Saturday, December 31, 2005

Pretenders to the throne of the King of Kings

book coverI am getting my pop history fix at the moment from Tom Holland's Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West. It's a very interesting, easy to read, window into another world which also has some overlap with the bible. I was particularly struck by this passage last night:

For, earth-shaking though Darius' usurpation had proved to be, it had never been his intention to turn the whole world upside-down [...] A pharaoh still reigned in Egypt; a king of Babylon in Mesopotamia; a self-proclaimed heir of the house of Astyages in Media. Darius was all these things [he had conquered all the above], and more. 'King of Kings': such was the title he most gloried in, less because he viewed foreign kingdoms as his fiefdoms - although he did - but rather because it gratified him to pose as the quintessence of royalty. All the monarchies there had ever been were to be regarded as enshrined within his person. He was the Great King. (pp. 56-57)

Elsewhere D R Brooker is concerned that 'Wright says that at its heart, the gospel is a political message. Not that it has political implications, but that Jesus Himself brought a political message.' I too think Wright overplays the political aspects of the NT, but he is right to notice that when Jesus is proclaimed Lord by the Christians in the first century, that is a challenge to the political powers of the day. You only need read Daniel to see that the same was the case in the OT. When God declared himself 'King of Kings' the implication (often made explicit) was/is that Darius and his ilk, were making claims that they could not back up. They were arrogant, foolishly trusting in their own strength rather than recognising that all they had was given to them by God.

However we must not accept the division between public and private truth given to us by our culture, and assume that this political dimension of the Gospel makes it unrelated to us. God's identity does not have either a political impact or a personal application, it has both. We so often are as arrogant as Darius in our own spheres of influence, trusting in our savings, health, or whatever to enable us to do what we want. Reading Dallas Willard at the moment, he makes the point that we all have our own little kingdoms, but it is best that we enter the kingdom of God and acknowledge that God is the 'King of Kings'. That way is the way of both truth and happiness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The most popular verses in the bible?

There is a fascinating post over at the ESV bible blog on the most requested bible verses/chapters. Worth looking over and thinking about why certain ones are so popular and which bits of the bible you neglect to listen to.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Go read this....please...

If you listen to anything I bother writing at all, you MUST, I repeat MUST, read this recent entry by Mark Horne. Much better than anything I could ever write, it contains an invaluable lesson for how we think and talk about penal substitution.

I am deadly serious. If the evangelical church is going to stop the multiplication of Steve Chalke's views this is a MUST READ post.

However, if you do insist on reading my attempt to make a point related to Mark's (like him inspired by Tom Wright) you can read an old post of mine.

PS Hope you had a Merry Christmas. I wonder whether most of the blogosphere did - all the bloggers I read seem to have been attached to their computer.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A post unconnected to my faith!

Yes, I thought the current issue of the Economist had such an interesting article on wheat (!) that I thought I would give you a couple of snippets.

Today scientists use thermal neutrons, X-rays, or ethyl methane sulphonate, a harsh carcinogenic chemical—anything that will damage DNA—to generate mutant cereals. Virtually every variety of wheat and barley you see growing in the field was produced by this kind of "mutation breeding". No safety tests are done; nobody protests. The irony is that genetic modification (GM) was invented in 1983 as a gentler, safer, more rational and more predictable alternative to mutation breeding—an organic technology, in fact. Instead of random mutations, scientists could now add the traits they wanted. [...]

The world population growth rate, in percentage terms, had been climbing steadily since the second world war (bar a two-year drop in 1959-60 caused by Mao Xedong). But in the mid 1960s it stopped rising. And by 1974 it was falling significantly. The number of people added each year kept on rising for a while, but even that peaked in 1989, and then began falling steadily. Population was still growing, but it was adding a smaller and smaller number each year.

Demographers, who had been watching the exponential rise with alarm, now forecast that the population will peak below ten billion—ten gigapeople—not long after 2050. Such a low forecast would have been unthinkable just two decades ago. Already, in developing countries, the number of children born per woman has fallen from six to three in 50 years. It will have reached replacement-level fertility (where deaths equal births) by 2035.

I must be comfortable with my status as a geek because I am happy to admit I found that article on the history of wheat truly amazing! The Economist must be in a Christmas mood because the article is public domain, as is the much more boring special report on the business-like behaviour of some churches, and one on how religion is materially good for you.

Random musings on revolution

Dave Bish has just posted his films of the year, which got me thinking about my own. Bit difficult to make a list as I get little chance to watch many films, but my favourite must be The Edukators; a German language film about young-idealism. I post about it because it reminds me of a gut feeling I had early this year that the church was no way near revolutionary enough. A bit of further thought made me realise that largely this is to be expected as although Jesus expected revolutionised lives he did not expect the revolution of institutions. In fact it is in our day to day relationships with others that it is hardest to create change (as the Edukators themselves found). I soon realised that my unsettled feeling was as much a result of frustration that I wasn't 'acheiveing' anything substantial with my life, and it's a lot easier to be a Marxist than keep the second greatest commandment.

It's because of difficulty of changing human hearts that has often been commented that when the oppressed rise up against their oppressors, very soon they become oppressors themselves. No news-worthy revolutions ever satisfactorily achieve their aims because the people in control (even in a democracy) are horrible sinners. Because of this, right-wing American bloggers were right to mock the arrogance of the Make Poverty History campaign's slogan as they will never achieve their aims (with or without debt-cuts etc, especially when we recall what Tim Chester taught me that poverty is more about relationships than wealth).

The special Christian witness is that poverty can, and will, only be made history in the New Creation which God alone can achieve and that was only made possible at the cost of Jesus life, and by his defeat of Satan in his resurrection. Where those right-wing bloggers were wrong though, was in denying that a difference can be made now, and that the church has a role here, both in its revolution of its inner life, and in its outflowing. I went to the Make Poverty History rally for that reason, to spend my time and money to encourage world leaders (and the ordinary person who got let off by Geldof & co) to do the same. To bring a taster of New Creation into the present, even though it was hard not to get enveloped in the arrogance of the confident claims of what people can do on their own.

My experience of this year therefore make me wonder about the truth of this poster:

I think that there is a lot of truth in it's message. However, being a natural pessimist, I suspect it is more likely to be misunderstood, and to reinforce already prevalent assumptions about Jesus' identity, than to convey truth. Makes me think though.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tobit's prophecy about the temple

I have decided it is about time I set out to read the Apocrypha; both for a little more understanding of Jewish Culture close to the time of Jesus, and to help in discussions with Catholics. Tonight I read Tobit, a fast-paced and enjoyable story, with a prophecy by a blessed Tobit at the end. Part of it reads as follows:

I know and believe that whatever God has said will be fulfilled and will come true; not a single word of the prophecies will fail. All of our kindred, inhabitants of the land of Israel, will be scattered and taken as captives from the good land; and the whole land of Israel will be desolate, even Samaria and Jerusalem will be desolate. And the temple of God in it will be burned to the ground, and it will be desolate for a while.

"But God will again have mercy on them, and God will bring them back into the land of Israel; and they will rebuild the temple of God, but not like the first one until the period when the times of fulfillment shall come. After this they all will return from their exile and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendor; and in it the temple of God will be rebuilt, just as the prophets of Israel have said concerning it. Then the nations in the whole world will all be converted and worship God in truth. They will all abandon their idols, which deceitfully have led them into their error; and in righteousness they will praise the eternal God. (14:4b-7a)

I may be misunderstanding the passage (the language is hard for me to pin down) but I just thought it was interesting that Tobit was predicting the rebuilding of a poor temple (by Ezra and co) followed by a greater one at the real return from exile, which will be accompanied by the conversion of the world and real righteousness. No doubt this prophecy was actually penned long after the building of the second temple, but I thought that it was interesting that the writer realized that the exile had not really ended with Ezra et al (backing up Wright's thesis about a common belief among Jews that the continuation of the exile until the time of Jesus), and that he looked forward to a glorious return more like the one predicted by Ezekiel/Isaiah which (Praise God) Jesus achieved at great cost in himself!

PS If anyone else is wanting to read the Apocrypha I passionately suggest you get New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha-NRSV - it is amazing value for money.

Two things worth noticing

This Newbigin quote was recently mentioned by a Wrightsaid email list member. I remember reading it a while back, it is truly brilliant. In my opinion, it asks some tough questions for many social action charities (Christian or otherwise) who so love the role of condemning prophet from the outside, that it is hard to imagine what they would do if they were given the power to change anything.

When the ancient classical world, which has seemed so brilliant and all-conquering, ran out of spiritual fuel and turned to the church as the one society that could hold a disintegrating world together, should the church have refused the appeal and washed its hands of responsibility for the political order? It could not do so if it was to be faithful to its origins in Israel and in the ministry of Jesus. It is easy to see with hindsight how quickly the church fell into the temptations of worldly power. It is easy to point – as monks and hermits, prophets and reformers in all ensuing centuries have continued to point – to the glaring contradiction between the Jesus of the Gospels and his followers occupying the seats of power and wealth. And yet we have to ask, would God's purpose as it is revealed in Scripture have been better served if the church had refused all political responsibility, if there had never been a "Christian" Europe, if all the churches for the past two thousand years had lived as tolerated or persecuted minorities like the Armenians, the Assyrians, and the Copts? I find it hard to think so [...]

From the eighteenth century onward, Europe turned away from the Christian vision of man and his world, accepted a radically different vision for its public life, and relegated the Christian vision to the status of a permitted option for the private sector. But for the modern church to accept this status is to do exactly what the early church refused to do and what the Bible forbids us to do. It is, in effect, to deny the kingship of Christ over all of life – public and private. It is to deny that Christ is, simply and finally, the truth by which all other claims to truth are to be tested. It is to abandon its calling (p.101-2, Foolishness to the Greeks).

Elsewhere Tony sums up my thoughts on Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

John 11

Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick and decides to visit him in Bethany near Jerusalem. The disciples know that the Jews in and around Jerusalem are seeking to kill Jesus and think that a visit to Jerusalem is too dangerous. Jesus answers their concerns with an unexpected answer as usual.

"Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." (11:9-10)

They are being asked to stake their life on Jesus himself. There is no authority, concept, or person that Jesus expects will help his disciples walk the road to Jerusalem and to likely death, only himself. The disciples, like me, are daily confronted with the challenge to find their way through life by the light of Jesus despite the doubters that surround us. But though it is not an easy journey to wait, beyond the death at the end there is life in abundance.

The Economist todaySparked by yesterday's bible reading and the cover story of today's Economist....

Got to walk by the light!

Observations of an American Presbyterian

I am not certain of all the reasons why a church gathers together every Sunday. But I was wounded and shamed when the other day an American Presbyterian, making observations about the churches he had visited since coming to England, pointed out how he thought that there was often too little attention paid to explicit God-centred worship in our services. His observation of some 'church-family' activities of a church in York, made me think particularly how often 'community' is a god worshipped alongside our Father in many churches including mine.

Lord God, remind us constantly that the real community, is only found in Christ; when you and not us are at the thing we long for and seek in our relationships.

Dunn on the New Perspective on Paul: Part 2

Paul looking rightPaul looking leftIn my previous post I explained how Dunn (in his landmark essay ‘The New Perspective on Paul’) described Sanders’ new understanding of first century Judaism as one much more of grace than Reformational characterisations of it as a religion of merit-legalism. In this post I will, following Dunn, describe Sanders’ idiosyncratic view of how this effects our understanding of Paul, and how Dunn (and many others NPP advocates) found Sanders’ implications unsatisfactory.

Sanders’ in his 1977 book challenged the traditional understanding of first century Judaism and replaced it with a much more ‘Christian’ looking picture. Dunn then finds it strange then that Sanders’ then, emphasises the differences between Paul’s theology and the Judaism he came from, instead of emphasising the continuity. Sanders’, Dunn describes, can only rationalise this massive switch from an appealing Judaism to Christianity, by the personal impact of his conversion experience. Sanders’ Paul rejects Judaism because the religion cannot explain Jesus (not because it is a religion of works); this appears to Dunn to make Paul very arbitrary, and his view of the relationship between the NT and OT is very black and white which makes no sense of many passages. Other scholars, Dunn describes, have taken on board Sanders’ description of first century Judaism, but have also been unable to use it to provide a satisfactory picture of Paul, with Räisänen even seeing Paul as mischaracterizing Judaism as a religion of works whenever it suited him, even though he knew better.

Dunn, having described the New Perspective on Paul, and some scholars’ use of it, now sets out to describe how he thinks it can be harnessed to provide a convincing picture of Paul. Dunn’s Paul sees Jesus as the natural fulfilment of Judaism, not as a new pattern of religion opposed to the old. This (for Dunn) is the natural result of Sanders’ re-characterisation of first century Judaism, and would be much harder without it. My next post will describe how Dunn’s Paul looks like in this light.

It is worth noting that though Sanders’ 1977 work was the watershed book, Dunn’s use of his research (not Sanders’ own) has one the day and most NPP proponents see great continuity between the relationship between Judaism and Paul’s theology. NT Wright certainly thinks this, seeing Christ as the Climax of the Covenant (as his title to his book on Paul’s theology attests). It has often been noted that Dunn and Wright here have much more in common with Reformed theology than Lutheran in emphasising continuity over discontinuity between the covenants. Indeed Wright especially, has quite a following in some Reformed circles.

It has also been often noted that the impact of the West’s collective guilt about the Holocaust has fed much of the desire of Biblical scholars to be more charitable to the Jewish religion, and avoid the incredibly derogatory statements made by Pauline scholars of the past. Luther and Bultmann are the oft-quoted main culprits here. Dunn especially makes comments explicitly stating the relationship between his work and the anti-Semitism of the past. Clearly both Old and New Perspectives on Paul have been affected by the culture’s view of Jews, and you do not have to be a postmodernist to beware of vested-interests on both sides.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Dunn on the New Perspective on Paul: Part 1

Jimmy DunnTrying to be a more responsible, less self absorbed blogger I am going to try and do a series of posts giving an overview of some writing. I’m going to try and do this without being too long-winded, and actually come through on one of my blogging promises for once. The 'discussion' on the American blogs of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has continued with no sign of it slackening. If I ever comment it is usually to back the under-dog of the NPP against the might of the evangelical majority. However this makes me unhappy as I feel I am being a bit imbalanced. In an attempt to heal my conscience and to promote a little more actual real understanding I am going to summarise and comment on the essay that gave the viewpoint it’s name. Originally delivered as the Manson Lecture in 1982 the essay ‘The New Perspective on Paul’ by James D. G. Dunn can now be found in his book Jesus, Paul and the Law (from which I quote).


Looking back on the past few decades Dunn concludes that while there has been some interesting books published, Pauline scholarship seemed to have run out of steam and that it was only with E. P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977) that a genuinely ‘new perspective’ has been introduced to the discussion. Sanders, Dunn describes, has demonstrated from the primary sources that generally Christian scholars have totally misunderstood the Jewish religion of the first century. ‘What is usually taken to be the Jewish alternative to Paul’s gospel would have been hardly recognized as an expression of Judaism by Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh’ (p.184). The problem is that ‘Paul seems to depict Judaism as coldly and calculatingly legalistic, a system of “works” righteousness, where salvation is earned by the merit of good works’ (his italics, p. 185) however, Sanders’ study of the Jewish literature of the period gives a very different picture. Sanders’ describes first century Judaism as ‘covenantal nomism’ (from nomos = law), a religion in which God’s gracious establishment of a covenant with his people is basic. So in this context according to Sanders’ ‘Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such' (his italics, p. 186)


My next post will look at how this perpective on Judaism affects Sanders' understanding of Paul’s theology, and Dunn’s unhappiness with how Sanders' does this. The above description of Sanders' position is what the New Perspective on Paul really is. It is first of all a new perspective on 1st cent Judaism, which then secondarily affects our understanding of Paul. Indeed when people talk about multiple new perspectives on Paul that is only because the focus has moved from Paul’s context (on which there is broad agreement in proponents of the NPP) to Paul himself (in which there is much disagreement).

Although this post is already too long, I may venture a few (too) brief comments:

  1. There has been many attempts to show that first century Judaism was quite diverse, and in fact there were are legalistic strands in the primary sources which Sander’s glosses over (e.g. Carson et al). I suspect these are attempts are successful, but I am not really in a position to judge).
  2. Just because the Jews thought that there religion had God’s grace as it’s foundation, does not mean that they lived that truth.
  3. Is there really that much difference between obedience to stay in the covenant, and obedience to get into the covenant?
  4. Note the shift by Sanders to talk about being found in or out of the covenant people, from the common talk of how individual Jews/Christians 'get saved'.
  5. As Christians this should get us thinking about whether in the OT provided a religion of works-righteousness, and if he didn't the probablity of 1st cent Judaism being simply a religion of works.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Blue Like Jazz

"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve... Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way... I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." - Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

On a lighter note than my last post and comment, which I wrote in a very depressed frame of mind, I have been told I must read this book! A friend in my cell brought up how brilliant she thought it was tonight. When I mentioned that I heard it was a bit controversial I got rounded on! 'Is it because it is not Republican?' 'Is it because it is honest, and Christian books are not allowed to be honest?' Taken aback I pleaded that I had not even read it, just heard of it, and would proceed to read it straight away before making further comment!

It's in my Amazon shopping basket already.

For some views of those who have actually read it try Mark Traphagan or Maurice McCracken (and his commenters).

The hermenutic of the gospel in (in)action

Just had a depressing conversation with a fragile Christian (I think that is a fair description). He has had some bad experiences since he became a Christian of insincerity in the Church and lack of love. Basically he doesn't want to attend formal Christian meetings because he doesn't want to be like these people. In contrast he sees very moral people elsewhere.

I was surprisingly upset. I still haven't really come to terms with the way that the Church is made up of sinners, and yet are also meant to be the re-born new creation of God. Indeed 'we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death' (1 John 3:14). How can we fail so miserably time after time? I know I have done the same, if not to this person then countless times to others. I have said the right thing but not follwed through with love. We ARE meant to be discerningly different though, the fact it 'happens' is no excuse. I know you cannot live a life that will convince everyone, some people even accused Jesus of having a demon(!), but we are not just failing to jump through our self-imposed hoops, we are causing others to fall (cf. Rom 14)! You can read about the importance of real love to our mission, and give it fancy names but it happens in reality and there are consequences.

Judge not lest you be judged (in softer terms) was some of my stumbling answer, for compared to God all fall short. But that is not a complete answer; as I have already said, Christian's are different according to the bible, and I just do not know how to hold the old and new reality together.

I know wiser heads than mine read this blog, advise would be much appreciated (I may make a phone call as well).

PS coming home I was thinking about why I go to church. We always feed new Christian's the line that it is good for you (along with Bible reading and prayer), however I think this can lead people with an expectation of 'getting something out' of chuch, and judge it a failed product if the result is not satisfactory. In slight contrast I came to the conclusion that I go to church (meet with Christians) to serve others, and to be reminded and encouraged that I am not alone in my struggles and joys, in the world and in myself. My conclusions are I think a lot more relational than that 'it helps you grow and be encouraged' although there is not that much difference and the latter is 100% true.... Just thinking out loud...funny I was thinking this week that I must change how I post so it is less like that.

PPS not everyone's experiences are the same I suppose, I have much to be thankful in my early years of following Christ.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Carol Service

I am going to this. Please pray those I have invited (i) come (ii) hear what is being said as 'news' not religion (iii) receive it with joy (iv) and that it all is subject to the will of God, and a desire for his glory.


I should never have written that I pray my friends 'hear what is being said as 'news' not religion' - I don't like using the word religion in such a negative way. What I meant by 'religion' is religion as our culture views it. Newbigin would have said 'pray that they hear what is being said as public truth, not private truth', and that's better.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My most influential books of 2005

It is the time of the year for the best ... of 2005. The papers are starting to print their opinion. Dave Bish is the first blogger I've read to chime in with his selection. I've been planning mine for a while, and have plumped to do 3 book lists: the best; the worst; and today the most influential. I don't know if anyone cares about my opinion, but as Mark Horne recently pointed out, annotated bibliographies are really fun to write. The following is in a rough order of decreasing importance, but there are no numbers because each could easily be in very different places.

'The Judgment Theme in the Sacraments' by CFD Moule (in W. D. Davies and D. Daube ed., The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology):

Not a book, but an article but it was too good not to be mentioned. Building on my earlier reading of Ian Stackhouse pointing out the Lord's Supper as a place to find the Gospel, this brilliant essay brought the sacraments to life for me. Moule encouraged me to judge myself and see my sin again (and again) to recognize that it is I who should be baptized with death, not Jesus, but to willingly identify with Christ and his undeserved suffering and so undeservingly receive his deserved vindication. Sadly out of print, but you can read my summary of it here.

The Gospel in Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin:

Still swimming about in my head. He has things to say on how we know the gospel is true, and how we preach the Gospel in our culture which must be heard by the church. Particularly powerful is his challenge to the church not to accept societies categorization of religion as private truth, but to declare with conviction and love that the gospel is public truth. I'm less sure about his theology but his thoughts on universalism, election and perseverance are more challenging to me than any I've read since Calvin.

Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the OT by Peter Enns:

Raises questions about how as evangelicals we deal with (rather than ignore) the way the biblical writers used and assumed the peculiar beliefs, stories and hermeneutics of their culture. I am not sure that he answered his questions satisfactorily but he sharpened the questions so that they now bother me a great deal. He also has some interesting stuff to say about theological diversity within the bible. Great to see such honest struggling with the issues, while retaining a firm desire to listen and not judge the God behind the words.

Finding Joy: A radical rediscovery of grace by Marcus Honeysett:

Dave Bish's book of the year. The first time I started it I choked on the constant references to the merit legalism of Paul's opponents (NPP influences there). I restarted it a couple of months later, and was brought back to the cross again as the most important thing. Brilliant to just think over and over about Christ's sacrifice for us. The cross is central and joy-giving!

Gospel-Driven Church: Retrieving Classical Ministries for Contemporary Revivalism by Ian Stackhouse:

Taught me two things. (i) Often what we are doing in the church today (Stackhouse's focus was on revivalism) makes what is happening here and now the most important. Rather than rejoice in what was done for us 2000 years ago we often judge whether the news is good or bad by what is happening now. This is unsustainable and will only bring disappointment. (ii) The sacraments, preaching etc are about remembering, and rejoicing in, that past event in the here and now. Stackhouse's book was very hard to pin down, and I suspect I may have not really got it.

The Theology of Paul's letter to the Galatians and Jesus, Paul and the Law by James D. G. Dunn:

Studying Galatians this summer, reading these books marked a significant acceleration in my understanding and appreciation of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Jesus, Paul and the Law contains some great essays, including the famous one naming the NPP. The book on Galatians was less good but is well written, and has some good stuff on the Holy Spirit. I now think IH Marshall is broadly right when he said that the NPP is right in what it affirms but wrong in what it denies (I think it was him). It's a bit more complicated though.

The Triumph of Abraham's God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians by Bruce W. Longenecker:

A great example of an interpreter of Paul not bound by party-lines but believing in the triumphant God of Paul. Longenecker emphases how important ethics was to Paul in Galatians, and how he saw Christ as bringing about an apocalyptic new age for the world. Points out God's magnificent triumph over evil in both the cosmos and in the individual Christian's life. Occasionally supremely balanced in it's interpretation, and occasionally really imbalanced, it was a hard book to read. The title reveals his emphases: Paul saw Christ as doing something dramatic, bringing about the end of an evil age ('Triumph' echoing Beker's famous book emphasizing the same point); but it was also an action in continuity with the story of Israel (the 'Abraham' bit). The apocalyptic bit was personally really invigorating.

Perspectives Old and New on Paul: the 'Lutheran' Paul and his critics by Stephen Westerholm:

Taught me what I should already have known: that there are an awful lot of possible interpretations of Paul (there are not simply two camps) and most provide some fruitful avenues to explore. Paul is complicated and we are never going to arrive at a perfect understanding.

Paul: Fresh Perspectives by NT Wright:

Further convinced me that generally Wright has a lot of great stuff to say. I had already absorbed most of what he says in this book (apart from perhaps his chapter on Creation and the covenant), but it made them all a bit clearer. Far less polemical, and more balanced than his earlier What St Paul Really Said, this is a great introduction to Wright's view of Paul. Could still do with a bit more emphasis on sin (with a small 's') as personal rebellion deserving of God's judgment; but everyone should read Wright sympathetically as well as discernfully.


Just a quick post to say that despite what you may have been told the New Revised Standard Version is actually quite good. The most common problem evangelicals have with it is it's liberal approach on translations of gendered terms such as 'son' or 'brothers'. I believe that some degree of gender-inclusivity is needed in our translations, in order for the bible to be translated accurately in today's culture (I am not alone either e.g. Don Carson, and Craig Blomberg agree). However, the NRSV probably still goes go to far (the TNIV is better); in contrast the ESV probably doesn't go far enough.

The most important test of a translation is how well it acheives both accuracy and readability. The Revised Standard Version was widely aclaimed in its time for both, but time has took it's toll on it's archaic language (e.g. 'Thou..'). The NRSV and the ESV are both updates of the RSV seeking to include recent research and language changes. In my experience the NRSV and RSV get draw on the changes on the basis of recent research, with perhaps the more conservative ESV translators edging it. But I really believe that the ESV dropped the ball on updating the language of the RSV sufficiently. It follows the RSV word for word an increadible amount, and although it gets rid of the most awful archaicisms I get the feeling they just didn't try very hard. An example of this that lead me to post was my Christmas card text (Heb 2:14):

RSV: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

ESV: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil

NRSV: Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil

This is typical of many examples I've come across in my bible reading. Both the NRSV and the ESV follow the RSV closely, and accurately translate the greek, but the ESV slavishly follows the RSV, where as the NRSV updates the language where necessary. I mean who uses the word 'partook' anymore? The NRSV definitely wins on readability (NB it occasionaly makes helpful changes in the word order as well). If only there was a New English Standard Version which makes these kind of updates, then I would not feel like a donkey unable to choose between two equally juicy carrots!

I wonder if I've now blown any chances of entering the Evangelical blogosphere.

Irregular ordinations

English readers of this blog may have read recently about the controversial 'irregular ordinations' in the Diocese of Southwark. Many big-name conservative-evangelicals, and one little known one whom I know, all of whom I profoundly respect, have signed up in support. Still the majority of evangelicals are supporting the revoking of the license of the instigater, Richard Coekin. I am really sad about both actions. I think Richard Coekin and co. live in a very bubble-like community of Christians who share their theology which acts with a party spirit with little self-critism, when dealing with the CofE. In this bubble I think it is easy to slip into a view of seeing everyone outside as against them, and irrelavent. But we are all share the same Lord! We are still one body, one church, by God's grace not because of any self-exalting boundary-markers.

On the other hand I am deeply sympathetic with why Richard Coekin thought he needed to go down this course of action. Although I do suspect that a little more conversation would have helped, I have heard from people I know that it can be difficult for a conservative evangelical to get ordained in the CofE. I think the bishop's actions reveal a greater concern with the institution of the CofE than the unity of the body of Christ which is not contained within the former.

There is of course no reason why you should agree with my opinions, I have offered no real arguements. I suppose I wanted to let off steam rather than inform. You would probably be better to try reading Fulcrum's view for a centerist-evangelical view, or read Richard Coekin's own view in the Church of England Newspaper.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Creative stuff

I have just noticed that Dave Bish now has two song/poem blogs (Aircon for my soul, and Scared of Aeroplanes). They are great stuff, although I am not sure why he has two. Another poetry blog about faith and it's object that I really enjoy reading is Abraham Piper's God-centred CIsongs, and I am beginning to explore the poetry of Ceryn Oakes (any more recommended blogs/books?). I used to not appreciate poetry at all, but the Open University's teaching on Sonnets made me realise a little more what it was all about. Sadly I do not have the gift of being able to write it and must leave it to the experts (admitedly I have not tried very hard, but learning piano from scratch is my first artistic priority!)

One thing I can do though is art, at least I used to be able to - I am a bit out of practice. My family is gifted that way, but at 16 I decided to head down the Maths/Physics route, only being rescued by an awful degree result, books, and the OU again. So this year I am designing and making my own Christmas card. Not entirely sure of the design yet, but I decided a long time back with great enthusiasm that I would base it on Heb 2:14-15:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Not your usual Christmas card stuff, but its all about the incarnation and hope, and as Doug Wilson says:

We must never forget that an essential part of the Christmas story is the stark reality of sin [...] This story has death woven through it—the backdrop is death, and sin, and tyranny. We celebrate at this time, not because we live in a sentimentalist paradise where there has never any evil, but only gently falling snow and the sound of sleigh bells in the distance. We celebrate the birth of the one who overthrew the principalities and powers. This is not a holiday that commemorates the essential sweetness and goodness of man. It is a holiday that commemorates the beginning of the story of how it came about that death finally was killed, and how the warrior who did this great thing was spared in His infancy.

Another reason to love IVP (UK)

They have a winter sale on and it is clearly not a bare-faced attempt to clear the unpopular books out from the storehouse, rather they are trying to get people to read those books that will benefit them most. Those are books IVP are proud of.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Brief thoughts

Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
who brings good news,
who publishes peace!

(Nahum 1:15)

  • There is no good news without violence against the enemy: Nahum 1.

  • Jesus takes a tack against merit legalism that should be heard more often than 'it doesn't work': Luke 17:7-10.

PS is it just me or does anyone else find the Gospels are sometimes almost too rich, a bit like chocolate fondont? Makes you wonder how they were meant to be read. We always talk about reading letters in one go, but is that what we should do with the Gospels? Should we just read one pericope and think deeply about it?

I do know I like the prophets though.

Conversations on unity

This post is inspired by my previous in two different ways.

  1. Interesting that the same point should be made by two Christians passionately concerned with reaching the world with the gospel but are from very different wings or sections of the church [if this does not spike any interest with you, then as we shall see: 'good on you!'].
  2. The encouragement of both of those Christians in glory that the church should be united!

A few days back I was talking to my South-African-ex-Vineyard-pastor-friend about if there was any examples of some of the insights of the New Perspective being taught in the churches. The main two groupings we came up with (focused unsurprisingly on NT Wright) were many within the emerging church, and many within the federal vision [asking 'what?' try this, or this]. I dislike bandying about labels, but I shall not linger. I made some comment how it was striking that Wright at least, was being read by what from my distant view-point are such very different groups of Christians (one containing advocates of a literal 6 day creation, the other containing some having trouble with substitutionary atonement). My friend pulled me up: 'You are working with quite a fragmented view of the church. Why should we be surprised that Christians are reading the same books?'.

He is quite right. My surprise was a result of a failure to see the church how God does, and to keep in mind that, when it comes down to it, there are only two ways to live.

PS I wonder in the light of the above about this book:

FRAGMENTED FAITH?: Exposing the fault-lines in the Church of England

Friday, December 02, 2005

The final apologetic...the hermeneutic of the gospel

Francis Schaeffer said that this love and unity were the 'final apologetic'. That is, the ultimate defense of the truth of the gospel. He wrote this: 'Love - and the unity it attests to - is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.'

(p. 92, Graham Beynon, God's New Community, Leicester:IVP)

I do not know why this idea didn't leap out at me when I read the above book. Obviously I was reading too fast again. Thankfully God pointed me to the same idea in Lesslie Newbigin:

How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel [his famous phrase], is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel - evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one. But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.

[...] Insofar as [the church] is true to its calling, it becomes the place where men and women and children find that the gospel gives them the framework of understanding, the "lenses" through which they are able to understand and cope with the world.

(p. 227, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 122, London: SPCK)

To read more by Schaeffer on this subject try his essay 'The Mark of a Christian'.

Hmm... how to practically encourage that love and unity in my relationships. Only by God's grace I suppose: his Holy Spirit.

Oh! on that subject, have you ever noticed this thought in Luke 11:10-13:

For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but doesn't it seem interesting, and as a corollary challenging and encouraging, that Jesus seems to assume that the Holy Spirit is all we could ever desire and ask God for (that is good for us).

So... I suppose with regard to my practicallity question, the answer does not stop at 'God will sort it', but must include prayer.

Luke 17 and Micah 7

Today I read Luke 17 and Micah 7.


My I listen to both Moses and the Prophets and the risen Jesus, may I be warned to look to eternity and the greater treasures that lie there than here. May I love the people around me and act with justice and patience.

May I remember that you are a God 'pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance' and all I have has already been bought with money too great for me to obtain, but at the same time, and for the love of your promise, listen to your word and be a shrewd manager.

Send your Spirit Lord, in the name of Christ, Amen.

---------- update ----------

Why on earth did I see fit to post a prayer? No wonder I get no commenters with such a self-indulgent approach to blogging. That's push-button publishing for you.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bob Kauflin

You may have noticed that Bob Kauflin has been promoted from my standard blogroll to my favourites. Like all the best Worship leaders he knows that worship is about about all of life, and not just singers. I have been reminded by him though, that all of life is about worship, with his outstanding posts. Try as a taster great posts on idolatory, thankfulness and astonishment. Go read.

+Sentamu Ebor

Posted while being unsure that doing so is a good thing...

knocking on my local church door!A lot of people, especially Anglicans, are happy about the inauguration of the first black Archbishop of York yesterday (e.g Andrew Jones). I knew quite a few people who went, and most were very exited about the choice. Of the two hour service I was only able to see a little bit while eating lunch, but thankfully this included his sermon. Preaching on what it means to be disciples he was very challenging to the church and myself. I was especially happy when he emphased how life-changing the gospel should be and how the church should be radically different, not just do different things:

The scandal of the church is that the Christ-event is no longer life-changing, it has become life-enhancing. We’ve lost the power and joy that makes real disciples, and we’ve become consumers of religion and not disciples of Jesus Christ (in The Times)

However just as I was thinking about how he had not yet brought in the Christ event, and its implications for the final day, I found real cause for dismay. He advocated constructive conversations with other faiths/no faith (I'm all for that) but without each conversation partner trying to convert the other. Instead (!) the church should concentrate on preaching to the 72% in Britain claimed to be Christian in surveys. Firstly this seems contrary to the praise he had for Britain (which he admires) for bringing the Gospel to his birth place of Uganda. Having tasted how good the Gospel is I cannot comprehend how he would deny it to others. Secondly, I cannot help but think that the underplaying of the Christ's historical death and resurection has a role in his lack of concern to convert people. Thirdly, I am sad about my beloved CofE tieing its hands and underplaying the the magnificance of the life/world/history-changing nature of the Gospel, while focusing so much on the church as we see it without the filter of Christ's work.

I'm depressed...although I know I shouldn't be. He will no doubt be a great Archbishop, and bring much glory to God... encourage the good.

Random Observations

  • Illustrating what discipleship looked like in the first century, he quoted a funny story from the Jewish Talmud. Of the group of bishops I could only see Tom Wright laughing... He does like his Jewish litrature.
  • Happy he quoted from York's own (I like to think of him that way anyway) late great David Watson:

    Christians in the West, have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The vast majority of Western Christians are church-members, pew-fillers, hymn-singers, sermon-tasters, Bible-readers, even born-again believers or Spirit-filled Charismatics – and we have got some those here this morning - but aren’t true disciples of Jesus Christ.

    If we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the Church in the West would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering.

    I have this niggling doubt that this whole post is the mark of a 'sermon-taster'...hmm.
  • Having had recent heated conversations about whether the CofEs buildings are a net disadvantage, to proclaiming the gospel. I could not help but wonder if (i) all the pomp and ceremony was helpful in anyway (n.b I think not despite being a big fan of liturgy/sacrament; because I think they succeed in communicating even today) (ii) any Archbishop, however good or bad, would ever have that much effect on the inertia that controls so much of the CofE.
  • Read the whole sermon here and make up your own mind.