Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The superiority of the new creation to that pre-fall

Adrio König writes in his book (The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology [1989]) of the wonderful superiority of the new creation to the present one pre-fall:
In Gen. 3:8ff., God visits Adam; in Rev. 21:3 (cf. TEV), he makes his home with humankind on the new earth. In Genesis 2 God builds a lovely garden in which for Adam to live and work; for the new humanity he builds a new city on a new earth. (In biblical terms, a city is immeasurably more than a garden; think of the safe, ordered convenience which city living meant in Bible times – in contrast with the savage, unprotected life of the open country.) (his italics, p.62)
God is amazing in his lavishing of grace upon grace on us. He gives good gifts to Adam, which he does not deserve (he had done nothing worthy of either punishment or blessing), and then betters them in Christ to us rebels. How much he must love us! But more importantly how much must he love Christ and his glory! (Both can be proclaimed with confidence I think; contra. both Rabid Dog-theologians [see post, with more thoughts to follow], and self-esteem Christians)

Monday, May 30, 2005

More on the Virgin Mary and Anglicans

I do not know if I should be concerned with such things but the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) has published a report about Mary entitled Mary: Grace and hope in Christ. The following links provide some more infomation on it.

The monstrous, shocking, and incomprehensible first sin

I read the following today in a book leant to me by an ex-pastor from South Africa. Apparently the book (The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology, by Adrio König [1989]) was very influential there when he was training.
Creation is a good [his italics] beginning. Bavinck accepts to readily the traditional distinction which says that it was possible for Adam before the Fall not to sin but not yet impossible for him to sin. This distinction makes it too easy to fit sin into a scheme and thus lost sight of its monstrous, shocking, and incomprehensible character. It is seriously misguided to expound Genesis 3 (as has become fashionable in some circles) in such a way that the serpent becomes a crafty master of psychology al trickery. By so explaining the deception of Eve, the shocking unexpectedness of what happened is unconsciously toned down. But there was nothing sly or covert in the serpent’s strategy. He set himself openly and insolently against God, made God out to be a liar, and left no doubt of his intentions. The attentive reader would naturally expect Eve to chase the snake away contemptuously. (p.60)
Thought provoking. Reminds me of the need to remember the shocking ugliness of sin, when compared to the goodness of God (for Adam and Eve revealed in the beauty of the garden, and his presence with them). I may post a bit more from this book later. As the title suggests its main focus is elsewhere, and it has quite a bit to say.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Blessed Virgin Mary

I read a good portion of Luke yesterday, although not really in the right spirit. However, I noticed something interesting that I thought I could post on. Catholics have for a long time believed that Mary was sinless, presumably because they thought it was necessary for her to bear the Son of God. I have never seen any evidence in the bible for this opinion and yesterday I read this part of the prophecy of Simeon when the child Jesus was presented at the temple.
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35)

Perhaps it was because I was not in a teachable frame of mind that my attention was drawn by the comment in brackets that a sword will pierce through Mary’s soul and what that could mean. In the context it would appear to be about the judging of the people of Israel, either for their good (rising) or their bad (falling) (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Now this shows nothing more than the fact that she will be judged, not what that judgment will be. But in my eyes at least this suggests that she may not come out white (without Christ’s blood anyway). Luke seemed to share this view, I think, as the next story about his visit to the temple at twelve years old (Luke 2:41-51) does not leave Mary in a very positive light. She is reported not to understand what he is saying but to treasure ‘up all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:51) a phrase much preached on although usually in its appearance earlier in the chapter (v. 19) following the shepherd’s visit and proclamation of what the angels have told them. Perhaps, just perhaps, we are wrong to always understand this as having positive connotations. The only other mention of Mary in Luke is when she with Jesus’ brothers try and visit him and Jesus disregards them stating “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." (Luke 8:21). Maybe I am reading too much into this anyway and should stop my rambling. Three things though are sure.

  1. Jesus is the focus of all the gospels and not Mary who figures very little. Maybe my poor attitude yesterday was the cause of my focus being on Mary and not Jesus.
  2. Mary (and Jesus’ brothers) all come round eventually as Luke himself records in Acts (1:14) and Jesus’ brother James is the leader of the Jerusalem church beforehand. Indeed some scholars believe Mary was herself a important source for Luke in writing his gospel (which puts an interesting twist on things.
  3. Mary was greatly blessed by a merciful God.

For those who are interested this is what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on the subject:

Some few patristic writers expressed their doubts as to the presence of minor moral defects in Our Blessed Lady. [77] St. Basil, e.g., suggests that Mary yielded to doubt on hearing the words of holy Simeon and on witnessing the crucifixion. [78] St. John Chrysostom is of opinion that Mary would have felt fear and trouble, unless the angel had explained the mystery of the Incarnation to her, and that she showed some vainglory at the marriage feast in Cana and on visiting her Son during His public life together with the brothers of the Lord. [79] St. Cyril of Alexandria [80] speaks of Mary's doubt and discouragement at the foot of the cross. But these Greek writers cannot be said to express an Apostolic tradition, when they express their private and singular opinions. Scripture and tradition agree in ascribing to Mary the greatest personal sanctity; She is conceived without the stain of original sin; she shows the greatest humility and patience in her daily life (Luke 1:38, 48); she exhibits an heroic patience under the most trying circumstances (Luke 2:7, 35, 48; John 19:25-27). When there is question of sin, Mary must always be excepted. [81] Mary's complete exemption from actual sin is confirmed by the Council of Trent (Session VI, Canon 23): "If any one say that man once justified can during his whole life avoid all sins, even venial ones, as the Church holds that the Blessed Virgin did by special privilege of God, let him be anathema." Theologians assert that Mary was impeccable, not by the essential perfection of her nature, but by a special Divine privilege. Moreover, the Fathers, at least since the fifth century, almost unanimously maintain that the Blessed Virgin never experienced the motions of concupiscence.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Psalm 73

Yesterday I was at The Northern Men’s Convention in Manchester. Its theme was ‘men prepared to give an answer’, which translated meant ‘evangelism’. It was refreshing to listen to some different preachers, from a slightly different stream of evangelicalism, to those of my own church. The convention’s aim is to encourage men to live more for Christ, and it certainly did encourage me to do that. A particularly thought-provoking talk was given by Hugh Palmer who is currently vicar of Christ Church Fulwood (Sheffield) but moving soon to All Souls, Langham Place (John Stott‘s stomping ground). He spoke on Psalm 73, which, being not the most obvious evangelism passage to preach from, got my attention from the first. In the psalm the writer recounts how he doubted if it was worth following YHWH when what he observed about how the wicked prospered seemed suggest it was not.
For I was envious of the arrogant  when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death;   their bodies are fat and sleek. (v. 3-4)
After recounting how the wicked act, and yet how they prosper in some more detail he explicitly states his feelings on the matter:
All in vain have I kept my heart clean  and washed my hands in innocence. (v. 13)
But almost immediately tells us that if he had articulated these same feelings at that time (at least in that way) he would be doing terrible damage to the faith of others.
If I had said, "I will speak thus,"  I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (v. 15)
I do not think I have been untrue to my brothers and sisters in Christ in this way, although in the past I have come quite close. I have expressed my big doubts but I believe I have always made clear that they are as much my problem as a problem with Christianity, and with my ‘small’ doubts about particular doctrines (e.g. inerrancy/infallibility which I still struggle with) I have tried to keep my personal God in the picture at all times. Jesus Christ and others will judge how well I have managed to do that. Whatever it is certainly keeping this psalmist’s experience in mind. Hugh Palmer also pointed out how the psalmist revived his faith by entering the sanctuary of God, and then by trusting in the future judgement of the Lord. Which needs some thinking about in my opinion. I mean how does entering the sanctuary of God help? and help it clearly did not just for this psalmist but many others. Did it help by just reminding them of God and his character (his holiness etc.), by reminding them of the sacrifices being made on their behalf, a combination of the two, or something else? The psalm ends with a God-exalting contrast to the writers earlier problem of teetering on the edge betraying his fellow children of God with blasphemous speech.
But for me it is good to be near God;   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,   that I may tell of all your works. (v.28)
He recalls and tells others what YHWH has done, and how it really is ‘good to be near God’ despite appearances. Lord, I pray that having heard of your gospel about Jesus, and so knowing even more than this writer about the promise of judgement, and what you have been prepared to do for us all, that I will not slip as the psalmist nearly did, but make you a refuge, and tell everyone I know of what you did on Calvary.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Have we uncritically signed up to Western Christianity? And is that wrong?

During cell group last night, Tom shared with me something that was galling him at the moment and which I confess has galled me too in the past. He put it like this: he felt that when he became a Christian he had ‘signed up for the western Christianity package’ (or in words very similar), without realising what he was doing. It took me some time to understand what he was saying, but basically it was a frustration that all the questions there may be with how to apply Christianity to life here in twenty-first century Britain had already been answered and there is no debate to be had. For example he mentioned contraception; something different strands of Christianity especially outside the West may take a different view on, but which is not even seen as an issue to be discussed anymore in Western evangelicalism. Another example I though of was usury, or lending money, something considered a sin in the middle ages by Christians on the basis of some OT texts but now a non-issue, it seems obvious to everyone it is fine. The problem is we in the West are all children of the enlightenment who cannot trust anything handed down to us unless we are shown the rational argument supporting it. So we are left in this uncomfortable state where we have neither the time, nor the ability to solve some of these questions, so we just accept what everyone around us accepts. I know that is what I do, but I am left uneasy. The questions is, is the enlightenment mindset the problem (in which case we should stop worrying and just live), OR should we critically examine everything that has been handed down to us in an attempt to live faithfully for God? Or, seeing as there seems to be legions of problems with both options, maybe, just maybe, we should look for a third/middle way? These sorts of problems often lead me to cry ‘come Lord Jesus!’ which is probably the right response. Having said that, one of my many sins is that it is only really these existential issues which cause me to do that, not the sin and injustice in the world. Lord give me your spirit!

Monday, May 09, 2005

My favourite blogger

Dave Bish has just won a well deserved award from another blog for his blog called the blue fish project. His "acceptance post" was very humble and God-focused, he said:
In many ways this blog, and thebluefish.org.uk as a whole is about helping me air my thoughts because that helps me to think clearer, but with that airing comes great responsibility since people read my thoughts. May this blog remain a place where God looks big.
What a statement! Now I know nobody reads my blog except God, but it really ought to make God look big too. I will have to think about how that works out in reality; but posts like my last one maybe ought to be different, and maybe also rarer. But one thing is for certain; they should give more glory to Jesus Christ who is not just the subject of them, but also my sovereign.

Q as pre-easter tradition

I have just started reading a new book by Jimmy Dunn called A New Perspective On Jesus: What The Quest For The Historical Jesus Missed. This afternoon I read an interesting bit on what he considers to be the origin of Q (believed by many scholars to be a non-extant source for both Matthew and Luke). He points out that most scholars believe that Q is Galilean in flavour, did not contain any references to Jesus' death and resurrection, and because of this points to its origin being in a Galilean Christian community that saw Jesus very differently to most other Christians. Dunn argues, very convincingly, that this is avoiding the more obvious conclusion that it originates in the oral traditions of the disciples of Jesus during his life (still a literary document though but recording a oral tradition). That is stories and teachings of Jesus they repeated about Jesus before his death. A very interesting thought!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Cat and Dog Theology

I recently bought a book called Cat and Dog Theology: Rethinking Our Relationship with Our Master, Living Passionately for the Glory of God by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. The book's blurb states that: There’s a joke about cats and dogs that conveys their differences perfectly: A dog says, ‘You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, you must be God.’ A cat says, ‘You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, I must be God.’ These God-given traits of cats (‘You exist to serve me’) and dogs (‘I exist to serve you’) are often similar to our attitude to God and our relationship to him. Using the differences between cats and dogs in a light-hearted manner, the authors challenge our thinking in profound ways. I bought it on recommendation from Dave Bish (see his post here) for a friend, thinking that I would gain little from it, but that in articulating a God-centred theology similar to that of John Piper it would be great for her. As I always try and read a book before I give it to someone, I have read most of it and found it both slightly infuriating and at the same time one of the most challenging books I have ever read. Because of this I am going to post a bit on it over the next week or so. I just thought I would give you a little introduction first. PS. I am still undecided whether the infuriating bits will make it unsuitable for my friend, or whether I should risk the bad it could do for the good it could do.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

blogs as collections of essays

I read this on Scot McKnights blog. He is writing a lot about the emergent 'church' at the moment and in this post is discussing whether it should be called a 'church', 'conversation' or 'movement' and settles on the term essay! Anyway he has something interesting to say on what essay writing is to him and its connection to blogging. This is the bit that interested me:
For this reason, I suggest that what is most compatible with the Emergent conversation is the literary form called the "essay." Now, because I happen to be a huge fan of essayists, and I've blogged in the previous blog about some, and will mention more in blogs to come, my own sensitivity to the essay and to what the Emergent conversation is all about leads me to think that more "essays" ought to be written. In fact, they are being written and I want to give two prime examples. First, "blogging" is essayist -- unless, of course, it is the simple journal form where someone tells us what she is doing today. The minute the "blog" moves from simple reporting to a little reflection, it becomes essayistic. To "essay" is to probe, to attempt, to try, to stick one's neck into a room to see what is there and to reflect on what one saw. The second example is Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy. Preeminently an essay, McLaren's book tries on a few ideas to see if they fit, he doesn't take his ideas more seriously than he ought, he owns up to his shortcomings, and he knows he just might be wrong and he hopes that he might be right and he asks for people to give it a shot too. This is what essays are all about: try out an idea. Or, as my favorite essayist calls it, an essay is a "line out for a walk." Essays don't like definition and final conclusion and they are not arguments but ruminations and reflections and attempts to bring order and clarity to one's thoughts -- and letting everyone in on the action. [...] The point of it all is this: these writers "wrote their way to clarity" (if they ever got there, and some didn't -- like Fowler) and it was by thinking their way on paper that they came to terms with what they were thinking. But they knew they weren't setting down final thoughts for all time. I like all this although I think it is worth noting that Scot McKnight is very wise to note that while "Essays don't like definition and final conclusion" writers probably really do! Their desire is to "write their way to clarity" as McKnight notes. That is certainly my desire. I am someone always desperately in search of the truth in a black and white form, but has rarely thinks he has reached it. This is probably reflected in my blogging which, as I have said before, is really for my benefit, and which fits the picture of the essayist McKnight describes.
All very interesting I think. PS. It is interesting also that I have always had Scot McKnight down as a typical NT scholar, but his blog shows a very different side to him. His blog which is currently doing a lot of intelligent posting on the emergent church can be found here: http://www.jesuscreed.blogspot.com/.