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Archive for November, 2012

Here are two different 321 songs – both are based on Fanny Crosby’s “To God be the Glory”.  One simply uses the old tune (and has slightly child-friendlier lyrics), the other is a round.

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I’ve used different lyrics at different points, but I think these are the words I’m most happy with:

Forever Three tethered together as one,
The Father and Spirit embracing the Son.
Before and beyond and beneath and above,
Our God is a Family united in love.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by His Spirit with all Christ has done.

The world has a history written by two:
King Adam fell faithless, King Jesus renewed.
First Adam brought darkness and death and a curse,
But Jesus came second — the fall to reverse.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by His Spirit with all Christ has done.

Once born into Adam but now we can be
United to Jesus, adopted, set free.
As one with the Son we are given new birth,
His Father, His Spirit and heaven on earth!

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O Come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by His Spirit with all Christ has done.

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Happy Friday

Some Python interviews for you…

 

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Do you ever hear of people or institutions described in the following way:

“Don’t get me wrong, their theology is straight down the line. They’re faithful, biblical, solid, orthodox, sound as a pound. You couldn’t fault them on their teaching… It’s just… Well, they’re not very loving. In fact they’re pretty closed. Cold even. Harsh actually. Come to think of it they’re some of the most hard hearted people I’ve ever met.”

It’s quite common to hear, isn’t it? What do we think is a good response?

My immediate reaction is: Where are these total-gospel Christians with diamond-hard hearts? What kind of gospel must this be? How could ‘solid, orthodox, faithful’ theology produce loveless believers? Do we really think they’ve got their theology right, they just happen to be bearing no gospel fruit?

And what remedy would we propose for such cool-headed, cold-hearted Christians? Do we assume that they already know the gospel and therefore need to be inspired to love via other means? What means?

No. Next time you hear someone say “He/She/They are solid theologically, they’re just not loving”, say “Pish, Tosh, Codswallop, Bunkum and Balderdash!”

They cannot be solid theologically. Maybe once they were. But our gospel is revealed far more clearly in our lives than our credal subscription.

I’m not saying that in depth study of the Athanasian creed guarantees warm-hearted gospel love.  I am saying that we should question the common-place label of ‘cold but sound.’  What do you think?

 

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Well it’s nearly Advent so it’s time for preachers to think about Carols services, Christingles, Nativity plays, etc.

It’s also a time to miss a golden opportunity.  The golden opportunity is to preach a theology of incarnation.  But, year in and year out, this chance is missed in evangelical churches.

Our mentions of incarnation boil down to the Abrupt, the Apologetic or the Anselmian.

The Abrupt:

“God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

The Apologetic:

“Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

The Anselmian:

“God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. And there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

Where are the Athanasian, Atoning, Abasing themes?

The Athanasian Incarnation:

“In this marvellous exchange, He becomes what we are, that we might become what He is”?

The Atoning Incarnation:

“Here is God-With-Us, making us at-one in His very Person!”

The Abasing Incarnation:

My God is so small, so weak and so helpless, there’s nothing that He will not do… for you!

I wonder if we shy away from the Athanasian incarnation because we don’t want to get into (or don’t properly understand) the trinitarian theology that makes sense of it.

I wonder if we shy away from the Atoning incarnation because ontology has no place in our thinking about atonement.  (This is also why our Easter sermons contain no theology of resurrection – only a ‘proof that the cross worked’.)

I wonder if we shy away from the Abasing incarnation because we’re wedded to a theology of glory that refuses to countenance the little LORD Jesus.

If any of these guesses are anywhere near the mark, let me suggest a remedy.  Read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and hear the kind of Christmas message that has warmed the hearts of millions down through the ages.  Get started here as you listen to Mike Reeves read extracts.

And for what they’re worth, here are three of my own posts on incarnation:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(For good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

These are some talks in which I’ve tried to preach this theology…

 

Christmas is God laying hold of us – Hebrews 2:14-18

The Coming King – Psalm 72

In the beginning… – John 1:1-2

The Word became flesh – John 1:14

Christmas brings a crisis – John 1:15-18

Student Carols – Isaiah 9

Evangelistic carols service – Light shining in darkness – Isaiah 9:2-7 (different to the other Isaiah 9)

Luke 1:26-38

All-age: Christmas turns slaves to sons – Galatians 4:4-7

All-age Carols Talk: Christmas is weird – Phil 2:5-11

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Here are some songs on the same theme and the Anti-Santy video

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What resources have you found helpful?  Please share the wealth in comments…

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The first thing to say is that the bible’s sexual ethic is different to the world’s sexual ethic.  And it always has been.   This might sound too basic to mention, yet the point is commonly forgotten.  Egyptian and Assyrian views of sex were markedly different from Israel’s.  As for the Greco-Roman culture surrounding the New Testament church… what’s the saying? “A woman for necessity, a boy for pleasure and a goat for ecstasy!”

Both Christians and non-Christians need to realise that the bible’s ethics were never the ethics of the surrounding culture.  Therefore Christians ought not to hearken back to some golden age when the bible’s norms were upheld by the culture.  Neither should non-Christians insist that “Christians move on from their conservatism and embrace a new golden age.”  The truth is that the bible never enshrined the culture’s sexual ethic – it always stood apart from it.

This leads to another basic observation… secularists need to recognize that they too have a sexual ethic. They are not champions of liberation – except in the most limited sense. They are simply trying to impose a different sexual ethic and therefore to define a different set of sinners.

The next point is the explosive one, but it needs saying in order to blow apart some suffocating assumptions: Jesus is utterly anti-heterosexual.  It’s difficult to think of anyone as anti-heterosexual as Jesus.

I mean really, can you imagine Jesus in the sermon on the mount turning to his disciples and saying “Let your sexual desire be unto the multitude of women.”  If you can imagine that sentiment on the lips of Jesus, you don’t know Jesus!  Christians are not – or at least should not be pro-heterosexual.  Lust is lust and never a positive marker of identity – no matter which cross-section of potential sexual partners are in view!

These modern taxonomies of sexuality are so limited, so unruly, so new, so western, so 21st century.  We struggle to apply them to other 21st century westerners, let alone other parts of the world, let alone other parts of history.  If you try to use our modern categorisations and apply them beyond our tiny blip in time and space you’re in for trouble.  If you want to actually listen to Jesus’ teaching on sex you’ll need to forget everything you think you know about “modern liberal” notions and “out-dated conservative” notions.  Because Jesus’ teaching is something else…

Jesus’ view of sex is crazy and it’s beautiful.  Same as everything else.  “Turn the other cheek?  Go the extra mile?  Love your enemies?”  Crazy!  Impractical!  Totally unrealistic!  But beautiful!  Let me explain…

Jesus only really said three things about sex, but on these three foundations you have a crazily beautiful / beautifully crazy view of sex.  In Matthew 19 He quotes approvingly from Genesis 1: “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female.”  Then Jesus quotes from Genesis 2 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together let not man put asunder.”  Combine these two truths and what do you have?  You have humanity created as interlocking opposites who become “one flesh” when man and woman come together in an exclusive permanent marriage bond.  That’s his teaching on sex and marriage.  And to that He adds, in Matthew 5, that sex is not for any other context.  Not even in your thought life.  Don’t even think about sex outside marriage.  That’s Jesus’ sexual ethic.  It’s crazy, but it’s beautiful.

Because, according to Jesus, when you have sex with someone you are saying “I give myself to you utterly, exclusively, irreversibly and unconditionally for life.”  It’s the most romantic view of sex the world has ever seen.

This is sex as a Ferrari.  If I owned a Ferrari, you could not drive it.  Only if your name was Scrivener could you get behind the wheel.  But if I owned a beat-up old Lada – anyone could drive it.  The Christian view of sex is a Ferrari.  The modern view is a Lada.

But for that reason, this sexual ethic is for the followers of Jesus.  Explicitly the bible tells Christians not to bother non-Christians about their sexual ethics.  1 Corinthians 5 tells Christians not to worry about what people are doing outside the church.  God can worry about them, we’re meant to only worry about ourselves.  This point will be controversial among Christians but I suggest that, in line with the first truth outlined, we address ourselves with the ethics and the world with the gospel.

Which means that the question for the non-Christian is not “Can I live under this sexual regime”?  The question is, What do I make of Jesus?  If He rose from the dead as Lord of the world, then maybe He knows a thing or two about sex.  And if I come to Jesus – not as hetero-sexual, homo-sexual or bi-sexual but simply as a sinner – then there’s a place at His table equal to every other sinner.  And though I fail at His crazy-beautiful life in a thousand ways, He knows how to lead me, step by step, into greater and greater freedom from sexual slaveries as well as the other really dangerous sins – like greed, unforgiveness and moral self-righteousness!

For another approach, here’s an older post on the subject…

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My God Is So Small (Christmas vs A Theology of Glory)

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Rising Sun (Luke 1:78-79)

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Good News of Great Joy (Luke 2:10)

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How Long O Lord Till Christmas (Christmas in OT)

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Fell Down A Hole (A Theology of Incarnation)

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From the Squalor (for guitar)

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I’m 9 days late to this, but last Friday Derren Brown’s “Fear and Faith” aired – watch here.

It was 10 minutes of fascinating viewing padded out by some seriously underwhelming logic by way of explanation.

The show centres on the challenge Brown sets himself to elicit “a religious experience”  from an atheist.  To be fair the emotional “conversion”, when it came, was indeed dramatic.  In a candlelit church, Derren spoke to atheist Natalie and through various NLP-type techniques evoked feelings of father-hunger, a sense of awe at the mystery of the world, regrets over her past, that kind of thing.  Having anchored those feelings and established some triggers, Derren left and – BOOM – the “conversion” was dramatic.  There were tears and exclamations of both sorrow and joy, almost simultaneously.  Alone with the candles and the stained-glass images, “I’m sorry”s came flooding out along with “I love you”s.  It was a salutary warning of how prone we are to emotional manipulation.  This woman was an avowed atheist and her discussion with Derren contained no “God-talk” whatsover.  He simply spoke about feelings of love, awe and regret in a “religious” setting and his techniques produced a “conversion” the envy of many an evangelist.

So lesson number one – beware Christian evangelists using manipulative methods!

But then lesson number two has got to be: Beware atheist evangelists too.  Because Derren’s preaching was seriously misleading.  Throughout the programme he put two and two together and made 600.  First came the trivially true assertions: “religious experience can be explained by psychology”.  In the same vein he asks “Can our experience of religion be explained by psychology alone?” And he expects the answer yes.

Well of course the answer is yes!  Of course “our experience of religion” can be explained by psychology!  Even psychology alone.  My experience of falling in love with my wife could be explained in entirely psychological terms.  And if Derren did it, I’d be all ears.  I’m sure there’d be insights – certain needs from my childhood met in ‘some sort of spouse figure’, yes, yes.  All useful, all true.  And, I suppose, such psychology might – at another level of explanation – be put down to biology, and biology reduced to chemistry and chemistry explained by physics… or something.  I’d be genuinely interested in all such analyses.  But…

A) the further we “progress” into those materialistic explanations, the less satisfying they are as an account of what is, irreducibly, a personal experience.

And, crucially….

B) the claim that, because there might be a perfectly satisfying psychological explanation, my wife doesn’t exist needs unmasking as the rank idiocy that it is.

Yet Brown’s whole show is set up on precisely this absurd foundation.  Derren says he’s out to prove that “religious belief comes from us, not from the existence of the divine”.  Which is exactly parallel to saying my love for my wife comes from me and not from the existence of Emma.  Well of course it comes from me – my religious and my marital experiences come from me. But what’s that got to do with the truth or otherwise of the object of those feelings??

David Bentley Hart nails this in Atheist Delusions as he turns his withering wit upon Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell”. Dennett, a philosopher and one of the four horsemen of the Atheist apocalypse, similarly attempts to describe religion as an entirely natural phenomenon. Against this Hart writes

Not only does [Dennett’s project] pose no challenge to faith, it is in fact perfectly compatible with what most developed faiths already teach regarding religion. Of course religion is a natural phenomenon. Who would be so foolish as to deny that…

…It does not logically follow that simply because religion is natural it cannot become a vehicle of divine truth, or that it is not in some sense oriented towards ultimate reality (as, according to Christian tradition, all natural things are)…

As for Dennett’s amazing discovery that the “natural desire for God” is in fact a desire for God that is natural, it amounts to a revolution not of thought, only of syntax.  (David Bentley-Hart, Atheist Delusions, p7-8)

How else would you measure a religious experience anyway, if not via natural methods?  What else could provoke such an experience, if not natural phenomena?  The God who meets us in a Jewish carpenter, a library of ancient texts, men and women of faith, water, wheat and wine… His encounters with us do not happen in the 7th dimension.  He meets us where we are.  (That’s the meaning of Christmas by the way).  But since He meets us where we are then He meets us in naturally measurable and naturally explicable ways.  Neither Dennett nor Derren will have any objections from Christians at that point.

Where we might raise an eyebrow is during the galactic leaps of faith they employ to tell their naturalistic story.  Derren speaks of pareidolia whereby the human brain naturally sees personal significance in randomness – seeing “a man in the moon” when really there are only craters and shadows.  This is, according to Derren, “probably the biggest contributor to religious belief” in our evolutionary story.

Notice the irony though.  Derren is trying to tell you a story – the naturalistic evolution of all things, including belief.  His story is all about going from randomness to personality.  And now, here we are, persons at the end of a random process, telling other persons not to read personal significance into randomness.  Eh?

The only way you could take that move seriously would be to reduce everything personal down to randomness.  That sounds bleak, but Derren makes other such moves in just that direction. He happily gives accounts of morality and religion entirely based on the survival benefits they bestow in the grand evolutionary scheme.  But if he were consistent I suggest he should also add love, beauty and truth to that same heap.  And at that stage of course the whole endeavour collapses.

Which is very depressing.  And the show was indeed very depressing.  But for me it was saved by the last few minutes in which Derren interviewed Natalie.  He revealed that her conversion was all a psychological trick – the emotions were real, but God was not, yada yada.  Yet in my view her response, completely unscripted, torpedoed Derren’s whole enterprise. And I think he knew it.

When asked whether she now viewed her experience in the church differently, she said

It has added a kind of artificial element to it for me now…  But inducing an emotional reaction to something, if it’s through external influences, is always artificial in a way…  If I’m listening to an amazing piece of music, that’s an emotional stimulus that’s come from an artificial source…

Amen Natalie!  Preach it.  All emotions come from somewhere beyond us.  To explain the feeling doesn’t explain away everything to be said about the experience.  At this point Derren talked right across her and didn’t let her speak again.  He forcefully asserted…

The emotions are real, that’s the point. It’s just important to me that you don’t feel it has to be attached to something supernatural or superstitious. Because it wasn’t.  And it’s not even like it came from me, it certainly didn’t come from God, it came from you. They were perfectly real emotions, they are things you can carry with you for the rest of your life but you don’t have to attach them to a superstitious belief.

Carry the emotions Natalie – that’s Derren’s take home message.  Keep hold of the emotions.  Emotions that can be conjured up in 15 minutes by a TV showman.  Emotions based entirely on our ancient and selfish survival instincts.  Emotions which probably reduce down to randomness anyway.

And don’t ever ask yourself why you live in a universe in which father-hunger, awe and regret can trigger such feelings.  Boil it down to selfishness in the struggle for survival, that’ll satisfy. That and the emotions.  Induced for entertainment.  As a trick of the mind.  Take that away with you Natalie.  Cos that’s all this evangelist can offer.

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More Tweets

“But we had hoped…” (Luke 24:13-35) What have you hoped in? It will be transformed and more than restored by the risen Jesus #EnjoyYourDay

A clever and sophisticated phrase to use in your evangelism: “I think you should become a Christian.” #TryIt

Christians are groaners but not grumblers. Romans 8:23-25

Not just net gainers. Even our grtst suffering redeemed 2 grter glory: More than conquerors thru Him who loved us! #EnjoyYourDay

Adam/Christ = Curse/Blessing = Old/New = Judgement/Salvation = Now/Not-Yet = Flesh/Spirit

Instructions for Evangelist: Open your Bible. Point to Jesus. Offer Him Freely. Repeat As Necessary.

He’s the Future & Fulness of the world. He’s the Future & Fulness of God. If you have Jesus you have Everything. #EnjoyYourDay

“To be a receiver, to believe that the gift is complete, is to be right with God.” Gerhard Forde >>

<< Therefore if we offer a “gift” that needs completing (by the sinner’s response) we turn gospel into law, evangel-ism into legal-ism

“Self-esteem – the current circumlocution for pride” Gerhard Forde

Moralists use the law as a defence against God.

“This far and no further” is both God’s command to the unruly and the Rule-y’s command to God.

God is pulling all things through the cross and out the empty tomb

Bt the Spirit of the Son you have a new spiritual heart-beat: Abba, Father… Abba, Father… Abba, Father… (Gal 4:6) #EnjoyYourDay

Being Trinitarian is about confessing Christ faithfully. He is the Spirit-filled Son. >>

<<If we’re failing to preach trinitarianly it’s not cos we need PhDs in systematics, it’s cos we’re simply not articulating Christ properly.

Christians are God’s possession. There Might be a hostile takeover. But only if they can outbid the blood of God- Acts 20:28

Sunday school, kids songs & evangelistic outlines lay the foundations. If they’re wrong, preachers have a LOT of work to do!

“I don’t know who God is anymore…” could be a very promising deconversion. It might just be the 1st step towards true faith

God is Joy – Ps 45:7; John 15:11; 1 Tim 1:11. #EnjoyYourDay

A love story without forgiveness is a tragedy not a comedy. Just seen #CrazyStupidLove

#CrazyStupidLove does catastrophe far better than eucatastrophe. All because no-one can really bring themselves to forgive.

“Our culture is so far back from the gospel we can’t just preach Christ”? No! For this very reason we must simply preach Christ.

Planning Christmas sermons? Why not revisit the most sublime theology of Christmas ever penned. Begin here.

 

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Happy Friday

…Very occasional swear words in the last one…

 

 

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For Thawed Out Thursdays, I thought I’d show you a couple of older videos that gave rise to an exciting new video, released only today

First there was this extract from a sermon…

Then, the following year, we hastily filmed a poetic version. The sound didn’t work at the time, which is why we had to dub the voice later…

And today 10ofThose have just released a kinetic-typographied version…

Please share it on Facebook and/or use it in your Christmas services this year.

And sorry to jump the Christmas gun!!

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321 – A Kids Song

Thanks to Fanny Crosby

Our God is three Persons together as one,
The Father, the Spirit and also the Son.
Before and beyond and beneath and above,
Our God is a Family united in love.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by the Spirit with all Christ has done.

The world is a story that’s written by two:
King Adam fell badly, King Jesus renewed.
First Adam brought darkness and death and a curse,
But Jesus came second – the fall to reverse.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by the Spirit with all Christ has done.

We’re born one with Adam but now we can be
United to Jesus, adopted, set free.
As one with the Son we are given new birth,
His Father, His Spirit and heaven on earth!

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O Come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by the Spirit with all Christ has done.

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“Equality” is one of the most loved and least understood values of our day.  It is considered to be an absolute and unquestionable good.  And yet… what does it really mean?

In a race between me and Usain Bolt… what would be equal?  A 70 metre head-start for me?  A 50kg weight for him?  Of course if we start equally, we’ll finish very unequally.  Equality of treatment will not lead to equality of outcome.  And that’s true in every realm.

Think of tennis. The men and women aren’t thrown into the same draw.  There’s a men’s trophy and a women’s trophy.  But not a “left-handers’ trophy” or a “Sagittarian trophy”. And there’s not a “trophy for whites” and a “trophy for blacks” either.  No, that would be “discriminatory” we feel.  But hang on – all these decisions “discriminate.”  They all seek to treat people differently according to real differences which those in question have no choice over.  Yet we consider differences in gender to be relevant, and differences in race and star sign to be irrelevant.  In other words we discriminate between our discriminations.  And such discrimination is absolutely vital for upholding  “equality.”

Different people do get different treatment all the time.  Sometimes this is negative discrimination (think of racism).  But actually we must discriminate in order to have true equality.  For instance, we ought to spend money on our buildings to provide equal access for wheel-chair users.  Yet as soon as we make this pledge, both the costs and the benefits of these expensive projects fall unevenly.  There is a certain kind of benign discrimination that happens which prevents another malign discrimination.  But discrimination – i.e. making decisions based on real differences, and discerning between relevant differences and irrelevant differences – is inevitable.  It’s part and parcel of true equality.

Now what kind of equality exists between male and female?  Feminism has gone through at least three “waves”, plus “post-feminism” and it’s taken in a wide range of differing political and social expressions.  The massive differences between those working for “equality” is yet more evidence that the meaning of “equality” is not at all obvious.  Yet the upholding of concrete differences as we work for equality is absolutely vital.  We should not want women to be equal to men on men’s terms.  We should not want them to “become more bloke-ish” in order to receive the same rights.  If there’s to be true equality, we should want women to be distinctly women and men distinctly men, and that they, in these differences, be one – completely equal in value and worth.  Is there a way of having both?

In Genesis 1 we have a consultation within the triune God: “Let us make humanity in our image… male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26ff)  The ultimate Union of Distinctions – the Trinity – is imaged in a humanity that is also a union of distinctions: men and women made to be one – and in their one-ness to be fruitful, making another.  A whole race of blokes would not image the divine life.  But men and women, in all their differentness, united in love – this pictures for us a true equality, one that respects and upholds concrete particularities.

If we follow the creation narrative we will see God place Eve – the bride – at the very pinnacle of the cosmos.  God’s creative work moves from the waters to land to plants to animals to man to woman.  It’s all heading towards woman.  As Matthew Henry remarked, if Adam was head over creation, Eve was the crown.  If he was dust, she was dust “twice refined”.  She was taken from Adam’s side to be his equal, from under his arm that he might protect her and from close to his heart that he might love her.  She is “opposite” to him – created to be very different – yet one with him (Genesis 2:18).

Just as the Father is eternally distinct from the Son yet utterly equal, just as Christ is different from His bride (the church) yet shares all things with her, so men and women are different but equal. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

What are those differences?  Well that can be for another time.  Perhaps click the “gender” tag to read more on the blog.  But we all agree that there are differences between the sexes.  Virtually every argument for why women should be better represented in the boardrooms of business cannot help but raise the different kind of contribution women bring to the table.  That’s fascinating – we think there should be more women “at the top” not simply because women are equal to men but, just as much, because they are different to men!  And no Christian wants to argue against that.  Many Christians think the gender differences have relevance within marriage.  Many Christians think they are also relevant in the exercise of certain church leadership roles.  That might sound  “discriminatory” – and of course it is.  But so is every argument for equality.  Even within the various feminisms there are huge disagreements over matters of positive and negative discrimination, for one thing.  Being alarmed by a different vision of equality and diversity should not put you off.  You’ll have to sit down and listen to the Christian arguments a lot longer before you conclude that this is malignant discrimination.

But then, where else will you go?  Christianity has an account of differentness and unity that accords with what we want from a vision of gender equality.  If all you have is unity, you’re left with a steam-roller, flattening differences.  If all you have is distinction, you’ve got a ladder – every difference an opportunity to rank people.  With the world’s philosophies of gender you will only find steam-rollers or ladders – or arbitrary balancing acts between the two.  Yet with the triune God you have a unity and diversity that mutually inform each other.  This unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity goes all the way down and all the way back.  In this God you can find that your gendered identity is acknowledged, celebrated and upheld.  It images the united love of God Himself!

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In 1776 Thomas Jefferson introduced the Declaration of Independence with these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This bold and attractive vision of human flourishing is articulated in the context of some very specific views of God, of humanity and the good life.  Yet without this framework it’s difficult to imagine anything less self-evident than the truth that “all men are created equal.”  If you divorce this conviction from its theological foundations, it’s one of the  most instantly falsifiable “self-evident” truths going!  When you look at the mass of humanity born in such differing circumstances, with such differing opportunities and capacities, who on earth are the “we” who are able to see “equality” when all that’s really “self-evident” is endemic inequality?

The answer is that the “we” who hold this vision of equality have soaked for long centuries in a view of God, the world and humanity which has been completely alien to the rest of thinking people.

Take Aristotle in Politics:

For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule…

Aristotle took inequality to be the thing “self-evident.”  He repeatedly called slaves “living tools” and was quite comfortable with that arrangement.  Same with Plato:

…nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior. (Gorgias)

According to these brilliant pagan minds, equality is not taught by nature.  The very opposite.  Whatever “human nature” was, clearly some humans conformed closer to the ideal than others.  So who could object if some were given more human “rights” than others?

The point is this: if observations of “nature” were all we had to go by, who on earth could disagree with the inequitable status quo?  Of course nature produces more powerful and less powerful creatures, superiors and inferiors.  If nature is our teacher why not endorse a class of rulers and a class of the ruled?  Why not support the inequalities which nature clearly intends?  Why fight it?  On what grounds?  With what justification?  From where could you get an alternative vision of humanity?  The only humanity we’ve ever observed has been one of profound inequalities!

Thus it seemed absolutely right to have a perilously steep hierarchy of being – the emporer at the top, the slaves at the bottom, with every subject knowing their place.  Who could possibly object?

Except that the ancient Scriptures kept speaking of another way.  The God who gets dirt under His fingernails forming humanity (Genesis 2), who wants to walk with His creatures in the cool of the day (Genesis 3).  The Saviour who would fight for us and take the blow (Genesis 3:15).  The Son who would give Himself in atoning death (Genesis 22).  The LORD who is Servant and Sacrifice (see Isaiah 42; 49; 50; 53).

And then He comes to a humble “servant” (Luke 1:48) as a humble servant (Philippians 2:5-11).  The whole pyramid is subverted as God becomes a Slave!  And He becomes a Slave so that we, the slaves of sin and Satan, might become sons and daughters in His royal family.  He descends to the depths and raises us to the heights so that now we might all feast at the same table – royals and commoners, masters and bond-servants.

And through this divine stooping, Christ shows us a radically different way of assessing “human nature.”  The Son “became flesh” – just common or garden humanity.  He became a Jewish pauper with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2).  Whatever might be deemed “ideal humanity” had nothing to do with the properties inherent in it.  The Man Jesus was valuable not because of the attributes of His humanity but only because the Son had chosen this flesh to be.  Thus a Christian account of “human nature” does not look to the properties and capacities of particular persons but declares that humans as humans are inherently valuable.  From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to declaring their “unalienable rights”.

But wait – doesn’t the bible (particularly the OT) endorse slavery?  Well distinguish Hebrew slavery from Greco-Roman practice and distinguish both from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 16th-19th centuries.  Hebrew slavery was nothing like that which Wilberforce fought.

Certainly the Western mind has difficulty with the idea of selling oneself into slavery for a limited period (we prefer other forms of economic slavery), but those OT provisions were always temporary arrangements.  In everyone’s lifetime Jubilee was always just around the corner (Leviticus 25) – and the great hope was the Messiah who would bring ultimate and eternal liberation (Isaiah 61; Luke 4:16-21).

In the NT, Paul counselled slaves (in this new Greco-Roman context) to seek their freedom if they could (1 Cor 7:21-24) and declared slave-trading to be sinful (1 Tim 1:10) thereby cutting the jugular of the whole practice.  But really, it was the intellectual revolution of the gospel that was so much more subversive than any ‘revolt of the slaves’ could be.

And it’s a revolution that we need to continue today.  It’s estimated that there are 27 million slaves in the world right now and so often it is Christians who continue to be at the forefront of the fight against human-trafficking.  Why?  Because Christians actually have an anthropology that treats each human with “unalienable rights” rather than as “living tools”.  Anyone who seeks to take some high-ground on the issue of slavery must produce an account of human nature that will actually protect the weak and the vulnerable from being used.  But on what grounds will they justify such a stand?

I live in a country that kills 200 000 of the weakest members of our species every year because of the will of the strong.  Our culture can claim no high ground in protecting the “unalienable rights” of all people.  We have our own hierarchies based on the properties and capacities of individuals and we discriminate with extreme prejudice.  If we want real equality we must return to the only true foundation: the Master who became Slave.

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Romans 8 sermons

I preached on Romans 8:31-39 last night.  Audio here.

As a reflection on that same passage (and sermon), Emma wrote this post.  It’s what I should have said!

Some previous sermons of mine:

Romans 1-7 – Confidence in Life

Romans 8 – Confidence in Suffering

 

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This Sermon Will Do You Much Good

Rich Owen on Romans 8:18-25

Doctrinal, declarative, devotional.

And best of all it avoids using three alliterative points.

Listen!

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Encore des Tweets

He’s the Judge of the world, the Revelation of God and a gentle, lowly Rest-Giver: Matt 11:20-30. #EnjoyYourDay

Many bow to the Son of God: Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, Paul, John. He receives it, then sets them all on their feet.

If you want to take on a theology, take on its Doctrine of God. Otherwise you’re tinkering at the edges.

No I won’t be taking part… Because if I started now it would take me about 6 months… Yeah and Mo-pril doesn’t have the same ring.

Original sin asserts that no-one stands apart from the human condition. We’re all a part of the problem.

“Born sick, commanded to be well” is how Hitchens understood original sin. In reality it’s “Born hungry, offered Bread.”

Your sorrows He carries, your infirmities He takes up, your sins He bears. (Is 53) Your weaknesses only draw Him closer #EnjoyYourDay

Evangelist’s Reality Check: Scripture’s most beautiful chapter on Christ and His cross begins with the line “Who has believed our message?”

First 4 beatitudes: empty beggars before the King. Last 4: royal ambassadors to the world. There’s a flow 2 the life of the kingdom

A deeply theological Soapbox by @RealDMitchell  We need a narrative to live in the moment. A happy ending is best too!

To characterise our sin as basically self-rule (eg ‘climbing on the throne of our lives’) is far too flattering a picture of human nature…

…Scripturally we are dominated subjects in Satan’s kingdom, whores besotted with terrible lovers, sheep following after bad shepherds…

…As Luther said we are beasts ridden either by the devil or God. Ironically it’s a kind of hubris to diagnose our problem as self-rule.

You know the tree of life in the garden of God? That’s not just for religious art. That’s for *you* to eat from (Rev 2:7) #EnjoyYourDay

Someone’s asked how 2 answer Qs on Adam’s historicity in evangelism. Goto 1 Cor 15 & say ‘If Jesus rose, Adam fell. Let’s see if Jesus rose’

Is no-one concerned our Archbishop is a JW?

<<Do I need to point out that this was a pun of the order of (but slightly superior to) previous Twitter jokes on the ‘Could Well by’ motif?

You see Justin Welby = JW. Initially I thought it was hilarious… (Again that’s a pun. A play on words, because it’s about INITIALS) *sigh*

Don’t preach to fortify the weary. Preach to raise the dead.

Reading Luke afresh. Jesus is fiercely, resolutely, relentlessly downwardly mobile. Just astonishing

Many call the cross ‘primitive scapegoating’. But it’s different when the one at the top is scapegoat. It’s ‘carrying the can’. #Entwistle

No greater love: An illustration of sacrifice (Thanks to John Percival’s remembrance day sermon this morning)

“You are my Beloved Child, I’m thrilled with you” – the Verdict we all want from the Father we all crave. And it’s ours in Jesus #EnjoyYourDay

Only *sinners* love (Luke 7:36-50). Therefore every sin is an opportunity to know yr indebtedness and the forgiveness of Jesus #EnjoyYourDay

“God wants relationship with u” doesnt say much. Everything has a relationship w God. Q is Which God & therefore: What kind of relationship?

“My child, get up” He will say. And u will rise 2 feasting joy, complete astonishment & face-to-face with Jesus (Luke 8:40-56) #EnjoyYourDay

Who qualifies 4 Christ’s Kingdom? The powerless, the wicked, the little children: Lk18:1-17. Don’t reach up, receive where u r #EnjoyYourDay

Here’s a tip for anyone who fears using ‘Christian’ phrases in evangelism (like Lamb of God or Trinity)… Explain them. #WorksATreat.

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Happy Friday

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Some deeply theological truths in there!!

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Here’s one for the Christmas services and outreach…

And stay tuned for an update of the Anti-Santy Ranty….

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