Friday, November 27, 2009

Pericope Adulterae

The story of the woman caught in adultery is obviously later than the New Testament, if you accept the fact that the earliest Greek manuscripts are the most reliable.

But this lovely story sounds so much like the Jesus we meet in the rest of the gospels that I cannot give it up.

I cling to the Jesus who condemns religious hypocrites, forgives sins AND says Go and sin no more.

Is it wrong to take the story as genuine and believe it be part of the Christian gospel although it is not part of any of the original gospels?

It seems to be a very different kettle of fish to the longer ending of Mark, which would appear to have been written to harmonise Mark with Acts and which could be taken to be encouraging us to drink poison and pick up deadly snakes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can Christians fall away? asks Andrew Heard

Andrew Heard wrote a very good article for The Briefing, issue 299, in which he addresses the issue of whether Christians can fall away and be lost. This is his summary, posted in a later issue:
I believe born again Christians can fall away, but I am convinced God won't let them, by making them take heed to the warnings. Although this statement appears contradictory, I think it not only does best justice to the full revelation given us in the New Testament, but also reflects the experience of Christ during his earthly life. The fact that Christ suffered when he was tempted surely meant that he could have fallen into sin. But God's promises concerning his victory must have meant he wasn't going to. It may be difficult to hold together but I cannot see how we can avoid this tension.

Just as Jesus lived knowing each temptation was make or break, born again Christians must live knowing that they cannot take their genuine repentance and faith for granted.

If this understanding is right, then there is no need to resort to the intricacies of exegesis that Wayne Grudem, and others, must resort to in order to avoid a plain reading of Scripture. The writer of Hebrews is speaking to those he believed to be born again Christians and warning them of the real possibility of falling away. Significantly, in 2:1, he includes himself in the warning. He is aware in his own life of the danger of genuine Christians drifting. It is my conviction that even if the author knew that all of his audience were born again Christians he would still issue exactly the same warnings because this is the means by which God keeps his people.

Now, I hasten to say again, I don't believe this means genuine Christians will fall away. They won't. My point is rather that they won't fall away because genuine Christians will recognise the warnings as real warnings to genuine Christians and take heed of them.

Great rejoicing in Outer Galukistan over new NIV

I'm looking forward to the New NIV in 2011, but I did have a chuckle over this from Tominthebox news network:
From the deepest recesses of South American Jungles to the coldest corners of Siberia, native people groups everywhere are rejoicing over the latest announcement that the English-speaking world will be spending millions of dollars for yet another English translation of the Bible. The excitement erupted after Zondervan Publishers announced that it would be making a major revision and update to its New International Version, first released in 1978

"Our goal is to put the NIV into modern English so that people born after 1988 can understand the Scriptures," said Ronald Overbeck, head of research at Zondervan. "We're going to spare no expense to make sure we update the archaic terms and references so that people can read the Bible clearly and easily."

Celebrations erupted throughout the world at the announcement. In some parts people took to the streets for celebrations that went on for days.

"This brings much joy to our hearts," commented Elena Namaeeva, a native Sakha from the Far Eastern Siberian region of Yakutia. "We just got the New Testament in our Sakha language about 3 years ago. We are waiting anxiously for the Old Testament to be released, though they tell us it could still be a while because of a lack of funding. But I'm so happy for our American friends that they will have yet another Bible in their language."

"We are happy for our brothers and sisters in the English-speaking world and rejoice with them," said Amin Modu of the Kanuri people of Nigeria. "While 4 million of my people are still waiting on the complete Bible in our language, it always brings joy to our hearts to know that the Americans will be spending millions of dollars to have yet another Bible in the English language."

With over 100 known complete translations, English Bibles by far dominate the world of Bible publications.

"If you just think of the number of people out there born after 1988, it's staggering" noted Overbeck. "This is virtually an unreached people group in and of itself, a whole generation of x-box playing college dropouts still living with their parents who can't understand the Bible because it's so archaic and hard to read. I think it's high time someone reached out to them."

The revision is expected to take 3 years. Incidentally, there remains some 200 million people worldwide who do not yet have a Bible in their own language.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why Churches have tax free status

This letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald explains why churches have tax-free status in Australia.
Tax and religion

Allan Lewis (Letters, November 20) suspects the tax-exempt status of religious bodies is a function of the ''socially beneficial works they undertake''. That is incorrect. The tax status of religions relies on the 1891 Privy Council Pemsel case, which confirmed four categories of charitable purpose: relief of poverty; advancement of education; other purposes beneficial to the community; advancement of religion.

This was confirmed in Parliament by Senator Peter Walsh on May 1, 1984, when he said: ''Legally, the advancement of religion is a charitable activity.'' It follows that religions, including Scientology, are charities in themselves, because they ''advance religion''. This means taxpayers are subsidising religions to proselytise.

This should be abandoned on the grounds that religion is a private matter. At the same time, as Mr Lewis recognises, activities by religious bodies that are of public benefit could continue to have tax-exempt status as ''other purposes beneficial to the community''.

Max Wallace Australia New Zealand Secular Association, Gosford

Charles Darwin and the Children of the Evolution

TIMES ONLINE has a fascinating account of some of Darwin's other ideas, often linked to his big idea, and the way that some psychopaths have eagerly adopted them.
The naturalist outraged the church, prompting a bitter debate that still sets creationists against evolutionists. Now a sinister link has emerged between his work and the recent spate of high-school killings by crazed, nihilistic teenagers.

You wouldn’t know from the celebrations of Charles Darwin’s life this year that the amiable Victorian gent portrayed in those TV drama-docs pottering around the garden of his home in Kent has been fingered as a racist, an apologist for genocide, and the inspiration of a string of psychopathic killers.

The Darwin double anniversary (2009 marks both the bicentenary of his birth and 150 years since the first publication of On the Origin of Species) has featured much vanilla hoopla: the Royal Mail issued commemorative stamps; Damien Hirst designed the dust jacket for a special edition of Darwin’s masterpiece; Bristol Zoo offered free admission to men with beards, and the Natural History Museum served pea soup made to a recipe devised by Darwin’s wife, Emma. The conclusion of dozens of lectures, articles and education packs for schools has been that Darwin wasn’t just a brilliant scientist, but a thoroughly good egg.

With hardly a mention that his name has been associated with some of the most infamous crimes of modern history, it is as if there has been an unspoken agreement to accentuate the positive. Certainly, the milquetoast Darwin played by Paul Bettany in the recent film Creation provided little hint that there might be a dark side to the great man’s bequest to posterity. The film focuses on Darwin’s inner conflicts in the years leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species. The scientist is reluctant to make his ideas public, not because he has foreseen dire social consequences, but chiefly because he fears that the theory of evolution will upset his wife and the Church of England.

In America, where Darwin’s writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin’s theories and a rash of school shootings. In April, 1,000 people gathered at sunset in Littleton, Colorado, to commemorate the victims of the Columbine high school massacre, 10 years on. Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was the first of the 13 children to be murdered, and whose son Craig narrowly escaped being shot, cannot understand why so little attention has been paid to the motivation of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and their interest in Charles Darwin’s ideas. “Harris wore a ‘Natural Selection’ T-shirt on the day of the killings. They made remarks on video about helping out the process of natural selection by eliminating the weak. They also professed that they had evolved to a higher level than their classmates. I was amazed at the frequent references to evolution, and that the press completely ignored that aspect of the tapes.”

Much of the evidence remains sealed under a court order issued to minimise the risk of copycat killings, but from those documents that are in the public domain, it is clear that Eric Harris fantasised about putting everyone into a violent computer game that only the fittest could survive. And, like Darwin himself, he noted how vaccination might be interfering with nature’s weeding process. In his rantings Harris said he wished there were no vaccines, or even warning labels on dangerous goods, “and let natural selection take its course. All the fat, ugly, retarded, crippled dumbass, stupid f***heads in the world would die… Maybe then the human race can actually be proud of itself”.

As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, the Denver lawyer Barry Arrington has come across more in a similar vein. “I read through every single page of Eric Harris’s journals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes… It became evident to me that Harris consciously saw his actions as logically arising from what he had learnt about evolution. Darwinism served as his personal intellectual rationale for what he did. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.”

In 2007, detectives following up a tip-off about a planned school shooting in Pennsylvania discovered that their suspect often logged on to a social networking site called Natural Selection’s Army and a number of related chatrooms that were later tagged by the media as the “cyber school for killers”. These sites were quickly shut down by their service providers, but today “Natural Selection” is the name of a popular computer game in which competing teams attempt to annihilate one another — a sign that Darwin’s term is still associated by many teenagers with sudden and extreme violence.

“Natural Selection” T-shirts have proved a popular line through web-based outlets, and it seems that the Columbine killers have spawned a gruesome personality cult — there is even a computer game in which players adopt the roles of Harris and Klebold, which features original CCTV footage of the killings.

Among those reported to have frequented the original Natural Selection’s Army website was an 18-year-old Finnish student, Pekka-Eric Auvinen. On November 7, 2007, in Tuusula, Finland, Auvinen forced his head teacher to kneel down in front of him before he shot her with his pistol. He slaughtered a further seven victims before turning the gun on himself. Some of the Jokela high school students afterwards described the way Auvinen prowled through the building pointing his gun at people’s heads. Sometimes he would squeeze the trigger and kill them; sometimes, after looking long and hard through the sights, he would suddenly turn away and let his terrified target go free. One witness said he seemed to be choosing his victims at random, but in fact he was making a very deliberate selection. He was trying to weed out the “unfit”.

Before he embarked on his shooting spree, Auvinen posted a lengthy apologia on the internet. Styling himself a “social Darwinist”, he said that natural selection appeared not to be working any more — had maybe even gone into reverse. He had noticed that “stupid, weak-minded people reproduce faster than intelligent, strong-minded ones”. The gene pool was sure to deteriorate if society continued to guarantee the survival of the second-rate. He had pondered what to do about this problem. He understood that life was just a meaningless coincidence, the outcome of a long series of random mutations, so there might not be much point in doing anything at all. But eventually he had decided he would do his bit by becoming a natural selector, aping the pitiless indifference of nature.

Auvinen left a special plea for his motivation to be taken seriously and for the world not merely to write him off as a psychopath, or to blame cult movies, computer games, television or heavy metal music, before concluding: “No mercy for the scum of the Earth! Humanity is overrated. It’s time to put natural selection and survival of the fittest back on track.”

Of course, it is not unusual for homicidal maniacs to cite great writers when seeking to justify their crimes. The Chicago spree-killers Leopold and Loeb (the models for Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope) claimed Friedrich Nietzsche as their muse, as did the Moors murderer Ian Brady. Other deranged misfits have nominated Albert Camus, Jean Genet and André Gide. But it may take a keener intellect than was possessed by Harris, Klebold or Auvinen to negotiate such a reading list. The basics of evolution are much more accessible and are taught in every high school, so it should not be surprising that Darwin seems to be emerging as the inspiration for the more dim-witted schoolboy sociopath.

Darwin would no doubt have been horrified by all this, but it’s easy to see why some of his ideas might appeal to the disturbed adolescent mind. One conclusion implicit in evolutionary theory is that human existence has no ultimate purpose or special significance. Any psychologically well-adjusted person would regard this as regrettable, if true. But some people get a thrill from peering into the void and acknowledging that life is utterly meaningless.

Darwin also taught that morality has no essential authority, but is something that itself evolved — a set of sentiments or intuitions that developed from adaptive responses to environmental pressures tens of thousands of years ago. This does not merely explain the origin of morals, it totally explains them away. Whether an individual opts to obey a particular ethical precept, or to regard it as a redundant evolutionary carry-over, thus becomes a matter of personal choice. Cheerleaders celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday in colleges across America last February sang “Randomness is good enough for me, If there’s no design it means I’m free” — lines from a song by the band Scientific Gospel. Clearly they see evolution as something that emancipates them from the strict sexual morality insisted upon by their parents. But wackos such as Harris and Auvinen can just as readily interpret it as a licence to kill.

The American conservative controversialist Ann Coulter is one of Darwin’s fiercest critics, lambasting him in her book Godless and via cable TV. Coulter claims she is not surprised that psychopaths gravitate towards Darwin’s ideas. “Instead of enshrining moral values,” she says, Darwin “enshrined biological instincts.” Coulter believes Darwin’s theory appeals to liberals because it “lets them off the hook morally. Do whatever you feel like doing — screw your secretary, kill Grandma, abort your defective child — Darwin says it will benefit humanity”.

Today’s evolutionary scientists go some way towards Coulter’s view when they describe ethics as merely an illusion produced by genes. From a Darwinian perspective, there is nothing objectively wrong with shooting your classmates; it’s just that most of us have an inherited tendency to kid ourselves that it’s wrong — and that’s something that helps our species in the longer run by keeping playground massacres to an acceptable minimum.

Darwin looked forward to a time when Europeans and Americans would exterminate those he termed “savages”. Many of the anthropomorphous apes would also be wiped out, he predicted, and the break between man and beast would then occur “between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon; instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla”. He took a sanguine view of genocide, believing it to be imminent and inevitable. “Looking to the world at no very distant date,” he wrote to a friend in 1881, “what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.”

Convinced that the various races of mankind had travelled different distances down the evolutionary highway, and that two races could be fairly described as more or less evolved even when both had a track record of cultural achievement, Darwin insisted that natural selection explained why the Europeans had been able to see off serial invasions by the Ottoman Turks. Some of today’s Turks understandably resent being designated as genetically second-rate, which perhaps explains why the editor of Turkey’s most popular science magazine was instructed by his proprietor to cancel a special edition celebrating Darwin’s anniversary.

For many years after his death, Darwin’s racial theories remained the consensus position of the international scientific community. In 1906, the director of the Bronx Zoo decided to give New Yorkers an object lesson in human evolution by putting a 23-year-old Congolese pygmy on public display in his monkey house. The pygmy, Ota Benga, shared his cage with an orang-utan. The spectacle drew enormous crowds. Before long, they were asking the questions the exhibitors hoped they would: was Ota Benga an ape or a man? Or, as the zoo-keeper himself speculated, was this perhaps a transitional form between the two, the elusive missing link?

When a group of African-American clergymen objected to a human being being put on show, they were told that Darwin’s theories were now accepted scientific facts, that the “lower races” were psychologically closer to pigs and dogs than to human beings, and that a different value should be put on their lives. Truths that the founders of the United States had held to be self-evident — that all men are created equal and had certain inalienable rights — were being denied by the promoters of Darwinian science. By the end of the first world war, it was not only blacks who were deemed genetically inferior by many of America’s top geneticists and biologists, but Italian, Greek and Jewish immigrants too.

In their book Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James A Moore argue that, far from nursing racial prejudices, Darwin was driven to advance a theory of common descent by his hatred of slavery. But how can the idealistic abolitionist be reconciled with the man who so casually contemplated the extermination of entire races? Some argue that he grew more racist as he got older; others that his racism followed logically from his theories.

Nowhere was the toxic doctrine of racial superiority more enthusiastically taken up than in the Third Reich. The Nazis believed that the Aryan race was already the most highly evolved, but could evolve further if defective genes could be eliminated. To purify the German gene pool, they decided to exterminate all the physically and mentally handicapped.

Darwin summed up his moral philosophy by saying that a man could “only follow those ideas and impulses that seem best to him”. Darwinian ideas, eugenics and its ugly sister, eugenic euthanasia, were accepted by the mainstream of the German scientific and medical professions. Indeed, so convinced were the staff of the clinic at Kaufbeuren-Irsee in Bavaria that they were acting rationally that, even after Germany’s surrender in 1945, they carried on killing handicapped people under the American occupation, until a US officer led a squad of GIs to the hospital and ordered them to desist.

The connection between Darwin’s ideas and the Holocaust remains hugely controversial, not least because many creationists try to reduce it to a crude blame game. The writer David Klinghoffer, an advocate of intelligent design, which many regard as creationism in disguise, claims: “The key elements in the ideology that produced Auschwitz are moral relativism aligned with a rejection of the sacredness of human life, a belief that violent competition in nature creates greater and lesser races, that the greater will inevitably exterminate the lesser, and finally that the lesser race most in need of extermination is the Jews. All but the last of these ideas may be found in Darwin’s writing.”

The debate between Darwin’s bulldogs and religious fundamentalists over the truth of evolution and the existence of God has become a sterile one. There are, however, many interesting questions about how Darwin’s views chime with our values of liberal democracy and human rights, or the simple lessons of right and wrong that most of us teach our children. But our society cannot begin to address these issues while we are fed only a bowdlerised account of Darwin’s work. The more sinister implications of the world-view that has come to be called “Darwinism” — and the interpretation the teenage nihilists put on it — are as much part of the Darwin story as the theory of evolutions

The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics (Picador, £18.99) by Dennis Sewell is available at the BooksFirst price of £17.09, including p&p. Telephone: 0870 165 8585

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baptism: why so many different views?

I've just finished reading Baptism: three views, edited by David Wright, with contributions by Bruce Ware [Baptist], Sinclair Ferguson [Presbyterian] and Anthony Lane, who argues that both the paedobaptist and credobaptist views are acceptable.

All three authors had interesting points to make, though I found Sinclair Ferguson the least helpful.

I'm now reading Understanding Four Views on Baptism, edited by John Armstrong, with contributions from Tom Nettles [Baptist], Richard Pratt [Reformed], Robert Kolb [Lutheran] and John Castelein [Churches of Christ].

But these books do not cover all of the major views on baptism, because there would appear to be at least these:
Roman Catholic
Eastern Orthodox
Churches of Christ
Salvation Army
popular evangelical "don't-rock-the-boat" view
ultra-dispensational baptism is not for this age view
Lane's dual-practice view [also held by David Wright]
Have I missed any?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scripture Alone?

Wise words from Michael Jensen:
The Christian sitting at home reading their Bible should get out of their chair and go to church or Bible study, and sing God's praises and say the creed and have the Lord's Supper and listen to the sermon and talk to other Christians. The point is not that 'you need to be an expert in the whole 2000 years of reflection on the Bible', but rather to acknowledge that reading Scripture is a communal and corporate practice - and thank goodness it is.

William Tyndale translated the Bible into plain English so that the ploughboy could read it and understand it. But he always imagined the ploughboy coming in from the field and going to church to hear it read and explained.

Monday, November 16, 2009

When Russia Spoke French

This interesting article tells us that in the early 1800s
France, its fashions, its art, and its language carried away the hearts in the Russian capital.
The aristocracy ate, drank, dressed, flirted, and cultivated themselves in French, while the Russian language was reserved for ordinary people and personal matters. Though official correspondence and social conversations were carried out in the language of Voltaire and Diderot, so close to the heart of
Catherine II, a fervent believer in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, billets-doux and family letters
were written in Russian. This complicated duality was mocked irreverently by Astolphe de Custine in his
travel-journal cum scathing attack on Russia. Without any regard for Czar Nicholas I whose hospitality
he had enjoyed from May to September 1839, and egged on by Balzac and the perfidious Talleyrand, the
eccentric marquis penned “Russia in 1839.” The book mocked the “Tatars” who used two languages, but
neither of them perfectly: one for social relations, the other for informal situations. Ironically, the first edition
in 1843 was an immediate success in Russia as well as in France. In fact, this linguistic duality was used as a façade that enabled the nobility to mask their true feelings, which suited the Russian mentality perfectly.

However, unaware of the future criticisms of the caustic Custine, Pushkin and his friends indulged themselves with Bordeaux wines and Veuve Clicquot champagne when they dined “chez Dumé,” a famous restaurant that had succeeded in subtly marrying Russian and French dishes. In fact, though the nobility swore only by Paris, it was also in order to adapt the style to the Russian way of life. They copied and borrowed while at the same time insisting on the specificity of their own language. Indeed,there was no question of slavishly copying French fashions. On the contrary. Those who did not know how to strike the happy medium were mercilessly mocked and dubbed copycats.

Memo from God, via Annabel

And Annabel Crabb also gave God an outing in the same Saturday Herald. She seems to have a better idea of what God is like than Dorothy McRae-McMahon the other rev in the following Monday's paper. Amazingly, they both prefer Joe's dreamed up one, to the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ.

I like what she supposes God would say to Joe:
And to his disciple and Mine, Joe Hockey: Joe, thank you for the sentiment behind your speech to the Sydney Institute, ''In Defence of God'', on Monday night.

As an omnipotent being, of course, I am fortunate enough not to have to rely on human defenders to keep my end up - particularly when the opponent is a white-suited mongoose like Christopher Hitchens - but I appreciated the thought.

My quibble is that, like Kevin, you adopt the bits about Me that you like, and don't mention the bits that you don't.

I am to be used as "an analogy of faith in all its forms"?

For goodness' sakes, Joe, man up!

Is that the best you can do?

Just as your old sparring partner, the Prime Minister, was very attached to the Good Samaritan parable right up until the point at which he found himself obliged to enforce it, I got the feeling you were making excuses for me in your speech.

I'm not always reasonable, you know.

And my ways are never easy.

That goes for both of you, Kevin and Joe: it's fine for you to worship the Sunrise.

Just don't forget Who created it - OK?

God in the Herald

God was not only on Phillip Jensen's mind in Saturday's Herald. Rick Feneley also had some things to say about Joe Hockey's speech, and Joe's God:
Hockey ventured out this week with his treatise In Defence of God. Sources close to God could not be reached to comment on whether He wanted Hockey as a minder. In any case, Hockey made God in his own image. Your average Joe, really. A sharing, caring kind of guy who'd appeal to people of all faiths and constituencies should the proverbial bus, well, you know …

Hockey says we should not read the Scriptures too literally. Certainly a literal reading of Hebrews (God's people are the ''strangers and exiles on earth'') or Matthew (''I was a stranger and you invited me in'') or Matthew again (when the refugees Mary and Joseph escape Herod's wrath by fleeing into Egypt with the baby Jesus) will cause discomfort to any God-fearing politician who has sermonised on the need for tough border protection in the face of a pathetic trickle of Tamil boat people to our shores. These Tamils wouldn't have made a ripple in the human tide crossing into India.

It's all very silly. Or as Pope John Paul II once said: ''Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn't misuse it.''

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Phillip Jensen's reply to Joe Hockey's speech is worth reading.

Joe Hockey has followed his old sparring partner, Kevin Rudd, by going public about religion while serving as a member of the shadow cabinet.

For Rudd this was an important attempt to regain the Christian credibility of the Labor movement. He argued against the assumption that the conservative side of politics owned the religious vote.

He aimed to show the Christian foundations of Labor and the existence of a Christian within the party.

Rudd startled those commentators who had so wrongly assumed "the religious right" of America had traction in Australia, or that conservative theology meant conservative politics.

It had been a long time since a Labor politician had so openly expressed their Christianity.

Now Hockey has played the same card. He has carefully articulated the place of faith in the secular politics of a multicultural society by confirming his own personal faith.

He has positioned himself as a defender of the faith. Or to be more accurate, like Prince Charles, he positioned himself as a defender of faith.

His explanation of faith has all the appeal of motherhood and apple pie. His god is full of sugar and spice and all things nice. It is the religion of those who have no religion. Warm, positive values that he admits do not have religion as "an essential prerequisite". He admits that his own political values were shaped in part by the agnostic or atheist John Stuart Mill.

Hockey's faith is the religion of the middle ground - the voters of Australia. His speech explored the religious statistics of the electorate noting the widespread belief in God and the smaller adherence to organised religion.

With inclusive grandeur he insists that Australia "must continue without fear to embrace the diversity of faith". But then, with nothing other than fear, he qualifies which religions are acceptable "provided that those Gods (sic) are loving, compassionate and just".

He marginalises the extremists: the fundamentalists and the aggressive atheists. His defence of faith from the attacks of the atheists (Hitchens and Dawkins) is twofold. Firstly to attack religious literalists for teaching their outmoded texts instead of the values that everybody agrees upon. Secondly he exposes the atheists' use of a political debating technique.

They define their opponent in terms that suit themselves "usually selecting the extremes, and then send in the wrecking ball".

This twofold ''defence'' enables Hockey to demonstrate his own mastery of this political debating technique. For he defines religious literalists by the Scopes trial of the 1920s, a fictional example drawn from The West Wing and, of course, Islamic terrorists. He rightly says we must not judge a religion by the misguided actions of some extremists but then lumps all who take the text of their various scriptures seriously as just such extremists.

Hockey says his own faith is inspired "by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ". And indeed some of Jesus's attitudes can be seen in his views. Jesus critiqued his contemporaries for their concern over minutiae while "neglecting the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23). Jesus portrayed it as "straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel".

But Hockey's expression of values, with or without belief in any particular god, scarcely defends faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus - the man who is God. Christianity, void of Jesus's divinity or sin bearing crucifixion - is hardly Christianity. Such a statement is not extremist literalism.

The cross, not the golden rule, is at the very centre of Christianity. All religions do not teach the same truth when the death of Jesus is central to Christianity and denied by the Koran.

He noticed that the Opera House usually is playing music inspired by faith. But his kind of faith did not and will not inspire such music. He noticed that members of religious organisations are nearly twice as likely to be community volunteers. But his faith has not and will not lead to more community volunteers. He noticed the decline in religious observance in Australia. But he fails to notice that it is those who take their scriptures seriously who are retaining adherents and growing.

From the outset of his speech Hockey wants to "use God as an analogy of faith in all its forms". Of course it is his privilege to talk this way in a free country. But this hardly counts as a robust defence of faith. It is postmodern religion that talks of "my" god, not out of politeness to others who believe in a different god, but out of a denial that there is only one God who can be known by the humans he created in his image. It is great that leaders such as Joe Hockey are raising the issues of faith in the public arena. Let's keep the conversation going.

Phillip Jensen is the dean of St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Sydney.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Excellent article by Peter Adam on Expository Preaching

Peter Adam writes good stuff.
I appreciate this great article on Expository Preaching. Maybe bunging it here will help me to find it again.
Part one: fifteen incontrovertible arguments in favour of expository preaching

In his book “The Contemporary Christian”, John Stott describes the preacher’s task as follows: “To preach is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and God’s people obey him”. I want to argue that best [but not the only] way of preaching is Expository Preaching – that is preaching and teaching through books of the Bible one by one.

I’m not arguing for boring Expository Preaching, nor do I think that the expository method will by itself ensure that the full message of the Bible is heard. We need a sound Biblical Theology to do that. For is to quite possible to use the expository method and yet give merely moralistic sermons:

Genesis 1, the importance of creativity
Genesis 2, how we should value family and pets
Genesis 3, all families have problems
Genesis 4, we must learn how to forgive. Etc.

We need both Biblical Theology and Expository Preaching to show the full depth and breadth of the Bible’s teaching.

I am arguing that as a general practice Expository Preaching makes sense and is of great value to the preacher and the congregation.

Expository Preaching is the preaching of the message of a book of the Bible, usually verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, by explanation and application of it to the congregation. It was the preaching method of the Reformers, and that of Early Church preachers like Augustine and John Chrysostom.

Here are 15 Incontrovertible Arguments in favour of Expository Preaching:

(1) Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not gives us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

(2)Expository Preaching reflects God’s respect for human authors. One of the most beautiful features of the Bible is the way in which God causes his truth to be written and yet does not over-ride the individual writer, but respects their place in history, their vocabulary, their spoken and literary style. If God is so careful to respect the human authors of the Scriptures we should endeavour to do the same by reading, studying, preaching and teaching their books in the order in the way in they wrote them.

(3)Expository Preaching respects the historical context of each part of the Bible. The Bible is not a set of timeless truths removed from historical context, but each book of the Bible is firmly rooted in history, and the perspective of its human author. We do most justice to this historical context when we preach texts in their context, that is in the writing in which they occur.

(4)Expository Preaching respects the context of salvation history. The unfolding drama of salvation is brought to us within salvation history; and each text, verse, chapter and book has its place within that salvation history. The best way to preach these books is to link them to their place in salvation history, not to extract from them trans-historical, theological, pastoral or devotional themes.

(5)Expository Preaching should help us to unfold the deep Biblical Theology of the Bible, the content and message of God’s unfolding revelation, and seeing every part of the Bible in the light of the gospel of Christ, and the message of the whole Bible.

(6)Expository Preaching preserves Biblical shape and balance. It gives the same focus and concentration that God gives in the Bible. Other people’s topical preaching inevitably misses this balance. It is more difficult to see the same imbalance in our own topical preaching!

(7)Expository Preaching ensures that we preach on difficult topics, verses and books. I would not choose to preach from the text ‘I hate divorce’ unless forced to do so by a sermon series on Malachi. I would not choose to preach on Romans 9-11, but preaching my way right through Romans forces me to do so. Lectionaries are no help, because modern lectionaries seem to go out of their way to avoid difficult topics, even cutting poems and stories in half to avoid embarrassment. Expository Preaching will at least make us preach on the difficult parts of the Bible.

(8)Expository Preaching saves time in preparation and presentation. Preachers need to do a lot of work in preparing their sermons and finding the historical context, and need to convey the context of verses in which they preach in the sermon as well. If we move from text to text as we move from sermon to sermon, or if we move from text to text within sermons, we will be less and less inclined to give the context of those texts and more and more inclined to take them out of context. [Of course ‘the text’ is actually the whole book: only preachers think of ’the text’ as a short extract!]

(9)Expository Preaching provides a good model of exegesis. We ought to preach and teach the Bible in a way in which we hope people will read it. People should pick up good models of using the Scripture from us. We do not want to encourage people to flip through the Bible, picking out verses that look encouraging or inviting. If we want people to read the Bible as it is written, that’s the way we should preach it.

(10)In Expository Preaching each sermon forms part of a divine sequence. The sequence is that of the writer of the book of the Bible. Following this sequence means that our teaching and their learning is cumulative as each sermon prepares the way for the next, and each sermon summarises the message of the last and shows its sequence in biblical thought.

(11)Expository Preaching makes sense! Even the most convinced post-modernists among us still read books from beginning to end. This is because it’s a remarkably sensible way of reading a book. Why would we adopt a different model in our reading and teaching of the Scriptures?

(12)Expository Preaching teaches people the Bible. Its assumption is that the Bible is relevant and effective as it comes from the mouth of God. It assumes that the information in the Bible is important for us; that these things were ‘written for our learning’.

(13)Expository Preaching provides an accessible, useable and safe model of Bible teaching and preaching. If one of our tasks is to encourage lay people in ministry, then the best thing to do is to provide them with a model of teaching which they can use at any level. It is not good to encourage people to flip through the Bible, taking their favourite verses out of context. It is a good work to show the people a model of Bible teaching that they can use to their benefit and the benefit of those who learn from them.

(14) Expository Preaching helps people to avoid repeating their ten favourite themes. Every preacher has ten sermons. The difficulty comes for the preacher and the congregation when they are repeated for the tenth time. Of course, no method can stop the determined preacher from mounting a hobby horse and riding it to death!

(15)Expository Preaching follows God’s syllabus for us. One helpful way of viewing the Bible is to see it as God’s syllabus. In it God lays out the way of salvation and what human beings need to learn in order to turn to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. The Bible is the syllabus that God has provided – why would we replace it with another of our own invention?

One of the Homilies on the reading and knowledge of Scripture includes the following memorable words “let us reverently hear and read Holy Scriptures which is the food of the soul. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination.”

Why is it that evangelicals are so enthusiastic in theory about the centrality and importance of the Scriptures, but have in many places given up on the serious educational task of teaching them to their people and of using them in evangelism?
Part two: five completely effective ways to avoid boredom in expository preaching

In part one I wrote of Fifteen Incontrovertible Arguments in Favour of Expository Preaching. Those who oppose Expository Preaching often do so because they think it must breed boredom. And those who practise Expository Preaching sometimes intentionally or unintentionally im­pose boredom on their hearers, per­haps as a kind of spiritual discipline! In my chapter in the book The Angli­can Evangelical Crisis (ed. by Melvin Tinker, Christian Focus Publications, 1995), I wrote an appeal for ‘passionately applied expository Biblical Preaching’, and in this article I want to show five ways to avoid boredom in Expository Preaching. We can be Expository in theological method without being rigidly and predictably expository in style.

1.Be grabbed by the excitement, wonderful privilege, and awesome duty of speaking God’s words to his people and his world!

God has spoken, and our task is to summon people to hear the very words of God. In teaching through the Bible, we can follow God’s syllabus for the education of the human race. As we explain what the Bible says, we explain what God has said. As we bring the message of the Bible in the words of the Bible with the purpose of the Bible, God’s voice is heard, God rules his people, and God calls humans to faith and obedience.

It is a sign of Liberal Theology to set aside what God has said in order to set the agenda and content of the sermon by the issues that we humans want to raise.

It is a sign of Roman Catholic theology to give too much room to human traditions. I am amazed when Evangelicals follow these theological methods in practice in their preaching, when they set aside as too difficult or irrelevant what God is saying in his words of Scripture, or preach about Evangelical traditions of the Christian life or church practice.

It seems bizarre to assert the authority, relevance, and sufficiency of Scripture, and then not put it into practice in their preaching.

We must be aware of contemporary social analysis, community needs, human issues, and what seekers after God are looking for, but while this forms the context of our preaching, and shapes our application, it must not create the agenda. It is God’s right to address us, and we must listen to his words.

Kevin Vanhoozer in his book Is there a meaning in this text? (Apollos 1998) has argued for the moral imperative in allowing the human author of a book to say what he or she wants to say, without being ignored by those who intend to be readers. The same moral imperative applies to our treatment of God, the author of scripture (as it also applies to our treatment of the human authors of Scripture). We preachers must practise and model to our people the priority of letting God speak in the method and way that he has chosen, in the words of Scripture. Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not give us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

2.Release the eloquence of the text! Let the text speak: let God speak!

It is one of the weaknesses of our tradition of Expository Preaching that it is so formed by the distancing and analytical style of commentaries.

It helps to ask the question ‘What is this text trying to do?’ or perhaps even better ‘What is God doing in this text?’ not just ‘What does this text mean?’.

It also helps to think of words as speech-acts, and of the Bible as ‘God’s mighty speech-acts’ (see Kevin Vanhoozer in P. Satterthwaite and D. Wright eds. A Pathway into the Holy Scripture, Eerdmans 1994). We can then ask the question ‘What is the intended result of these speech-acts?’

Let me give an example from a sermon series, where I am preaching through Romans 12-16, having already preached through Romans 1-8 and 9-11.

One excellent commentary gives the following analysis of Romans 12:

1-2 Our relationship to God
3-8 Our relationship to ourselves
9-16 Our relationship to one another
17-21 Our relationship to our enemies.

This helps us to understand what the text is about, but not what the text is doing, or the response that Paul wanted in his readers and hearers. It is good and necessary analysis [What is the text about?], but not so helpful for the next step towards the sermon [What does God want the hearers of the text and sermon to do?].

Here are my sermon titles:

1-2 Present your bodies!
1-2 Renew your minds!
3-8 Join the body!
3-8 Do your ministry!
9-21 Let love be genuine!

The sermon should more beyond information and education to edification. It must be act of ministry, discipling the body of Christ as intentionally as we disciple individuals within the body of Christ.

We must not muffle the text by remote analysis. Clear analysis is a necessary part of the preparation, but should not govern the presentation.

But we should use our analysis to show the logic or sequence of the text, and thus be able to avoid that familiar phrase ‘And now we look at verse 10’!’

The well prepared preacher will be able to speak two languages, the language of the Bible and the language of the people. Bringing these two together will help the people to hear the text speak.

To release the eloquence of the text is to let the text speak, to let it do what it wants to do, to let God say what he wants to say through the text.

3. Express the particularity of the text!

We must resist the temptation to take texts out of context, to make them timeless truths. The excitement of the Bible is found in its historical particularity, its gradual revelation, its Biblical Theology, its salvation history, its move from promise to fulfilment, from Christ promised to Christ revealed.

Its creative tension is found in the fact that it never sinks to the level of ‘The Christian Life’, or ‘Five hints for happy families’, or ‘Six clues for a successful church.’ It does not reduce Christianity to a formula. Formulas are useful for new Christians, but do not bring about mature Christians or mature churches, for formulas always reduce the Bible’s message.

We must avoid our hobby-horses, and avoid what we always say when we see the word ‘faith’ or ‘Lord’ or ‘church’ or ‘gift’ or ‘Spirit? We must search the text to find what it is saying in particular.

The key is what we leave out in order for this text to speak with clarity and particularity.

It is only Expository Preaching which will in the long term do justice to the text in its context, and so only this way of preaching will communicate the exciting particularity of the text.

Generality is boring: particularity is exciting!

4. Employ as much variety as possible!

Here is a table which can help us to employ as much variety as possible, while continuing to expound the Scriptures as God caused them to be written, that is, in books.

Of course the choices we make will largely be determined by what the text is saying, but there is still plenty of scope for variety. The true artist is the one who can use a given form, but use it creatively.

We should also note that different genres of Biblical material call for different kinds of expository styles. The verse-by-verse approach which can work well in Paul’s letters is not the best method for the book of Job! And for variety’s sake we should sometimes do Paul’s letters in big chunks, so the people can see the big argument, and not get lost in the detail. Predicability is deadly: variety is fascinating.

5. Release the passions of the text!

We should release the passions of the text, as the Bible calls us to faith. Here are some relevant New Testament words:

‘call, denounce, warn, rebuke, command, encourage, appeal, urge, debate, contend, persuade, convince, insist, cry out, remind’

Calvin commented on the preacher’s task in these words:

‘If a man do no more than expound Holy Scripture it slips away, and we be not touched to the quick. Therefore if teaching be not helped with exhortations it is cold and pierces not our hearts.’ ‘we add a vehemency to the end that the doctrine may touch their hearts to the quick, and that they not only know what is good but be moved to follow it’ (Sermons on Timothy and Titus, reprinted by Banner of Truth, 1983).

We should be passionate because God is passionate; Jesus is passionate; the Holy Spirit is passionate; and because Scripture is passionate.

We can subdue the passions of the text in these ways:

* merely lecture, preach, or teach in an academic mode
* never apply
* never exhort
* never refer to yourself
* have so much to say that there is no time to make best use of it
* have too little to say, and so repeat it endlessly
* preach timeless truths
* use clues to passion which do not communicate to your congregation
* get tired doing other things so not have enough energy to prepare or preach with passion

We can release the passions of the text in these ways:

* discover and communicate the passion of the text know and communicate with clarity the message of the text
* increasing the contrasts in the text
* making the most of the illustrative language of the text
* asking not only ‘what does the text mean?’ but also ‘what is the text trying to do?’ or ‘what is God trying to do through this text?’
* impersonations
* having a dramatic shape to the sermon
* using key words in the text to dramatic effect
* pauses and questions
* relevant application
* use the Bible as we are instructed, to ‘convince, rebuke, encourage’ (2 Timothy 4: 2)

God is not boring. His words are not boring. We must work hard so that we do not make his words boring!

Good preaching!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Spurgeon's account of a visit to a Roman Catholic Church

Here is an account of Spurgeon's visit to a Catholic service in Belgium, when he visited there with his wife in 1860:

In Brussels, I heard a good sermon in a Romish church. The place was crowded with people, many of them standing,though they might have had a seat for a halfpenny or a farthing; and I stood, too; and the good priest — for I believe he is a good man, — preached the Lord Jesus with all his might. He spoke of the love of Christ, so that I, a very poor hand at the French language, could fully understand him, and my heart kept beating within me as he told of the beauties of Christ, and the preciousness of His blood, and of His power to save the chief of sinners.

He did not say, ‘justification by faith,’ but he did say, ‘efficacy of the blood,’ which comes to very much the same thing. He did not tell us we were saved by grace, and not by our works; but he did say that all the works of men were less than nothing when brought into competition with the blood of Christ, and that the blood of Jesus alone could save.

True, there were objectionable sentences, as naturally there must be in a discourse delivered under such circumstances; but I could have gone to the preacher, and have said to him, ‘Brother, you have spoken the truth;’ and if I had been handling the text, I must have treated it in the same way that he did, if I could have done it as well.

I was pleased to find my own opinion verified, in his case, that there are, even in the apostate church, some who cleave unto the Lord, — some sparks of Heavenly fire that flicker amidst the rubbish of old superstition, some lights that are not blown out, even by the strong wind of Popery, but still cast a feeble gleam across the waters sufficient to guide the soul to the rock Christ Jesus.” (Quoted in Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, 343-344).

This came from Mouw's Musings.

Quote of the Day

Life actually is a dress rehearsal
John Richardson, aka The Ugley Vicar