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


Concerning God’s Promises

Concerning God’s Promises


J. John interviewing the brilliant Tom Wright, asks a question from the audience (the Youtube video can be viewed at the end of the post):

[Warning:  Long sentence alert]!


“How do you understand the specific scriptures concerning God’s promises to the Jewish people today and also concerning the actual land of Israel?”

Tom Wright:

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An eternal tormentist, annihilationist and universalist walk into a pub…

An eternal tormentist, annihilationist and universalist walk into a pub…

What follows is part of a wider response to various questions that theologian Rob Knowles has responded to.  Here, after writing a thorough response and critique of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, to which the opening of the article below refers, Rob proceeds to outline the actual biblical view(s) of what is associated with biblical notions of judgment and hell.

This debate suffers from the worst kinds of crappy-Christian polemics, historical amnesia and hermeneutical foreclosure, and dare I say, the real possibility that many Christians are going to be really cheesed off if God does indeed save everyone! Similarly, if God does or will save everyone, would that constitute what my brother refers to as ‘a pleasant hostage situation’?

If someone of the scholarly stature of A. C. Thiselton can confidently and unashamedly assert that within the Bible there exists three contradictory traditions, the interpreting community that is the Church had best sit up and pay proper theological attention!  At the very least, this would make an interesting discussion actually worth listening too, if our three traditions named in my title ever got into that pub!

Anyway, enjoy.  Cheers….


How could hell be just?
I have already said a lot on this question in my earlier theodicy on “the problem of evil”. There I offered a highly modified version of C.S. Lewis’s theodicy in his book, The Problem of Pain (see above). The theodicy went into some detail on the question of hell, and broadly rejected C.S. Lewis’ thinking on the matter in favour of A.C. Thiselton’s view, which we might call the “deliberate ambiguity” approach to hell. Lewis’s theodicy, in my view, was at its strongest in describing how, given that God had decided to create “persons” with (at least some measure of free will), then this was impossible without (a) some kind of neutral background – creation or “nature”, and (b) the possibility of us deciding to do wrong. These two factors explained 80% of the suffering in the world: that is, when it comes to the question: “why is there so much suffering in the world?” our answer is – roughly speaking – about 80% in agreement with the atheists. They say: there is no God; there is suffering; so humankind must have caused the suffering. We 80% agree that humankind must have caused the suffering – with the qualification that demonic influence on humanity also has to be accounted for.

The main exception to this was (c) what Lewis referred to as remedial suffering – suffering associated with God’s disciplining intervention into our lives, and with our going “cold turkey” on sins once we had decided to follow God – a “cold turkey” experience that Lewis, rightly, likened to crucifixion, since Paul speaks of the crucifixion of the sinful nature in the Christian.

In my view, though, Lewis’s theodicy was at its weakest in its depiction of God as being less than able to fully resolve the problem of human sin – as though the Almighty God was threatened by sin, and could only partially guarantee a partial salvation that heavily depended on our co-operation and works. The effect was to leave the reader exhausted, thinking that his or her works could be the deciding factor in his or her salvation.
To my mind, this view, whilst rightly stressing human responsibility, fails to present the biblical picture of God’s sovereignty. Yes, God is the crucified God, who suffers with us in weakness. And, for God as a man in Jesus Christ, nobody can under-estimate the suffering of the cross, and the difficulty God faced at that point, given the parameters that he had placed upon himself.

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God chose Judas when he could have so easily chosen me!

“So after recieving the morsal of bread, [Judas] immediately went out.  And it was night.”  John 13:30

“Then Judas Isacriot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray [Jesus] to them.  And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him some money…”  Mark 14:10-11

“Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”  Matthew 26:46

“Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”  Luke 22:48

“And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and went and hanged himself.”  Matthew 27:5

Figo-JudasThe name ‘Judas’ is now more than a name.  It is synonymous in many cultures with a term of insult, the lowest form of slander, the highest charge of wrong-doing.  It is not a name we choose for our children, nor our dogs.  We don’t like Judas.

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Fruitful Vision

Paul claims he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19).

Not to be disobedient is to be deliberately obedient; intentionally faithful; God-wardly focused.  Paul clearly could have been disobedient, and that’s the point.  Other things could have crowded in, worthwhile things, ministry and Gospel things even, but he had to be obedient to (not his) but the heavenly vision, a heavenly vision given by Heaven’s King.

IMG_6748I don’t read much Oswald Chambers, but a generous lady at church gave me his complete works – nice.

I randomly opened a page and read this:

“If we lose the vision, we alone are responsible, and the way we lose the vision is spiritual leakage…”

He continues along these lines and then writes,

“Though it tarry, wait for it….We get so practical that we forget the vision.  At the beginning we saw the vision but did not wait for it; we rushed off into practical work, and when the vision was fulfilled, we did not see it.  Waiting for the vision that tarries is the test of our loyalty to God.  It is at the peril of our soul’s welfare that we get caught up in practical work and miss the fulfilment of the vision.”

An objection might be raised here about the necessity of doing “practical work,” but without careful, biblical infused thought, the point would be missed.  God’s vision is not anti-practical work per se, but He is against us when we lack the spiritual fortitude of being in Christ and enjoying salvation’s benefits and goals by attending to matters that we find “practical”, Forsyth’s “the sin of bustle.”  This is a heretical bastardisation of the Christian faith, and a chief enemy of the believer. 

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Re-animating the Scandal of the Cross

This July day-conference looks very tasty indeed!

With thanks to Robin Parry over at Theological Scribbles for flagging this up.

The flyer for this one day event can be seen here.

It is a day conference on Saturday 19th July 2014 9.30am-4.30pm, hosted by Ian Stackhouse, minister at Millmead Baptist Church, Guildford in Surrey.  Ian is the one who alerted my attention towards P. T. Forsyth, a pastor-theologian  who has featured somewhat on this blog, and I think Robin is absolutely right to call Ian a “modern-day pastor-theologian after the fashion of P. T. Forsyth.”

The conference has come about as the result of a co-authored publication (Ian Stackhouse and Oliver Crisp):

Text Message: The Centrality of Scripture in Preaching Text Message

The main speaker for the event is Dave Hansen, friend of Ian and author of ‘The Art of Pastoring‘ a very helpful book to anyone in pastoral ministry and one I 95% enjoyed (maybe I could corner Mr Hansen and discuss my “5% quibble” with him)!

In any case, here’s the blurb on the flyer:

“Squarely in the middle of the Good News stands the cross, a life-giving, polemical, theological symbol, necessary to truly Christian preaching. However, we live in a day in which the cross has become, for many inside and outside of the church, an inert, commonplace token. To preach it effectively today, we need to re-animate the scandal that it was in New Testament times. In so doing, we release its power to offend, save, renew, and realign our lives with the call of Christ.”



Stop Faking Grace

T. S . Eliot once wrote, ‘humankind/Cannot bear very much reality.’  Not that people hate or despise reality, or that people constantly pursue reality, but that, in the end, too much reality, about ourselves, the world, God, is all just a bit too much.

It is especially the Ultimate that is a problem for people:  God.  Prayer.  Mercy.  Judgement.  Christ.

Hence much of church life, in typical human fashion, tends towards a moralism cloaked in religious language, with a ready arsenal of verses and well worn phrases designed to justify ourselves at the expense of others.

The Ultimate Reality though, God, is what almost every person who has ever lived is hiding from.  We are in a precarious state of existence living daily between the ever present deservedness of judgment and the ever present gift of grace.  Or to put it another way, we live suspended on the possibility of utter annihilation and the infinitude of divine care.

That’s why Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Psalm 130: ‘Whoever, therefore, does not consider the judgment of God, does not fear; and whoever does not fear, does not cry out, and whoever does not cry out, finds no grace.’

Part of our ability to avoid the Ultimate is by pretending we no longer need to cry out, so we pretend therefore, we fear when we don’t which means we also fake how we have even considered the judgement of God.  We simply can’t bear too much reality, so we fake it, and this of course means, we fake grace.  A gross mistake.  Why don’t we just paint a great big clown smile on God’s face?

Scripture must be our guide here.  Not pithy devotional aids, but Scripture, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Letters and everything in between.  It is the Bible that offers us a way out of our religious banality; it offers us a much more dramatic and interesting narrative, whereby prayer, worship and the presence of God leads us ever onwards into an awareness of our sins and the gift of repentance.

Brian Brock writes, ‘Without God’s constant forgiveness, we do not see our own sin; and without the exposure of our sins and our repenting of them, we remain in the deadening byways down which other gods have enticed us.’

So without grace we become Christianised Pharisees: blind to the mercies of God, paraders of our own righteousness and thus trapped in a pathetic world of our own making, pathetic yes; mediocre certainly.  Grey, flat, one dimensional, airless, lifeless, godless.

Yet as Jesus repeatedly taught, it is the repentant sinner that goes away justified:  ‘God have mercy on me a sinner!’   The true mark of Christian spiritual vitality is not the absence of struggle, a settled smugness about our superiority, but the exact opposite:  the present reality and immediacy of prayer where we confess that if it were not for the mercies of God we would be dust and ashes.

A poem by William Countryman says just as much with much fewer words:

“Your choice of friends is broad

And (may we say?) unpredictable.

What did you see in Jacob?

Esau was bluff, hearty,

a man’s man – overconfident,

to be sure – even a minute

or two of seniority can grant

a certain status.  Jacob’s

only accomplishments were to cheat

his brother (with Esau’s rash

cooperation yes) and deceive

his father.  Piety suggests

you should have judged the scamp

and left him to stew in his guilt

till he repented.  Instead,

you showed him by night the ladder

to your throne.”


I love God’s grace!