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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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