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Archive for the ‘christocentric panapocalytheism’ Category

A round based on Luke 1:78-79.

Best on full screen with headphones.  And do join it.  That’s the point…

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A wonderful sermon on John 6, though he knoweth not what he doeth…

I love living in a world where toast – and comedy about toast – preaches Christ to my soul.

#ChristocentricPanapocalyptheism

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[From Glen] The following, from Paul, was too long for this fascinating thread, but it’s also too good not to post in its own right. (Please refer to these older comments if you’re not sure what Paul is referring to)…

First, Chris, the wedding ring analogy is very helpful.  Yes, we need to be within the relationship with Christ to understand the significance of the heavens and the earth.  On their own, out of the context of marriage to the Son in the fellowship of the Spirit to the glory of the Father, all the many details of the universe could be viewed as nothing but just one thing after another, especially if we are materialistic reductionists.

Second, the tabernacle point from Glen is helpful too.  The connection between the tabernacle/temple and the whole creation is common throughout the Bible.  The tabernacle was given by the LORD God to be a kind of “pocket-sized map” of the heavens and the earth – a multi-media microcosm with verbal explanations.  I wonder what a person might make of a replica tabernacle even today if they had no contact with the Bible.  They might study all the different features of it – from the embroidered curtains to the gold-plated wood, from the altar to the ark of the covenant.  Perhaps they might think it was an elaborate barbecue set-up with some kind of family-sized tent for sleeping it off. Who knows?  Without the proper relationship with the Designer, and His explanations of it, nobody could make any sense of it.

Although all the many features of the tabernacle were intended by the author to convey meaning, to embody truth, to illustrate eternal realities, yet none of these can be really seen or heard unless there are eyes to see and ears to hear – unless there is a relationship to the Designer with a knowledge of His written explanations. [It is interesting how Jesus repeatedly states how only those with ears to hear may understand what He is saying.  His parables could sound like nothing more than short stories without the awareness and appreciation of the deeper message that lies behind them].  Until we have been redeemed by His mighty saving power; until He has opened our eyes and raised us from the dead we cannot begin to really appreciate His handiwork as the author intended.

There used to be a series on TV where the camera would go around an anonymous celebrities house and based on the features that the camera suggestively lingered over, the identity of the owner had to be guessed.  Without knowing the owner all the different features might seem strange or odd, but when they were revealed at the end, all the different features made sense and we could all breath a kind of “aha” as we realised why they had that kind of furniture, with that wallpaper, with those paintings and with that kind of kitchen.  I think it was called “Through the Keyhole”.

In that same way, the Eternal Word has designed and decorated the heavens and the earth in His own style, imprinted with His own character, as an expression of the invisible Father.  On their own, out of context [viewed from ‘outside’ in that CS Lewis sense] all the details of creation are just an overwhelming collection of details.  They can be related to each other to a degree so that we may build up something of an account of the mechanisms and structure of the whole, but the meaning and “authorial intent” of the decor is missed… UNLESS we know the ‘celebrity owner’ and have His own written account of His character and ways.  THEN we constantly look about the ‘house’ and recognise all kinds of things as being “just like Him”.  On the original TV programme, after the secret identity is revealed, people would say things like “Oh, yes, it is just like her to have that kind of wallpaper and that rug in her bathroom” or “after what happened to him that year, we can see why he had that photo on the wall” etc.

In just this way, after we come to know the LORD Jesus Christ and as the spectacles of Scripture give us better and better vision of reality, so we can begin to see the whole creation in that way – “oh, it is just like Christ to make the trees in that way and the stars like that” or “given what happened to Him, we can see why He designed seeds to be like that”.

In other words, the non-Christian who does not know the LORD Jesus Christ or the Scriptures of course cannot make any sense of all these things… but that is precisely why the judgement falls upon us as a sinful, ignorant race.  We were designed to know Him and we were created in the Garden of God in a gracious relationship of love and openness.  The fact that we have lost this position is the reason that we no longer have that constant sense of “aha, it is so like Him to make moss, rocks, fish, birds, clouds, grass, arms, hair, water, gravity etc etc like that”.

I think this is why there never can be a natural theology and why we really must say “No!” to it at every point.  A natural theology attempts to build a knowledge of God on some kind of ‘neutral’ ground or common point of contact that tries to begin without the ‘special revelation’ or redemption of Jesus Christ.  Obviously this is absurd and offensive.  As Barth says, we do not need to establish a point of contact because that has already been done in Jesus.  So the idea of an ‘a priori’ natural theology must be firmly rejected, but the idea of an ‘a posteriori’ theology of nature or appreciation of the LORD Jesus Christ in creation is required.

At the risk of quoting myself, last January there was a post here concerning Divine Simplicity that has some relevance.  Towards the conclusion of that it was suggested that the “Eternal, Divine Logos is the One through whom all things were made.  His ‘logic’ is written into the very fabric of the universe.  The universe is not a distraction from the life of the Trinity, but a manifestation of that life through the Son.  The life of the Divine Logos is “the light of men.”  Our lives are always illuminated by Him.  Although we cannot exhaustively comprehend the life of the Trinity, yet we can truly know the divine life because we have been created through the Logos and He still ‘shines’ upon us.  He is [John 1:9] the “True Light that gives light to every man.”  Those that despair of human minds knowing anything of the inner life of the Trinity must take refuge in the Divine Logos, in Jesus of Nazareth.”

The world is not a neutral setting but it was designed from the very beginning to be the everlasting home of righteousness [2 Peter 3], when the Father Himself will come down from the highest heaven to dwell with His people [Revelation 21:1-4].  The Garden of Eden was nothing less than the Garden of God [Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8] because it was all designed to be the eternal home of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit centred on the marriage of the Son to the Church.

The reason that the Physiologus is such a beautiful work is not that the animals are so accurately understood – because some of the accounts are very inaccurate indeed.  It is a fascinating work of Christian thought because it essentially tries to think through what the LORD Jesus Christ might have had in mind when creating all these different creatures.  Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful book, Chris, with the links to Peter Harrison’s work.

[I’m still thinking through his overall argument about the rise of modern science – which was my post-doctoral research – but his material is packed with treasures.  I wonder if the weakness of the Physiologus is the lack of a proper examination of and appreciation of the world in its own inter-relatedness (as Colin Gunton might say).  If the ancients rushed from a superficial examination of the world to an in-depth analysis of the cosmic meaning and the moderns tend to stick with an in-depth analysis of the world and refuse to examine the cosmic meaning, then yes, we need a robust science and also a robust cosmic Christology.  The Reformers are right to insist on a more literal examination and appreciation of the text of Scripture but if they thereby reject the original authorial intent to also speak about the deep gospel/theological themes then there is a real loss.  With some of the Puritans we obviously get something of a recovery of the earlier perspective but with more of the Reformation appreciation of grammatico-historical study.  Peter Harrison’s work is fascinating.  If you haven’t clicked to Chris Oldfield’s site with Peter’s two papers… please have a look this very weekend].

Job 12:7-9 – “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.  Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?”

In Job chapters 38-41 onwards, we have that wonderful confrontation between the LORD and Job.  The LORD lists so many features of the creation that display His character and ways – even noting how the dawn is designed to shake out the wicked or the lack of good sense in the ostrich is balanced by her great speed.

The deep issue is not whether we may use these things as illustrations of our own beliefs about the Living God, but whether He was already set these things as illustrations of His own character and ways.  When Jesus indicates the rain, sun, seeds, flowers or birds as presentations of His own teaching, He is speaking as the very One who actually designed all these things in the beginning.  They are just as they are because He says that they are so.  In that sense, Jesus references to the creation are inter-textual references – whereby He refers to what He has already displayed/spoken in His other Book. The fact that He is the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the earth and that the whole creation will eternally praise Him for His atoning death means that it is no great surprise to see how from the very beginning He sprinkled expressions of this great work throughout the heavens and the earth.

George Robinson still strikes a chord with his classic hymn of 1876.  The whole world looks different to us when we love the LORD Jesus and learn more and more about Him because we know the Designer and appreciate how His character and works are reflected throughout the creation.

Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.

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1) The sermon of creation is not a minimal thing – it’s maximal.  Romans 1:19 ‘what may be known about God… God has made plain.’  Colossians 1:23 ‘the gospel… has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.’  Psalm 19:2 ‘Day after day they pour forth speech.’

2) Our blindness/deafness to this sermon is not minimal either – it is maximal. Note that in Psalm 19 David trusts that the creation daily pours forth speech in intentional evangelism.  In Ecclesiastes 1 his son sees the exact same heavens.  Yet even with all his wisdom, the ‘teacher’ of Ecclesiastes finds it utterly meaningless.  The circuit of the sun which was such a vivid portrait of the Bridegroom Champion in Psalm 19 becomes, in the eyes of the ‘teacher’, a futile and meaningless cycle.

Humanity is blind to the things of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21). We cannot judge what the sermon of creation is saying by what we see. We naturally only see what we want to see.

3) The sermon of creation is not a static thing, it’s dynamic, it’s about movement and action and inter-relation. Literally Ps 19:2 says “Day unto day is a pouring forth of speech; night unto night is a displaying of knowledge.” The sequence of day and night and day and night is itself a display of knowledge.  This proclamation involes ‘sun, moon and stars in their courses above.’  The sermon of creation is expressed in dynamic action, it does not simply speak to us in static snap-shots of beauty.

So often people simply characterise the sermon of creation as something like “Look at a snow-capped mountain range, doesn’t it fill you with awe. Well, now you should direct that awe to the God who is big enough and clever enough to have made it.” That is certainly an element to what creation is saying, but it’s not what David is drawing our attention to.

Psalm 19 highlights the progression of day and night, the movement of the sun across the sky, the heavens in their courses.   The dynamic sermon of creation tells far better of the Glory of God who is not a static, unmoved deity simply waiting for people to give Him glory. The Living God acts and moves and relates.  And His Glory, according to the Bible, is His Son acting, moving and relating. The theist will think of the sermon of creation in static terms because her god is static. The Christian knows the sermon is dynamic – just like our God.

4) The sermon of creation is ‘the word of Christ.’  It is not about abstract qualities of power or wisdom but about the Son.  Of course this is so since Jesus is eternally the image of God (Col 1:15).  There is no revelation that is not in Him.

In Romans 10 Paul asks if any have not heard the word of Christ (v17)?  He answers, of course not and quotes Psalm 19!  The sermon of creation is the word of Christ.  When we examine Psalm 19 we see this to be so.  His example of the sun is a dead giveaway.  This sun is like a Bridegroom Champion who moves from east to west (like the journey the high priest makes from altar to ark) as the light of the world. (Ps 19:4-6; cf Ps 45). Here is a sermon regarding Christ.

Think also of John 12. When Jesus picks up a seed He doesn’t say “How pretty and how intelligently designed” – He says “This seed proclaims my death and resurrection and, though this, the life of the world.”  The sermon of creation is a gospel word concerning Christ.

5) The sermon of creation is seen only through the spectacles of the Scriptures (Calvin’s famous image).  Ps 19 continues ‘The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving/converting the soul.’ (v7)  That which left even Ecclesiastes’ ‘teacher’ looking into the meaningless cycle of life and death is that which, through the spectacles of Scripture, becomes the dynamic proclamation of Christ and His gospel.

6) Now with Scripture’s spectacles on, we can learn much from creation.  We can ‘go to the ant… consider its ways’ (Prov 6:6); we can ‘consider the ravens’ (Luke 12:24); we can ‘reflect on’ farming, athletics and soldiering (2 Tim 2:4-7) and be given insight.   This revelation is in a sense beyond Scripture.  But it is never apart from it.  We learn more from Christ’s creation by doing this than if we stay in church and read our bibles.  But if this ‘more’ is to be considered a revelation – if it is ultimately about Christ (which it really is) – then such learning must begin in the Scriptures and be co-ordinated by them.

But now, bible in hand, the Christian becomes an eager biologist, geologist, cosmologist, anthropologist, etc, etc.   As we happily march off to our labs and digs and libraries the naturalists will frown at us and accuse us of treating the bible like a science text-book.  Of course, this accusation is backwards.  The real problem is that they treat naturalism like a revelation. But, never mind.  This just shows how much they need the Scriptures.

The truth is that the Bible is not a container into which the Christian tries to shrink all scientific knowledge.  It is a lens through which we hope to see the heights and depths.  We do not think that the Scriptures exhaustively reveal the world to us. Instead, we believe that they uniquely reveal the way to know this world – by the Spirit and in Christ alone..

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While I was feeding the cats I caught myself thinking these kinds of thoughts:

– “Silly cats.  Probably don’t know what time it is, seeing as how the days are lengthening and everything.  They probably have no idea why the seasons change like this.  Not like me.  Ha!”

Then another thought cleared its throat:

– “Ahem.  Glen, please do enlighten us, in your superior wisdom.  Why do the seasons change like this?”

Now I’d dealt with myself before, so I had a pretty good idea what I was up against.  There was sure to be a cunning trap laid ahead.  So cautiously I proffered…

– “Well isn’t it to do with the tilt of the earth and the orbit of the sun?”

There was a pause.  Drat.  I know I’ve thought something dumb when there’s a pause…

– “… Hmmm.  And that is why the seasons change is it??”

Dagnammit!  He’s always outwitting me.

– “No” I groaned “I suppose it’s not why the seasons change.”

– “Well then, do tell me why the seasons change.”

– [Sigh] “Because they witness the progression of the gospel from Fall, through Death, to Firstfruits and then Summer.”

– “Bravo Glen!  Bravo!” (honestly I’m so condescending sometimes.  It’s like I’m constantly being talked down to.  By myself.  I wish someone would take me down a peg or two!  Anyway, I drone on…)  “And yet your instinctive explanation for the significance of the seasons was the tilt of the earth??  Well you’re right, the cats  may not “know” such exalted mysteries, but I wonder whether their view of reality is as faithless as yours.  Glen, pray tell, is the gospel a gloss on “the natural world” or is it its heart and soul?”

– “Shut up and feed the cats”

Smug git.

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From Paul’s brilliant Frameworks papers.  Check them all out here:

Let’s begin with the question in the form that Socrates asked it in Plato’s Euthyphro.

The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.

Forgetting these pagan gods, we ask of the One Living God, do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love goodness because it is intrinsically good… or is it that whatever they love is defined as good because they love it?

Do they define goodness or justice or truth or mercy or love… or are they defined by universal concepts of goodness, justice, truth, mercy and love?

Many people, at first, think that the Trinity love goodness because it is good.  However, where did that definition of goodness come from if even the Father, Son and Holy Spirit follow it?  It sounds as if there is a definition of goodness that ‘exists’ before and above the Living God! All qualities or ‘universals’ would then exist prior to [in a logical sense] the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We would need to first determine these ‘universals’ if we were going to get an accurate idea of the Trinity.

If we thought about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this way, then we would have to find out which of these universals apply to the Divine Three.  We would build up a ‘jigsaw’ picture of God by finding out which of all these ‘universals’ fit the Living God.  God would then seem to be a collection of qualities or attributes.

This is not a solution that seems to do justice to the utter freedom and sovereignty and glory of the Trinity as revealed in the Bible.
Robert Reymond says that this makes God look like a pincushion full of pins.  God would be a sort of cosmic bag full of eternal qualities!

How can the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be defined by these other things?

How can anything stand over or define the Living God?

How can the Living God be described as a collection of attributes? (more…)

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This is taken from Paul Blackham’s comment here but it’s too good to leave in the blog’s underbelly:

“Several years ago I had some conversations about the kind of world we live in: what are the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about it? As you can imagine this got nowhere because what appears to be ‘natural’ is already determined by our inner convictions, the state of our heart, the framework of our minds, our spiritual state.

Some people I spoke to, including atheists and Christians, genuinely believed that the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about the world are that it is almost a ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ or ‘meaning-less’ environment in which the actors [humanity and if applicable god/gods/demons/angels etc] play. Thus the meaning comes from the players, from the things they say and do, whereas the stage itself has no message as such. Some of the Christians did concede that an indirect knowledge of the existence, power and wisdom of ‘God’ might be derived from the ‘stage’ but that no substantial or saving or personal knowledge of ‘God’ was available from the stage itself. Needless to say the atheists and agnostics tend to be more aggressive than that, arguing that there is nothing at all in the whole universes that has any intrinsic meaning, nothing beyond religious humans/documents that speak of the Person and Work of Christ, no ‘bare facts’ that tell the gospel story.

It would not be too hard to trace the genealogy of these assumptions and that view of the universe to the Enlightenment split between fact and meaning, the attempt to start from an ‘objective’ or ‘value-free’ view of reality. That is precisely what the early modern writers were trying to do and they explicitly speak about excluding ‘tradition and theology’ from all observation. [The contrast with Jonathan Edwards is amazing, when we consider when he is writing and observing the world around him.]

Now, obviously, with this kind of assumption will make us read not only ‘nature’ but also history in a particular way. If the world is essentially either devoid of meaning [atheists/agnostics] or else the meaning is ambiguous or of limited value [a non-specific deity who is powerful and wise etc] then it is easy to see how ancient people would be regarded. They are too early in the labourious upward climb of science/progressive religion/ethical development/civilisation. If there is no meaning [as the atheists suggest] then the only knowledge to be gained is the ‘brute facts’ of the mechanisms of the universe and because the ancients had clouded such knowledge with mythology and religion their grasp of such things was at best basic but more likely completely absurd. For those who accept the basic framework but allow ‘God’ to be another player who has ‘intervened’ in the mechanical system, then yes, perhaps ‘God’ was able to somewhat boost the progress of his own religious group, introducing hints of further heights on the long road ahead, whilst ensuring that the people at the current stage of development kept their minds fixed on the stage they were at.

So, now we are at our current stage [final?] of the progress we can look back on those on the lower slopes in antiquity and with affectionate congratulations applaud those who were able to glimpse beyond the slope they were climbing to the fog-shrouded heights of the mountain. It was good that they did that, and perhaps the glimpses of the higher slopes encouraged them on, but ultimately all they were required to do was labour on up the specific slope they were on.

However, what if the world is radically different than that?

(more…)

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