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LTJ on the Character of Jesus

The literary character "Jesus" is distinct in each narrative: Mark's Suffering Son of Man, Matthew's Teacher of the Church, Luke's Prophet of God's Visitation, and John's Man from Heaven are impossible to harmonise fully. . . The narrative gospels bear witness to Jesus by the way in which they interpret him so diversely. Precisely the diversity of the witness, however, makes all the more startling the fact that these narratives converge on the heart of Jesus' character . . .

I speak here of the fundamental and defining dispositions of Jesus, in contrast to the diverse roles - wonderworker, teacher, prophet, revealer - emphasised by the respective narratives. These fundamental dispositions are utterly simple. In all the Gospels, Jesus is a human being totally defined by his relationship with God, a relationship expressed by faithful obedience to God's will. Jesus is not defined by human expectations or perceptions, his own or others, but by a radi…

How Baptist Are You?

The other day I had to do a short talk about being Baptist at a youth service. Of course I laboured the point that we need to be Christian first and always express our differences with other Christians with humility, respect and love. But I structured the talk around the following metrics as a way for folks to see how important Baptist distinctive were for them. It was a fun way to have the discussion and get them to think about their own beliefs. Afterwards I wondered about turning it into one of those annoying facebook quizzes or putting on the church website.


Newbiggin on the church in via

The church, therefore, as it is in via, does not face the world as the exclusive possessor of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part, the answer to the questions they ask, or the open revelation to what they are anonymously. The church faces the world, rather, as an arrabon of that salvation - as sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole . . . It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing its witness to Christ but always in such a way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him . . . It will continue to change as it meets new cultures and lives in faithful dialogue with them.  Newbiggin, Open Secret, 1995, p180 Let me know what you think :-)

Newbigin, Mission and the SSM Debate

One of the authors who never fails to stimulate my thinking is Lesslie Newbiggin, I'm currently reading The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Towards the conclusion of a long and nuanced discussion of the relation of (cross-cultural) ethical issues to Christian conversion Newbiggin states,
As a learning community that can only press forward from partial to fuller understanding of the Father's reign, the church will know that it cannot impose it's own ethical insights at any one time and place upon those whom the Spirit calls into its company. It must always press on toward fuller obedience but at the same time proclaim Christ as Lord and beyond its own faulty obedience, and expect and welcome the correction of those whom the Spirit calls into commitment to Christ. (p140, rev. ed. 1995) His argument is in relation to cross-cultural mission and how missionaries (presumed western) impose ethical requirements upon new converts (presumed non-western). It …

Narcistic Pastors

I've just finished reading Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter L Steinke. He has three slim  books published by the Alban Institute on different aspects of how emotional system and group psychology give insight to situations faced in churches, all are essential reading IMHO. This book has, as a postscript, an essay entitled "People of the Charm" on the subject of narcissistic leaders (not always the pastor!) in churches. A very brief and rough summary,
Churches/public ministry naturally attracts those with a narcissistic.A narcissistic leader requires followers to feed their narcissism, the followers in turn need the leader's certainty, approval and reflected importance creating a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining and self-protecting circle/system which is very hard to challenge.A natural outcome of the "circle of charm' is a polarisation towards those not in the circle and a loss of objectivity hence why this syndrome is so destructive to chu…

Polanyi and Tolstoy on Emotion and Truth

A current area of increasing interest and usefulness for me, personally and professionally, is the role emotions play in our perception of and ability to encounter reality and relationships. In my reading this week I came across two quotes from very different authors in very different books that both give expression to the reality distorting potential of emotion. (I think there is also a reality revealing potential to emotion but that is for another time) And then I found another good one as a searched for a source for the Tolstoy quote. Suffice to say I am increasingly convinced that theology, epistemology, pastoral praxis and even exegesis that doesn't take a full (and yes I mean more than cursory) appreciation of emotional factors is only doing half the job. Let me know what you think. :-)


I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit…

Scot McKnight on Inerrancy and Truth

While we're on the subject Scot McKnight has also penned some useful thoughts about how the inerrancy debate tends to frame scripture unhelpfully,

Inerrancy is a disruptive child in the theological classroom. He or she gets all the attention of teacher and students. A biblical view of inerrancy demotes it under the word true, all as part of God’s choice to communicate efficiently and sufficiently. When the word “true” governs the game it’s a brand new, healthy game. Good teachers know how to handle disruptive children.

Tilling on Evangelised Notions of Truth

The old blogging football of inerrancy is being kicked around a bit at the moment and as part of that discussion Chris Tilling whips up a quick primer on truth for those who might be interested. I especially liked this bit:

Hence, a Christian grasp of the Truth of scripture will recognise and express, at the very least, the relational nature of Truth, that discipleship and obedience to the gospel is a factor inherent to Christian Truth, that it remains penultimate, and patient, trusting in God in Christ, waiting for the eschatological presence of the Triune God.
Let me know what you think, or better yet pop on over to Chris' blog and let him know.


Stupid Christians and Insane Atheists

I don't know what you want to do with them but I rather liked the juxtaposition of these two equally unbalanced yet entertaining articles on a friends recent facebook status.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/religious-people-are-less-intelligent-than-atheists-according-to-analysis-of-scores-of-scientific-studies-stretching-back-over-decades-8758046.html

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/seanthomas/100231060/are-atheists-mentally-ill/

Let me know what you think :-)

Not harmed by venom or poison?

In one of the assorted and contested endings for Mark's gospel there is a famous claim that those who believe in Jesus will pick up snakes and drink any deadly thing without coming to harm (Mk 16:17). Of course this verse is what has given rise to the snake handlers found only in the USA. As that ending of Mark is of dubious authority I had always been happy to consign it to the file marked "nutter fodder."

I noticed (and isn't it always funny how you can read something a hundred times without noticing something that now seems obvious!) today that a very similar thought crops up in Luke 10:19, this time snakes and scorpion will be trodden on (I think I had always read that figuratively as the language of the pericope is one of spiritual warfare) and the promise is that "nothing will hurt you." (Which is cross-referenced in my NRSV to psalm 91:13 a messianic psalm used in Luke 4 to tempt Jesus.) So is there a genuine possibility that Jesus taught his followe…

Did Moses invent Secular Government?

As I understand it, correction invited if I'm wrong, it was standard in the ancient world for the highest religious offices to be occupied by those also in the highest political offices. That is there was no way to separate the religious and the secular authorities. I was struck today as I read Numbers 27 by vs20-21, Moses has prayed about his successor in leadership and God replies that Joshua will be that successor,
You shall give him some of your authority, so that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey. But he shall stand before Eleazar the priest who shall inquire for him . . . before the Lord Up to this point Moses had been both the leader of the Israelites and the one responsible for mediating God's voice to the people. Here Joshua is set up as leader but only some of Moses authority is passed on to him, and the rest presumably passes to Eleazar, a separation of church and state, of religious and secular power. This also presumably sets the scene for the prophe…

Communion and Emmaus

I wont be the first to point out the Eucharistic nature of Luke 24:13-35. Compare especially 24:30 with 22:19. Again the function is pedagogical rather than mystical. There is no need ask how Jesus is present at the meal, because he is literally present. Instead the Eucharist reveals to Cleopas and Co. that Jesus had been with them all along. The broken and blessed bread was a sign that pointed them towards the reality of Christ's presence. Jesus was only especially present in the breaking of the bread because the two disciples became aware of his presence. If Jesus is truly with us and has promised never to leave us what need is there for the elements of communion to be anything more than a sign that give us the grace to receive, believe and awaken to the reality of God-with-us in Christ?

The hidden children: some half baked thoughts about communion

A couple of the morning's scripture readings coincided with some thoughts I've been having around children and communion recently.

Exodus 12:26-27 makes it clear that one key function of the passover meal is pedagogical. To pass on the story to the next generation.

The accounts of the last supper are generally thought to be accounts of a passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples and thus show Jesus as instituting a new passover with himself as the sacrificial lamb whose blood brings his disciples from under the threat of death into freedom. And so, despite the angry cries of the sacramentalist, a key part of communion is also pedagogical ("do this in remembrance").

The discussion about who is the greatest in Mark 9:33-37 reveals that in the middle of a conversation with the 12 Jesus is able to lay hands on a little child. Suddenly rather than a group of men standing around Jesus we think, well, who else is there? It is noted by Luke (8:1-3) that there was al…

Is there a parachurch in the Gay Marriage Debate?

If you have been following the excitement generated by World Vision (USA)'s announcement that they would now hire those in same sex marriages and their almost immediate capitulation to evangelical protest I think you would see a good case study of the current dilemma facing the Western church.

What I found most striking was World Vision (USAS)'s belief that they could make such a change with being seen to take a side in the argument. Instead WVUSA thought this move was a,
"very narrow policy change" should be viewed by others as "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity." He [the WVUSA president] even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians. and that this was merely
solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor." It is only after the hostile aggressive and immediate response fro…

Changing my mind about Same Sex Marriage and the BU

It is always nice to get the opportunity to prove my commitment to an open mind and being open to reasoned persuasion. As always this is me thinking out loud and I reserve the right be wrong or change my mind in light of a much better argument. :-)

My initial strong and vocal opposition (not just on the blog I also discussed this publicly and privately at a BU pastors conference last year) to excluding baptist churches and/or pastors who affirmed SSM was triggered by two factors, 1) a desire to see us defined positively around issues of unity rather than negatively around those we exclude, 2) a lack of principled rationale on why this issue should be a defining one for our movement.

The concern for legal protection and denominatinal reputation are pragmatic secular reasons and while worthy of some attention should not be the driving force for our actions.  Especially when it comes to something as drastic as dis-fellowshipping a church.  The principles on which we act need to be theolo…