I'm really busy at the moment and have a lot of work to catch up on. I have a number of speaking engagements, lots of reading to do and oodles of writing, some of which I might post. I also want to get a lot more physical exercise over the next few weeks to make up for the last couple of months of being immobilized by a dodgy ankle. I probably used my last ounce of mental energy a few weeks ago and badly need some time to catch my breath. All of this means that far less of my free time will be spent blogging or online. I also will be travelling over to the States for my brother Jonathan's wedding to Monika in Kansas City about a week into April.
It is unlikely that I will post much over the next month.
Today I was in Manchester for a day of lectures on the subject of worship. The lecturers were T.A. Noble and I. Howard Marshall.
Howard Marshall's Talk
Howard Marshall spoke first on the subject The Church as the House of Learning and Prayer. Marshall began by arguing that the terms that we use to describe what happens when Christians meet together — ‘worship’ and ‘service’ — focus overmuch upon what we do. He went on the study the vocabulary of worship in the NT. He maintained that the vocabulary of worship was used only infrequently in the description of Christian meetings.
Marshall concluded his initial word-study by concluding that, in the New Testament, Christian meetings are not particularly said to take place in order to ‘worship’ or ‘serve’ God. He argued for a movement away from the language of sacrifice in Christian worship (although he acknowledged that it was still present to some degree). The once-for-all sacrifice of Christ has taken place and now we need no longer sacrifice. Once the Christians realized that the true sacrifice had taken place, sacrificial worship’ fell away. The early Christian churches were patterned on the synagogue model, not on the temple model.
Having expressed the negative part of his thesis, Marshall went on to make a case for the elements that should be present within Christian worship. He argued that in their meetings Christians addressed God in prayer, thanksgiving and praise. However, this must be seen as responsive to the more important thing: God’s addressing us in the word. Marshall drew attention to the clear parallel between the worship of the early Church in the respect and synagogue worship. In the Temple, the emphasis is upon what the people offer to God. In the synagogue, the emphasis is on what God says to the people. The principal thing that happens in meetings of the Church is God’s addressing of His people. The primary purpose of the meeting is that of teaching; the primary purpose of the congregation is that of listening. We serve God best by listening to Him.
Marshall contended that early Christian ‘worship’ was evangelistic, acknowledging the existence of differing opinions on the issue. He alluded to 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 as an illustration. Using the categories of J.L. Austin, Marshall claimed that, the various acts of ‘worship’ being the illocution, the perlocution is twofold: the repenting of unbelievers and my worshipping. An evangelistic meeting need not preclude my worshipping.
Marshall pressed the importance of fellowship and mutual edification in the Church. Just as the synagogue is in one sense also a house and, by extension, a household, so the meetings of the Church must be characterized by fellowship. In the early Church, meetings took on the character of family meetings, particularly as they took place in family homes.
This aspect of the meetings of God’s people spells death for the ‘one man ministry’. Ministry is carried out by the whole congregation and not merely by the minister par excellence. There are three key movements in Christian meetings: God to man (the Word), man to God (prayer, praise, etc.), man to man (particularly in the Supper).
Marshall seemed to favour a less structured liturgy. He didn’t seem to be too keen on the idea of prewritten responses. A greater degree of spontaneity is necessary. Our services should be more flexible and less structured. He claimed that a form of service that began with the preaching of the Word and then concluded with our worship and fellowship would be, in his understanding, far more ideal than most.
I must confess to being quite disappointed with Marshall’s talk. Whilst he made some important points I felt that his thesis was quite unconvincing on a number of crucial points.
I felt that his chosen methodology of word studies was unable to bear the weight of his conclusions. The Bible’s teaching on the worship of the Church does not always necessitate the use of particular words. I was particularly surprised that there was virtually no attention paid to the broader redemptive historical themes of Scripture. In my judgment, any approach to worship that does not take these into account is a hamstrung approach. This failure characterized many aspects of his talk. One was left with the feeling that forests were being missed for the trees.
I could not agree with his thesis that the worship of the Church is modeled after the synagogue and not after the Temple. There are a number of problems with this position. Firstly it does not pay enough attention to the complex relationship between the synagogue and the Temple. Peter Leithart argues that the roots of synagogue worship were in the Temple. If Leithart is right the distinction between deriving our worship from the Temple and deriving our worship from the synagogue is not as straightforward as it might first appear.
Secondly I am concerned that the focal point of Christian worship might be lost. Synagogues were never a replacement for Temple worship pre-AD70. They may have been patterned to some degree upon the model provided by Temple worship (there are differences on this of course), but the people’s worship was always orientated towards the Temple. New Testament worship is still orientated towards the sanctuary, but this sanctuary is no longer in Jerusalem, but is in heaven. In the corporate worship of God’s people we enter into the heavenly sanctuary itself. This aspect was left wholly unexplored by Marshall. It seemed as if he held that Temple worship was merely abrogated with regard to the worship of the Christian Church, rather than fulfilled within it.
Thirdly I felt that his description of worship in the Temple was quite skewed. His assertion that the Temple emphasizes what man offers to God rather than what God offers to man is quite questionable. God is present in the Temple in a very special way in the middle of His people and to worship in the Temple is to have access to His presence. God giving man His presence is central to what the Temple is.
A number of the statements that Marshall made seemed to flow from a very narrow works/grace dichotomy. His desire to maintain the priority of God’s grace is laudable. However, His definition of God’s grace was too narrow in my opinion. I felt that much of what Marshall said tended to evacuate the response of the Church of its Christological content. When we offer ourselves to God we offer ourselves in Christ. Marshall seemed to downplay the gracious nature of our response. When we respond to the grace of God we have been given to participate in the eternal Son’s communion with the Father. A clear assertion of this was lacking on Marshall’s part. Our worship is gracious because God is at work in our worship. Our worship is itself a gift of grace.
One example of this was Marshall’s complaint about the practice of the offertory — offering the bread and the wine alongside the collection. I would strongly advocate such a practice as a clear expression of the nature of God’s grace. God is pleased to set apart our works as material for his kingdom. When God brings us into His kingdom He does not only regard us as righteous persons; He also regards our works as righteous, as Calvin observed (Institutes III.xvii.5). If we recognize this point we will be more than ready to rejoice in the biblical truth that the offertory teaches us. As Jeffrey Meyers observes, the Supper is not about ‘initial justification’ but is a foreshadowing of ‘future justification’, a justification in which works are taken into account. God has worked in and through us and will graciously crown that work. Our world is not something unclean to be held outside of the Church meeting. By God’s grace creation can become sacramental again as it is offered up to Him in the bread and the wine. Of course, this can only take place because of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice.
A further problem with Marshall’s approach was the fact that the need for confession was not even mentioned. Apparently we can come straight into God’s presence and have Him speak to us without Him first giving us cleansing and forgiveness. Whilst I’m sure that Marshall does not hold this, his failure to mention the place of forgiveness and confession in the liturgy is no small oversight.
In general Marshall was very loose on liturgical issues. He was not overly concerned where the Supper, Word or worship fitted within the service so long as the priority of the Word — which Marshall particularly identified as God’s service to us — was maintained. Once again, this was quite disappointing. I believe that the Bible ordains a particular type of ordo for our worship. I would generally go to places like Leviticus to establish this, but the principles expressed in that book are clearly present elsewhere in Scripture. The relationship borne by the various elements of worship to each other was not sufficiently stressed. The organic wholeness of the covenant renewal service was absent from Marshall’s presentation. In fact the theme of ‘covenant’ and its ‘renewal’ were absent also. I disagree with Marshall’s belief that normal Christian meetings are to be evangelistic in some sense in the Church. I am convinced that the purpose of worship is quite different. The covenant renewal model merely serves to solidify this conviction in my mind.
T.A. Noble’s Talk
I enjoyed T.A. Noble’s talk (Worship in Spirit and in Truth) immensely. Within it he gave a taxonomy of worship styles, presented their history and studied their strengths and weaknesses. He had numerous insightful comments. I particularly appreciated some of his observations on the role of music in modern worship. He claimed that music in many charismatic churches takes the place that the sacrament has in liturgical services and preaching has in Reformed churches. The worship-leader can become the charismatic counterpart of the priest in more liturgical traditions and the preacher in the Reformed tradition.
He also observed that revivalist worship represents a movement away from a focus on Christ’s sacrifice to a focus on the sacrifice of the believer. In the revival meeting there is an ‘altar call’, but it is the worshipper that is offered and not Christ. These are just a couple of examples of some of the helpful insights he gave.
I was impressed with Noble’s evenhanded treatment of the different worship traditions. He gave few hints of his ecclesiastical background. Often we can be very parochial in our treatments of such subjects, but his talk did not fall prey to this error.
The second part of his talk was a treatment of the Trinitarian nature of worship. Noble has read books like James Torrance’s Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace and it really showed. He emphasized the gracious nature of our response to God in Christ and the fact that we have been given to participate in His worship of the Father as the eternal Son. This part of his talk provided the perfect antidote to many of the problems in Marshall’s talk.
Stoke City's soccer match at the Britannia Stadium was called off this afternoon due to gale force winds. Strange to say, even though I live within walking distance of the ground I didn't particularly notice the wind. Admittedly I was reading or working on my computer indoors for pretty much the whole of the day. Today was one of those days — I have been having far too many of them of late — when I feel like my brain has ossified. I read for hours and my mind never fully engaged with anything, floating like oil on the water of my studies. Perhaps next week will be more productive.
On a more positive note, I finally purchased a 2004 diary this week. Perhaps I will be able to organize my time more effectively over the next few months. At the moment my days have a rather disorganized look to them. Of course, there is a subtle underlying logic to them (that's what I tell myself, anyway) — rather like choreographed chaos. Unfortunately it often escapes me as much as everyone else. I guess that I am just too tired to be ordered at the moment. I have an awful lot of work to do, and have not had the energy to think about properly tackling it. Most of my time is spent reading or using my computer. Unfortunately, it has been harder to get exercise since my ankle was injured a month or two ago. I cannot walk too far at present, which is rather irritating.
At the moment I am thoroughly enjoying The Victory According to Mark. It is accessible, enjoyable and very stimulating and thought-provoking. I have also just obtained a copy of Cranfield's shorter commentary on Romans, which I hope to work through soon. Today I have also been looking through a few books on the atonement, which has been interesting. I may give a few comments over the next couple of days.
Yesterday I read through N.T. Wright's article 'On Becoming the Righteousness of God: 2 Corinthians 5:21' in Pauline Theology Volume II. I was more than a little disappointed, having bought the book, to find that Wright's article only occupied 9 of its 300 pages. Oh well. The article was good, but I was half expecting it to probe a bit deeper than it did. Over against the traditional reading of 2 Corinthians 5:21, I find Wright's proposal more or less compelling. I am still not entirely sure on every detail. Richard Hays argues that Wright should broaden his reading of verse 21 to take account of the fact that Paul introduces ambiguity of reference in the previous verses due to his appreciation of the relationship between his vocation and the vocation of the community as a whole. I am still thinking this over. Theologically Hays is certainly correct; exegetically I am still unsure whether the passage is actually saying this. I believe that Wright is generally correct in his position over against Käsemann, but again I am still trying to think some particular questions through.
On Monday I am attending a day long conference on worship in Manchester. That's about all that I know about it at present. My father booked me in for it a few months ago. I might make some comments when I return.
At present I am also thinking through my plans for next year. I would like to get some sort of 'secular' job locally and work at that for a few years. Most of my work to date has been done for Christian organizations of some type or other. Ideally I would like a job that does not involve staring at a screen all day, but it is unlikely that this wish will come true. I am also considering taking an Open University course alongside my work. I am thinking about what subjects to study at the moment. Something deep inside me wants to study Maths. I studied Maths and Further Maths for A-Level and I was always told that I really should go in that direction long-term. However, I will probably study Humanities, Classical Studies or something like that. Decisions, decisions...
Diametrically opposed to the doctrine of those who deny that the sacraments are Divine seals is the heresy of the Romish church that teaches that the sacraments of the New Testament communicate grace. They say that the gifts of God's grace are entrusted to the church, and she gives them to men. In the sacrament, according to the Romish doctrine, there is an act of the church by which it communicates grace, and that in such a manner that each sacrament gives a special grace, even when the recipient of the sacrament does not believe.
Luther could not free himself entirely from this unscriptural Romish doctrine, and called the sacraments wagons, vessels, channels, and actual causes by which grace is communicated.
Based upon the Word of God and following the path of Calvin, the Reformed, on the other hand, denied that the sacraments had any ability to communicate grace.
My previous comments with regard to tensions in N.T. Wright's view of Baptism need some clarification. Wright clearly holds that Baptism is all about entry, but some of his language on justification might lead to confusion on where exactly he stands. He brings together Baptism and justification but doesn't seem to believe that justification is about entry. Anyone who wants clarification on where Wright stands on Baptism and entry should take the time to read his commentary on Romans 6. The following is also a helpful quote from Wright's comments on Galatians 3:27 in the For Everyone series.
What matters for Paul is that someone is 'in' the Messiah, or 'belongs to' the Messiah. This is not simply a spiritual state resulting from, or consisting in, a certain type of inner experience. For Paul, it is a matter of belonging to a particular community, the new royal family, the Messiah's people; and this family is entered through baptism.
Baptism is therefore 'into the Messiah': it is the doorway through which one passes into membership in the single family God promised to Abraham. Paul does not here explain how baptism relates to faith; he assumes they are both present, as indeed he would, since 'Jesus is Lord' was what the candidate for baptism would have to say.
The big question is what this all does to Wright's assertion that justification is not about entry.
There is nothing that sinful man fears more than reality — the world that really exists. In every area of life man seeks to shield himself from this world. Man fears this world because it is a world where God is present throughout, a world that is open to Him in its entirety. Man has sought to create his own world around him — a world in which the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does not exist. Within this world man is god. This world is not merely a world of ideas; it is a world of stories, praxis, symbols, relationships and feelings.
This world is governed by man’s providence and is designed to be an expression of man’s self-possession. In every area of life sinful man seeks to live out of this world. In many cases this world is so effective that men are almost blissfully unaware of the fact that they are not living out of the real world. From their childhood men are moulded by this world; they adopt its practices, they think in its categories, they share its stories.
However, every now and again something occurs to shake man from his slumber. There is an inescapable friction between the world that man wants to inhabit and the world that really is. Deep down every man has some sense of the fact that the world he is seeking to inhabit is ultimately a façade. Man is made in the image of God and he cannot truly deny the God who is without denying himself. The disharmony that exists between the real world that man truly belongs to and the world that man seeks to hide in is inescapable. Man is constantly made aware of it. At some times it is more obvious than at others. When man faces death, for example, he becomes acutely aware of the fact that there is something unnatural about the world he inhabits. Consequently, man fears death more than anything else for it threatens his world.
As Christians we are to be those who live out of the real world. We are the only people who are truly living in touch with the reality that everyone else seeks to deny and flee from. In the Church we live in reality and each week we embody this reality amidst the shadows of this world — the myth in which man seeks to lose himself. The world will always hate the Church, because the Church exposes the world for what it is — an illusory fiction. Where the Church is the friction and disharmony between man’s world and reality is radically intensified. Man finds it harder and harder to deny the truth when he sees the world he has built in the light of the world that really is. This is why men will always persecute the Church.
Christians can often forget that the real world is the one that they inhabit. If we really want to change things we must do so out of the real world — that is, the Church. The weapons that we use should not be those of the world. We should seek to change the world by means of worship. If man is to be saved he has to learn to live out of the real world, the world where God is God and man is His image.
I fear that many Christians fail to understand that the existence of God is not so much a truth that we arrive at as a result of logical argumentation; the existence of God is a truth that reality forces upon us. Man seeks to escape reality because he wants to escape this truth. Every aspect of reality sings of the existence of God and man wants to escape or drown out its sound.
As Christians our most powerful apologetic is that of living real lives in a world of unreality. This world is the great Fiction perpetrated by the father of lies; real lives reveal the deceit and press the truth of God upon people. The Church is the great Apologetic.
Disjointed Thoughts on Justification, Imputation and Vocation
We are imputed righteous in Christ. Imputation occurs when God regards us as righteous in Christ. Imputation has, as Gaffin observes, no discrete structure of its own. Being raised with Christ is ‘judicially declarative’; God regards us as righteous as we are incorporated into Christ’s body.
Being incorporated into Christ’s body is inseparable from being part of the Church. We enter the Church through Baptism. Baptism is the key moment of justification.
I believe that N.T. Wright is inconsistent on this point: he argues that justification is not entry language and yet he associates it with Baptism. Is not Baptism all about entry?
Can Baptism merely be the declaration that we are ‘in’ and not the means by which we enter when unbaptized people cannot partake of the Supper? What is it that we are talking about entering ‘in’ to?
The fact that Wright frequently speaks of Baptism in terms of entry suggests that something more is going on here. Wright is interacting with people who have tended to think of ‘conversion’ in terms of entry. Wright speaks of conversion in terms of ‘call’. He argues that the effectual call is the means by which we ‘become Christians’.
Wright wants to distinguish the moment of initial faith from the moment of justification. He is right to do so. Both Abraham and our Lord were believers for more years before they were ‘justified’ (Abraham by the making of the covenant in Genesis 15; our Lord by His resurrection from the dead).
Justification is for Wright the ‘verdict which God pronounces consequent upon that event’ [when ‘someone comes from idolatry, sin and death to God, Christ and life’]. The declaration of justification does not change anything. Of course, this sits uneasily with what Wright says about the Jewish lawcourt metaphor.
It also leaves us with Baptisms that don’t change anything. Baptism merely becomes a declaration of conversion. It seems clear, to me at least, that Wright does not understand Baptism this way. Perhaps he is inconsistent on this point.
I suggest that we need to think more carefully about what it is that we come ‘in’ to. I would argue that we are talking about coming into the Church. The Church is the temple that God indwells by His Spirit. To be brought into the fullness of relationship with God in His temple is salvation. The fullness of this relationship really cannot take place apart from Baptism.
Are all the unbaptized damned then? Certainly not! OT Gentile God-fearers may not have had access to the full blessings of fellowship with God enjoyed by Israel but they were not for that reason damned. Nevertheless, they were certainly not ‘in’ in the sense that Israelites were. In a like manner, those who are ‘out’ of the Church but yet trust in God are excluded from the fullness of fellowship with God but are not as a consequence damned.
But the analogy breaks down: the place of the Gentile God-fearer no longer exists under the New Covenant. In the New Covenant it is not possible to abide outside the Church as a believer, as it was to abide outside Israel as a God-fearer.
Those who are baptized should be baptized because in some sense they already ‘belong’ to the Church as believers or members of believers’ households. Nevertheless, Baptism still constitutes their entry into the Church. Without it they are in some sort of liminal state, hovering on the threshold — neither properly ‘in’ nor ‘out’.
‘Conversion’ brings us to the threshold of the Church; we cross the threshold in Baptism.
Becoming a Christian: does it happen in conversion or Baptism? It all depends upon what we mean by ‘becoming a Christian’. Baptism brings us into a particular relationship with Christ and His people. Baptism is our entry as full members into the new humanity, the new family and the new nation of the Church. In Baptism we become kings and priests unto God.
Our faith brings us to the Church to become partakers of Christ’s faith. We partake in Christ’s faith as we are baptized, as we worship, and as we partake of the Supper.
Apostates? As James Jordan observes, it is possible to be given a gift and never to open it. It is also possible to be given a gift and to abuse it, or to properly use it and then abandon it. The gift is given to us in Baptism. Only those who receive this gift and persevere in it will be saved. Perseverance, of course, is done in God’s strength and not in our own. There is no cause to boast. However, every baptized person receives the same gift.
What is this gift? The gift is union with Christ and communion with the Father and the Spirit. The gift is a new status in Christ.
What is this status? The new status is not merely that of being regarded as righteous; the new status makes us agents by whom God’s righteousness is spread.
And it must be so, for if we are to deny any nature / grace dichotomy, the restoration of nature must restore it as a channel of grace.
We would not be truly and fully reconciled to God were we not entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. We are not given to drink of the rivers that flow from the new Temple without being made into new temples and sources of rivers ourselves (John 4:13-14).
God does not clothe us with righteousness so that we might stand idly by. God clothes us with righteousness so that we might become His agents through whom He sets the world to rights (Isaiah 61). God clothes us with righteousness so that we might become His warriors and His priests (cf. Exodus 28:15-30; Psalm 132:9, 16). In Christ God puts His armour upon us (Ephesians 6:10f.; cf. Isaiah 59:16-17) so that we might become the true warrior/worshippers. The new clothes of righteousness given to us in Christ (Galatians 3:27) are the clothes that fit us for priestly and kingly service (cf. Zechariah 3).
The new status that we have been given in Christ is that of prophets, priests and kings. But ‘status’ is probably a poor word to use; it might suggest that these things are merely static positions of privilege. They are not — they are vocations given to us in Christ.
This suggests that the common separation between ‘becoming a Christian’ and being given a vocation is invalid. Becoming a Christian — being saved — is being made a partaker of the ministry of Christ. In Christ we become those who rule (Ephesians 2:6) and serve as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). This vocation is given to us at Baptism when we are ordained as priests (a position that Peter Leithart has argued for compellingly in his book The Priesthood of the Plebs). Our sufficiency in this vocation comes as we depend upon God by faith.
As Christ was faithful in His vocation we are given to become partakers in it (1 Peter 4:13). This is a recurring theme in Paul. Paul has a profound sense of what Christ is accomplishing through Him (Romans 15:14f.). God will crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20). We are crucified with Christ and we no longer live but He lives in us and we live by His faithfulness (Galatians 2:20). We are weak in Christ but yet can live with Him by the power of God (2 Corinthians 13:4). We are counted righteous in Christ as we are given to be conformed to His death, knowing the fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:8-10).
How does partaking in the ministry of Christ relate to the various ministries that exist in the Church? All the ministries of the Church flow from Christ Himself who gives them. The ministries are all given for the sake of the body and not just for the sake of the minister. When one member is given a gift, the whole body is given that gift.
All of our vocations are a re-presentation of that one Vocation. All of our gifts are merely a re-presentation of that one Gift. Bernd Wannenwetsch expresses this concept very well in his chapter in A Royal Priesthood. All of our gifts and vocations must presuppose Christ’s Vocation and the Gift of the Spirit. The body of Christ is given as is our membership in it. Our ministries do not create the body but presuppose it (I have elsewhere described the Church as deriving its existence from the future). Our ministries re-present the body to itself.
The individual minister is but a personal reference to the presence of the charisma in the whole body. Were she the only one to have a particular charisma she could not re-present it. There would be no ‘re-’, no presence to refer to apart from her own personal gift. So the minister is by her exercise of a charisma to others exactly witnessing to the commonality of the charisma.
The ministries have been given to the whole Church and for the benefit of each member of the body. No gift is the ‘property’ of the individual exercising it; the gifts belong to the Church. Each gift is a representation in a particular and ordered fashion of the one Gift given to the Church.
In the Church everyone is a member of each other. Everyone must exist for the benefit of the other. No member can be self-sufficient. In the Church, to the degree that we are claiming our ministry as our own private property, we are amputating ourselves from the body. To the degree that we deny a part in the other’s ministry we also deny our part in the one Ministry that they are representing to us.
We are not any less if we do not have great gifts, because we all belong to each other. The great gifts of others are given for our benefit and are a representation of the Grace that belongs to us all in the Church.
In the Church the other ceases to be a threat. We live in perichoretic unity and consequently no longer claim possession over ourselves; we belong to the other in Christ.
I have heard innumerable testimonies in which people speak of Jesus coming into their lives — how Christ become part of their individual stories. However, the more I have thought about it, this is the wrong angle of approach. We should be speaking more about how we become part of God's story in Christ, how we entered into His life.
If such an approach was taken the Church would become absolutely central to our testimonies, because the Church is the place where we are drawn into God's story in Christ. When we spoke of our salvation we would be speaking about the life that we have been made part of in the Church. When we spoke of the definitive aspect of our salvation we would be thinking more in terms of Baptism than in terms of our first sense of personal faith. The life of the Church, expressed particularly in Baptism and the Lord's Supper, is the reality to which our faith runs. It is in the Church that we become participants of the life and faith of Christ and members of His body. In Baptism we are baptized into Christ's death; in the Supper we are assimilated into His body. Salvation cannot be separated from ministry; to be saved is to be made a minister in Christ's body. Salvation makes us extrospective people — members of each other.
To the degree that our testimonies are merely introspective individual biographies they are not true testimonies to salvation, for salvation is precisely that which saves the individual from the tyranny of his own story by making him part of the great story of God in Christ. Only as part of this larger story can we tell our own personal (as opposed to individual) stories as stories of forgiveness, liberation, justification and sanctification.
Do take the time to read Tim's latest sermon.
A half forgotten colonial expedition to subjugate a querulous African kingdom more than a century ago could bankrupt Britain if a Ugandan king succeeds in bringing a £3.7 trillion suit against the Crown.
Libertarian Purity Score: 83
Scary high. The last part of the test probably knocked my score down considerably. I am not sure how much weight I would put on such a score. The Christian view of the state and society is quite different from that of libertarianism. I may be convinced that statism is rife in our day and age, but I am equally convinced that libertarianism is not the biblical alternative. Besides, many of the approaches to 'Christian libertarianism' that I know of are developed by a narrow understanding of the regulative principle (an understanding that I do not share). I also believe that the Bible teaches a valid place for certain forms of welfare.
The Church reinvents the family. The Church gives foreigners a place in the house that is better than that of sons and daughters. The Church gives eunuchs a name that will not be cut off.
The significance of the Christian family only exists as it participates in the reality of the true Christian Family that is the Church. We must all turn our back on our earthly families, our relatives and our own lives as they exist in the old dying world in order to find them again in the new world of the Church where the exclusivity of the old world family no longer exists — where we are all siblings to each other, children of our Mother the Church and, as part of that Church, entrusted with the spiritual nourishment of each new babe in Christ.
Single people have just as worthy a vocation within the Church as physical parents. Whilst single people cannot become biological parents they can become godparents, which is arguably an even higher calling. In many traditions birth parents cannot become godparents of their own children, nor spouses the godparents of the same child.
I believe that a renewed appreciation of godparents and their significance (in the case of both biological adult and infant baptizands) would help to counter the familialism and partiarchalism that thrives in many evangelical and Reformed churches and grant the single people in our congregations a participation in the parenthood of the Church.
This has been a good day. This morning I received some books I had ordered from Biblical Horizons a few weeks back. I have been looking forward to reading every single one of these books for some time: The Lord's Service by Jeffrey Meyers, The Victory According to Mark by Mark Horne and The Covenantal Gospel by Cornelis van der Waal. I also ordered two copies of James Jordan's Thoughts on Sovereign Grace and Regeneration (one for myself and one for a friend). I have dipped into The Victory According to Mark and The Lord's Service and must admit to having my appetite more than a little whetted. I greatly enjoyed reading Jordan's Thoughts on Sovereign Grace and Regeneration, particularly as it ties in so well with a number of ideas I have had lately.
Excellent post from Tim. In recent days I have been struck once again with how irrelevant many of our theological debates and how alien our view of salvation and the Church would have appeared to the apostle Paul.
Over the past few days I have been looking for some anti-Wright articles. I have read many of them already, but I am trying to find the best articles written against Wright's view of imputation in order to interact with them. I would be interested to have people's recommendations. I visited Monergism.com and was interested to find Jonathan Barlow's (very helpful) essay Levels of Theological Discourse and the New Perspective on the New Perspective page with the following written beside it, presumably intended to describe the contents of the article:—
"Imputation" in our systematic theological usage is the same idea as "reckoning." The system of salvation by Covenant Nomism that Wright advances is a different gospel.
It seems that many of the opponents of Wright don't even take the time to read the material that they suppose is written against him. The most important thing is to have a long list of articles and names that they can hide their ignorance behind and believe that Wright can be ignored and discounted. The statement that Wright is teaching Covenant Nomism as a 'system of salvation' is an indication of the sheer scale of the willful ignorance that exists in many 'conservative' circles concerning the thought of N.T. Wright.
I have just updated my blog roll. I have added 23 blogs in all. I try to keep relatively up to date with the majority of the blogs on my roll. Some I only watch out of the corner of my eye to see if any heresy is being propagated... I toyed with the idea of adding a Lutheran blog (I'll leave you all to guess which one) to the elite status of my favourite blog list. However, after consideration I decided that Jeff Meyers is the nearest thing to Lutheranism that I will allow on my favourites list.
I also wondered whether my brother Mark deserves his place in my list of family blogs. He doesn't, but fortunately for him I believe in grace (and not just for 'getting in' — many on my list are only 'staying in' by grace too).
I added a number of blogs of friends and acquaintances. (Yes, I have met some of these people!) Danny Foulkes, Stephen Dancer and a number of the members of the van den Broek family (Tracy, Lucy and Timothy) have all been added. I also added my friend Dave Manderscheid's blog in memory of his brother Steve. I reckon that his is one of the more original uses of a blog that I have come across. I have added Aaron Stewart's blog (Aaron will be familiar to all of you who follow the Wrightsaid list).
I have added a couple of Catholics, a couple of Lutherans, a few Baptists and a number of others to my roll. Some of the best blogs I have come across are written by people from other theological traditions. I am only reluctant to add them to my favourites because I so frequently disagree with them. Taylor Marshall (high Anglican), Karl Thienes (Orthodox), Josh Strodtbeck (fiery Lutheran) and David Heddle (more a moving target than a Baptist at present) among many others, all make for extremely enjoyable reading.
In other news, I have a lot of work on my hands over the next few days. Unfortunately this means that it is unlikely that I will be able to have my next post of Baptism ready soon. I had hoped to have the series finished before this next wave of work hit me. Hopefully when things clear up a little I will be able to finish it off. I will then post the complete critique on my new website. I already have a number of things on the waiting list to post. I have two studies on the subject of worship I have written that still need some touching up, a study on Romans 12, some thoughts on Catherine Pickstock's book After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, Schmemann's The Eucharist, Emil Brunner's The Mediator and the book A Royal Priesthood. I also have some material exploring some of the differences between the Reformed, Orthodox and Roman Catholic doctrines of the Eucharist. Unfortunately most of the material I produce will just languish in an unfinished state on my harddrive. Time does not permit me to return to it.
On the positive side, I should be able to post a detailed study of N.T. Wright's doctrine of imputation in the not too distant future.
Over the past few months a number of people have suggested that I set up my own website to store my various articles. In a blog they can too easily get lost in the archives. I have finally set up a website (in case you were wondering, this is why the next post in response to Malone's book has been delayed). It is called Potter's Wheel.
At the moment it only contains four articles, but it should fill up quickly as I put things I have written in the past on to it. I am quite the amateur when it comes to website design and maintenance, so I would appreciate all the constructive criticism that people can give. I expect to have all sorts of glitches to deal with over the next few weeks. Each of the articles I have posted has a link to a print-friendly version as if you print out the standard article the text won't fit on the page.
The Church of England sets up its first 'virtual parish'. It will cater 'for those who want to worship without being part of a traditional parish.' At present they are looking for a 'web-pastor', who does not need to be ordained. Visit the website here.
I must admit, the whole idea horrifies me. I have no problem with web ministries, but a web church must surely be anathema to anyone who takes the Bible's teaching seriously.
Wright does not appreciate the extent to which his own interpretation belongs in the mainstream tradition. His remark about 'what the majority of Christian theologians have meant' by justification 'since at least Augustine' will cause some distress to those who know City of God 19, where Augustine consciously and resolutely exploits the continuities of meaning from ius to iustitia and iustificatio.... What Tom Wright reacts against is a kind of Kantian pietism, which has, however, little claim to speak as the majority voice of the tradition.
I am looking forward to following this blog. I always think that it is a good thing when Christians engage in meaningful conversation with people in the world on such issues as science fiction. Many of the vexed moral questions of our era are dealt with by science fiction books and television programs. In science fiction many of the eschatologies of our age come to their fullest expression. The hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, the fears, the doubts and the nightmares of millions are revealed by science fiction films, novels and television shows.
Many Christians are uninterested in talking these things over with the world. Some argue that fiction — particularly science fiction — is unimportant as the Christian faith is about reality. I would dispute this claim; it is because the Christian faith is about reality that we should have the greatest interest in the stories that people tell. Indeed, Christians should be the best equipped to tell stories because we are the most fully in touch with reality.
I fear that too few Christians take the time to explore the resonance of many of the stories told by our culture. Society can often end up with the impression that Christians are arrogant and ignorant as we are unwilling to listen to their stories. We are too concerned with speaking at people to have time for such things as conversation. We try to bypass the world’s stories and shove the gospel down people’s throats. I consider this to be a terrible failure in our evangelism; the gospel can never bypass stories — the gospel is a story. Christians should listen to the stories of the world and engage them with Christian stories. We should also be ready to appreciate the power of some of the world’s narratives to convey biblical truth. Christian stories (and this is, of course, far broader than stories that fall into the category of nonfiction) can serve to subtly unravel unbelieving worldviews and plant the cross firmly at centre of the imagination. They represent an important part of evangelism.
I would hold out more hope of our being able to write new Christian stories were we able to tell our own story well. The fact that many evangelicals go to great effort to extract the ‘gold’ of timeless truth from the ‘dross’ of the biblical narrative is concerning. As Robert Jenson points out—
…Protestantism, has regularly substituted slogans for narrative, both in teaching and in liturgy. It has supposed that hearers already knew they had a story and even already knew its basic plot, so that all that needed to be done was to point up certain features of the story — that it is "justifying," or "liberating," or whatever.
The fact that most evangelicals are unable to properly tell the biblical story is a sign of a tragic failure in liturgy and the impoverished imagination of evangelicalism is the daughter of its impoverished liturgy. The stunted nature of the evangelical imagination is a sign of our inability to speak truthfully about the world we live in and the gospel. A vapid gospel can never be the true gospel.
Part of growing to maturity in the Christian faith must surely be the development of an ability to tell stories in a Christian manner. If we are to be faithful followers of Christ we must learn to be storytellers. When our Saviour challenged the society of His day He did not post up a list of theses on some door, nor did He write a systematic theology, pen some political pamphlet or invent some catchy slogans. One of the most powerful tools that Jesus had to confront the society of His day was that of story-telling. The parables that Jesus told were not the innocuous moral fables that all too many presume them to be — they were deeply subversive stories that gnawed at the fabric of the Jews’ understanding of the larger story that they inhabited.
I am convinced of the pressing need for Christian storytellers in our day. We need Christians who will write Christian science fiction. We need subversive storytellers to challenge many of the popular conceptions of the future. We need subversive storytellers to confront the world’s attempt to escape God’s story, whatever form this may take, wherever it may occur — in science, in medicine, in family life, in city-planning, etc — and bring people back to the world as God would narrate it, in the Church. We need to learn to live lives choreographed by liturgy and renarrated by redemption.
Alistair Cooke retires. Alistair Cooke is one of the few famous people I know of who have a name similar to my own. Of course, it is an alternative spelling, but I challenge anyone to find a name that has more alternative spellings than Alastair. These alternative spellings include:—
These are just a selection. Alastair comes from the Scots Gaelic form of Alexander. Another odd thing about my name: my cousin Alex was born one month after I was. Unbeknownst to my parents my uncle and aunt had independently chosen the name Alastair John for Alex. The name wasn't a name that ran in the family, nor was it a name of some acquaintance of the family (to my knowledge). As I was born first and named Alastair John, my cousin was named Alexander. Weird.