Thinking About Theology

It’s always helpful to have working definitions of theology interacting with each other, rather than one, flat, bland and bloodless offering; a few definitions are floating around this blog somewhere or other!  Michael Jenson has got a great little book out called ‘How To Write a Theology Essay‘ designed to help new theological students write good essays.

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His chapter titles suggest a keen focus on practicalities, such as ‘How not to lose heart before you start’, ‘What is a theology essay’ and ‘Types of argument for your essay’, among many other great short chapters.

I like his question:  ‘What is Theology in any case?’ and his response:

Continue reading “Thinking About Theology”

Absolutes, Possibilities and Silence – how to read the Bible properly

Any doctrinal study of any kind must be thorough.  Beginning with the Old Testament, via the inter-testamental period (if necessary) and progressing through the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, and concluding with Acts and the Letters.  Every study must work through the whole of what every text is a part!  Of course, this approach assumes that Scripture is authoritative and inspired by the Holy Spirit – the Third Person of the Trinity!  To not be convinced of this will lead to eisegesis, a form of study that merely seeks to bolster and promote a view already held – although a belief in the Trinity is no guarantee at all that eisegesis will not win the day!

Cultural and linguistic background studies must be exhausted, followed by exegetical questions about the passage in question, with whatever doctrine is in mind; this is especially true in our day when many within and with-out the Church seem to foam at the mouth regarding “the authority of women”, “women in the Church” or “homosexuality” or whatever!

I think the Bereans of Acts 17:11 are a great acid test here:  “With great eagerness [they] examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true!”  Note: if what Paul said was true!  They surely knew not of whom they spoke!  But all credit to them.  Integrity, openness, honesty and desire all the way.

Anyone engaging in exegetical study, or Bible study, must use sound principles of interpretive method and procedure.  Openness and honesty, as already stated, is primary, especially in any polarised topic or doctrine.

The exegetical student must recognise and distinguish between:

Continue reading “Absolutes, Possibilities and Silence – how to read the Bible properly”

Take Me To Church

My youngest son (17) brought me a CD for my birthday recently (a minor miracle in its own right), and was very interested to know my thoughts on the song ‘Take Me To Church’ by Andrew Hozier (aka Hozier).

I was very impressed with the CD overall, the thoughful lyrics and quality of music (I am a 44 year old with a broad range!).  But my ordained antenna (a self-depricating allusion) were alert to my son’s interest in my thoughts (a first since he was 12)!

I will admit to enjoying the ‘funky groove’ of the tune (does that make me sound like a doofus?)!  Though I must confess I needed help with the ‘hermeneutics’ of the song.  And confession is a big deal.  I needed help to interpret the phrase meanings and word meanings and big picture meanings.  It was like trying to interpet the Bible – I needed some background info!

I came across a really great post here by Angela Denker on REDLETTERCHRISTIANS.ORG (not sure why they shout that), and then I found an actual interview with the talented man himself here.

First the song that came to me as a gift from my teenage son (suspicious in its own right), then the blog post by Denker, suberbly written, on a very popular Christian website have made me think:  If Calvin wouldn’t approve of all Calvinists (and he wouldn’t!), why on earth (or Heaven) would Jesus ‘approve’ (this term needs more work but please indulge me) of all Christians?

In fact, Jesus’ approval of all Christians is not even the point.  As a Protestant protestant (Baptist), and a human being in general, it is totally right that Hozier feels this rage – for heaven’s sake, I do.  Catholic abuses of children (and anything else for that matter) are a foul satanically fueled outrage of the holiest order!   GOD IS OUTRAGED!!!

Hozier’s Irish Catholic background is the fertile soil for his rage, a rage incidentaly, that could have been a hell of a lot worse.  In the ‘actual interview’ he impressed with his genuine desire to be sensitive. Here you will find no ‘anti-Christian Dawkins rage’ (which isn’t even that scary anyway), but a thoughful, hurting, talented, God-imaged young man.

We reap what we sow!  A Catholic doctrine of celebacy is more unnatural than any ‘sin’ the Mother Church try to denounce!

I am a man, a Christian, (yes! Born-again, if you can get over the ‘Americanist’ hullabaloo that this phrase conjurs up), a British citizen, a heterosexual (OMGosh – it’s not illegal you know), a son, a brother, a husband, a (grand)father, a redeemed follower of Jesus!  My salvation is not determined by any of these: my nationality, my sexuality, my progenity, my ‘whatever’! I am saved from my ontological state of sin, my alienation from God, my ‘natural’ bent away from the rightness of righteousness, and the wholeness of holiness.  I have been rescued from ‘Adamic-apple-loving’ to being grafted in to the Christ-vine.

I am saved (and I tell you all, I know I am saved) because I believe what Jesus said.  Jesus has saved me.  The only institution I answer to or respond to or yield to is the Kingdom of God.  Why?  Not because I’m holier-than-thou (an evening in the pub with me will convince you I’m not), but because a sin-drenched humanity is so in desperate need of Christ and His grace that I will put all my puny sin-eggs into His great magnificent salvation-basket.

So Andrew Hozier, thank you.  I don’t know whether you believe in Jesus as He is, not as we think He is, but your song is a greater prayer than many prayers I’ve heard.

And Jesus Christ Himself knows that.  And He hears you.  He hears us.  All.  He hears your ‘Amen’.  And I am convinced he says ‘Amen’ to your ‘Amen’.

“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”  Romans 11:32

All.  Amen.

 

Hozier’s Song on YOUTUBE.

Lyrics to ‘Take Me To Church’ here.

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The Place of Israel – by John Stott

May 15th is the anniversary of what the Palestinian people (Muslim, Christian, Other), call ‘Al Nakba’ meaning ‘The Catastrophe’. The day in 1948 when Israelis declared independence before systematically and brutally removing indigenous people from their ancestral land, beginning what we know as today, sixty-six years later, as ‘The Israeli-Palestine Conflict’.

John-Stott1Below is a sermon preached by John Stott.  It’s a great example of doing careful Bible word study.

By John Stott 

Rector Emeritus, All Souls Church
London, England
Our topic has been announced as “The Place of Israel,” and the topic that has been set for us is an object lesson in biblical hermeneutics as it‟s usually called in the principles of interpreting the Bible. But I would like to remind you right at the beginning that there are at least four ways in which the word “Israel,” whose place we are to investigate, can be used.

One: Israel was that devious scoundrel, the second son of Isaac, whose first name was Jacob – meaning “he who deceived or he who struggles,” who amply lived up to his name – but whom God renames “Israel,” because having struggled with men all his life, he at last came to struggle with God for the blessing he needed (a blessing to which he was not entitled).

Two: Israel is the chosen people of the Old Testament days – the 12 tribes descended from the 12 sons of Jacob called the children of Israel, because Israel (or Jacob) was a common ancestor.
Three: Israel is the messianic community – the people of Jesus – the true descendents of Abraham because they share Abraham‟s faith. This includes Gentiles like most of us if we believe in Jesus, but excludes Jews who don‟t. When Paul ended his letter to the Galatians, “Peace and mercy upon the Israel of God,” he was referring to believers in Jesus, whatever their ethnic origin. So Israel is the messianic community.
Four: Israel today, for many people if you read the newspapers, is the Israeli nation, promised a national home by the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and given it in 1948.
So Israel has four meaning. It means Jacob. It means Jews. It means Christians. And it means Israelis. And that is just the problem when you are asked who you are talking about. Continue reading “The Place of Israel – by John Stott”

To Preach Is To Make War on the Human Heart

hansen“Preachers need more than just a commonsense hermeneutic when they read the Bible for sermon preparation.  They aren’t reading the Bible for themselves or to teach a Bible study.  A sermon is not thoughts about the Bible.  Preachers make war on the human heart.  Preaching hermeneutics prepare a pastor to decay sin, to look into the eyes in the pews and say with Nathan the prophet: “Thou art the Man!””

David Hansen in The Art of Pastoring (p.105)

Stop Forcing Me To Do Evangelism!

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Christians should be encouraged in their gifts and then their “evangelism” as it happens naturally in the lives, their circles of influence, etc, would become a joy and not a burden.  It would be natural, not forced.  I’m afraid the office of “evangelist” has got bad press down the years, and from what I’ve often seen, rightly so.  It is often left to the wildly inarticulate but enthusiastic extroverts who love to chat to strangers and lob cliché and scripture bombs into peoples laps and run away shouting the loudest!

What I guess I’m afraid of, is “doing” things in ministry that have an appearance of “that’s what evangelism/mission/proclaiming…[fill in the blank] looks like” but in reality, both true to the individual person, their gifting, calling, strength’s, etc, no one group of people should ever do  a preconceived standardised model of anything.  It’s like putting round pegs in square holes, or lighting a candle in a room with the oxygen slowly being sucked out.

So I think, theologically and biblically, that the church, historically, and especially since the so-called Great Awakening, has made a catastrophic error of judgement: it has standardised church, ignored individuals; particular gifts and strengths, and simply enforced a model of operating that is life to the very few.  

This for me is one of the reasons why people squirm in their seats when anyone talks of “doing evangelism” or going on a mission.  Part of it is, admittedly, sinful resistance.  Part of it is embarrassment and shame;  part of it is timing and calling; part of it is seasons of gifts; part of it is the right person, at the right time in the right place – and they go, because it’s right for them.  And part of it is surely because they intuitively resist having one model being imposed on them.

For example: Why should Dave go door-to-door when he’s shared his faith with 8 blokes this week?  It just doesn’t make sense to me, not least for time, family and other reasons.  Dave is in his natural working environment, exercising his gifts of God in the workplace, and not ashamed to proclaim Christ.  I say, let the person who wants to go door-to-door go door-to-door.  They will have my support and blessing, but I will be the first to say this isn’t the only way to do evangelism and I won’t impose that on anyone.  “Let each one be convinced in his own mind.”

So for me, I do not want to fall into the same cultural trap with all the assumptions that come with it.  Let the teacher teach; the minister minister; the prophet prophecy; the generous give; the evangelist proclaim.  Let them all proclaim Christ as they do what God has gifted them to do, but let no person do what God has not called them to do – and this last bit is more a reflection of contemporary church life in the UK and the West than anything else. I.e. people being pushed and coerced into roles and functions because that’s the shape of the church rather than the shape of the church being flexible enough to excel in releasing people into their particular and specific gifts.

What does this mean?  In the words of theologian Dr Rob Knowles (author of ‘Anthony C. Thiselton and the Grammar of Hermeneutics, the search for a unified theory’ and a 2014 published book called ‘Relating Faith’) – just so I can convince you I’m not just inventing clever ways of avoiding a particular way of doing evangelism:

“(i) each church has different individuals with different gifts in it; (ii) therefore, each church-community is a unique combination of unique individuals, and is thuswait for it—unique!

But this means, surely, that leaders have to: first look at who they have got; second ask what is it that those unique individuals are uniquely good at and actually want to do; and third submit to the unique historical factuality of what their church will then have to look like. Imposing a standardised model is oppressive, gift-suppressing, ministry-killing, relationally-alienating, and turns church-community into a total charade.

In fact, imposing standardised models of church on uniquely-shaped groups is one of the causes of “churchianity”. Churchianity is that rather fake discourse-world—that pseudo-fellowship—that arises when people suspend their identities to speak the received language of a pseudo-community built upon suppressed individuality and ministries. This differs from a true community—i.e. a community that accepts, promotes, and benefits from each person’s cherished uniqueness and true ministry—which will not conform to the a priori categories of a standardised model.”

One reason I think that evangelism is a difficult subject to teach others about, is that it is done as standard, that fails to recognise gifts, it simply induces levels of anxiety that the only way to deal with them , are to “fake” it.  Every Christian is a teacher, in that their word and deed teaches others, but not everyone is called therefore to teach from the front.  To make the mistake of making everyone teach from the front, is the same.  While every Christian is to bear witness, not everyone is an evangelist, and more specifically, not every evangelist does door-to-door.

Dr Knowles goes on with another well made point:

“Relax! God has it under control. Think of Jesus asleep in the boat. Remember that it is God who created and who redeems the universe. Stop confusing your modernist system with righteousness. Learn to relate to people. Have a cup of tea, take some time to reflect. (And, if necessary, see an exorcist). Christianity is faith expressing itself in love, or, trust in God that learns to relate to people properly. It’s not about becoming Robo-vicar [or Robo-Christian]; God has already got the whole “justification” and “predestination” thing covered.”

Of course, Robo-vicars will say that I’m falling into the old ultra-Reformed trap of using the doctrine of election as an excuse not to do evangelism.

Actually, though, I’m using the doctrine of election as an excuse not to do their kind of Robo-evangelism, which is not evangelism anyway, but a heart-attack trying to win people to something un-relational, un-Christian, unbiblical, and unlike Jesus.

To wrap up, I am not against door-to-door per se.  I am against the assumption that everyone should do evangelism [and specifically door-to-door] regardless of their gifts.  As an evangelist myself, I’m not very keen on unrelational cold calling door-to-door work anyway.  What I am keen on, is relational teaching and preaching and discipling others so that they are mature and effective where they are [Paul says stay where you were when you were called – be fruitful there!].  

Confident in the Gospel; confident in the Christ of the Gospel; exercising their gifts and being faithful with the field God has planted them in; faithful with the treasure they have received; and bold enough and wise enough to know when to speak and what to say.

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