Friday, July 31, 2009

The Usefulness of Biblical Narrative

Peter Mead has some helpful words on preaching narrative, part of the problem is that we tend not to preach it at all, but if we do we tend to mine it for meaning and nice phrases rather than read it as a text...  

"the greater challenges involved in telling a story effectively such as vivid description, maintaining tension, etc. Thus it may be slightly harder to preach well in this way. However, the strengths of this approach are significant. The original force of the passage can be recreated for listeners, whether or not they already know the end of the story. The inherent tensions and intrigue in a narrative can become strengths of the message..."
Which presupposes that we're looking at narrative in the first place (it is most of the Bible). Probably we get stuck in the same mindset as Tom Gledhill's angle on The Song of Songs: "It is far safer to look for spiritual stimulus, encouragement and rebuke concerning the spiritual life in the straightfoward and explicit admonitions of the NT." - and think it's safer to draw doctrine from Romans and Ephesians than from Genesis, Esther or Mark.

Andrew Larkin explores this further in his unpublished dissertation on The Holy Spirit:
[it is argued that] biblical teaching and doctrine should come from the didactic parts of Scripture, i.e. the Epistles and not from historical or narrative portions of Scripture (See, Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p.84) that ‘we are to find doctrine that is already formulated elsewhere illustrated in the historical narratives.’. Many would agree with John Stott’s comment that:
[The] revelation of the purpose of God in Scripture should be sought primarily in its didactic rather than in its descriptive parts. More precisely, we should look for it…in the sermons and writings of the apostles, rather than in the purely narrative portions of the Acts. What is described as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us.
Stott is not saying that the narrative material has no value, only that ‘what is descriptive is valuable only in so far as it is interpreted by what is didactic.’ (Stott, Baptism and Fullness, p.15) There are serious objections, however, both to the view that what is descriptive relies on the didactic for its value, for often the descriptive can be didactic; that the Epistles are to be referred to for the primary source of God’s revelatory purposes; and that one should examine Acts both after, and in light of, the Epistles. Graham Cole’s reminder that, ‘Narratives are descriptive, but may contain prescriptive or proscriptive elements as actors in the narrative comment or command’ (Graham Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit, p.42) is a helpful one.

It would be a false move to limit Acts to being purely narrative or didactic, descriptive or prescriptive, for it can be both. Whilst some may wish not to look to Acts for doctrine, surely such an approach is not an acceptable option for evangelical Christians. Indeed, to go further, to argue that doctrine cannot be built on narrative would render much of the Old Testament and the Gospels to be null and void on the issue! Few, if anyone, would consider this as a serious option. A crucial verse in the Bible for evangelicals can be found in 2 Tim. 3:16-17: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Acts clearly comes under the category of all scripture and is it, therefore, to be considered profitable for teaching.

...This does not mean that one should expect to encounter a systematic theology of the issue as that is not Luke’s purpose. What it does mean is that observations can be made and conclusions drawn from the relevant passages but what it does not mean is that all of Acts is set out as normative. Such hermeneutical and theological decisions are not based in the text itself as Acts itself does not offer an answer as to whether the patterns and events it describes are meant to be emulated or not. On matter such as these Luke himself is silent. One example will suffice. From Acts 5:15 it appears that people were healed just by Peter’s shadow falling on them and in Acts 19:12 people were healed and demons were driven out by handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul. It cannot be proven from the text that there is a “one-size fits all method,” that any garment touching a holy man can be used to heal people, but rather there is a demonstration of the variety of ways in which people were healed. People may be healed by such things and they may be healed by other means but it is all part of the variety of the ways in which the Spirit works in healing.
 The narrative majority of scripture is indeed useful to the church, it should be preached, and it should be preached in a way true to it's form - which means with all the colour and character, tension and teaching it contains. God has spoken.

The Unquenchable Flame

Marcus is reading Mike Reeves first book, The Unquenchable Flame. I'm really hoping my copy arrives soon. Of Mike, Marcus says...

"A brilliant mind combined with a zest for accessible story-telling, with a gentle, kind wit and affections keenly set on God. I don't think Mike would describe himself as a Reformed Charismatic (correct me if I am wrong, Mike), but he ought to be well-known and read and liked in that constituency. "

Buy The Unquenchable Flame from IVP
Mike is the boss man of Theology Network

Mike is my top choice preacher for our regional Transformission student conference. In 2007 he spoke on The Glory of the Cross, in 2008 on The Word of God and on 17th October 2009 he'll be with us again on Union with Christ. Some of the best doctrine teaching I've ever had the priviledge of hearing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Straw men are easy, talking to people takes more

Robert Wright:
When you view people or ideas as your adversaries—view them in zero-sum terms—your unconscious mind does the rest of the work, making you conceive them and depict them in less flattering terms than is objectively warranted.  ht: Zoomtard
Applies to all kinds of disagreements methinks. How different the argument might look if I view people as friends, or just human beings. People with feelings, relationships and lives to live.

Along a similar line Don Carson cites Bryan Magee on Karl Popper:
I had always loved argument, and over the years I had become quite good at identifying weak points in an opponent’s defense and bringing concentrated fire to bear on them. This is what virtually all polemicists have sought to do since ancient times, even the most famous of them. But Popper did the opposite. He sought out his opponents’ case at its strongest and attacked that. Indeed, he would improve it, if he possibly could, before attacking it. . . . Over several pages of prior discussion he would remove avoidable contradictions or weaknesses, close loopholes, pass over minor deficiencies, let his opponents’ case have the benefit of every possible doubt, and reformulate the most appealing parts of it in the most rigorous, powerful and effective arguments he could find—and then direct his onslaught against it. The outcome, when successful, was devastating. At the end there would be nothing left to say in favor of the opposing case except for tributes and concessions that Popper had himself already made. It was incredibly exciting intellectually. (152–53)
Easy to shoot holes in weak arguments, much harded to engage with the best of someone elses position, but much more respectful and productive.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Proverbial Drama

Peter Leithart on the dramatic structure of Proverbs
The first nine chapters are full of references to two women who compete for the prince’s attention and affection. Lady Wisdom is introduced in chapter 1, in the street exhorting the simpletons to abandon their folly and warning them of the consequences if they refuse to hear (1:20-33). Chapter 2 introduces the second woman, the adulteress, Dame Folly (9:13); her ways are the ways of death (2:16-18). She is a loud and boisterous woman who preys on the simple (9:13).

Throughout the early chapters, the father alternately encourages his son to pursue Lady Wisdom (3:13ff.; 4:1-9; 8:1-36; 9:1-6) and warns him about the dangers of following Dame Folly (5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:6-27; 9:13-18). Wisdom brings life, riches, and honor. Folly bring poverty, shame, and ultimately death; her house is a highway to the grave. The Proverbs begin, then with the son confronted by a choice of two women who are bound up with two divergent destinies.

It should be recalled, too, that the Proverbs are written by a King to a Prince. The book largely consists of the Proverbs of Solomon and King Lemuel (chapter 31), and the king consistently addresses his "son." The dramatic premise of the book of Proverbs is this: A Prince must determine whether Lady Wisdom or Dame Folly will be his princess. The dramatic question, then, is: Whom will he choose? (In teaching this to children, I have suggested that the book of Proverbs is structurally similar to Disney’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Little Mermaid," in which a prince must choose between the mermaid, who cannot speak so long as she is a normal girl, and the sea witch, who has disguised herself as a desirable young woman.)

The answer to our dramatic question is given in the final chapter of the book, the well-known Proverbs 31. It is no accident that the Proverbs ends with a celebration of the excellent wife. In the drama of Proverbs, the excellent wife is Lady Wisdom from the earlier chapters. Her husband, the Prince, now sits in the gates of the city. The prince has successfully resisted the seductions of the adulteress, Folly. He has chosen well. Together, the Prince and his bride form the royal household.

This structure and these characters are generally analogous to the major structures and characters of the Bible. The first prince, Adam, chose to follow the word of his adulterous wife (2 Cor 11:1-3), and ended up, as the Proverbs say, in Sheol. The Last Adam listened intently to the Word of His Father, and died to win a spotless Bride. Now He praises His bride in the gates; she is an excellent wife.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Can we preach [the gospel] please? My soul needs it and I am not alone.

iMonk: Law/Gospel Rant is brilliant.... Yes that subject again but it's important. Here's a taste but you should read the whole thing methinks:
"Remember this: Discipleship will put you in despair without the Gospel. Discipleship that’s rooted in law will just drive you into despair or Pharisaism. Discipleship needs to grow out of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit magnifying Jesus and the love of God. You can recognize law preaching because it’s always full of references to the Bible being a “handbook for life,” full of principles for a successful life. If your Bible is just a handbook for life, throw it away.
The Bible is the story that delivers us the Gospel. It’s point is to get you to Jesus, the one mediator between God and man. It’s a big book to get you to a short message. You buy the whole field, but the treasure is the Gospel, not the book of Judges or financial principles from Proverbs. Once you have the Gospel right and you know what preaching is all about, then you can read and preach Leviticus or Malachi or whatever you want, as long as Jesus is in his proper place and the message is the Gospel, not the law, or the old covenant, or this week’s good advice.
I really think we have an army of preachers who think that people ought to come hear them “preach” about various life questions and issues. How to have a great family. How to get along at work. How to use money. How to discipline kids.
Why would I want a preacher to tell me anything about these things? Why are preachers talking about sex, politics and what Jesus wants you to eat? Can anyone admit that the preacher’s ego is often inflated to dangerous level when we let his/her advice about politics or parenting become legitimate material for preaching.
Preach the Gospel, brother. Then sit down, be quiet and let’s do something else. We can pray, sing or go eat. All good.
The Bible is about the Gospel. You are about the Gospel. Give me enough of the law to make the Gospel good news, though I’ll admit I’m not one of those people convinced that we need to try and recreate Bunyan’s conversion. I’m with Spurgeon on that one. Our job is to keep the Good News out there."
The beauty is that the gospel shines out of every page of the Bible, so it doesn't matter whether you have Esther or Galatians, Leviticus or Mark open in front of you. The message to draw from the text is the gospel, the application of it is rich and diverse and practical and God-glorifying. And the beauty of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ crucified is that you can never hear it enough times, you need never move on to more - we just plunge deeper in to knowing the Christ. The gospel never gets old hat and tired. Like Calvin said: "This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father."

Preaching the gospel to yourself

Andrew Bonar hit me between the eyes this morning, when reading his Geneva Commentary on Leviticus...
"...ministers must themselves set an example to their people of constant dependence on Jesus, and unceasing application of his death. In proportion as they who lead others do themselves make use of atonement, will their people also be convinced of their need of it" p167-168.
Which makes reading John Calvin's preface to Olivetan's translation of the New Testament unmissable. Go read it! 

It is of course worth asking what does 'unceasing application of his death' mean... what is it to 'make use of atonement'? Surely firstly it is to die with Christ. As John Kent puts it:

Hail, sacred union, firm and strong
How great thy grace, how sweet the song,
That rebel worms should ever be
One with incarnate Deity!
One in the tomb, one when He rose,
One when he triumphed o'er His foes
One when in heav'n He took His seat,
While seraphs sung at hell's defeat.

Calvin quote ht: JT.

The Alpha Course and The Guardian

Adam Rutherford of the Guardian is attending an Alpha course.
He reflects on session 3, why did Jesus die?

Read his thoughts on session 1 and 2 here, or in The Guardian every Friday.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

CS Lewis on Persuasive and Effortless Preaching

CS Lewis was a great communicator and apologist. He presented difficult and high subjects with sublime simplicity and rigorous argument. He introduces his academic subject in his book The Discard Image, a fascinating introduction to the Ptolomaic Model of the Universe, one hard-wired with significance, which seems to have been part of the attraction to it for Lewis, a man who loved the idea of "a meaning-drenched universe"Lewis' observations on the vice and virtues of medieval writers make fascinating reflections for the contemporary Christian apologist or preacher. A vice to avoid, a virtue to aspire to.

"Poets and other artists have depicted these things because their minds loved to dwell on them. Other ages have not had a Model so universally accepted as theirs, so imaginable and so satisfying to the imagination. Marcus Aurelius wished that men would love the universe as a man can love his own city. I believe that something like this was really possible in the period I am discussing... Every particular fact and story became more interesting and more pleasurable if, by being properly fitted in, it carried one's mind back to the Model as a whole... a man today often feels himself confronted with a reality whose significance he cannot know, or a reality that has no significance; or even a reality such that the very question whether it has a meaning is itself a meaningless question... the Model universe of our ancestors had a built-in significance... the only difficulty was to make an adequate response.

It may explain both its most typical vice and its most typical virtue. The typical vice, as we all know, is dulness; sheer, unabashed, prolonged dulness, where the author does not seem to be even trying to interest us.. One sees how the belief in a world of built-in significance encourages this. The writer feels everything to be so interesting in itself that there is no need for him to make it so. The story, however badly told, will still be worth telling; the truths however badly states, still worth stating. He expects the subject to do for him nearly everything he ought to do himself. Outside literature we can still see this state of mind at work. On the lowest level, people who find any one subject entirely engrossing are apt to think that any reference to it, of whatever quality, must have some value. Pious people on that level appear to think that the quotation of any scriptural text, or any line from a hymn, or even any noise made by a harmonium, is an edifying sermon or a cogent apologetic... is also connected with the characteristic virtue of good medieval work. What this is, anyone can feel if he turns from the narrative verse of, say, Chapman or Keats to the best part of Marie de France or Gower. What will strike him at once is the absence of strain. In the Elizabethan or Romantic examples we feel that the poet has done a great deal of work; in the medieval, we are at first hardly aware of a poet at all. The writing is so limpid and effortless that the story seems to be telling itself. You would think, till you tried, that anyone could do the like. But in reality no story tells itself. Art is at work. But it is the art of people who, no less that the bad medieval authors, have a complete confidence in the intrinsic value of their matter. The telling is for the sake of the tale...

..I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it had a serious defect; it was not true. I agree. It was not true.
 [CS Lewis, The Discarded Image, p202-205, 216]
Captivation with a subject is no substitute for being persuasive, it's more motivation to be so. True love of a subject should lead to what looks like effortless communication of it, but such communication will be anything but effortless. Casual comments shouted loudly will not do. The more I prize Christ the harder I will want to work to present him with engaging persuasion and clarity.

The Gospel according to Leviticus

Charles Simeon:
"In Passion Week [the week up to and including Easter], as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect—“That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, “Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord’s Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour.”" (H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon,  p25f.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Totally like whatever, you know?

By Taylor Mali, cited by Mark Dever in a sermon on final judgement, ht: Colin Adams.  Listen to the poet reading it at npr

In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences -- so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally...
I mean absolutely... You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like...

And so actually our disarticulation... ness
is just a clever sort of... thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since...
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

(c) Taylor Mali, 2005

Friday, July 24, 2009

Horoscopes for the People of God?

This lunchtime I almost vomitted.
"You must confront your giant head-on. The Bible says: "As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran... to meet him" Don't run away, don't try to negotiate, don't compromise and don't excuse. Force your giant out into the light and don't let him back into your life. Establish boundaries and make yourself accountable. Stay out of the wrong company. Above all, don't look at God in the light of your giant, look at your giant in the light of God"

"We think our current sizzle-free status is proof that romantic love is dead and the dream forever lost. That's because we confuse romance with love. Romance brings people together, but love keeps them together. People who love each other can make romance live again- at any age or stage. "You have left behind your first love" (Rev 2:4). It didn't leave you. It didn't die. A new partner is not the solution. You'll find romance where you left it. ... You were the magic. What you did fueled the romance, then you stopped doing it and the flame subsided. But the pilot light still burns and remembering the heights releases positive, faith-inspiring chemistry that can move you to actions that will fan the flame into fire again."
Just two extracts from a devotional Bible study guide that was given to us recently. If this is the diet that Christians feed on daily then God help us. It's horoscopic poison for souls meant to feed upon the good food of the gospel. We have got to eat better than this - to stay believing the gospel, to even begin to rigorously engage with the world and bring the gospel of Jesus to it as something more than saccharine and horoscopes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Unstoppable progress and recurring frustration

Seems to me church history is at least two stories, probably more.

On the one hand there is the unstoppable progress of the gospel to all people groups, the word increases and the number of disicples multiplies, the word does everything. This story is exciting as new frontiers are crossed and churches established where before there were none, this is a story of ordinary people serving God, one frustrated by unbelief and driven forward by God's saving electing grace.

Another thread is perhaps more frustrating, everything has been before and perversion of the truth is the great repeater that seeks to frustrate the church again and again. This is a story of confession of truth and confrontation. It meets the missional story at many points, for the gospel defended is one meant for all peoples. Such as Andrew Fuller who refuted the anti-missional hypercalvinists to lay the foundation for William Carey's move to India.

Phil Johnson is immensely helpful in identifying the five main heresies.
Follow the link for mp3 talk and interview. 
The Judaizers who frustrated Paul on salvation.
The Gnostics who frustrated John on knowing Jesus. 
The Arians who frustrate Athanasius clarity about Christ.
The Pelagians who frustrate Augustine on grace. 
The Socinians who frustrate Luther and Calvin by preferring the authority of self above the Word of God.

And these problems endlessly recur, clearly refuted by never going away. Yet still the gospel marches forward, for it is God who saves by his grace, he reveals Christ who is God, his word saves and gives life.

There are many other angles on the story of the church too no doubt, and I'm keen to discover them and learn from them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Your Jesus Is Too Safe

I'm enjoying reading Your Jesus Is Too Safe at the moment, review to follow next month. Stetzer interviews the author Jared Wilson:

Ed Stetzer: You survey quite a few false Jesuses from contemporary culture in the Introduction--Grammy Award Speech Jesus, Hippie Jesus, ATM Jesus, etc. Which one do you think is most prevalent in the church right now? And what is the book's response to it?

Jared Wilson: I don't have the research resources that you do, so I can't put a figure on this, but I can tell you that my biggest concern is actually about an Invisible Jesus. Jesus, the Best Supporting Actor. Cameo Appearance Jesus. The "Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain" Jesus.

In way too many churches - just one would be too many, but I know this is a larger problem than that because I have experienced it myself and I hear from many others across the country who have as well - Jesus barely or rarely shows up. He may make an appearance in an illustration or something, but he is not the point of the message. Sometimes his name is never mentioned. Perusing church websites or pastor's blogs or Twitter feeds, they hardly ever mention him.

Jared blogs at 'The Gospel-Driven Church'

Monday, July 20, 2009

Seven aspects of Burnt Offering (Lev 1:3-9).

A burnt offering isn't part of the normal pattern of our lives, but we can consider and understand it. This comes with much help from Andrew Bonar's Geneva Commentary on Leviticus:
1. Male animal without blemish - We’re all stained by the rebellion of our first parents, Adam & Eve, and by our own rebellion against God. All humanity is marred and corrupted – not necessarily as bad as we might be, but marred in every part, opposed + unwilling to turn back to God. An unblemished sacrifice dies in the place of the guilty.
2. Before the LORD - Sacrifice given to God, because God has a problem. His anger must be turned asider, or we perish.
3. Leans on it - Jethro identifies himself with this substitute – it represents him. Neil Armstrong represented us all as he took a giant leap for mankind 40 years ago - "we went to the moon". Jethro leans on “It will be accepted in my place”. But can the blood of an animal take away sin?
4. It is killed - The life is laid down, helpless. Death is horrible, it is the curse of sin - "you will surely die". The LORD leans on the animal to bring death. Everyone will see the warm crimson blood, its life taken away.
5. Blood is spread - Bonar: “the life being taken away the sinners naked soul is exhibited.” – This is what the offerer deserves.
6. Cut up and burned up - God’s favour creates, his wrath de-creates – and the animal is taken apart. This is appropriate. We try to justify and play down our sin, but God sees it for what it is and rightly responds. His enemies deserve destruction. The consuming fire of his holiness consumes the offering
7. A pleasing aroma – We find here the meaning of the cross of Jesus. The Father sends the Son, in a plan formulated in the heart of God before creation to satisfy wrath and secure his favour. He looks on at the completed event and takes delight in it.
We do not offer a burnt offering because Jesus has already offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, once for all time for us, guaranteeing the abundant unwavering favour of God forever!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Turning things inside out (Exodus 18)

MP3: Exodus 18 - Turning things inside out, 43mins, Frontiers Church Exeter
“One day whilst out enjoying the sunshine Narcissus came upon a pool of water. As he gazed into it he caught a glimpse of what he thought was a beautiful water spirit. He did not recognise his own reflection and was immediately enamoured. Narcissus bent down his head to kiss the vision. As he did so the reflection mimicked his actions. Taking this as a sign of reciprocation Narcissus reached into the pool to draw the water spirit to him. The water displaced and the vision was gone. He panicked, where had his love gone?...Frightened to touch the water Narcissus lay still by the pool gazing in to the eyes of his vision. He cried in frustration. He did not move, he did not eat or drink, he only suffered. As he pined he became gaunt loosing his beauty. “
What an echo of our culture?! Perfect self-obsession. Planet Facebook: no-one picks out a bad photo for their profile… maybe you’ve even googled yourself – the modern day equivalent of getting stuck at Narcissus’ pool – searching for our own reflection. How do we break the mirror? How can we be freed from this self-ism?

Week by week, page by page we’ve been walking through the 2nd book of the Bible, Exodus. Paul Blackham notes that Exodus is “the biggest prophecy of the cross”. 1st half – How God defeats his enemy, frees his people by the blood of a Passover Lamb and bringing them from death to life through the Sea of Reeds. 2nd half – The blueprint for humanity’s relationship with with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in The Tabernacle. All of this showing us the God who is jealous for his own reputation, and in love sends his Son to save his people. `This morning: Chapter 18.

V1. Jethro. Midianite. An Abrahamite, not not an inheritor, an outsider with some Christian connections.  V1. There has been a global event. Do you fight like Amalek? Melt like Canaan? Or come and find out how this small ethnic group overthrew a superpower? V2-6. He comes with GERSHOM and ELIEZER. Their names prophesy the story of God's salvation.  V7. Met with a friendly welcome. Like Jesus' welcome, and so too his disciples love one another - the anti-narcissm that Jesus makes possible. 

But Jethro hasn’t just come for conversation, he wants to find out what’s the LORD is doing, and Moses is the man to tell him. V8. Moses tells all that the LORD had done _ how the LORD had delivered them. It’s Theology! It’s talk about God and what he has done. It’s good to talk Theology. Christians are a people who love to talk about Jesus who is God. Moses loves to speak of Jesus’ rescue of his people. Notice what Jethro didn’t hear. It wasn’t a message about Jethro’s needs or Jethro’s sins. Moses told what the LORD had done. 

Adam Crozier was Chief Exec of the Football Association.: “What was interesting when I arrived was how little time people spent talking about football.” As for Moses, Jesus should be our subject. For Moses it must be like telling the story of Wilberforce ending the slave trade, but on a greater scale, with greater significance. Deliverance of Israel from Egypt is only a picture, painted on the canvas of international politics of a greater deliverance… God the Father sent his Son into the world to set us free from our slavery to sin, in the process displaying his love and his justice to his creation. This is what He has done. How should we respond to such news?

V9, V10, Jethro REJOICES for all the good that the LORD had done, and blessed the LORD. God’s people are a singing people, and Jethro joins the choir, pointing away from himself to the LORD. V11. Jethro says: Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods…A true Christian confession, turning from idols at Narcissus' pool to the LORD.  V7-12. BURNT OFFERING IN THE TENT. 1st picture – the story Moses has told a Passover Lamb and passing through the Sea of Reeds. 2nd picture - The burnt offering. Hardly normal life for us!? Next book of the Bible Leviticus, explains it...

See: Seven aspects of a burnt offering.

That’s Jethro, where are you?
1, Jethro hears about Jesus. Like us, by songs, prophecy, my words. Thoughtful investigation.
2. Jethro get’s it and responds with joy... when we doubt we do so by believing something else - usually doubting God saves by trusting that we can save ourselves. 
3. Jethro is later called Reuel which means Friend of God.

God sent 60 people to Egypt. He brings out over 2 million out. Massive increase! Problem, one man can’t lead 2 million on his own… Early church had the same challenge as they grew rapidly from 120 people to 10,000. The principles they use seem to derive from what we find here as do those in the letters to Timothy & Titus about leaders. Useful for us! Moses brings God’s saving word to the people in every matter, like Jesus representing them before God. Jethro states the obvious (v18): you’ll burn out soon. You can’t do it alone - can't orbit round one person, no personality cult, no burnt out. Think body working together.

We’re made like the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is not just one person, but One God in Three Persons, The Triune God, The Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit don’t vote on what do to, they do the Father’s will, and he enacts his will by his Word, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are roles and order. Those who know Jesus are to look like him together. Jethro tells Moses to find, v21, TRUSTWORTHY men to be made, v25, HEADS over people. Two words capture the gist of what is said here. Why Trustworthy Heads? These are men like Christ to whom the Father gave all authority, knowing that he would be the Trustworthy Head of the church.

  • The Father knows his son will not usurp him, he is trustworthy. Those entrusted with service in the church don’t use it overthrow others. And those who show themselves trustworthy, before being given a role, find that trustworthiness recognised.
  • The Father entrusts his Son with the church – he doesn’t abuse her, he cherishes and nourishes her. Having trustworthy leaders means Andy can be away today knowing no-one will need to say to him “you wouldn’t have liked what happened when you were away”. Trust is given not to be abused but exercised.
God’s plan doesn’t just rescue people alone, he creates a people – the church. A family on mission like God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the ultimate missionary family.

To close, Four Ways We can Look like Jesus
1. Trustworthy men as elders in the church, not just pragmatic but a theological methodology- together we display Jesus as heads or under heads.
2. In marriage, husbands are to be trustworthy heads like Christ who laying their lives down for their wives. Wives are Trustworthy in not usurping that God given leadership. As a church family let us encourage and support that pattern, rather than undermining it.
3. At work too. A Christian is Trustworthy as Employer or Employee, not because they’re good but because they become like Jesus. Christian staff should be sought after, reliable +dependable, not argumentative or lazy.
4. Church, not just our ordering but our mission echoes God. The divine family is on mission, overflowing in love for the world... shapes our methods.

God has disturbed the water to draw us away from staring at ourselves. His church is a place that looks like Jesus – open to all, ordered to look like Jesus. His church is a place that will sounds like Jesus, Jesus’ name always on the lips of the church – a people who can’t help but tell of all that Jesus has done.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Macho-Christianity, or being a pretty princess?

"It is a documented fact that evangelical Christianity struggles to attract blokes, and does much better with women. Various theories have been advanced as to why this might be. Probably the most popular one is that we're just not doing church right - our songs are overly sentimental, our preaching isn't action-packed enough, our vision of Jesus isn't macho enough. Church doesn't feel very blokey...ome of those things might be valid concerns, to a certain extent. But I've been wondering whether the Christian message is stucturally anti-male, and I suspect it is - and I suspect that isn't a problem. Psalm 45 is my jumping-off point here...."
Go and read more by Daniel Blanche on Jesus and Gender

Can we handle being the bride?
Can we handle the God who goes for the weak and the small and the insignificant and unimpressive things of this world?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to find God - Documentary on The Alpha Course

Available for another 12 days on 4OD, Revelations: How to find God? a documentary on the Alpha Course at St Aldates Oxford, watching agnostics think things through. A fair-minded and interesting observation of Christians doing evangelism by Jon Ronson. There are some uncomfortable moments for the Christian but worth being aware of how we look.

Pulitzer Preaching

"Put it before them briefly so that they will read it,
clearly so they will appreciate it,
picturesquely so they will remember it
and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by it's light"

Matt Blick applies this quote from Mr Pulitzer to writing worship songs, should also apply to most other forms of communication. Be brief, clear, picturesque and accurate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Worship Matters: Don't put trivia in the mouths of God's people

"It's no light thing singing doctrinally accurate & 'sharp-edged' songs. I am singing & writing the very truths that got my brothers like Athanasius exiled or killed. I must not cheapen their memory & the freedom they won by putting trivia in the mouths of God's people. Nobody was ever burnt at the stake for saying "God is nice & He likes you"
Matt Blick

Which is the equivalent of what John Piper writes of Athanasius:

What was clear to Athanasius was that propositions about Christ carried convictions that could send you to heaven or to hell. There were propositions like: “There was a time when the Son of God was not,” and, “He was not before he was made,” and, “the Son of God is created.” These propositions were strictly damnable. If they were spread and believed they would damn the souls which embraced them. And therefore Athanasius labored with all his might to formulate propositions that would conform to reality and lead the soul to faith and worship and heaven. I believe Athanasius would have abominated, with tears, the contemporary call for “depropositionalizing” that you hear among many of the so-called “reformists” and “the emerging church,”younger evangelicals, ”postfundamentalists,” “postfoundationalists, ”postpropositionalists,” and “postevangelicals.” I think he would have said, “Our young people in Alexandria die for the truth of propositions about Christ. What do your young people die for?” And if the answer came back, “We die for Christ, not propositions about Christ,” I think he would have said, “That’s what Arius says. So which Christ will you die for?”

Which challenges me to be careful in the way I prepare to preach on Sunday, the words matter.
What I say matters because Jesus matters. Or as Calvin so beautifully puts it:

“I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.”

Why is this so important? Glen is right:

"Grace is not basically a concept or property. He is a Person. Doesn’t this (literally) put flesh and bones on the concept of receiving grace as a free gift. We’re really asking the non-Christian to receive Jesus – the gift of His Father."

David Stroud interview on Church Planting

Dave Stroud On Church planting from Adrian Warnock on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Newfrontiers - Past, Present and Future (Terry Virgo)

Terry Virgo lays out the foundations of the newfrontiers family of churches together on a mission:
More from the 2009 Together on a Mission conference

Has Christianity become Islamic? (Mike Reeves with Keith Small)

Theology Network: Mike Reeves interviews Keith Small, about the contrasts between Islam and Christianity- and how Christians can slip into thinking Islamicly.

This is a subject Mike is particularly interested in, perceiving that Islamic notions of creation, sin and God etc. may have pervaded evangelical thought.

Standing by the blood of Jesus

A few days ago Dr Ken MacLeod died of a heart-attack, survived by his wife and children. Ken was a church warden at Trinity Exeter and Associate Dean of Exeter and Director of Clinical Studies for the Peninsula Medical School.

I'd not seen him for 18 months and couldn't claim to have known him particularly well though we were for a while in the homegroup that met at his home. My abiding memory of this warm-hearted and generous father is his passion and tears when preaching on Revelation 12 one evening in Autumn 2007. Ken MacLeod - Revelation 12 (mp3)

Death is always tragic. We drove past the five hearses carrying fallen soldiers on the M4 last Friday, a sobering moment. The for the Christian at least death has lost it's sting but it still proclaims the frustration of this age. Nonetheless, we shall overcome! The Lamb wins! 

Jesus has won and Ken now rests happy with him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth

I wasn't overly impressed with earlier seasons of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off, from the occasional episodes I'd seem. The latest season was a slight reinvention - giving us a five part miniseries, screened through the week, though watched on iPlayer in our house.  The format works well and added depth to the story. 

Aliens are coming, speaking through children and they've come to take our children or destroy us all. An exploration of family and of ethics via the medium of entertaining pacey drama. Plenty of spoilers here.

Our place in the universe. Fleetingly we hear that a Christian gives up her faith because science made her feel too insignificant in the universe. Torchwood exists in a godless universe where there are aliens who challenge our place. Does a big universe make us big or small? Does the scale of things tell us about us or about something else?  

This is about children. Along the way we find that Captain Jack has a daughter, and a grandson, and Gwen is pregnant. Children everywhere. The question of whether she would have an abortion is very briefly tackled as we find her saying she wouldn't do that - while Jack has to sacrifice his grandson (and his relationship with his daughter) to save the world. He loses himself along the way and flees to find himself - was the greater good worth it or was this evil... Corrupt politicians are happy to sacrifice the children of others, while a civil servant takes the lives of his whole family to spare his children from being taken by the aliens. Aliens abuse children as narcotics. Gwen ponders the depravity of humanity, giving up its children, concluding that the Doctor must find it so terrible that he wont step in and save us. How are we to make our ethical decisions? What justice and cleansing is there for evil? Is there hope for us and for our children?

Don't tell them how great it was. Show them.

Sounds like something CS Lewis would write. I found it on a Jessops photo printing advert. Paul 'publicly portrayed' Christ as crucified. Full of content, showing how it good it is, arguing the case, not just stating it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Apostolic Spheres, the methodology of movements (Thanks, but no thanks Mark Driscoll)

Last year Mark Driscoll spoke at the Newfrontiers leaders conference, he made brilliant contributions about the need to be missional and get moving with more church planting, he was outstanding on engaging with culture and he made some penetrating insights into movements in his final session 'movements are messy' (mp3). Driscoll noted that many movements become institutions or museums, memorials to the way things have been done and the way they used to be.

From which he concluded that Newfrontiers is a movement led by an old man that needs to think about it's future, finding a successor to marry the movement he birthed to. How you evaluate that depends on how the movement works in the first place. Terry Virgo,69, observes that Driscoll, 38, hadn't quite understood us. Newfrontiers is a name that has been given to Terry Virgo's apostolic sphere of influence.

Here Newfrontiers is making at least two claims which shape the movement (alongside being reformed & charismatic and loving the local church):

1. There are apostles today. This would be disputed by many seeking to defend the sufficiency of Scripture. Seeking to protect the canon is noble, but Terry persuasively argued that most apostles didn't write scripture and that much of the NT isn't written by apostles. More on this in the mp3 or in his book "Does the future have a church". Jesus is an Apostle, so are the Twelve because they met the risen Jesus, and then there are others like Timothy, Silas and Barnabas who are grouped with Paul... it's listed with other gifts in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 and can't be easily explained away. Apostleship is about foundations and influence, about building churches and forming relationships. Apostleship is a gift not something man decides upon.

2. Apostles have spheres (or areas) of influence, as in 2 Cor 10:13-16: "But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence."

Consequently, Newfrontiers is the name given to the relationships that have risen around Terry Virgo's gifting over the past 40 years. This movement spans many nations and has long since become a gathering of the spheres of influence of many apostolically gifted men, such as Edward Buria and John Kpikpi in Africa, David Stroud in the UK, John Lanferman in the USA. What you can observe is a family on a mission driven by apostles.

The point then is that Newfrontiers as a name is nothing.  To try desperately to sustain the name by appointing the right leader would be to fall into institutionalism. The brand simply doesn't matter. Newfrontiers doesn't need to be sustained, but the gospel needs to keep advancing and vital churches need to grow and be planted - whether as one large sphere or via the ministry of many others raised up by God for the work. Not appointed to fill a role but gifted by God.

Reflecting as an amateur church historian it strikes me that whilst the progress of the church is one of overall advance, movements rise and fall rather rapidly, few sustain on-mission beyond their founders. This is fine. Movements are not about the people who lead them. The people have moments - like Peter at Pentecost - but the important thing is what Jesus is doing to build his church for his glory.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What is a reformed charismatic?

Terry Virgo gave three sessions at our leaders conference last week that captured the essence of newfrontiers. We are a people of the word and the Spirit (reformed and charismatic), a people who love the church, and a people gathered within apostolic spheres of influence (more on that sometime soon).

I was very struck during the church history track on Calvin by the explicit doctrinal foundations of the movement. Andy Johnston, Greg 'Banner of Truth' Haslam and Lex Loizides were all very strong on our emphasis on the authority of Scripture. We are Bible people who love the sovereign rule of God, especially in saving his people.

When we speak of ourselves as reformed we speak of the God of the Scriptures to whom salvation belongs. There is a lot more that could be said about being reformed which flows from this foundation regarding sin, grace, and indeed a deep valuing of all of life. David Stroud's session on the need and value of Christians in the workplace and all of life is a clear illustration of this. A Calvinist mindset is a big-God mindset which is a richness of life mindset. A coffee-appreciating and culture-enjoying, tasty and thinky, colourful and communal, lyrical and lifey mindset.We are a reformed people.

When we speak of being charismatic we say we are people who want to experience the presence of God, knowing God actually is among us, who want our affections effected by him and who eagerly desire the gifts that Christ and the Holy Spirit give to the church for her upbuilding. We are a charismatic people.

Lex illustrated our position from Acts 18:9-11 on John Calvin's birthday:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

1. The sovereignty of God who has many in this city - an elect people.
2. This election is motivation for mission not for fear and passivity, though reformed theology is often perceived as the quencher of joy and mission, contra the examples of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Carey and Charles Spurgeon amongst others!
3. This doctrine comes to Paul in a charismatic experience, a vision. Somewhere along the line the church decided to make every charismatic experience in the book of Acts an exception, but how many exceptions do you have to list before it starts to look normal?

Together On a Mission Conference, Brighton Highlights from Newfrontiers on Vimeo.
TOAM '09 Highlight video

Download main sessions from the Together on a Mission 2009 conference - I particularly recommend the three by Terry Virgo on newfrontiers, past, present and future, and Joel Virgo's session which is on being part of a team. Stef Liston was also excellent on humility. 

My one plea for the future, given there are 1189 chapters in the Bible, it'd be great to be spared the fourth versions of 1 Samuel 14 and Daniel 1. In 9 main sessions we could actually preach a full series through several possible books, as demonstrated by The Gospel Coalition on 2 Timothy etc.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How to make coffee #4 Enjoy life

I'm known for my love of coffee and for making it strong, I don't make it that strong it's just that most people make it very weak! Like I say, it's not about the caffeine but about the flavour, and a small mug of well made coffee is exquisite with breakfast, mid-morning, or after a meal. A well made coffee goes well with a good book or a newspaper, but it's just as good served with good friends and interesting conversation.

Mark Driscoll says Starbucks is "Where lonely people gather together to drink burnt coffee and ignore one another in community." Which is only true because we all buy into that social convention, why not be sociable - look up and say hello. The modern Espresso Bar has the potential to be a social hub though Driscoll's observation is largely true. It's horrendously expensive to drink good coffee outside your own home, and yet something is appealing about being in a room with others, with the mug, and having a trained barista make the coffee for us. What's lacking is the answer to the observation that it's not good for man to be alone. We're made for relationships.

Coffee is best drunk within about 20 minutes of making but you can stare at an empty cup for some time, savouring the taste. Don't gulp it down, look at the colour and the Crema, wash it around your mouth before drinking. A good strong coffee is comforting and uplifting. Stop, slow down, take your time, pause to enjoy the finer things of life such as the taste of a good cup of coffee. Remember that the coffee, the rain, the technology and discovery, the electricity, the water, the mug and the company are all good gifts from God to be enjoyed as such.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How to make coffee #3 French Press (Cafetiere)

This has to be my favourite way to make coffee. It's simple, quick and always tasty if done correctly.

You can buy a French Press in any number of sizes, I have a four cup and a one cup. Let's run with the one cup. The general rule is one spoon of coffee per cup plus one for the pot. Place the coffee in the bottom of the Caffetiere and boil the kettle.

When the water has boiled wait for it to go off boiling. If you pour it in when its too hot it'll burn the coffee which wont taste good.

Then pour in the water, not too fast but not too slow, you'll see it rise and foam a little. The temptation now is to leave it to stew for a while. Instead take the press and insert immediately, pushing down quickly to the top of the coffee, this traps in the steam and gives some pressure. Now leave it for 2-3 minutes before slowly pressing down. An Espresso-style Crema begins to appear and will transfer into the cup, giving a tasty golden layer on top of the coffee..Failing to use enough coffee or catch the pressure results in a watery coffee, and you may as well have instant. Pour into the cup, adding milk and sugar to taste if you must.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How to make coffee #2 Espresso and Filter

The High Streets of most towns and cities are now littered with charity shops, former estate agents and chain coffee shops. Most of those coffee shops are part of chains and really should be called espresso bars, since that's the main drink on offer at your local Starbucks, Costa or Caffe Nero.

The Espresso is made by the Barista and is at its purest form a concentrated coffee hit. It'll be pretty much the cheapest item on a crowded menu of favoured and diluted derivatives which are worth experimenting with. Most commonly the Espresso becomes an Americano, by diluting with hot water. If you ask for a black coffee that's what you're getting. In most cases an Americano is what the white-coffee drinker also wants when they end up ordering a Latte. The Americano comes black but room for milk is an option. A good tasty coffee has a Crèma, a tasty golden layer, on top, contrast that with the thin film around the edges of an instant coffee. The quality of this is a combination of the freshness of the coffee beans and the way the coffee is made.

In some Espresso Bars the Americano can be a rather weak drink, over diluted and verging towards the consistency of an Instant Coffee (though never quite that bad!), requesting a double-shot is well advised, and comes by default at Caffe Nero.

Filter Coffee
The alternative from Starbucks is a filter coffee. Usually they'll have two coffees brewing as a Freshly Brewed Coffee, a strong fair trade coffee and another blend from around the world. This is a drip coffee rather than made at high pressure like an Espresso. It's a fine drink usually nicer than a weak Americano. The thing to watch for is that drip filter coffee kept warm tends to burn after about half an hour and is then a little unpleasant. Starbucks refreshes theirs every so often, usually keeping only one brewing at a time. It'd be worth requesting the other option offered and waiting a few minutes to have it fresh. At Starbucks this is the next cheapest coffee to an Espresso, and is really what the average coffee drinker wants to drink - white or black.

Both Espresso and Drip coffee can be made at home if you buy the right machinery.

Monday, July 06, 2009

How to make coffee #1 Raw ingredients

Kenco promise that they use the same coffee beans for their instant and ground coffee products. That may be true enough, but that's more of an insult to the name of coffee than an enhancement of their instant brand. Instant coffee is to ground coffee what a McDonalds burger is to a steak. It makes a lot of difference.

Once you have binned all your instant coffee the next step is to acquire some ground coffee. This takes a bit of experimenting. To be honest most of the quality of a good cup is to do with the making more than the coffee, but there is some variation in the market.

It's fairly standardly sold by strength of coffee on a scale of 1-5, three is fine though the occasional 4-5 is worth it especially after dinner with some dark chocolate.

I drink for the taste more than the caffeine so you can go for decaf if you want. Grounds like Tesco's own brand are perfectly fine. A bag of Starbuck's Verona will serve you well. A good coffee drinker will get through bags of coffee fairly swiftly so you can afford to experiment a bit, go with the deals, go with what sounds interesting until you find some that you like. It feels more expensive, but compare the price at home with the price in a coffee shop and it's bargainous to drink good coffee at home (not to mention business-genius by Mr Starbucks and co to get us paying so much per cup in their shops... ).

update: I overlooked the question of Fair Trade coffee, see comment from Tom.

The other option is to buy beans and get either a hand grinder or an electric one. This certainly adds freshness but does add effort. With a hand grinder you'll be immersed in coffee aromas before you even boil the water. Once bought, store in the fridge, or in a sealed container - I use a couple of air tight tins, one for decaf and one for caffeinated.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Then satisfied always, and yet be ever bewildered by the love of Christ

Andrew Bonar reflects on the Day of Atonement:

There is a yearning in the heart of God towards this happy time [the day of Jubilee]. Jesus Himself is He who says in the Song, "Till the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense" (Song iv.6); and these repeated types, at every new period of time, days, months, and years, intimate the same desire. Oh, how should we long for that day of God - for what Paul calls, in 2 Thess. i.7, "rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven!" - Andrew Bonar, Leviticus, p444.

I love the way he captures the heart of God and sees it elucidated in Leviticus and The Song. The Day of Jubilee is a highlight in the book of Leviticus along with The Day of Atonement, but I've been turning to Bonar to better understand Burnt Offerings, something that Noah, Abraham and Jethro all make before we get told what they're for.

All the offerings area  means to an end, pointing to the cross which secures for us the ultimate day of Jubilee, when with Christ and his people we find our home in his renewed creation.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Song of Songs - can you read it this way?

I have advocated reading the Song of Songs first as about Christ and the church (corporate not individual), and then to secondly for marriage. In this 'She' is the church the bride, and He is Christ, who loves her.

Darrin Patrick notes: The transfer of the role of the bride from the community to the individual is one of the main theological errors that promotes consumerism.
And a whole lot of other problems!

Tom Gledhill, author of the BST Song of Songs and the article on it in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology is not so keen on this Christ-Church approach:
"Whilst the NT never quotes or alludes to the Song, it is nevertheless true that the OT uses the love and loyalty of the lover-beloved relationship as an illustration of the relationship between God and his people...  (citing Ezekiel, Hosea, Jeremiah and then Ephesians and Revelation) ...thus there is some biblical justification for a moderate typological approach. But the danger of this hermeneutic is that of thinking that the relationship between the believer and God is highly emotional or even erotic. It is far safer to look for spiritual stimulus, encouragement and rebuke concerning the spiritual life in the straightfoward and explicit admonitions of the NT. The typological approach also almost inevitably leads to excessive allegorization,... of the little foxes that ruin the vineyards as the little sins that spoil the church.."
So Gledhill says a moderate typology is fine, but we're to abandon it because:

a) we might take it too far, but can we not restrain ourselves? And what if we permit ourselves to ask whether a less cautious hermeneutic might be fruitful? I'm not saying be wreckless, but let's not run scared. Sounds like an argument for abstinence from alcohol for risk of drunkeness...

b) the NT gives us 'straightfoward' words but Matthew Henry suggests: "when the meaning is found out, it will be of admirable use to excite pious and devout affections in us; and the same truths which are plainly laid down in other scriptures when they are extracted out of this come to the soul with a more pleasing power" Can we not have poetic theology?

c) it's prone to excessive allegoratization, but it's ok for Mark Driscoll to follow Gledhill's lead and interpret the foxes as sexual temptation? Excesses all round I guess, but might we miss some of the riches if we pass over details?

I appreciate there are dangers, but I think Gledhill over reacts. Given he concedes there is some basis for this typological approach it seems a shame to throw away the opportunity for this book to testify about Christ and the church for fear of getting carried away with it. I accept it's possible to over-read the text, but perhaps we're more likely to under-read it...

Dave K takes an alternative and thoughtful approach this evening too

Newfrontiers Bloggers at Together on a Mission

It's our church family conference next week, bloggers welcome to an informal hello on Thursday, 1pm in the Main Hall, right hand side.

Friday, July 03, 2009

MP3s: Love the church

The MP3 and PDF resources from the Love the church weekend I spoke at for Reading Family Church are now online.

I love them as a local church and it was a real highlight to serve them last month particular on a subject so close to my heart as this

Centrality of the church 68mins (Dave Bish) -
I belong to the church (Richard Walker)
Ambition for the church 54mins (Dave Bish)
PDF sessions 1-3 outline
The Wedding Day 39mins (Dave Bish) 
PDF homegroup notes

The content of these sessions captures part of a larger writing project I'm working on at the moment. I'm looking forward to developing this further in written form and teaching on the subject a number of times later this year.

Further thinking on Exodus 18...

Most of my 'heroes' seem to skip Exodus 18 which has left me with a small selection of commentaries to turn to for assistance as I prepare to preach this chapter in a couple of weeks...   Thus far:

v1-12, A God shaped mission. Moses tells Jethro about the LORD's salvation, and Jethro belives in the Triune God. We're on mission because he is. Jethro the Gentile comes because he's heard, hears and becomes a friend of God (Jethro is later called Reuel = friend of God, Numbers 10v29)

Why wouldn't we see this or do this? Have we forgotten his great salvation... having sojourned in a foreign land (Gershom), the LORD has helped us and delivered us (Eliezer). Hear again, rejoice with Jethro! Celebrate the LORD, greater than all 'gods' - Matthew Henry: "The magicians were baffled, the idols shaken, Pharaoh humbled, his powers broken, and God's Israel was rescued.... God will show himself above those that by their proud dealings contest with him. He that exalts himself against God shall be abased."Forget yourself by observing what he has done, above all in The Cross of Christ. 

Only in view of what he has done do we return to the LORD and join his people, and not only us - but all peoples are welcome, even Ishmalites like Jethro can come, even all the ethnicities and tribes of our city that we might not think are welcome.

v13-27, God shaped community. Jethro tells Moses to avoid burnout by including more people, Moses listens and appoints trustworthy heads (ESV), men like The Trustworthy Head of the Church, to form a Trinitarian structure to judge cases. The nature of God shapes our strategy and methodology, albeit imperfectly.

Why wouldn't see do the same? Preference for tradition, clinging to power or wanting to, our own ideas of how to do things...  Hence we restructure our home groups, go to back to back meetings etc. Not because multiple meetings is our ideololgy, but because our value is mission flowing from the overflowing love of the Triune God and this is the best way we can see to go his way. This is true for us as a church, but likewise our marriages practice Christlike headship, in our employment we know we work in the sight of Christ, use of money and possessions we remember his generosity to us etc.  All of our living flowing from our relation to the Triune God. 

All of us obey our gods in life, the ethics of atheism or capitalism or narcissism flow from what is believed about god, reality, morality, humanity etc. The challenge to us is to be consistent, to portray the excellence of a Trinitarian life, and to engage with the alternative approaches that surround us. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Audacity of Hope (Barack Obama)

Sat in the garden this morning I finished reading Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. It's a relatively easy read that lays out his thoughts on the American Dream.

I found it a refreshing insight into US politics. Having enjoyed The West Wing and visited the centre of Washington DC last year it's good to hear from someone at the heart of it all. Obama comes across as a thoughtful man who looks at things carefully. On page 59 he comments:

"Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question."

I don't think that's a bad summary of where he's trying to come from. The downside is it makes him feel a bit slippery and middling because he can see both sides of every argument. I sympathise with a lot of what he's saying. I appreciate his differentiation between saying something is wrong and the question of whether to legislate that. I'm refreshed by his honesty about mistakes and his learning that it's best not to presume you know everything about someone from a position they hold on something else.

Obama makes me cautiously optimistic, but the whole thing is more complicated than the thoughts of one man, in one wing of the US political system that is designed to contrain and limit him. In days when British politics is underfire, the also imperfect US system does seem to have some admirable qualities.
It's not that I agree with all of his angles on things. I'm not sure any of us can find a politician we agree with totally. And even if I found someone who would vote for my cause in every senario I'm not sure that would necessarily make them the best person to lead, represent or legislate for us. For example, as a Christian I'd like everyone to worship Jesus but you can't pass laws for that, but you can create freedom of worship.

In any event, it's a good read and it's fascinating to get some insight into the mind of leaders, past and present.