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Archive for August, 2008

Him we proclaim

I’ve promised Missy a post on engaging with non-Christian beliefs and I’ll definitely get to that.  But Dan’s recent post made me think again of this quote from Steve Holmes:

‘Our task is not to tell people that they must believe in Jesus, but so to tell them of Jesus that they must believe in Him.’

I’ve blogged it before and I’ll blog it again.  I think those are words to live by for preachers.

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Faith

Making faith about anything other than [the Word of God] is to turn faith into a work, and making it perilous ground for Christian assurance

Really very good post by Dan.

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An interviewer once suggested to Barth that he followed a christo-centric principle in his theology.  Barth was not impressed.  He insisted that he had no interest in a christo-centric principle.  He was interested in Christ Himself. 

Whether Barth always achieved that is another matter (who does?).  But at least he identified the danger with which all theologians (i.e. all Christians) must reckon.  Is Jesus Himself our Lord, or have we tamed the Lion of Judah making Him serve our real theological agenda?

Let me play devil’s advocate and describe four popular ways you can turn Jesus into a mechanism to serve some abstract theological concern.  (Please do add others in the comments).

1) A general ethic of inclusion

2) A general doctrine of universalism

3) A general object of devotion

4) A general concept of grace

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1) A general ethic of inclusion

You know the kind of thing – “Jesus identified with the outsider, the persecuted, the marginalised.  He opposed the religious and those who would condemn or exclude.”  Take the aforementioned generality, apply it to your cause celebre and, presto, one all-purpose inclusion ethic.  NB: Best not to pry too closely into Jesus’ particular ethical pronouncements nor the Scriptures He claimed could not be broken.

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2) A general doctrine of universalism

Here, as with the other examples, it is vitally important to think of Jesus in abstraction.  Again, do not pry into the actual teaching of Christ, especially His words concerning judgement, but think only of Christ as Cosmic Reconciler.  Now that you’ve turned Him into a principle, theologize away on the inevitability of universal salvation.  After all the universal Creator has taken universal flesh and wrought a universal victory.  Keep it in universal terms, in the abstract.  Don’t get too close to the Person of Jesus – it’s the principle of reconciliation you want. 

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3) A general object of devotion

Take a prolix puritan, set them to work on some devotional writing, give them Song of Songs as their text and wait for the treacle to flow.  Delight in the mystical union.  Let the particularity of the One to Whom we are united be swallowed up in the general enjoyment of that union. 

Or take a modern worship leader strumming tenderly, synth strings in the background, congregation swaying.  Wait for the effusions of ardour – mountains climbed, oceans swum to be near to… Who?  Jesus of Nazareth?  Or some ideal Love?  Is this praise to Jesus?  Or praise to praise?  What’s missing?  Very often the actual Jesus is missing.  This is key.  Make sure that you abstract Jesus from His words and works.  Do not think in concrete terms.  In fact it’s best not to think.  Simply imagine Him as ‘The Highest Object of Our Hearts’ and just enjoy the gush. 

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4) A general concept of grace

This one’s very seductive, I’m always falling for it so I know whereof I speak.  Define yourself as ‘a believer in grace’.  Define the gospel in terms of this abstract principle – grace.  Speak of the love of God.  Even speak of the sin of man.  But only speak of the Jesus who reconciles the two as a handy instrument – an instrument of Grace.  That’s the main thing – Jesus fits into this grace paradigm.  That’s why we love Him. 

When anyone asks what Christianity is – tell them: ‘It’s not works!  People think it’s works, but it’s not!’  And when they say ‘Ok, alright, calm down.  Tell me what it is,‘ don’t tell them it’s Jesus.  And definitely don’t introduce them to the walking, talking actual Jesus.  That’ll only distract them from your excellent grace-not-works diagrams.  Major on the whole grace-not-works principle.  And if they ever want to receive this principle into their own lives (after all your diagrams make a lot of sense) tell them to accept ‘grace’ as a free gift and they’re in.  They may well struggle to understand what receiving a concept actually looks like or whether they’ve done it properly (or at all).  They may well question whether their intellectual assent to your diagram really has decisive eternal significance.  But whatever you do, don’t point them to the Person of Jesus.  Grace is the thing.   

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In all of these examples Jesus is called on to serve a pre-existing theological programme.  He may be treated with the utmost respect.  He may be considered the very chief Witness or the Exemplar par excellence.  But He is at your service, not you at His.

Beware fitting Jesus into your pet theological programme.  We do it all the time but He resists all efforts to turn Him into a principle.  The Truth is a Person and will not be abstracted.

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Allegory is Awesome

As Tim’s allegory amply (and alliteratively) affirms

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Seething civility

Back from holidays now.  While away I was very tickled by this from Saturday’s Guardian. 

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One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor

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Two old women finish their tea at a cafe in Lichfield. One holds the bill…

Anna Oh, you. Now don’t be so utterly ridiculous.

Eva I insist. I insist, my dear.

Anna Absolutely not and I won’t hear another word from silly old you.

Eva Well, I won’t hand it over.

Anna You give it to me right now.

Eva I won’t. I won’t, and that’s the end of it.

Anna I can’t have you paying for this, can I?

Eva You paid for the last tea.

Anna And that was nearly a year ago, silly.

Eva Exactly. Just put that wallet away now, you troublemaker.

Anna That’s enough. Give it to me.

Eva I’m going to pay and that’s that.

Anna Then I’m putting some money in your purse.

Eva You’re going nowhere near my purse.

Anna I need to say thank you.

Eva Then a simple thank you’s enough.

Anna You know how I feel about this, dear.

Eva Well, fair is fair.

Anna I don’t believe it is fair, if you don’t mind.

Eva Then you can take me out for a nice meal next time, can’t you?

Anna This is my treat.

Eva It is completely my treat and I want to pay. The end.

Anna No. [Pause]

Eva Now sit down. I’m just going to put it on my credit card and we’ll go on with our lovely afternoon.

Anna Tell me how much it is.

Eva And we’ll see the dahlias out in Biddulph.

Anna I’ll sit right here then. I’ll just sit.

Eva Well, you’re being silly.

Anna You’re being silly.

Eva I don’t want your money. A simple thank you is fine.

Anna I’d like to give you some money.

Eva Just say thank you now. Just say it.

 

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The anger is palpable.

And notice that their civility isn’t actually a cover for their rage – it is precisely the vehicle for it.  Far from hiding their hostility, their manners are the menacing thing.  They will kill each other with ‘kindness.’

But what is this ‘kindness’ that they hurl at each other? 

‘Fair is fair.’ ‘I want to pay.’ ‘I don’t want your money.’

They may as well say ‘I don’t want your friendship.’  For what friendship is founded on ‘fairness’ and ‘payment’?  No these are not the words of friends.  And this is not a demonstration of good manners.  Here their manners are their weapons.  And they destroy themselves and each other by them. 

What is the essence of this ‘friendship’?  What throbs away at the heart of this ‘civility’?   It is their refusal to receive in gratitude.  The turning of gift into duty.  A determination to achieve what can only be given.

And by this mentality, however cultured, they despise the gratuity of God’s little pleasures and they despise each other.  Here is the clenched fist in the presence of grace.  It is the deepest perversion of all our natures. 

And it’s all amply illustrated by two old ladies in a tea shop.

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Holiday Frivolity 9

Some people get their friends to guest post while they’re on holiday.  My blog is my friend.  So it will automatically post silliness at regular intervals.  If you are at work or doing something important, resist the urge to click.  You may be mired in mirth for quite some time.  Enjoy.

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And here’s my favourite Flight of the Conchords tune.

Think I’ll use this in marriage prep for couples from now on.  Good for setting ‘Business Time’ expectations!

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Holiday Frivolity 8

Some people get their friends to guest post while they’re on holiday.  My blog is my friend.  So it will automatically post silliness at regular intervals.  If you are at work or doing something important, resist the urge to click.  You may be mired in mirth for quite some time.  Enjoy.

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Flight of the Conchords rock.  Here’s my second favourite song from them

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