- I have spent many years in the thinking of Anthony Thiselton, and so am very interested by his views, not least on prophecy (note the spelling here!).
- The best place to look for Thiselton’s views on this subject, which I regard as authoritative, is in his large commentary on 1 Corinthians: see, Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to The Corinthians (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000). A good place to start is p. 829, which I quote in my book, Relating Faith (a free copy of which is yours on request).
In the area of discovering God’s will how do you and how should we distinguish between what we want and what God wants? Do you regard the Bible as the inspired word of God and if so how should the Bible influence our decision making?
Here are just some of the great resources I’ve found over the years, and here they are in no particular order (compiling this short list here does not necessarily mean I wholly subscribe to all the associated groups or persons’ theology, just that they have some very important things to say that are nevertheless, worthwhile and valuable):
John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, is an internationally renowned speaker on the interface of science, philosophy and religion. He regularly teaches at many academic institutions including the Said Business School, Wycliffe Hall and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, as well as also being a Senior Fellow with the Trinity Forum. He has written a series of books exploring the relationship between science and Christianity and he has also participated in a number of televised debates with some of the world?s leading atheist thinkers.
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:
“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.”
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:
- The Word that is Scripture
- The Word that is Christ
- 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.
Martin Luther (1520): “The soul can do without anything except the Word of God. . . . The Word is the gospel of God concerning his Son . . . To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it….The Word of God cannot be received . . . by any works whatever, but only by faith.”
John Wycliffe (14th c.): “A Christian should speak Scripture’s words on Scripture’s authority in the form that Scripture displays. . . .The pastor has a three-fold office: first, to feed his sheep spiritually on the Word of God . . . ; second . . . to purge wisely the sheep of disease . . . ; third . . . to defend his sheep from ravening wolves . . . . Sowing the Word of God among his sheep. . . All the duties of the pastor, after justice of life, holy preaching is most to be praised . . . Preaching the gospel exceeds prayer and administration of the sacraments to an infinite degree.”
Alain of Lille (12th c.): “Preaching should not contain jesting words, or childish remarks, or . . . that which results from . . . rhythms . . . These are better fitted to delight the ear than to edify the soul. Such preaching is theatrical and full of buffoonery, and in every way to be condemned.”
Hugh Latimer (16th c.): “Though a preacher be well learned, yet if he lacks that boldness and is faith-hearted, truly he will do but little good . . . When he fears men more than God, he is nothing to be regarded. . . . A preacher is like a ploughman who must first break up the soil; then he plants and waters the seed, to produce a right faith, sometimes weeding them by telling them their faults . . . breaking their stony hearts [so as to] tell them God’s promises to soft hearts. . . .Some are negligent in discharging their office or have done it fraudulently, [making] people ill. . . Many are involved in devilish ploughing, saying, “down with Christ’s cross” and “up with purgatory. Only Christ made purgation and satisfaction.”
John Newton (19th c. – on prayer but works equally for preaching): “Even in the exercise of prayer we profess to draw near to the Lord, the consideration that his eye has little power to . . . prevent our thoughts from wandering . . . to the ends of the earth. What should we think of a person who, being admitted into the king’s presence, upon business of the greatest importance, should break off in the midst of his address, to pursue a butterfly?”
P. T. Forsyth (19th-20th c.): “The orator, at most, may urge men to love their brother, the preacher beseeches them first to be reconciled to their Father. With preaching, Christianity stands or falls because it is the declaration of a gospel. Nay, more – far more; it is the gospel prolonging and declaring itself. . . I note that the Catholic revival of last century (19th), is coincident with complaints elsewhere of the decay of preaching. And if this decay is not preaching itself, there is no doubt of the fact in regard to the pulpit’s estimate and influence with the public. Even if the churches are no less full than before, the people who are there are much less amenable to the preached Word, and more fatally urgent for its brevity. . . . But the great reason why the preacher must return continually to the Bible is that the Bible is the greatest sermon in the world. . . . The Bible, therefore, is there as the medium of the gospel. . . . If we ask what is a modern Christian theology, it is the gospel taking the age seriously, with a real, sympathetic and informed effort to understand it. . . . It takes its stand neither on the spirit of the age, nor on the Christian consciousness, nor on the Christian principle, but on the historic and whole New Testament Christ. . . . . This is actually Luther’s test – does this or that passage ply Christ, preach Christ.”
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 Kings‘ reviewed 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.
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.
- 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.’
- 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.’
- Psychological studies have proven that false memories persist, even when they are publically retracted. In light of the commandment not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), this should disturb all who take biblical ethics seriously.
- A recent Demos report showed that on-line disinformation, a major source of untruth, is disproportionately seen and believed by children and young people.
- 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?