Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying:
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

Matthew's Gospel, 1:18-21

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ridderbos on Scripture

Herman Ridderbos: a great European biblical theologian, who went to be with the Lord only last year. Here's something he wrote on history and scripture.

When new light is cast on the Scripture, also through the investigations of historical science, the church has to rejoice, even though this may compel it at the same time to be ready to reconsider and redefine theological concepts related to Scripture. Studies in Scripture and its Authority, 35.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hodge on Scripture

Here's a quote from Charles Hodge, the Old Princetonian:

Our views of inspiration must be determined by the phenomena of the Bible as well as from its didactic statements.

Systematic Theology Vol 1, 169

Monday, December 08, 2008

Murray on Scripture

The following quote from John Murray on scripture recently came to my attention (via a letter in the Record, written by my brother), which I expand a little here.

We may not impose upon the Bible our own standards of truthfulness or our own notions of right and wrong. It is easy for the proponents of inerrancy to set up certain canons of inerrancy which are arbitrarily conceived and which prejudice the whole question from the outset. And it is still easier for the opponents of inerrancy to set up certain criteria in terms of which the Bible could readily be shown to be in error. Both attempts must be resisted....In all questions pertinent to the doctrine of Scripture it is to be borne in mind that the sense of Scripture is Scripture; it is what Scripture means that constitutes Scripture teaching. We cannot deal, therefore, with the inerrancy of Scripture apart from hermeneutics.
Collected Writings 4, 26
A little further on, Murray writes...

Inerrancy in reference to Scripture is the inerrancy that accepts certain well-established and obviously recognized literary or verbal usus loquendi. It makes full allowance for the variety of literary devices which preserves language from stereotyped uniformity and monotony. And we must no allow the inerrancy which is implicit in the plenary inspiration of Scripture to be prejudiced by patterns of thought which are prescribed by pedantry rather than by sober judgement.
Collected Writings 4, 29

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Recent Books by HTC Staff

With a few books published in the last year or so either authored by, edited by, or with significant contributions from, HTC staff, I thought I would do a quick summary of them. Hoping I haven't missed any, here goes:

A Bird's Eye View of Paul
Michael F Bird
IVP 2008

How Did Christianity Begin?
Michael F Bird and James G Crossley
Hendrickson 2008

Editorial Criticism
Kingship Psalms
Royal Court
The Wisdom Poem
Wisdom and Covenant
, all Jamie A Grant
in IVP Dictionary of OT: Wisdom, Psalms and Poetry
Temper Longman III and Peter Enns (editors)
IVP 2008

Words and the Word: Explorations in Biblical Interpretation and Literary Theory
David G Firth and Jamie A Grant (editors)
including: Poetics by
Jamie A Grant
Apollos 2008

Karl Barth and Covenant Theology, ATB McGowan
in Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques
David Gibson and Daniel Strange (editors)
Apollos 2008
also includes:
Karl Barth and the Visibility of God, Paul Helm, HTC MTh Lecturer

Evangelicalism in Scotland from Knox to Cunningham, ATB McGowan
in The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities
Michael A G Haykin and Kenneth J Stewart (editors)
Apollos 2008

The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging Evangelical Perspectives
ATB McGowan
Apollos 2007
published in the US as:
The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage (IVP, 2008)

These are a couple of years old now, but worth including:

Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology
ATB McGowan (editor)
Apollos 2006

The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective
Michael F Bird
Paternoster 2006

The God of Covenant: Biblical, Theological and Contemporary Perspectives
Jamie Grant and Alasdair Wilson (editors)
Apollos 2005

Monday, November 17, 2008

Latest HTC Newsletter

The latest newsletter is now on the HTC site, where you can read the article from the Principal about his forthcoming departure, and also read about the 2008 Graduation (25 students graduated last year).

HTC at ETS

It's that time of year again: the great Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting is about to kick off again, this time in Providence, Rhode Island (that's a Rhode Island beach on the right - looks a bit like South Uist!). Scanning through the program for non-US papers, there are a few contributed from German institutions, one from Hungary, one from Trinity in Bristol, and a couple from the University of Wales. Scottish institutions come in with a good showing (2 Aberdeen, 5 St Andrews, 1 Edinburgh), including 4 papers from Highland Theological College...Scotland is surely the UK Home of Evangelical Theology! There are many, I'm sure, who would argue with that!

Anyway, the papers being presented by HTC staff and students are as follows:

Dr Michael Bird
The Role of 'Canon' in New Testament Theology
(Biblical Theology Program Unit)

Dr Michael Bird
What if Luther had read the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Challenge of Historicizing Reformed Theology: Galatians as a Test Case
(Hermeneutics)

Dr Innes Visagie
Is the Story Character of Reading Reality Leveling the Playground between Science and Theology?
(Hermeneutics)

Ian Maddock
Free Grace versus Free Grace: John Wesley, George Whitfield, and the Nature of the Gospel
(Issues in Systematic Theology)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Doing the Law

In my recent post on Romans 2, I speculated whether Paul takes the phrase 'doing the law' as shorthand for living according to the obedience of the covenant in a general sense, whether he is speaking of the Mosaic or the New. In the Old Covenant, this would not only include ethical obedience, but performing the sacrifices of the Law.

In 1 Peter, which is thoroughly Hebraic (even if you take diaspora as metaphorical in 1:1), we find:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the chosen refugees of the diaspora...according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the holiness of the Spirit, in obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ; may grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1Peter 1:1-2 (my translation)
The terse style of 1 Peter (verbs? what verbs?!) leads to plenty of interpolation in the standard translations, e.g. that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood, NASB(!). Anyway, Peter's thought here is of his audience living as Christian refugees (or aliens) by God's election (thoroughly Jewish), in the holiness of the Spirit (parallel to Pauline definitive sanctification), in obedience and the sprinkling of blood (the New Covenant life). It strikes me that the thought here is compatible with (and derived from) the Old Testament covenant life of 'doing the Law'. The fact that Peter has obedience prior to sprinkling of blood poses a problem for those who want (so desperately!) to see the ordo salutis reflected here, but I think that Peter's thought is that these Jewish Christians have been called to New Covenant obedience in the Spirit and that their sins (which they still commit) are atoned for by the blood, not the blood of animal sacrifices that cannot remove sin, but the blood of Jesus the Messiah, the blood of the New Covenant (the argument of Hebrews). So, we can see parallels between Old and New Covenant obedience (what Paul calls 'doing the law'), alongside the excellency and significance of the atoning work of Christ.

Friday, November 07, 2008

HTC Principal returning to Pastoral Ministry

News has just been published in the latest HTC Newsletter that Rev Professor Andrew McGowan, Principal and founder of HTC is to be inducted as minister of the East Church, Inverness and will leave his post as Principal at the end of January 2009. In the newsletter (which is not on the website yet), he writes of his calling back to the parish ministry - a move which takes him back to his initial calling. His departure will be a significant change and great loss for HTC, but he undoubtedly feels that his work in establishing the college is done. It has been, and continues to be, a remarkable story.

In the 14 years since HTC began, it has risen to become an internationally recognised Reformed institution reflecting the best of the Scottish Reformed tradition alongside an international Reformed teaching staff, some of whom are internationally recognised scholars in their own right. HTC is almost unique in the UK: it is thoroughly theological in the academic sense - you learn theology here as a discipline - and it is progressively Reformed in the true sense. The Westminster Standards form the background to the teaching, and this sits alongside a lively commitment to Biblical Studies and Biblical Theology, as well as progressive approaches to Reformed Pastoral Theology, together with the usual Systematics - which reflects Professor McGowan's own standing as a systematician who teaches around the world. HTCs achievements have been recognised by it's ratification as a training insitution by the Church of Scotland, alongside the four historic divinity departments at Edinburgh, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Glasgow. When you remember that this has been achieved in 14 years, it is an incredible testimony to the power of God in raising leaders, giving visions and the resources to bring them to fruition.

From a personal point of view, the departure of Professor McGowan will be a great loss. He has combined historic Scottish theology with new perspectives in the fields of federal theology and scripture. I greatly admire him as a theologian who is also a doer, an achiever . I'm sure that there are many who talk a good game about theological training, but who do not achieve a tenth of what has been achieved by Professor McGowan. I wish him all the best in his return to the work of the parish and I'm sure that his work at East Church will be blessed. It has been a privilege to study here during his Principalship - his return to the parish reminds us here at HTC that theologians are to serve the Church.

And what of the future?! I know that all of the staff here are superb, and not only those who teach. The vice-Principal, Hector Morrison, a Hebridean, was the co-founder of HTC, so we are ensured a continuity of vision. I am convinced that the Lord will continue the work for His Kingdom here, and that whoever takes up the reigns will continue the unique story of HTC.

Monday, November 03, 2008

In Him we have Redemption

A week ago yesterday, I preached on Ephesians 1:7: in Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. A few days later I listened to this from Nicole Nordeman who, in my opinion, has some of the very best lyrics out there in the Kingdom...

We stutter and we stammer 'til You say us
A symphony of chaos 'til You play us
Phrases on the pages of unknown
'Til You read us into poetry and prose

We are kept and we are captive 'til You free us
Vaguely unimagined 'til You dream us
Aimlessly unguided 'til You lead us home
By Your voice, we speak
By Your strength, no longer weak
By Your wounds we are healed

Passed over and passed by until You claim us
Orphaned and abandoned 'til You name us
Hidden, undisclosed 'til You expose our hearts
By Your death we live
It is by Your gift that we might give
By Your wounds we are healed

What kind of love would take your shame
And spill His blood for you
And save us by His wounds?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Romans 2: 6-11

In our recent work on Romans 2 under the direction Dr Mike Bird, we looked at no less than 6 interpretative options for explaining Paul's argument in this chapter, especially in verses 6-11. Briefly stated, they look like this:
  1. Paul is only speaking hypothetically that it is in theory possible to fulfil the Law in order to be saved, but no-on actually does so - unfortunately, Moo's much-lauded commentary (and rightly so) takes this position. Moo states 'verses 7 and 10 set out the condition, apart from Christ, for salvation'. Since when was there any such condition? This kind of talk is essentially Lutheran.

  2. Paul is speaking of Gentile Christians who fulfil the Law through faith in Christ and life in the Spirit - Cranfield takes this view; a view which is definitely on the right track in my opinion (rather than 1 which is totally off track), but probably defined too narrowly. Cranfield thinks Paul's description would also be true for OT believers, but that he is not describing them here.

  3. Paul is simply being inconsistent at this point with what he says elsewhere about justiciation by faith - yes, this is the likes of Sanders and Raisanen! Enough said on that.

  4. Paul only intends to say that God will both judge Jews and Gentiles according to the law they have - the outcome for both groups is entirely negative. Carson, I think, takes this view: the point is that of v11 - God is impartial - it says nothing about the mechanism of salvation.

  5. Paul's phrase 'doers of the Law' is found in other literature where it is tantamount to perseverence - this is Don Garlington's view, who sees in 'obedience' and 'disobedience' Jewish concepts of perseverance and apostasy. Garlington's work here is very important: he recognises that the phrase 'doers of the Law' only becomes problematic when set within the context of Reformation controversies. I'm not sure about the direct identification of 'doing the Law' and perseverence, but this interpretation has a lot of value.

  6. Paul's statement should be taken at face value whereby works indeed play a role in determining one's ultimate status, for pagans and Jews, before God at the final assize - the controversy of this view depends on how you interpret it. At face value, as pure merit-theology, it must be rejected. However, from the perspective of James, faith without works is dead and, as Dr Bird points out, 'we are not saved by our works; neither are we saved without them' (which is attributed to Jean Calvin himself). The Reformation doctrine that justification is by faith alone cannot be breached - the problem here is more likely to be a purely cerebral-spiritual understanding of faith.
I myself would go for something essentially akin to 2, with a touch of 5. However, I think that in the context of Paul's grand eschatological vision in Romans of what God has achieved and will achieve in Jesus the Messiah, he is describing in vv6-11 the essential character of those who live by faith (either under the New or Old Covenant), versus those who do not. His vista is across salvation history: Ioudaiou te prwton kai Ellhnos. Then 'doers of the law' for Paul here are contrasted with merely 'hearers' (13); it is those who respond in faith, resulting in obedience, who are justified. And, given where Paul is heading - to Abraham - he has in view the importance of the faith that Abraham displayed, that was reckoned to him as righteousness. For Paul, mere outward observance is not enough (R3.20); faith that produces obedience is essential.

My question is this: in vv14-16, does doing the law become for Paul, as he sweeps across Covenants, a shorthand for the obedience of faith? I think perhaps it does. What it does not mean is ethical perfection (absence of sin). This is a unsatisfactory interpetation; the Mosaic Law is replete with atoning responses to sin. Doing the Law means living out a covenant lifestyle, including, under the Old Covenant, observing the required sacrifices for sin; and under the New Covenant, living out the 'obedience of faith', confessing our sins and trusting Jesus Christ. The Lutheran interpretation fails to account for this.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Wisdom of Whymper

One of the things about Biblical Wisdom is that some of it has been gleaned (so it seems) from those outside Israel. Hence, the words of Agur, son of Jakeh and King Lemuel in Proverbs 30 and 31. Some wisdom is the wisdom of common grace. Krakauer, in Into the Wild reproduces the famous quote from the alpine pioneer Edward Whymper - a quote which I've known for a long time and which I've tried to keep in mind whenever in the mountains, but especially when in epic (by which I mean worrying) situations. It offers Wisdom for Life - especially Life in the Kingdom of God...

There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.
Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wright on Romans 2

Another excellent Romans class today with Dr Bird: on Romans chapter 2 - its place in Romans and Biblical Theology. In advance of a little more blogging on Romans 2, I offer this...

Romans 2 is the joker in the pack. Standard treatments of Paul and the Law have often failed to give it the prominence that one might expect it to have, judging by its position within his most-discussed letter. But generations of eager exegetes, anxious to get to the juicy discussions that surround 3.19-20, 3:21-31, and so on, have hurried by Romans 2, much as tourists on their way to Edinburgh hurry through Northern England, unaware of its treasures.

Wright in Dunn, Paul and the Mosaic Law, 131.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Into the Wild

Maybe ten years back, I read John Krakauer's account of the final months of Chris McCandless, from Annandale, Virginia, who gave his $24,000 savings to Oxfam and left home, travelled around the States for two years under the moniker Alex and died in Alaska while living rough in an abandoned bus. McCandless shared my birth date; he was exactly one year older than I. He graduated at the same age I did, 22. But, at about the time I was married, he was arriving in Alaska. A few weeks later, he was dead. When I heard that Krakauer's book had been made into a film, directed by Sean Penn, I was keen to see it. It's a little difficult to get to the cinema here in the Outer Hebrides, but last night I watched the DVD.

Comparing the film with the book when ten years have passed isn't easy. Krakauer was heavily involved in advising on the film, so it's very close to the book, but Penn doesn't really capture the same mood as Krakauer. I suspect this is because Krakauer, quite soon after the event, investigated the whole story and became personally involved. McCandless' home life was marred by arguments, but he had a comfortable upbringing; he was well-read (Thoreau, Pasternak, Tolstoy), he was angry, he was searching. Krakauer describes McCandless' journey as a spiritual quest. He meets many people and makes an impact on them, with his idealistic quest for authenticity and plans for his great Alaskan Odyssey. It strikes a chord within me; I have long been fascinated with wilderness - that without and that within.
Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works.
Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind

But we little know until tried how much of the uncontrollable there is in us, urging across glaciers and torrents, and up dangerous heights, let the judgement forbid as it may. John Muir, The Mountains of California

I've brought the book down from the shelf and will perhaps post again on this.

Friday, September 26, 2008

An Uneasy Peace

Worship this morning was taken by Dr Innes Visagie. He read from Zechariah 1: the riders who survey the earth. Their report to the LORD sounds reassuring: we have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet. But it's not good news - this is an uneasy peace, the peace of subjugation under the Persian empire, the pax persiana. This is not the shalom of God. The angel of the LORD asks: O LORD of armies, how long will you have no compassion on Jerusalem? Yahweh's answer is one of comforting and gracious words; He loves His people, He has heard their cries and He will return with compassion. Just a few days before Zechariah's vision, the prophet Haggai had received a word from Yahweh: I will shake the nations. The LORD will act.

Dr Visagie reflected on the theology of these verses but then applied them in considering three situations:
  • His own experience of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Under a state-controlled media, many whites were unaware of those suffering in their nation - everything seemed to be peaceful and quiet. But God heard their cries, shook the nation and removed the apartheid regime.
  • A man once came to Innes when he was a minister and confessed he had been a street angel but a house devil. On the outside he was the perfect father and husband, but in reality he ruled his house through abuse. God heard the cries of his family, the man was converted and the family released from abuse. Those suffering, or who have suffered, abuse can know that God hears their cries, even when they have been threated into silence and all seems to be peaceful and quiet. Those of us on the outside need to be aware of the superficial peace that presents in these circumstances.
  • In our churches we are often peaceful and quiet, going through the traditional rituals of church life Sunday by Sunday. But it is an uneasy peace; outside voices are crying out for meaning and for salvation. God hears them. But, do we? Perhaps the LORD, who hears the crying voices, will shake the Church in his compassion. So that we begin to hear.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Lord Our Shepherd

Today was the first day of the new year at HTC; for me, the first day of Year 3.

Worship this morning was led by our Principal, Rev Andrew McGowan. Andrew, along with Hector Morrison, is one of the fathers of the college; I suppose that his being Principal makes him the father of this community of Faith and Scholarship. He spoke from Psalm 23, reminding us of God's faithfulness to us, even in the extremities of our experience: the valley of deep darkness. His words drew on his own experiences of life and ministry and were heartfelt and moving. Andrew also quoted from a Free Church father: Douglas MacMillan. He read Douglas' account in The Lord Our Shepherd of a conversation with his own father the morning before he died, pointing to the grace that was very real in that situation, overcoming the fear of death.
.
It was a fitting address; the college father speaking to the college family at the start of a new year - reminding us of our Faithful Shepherd God and our need of his grace for our lives of discipleship, and our own shepherd ministries.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Anticipating a New Semester

At precisely the moment that this post publishes, I should be sleeping like a baby on the Lochmaddy to Uig ferry (via Tarbert), en route to HTC for the first week of semester. I believe (I have not proved it) that my journey to college is one of the most beautiful anywhere in the world (although this isn't hugely important whilst I'm asleep).

And they're off - another semester at HTC begins! This one I'm looking forward to: Dr Mike Bird (fresh from the publication of A Bird's Eye View of Paul and anticipating that of How Did Christianity Begin?) on Romans and Greek Texts; Dr Jamie Grant (who's currently working on a NIVAC volume on Psalms) on Wisdom Literature; and OT guru Rev Hector Morrison on Hebrew Texts. The Dream Team approach continues. There are no core modules for me in Year 3, so I can only blame myself for my choices. For completeness they are:

  • Wisdom Literature, Dr Jamie Grant. The key books for this one are Graham Goldsworthy's Gospel and Wisdom (which I have in the form of the Goldsworthy Trilogy); Daniel Estes' Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms; and Lucas' Exploring the OT: Psalms and Wisdom.
  • Romans, Dr Mike Bird. This course is based on the ESV (just downloaded from Olivetree onto my Loox) rather than the UBS4. Key books here are Moo's commentary (my choice - the other was Schreiner's) and Reading Romans through the Centuries: from the Early Church to Karl Barth by Greenman and Larsen, which I'm looking forward to getting into.
  • Hebrew Texts I, Rev Hector Morrison. This course uses passages from Exodus (I'm fore-armed with Enns and Childs, but not forewarned as to which passages), Hosea and Ecclesiastes (I'll be using Longman's NICOT on this - bought from the very-helpful Manna Christian Bookshop in Wrecsam along with Child's Exodus commentary).
  • Greek Texts II, Dr Mike Bird. This is the follow on from last years module and we'll be continuing to use Mounces' A Graded Reader.
All of the above for the next 14 weeks...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Greek and Hebrew Vocab

Trying to keep your Greek and Hebrew vocabulary up to scratch is a task that tends to work its way down close to the bottom of the To Do List. If you spend time with your PC each day, then the Teknia Flashworks program is an easy way to call up the vocab and give a quick run through. It's on incarnation 4.2 and comes with vocab databases keyed to Zondervan's grammars by Mounce and Pratico and van Pelt. If you're using these, even better. If not, not to worry, you can select vocab on frequency to create managable chunks. I started using Flashworks for Greek and then also for Hebrew, after creating a Teknia database keyed to Ross' grammar.

In preparation for getting back into exegesis from Greek and Hebrew, I've just started using PDA Scholar - vocab practice anywhere! It's freeware and runs on Palm or Pocket PC. It comes with vocabs again keyed to the Zondervan grammars, but also with all NT words and with LXX words over 100 occurences. Quizzes can be created using Boolean expressions on word-type, frequency, etc. So, pretty useful. The most useful free thing I've seen for a while!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

International Presbyterian Church

I've just been reading on the website of the International Presbyterian Church. Although I was aware of the denomination (Paul Levy, who I know from back in Wales, is the minister of IPC Ealing), there's a fair bit I didn't know, such as its being founded by Francis Schaeffer. From the site...

Our origins are in the work of missionaries Francis and Edith Schaeffer. The Schaeffer family moved to Switzerland from the Reformed Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1948 and in 1955 established the community called L'Abri (French for "the shelter"). The first IPC church was established in Switzerland in the mid 50's. The L'Abri mission established a base in England and soon after started two churches to meet the need of the people who came to Christ through their ministry: Ealing in 1969 and Liss in 1972. These churches were called 'International Presbyterian Church' and so the English IPC denomination was started.

The IPC Ealing website gives the up to date situation...
At the moment the denomination is divided into two Presbyteries (groups of churches): the IPC First European Presbytery and the Korean Presbytery. In the European Presbytery there is Ealing IPC, Liss IPC in Hampshire, Grace Fellowship in Warrington, New Life Massih Ghar in Southall and Hope IPC in Timisoara, Romania. We also have church planters working in France, Italy, Azerbaijan and Belgium . We hope and pray that over the next 5 years we will see significant growth in this Presbytery.

The Korean Presbytery is made up of 6 Korean speaking churches in Ealing, Kingston upon Thames, Reading, Kings Cross and Oxford.

You can read more about the vision for an International Presbyterian Church on their site - I've added links to the left.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wired to God V

The final article in the Wired to God series for Free magazine has been published in the August/September issue. I've written the series with the help of Aled Elias, a teacher from Cardiff. The series explores technology - its benefits and dangers - from the viewpoint of Christian young people. The first four articles looked at ipods, bebo, phones and gaming and were written in the style of young people speaking in the first person. The final article sums up the series and is written from my perspective. It deals with the view that technology is a bad thing (a view present amongst some older people) under the heading technology is not evil - but it can do evil and then sets out five to survive - five principles for guidance in the world of technology, with these headings:
  • no other gods
  • the best, not the worst
  • real people really matter
  • do the right thing
  • Christian counter culture
The article ends with a recognition that many churches are not effectively addressing the real ethical and moral dilemmas that face young people, many of which involve technology and its use....
So, that's it. Are you Wired to God? In Jesus Christ you can be rewired and get the power of Real Life from God flowing into you. It's like being a new person. Actually, it is being a new person!

These articles have been about how Wired-to-God people interact with technology. What's clear is that a lot of older Christians, probably including your parents and even your minister, don't understand the issues that face Christian young people because of technology in the 21st century. So, you have a part to play now...You could help them think through the moral dilemmas that you face - so that they can help you witness to the truth in your world. They need to see and understand the difficult questions you face. The issues are only going to grow, as more and more people have 24-7 access to the internet and to virtual lives. So, the Church needs you!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ephesians: Paul's Pronouns

Whilst studying in Ephesians, I've started to ask myself about the significance of Paul's pronouns in chapters 1 and 2. The en w kai umeis (in whom you also) of 1:13 is a significant feature, as is the en ois kai hmeis (among them we also) in 2:3, and also in 2:11 umeis ta ethne en sarki (you the Gentiles in the flesh).

Paul predominantly uses first person pronouns for 1:3-12; then second person for 1:13-18. He uses second person for 2:1-2, then first person for 2:3-10, then second person for 2:11-13. In Chapter 2, it is clear that to some degree the second person pronoun refers to Gentile believers. The big question is then, does the use of first person and second person pronouns in chapter 1 and the early part of chapter 2 then distinguish between Jews and Gentiles?

If so, Paul's argument looks like this:
  • God chose a people (Israel) before the foundation of the world (1:3, an expansion of a key OT truth),
  • who were predestined to adoption as sons (1:5, where adoption is seen as an eschatological privilege under the New Covenant, as it seems to be elsewhere in Paul),
  • and who received the revelation of God's will, plan and purpose (through the Law and the Prophets), with a view to (1:10 a key phrase surely) an administration suitable to the fulness of the times (this could be eschatologically conceived as the coming of the Kingdom of God with the revelation of the Messiah).
  • Thus Paul speaks of we who were the first to hope in Messiah (1:12).
Paul then goes on to explain in 1:13-14 that the Gentiles in Asia Minor have received these blessings after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of their salvation.

Isn't this the kind of argument that you might expect to precede Paul's main point in 2:13-22, that Gentiles have been incorporated into blessings which were first for the Jews, to create one new household? Then 2:1-3 also makes sense under this scheme, especially kai hmeis...ws kai oi loipoi (we too...even as the rest) in 2:3. Could 2:1-2 refer to Gentiles, 2:3 referring to Jews?

As I say, I'm starting to ask these questions and there are difficulties with such an exegesis. It could be that Paul has a more fluid thought, using pronouns interchangeably - but I have my doubts about this. I've had some discussion with Dr Mike Bird on this. Although the exegesis might be more nuanced, would there be any wider impact? The idea that salvation is first to the Jew then the Gentile is key to Paul - perhaps the main impact would be that we, as Gentiles, would need to take greater heed of the truth that we have been ingrafted into the cultivated olive tree of Israel.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ephesians: before the foundation of the world

I've just preached the second sermon in a sporadic (everything is sporadic) series on the first three chapters of Ephesians. Ephesians 1 to 3 can be seen as Paul's discourse on God's Plan of Salvation in Jesus Christ, and the first sermon looked at the fact of God's Plan and the similarities between Paul and God's great statement of his plan in His convenant with Abraham. Last night I embarked on a tackling of the great themes in chapter 1 with an exposition of 1:3-4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. As Lincoln notes:

such language functions to give believers assurance of God's purposes for them. Its force is that God's choice of them was a free decision not dependent on temporal circumstances but rooted in the depth of his nature. Ephesians, 23

However, this tiny phrase before the foundation of the world leads us into philosophical difficulties with election and choice and, if you know your Church of Scotland history, this has led to some serious problems, some of which continue today. Trying to fit NT teaching into the straightjacket of systematics has not helped us. To try to look at salvation from the point of view of election is to look the wrong way through the telescope; we must deal with things from the perspective of scripture. Enter, Norman Shepherd:

In Ephesians 1, Paul writes from the perspective of observable covenant reality and concludes from the visible faith and sanctity of the Ephesians that they are the elect of God. He addresses them as such and encourages them to think of themselves as elect....Paul is right to address the saints and faithful as elect, and at the same time he is right to warn them against apostasy. Call of Grace, 87-88

Election can only be correctly perceived from the standpoint of observable covenant reality. When we usurp the divine perspective of mystery in God's electing choice as opposed to the clear promises and invitation of God to salvation in his Word (Speculation vs. Revelation), it strikes me that we're not a million miles away from responding to the Serpents claim that if you eat of the fruit...you'll be like God. Allowing Speculation to keep us from believing and acting on God's promises is to respond to the work of Darkness.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reflections on Hebrew Grammar II

Oh no, it's Hebrew Grammar! I jest - Hebrew is a beautiful language and holds huge emotional significance for the one who appreciates its role in redemptive-history. It's just that it is, well, more difficult than Greek and so sometimes it can be hard to love it (I have my suspicions that this is how Marcion started down his particular road!). I don't think that Mr Ross helps particularly here; he's not as user friendly as Mounce, not as ingenious with his learning paradigms, and not as encouraging. He's a bit dry to be honest, like an old stick.

Anyway, the quest for highlights settles this time on the exegesis paper for the course. This one was an exegesis of Genesis 4:9-16. As well as the exegesis, we had to produce a section on how the passage informs a biblical theology of divine judgement. I found it very interesting to consider the spatial language used in the expulsion of both Adam and Eve from the garden and Cain from the post-expulsion settlement area. Both expulsions are to the east.

As an aside, I took the unyielding ground not as the result of a supernatural ecological curse, but the result of Cain's being driven from fruitful land into the wastelands (both by God's command, but also by those seeking retribution for Abel's death); its an interesting question...

Anyway, in Gen 12, Abram is called from the east to travel west. In Gen 13, Lot makes his choice of land and travels east. Not good. Of course, Abraham travels the other way (note that the land they survey is good land - like the 'garden of the LORD', G13:10). Abraham is reversing the direction of the expulsion; he is travelling back to Eden.

This spatial component to judgement is found in the narratives surrounding the relationship of Israel to the promised land and also in the NT in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The wandering of Cain is also picked up by Jude as a motif. In Revelation, Babylon is located in the wastelands and those who are outside of God's salvation are excluded from the new creation. Hence...

the embryonic components of a biblical understanding of divine punishment are seen in Yahweh's response to the sin of Cain. First, the mercy and longsuffering of God are clear. Second, there is a spiritual separation from God which is an intense and painful reality. Third, there is an attendant spatial removal from the blessings of the physical earth and of life with God on the earth. We cannot overstate the case – we are here merely provided with a trajectory, and the principle of intensification observed within the Genesis narrative must be recognised. We have referred to this as geo-spiritual judgement, and a biblical concept of divine punishment must recognise separation at its heart and not allow platonic concepts of wrath to obscure this holistic representation.

Here endeth the Reflections.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Barth on Prayer

Dr Mike Bird has been blogging Barth's Prayers recently. He also has Barth on vegetarianism! In our dining room, overlooking our family devotions after dinner, we have this posted up:
To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. Karl Barth

Friday, July 18, 2008

Reflections on Greek Texts I

Continuing the reflections on last semesters modules, we reach Greek Texts I. This course is taught by Dr Jamie Grant, who is an excellent teacher. The course uses Mounce's Graded Reader of Biblical Greek and, as always, it was good to be using Mounce's material. I had purchased the eBook version as part of the Zondervan Greek and Hebrew library, so I was evaluating the eBook experience as well as trying to get more familiar with Greek.
  • There are downsides to eBooks: it can be good to have paper in your hand, and it takes a while to get used to not having it; if references or directions are given in class ('third paragraph on page 16'), then eBook users are sometimes scuppered, depending on whether their reader or package shows page numbers; in a class of book-users, your laptop looks a bit out of place too!

  • But, the upsides are less cost, less shelf space, ease of access to material (if I have my laptop with me, then I have access to all of the IVP Dictionary series plus a number of Zondervan commentaries and the whole of the eZondervan Greek and Hebrew library, including Mounce. Of course, one huge advantage in eBook use for reference works is the ability to search, especially across mutliple volumes. For these reasons, I'll stick with eBooks if they are available at a lower cost than the hardcopy, especially for reference works.
Highlights are difficult to pick out, but definitely include exegesis of John 15 in the Greek: the Vine.


The exegesis paper for the course was a definite highlight: exegesis of Romans 8:12-17. Dunn's commentary was very helpful, along with Moo and Cranfield of course. Ridderbos and Jewett also made an appearance! But most helpful of all was preparing the required section discussing Divine Adoption. Tim Trumper's work for his PhD, published in SBET, on Adoption was fantastic to read through. His presentation of adoption as primarily a redemptive-historical concept just immediately made so much sense and rang true with some of my own previous thoughts. It's great stuff. Tim is a friend who I've not seen for years - a native of Wales, he trained at the Free Church College and New College before doing time at Westminster (a good pedigree!). He's now minister at 7th Reformed Church, Grand Rapids.

Here's the conclusion from the paper:


Thus, adoption for Paul is a redemptive-historical privilege of Israel – in Christ the benefits of adoption are realised for those who participate in Christ, Jew or Gentile. In this way adoption ‘is not to be viewed in such a way that…(it) is a secondary gift that proceeds from the primary gift of the Spirit. It is rather that the adoption of sons represents the new state of salvation that has come with Christ in its all-embracing and eternal destination’ (Ridderbos, Paul, 200).

This is the explanation of Paul’s linking of adoption with inheritance as consummation of the sonship, especially linked with the Abrahamic and Davidic promises; with the Holy Spirit, who in the prophets would be a defining feature of the new eschatological age, and who maintains the inward communion of God with believers; and with the future aspect of the redemption of the body.

For Paul it is God’s unique Son, Jesus Christ, who has made believers’ adoption as God’s children possible. That adoption takes place through their Spirit-mediated identification with Christ, and entails participation in God’s restored people and (as heirs of God and of Christ) in the blessings and benefits of the promised time of eschatological salvation (Ciampa, 'Adoption' in NDBT).

And so, adoption is both ‘the privilege of the church as the true people of God’ and also a status that ‘affects the individual believer in the deepest motives of his existence’ (Ridderbos, Paul, 204). If the church has struggled to find a place for adoption in a systematic ordo salutis, it is perhaps because its true significance can only be found within a redemptive-historical context.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reflections on Protestant Reformation

The Reflections on last semesters modules continue with the Protestant Reformation module, taught by Dr Nick Needham. Dr Needham studied theology at New College, Edinburgh where he also taught a course on the life and works of Zwingli. No surprise then that one of our essays was on Zwingli and his relationship to Humanism. The main texts for the course were Dr Needham's own book (deep breath) 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation, along with readers by Hillebrand and Janz, together with works by Lindberg, McGrath and Chadwick.

The first part of the course examines the Renaissance setting for the Reformation. A lot of this was new to me, I must admit, not being a historian in any sense of the word (I did sciences at school). But, understanding the Renaissance is hugely important for understanding the Reformation, something that came out clearly in the essay question on Zwingli, entitled: Zwingli: Humanist Reformer? My answer was, basically, yes...

Zwingli was a humanist Reformer. His education introduced him to the Scriptures in their original languages and to the Church Fathers, and provided the tools to engage with them. It gave him the ideal of Christianismus reniscens – and what is this but an ideal of reformation? Whilst Zwingli undoubtedly developed his thought in an evangelical direction, leading to his Reforming zeal in Zürich, he followed this path largely because of his humanist ideals and the tools with which humanism had furnished him....the Scriptures provided the impetus for Zwingli’s Reforms at Zürich, which affected not only the Church, but also society. McGrath writes that ‘the influence of humanism upon the Swiss Reformation was nothing less than decisive’.

Historians have often treated Zwingli in contrast to, and in the shadow of, Luther. Attempts to replicate Luther’s crisis conversion experience as a paradigm for Zwingli’s life is testament only to the romantic power of Luther’s story. Zwingli deserves to stand on his own as a Reformer with a broad vision of the power of the Word of God and the God of the Word. For him, the issue of Reformation was one affecting all mankind: ‘the church of the pontiffs is the church of the devil, the enemy of man’.

Dr Needham's emphasis that the Reformation was the action of one part of the Catholic church in securing reform, his highlighting of contemporaneous evangelicals in the Roman Catholic tradition, and his contrasting the views of the Reformers with the type of thing that often passes unchallenged as bona fide Reformed teaching today were all very helpful antidotes to the simplistic jingoism that sometimes seems to associate itself with the topic.

One of the joys of Church History courses is reading the primary sources. The earthiness of Luther would put a blush on many a contemporary ministers face. Whilst Luther was often brusque and rude, I think we need some of his earthiness today. He said that 'while he and Melancthon were drinking beer together, the Word struck a mighty blow against the papacy' (my paraphrase) and also apparently, 'if I break wind in Wittenburg, they smell it in Rome' (phooey!). But, my man is Zwingli. He was more measured than Luther, more of a gentleman, like Calvin. On Calvin, Dr Needham writes:

Calvin was basically a gentle, quiet, longsuffering person, who hated controversy and took part in it only when a high sense of duty compelled him - he had none of Luther's love of a good fight...He rejoiced in the earthly gifts of God. Natural beauty, food, drink, family, friendship, art, music: these things were very good - Calvin had no doubt of that. Yet the kingly service of Jesus Christ and His Gospel was infinitely greater and more glorious. p219

I look forward to sharing a cognac with Calvin and Zwingli, and perhaps even a beer with Luther!
The other essay on the course this year was on the Radical Reformation, specifically the Rationalists and the Spiritualists. Of course, the Anabaptists were the largest movement in the Third Reformation: rioting, protesting, disrupting sermons and generally doing the extremist thing. Well, we've learned to live with it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reflections on Pauline Theology

It's time for reflections on last semester's modules and first up is Pauline Theology. The module is taught by Dr Mike Bird, author of The Saving Righteousness of God (Paternoster) and A Bird's Eye View of Paul (IVP). Paul is a man who is close to Mike's heart and so having him as tutor means that you enter a thoroughly Pauline world in the lectures - visiting key themes and questions (old and new) in a thoroughly refreshing way.

The course is a 50/50 mix of exegesis in Galatians and Pauline Theology. The required texts (there's plenty more reading outside, especially from the ever-useful Dictionary of Paul and his Letters) are Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord, either Schreiner or Dunn on Paul (I went for Dunn) and either Witherington or Longenecker on Galatians (I went for Longenecker). My brief reflections on the course include the following highlights:

  • I enjoyed my first prolonged encounter with Dunn. OK, he takes NPP a lot, lot further than I, but nevertheless Dunn is helpful on so many points and eminently readable.
  • Yet again, the socio-historical background to Paul has been invaluable. A little thought about Paul's background in Pharisaism, the world in which he was educated and within which he ministered pays huge dividends when it comes to interpretation. For example, compare Paul's argument in Romans 5 with 4 Ezra 7.118:

O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.

  • Discussing Paul's Conversion and Call and its relationship with his encounter with the risen Jesus outside Damascus.
  • Discussing Paul on the Law. One new line of thought was seeing that so often 'keeping the Law' is identified with moral perfection in Reformed theology. However, large parts of the Law are given over to instructions on sacrifices to atone for sin. So, the Law presupposes sin and keeping the Law cannot then equate to moral perfection. Sanders' proposal of law observance as Covenantal Nomism rather than legalism has great value in this regard.
  • Longenecker on Galatians. Analysis of the situation in Galatia has spawned a diverse range of explanatians. I like many of Longenecker's arguments in his commentary. Try this on 2:15-21:

Of particular significance is the fact that in 2:15-21 Paul deals with both 'legalism'...and 'nomism'...In 2:15-16 Paul presents in abbreviated form the case against the former; in 2:17-20 he deals with the latter, with 2:21 being a summary conclusion incorporating both. So in reading the probatio of 3:1-4:11 we must be guided by such a twofold argument and not just take it that only one point is being made (as commentators usually assume). Likewise in reading Galatians for spiritual profit, we need to recognise that both 'legalism' and 'nomism' are being dealt with...(p95).

  • I think Longenecker is correct here, with the caveat that the 'nomism' that is being opposed is specifically Mosaic 'nomism'; the principle of obedience is enshrined in the New Covenant (as Paul himself refers to the Law of Christ in 6:2).

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Plagues and the Passover, part II

On the relationship of the tenth plague to the previous nine, Waltke writes:

The severity and universality of the tenth plague, its manner of accomplishment by a direct act of God instead of by Moses' staff...and the unique celebration of the tenth plague as a lasting ordinance underscore the importance of the event in Old Testament Theology (OTT, 381).

Clearly Waltke sees the discontinuity as well as the continuity. The circumstantial nature of the tenth plague is clear: it addresses Pharoah's attempt to kill the male Israelite children. But, it also transcends the circumstantial, becoming paradigmatic. The judgement that falls is universal and predicates a universal judgement on all mankind, without distinction. So, it is interesting that Waltke mentions the work of Paul Wright who notes that the pattern of the ten plagues is 3+3+3+1.

This schema of 3+3+3+1 appears to form the basis of the plague series found in the book of Revelation. Paralleling itself to the plagues in Exodus, Revelation takes on a similar framework in the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, where the three sets of three have become three sets of seven culminating in the smiting of the nations.

The judgement of the tenth plague is universal, only the slain lamb's blood turns away the Destroyer. Could this idea of a ransom of redemption also secure the immunity of the Israelites from the other plagues, which are actually also essentially universal? If MT Ex8:19 does in fact read ransom (pdt) then perhaps this idea is expressed there. However, Kaiser (EBC) thinks that the MT has been wrongly transcribed at this point...

the letter d was omitted by haplography from the text that originally read prdt from the verb prd "to separate" in the Hiphil (EBC)

Even so, when we think of Plague Ten, we ought to recognise its distinct universal nature as a paradigm of the global judgement to come at the eschaton. Not only is there a link to Revelation, but also to the words of Jesus in Jn12:31, spoken so soon before Passover and his own atoning redemptive death as the Lamb of God...
Now judgement is upon this world, now the ruler of this world is cast out.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Plagues and the Passover, part I

A few weeks back, we celebrated our communion weekend here in Lochboisdale. The previous week, our minister had preached on the Passover. That got me thinking: we tend to think of the plagues as being targetted at Egypt and hence at Pharoah himself. However, the picture is a little more complex. Some plagues appear universal (the first three) but others appear not to effect the land of Goshen where the Israelites dwell. The first sign of an ethnic (or geographic) division is in the fourth plague (swarms of insects), where in Ex8:22 Yahweh tells Moses to announce that in Goshen there will be no swarms (to show that Yahweh is in the midst of the land). Enns writes that:
this is the first plague to make a disctinction between God's people and the people of Pharoah...This distinction is maintained throughout the remainder of the plagues (except for the locust plague), either explicitly or implicitly, and culminates in the tenth plague... NIVAC, Exodus
But I'm not sure this is wholly correct. Whereas in the fourth plague and onwards there is an ethnic (or at least a geographic) distinction - this is seen especially in the ninth plague where we read (Ex10:23)

They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings

- such a distinction does not occur in the final plague: the Destroyer is indiscriminate in his work, he does not recognise ethnic divisions, only the blood turns him aside. Enns does recognise this later on and links it with Yahweh's right to the firstborn. But the fact remains that the distinction in plagues four to nine (excepting the locusts) is not maintained in the last plague. The last plague is universal in its effect and only the faithful obedience of Israelite families will save them from it's effects.

Obviously, this is related to the concepts of redemption and God's right to the firstborn. But I also wonder whether Ex8:23 offers something: the Hebrew (BHS Ex8:19) literally being
and I will set a ransom (pdt) between my people and your people
This is part of the announcement of the fourth plague. Interesting. More thoughts on this later...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

FREE! Magazine

I write the occassional article for Free magazine, the Free Church's youth magazine. But hey, there's another FREE! magazine. It does Finnish culture in English - I thought those guys on the right didn't look like your average Free Church youth group. It's an online magazine and it looks pretty cool. But they've only been going since January 2007, so yet again it was the Free Church what done it first.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wired to God IV: Gaming

A few weeks ago, the fourth installment of the Wired to God series was published in Free Magazine. This was dealing with the subject of Gaming. Preparing it was a fascinating and challenging exercise. Gaming is here to stay and I can see through my kids own gaming that it has value as a recreational activity - as a family we've assumed the identity of Shrek and friends to battle all kinds of baddies. But there are attendant issues and questions which to my mind are not being addressed by the church - perhaps they are, but it would not surprise me if, as with other issues in a rapidly-changing culture, the church was dragging its heels. Perhaps the most pressing and interesting question from a theological point of view is that of virtual worlds. Second Life's creator has stated that his aim is to create an alternative reality in which your mind can dwell. Perhaps this phenomenon has two simple explanations...

  • The human mind and body crave an alternative reality. The energising and satisfying bond with our creator has been lost and so the search is on for that missing element. When new avenues for seeking are opened up using virtual experiences, then they are quickly travelled and developed.

  • The denigration of God's reality is the devil's work. People have a tendency to search anywhere but in the direction of God himself. So, alternative truths are very attractive. And what is more attractive in terms of alternative truths than a virtual world in which you are king and there are no rules? It is the promise of a Garden of Eden without God, which is where all our problems begin.
And it also raises some questions...

  • How does God's morality apply in virtual worlds? In constructed realities moral actions are difficult to determine. Is it right to race a car at high speed in a virtual world such that you crash into other road users? There are no consequences in the constructed reality, but that behaviour would be wrong in the real world. But, is the behaviour wrong in the constructed reality? Is the constructed reality merely a subset of the real world and so governed by the moral code of the Creator? Or is it a world with its own creator and hence its own code? Should we choose to live in such worlds? There are churches in Second Life.

  • Perhaps more abstruse are questions to do with constructed realities that are at least one step removed from our own reality. For example, I've played the Microsoft Halo demo, but how does morality impact on shooting aliens or other imaginary creatures? Should we volunteer for conflict?
Yet again, the question of the relative value of face-to-face versus distant relationships is raised. In the past, when travel was more difficult, we wrote letters. Then we could travel and visit people. Now, people who are geographically proximate choose to communicate using texts or social-networking. What have we got to say about this? Given that virtual churches now exist (such as Vurch, with its tagline 'Don't Go to Church' (!)), what does 'do not give up meeting together' mean?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Black Gold

I've finally got hold of Black Gold from our DVD rental service and watched it last night. It's a powerful film. The film follows the efforts of Tadesse Meskela as he tries to better the fortunes of his Ethiopian coffee sellers co-operative. Two scenes stood out for me:
  • Tadesse speaks to a group of coffee farmers and explains that the kilo of coffee which they sell for 23 cents is finally sold in the form of cups of coffee in the west for $230. Astounding!
  • The second was for me perhaps the most powerful. A poor unsuspecting (and ignorant) Starbucks employee in Seattle explains how the staff at that Starbucks outlet are 'touching so many lives' as they sell over-the-counter coffees at the store. Cut to the Ethiopian region that supplies Starbucks coffee where malnourished babies are being weighed for emergency treatment. The contrast at this point in the film is truly shocking.
This film succesfully uses the contrast between Western coffee consumers and the Ethiopian coffee farmers to make a powerful point. At one point in the film a worker at Tadesse's co-operative sits at a desk with a poster above her reading: Jesus Will Never Let You Down. I hope that Jesus' people are not letting her down by continuing to buy non-Fair Trade coffee.
Watch the trailer and find out where the money you pay for your coffee goes using the links on the left.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Latest HTC Newsletter

A month away from the blog! When it comes to exams, needs must. Consequently, I'm a little late with this one....the latest HTC newsletter has been available for a while here. It gives news of, amongst other things...

  • Professor McGowan's Inaugural UHI Lecture: 'Is there a place for Theology in a Modern University?', which has passed! It was on 10 June, Eden Court, Inverness. I wasn't able to make it across unfortunately, but I heard it was good.
  • Dr Gerald Bray, John Murray Lecture: 'The Challenge and Promise of Biblical Interpretation Today', 4 June, Dingwall. Yep, this one's gone already too!
  • Visits to HTC by the Free Church and Church of Scotland Moderators - on the same day!
  • Visit to HTC of Dr John Franke, Professor of Theology, Biblical Seminary, Pennsylvania.
  • DMin Course: a heads up on this course, offered in partnership with RTS in the USA and designed to enhance the effectiveness of ministers and other full-time Christian workers.
  • MTh Reformed Theology: latest dates and course details.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Paul and the Law

During the recent essay rush (which explains the recent lack of activity on VdT), I was grappling with the question of Galatia. What was the problem there? What was Paul writing against? I won't expand on this now - reflections on all this semesters modules will appear after the exams in June - but of great help was the excellent book by Frank Thielman, Paul and the Law - a Contextual Approach. Trying to find a coherent path between Lutheran views of the OT law on the one hand and the NPP on the other is a difficult task, but Thielman achieves it. Here are some of the points on which I concur with Thielman:

  • 'works of the law' in Galatians, and generally, refers to all of the stipulations of Torah.
  • the Mosaic Covenant is no longer in force.
  • the law of that Covenant still has a function for believers as a redemptive-historical account that is re-interpreted in Christ (Blomberg has a helpful section on this in Jesus and the Gospels); the phrase 'the law of Christ' is relevant here.
  • Paul did combat legalism, but the Mosaic system is not inherently legalistic, neither was Second Temple Judaism universally legalistic.
And here's what Tom Schreiner said about it:

Having recently completed my own book on Paul's theology of law and having read Frank Thielman's important dissertation From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul's View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (1989), I was eager to read his newest work and was not disappointed since it is a splendid book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dr Michael Bird on Justification

The latest Pauline Theology lectures at HTC have thrown up Dr Michael Bird's Four Essential Points on Justification, together with a definition. These also appear (in expanded form) in Dr Bird's new book 'A Bird's Eye View of Paul', which I have had the pleasure of delving into already. Anyway...


  1. Justification is forensic: it is the opposite of being condemned; it is God's declaration; it is our status, not our state.
  2. Justification is covenantal: it means belonging to the family of Abraham; there are no other conditions of membership.
  3. Justification is effective: sanctification cannot be subsumed into justification but they cannot be totally separated; whilst we may treat them distinctly in conceptual terms, we cannot do this logically; for Paul, justification is sometimes transformative.
  4. Justification is eschatological: the verdict of final judgement is declared in the present; the verdict is declared in Christ's atonement and resurrection.
Justification, then is:
the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wired to God III: phone, sweet phone

The third article in the Wired to God series for Free, the Free Church's youth magazine, is carried in the latest edition. It's the dodgiest title yet. But, despite the dodgy title, hopefully it's a Christian perspective that's helpful for teenagers checking out the issues around the ownership and use of mobiles:
  • phones, consumerism and image
  • phones and interpersonal relationships
  • using phones for good
Cultural change has been so rapid since the war that many churches have struggled to adjust, carrying social and cultural baggage long after it has proved a huge hindrance to engaging young people and unchurched people with the message of Jesus. The Wired to God series (which I write with the help of Aled Elias) aims to bring Christian ethics into the world of young people, specifically through looking at personal technology, especially communications and entertainment technology, from a Christian perspective. The articles also attempts to incarnate the message in a form that's recognisable to teenagers.
Phones are becoming more and more a feature of modern life and also more and more useful as they take on functionality from traditional PDAs and therefore lend themselves to assisting the organisation of busy schedules - like in, say, ministry for example!
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Try Handheld Ministry to find out more about Using Handhelds to Build the Kingdom of God!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dr Dan McCartney on Servant Leadership

I've just listened to a sermon on Servant Leadership delivered by Dr Dan McCartney at chapel at WTS. Many thanks to Jonathan Kirk, my brother, and Daniel Kirk at Sibboleth for pointing me to it. As Daniel says 'it's a must-listen' if you're in leadership yourself. If that's not enough to grab you for the whole 22 minutes of the sermon, then listen from 19:30 in and you get a good 2 minutes that's a powerful conclusion to the message. Find it here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Jonathan Sacks on Genesis 1

In the Times on Saturday last (5 April), Jonathan Sacks wrote the Credo article in the Faith section, entitled: Genesis tells us we have a duty to protect the planet. It's a good read - here's a quote from it...
So Genesis 1 is not a proto-scientific account of the birth of the Universe and the Big Bang. Its purpose is clear. The Universe is good: hence world-denying nihilism is ruled out. It is the result of a single creative will, so myth is eliminated. The Universe is a place of structure and order, so the text is an invitation to science, by implying that the world is not irrational and ruled by capricious powers.

Why then is Genesis 1 there? We are puzzled by that question because we forget that the Hebrew Bible is called, in Judaism, Torah, meaning teaching, guidance, or more specifically, law. Genesis 1 is best understood not as pseudo-science, still less as myth, but as jurisprudence; that is to say, as the foundation of the moral law. God created the world; therefore God owns the world. We are His guests — strangers and temporary residents, as the Bible puts it. God has the right to specify the conditions of our tenancy on Earth. The radical message of Genesis 1 is that divine sovereignty is constitutional. God rules not by might but by right, and so must we.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Biblical Criticism and Peter Enns

I've been on holiday in Edinburgh and, whilst I was away, news has appeared on the WTS site about Peter Enns' suspension from his position in the WTS Faculty (effective from May). This is sad news. The faculty voted 12-8 in December last year to back Enns. Now the Board of Trustees has acted. Did someone say Norman Shepherd? My last post now seems somewhat ironic. Daniel Kirk has posted on this: audio of a Q and A from WTS (quality not great - try headphones) and also the minority report of those who voted against the suspension of Enns.
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Mike Bird has a good post on this entitled The Enns of Biblical Studies in Reformed Circles - it's definitely worth reading. He also has a good follow up on Biblical Criticism and Confessionalism. I too am deeply disturbed about the seeming inability of some in the Reformed Church to deal with scripture from a historical point of view. The associated distrust of biblical theology depresses me. The news about Enns depresses me. The advice is, if you're exploring the doctrine of Scipture, keep your head down.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Shepherd on The Vine and Covenant

One of the most helpful things I've read on how John 15 is approached paradigmatically is in Norman Shepherd's The Call of Grace, in the chapter on Covenant and Election. Shepherd recognises that often the first reaction to the Vine imagery is, 'How can this passage be squared with the doctrines of election and the perseverance of the saints?' The answer often given (as we've seen) is of inward branches and outward branches. However, as Shepherd points out, if inward branches are inevitably going to bear fruit and outward branches are inevitably unable to, then what is the point of Jesus' warning? Shepherd then writes this...

The words inward and outward are often used in Reformed theology to resolve problems that arise because biblical texts are approached from the perspective of election. Indeed the seeming indispensability of this formula indicates that the covenant is commonly viewed from the perspective of election, rather than election from the perspective of covenant. The distinction is necessary to account for the fact that the covenant community appears to include both elect and nonelect. The nonelect are then said to be only outwardly in the covenant. The elect are inwardly in the covenant. Covenant is virtually dissolved into the idea of election.

I wholeheartedly agree with Shepherd's analysis of covenantal theology being remoulded as dictated by ideas of election and reprobation. This is a similar thought to that in my systematics essay last year on the doctrine of perseverance...

It is my view that Reformed dogmatics has struggled to reflect the biblical data in failing to maintain the distinction between the experience of the believer and (i) the secret elements of the divine counsel; (ii) the salvific state of the soul. If these distinctions are maintained, the possibility of ‘falling away’ causes fewer doctrinal problems.

Attempts at systematising soteriology have falsely sanctioned the intrusion of the secret elements of the divine counsel into the experience of the individual. It is as a result of this that the division of assurance and faith has occurred in Reformed theology.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

And with the Harp

I've just returned from the Edinburgh International Harp Festival - my daughter was taking lessons and we took in a concert of Celtic music too. There was a workshop there that caught my eye, although I wasn't able to get along to it. It was entitled and described like this:

The Joy of the Jewish Sabbath: the Jewish faith and song are inseparable. For thousands of years, Jewish families have celebrated the Sabbath with songs of praise. There is a rich treasury of melodies sung around the Friday evening dining table to welcome the Sabbath. Learn more about the history and customs surrounding this spiritual day of rest.

This got me googling and you can watch a Shabbat chant played on a lyre here and tunes played on a kinnor lyre here and here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Vine, part III

Continuing with thoughts on The Vine imagery employed by Jesus in John 15... If Keener hints at covenant community as the resolution of the vine imagery, then Ross is explicit in The Inner Sanctuary...

It is plainly implied in these words that there are two sets of branches in the vine – fruitful and fruitless ones…the professing followers of Christ may be spiritually fruitful, or the reverse…He gives us plainly to understand that as in it (the Church) there would be always some fruit-bearing Christians, because of his dwelling in them by his spirit, so there would also be fruitless ones, because, while externally united to him, they would nevertheless be internally separated from him.
…here is an emblem of the visible Church. It consists of fruitless as well as fruitful branches – of nominal as well as real Christians. And yet the fact that there are fruitless branches in the vine, does not destroy the connection between Christ and his true people.

This is exactly what Ridderbos writes in his commentary, the words in which being extremely important, especially when coupled with dividing...

‘What makes Jesus the true vine is that, as the one sent by God, he gathers a community, a fellowship of life, in which his word exerts a redeeming, life-creating, continually purifying, and dividing effect.’

‘There is a sort of fellowship with Jesus, a temporary faith and fruitbearing…’

Here we have the only, for me at least, satisfactory explanation of the Vine imagery which Jesus employs in John 15. The Vine represents Jesus, the true embodiment of the covenant people of God in the new covenant. All who belong to the covenant community are in some sense joined to Christ. Some within the covenant community will reject the covenant and be lost. It is only within the biblical category of covenant that the Johannine warnings of falling away make sense alongside the doctrine of election. Jesus is the True Vine, the True Israel, and the Church is his body. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Vine, part II

Continuing with John 15, Morris follows Carson in identifying the two options for the language of cutting off. Morris writes that the earliest Christian interpretation was that the words referred to the apostate Jewish nation. But, he rejects this, stating that the en emoi language shows that his primary thought was of apostate Christians. On the cutting off of branches, Morris keeps the force of Jesus words, writing...
An unfaithful Christian suffers the fate of an unfruitful branch.
Hendrikson gets to grips with what the en emoi language itself signifies...

Thus, all who are brought into close contact with Christ are compared with branches that are in the vine. Some bear fruit; others do not....

Commenting on verse 6, Hendrikson writes that the branches represent...
each individual who is brought into close contact with Christ and his gospel
So for Hendrikson en emoi represents 'close contact' with Christ, although this is not immediately clarified any further (I didn't read the whole commentary). Keener (in his weighty tome of a 2Vol commentary - even weightier than his Matthew work) mentions the 'c' word in connection with these verses, and with this, we have definite progress...
Most draw from this (the biblical image of Israel as a vine) the implication that John believes that those grafted into Christ, rather than into ethnic Israel, are in salvific covenant with God.
For Keener,
It is through identifying with Christ that believers…are grafted into the historic people of God.
Keener keeps the force of Jesus words alive. For him, the language of cutting off is a...
vital Johannine warning against falling away.
This is good stuff, identifying the salvation-historical perspective of the imagery and also clarifying the en emoi language both as related to covenant and as 'identifying with Christ'. For me, this identification of the OT covenant background in the vine imagery is essential to the interpretation of Jesus' words in John 15. It is the category of covenant that makes sense of these words...part III to follow...