...the church is not the kingdom, although the association between the two is close. Thus can Jesus say in almost the same breath, 'I will build my church...I will give you the keys of the kingdom' (16:18-19). But the church is like the net, containing good fish and bad. The church is like the harvest field, weeds and wheat together. The church is at present a 'mixed economy' and at the end of time the day of judgement will sort it out....No, the church cannot be identified with the kingdom, but it does represent that part of God's kingly rule which is no longer in open revolt against the rightful King, but professes to have surrendered to him.
Michael Green, Gospel of Matthew, Bible Speaks Today (pp46-47)
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
- A respect for history, a sense of history. Studying early church history has reconnected me with an ancient past and challenged me to find roots in that past. I read 'A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future' last semester (find it in Christianity Today, September 2006), which is a challenge to the church to recover 'ancient' views on the primacy of the Biblical Narrative, to take the visible nature of the church seriously (a Big One) and other ways of recovering a biblical narrative for life. The authors state that 'individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of a churchless Christianity' and also appeal to evangelicals to 'recover their place in the Church catholic'. We need to take the Church seriously, and to see ourselves as part of the Church that is the continuation of God's narrative. In a postmodern society yearning for authenticity, for something that stands outside of the changing trends and fashions of consumerism, I wonder about the wisdom of chasing after oh-so-contemporary forms of worship. Perhaps authentic, practical love, genuine honesty, quiet meditation and simplicity are what seeking Westerners crave in a world of fickle infatuation, shallowness, spin and media bombardment. The early church speaks to us of the essentials.
- Christological controversies. We spent several weeks looking at the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuties. What is striking about these are the violence (literal) and abuse that seemed to be based largely on semantic arguments. It's that terrible realisation that your mortal enemy is actually saying the same as you, only in a different way! Of course, some were saying not-the-same things in a very bad way. But, there seemed to be a distinct lack of humility in realising that the nature of Christ is something largely hidden from human thought and language. I realise that I need to find out where Christology is at today - it's been a long time since Chalcedon!
- Perhaps the most incisive indictment of the early church on todays church is in exposing the narrowness of a graceless orthodoxy. Many of the early fathers held 'dodgy' (to be polite) views on certain aspects of theology and yet the genuine nature of their faith and the way in which they were used by God is not seriously questioned (nor should it be, imho). For example, Origen held that the Father only possessed divinity in an absolute sense, that the Son was inferior. However, today, we pillory those who hold equally dodgy views. We seem unable to cope with the diversity which is always going to be present in the church.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Despite his efficiency and aggression as he fights to keep away his pursuers and execute judgement upon them, at the end John Rambo's vulnerability as a human being is seen as he breaks down because of his loneliness, bereavement, the trauma of all that he has seen in war, and his reception on his return to the US. 'Rambo' is also 'John'. Having served his country, he is left broken and forgotten. For him there is, in the words of the Jerry Goldsmith title track, a real war right outside his front door each day. Our attitude to strangers, to the marginalised and damaged, will mark our path in life and in the judgement, which Jesus speaks of:...you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt...and you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger (Ex 22:21, 23:9)
Come...inherit the Kingdom prepared for you. For...I was a stranger and you invited me in...Depart from me, accursed ones. For...I was a stranger and you did not invite me in...
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
William Still in The Work of the Pastor (Rutherford House)
- Exegesis of Genesis 1 to 3. This was fantastic. The class was excellent, but what contributed to the fantastickiness was that I was using Bruce Waltke's commentary on Genesis in parallel. It's a great book: well set-out, accessible and provocative (in a good way). Waltke avoids the ridiculous dogma that often dogs (too many dog-words) attempts at reasonable discussion of the primeval prologue. I found his identification of 'surd evil' in the world before the fall began to answer questions on the nature of life which I had carried with me for a long, long time.
- The work on the development of the Relationship element of God's promise to Abram. Seeing the special nature of the Decalogue and understanding the structure of the Book of the Covenant was new to me - which is a shame, but I don't think that I have ever heard this preached. I did hear an excellent sermon series on the Decalogue by Steve Tinker at Kensington Chapel, Bristol, but I don't think that set the Decalogue in the wider context of the covenant at Sinai.
- Material on the Tabernacle. During the lectures on the Tabernacle and Sacrifices, there was one of the most incredible moments of the whole semester as Hector Morrison, with a grand sweep, connected the Tabernacle and Sacrifices to Christ, expecially with relation to the symbolism of the Tabernacle. He drew a huge arrow, representing Christ's work, slicing through the Eastern Entrance, straight through the altar, laver, curtain, incense altar, slicing through the curtain and into the Most Holy Place, then from the footstool of Yahweh and Up and Beyond, into the heavenly realm....whoosh!
- Tabernacle as Garden. I have never heard presented an overarching metaphor for the Tabernacle that has satisfied me. There's lots of detail there, but what is the Big Idea? The idea that the Tabernacle is a representation of the Garden of Eden is, I would boldly venture (!), the over-riding metaphor. The Eastern entrance, the altar representing the sword, the menora - these all reflect the lost Garden. If this is right, then the Tabernacle not only represents God's establishing of a Garden sanctuary where men and women can again meet with him, but this piece of Holy Land that moves with the people of Israel points forward to the fulfilment of God's purposes in the Kingdom of God and the Return to Eden, when the promised Land becomes an eternal reality, secured by and ruled by the Son of Man.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
You are no longer a child, you must put childish thoughts awayA similar thought to Paul in 1 Cor 13: 11:
I used to speak as a child, think as a child...I did away with childish things
Monday, January 22, 2007
- Connecting with the first century world and getting to grips with the soil in which the church and its kerygma grew. Understanding more of the lie of the land within Judaism and in the surrounding Jewish and Gentile cultures, really puts you 'there'. And here's the key thing for me - this sheds new light on interpreting the NT for today. If you don't know what Jesus meant to the people who heard him, you're going to be struggling to communicate Jesus' message to people today. The 'spiritualisation' of texts, the 'lifting' of texts from their context in history and, more importantly, salvation-history, is pretty common it seems to me - and that's a problem.
- Noticing the 'inclusio' structures in Mark's gospel certainly sheds new light on the message. The Fig Tree Inclusio in chapter 11 directly relates the tree to the Temple, which is important. 'Jesus comes to the Temple looking for fruit, just as he went to the fig tree looking for fruit. Both have the appearance of flourishing, but both are found to be barren.' The following statement of Jesus about saying to this mountain 'be taken up and cast into the sea' can be seen as a direct reference to the Temple and not some vague reference to the power of faith. For deSilva, the problem with the use of the Court of the Gentiles by the money changers was primarily that it spoke of the failure of the Jews to invite the nations in to worship: 'the Court of the Gentiles is so empty and irrelevant to their concern that it serves as a convenient place for the moneychangers and vendors of animals for sacrifice'. A narrative that has been interpreted as 'cleansing' the Temple is actually an indictment.
- Who dares to grapple with Revelation? When you see the main themes of Revelation as being: the Unveiling of the realities of everyday life; God's commitment to Justice; the Lamb who is reigning...then it roots it in the present as much as (perhaps more than) in the future. If you think about the OT prophecies about Messiah, they too were rooted in their own time, speaking of contemporaneous situations, but also spoke of greater things to come. I've always thought that the contemporaneous element of Revelation was largely ignored. For example, deSilva describes the aim of the apocalypse as being the 'deconstruction of Roman ideology'. Now that is the Revelation that I read! But, you don't hear that too often. If Revelation is about exposing the bankruptcy, injustice and eventual defeat of the Roman political, economic and social system by the ascendent and victorious Kingdom of the Lamb, then it has a message for every generation.
- I can't finish without mentioning New Testament Theology. We had but a single lecture on this immensely important subject (but then it is a NT Introduction module), but I chose to complete my module Essay on the question 'What is the Centre of NT Theology?'. Preparing the essay was a highlight of the semester. I've felt for some time that far too much emphasis is placed on Systematics in the Reformed church. I was introduced to Berkhof years ago, but only came across Biblical Theology fairly recently. The problem with an obsession with Systematics is that it wrenches truths from their context and from the framework of revelation and places them in an artificial framework. This might help the Western Modernist mind to understand them (might), but I wonder whether, without seeing the primacy of Biblical Theology (Bib Theol must be the foundation for Systematics), we lose more than we gain - we lose touch with salvation-history and the narrative context for biblical revelation and we introduce boundaries of dogma which just aren't there. The penchant for the New Birth Experience as a touchstone for Christian Experience in some churches is a result of this kind of thing - imho. Anyway, Intro to Systematic Theology this coming semester, so I'll be put right!
If you get a chance to check out Mike Bird's blog 'Euangelion', then do it! Link is on the left. It's well worth a read. Mr Bird has been an excellent teacher - his enthusiasm is contagious. He's currently working on a book where he deals with the New Perspective. One of his (four) recent papers to the ETS conference in the US was 'Meeting the New Perspective Halfway'. I myself like the sound of that. I don't think he reads this so I can say this without embarrassing him!