Friday, 28 October 2005

Jesus: the first Socialist &/ the ultimate King?

My French teacher declared that St Peter was crucified upside down because the Christian church was a threat to the hierarchy in society, being such a mix of all classes and treating everyone as equal. After all, she said, Christ was the first socialist (declaring all people equal).

She's knowledgeable, and being in the class is a delight in getting to discuss things of interest, but also oppressing whenever she declares something about Roman Catholicism or tradition as if it's Christianity. I interjected (in class discussion after all we're encouraged to) that it was only myth that he was crucified upside down in Rome, but anyway, from reading the New Testament it seems that persecution of Christians had less to do with equality of persons and more to do with refusal to treat the emperor as God and insisting that Jesus was God, and explosively using the titles of universal Saviour and Lord for Jesus rather than the emperor being Saviour and Lord. She agreed and we moved on. But it distresses me when it's dismissed as 'interesting cultural background' (like Greek mythology, which also came up) rather than living truth. For a more explicit example: we were discussing how in French, 'Christian' festivals get capital letters, but other festivals don't, and she declared that after all, this was in the time before 'Libre pensée' - Free Thinking. She said this in a way that said not only 'there wasn't equality between religions', but 'of course now we know better'. But it does potentially give opportunities to speak. Please pray that I'd have wisdom and clarity in using them as well as speaking with mind to Jesus as Lord in general class discussion.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Spurgeon hits the mark

Phil Johnson has drawn attention to Spurgeon's magnificent sermon Christ - our substitute and its particular pertinence to our day, and in so doing, helped me actually read and appreciate a Spurgeon sermon, which has been too vaguely on my to do list for a while.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Time for some trivia

I stepped onto the metro on my way to church on Sunday to find in my carriage a man playing the Turkish Rondo on the accordion. Bizarre. He was playing it rather too fast... but as it wasn't written for accordion in the first place, I let him off and chipped in as requested when the time came (signalled, also bizarrely, by a change to an interrupted version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik).

What does a green man mean at a pedestrian crossing? Here it doesn't necessarily mean that the lights are red for traffic - they just happen to be green for pedestrians too: after all, it's good to be generous.

I hesitated for a second in replying to a bloke in the laundrette who was offering to help me negotiate my way round the coin-change-token machine, and found him without a thought offering to speak to me in any of 4 other languages. Now that is Brussels!

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Ignorance is bliss?

I remember the first time I heard of 'New Covenant' and 'Old Covenant': in 1st year, in an something my CUSW had given me to think about. I seem to remember querying his use of the terms: assuming that since I had been well taught and read a lot, and had never heard of these terms, others wouldn't understand them either. Back then, 4 long long years ago, I hadn't met the field of Biblical Theology under that name, with its emphases. I hadn't met anyone who could give a reason for not being sabbatarian which gave serious thought to Scripture (so I could only assume it was an untaught theological laziness). I hadn't, for that matter, met anyone who was serious enough about Scripture to be 'reformed' and was also 'credobaptist' - or not discussed with any at least. I remember showing my wishful ignorance in trying to tell a friend that I didn't think Baptists were wrong; but that I was a paedobaptist. I assumed without knowledge of any possible alternative that the mosaic covenant was one of grace, a further, national, spelling out of the Abrahamic.

Ignorance was bliss.

Now I hear a teacher I respect saying that the reason why the Reformation fathers, puritains et al were sabbatarian is because they over-emphasised the continuity of the covenants: that which I assumed for 18 years. Who are we to fly in the face of generations of wise Christians with our 'Biblical Theology'? But who are we to assume they were right? So I'm expected to find nothing disputable about
"The Old Testament is not our Testament. We should assume... that none of its stipulations are binding on us unless they are renewed in the new covenant."
while the whole of the reformers and since them to our day (not considering the antinomians etc.) thought otherwise. Which is overemphasised (continuity, discontinuity) and which is right? Which is to be assumed at the expense of the other?

Now I'm in a culture which assumes that an Evangelical Protestant - even any Protestant - is a Baptist: that is part of Protestantism, in contrast with RC-ism, and a contrast that has been made in my hearing at least 3 times since I arrived a month ago. There is no recognition of a possible reformed paedobaptism. In a meeting the question was asked, 'Who here has been baptised?', and following our show of hands it was clear that according to him, I should not have raised my hand, as he implied that paedobaptism was not baptism. That was at a GBU meeting: ie interdenominational.

Now I'm in a culture (and have been, in England) which assumes that to be sabbatarian is to be legalistic; assumes that it's obvious that the 4th commandment is not for us.

In each of these I'm not making a point about the controversial doctrine, indicating or defending where I may currently stand!

In fact I feel like I standing in a swamp of a battlefield: but in fact, not a battle field in which neither side is engaging the other, but both are firing dismissals of the other into no-man's land: so that although neither is thinking to 'attack' the other as such, by way of not engaging they create a mire inbetween (in which I'm standing trying to work out which is right) torn and muddied with the bombardment of assumptions, filled with the debris of hermeneutical systems over which to stumble, and smokefilled with texts shot from the guns of theological systems without recognition of the target, making it impossible to proceed or to see clearly. Occasionally an off-target presupposition hits me as it flies from one side to another, and when I turn up at the field hospital with a wound they express surprise that I was in no-man's land and not in their trenches firing. How can I know what's right when so many theologians, with the languages and years of study cannot agree? How can I be fully convinced in my own mind? So I'm sinking in an uncertainty inbetween, while the assumptions and dismissals of each inadvertently wound me.

Monday, 17 October 2005

Church at worship; worship at church

Mo at The Lepreblog blogged about the church, and raised a question about gathered believers and God's presence, relating to Sydney Anglicanism: . I found some thoughts by Bill James interesting on the subject of the church at worship.

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Simplifying the mysterious



The Lord's Supper.

Mysterious, or straightforward and simple? It seems to me that we've bought into the modern way of things to a great degree on these things. (In what's written compared with the past, in attitudes I detect in me, and in what's practised by churches.)

We don't like mystery in theology, in theory. No thanks - we'll have neat systems, simplified and based on us. 'Not me', you say? For example, when was the last time you heard someone leading a service refer to a sacrament as 'a sign and seal of the covenant of grace' (or explain that concept in different words)? No, that's far too complicated for today - and why, it would imply that God does something in relation to Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper (and then we'd have to think how and why and so on)! We'll call it 'a sign of and testimony to our faith' instead, thereby making in entirely understandable, and relating to us. (Now I'm not suggesting the Reformers were necessarily right, but I don't think that the move away from their vocabulary/theology was because of thought-through theological differences in this instance, but because of the spirit of the age - corrections welcome as always.) It's our natural attitude in evangelism: we will win them by explaining that it's altogether natural, straightforward and nothing mysterious at all. When I write it down like that, I think, "But no - it's not as if I deny the miraculous: I testify to the resurrection!" But I still always have the temptation and tendency to de-mysterialise. Do I mention the trinity when I speak of God? Do I shy away from speaking of the Holy Spirit? Or from mentioning the devil (or do I attribute everything to natural causes)? Am I happy to speak of just a part of the gospel at one time, leaving some mystery for future updates, or must I launch the complete system (according to me, copyright 2005)? Have I bought into the scientific ideal that we can naturally explain everything?

I'm not for mystery for the sake of mystery. I have heard some well-intentioned evangelism that was like launching an army of spiritual-sounding words each representing a concept so mysterious that the non-Christian was left clueless. That is clearly not the way Paul declared the mystery of the gospel, for example.

However, speaking not so particularly of evangelism but of church life in general, it could be seen in miniature in how we read NT use of 'mystery'. We seem to tend to react one of two ways:
1) we think "mystery -> we can't understand this; we must just experience it". This is a common tendency, but not what I'm addressing here - perhaps because, as a scientific mind, this doesn't tempt me much. See Paul's "I want you to understand this mystery" (Rom11.25), "according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations" (R16.25-26), "I tell you a mystery" (1Cor15.51), "in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will" (Eph1.8-9), and so on - various uses of 'mystery', but always refering to one revealed so that we know it and grow in understanding of it.
2) we think "mystery now revealed = no longer a mystery". That's not how it's used in the NT. It is still a mystery, but now one that God has revealed to us. It hasn't been made straightforward, still less has it been made natural.

We must stop trying to make the church something natural - a natural church isn't a church at all, but an ugly parody. The NT is persistant in referring to Christ and the church as a mystery revealed. It's all about Christ, who, revealed, is still a mystery: gloriously and savingly so.

Saturday, 15 October 2005

Manuscript BS and pomo hermeneutic

The GBU last year used the Manuscript Bible Study method. We've moved this year to the (Observation, Interpretation, Application - same in French!) prepared questions method. Now, I had never really thought of MBS as bad - it just takes ages. In fact, I thought that I was using it in part in my Clifton SLOBS last year. That said, I don't think I've ever done a full MBS study. (With Clifton we used it with a suggested range of questions to consider until we arrived at a main teaching point and aim, and then went to suggested questions to use for the groups, because of time.) So I'd never considered what it actually is. My IFES team leaders here pointed out that what ends up being discussed is the points of the passage which most members find interesting. This may not be the emphasis of the passage. If the leader has prepared well, then it shouldn't be bad interpretation, but ultimately the group is in charge.

It struck me (acknowledging that I've been enjoying reading Vanhoozer's "Is there meaning in this text?") that this is essentially a postmodern hermeneutic: it dethrones the author (whether real or implied) and puts the reader in charge of meaning. Does the text itself have an intended meaning? Does it have an intended response?? These are rhetorical questions - responses would involve a dissertation the size of Vanhoozer's tome... but clearly the answer that MBS implies (even if it is used for better purposes) is that the reader is in charge of the text, its meaning, and the response. The author doesn't call for a response; rather, the reader responds to what the reader has decided of the text. Thus the reader conditions the text, rather than the text conditioning the reader.

As Christians, we have a resposability to be more careful readers than MBS allows/proscribes. We are made and redeemed to be in God's image: personal, communicating, responsable beings who act in covenant relationships with each other. We must be careful readers of each other's communication, and supremely careful readers of God's communication.

Of course, OIA questions don't guarantee this, but would seem to more carefully consider that there is an author with intended meaning and intended response.

(Vanhoozer's thesis is that text is coventantal communicative action. He has a lot more to say about it, and further logs may follow: I'm loving it! There's a lot more to consider about how much the response produced is part of the meaning too, and to what extent the author is responsable for responses - I hope he'll say more in what I haven't yet read. That also has implications for the proposed UK law on incitement to religious hatred: none of us act as if deconstruction is true, but as if we are creatures of real communicative action!)

Come on, what's going on?

An informative post is a little overdue.

I'm now helping with Mons GBU, which is 1.5 hours from my place by public transport. The leader is Eunice, a lovely girl studying translation - so even sympathetic to my mistakes in French :) I enjoyed helping her prepare the Luke 2 study this week: took a long time and was hard work, but I think I was enjoying the privilege of being able to serve God in this way, studying his Word with a student, and her commitment to leading her group in doing so.

On the English-speaking international side of things, some Chinese students are very interested and some meeting up for Bible study, and on the francophone international side, having got a male team member to join me, I met up with a guy from Woluwe campus who's interested in discussing more, and we had a good time of discussion. He might go to the GBU group on that campus, and has borrowed a book on his main question :) I think he's searching for answers to avoid searching for God though. Not that that's surprising, given Romans 1. Pray that God would open his eyes to see his glory in Christ - that he would look to Christ as we tried to urge him, rather than looking to get a philosophical system sorted.

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Telegraph | Opinion | There's plenty of life left in the churches

"According to Brierley, the Churches that are growing are the ones which are orthodox but experimental: the Pentecostals and evangelicals, relaxed in style but strict in substance, liberal in all but doctrine and appealing not to liturgy but to grace."

Spotted in Telegraph opinion (well you wouldn't find it in the Guardian): what think ye?