Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Pastors Should Really Be Doing

Well a couple of interesting posts recently on the subject,

Pastors should spend less time in cafes drinking coffee from Carey Leadership Blog and

7 Things the Church Expects from the Seminary. Which should actually be titled 7 Things the church expects its pastors to be able to do. To which I say, good luck with that.

Lots of things I'd like to respond to in them but today I don't have the energy. Instead I'll give you 4 things pastors (and anyone else) should base their ministry on based on Mark 1:9-13 the start of Jesus' ministry.

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
  1. We should minister out of the love and acceptance of our Father in Heaven - not our own needs and agendas. (v11)
  2. We should be following the leading of the Spirit - not the latest techniques from the USA. (v12)
  3. We should understand our vocation is constantly at risk of being derailed by the temptations of Satan - and so our enemy is the devil not the people who annoy us and inside us as much as outside. (v13a)
  4. We should embrace the unpredictability and uncertainty of the company of wild animals and angels - not seek to control our lives so that God's work is limited to only what we can imagine and control. (v13b)

Let me know what you think, :-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

What do Adam and Satan have in common?

Whilst doing some reading on a completely different subject I was struck by the similarity between the issues with Adam we were discussing earlier and another biblical character, namely Satan. In Satan's case the transformation is even more profound.

  1. If in Adam's case he barely gets another mention after Genesis, Satan does at least get a mention in a few different OT books, 1 Chron, Job and Zechariah.  But the situation is complicated, like Adam's, by the fact his name is also a noun, "accuser." 
  2. Satan's role in the gospels as Jesus' tempter is congruent with OT behaviour, but he seems to take on a less ambiguous role, no longer merely an accuser but God's enemy whose works are to be undone. In the NT Satan is presented more as being in diometric opposition to God, rather than just stirring up trouble for human beings as in the OT.
  3. Unlike Adam, the promotion of Satan (who is now also identified as or conflated with "the Devil", a Greek word - diabolos - to the Hebrew word satan) happens across a broader range of NT scripture, all the gospels, Paul, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1 John, and especially Revelation all reflect his importance as God's enemy. 
  4. Back to the problem of original sin, the association of the serpent with Satan which is so easily made by evangelical theologians is actually only made in Revelation, and it is hard to say whether the author was intending to be 'literal" (;-)) about the connection.  In actual fact Genesis 3 is at pains to mention the serpent is a  חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה "beast of the field" or "wild animal" (Gen 3:1) which surely precludes him from being the personification of an evil supernatural entity.
So what do Adam and Satan have in common?  Well they both receive a significant theological promotion in importance between testaments and they both have been part of the traditional Christian answer to the origin of (original/hereditary) sin, but neither of them really have the scriptural mandate to take the blame for that first sin (if there ever was one, Tim).

Let me know what you think, :-)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Theology of Hospitality

I'm preaching on Acts 16:11-15 this morning, and although I think the main point of the passage is Paul's multiple boundary crossing acceptance of Lydia, it's got me thinking too about hospitality - a notable subtheme of Luke/Acts.  here is a quick sketch of a biblical theology of hospitality, I'm sure more could be added, please do so in the comments!

Creation - In the biblical account of creation God is portrayed as the divine host making a home for all earth's creatures and providing them with food.

Israel - In the desert God hosts his people on their pilgrimage, providing water, bread and meat.  At the same time he teaches them to host him, by providing a tabernacle and sacrifices they play host to God.

Incarnation - Jesus' first act is to be a guest of someone else, and throughout his ministry as an itinerant preacher he is dependent on the hospitality of others, his gratuitous "guesting" brings him criticism (friend of sinners) but was a central part of his message.  But in the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000, in the miraculous provision of fish or even a room to share passover Jesus reveals himself as host, echoing both Gods hosting in creation and in the exodus.  In giving himself upon the cross Jesus offers us his own body (John 6, 1 Cor 11) and in his triumph over death prepares a home for all God's people to live as God's guests (John 14, Rev 21).

Eschatology - Isaiah 25 promises a divinely provided feast for all nations, while Matt 22 uses the image of a wedding feast with God as host to describe the kingdom.

Ecclesiology - So as God's people a key spiritual discipline is to image, enact and embody both God's hospitality and God's condescension as guest, in sharing bread and wine, in opening our homes to strangers, in being willingly dependent on the hospitality of others (esp in mission), in giving thanks for the gifts of creation and in sharing them with an open hand.

6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
   a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
   the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
   the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
 8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
   from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
   from all the earth.
            The LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Adam and Paul

This post on Jesus Creed is mind blowing, although it is really just a summary discussion of some of Peter Enns book, The Evolution of Adam.

The basic points are:
  1. Nothing in the OT gives Adam the importance protestant theology does
  2. Nothing in the OT suggests that Adam's sin is imparted to his offspring
  3. Paul's emphasis on Adam is an innovation in terms of the OT resulting from his encounter with Christ
I would add to those points that Adam is mentioned in only 3 of Paul's letter (Rom, 1 Cor, 1 Tim) and only twice in the NT outside of Paul.  Both those occurences are in terms of genealogy rather than assertions of hereditary sin (Luke 3:38, Jude 14) . He gets a total of 9 mentions in the NT. By contrast Abraham is mentioned over 70 times in the NT, in all four gospels and across both Pauline and catholic epistles.

Now I think those points are more or less irrefutable, but of course the implications are not so clear.  I know Enns' thesis is really about whether or not Christians need to understand Gen 2-3 as literal history or something else.  But long before we get to that topic I'd say this suggests our protestant emphasis on hereditary sin is at the very least an overemphasis and most likely a misreading of Paul.  Which send me scurrying to look at Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15 again, and I think to myself, this is possible . . .

Action points: I'm going to have to read Enns' book myself (I thought Inspiration and Incarnation was overrated, so wasn't going to bother) and I'm going to have to do some exegesis on these Pauline Adam passages.

So, what do you think? :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Jerk Factory

This article by Richard Beck is doing the rounds again, and there are some classic quotes there. Here's a great bit:
"Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:
  • Going to church
  • Worship
  • Praying
  • Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
  • Bible study
  • Voting Republican
  • Going on spiritual retreats
  • Reading religious books
  • Arguing with evolutionists
  • Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
  • Using religious language
  • Avoiding R-rated movies
  • Not reading Harry Potter.
The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories. 
It resonated with me a bit because last month I was talking with a guy who runs a home for migrants and Christians in trouble.  What he found was that many of the (Asian) migrants were far better human beings than the local Christians.  The foreigners would help with household chores cheerfully and without complaining, while the Christians would often complain or avoid helping altogether and were often surly and unpleasant to be around.  This was a problem for that guy and it is clearly a problem for Richard Beck.  You can read Beck's article for yourself but I think he has two main concerns.
  1. Christians are supposed to be nice people
  2. If Christians aren't nice people that will put others off Christianity

Now I am all for decent human behaviour, I get very stressed by people who are rude or antisocial and do not respect others. But on the other hand I'm not sure the jerk factory is the church.  I encounter jerks everywhere.  Today I had to ask one jerk to collect the turd that his dog/wolf left on my front lawn.  Jerks regularly leave their rubbish around the parks and beaches where I like to walk.  A beaurocratic jerk sent a 30 page document back to me because one word was missing from my address when I wrote it for the 3rd time, despite the fact that that word was not necessary for the address to be clearer as there is only one road by the name in the entire country!  Jerks are endemic, prolific and pretty much under or crapping on every rock you pass.  And so in a world loaded with jerks you kind of hope lots of Christians are jerks because well, if God doesn't save jerks then we're screwed.  Yes I would hope being a Christian would mitigate that behaviour, and as sanctificatinon takes place jerkish behaviour should reduce.  I don't have a problem with wanting Christians to work on not being such jerks - I'm working on such things myself and on myself.

But here's the thing.  I don't believe if all Christians stop being jerks everyone is suddenly going to convert.  "Wow you Christians are such nice people can I join your wierd religious club?"  And neither do I believe it is an acceptable excuse for turning your back on God just because Christians/church didn't behave very well sometime.  I see jerks everyday on the road, I still drive a car.  I hear jerks everyday on the radio phone ins, I still use a phone and listen to the radio.  Jerks go to supermarkets, schools, swimming pools and beaches but I do not use their behaviour as a reason to put me off these activities.  But people often use the jerks in church as an excuse not to be part of what God is doing in the world, and frankly that is a pathetic reason.  And now Beck has validated one more poor excuse for turning your back on God, "those Christians don't tip very well."  But I am unvalidating it.  If you are letting jerks put you off from the glories and hope of Jesus Christ, stop it right now!

Why should your salvation be dependent on the actions of jerks?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Things I Know Nothing About: A Theology Student's Song

I wrote this a few years ago when I was a student and thought some of my readers might enjoy it.

If you like it then you might want to like my Jonathan Robinson (Music) page on Facebook and keep up with my other musical offerings as they appear.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A short thought on Euodia and Syntyche

Larry Hurtado makes some interesting observations this morning about women in Acts, but even before I checked my blog reader (!) I had been reading Philippians and among other things was struck by the Euodia and Syntyche bit (Phil 4:2-3).
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, loyal Syzygus, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
No I don't think I've noticed this passage coming up in the complementarian/egalitarian debate (perhaps I just didn't notice), but it seems to me highly relevant.  Firstly, in pleading with the two women Paul is hardly assuming either their submission or his inherent gender based authority. Secondly in saying they contended at his side (along with Clement and others) he is presumable referring either to their joining with him in preaching and evangelism or their participation on Paul's side with internal disputes within the church - all of which render highly problematic the suggestion that Paul did not allow women to teach or have authority.

Let me know what you think :-)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cover Version Redaction Criticism

So the first time I encountered this song was in a youtube clip shared on facebook by my friend Dale.  It is most notable for the extremely creative way 5 people (Walk off the Earth) are playing just one guitar simultaneously.  I have seen and even particpated in 2 people playingone guitar but five is pretty special.  As far as I know that was a first?  The girl is playing diads on the top, the long haired dude is playing the melody around her, and the guy next to him plays the bass line on the low E (top) string. Of the remaining two, fresh face plays percussion and hat+beard strum the strings above the nut. It is a cool song, but the unusual mode of delivery tends to overshadow the song. 

Then Nick Norelli linked to this video, by an a cappella group called Pentatonix.  This is another nice arrangement, with impressive beat boxing and gorgeous harmonies.  Notable consistency between the versions is the lyrics and bass line, the lyrics pass between a male and female singer and the bass line remains the same.  There is also a guy with a beard and a beanie standing on the far right with a strange expression on his face in both versions. So one might posit that we could expect to find these characteristics in the original. 

So after some digging on youtube I found this live version by the original artist.  Interestingly while the lyrics, girl guy exchange and bass line are consistent across versions, the original does not have a guy with a beard and beanie, standing on the right, or indeed anywhere on camera.  I would therefore posit that this development happened during the period of the first cover version perhaps due to the great wooly hat controversy that may have been raging at that time.  What we can see is that the original guy in a beard actual is on the right and wears not a beanie but a pair of headphones denoting status.  In the cover versions, however, the guy with the beard has been moved and given a wooly hat, denoting homelessness and an uncompromising right wing ideology.  We can see in these cover versions a clear example of the marginalisation and mockery of bearded men as part of the anti-beard culture which became prevalent in the music community early last year.  Thus the original message and purpose of the song has been subtly corrupted despite many features remaining otherwise undisturbed.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Egalitarian Debate: Finding Truth in the Story

A friend recently sent me a position paper from Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Tim Keller fame on the subject of women in (church) leadership, or what you might call the complementarian/egalitarian debate. To their credit Redeemer are certainly on the "soft" side of complementarianism, they do much to mitigate the potentially caustic effects of the doctrine and I imagine many women would be able to be part of and serve in one of their churches without noticing much, if at all, their complementarian position.  That said, I still don't buy it. 

I don't know how systematically I will be able to work throught a response to the paper, I'd love to do it but my day job these days leaves much less time for blogging than my old one did.  The paper itself has a number of deeply problematic arguments which I'd love to deal to (just so you can see how clever I am of course).  The point I want to make quickly now is simply this that egalitarians (at least the biblical ones) tend to let the narrative of scripture trump the propositional elements, while the complementarians do the opposite.  In some ways this relates to such a deep rooted interpretive bias that constructive conversation between the parties is impossible.  Complementarians simply cannot get their heads round these egalitarians who are ignoring what the Bible plainly says.  Likewise egalitarians cannot get their head round those complementarians who don't see the relevance of the many women used mightily by God in many episodes of salvations history recorded in scripture. 

Now the idea that we have to play off propositional scriptures against narrative scriptures will give most Bible believing Christians indigestion, and I don't believe in the final analysis this is either ideal or necessary.  However, for most people engaged in the debate this is the crux of the conflict (if the argument is based on biblical grounds).

By way of example: In the opening chapters of the gospel of Luke the advent of Jesus the Christ, the son of God, is characterised by the prophetic anouncements and faith of women, Mary and Elizabeth, whose counterpoint is their husbands, one of whom is both rebuked and rendered (temporarily) mute for his lack of faith by an angel while the other barely gets a mention.  In this most momentous moment of salvation history the women lead the charge in both faith and prophecy, this is how the gospel begins. 

So while I am fully aware of some passages that seem to ask women to play second fiddle to men, to be quiet and not to teach, those passages, contained as they are in occassional letters written to troubled churches in complex social and cultural settings, simply cannot carry as much weight as the story we are told.  To say that these passages against women's leadership in congregation of the faithful stand for all time and are universal is to say that God broke his own rules when his only son came incarnate to our world, or at the very least wasn't organised enough to make sure that his own gender role distinctions were properly observed.

Please note that I am not saying that the argument cannot be won by egalitarians on grounds of propositional scripture, they can be, but for most people working with common English translations of scripture and without access to some of the linguistc and cultural subtleties of the epistles this is where the biblical discussion begins, and this is the easiest way for a complementarian to understand (if he or she has an open enough mind) where those stubborn egalitarians are coming from.

Let me know what you think, :-)

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Waitangi Communion

It is Waitangi day today, so yesterday (Sunday) I wrote some communion responses (Lord's supper/ eucharist).  Obviously these are posted too late for anyone to use this year, but who knows what people will be searching for in 2013 and beyond?  :-)

(BTW because my church family are not used to liturgy I make it very clear that what we are doing is praying and reading scripture.  All scripture quotes have been adapted from the NIV.  Congregational responses in italics. Feel free to use or adapt this material for your own context.)

A Waitangi Communion

God of the nations, Thank you for bringing us to New Zealand.  In Maori, European, Asian, Pacific, Indian, African and all races represented in our country, we recognise your provision and grace, the answered prayers of many for a safe and prosperous place to live.

Is Segregated Worship the Spirit's Desire?

OK maybe that title was a little too provocative, I am not talking about racial segregation but gender and age segregation. With regard to gender James Jordan of Biblical Horizons seems to think so,
The simple fact is that for 2000 years, the Holy Spirit moved the church to have men and women sitting separately during divine worship. This is because in heaven there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. There is neither male nor female, bond nor free, child nor parent. Hence, ascended worship, taking place seated in the heavenlies, involves an affirmation of God’s Family and a setting aside of the earthly family. As a matter of fact, if you want God to give you a healthy family, let Him take it apart and put it back together each week, for that is how God always glorifies and empowers His people .
But with regard to age he does not.  Jordan also argues that liturgy and singing psalms are the best way to include children and youth in the life of the church,
Obviously children belong in worship. That is why the church historically has had a fully sung liturgy that is the same every week. Even three-year olds can join in. They don’t have to read different prayers every week. 

Which reminds me of Thalia Kehoe Rowden's opinions on having all age services,
All-age services offer the kind of deep community that including everyone fosters and the regular exercise of generosity this level of inclusion requires, and both these benefits mean I get really good bang for my buck in leading this community.
While Jordan clearly has a phd in gross generalisations and pontificating I have a great deal of sympathy with his point.  Many churches spend a great deal of time energy and money developing curriculum for multiple age groups, and the staffing issues with a medium sized childrens program must be experienced to be believed.  However for most of us declaring a weekly liturgy and psalm singing to be the solution looks rather like an acute case of trying to shut the door after the horse bolted went out into the bush and sired three generations of wild ponies. 

What do you think?