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Showing posts from May, 2011

They Did Not See The Same God?

One of the things that is said to put people off Christianity is the way we disagree with one another. It's part of having the freedom to engage our texts,  partly because Christianity is so different and good that men and women struggle to accept it as it is and so easily let a little yeast corrupt the batch, whether from Greek Philosophy, Consumerism, or whatever. There are challenges but finding Christ is by no means impossible, since he comes to us.

Some disputes are famous - such as that at Nicea and subsequently over Arianism (an early version of Jehovah's Witness theology that prefers god to be lonely rather than a community). Or, the East-West divide over aspects of the Trinity. Or that of Luther vs. The Scholastics (aka The Reformation) and so on.

Another is,  The Antinomian Controversy in New England. Don't switch off. Janice Knight's book Orthodoxies in Massachussets is a study into this falling out among New England puritans in the 17th Century. The debate…

We get WHO He has

Galatians 3:26-4:7 was my favourite passage in the Bible. And I still love it. That and The Song of Songs. But this is stunning. Seeing it was one of those moments where I really feel the 'sweeter than honey'ness of the word as I taste and see the beauty of the LORD.
Luke shows us the intimate joy of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which only the Father knows the Son and only the Son knows the Father. It's beautiful but seems closed.... Except that the Son reveals the Father (who will introduce us back to the Son he knows and loves!).Don't get busy, instead listen to Jesus and he'll teach you to speak to his Heavenly Daddy (Gk: Pater, Aramaic: Abba), to say Father! (Luke 11:2) ESV Study Bible cautions:
"It was the word used by Jewish children for their earthly fathers. However, since the term in both Aramaic and Greek was also used by adults to address their fathers, the claim that “Abba” meant “Daddy” is misleading and runs the risk of irreverence. Neverthel…

Our God is Greater!

Here's a helpful analysis of the problem of the god that people don't believe in, and which even Christians seem to believe sometimes... a god we might call OmniGod, or the OmniBeing on account of his bigness...
If they don’t believe in “God” we draw a deep breath and rummage around for some arguments to convince them of “God”: There’s order in the world, there must be an Orderer. Everything is caused, there must be a Cause at the top of the chain. There’s morality – there must be a Moral Lawgiver. You have a sense of something more, there must be Something more."we argue towards some kind of OmniBeing.
You know the omnis – maybe you learnt them in religious studies at school. God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous, ambidextrous, and so on. And if our arguments are clever enough, maybe they’ll agree to our philosophy. Hallelujah, they believe in the Omnibeing! This is surely a step in the right direction, we imagine."
The unbeliever goes away and…

The Charismatic Puritans: Looking to Christ whose love they experienced

Charismatic Christianity takes many colours, and the word is used in many ways. It's used to describe styles of worship, and more so to speak of the continuation of Spiritual gifts. Charismatic also comes with a strong emphasis on experiential Christianity, those who expect direct experience of God today as was evident in the early church. Not as a pursuit of experience but looking out of ourselves to Christ having an effect upon us. Call it Mystic or Affectionate if you want...

Anyways, this is no new phenomenon. As Ron Frost observes, in these final excerpts from his Dissertation... Series link: The Divided House of Christianity.
For Sibbes' the main purpose of union with Christ "is to make us one with him, and thereupon to quicken us, to guide us, and to dwell in us continually, to stir up prayers and supplications in us, to make us cry familiarly to God as Father". Thus, just as the Bible regularly presented the Spirit as directing Christ in the gospels, and th…

God: A Lord who Hammers the Heart or a Lover who Melts the Heart?

Ron Frost writes: "[Richard} Sibbes held that salvation is applied to the elect through their participation in the hypostatic unity of Christ.... he was the image of God. And none but the image of God could restore us to that image."
"Mystical marriage defined Sibbes' covenantal theology. It was developed in, and probably derived from, his exposition of the Song of Songs... Further support for this approach was to be found in the explicit New Testament use of the marriage metaphor, particularly with the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation and its culminating vision of Jesus... offering readers eternal bless with the church, having been wedded at the marriage supper of the Lamb. And the Spirit and the bride say 'come'. (p107-8) This approach to the Song was supported and popularised by the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible which was then replaced by the note-less King James Version. That approach to The Song of Songs has been suppressed in recent years by many …

An Opportunity to Explore the Meaning of Life

The Alpha Course has spread like wildfire, giving men and women all over the world the opportunity to 'explore the meaning of life'. Alpha is great for exploring life and for getting the foundations of Christianity. Alpha isn't the first place to raise the topic.
When the Puritans ran Alpha they had the same tagline in different language: what is the chief end of man? Ron Frost (Chapter 2, Dissertation) outlines how the answer unfolds...
"The chief end of man, Richard Sibbes believed, is "to look to Christ". This goal has two elements. "The one, that [God] might be glorified, the other that we might be happy. And both these are attained by honouring and serving him." Was Sibbes anticipating the first premise of the Westminster Catechisms here? Only if the divines of Westminster meant to affirm Augustine's affective theology rather than Perkins' and Aquinas', moralistic approach. Sibbes in fact, clarified his own position later in a para…

Tell of the Beautiful Saviour, or bring people to the brim of despair?

Evangelicalism has different flavours depending on where you find yourself... today and historically. What's the difference? Does it matter? Why are some churches warmer and more generous? Why do some Christians seem more free than others?

 I'm reading Ron Frost's PhD "Richard Sibbes' Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology". He begins with an analysis of the divided house of English Reformed Theology... which show us that the differences we see today are not new. Push Ron Frost's arguments to their extreme and you might become uncharitable but see it as the appeal of an academic and a pastor to taste and see the beauty and love of God afresh and you'll be deeply encouraged.

Ron traces the roots of the New England Antinomian Controversy of 1637 back to England, and then later on to Luther and Calvin, and Augustine. John Cotton was the man of grace at the heart of the 17th Century debate, accused of being Antinomist by those who…

In the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD

I'm usingRon Frost's approach to reading through the Biblearound 10 chapters a day, and underlining the things that strike me. That's meant being in Exodus 16 only six days after I was in Genesis 1 - really helps to see the recurring themes. Such as....

The week of creation has days that run, unlike our darkness to darkness days, from evening to morning - darkness to light. Light always triumphing but then darkness returns, awaiting the day when The Light that shone before the sun will go on to shine forever.

In Exodus 16 Moses speaks from the LORD to his people in a chapter that is laced with the language of Genesis 1, in reference to evening and morning, to sixth days and seventh days:
“At evening you shall know the LORD brought you out of Egypt, in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD" Exodus 16:6-7 How is that? How does the evening reveal that it was the LORD who brought them out of Egypt? The sun goes down, the darkness rises... In the short term.... I…

Do you know the god of Aristotle or the Triune God? (MP3s)

It's observable among Christians that some seem to be warm and generous people with a warm and generous god, while others are cold and a bit mean, like their god.Granted that's a polarising and inevitably caricatured way of coming at things, and that we all sin, it's not without basis in realty.  
(It's worth observing that most "atheists" are atheistic about the cold and mean god, and seem not to have heard of the warm and generous god)
Ron Frost comes at this as a historian as much as anything else and sees how these lines have run together generation after generation in the history of the church.

You can listen to Sessions 1 & 2 here. Continuing on, Ron draws from his PhD Dissertation (which I'm enjoying reading at the moment) and explores the difference between these two threads of church history. On the one hand William Perkins, Theodore Beza, Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle. On the other figures like Richard Sibbes, John Cotton, Augustine, Martin Lut…

Ron Frost on THE fault-line in Christianity

Dr. Ron Frost (Cor Deo Mentor) spent Monday with my team.
Here are the first two of four sessions for your listening. 

1. Ron's Story(43mins). If you listen to this and it doesn't inspire you then you might not be alive... The story includes an introduction to his approach to Bible reading which he expands on in his book Discover the Power of the Bible.

2.The Faultline.(63mins) In the next session Ron continues his story but turns to Richard Sibbes who led him to uncover a fault-line at the heart of the story of the church, between those who think our problem is law breaking answered by law keeping, and those who think our problem is self-love remedied by receiving the love of Christ. This is the key debate between Augustine and Pelagius, the real issue for Luther at the Reformation as he contended against scholasticism, and the issue that divided the Puritans (Sibbes and John Cotton vs. William Perkins and others)... and the debate is alive and well today. In the final sessions…

Why does the church needs the Holy Spirit? The Espousal Letter to Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6

I've posted before on the espousal themes of the letter to Thyatira in Revelation, and my inkling that the whole book leans that way (as the whole of the Bible does). Nice theory if it holds for the fourth letter. But what about the other six? Let's start with the fifth letter to the churches, to Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)?

1. Jesus writes as the one who holds the Spirit.
2. The church has a reputation of life but is actually dead. It's just the appearance of churchliness.
3. They need to awake, obey and repent.
4. If they do this they'll be clothed in white and given a name never blotted out.

Picture the scene. The dutiful wife, busy in the kitchen like Martha, maintaining the appearance of the happy home. But it's loveless and sexless, there's no relationship let alone intimacy. The dinner parties are good, the carpets are clean, but the air is cold. Is this the Sardisian church? 

What is needed? The divine husband Jesus writes...
True love, the works need to be f…

The Bride and the Bridegroom in The Book of Revelation

I've been pondering some parallels between the themes of The Song of Solomon and The Book of Revelation. Revelation and The Song are high peaks of the Bible, much disputed in their interpretations but surely important!

My question is - is Revelation marked by 'espousal theology' - the story of the bridegroom and his bride? 

If marital language has any part in Biblical thinking then obviously Genesis (where marriage is founded) sets the tone, clearly books like Hosea continue this along with the Psalms (say, Psalm 19 where the sun reveals the glory of God as bridegroom in the sky... or Psalm 45 that is laden with marital language), and of course Ephesians (so much of Christ's love, and his love is to lay his life down for his bride the church), plus plenty of bridegroom language in the Gospels (where Jesus is the loving bridegroom, where the bridegroom will depart, and then return). The Song is perfectly in tune, but what if the very last book of the Bible draws it all …

Why doesn't God make himself clearer?

I've been down to Falmouth Uni and up to Oxford Uni in the last week or so to speak to the question Why doesn't God make himself clearer? (Download mp3, Oxford version)

It's a new subject for me and I'm still sharpening the material, appreciating Q&A and feedback. Managed to miss a paragraph out of my intro and didn't say some other things I'd planned either, at Oxford today which is a shame. A last minute switch from a printed passage to a gospel-book made it slightly tricky to find my place on the page occasionally... I'm trying to make minimal use of notes to improve the flow of speaking and eyecontact, means learning it in advance and keeping it simple and rooted in the Bible text (here, Luke 10:20-11:13). Pic is our venue today before people arrived, at The Mitre pub, Oxford. 

Discover the power of the Bible

You can pick up Ron Frost's book on Bible reading cheaply from Amazon. I suggest you do. Ron's spending a day with my team next week and I'm excited about that.
He's a Cor Deo mentor known for doing a PhD on Richard Sibbes and for his "read through" approach to the Bible.
The basic idea: read the Bible. Read it fast, and mark what strikes you. Then meet with someone else and share the verses, in the context of relationship and prayer. Ron's book will renew your taste for the word of God.

Along the way are nuggets about friendship around common delight, insights into what it means to encounter Jesus in the Bible and much more.
It's practical and liberating.

What story does your CV tell?

What qualifies as a good use of the years between 17 and 30?
What's my story in those years? I finished school, became a Christian, got a degree (just), worked for a dotcom  startup, did an internship, held down a job for 9 years, got married, got a mortgage, and become a father. Not bad by most estimates, though not quite the kind of story my University Alumni magazine is ever likely to publish (not enough money involved!).

How about Joseph?. At 17, clothed in splendour, his father sent his beloved son to his brothers who made him the victim of an attempted murder, sold him into slavery, reporting him as dead, and the spent his 20s in slavery and prison for an offence he didn't commit. At 28 it looked like he'd get his break for freedom but he languished a further two years in obscurity before finally at the age of 30 our Joe got his SuBo moment.

Genesis 41:37-57 tells the story.

He was recognised by the Pharaoh as having the Spirit of God within him (the first time we…

Help! I'm scared of dying (Luke 8:40-56)

I had the honour of preaching Christ for the church this morning on the first of a four week Biblefresh series in Luke's gospel. Download mp3 from our website: Dave Bish - Luke 8:40-56

Thirty churches across our city preached from Luke 8:40-56 today, 29 brothers and sisters proclaiming Christ in our city.  Have a google for some of the other versions. I've had a listen to Jonny Elvin at Trinity, Collette at Riverside, Chris Keane at St Leonards, Alan Bailyes at Pinhoe Road, John Campbell an Belmont. Different approaches to the same text, suitable to the preacher and their contexts no doubt. 

Turn or burn: The gospel at gunpoint?

We had dinner with the couple who oversee us as home group leaders in our church at the weekend. Good food with good conversation about our journey's with our God.
Each of our conversions to Christ centred not on fleeing hell but on embracing Christ, two via childrens evangelists, mine via Cranmer's liturgy. We came to believe because of Christ. Christ who led us to faith. Christ who convicted our hearts. It was Christ. And it is. .

Got me thinking about my evangelism. What do I speak about?

And then Bobby Grow cited Karl Barth's observation on Billy Graham's evangelism. Whether the observation is valid about Graham isn't my concern. I don't want to attack Graham or defend Barth, or vice-versa here. It simply makes me ask about my own preaching. Quote:"It was the gospel at gun-point . . . He preached the law, not a message to make one happy. He wanted to terrify people."

Sometimes, I get the feeling I might see a bit more immediate fruit if I preached…