alastair.adversaria

Links

Links from the last few days:

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According to Dr Scaer, the most common way people join the Church is that someone invited them. Guess what? If church sucks, people don’t invite others. They don’t think “Man, my friends have got to be here for this!” They think “Well, I might as well keep going here.” So here’s a fun list that can work for all denominations!

Read the Fearsome Pirate’s church growth tips here

. He also gives a Lutheran perspective in outlining some of the things that he dislikes about the PCA worship that he has experienced.
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An interesting post from Leithart here. He observes the way in which we are shaped by popular culture, beginning with a series of tests to see how easily we identify with certain popular slogans, characters and advertisements from our culture and then how easily we identify with Christian counterparts to these. I think that I got a near perfect mark on every part except for the advertising slogans, which probably has something to do with living in the UK. However, I admit that the references to popular culture were generally more familiar than the references to the traditional hymns and references from classic literature. I could probably quote near-verbatim the lyrics from a few dozen rock albums, but I probably know no more than a score of psalms by heart. I have a troublingly vast quantity of pointless pop trivia in my head, so Leithart’s post was a good one for me to read.

Leithart argues that the way that Christians often characterize our struggle with the world is deficient. We tend to think primarily in terms of a struggle of ideas. However, the battle is, more often than not, a struggle of desire. As René Girard has argued desire is mimetic, and the world is consistently tempting us to model our desires after its pattern.

This is where the church comes in. If the battle we face in the wider culture were merely a matter of ideas and thoughts, then we might be able to withstand the onslaught of bad ideas on our own. We might be able to fill our minds with good thoughts and ideas through reading and studying, and when a bad idea came up, we’d pounce. If we are cultural beings, whose habits and practices and desires are shaped by the habits and practices and desires of others around us – and we are – then we can’t really stand up to the cultural temptations in isolation, by ourselves. We cannot resist on our own. We need to be part of a resistant community, a resistant community that recognizes the way the world seeks to shape us into its image, and self-consciously resists the world.

And we can’t resist something with nothing. To the world’s desire-shaping, formative practices, Christians need to oppose a different set of desire-shaping practices. We can’t say: I won’t desire what the world wants me to desire. We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world’s desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.

Leithart also has a post on consumerism that I found interesting.

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Following on from his earlier post on Dawkins and Lacan, Macht observes the importance of un-clarity in argument if we are to truly communicate:

Being “unclear” in one’s writing, then, can perhaps be a way to get the reader to NOT translate what they are reading into familiar terms. A writer want the reader to think in ways they’ve never thought before and that may require unfamiliar terms. This will of course require more work on the part of the reader and may lead to misunderstandings, but that might be the price a writer needs to pay in order to get his point across.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why misunderstanding so often attends theological discourse. In theology our terms are generally given to us by Scripture. Our overfamiliarity with these terms can lead to misunderstanding when we read people like Barth and Wright, who use familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. It takes quite a conscious effort on our part to overcome the familiarity that we have with the terms and begin to appreciate the ‘otherness’ of the theology of such men, and not merely interpret them on our own terms.

John Milbank has also observed the importance of ‘making strange’: developing new language to replace overfamiliar terms, in order that the peculiarity and distinctive character of the Christian position might become more apparent. This, I suggest, is one argument in favour of those who are wary of a theological discourse that works almost entirely in terms of biblical terminology. Such a discourse is helpful among those who understand the positions being advanced, but it can provide an impediment to those who have not yet grasped them.

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Joel Garver begins to articulate some of his concerns with the recent PCA report on the FV/NPP.
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Paul Helm on biblical versus systematic theology. I believe that the way that we do systematic theology is overdue for a complete overhaul. I don’t believe that biblical theology is the answer to everything, but I would not be sad to witness the demise of the discipline of systematic theology as it is often currently practiced (something that I have commented on in the past). Much systematic theology is ‘timeless’ in a deeply unhealthy fashion. It tends to treat its subject matter as if it were timeless and it also teaches in a manner that abstracts the learner from the time-bound narrative.

Systematic theology often seems to aim to present us with a panoptic perspective on the biblical narrative. We look at the narrative from a great height, from without rather than from within. This ‘timeless’ perspective is very dangerous, I believe. A reform of systematic theology would reject this way of approaching the discipline and would approach its subject matter in a slightly different manner. We study theology from within time, as participants in God’s drama. Neither the subject matter nor the student of theology should be abstracted from time. Rather than dealing with ‘timeless’ truths, we should deal with truths that are ‘constant’ through time.

Peter Leithart has suggested that ideally systematic theology would play a role analogous to the role that a book entitled An Anthropology of Middle Earth would play relative to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Such a book would help the reader to understand the constant features of the narratives. However, its subject matter would never be detached from the narrative nor could it ever be substituted for the narrative itself. The narrative always retains the primacy.

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Michael Bird writes [HT: Chris Tilling] on the importance of the study of NT Theology and Christian Origins. Here is a taster:

…when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

How is this corrected? First, Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak. A study of this kind will indicate where the theological (and dare I say) spiritual centre of gravity lies in the New Testament.

The evangelical and Reformed tendency to force the whole of the NT into a Pauline framework is something that is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Over the last few weeks I have been studying the doctrine of atonement, for instance, in the NT. I have been struck by how muted the theme of penal substitution is in much of the extra-Pauline literature (or even, for that matter, in a number of the ’secondary’ Pauline epistles). If our ‘canon within the canon’ consisted of the Johannine literature or of Matthew and James, rather than Romans and Galatians, evangelical and Reformed theology would probably take a radically different form. Recogizing this fact has made me far more sympathetic to a number of traditions whose theology differs sharply from Reformed theology, largely because they operate in terms of a very different ‘canon within the canon’. Paul is only part of the picture and his voice is not necessarily any more important than others within the NT canon.

I suspect that a number of significant theological advances could be made if we were only to put our favourite sections of Romans and Galatians to one side for a while. For instance, we might begin to see the continuing role that the commandments of the Torah performed in shaping the life of the Church. We might begin to have a clearer sense of just how Jewish the thinking of the early Church was. An overemphasis on Paul’s more antithetical and abstract ways of formulating the relationship between the Law and the Gospel can blind us to how Paul and other NT authors generally continue to take the particularities of the Torah as normative for the life of the NT people of God. The way that the Torah operates has changed, but it is still operational in many respects as the Torah of the Spirit and the Torah of liberty.

We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel.

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John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1.
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David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden].
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Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one.
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June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers.
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As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism.
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Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post.
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The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now!
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David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful.
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Ben Witherington on Billy Graham.
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R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism:

With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation.

[HT: Paul Baxter]

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A PCA pastor: “We wouldn’t ordain John Murray”. Sadly, this is only what one should expect when theological factionalism takes holds of a denomination.
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Byron is right: this is a very good parable.
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‘Begging the Question’ [HT: Paul Baxter]
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From the evangelical outpost: How to Draw a Head and Assess your Brain Fitness.
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The cubicle warrior’s guide to office jargon
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The unveiling of the logo for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Seb Coe:

It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

Tony Blair:

When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Tessa Jowell:

This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

Ken Livingstone:

The new Olympic brand draws on what London has become - the world’s most forward-looking and international city.

And the brand itself:

London 2012

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Finally, some Youtube videos:

The new Microsoft Surface:

Battle at Kruger:

I’m a Marvel … and I’m a DC:

New Skoda Ad:

NTW Letter

Bishop WrightN.T. Wright replies to someone involved in translating Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, who wrote to him, troubled by some of the libellous claims about Wright and his beliefs that he encountered online:

Dear —–

—– has passed on your message to me. I am distressed that you have been so misled about my views. I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself. I have no idea where you get the notion that I don’t believe in the virginal conception, which I have never doubted and which I have defended in public, in person and in print several times. I have no idea why you think I deny the credibility of John’s gospel, or for that matter Ephesians and Colossians. Indeed, I have defended all of them. And where do you get the idea that I think that ‘men are being saved by baptism’ (unless, of course, it might be 1 Peter 3.21, of course)? All this is simply wicked and unpleasant libel. Who has made these accusations? Have they read anything I have ever written?

When it comes to Paul, I have spent my life trying to understand his letters in great detail. If you want to disagree with my interpretations, please disagree with what I say, and show where I am getting it wrong, rather than listening to people who tell you that I am saying (for instance) that my belief is some kind of new revelation. Of course it isn’t! I am teaching what Paul is teaching, and I am happily and gladly open to anyone showing me that my understanding of the text is wrong. But please read what I have said, and the reasons I have given for it, before you say things like ‘we don’t need God’s righteousness to stand before righteous God’. Read what I say about the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ in Paul. Weigh it with what the whole scripture says — the Psalms and Isaiah and so on as well as Paul himself. Do what the Beroeans did in Acts 17: search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, rather than assume, like the Jews in Thessalonica, that any interpretation of scripture which you haven’t met before must be angrily rejected.

This brings me to ‘heaven’. Yes, in the New Testament of course there is the hope for being ‘with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1.26). But have you not noticed that the New Testament hardly ever talks about ‘going to heaven’, and certainly never as the ultimate destiny of God’s people. The ultimate destiny, as Revelation 21 makes abundantly clear, is the ‘new heavens and new earth’, for which we will need resurrection bodies. Please, please, study what the Bible actually says. When Jesus talks in John 14 of going to prepare a place for us, the word he uses is the Greek word mone, which isn’t a final dwelling place but a temporary place where you stay and are refreshed before continuing on your journey. The point about Jesus being our hope is that he will come again from heaven to change this world, and our bodies, so that the prayer he taught us to pray will come true at last: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. That is God’s will; that is why Jesus came; that is our final hope. Of course, Christians who die before that time go to be with him in heaven until the time when the whole creation is redeemed (Romans 8.18-27 — have you studied that recently?). That isn’t a ‘symbolic meaning’, and I confess I don’t know why you should think it does.

The problem is, I think, that there are some Christians who have not been taught what the Bible actually teaches about the redemption of the whole creation. The Bible doesn’t say that the creation — including earth — is wicked and that we have to be rescued from it. What is wicked, and what we need rescuing from, is sin, which brings death, which is the denial of the
good creation. When we say the creation is wicked we are colluding with death. Sadly, some Christians seem to think they have to say that.

I am particularly disturbed when you say that I am not much different from the gnostics I am attacking, and that I have no hope for the lost world. Hope for the lost world is precisely what I have in abundance, precisely because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us not so that we could let death have our bodies for ever while our souls go off into a disembodied eternity — that was Plato’s mistake! — but so that we could be redeemed, rescued from sin and from the death it produces.

Dear —–, you have been deceived by what you have found on the internet. Of course I believe in Jesus. He is the centre of my life and, though I am a very imperfect disciple, I adore him and will preach him to my dying day. Of course I believe in his gospel. It is the good news that God so loved the world (not that God so hated the world). Yes, there is always a danger that all of us may distort the gospel, that we can be deceived, that we may need to inspect our hearts. But when you suggest I don’t believe in the whole scripture — well, I’m sorry, but exactly that belief is the rock on which the work of my whole life has been based.

I do hope that you will think again, continue to translate the book, and publish it in due course. But perhaps before you do that you might like to read one or two of my other books on the major subjects you have raised. Particularly The Resurrection of the Son of God, which has already been translated into various languages.

With greetings and good wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ

Tom Wright

N. T. Wright
Bishop of Durham

Judas and Ahithophel


In the course of his treatment of the use of the OT in John’s gospel, Steve Moyise describes M.J.J. Menken’s understanding of the background of Jesus’ statement in John 13:18. Menken suggests that John makes his own translation from the Hebrew of Psalm 41:9, but alters it slightly to bring it closer to the language of 2 Samuel 18:28. The context of this verse is Ahithophel’s betrayal of Jesus, an event in the life of David which Jewish tradition also associates with Psalm 41. Menken observes a number of parallels between the story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and David’s betrayal by Ahithophel that I hadn’t noticed before.

  • Judas and Ahithophel both hang themselves after the deed (2 Sam 17.23/Matt 27.5).
  • They both plan to do the deed at night (2 Sam 17.1/John 13.30).
  • David and Jesus both pray for deliverance on the Mount of Olives (2 Sam 15.31/Mark 14.26ff.).
  • David and Jesus both cross the Kidron (2 Sam 15.23/John 18.1).
  • It is claimed that the death of one man will bring peace to the people (2 Sam 17.3/John 11.50).

I had seen some of these before, but hadn’t noticed a few of the others.

Against the Youth-Driven Church

This video has been posted by a number of people in the blogosphere. Like most others, I strongly disagree with this guy in a number of areas and believe that his argument against the Emerging Church is riddled with problems. However, rather than mocking, I think that it might be helpful to try to see where he might just have a point.

There was a time when many Christians were very concerned to keep away from pop music and TV because they believed that they introduced dangerous ‘worldly’ ways of thinking and acting. As sophisticated and enlightened contemporary Christians we tend to look at such notions with amusement and see the preoccupation with avoiding such ‘worldliness’ as being largely a concern of a naive fundamentalism. We happily watch 18 (or R)-rated movies and provide clever reviews that show the Christian themes that are subtly interwoven with the sex and the violence. We listen to music that celebrates radically unchristian forms of sexuality or to Christian artists that often seek to ape such music. Perhaps we are justified in this; what really troubles me is that the concerns for godliness and a distinctly and transparently Christian way of living exemplified by many of an older generation really don’t seem to register with us to the same extent. For all of the naivete of their vision, they had a vision for such holiness and godliness, which is more than I can say for many of us. For all of our sophistication I sometimes wonder whether we could learn some basic lessons in being a godly and a holy people from an older generation.

We live in a youth-driven society. Whether in the media or on the web, older people are hardly visible. For instance, the very fact that most of our theological discussions occur online prevents most elderly people from having any active voice in the conversation. When older people appear in the media, they are often ridiculed. Their style, their tastes, their knowledge of the world, their ethics and their values are all out of date. The new and the young are to be celebrated and the old is to be sidelined and dismissed.

Many areas of the Church have bought into this way of thinking. They have glorified the ‘new’ and sit very loosely to the accumulated wisdom of older generations. The Emerging Church is one area where this can be observed. The concern to be hip and on the cutting edge often trumps the concern to be faithful and submissive to the wisdom of our fathers in the faith.

The Church should be one place where a radically different culture prevails. It should be a place where older generations are honoured and treated with respect, even when they are wrong. Biblical societies are generally ruled and led by elders, not by young turks. Many contemporary evangelicals have forgotten this and their churches are driven by the desires of their young people and the most influential leaders are under the age of 40 (ideally, it seems to me, churches should not be led by people under the age of 50).

One of the deepest sins of many of the youth-driven trends in the Church is their determined movement away from catholicity. Rejecting a catholic Church they opt for youth churches or stratify the Church into age groups in other ways. Rather than worshipping in a way that reflects the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition, their worship tends to be dominated by (generally sappy and biblically illiterate) songs written by young, popular and rich Western Christian evangelical artists who are within the contemporary Christian music industry. One of the great things about singing traditional Christian hymns is that we have the opportunity to sing words written by people from all over the world, from countless different backgrounds and generations, and with hugely varied vocations. We get to sing songs by laypeople and bishops, by monks and martyrs, by missionaries to pagan lands and travelling preachers, by Reformers and by Catholics. We sing songs written by people many centuries and countless miles removed from us. We sing songs written by people from cultures that are quite alien to our own, but with whom we share a citizenship in heaven. In the process the parochial nature of our own tastes is challenged and we learn to listen with appreciation and humility to people who differ radically from us. Of course, singing the psalms, we have something even better. We have the opportunity to sing words written by Moses and David.

Sadly, rather than express our respect for our older brothers and sisters in Christ by submitting to the wisdom of the Christian tradition of music and worship, we tend to start worship wars, causing tensions and splits in churches because of our (frankly) ‘worldly’ desire to sing songs that conform to our contemporary Western appetites. Generally the modern worship wars seem to be driven by our ever-changing tastes in music, rather than by real theological or biblical concerns. Where are the voices calling for increased use of the psalms? They are few and far between, largely because the psalms do not generally provide what we believe that the ‘worship experience’ should give us. Where are the deep theologies of worship? Much of the worship wars are about our love for ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’, rather than about any sort of coherent theology of Church music. Although I am someone who believes that ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’ music should not be ruled out of the Church, I have no desire to align myself with those for whom the introduction of such music is purely an attempt to accommodate the worship of the Church to their their personal tastes in music, rather than an attempt to discern how God would have us worship Him and what is fitting for the praise of the saints.

Our concern tends to be that we have a good ‘worship experience’, rather than that we worship God joyfully and appropriately. If a particular song or style of music doesn’t conform to our personally tastes, so be it. We are worshipping God, not ourselves. Fittingness for the task of worshipping God should always take priority over everything else.

Finally, I have commented in the past on the infantilization of many quarters of the Church. It is not surprising that this tendency is accelerated in churches where the younger generation sets the agenda. The comments that the man makes in this video about the ‘young and stupid’ are not without a degree of correspondence to reality.

All of this, and the biblical command to honour and respect our elders, makes me quite reluctant to poke fun at this man’s expression of his opinion. For all of his misunderstanding and prejudice, he does have some valid points to make and we would do well to pay heed.

Links and News, but not in that order

I returned from a few days back in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday evening. My time back home was full of activity, but very enjoyable. As there was a wedding on, I had the opportunity to meet a lot more friends than I would have met on another weekend. During the few days back home, I watched Spiderman III for the second time (I far prefer Spiderman II) and Pirates of the Caribbean III (none of the later films in the trilogy have lived up to the original). I helped out at a kid’s club, with preparation for the wedding celebration and had to preach at very short notice (I mainly reworked material that I had written and blogged about recently). I also enjoyed following the cricket when I had a few minutes to spare. The West Indies may not be the strongest opponents, but convincingly winning a Test match does provide welcome relief after the mauling of the latest Ashes series and our failure to make much of an impact at the World Cup.

Over the last few days I have read a number of books. On my way down to Stoke-on-Trent on the train, I finished reading L. Charles Jackson’s Faith of our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. I had the privilege of meeting Charles a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his book. It is a very helpful introduction to the Christian faith, following the statements of the Nicene Creed. Each chapter is relatively short and followed by some review questions. It would be a useful book for a study class and also provides the sort of clear and straightforward (but not simplistic) introduction to Christian doctrine that might be of use to a thinking teenager (Ralph Smith’s Trinity and Reality is another work that I would recommend for this).

On the train journey back I finished reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A friend recommended the book to me when it first came out a few years ago, but I have only just got around to reading it (I bought a secondhand copy of the book from my housemate John a few months ago). Martel is a very gifted storyteller and the book is quite engrossing. Whilst I strongly disagree with the underlying message of the book (about the character of faith and its loose relationship with fact), I greatly enjoyed the book and may well revisit it on some occasion in the future.

I have also been reading a number of other works, including Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, which a friend lent to me, in preparation for my visit to Myanmar in September. I am also reading Steve Moyise’s The Old Testament in the New, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Children of Hurin and I have been dipping into the second volume of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology. On the commentary front, I have been using Goldingay’s recent work on Psalms 1-41 and Craig S. Keener’s commentary on John’s Gospel.

At the moment I am reading up on the subject of the atonement. I am particularly enjoying Hans Boersma’s work, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. I am also reading Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by Oak Hill’s David Peterson (I am still waiting for my copy of Pierced for Our Transgressions to be delivered), Joel Green and Mark Baker’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and revisiting Colin Gunton’s The Actuality of Atonement.

Since returning to St. Andrews I have done very little. I spent much of yesterday playing Half-Life 2 (which I am revisiting after a few years) and reading. Today I expect that I will be a little more productive.

The following are some of the sites, stories, posts and videos that have caught my eye over the last few days.

Matt Colvin has an interesting post on ‘Headcoverings as Visible Eschatology’. Within it he argues that Paul’s teaching on the matter in 1 Corinthians 11 was not culturally determined, but informed by redemptive history.

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James Jordan has posted a series on the Biblical Horizons website: ‘How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays’. As usual, JBJ has many useful and provocative observations. Here is one extended quotation:

The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?

Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.

The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.

Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.

The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.

This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.

Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.

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Josh, the Fearsome Pirate, puts his finger on one of the reasons why I would find it hard to become a Lutheran and reminds me of one of the reasons I so appreciate the Reformed tradition: ‘The Bible & Lutheranism’.
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Peter Leithart blogs on a subject that has long interested me: the necessity of the Incarnation. The question of the necessity of the Incarnation might strike some as needlessly speculative. However, our answer to this question does have a lot of practical import, not least in our understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption and the manner in which Christ relates to the cosmos. It raises teleological questions very similar to those raised in supra-infra debates, but does so in a far more biblical manner (supra-infra debates that are not grounded in Christology do strike me as unhelpfully speculative).
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Leithart also blogs on the subject of Pentecost on the First Things blog, one of a number to do so over the last few days. NTW sermons on Ascension and Pentecost have also been posted on the N.T. Wright Page. Joel Garver also blogs on Pentecost here. Over the next few months I will be doing a lot of work on the subject of canonical background for the account of Acts 2 (something that I have blogged about in the past). I will probably blog on the subject in more detail in the future.
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There have been a number of engagements with popular atheism in the blogosphere recently, particularly by Doug Wilson. Wilson’s recent debates with Christopher Hitchens can be found on the Christianity Today website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. It is interesting to see how Hitchens consistently seems to fail to get Wilson’s point about warrant for moral obligation. Macht also has a helpful post in which he observes Richard Dawkins’ tendency to lightly dismiss positions (not just Christian ones) without ever taking the trouble to try to understand them first.
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Joel Garver summarizes the recent PCA report on the NPP/FV and posts a letter raising some questions and concerns on the subject.
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Ben posts an interesting list of recent and forthcoming must read theological books and Kim Fabricius loses all credibility.
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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism argues that FV theology leads Romeward. A recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy argues that Peter Leithart was instrumental in his conversion. The first post prompted a very lively and rather heated discussion in the comments (which I participated in).

Frankly, while I do not agree with such moves and do not find the slippery slope argument — much beloved of FV critics — at all convincing, I am not surprised that a number of people make such moves and credit the FV with moving them some way towards their current ecclesiatical home. Unlike many movements within the Reformed world, the FV is heading in a (small ‘c’) catholic and principled ecumenical direction. The journey to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is far shorter from a catholic than a sectarian tradition. The FV is not generally given to overblown polemics against every theological tradition that differs from the Reformed and appreciates reading material produced by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox. It can open one’s eyes to the fact that there are actually some pretty fine Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians out there and that, despite a number of failings, they are often far better on certain issues than their Reformed counterparts. Differences remain, but they are put into a far more realistic perspective.

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John H on what lies beneath debates about Mary. He also raises the issue of the presence of the Eucharist in John’s gospel for discussion.
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The most blogged passages of Scripture [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].
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Christianity Today has its 2007 book awards.
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Encouraging signs from Dennis Hou’s blog.
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Edward Cook watches LOST with Hebrew subtitles.
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Best selling books of all time [HT: Kim Riddlebarger]
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118 ways to save money in college
Learn a new language with a podcast
Learn the 8 essential tie knots

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New music from The New Pornographers [HT: Macht]
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A third of bloggers risk the sack
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Life as a secret Christian convert
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Global Peace Index Rankings (if you are looking for the US it is down at 96 between Yemen and Iran)
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A wonderful new site where grandmothers share films of some of their favourite recipes.
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Boy kills a ‘monster pig’ [HT: Jon Barlow]
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Some Youtube videos.

George Lucas in Love

Five Hundred Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Pete Doherty queues for an Oasis album. It is sad to see how messed up he has become since then.

Finally, from my fellow St. Andrews Divinity student, Jon Mackenzie, comes ‘The Barthman’s Deck-laration’

NTW Lecture on the Purpose and Use of Doctrines

On May 2nd I had the opportunity to hear N.T. Wright deliver a lecture on the subject ‘Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture’, here in St. Andrews. I am not the fastest note-taker, and so the following is a rough reconstruction of the basis gist of Wright’s lecture, based on my sketchy notes. For this reason they really should not be used as a point of reference for Wright’s thought.

Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture

NT WrightThe first half of the paper will be primarily methodical; the second half primarily exegetical. We currently face a puzzle of perception. There are those in the Church who are troubled by what they see as the hardening of theology into dry doctrine. Scripture, they believe, brings life, not ‘doctrine’. Scripture can often function like a favourite movie or symphony for them. For others, however, Scripture has become as dry as doctrine itself. Extended prayer and praise meetings are what they regard as important — the Spirit. In addition to such people there are those who love dogmatic theology and are bored by labyrinthine exegesis.

We need to recover an understanding of Scripture in the light of narrative. One can almost anticipate the sighs of some hearers of this lecture. Narrative theology is so passé. They are even giving it up in Yale! However, a narrative structure is very clearly present in Scripture. This stands in contrast to the Gnostic gospels. Lacking such a narrative they would quite likely function as a cuckoo in the nest of the canon. Genesis to Revelation is one massive narrative. The various writers of Scripture, particularly the earlier ones, can be compared to engineers from many different workshops producing the many nuts, bolts and cantilevers that would eventually come together to form the Forth Bridge, something far bigger than anything that they could have envisaged.

When we read Paul we need to read him as one who thinks Scripture. His mind is full of the Scriptural narrative (and the various subnarratives) and he regards himself as one who inhabits the big narrative that Scripture presents us with. As we read Paul we need to ask how he can function as Scripture for us. When we read Scripture are we really looking for Scripture itself, or are we merely looking for something else — such as doctrine or devotion — that we try to mould Scripture into.

As a suggested way forward for our thinking on this matter, perhaps we should start to think of doctrines as akin to ‘portable narratives’. Doctrines are like suitcases that enable us to transport longer narratives from A to B. However, like suitcases they need to be continually packed and unpacked. Sometimes we need to, in order to address important questions that the Church faces in the course of its mission, to speak about the meaning of Jesus’ death. On such occasions it is better to say ‘atonement’ than have to give a more long-winded statement.

However, as a note at this point, it is important to remember that, when Jesus wanted to teach His disciples about the meaning of His death, He didn’t give them a ‘doctrine of atonement’. Rather, He gave them a meal. When we think about the atonement we need to recognize that the Eucharist is the grid of interpretation that we have been given.

Creeds can be compared to portable stories. Although some have treated them as such, creeds are not like ‘checklists’, arranged in no particular order. Rather, they follow a clear narrative order, telling, in broad brush outline, a story that begins in creation and reaches its climax in Christ. They are telescoped narratives. If we leave our suitcases unpacked for long periods of time there is always a danger that the contents will become mildewed. The same is the case with the creeds. We must always be prepared to ‘unpack’ the narrative of the creeds.

One of the purposes that the creeds serve is that of enabling the narrative to function as a ‘symbol’, as something that we can subscribe to. Doctrines also enable us to more adequately defend the narratives from attacks at key points.

The packing and unpacking that we are here speaking of can be observed within the text of Scripture itself. Paul frequently packs and unpacks his narrative. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:56 we find the terse statement, ‘The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.’ This is a very closely-packed version of what Paul unpacks, expands and lays out in detail in Romans 7. We see much the same ending in Romans 7:25 as we do in 1 Corinthians 15:57. The packing and unpacking of doctrines, then, is not just something that the Church does; Scripture does it too.

It is possible to treat dogmas as items on a checklist in a way that detaches them from any narrative framework. It is also possible to place them into the wrong narrative. Dogmas are like the dots on a dot to dot puzzle. The dots by themselves are not enough; they must be joined up in the correct order. Implicit narrative is all-important. If we put our doctrines into the wrong narrative we can end up falsifying them. This is very significant when we come to the doctrine of the atonement. We must recognize that it is the story of Israel that drives the NT and Jesus himself. This is what Paul means by ‘according to the Scriptures’. The cross isn’t merely predicted by isolated proof-texts within the OT, but is the fulfillment of the entire OT narrative of Israel. This can be very hard for those who think in terms of a creation-fall-Jesus pattern to understand. However, if we miss out Israel we are in danger of becoming Marcionite in our thinking and losing out in such areas as ecclesiology.

Some understand the divinity of Christ in terms of a ‘Superman’ type narrative. Others understand the Second Coming in terms of the narrative of the rapture. These are examples of ways in which our implicit narratives can falsify or distort doctrines. The doctrine of atonement is a self-involving doctrine. Whilst all doctrines are to some extent self-involving, atonement is more so. It is about reconciliation with God and outside of the context of reconciliation with God it can never be properly understood. The atonement is not just an ‘involving’ doctrine in the sense of being something that we must mentally and emotionally commit ourselves to. The truth of the atonement is embodied in the practice of the Eucharist.

Unlike those who adopt the ‘checklist’ mentality, we need to recognize that not all ‘doctrines’ are the same sort of thing. For instance, ‘the doctrine of the Trinity’ is not necessarily the same sort of thing as ‘the doctrine of the resurrection’. Particular doctrines are, to some extent, sui generis.

It is interesting to observe that, whilst Paul mentions the cross all the time, he never gives it any expanded treatment. This contrasts to the way in which Paul unpacks the doctrine of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. The cross is woven deep into the fabric of 2 Corinthians, for instance, but it is always treated in connection with other doctrines.

The book of Romans is about the δικαιοσυνη θεου (righteousness of God). It is about God’s addressing the problem of humanity and of Israel to keep the covenant. The significance of Israel in this picture is that Abraham was going to be the one through whom God was going to set right that which went wrong in Adam. However, it seems that God’s purpose for Israel has failed. Traditional readings generally fail to see this and, as a result, marginalize sections like 9-11, 2:17-29 and 3:1-9. Subtly different questions than those of Paul are brought to the text.

In his approach to the cross in Romans, Paul seems to take traditional statements concerning the cross as the basis for his argument in such places as 3:21-26. In the early chapters of Romans Paul demonstrates the failure of Israel to be the light of the Gentiles and the reality of universal sin. God’s plan seems to have collapsed. In 3:21-26 Paul gives an exposition of the manner in which God has been faithful to His covenant in dealing with sin.

It is unfashionable to go to the book of Acts in order to discover Paul’s theology, but the parallel between the reference to passing over sins in Romans 3:25 and statements made by Paul in Acts 14 and 17, where Paul speaks of the times of ignorance of the Gentiles, are interesting. Romans 3:21-26 does not give us a generalized statement of atonement, but rather declares how, in the present time, God is dealing with Jews and Gentiles.

Has the traditional argument just taken a wise course of action, by cutting to what it has deemed to be the ‘heart of the matter’? The problem here is that we run the risk of forcing texts onto the Procrustean bed of our own assumptions. Our eagerness for ‘doctrine’ can result in the muting of the Jew/Gentile point that was so important for Paul.

Later in the epistle, Paul goes on to claim that the death of Jesus demonstrates the sovereign love of the Father. From this we can deduce the fact of final salvation. While we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were enemies, Christ died for us. Paul spells this out in terms of Christ’s obedience, a Pauline theme of which the Reformed emphasis on the active obedience of Christ turns out to be a parody. Whilst we can agree with the Reformed doctrine in what it is trying to say, it misses Paul’s point. We needn’t lose the idea of imputed righteousness, but we will get it back within a larger framework, which might threaten some pet assumptions.

In Romans 8:3 Paul speaks of God speaking sentence on Sin itself, not just sins, or sinners. This is the clearest statement of penal substitution in the epistle. God condemned Sin (not Christ); Christ has borne the sentence. What is the larger argument within which this is the turning point? The larger underlying argument is that of the role played by the God-given Torah in Romans 7. Sin does its worst in Israel and will be dealt with there. In the ινα of 5:20 and 7:13 we see that this was God’s purpose all the way along. God’s purpose was to make Israel the place to raise Sin to its height. Torah heightens, rather than alleviating, the problem, turning sins into transgression. God then passes sentence on Sin at the point at which it has been gathered together. The cross then brings into effect the larger purpose of God (Romans 5:21). The story that Paul is telling here is far bigger than the one that has been told by many of his interpreters.

How can this be relevant to the sinner on the street? The significance of this narrative is often implicit and assumed. When you are talking to a person on their deathbed you would not usually discuss the question of why God gave the Law in the first place (although you never know!). If you were going to mention the Israel dimension of the story you might focus more on the truth of God’s faithfulness through death, using Abraham and others as illustrations of God’s trustworthiness. It is worth noticing that, when Paul presents the gospel to pagan Gentiles, his message usually takes a different form to that which we see in the epistles.

In the rest of Romans we see that the cross is not mentioned in 9-11. However, it is implicit throughout. The cross is far wider in meaning than one particular account of how human individuals can be saved.

The frustration experienced by dogmaticians and exegetes when faced with each other’s objections is quite understandable (exegetes and dogmaticians may just be two different types of people). Rather than trying to get at supposedly Pauline ‘doctrines’, we should focus on his larger narrative arguments. ‘Atonement’ is not the primary thing that Paul is talking about. We must read Paul in the context of his implicit narratives. We should never protect Paul from this story. We need to rethink the way that we engage with Scripture. Scripture is not merely a peg to hook ‘doctrines’ on. We need to listen to Scripture when it disagrees with us or we don’t understand it. The faultline that so often exists between Scripture and doctrine can only be overcome by the authority of Scripture being exercised in such a way.

Links

This morning I finished my last exam of the semester. It is a great relief to have finally completed this year at St. Andrews. It has been considerably less productive than the year before (I suspect that there has been a downward trend in my productivity for over three years now, which is rather depressing) and I look forward to really putting my back into the work for my final year. My results haven’t suffered that much, but I would like to have a bit more to show for my time.

In a few days’ time — possibly after I return to St. Andrews next Tuesday — I hope to start posting the subject of the atonement, a subject which will probably dominate this blog over the summer. However, it has been well over a month since I last posted a links post, and I thought that I would mark my return to regular service with a bumper collection of some of the things that have caught my attention over the last month or so.

Matt Colvin’s Fragmenta blog has always been a personal favourite. Matt has been posting some great material recently. Two posts in particular that I have enjoyed: ‘Baptism for Forgiveness in Acts 2:38′ (an analysis of the grammatical arguments put forward by some to avoid a close relationship between Baptism and forgiveness in that passage) and ‘Examine Yourselves: Testing in Corinth and Crete’ (in which Matt challenges the introspective understanding of ‘examine yourselves’ through a careful examination of the Greek). Both posts give a voice to texts that have all too often fallen prey to theological agendas.

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I am not sure that I agree with all of Josh S’s propositions, but Proposition 5 (’If your theology makes you uncomfortable with biblical language, your theology needs to change’) is, in my experience, one of the most important principles that I have ever learned. I seem to remember that my father first taught me this principle over several years’ ago.
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Stephen Carlson links to some helpful posts with advice for honing your academic writing. Such honing is long overdue in my case. Perhaps something to devote some time to over the summer.
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As usual there is a wealth of quality posting on Peter Leithart’s blog. Over the last month Leithart has posted a number of things that may be of interest to NTW fans: ‘Five Points of NT Wright’, ‘Paul and Israel’, ‘Justification and Community’ and a lengthy PDF document: Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.

Leithart also has a number of other helpful posts that address FV debates, including ‘Perichoretic Imagination’, ‘Theological Imagination’, ‘Grace’, ‘Denying the Gospel’ and a guest post by James Jordan, ‘Justification and Glorification’.

There are also a number of other interesting and thought-provoking posts, including ‘Faith and Grace’ (about different ways of conceiving of the relationship between faith and grace, with particular reference to the practice of infant Baptism), ‘Justification and Purity’ (in which he mentions Chris VanLandingham’s recent work and his argument that justification language has to do more with ’state of being’ than with ’status’ — perhaps a challenging case for the application of Josh’s fifth proposition) and ‘Rites Controversy’ (some thoughts on the relationship between traditional Chinese practices and the Christian faith in the 17th and 18th centuries).

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Mark Goodacre posts on the subject of PhDs in the UK and US (something that is playing on my mind at the moment too). He also links to a Guardian article on recent trouble at Wycliffe Hall.
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Jason Fout posts on the subject of living with questions.
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NTW on Jerry Falwell. There are also a number of new audio lectures linked from the N.T. Wright Page:

Putting the World to Rights
God’s Restorative Program
Godpod 16
Godpod 17

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James White links to a — presumably heavily critical — series on the NPP.
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Mark posts a lengthy grand unifying Lost theory. I must confess to being cheered by recent developments on the show; for a while I was concerned that it may have jumped the shark.
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On Ben Myers blog: ‘Ten Propositions on Being a Minister’ and a plug for Mike Bird’s new book on the NPP (which looks extremely helpful).
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Ben also links to this lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams, something that I really must read when I have the time.
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Bill Kesatie asked me to respond to this post on the subject of sexual abuse of children within churches. Bill suggests that blogging Christians need to be more vocal about this matter. I suggest that the teaching of Ephesians 5:11-12 is important to keep in mind here:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

In our day and age there is virtually no sin so evil that it cannot be spoken of and discussed (almost literally) ad nauseum. There is a sort of unhealthy fascination with perversion that can develop in such a manner, a sort of urge to stoop and sniff the faeces. People who spend a lot of time talking and thinking about sin are in a very dangerous position for this reason. Even though they may condemn the sin in the strongest possible language, there is something about it that arouses their interest.

I am a firm believer in the importance of certain taboos. There are certain things that it is unfitting to talk about. Where sexual abuse of children takes place it is healthy to literally feel sick in the pit of your stomach. Our reaction should be one of deep revulsion. Wherever such sin occurs the Scriptures call us to expose it as a work of darkness. Such an approach of exposing sin has, tragically, not always been followed in Christian contexts. Sin has on occasions been covered up, something which is utterly inexcusable.

The biblical command to expose sin should not, however, be confused with the idea of having a public conversation about such sin. I am shocked by the idea that Christian bloggers should be expected to post condemnations of the sin of child abuse within churches; condemnations are the means by which people who fail to live lives of transparent godliness tend to assert their morality. The fact that we are called upon to condemn such appalling sins suggests that such sins are less than unspeakable and unthinkable to the people of God. Biblically, the Church exposes darkness, not chiefly by condemning it with public statements, but by living as the light of the world.

For this reason, rather than post a condemnation of unspeakable sin, I would prefer to post a challenge for us to be the sort of people for whom such sin truly is unspeakable and unthinkable, for us to be people whose utter rejection of such sin is so completely manifested by the way that we deal with it when it occurs that any further words would merely detract from the fulness of its condemnation.

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Jon Barlow posts on Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens and their current debate. His thoughts on Doug Wilson are very close to my own.
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A couple of weeks ago, Barbara tagged me in the seven things you didn’t know about me meme. Here goes:

1. In my first school play at the age of five I was an angel. Midway through the play the elastic on my trousers broke and the crowd were amused and distracted by my attempts to hide the fact and hold them up. My teacher was not too impressed.

2. I went on strike for a day in primary school, because I was annoyed that the supply teacher was a smoker. The primary school that I attended was a small Church of Ireland school, with four years to each room. My younger brother Jonathan was in the same room as me for a couple of years. As a rather absent-minded kid, he was constantly getting into trouble with the teacher. On one occasion when he was being lectured to (and pyschoanalyzed) by the teacher at the front of the class I felt so strongly that he was being treated unfairly that I wrote a letter of protest and handed it around my classmates. It was intercepted and my mind has long sought to suppress the memories of the resulting experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson on that occasion and, in secondary school I wrote another letter of protest to a teacher, which led to a session in the principal’s office.

3. The first album I ever bought was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. I still enjoy listening to it today, but at the time, I would have probably been better off had I not bought it as it was, to some extent, a means by which I could rebel against my parents.

4. I have never broken a bone, although I have sprained each of my ankles several times. When I injure myself it is usually playing football or riding my bike. The last time it was a badly sprained ankle. The time before, I slipped on dog doo and cracked my forehead on a brick wall. Unfortunately, the manner of my fall was so amusing that, looking up in my dazed state, all I saw were my friends looking down at me and laughing.

5. I have needle phobia. I feel rather annoyed at myself for having such an irrational fear. Whilst I have faced my fear on a number of occasions in having injections or in donating blood, I haven’t been able to shake the fear itself.

6. I started balding at the age of 16. I noticed about 10 years before some other people did. I guess that you don’t see what you don’t expect to see (and some people are not the most observant).

7. Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist, a soldier, a pilot, a missionary or a maths teacher. Frankly, I probably had a better idea then than I do now.

If you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

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Dr Jim West mentions a forthcoming book by Richard Bauckham, which looks very interesting, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John.
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John H has two great posts with thoughts from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: ‘Surging, hopeful, joyful doubt’ and ‘The puzzling mystery of unbelief’. He also has a post, entitled ‘The gospel “under the papacy”‘, which he begins with the remark: ‘One irony of becoming a Lutheran was that it greatly improved my opinion of the Roman Catholic Church.’ Very interesting.
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Kevin Bywater has a great series of posts on the subject of sinlessness in Second Temple Judaism:

Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (2 - Gathercole’s Wise Words)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (3 - D. Falk on Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (4 - Other Texts)

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Mercersberg Review articles available online.
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Angie Brennan posts the ‘Screwtape E-mails’.
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Some interesting things from lifehacker:

Top ten sites for free books
Learning the finer points of punctuation
Top 10 body hacks

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A very interesting article on the Bible in the global South.
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A new blog: The Reformed News. Looks interesting.
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Finally, some gleanings from Youtube.

I got myself a copy of the Arcade Fire’s most recent album and have been listening to it incessantly over the last month. Here is a performance of the title track:

If you haven’t seen the Potter Pals before, this is a lot of fun (or you may find it incredibly annoying and stupid):

Finally, a powerful speech by Bono:

Almost Over

At the moment I am sitting in front of a desk with hundreds of Hebrew flashcards laid out in front of me. In three days’ time I will have finished my last exam of this semester. So far, I am satisfied with how things have gone. I received a paper back and took an exam on Johannine literature and was relatively pleased with how both went. Every time exams come around, I am a little less stressed about them. Even when I have been grossly underprepared I have never failed to fall on my feet. I just hope that I don’t get too complacent and trip up at the last moment.

I can’t wait until this exam is over. There are so many things that I am itching to do. My blogging has been sparse and uneven of late and I look forward to posting a bit more consistently over the summer. I am thinking of devoting particular attention to the subject of the atonement in the next few months, reviewing and interacting with a number of books and addressing the issues from a variety of differing perspectives. I intend to have a wide-ranging discussion on the subject. I will attempt to take a constructive approach, engaging with, but moving beyond some of the more familiar debates that we have on the subject, to explore new and potentially fertile territory. I also hope to have a number of participating guest posters, providing a number of differing perspectives on the issues. If anyone is interested, please feel free to e-mail me at 40bicycles-at-gmail-dot-com. I hope to have reviews of various lengths for at least a dozen or more books on the subject of the atonement and to have posts of various lengths discussing various dimensions of the subject.

Next Thursday I will be going to Stoke-on-Trent and spending a few days there, to visit family and attend a friend’s wedding. I will be back in St. Andrews for the entirety of June. I have a large pile of books that I want to get my teeth into and really can’t wait to get started. If the weather is good, I suspect that I will spend a lot of time studying down on the beach.

Anyway, I must return to my Hebrew revision. Lord-willing, I will post again on Tuesday.

In Which Theobloggers Engage in a Mutual Backslapping Fest and Alastair Invites his Readers to Join In

This Top Theology Blogs list has been doing the rounds over the last few days. Since I don’t have time to write anything worthwhile, as I am in the middle of my revision period for a Hebrew exam next week, I thought that I would post this. Enjoy!

Birth Pangs and New Birth as a Model for the Atonement and Resurrection

Matthias Grünewald - Isenheim Altar, Christ's birth and resurrection panels, 1515

Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. — John 16:20-22

In these verses Jesus employs the image of the birth pangs of a woman in labour, imagery that is common in the OT prophets, where it is also occasionally used to refer to a period of intense suffering preceding a new age (similar usage is also to be found in extracanonical Jewish literature). In the prophets the image of labour pains followed by birth is associated with resurrection (Isaiah 26:16-21) and with the restoration of the people of God (Isaiah 66:8-14).

The strong eschatological associations of such imagery are not accidental to the meaning of this passage. Nor should this passage be detached from the general theme of new birth that appears at various points of the gospel of John. The popular employment of the language of new birth and regeneration can blind us to the primary focus of the teaching of new birth in Scripture, which is not a spiritual transformation in the heart of the new convert but the death and resurrection of Christ.

The death and resurrection of Christ represent a watershed in history. The death of Christ was the definitive death of the old world order. Since then the old creation has been passing away and the new creation born in the resurrection has been advancing. The first person to born again was Jesus Christ, when He became the firstborn from the dead in His resurrection. The new birth experienced by the new convert is an entry into the new life of Christ’s resurrection.

In the OT no one was born again. From dust they were born and to dust they returned. Naked people came from their mother’s wombs and naked they returned there. The re-entry into the womb (the earth and the womb are habitually related together in the OT — Job 1:21; Psalm 139:13-15; Ecclesiastes 5:15) was by death and no one had come out again on the other side. The cursed womb of the earth seemed barren; the seed continually entered into its belly, but no fruit came forth (cf. Proverbs 30:15-16).

John employs the imagery of the woman in labour in the context of a broader inaugurated eschatology. For John the birth pangs begin in Jesus’ death; the birth itself is presumably the resurrection. A surface reading of the text might suggest that the birth pangs are undergone by the disciples; closer examination suggests a more complex picture.

Particularly significant are the words ‘because her hour has come’. Throughout the gospel of John the theme of Jesus’ coming hour is prominent, and no more so than in the chapters just prior to the crucifixion account. It is our conviction that the woman in John 16 represents Israel, undergoing the travail that will result in the birth of a new age. Her birth pangs are focused on the cross of Jesus, but are also experienced to some degree by the disciples.

Who is the new child that is born? It seems to me that the new child is Christ Himself. We find this position convincing in the light of the strong Johannine and NT connection between resurrection and new birth. In Revelation 1:5 Jesus is described as the firstborn of the dead. This understanding of the resurrection is also to be observed in Lucan (Acts 13:33) and Pauline (Romans 1:3-4; Colossians 1:18) thought. Such a teaching is not treated as if it were in tension with the fact that Jesus is truly the Son of God before the resurrection. Jesus is the both the one who precedes the creation as the eternally begotten of the Father and the one who leads the way into the new age as the firstborn of the dead. In Revelation 12 it also seems most likely that the birth referred to there takes place in the death and resurrection of Christ.

While the resurrected Christ is the most immediate referent of the newborn child, the image refers more broadly to the new birth of the people of God as a whole (cf. Isaiah 66:8; Revelation 12:17). It is through the birth pangs of the cross that the birth from above that Jesus speaks of in John 3 becomes a possibility.

This imagery is employed in a number of places in the NT outside of Johannine writings. In Romans 8, for instance, the imagery occurs within a context of inaugurated and awaited eschatology. The birth pangs are still taking place, but the manifestation of the sons of God is certain, as Jesus has already been declared to be the Son of God in His resurrection as the firstborn of the dead. Being sons of God is a matter of great eschatological significance for Paul. The fact that people are being set apart as the sons of God by the reception of the firstfruits of the Spirit is a sign that the last days have come upon us.

Understanding the death and resurrection of Christ in terms of birth pangs and new birth provides us with an illuminating perspective on the death of Christ, one that is present at a number of points in the NT, but has not received much attention. It is a model of atonement that focuses on the giving of new life. Within this model (which undoubtedly needs to be complemented by others) sin and death are overcome not by means of punishment, but by the bringing about of new life. Birth pangs may be an effect of the Fall, but the focus of this model is not on punishing man for sin or condemning sin, but on overcoming the death and the frustration of the creation that result from human sin.

Evangelical doctrines of the atonement often have the tendency of detaching the cross from the resurrection and becoming focused on the condemnation of the sins of the past, saying a lot less about how the cross and resurrection bring about new life. We are left merely as forgiven sinners, rather than as participants in a new creation. Such models — which should by no means be rejected — are generally backward looking, focusing on past transgressions. The model outlined above is more forward looking, placing a far greater accent on the resurrection.

This model also ties in very neatly with themes and motifs that are very prominent in the OT. I have already observed how it relates to imagery that is found in a number of places in the prophets. It relates to the common OT theme of God’s overcoming of barrenness to bring forth the seed. Even more significantly, it relates to the unravelling of the curse and the fulfilment of the protoevangelium far more closely than many other models. It relates to the curse on the woman’s womb, the curse on the ground and the overcoming of death.

Significantly, this theme does not merely show the cross and resurrection as the reversal of the curse. The curse stacks all the odds against new birth, but it is not the reason why new birth is necessary. New birth is necessary because the creation must mature. The heavenly must take the place of the earthly (1 Corinthians 15:35-54). The recent film Children of Men well illustrates the dystopic reality of a world of death without new birth. In such a world, all that remains is the agonizing cry of the woman who can bring forth nothing but wind. In the resurrection the world of the first creation is glorified. The natural body is sown and the spiritual body is raised and there is a future for the world once more.

The model outlined above presents us with a natural image — that of giving birth — in order to help us to understand what takes place at the cross. Even apart from the dimension of the overcoming of the curse and barrenness of the womb of the earth, such new birth of the Spirit would have been necessary even in a world apart from sin. Such a ‘natural’ image for what takes place at the cross also suggests how what takes place at the cross may be analogous to the eternal begetting of the Son, which provides the eternal condition of its possibility. Christ is the one who is eternally begotten by the Father through the Spirit and He is the one in whom new birth by the Father through the Spirit becomes a possibility for us in history. The death and resurrection thus mirror to some extent the eternal processions of the Trinity.

In Which Alastair selects Five Thinking Bloggers and is Disturbed to Discover that he has a Doppelganger

Byron has just tagged me in the thinking blogger meme. I thought that I would post my list and give myself this day off my month-long hiatus. It has been some time since I last posted anything worth reading.

So, without further ado, my selection for five thinking blogs (in no particular order):

1. Fragmenta — I love thought-provoking exegetical insights and Matt Colvin’s blog is one of the best places to go for these.

2. Leithart.com — As far as thinking blogs go, Peter Leithart’s is almost without peer.

3. Sacra Doctrina — Joel Garver, when he is not ‘going Garver’, is one the most stimulating and level-headed bloggers out there.

4. Faith and Theology — It would be hard to deny Ben Myers a place on any such list.

5. Smilax — Dennis Hou has been MIA for much of 2007, but when he is blogging, his posts are often the ones that I most look forward to reading.

Drawing up such a list has not been easy. There are many people who came close to inclusion: Cynthia Nielsen, Al Kimel, John H, John Barach, and the horror that is Chris Tilling.

On the subject of theology blogs, I had the most disturbing experience yesterday. Barbara Harvey drew my attention to this blog. The writer of this blog is named Alastair Roberts and lives in Edinburgh, little over an hour’s drive away from where I am in St. Andrews. He is a fan of N.T. Wright and has recently blogged on the way that Wright is being treated within the PCA and on his recent article on penal substitution. Having seen my doppelganger, I suddenly feel at least 15% less ‘Alastair’ than I did beforehand.

NTW on Penal Substitution Debates

The following is a brief intermission in my month-long hiatus…

N.T. Wright has just written an article that brilliantly captures many of my feelings about current evangelical debates about penal substitution, which is currently causing all sorts of splits and disagreements in evangelical circles in the UK. He also addresses critics of the doctrine and clarifies where he stands in relation to the work of Steve Chalke, for example.

There are few things that frustrate me more than evangelical debates about penal substitution. I am convinced, with Wright, that, whilst they capture something of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement, most evangelical penal substitution accounts are woefully sub-biblical. All too often they consist of some decontextualized prooftexts loosely strung together by a rather abstract theological theory and fall far short of the rich and multifaceted story that the Scriptures present us with. Although I am persuaded of the truth of penal substitution, I usually feel that such theories are not a whole lot better than many of the accounts given by those who deny penal substitution altogether. I have also come to realize that evangelical rhetoric often merely masks a lack of receptive engagement with Scripture. It may seem strange to some, but I am increasingly coming to the conviction that, if receptivity to the Scriptures is what I am looking for, I might be better off reading some good Roman Catholics as, somewhat ironically, they are often less invested in the perfect truth of their tradition than many evangelicals are.

The following are some quotes from Wright’s article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

And I was put in mind of a characteristically gentle remark of Henry Chadwick, in his introductory lectures on doctrine which I attended my first year in Oxford. After carefully discussing all the various theories of atonement, Dr Chadwick allowed that there were of course some problems with the idea of penal substitution. But he said, ‘until something like this has been said, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the full story has not yet been told.’ For myself, I prefer to go with Henry Chadwick, and James Denney – and Wesley and Watts, and Cranmer and Hooker, and Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas – and Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John – and, I believe Jesus himself. To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.

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What then do I mean by saying that Pierced for Our Transgressions is deeply unbiblical? Just this: it abstracts certain elements from what the Bible actually says, elements which are undoubtedly there and which undoubtedly matter, but then places them within a different framework, which admittedly has a lot in common with the biblical one, but which, when treated as though it were the biblical one, becomes systematically misleading. An illustration I have often used may make the point. When a child is faced with a follow-the-dots puzzle, she may grasp the first general idea – that the point is to draw a pencil line joining the dots together and so making a picture – without grasping the second – that the point is to draw the lines according to the sequence of the numbers that go with each dot. If you ignore the actual order of the numbers, you can still join up all the dots, but you may well end up drawing, shall we say, a donkey instead of an elephant. Or you may get part of the elephant, but you may get the trunk muddled up with the front legs. Or whatever. Even so, it is possible to join up all the dots of biblical doctrines, to go down a list of key dogmas and tick all the boxes, but still to join them up with a narrative which may well overlap with the one the Bible tells in some ways but which emphatically does not in other ways. And that is, visibly and demonstrably, what has happened in Pierced for Our Transgressions, at both large and small scale.

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But the biggest, and most worrying, unbiblical feature of Pierced for Our Transgressions is the outright refusal to have anything seriously to do with the gospels. This is a massive problem, which I believe to be cognate with all kinds of other difficulties within today’s church, not least within today’s evangelicalism. There is no space here to open up this question more than a very little. Let me just tell it as I see it on reading this new book.

I was startled, to begin with, at the fact that the foundational chapter, entitled ‘Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution’, has precisely six pages on the Gospel of Mark, a good bit of which consists of lengthy biblical quotations, and four on John. And that’s it for the gospels. I don’t disagree with most of those ten pages, but it is truly astonishing that a book like this, claiming to offer a fairly full-dress and biblically-rooted doctrine of the meaning of the cross, would not only omit Matthew and Luke, and truncate Mark and John so thoroughly (sifting them for prooftexts, alas), but would ignore entirely the massive and central question of Jesus’ own attitude to his own forthcoming death, on the one hand, and the way in which the stories the evangelists tell are themselves large-scale interpretations of the cross, on the other. One would not know, from this account, that there was anything to all this other than Mark 10.45 (‘the Son of Man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many’) and a few other key texts, such as the ‘cup’ which Jesus prayed might pass, but which he eventually drank.

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I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn’t know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate ‘Paul’ (inverted commas, because it is their reading of Paul, rather than the real thing, that they elevate) and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus’ stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected. And this, sadly, chimes in with other impressions I have received from elsewhere within the same theological stable – with, for instance, the suggestion that since Paul’s epistles give us ‘the gospel’ while ‘the Gospels’ simply give us stories about Jesus, we shouldn’t make the reading of the latter into the key moment in the first half of the Communion Serice. (In case anyone should rub their eyes in disbelief, I have actually heard this seriously argued more than once in the last year or two.)

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There are large issues here of theological method and biblical content, all interacting with other large issues of contemporary hermeneutics: would I be totally wrong, for instance, to see some of the horrified reaction to Steve Chalke, and to some of the ‘Emerging Church’ reappropriation of the gospels, as a reaction, not so much against what is said about the atonement, but against the idea, which is powerfully present in the gospels, that God’s kingdom is coming, with Jesus, ‘on earth as in heaven’, and that if this is so we must rethink several cherished assumptions within the western tradition as a whole? Might it not be the case that the marginalisation of the four gospels as serious theological documents within Western Christianity, not least modern evangelicalism, is a fear that if we took them seriously we might have to admit that Jesus of Nazareth has a claim on our political life as well as our spiritual life and ‘eternal destiny’? And might there not be a fear, among those who are most shrill in their propagation of certain types of ‘penal substitution’, that there might be other types of the same doctrine which would integrate rather closely with the sense that on the cross God passed sentence on all the human powers and authorities that put Jesus there? John 18 and 19 as a whole (and not only in individual words and phrases), and 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 2 as wholes, have an enormous amount to say about the biblical meaning of the cross which you would never, ever guess from reading Pierced for Our Transgressions and other works like it.

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Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who ‘searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’, instead of ‘knowing’ in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn’t made it so obscure!).

As I have already suggested, read the whole article for yourself.

Alastair.Adversaria will return in a month’s time (perhaps)

Lenten Guest Post - Day 39 - A Humble King Crowned with Thorns

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ — John 19:1-5

Have you ever wondered why the soldiers chose a crown of thorns? After all, they could have constructed the crown from a number of other materials. Yet, the crown of thorns seems purposed, that is, it draws us back to the Genesis and the series of curses that resulted when our first parents fell. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Gen 3:17-18). As Jesus begins to walk the path that leads to his death by crucifixion, we have a glimpse here of how he, the true guiltless Man, will take the curse, our curse upon Himself. The scene is shot through with irony—Pilate, the image of a false and corrupt “king,” presenting the true King as a helpless prisoner and eventually condemning Him to die. Likewise, we see Jesus, the Lord of creation, the perfect image of God, who unlike Adam and Eve, listened the voice of the Father in humble obedience even to the point of death on a Cross—this Jesus, Pilate proclaims is the true man (talk about meanings going beyond the intention of the author/speaker), and indeed He is—the icon of God who makes the invisible God visible, who opens blind eyes, softens hard hearts and who gives life to the dead. Yet, the One through whom all things were made and who, came to His own, finds His own in rebellion against Him. In fact, they even weave together a crown of thorns and dress Him in a purple robe to mock Him. What is our Lord’s response to this? Does He lash out and call down legions of angels to wipe out the rebels? No. The innocent, yet true King, crowned with signs of creation’s curse, stands silent and walks the path that was both His destiny and our blessing. Behold the Man!

Cynthia Nielsen is graduate student at the University of Dallas and an adjunct philosophy instructor at Eastfield College. Her interests include jazz guitar and Russian language and literature. She blogs at Per Caritatem.

Links

Believe it or not, I really meant it when I said (about a month and a half ago now) that I had no intention of reducing my input on this blog to that of posting long lists of links. I apologize for the continued lack of substantial posting. Hopefully this will change sometime soon. However, I won’t make any promises, as I have not the best track-record of keeping blogging promises. What do you, my reader, think of my link posts? Should I stop them or make them more occasional? Are they worth reading or would you prefer me to do something different with my blogging time? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye online over the last couple of days:

Matt Colvin, whose Lenten reflection was posted on this blog yesterday, posts further thoughts on his blog on the Last Supper and on Gethsemane. He also has posted some posts that are relevant to the interminable FV debates: ‘Dead Orthodoxy’ and ‘Head on a Platter’.

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The Fearsome Pirate has returned! He kicks off with a post on Lutheranism. Josh, we’ve missed you.
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Leithart posts on the subject of the consumer revolution and gives us quite a Girardian insight from an eighteenth century writer.
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On the subject of René Girard, Edward Oakes posts on Girard over on the First Things blog.
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Macht links to audio from Calvin College’s Faith and Music weekend. It looks interesting: Sylia Keesmaat, Lauren Winner, and a number of other speakers.
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If any of you are feeling like engaging in some extreme penance, Ben Myers links to a meme that might suit you. He also posts Kim Fabricius’s ‘Ten Propositions on Political Theology’, which Josh and Joel discuss over on the BHT.
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Stephen at the Thinkery links to a post with a series of accounts of anti-LGBT encounters. Whilst I believe that lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behaviour is sinful, I have long maintained that homophobia is real and ought to be shown up in all of its ugliness by Christians. Some of the stories recounted should give us food for thought.
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There are few examples of homophobia as extreme as that of the Westboro Baptist Church. The following is the first part of the BBC2 documentary, in which Louis Theroux meets the Phelps:

The other parts of the show are also available on Youtube — part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

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The audiobook of Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is available for free download from Christian Audio this month [HT: Tim Challies]. Don’t miss out!
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Why PowerPoint presentations don’t work [HT: David Field]. I feel vindicated: I have long viewed PowerPoint presentations with a mistrust bordering on antipathy.
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According to recent studies, Britain has 4.2million CCTV cameras - one for every 14 people in the country - and 20 per cent of all cameras globally.

It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily.

Read the whole article here [HT: David Field].

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Tearfund has a new report on churchgoing in the UK. There is some comment on the report on the BBC website. Graham Weeks posts some figures from the survey here.
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NTW’s Maundy Thursday sermon.
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The Placebo Diet [HT: The Evangelical Outpost]. I just need to know how to turn this finding in my favour.
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As usual the Evangelical Outpost has a number of other interesting links, which I thought that I would pass on:

100 aphorisms summarizing Calvin’s Institutes
Some classic insults
34 Reasons Why People Unsubscribe from your Blog (a quick scan confirms my suspicion that I have been guilty of the majority of these at some time or other)
The Internet weighs 2 ounces

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Some British teachers drop teaching the Holocaust and the Crsuades to avoid offending Muslims and other schools are challenged to change their teaching on the Arab-Israeli conflict by some theologically confused Christians [HT: Tim Challies]
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A skeptical ex-scientist describes the funding process for peer-reviewed research.
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Some more useful links from lifehacker:

How to Read a Scientific Research Paper
How to make yourself happier within the next hour
Google launches My Maps
Ditto: A useful Windows clipboard extension

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I am glad that I am not the only person who writes e-mails in this way:

Some of the other Youtube videos that have caught my attention over the last week include: LisaNova does 300!, Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.1 and Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.2.
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Jeffrey Overstreet asks whether movies are increasing our capacity to see, and whether the narrative of film distracts us too much from the visual dimension [HT: John Barach].
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And, on the topic of the poetry of cinema, I will conclude this links post with one of my favourite scenes from Spirited Away, which I watched yet again last night. It grows on me every time.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 38 - You Have Said It

Alastair has asked me to blog about something Jesus said during His earthly ministry. This being Lent, I thought it might be good to focus on something he repeats three times during the Passion week. Thrice Jesus answers a question by su eipas “you have said (it),” or su legeis “you say (it)”. With this reply, He is answering momentous questions: “Is it I [who am to betray you], Lord?” by Judas (Mt. 26:25); “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” by the High Priest (Mt. 26:64); and “You are the king of the Jews?” by Pilate (Mt. 27:11, Mk. 15:2, Lk. 23:3, Jn. 18:37). The reply to all three is mistranslated by many Bibles as “It is as you say,” i.e. a direct affirmation of the proposition put in the question. It is amusing to look at the NKJV and find “It is as you say” – the italics indicating the translators’ supplements.

David Daube, in an article on Judas, traces Jesus’ utterance to the Hebrew ‘amarta, which Strack-Billerbeck equate with wie du sagst, so ist es: “as you say, so it is.” But this is not the true meaning of the phrase. Daube cites an episode from t. B. K. Kelim 1:6, which concerns a dispute over whether a certain entrance to the Temple had required a washing of hands and feet. After the war with Rome, Rabbi Simon the Modest, in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, professed that he used to enter that particular gate without washing. “Whereupon Eliezer, a giant in learning and piety yet rudely domineering, asked him which was more esteemed, he or the High Priest. Simon kept silent. Eliezer: “You are ashamed to admit that the High Priest’s dog was more esteemed than you.” Simon: “Rabbi, you have said it.” Eliezer: “By the Temple service, they would break even the High Priest’s head with their clubs [were he to enter unwashed]; what would you do that the guard might not find you?”

R. Simon’s use of ‘amarta is a reply to Eliezer’s rude comparison of himself with the High Priest’s dog. It is a mistake to read it as “Yes, you’re absolutely right.” It is far more subtle than that: something more like, “I take no responsibility for the proposition you have just put. It came out of your mouth, not mine. To say more would be to cross a line into impropriety.”

Consider: a straight “Yep” would be absolutely inappropriate in Judas’ case. “One of you is going to betray me.” Judas: “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus: “Bingo.” This would be mere fatalism, not Biblical prophecy. Judas becomes a sort of Oedipus, betraying the Messiah malgré lui. But Jesus’ answer is a non-denial, not a straight affirmation. Judas will betray, but not because Jesus has compelled him.

The answers given on the witness stand before the Sanhedrin and Pilate would be less troublesome if they were reduced to “yes.” But there, too, Jesus has His reasons for evasion. Of course, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. And the reaction of His opponents to his use of su eipas is to treat it as a “yes.” But this is because in their eyes only a denial of His Messiahship would do. As for Pilate, N.T. Wright points out that his question is in the form of a statement: “You are the king of the Jews” – su ei ho basileus twn Ioudaiwn. The answer “Thou sayest” has a further nuance to it: You think you are asking, but you are in fact declaring. Pilate will end by writing Jesus’ title on a sign over His head.

Jesus’ answer before the Sanhedrin and Pilate is of a piece with the rest of His earthly ministry. He never denies His messiahship, but He seldom asserts it verbally. Rather, by His actions, He lets the Father and Spirit testify of Him, while He testifies of Them. Of course, He is the king of the Jews. But recall to what lengths he had gone to avoid oral professions of it. When John’s disciples asked him if He was the Coming One, “or do we wait for another”, Jesus directed them to “Tell John what you have seen and heard,” and adverted to His miracles and His preaching of the kingdom. When confronted by the Pharisees about the crowds who were hailing Him as Messiah, He replies that if they do not do it, the stones will cry out. He tells the Jews that “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true…There is one who testifies.” What wonder then that when on the witness stand, Jesus still refuses to testify? “You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, and sitting at the right hand of God.” The Father will vindicate Him. He does not need to argue His way to a “not guilty” verdict.

Klaas Schilder likes to point out that though Jesus is in the dock, it is really the Sanhedrin and Pilate who are on trial. Jesus is pronouncing sentence on them. He has come to Israel and done the works of His Father. All Israel is on trial to see what she thinks of God’s anointed. Peter passed the same test with his profession: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” and Jesus congratulated him. But then He immediately commanded his disciples to tell no one (Mt. 16:20).

The Jews of Jesus’ day took His reticience for a “yes”: “What further need of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.” But many modern Jews take it as a “no.” A. Kolatch, The Second Jewish Book of Why, p. 71:

Many Jewish scholars believe that Jesus considered himself a prophet only. They reject the contention of Christian scholars that when Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” in his preaching (first mentioned in Daniel 7:13, where the Aramaic phrase bar enash is used), he was referring to himself as the Messiah. The phrase “Son of Man,” in the Jewish view, is used in the third person, and more likely than not, when Jesus used the phrase he was referring to someone other than himself. Jewish scholars also point to the fact that there is little evidence in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) – the earliest account of the life of Jesus – that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah.

“Little evidence”?? What kind of evidence did Kolatch want? Miracles?

The trial continues to this day. Who do you say that He is?

Matt Colvin holds a PhD in Classics from Cornell University, and has published articles in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy and the Classical Quarterly. He has worked as a quarry truck driver, and a teacher at Mars Hill Academy in Cincinnati, OH (to which he will return this fall). He blogs at Fragmenta.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 37 - The Wounds of Job


What is the message of the book of Job, for those of us who are enduring unjust suffering? Perhaps we can hear what the Lord would tell us more clearly from summarizing the story from a slightly different angle.

Job was blameless and upright, and his righteousness was the boast of the angels of God. In the fullness of time, God humbled him to a lowly state, with Job becoming as poor as any man. Then God crushed him with horrible wounds in his flesh, so that he suffered agonizing pain. Though Job prayed that God’s wrath would be taken away from him, he finally resigned himself to God’s will - remaining obedient in the face of death.

His friends, who had once praised him, now hid their faces from him. They esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. They renounced him as wicked, and numbered him with the transgressors. The wrath of God was poured out on him. Job cried out to God for deliverance, but no help came. He had made great claims, as if he was in some special status before God, but events apparently proved that God’s affections were elsewhere.

His accusers were wrong. Job was more righteous than they ever knew, and in cursing Job, they had cursed God’s chosen agent – bringing God’s anger and judgment upon themselves. Yet Job himself, in the midst of his affliction, interceded and atoned for the sins of his friends, offering forgiveness for those who would come to him. In the end, God exalted Job to his former splendor. People came from far and wide to pay homage to him who the Lord had afflicted, laying treasures at his feet. And he brought many sons and daughters into glory.

In an almost stigmatic sense, Job was given the wounds of the Lord. Though he was blameless and upright from the beginning, his righteousness was elevated to a whole new level by participating in the redemption of the world.

What comfort is this to us who also suffer? I think of George MacDonald’s famous quote at the beginning of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain:

The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.

The curse of man becomes the gift of God, once we’ve drunk the cup to the bottom. It’s a hard and high calling, and we may scream to be left alone. Like Job, we may also cry, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him.” But we can take comfort in being in far better company than those who are at ease. Like Job, we must wait for our renewal to come, knowing that our redeemer lives. Then, though broken by despair, we will have our hearts kindled by a strangely familiar voice:

O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he will interpret to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself – including, of course, the testimony of the prophet Job.

Wonders for Oyarsa is a blog by a Christian computer professional preparing for cross-cultural work in East Asia. The purpose of the blog is to facilitate a journey through the Bible - reading it in its entirety, reflecting on it, honestly writing what comes to mind, welcoming conversation from all. The author hopes being swept up into this story will help him and others not take for granted the wonders of the story we humans inhabit.

Links

The FV discussion continues on unabated. Matt Colvin has some very good thoughts on the debate here (makes sure that you read the comments). Lane Keister suggests that ego is the main thing standing in the way of FV people repenting of their errors. The huge number of comments that follow his post make interesting reading. Meanwhile, the Presbyteer posts an overheard comment.

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Mark Goodacre and Dr Jim West continue to discuss the value of Wikipedia.
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Richard Mouw writes on Calvinism and sewage [HT: Prosthesis].
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Paul Duggan (who really needs to sort out his permalinks) puts forward the following statements for discussion:

1. Some Christians, because of their great faith or piety, are more effective than other Christians in begging God’s favors, say for healing the sick.

2. Since some Christians are of that sort, it is a good idea to ask them, in particular, to pray for you, say, if you are sick.

3. It is ok to think, in the back of your mind, “that man is righteous: his prayer will be partciularly effective for my sickness”

4. Doing so is not blasphemous, nor does it impinge upon the complete salvation we have in Christ.

***
Mererdith Kline’s works online [HT: Ros Clarke].
***
R.C. Sproul reviews N.T. Wright’s recent book, Evil and the Justice of God.
***
The good bishop is also in the news again, responding to a BBC Radio 4 show with the ‘controversial cleric’ Jeffrey John, who claims that the doctrine of penal substitution “is repulsive as well as nonsensical” and “makes God sound like a psychopath.” The Sunday Telegraph reports:

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about “love and truth”, not “wrath and punishment”. He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could “share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us”.

Church figures have expressed dismay at his comments, which they condemn as a “deliberate perversion of the Bible”. The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accused Mr John of attacking the fundamental message of the Gospel.

“He is denying the way in which we understand Christ’s sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life,” he said.

Bishop Wright criticised the BBC for allowing such a prominent slot to be given to such a provocative argument. “I’m fed up with the BBC for choosing to give privilege to these unfortunate views in Holy Week,” he said.

***
From Vern Poythress’s ‘The Church as a Family’, which I had occasion to read a few days ago:

[M]any evangelical churches today are seen primarily as lecture halls or preaching stations. People identify the church with its building, in contrast to the Biblical emphasis that those united to Christ are the real church. Moreover, the building is viewed merely as a place for hearing a sermon or enjoying religious entertainment. Such a view impoverishes our communal life as Christians. Certainly monologue sermons are important, since they are one means of bringing God’s Word to bear on the church. But God intends the church to be much more…

But in too many evangelical churches, people have little experience of the Biblical practice of common family life. There may also be no regard for the necessity of church discipline. The church leaders are nothing more than gifted speakers or counselors (paid ministers), or else managers of church property and/or programs (whether these people are called trustees or elders or deacons). Such “leaders” are just people whose useful gifts have brought them into prominence. In such situations, it is understandable that some people may fail to see why appropriately qualified women may not exercise the key functions they associate with leadership. In fact, Christians will not fully understand the logic leading to male overseers until they come to grips with what the church should really be as God’s household.

***
Steven Harris posts a Palm Sunday confession.
***
Byron Smith on the chocolate Jesus controversy.
***
The Pirate comments on the erotic character of much contemporary worship:

Let’s point out the obvious: replace the buxom blonde babes with stout matrons in their late 50’s, and the worship experience just plain doesn’t happen. Hire an older fellow that walks with a cane as your worship pastor instead of that handsome, young, energetic Cedarville graduate, and Sunday morning just won’t “work.” That should indicate something is wrong. This kind of “worship” isn’t anything new. Maybe fog machines, synthesizers, and colored lights are new, but sensuality and eroticism in worship aren’t. It’s just that in the olden-tymie days, you had to go to a pagan temple to get that. They [presumably the Church — Al] did a remarkably bad job of incorporating the pagan culture into their worship. A few things changed with the imperialization of the Church, but the damage had already been done. Christian worship was doomed to centuries of reverence, formality, seriousness, regularity, and deliberation until the 20th century brought Aphrodite back to her rightful place as the orchestrator of our worship.

***
Doug Wilson posts 21 questions for a prospective wife. And, if you are reading Dad, I still do not intend to need to use these myself anytime in the foreseeable future…
***
John blogs on slinkies.
***
Louis Theroux meets the Phelpses.
***
How to paint the Mona Lisa with MS Paint:

Lenten Guest Post - Guilt

Isaiah 53:5

It’s amazing how often you can listen to a verse, and yet completely miss the point. I have a problem with OCD which makes me feel incredibly guilty for things I’ve done in the past. Whether what I worry about was sin or not, the point is that if we have repented, Jesus has taken the pain of our sin.

Peter is Alastair’s brother

More Links

It has been quite some time since anything was posted on this blog. The pre-Holy Week guest posts have dried up (although hopefully my youngest brother will have sent me something before the weekend). I am presently enjoying my mid-semester break, although not a whole lot has been achieved so far. We have eaten a lot, entertained a number of people, caught up on some DVD watching and played far too much Settlers of Catan and Canasta. I have probably only read no more than one hundred and fifty pages or so of various books within the last couple of days.

Later today we are having more people over for a big meal, prior to a Desperate Housewives evening that my housemate Simon is organizing. I think that I will probably opt out of that (and not just because Desperate Housewives jumped the shark a while back). Tomorrow we have an all-day Lord of the Rings session, where we will be watching the three extended versions back-to-back. I will try and get some study done this evening to help me to justify a full day off. We have a 24-athon planned for next week, which should be even more intense. Hopefully, the LoTR day will help me to get in shape for that.

The following are some of the various things that have caught my attention online over the last few days.

I haven’t read either of them yet, but David Field has posted links to two Oak Hill dissertations, one on Romans 2:1-16 and another on Romans 8:13.

***
Kim Fabricius’ Ten Propositions on Being a Theologian
***
Also on Faith and Theology, Ben links to reports of Kathryn Tanner’s Warfield lectures and talks about his top 20 theological influences (very interesting reading; I will have to try to put together such a list sometime).
***
Peter Leithart’s recent Pro Ecclesia article, ‘Justification as Verdict and Deliverance’, is receiving positive press on a number of places on the blogosphere. Al Kimel (aka: The Pontificator) blogs about it here and ‘Martin Luther’ makes some — rather strange — remarks here.
***
John H has some good remarks on faith and certainty:—

In other words, faith isn’t something we are to try to work up in ourselves. It isn’t some inner state of certainty to which we somehow attain. God, in his mercy towards us, does not require us to hold within our heads at one moment the whole truth of Christianity, and to assent to it. Rather, he comes to us with concrete, audible promises: “Your sins are forgiven”; “Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”; “This is my body, given for you… this cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. Faith is believing the promise we are hearing right now.

Read his whole post here.

***
Pope Benedict XVI tries to remind people of the existence of hell.
***
Islamic feminist theologians (I suppose that that, like lesbian Eskimo bishops, some have to exist somewhere…).
***
Garrett questions the value of long sermons.
***
Mark Goodacre writes in defence of Wikipedia. Dr Jim West disagrees strongly.
***
‘John Lennon’s Born-Again Phase’ [via Dave Armstrong]
***
As usual, there have been some great posts on Leithart’s blog over the last few days. In this post he talks about a type of hospitality that has largely been lost or forgotten in our world.

The church set up various institutional forms of hospitality, including hospitals for the rejected and marginalized sick and weak. But the early church fathers also said that individual believers were supposed to show the same hospitality. Christine Pohl writes of Chrysostom: “Even if the needy person could be fed from common funds, Chrysostom asked, ‘Can that benefit you? If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?’ He urged his parishioners to make a guest chamber in their own houses, a place set apart for Christ — a place within which to welcome ‘the maimed, the beggars, and the homeless.’”

It is quite easy to be charitable from a distance. The effort necessary to slow the frenetic pace of our lives down to be able to extend personal care and hospitality to people in need, rather than merely donating money is considerable. I have been very blessed by the example of my parents in this respect. Over the years we have taken many needy people into our home to live with us, for periods of time varying from a few days to a number of months. We have taken in itinerants, homeless people, students, recovering drug addicts and many others. Whilst our hospitality has been abused on more than one occasion, the experience of sharing your life with people in need is such a valuable and eye-opening one that I don’t think that we have any major regrets, even though we might do things slightly differently in the future. Quite apart from anything else, you learn a lot about yourself and your own weaknesses and failings.

Leithart also has some great posts on Jane Austen: ‘Keeping us Reading’, ‘Austen and Prejudice’ and ‘Communal Judgment, Communal Argument’.

***
Tim Challies writes on the subject of discernment in the gray areas.
***
Paleojudaica, Dr Jim Davila’s blog, turned 4 over the weekend. A belated ‘Happy Birthday!’.
***
In my last links post, I linked to a post on speed-reading. Since then Matt has linked to this tool (I’m not sure that I find it particularly helpful, though) and the Evangelical Outpost links to this post on how to read a lot of books in a short time. John Barach speaks up on behalf of slow reading. It surprises some people when I tell them, but I slow-read most books, principally because I am of the conviction that the quality of one’s reading is more important than the quantity. The best books are to be savoured. I also slow read many of the worst books, as I feel duty bound to ensure that I understand someone very well before I strongly disagree with them. I also write lots of comments in the margins of my books and underline many sections, which slows down the reading process considerably.
***
John Piper and Ligon Duncan speak on the subject of ‘The Challenge of the New Perspective to Biblical Justification’ on the Albert Mohler Radio Program.
***
Some facts about the top 1000 books found in libraries [HT: Tim Challies].
***
Josh, the fearsome Lutheran pirate, writes in defence of women’s ordination (don’t worry, he is not seriously advocating the position).
***
Mark Whittinghill alerts us to a new posthumous Tolkien book. It should be released in under a month.
***
Michael Spencer links to a list of D.A. Carson MP3s.
***
Lifehacker tells us how to cure hiccups with sugar and gives a guide to power-napping.
***
There is a new Youtube channel dedicated to material about the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first video contains the archbishop’s reflections on the slave pits in Zanzibar.
***
Also in the world of Youtube, the Youtube Video Awards have been announced.
***
Why models don’t smile and 101 great posting ideas [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].

Links


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 24 - Transfiguration

It was a whisper that woke them, a summons as dusky and fleeting as the blue dawn wind. “Come,” said the Christ, and Peter woke first to follow. Stumbled to his feet and nudged his closest friends. “The Master has something to show us,” he mumbled, clapping a wakeful hand onto John’s shoulder. James rose too and the three of them shivered in the cool, dim light, and stumbled after their Lord as he, without further ceremony, beckoned them to follow. Down through the sleep dim streets, their feet slapping the cobbled stones until their way led up the waiting mountain.

Not a word did Jesus say as he led them, not a glance to betray the goal of their climb. Only a smile, and the old call to follow, again, with no hint of their journey’s end. And they followed, with feet, and even with hearts, for he walked within the reach of their stumbling, always waiting for them when they lagged even a small way behind.

John, pensive as always, and James in his usual stolidity, walked with heads down in thought. But Peter walked with face turned upward, with eyes fixed just ahead on the form of his master. And in his mind the thought was stirring that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was taking them to show them something really glorious. After all, it had been he, Peter, who just a few days before had so steadfastly proclaimed his faith that Jesus was indeed the son of God. Peter felt rather gratified by this memory. He felt that he had proven the strength of his faith.

And so he walked eagerly, up, up into the limpid light of the new morning as it fell on the quiet mountain. With their steady climbing, they reached the top quickly, and Jesus stopped. He stood and closed his eyes to feel the rush of the dawn wind blowing up from the valleys below them. The three men beside him gulped in the fresh air and tried hard to enjoy the moment, but it was with eagerness that they met the opening of their lord’s eyes. Jesus stepped toward them.

“I have come to show you something, and yes Peter,” he turned and looked him full in the face, “you will see a bit of glory”.

Jesus smiled, and Peter leaned barely forward with a sudden puzzlement. For once again, he had caught that look in Jesus’ eyes, that knowing compassion, as if Peter were unaware of what was awaiting him. Peter did not particularly like that look. He did not want pity, and besides, what grief could there be in a vision of glory? He cast his doubt aside as, without a word more, Jesus stepped back.

And then there was light.

As sudden and blinding as new creation, the brightness swirled around them and they could no longer see the mountain, or even Jesus, for in an incomprehensible blaze of glory, God stood before them. Of course, they had always known Jesus to be the son of God, but it was different now. Heaven was right in front of them, the whirling beauty of the invisible world suddenly present to their flesh and blood sight. Song there was, and a constant quiver of movement for the air was alive with lyrical voices and the rush of a living light that touched every fiber of their being. In that instant, they saw the truth of all that Jesus had spoken in the long past months, for he became all He said He was before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared on his left and right, as heavenly witnesses to this unheard of revelation.

Peter especially was in ecstasy, his heart pounding with the thrill of his surety, his joy in seeing the truth of what he had chosen to follow. Surging with his usual zeal, he stepped bravely forward and spoke to the magnificent figure he knew to be his lord, offering to build a tabernacle for him. But even as his eager voice disturbed the faint music, there was a sudden crack as of lightning fire, and he was stopped mid-sentence. There was a quickening rush, and the advent of a new glory as brooding and fearsome as a mighty storm. It came like the untamed wind, thrumming through the air round him, challenging his desire to build walls around the beauty before him.

This glory was fearful, a blue and crimson magnificence that sent Peter to his knees. Peter forgot about building as the presence of the Holy One of Israel surrounded him. The voice of God the Father cracked down in a thunder of holiness and the earth trembled before Him. The light became brighter, the voices and music not louder but deeper and the men felt as if new dimensions of sound were opened to them, throbbing through regions within them that had never before been touched.

God, the Father, present in His awful goodness, spoke through the whirl of the storm and His words were simple:

“This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!”

The majesty was so great, the sense of holiness so overwhelming, the three men could no longer bear to look. They cried out and covered their faces, bowing down, huddled against the friendly earth. But Peter wept. For the glory he had so desired to see was a devastating glory, an impossible beauty that filled him with an unexpected dread. He had presumed to understand God, supposed himself wise because of his bravado of faith. But in that moment, he was suddenly terrified, as the dark faces of his many sins crowded suddenly round him.

The delightful beauty of Christ had thrilled him, the terrible beauty of the Father convinced him that he would surely die. And he knew with a final knowing, that no work of his, no proclamation of belief, no offer of honor would ever assuage the depth of his unworthiness. He crouched lower, his fingers dug into the earth and simply wept.

But in that instant, at the very inception of those fearing thoughts, a hand was laid on his shoulders. A still voice, a quiet voice said, “don’t be afraid”. Peter fought the anguish in his breast, wanting to grovel, unwilling to lift his face. But the words of the Holy One still echoed in his ears, “listen”. And he did. Summoning all the grit he possessed, he pushed away the fear and obeyed. He lifted his eyes and saw…only Jesus.

Only the earthy, flesh and blood face of his lord, suffused with the the rising sun. The earth shattering glory was gone. Jesus, man again, stood alone and reached down with a sun browned hand that gripped Peter’s shoulder with a pounding strength. Peter and his companions reached out with grateful tears to be lifted to their feet by this human, touchable God. And he took them to his heart like the little children they really were. Held them as they ached with the glory and the truth of what they had seen.

They had been given their desire. They had seen the reality of heaven behind Jesus’ words. They could never doubt now. But as they trudged back down the mountain that day, they realized that beyond even the divine glory they had desired, they had been given a glimpse of a great mystery; the glory of God as man, holding them, comforting them. For the vision had ended, not in a blast of trumpets or a crash of lightning. Their once in a lifetime glimpse of heaven’s most magnificent reality had not finished with choirs of angels or the crash of God’s splendor. It had ended with the face of Jesus; human before them, the heavenly glory compacted into a single man with a beating heart.

The miracle was not the splendor, it was the man who had left the splendor behind for the sake of the children he loved.

As Peter walked, he felt a love that he had never known surging through his spirit. It was nothing like his previous love; that had been a love more like an admiration combined with a healthy dose of pride in his own choice. This was pure adoration, of the God who clothed his glory in flesh and lifted his children up from the dust.

Every time he prayed for the rest of his life, Peter remembered the glory, so different from what he had expected. For with each whispered prayer he approached the throne of glory where light and justice blazed and trembled. But when he reached the foot, it was always Jesus who met him, Jesus who emerged from the crashing beauty to take him by his shaking, human hands and give him the strength to carry on.

As he does to all who love Him.

Sarah Clarkson lives in Monument, Colorado and is quite simply, a lover of words and the God who made them. This love expresses itself in her writing and her hope to study English Literature at a yet-undecided university this fall. She muses on life, books and beauty at her blog Take Joy.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 23 - Beginning with Forgiveness

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me.” — Matt 18:26

The man who just prostrated himself before me and confessed himself a sinner is back on his feet and embracing me. He has squatted and bowed before dozens of other sinners in this little candlelit cathedral, as have I, and both of us have worked up a sweat. Tomorrow our legs will ache. This is one strenuous way to get ready for Easter.

The “Forgiveness Vespers” service is how Orthodox churches embark upon Lent. Western Christians begin with ashes on their foreheads. Orthodox Christians begin with their foreheads on the floor.

The service marks a high point on the Orthodox calendar. Worshippers step reverently into the cathedral, knowing that tonight their church will “change keys” and enter a period whose mood they often describe as bright sadness. Prayers are rising before dusk, but sunlight has left the church by the time the old archbishop invites his people to draw near for a heart-to-heart. He begins to talk of forgiveness.

Their Lord, he tells them, pursued their reconciliation unto death. His sacrifice should move them to go about forgiving with urgency, outside the church as well as within. The archbishop’s counsel: If you aren’t willing to forgive, don’t bother with Lenten fasting. It would be pointless.

Finally, he makes a general confession himself. He admits, for example, that he has often been guilty of impatience. For that and other failings, he is sorry. “My brothers and sisters,” he says before prostrating himself, “forgive me.”

And so begins the rite of forgiveness. Starting with the archbishop, the people form a receiving line that slowly winds around the church. Everyone prostrates himself or herself before every other person present, even strangers.

“Forgive me, a sinner,” each one says, and then bends low. The person opposite makes the same confession, the same gesture. Rising, they embrace and kiss. “God forgives, and I forgive,” each one says, or other words to that effect.

Because everyone participates, all inevitably stand face to face with those who know them best. Young fathers bow before their young children. Boyfriends and girlfriends ask one another’s forgiveness. A mother seeks pardon from her son. Husbands prostrate themselves before their wives, and vice versa. A few people, choked by emotion, cannot get the words out every time. Tears say what their tongues cannot.

Cynics may doubt the genuineness of all this; some doubt its necessity. One visitor a few years ago was bemused to see all those faces down and bottoms up. Keeping her seat, and her distance, at the back of the church, she quietly wondered aloud, “Do they really need that much forgiveness?”

A Christian answers yes, they really do – and not just for more or less public offenses in word and deed, but even for offenses committed in secret or in the heart. No sin, in Orthodox and other Christian thought, is absolutely private. Each represents a breaking of faith with the whole church, the whole human race. No one who believes such a thing means to deny that sin offends God above all. The idea is simply to affirm that sin also offends those made in the image of that God.

But shouldn’t people who think that way seek and extend forgiveness all the time, and not just one Sunday night in late winter? Any church that prays “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” week in and week out, knows the unanimous Christian answer. In the words of St. Paul, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian martyred by the Nazis, envisioned Saturday as a time when laypeople might regularly pursue reconciliation with one another before sharing Holy Communion the next day. “Nobody who avoids this approach to his brother,” he wrote, “can go rightly prepared to the table of the Lord.”

The Orthodox are exhorted, just before they sing the creed, “Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Right thinking without right relating, to paraphrase St. James, is dead. As the Orthodox see it, a simple rite of forgiveness at the end of evening prayer underlines that point and puts it in boldface. “Let us embrace one another,” they will sing in the wee hours of Easter morning. “Let us speak also, O brethren, to those that hate us, and in the resurrection let us forgive all things, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead!”

A resurrection gospel puts those who believe it on their knees before God. Sooner or later, it puts them on their knees before one another.

Paul Buckley is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, USA, and has been called an Eastern Rite Presbyterian.

Links

The last few days have been very busy, so I haven’t posted any guest posts. They will recommence later this afternoon. A belated happy St. Patrick’s day to all of my readers!

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye recently.

Al Mohler’s ‘Is Your Baby Gay?’ post sparks controversy. It has been discussed by a number of people on the blogosphere (here on the Evangelical Outpost, for example). Mohler has since written a clarifying post. Mark and Macht are both critical of Mohler’s claim that certain forms of eugenics would be justified in the case of an unborn child who would most likely have a ‘homosexual orientation’. Apart from this issue, on which I am agreed with Mark and Macht, I am encouraged to see a rather more nuanced and balanced treatment of the issues of homosexuality from a leading evangelical than we have come to expect. As Lauren Winner has commented, if the Church were to speak about such issues better, we could then speak about them less. That would be a blessing indeed.

***
Mark Goodacre continues to blog on the subject of the Jesus family tomb: ‘Discovery Website Adjusts Tomb Claims’ and ‘Talpiot Tomb Statistics Update’. Richard Bauckham guest posts on Chris Tilling’s blog: ‘Ossuaries and Prosopography’.
***
Stephen over at Hypotyposeis blogs some thoughts on Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which Chris Tilling continues to review on his blog (it shouldn’t be much long until the review is longer than the book itself).
***
Leithart blogs on the Christian roots of Europe.
***
Ros Clarke blogs some quotations from JBJ’s ‘Apologia on Reading the Bible’.
***
Edward Cook suggests that the genealogy of Luke 3 was most probably originally in Hebrew [HT: Dr Jim Davila].
***
David Field posts notes for a talk that he gave, entitled ‘New Perspectives on Romans’.
***
Chris Tilling writes a Bultmann poem.
***
Tim Gallant links to a video raising questions about the scientific basis of global warming claims. I have no firsthand knowledge about the issues relevant to the global warming debate, but I do know a thing or two about how gifted the media is at draining complex debates of all nuance and presenting the public with grossly simplified and distorted pictures. I also know about the appeal of the unorthodox line of argument and the pull of the conspiracy theory. We all like to believe that we have privileged insight that others do not possess. A little selective knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. There are a lot of people who feel duty-bound to have a strong opinion on everything, even things that they don’t know have a clue about. The media happily fuels such people with prepackaged prejudices.

On the other hand, I am also well aware of the problems that attend the politicization of specialist debates. Most people bluff to some extent to hide their levels of ignorance on certain subjects; the temptation to bluff is greatest for politicians. On top of this, nuance does not go over well in the world of politics, where people are prone to move into polarized camps. Once an issue like global warming becomes politicized, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise critical questions about the scientific claims that are being made.

I also wonder sometimes whether we are inclined to overstate the impact that human beings have on the environment, wanting to flatter ourselves that we have more of an effect on and control over the world than we really do. The idea of a massive problem that we have created is more welcome than the idea of a huge climate shift that results from powers beyond our control. Man does not like to be reminded of his own impotence and the fact that his destiny is in many respects determined by greater forces than his own. All of these things lead me to retain a measure of skepticism towards the various claims being made in the global warming debates.

Jon uses this video as a springboard from which to discuss conspiracy theories and the need for orthodoxy to engage with heresy, if it is to arrive at a fuller knowledge of the truth. Jon observes something that I have commented on in the past: there are telltale signs of conspiracy theories and much of the thought in our circles as conservative Christians manifests all the classic symptoms. Young earth creationism is a perfect example (as is anti-Roman Catholicism). The truth or falsity of the claims of young earth creationists is beside the point here; the issue is that their approach to the issues is all too often the approach of conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories have a noxious effect on society and its public discourse. For this reason, if I were to have children I would prefer to have them educated by an atheistic evolutionist who would train them to think critically and engage with the best that science has to offer, than a conservative evangelical who would teach them conspiracy theories about science and discourage them from truly engaging with those with whom they disagree (I hope that I will never be called to make such a choice).

***
Jon also has a helpful post on the subject of Richard Gaffin’s interaction with Rich Lusk (see here for further comment).
***
Preparing tomorrow’s soldier [HT: Jon Barlow]
***
The world’s oldest living man (116) puts his long life down to the fact that he has never been married.
***
Ireland sends Pakistan home in the cricket World Cup. Makes up for the heartbreak of the rugby, I guess. Sadly, the joy of Ireland’s victory has since been overshadowed by the tragic death of Bob Woolmer.
***
Herschelle Gibbs scores six sixes in a row, a first for one day cricket. The minnows in the World Cup have really suffered this year; four of the five highest margins of victory in the World Cup (by runs) have been recorded in the last week.
***
Tony Blair meets Catherine Tate. Catchphrase comedy generally annoys me greatly, but I grinned at a few points in the last minute of this sketch, despite myself.
***
Weird Al parodies Dylan (not anywhere near as funny as ‘White and Nerdy’, but funny nonetheless) and (a fairly good imitator of) Dylan sings Seuss [HT: Mark Traphagen].

Update: NTW lecture, ‘Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?’ [HT: Richard]. Be warned, it is a huge file (90MB).

Lenten Guest Post - Day 19 - Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Flax

Look! My servant whom I have chosen,
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased!
I will put my Spirit upon him
And judgment to the nations he will announce.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And smoldering flax he will not quench,
Until he sends forth judgment to victory;
And in his name nations will trust.
— Matthew 12:18-21

These words, slightly modified from Isaiah 42, are often quoted in connection with Jesus’ compassion, and compassion certainly is present in this context. Jesus gives true and who heals multitudes (12:15).

But Matthew quotes them with something else in mind. The Pharisees are plotting to destroy Jesus (12:14), but Jesus’ response is not to destroy them in return. Instead, he withdraws. When the crowds follow him, he heals them but he also hushes them. He warns them not to make him known, Matthew says, so that “it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet,” and then he quotes the words above.

Who are the bruised reed and the smoking flax?

In Isaiah, “bruised reed” is the Assyrian ambassador’s term for Egypt: “You are trusting in the staff of this bruised reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him” (Isa. 36:6; cf. Ezek. 29:6). A bruised reed makes a bad staff because it snaps and the sharp end is driven into your hand.

And smoldering flax? Flax here is a wick and if it’s smoldering it’s about to go out and leave you in the darkness.

These aren’t simply images of weakness. They are images of things that let you down, things you ought to have been able to count on but which fail you, which leave you in the lurch, which even cause you pain and make you helpless.

The bruised reed and the smoldering flax in the context of Matthew 12 are the Pharisees. They were zealous for God’s covenant and Jesus ought to have been able to lean on them. But they are bruised reeds that will snap and pierce his hand. They are associated in the Gospels with the synagogue, which is an offshoot of the temple where God’s lamp burns. Their light should have illuminated Jesus and his work. But like the wicks in the lamp in Eli’s day (1 Sam. 3:3), they are smoldering wicks which will leave Jesus in darkness.

And Jesus lets them.

He doesn’t break the bruised reed. He doesn’t snuff out the smoldering wick. He doesn’t destroy those who would harm him. He doesn’t quarrel and cry out and shout down his enemies, nor does he allow the crowd of his followers to do it. Instead, he allows himself to be let down by the very people he should have been able to trust. He allows them to pierce his hand and leave him in darkness.

This refusal to break bruised reeds and snuff out smoldering wicks, the refusal to destroy those who threaten or betray him, will lead to Jesus’ death but not to Jesus’ defeat. It’s precisely by suffering this injustice that he will establish justice in the world.

In fact, in Isaiah 42, which Matthew doesn’t quote, Yahweh promises that the servant will not be “bruised” and will not be “quenched”: the very same words used for the reed and the flax. You can lean on him and he won’t splinter and pierce your hand. You can trust him to keep giving light. He allows himself to be let down so that he won’t let you down, so that his mission will succeed, so that the nations will trust in his name.

We are united to him. We share in his identification as God’s beloved, chosen servant. God has placed his Spirit on us so that we can carry out Jesus’ mission to establish God’s just rule among the nations. And therefore we also must share his demeanour until he sends forth justice to victory.

John Barach is the pastor of Reformation Covenant Church in Medford, Oregon. He’s married to Moriah and has the world’s cutest 21-month old daughter, Aletheia. He blogs at Kata Iwannhn: The Blog According to John, spends too much time working on exegesis for his sermons, and can be seen around Medford in various coffee shops, reading books and trying to figure out how to plant a liturgical, psalm-singing church that challenges the existing culture instead of conforming to it.

Miscellaneous

Tomorrow, and possibly a few other days of this week, will be without guest posts. I will be meeting up with my father in Edinburgh tomorrow and will not have access to my computer. The rest of the week will be exceedingly busy. Apart from regular activities I have a St. Patrick’s Day party to prepare for on Saturday. In addition to this, I am running rather low on guest posts at the moment. A number of people have promised to send me posts that I am still waiting on.

I appreciate that my blogging for the last few weeks (months?) has been rather patchy. I am not sure if this will change any time soon. I have a number of half-completed lengthy posts on my hard drive and dozens of other subjects that I have considered posting on over the last few weeks. The sheer number of things that I have been itching to comment about as I have been reading Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry over the last few days has been simply overwhelming. The problem is that the book has been so utterly appalling (I regret to say that this is not just exaggerated rhetoric) so far that I really wouldn’t know where to start. I am usually a relatively composed reader, not given to strong reactions, but some of the claims made in this book have left me dumbfounded. I just would not know where to begin in a response. Doug Wilson has been responding to the book on his blog, but he is far too kind in his criticisms. This is a book whose claims need to be taken apart stone by stone, each stone pulverized individually and the resultant dust scattered to the four winds of heaven. However, I do not have the time, energy or patience to waste on such a thankless task.

Here are a few links from today:

John H has alerted me to this article from the Scientific American‘Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus’s Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error?’. Mark Goodacre also has more on the tomb story — ‘Talpiot Tomb Various’ and ‘Mariamene and Martha, Stephen Pfann’. Ben Witherington links to an interview he has given on the tomb story.

***
Kim Fabricius’ Ten Propositions on Sin. As usual, I don’t agree with a number of Kim’s claims, but the clarity of insight of some of his observations always makes him worth reading.
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David Field explains Aristotle’s Four Causes.
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Jeff Meyers podcasts an old lecture on the Mercersburg Theology’s sacramental conflict with Old School Presbyterianism.
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First Things’ Joseph Bottum on good prose on the Web.
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John H on the altar-calling tendencies of some forms of contemporary atheism.
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Lifehacker alerts us to two potentially useful downloads — Google Image Ripper and Polyglot 3000

Lenten Guest Post - Day 18 - His Grace is Sufficient


I grew up in a Christian family, with all its blessings and curses. To me, the greatest blessing I think has been to be ‘clothed’ with lots of scripture: in memory, through singing of psalms and hymns, in attitudes taught at an age at which one is still very receptive of correction. A curse is — if I may call it so — that the transition from the confines of a Christian home to becoming a Christian in the secular world is a great challenge. Children can and may rely in a sense on the faith (-fulness) of their parents and teachers, as they grow up they then do have to grow and mature in their ‘own’ faith. On some, leaving this context suddenly has the effect of stripping those hard-wrought clothes from them, in their first years of, for instance, entering university, and leaving them naked and exposed. It is one of the stronger reasons I believe every Christian needs to live in the context of a church. It is a dangerous venture to rely on however much effort in reading the bible and the practise of faith, while being isolated from any church.

At the time I went to university, and consequently had to leave the home of my parents, I was also faced with this challenge. I became a member of a local church and had to make friends with brothers and sisters there. At that time, being a member of a Christian students association was of crucial importance for me. However much I was blessed with support and friendship, it was a time my faith was tested and I underwent a great transition. I was a believer and a follower of Christ before, during and after, but it was a time during which I had to become so in a manner no longer dependent upon my parents. Not to become independent, but rather more dependent on God and on those through whom He blessed and continues to bless me. I discovered that my strengths were my greatest weakness; because when I needed them most I could not rely on them. During those times, my great weakness threw me back on God and that became my greatest source of strength.

As I moved out of the context of the place I grew up, my interest in its roots grew as well. Among all the ‘dis-coverings’ I made thus far, I think the trilogy of Klaas Schilder on Christ has been the greatest blessing. He opened up the gospels to me in a fresh way, about 70 years after he wrote it. The past couple of years I read one of the three volumes as Lent-activity, although this year circumstances have made it difficult to keep up with it. I highly recommend reading them; they are very poetic (at least in the original Dutch, which has made translation to English very difficult). I also read in an interview that they have been a great blessing to James Jordan, to my surprise.

This morning a sermon given by Alastair’s dad reminded me of a number of chapters of the first part, “Christ in His Suffering” (surprisingly, he had not read them yet himself). Often when we think of the suffering of Christ, we think of the cross, the physical suffering of pain and having to bear the guilt of others. But certainly Matthew for instance, stresses that great suffering came from those whom were the closest to Him. It is a painful contrast, to read in Matthew 26:

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. But not during the Feast, they said, or there may be a riot among the people. While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Jesus was preparing to fulfil all that the Passover feast pointed towards. His closest friends, in denial of what Jesus tells his disciples in the opening of the chapter, think Mary’s act is a waste. This is only one of many instances where the disciples betray Jesus, where they deny his ministry and more than often are worried about themselves (e.g. about who would be the most well-off with what Jesus was going to accomplish as the Messiah they thought Him to be). I wonder if there is greater agony known to mankind, than to be betrayed by those whom you love best. Nevertheless, Jesus loved them and in his love rebuked them and taught them, and loved them until the end.

Nevertheless also, the disciples did love their master. Peter being first among them… repeatedly grieved his Master deeply. What the writers of the gospel portray to us in the way Jesus was treated by those around him, friends and enemies, is a portrait of someone who was lonely in the highest degree possible, but amazingly unceasing in His love. It casts a light on what prayer to His Father meant. It casts a light on our own love for Jesus. Our love is always a love of response to Him, who loves us even though we have betrayed Him and are still capable to do so despite of our love for Him.

My strength is certainly not my love for Him, in the sense that I would be able to rely on it. But I receive my strength from Him, because when I have betrayed Him in my weakness and am discouraged in being his servant, He said: Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, follow Me!

Elbert Baas currently lives in Stoke-on-‘sunny’-Trent and is a member of Hartshill Bible Church, where Alastair’s father is a pastor. That is where he found a great friend in Alastair, when first visiting Stoke for a placement during his studies for 4 months. He is married with Annewieke, but not with their son Aron, who is now 5 months. He grew up in the Netherlands, but not in ‘Holland’. He obtained a bachelor degree in applied physics and is finishing a PhD thesis in biomedical engineering, in which he presents a methodology to study how growing bone tissue responds to local strain in a test tube. Later this year they hope to move back to the Netherlands so Elbert can set one year apart to study the ‘Calvinist’ legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd in depth, by taking part of the Master course ‘Christian Studies of Science and Society’ at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He enjoys cycling, photography, playing guitar, knitting (yes, real men knit), juggling, origami, reading philosophy, theology and Alastair’s blog. smoking his pipe or acigar (the latter preferably with whisky or cognac, and most important, in good company), programming. Elbert also blogs infrequently at http://www.theelepel.blogspot.com, http://www.engelandvaarders.blogspot.com (Dutch) and has blogged at http://www.thecomposition.blogspot.com. Prayer is valued that he may receive further vision how to grow in love and understanding in life as father of a family and as a follower of Christ, and how to daily give shape to that in all of life, especially in being a sincere, honest, concerned and most of all humble scientist. And how to keep short and concise!

Links


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 17 -


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Links

Links from the last few days:

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According to Dr Scaer, the most common way people join the Church is that someone invited them. Guess what? If church sucks, people don’t invite others. They don’t think “Man, my friends have got to be here for this!” They think “Well, I might as well keep going here.” So here’s a fun list that can work for all denominations!

Read the Fearsome Pirate’s church growth tips here. He also gives a Lutheran perspective in outlining some of the things that he dislikes about the PCA worship that he has experienced.

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An interesting post from Leithart here. He observes the way in which we are shaped by popular culture, beginning with a series of tests to see how easily we identify with certain popular slogans, characters and advertisements from our culture and then how easily we identify with Christian counterparts to these. I think that I got a near perfect mark on every part except for the advertising slogans, which probably has something to do with living in the UK. However, I admit that the references to popular culture were generally more familiar than the references to the traditional hymns and references from classic literature. I could probably quote near-verbatim the lyrics from a few dozen rock albums, but I probably know no more than a score of psalms by heart. I have a troublingly vast quantity of pointless pop trivia in my head, so Leithart’s post was a good one for me to read.

Leithart argues that the way that Christians often characterize our struggle with the world is deficient. We tend to think primarily in terms of a struggle of ideas. However, the battle is, more often than not, a struggle of desire. As René Girard has argued desire is mimetic, and the world is consistently tempting us to model our desires after its pattern.

This is where the church comes in. If the battle we face in the wider culture were merely a matter of ideas and thoughts, then we might be able to withstand the onslaught of bad ideas on our own. We might be able to fill our minds with good thoughts and ideas through reading and studying, and when a bad idea came up, we’d pounce. If we are cultural beings, whose habits and practices and desires are shaped by the habits and practices and desires of others around us – and we are – then we can’t really stand up to the cultural temptations in isolation, by ourselves. We cannot resist on our own. We need to be part of a resistant community, a resistant community that recognizes the way the world seeks to shape us into its image, and self-consciously resists the world.

And we can’t resist something with nothing. To the world’s desire-shaping, formative practices, Christians need to oppose a different set of desire-shaping practices. We can’t say: I won’t desire what the world wants me to desire. We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world’s desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.

Leithart also has a post on consumerism that I found interesting.

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Following on from his earlier post on Dawkins and Lacan, Macht observes the importance of un-clarity in argument if we are to truly communicate:

Being “unclear” in one’s writing, then, can perhaps be a way to get the reader to NOT translate what they are reading into familiar terms. A writer want the reader to think in ways they’ve never thought before and that may require unfamiliar terms. This will of course require more work on the part of the reader and may lead to misunderstandings, but that might be the price a writer needs to pay in order to get his point across.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why misunderstanding so often attends theological discourse. In theology our terms are generally given to us by Scripture. Our overfamiliarity with these terms can lead to misunderstanding when we read people like Barth and Wright, who use familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. It takes quite a conscious effort on our part to overcome the familiarity that we have with the terms and begin to appreciate the ‘otherness’ of the theology of such men, and not merely interpret them on our own terms.

John Milbank has also observed the importance of ‘making strange’: developing new language to replace overfamiliar terms, in order that the peculiarity and distinctive character of the Christian position might become more apparent. This, I suggest, is one argument in favour of those who are wary of a theological discourse that works almost entirely in terms of biblical terminology. Such a discourse is helpful among those who understand the positions being advanced, but it can provide an impediment to those who have not yet grasped them.

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Joel Garver begins to articulate some of his concerns with the recent PCA report on the FV/NPP.
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Paul Helm on biblical versus systematic theology. I believe that the way that we do systematic theology is overdue for a complete overhaul. I don’t believe that biblical theology is the answer to everything, but I would not be sad to witness the demise of the discipline of systematic theology as it is often currently practiced (something that I have commented on in the past). Much systematic theology is ‘timeless’ in a deeply unhealthy fashion. It tends to treat its subject matter as if it were timeless and it also teaches in a manner that abstracts the learner from the time-bound narrative.

Systematic theology often seems to aim to present us with a panoptic perspective on the biblical narrative. We look at the narrative from a great height, from without rather than from within. This ‘timeless’ perspective is very dangerous, I believe. A reform of systematic theology would reject this way of approaching the discipline and would approach its subject matter in a slightly different manner. We study theology from within time, as participants in God’s drama. Neither the subject matter nor the student of theology should be abstracted from time. Rather than dealing with ‘timeless’ truths, we should deal with truths that are ‘constant’ through time.

Peter Leithart has suggested that ideally systematic theology would play a role analogous to the role that a book entitled An Anthropology of Middle Earth would play relative to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Such a book would help the reader to understand the constant features of the narratives. However, its subject matter would never be detached from the narrative nor could it ever be substituted for the narrative itself. The narrative always retains the primacy.

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Michael Bird writes [HT: Chris Tilling] on the importance of the study of NT Theology and Christian Origins. Here is a taster:

…when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

How is this corrected? First, Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak. A study of this kind will indicate where the theological (and dare I say) spiritual centre of gravity lies in the New Testament.

The evangelical and Reformed tendency to force the whole of the NT into a Pauline framework is something that is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Over the last few weeks I have been studying the doctrine of atonement, for instance, in the NT. I have been struck by how muted the theme of penal substitution is in much of the extra-Pauline literature (or even, for that matter, in a number of the ’secondary’ Pauline epistles). If our ‘canon within the canon’ consisted of the Johannine literature or of Matthew and James, rather than Romans and Galatians, evangelical and Reformed theology would probably take a radically different form. Recogizing this fact has made me far more sympathetic to a number of traditions whose theology differs sharply from Reformed theology, largely because they operate in terms of a very different ‘canon within the canon’. Paul is only part of the picture and his voice is not necessarily any more important than others within the NT canon.

I suspect that a number of significant theological advances could be made if we were only to put our favourite sections of Romans and Galatians to one side for a while. For instance, we might begin to see the continuing role that the commandments of the Torah performed in shaping the life of the Church. We might begin to have a clearer sense of just how Jewish the thinking of the early Church was. An overemphasis on Paul’s more antithetical and abstract ways of formulating the relationship between the Law and the Gospel can blind us to how Paul and other NT authors generally continue to take the particularities of the Torah as normative for the life of the NT people of God. The way that the Torah operates has changed, but it is still operational in many respects as the Torah of the Spirit and the Torah of liberty.

We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel.

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John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1.
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David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden].
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Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one.
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June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers.
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As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism.
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Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post.
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The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now!
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David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful.
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Ben Witherington on Billy Graham.
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R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism:

With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation.

[HT: Paul Baxter]

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A PCA pastor: “We wouldn’t ordain John Murray”. Sadly, this is only what one should expect when theological factionalism takes holds of a denomination.
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Byron is right: this is a very good parable.
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‘Begging the Question’ [HT: Paul Baxter]
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From the evangelical outpost: How to Draw a Head and Assess your Brain Fitness.
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The cubicle warrior’s guide to office jargon
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The unveiling of the logo for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Seb Coe:

It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

Tony Blair:

When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Tessa Jowell:

This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

Ken Livingstone:

The new Olympic brand draws on what London has become - the world’s most forward-looking and international city.

And the brand itself:

London 2012

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Finally, some Youtube videos:

The new Microsoft Surface:

Battle at Kruger:

I’m a Marvel … and I’m a DC:

New Skoda Ad:

NTW Letter

Bishop WrightN.T. Wright replies to someone involved in translating Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, who wrote to him, troubled by some of the libellous claims about Wright and his beliefs that he encountered online:

Dear —–

—– has passed on your message to me. I am distressed that you have been so misled about my views. I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself. I have no idea where you get the notion that I don’t believe in the virginal conception, which I have never doubted and which I have defended in public, in person and in print several times. I have no idea why you think I deny the credibility of John’s gospel, or for that matter Ephesians and Colossians. Indeed, I have defended all of them. And where do you get the idea that I think that ‘men are being saved by baptism’ (unless, of course, it might be 1 Peter 3.21, of course)? All this is simply wicked and unpleasant libel. Who has made these accusations? Have they read anything I have ever written?

When it comes to Paul, I have spent my life trying to understand his letters in great detail. If you want to disagree with my interpretations, please disagree with what I say, and show where I am getting it wrong, rather than listening to people who tell you that I am saying (for instance) that my belief is some kind of new revelation. Of course it isn’t! I am teaching what Paul is teaching, and I am happily and gladly open to anyone showing me that my understanding of the text is wrong. But please read what I have said, and the reasons I have given for it, before you say things like ‘we don’t need God’s righteousness to stand before righteous God’. Read what I say about the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ in Paul. Weigh it with what the whole scripture says — the Psalms and Isaiah and so on as well as Paul himself. Do what the Beroeans did in Acts 17: search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, rather than assume, like the Jews in Thessalonica, that any interpretation of scripture which you haven’t met before must be angrily rejected.

This brings me to ‘heaven’. Yes, in the New Testament of course there is the hope for being ‘with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1.26). But have you not noticed that the New Testament hardly ever talks about ‘going to heaven’, and certainly never as the ultimate destiny of God’s people. The ultimate destiny, as Revelation 21 makes abundantly clear, is the ‘new heavens and new earth’, for which we will need resurrection bodies. Please, please, study what the Bible actually says. When Jesus talks in John 14 of going to prepare a place for us, the word he uses is the Greek word mone, which isn’t a final dwelling place but a temporary place where you stay and are refreshed before continuing on your journey. The point about Jesus being our hope is that he will come again from heaven to change this world, and our bodies, so that the prayer he taught us to pray will come true at last: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. That is God’s will; that is why Jesus came; that is our final hope. Of course, Christians who die before that time go to be with him in heaven until the time when the whole creation is redeemed (Romans 8.18-27 — have you studied that recently?). That isn’t a ‘symbolic meaning’, and I confess I don’t know why you should think it does.

The problem is, I think, that there are some Christians who have not been taught what the Bible actually teaches about the redemption of the whole creation. The Bible doesn’t say that the creation — including earth — is wicked and that we have to be rescued from it. What is wicked, and what we need rescuing from, is sin, which brings death, which is the denial of the
good creation. When we say the creation is wicked we are colluding with death. Sadly, some Christians seem to think they have to say that.

I am particularly disturbed when you say that I am not much different from the gnostics I am attacking, and that I have no hope for the lost world. Hope for the lost world is precisely what I have in abundance, precisely because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us not so that we could let death have our bodies for ever while our souls go off into a disembodied eternity — that was Plato’s mistake! — but so that we could be redeemed, rescued from sin and from the death it produces.

Dear —–, you have been deceived by what you have found on the internet. Of course I believe in Jesus. He is the centre of my life and, though I am a very imperfect disciple, I adore him and will preach him to my dying day. Of course I believe in his gospel. It is the good news that God so loved the world (not that God so hated the world). Yes, there is always a danger that all of us may distort the gospel, that we can be deceived, that we may need to inspect our hearts. But when you suggest I don’t believe in the whole scripture — well, I’m sorry, but exactly that belief is the rock on which the work of my whole life has been based.

I do hope that you will think again, continue to translate the book, and publish it in due course. But perhaps before you do that you might like to read one or two of my other books on the major subjects you have raised. Particularly The Resurrection of the Son of God, which has already been translated into various languages.

With greetings and good wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ

Tom Wright

N. T. Wright
Bishop of Durham

Judas and Ahithophel


In the course of his treatment of the use of the OT in John’s gospel, Steve Moyise describes M.J.J. Menken’s understanding of the background of Jesus’ statement in John 13:18. Menken suggests that John makes his own translation from the Hebrew of Psalm 41:9, but alters it slightly to bring it closer to the language of 2 Samuel 18:28. The context of this verse is Ahithophel’s betrayal of Jesus, an event in the life of David which Jewish tradition also associates with Psalm 41. Menken observes a number of parallels between the story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and David’s betrayal by Ahithophel that I hadn’t noticed before.

  • Judas and Ahithophel both hang themselves after the deed (2 Sam 17.23/Matt 27.5).
  • They both plan to do the deed at night (2 Sam 17.1/John 13.30).
  • David and Jesus both pray for deliverance on the Mount of Olives (2 Sam 15.31/Mark 14.26ff.).
  • David and Jesus both cross the Kidron (2 Sam 15.23/John 18.1).
  • It is claimed that the death of one man will bring peace to the people (2 Sam 17.3/John 11.50).

I had seen some of these before, but hadn’t noticed a few of the others.

Against the Youth-Driven Church

This video has been posted by a number of people in the blogosphere. Like most others, I strongly disagree with this guy in a number of areas and believe that his argument against the Emerging Church is riddled with problems. However, rather than mocking, I think that it might be helpful to try to see where he might just have a point.

There was a time when many Christians were very concerned to keep away from pop music and TV because they believed that they introduced dangerous ‘worldly’ ways of thinking and acting. As sophisticated and enlightened contemporary Christians we tend to look at such notions with amusement and see the preoccupation with avoiding such ‘worldliness’ as being largely a concern of a naive fundamentalism. We happily watch 18 (or R)-rated movies and provide clever reviews that show the Christian themes that are subtly interwoven with the sex and the violence. We listen to music that celebrates radically unchristian forms of sexuality or to Christian artists that often seek to ape such music. Perhaps we are justified in this; what really troubles me is that the concerns for godliness and a distinctly and transparently Christian way of living exemplified by many of an older generation really don’t seem to register with us to the same extent. For all of the naivete of their vision, they had a vision for such holiness and godliness, which is more than I can say for many of us. For all of our sophistication I sometimes wonder whether we could learn some basic lessons in being a godly and a holy people from an older generation.

We live in a youth-driven society. Whether in the media or on the web, older people are hardly visible. For instance, the very fact that most of our theological discussions occur online prevents most elderly people from having any active voice in the conversation. When older people appear in the media, they are often ridiculed. Their style, their tastes, their knowledge of the world, their ethics and their values are all out of date. The new and the young are to be celebrated and the old is to be sidelined and dismissed.

Many areas of the Church have bought into this way of thinking. They have glorified the ‘new’ and sit very loosely to the accumulated wisdom of older generations. The Emerging Church is one area where this can be observed. The concern to be hip and on the cutting edge often trumps the concern to be faithful and submissive to the wisdom of our fathers in the faith.

The Church should be one place where a radically different culture prevails. It should be a place where older generations are honoured and treated with respect, even when they are wrong. Biblical societies are generally ruled and led by elders, not by young turks. Many contemporary evangelicals have forgotten this and their churches are driven by the desires of their young people and the most influential leaders are under the age of 40 (ideally, it seems to me, churches should not be led by people under the age of 50).

One of the deepest sins of many of the youth-driven trends in the Church is their determined movement away from catholicity. Rejecting a catholic Church they opt for youth churches or stratify the Church into age groups in other ways. Rather than worshipping in a way that reflects the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition, their worship tends to be dominated by (generally sappy and biblically illiterate) songs written by young, popular and rich Western Christian evangelical artists who are within the contemporary Christian music industry. One of the great things about singing traditional Christian hymns is that we have the opportunity to sing words written by people from all over the world, from countless different backgrounds and generations, and with hugely varied vocations. We get to sing songs by laypeople and bishops, by monks and martyrs, by missionaries to pagan lands and travelling preachers, by Reformers and by Catholics. We sing songs written by people many centuries and countless miles removed from us. We sing songs written by people from cultures that are quite alien to our own, but with whom we share a citizenship in heaven. In the process the parochial nature of our own tastes is challenged and we learn to listen with appreciation and humility to people who differ radically from us. Of course, singing the psalms, we have something even better. We have the opportunity to sing words written by Moses and David.

Sadly, rather than express our respect for our older brothers and sisters in Christ by submitting to the wisdom of the Christian tradition of music and worship, we tend to start worship wars, causing tensions and splits in churches because of our (frankly) ‘worldly’ desire to sing songs that conform to our contemporary Western appetites. Generally the modern worship wars seem to be driven by our ever-changing tastes in music, rather than by real theological or biblical concerns. Where are the voices calling for increased use of the psalms? They are few and far between, largely because the psalms do not generally provide what we believe that the ‘worship experience’ should give us. Where are the deep theologies of worship? Much of the worship wars are about our love for ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’, rather than about any sort of coherent theology of Church music. Although I am someone who believes that ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’ music should not be ruled out of the Church, I have no desire to align myself with those for whom the introduction of such music is purely an attempt to accommodate the worship of the Church to their their personal tastes in music, rather than an attempt to discern how God would have us worship Him and what is fitting for the praise of the saints.

Our concern tends to be that we have a good ‘worship experience’, rather than that we worship God joyfully and appropriately. If a particular song or style of music doesn’t conform to our personally tastes, so be it. We are worshipping God, not ourselves. Fittingness for the task of worshipping God should always take priority over everything else.

Finally, I have commented in the past on the infantilization of many quarters of the Church. It is not surprising that this tendency is accelerated in churches where the younger generation sets the agenda. The comments that the man makes in this video about the ‘young and stupid’ are not without a degree of correspondence to reality.

All of this, and the biblical command to honour and respect our elders, makes me quite reluctant to poke fun at this man’s expression of his opinion. For all of his misunderstanding and prejudice, he does have some valid points to make and we would do well to pay heed.

Links and News, but not in that order

I returned from a few days back in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday evening. My time back home was full of activity, but very enjoyable. As there was a wedding on, I had the opportunity to meet a lot more friends than I would have met on another weekend. During the few days back home, I watched Spiderman III for the second time (I far prefer Spiderman II) and Pirates of the Caribbean III (none of the later films in the trilogy have lived up to the original). I helped out at a kid’s club, with preparation for the wedding celebration and had to preach at very short notice (I mainly reworked material that I had written and blogged about recently). I also enjoyed following the cricket when I had a few minutes to spare. The West Indies may not be the strongest opponents, but convincingly winning a Test match does provide welcome relief after the mauling of the latest Ashes series and our failure to make much of an impact at the World Cup.

Over the last few days I have read a number of books. On my way down to Stoke-on-Trent on the train, I finished reading L. Charles Jackson’s Faith of our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. I had the privilege of meeting Charles a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his book. It is a very helpful introduction to the Christian faith, following the statements of the Nicene Creed. Each chapter is relatively short and followed by some review questions. It would be a useful book for a study class and also provides the sort of clear and straightforward (but not simplistic) introduction to Christian doctrine that might be of use to a thinking teenager (Ralph Smith’s Trinity and Reality is another work that I would recommend for this).

On the train journey back I finished reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A friend recommended the book to me when it first came out a few years ago, but I have only just got around to reading it (I bought a secondhand copy of the book from my housemate John a few months ago). Martel is a very gifted storyteller and the book is quite engrossing. Whilst I strongly disagree with the underlying message of the book (about the character of faith and its loose relationship with fact), I greatly enjoyed the book and may well revisit it on some occasion in the future.

I have also been reading a number of other works, including Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, which a friend lent to me, in preparation for my visit to Myanmar in September. I am also reading Steve Moyise’s The Old Testament in the New, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Children of Hurin and I have been dipping into the second volume of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology. On the commentary front, I have been using Goldingay’s recent work on Psalms 1-41 and Craig S. Keener’s commentary on John’s Gospel.

At the moment I am reading up on the subject of the atonement. I am particularly enjoying Hans Boersma’s work, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. I am also reading Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by Oak Hill’s David Peterson (I am still waiting for my copy of Pierced for Our Transgressions to be delivered), Joel Green and Mark Baker’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and revisiting Colin Gunton’s The Actuality of Atonement.

Since returning to St. Andrews I have done very little. I spent much of yesterday playing Half-Life 2 (which I am revisiting after a few years) and reading. Today I expect that I will be a little more productive.

The following are some of the sites, stories, posts and videos that have caught my eye over the last few days.

Matt Colvin has an interesting post on ‘Headcoverings as Visible Eschatology’. Within it he argues that Paul’s teaching on the matter in 1 Corinthians 11 was not culturally determined, but informed by redemptive history.

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James Jordan has posted a series on the Biblical Horizons website: ‘How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays’. As usual, JBJ has many useful and provocative observations. Here is one extended quotation:

The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?

Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.

The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.

Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.

The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.

This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.

Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.

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Josh, the Fearsome Pirate, puts his finger on one of the reasons why I would find it hard to become a Lutheran and reminds me of one of the reasons I so appreciate the Reformed tradition: ‘The Bible & Lutheranism’.
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Peter Leithart blogs on a subject that has long interested me: the necessity of the Incarnation. The question of the necessity of the Incarnation might strike some as needlessly speculative. However, our answer to this question does have a lot of practical import, not least in our understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption and the manner in which Christ relates to the cosmos. It raises teleological questions very similar to those raised in supra-infra debates, but does so in a far more biblical manner (supra-infra debates that are not grounded in Christology do strike me as unhelpfully speculative).
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Leithart also blogs on the subject of Pentecost on the First Things blog, one of a number to do so over the last few days. NTW sermons on Ascension and Pentecost have also been posted on the N.T. Wright Page. Joel Garver also blogs on Pentecost here. Over the next few months I will be doing a lot of work on the subject of canonical background for the account of Acts 2 (something that I have blogged about in the past). I will probably blog on the subject in more detail in the future.
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There have been a number of engagements with popular atheism in the blogosphere recently, particularly by Doug Wilson. Wilson’s recent debates with Christopher Hitchens can be found on the Christianity Today website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. It is interesting to see how Hitchens consistently seems to fail to get Wilson’s point about warrant for moral obligation. Macht also has a helpful post in which he observes Richard Dawkins’ tendency to lightly dismiss positions (not just Christian ones) without ever taking the trouble to try to understand them first.
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Joel Garver summarizes the recent PCA report on the NPP/FV and posts a letter raising some questions and concerns on the subject.
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Ben posts an interesting list of recent and forthcoming must read theological books and Kim Fabricius loses all credibility.
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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism argues that FV theology leads Romeward. A recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy argues that Peter Leithart was instrumental in his conversion. The first post prompted a very lively and rather heated discussion in the comments (which I participated in).

Frankly, while I do not agree with such moves and do not find the slippery slope argument — much beloved of FV critics — at all convincing, I am not surprised that a number of people make such moves and credit the FV with moving them some way towards their current ecclesiatical home. Unlike many movements within the Reformed world, the FV is heading in a (small ‘c’) catholic and principled ecumenical direction. The journey to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is far shorter from a catholic than a sectarian tradition. The FV is not generally given to overblown polemics against every theological tradition that differs from the Reformed and appreciates reading material produced by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox. It can open one’s eyes to the fact that there are actually some pretty fine Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians out there and that, despite a number of failings, they are often far better on certain issues than their Reformed counterparts. Differences remain, but they are put into a far more realistic perspective.

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John H on what lies beneath debates about Mary. He also raises the issue of the presence of the Eucharist in John’s gospel for discussion.
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The most blogged passages of Scripture [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].
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Christianity Today has its 2007 book awards.
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Encouraging signs from Dennis Hou’s blog.
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Edward Cook watches LOST with Hebrew subtitles.
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Best selling books of all time [HT: Kim Riddlebarger]
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118 ways to save money in college
Learn a new language with a podcast
Learn the 8 essential tie knots

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New music from The New Pornographers [HT: Macht]
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A third of bloggers risk the sack
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Life as a secret Christian convert
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Global Peace Index Rankings (if you are looking for the US it is down at 96 between Yemen and Iran)
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A wonderful new site where grandmothers share films of some of their favourite recipes.
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Boy kills a ‘monster pig’ [HT: Jon Barlow]
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Some Youtube videos.

George Lucas in Love

Five Hundred Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Pete Doherty queues for an Oasis album. It is sad to see how messed up he has become since then.

Finally, from my fellow St. Andrews Divinity student, Jon Mackenzie, comes ‘The Barthman’s Deck-laration’

NTW Lecture on the Purpose and Use of Doctrines

On May 2nd I had the opportunity to hear N.T. Wright deliver a lecture on the subject ‘Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture’, here in St. Andrews. I am not the fastest note-taker, and so the following is a rough reconstruction of the basis gist of Wright’s lecture, based on my sketchy notes. For this reason they really should not be used as a point of reference for Wright’s thought.

Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture

NT WrightThe first half of the paper will be primarily methodical; the second half primarily exegetical. We currently face a puzzle of perception. There are those in the Church who are troubled by what they see as the hardening of theology into dry doctrine. Scripture, they believe, brings life, not ‘doctrine’. Scripture can often function like a favourite movie or symphony for them. For others, however, Scripture has become as dry as doctrine itself. Extended prayer and praise meetings are what they regard as important — the Spirit. In addition to such people there are those who love dogmatic theology and are bored by labyrinthine exegesis.

We need to recover an understanding of Scripture in the light of narrative. One can almost anticipate the sighs of some hearers of this lecture. Narrative theology is so passé. They are even giving it up in Yale! However, a narrative structure is very clearly present in Scripture. This stands in contrast to the Gnostic gospels. Lacking such a narrative they would quite likely function as a cuckoo in the nest of the canon. Genesis to Revelation is one massive narrative. The various writers of Scripture, particularly the earlier ones, can be compared to engineers from many different workshops producing the many nuts, bolts and cantilevers that would eventually come together to form the Forth Bridge, something far bigger than anything that they could have envisaged.

When we read Paul we need to read him as one who thinks Scripture. His mind is full of the Scriptural narrative (and the various subnarratives) and he regards himself as one who inhabits the big narrative that Scripture presents us with. As we read Paul we need to ask how he can function as Scripture for us. When we read Scripture are we really looking for Scripture itself, or are we merely looking for something else — such as doctrine or devotion — that we try to mould Scripture into.

As a suggested way forward for our thinking on this matter, perhaps we should start to think of doctrines as akin to ‘portable narratives’. Doctrines are like suitcases that enable us to transport longer narratives from A to B. However, like suitcases they need to be continually packed and unpacked. Sometimes we need to, in order to address important questions that the Church faces in the course of its mission, to speak about the meaning of Jesus’ death. On such occasions it is better to say ‘atonement’ than have to give a more long-winded statement.

However, as a note at this point, it is important to remember that, when Jesus wanted to teach His disciples about the meaning of His death, He didn’t give them a ‘doctrine of atonement’. Rather, He gave them a meal. When we think about the atonement we need to recognize that the Eucharist is the grid of interpretation that we have been given.

Creeds can be compared to portable stories. Although some have treated them as such, creeds are not like ‘checklists’, arranged in no particular order. Rather, they follow a clear narrative order, telling, in broad brush outline, a story that begins in creation and reaches its climax in Christ. They are telescoped narratives. If we leave our suitcases unpacked for long periods of time there is always a danger that the contents will become mildewed. The same is the case with the creeds. We must always be prepared to ‘unpack’ the narrative of the creeds.

One of the purposes that the creeds serve is that of enabling the narrative to function as a ‘symbol’, as something that we can subscribe to. Doctrines also enable us to more adequately defend the narratives from attacks at key points.

The packing and unpacking that we are here speaking of can be observed within the text of Scripture itself. Paul frequently packs and unpacks his narrative. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:56 we find the terse statement, ‘The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.’ This is a very closely-packed version of what Paul unpacks, expands and lays out in detail in Romans 7. We see much the same ending in Romans 7:25 as we do in 1 Corinthians 15:57. The packing and unpacking of doctrines, then, is not just something that the Church does; Scripture does it too.

It is possible to treat dogmas as items on a checklist in a way that detaches them from any narrative framework. It is also possible to place them into the wrong narrative. Dogmas are like the dots on a dot to dot puzzle. The dots by themselves are not enough; they must be joined up in the correct order. Implicit narrative is all-important. If we put our doctrines into the wrong narrative we can end up falsifying them. This is very significant when we come to the doctrine of the atonement. We must recognize that it is the story of Israel that drives the NT and Jesus himself. This is what Paul means by ‘according to the Scriptures’. The cross isn’t merely predicted by isolated proof-texts within the OT, but is the fulfillment of the entire OT narrative of Israel. This can be very hard for those who think in terms of a creation-fall-Jesus pattern to understand. However, if we miss out Israel we are in danger of becoming Marcionite in our thinking and losing out in such areas as ecclesiology.

Some understand the divinity of Christ in terms of a ‘Superman’ type narrative. Others understand the Second Coming in terms of the narrative of the rapture. These are examples of ways in which our implicit narratives can falsify or distort doctrines. The doctrine of atonement is a self-involving doctrine. Whilst all doctrines are to some extent self-involving, atonement is more so. It is about reconciliation with God and outside of the context of reconciliation with God it can never be properly understood. The atonement is not just an ‘involving’ doctrine in the sense of being something that we must mentally and emotionally commit ourselves to. The truth of the atonement is embodied in the practice of the Eucharist.

Unlike those who adopt the ‘checklist’ mentality, we need to recognize that not all ‘doctrines’ are the same sort of thing. For instance, ‘the doctrine of the Trinity’ is not necessarily the same sort of thing as ‘the doctrine of the resurrection’. Particular doctrines are, to some extent, sui generis.

It is interesting to observe that, whilst Paul mentions the cross all the time, he never gives it any expanded treatment. This contrasts to the way in which Paul unpacks the doctrine of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. The cross is woven deep into the fabric of 2 Corinthians, for instance, but it is always treated in connection with other doctrines.

The book of Romans is about the δικαιοσυνη θεου (righteousness of God). It is about God’s addressing the problem of humanity and of Israel to keep the covenant. The significance of Israel in this picture is that Abraham was going to be the one through whom God was going to set right that which went wrong in Adam. However, it seems that God’s purpose for Israel has failed. Traditional readings generally fail to see this and, as a result, marginalize sections like 9-11, 2:17-29 and 3:1-9. Subtly different questions than those of Paul are brought to the text.

In his approach to the cross in Romans, Paul seems to take traditional statements concerning the cross as the basis for his argument in such places as 3:21-26. In the early chapters of Romans Paul demonstrates the failure of Israel to be the light of the Gentiles and the reality of universal sin. God’s plan seems to have collapsed. In 3:21-26 Paul gives an exposition of the manner in which God has been faithful to His covenant in dealing with sin.

It is unfashionable to go to the book of Acts in order to discover Paul’s theology, but the parallel between the reference to passing over sins in Romans 3:25 and statements made by Paul in Acts 14 and 17, where Paul speaks of the times of ignorance of the Gentiles, are interesting. Romans 3:21-26 does not give us a generalized statement of atonement, but rather declares how, in the present time, God is dealing with Jews and Gentiles.

Has the traditional argument just taken a wise course of action, by cutting to what it has deemed to be the ‘heart of the matter’? The problem here is that we run the risk of forcing texts onto the Procrustean bed of our own assumptions. Our eagerness for ‘doctrine’ can result in the muting of the Jew/Gentile point that was so important for Paul.

Later in the epistle, Paul goes on to claim that the death of Jesus demonstrates the sovereign love of the Father. From this we can deduce the fact of final salvation. While we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were enemies, Christ died for us. Paul spells this out in terms of Christ’s obedience, a Pauline theme of which the Reformed emphasis on the active obedience of Christ turns out to be a parody. Whilst we can agree with the Reformed doctrine in what it is trying to say, it misses Paul’s point. We needn’t lose the idea of imputed righteousness, but we will get it back within a larger framework, which might threaten some pet assumptions.

In Romans 8:3 Paul speaks of God speaking sentence on Sin itself, not just sins, or sinners. This is the clearest statement of penal substitution in the epistle. God condemned Sin (not Christ); Christ has borne the sentence. What is the larger argument within which this is the turning point? The larger underlying argument is that of the role played by the God-given Torah in Romans 7. Sin does its worst in Israel and will be dealt with there. In the ινα of 5:20 and 7:13 we see that this was God’s purpose all the way along. God’s purpose was to make Israel the place to raise Sin to its height. Torah heightens, rather than alleviating, the problem, turning sins into transgression. God then passes sentence on Sin at the point at which it has been gathered together. The cross then brings into effect the larger purpose of God (Romans 5:21). The story that Paul is telling here is far bigger than the one that has been told by many of his interpreters.

How can this be relevant to the sinner on the street? The significance of this narrative is often implicit and assumed. When you are talking to a person on their deathbed you would not usually discuss the question of why God gave the Law in the first place (although you never know!). If you were going to mention the Israel dimension of the story you might focus more on the truth of God’s faithfulness through death, using Abraham and others as illustrations of God’s trustworthiness. It is worth noticing that, when Paul presents the gospel to pagan Gentiles, his message usually takes a different form to that which we see in the epistles.

In the rest of Romans we see that the cross is not mentioned in 9-11. However, it is implicit throughout. The cross is far wider in meaning than one particular account of how human individuals can be saved.

The frustration experienced by dogmaticians and exegetes when faced with each other’s objections is quite understandable (exegetes and dogmaticians may just be two different types of people). Rather than trying to get at supposedly Pauline ‘doctrines’, we should focus on his larger narrative arguments. ‘Atonement’ is not the primary thing that Paul is talking about. We must read Paul in the context of his implicit narratives. We should never protect Paul from this story. We need to rethink the way that we engage with Scripture. Scripture is not merely a peg to hook ‘doctrines’ on. We need to listen to Scripture when it disagrees with us or we don’t understand it. The faultline that so often exists between Scripture and doctrine can only be overcome by the authority of Scripture being exercised in such a way.

Links

This morning I finished my last exam of the semester. It is a great relief to have finally completed this year at St. Andrews. It has been considerably less productive than the year before (I suspect that there has been a downward trend in my productivity for over three years now, which is rather depressing) and I look forward to really putting my back into the work for my final year. My results haven’t suffered that much, but I would like to have a bit more to show for my time.

In a few days’ time — possibly after I return to St. Andrews next Tuesday — I hope to start posting the subject of the atonement, a subject which will probably dominate this blog over the summer. However, it has been well over a month since I last posted a links post, and I thought that I would mark my return to regular service with a bumper collection of some of the things that have caught my attention over the last month or so.

Matt Colvin’s Fragmenta blog has always been a personal favourite. Matt has been posting some great material recently. Two posts in particular that I have enjoyed: ‘Baptism for Forgiveness in Acts 2:38′ (an analysis of the grammatical arguments put forward by some to avoid a close relationship between Baptism and forgiveness in that passage) and ‘Examine Yourselves: Testing in Corinth and Crete’ (in which Matt challenges the introspective understanding of ‘examine yourselves’ through a careful examination of the Greek). Both posts give a voice to texts that have all too often fallen prey to theological agendas.

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I am not sure that I agree with all of Josh S’s propositions, but Proposition 5 (’If your theology makes you uncomfortable with biblical language, your theology needs to change’) is, in my experience, one of the most important principles that I have ever learned. I seem to remember that my father first taught me this principle over several years’ ago.
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Stephen Carlson links to some helpful posts with advice for honing your academic writing. Such honing is long overdue in my case. Perhaps something to devote some time to over the summer.
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As usual there is a wealth of quality posting on Peter Leithart’s blog. Over the last month Leithart has posted a number of things that may be of interest to NTW fans: ‘Five Points of NT Wright’, ‘Paul and Israel’, ‘Justification and Community’ and a lengthy PDF document: Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.

Leithart also has a number of other helpful posts that address FV debates, including ‘Perichoretic Imagination’, ‘Theological Imagination’, ‘Grace’, ‘Denying the Gospel’ and a guest post by James Jordan, ‘Justification and Glorification’.

There are also a number of other interesting and thought-provoking posts, including ‘Faith and Grace’ (about different ways of conceiving of the relationship between faith and grace, with particular reference to the practice of infant Baptism), ‘Justification and Purity’ (in which he mentions Chris VanLandingham’s recent work and his argument that justification language has to do more with ’state of being’ than with ’status’ — perhaps a challenging case for the application of Josh’s fifth proposition) and ‘Rites Controversy’ (some thoughts on the relationship between traditional Chinese practices and the Christian faith in the 17th and 18th centuries).

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Mark Goodacre posts on the subject of PhDs in the UK and US (something that is playing on my mind at the moment too). He also links to a Guardian article on recent trouble at Wycliffe Hall.
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Jason Fout posts on the subject of living with questions.
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NTW on Jerry Falwell. There are also a number of new audio lectures linked from the N.T. Wright Page:

Putting the World to Rights
God’s Restorative Program
Godpod 16
Godpod 17

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James White links to a — presumably heavily critical — series on the NPP.
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Mark posts a lengthy grand unifying Lost theory. I must confess to being cheered by recent developments on the show; for a while I was concerned that it may have jumped the shark.
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On Ben Myers blog: ‘Ten Propositions on Being a Minister’ and a plug for Mike Bird’s new book on the NPP (which looks extremely helpful).
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Ben also links to this lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams, something that I really must read when I have the time.
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Bill Kesatie asked me to respond to this post on the subject of sexual abuse of children within churches. Bill suggests that blogging Christians need to be more vocal about this matter. I suggest that the teaching of Ephesians 5:11-12 is important to keep in mind here:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

In our day and age there is virtually no sin so evil that it cannot be spoken of and discussed (almost literally) ad nauseum. There is a sort of unhealthy fascination with perversion that can develop in such a manner, a sort of urge to stoop and sniff the faeces. People who spend a lot of time talking and thinking about sin are in a very dangerous position for this reason. Even though they may condemn the sin in the strongest possible language, there is something about it that arouses their interest.

I am a firm believer in the importance of certain taboos. There are certain things that it is unfitting to talk about. Where sexual abuse of children takes place it is healthy to literally feel sick in the pit of your stomach. Our reaction should be one of deep revulsion. Wherever such sin occurs the Scriptures call us to expose it as a work of darkness. Such an approach of exposing sin has, tragically, not always been followed in Christian contexts. Sin has on occasions been covered up, something which is utterly inexcusable.

The biblical command to expose sin should not, however, be confused with the idea of having a public conversation about such sin. I am shocked by the idea that Christian bloggers should be expected to post condemnations of the sin of child abuse within churches; condemnations are the means by which people who fail to live lives of transparent godliness tend to assert their morality. The fact that we are called upon to condemn such appalling sins suggests that such sins are less than unspeakable and unthinkable to the people of God. Biblically, the Church exposes darkness, not chiefly by condemning it with public statements, but by living as the light of the world.

For this reason, rather than post a condemnation of unspeakable sin, I would prefer to post a challenge for us to be the sort of people for whom such sin truly is unspeakable and unthinkable, for us to be people whose utter rejection of such sin is so completely manifested by the way that we deal with it when it occurs that any further words would merely detract from the fulness of its condemnation.

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Jon Barlow posts on Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens and their current debate. His thoughts on Doug Wilson are very close to my own.
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A couple of weeks ago, Barbara tagged me in the seven things you didn’t know about me meme. Here goes:

1. In my first school play at the age of five I was an angel. Midway through the play the elastic on my trousers broke and the crowd were amused and distracted by my attempts to hide the fact and hold them up. My teacher was not too impressed.

2. I went on strike for a day in primary school, because I was annoyed that the supply teacher was a smoker. The primary school that I attended was a small Church of Ireland school, with four years to each room. My younger brother Jonathan was in the same room as me for a couple of years. As a rather absent-minded kid, he was constantly getting into trouble with the teacher. On one occasion when he was being lectured to (and pyschoanalyzed) by the teacher at the front of the class I felt so strongly that he was being treated unfairly that I wrote a letter of protest and handed it around my classmates. It was intercepted and my mind has long sought to suppress the memories of the resulting experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson on that occasion and, in secondary school I wrote another letter of protest to a teacher, which led to a session in the principal’s office.

3. The first album I ever bought was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. I still enjoy listening to it today, but at the time, I would have probably been better off had I not bought it as it was, to some extent, a means by which I could rebel against my parents.

4. I have never broken a bone, although I have sprained each of my ankles several times. When I injure myself it is usually playing football or riding my bike. The last time it was a badly sprained ankle. The time before, I slipped on dog doo and cracked my forehead on a brick wall. Unfortunately, the manner of my fall was so amusing that, looking up in my dazed state, all I saw were my friends looking down at me and laughing.

5. I have needle phobia. I feel rather annoyed at myself for having such an irrational fear. Whilst I have faced my fear on a number of occasions in having injections or in donating blood, I haven’t been able to shake the fear itself.

6. I started balding at the age of 16. I noticed about 10 years before some other people did. I guess that you don’t see what you don’t expect to see (and some people are not the most observant).

7. Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist, a soldier, a pilot, a missionary or a maths teacher. Frankly, I probably had a better idea then than I do now.

If you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

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Dr Jim West mentions a forthcoming book by Richard Bauckham, which looks very interesting, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John.
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John H has two great posts with thoughts from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: ‘Surging, hopeful, joyful doubt’ and ‘The puzzling mystery of unbelief’. He also has a post, entitled ‘The gospel “under the papacy”‘, which he begins with the remark: ‘One irony of becoming a Lutheran was that it greatly improved my opinion of the Roman Catholic Church.’ Very interesting.
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Kevin Bywater has a great series of posts on the subject of sinlessness in Second Temple Judaism:

Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (2 - Gathercole’s Wise Words)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (3 - D. Falk on Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (4 - Other Texts)

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Mercersberg Review articles available online.
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Angie Brennan posts the ‘Screwtape E-mails’.
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Some interesting things from lifehacker:

Top ten sites for free books
Learning the finer points of punctuation
Top 10 body hacks

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A very interesting article on the Bible in the global South.
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A new blog: The Reformed News. Looks interesting.
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Finally, some gleanings from Youtube.

I got myself a copy of the Arcade Fire’s most recent album and have been listening to it incessantly over the last month. Here is a performance of the title track:

If you haven’t seen the Potter Pals before, this is a lot of fun (or you may find it incredibly annoying and stupid):

Finally, a powerful speech by Bono:

Almost Over

At the moment I am sitting in front of a desk with hundreds of Hebrew flashcards laid out in front of me. In three days’ time I will have finished my last exam of this semester. So far, I am satisfied with how things have gone. I received a paper back and took an exam on Johannine literature and was relatively pleased with how both went. Every time exams come around, I am a little less stressed about them. Even when I have been grossly underprepared I have never failed to fall on my feet. I just hope that I don’t get too complacent and trip up at the last moment.

I can’t wait until this exam is over. There are so many things that I am itching to do. My blogging has been sparse and uneven of late and I look forward to posting a bit more consistently over the summer. I am thinking of devoting particular attention to the subject of the atonement in the next few months, reviewing and interacting with a number of books and addressing the issues from a variety of differing perspectives. I intend to have a wide-ranging discussion on the subject. I will attempt to take a constructive approach, engaging with, but moving beyond some of the more familiar debates that we have on the subject, to explore new and potentially fertile territory. I also hope to have a number of participating guest posters, providing a number of differing perspectives on the issues. If anyone is interested, please feel free to e-mail me at 40bicycles-at-gmail-dot-com. I hope to have reviews of various lengths for at least a dozen or more books on the subject of the atonement and to have posts of various lengths discussing various dimensions of the subject.

Next Thursday I will be going to Stoke-on-Trent and spending a few days there, to visit family and attend a friend’s wedding. I will be back in St. Andrews for the entirety of June. I have a large pile of books that I want to get my teeth into and really can’t wait to get started. If the weather is good, I suspect that I will spend a lot of time studying down on the beach.

Anyway, I must return to my Hebrew revision. Lord-willing, I will post again on Tuesday.

In Which Theobloggers Engage in a Mutual Backslapping Fest and Alastair Invites his Readers to Join In

This Top Theology Blogs list has been doing the rounds over the last few days. Since I don’t have time to write anything worthwhile, as I am in the middle of my revision period for a Hebrew exam next week, I thought that I would post this. Enjoy!

Birth Pangs and New Birth as a Model for the Atonement and Resurrection

Matthias Grünewald - Isenheim Altar, Christ's birth and resurrection panels, 1515

Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. — John 16:20-22

In these verses Jesus employs the image of the birth pangs of a woman in labour, imagery that is common in the OT prophets, where it is also occasionally used to refer to a period of intense suffering preceding a new age (similar usage is also to be found in extracanonical Jewish literature). In the prophets the image of labour pains followed by birth is associated with resurrection (Isaiah 26:16-21) and with the restoration of the people of God (Isaiah 66:8-14).

The strong eschatological associations of such imagery are not accidental to the meaning of this passage. Nor should this passage be detached from the general theme of new birth that appears at various points of the gospel of John. The popular employment of the language of new birth and regeneration can blind us to the primary focus of the teaching of new birth in Scripture, which is not a spiritual transformation in the heart of the new convert but the death and resurrection of Christ.

The death and resurrection of Christ represent a watershed in history. The death of Christ was the definitive death of the old world order. Since then the old creation has been passing away and the new creation born in the resurrection has been advancing. The first person to born again was Jesus Christ, when He became the firstborn from the dead in His resurrection. The new birth experienced by the new convert is an entry into the new life of Christ’s resurrection.

In the OT no one was born again. From dust they were born and to dust they returned. Naked people came from their mother’s wombs and naked they returned there. The re-entry into the womb (the earth and the womb are habitually related together in the OT — Job 1:21; Psalm 139:13-15; Ecclesiastes 5:15) was by death and no one had come out again on the other side. The cursed womb of the earth seemed barren; the seed continually entered into its belly, but no fruit came forth (cf. Proverbs 30:15-16).

John employs the imagery of the woman in labour in the context of a broader inaugurated eschatology. For John the birth pangs begin in Jesus’ death; the birth itself is presumably the resurrection. A surface reading of the text might suggest that the birth pangs are undergone by the disciples; closer examination suggests a more complex picture.

Particularly significant are the words ‘because her hour has come’. Throughout the gospel of John the theme of Jesus’ coming hour is prominent, and no more so than in the chapters just prior to the crucifixion account. It is our conviction that the woman in John 16 represents Israel, undergoing the travail that will result in the birth of a new age. Her birth pangs are focused on the cross of Jesus, but are also experienced to some degree by the disciples.

Who is the new child that is born? It seems to me that the new child is Christ Himself. We find this position convincing in the light of the strong Johannine and NT connection between resurrection and new birth. In Revelation 1:5 Jesus is described as the firstborn of the dead. This understanding of the resurrection is also to be observed in Lucan (Acts 13:33) and Pauline (Romans 1:3-4; Colossians 1:18) thought. Such a teaching is not treated as if it were in tension with the fact that Jesus is truly the Son of God before the resurrection. Jesus is the both the one who precedes the creation as the eternally begotten of the Father and the one who leads the way into the new age as the firstborn of the dead. In Revelation 12 it also seems most likely that the birth referred to there takes place in the death and resurrection of Christ.

While the resurrected Christ is the most immediate referent of the newborn child, the image refers more broadly to the new birth of the people of God as a whole (cf. Isaiah 66:8; Revelation 12:17). It is through the birth pangs of the cross that the birth from above that Jesus speaks of in John 3 becomes a possibility.

This imagery is employed in a number of places in the NT outside of Johannine writings. In Romans 8, for instance, the imagery occurs within a context of inaugurated and awaited eschatology. The birth pangs are still taking place, but the manifestation of the sons of God is certain, as Jesus has already been declared to be the Son of God in His resurrection as the firstborn of the dead. Being sons of God is a matter of great eschatological significance for Paul. The fact that people are being set apart as the sons of God by the reception of the firstfruits of the Spirit is a sign that the last days have come upon us.

Understanding the death and resurrection of Christ in terms of birth pangs and new birth provides us with an illuminating perspective on the death of Christ, one that is present at a number of points in the NT, but has not received much attention. It is a model of atonement that focuses on the giving of new life. Within this model (which undoubtedly needs to be complemented by others) sin and death are overcome not by means of punishment, but by the bringing about of new life. Birth pangs may be an effect of the Fall, but the focus of this model is not on punishing man for sin or condemning sin, but on overcoming the death and the frustration of the creation that result from human sin.

Evangelical doctrines of the atonement often have the tendency of detaching the cross from the resurrection and becoming focused on the condemnation of the sins of the past, saying a lot less about how the cross and resurrection bring about new life. We are left merely as forgiven sinners, rather than as participants in a new creation. Such models — which should by no means be rejected — are generally backward looking, focusing on past transgressions. The model outlined above is more forward looking, placing a far greater accent on the resurrection.

This model also ties in very neatly with themes and motifs that are very prominent in the OT. I have already observed how it relates to imagery that is found in a number of places in the prophets. It relates to the common OT theme of God’s overcoming of barrenness to bring forth the seed. Even more significantly, it relates to the unravelling of the curse and the fulfilment of the protoevangelium far more closely than many other models. It relates to the curse on the woman’s womb, the curse on the ground and the overcoming of death.

Significantly, this theme does not merely show the cross and resurrection as the reversal of the curse. The curse stacks all the odds against new birth, but it is not the reason why new birth is necessary. New birth is necessary because the creation must mature. The heavenly must take the place of the earthly (1 Corinthians 15:35-54). The recent film Children of Men well illustrates the dystopic reality of a world of death without new birth. In such a world, all that remains is the agonizing cry of the woman who can bring forth nothing but wind. In the resurrection the world of the first creation is glorified. The natural body is sown and the spiritual body is raised and there is a future for the world once more.

The model outlined above presents us with a natural image — that of giving birth — in order to help us to understand what takes place at the cross. Even apart from the dimension of the overcoming of the curse and barrenness of the womb of the earth, such new birth of the Spirit would have been necessary even in a world apart from sin. Such a ‘natural’ image for what takes place at the cross also suggests how what takes place at the cross may be analogous to the eternal begetting of the Son, which provides the eternal condition of its possibility. Christ is the one who is eternally begotten by the Father through the Spirit and He is the one in whom new birth by the Father through the Spirit becomes a possibility for us in history. The death and resurrection thus mirror to some extent the eternal processions of the Trinity.

In Which Alastair selects Five Thinking Bloggers and is Disturbed to Discover that he has a Doppelganger

Byron has just tagged me in the thinking blogger meme. I thought that I would post my list and give myself this day off my month-long hiatus. It has been some time since I last posted anything worth reading.

So, without further ado, my selection for five thinking blogs (in no particular order):

1. Fragmenta — I love thought-provoking exegetical insights and Matt Colvin’s blog is one of the best places to go for these.

2. Leithart.com — As far as thinking blogs go, Peter Leithart’s is almost without peer.

3. Sacra Doctrina — Joel Garver, when he is not ‘going Garver’, is one the most stimulating and level-headed bloggers out there.

4. Faith and Theology — It would be hard to deny Ben Myers a place on any such list.

5. Smilax — Dennis Hou has been MIA for much of 2007, but when he is blogging, his posts are often the ones that I most look forward to reading.

Drawing up such a list has not been easy. There are many people who came close to inclusion: Cynthia Nielsen, Al Kimel, John H, John Barach, and the horror that is Chris Tilling.

On the subject of theology blogs, I had the most disturbing experience yesterday. Barbara Harvey drew my attention to this blog. The writer of this blog is named Alastair Roberts and lives in Edinburgh, little over an hour’s drive away from where I am in St. Andrews. He is a fan of N.T. Wright and has recently blogged on the way that Wright is being treated within the PCA and on his recent article on penal substitution. Having seen my doppelganger, I suddenly feel at least 15% less ‘Alastair’ than I did beforehand.

NTW on Penal Substitution Debates

The following is a brief intermission in my month-long hiatus…

N.T. Wright has just written an article that brilliantly captures many of my feelings about current evangelical debates about penal substitution, which is currently causing all sorts of splits and disagreements in evangelical circles in the UK. He also addresses critics of the doctrine and clarifies where he stands in relation to the work of Steve Chalke, for example.

There are few things that frustrate me more than evangelical debates about penal substitution. I am convinced, with Wright, that, whilst they capture something of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement, most evangelical penal substitution accounts are woefully sub-biblical. All too often they consist of some decontextualized prooftexts loosely strung together by a rather abstract theological theory and fall far short of the rich and multifaceted story that the Scriptures present us with. Although I am persuaded of the truth of penal substitution, I usually feel that such theories are not a whole lot better than many of the accounts given by those who deny penal substitution altogether. I have also come to realize that evangelical rhetoric often merely masks a lack of receptive engagement with Scripture. It may seem strange to some, but I am increasingly coming to the conviction that, if receptivity to the Scriptures is what I am looking for, I might be better off reading some good Roman Catholics as, somewhat ironically, they are often less invested in the perfect truth of their tradition than many evangelicals are.

The following are some quotes from Wright’s article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

And I was put in mind of a characteristically gentle remark of Henry Chadwick, in his introductory lectures on doctrine which I attended my first year in Oxford. After carefully discussing all the various theories of atonement, Dr Chadwick allowed that there were of course some problems with the idea of penal substitution. But he said, ‘until something like this has been said, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the full story has not yet been told.’ For myself, I prefer to go with Henry Chadwick, and James Denney – and Wesley and Watts, and Cranmer and Hooker, and Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas – and Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John – and, I believe Jesus himself. To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.

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What then do I mean by saying that Pierced for Our Transgressions is deeply unbiblical? Just this: it abstracts certain elements from what the Bible actually says, elements which are undoubtedly there and which undoubtedly matter, but then places them within a different framework, which admittedly has a lot in common with the biblical one, but which, when treated as though it were the biblical one, becomes systematically misleading. An illustration I have often used may make the point. When a child is faced with a follow-the-dots puzzle, she may grasp the first general idea – that the point is to draw a pencil line joining the dots together and so making a picture – without grasping the second – that the point is to draw the lines according to the sequence of the numbers that go with each dot. If you ignore the actual order of the numbers, you can still join up all the dots, but you may well end up drawing, shall we say, a donkey instead of an elephant. Or you may get part of the elephant, but you may get the trunk muddled up with the front legs. Or whatever. Even so, it is possible to join up all the dots of biblical doctrines, to go down a list of key dogmas and tick all the boxes, but still to join them up with a narrative which may well overlap with the one the Bible tells in some ways but which emphatically does not in other ways. And that is, visibly and demonstrably, what has happened in Pierced for Our Transgressions, at both large and small scale.

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But the biggest, and most worrying, unbiblical feature of Pierced for Our Transgressions is the outright refusal to have anything seriously to do with the gospels. This is a massive problem, which I believe to be cognate with all kinds of other difficulties within today’s church, not least within today’s evangelicalism. There is no space here to open up this question more than a very little. Let me just tell it as I see it on reading this new book.

I was startled, to begin with, at the fact that the foundational chapter, entitled ‘Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution’, has precisely six pages on the Gospel of Mark, a good bit of which consists of lengthy biblical quotations, and four on John. And that’s it for the gospels. I don’t disagree with most of those ten pages, but it is truly astonishing that a book like this, claiming to offer a fairly full-dress and biblically-rooted doctrine of the meaning of the cross, would not only omit Matthew and Luke, and truncate Mark and John so thoroughly (sifting them for prooftexts, alas), but would ignore entirely the massive and central question of Jesus’ own attitude to his own forthcoming death, on the one hand, and the way in which the stories the evangelists tell are themselves large-scale interpretations of the cross, on the other. One would not know, from this account, that there was anything to all this other than Mark 10.45 (‘the Son of Man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many’) and a few other key texts, such as the ‘cup’ which Jesus prayed might pass, but which he eventually drank.

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I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn’t know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate ‘Paul’ (inverted commas, because it is their reading of Paul, rather than the real thing, that they elevate) and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus’ stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected. And this, sadly, chimes in with other impressions I have received from elsewhere within the same theological stable – with, for instance, the suggestion that since Paul’s epistles give us ‘the gospel’ while ‘the Gospels’ simply give us stories about Jesus, we shouldn’t make the reading of the latter into the key moment in the first half of the Communion Serice. (In case anyone should rub their eyes in disbelief, I have actually heard this seriously argued more than once in the last year or two.)

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There are large issues here of theological method and biblical content, all interacting with other large issues of contemporary hermeneutics: would I be totally wrong, for instance, to see some of the horrified reaction to Steve Chalke, and to some of the ‘Emerging Church’ reappropriation of the gospels, as a reaction, not so much against what is said about the atonement, but against the idea, which is powerfully present in the gospels, that God’s kingdom is coming, with Jesus, ‘on earth as in heaven’, and that if this is so we must rethink several cherished assumptions within the western tradition as a whole? Might it not be the case that the marginalisation of the four gospels as serious theological documents within Western Christianity, not least modern evangelicalism, is a fear that if we took them seriously we might have to admit that Jesus of Nazareth has a claim on our political life as well as our spiritual life and ‘eternal destiny’? And might there not be a fear, among those who are most shrill in their propagation of certain types of ‘penal substitution’, that there might be other types of the same doctrine which would integrate rather closely with the sense that on the cross God passed sentence on all the human powers and authorities that put Jesus there? John 18 and 19 as a whole (and not only in individual words and phrases), and 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 2 as wholes, have an enormous amount to say about the biblical meaning of the cross which you would never, ever guess from reading Pierced for Our Transgressions and other works like it.

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Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who ‘searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’, instead of ‘knowing’ in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn’t made it so obscure!).

As I have already suggested, read the whole article for yourself.

Alastair.Adversaria will return in a month’s time (perhaps)

Lenten Guest Post - Day 39 - A Humble King Crowned with Thorns

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ — John 19:1-5

Have you ever wondered why the soldiers chose a crown of thorns? After all, they could have constructed the crown from a number of other materials. Yet, the crown of thorns seems purposed, that is, it draws us back to the Genesis and the series of curses that resulted when our first parents fell. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Gen 3:17-18). As Jesus begins to walk the path that leads to his death by crucifixion, we have a glimpse here of how he, the true guiltless Man, will take the curse, our curse upon Himself. The scene is shot through with irony—Pilate, the image of a false and corrupt “king,” presenting the true King as a helpless prisoner and eventually condemning Him to die. Likewise, we see Jesus, the Lord of creation, the perfect image of God, who unlike Adam and Eve, listened the voice of the Father in humble obedience even to the point of death on a Cross—this Jesus, Pilate proclaims is the true man (talk about meanings going beyond the intention of the author/speaker), and indeed He is—the icon of God who makes the invisible God visible, who opens blind eyes, softens hard hearts and who gives life to the dead. Yet, the One through whom all things were made and who, came to His own, finds His own in rebellion against Him. In fact, they even weave together a crown of thorns and dress Him in a purple robe to mock Him. What is our Lord’s response to this? Does He lash out and call down legions of angels to wipe out the rebels? No. The innocent, yet true King, crowned with signs of creation’s curse, stands silent and walks the path that was both His destiny and our blessing. Behold the Man!

Cynthia Nielsen is graduate student at the University of Dallas and an adjunct philosophy instructor at Eastfield College. Her interests include jazz guitar and Russian language and literature. She blogs at Per Caritatem.

Links

Believe it or not, I really meant it when I said (about a month and a half ago now) that I had no intention of reducing my input on this blog to that of posting long lists of links. I apologize for the continued lack of substantial posting. Hopefully this will change sometime soon. However, I won’t make any promises, as I have not the best track-record of keeping blogging promises. What do you, my reader, think of my link posts? Should I stop them or make them more occasional? Are they worth reading or would you prefer me to do something different with my blogging time? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye online over the last couple of days:

Matt Colvin, whose Lenten reflection was posted on this blog yesterday, posts further thoughts on his blog on the Last Supper and on Gethsemane. He also has posted some posts that are relevant to the interminable FV debates: ‘Dead Orthodoxy’ and ‘Head on a Platter’.

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The Fearsome Pirate has returned! He kicks off with a post on Lutheranism. Josh, we’ve missed you.
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Leithart posts on the subject of the consumer revolution and gives us quite a Girardian insight from an eighteenth century writer.
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On the subject of René Girard, Edward Oakes posts on Girard over on the First Things blog.
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Macht links to audio from Calvin College’s Faith and Music weekend. It looks interesting: Sylia Keesmaat, Lauren Winner, and a number of other speakers.
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If any of you are feeling like engaging in some extreme penance, Ben Myers links to a meme that might suit you. He also posts Kim Fabricius’s ‘Ten Propositions on Political Theology’, which Josh and Joel discuss over on the BHT.
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Stephen at the Thinkery links to a post with a series of accounts of anti-LGBT encounters. Whilst I believe that lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behaviour is sinful, I have long maintained that homophobia is real and ought to be shown up in all of its ugliness by Christians. Some of the stories recounted should give us food for thought.
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There are few examples of homophobia as extreme as that of the Westboro Baptist Church. The following is the first part of the BBC2 documentary, in which Louis Theroux meets the Phelps:

The other parts of the show are also available on Youtube — part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

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The audiobook of Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is available for free download from Christian Audio this month [HT: Tim Challies]. Don’t miss out!
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Why PowerPoint presentations don’t work [HT: David Field]. I feel vindicated: I have long viewed PowerPoint presentations with a mistrust bordering on antipathy.
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According to recent studies, Britain has 4.2million CCTV cameras - one for every 14 people in the country - and 20 per cent of all cameras globally.

It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily.

Read the whole article here [HT: David Field].

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Tearfund has a new report on churchgoing in the UK. There is some comment on the report on the BBC website. Graham Weeks posts some figures from the survey here.
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NTW’s Maundy Thursday sermon.
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The Placebo Diet [HT: The Evangelical Outpost]. I just need to know how to turn this finding in my favour.
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As usual the Evangelical Outpost has a number of other interesting links, which I thought that I would pass on:

100 aphorisms summarizing Calvin’s Institutes
Some classic insults
34 Reasons Why People Unsubscribe from your Blog (a quick scan confirms my suspicion that I have been guilty of the majority of these at some time or other)
The Internet weighs 2 ounces

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Some British teachers drop teaching the Holocaust and the Crsuades to avoid offending Muslims and other schools are challenged to change their teaching on the Arab-Israeli conflict by some theologically confused Christians [HT: Tim Challies]
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A skeptical ex-scientist describes the funding process for peer-reviewed research.
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Some more useful links from lifehacker:

How to Read a Scientific Research Paper
How to make yourself happier within the next hour
Google launches My Maps
Ditto: A useful Windows clipboard extension

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I am glad that I am not the only person who writes e-mails in this way:

Some of the other Youtube videos that have caught my attention over the last week include: LisaNova does 300!, Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.1 and Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.2.
***
Jeffrey Overstreet asks whether movies are increasing our capacity to see, and whether the narrative of film distracts us too much from the visual dimension [HT: John Barach].
***
And, on the topic of the poetry of cinema, I will conclude this links post with one of my favourite scenes from Spirited Away, which I watched yet again last night. It grows on me every time.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 38 - You Have Said It

Alastair has asked me to blog about something Jesus said during His earthly ministry. This being Lent, I thought it might be good to focus on something he repeats three times during the Passion week. Thrice Jesus answers a question by su eipas “you have said (it),” or su legeis “you say (it)”. With this reply, He is answering momentous questions: “Is it I [who am to betray you], Lord?” by Judas (Mt. 26:25); “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” by the High Priest (Mt. 26:64); and “You are the king of the Jews?” by Pilate (Mt. 27:11, Mk. 15:2, Lk. 23:3, Jn. 18:37). The reply to all three is mistranslated by many Bibles as “It is as you say,” i.e. a direct affirmation of the proposition put in the question. It is amusing to look at the NKJV and find “It is as you say” – the italics indicating the translators’ supplements.

David Daube, in an article on Judas, traces Jesus’ utterance to the Hebrew ‘amarta, which Strack-Billerbeck equate with wie du sagst, so ist es: “as you say, so it is.” But this is not the true meaning of the phrase. Daube cites an episode from t. B. K. Kelim 1:6, which concerns a dispute over whether a certain entrance to the Temple had required a washing of hands and feet. After the war with Rome, Rabbi Simon the Modest, in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, professed that he used to enter that particular gate without washing. “Whereupon Eliezer, a giant in learning and piety yet rudely domineering, asked him which was more esteemed, he or the High Priest. Simon kept silent. Eliezer: “You are ashamed to admit that the High Priest’s dog was more esteemed than you.” Simon: “Rabbi, you have said it.” Eliezer: “By the Temple service, they would break even the High Priest’s head with their clubs [were he to enter unwashed]; what would you do that the guard might not find you?”

R. Simon’s use of ‘amarta is a reply to Eliezer’s rude comparison of himself with the High Priest’s dog. It is a mistake to read it as “Yes, you’re absolutely right.” It is far more subtle than that: something more like, “I take no responsibility for the proposition you have just put. It came out of your mouth, not mine. To say more would be to cross a line into impropriety.”

Consider: a straight “Yep” would be absolutely inappropriate in Judas’ case. “One of you is going to betray me.” Judas: “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus: “Bingo.” This would be mere fatalism, not Biblical prophecy. Judas becomes a sort of Oedipus, betraying the Messiah malgré lui. But Jesus’ answer is a non-denial, not a straight affirmation. Judas will betray, but not because Jesus has compelled him.

The answers given on the witness stand before the Sanhedrin and Pilate would be less troublesome if they were reduced to “yes.” But there, too, Jesus has His reasons for evasion. Of course, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. And the reaction of His opponents to his use of su eipas is to treat it as a “yes.” But this is because in their eyes only a denial of His Messiahship would do. As for Pilate, N.T. Wright points out that his question is in the form of a statement: “You are the king of the Jews” – su ei ho basileus twn Ioudaiwn. The answer “Thou sayest” has a further nuance to it: You think you are asking, but you are in fact declaring. Pilate will end by writing Jesus’ title on a sign over His head.

Jesus’ answer before the Sanhedrin and Pilate is of a piece with the rest of His earthly ministry. He never denies His messiahship, but He seldom asserts it verbally. Rather, by His actions, He lets the Father and Spirit testify of Him, while He testifies of Them. Of course, He is the king of the Jews. But recall to what lengths he had gone to avoid oral professions of it. When John’s disciples asked him if He was the Coming One, “or do we wait for another”, Jesus directed them to “Tell John what you have seen and heard,” and adverted to His miracles and His preaching of the kingdom. When confronted by the Pharisees about the crowds who were hailing Him as Messiah, He replies that if they do not do it, the stones will cry out. He tells the Jews that “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true…There is one who testifies.” What wonder then that when on the witness stand, Jesus still refuses to testify? “You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, and sitting at the right hand of God.” The Father will vindicate Him. He does not need to argue His way to a “not guilty” verdict.

Klaas Schilder likes to point out that though Jesus is in the dock, it is really the Sanhedrin and Pilate who are on trial. Jesus is pronouncing sentence on them. He has come to Israel and done the works of His Father. All Israel is on trial to see what she thinks of God’s anointed. Peter passed the same test with his profession: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” and Jesus congratulated him. But then He immediately commanded his disciples to tell no one (Mt. 16:20).

The Jews of Jesus’ day took His reticience for a “yes”: “What further need of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.” But many modern Jews take it as a “no.” A. Kolatch, The Second Jewish Book of Why, p. 71:

Many Jewish scholars believe that Jesus considered himself a prophet only. They reject the contention of Christian scholars that when Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” in his preaching (first mentioned in Daniel 7:13, where the Aramaic phrase bar enash is used), he was referring to himself as the Messiah. The phrase “Son of Man,” in the Jewish view, is used in the third person, and more likely than not, when Jesus used the phrase he was referring to someone other than himself. Jewish scholars also point to the fact that there is little evidence in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) – the earliest account of the life of Jesus – that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah.

“Little evidence”?? What kind of evidence did Kolatch want? Miracles?

The trial continues to this day. Who do you say that He is?

Matt Colvin holds a PhD in Classics from Cornell University, and has published articles in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy and the Classical Quarterly. He has worked as a quarry truck driver, and a teacher at Mars Hill Academy in Cincinnati, OH (to which he will return this fall). He blogs at Fragmenta.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 37 - The Wounds of Job


What is the message of the book of Job, for those of us who are enduring unjust suffering? Perhaps we can hear what the Lord would tell us more clearly from summarizing the story from a slightly different angle.

Job was blameless and upright, and his righteousness was the boast of the angels of God. In the fullness of time, God humbled him to a lowly state, with Job becoming as poor as any man. Then God crushed him with horrible wounds in his flesh, so that he suffered agonizing pain. Though Job prayed that God’s wrath would be taken away from him, he finally resigned himself to God’s will - remaining obedient in the face of death.

His friends, who had once praised him, now hid their faces from him. They esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. They renounced him as wicked, and numbered him with the transgressors. The wrath of God was poured out on him. Job cried out to God for deliverance, but no help came. He had made great claims, as if he was in some special status before God, but events apparently proved that God’s affections were elsewhere.

His accusers were wrong. Job was more righteous than they ever knew, and in cursing Job, they had cursed God’s chosen agent – bringing God’s anger and judgment upon themselves. Yet Job himself, in the midst of his affliction, interceded and atoned for the sins of his friends, offering forgiveness for those who would come to him. In the end, God exalted Job to his former splendor. People came from far and wide to pay homage to him who the Lord had afflicted, laying treasures at his feet. And he brought many sons and daughters into glory.

In an almost stigmatic sense, Job was given the wounds of the Lord. Though he was blameless and upright from the beginning, his righteousness was elevated to a whole new level by participating in the redemption of the world.

What comfort is this to us who also suffer? I think of George MacDonald’s famous quote at the beginning of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain:

The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.

The curse of man becomes the gift of God, once we’ve drunk the cup to the bottom. It’s a hard and high calling, and we may scream to be left alone. Like Job, we may also cry, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him.” But we can take comfort in being in far better company than those who are at ease. Like Job, we must wait for our renewal to come, knowing that our redeemer lives. Then, though broken by despair, we will have our hearts kindled by a strangely familiar voice:

O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he will interpret to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself – including, of course, the testimony of the prophet Job.

Wonders for Oyarsa is a blog by a Christian computer professional preparing for cross-cultural work in East Asia. The purpose of the blog is to facilitate a journey through the Bible - reading it in its entirety, reflecting on it, honestly writing what comes to mind, welcoming conversation from all. The author hopes being swept up into this story will help him and others not take for granted the wonders of the story we humans inhabit.

Links

The FV discussion continues on unabated. Matt Colvin has some very good thoughts on the debate here (makes sure that you read the comments). Lane Keister suggests that ego is the main thing standing in the way of FV people repenting of their errors. The huge number of comments that follow his post make interesting reading. Meanwhile, the Presbyteer posts an overheard comment.

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Mark Goodacre and Dr Jim West continue to discuss the value of Wikipedia.
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Richard Mouw writes on Calvinism and sewage [HT: Prosthesis].
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Paul Duggan (who really needs to sort out his permalinks) puts forward the following statements for discussion:

1. Some Christians, because of their great faith or piety, are more effective than other Christians in begging God’s favors, say for healing the sick.

2. Since some Christians are of that sort, it is a good idea to ask them, in particular, to pray for you, say, if you are sick.

3. It is ok to think, in the back of your mind, “that man is righteous: his prayer will be partciularly effective for my sickness”

4. Doing so is not blasphemous, nor does it impinge upon the complete salvation we have in Christ.

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Mererdith Kline’s works online [HT: Ros Clarke].
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R.C. Sproul reviews N.T. Wright’s recent book, Evil and the Justice of God.
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The good bishop is also in the news again, responding to a BBC Radio 4 show with the ‘controversial cleric’ Jeffrey John, who claims that the doctrine of penal substitution “is repulsive as well as nonsensical” and “makes God sound like a psychopath.” The Sunday Telegraph reports:

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about “love and truth”, not “wrath and punishment”. He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could “share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us”.

Church figures have expressed dismay at his comments, which they condemn as a “deliberate perversion of the Bible”. The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accused Mr John of attacking the fundamental message of the Gospel.

“He is denying the way in which we understand Christ’s sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life,” he said.

Bishop Wright criticised the BBC for allowing such a prominent slot to be given to such a provocative argument. “I’m fed up with the BBC for choosing to give privilege to these unfortunate views in Holy Week,” he said.

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From Vern Poythress’s ‘The Church as a Family’, which I had occasion to read a few days ago:

[M]any evangelical churches today are seen primarily as lecture halls or preaching stations. People identify the church with its building, in contrast to the Biblical emphasis that those united to Christ are the real church. Moreover, the building is viewed merely as a place for hearing a sermon or enjoying religious entertainment. Such a view impoverishes our communal life as Christians. Certainly monologue sermons are important, since they are one means of bringing God’s Word to bear on the church. But God intends the church to be much more…

But in too many evangelical churches, people have little experience of the Biblical practice of common family life. There may also be no regard for the necessity of church discipline. The church leaders are nothing more than gifted speakers or counselors (paid ministers), or else managers of church property and/or programs (whether these people are called trustees or elders or deacons). Such “leaders” are just people whose useful gifts have brought them into prominence. In such situations, it is understandable that some people may fail to see why appropriately qualified women may not exercise the key functions they associate with leadership. In fact, Christians will not fully understand the logic leading to male overseers until they come to grips with what the church should really be as God’s household.

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Steven Harris posts a Palm Sunday confession.
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Byron Smith on the chocolate Jesus controversy.
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The Pirate comments on the erotic character of much contemporary worship:

Let’s point out the obvious: replace the buxom blonde babes with stout matrons in their late 50’s, and the worship experience just plain doesn’t happen. Hire an older fellow that walks with a cane as your worship pastor instead of that handsome, young, energetic Cedarville graduate, and Sunday morning just won’t “work.” That should indicate something is wrong. This kind of “worship” isn’t anything new. Maybe fog machines, synthesizers, and colored lights are new, but sensuality and eroticism in worship aren’t. It’s just that in the olden-tymie days, you had to go to a pagan temple to get that. They [presumably the Church — Al] did a remarkably bad job of incorporating the pagan culture into their worship. A few things changed with the imperialization of the Church, but the damage had already been done. Christian worship was doomed to centuries of reverence, formality, seriousness, regularity, and deliberation until the 20th century brought Aphrodite back to her rightful place as the orchestrator of our worship.

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Doug Wilson posts 21 questions for a prospective wife. And, if you are reading Dad, I still do not intend to need to use these myself anytime in the foreseeable future…
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John blogs on slinkies.
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Louis Theroux meets the Phelpses.
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How to paint the Mona Lisa with MS Paint:

Lenten Guest Post - Guilt

Isaiah 53:5

It’s amazing how often you can listen to a verse, and yet completely miss the point. I have a problem with OCD which makes me feel incredibly guilty for things I’ve done in the past. Whether what I worry about was sin or not, the point is that if we have repented, Jesus has taken the pain of our sin.

Peter is Alastair’s brother

More Links

It has been quite some time since anything was posted on this blog. The pre-Holy Week guest posts have dried up (although hopefully my youngest brother will have sent me something before the weekend). I am presently enjoying my mid-semester break, although not a whole lot has been achieved so far. We have eaten a lot, entertained a number of people, caught up on some DVD watching and played far too much Settlers of Catan and Canasta. I have probably only read no more than one hundred and fifty pages or so of various books within the last couple of days.

Later today we are having more people over for a big meal, prior to a Desperate Housewives evening that my housemate Simon is organizing. I think that I will probably opt out of that (and not just because Desperate Housewives jumped the shark a while back). Tomorrow we have an all-day Lord of the Rings session, where we will be watching the three extended versions back-to-back. I will try and get some study done this evening to help me to justify a full day off. We have a 24-athon planned for next week, which should be even more intense. Hopefully, the LoTR day will help me to get in shape for that.

The following are some of the various things that have caught my attention online over the last few days.

I haven’t read either of them yet, but David Field has posted links to two Oak Hill dissertations, one on Romans 2:1-16 and another on Romans 8:13.

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Kim Fabricius’ Ten Propositions on Being a Theologian
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Also on Faith and Theology, Ben links to reports of Kathryn Tanner’s Warfield lectures and talks about his top 20 theological influences (very interesting reading; I will have to try to put together such a list sometime).
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Peter Leithart’s recent Pro Ecclesia article, ‘Justification as Verdict and Deliverance’, is receiving positive press on a number of places on the blogosphere. Al Kimel (aka: The Pontificator) blogs about it here and ‘Martin Luther’ makes some — rather strange — remarks here.
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John H has some good remarks on faith and certainty:—

In other words, faith isn’t something we are to try to work up in ourselves. It isn’t some inner state of certainty to which we somehow attain. God, in his mercy towards us, does not require us to hold within our heads at one moment the whole truth of Christianity, and to assent to it. Rather, he comes to us with concrete, audible promises: “Your sins are forgiven”; “Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”; “This is my body, given for you… this cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. Faith is believing the promise we are hearing right now.

Read his whole post here.

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Pope Benedict XVI tries to remind people of the existence of hell.
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Islamic feminist theologians (I suppose that that, like lesbian Eskimo bishops, some have to exist somewhere…).
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Garrett questions the value of long sermons.
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Mark Goodacre writes in defence of Wikipedia. Dr Jim West disagrees strongly.
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‘John Lennon’s Born-Again Phase’ [via Dave Armstrong]
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As usual, there have been some great posts on Leithart’s blog over the last few days. In this post he talks about a type of hospitality that has largely been lost or forgotten in our world.

The church set up various institutional forms of hospitality, including hospitals for the rejected and marginalized sick and weak. But the early church fathers also said that individual believers were supposed to show the same hospitality. Christine Pohl writes of Chrysostom: “Even if the needy person could be fed from common funds, Chrysostom asked, ‘Can that benefit you? If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?’ He urged his parishioners to make a guest chamber in their own houses, a place set apart for Christ — a place within which to welcome ‘the maimed, the beggars, and the homeless.’”

It is quite easy to be charitable from a distance. The effort necessary to slow the frenetic pace of our lives down to be able to extend personal care and hospitality to people in need, rather than merely donating money is considerable. I have been very blessed by the example of my parents in this respect. Over the years we have taken many needy people into our home to live with us, for periods of time varying from a few days to a number of months. We have taken in itinerants, homeless people, students, recovering drug addicts and many others. Whilst our hospitality has been abused on more than one occasion, the experience of sharing your life with people in need is such a valuable and eye-opening one that I don’t think that we have any major regrets, even though we might do things slightly differently in the future. Quite apart from anything else, you learn a lot about yourself and your own weaknesses and failings.

Leithart also has some great posts on Jane Austen: ‘Keeping us Reading’, ‘Austen and Prejudice’ and ‘Communal Judgment, Communal Argument’.

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Tim Challies writes on the subject of discernment in the gray areas.
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Paleojudaica, Dr Jim Davila’s blog, turned 4 over the weekend. A belated ‘Happy Birthday!’.
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In my last links post, I linked to a post on speed-reading. Since then Matt has linked to this tool (I’m not sure that I find it particularly helpful, though) and the Evangelical Outpost links to this post on how to read a lot of books in a short time. John Barach speaks up on behalf of slow reading. It surprises some people when I tell them, but I slow-read most books, principally because I am of the conviction that the quality of one’s reading is more important than the quantity. The best books are to be savoured. I also slow read many of the worst books, as I feel duty bound to ensure that I understand someone very well before I strongly disagree with them. I also write lots of comments in the margins of my books and underline many sections, which slows down the reading process considerably.
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John Piper and Ligon Duncan speak on the subject of ‘The Challenge of the New Perspective to Biblical Justification’ on the Albert Mohler Radio Program.
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Some facts about the top 1000 books found in libraries [HT: Tim Challies].
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Josh, the fearsome Lutheran pirate, writes in defence of women’s ordination (don’t worry, he is not seriously advocating the position).
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Mark Whittinghill alerts us to a new posthumous Tolkien book. It should be released in under a month.
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Michael Spencer links to a list of D.A. Carson MP3s.
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Lifehacker tells us how to cure hiccups with sugar and gives a guide to power-napping.
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There is a new Youtube channel dedicated to material about the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first video contains the archbishop’s reflections on the slave pits in Zanzibar.
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Also in the world of Youtube, the Youtube Video Awards have been announced.
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Why models don’t smile and 101 great posting ideas [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].

Links


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 24 - Transfiguration

It was a whisper that woke them, a summons as dusky and fleeting as the blue dawn wind. “Come,” said the Christ, and Peter woke first to follow. Stumbled to his feet and nudged his closest friends. “The Master has something to show us,” he mumbled, clapping a wakeful hand onto John’s shoulder. James rose too and the three of them shivered in the cool, dim light, and stumbled after their Lord as he, without further ceremony, beckoned them to follow. Down through the sleep dim streets, their feet slapping the cobbled stones until their way led up the waiting mountain.

Not a word did Jesus say as he led them, not a glance to betray the goal of their climb. Only a smile, and the old call to follow, again, with no hint of their journey’s end. And they followed, with feet, and even with hearts, for he walked within the reach of their stumbling, always waiting for them when they lagged even a small way behind.

John, pensive as always, and James in his usual stolidity, walked with heads down in thought. But Peter walked with face turned upward, with eyes fixed just ahead on the form of his master. And in his mind the thought was stirring that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was taking them to show them something really glorious. After all, it had been he, Peter, who just a few days before had so steadfastly proclaimed his faith that Jesus was indeed the son of God. Peter felt rather gratified by this memory. He felt that he had proven the strength of his faith.

And so he walked eagerly, up, up into the limpid light of the new morning as it fell on the quiet mountain. With their steady climbing, they reached the top quickly, and Jesus stopped. He stood and closed his eyes to feel the rush of the dawn wind blowing up from the valleys below them. The three men beside him gulped in the fresh air and tried hard to enjoy the moment, but it was with eagerness that they met the opening of their lord’s eyes. Jesus stepped toward them.

“I have come to show you something, and yes Peter,” he turned and looked him full in the face, “you will see a bit of glory”.

Jesus smiled, and Peter leaned barely forward with a sudden puzzlement. For once again, he had caught that look in Jesus’ eyes, that knowing compassion, as if Peter were unaware of what was awaiting him. Peter did not particularly like that look. He did not want pity, and besides, what grief could there be in a vision of glory? He cast his doubt aside as, without a word more, Jesus stepped back.

And then there was light.

As sudden and blinding as new creation, the brightness swirled around them and they could no longer see the mountain, or even Jesus, for in an incomprehensible blaze of glory, God stood before them. Of course, they had always known Jesus to be the son of God, but it was different now. Heaven was right in front of them, the whirling beauty of the invisible world suddenly present to their flesh and blood sight. Song there was, and a constant quiver of movement for the air was alive with lyrical voices and the rush of a living light that touched every fiber of their being. In that instant, they saw the truth of all that Jesus had spoken in the long past months, for he became all He said He was before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared on his left and right, as heavenly witnesses to this unheard of revelation.

Peter especially was in ecstasy, his heart pounding with the thrill of his surety, his joy in seeing the truth of what he had chosen to follow. Surging with his usual zeal, he stepped bravely forward and spoke to the magnificent figure he knew to be his lord, offering to build a tabernacle for him. But even as his eager voice disturbed the faint music, there was a sudden crack as of lightning fire, and he was stopped mid-sentence. There was a quickening rush, and the advent of a new glory as brooding and fearsome as a mighty storm. It came like the untamed wind, thrumming through the air round him, challenging his desire to build walls around the beauty before him.

This glory was fearful, a blue and crimson magnificence that sent Peter to his knees. Peter forgot about building as the presence of the Holy One of Israel surrounded him. The voice of God the Father cracked down in a thunder of holiness and the earth trembled before Him. The light became brighter, the voices and music not louder but deeper and the men felt as if new dimensions of sound were opened to them, throbbing through regions within them that had never before been touched.

God, the Father, present in His awful goodness, spoke through the whirl of the storm and His words were simple:

“This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!”

The majesty was so great, the sense of holiness so overwhelming, the three men could no longer bear to look. They cried out and covered their faces, bowing down, huddled against the friendly earth. But Peter wept. For the glory he had so desired to see was a devastating glory, an impossible beauty that filled him with an unexpected dread. He had presumed to understand God, supposed himself wise because of his bravado of faith. But in that moment, he was suddenly terrified, as the dark faces of his many sins crowded suddenly round him.

The delightful beauty of Christ had thrilled him, the terrible beauty of the Father convinced him that he would surely die. And he knew with a final knowing, that no work of his, no proclamation of belief, no offer of honor would ever assuage the depth of his unworthiness. He crouched lower, his fingers dug into the earth and simply wept.

But in that instant, at the very inception of those fearing thoughts, a hand was laid on his shoulders. A still voice, a quiet voice said, “don’t be afraid”. Peter fought the anguish in his breast, wanting to grovel, unwilling to lift his face. But the words of the Holy One still echoed in his ears, “listen”. And he did. Summoning all the grit he possessed, he pushed away the fear and obeyed. He lifted his eyes and saw…only Jesus.

Only the earthy, flesh and blood face of his lord, suffused with the the rising sun. The earth shattering glory was gone. Jesus, man again, stood alone and reached down with a sun browned hand that gripped Peter’s shoulder with a pounding strength. Peter and his companions reached out with grateful tears to be lifted to their feet by this human, touchable God. And he took them to his heart like the little children they really were. Held them as they ached with the glory and the truth of what they had seen.

They had been given their desire. They had seen the reality of heaven behind Jesus’ words. They could never doubt now. But as they trudged back down the mountain that day, they realized that beyond even the divine glory they had desired, they had been given a glimpse of a great mystery; the glory of God as man, holding them, comforting them. For the vision had ended, not in a blast of trumpets or a crash of lightning. Their once in a lifetime glimpse of heaven’s most magnificent reality had not finished with choirs of angels or the crash of God’s splendor. It had ended with the face of Jesus; human before them, the heavenly glory compacted into a single man with a beating heart.

The miracle was not the splendor, it was the man who had left the splendor behind for the sake of the children he loved.

As Peter walked, he felt a love that he had never known surging through his spirit. It was nothing like his previous love; that had been a love more like an admiration combined with a healthy dose of pride in his own choice. This was pure adoration, of the God who clothed his glory in flesh and lifted his children up from the dust.

Every time he prayed for the rest of his life, Peter remembered the glory, so different from what he had expected. For with each whispered prayer he approached the throne of glory where light and justice blazed and trembled. But when he reached the foot, it was always Jesus who met him, Jesus who emerged from the crashing beauty to take him by his shaking, human hands and give him the strength to carry on.

As he does to all who love Him.

Sarah Clarkson lives in Monument, Colorado and is quite simply, a lover of words and the God who made them. This love expresses itself in her writing and her hope to study English Literature at a yet-undecided university this fall. She muses on life, books and beauty at her blog Take Joy.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 23 - Beginning with Forgiveness

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me.” — Matt 18:26

The man who just prostrated himself before me and confessed himself a sinner is back on his feet and embracing me. He has squatted and bowed before dozens of other sinners in this little candlelit cathedral, as have I, and both of us have worked up a sweat. Tomorrow our legs will ache. This is one strenuous way to get ready for Easter.

The “Forgiveness Vespers” service is how Orthodox churches embark upon Lent. Western Christians begin with ashes on their foreheads. Orthodox Christians begin with their foreheads on the floor.

The service marks a high point on the Orthodox calendar. Worshippers step reverently into the cathedral, knowing that tonight their church will “change keys” and enter a period whose mood they often describe as bright sadness. Prayers are rising before dusk, but sunlight has left the church by the time the old archbishop invites his people to draw near for a heart-to-heart. He begins to talk of forgiveness.

Their Lord, he tells them, pursued their reconciliation unto death. His sacrifice should move them to go about forgiving with urgency, outside the church as well as within. The archbishop’s counsel: If you aren’t willing to forgive, don’t bother with Lenten fasting. It would be pointless.

Finally, he makes a general confession himself. He admits, for example, that he has often been guilty of impatience. For that and other failings, he is sorry. “My brothers and sisters,” he says before prostrating himself, “forgive me.”

And so begins the rite of forgiveness. Starting with the archbishop, the people form a receiving line that slowly winds around the church. Everyone prostrates himself or herself before every other person present, even strangers.

“Forgive me, a sinner,” each one says, and then bends low. The person opposite makes the same confession, the same gesture. Rising, they embrace and kiss. “God forgives, and I forgive,” each one says, or other words to that effect.

Because everyone participates, all inevitably stand face to face with those who know them best. Young fathers bow before their young children. Boyfriends and girlfriends ask one another’s forgiveness. A mother seeks pardon from her son. Husbands prostrate themselves before their wives, and vice versa. A few people, choked by emotion, cannot get the words out every time. Tears say what their tongues cannot.

Cynics may doubt the genuineness of all this; some doubt its necessity. One visitor a few years ago was bemused to see all those faces down and bottoms up. Keeping her seat, and her distance, at the back of the church, she quietly wondered aloud, “Do they really need that much forgiveness?”

A Christian answers yes, they really do – and not just for more or less public offenses in word and deed, but even for offenses committed in secret or in the heart. No sin, in Orthodox and other Christian thought, is absolutely private. Each represents a breaking of faith with the whole church, the whole human race. No one who believes such a thing means to deny that sin offends God above all. The idea is simply to affirm that sin also offends those made in the image of that God.

But shouldn’t people who think that way seek and extend forgiveness all the time, and not just one Sunday night in late winter? Any church that prays “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” week in and week out, knows the unanimous Christian answer. In the words of St. Paul, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian martyred by the Nazis, envisioned Saturday as a time when laypeople might regularly pursue reconciliation with one another before sharing Holy Communion the next day. “Nobody who avoids this approach to his brother,” he wrote, “can go rightly prepared to the table of the Lord.”

The Orthodox are exhorted, just before they sing the creed, “Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Right thinking without right relating, to paraphrase St. James, is dead. As the Orthodox see it, a simple rite of forgiveness at the end of evening prayer underlines that point and puts it in boldface. “Let us embrace one another,” they will sing in the wee hours of Easter morning. “Let us speak also, O brethren, to those that hate us, and in the resurrection let us forgive all things, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead!”

A resurrection gospel puts those who believe it on their knees before God. Sooner or later, it puts them on their knees before one another.

Paul Buckley is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, USA, and has been called an Eastern Rite Presbyterian.

Links

The last few days have been very busy, so I haven’t posted any guest posts. They will recommence later this afternoon. A belated happy St. Patrick’s day to all of my readers!

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye recently.

Al Mohler’s ‘Is Your Baby Gay?’ post sparks controversy. It has been discussed by a number of people on the blogosphere (here on the Evangelical Outpost, for example). Mohler has since written a clarifying post. Mark and Macht are both critical of Mohler’s claim that certain forms of eugenics would be justified in the case of an unborn child who would most likely have a ‘homosexual orientation’. Apart from this issue, on which I am agreed with Mark and Macht, I am encouraged to see a rather more nuanced and balanced treatment of the issues of homosexuality from a leading evangelical than we have come to expect. As Lauren Winner has commented, if the Church were to speak about such issues better, we could then speak about them less. That would be a blessing indeed.

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Mark Goodacre continues to blog on the subject of the Jesus family tomb: ‘Discovery Website Adjusts Tomb Claims’ and ‘Talpiot Tomb Statistics Update’. Richard Bauckham guest posts on Chris Tilling’s blog: ‘Ossuaries and Prosopography’.
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Stephen over at Hypotyposeis blogs some thoughts on Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which Chris Tilling continues to review on his blog (it shouldn’t be much long until the review is longer than the book itself).
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Leithart blogs on the Christian roots of Europe.
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Ros Clarke blogs some quotations from JBJ’s ‘Apologia on Reading the Bible’.
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Edward Cook suggests that the genealogy of Luke 3 was most probably originally in Hebrew [HT: Dr Jim Davila].
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David Field posts notes for a talk that he gave, entitled ‘New Perspectives on Romans’.
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Chris Tilling writes a Bultmann poem.
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Tim Gallant links to a video raising questions about the scientific basis of global warming claims. I have no firsthand knowledge about the issues relevant to the global warming debate, but I do know a thing or two about how gifted the media is at draining complex debates of all nuance and presenting the public with grossly simplified and distorted pictures. I also know about the appeal of the unorthodox line of argument and the pull of the conspiracy theory. We all like to believe that we have privileged insight that others do not possess. A little selective knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. There are a lot of people who feel duty-bound to have a strong opinion on everything, even things that they don’t know have a clue about. The media happily fuels such people with prepackaged prejudices.

On the other hand, I am also well aware of the problems that attend the politicization of specialist debates. Most people bluff to some extent to hide their levels of ignorance on certain subjects; the temptation to bluff is greatest for politicians. On top of this, nuance does not go over well in the world of politics, where people are prone to move into polarized camps. Once an issue like global warming becomes politicized, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise critical questions about the scientific claims that are being made.

I also wonder sometimes whether we are inclined to overstate the impact that human beings have on the environment, wanting to flatter ourselves that we have more of an effect on and control over the world than we really do. The idea of a massive problem that we have created is more welcome than the idea of a huge climate shift that results from powers beyond our control. Man does not like to be reminded of his own impotence and the fact that his destiny is in many respects determined by greater forces than his own. All of these things lead me to retain a measure of skepticism towards the various claims being made in the global warming debates.

Jon uses this video as a springboard from which to discuss conspiracy theories and the need for orthodoxy to engage with heresy, if it is to arrive at a fuller knowledge of the truth. Jon observes something that I have commented on in the past: there are telltale signs of conspiracy theories and much of the thought in our circles as conservative Christians manifests all the classic symptoms. Young earth creationism is a perfect example (as is anti-Roman Catholicism). The truth or falsity of the claims of young earth creationists is beside the point here; the issue is that their approach to the issues is all too often the approach of conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories have a noxious effect on society and its public discourse. For this reason, if I were to have children I would prefer to have them educated by an atheistic evolutionist who would train them to think critically and engage with the best that science has to offer, than a conservative evangelical who would teach them conspiracy theories about science and discourage them from truly engaging with those with whom they disagree (I hope that I will never be called to make such a choice).

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Jon also has a helpful post on the subject of Richard Gaffin’s interaction with Rich Lusk (see here for further comment).
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Preparing tomorrow’s soldier [HT: Jon Barlow]
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The world’s oldest living man (116) puts his long life down to the fact that he has never been married.
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Ireland sends Pakistan home in the cricket World Cup. Makes up for the heartbreak of the rugby, I guess. Sadly, the joy of Ireland’s victory has since been overshadowed by the tragic death of Bob Woolmer.
***
Herschelle Gibbs scores six sixes in a row, a first for one day cricket. The minnows in the World Cup have really suffered this year; four of the five highest margins of victory in the World Cup (by runs) have been recorded in the last week.
***
Tony Blair meets Catherine Tate. Catchphrase comedy generally annoys me greatly, but I grinned at a few points in the last minute of this sketch, despite myself.
***
Weird Al parodies Dylan (not anywhere near as funny as ‘White and Nerdy’, but funny nonetheless) and (a fairly good imitator of) Dylan sings Seuss [HT: Mark Traphagen].

Update: NTW lecture, ‘Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?’ [HT: Richard]. Be warned, it is a huge file (90MB).

Lenten Guest Post - Day 19 - Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Flax

Look! My servant whom I have chosen,
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased!
I will put my Spirit upon him
And judgment to the nations he will announce.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And smoldering flax he will not quench,
Until he sends forth judgment to victory;
And in his name nations will trust.
— Matthew 12:18-21

These words, slightly modified from Isaiah 42, are often quoted in connection with Jesus’ compassion, and compassion certainly is present in this context. Jesus gives true and who heals multitudes (12:15).

But Matthew quotes them with something else in mind. The Pharisees are plotting to destroy Jesus (12:14), but Jesus’ response is not to destroy them in return. Instead, he withdraws. When the crowds follow him, he heals them but he also hushes them. He warns them not to make him known, Matthew says, so that “it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet,” and then he quotes the words above.

Who are the bruised reed and the smoking flax?

In Isaiah, “bruised reed” is the Assyrian ambassador’s term for Egypt: “You are trusting in the staff of this bruised reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him” (Isa. 36:6; cf. Ezek. 29:6). A bruised reed makes a bad staff because it snaps and the sharp end is driven into your hand.

And smoldering flax? Flax here is a wick and if it’s smoldering it’s about to go out and leave you in the darkness.

These aren’t simply images of weakness. They are images of things that let you down, things you ought to have been able to count on but which fail you, which leave you in the lurch, which even cause you pain and make you helpless.

The bruised reed and the smoldering flax in the context of Matthew 12 are the Pharisees. They were zealous for God’s covenant and Jesus ought to have been able to lean on them. But they are bruised reeds that will snap and pierce his hand. They are associated in the Gospels with the synagogue, which is an offshoot of the temple where God’s lamp burns. Their light should have illuminated Jesus and his work. But like the wicks in the lamp in Eli’s day (1 Sam. 3:3), they are smoldering wicks which will leave Jesus in darkness.

And Jesus lets them.

He doesn’t break the bruised reed. He doesn’t snuff out the smoldering wick. He doesn’t destroy those who would harm him. He doesn’t quarrel and cry out and shout down his enemies, nor does he allow the crowd of his followers to do it. Instead, he allows himself to be let down by the very people he should have been able to trust. He allows them to pierce his hand and leave him in darkness.

This refusal to break bruised reeds and snuff out smoldering wicks, the refusal to destroy those who threaten or betray him, will lead to Jesus’ death but not to Jesus’ defeat. It’s precisely by suffering this injustice that he will establish justice in the world.

In fact, in Isaiah 42, which Matthew doesn’t quote, Yahweh promises that the servant will not be “bruised” and will not be “quenched”: the very same words used for the reed and the flax. You can lean on him and he won’t splinter and pierce your hand. You can trust him to keep giving light. He allows himself to be let down so that he won’t let you down, so that his mission will succeed, so that the nations will trust in his name.

We are united to him. We share in his identification as God’s beloved, chosen servant. God has placed his Spirit on us so that we can carry out Jesus’ mission to establish God’s just rule among the nations. And therefore we also must share his demeanour until he sends forth justice to victory.

John Barach is the pastor of Reformation Covenant Church in Medford, Oregon. He’s married to Moriah and has the world’s cutest 21-month old daughter, Aletheia. He blogs at Kata Iwannhn: The Blog According to John, spends too much time working on exegesis for his sermons, and can be seen around Medford in various coffee shops, reading books and trying to figure out how to plant a liturgical, psalm-singing church that challenges the existing culture instead of conforming to it.

Miscellaneous

Tomorrow, and possibly a few other days of this week, will be without guest posts. I will be meeting up with my father in Edinburgh tomorrow and will not have access to my computer. The rest of the week will be exceedingly busy. Apart from regular activities I have a St. Patrick’s Day party to prepare for on Saturday. In addition to this, I am running rather low on guest posts at the moment. A number of people have promised to send me posts that I am still waiting on.

I appreciate that my blogging for the last few weeks (months?) has been rather patchy. I am not sure if this will change any time soon. I have a number of half-completed lengthy posts on my hard drive and dozens of other subjects that I have considered posting on over the last few weeks. The sheer number of things that I have been itching to comment about as I have been reading Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry over the last few days has been simply overwhelming. The problem is that the book has been so utterly appalling (I regret to say that this is not just exaggerated rhetoric) so far that I really wouldn’t know where to start. I am usually a relatively composed reader, not given to strong reactions, but some of the claims made in this book have left me dumbfounded. I just would not know where to begin in a response. Doug Wilson has been responding to the book on his blog, but he is far too kind in his criticisms. This is a book whose claims need to be taken apart stone by stone, each stone pulverized individually and the resultant dust scattered to the four winds of heaven. However, I do not have the time, energy or patience to waste on such a thankless task.

Here are a few links from today:

John H has alerted me to this article from the Scientific American‘Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus’s Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error?’. Mark Goodacre also has more on the tomb story — ‘Talpiot Tomb Various’ and ‘Mariamene and Martha, Stephen Pfann’. Ben Witherington links to an interview he has given on the tomb story.

***
Kim Fabricius’ Ten Propositions on Sin. As usual, I don’t agree with a number of Kim’s claims, but the clarity of insight of some of his observations always makes him worth reading.
***
David Field explains Aristotle’s Four Causes.
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Jeff Meyers podcasts an old lecture on the Mercersburg Theology’s sacramental conflict with Old School Presbyterianism.
***
First Things’ Joseph Bottum on good prose on the Web.
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John H on the altar-calling tendencies of some forms of contemporary atheism.
***
Lifehacker alerts us to two potentially useful downloads — Google Image Ripper and Polyglot 3000

Lenten Guest Post - Day 18 - His Grace is Sufficient


I grew up in a Christian family, with all its blessings and curses. To me, the greatest blessing I think has been to be ‘clothed’ with lots of scripture: in memory, through singing of psalms and hymns, in attitudes taught at an age at which one is still very receptive of correction. A curse is — if I may call it so — that the transition from the confines of a Christian home to becoming a Christian in the secular world is a great challenge. Children can and may rely in a sense on the faith (-fulness) of their parents and teachers, as they grow up they then do have to grow and mature in their ‘own’ faith. On some, leaving this context suddenly has the effect of stripping those hard-wrought clothes from them, in their first years of, for instance, entering university, and leaving them naked and exposed. It is one of the stronger reasons I believe every Christian needs to live in the context of a church. It is a dangerous venture to rely on however much effort in reading the bible and the practise of faith, while being isolated from any church.

At the time I went to university, and consequently had to leave the home of my parents, I was also faced with this challenge. I became a member of a local church and had to make friends with brothers and sisters there. At that time, being a member of a Christian students association was of crucial importance for me. However much I was blessed with support and friendship, it was a time my faith was tested and I underwent a great transition. I was a believer and a follower of Christ before, during and after, but it was a time during which I had to become so in a manner no longer dependent upon my parents. Not to become independent, but rather more dependent on God and on those through whom He blessed and continues to bless me. I discovered that my strengths were my greatest weakness; because when I needed them most I could not rely on them. During those times, my great weakness threw me back on God and that became my greatest source of strength.

As I moved out of the context of the place I grew up, my interest in its roots grew as well. Among all the ‘dis-coverings’ I made thus far, I think the trilogy of Klaas Schilder on Christ has been the greatest blessing. He opened up the gospels to me in a fresh way, about 70 years after he wrote it. The past couple of years I read one of the three volumes as Lent-activity, although this year circumstances have made it difficult to keep up with it. I highly recommend reading them; they are very poetic (at least in the original Dutch, which has made translation to English very difficult). I also read in an interview that they have been a great blessing to James Jordan, to my surprise.

This morning a sermon given by Alastair’s dad reminded me of a number of chapters of the first part, “Christ in His Suffering” (surprisingly, he had not read them yet himself). Often when we think of the suffering of Christ, we think of the cross, the physical suffering of pain and having to bear the guilt of others. But certainly Matthew for instance, stresses that great suffering came from those whom were the closest to Him. It is a painful contrast, to read in Matthew 26:

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. But not during the Feast, they said, or there may be a riot among the people. While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Jesus was preparing to fulfil all that the Passover feast pointed towards. His closest friends, in denial of what Jesus tells his disciples in the opening of the chapter, think Mary’s act is a waste. This is only one of many instances where the disciples betray Jesus, where they deny his ministry and more than often are worried about themselves (e.g. about who would be the most well-off with what Jesus was going to accomplish as the Messiah they thought Him to be). I wonder if there is greater agony known to mankind, than to be betrayed by those whom you love best. Nevertheless, Jesus loved them and in his love rebuked them and taught them, and loved them until the end.

Nevertheless also, the disciples did love their master. Peter being first among them… repeatedly grieved his Master deeply. What the writers of the gospel portray to us in the way Jesus was treated by those around him, friends and enemies, is a portrait of someone who was lonely in the highest degree possible, but amazingly unceasing in His love. It casts a light on what prayer to His Father meant. It casts a light on our own love for Jesus. Our love is always a love of response to Him, who loves us even though we have betrayed Him and are still capable to do so despite of our love for Him.

My strength is certainly not my love for Him, in the sense that I would be able to rely on it. But I receive my strength from Him, because when I have betrayed Him in my weakness and am discouraged in being his servant, He said: Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, follow Me!

Elbert Baas currently lives in Stoke-on-‘sunny’-Trent and is a member of Hartshill Bible Church, where Alastair’s father is a pastor. That is where he found a great friend in Alastair, when first visiting Stoke for a placement during his studies for 4 months. He is married with Annewieke, but not with their son Aron, who is now 5 months. He grew up in the Netherlands, but not in ‘Holland’. He obtained a bachelor degree in applied physics and is finishing a PhD thesis in biomedical engineering, in which he presents a methodology to study how growing bone tissue responds to local strain in a test tube. Later this year they hope to move back to the Netherlands so Elbert can set one year apart to study the ‘Calvinist’ legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd in depth, by taking part of the Master course ‘Christian Studies of Science and Society’ at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He enjoys cycling, photography, playing guitar, knitting (yes, real men knit), juggling, origami, reading philosophy, theology and Alastair’s blog. smoking his pipe or acigar (the latter preferably with whisky or cognac, and most important, in good company), programming. Elbert also blogs infrequently at http://www.theelepel.blogspot.com, http://www.engelandvaarders.blogspot.com (Dutch) and has blogged at http://www.thecomposition.blogspot.com. Prayer is valued that he may receive further vision how to grow in love and understanding in life as father of a family and as a follower of Christ, and how to daily give shape to that in all of life, especially in being a sincere, honest, concerned and most of all humble scientist. And how to keep short and concise!

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Lenten Guest Post - Day 17 -


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