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Archive for December, 2011

Wonderful article by Alastair Roberts on Atheism and Christianity.  Every paragraph’s a winner, how about this to whet your appetite:

The target of much atheist protest is the god that secures all meaning and makes sense of the world, the religion that serves as a crutch and underwrites the social order, the faith that inures one to truth and reality and gives birth to dulling and enslaving illusion. This is the god in whom they don’t believe. They might be surprised to find that Christians stand alongside them in attacking this deity: we don’t believe in that god either.

Read the whole thing here.

And Happy New Year!

 

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Happy Friday

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is on iPlayer now.

A lovely bit of silliness…

And speaking of silliness, this is great.  Warning: a lot of swearing at the end…

 

 

 

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Adapted from a previous post…

What does it mean to be God-centred?

Three answers:

As a description of theology, it’s inescapable.

As a method of theology, it’s indispensible.

As a doctrine of God, it’s incorrect.

First, as a description of theology…

Simone Weil put our inescapable theo-centricity like this:

“No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol.”

Or Luther in his larger catechism had this to say regarding the first commandment:

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart… That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

We’re all God-centred.  The question is, which God?

It always bothers me when one Christian claims a superiority over another because they are ‘God-centred’.  As a description of someone’s theology, that’s a plain tautology.  Trying to shout “God” most loudly is not the way forward in assessing the merits of various theologies.  “God” is central.  But we should be much more interested in the question: “Who is this God who is central to our theology?”  Since we’re inescapably centred on this vision of ultimate reality, the identity of this God is the vital question.

But before we jettison the term “theo-centric”, let’s acknowledge a realm in which the term is useful.  As a theological method, theo-centricity is indispensible.  That is to say, as a way of knowing God, we must be God-centred.

Jesus said that the Father and Son are bound together in an eternal Family Secret (Matthew 11:27). Only the Father knows the Son and only the Son knows the Father.  If the verse ended there only God would know God.  But wonderfully the verse continues:

No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  (Matthew 11:27)

There is a way into knowledge of God.  But it’s not our way to God, it’s His way to us.  We do not know God, but God reveals Himself, through His Son and by His Spirit.  The trajectory is downwards.

When the Spirit reveals Christ as Word of the Father then we know God through God and by God.  And this is the only way to know God.  Therefore our method of theology must be theo-centric.  We must centre ourselves on where God has revealed Himself – in God the Word and by God the Spirit.

So theo-centrism is a useful term.

But… it can be a very misleading idea if we think of it as a doctrine of God.

You see we might grant that all people are focussed on some vision of God.  And we might determine to focus ourselves on God’s revelation of God.  But it’s an entirely different question to enquire whether God Himself is likewise consumed by Himself.

Of course we should have our hearts and minds fixed on the living God, and of course if we fixed our ultimate affections elsewhere that would be idolatry.  But I have heard philosophical arguments from Christians to say that God must fix His affections on Himself lest He be an idolater too.

Do you see how theo-centrism as a theological method gets confused with theo-centrism as a doctrine of God?

And, more dangerously, do you see how such a method is in fact anthropocentric? It’s an argument that says ‘We would be idolaters to set our affections on lesser beings, so God must be an idolater if He did that.’  It’s a theology from below.  And yet I find it on the lips of the very people who want to accuse all around them of man-centredness.

So let’s be clear – everyone is already God-centred in their theology.  The real issue is what kind of God we’re talking about.  And the question of theo-centric method does not at all settle the question of God’s own being.  While we must be theo-centric, we have to admit that God Himself is higher than the ‘musts’ that apply to us.  The theologian who says God “must” love Himself higher than the creature has actually followed a theo-logic that is less than God-centred.

God has actually revealed Himself in the Word who became flesh for all time.  If this God was the God we centred on, and if this revelation was the one to which we listened, we’d find no room for the self-centred God.

In this sense then, to be truly theo-centric means extolling the truly other-centred God.

 

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It’s universally popular.  You can find it cross-stitched on Granny’s mantle-piece and emblazoned on a rock star’s T-shirt. It tumbles from the lips of bible-thumping fundamentalists and soft-spoken gurus. But what does it mean?

Let’s consider four points…

Because God is love, there is relationship, radiance, room and response.

Relationship

1 John 4:8 says “God is love.”  It doesn’t say ‘God is loving’, which would be true.  But God is love.

This could not be true of a single-personed God.  Just imagine an eternity past of utter solitude.  If God was an individual, He’d never know anything of love, of sharing, of give and take, back and forth.  He is defined by being alone.  He is defined by being supreme.

If such a god brings creation into existence it will be the first time he has had to relate to anything.  And such a god is definitionally supreme.  So how is this god going to relate to its creatures?

This god can only dominate you.  This god can only lord it over you.  The very being of this god is power and supremacy.  And you must be its slave.

But what about our God?

Our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as 1 John 4:9-14 unpacks).  Therefore, for everlasting ages past there has been giving, sharing, back and forth, give and take, exalting the other, blessing the other.  The early church used to refer to it as a dance (perichoresis).  And it’s a dance like all the best dances when the partners bow to each other and defer to each other.

That has been the Trinity’s existence from all eternity.  Our God enjoys having others alongside.  Our God lives to bless the other.  Our God is love.

Radiance

When you read “God is love” in context you realise that “God” refers particularly to the Father.  In the next verse we read how “God” sent His Son.  So “God is love” tells us particularly of the Father’s being.  Eternally He has been defined by love because that is who He is – He is Father.  And fathers beget.  Fathers give life.  That is the definition of a father.  You are not a father unless you have given life.  But the Father has been eternally life-giving.

Wind back the clock into the depths of eternity and you will always find the Father begetting His Son.  (This is what the Nicene Creed means when it says that Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father.”   The Father has always been giving life to His Son).  There has never been a time when God was not Father – when He was not Life-giver, Lover.

There was a whole eternity when God was not Creator.  There was a whole eternity when God was not Lawgiver.  Creator and Lawgiver are not fundamental to who God is.  Of course we readily imagine that God’s prime job description is Maker, Ruler or Judge.  But it’s not. And Trinity means it can’t be.  Far more fundamentally God is Love.  And He was love long before He was Creator, long before He was Law-giver.  Long before He was Judge.  His Fatherliness is the most basic thing to say about Him.

Which means that God has always had a radiating quality.  The Father has always been giving life (begetting), always shining His Light (Hebrews 1:3), always speaking His Word (John 1:1), always loving His Son – and this in the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s very nature is an outgoing, radiating nature.  He is a Fountain of life and blessing, because “God is love.”

Room

All of this means that there is room in God.  Perhaps that sounds like an odd phrase, but just listen to how John speaks in verse 16:

God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)

What an astonishing thought! “Dwelleth in God.”

Think of the lonely god for a second.  With such a god you might make your way towards him if you slave really hard.  But you would always be outside Him.  Now think of the Trinity.  By the Spirit we are grafted into the Son and brought to the Father.  In other words, by trusting the Son we are brought in on the love that God is.  We dwelleth in God!

All the other gods keep you at arm’s length.  In Islam only a few of the righteous will even get to see Allah, on one day and from a great distance.  But because the Living God is Trinity we are wrapped up in God.  Filled with the Spirit, clothed in the Son, doted on by the Father.  2 Peter 1:4: “We participate in the divine nature.”

Response

Finally, there is response in God. Think of the dearly beloved Son of God.  For all eternity He has responded to His Father – receiving His love, trusting His care, obeying His words, offering His praise – and all by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But at Christmas time, this perfect response to the love of God was earthed into our humanity.  Here’s what John says:

God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  (1 John 4:8-9)

The Beloved Son takes flesh and lives a fully human life of response to God.  He receives, trusts, obeys and praises the Father in our name and on our behalf.  And now, says John, we live through Him.  In other words, we come in on the perfect response of the Son.  We live in perfect correspondence to the Father through Jesus.

Just as Christ lived our life in our name, now we live His life in His name.  We not only pray “in Jesus’ name” but do all things, whether “in word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:17).

The wonder of “God is love” is immense.  But without the truth of Christ’s response, “God is love” could only condemn me.  “God is love” but I’m full of hate and indifference.  “God is love” but my heart is sluggish and cold.  Yet God sent the True Responder to His love into the world.  And now we live through Him.  Hard-hearted, hate-filled sinner though I am, Jesus has saved me.  He has propitiated the Father’s wrath (v10) and offers the perfect response of gratitude and worship on my behalf.

God is love and now, through Jesus, I dwell in love.  Hallelujah!

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Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins

Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women

My soul doth magnify the Lord

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Mine eyes have seen thy salvation

Behold, there came wise men from the east

Gold and frankincense and myrrh

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Thanks to Vincent Marty-Terrain for translating!

On dit que tout là-haut vivrait un grand barbu,
Soi-disant très joyeux, mais… difficile à dire :
Je ne l’ai jamais vu, en fait, et toi non plus.
Mais les enfants y croient, ça peut bien nous suffire.

On le dit solitaire, et puis plein de mystère,
Pas le temps de parler, il a bien trop à faire !
Et s’il vit en reclus tout au long de l’année,
Nous, on est bien content qu’il se montre discret.

Quand on s’adresse à lui, pour nos besoins urgents,
Jamais de réponse : qui sait s’il nous entend ?
On veut être sages, raisonnement simpliste,
Pour mériter nos places sur sa belle liste.

Et peut-être qu’un jour, mais c’est sans garantie,
Il nous donnera tout, pourvu qu’on soit gentils.
Alors moi j’en ai marre, et je crie au scandale :
C’est un distributeur qui nous fait la morale !

Ce coup de gueule peut paraître un peu étrange
Mais c’est pas le Père Noël qui me dérange,
Aussi drôle qu’il soit, et il est bien curieux,
Je m’attaque en fait à l’idée qu’on a de Dieu.

C’est Dieu que l’on voit comme un vieux barbu distant,
Père Noël antique, invisible géant
“Il te voit quand tu dors, il te vois éveillé,
Il regarde et attends pour te voir te planter”.

Comme au Père Noël, nos souhaits, on lui envoie,
On veut bien ses cadeaux, mais lui on n’en veut pas !
C’est la vérité bien qu’on ne la reconnaisse :
On peut l’embellir, mais ce n’est que du business.

Il faut que nous soyons gentils pendant l’année
Pour avoir un bonus lorsqu’elle est terminée.
“Donne-nous nos cadeaux, on a été bien sages !
Puis va-t’en, on a tout ce qu’on voulait, vieux mage!”

Car le Père Noël est piquant, singulier,
Mais personne ne voudrait qu’il reste à dîner !
Je suis sûr que c’est un hôte haut en couleur,
Pourtant nous craignons son discours révélateur.

Voilà donc ce que l’on croit du Père Noël
Et c’est l’idée qu’on a de ce Dieu dans le ciel.
Mais Noël nous illumine de son éclat,
Car voilà : le Dieu Très-Haut est né ici-bas.

Il vint en personne au sein de notre misère:
Dieu le Fils, lui, est devenu Dieu notre Frère.
Il vint à nos côtés, pour y être à jamais,
Lui, notre Emmanuel, notre Dieu incarné.

Ce Dieu né humblement bouleverse nos clichés:
Il descend de son ciel, il est destitué,
Bercé dans la paille, bébé gesticulant,
Car pour nous sauver c’est notre place qu’il prend.

Le vieux Noël donne les cadeaux et repart,
Jésus vient pour nous connaître, il vient pour nous voir;
Le vieux Noël récompense les enfants sages,
Jésus guérit, pardonne, nous sort de nos cages.

Si tu n’aimes pas Dieu, je crois savoir pourquoi…
Tu le prends pour ce Père Noël de gala.
Tu fais bien de rejeter cet épouvantail !
Mais regarde, aujourd’hui, ce Dieu né sur la paille.

– Adaptation du poème de Glen Scrivener,
par Vincent Marty-Terrain.

 

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