Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Newbigin on the Church's Anxiety Issues

Christianity is perceived to be a good cause which is in danger of collapsing though lack of support. Or - in a quite different manifestation of the same fundamental attitude - there is a strident summons to a more energetic efforts in evangelism and social action. But I do sense an underlying Pelagianism which lays too much stress on our own activities and is too little controlled by the sense of the greatness and majesty and sufficiency of God. I am saying that there can be a kind of Christian activity which only masks a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of God. . .

In a pluralist society there is always a temptation to judge the importance of any statement of the truth by the number of people who believe it. Truth, for practical purposes, is what most people believe. Christians can fall into this trap. It may well be that for some decades, while churches grow rapidly in other parts of the world, Christians in Europe may continue to be a small and even shrinking minority. If this should be so, it must be seen as an example of that pruning which is promised to the church in order that it may bear more fruit (John 15:11ff). When that happens it is painful. But Jesus assures, "My Father is the gardener." He knows what he is doing, and we can trust him. Such experience is a summons to self-searching, to repentance, and to fresh commitment. It is not an occasion for anxiety. God is faithful, and he will complete what he has begun.

Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pp243-4

Thursday, January 24, 2013

OT Hermeneutics the usual (wrong) way

For more on this sort of thing try http://xenos-theology.blogspot.co.nz/2012/06/keller-getting-ot-wrong.html 
which still requires a follow up to Tim's pertinent question, don't worry it is coming. ;-)

Monday, January 21, 2013

coming out on gay marriage

Steve Chalke, a UK Baptist, a pastor, evangelist and social advocate, has come out in support of gay marriage in a article in Christianity magazine, although few outside the UK know or care who Steve is, many will (and already ) used this as an opportunity to display their orthodox colours, lambast this heretic and show clearly to anyone who is watching that they do not approve of such behaviour. Steve ends his article saying "I am committed to listening and trying to understand the intricacies of the arguments on both sides." which suggests he is still open to be persuaded. This is nonsense, Steve has stuck his head above the parapet on this issue and there is no going back. he will pay a high price, probably much higher than he would anticipate for taking the stance he has taken, and in defending it and suffering for it he will only become more entrenched in it. The time for making your mind up was before you wrecked you career as an evangelical.

Although I did not agree with Steve's article or conclusions I do agree that he should have come out and said what he believed. Too many of our evangelical leaders say and believe what they need to in order to maintain their support bases not on the basis of their conscience. Steve has acted according to his conscience and it is a shame that this will almost certainly spell the end for what has been a very successful career of mobilising christians in evangelism and social advocacy. It pains me that we have no culture of mind changing and genuine discussion - just a slippery slope down which we push anyone who wont toe the party line.

The reality is that the evangelical church is really stuck in a mess on this issue. Most churches now contain one or more people struggling with their sexuality in some way. Some of them want to embrace current social paradigms of sexuality, some of them reject them and want liberation from their sexuality - they all live in fear of rejection by a church that doesn't understand them. By and large we are failing in our duty of pastoral care to a generation of young people that are more sexualised and confused about that sexuality that any generation before. And yet our own framework for understanding sexuality is locked in the idolatry of Victorian respectability. We gather on Sundays to worship the unmarried son of a adulterous polygamous king with a brothel owner for a grandma, we have a Bible that contains multiple stories of incest, gang rape and prostitution of relatives, and yet when someone who doesn't conform to our ideal middle class nuclear family walks into the church we freeze.

That hideous slogan, to love the sinner but hate the sin, leaves us completely helpless when the sinner tells us their sin is an essential part of their identity that cannot be changed. If you love me, says the person who identifies as gay, let me get married. I do love you, replies the evangelical, just don't ask me that. And the gay walks away hurt and rejected.

This issue is not going away. A certain Bible college had students study the parable of the Good Samaritan and then rewrite it for contemporary context. Without fail students recast the Samaritan as a homosexual - these are the people young Christian evangelical bible students most readily identify as the pariahs of their world, the ones in our context we least expect to find God at work in. Spending time in the gospels reduces the amount of time you can spend making strangers enemies and forces you to break down your misconceptions about the other and their place in God's love. Steve Chalke's trajectory hermeneutics are cobblers but his impulse to compassion and inclusion is spot on. The things is, although I don't agree with him, I don't have an adequate answer to the question he is courageously trying to answer. Maybe even a wrong answer is better than the the awkward hand wringing that characterises orthodox attempts to love homosexuals.

Let me know what you think

brick-a-brack 170113 Bumper Summer Edition!

Tom Rainer does some sloppy research and comes up with a list of ten things church members want from their pastor. A good list to make us pastors to feel unworthy, but then living up to other people's expectations is a crock anyway. I just include it here because blog that list things are really hip. No, really.

More usefully Marc Cortez examines "the call", that mysterious thing pastors get before they become pastors. It is a bit like getting the flu, except the flu only ruins your life for a few days. While the better looking Jonathan cries at Spiderman the Musical when he considers his and the New Zealand Baptist Research society have a couple of talks on leadership for your delectation.

Larry Hurtado as usual makes us all feel guilty for not knowing as much as he does with a very helpful blog on the state of scholarship around the Roman Imperial Cult and it's influence on the NT. If you are ever stuck for a PhD idea just pick one of his blog posts at random and you'll be guaranteed to find a subject that would keep any mortal man busy for decades.

Andrew Perriman argues against the common conception of Jesus' parables as an attempt to make his teaching clear and simple, rather he argues it was to confuse and obfuscicate. I think he is right in some cases but not in others. maybe Jesus didn't just have one MO when telling stories? (I know shocking right?)

John Byron relates some new research on slavery in Eygypt to NT studies and the assumption that self sale slavery was a common practise in the ancient world.

While James Leonard provides us with a very nice comparative list of OT canons and the order of the books in some different traditions.

David Sessions does a great piece on the way self help doesn't work because the modern understanding of the self is a load of processed offal with italian herbs.

Kristen Rosser takes on a different sacred cow, that of the common misreading of Eph 5 relating Christ and the church to marriage. That is one of those misreadings on which enormous edificies of dopey theology are regularly constructed by lazy exegetes.

Need a book review? Nick Norelli is a book reviewing machine. just don't expect him to pander to your need for book sales, he'll review it when he is good and ready, alright!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Explicating Omnipresence

Oden in his epic Classic Christianity (pp47-8), "No particle is so small that God is not fully present to it. No galaxy is so vast that God does not circumscribe it. No space is without the divine presence. God is in touch with every aspect of creation."

Oden provides a nice summary of scholastic teaching on the subject (here abridged),
God is:-
  • naturally present in every aspect of the natural order (Ps 8:3)
  • actively present in every event of history as provident guide of human affairs (Ps 48:7)
  • attentively present to those who call upon his name (Matt 18:19-20, Acts 17:27)
  • judicially present in moral awareness, through conscience (Ps 48:1-2)
  • bodily present in the incarnation of his Son (John 1:14, Col 2:9)
  • sacramentally present through the means of grace in the church (Eph 2:12, John 6:56)
  • sacredly present in special places where God chooses to meet us (Gen 28:16, 23:18)
A more youthful theologian (my 5 yr old daughter) explained to me that God's omnipresence was the reason for God's invisibility. After all, if God is everywhere and you could see him, you wouldn't be able to see anything else would you?

Evangelicalism a Definition

For those of you who like this sort of thing, there is a fairly workable definition of Evangelicalism in an essay by Marcia Pally,
For the purposes of this essay, American evangelicalism is an approach to Protestantism across denominations, its central features including: the search for a renewal of faith toward an “inner” personal relationship with Jesus; the mission to bring others to this sort of personal relationship; the cross as a symbol of not only salvation but also of service to others; individual acceptance of Jesus’ gift of redemption; individualist Bible reading by ordinary men and women; and the priesthood of all believers independent of ecclesiastical or state authorities. It was a progressive movement from the colonial era to World War One. Its emphasis on individual conscience made it anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian, economically populist, and socially activist on behalf of the common man. Twice in the twentieth century, evangelicals turned to the right, the second time in the late 1970s, when they became a central pillar in the modern conservative movement.

I particularly liked the bit I underlined, which is why I underlined it of course!

It is this heritage that makes Evangelical still a palatable label for me despite its frequent association with fundamentalism in the minds of many. Until recent decades in the UK evangelicals were much more likely to be aligned with the political left than the right, although what they do now I have no idea.

I still like Stott's definition the best though,

An evangelical is a plain, ordinary Christian. We stand in the mainstream of historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity. So we can recite the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed without crossing our fingers. We believe in God the Father and in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

You can click through to hear a lecture by the late Stott here, as well as read more about his understanding of evangelicalism.

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Faith vs Fanaticism

Fanaticism is never truly spiritual because it is not free. It is not free because it is not enlightened. It cannot judge between good and evil, truth and falsity, because it is blinded by prejudice. Faith and prejudice have a common need to rely on authority and in this they can sometimes be confused by one who does not understand their true nature. But faith rests on the authority of love while prejudice rests on the pseudo-authority of hatred. Everyone who has read the Gospel realizes that in order to be a Christian one must give up being a fanatic, because Christianity is love. Love and fanaticism are incompatible. Fanaticism thrives on aggression. It is destructive, revengeful and sterile. Fanaticism is all the more virulent in proportion as it springs from inability to love, from incapacity to reciprocate human understanding.
Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions, 1953/88, p132

Sermon Outline: 2 John 4-6

Whilst listening to a sermon last night on 2 John, I noticed you'd get a rather nice outline for a preach or even a series from verses 4-6,
  • Walk in the truth
  • Walk in obedience
  • Walk in love
I think it is a fair observation that Christians and churches often tend to emphasize walking in one path over another, e.g.fundamentalists focus on ( aversion of the truth) truth, sects focus on obedience, liberals focus on love, all to the detriment of the other paths. But for the elder each one flows seamlessly from the other two. It is not about balance or tension, they naturally encourage each other.

Just a quick thought ;-) let me know what you think.