a last line of defence.
Wilson assumes that my reluctance to hold the doctrine of inerrancy is because without it I have a get out of jail free card on the Bible. Rubbish. If you need something to stop you from discounting portions of scripture you struggle with, it is not a doctrine of inerrancy you need it is a fuller submission to God. Signing the Chicago statement won't help you one bit. Believers in inerrancy are just as good and sometimes better than others at avoiding the bits of the Bible that don't suit them.

I do have a doctrine of errancy. I don't call it the doctrine of the errancy of scripture. It is the doctrine of the errancy of humanity, of the Bible's human authors, of the scribes and copyists and translators, of the church and of those who read, interpret, and preach the Bible; but that even despite all those errant human beings being part of the process the God of grace speaks to his people through that collection of scriptures known as the Bible in as fresh and liberating a way today as he ever did. It is a doctrine of the scriptures that are given not to tell us how many Israelites walked the wilderness or how many angels were at the tomb but teach us about God. Most of all it is a doctrine of the God of grace who reveals himself even through our broken and errant humanity and seems to delight in doing so. It is a doctrine of a the God who speaks, loud and clear, faithful and true, even into the errancy of our feeble minds and unfaithful hearts. 

Let me know what you think :-)

[You might also enjoy these older posts, 2 Reasons why Inerrancy is Meaningless and Beyond Inerrancy. For all Xenos posts on the issue click here. And if you still think you believe in inerrancy try this on for size.]

Has Bulkeley Really Retired?

One could be forgiven for thinking that rumours of Tim Bulkeley's retirement have been greatly exaggerated.  For only seconds ago it seem I was serenading him on the occasion of his escape from the workforce and yet in the space of a few short jiffies he is appearing on television under an unconvincing pseudonym and launching a book in a radical new interactive medium.

The video goes like this,

But he didn't feel it covered it properly so he released this too,




And his book looks like this if you buy it from Amazon:
Not Only a Father


But go here and you can change what it looks like by covering it in comments, I have already added a few but I like what Tim has written so much I can only be sycophantic and not give any helpful critique. :-(

But the most important thing is to enjoy that nice calming deep blue that adorns the cover, because that was my contribution to the book - colour consultant. Without my input it might have been beige *shudder*.


So that is the evidence your honour, one can only conclude that the man is just as hard at work as before and he was only tricking when he said he'd retired!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Worship, huh! What is it good for?

Worship . . . 

Was the worship good at church this week?

Before you answer that the band was in tune, or that the worship leader's hair was messy, or that they sang your favourite song, or that there wasn't enough hymns, or the prayers were too long, or that you felt the Spirit, stop. You are confused. Worship isn't good if you liked it. Worship isn't for your benefit, sorry. Worship is supposed to be for God.

So did God like the worship this week? Was it reverent? (Heb 12:28) Were you silent before him? (Ecc 5:1-2)  Did you set things right with your brother beforehand? (Matt 5:23-24) Was it an expression of the wisdom of God in his saving plan to bless all the nations? (Isaiah 56:5-7, Rev 7:9-11)

Or did you try and use it as a church growth tool, to attract the masses with the show, forgetting that our job is to worship, and Christ is the one who will build his church? (Matt 16:13-18)

Did the worship reflect the character and kindness of God: was it inclusive, loving, and humble just like him? Or did it reflect the idol of the market, flashy, competitive, image conscious, entertaining, and with no space for the weak?

Was worship this week a work of the people of God as they declared the praises of him who called them out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9), or did you just watch someone else do it on your behalf?

Oh, and I nearly forgot to ask. Did you remember that the worship that pleases God is not about making you feel good about yourself but about justice and mercy for others? (Hos 6:6, Isa 58:6, Amos 5:21-24) Or are you still worrying about how the band played that new Hillsongs number and it wasn't quite like it is on the CD?

Was the worship good at church this week?

Your Politics Are Wrong

The great irony of modern political division into left and right is that both sides' moral philosophy is undermined by their economic philosophy and vice versa.

The left desire economic fairness and to assist those in the lower socio economic strata to be empowered and enfranchised in the wider society through the reconnection of the worker with the wealth their labour generates and the redistribution of wealth from historic inequalities. At the same time the left are usually associated with a push to liberalise public morality and give full rein to those moral forces that cause the most damage to the vulnerable in society, legalisation/normalisation of prostitution, lowering ages of sexual consent, normalisation of abortion, undermining of marriage and the traditional family unit, etc, and thus allow historic inequalities to be perpetuated and amplified in the social dysfunction of today.

On the other hand, the morally conservative right, who tend to champion and even attempt to legislate traditional morality are hell bent on giving free rein to the market forces that inevitably dehumanise and commodify the worker and the human body leading to the sexual exploitation of the vulnerable and the breakdown of the family due to the financial and social stress of alienation from the fruit of their labour.

So I put it to you, if you easily associate with left or right, your politics are wrong. Make up your mind, is it anything goes economically and morally and the devil take the hindmost, or do we live as a responsible society of interconnected people who restrain their economic activity and personal morality for the good of the whole?

Just thinking out loud, let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Interpret first ask questions later.




I thought this was a good example of the way our human brains struggle not to interpret what should be bare facts.




Even when we know there is a trick somewhere and where it is likely to be our stubborn brains struggle to see what is there under our noses.

How much more so with those sacred texts which we think we know so well? That is why the art of good exegesis is about slowing down our reading and noticing everything whether our brains think it is relevant at first glance or not.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Quote of the Day: Jonathan Martin on Communion

The more I hear stories of people like me coming awake to the hard, tangible grace available at that table, the more I’m convinced this is part of something bigger that the Spirit of God is doing in the world in these ambiguous times. I am convinced that the remedy for our ambiguity is not in the certitude of the preacher, but in the mystery of His presence at the table. I’m convinced that the remedy for our wholesale adaptation of celebrity culture is in the celebration of His sacrifice. I’m convinced that the only way to keep from putting too much weight down on the power of persuasive preaching is to demonstrate tangibly in practice that there is power in the blood.
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lovely Spam



I am currently experiencing something of a spam storm in my comments, but blogger seems to be doing a wonderful job keeping them out so that they only appear in my feed reader and not on the blog. This one was especially nice to receive,
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Now why don't any of you ever post a nice comment like that?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dad Life

And on the same theme as the last post, but less high brow, if you haven't yet enjoyed this . . . enjoy!

Hurtado on God as Father

It is father's day tomorrow here in NZ, so here is a little quote from Larry Hurtado's book God in New Testament Theology, (2010, p41).

. . . the God of the NT is "Father" to and for believers, to whom they look for care and comfort and to whom they entrust themselves. This paternal metaphor, however, is not presented in the NT as promoting maleness or as deriving from or giving some transcendent basis for paternity or patriarchy. Sadly patriarchal attitudes have been all too often a feature of Christian tradition, but NT references to "the Father" never function to give divine validity to or privilege these or other forms of maleness. Instead, in the NT, "God" is presented as "Father" of believers primarily and directly on account of Jesus. It is Jesus' relationship to "God" as his own "Father" that is the paradigm and basis for believers to speak of and approach "God" using this epithet. That is, for Christians to refer to their God as "Father" is to express their relationship with "God" as mediated through and patterned after Jesus, and it is to designate themselves as those who come specifically to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The NT does not present "God" as "Father" to believers through creation or in some universalizing sentimental sense. Instead for Christians to address "God" as "Father" is to affirm that they know this God effectually through Jesus and affirm Jesus' relationship to this God as his"Father." In short the Christian practice of addressing "God" as "Father" originates as a profoundly christological statement.
 
Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

brick-a-brack 280812: Footprints Edition



  • Many of you will have seen truncated versions of these cartoons floating around facebook, well Xenos brings you the full versions so that you do not miss out, and because you were too lazy to search chainsawsuit.com for them yourself!


footprints in the sand, part 1

  • Also Carl Trueman accurately critiques those belligerent complementarians over at the GC, (and he is a complementarian). (HT Marc)

footprints in the sand, part 2

  • Check out David Instone Brewer's visual sermon resource, this is a very generous sharing of his labours, as anyone who has done it knows, good pictures are the most time consuming things to find for sermons. (HT Tim)
footprints in the sand, part 3

  • NZ Baptist Research and Historical Society have started a recordings page of talks from their dinners, Brain Smith gives a very helpful introduction to Baptist Ecclesiology inpsired by McClendon and Hauerwas. 
  • And finally for those who  enjoy making arguments from silence, try this one for size, although as a Toyota driver I find it very offensive:

Enjoy!