Thursday, November 29, 2007

Theology Across the Boundaries

I'm back at the College of Knowledge this week and it's always a highlight to be able to worship together with the rest of this community of faith and scholarship. Yesterday morning, Dr Innes Visagie took worship. Innes is a Dutch Reformed minister with a background in philosophy and he teaches pastoral and practical theology, homiletics and counselling at HTC. According to his pen picture on the HTC site,
his research interests include Theology as Praxis: the interpreting of contemporary human experience in the light of experiences in Scripture as a hermeneutical and epistemological undertaking.
Nice! Anyway, his theme in worship was the inter-relationship between fear, authority and freedom. Rookmaaker wrote that if Christians neglect social, cultural and political responsibilities then they should not be surprised if their children or grand-children end up in concentration camps. Our theology needs to cross boundaries. I'll try to summarise Dr Visagie's message. After reading from Mark 1 about the people's declaration of the authority in Christ's teaching, he spoke about the evil of apartheid in his homeland of South Africa. The root of the regime was the fears of the minority white population. Under the regime a proportion of whites and blacks falsely imagined that this was the way things were meant to be. All were enslaved by their traditions and the initial reaction to fear, perpetrator and victim alike.

In the gospels, the scribes and Pharisees are enslaved to their traditions and are generally unable to receive the message in Christ. They are afraid. Fear is an absence of authority. They do not have authority in the interpretation or proclamation of God's law. In the garden Adam was given authority from God, and this was freedom. After the fall, his authority was damaged and fear and enslavement ensued. In Christ, God speaks with authority into the world and gives authority to his son as a man, the Second Adam. This authority brings freedom, and release from fear. Jesus has authority to interpret and proclaim God's message. We participate as believers in the authority and freedom of Christ, but we too must be careful not to become enslaved to traditions through fear.

This was excellent stuff. Reflections on political realities as examples of theological realities aids in our understanding of the human condition and therefore in applying our theology to the various parts of our experience - this was theology across the boundaries.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Free Stuff from Zondervan

Just so you know, Zondervan are offering free stuff. This doesn't happen every day, but now is the acceptable time because they've recently set up their eZondervan store. This is a site dedicated to the purchase and downloading of electronic resources running under Pradis, their own electronic library system. Even if you don't run Pradis, you apparently get the latest Pradis 6.0 with your download. Anyway, as an enticement you can download $25-worth of free stuff. Highlights include (either free or almost free):
  • Groves-Wheeler Westminster Morphology
  • Various NIVAC volumes on the prophets, e.g Isaiah
  • Westcott and Hort commentaries
  • NID of the Christian Church
  • NID of Biblical Archaeology
  • Is there a meaning in this text?, Vanhoozer
  • Introduction to the NT, Carson and Moo
  • OT Introduction, Longman
  • and more!
If you want to be enticed, you can check it out at

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tribal Reconstruction, the Prophets and the New Testament

During our OT Prophecy module we've been working through sections of text in both Amos and Hosea. These prophets speak hope to the north, foreseeing reunification of the northern and southern tribes, coupled with a return to the land - tribal reconstruction. For example, Hos 1:11, Amos 9:15. Exilic and post-exilic writings take up a similar theme.

With the disolution of the northern kingdom after the conquest by the Assyrians, how could this be? One temptation is to see these prophecies as solely eschatological, as motifs to be realised in 'spiritual' fulfilments under the New Covenant. Undoubtedly, this component is real. However, we can make the jump too readily. Although events are unclear in a history that the victors write, it seems likely that of those left in the land by the Assyrians, many looked to Jerusalem and travelled there to worship. Can we see a partial fulfilment of the prophecies in this? The very disolution of the northern kingdom (importantly, not the tribes) becomes a means of these prophecies being fulfilled. What we do know is that a significant proportion of those who were settled into the land by the Assyrians took up the worship of Yahweh to become the Samaritan people, worshipping God at Mount Gerizim. Can this be seen as a replaying of the Conquest of Joshua and the accretions of indiginous people at Shechem and other places? Are the Samaritans then the inheritors of the northern tribes semi-apostate identity? And, do the weighty prophetic promises of tribal reconstruction then lie heavily on Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well? His words to her in John 4 speak of the the prophetic Davidic king who re-unites the people, not at Jerusalem or Gerizim. And do Jesus' words in Acts 1 also then answer the words of the prophets on tribal reunification?
You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
Asking questions is so much easier than answering them! Stephen Ricks, in his essay in Israel's Apostasy and Restoration (ed. Gileadi), entitled The Prophetic Literality of Tribal Reconstruction sees a pattern in the pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic prophets reflections on tribal reconstruction:

  1. a reunification of northern and southern tribes, coupled with a return to the land;
  2. a Davidic king to rule over Yahweh's people;
  3. the land rebuilt, with a restored temple at its centre; and
  4. a covenant that is new and everlasting would be made with a transformed Israel.
If we immediately jump to a spiritual, New Covenant eschatological interpretation of these, we will miss so much of the outworking of God's purposes in history and the background to the gospel narratives. Nevertheless, as Ricks concludes, ultimately
Its realization belongs to a 'redeemed people' (to borrow RK Harrison's remark on Jeremiah's restoration vision) in the messianic age.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Docetism Today

In our current systematics module on the Person and Work of Christ, contemporary expressions of Docetism were discussed. For example, Berkhouwer's suggestion that some Roman Catholic teaching tends to Docetism when it denies that Jesus was ignorant of the timing of the Parousia, or when it stresses Jesus' 'uninterrupted vision of God' at the expense of his suffering and experience of fear. According to the module notes, these are examples of 'dogma-conditioned exegesis' in which the doctrine of the hypostatic union is used to override the natural teaching of scripture. To my mind, this is not just a tendency in Roman Catholicism.

But, far more cogent in my view is McDonald's article on 'Docetism' in the New Dictionary of Theology, where he writes...

But modern theology by divorcing the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history is in danger of initiating a new form of docetism.

For me, this observation is on the money. And it's not just a problem of modern theology in general, but is a lot closer to home in evangelicalism. A disinterest in the historical roots of our faith and an over-emphasis on what we experience in the here and now are the cause. We need to rediscover our commitment to the historical Jesus and an historic, not an existential, faith.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hebrew Resources Keyed to Ross

If you, like me, think that any half-decent 21st century biblical language teaching grammar should make use of multimedia formats, then you, like me, might be disappointed by Introducing Biblical Hebrew by Ross (that's might in the sense of will). But, even when disappointed you have to be constructive. And so, with many, many heartfelt thanks to the people below, I can point you to a couple of audio and visual resources that'll help with the Hebrew and which are keyed to Ross.
Ross Audio Vocab Files
First up, audio files of the vocab from each of Ross' chapters, together with a couple of extra sound files on the alphabet and vowels. If like me, you remember better by hearing stuff, then these are worth their weight (an inappropriate idiom for virtual resources, but you know what I mean). Many thanks to Matt Postiff of Fellowship Bible Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Bob McCabe, whose blog pointed me there.
Ross Vocab Flashcards for Excel
Second up, an Excel-based vocab tester (same principle as Flashworks) where you can select by Ross chapter. Many thanks to Lionel Windsor of St Michael's, Wollongong, Australia.

If I come across further Ross-keyed resources, I'll post them up. If you know of any others, add a comment...By the New Year, I hope to have keyed my own Flashworks database for Ross' vocab.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Evaluating True and False Prophecy

As part of the OT Prophecy module we were presenting seminars last week on the subject of the evaluation of true and false prophecy in Israel. For my own paper I used L J Wood's helpful approach as a schema. He lists six tests (and a seventh: spiritual discernment in the hearer - which I thought was his own addition and too subjective): use/non-use of divination; character of message; character of prophet; willingness for self-effacement (a proxy for commitment); harmony with Torah and previous prophets (which I see as the key); fulfilment of predictive prophecy. After outlining each of these, I then looked at the Jeremiah-Hananiah confrontation as a case study. Overholt says of this
The account of Jeremiah’s confrontation with Hananiah...makes it obvious that the prophet had not worked out these criteria on a theoretical and systematic basis. He apparently had at his disposal no sure yardstick against which he could measure this opponent and refute his message on the spot.
Anyway, to cut to the chase (or at least to the conclusion of my paper)...

The method whereby the people of God could discern true from false prophets is perhaps less straightforward than envisaged by Wood’s six tests. The historical context to each warning about discerning between prophets could be seen as particularly significant. For example, Childs sees the warnings of Deut 18 as protection against false prophets terrorizing the community with false threats of disaster, whereas Jeremiah 23 is protection against false prophets lulling the people into a false sense of security.

A balanced observation, pinpointing the key issue in discerning true and false prophecy, is made by Lindblom: ‘The marks by which one could recognise a true or a false prophet cannot be expressed in a formula. They were not dogmatically fixed. Different features had to be taken into consideration…The general agreement of a prophet’s preaching with Yahweh’s will, thoughts, and purpose guaranteed the fact that this prophet had been sent by Yahweh and had a true divine message to convey’.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Garlington on Piper and Murray and Being Bad

I told myself the Is John Piper Bad? Debate was over, at least on the blog. But (!), Mike Bird has posted a copy of a response by Don Garlington (here) to Philip Ryken's article on Justification and Union with Christ at Reformation 21 (here), where Ryken addresses Garlington's own response to Piper's Counted Righteous in Christ. During the course of Garlington's response to Ryken's stuff (and I don't want to open the imputation can of worms here, if you want those worms, go to Euangelion, especially for Mike Bird's defense against Ryken's criticism of his own position), he writes:
To take matters a step further, my principal problem with Piper is not imputation as such, but two other factors. For one, there is Piper’s attack on a salvation-historical hermeneutic. Those who embrace such a “new paradigm,” as Piper dubs it, are consigned to the company of Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians­, who, as Paul himself exclaims, are the agents of Satan disguising themselves as angels of light! As much as anything else, it is this breathtaking condemnation of other Christians that evoked my reply. For another, there is Piper’s emphatic denial that justification entails liberation from sin (emphasis mine). It is certainly ironic that Reformed exegetes of the likes of John Murray do affirm that justification is “from sin” (Acts 13:39; Rom 6:7) in the sense that Paul intends the phrase, i.e., liberation from sin’s dominance (Rom 6:18). Among other things, that is the function of justification. Such, I think, is a larger issue (me again) than imputation as a theological category.
Mike's own defense of his position is an important read - especially in the light of those mis-understanding/representing his view. After preaching myself last Sunday on Romans 14, I'm reminded that the strength of language used by some Christians against brothers indicates a loss of perspective. That same loss of perspective might be seen in the way that Ryken opens his article:

If there is one thing I love in life, it is the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Uist Free Church Website

The Uist Free Church website has been on-line for just a couple of weeks now and you can take a look here or in the links over there on the left. It was one of my projects over the summer, so it's good to see it up and running. It's aimed at those who attend, so that they know what's going on and when (the My Church section), but also at the many visitors we get over the summer. However, perhaps the over-riding aim is to provide information for those who are thinking about coming along, from a non-church background or from a nominal Christian background.

I have no previous HTML experience. I still have no HTML experience! I built the site with Mr Site (buy it cheaper here). OK, it could be a lot better, but the result/time ratio is pretty high with the Mr Site software - just what's needed for busy ministers, elders and such looking for a congregational website. For another example of a Mr Site constructed site, check out the Whitfield PCW, Abergavenny site over there in the links on the left.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The McChurch New McMission Paradigm

Oh, the McDonaldization of the Church. Whenever I come across it, I glaze over. Try this one that I heard from a representative of a well-known missionary organisation last week...

For starters, take an extremely dodgy hermeneutic applied to Acts 1:8. When Jesus told the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth, he was not talking about the Kingdom Age of reunification of God's people Israel and the ingathering of the Gentiles. Oh no. He was explaining the E0-E3 McMission Paradigm. Did you not know that? Oh. Well, when we evangelise people like us, that's E0 to E1. When we evangelise people a bit less like us, that's E0 to E2. And when we evangelise people nothing like us, that's E0 to E3. Got it? No, you haven't, because when people who are a bit like us evangelise people who are nothing like us, that's E1 to E3 and when those people evangelise other people like them, it's E0 to E1 again, but done by people who are E3 to us. You'd better be paying attention, because according to this big idea, people are doing Church when they should be doing Mission and most denominations aren't doing Mission anyway (presumably because they haven't grasped the E0-E3 McMission Paradigm). We keep training Church Planters but that's so passe, because what we should be doing is training Mission Planters (did someone mention Ecclesiology? No, they definitely didn't). And so understanding the E0-E3 McMission Paradigm is the key to everything.
Do you want fries with that? Have a Nice Day.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Giraffes

This morning's worship was taken by Bart Buell, a retired OMF missionary who served in Japan. It's good to share the exhortations that we receive in the body, so there follows some brief thoughts from his address.

In Philipians 2 we are told about Christ's mission, his kenosis, when he was made in the likeness of men, humbling himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. This cannot be simply reduced to a story of Out of the Comfort Zone into the Challenge Zone, but Christ's incarnation leads to his life as the Servant of the Lord, the New Covenant ideal as the Second Adam.

And Christ's command to us is that we must Go. Out from Jerusalem, the disciples of Christ leave the Comfort Zone of the upper room or the mountain and into the Challenge Zone of mission to all nations. It is a difficult journey. But in making this journey, the Holy Spirit begins to equip us with:
  • Humility (even Christ's journey involved humbling);
  • Fruitfulness (every branch that produces fruit, he cleans, often through our difficult experiences in the Challenge Zone); and
  • Resilience (Isaiah spoke of God's empowering of the Weary and the Tired and the Stumbling).

The journey to, and life in, the Challenge Zone can be extremely difficult, but it is where we meet Jesus and His Power through His Spirit. Whilst in Japan, the Japanese children called Bart Buell 'Giraffe'; he's a big guy (one called him 'a phenomenal growth')! In cross-cultural mission, and indeed in our life of missional service as we leave the Comfort Zone and journey to the Challenge Zone, we become giraffes. We feel out of place - and in a sense we are - but, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit of Christ, we can be Happy Giraffes.