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.
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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.