On ‘Doubt, Faith & Certainty’ by Prof. Anthony Thiselton

This is a short introduction by Professor Anthony Thiselton to his book ‘Doubt, Faith & Certainty’ taken from EerdWord, the official blog of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The exquisite word ‘bumptiousness‘ makes a rare but welcome appearance!

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Poverty of the Holy Spirit

Poverty of the Holy Spirit

It is true that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit receives less attention than other doctrines.  Historically, the institutional church looked (and still looks) upon the appeal by the masses to the Spirit as potentially subversive and in need of control.  Maybe that’s partly why pneumatology is the “odd-ology” (Fabricius).

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Chicken Preaching, Flat Mountains and Glorious Contradictions

Chicken Preaching, Flat Mountains and Glorious Contradictions

The funny guys at Babyon Bee have hit on a Forsythian nerve of mine.  The headline ‘Half Of Congregation Dies Of Starvation As Sermon Goes 15 Minutes Over Time‘ is brilliant satire, as are almost all of their other articles; a much welcome relief to the tedium of seriousness we Protestants can so easily find ourselves embroiled in; relieved only by the annual church Barn Dance (this comment is also satire….or is it)?

My first thought upon reading the title was remembering two theological giants famous for, among many other things, their preaching.  The first, John Stott, metaphorically places the nail underneath the fast approaching hammer:John_stott

“Basically it is not the length of a sermon which makes the congregation impatient for it to stop, but the tedium of a sermon in which even the preacher himself appears to be taking very little interest.”

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The Three Words

The Three Words

Christians hold a very high regard for the notion of ‘The Word of God’ and rightly so.  But it does seem to me at least, that we confuse categories and blur boundaries.

There are three Words:

  1. The Word that is Scripture
  2. The Word that is Christ
  3. The Word that is Preaching

Evangelicals (and I count myself among them – the UK ones at least) in particular are especially bound to such a high view of Scripture that they call it ‘inerrant’ and a ‘final authority.’  I think this often leads to a classic confusion of the written Word usurping the enfleshed Word, Christ.  It calls for great hermeneutical care to allow the three Words to be what they are in themselves, independent yet inter-related in very complex and subtle ways.

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Waiting for Jesus

Waiting is a dominant theme of Paul and the New Testament. According to Anthony Thiselton, “In everyday life, waiting can suggest dull and static situations like sitting in a railway waiting room, or standing at a bus stop.”

But Paul uses several verbs to express the range of waiting.  We wait for the sons of God to be revealed; creation waits with eager longing; Paul has an “eager expectation” as he hopes for “deliverance” from captivity.  The LXX usage implies that this waiting is a kind of “stretching of the neck, craning forward” as in eager anticipation with intense longing, craning one’s neck to see.  Or, if you are Zacchaeus, you climb a tree (Luke 19:4)! This is far removed from idly waiting for a bus or train!

It is of a different quality.  Look at the craning of necks as a bride turns up at the church, or a person trying to glimpse the Queen as she goes by.  Sadly, some Christians have assumed an inhumane quality to this waiting, as though they need to be in a permanent state of joyous, frenzied expectation, “To keep up emotional fervour for an interminable period is impossible and unhealthy, and, in the event of flagging zeal, even causes guilt” (Thiselton).

For the New Testament, expectation “constitutes a disposition, not an emotion” a state of readiness, not emotional fervour.  But what constitutes “being ready” depends on readiness for what, and how we prepare.  Both Augustine and Luther regarded readiness for the coming of Christ as continuing in everyday Christian trust, work, and obedience in everyday tasks.

To the question, What is it to expect?  Thiselton draws an example given by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who asks, “What should I do if I “expect” my friend for tea?  “I put out cups, saucers, plates, jam, bread, cake, and so forth.  I make sure that my room is tidy.  “To expect” certainly does not refer to one process or state of mind . . . I prepare the tea for two, and so on.”

Thus the coming of Christ, and our waiting is ethical in nature; it is our discipleship, a life lived before God that pleases God (1 Thess. 4:1).   Thiselton develops Wittgenstein’s thought, “The notion that expectation constitutes a mental act, he said, is a “curious superstition.”  He concluded, “An expectation is embedded in a situation from which it arises.”  In the Zettel, he substitutes for “expect” the phrase “Be prepared for this to happen.”  This is why it is a disposition.  It is a disposition to respond in an appropriate way when given circumstances bring it into play.”

This is all part of a wider discussion on The Return of Christ, the Resurrection and Related Issues.  In order for a Christian response to be thoughtful, mature, and appropriate, Thiselton discusses five categories that help us think better about the return of Christ.  They are:

  1. The terms used to denote it
  2. The validity of the belief in the future and the public coming of Christ
  3. The significance of its apocalyptic context
  4. Claims about its prediction and possible dating
  5. The language in which the event is described

 

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

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All this is found here!

The notion of “prophecy”

“The notion of “prophecy,” as this is understood by various generations of readers (1 Thess 5:19) does not accord with a widespread and popular view today.  Many today regard this in either of two ways which partly diverge from mainline tradition.  Some regard prophecy primarily as predictions of the future; others adopt the classical Pentecostal sense of viewing prophecy as a spontaneous, staccato-like, pronouncement made from within a congregation.  Thomas Gillespie, and others argue that, by contrast, it often constitutes pastoral, applied preaching which conveys the gospel.

This view can be found “throughout the centuries” as the normal interpretation among the church fathers, Aquinas, Calvin, John Wesley, James Denney and many others.  Ambrosiaster and Augustine see “prophecy” as explanatory exposition of scripture (Augustine, On the Psalms 76.4; NPNF1 8.361).  Thomas Aquinas asserts that “prophesying” (1 Thess 5:19) “may be understood as divine doctrine . . . Those who explain doctrine are called prophets . . . ‘Do not despise preachers'” (Commentary, 52).

Calvin declares, “Prophecy means the art of interpreting scripture” (60).  Estius insists that it does not mean “private interpretation” (Commentarius, 2.592).  Matthew Henry remarks, “By prophecyings here we understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying of the scriptures” (Concise Commentary on 1 Thess 5:19-20).  John Wesley writes, “Prophecyings, that is preaching (Notes, 694).  James Denney says of the prophet, “He was a Christian preacher” (Thessalonians, 239).  Such an army of witnesses might suggest that further thought is needed, before we readily endorse either of these two more popular views of what 1 Thess. 5:19 and similar passages mean about “prophecy.”

Introduction, pg. 5-6

 

The truth: the holy truth, and nothing like the truth – post-truth society and the church

The truth: the holy truth, and nothing like the truth – post-truth society and the church

The following article is a guest post by Rev’d Dr Helen Paynter, a Research Fellow and Coordinator of Community Learning at Bristol Baptist College, as well as part-time minister at Victoria Park Baptist Church in Bristol, and it is published here with my thanks to her friendship and ministry.

The paper was originally published in the Baptist Ministers’ Journal in January 2017.  Dr Paynter has also published a book called ‘Reduced Laughter – Seriocomic Features and their Functions in the Book of Kingsreviewed on this blog, and –ahem- reputable offerings elsewhere, drawing on the work of Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin.

It is of no small significance that the great Anthony Thiselton, writing the preface to his 20th Anniversary Edition of New Horizons in Hermeneutics writes, “The two thinkers to whom I would now give serious space if I were writing the book today are probably Hans Robert Jauss and Mikhail Bakhtin” (p.xxi) – emphasis totally mine!

 

To the truth…..

The truth: the holy truth, and nothing like the truth – post-truth society and the church.

Helen Paynter

Bristol Baptist College May 2017

 

 

The post-truth phenomenon and why it matters

Truth is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us – Hannah Arendt

The art of political ‘spin’ is millennia-old. But in recent years, the will to deceive for political purposes has intensified to a new level – or so it seems. In the light of the now-notorious ‘£350m/week for the NHS’ claim, and the election of US President Trump, we in the UK and liberal West are now, apparently, in the age of ‘post-truth’ politics.

The phrase ‘post-truth’ was designated ‘Word of the Year 2016’ by the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. In bald terms, it means that the factuality (I hesitate to use the word ‘truth’ here, for reasons which will become clear later) of claimed facts is becoming an irrelevant commodity in public, or at least political, discourse. As The Economist put it recently, ‘Truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance’.

An important – and disturbing – cultural phenomenon is arising, and the church needs to understand and address it. This paper will briefly consider some of the causes of our current predicament, and suggest some ways that the church might respond. First, I suggest five reasons why it matters.

  1. As shown by a Mori poll published in December 2016, lack of public confidence in the political process is at an all-time low. Ironically, this begets a vicious cycle: ‘When lies make the political system dysfunctional, its poor results can feed the alienation and lack of trust in institutions that make the post-truth play possible in the first place.’[1]
  2. History has repeatedly shown that lies are the tools of political oppression. As Hannah Arendt put it, ‘[Truth] is hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot control.’[2]
  3. Psychological studies have proven that false memories persist, even when they are publically retracted.[3] In light of the commandment not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), this should disturb all who take biblical ethics seriously.
  4. A recent Demos report showed that on-line disinformation, a major source of untruth, is disproportionately seen and believed by children and young people.[4]
  5. Contrary to the logic of ‘post-truth’, facts matter – in politics as elsewhere. How I ‘feel’ about Europe or the NHS may or may not be important; whether one of these institutions is receiving £350 million a week certainly is.

How have we arrived at the stage where untruth is regarded as acceptable – or at least, unsurprising – within the common consciousness?

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