- 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).
1. The Trinity is not an optional doctrine, it is essential. God’s unity is not behind God’s threeness, God’s unity is in God’s threeness. This is not speculative mathematics, it is a descriptive theology of revelation.
2. The Trinity is not an academic doctrine thought up by clever scholars, rather it grew out of the Christian experience of worship, i.e. it expressed the early church’s pattern of prayer tothe Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
3. The driving force of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was Christological and soteriological, i.e. it served to articulate the Christian experience of salvation in Christ. The first Christians already knew God; through Jesus they came to know God as Jesus’ Father and Jesus as God’s Son; while in the Spirit Jesus continued to be present to them, forming a family of prayer to the Father and building a community of witness to Christ.
I. HOW TO AVOID TRINITARIAN HERESY
#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity
#2. Teach children to make the sign of the cross when they say the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
#3. When someone offers to tell you the practical implications of the doctrine, just smile and move along
#4. Have you come up with a really helpful analogy of the trinity? Well done! Now please don’t tell anyone about it, ever
#5. The doctrine is not a mystery. It is simple & precise. The reality it points to is the mystery
#6. Don’t try to get rid of the biblical words. Don’t try to stick to them exclusively either
#7. In this doctrine every word is used in a very limited way. Even the numbers 1 and 3 can’t be taken literally
#8. Don’t partake in meaningless debates about whether “oneness” or “threeness” is more important (see #7)
II. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, EAST AND WEST
#9. Don’t worry about whether you prefer Augustine or the Greeks. You don’t have to pick a favourite, it’s not Masterchef.
There is a lot of confusion in the debate between science and religion (I use the term “religion” here as it relates to Christianity).
Science is a wonderful, glorious thing. But scientism is the troll under the bridge that just loves to prance around when it can. Science is a way of knowing the physical and natural world – observe, measure, hypothesise, experiment, drawing conclusions and verification of the conclusions – and has enormously enriched and refined our knowledge of the world. As Spandau Ballet so memorably sang in True, “I know, I know, I know this much is true.” And this is the point – science is a search; a search for what is true; it is a search for Truth itself. In this sense, it is, as G. K. Chesterton noted, “[Physical science] is either infallible or it is false.” He adds with his usual razor wit, to mix these up is to confuse the role of a medical doctor who tells us that this or that food will kill us; but it is for the philosopher to say whether I ought to be killed.
Scientism is the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge, and this can take the forms of a strong or weak scientism. The “strong scientism” is seen no more clearly seen than in the current debates around religion and science, especially from the fiercest critics of religion – the “New Atheists” (of whom there is nothing new at all), and which Alistair McGrath reminds us, that scientism is not only alive and well, but has “become the official ideology of the movement.” John Crosby writes, “Scientism takes the paradigm for knowledge and truth to be the knowledge and truth gained by the natural sciences. To the extent that philosophy or literature or religion is not amenable to the methods of natural science, it is treated as a sub-standard form of knowledge” (A. J. Ayer and his ‘Vienna Circle’ pals in the 20’s and 30’s and their logical positivism are foundational to the present situation). It is quite perverse though how this has happened! It creates a false distinction, as though one has to choose between science and nonsense, which is nonsense! Scientism is a shame and a sham! Nothing but an epistemological reductionism masquerading as an enlightened, open-minded, free-thinking and progressive world-view.
This was exemplified in a 2019 science and religion debate between John Lennox and Peter Atkins over at Unbelievable? These two are extremely clever men, but one is a Christian (Lennox) and the other an atheist. The problem is that despite Lennox being a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Atkins, with quite staggering arrogance, still dismisses Lennox’s Christian faith as immature, telling him and all other Christian/religious people to “grow up!” It is this kind of allegiance to a scientific-only worldview (i.e. scientism) that even makes Richard Dawkins look sluggish. Atkins made some good and interesting points, but overall, he only served to prove one thing: that he is so deeply locked into an epistemological method of scientism, with its great reduction and dismissal of any other form of knowing, that he does, in fact, look silly. He betrays the almost universal consensus that there are non-scientific ways to knowing, as the famous atheist Bertrand Russell once admitted, in acknowledging that mathematics (of which Lennox is a professor!), is a doorway to religion and mysticism.
I do wish Atkins could argue properly with Lennox, rather like the early 20th century debates between Christian G. K. Chesterton and atheist George Bernard Shaw, who could properly argue but still hold a meaningful friendship. Atkins despises Lennox and all other Christians, and it is at this point the meaningfulness of debate breaks down. Once, when preparing for a debate, a rotund Chesterton said to a skinny Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England!” Shaw replied, “And to look at you, anyone would think you caused it!” Sadly, this kind of banter born out of mature relating and friendship is lost to many who hold to scientism.
Below is my review of ‘Be Afraid – How Horror and Faith Can Change the World’ by my friend and fellow Baptist pastor Joe Haward, which was recently published in the Baptist Times. Given a very limited word count, it was not possible to dig deeper into my comments about the theological method which relies heavily on the work of Rene Girard. This brings an interpretive framework that can draw out different conclusions than one might expect, but is a conversation/debate that is well worth having, as it could stretch the reader beyond their theological comfort zone, which is never a bad thing in and of itself but a reference point worth remembering. My commendation for the back cover has been edited, but here is my full version:
“The bold plan in this book is to bring together the horror genre of popular culture and Christian theology, in such a way as to draw out an insightful conversation between the two. We live in a complex, violent and confused world that swings between extremes of multiple and competing ideologies, and thus continues to make the same mistakes. Using a wide range of contemporary film, writers, thinkers and ancient texts, Haward interprets “horror” theologically and shows therefore, how this genre is indeed rich pickings for discovering theological insight to “see beyond” the cultural impasse. The irony is that the “alternative vision” is a very, very old vision located in the peaceable Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The book is well worth a read, here’s the review:
“Rare is a conversation with horror, which is why I welcome this book. Joe Haward helps Christians to make the links with theology and the horror genre of popular culture. He draws out key characteristics and then makes one direct comparison after another with biblical themes as they relate to zombies (resurrection), vampires that eat flesh and drink blood (Eucharist), violence and sacrifice (atonement), and so on.
It is interesting for a reader like me, because I don’t like the horror genre; but even so, many in our churches do, which means there is a preaching opportunity to be had here.
Haward’s theological method draws on the work of Rene Girard. As such, he regularly alludes to the scapegoating mechanism and mimetic rivalry, and shows how these ideas are put forth in horror and ancient religions. Sometimes this method can be at odds with biblical reception-history, yet the insights offered can prove fruitful. Reading his interpretive conclusions alongside two or three good commentaries on the subject will be a great way to interact with Girardian theory.
Haward is good at interpreting contemporary Western culture, and he is relentless in exposing consumerism, violence, trafficking, the worst excesses of social media and the human obsession with an utterly godless dystopian future. Throughout, he shines the light on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done and what it all means. If anything else, this is a master-class in helping anyone interested in the art of interpreting film through a Gospel lens.”
Last Wednesday I paid my first ever visit to Spurgeon’s Baptist College in London (I went to Bristol #happydays). It was a secret that many fellow minister’s and tutors held as we sprung a surprise on Rev. Dr. John Colwell, for his lifetime of service to the Church and University, although he confessed to increasing suspicion as the minutes rolled by. John is a wonderful man, and it was a real treat for me to get to know him as my mentor when I moved to South Devon and first met him. He has preached several times at my church, and is a most excellent preacher at that! I interviewed him a few years ago which received more hits in the first month than any other blog post I wrote (he doesn’t know that)! What follows below is the account of that day from the Baptist Times online paper here.
“It is not the gift- and skill-sets – the intelligence and imagination, the range of reading, the elegance and wit – that separate the great theologian from the good one. The difference lies not in the brilliance but the defects. It takes a magnificent flaw to make a great theologian.”