Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cymry sydd yn blogio

Hey, I just came across the blog of Guy Davies. He is Welsh and has posted on Welsh theo- or pseudo-theo-blogs here: Exiled Preacher: Some Welsh Bible Blogs. Its high time I added some of these other Welsh bloggers to the links over there, so I'll get round to it soon - we need to stick together!

Parables for Point

Ok, Ok, so I'm not blogging much at the minute. I'm taking a rest before I blog my Reflections on Semester 2 of Year 1 at HTC. And I'm busy catching up on many procrastinations, as well as preparing sermons for my upcoming stint (and my family, who are stinting with me) at Point Free Church on the Eye Peninsula east of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. We are there for a week; I'm doing two Sundays in the pulpit and a midweek and so Reflections will not start to appear until the week after next. If they appear before then, someone has hacked into my blog. Why someone might do this is not immediately obvious...but then these things seldom are. I realise I could blog from my phone whilst there, but then blogs need to be put in their place as much as anything else in life. I'll be preaching four sermons on Lukan parables: the Mustard Seed and Yeast (the Kingdom), the Tower Builder and the Warring King (Discipleship), the Lost Son (God's Love and Forgiveness) and the Persistent Widow (Prayer).

May I leave you for now with a quote from Bock? Thanks...

In fact, discipleship requires renunciation of anything that comes before Jesus. The disciple who loses saltiness becomes useless and is tossed out. The disciple has a purpose in the world, but uselessness makes the disciple's role expendable and results in God's displeasure.

How horrible to be thrown away by God when one could have been used by him. So consider the cost and have the resolve of a disciple who fully pursues God. Luke's call is to hear the warning and respond with faithfulness.

Bock, Luke BECNT, 1283, 1293

Friday, June 22, 2007

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Enjoyed this quote and comment from Daniel Kirk's blog (Sibboleth):
"He who does that which he sees, shall understand; he who is set upon understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and mistaking and speaking foolishness." --George MacDonald

That, it seems to me, is precisely the bluff that is now being called by folks in emerging churches.
It's a very good blog indeed, to left.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Nativity Story

The other night I watched The Nativity Story on DVD (New Line 2006, Dir: Catherine Hardwicke) - link to trailer below, watch it! What an opening to a film...words scroll down over the backdrop of 1st century Jerusalem informing us that this is the time of Herod's rule, who is troubled by the words of an ancient prophecy:
'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.'
Now, first of all let's get the negative comments out of the way, for this film does fall short in a couple of areas. First, the scene of the birth of Christ is far too influenced by the traditional view: Joseph appears to have no connections in Bethlehem at all, being stuck in a kind of cave/stable with the cows and sheep, a shaft of light from The Star shines through hole in stable roof illuminating the scene, the three maji turn up right on cue - you know the thing. I suppose this is a valid view, but many scholars would place some of these details in the 'unlikely' category. Second, the supernatural interventions are played down too much. I admire the restraint and earthiness in the film, but I'm sorry, Zechariah is just not terrified enough in the Temple (!) and there is no attempt to portray the armies of heaven that appear to the shepherds (I was intensely disappointed about this!). Third, the narrative is telescoped to bring Herod's slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem directly into the timeframe of the birth of Christ. Consequently, the flight to Egypt occurs directly and there's no reference to Jesus' presentation in the Temple and Simeon and Anna, which I felt would be the perfect ending to the film, given its prophecy-laden beginning.

However, all that is but niggling. I loved this film. New Line (who produced the LOTR films) have done an excellent job of recreating 1st C Palestine. It's all there, the Temple looks magnificent enough to move any NT scholar (someone described Jerusalem as Minas-Tirith-impressive), Herod's paranoia and self-aggrandisement are palpable (with reference to his murdered sons and wife), the weight of his taxes upon the common people a constant theme, along with the fermenting rebellion in Galilee, crucified rebels and the rising Messianic expectation of the people. The massacre in Bethlehem is shocking. It's a triumph of story-telling in that the context seems so right, so earthy and human. This is even more the case in the characters of Mary and her family, and Joseph. The shame of being pregnant out of marriage is real in Nazareth - the penalty of Torah hangs over Mary and her family. The way in which Gabriel's visits to Mary then to Joseph forge strength in what is initially a failing relationship is a human detail I hadn't considered before. There are many things besides. This is a must-see, I think. It re-incarnates into the real world a story which has been pietized. Mary is just a young girl. An observant Jewish girl, but still just a young girl. Her family are desperately poor. And this is the place into which Messiah comes! For a start, watch the trailer. It will give you a feeling for it. A good feeling!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fuelled by Lavazza? Not Any More

The people who read VdT (who are they?) probably don't see my little footer: 'Fuelled by Lavazza'. Yes, Lavazza, espresso of kings. The only thing is that Lavazza has been a thorn in my flesh. Whilst all my ground coffee purchases are Fair Trade, my espresso beans have stubbonly remained Exploitative. Well, Black Gold is out and I have heard the call (again). Black gold is the film Fair Trade activists have been waiting for. Check out the site and the trailer and make sure you watch it...
REMARKABLE - A moving but scandalous story. Black Gold has extraordinary power, Daily Telegraph
I think of the heady days of the independent Atlantic Coffee House in Cardiff; talking to the proprieter about Fair Trade, sharing articles from the Guardian about exploitation of the poor by the big coffee companies, seeing the Fair Trade beans begin to appear on the shelves (...latte, Tart Proven├žale...leather sofas...ahh, the Atlantic Coffee House...). Anyway, then I moved to South Uist and my only hope was in buying an espresso machine. And that's when Lavazza seduced me. But, the affair is over. I've come home. A 1kg bag of Cafedirect Espresso beans is in the fridge. It's good stuff. If I can give up my Lavazza then all you Nescafe and Kenco instant drinkers can surely ditch that for Cafedirect's 5065? Seeking justice and loving your neighbour is what it's about.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Generation Next and Wales

I posted before about the Generation Next (Affinity-backed ministry thing not Welsh youthwork thing) report on young men and the ministry. They have a forum on their site, which is worth a look. The topics under discussion include training (interesting for those of us doing it), the role of the minister and gifts and calling. There are some interesting discussions under the topic Church Issues, including one which was started with a post by 'Osprey' with these questions:

I remain perplexed why there is not a significant denomination in England & Wales, that provides an alternative to the Anglican Church, for those who are Reformed and yet, maybe disillusioned with the compromise of Anglicanism, or for those who now see the limitations of Independence. In the late '60's/early'70s Dr. Martin Loyd-Jones called churches to leave compromised Liberal denominations and many left Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist set ups to establish independent churches. It is interesting to draw a comparison with America and in particular the Presbyterians...
Is anyone able to explain to me why a Reformed denomination in England & Wales is yet to make a real impact? I know the Presbyterians in England & Wales are trying, but as yet have made little impression. I wonder why?

The thread goes on with various contributions, some posted by 'Predikeusi' mostly reflecting the situation in England, and also mentioning the 'disarray' that the non-conformist church seems to be in in England and Wales. It struck me (again) that the situation really is quite different in Wales with regard to Presbyterianism. There is a national Presbyterian denomination with over 33,000 members, about 90 ministers and 745 churches (at the end of 2005). This denomination has an evangelical component. Anyway, here is the post I contributed to the discussion:

Thanks to Osprey for this thread. I have been pondering these questions for a good number of years from the point of view of Welsh evangelicalism. I think that Predikuesi offers helpful observations. However, the situation in Wales has been different to that in England. You had a national presbyterian denomination (which had grown out of the secession in Wales that gave birth to the Calvinistic Methodists) with a Reformed theology,its own ethos and vision for mission in Wales and beyond. The Presbyterian Church of Wales still has a number of evangelical ministers, but has demoted its original Confessional document for a far looser statement. It was still young in the grand scheme of things when affected by increasing liberalism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Establishing a strong theological base for the denomination was a struggle. This contrasts with the States where strong Presbyterian training was around at Princeton etc. It seems to me that in the 60s and 70s, evangelical ministers (who had been trained under the influence of liberal views and had to battle against these in the denomination) abandoned the denomination and threw in their lot with other evangelicals. The EMW was formed (as I understand it) as the scaffolding (in the words of Hugh Morgan) to develop a new building, an evangelical denomination - but it never happened! The 6 million dollar question is why?! Did DMLJ have an exit strategy but not much beyond that? For these men sotieriology was the battleground, perhaps ecclesiology was a blind spot? Of course, there is a very immediate contrast when looking at Scotland. Despite secessions (you might say the Scottish Presbyterians are experts!) Presbyterianism is still held strongly. The particular history has ensured a theological committment not present in Wales. I agree that independency in Wales has not delivered the promise of the days of the EMW - it could be described as disarray! These are questions which are very sensitive, but need asking. For me, the important thing is to see a way to pick up the story again - a way forward.

I notice I didn't answer the question! Perhaps the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales has not made an impact in Wales because a national Presbyterian denomination exists?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Exams are Over

Apologies for the Sound of Silence on the blog. I was labouring under the crushing weight of exams - but now my burden has fallen off my back and rolled away down the hill! Which is nice.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Doctor Who and Who is Jesus?

Yesterday I watched Doctor Who. It's been a while - I have early memories of watching at a friends house and being scared half to death. But yesterday, I was pretty impressed. In Episode 9 of the current series, the Doctor is glimpsed as a transcendent, powerful being who executes judgement on rogue entities who persist in rebellion. In the episode, set in pre-World War I Britain, a schoolboy (via a watch which has been chosen to contain the essence of the Timelord) glimpses the awesomeness of the Doctor. At one point he describes him in words like this...

He burns at the centre of time, and sees the turn of the universe.
He is ancient, but he is forever.

The picture and poetry were striking. The Doctor is a fictional character, but there is a factual someone else who fits this description.

I heard a story this morning: a primary teacher in our congregation had written on a blackboard in school (for a RE lesson, I think) 'Who is Jesus?'. She left the words on the board after the lesson ended...When she returned to the room someone had written underneath. At that point in the story, I was thinking: 'what would I write?'. Something theological? Yes. Something majestic? Yes. Perhaps, 'the Son of God'. Perhaps...

He burns at the centre of time, and sees the turn of the universe.
He is ancient, but he is forever.

In fact, one of the pupils had written underneath...

My friend.

The Importance of Biblical Theology by Bird

Further to my last post, Mike Bird recently posted on Euangelion about this stuff. Specifically, Mike writes about the Pastoral Implications of Christian Origins and New Testament Theology. He proposes that many Christians have a view that the early Church was basically 'just like us' and that the whole New Testament message is uniformly Pauline. Mike writes of this latter view...

when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

A proper view of NT Theology avoids this reductionist tendency - the same tendency that appears in Systematics-Lite (TM). Mike writes about the corrective...

Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Importance of Biblical Theology

Posts are a bit thin on the ground at the minute - the exams are approaching, oh no!! Calm. Calm. Anyway, whilst in Wales, I was blowing trumpets for my first year at HTC - naturally! One of the things I found myself talking about (again) was the importance of a narrative understanding of theology and an historical appreciation of the Bible. These might seem like scholarly niceties, but I really feel that they (like all good theology) have huge pastoral implications. One of the unhelpful things to come about from the ever-present bias towards systematics is the formularisation of the gospel. I had a conversation about this whilst visiting family in Bath. So, it kind of connected when I saw an article by Colin Thomas (City Evangelical Church, Birmingham) on the Evangelicals Now site. In the article, Thomas says:
In our youth work, I believe we have been influenced negatively by two movements. The first is ‘revivalism’. While I do not negate that God has used Billy Graham, one method he used has not assisted our youth work. ‘Revivalism’ has been influential in what I call the ‘ten-minute evangelistic talk’ model. Now, I contend that nowhere in the Bible is youth work condensed into a ‘ten-minute evangelistic talk’. I would argue a more biblical model is that of ‘catechesis’, where young people are systematically taught the great truths of Scripture. I therefore propose we need to go beyond a simple ‘seek the Lord Jesus and repent’. Of course, this is a vital part, but we need to go deeper. We are in a post-Christian society, where young people do not have the Christian categories, so we need to go back to basics and teach our beliefs about God, about people, what God has done in Christ, etc.
He's identifying in what he calls 'revivalism' the tendency to reduce the gospel to a simple formula. You see it widely in evangelicalism in things like Two Ways to Live and in formulaic gospel preaching (you are a sinner - you will go to hell - Jesus can save you - repent), even in Christianity Explored. It's kind of like Systematics-Lite (TM). Much too Lite! Whilst these structures are helpful for understanding, I think that there is an overreliance on them and that 'gospel' preaching then becomes in danger of an anaemic reductionism, which is less than preaching the Word of God. Systematics is extremely important, but pastoral practice seems to reflect an over-reliance on systematics in theological education and an under-representation of the biblical theological angle. Thomas is touching on something I am coming to see more and more: that it is in contact with the worshipping community of God's people, gathered around the Word of God, that effective discipleship takes place from darkness to light to maturity in the faith. Biblical Theology's contribution is partly in keeping the connections between the Community and The Word of God.
Thomas goes on to identify the second influence...

The second negative influence, I believe, is the ‘homogenous unit principle’ (HUP). his idea comes from the Church Growth movement, and posits that people come to faith easier surrounded by their own social group, as there is less of a wrench in aking the spiritual/social move to Christianity. We see its influence in all kinds of niche congregations, professionals, students, youth, etc., leading to certain groups prioritised over others. But when we look in the Bible in the Book of Acts, all God’s people are together (Pentecost reversing Babel, etc.) and are sent out to reach all. The HUP can be seen in how we run separate youth works for ‘church’ and ‘non church’ young people, and where young people come into the church for a club but have no contact with the wider church. We must expose all our young people to worship, to see baptism and communion, to the Word preached and to the wider all age fellowship. Now, maybe we need to think how to do this, but we can never teach in a segregated group.

Again, what I said before. The community is the key - see how they love one another. By this shall all men know... Especially when its a disparate group that would never be together otherwise: Jew, Gentile, Roman soldier, tax collector, skater, elderly woman, affluent family, ex-con. This is all very interesting and cogent. I'll post again on this soon - because it links in with something that Mike Bird just posted on his blog.