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Archive for January, 2012

This post is taken from a comment posted by Paul Blackham on this post

As we all know Wycliffe is a wonderful organisation with deep commitment and passion for the Bible – yet this debate is going on within Wycliffe itself.

Wycliffe’s mission statement at  is especially useful here because it indicates the kind of theological questions that are at the heart of this debate – and why so many Arabic speakers are upset about it.

In the section dealing with “Son of God” the initial assumption is made that the English phrase “Son of God” “is a tremendously meaningful term in English. It carries a critical message about Christ, the Messiah, the second Person of the Trinity.” However, I would suggest that this is only the case among the minosrity Christian community. The English phrase “Son of God” no longer communicates the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity to general English speakers. Many English speakers feel that such a phrase either does imply some kind of procreation or else it is polytheistic or even simply incoherent. I constantly come up against massive misunderstandings of “Son of God” in English – but I’m not convinced that we need to use a different English vocabulary to deal with this. Notice the kind of discussions and arguments about the Trinity that are increasingly common in English culture. We have to constantly and carefully explain and define what we are trying to say with these words.

My Arabic friends tell me that the new words and phrases do not convey the ontological Trinity and they do not reflect the full deity of Jesus as the original languages do. I have to take their word for that becuase my own Arabic is too weak to grasp the nuances. BUT, for us English speakers, try the same experiment. If we want to avoid all the misunderstandings that “Son of God” has acquired, what alternative words or phrases could we use? Can we think of words or phrases that are genuinely equivalent to Father/Son that contain the same relationality and ontology? If we say that Jesus is “the specially loved one from God” or the “unique messenger”… do those phrases do the job? Would those phrases lead us to see how Jesus is the eternal Word/Son/Angel of the Father/Ancient of Days? The Bible itself uses different words and phrases to express the Trinity… and yet if we lose the Father/Son language from the pallette then can we properly understand the other terms correctly?

The final paragraph of the article on the Mission Frontiers website with the summary points is a clear statement of the translation practices, but they don’t quite solve the problem that has been at the heart of the debate. The problem is that the words “father” and “son” in English, and in Greek and in Hebrew, basically “are biological in meaning and imply procreation”. Yes, father/son can also have other non-biological meanings in specific contexts, but to ENTIRELY escape those natural connotations means a serious danger of losing the ontology that is so vital for the doctrine of the Trinity. All languages struggle to grasp this aspect of the Trinity. The normal usage of these words is in terms of procreation. Think of the long lists in the Bible of this man begot that son etc… and yet with all those long lists defining “begetting” in such normal, biological ways, yet the Holy Spirit still used the ‘begetting’ word to describe how the Father and the Son relate. It seems a bit too risky for Him to do that… yet by doing it that way we see how the Son is of the very ‘substance’ of the Father rather than any emanation or creature. The Son is of the very being – “of the same stuff” as the Father… and no matter how messy or complicated it is to get our minds around this in a non-sexual and non-chronological way, yet anything less than that understanding of the Son is a serious problem.

The article by Rick Brown on the Mission Frontier website almost perfectly expresses the problem. He does a great job of clearly and simply setting out the reasons why the new translations have selected words and phrases that are more like “Lord” or “God” for the Father and “Messiah” or “uniquely Loved One” for the Son. Rick seems to quite genuinely believe that the “social” understanding of father/son is more appropriate in most contexts than a biological one.

On page 29 Rick acknowledges the ontological dimension of the Father/Son relation, but then goes on to say – “Bible scholars suggest that the mediatorial meaning is the most prominent in many contexts of Scripture, but they also recognize that the Bible uses the phrase with six additional components of meaning: familial/relational, incarnational, revelational, instrumental, ethical and representational.”

Might I suggest that far more of the Bible’s usages of Father/Son language are to do with ontology than some may allow.

That assumption about replacing ‘biological’ father/son words with equivalent ‘social’ ideas of father/son is precisely why there have been these protests over recent years. The deep concern from the Arabic churches is that if Muslims and new Muslim background believers read a version of the Bible that does not articulate, in the main text rather than in footnotes, the ontological Trinity, then how can they get to grips with the reality of the Trinity?

Round the world, in all kinds of cultures and languages, for hundreds or thousands of years, there has been that wrestling to understand and express the rich complexity and wonder of the One God who is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father who begets His Son – all in an eternal, non-successive and non-sexual but ontological way. Look at how careful and nuanced we try to be In English… and in every other language. Remember how the ancient Greek theologians had to invent and adapt and superintend words and language to articulate what the Bible means by Father and Son.

Rick suggests that people in polythesistic cultures might struggle to understand the relation between the Father and Son – yet, it was precisely in the polytheisic culture of Greek and Roman gods on the one hand and the philosophical culture of the Platonic One who was too pure to have any contact with material things on the other hand that the classic creedal formulations of the Trinity arose. We might look back and wonder how they managed to avoid both the sexuality of the pagan gods and also the untouchable transcendance of the Neo-Platonic One, so beloved of Arius.

To try to short-cut or even entirely avoid this wonder and glory may have profound consequences not only in the short-term understanding of this generation of Muslim background believers but also in the longer term theological health of the emerging churches around the Islamic world.

For those of us who have been involved in this debate, especially over the past 5 years, the points that Rick so clearly make actually underline why there is such concern among Arab speaking Christians. The strongest protests against these new translations are from Arabic speakers because they claim that the family or ontological connection between a father and a son is such a vital aspect of the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

The ‘problem’ with the father/son language is part of the basic fabric of the Bible itself. When we go back to the church fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, they too are wrestling with how God the Father begets/begot God the Son yet without physical procreation or chronological succession. It is not as if we can simply import an analogy to solve it because the ontological connection between God the Father and God the Son is so essential.

The alternative words and phrases cause so much upset with many Arabic Christians precisely because to use words like “Lord” or “God” instead of Father or to replace “Son” with words like “Messiah” or “Uniquely Loved One” do not contain the ontology that is so vital to a Biblical doctrine of God.

Yes, there is a massive and common misunderstanding of the Trinity among most of our Muslim friends – yet, this misunderstanding [focussed on the idea that God the Father had sexual union with the human Mary in the way that the Greek/Roman gods would do], still continues among Muslims who speak English as their first language. Look at Islamic websites that engage with the Trinity – in any language. Many commonly discuss the idea that Christians believe that the Trinity is the Father, Mary and Jesus. This is not simply a matter of words but doctrine.

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Eastbournians – ask your questions here.

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A chilling wasteland.

Just read this comparison of translations.  One Arabic audio Bible excises Father / Son language (for fear of offending Muslims / being misunderstood).

Some particularly awful moments:

“A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

becomes

“…they heard a voice from heaven saying: “This is the beloved Messiah whom I have sent, so listen to Him and obey Him.” (Luke 9:35)

.

“When you pray, say “Father”

becomes

“When you pray, say; Our loving, heavenly Lord.” (Luke 11:2)

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“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in
heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

becomes

“If you being evil, know how to give your children good gifts, then how much more is it true of the Lord of the
world who gives His Holy Spirit to the people who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13)

.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

becomes

“baptize them with water in the name of God and His Messiah and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

.

UPDATE:  Perhaps it’s a bad rendering of the Arabic into English.  But if the Arabic communicates something like the English we have here, there’s a big problem.

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Do you exist?

Can you please give me long life?

Why do children die young?

Why am I here?

Can you please take me?

What is the point of us being here?

Would you pay off my mortgage?

Would you please give my grand-sons some employment?

What happens to us after we die?

Why do you make people ill?

What is the meaning of my life?

Why do good people die young?

Is the world going to end in 2012?

If you’re from Eastbourne – tell us yours.

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Sorry I haven’t been blogging so much recently.  Among other things I’ve been busy preparing for this.  The Christian Union have done a terrific job preparing and publicizing.  Please pray that the word of Christ would go out with power!

 

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Make yourself heard

Keep “Father”, “Son” and “Son of God” in Bible translations.

Western missions agencies Wycliffe, Frontiers and SIL are producing Bibles that remove FatherSon and Son of God because these terms are offensive to Muslims.

Read and sign this petition.  Then pass it on, facebook, blog, retweet.

Also…

For Brits, here’s an e-petition to put the world-wide persecution of Christians on the map for our government.

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If you’re in Eastbourne, don’t forget to share the Web, and Facebook details with friends.

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Happy Friday

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Check out this definition of the church’s mission.

‘The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.’

That’s it.  That’s the mission of the church.  Proclamation.

Now, without cheating, see if you can guess where this comes from.  And when.

Any guesses?

.

.

Well maybe you think these are the words of some one-eyed fundamentalist, divorced from any pressing social or political needs.  Perhaps you think this definition represent a cowardly retreat from the social and political realities of the day?

Well the year was 1934, the place was Germany and this is article 6 of the Barmen Declaration – the document that founded the German Confessing Church.

And into that context, this determination to view the church’s mission simply as gospel proclamation proved to be the most provocative political challenge possible.  This is precisely because it refuses to engage with the world on its own terms.  The Nazis are confronted because the Confessing Church occupies itself with its one true Fuhrer (Christ), its one true Reich (God’s Kingdom) and its one true commission: delivering ‘the message of the free grace of God’.  Far from creating an ‘ecclesiastical ghetto’ for the Confessing Christians, this single-minded determination to let the Gospel set the agenda for the Church brings it into its most significant contact with the surrounding culture.

Barmen is profoundly political.  But it is so by refusing any other agenda but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nothing could be more explosive.

A few years later, Karl Barth (who authored Barmen) was back in his native Switzerland.  (Interestingly it was his lectures on preaching that were the last straw for the Nazis, the Gestapo bursting in and forcibly deporting him.  Apparently his last words to his students on the train platform was the admonition: “Exegesis, exegesis, exegesis!”)  Anway, a young pastor from Brandenburg wrote to him in distress.  He had been sacked after preaching against Mein Kampf from the pulpit.  The pastor expected sympathy.  Instead Barth replied that the pastor had made a “decisive mistake”:

Your job, when you stand in the pulpit, is to again make well the sick church of Germany.  That can be done only by the Word alone.  You are to serve that Word and no other.  But you can’t do that if you seize on Mein Kampf… Was it not a shame, each minute that you wasted with this book instead of reading the Bible?   (William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, p248-249)

Interesting huh?

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Last time I asked for help I got some real pearls. Here are some more talks I’m giving in the next few weeks. Any help with passages and points?

* Who is Jesus – Liar, Lunatic or Lord?

* What would Jesus say about homosexuality?

* Do Christians believe in three gods? (Inviting the Islamic society to this one)

* A short talk in the middle of a pub quiz.

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Faith doesn’t  twist God’s arm

Faith is the realisation His arms are open to you.

Text

Audio

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“A universe with a god would look very different to a universe without one.” Richard Dawkins.

It’s one of the wisest things Dawkins has ever said. Believers and unbelievers alike should take heed.

Let’s tease out some implications of it.

1) Dawkins clearly has a doctrine of “god” in mind as he makes the statement.  The flying spaghetti monster wouldn’t affect the kind of universe we inhabit.  But Thor might.  Allah in a different way.  And the triune God, different again.  Therefore it’s not a straight binary choice.

2)  I would look different depending on the existence of God or not.  Dawkins seems to imagine two states (a theistic and an atheistic universe) as alternatives lying before him.  And who is the great unmoved mover in this scenario?  Who is the neutral observer, the one enthroned above all worlds?  The scientist!  But no, Dawkins’ thought experiment – if it takes the word “God” with any seriousness – is one in which everything must be re-imagined.  If I am a creature, made by the Father’s Word, intended for life in communion with God, then everything changes for me.

3) I would look differently depending on the existence of God or not.  If I was a creature of the Word, and if the world  is a creature of the same Word, I would look through the lens of His Word.  I would see all things in relationship to Christ the Creator.  That would simply be good science if the Christian God existed.

But here’s something strange…

4) Dawkins ridicules Christian scientists who do actually deliver a different vision of the universe to his own.  Yet how could they do otherwise, if “a universe with a god will look very different”?

Which only makes me think…

5) Dawkins has not entered into his own thought-experiment for even a minute.  Has he really considered the revolution involved in actually reconceiving Self and World and God according to the Christian vision?  Of course not.  To do so would mean repenting of his position as all-seeing Arbiter.  Or in other words:

“Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)

 

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Happy Friday

If you’re not a cricket fan, I’m sorry.  Very sorry indeed for you…

 

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Credo magazine is a free online publication produced bi-monthly.  The January edition tackles the issue of inclusivism under the title “In Christ Alone.”  Matthew Barrett’s Editorial lays out the exclusivist position:

“It is only through faith in Christ that a sinner can be saved from hell and the wrath of God.”

Trevin Wax distinguishes exclusivism and inclusivism by listing the following two propositions:

“Jesus is the only way to God.” “One must place faith in Christ in order to be saved.”

Exclusivism affirms both statements.  Inclusivism affirms the first and denies the second. (He doesn’t address the issue of infant salvation, though other contributors do mention it).

Wax identifies the negative implications of inclusivism in the following way:

“Unfortunately, adopting the inclusivist approach does harm to our Christian witness by lessening the urgency of taking the gospel to people who have never heard of Jesus Christ. It also represents a capitulation to Western notions of “fairness,” subjective views of faith, and worldly descriptions of “goodness.”

So the problem with inclusivism is, 1) we lose the urgency to reach the unreached, 2) it arises when we follow our feelings rather than what the Scriptures actually say.

From here on, the magazine repeats these themes again and again. The urgency of missions and the need to be biblical rather than PC-driven.

I am whole-heartedly with them in these aims.  Christ must be proclaimed in all the nations and there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  But what’s interesting to me is the way in which the question is framed.  Again and again I got the feeling that Christ was being held forth as the sole distributor of eternal fire insurance.  Salvation is defined pretty consistently as “not hell” and Christ is portrayed as the means of escape.  When put like that, the exclusivist position can sound like a heavy-handed assertion rather than something arising from the nature of the gospel.

Many times the magazine’s writers anticipated objections, yet their response was usually a re-assertion of certain verses and a plea to be biblical and not worldly.  All of which begs the question why do we insist on Christ alone?  Is it that the Bible has this embarrassingly narrow doctrine but true believers will stick to the Scriptures, no matter how unpopular?

Or is it that Christ is actually so vast that naming the true Lord of this world means naming Christ alone?

One article stood head and shoulders above the others.  And you won’t be surprised to hear me say it was Mike Reeves’.

Here’s how he began and ended his article:

What does it look like when a church starts to assume that people can be saved without faith in Christ? If I had been left to guess, I might have said it would look much the same, only a bit flabbier: comforted by the thought that good Buddhists and religious Hindus will be saved, the church would lose its evangelistic zeal, of course – but otherwise, life would go on.

However, the situation in Britain today proves that guess wildly over-optimistic. In the last few decades, the belief that people can be saved without trusting Christ has come to be the standard assumption here, even in relatively conservative Christian circles. And wherever that idea reigns, I am seeing a sickness that goes much deeper than apathy. More than no evangelism, it means no real evangel. Quite simply, that is because if ‘salvation’ is thought of as something other than being brought to know Christ, then that ‘salvation’ is something quite different to what Christ himself offers.

…to say that it is not important to know Christ explicitly is to say that salvation is something else….

…Where faith in Christ is considered inessential for salvation, there people are left with little more than a boiled-down religiosity – a tedious God and a meagre salvation. It may wear Christian clothing – as Arius did – but anyone that thinks that knowing Christ is superfluous simply cannot have grasped how different the God he reveals is, the nature of his salvation, how great the assurance to be found in him. In which case, no wonder their Christianity seems lifeless and dreary.

At first glance, of course it seems more generous and attractive to ‘lower the bar’ of salvation and make knowledge of Christ unnecessary. But the joyless, unassured lives of so many Christians in Britain testifies to the fact that when knowing Christ is considered insignificant, there is no truly good news left.

Christ is not the sole distributor of fire insurance.  He is the true God and eternal life! (1 John 5:20)  No wonder salvation is in Christ alone.  Salvation is Christ alone!

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Self-pity is, for me, like a low-level virus, a background throb, a sapping sickness.  It heavies my bones and fizzies my blood.

But the other day I gained instant relief.  I was reading Psalm 103 in the King James version.  Verse 13 says:

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him.

Could this be true?  Does the LORD Himself pity me?  Yes.  With fatherly affection and concern.  I provoke the heart-felt pity of the living God.

You might think this would confirm my dreadful indulgence.  After all, heaven seems to agree with my self-obsession.  Actually no.  He pities the fool who pities himself.  In spite of my wallowing, the LORD’s pity is a great ‘nonetheless.’

A father whose child cries only for attention may still choose to pick up the boy, spin him round and kiss him.  He is not caving into the child’s manipulation.  Instead He is loving from his own free grace.  And the boy is weaned from self by the love of another.

In the same way our Father in heaven reaches down in His Son to self-pitying wretches.  And He lifts us up, not to confirm our self-centredness but to replace it.  Now that heaven pities me, I simply have no need.  What could my own self-preoccupation add to the divine pre-occupation of the LORD, who sets His affections on me?

And so this verse brought a tremendous release.  Just as the LORD’s love frees us from self-love, His service frees us from self-service, so His pity frees us from self-pity.

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I’m half way through Mike Reeves new book “The Good God“.

It is…. drum roll… sensational!  It’s life shaping for the reader, and I hope career shaping for Mike.  Let’s pray that Christ-centred trinitarian theology becomes more than a curiosity or a passing fad, but the very atmosphere of our lives, our theology, our ministry.

Below I’ll list some favourite little quotes in my reading so far.  But really I could have picked a hundred others.  And I’m aware that piecemeal nuggets won’t convey the real strength of the book.  Essentially “The Good God” is a luxurious soak in the loving life of Father, Son and Spirit.  It’s mind-stretching, vision-lifting, paradigm shifting and all the things that a radical trinitarian theology should be.  But the greatest strength of the book is simply this: Mike loves God.  Hugely, tangibly, contagiously – he revels in the Spirit’s knowledge of our generous Father in the face of Christ.  And as you read, you cannot fail to love Him more yourself.  I can’t think of a better reason to read a book!

So pre-order your copy here!

“We must confess Father and Son before we can apprehend God as one and true” Hilary

“When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is a triune God that you get”

“For eternity the Father has been fruitful, potent, vitalizing.”

“The God who loves to have an outgoing Image of himself in his Son loves to have many images of his love (who are themselves outgoing).”

“The triune God is an ecstatic God: he is not a God who hoards his life but one who gives it away, as he would show… at the cross.”

“God’s pleasure is in diffusing and communicating to the creature rather than in receiving from the creature” J. Edwards

“The world must learn that I love the Father” John 14 means that the world learns from the Son how to be a counterpart to the Father [my summary].

“Absolutely singular supreme beings do not like creation”

“The very nature of the triune God is to be effusive, ebullient and bountiful; the Father…finds his very self in pouring out his love”

“To be coherent and meaningful, maths requires the existence of ultimate plurality in unity.”

“Through the cross we see a God who delights to give himself.”

“To be the child of some rich king would be nice; but to be the beloved of the emporer of the universe is beyond words.”

“Our God does not give us some thing that is other than himself, or merely tell us about himself; he actually gives us himself.”

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Spurgeon on the terrible danger of Christless preaching: (from Tony Reinke)

“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” [7/9/1876; sermon #2899]

“Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.” [undated; sermon #768]

“Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertise it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, ‘Bread without flour’ and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live.’” [10/23/1881; sermon #1625]

 

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