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15 Steps

Love the song.  Love the animation (a finalist in a Radiohead competition)

 

 

.What verse springs to mind for you?  For me it’s the curses for disobedience in Leviticus 26:36-39:

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“`As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a wind-blown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no-one is pursuing them. They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no-one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies.  You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers’ sins they will waste away.  (Lev 26:36-39)

 

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I am not…

Here’s an example of how we shape our own “personality types” which then shape us.

I went to bible college saying very strongly both outwardly and inwardly “I’m not a linguist.” Why would I say such a thing? Well not on the basis of terrible school grades or any nightmare disputes with snooty French maitre d’s. When it boils down to it, my problem is this: language learning requires simple hard work – learning declensions and conjugations and endless vocab.  Basically I’d far rather invest my time finely tuning some doctrine essay than learn a list of irregular verbs. The pay-off simply seemed much greater. After all I’m a big-picture, artsy kind of guy. I’m not a linguist. (Note well the strong sense of a cultivated identity driving things).

So what happened? Well the indicative “I’m not a linguist” translated (as indicatives always do) to action. In this case: retreat from languages into other areas that I found naturally easier. So my efforts in languages were very ordinary. And guess what? So were my grades. So what did I conclude? “I’m not a linguist.” These things really do become self-fulfilling.

Surely I should have been telling myself: “I am a linguist.” The Lord has called me to be a teacher of His word and therefore He has equipped me to be the linguist I need to be. Whether I’ll wow people with my brilliance in the subject is an entirely different (and irrelevant!) matter. The fact is, when it comes to languages no-one gets away without hard work and no-one gets to play their ‘personality type’ as an excuse to retreat from it. From the indicative of ‘By the Lord’s strengthening I am a linguist’ ought to have flowed the imperative ‘Be the linguist He’s called you to be.’ Instead I retreated into my type.

I’m fighting a similar battle at the moment with an extremely deep-seated self-identification “I don’t do admin.” Is this some morally neutral, hard-wired fact of my ‘personality’? No, it’s a sinful pattern that I’ve fed for years. Any help gratefully received.
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Part of my ordination training involved doing the Myers-Briggs personality test.  Now I realise that this is not strictly mandated by the Pastoral Epistles, but on the other hand it was a good old giggle. (See mildly amusing prayers for the 16 personality types here.

I came out quite strongly as ENFP which means I’m an inveterate procrastinator, big-picture, no-detail, scatter-brained, last-minute, wing it with a smile and talk my way out of it later kind of guy.  At this point all the ISTJs (the opposite to me on all four spectrums) are waking up to why my blog really bugs them.  (Myers-Briggs did actually help me understand my bible college experience – the majority of Anglican ministers I trained with were ISTJs).

But already you’re probably sensing what everyone should know about these ‘personality types.’  They’re not neutral.  They describe real patterns alright – and extremely hard-wired patterns too.  But a lot of what they describe are patterns of sin.  A good part of each of the 16 ‘personality types’ simply identify chosen, self-protective schemes that enable us to navigate a cursed world along paths of least resistance.  Whether we buy into the ‘loud’ or the ‘shy’ persona, the ‘organized’ or ‘shambolic’, we’re basically doing the same thing – finding a way to make life work apart from Christ.  By some combination of retreating from the thorns and sewing our fig leaves we hit upon a style of relating that minimizes pain and maximizes self. 

Now we cluster together in different groups of sinners because there are natural contours to our make-up and unique events shaping our development.  And it’s important to say that those internal and external differences are not in themselves sinful.  The new creation will not be monochrome!  And different gifted-ness is not at all something to be ironed out in the name of Christian maturity.  Our goal is not the absence of difference but the harmony of God-given distinctives. 

But still, granting that there may be good and genuine reasons for some of the following, isn’t it a problem when we flinch from serving Jesus by making such claims as…

‘I’m just not an extrovert.’ 

‘I’m not a morning person.’ 

‘I need order/control.’

‘I’m not good with authority/structure.’

‘I’m not a people-person.’

‘I don’t really do organization.’

Others to add??

Even as we think of these deep-seated statements of identity it should be clear that they’re not just descriptive.  They are also very strongly aspirational.  I got that sense even as I took the Myers-Briggs test.  So many of the answers I gave were actually the answers that I thought the artsy, laid-back Glen should give.  In fact it was almost exactly like doing the Star Wars personality test where I tried my hardest to come out as Han Solo (but ended up as Princess Leia.  My wife was the Emporer – but that’s another post).  The point is our reactions to events are partly innate but also strongly determined by the persona we’d like to hide in.

So who’s identity are we hiding in and why?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Col 3:1-4)

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Rest of series:

I am not…

Tearing down the idol of my personality

Conclusions

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Wordled Bloggage

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Could you be the next apprentice at my church – All Souls, Eastbourne?  We can offer training through the South Coast Ministerial Training Course and plenty of hands-on experience. Great church, great people  – join us!  (btw we’re looking to hire more than one).

Send me an email if you’re interested.

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Ok, let’s continue with this issue of the NT’s handling of the Old.

If we take the reformation cry of sola Scriptura at all seriously we must allow the Bible to interpret the Bible. Historical-grammatical hermeneutics, archaeology, even the most careful exegesis conducted by the best scholarship must all bow to God’s own word.  He determines His meaning.  He is the only fit witness to Himself.

Yet, in contemporary Biblical studies it is commonly said of New Testament writers that they re-interpret the meaning of Old Testament Scripture.  Thus, it is asserted that an Old Testament passage can be shown conclusively to mean one thing via a thorough application of historical-grammatical hermeneutics, and then when Jesus or an Apostle quote from it they invest it with a new Christological meaning.  Diligent exegesis yields one reading, the New Testament gives another.  Yet rather than bow to the Apostles and re-think their methods of exegesis, these Bible students assert without any New Testament support that these two meanings co-exist in the text.  Thus it is routinely suggested that Jesus and the Apostles did not faithfully exegete the Hebrew Scriptures (defined by contemporary models) but rather, with special license from the Holy Spirit, made Christological assertions that are not derived from exegesis itself.  Their treatment of the Old Testament is therefore not to be emulated.  What we primarily learn from their handling is the audacious apostolic authority invested in them.

But what if we were to take Jesus and the Apostles as our models in the Christian life? (radical thought!).  If we do that we’ll see that the New Testament does not model a two-level exegesis of the kind: ‘David said ‘X’, but now we can re-read this through Christian eyes as ‘Y”.  The New Testament simply says Abraham met Christ (John 8:56).  It states boldly that Isaiah saw Jesus (John 12:41).  It asserts that David looked ahead to the resurrection and spoke explicitly of Christ (Acts 2:31).  It declares that Christ saved the people out of Egypt and accompanied them in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4,9; Heb 11:26; Jude 5).  The New Testament does not say ‘Abraham had an experience which we can now re-interpret as ‘meeting Christ”.  It does not say ‘Isaiah saw a vision which Christian eyes know to be Jesus’.  It does not say, ‘David looked to types of Christ later fulfilled in His Person’. It does not say, ‘retrospectively we can see signs and types of Jesus of which the Israelites were unaware but which manifested a Christ-like presence in their midst.’  Yet how often is the OT handles in this way?

If you continue, I’ve listed a number of New Testament texts which handle the Old Testament.  Just see the way New Testament writers read the Old.  Only the Bible can teach us to handle the Bible.  If we do not read the Old Testament the way these men did – we are wrong.  We must change.  Let these examples challenge our own reading of the Scriptures.

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These are thoughts that I’ve been sharing over at Between Two Worlds on a post called Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammed?

My answer?  Of course not.  Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let’s let Allah define himself:

“He does not beget nor is he begotten.” (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let’s respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god – that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol – anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying ‘Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah’??! Never!

The question for the nations is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ But ‘What god do you believe in?’ Whether you’re evangelizing in north Africa or north America “God” cannot be assumed.  In fact “God” is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the ‘Baal’ analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be ‘the transcendent Creator’ and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in ‘God as infinite transcendent Creator.’

To this I replied… 

3) We don’t say “Baal is called ‘Lord’ and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship.”  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the ‘infinite transcendent Creator’ is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say…

A) ‘Transcendent Creator’ is more foundational to God’s being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the ‘Transcendent Creator’

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you’ve made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius’ error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was ‘ek tes ousia tw patri‘ (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some ‘bedrock’ notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let’s not define Jesus out of full deity before we’ve even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first – Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. ‘Transcendent Creator’ is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his ‘transcendence’ – by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

‘Transcendent Creator’ is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it’s not desirable that it should be.

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At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian ;-)   I replied with these points…

4) In terms of theological method, “Christ alone” is not a Barthian novelty!  It’s difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: “No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

To this let’s add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let’s add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying ‘Barthian’!

5) Nicea’s “The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does – unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN’S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point – there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering ‘Creator’ more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you’ve helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth?? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won’t she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said ‘the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.’

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let’s be clearer on this whether we’re evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides – why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place??  Let’s tell them, ‘The god you had thought existed was not God – let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you’ve imagined.  His name is Jesus and He blows your god out of the water!’

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