Saturday, January 28, 2006

An apology and random bits

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I have been very busy, as well as trying to put a bit more time into other relationships. All my blogging time has been spent reading or commenting on other blogs so little has happened here. I have had a few bloggable thoughts, but non that have really been burning to be published. I am trying to read as much as my limited time permits and have just started The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship by Jeff Meyers, who is one of interesting bunch of American Presbyterians who I have only recently discovered. They are so fascinating because they share my theological ancestors and are still passionately protestant but yet are so different to the Conservative Evangelicalism of the UK and Australia that I know and love. Where this is most obvious is in their view of what Church meetings should look like, which Jeff Meyers book focuses on. A portion of Meyer's bibliographical essay illustrated this very fact vividly for me:

'Most of the exegetical and biblical theological work done on worship has been extremely disappointing. For example, David Peterson's Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship gets the whole purpose of sacrificial worship exactly wrong. We don't engage God, as Peterson thinks; rather, He engages us. The whole book is flawed because of this one sided, Pelagian perspective.' (p. 420)

I haven't read Peterson's book but I've read some of his other books. His pedigree is solidly Conservative Evangelical, showcasing the best of that branch of the church emphasis on Biblical Theology, expository preaching and good sense. I have never heard a bad word before about Engaging God, but rather endless praise. The last thing I would expect is criticism for a 'Pelagian perspective' that is 'exactly wrong'. I am bemused and curious about what is going on. Interesting reading lies ahead.

Elsewhere I think Rosemary's good sense, and heart for God means I may have to put étrangère on my favourite blog list. Also Ant Adams has made me determine to be a bit more purposeful in my reading, and although I probably will not follow him with chosing a author for the year I am now determined to enjoy some meals, rather than snacks, provided by John Stott, and finally read the 1536 edition of Calvin's institutes which has been siting on my shelf for a long while (prompted by Mark Horne, it is a long time since I feasted on the standard 1559 edition).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Wanting to listen to some lectures on worship?

Then get your teeth stuck into these - a veritable 'who's who' of the theology and practice of worship (HT: Bob Kaufin).

A joke containing a rebuke

No time to post much, but in my previous post on a lecture by Lesslie Newbigin, I missed out recalling a great point during the questions afterwards when a questioner excused some past timidity by his Englishness. Newbigin responded as follows:

You know the story about the English lady who was explaining to a Black Pentecostal that although English are so unexcited and sober in their worship as compared to the black Pentecostals.

She said, “it doesn’t mean that we don’t love our Lord we love him very much, but we English are very restrained in expressing our emotions”

And the pastor said, “yes, I understand that, I’ve been to a football match myself”

It's quite funny, but it also contains a stinging rebuke to those in the church that excuse the lack of emotion in worship by their nationality. I remember once listening to John Piper on CD making a similar biting comment to an English audience .

Of course there is more than one way to express emotion in worship.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Newbigin on 'Christ: Unique and Universal'

I recently listened to the only audio lecture I have ever found by Lesslie Newbigin on the net. It is entitled 'Christ: Unique and Universal' and is as thought-provoking as Newbigin always is. I highly recommend it as an introduction to Newbigin's main emphases in his books. I made some notes the second time I listened to it to help me absorb what he was saying and I have typed them out below. I do not think I agree with everything he says, but I can never easily dismiss anything he says. I would appreciate any thoughts you may have.


He makes five Points relating to the statement which is his title:

  1. This is a statement of Truth
    • Saying something true about the world. Not as John Hick says all religions are about 'how to be saved'
    • There are three problems with that understanding:
      1. Ridiculous because how can you be saved without relying on something outside yourself.
      2. Very human-centred.
      3. If the gospel is true the central question here is not 'how to be saved' but 'how God can be glorified'.
    • This is public truth - true for all.
  2. How could we know this statement is true?
    • It is common today to say 'that may be true for you, but it is not true for me'.
    • This is a claim to know the limits of knowledge, which is an arrogant claim.
    • If the root desire is to the question 'how can I be saved/fulfilled?' we forget that there is a world outside ourselves.
    • This understanding is not found in science departments. There is a division in our culture between science/arts departments and facts/values.
  3. What kind of truth statement are we making? How are these words used?
    • We are not describing one in a class of religions.
    • It is true there are many parallels between the ideas/doctrines of Christianity and other 'religions'.
      • There is a branch of Hinduism so similar to Christianity it has the same heresies by different names (e.g. Pelagianism).
      • In a conversation with one of the teachers from this branch when asked the question 'what do you mean by salvation?' the Christian answer was found to be exactly the same, bar the name of Jesus himself.
      • However when pressing the teacher about his assurance for his belief, found that the teacher considered that if did not provide any assurance the teacher would simply worship a different God!
      • LN realised then that if the centre is yourself there will be nothing to choose between many religions.
      • From then on LN did not preach sin->forgiveness as he introduced the gospel but first explained the story of God as found in the bible.
    • Hindu friend questioned LN why the bible was presented as a book of religion (which Hindus have plenty of) by Christians, when it was unique as a interpretation of the history of the cosmos, which presents the humans as having a part in this cosmic history.
    • Must remember that 'How can I be saved?' is the question of "a pagan jailer in a fright" (Acts 16) not of Moses/Paul etc.
  4. What is involved in this belief?
    • There are a number of different interpretations of history. Some (e.g. Indian) see history as cyclical and purposeless. Some see history as having a purpose but with the purpose elsewhere, for example:
      • Christian interpretation (Christ as pinnacle).
      • Nationalistic interpretation (the nation as pinnacle).
      • The story of civilization (civilization now as the pinnacle).
      • Islam, like Christianity, looking for God's rule. But unlike Christianity equates power with truth - Muhammad rode into Mecca at the head of an army, Jesus on a donkey to die.
    • The cross and resurrection will only make sense if taken as the starting point.
    • The truth is still veiled as it was in Jesus incarnate, and in the imperfect church. The church is entrusted with the witness to this 'secret'.
    • This does not mean there is no goodness outside the church.
      • It is bad that the existence of goodness outside the church has been seen as a disincentive to mission. That was not the case with Cornelius who was 'good' and so evangelised by Peter, who with the church was challenged to rethink what the gospel meant in this light.
  5. What should be the response to a request for proof that this statement is true?
    • The problem with this question is that it assumes there is something, 'x', which you can both agree on and can provide the ground for the statement.
      • This is an illusion though, as you can only prove x by a y, and that by z, etc...
      • A Jesuit has argued that the roots of modern atheism lie in Thomas Aquinas (!) who set out to prove the existence of God from something else. Crazily Aquinas spent the whole of book 1 of his Summa proving God's existence without mention of Jesus, and then went on in book 4 to say that it is only through Jesus that we can know God!
      • This attempt to find a proof has led to a false conception of God.
      • It has also led to a false hope of certainty not based on Jesus.
      • In science a statement is considered true because it leads out to wider truth - it makes sense of the life.
      • Our starting point for discussions with other faiths, should not then be a clash of different starting points but an joint exploration of how well the different faiths play out in explaining everyday life.
      • However, if pushed we should point to the final day when we will fully know.
      • This does not mean that our faith is a 'leap in the dark' rather it is a response to a call.

PS the lecture was delivered in 1991 at The Christian Institute, which has a lot more interesting audio online, including an eight part overview of the bible by David Jackman.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An identity worth clinging too

Quick thoughts on Genesis 11 and Matthew 10:

Following the Mccheyne bible reading plan, I read Gen 11 and Matt 10 today. Gen 11 includes, of course, the story of Babel (the city as much as the tower). The building of which was so that they may make a name for themselves so that they would not be dispersed (read: 'driven from their homes'). Although you can make a big deal about it, the story is at it's heart a demonstration that what humanity does will never bring it security, but that God can sweep away the most powerful without a breaking a sweat. There is no use building your own name, on the foundations as shaky as your own strength.

In Matthew, Jesus is also concerned about the name people identify with. He predicts that the disciples will be hated for identifying with him ('for my names sake') and the whole chapter is concerned with how following Jesus does not lead to blissful peace (now), but that the sword accompanies his representatives. From our perspective the Babylonians (people of Babel) had a great name and nothing to fear any longer now they had built there city and made their name great. The disciple of Jesus in contrast has little hope of an easy ride while clinging to Jesus' name and neglecting their own. However Matt 10 while full of dire predictions is regularly interspersed with hope worth clinging too. God will accept no rivals to his great name, and Jesus (and those united with him) will rule in power given by God....

  • 'Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.' (31-33)
  • 'whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.' (v. 39)
  • 'whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward' (v. 42)

PS I think it is great to read a passage and think of the thousands worldwide reading the same. United with unknown brothers and sisters and sharing a common hope. Come Lord Jesus.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Entering the rat race

Yup I now have a 9-5 job at an inurance company working on the third floor of this building.

Glamourous - no. Where I believe God wants me to be at the moment - yes. The Christian life is weird sometimes.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Still busy...

Still busy so no blogging today (again), and I have had to force myself to viciously cut my blogroll to about a third of its former size in order to keep up. Although I have added one that I have been hearing good things about Mark Lauterbach's 'Gospel Driven Life'.

Poetry, I am told is to be chewed over. I find that hard to do, but Abraham Piper always repays the effort:

“Now go where there is need, my child. I’ll be near to you in word and deed To work in all Who hear you plead with me in prayer That they be saved from harm. —Look!— Underneath you there is my eternal arm.”

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sorry about the lack of posts

Just a quick note to apologise for the lack of blogging recently, and probably for the next few days. I've just started a new job, got a bad cold (now gone - thank God), and I am now trying to sort out all sorts of other stuff. I haven't even got enough time to keep up to date with my blogroll (97 unread posts and counting...).

Hope you enjoy reading some decent blogs.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Listening to the Chosen One

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)

I heard a great sermon on the Transfiguration tonight, which really opened up the passage to me. I constantly need reminding that the Gospels are all about Jesus and who he was, and everything else they provide us with (how to get saved, ethics etc) come out of that. The transfiguration is no exception to this, and if read carefully is all about the unique majesty of Jesus too. In all the synoptics the story is placed directly following Jesus teaching about his own coming death, and the need for his disciples to also take up the cross and follow him. This is difficult teaching for disciples then and now to hear and I do not think it is accidental that the Transfiguration is recounted next, as the story’s introduction (‘Now about eight days after these sayings…’) suggests.

Until today I only understood the ridiculed comment of Peter ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’ to be stupid because these Elijah and Moses were dead. But of course I was forgetting that this is all about Jesus.

If you try and think about what the disciples were thinking it seems likely that they were marvelling that Jesus should be ranked with the greatest figures of the OT, and wondering at the honour given to him. Peter’s offer to set up tents, carries with it the implication that these were three prophets of God worthy of equal honour. It seems obvious to me now that this is the import of Peter’s comment and that it isn’t just ‘filler’ because we are told that God interrupts Peter at just this point to pronounce Jesus’ uniqueness. We should not let anyone, or anything (even the prophets of God) compare to Jesus, and it is for just this reason that we should ‘listen to him’.

The cloud clears and ‘Jesus is found alone’. There is no one else to rival Jesus, or even to complement him. Jesus is the one and this means we should listen to him. Even when he tells us things that seem foolish (like the Messiah dying), or hard (like following his path).

My prayer/resolution for 2006 is that I would listen to Jesus.

PS Reading the whole bible, even the hard bits to swallow, is one way to hear what Jesus has to say to us. Because of this I have signed up to Ant’s challenge.