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[Repost from 2011]

About 10 years ago I wound up in the office of a Christian counsellor.  I couldn’t believe I was about to confess to depression.  Me, a church worker!  Me, conservative evangelicalism’s next big thing!

The cause?  Several very stressful things were happening in my life, but the tipping point into depression was a frustration with the gospel that was being preached around me.  And I fell flat on my face in despondency.

My counsellor took me to Jeremiah 2:13

12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,’
declares the Lord.
13 ‘My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

He said (very graciously) I’d been digging some kind of broken well which had dried up.  Now I was slumped at this false life-source with a mouth full of mud.  He asked what the broken well might be.  In an instant I knew: “I need everyone to read the bible the same way I do”.  Not for the glory of Jesus, but to be right!

I asked “What should I do?”  He said, “Give up on it and turn back to Jesus.”  As soon as he said “Give up on it” my whole flesh rose up and said “Never!”  This snarling idol revealed itself.  And it shocked me.

My theological paradigm had become my god.  And it was so subtle.  Because here’s the thing: I prided myself on the fact that my paradigm was uniquely Christ-centred.

But when I identified the pride issue a weight fell off my shoulders.  The issue was not the idiots out there, the issue was the arrogance in here.  I’d been thinking of my depression as a complicated issue of theological debate with no way through. In fact it was a simple (but very ugly) issue of plain old sin. And the gospel has a solution for sin.

Someone has wisely said that if you diagnose your problems as requiring anything less than the blood of Jesus for their solution, you haven’t diagnosed your real problem.  My hour with the counsellor cut through to the real problem.  But thankfully the real problem has a real solution. And it’s already mine. Or rather, He’s already mine. I left that office with a massive weight off my shoulders.

Not that I didn’t think the issues mattered any more.  They did matter.  They still matter.  But I looked at them through a different lens.

For one thing, I embraced the liberating truth that I was wrong too. Wrong about plenty. Wrong in a grotesque and sinful way. When you’re right all the time it’s a crushing burden. It’s actually a relief to be wrong – to be in need of forgiveness and correction. Suddenly I was free from the need to prove myself, because all I’d proved was that I was a self-righteous fool.

From there it was impossible to feel superior to those who disagreed theologically. I stopped trying to ‘put one over on them’ and started to genuinely rejoice in a gospel that can save such wrong people – like them and like me.  I then began to genuinely pity the folk with a Christ-less or Christ-lite theology. Not in smugness but with a sincere desire for their good.  I gave up on being the one who would crush them in theological debate and started to think more in terms of sowing seeds and trusting the results to God!

I get this wrong all the time and there’s still much of the arrogant young man to me.  But I also think God’s been teaching me some things about how to live and minister among other Christians with whom I disagree.  I’ll share a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • I love the saying (which I think goes back to Wesley?) that the way to handle opponents is “to out-live and out-love them, out-preach and out-pray them.”  That’s got to be the way forward. And I think it begins with repentance.  I repent of trusting in my Christ-centred paradigm.  I turn to Christ!
  • If I’m tempted to pride it’s good to turn to Elijah’s example in 1 Kings 19.  And to laugh at myself.  “I, only I am left!!” he says, exhausted by his own righteousness! “Ummm” says the LORD “I think you’ll find there’s thousands like you. Get some rest!”
  • I find it very tempting to try and be John the Baptist – a voice crying in the wilderness.  But that was a unique calling. I believe we’re called to get around others with the aroma of Christ.  And the aroma of ‘young hot-prot’ is not quite the same.
  • When relating to church leaders, get a vision for what’s already good about their preaching, leading and ministry.  It’s so tempting to look for what they do badly and to miss the hundred things they do well.  Anything and everything we can rejoice in, we should.  Loudly.
  • People can change.  Not through grand-standing argumentation.  But through a drip, drip, drip of the gospel.
  • I’m only beginning to learn this one:  Usually change happens when people taste the gospel dishes you serve up.  If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe.  Don’t start with the recipe: “Right, here are the ingredients you need – you’ve been doing it all wrong.  This is the order…”  Start by dishing out gospel goodness – then they’ll want the recipe.

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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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Still in Africa, back in a couple of days.  Here’s one I first posted two years ago…

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I lost some of the best years of my life last month to an atheist blog.

With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net.  People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net?  A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going?  Does this shock anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways.  Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the “rat’s rectum” comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins’ site sound like Pollyanna.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:

One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.

Here are some other reflections:

  1. Reason flows from the heart.  These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc.   But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument.  They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words.  “Logic” was their slogan not their method.
  2. They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one – being materialists and all!
  3. Pointing out this inconsistency didn’t seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
  4. Everyone deals in circularities:
    1. I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
    2. You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what’s true because it’s proved itself effective when judged by science.
  5. Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources – ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method.  One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn’t happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method.  There’s faith for you.  Which leads to…
  6. Everyone is faith based.  We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
  7. I kept getting asked for ‘evidence’.  My responses were in three broad categories, first I’d point to Christ risen from the dead, second I’d simply quote Scriptures.  But probably the most effective thing was to say “everything!  Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you.”
  8. Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again.  Basically it’s saying: “Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it.  Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus.  Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing?  Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis?  In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time.”
  9. In this sense theology is a science.  It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate .  This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge.  Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word.  The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be.  But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren’t falsifiable either.  Premises are the light by which we see.  It’s their success in seeing that recommends them.
  10. The failure of “science alone” to see the world was very evident to me.  It didn’t seem particularly evident to them.  That Beethoven’s 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them.  That it was “beautiful” was a verdict they couldn’t make with anything like the same certainty.
  11. The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of “the onward march of science”, demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition.  There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts.  Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this.  All their calls for “evidence, evidence” were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm – to serve their greatest love.  They need a new paradigm, or better – a new love.
  12. The call for “evidence, evidence” in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison.  What counts as ‘evidence’ for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm.  This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above.  Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
  13. My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility.  I’m ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment.  I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me.  The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren’t that great anyway!).  This is especially so given what I’ve been arguing above.
  14. Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise.  Many of the commenters were American ‘de-converted’ evangelicals and knew a lot of bible.  The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the “all Christians are bigots” tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
  15. On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things.  All they’ve heard has been from other atheists.
  16. And of course there were many more who I’m sure just ‘listened’.  My time at Speaker’s Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you’re aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails.  Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
  17. Turning the other cheek hurts but it’s powerful.  I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
  18. The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable.  The hatred that’s there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me.  But if we’re surprised and outraged let’s get a grip – no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
  19. Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the “stinking, sliding, scuttling” floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him.  (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it).  I spent a few hours in an internet forum.  His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart.  He’s the One we proclaim.  His attitude is the attitude we take.  And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
  20. There is a time for shaking dust off your feet.  Some need to spend a little longer in the battle.  But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner.  :)

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About 10 years ago I wound up in the office of a Christian counsellor.  I couldn’t believe I was about to confess to depression.  Me, a church worker!  Me, conservative evangelicalism’s next big thing!

The cause?  Several very stressful things were happening in my life, but the tipping point into depression was a frustration with the gospel that was being preached around me.  And I fell flat on my face in despondency.

My counsellor took me to Jeremiah 2:13 and said (very graciously) I’d been digging some kind of broken well which had dried up.  Now I was slumped at this false life-source with a mouth full of mud.  He asked what the broken well might be.  In an instant I knew: “I need everyone to read the bible the same way I do”.  Not for the glory of Jesus, but to be right!

I asked “What should I do?”  He said, “Give up on it and turn back to Jesus.”  As soon as he said “Give up on it” my whole flesh rose up and said “Never!”  Instantly I knew that this idol had its hooks in me.  And it shocked me.

My theological paradigm had become my god.  And it was so subtle.  Because here’s the thing: I prided myself on the fact that my paradigm was uniquely Christ-centred.

But when I identified the pride issue a weight fell off my shoulders.  The issue was not the idiots out there, the issue was the arrogance in here.  I’d been thinking of it as a complicated issue of theological debate with no way through.  In fact it was a simple (but very ugly) issue of plain old sin.  And the gospel has a solution for sin.

Someone has wisely said that if you diagnose your problems as requiring anything less than the blood of Jesus for their solution, you haven’t diagnosed your real problem.  My hour with the counsellor cut through to the real problem.  But thankfully the real problem has a real solution.  And it’s already mine.  Or rather, He’s already mine.  I left that office with a massive weight off my shoulders.

Not that I didn’t think the issues mattered any more.  They did matter.  They still matter.  But I looked at them through a different lens.

For one thing, I started pitying the Christ-lite Christians around me – not despising them or competing with them.  But genuinely feeling sorry for them and wanting something better for them.  I gave up on being the one who would crush them in theological debate and started to think more in terms of sowing seeds and trusting the results to God!

I get this wrong all the time and there’s still much of the arrogant young man to me.  But I also think God’s been teaching me some things about how to live and minister among other Christians with whom I disagree.  I’ll share a few thoughts in no particular order:

* I love the saying (which I think goes back to Wesley?) that the way to handle opponents is “to out-live and out-love them, out-preach and out-pray them.”  That’s got to be the way forward. And I think it begins with repentance.  I repent of trusting in my christocentrism.  I turn to Christ!

* If I’m tempted to pride it’s good to turn to Elijah’s example in 1 Kings 19.  And to laugh at myself.  “I, only I am left!!” he says, exhausted by his own righteousness! “Ummm” says the LORD “I think you’ll find there’s thousands like you. Get some rest!”

* I find it very tempting to try and be John the Baptist – a voice crying in the wilderness.  But that’s not our calling.  We’re to get around others with the aroma of Christ.  And the aroma of ‘young hot-prot’ is not quite the same.

* When relating to church leaders, get a vision for what’s already good about their preaching, leading and ministry.  It’s so tempting to look for what they do badly and to miss the hundred things they do well.  Anything and everything we can rejoice in, we should.  Loudly.

* People can change.  Not through grand-standing argumentation.  But through a drip, drip, drip of gospel juiciness.

* I’m only beginning to learn this one:  Usually change happens when people taste the gospel dishes you serve up.  If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe.  Don’t start with the recipe: “Right, here are the ingredients you need – you’ve been doing it all wrong.  This is the order…”  Start by dishing out gospel goodness – then they’ll want the recipe.

And now, for the real wisdom on these issues – check out the comments… (don’t let me down guys)…

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Recently I discussed three myths that prop up pop-biblical-theology.  My sights aren’t set on the myths so much.  My sights are set on a unitarian hermeneutic which often (but not always) lies behind them.  But the myths are the assumptions that allow the real danger to flourish.

Allow Article 7 of the 39 Articles to describe the real bogeyman:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises.

Today we are hearing those who ‘feign’ exactly this kind of nonsense.  And almost always they use these myths to support it.

Here are two more  hidden assumptions which exert a heavy influence on these discussions:

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

I was recently in a blog discussion in which a commenter asserted “There is no preface to the bible.”  Good point.  God has not written a little introduction with some notes on theological assumptions etc.  We just dive into Moses and away we go.

Trouble is, this commenter was using that fact as proof that Moses etc couldn’t have had conscious messianic faith because, well, apart from a messianic preface where would OT saints get that idea from?

And no, it’s no use pointing to their actual words because, as myth 1 states so eloquently, they spoke better than they knew.  And it’s no use pointing to other verses about their messianic faith because, as myth 3 insists, those verses tell us nothing of authorial intent.

So, the argument goes, in the absence of a messianically focussed, trinitarian preface, we ought to assume an essentially sub-messianic, unitarian faith. Right?

Well now.  The fact that there’s no preface cuts both ways.  If your default assumption is that belief evolves from more primitive forms into messianic faith then you have an unwritten preface of your own.  But why should we accept such a preface?  Why should antiquarian equal unitarian?  Why not just dive into Moses and the Prophets assuming they’re talking about the same triune God revealed in the One Mediator, the Divine Angel, the Visible God, the LORD Messiah?  Since we’ve all got unwritten prefaces, why not have this one?  Sounds a lot more biblical to me than assuming they were unitarian!  I know that comparative religion teachers would have a heart attack, but what biblical reason could we have for rejecting such an unwritten preface?

So often people assume Moses’ doctrine of God was essentially Maimonides’!  There’s an assumption that trinitarianism is the fruit of a progressive revelation of truth.  No-one ever says that in the bible.  Or anything like it.

In fact the NT records no doctrinal struggles whatsoever with a multi-Personal doctrine of God.  Kosher diet – that’s tricky.  Circumcision – that’s a dilly of a pickle.  But trinity – no worries.

So rather than seeing trinitarianism as the fruit of progressive revelation, why not assume that modern Judaism’s unitarianism is the fruit of regressive reception?  That’s my assumption.

It is neither obvious nor true that OT faith was essentially unitarian.  See here for more on the trinitarian OT.  Or this fascinating site The Two Powers.

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5) Progress precludes prescience

Here’s another strong but false assumption.  It goes something like this:

Christ fulfills OT shadows.  Therefore there is progress in the bible – kings that come and go before The King arrives; temples set up before The Temple appears; lambs that are sacrificed before The Lamb is slain; etc; etc…

And to this we can all happily nod along.  Who could disagree?  Who would want to?

The trouble comes when this feat of logic is deployed:

…Therefore, because there is such progress, it is obvious that OT saints trusted only the shadows and were ignorant of their Fulfilment.

To which the response is: huh??  Why should this be the case?  It just doesn’t follow.  In fact, consider how these shadows were set up in the OT:

Before a lamb was ever offered, it was promised “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Gen 22:8)

Before a king ever held the sceptre it was prophesied “He will come to Whom it belongs (Gen 49:10)

Before an article of the tabernacle was produced, Moses was told it was “according to a pattern.” (Ex 25:9,40)

Progress does not preclude prescience.  I’m sure there were many who looked only to the shadows and not to the Substance (just as there are many who today might trust in the sacraments and not Christ).  But there’s nothing about the fact of progress that means OT faith terminated on a sub-Christian object.

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So then, let’s make it five myths.

1) The prophets spoke better than they knew

2) No-one expected the kind of Messiah Jesus was

3) The Apostles read unintended Messianic meaning into the prophets

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

5) Progress precludes prescience

I’ve never argued biblical theology without most of these assumptions being in play.  Usually all of them.

Can you think of others?

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Here are three assertions that trip off evangelical tongues, almost without a second thought.  They are the air we breathe.  Almost never challenged.  And almost never justified in any Scriptural sense.  Everyone just knows them.

Trouble is they’re not true.

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Myth #1 – The prophets spoke better than they knew.

Take any text from, say, Handel’s Messiah.  Try to use it as justification for Messianic faith in the OT and count the seconds before someone counters “Ah, but they spoke better than they knew.”

What chapter of Hezekiah is that in again?  I forget.

Just pause for a second.  Why on earth should we think that?  Why shouldn’t we assume that “the prophets knew what they were talking about?”  Wouldn’t that be the most obvious assumption?

Why would we doubt that Isaiah knew what he was talking about?  Apart from a Darwinian belief in progress.  Apart from what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery.  Seriously, where have we got the idea that prophets – those whose job it is to enlighten the people – are actually so thick they can’t understand their own prophecies.  I mean that would be a really odd model of prophecy wouldn’t it?  But, you know, I’m willing to go with it – if the bible teaches it.  But where does the bible teach such a model of prophecy?

Caiaphas?  The murderer of Jesus?  His one off pronouncement is our model for Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel?

And yet the myth persists.  It is asserted very strongly and very often.  And it needs to be if pop-biblical-theology is to avoid imploding under the massive weight of OT evidence to the contrary.

But the thing is, it’s not true.

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Myth #2 – No-one expected the kind of Messiah that Jesus was

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a home group bible study in my life where this myth was not mentioned at least once in the night.  “Well, of course, the people all expected the Christ to come on a war horse and overturn the Romans.”  Well it’s a decent guess that some Israelites might have been of that persuasion.  But show me the verse that says all Israel conceived of the Messiah only in such terms.

It seems like, relative to any supporting Scriptural evidence, this assertion is punching way above its weight in terms of its general acceptance among bible believers.

And in fact, there’s lots of Scriptural evidence that the people were well able to comprehend the kind of Messiah Jesus was.  At Christmas we remember Simeon holding the baby Jesus and rejoicing that he’d therefore seen salvation.  The kings from the east bowed to a child and the songs like the Magnificat are Scripture-full acknowledgements of what an upside down kind of king the Christ is.  Read on in John chapter 1 and you have Simon, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael perfectly able to comprehend that this carpenter was Messiah, King of Israel and Son of God.

Absolutely there were comprehension issues among the disciples – especially as the way of the cross was set before them (same with us right?).  But it’s just not the case that first century Israelites were unprepared for the kind of Messiah Jesus would be.  They were very prepared.  And the faithful among them (like Simeon and Anna) understood it very well.

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Myth #3 – The Apostles read Messianic meaning into Hebrew texts that weren’t intended by the original authors.

Myth #1 is deployed whenever an Old Testament text threatens pop-biblical-theology TM.  Myth #3 is deployed whenever a New Testament text threatens the system:

“Ah yes, but Paul had apostolic warrant to reinterpret OT texts in ways not intended by the author.”

How very odd.  And to think Paul was able to reason in synagogues with Jews and win some over when apparently his claim is that he’s not giving Moses’ meaning but a new one!

Strange indeed, but ok, I’m willing to go with the weirdness because I imagine there must be explicit biblical warrant for it.  There must be a mountain of verses telling me about the apostolic re-reading of Hebrew texts.  Right?  And married to that, there’d have to be loads of verses telling us not to follow the Apostles in their exegesis because they were authorized to do weird stuff.

But, hmm.  Where are these verses?

And Paul even explicitly says “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen, that Christ would suffer and rise and bring light to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 26:22f).

So then, what’s driving this myth?

Could it be that the pressure to believe Myth 3 comes not from biblical arguments but from the need to protect against biblical arguments??  Could it be that Myth 3 is required as the only escape route pop-biblical-theology has from the mountain of NT verses stacked against it?

I’ll let you decide.

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You might not think this is a very Christmassy theme.  Well think of it as answering this question: “Did Israel really sing ‘O Come O Come Immanuel’ or can we only put that song on their lips after the fact?”

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Not if you ask Dave Bish

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Oh, and Daniel Blanche has written a gem of a Christmas post.

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Get this.  Here’s Clark Pinnock as quoted by Mike Horton here:

I cannot deny that most believers end their earthly lives imperfectly sanctified and far from complete.  I cannot deny the wisdom in possibly giving them an opportunity to close the gap and grow to maturity after death. Obviously, evangelicals have not thought this question out.  It seems to me that we already have the possibility of a doctrine of purgatory. Our Wesleyan and Arminian thinking may need to be extended in this direction. Is a doctrine of purgatory not required by our doctrine of holiness?

Now, I don’t usually engage in Arminian bashing.  (Usually when I see such beat ups I want to side with the Arminian even if I agree with the critique).  But, with this quote… come on.  Seriously?  A protestant starts thinking that their theology requires a doctrine of purgatory?  Because evangelicals haven’t properly thought about it??  Really???

At that point, if not years sooner, shouldn’t Pinnock wake up and say “Hold on a minute.  I think I’ve become one of the baddies!”

…Like in this scene (perhaps Mitchell and Webb’s only funny sketch – though obviously Peep Show is untouchably awesome)…

This is not my attempt at a reductio ad Hitlerum.  I just relate to the whole process of waking up on the wrong side of a battle.

I remember my early days at a certain church where I found myself saying of a certain preacher that he really shouldn’t preach Christ so much and definitely not from certain Scriptures.  Let the reader understand.

At that point I had my own “Am I a baddy?” experience.  I’ve had others too.

What about you?  Have you had an “Are we the baddies?” experience??

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I lost some of the best years of my life last month to an atheist blog.

With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net.  People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net?  A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going?  Does this shock anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways.  Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the “rat’s rectum” comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins’ site sound like Pollyanna.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:

One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.

Here are some other reflections:

  1. Reason flows from the heart.  These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc,.   But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument.  They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words.  “Logic” was their slogan not their method.
  2. They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one – being materialists and all!
  3. Pointing out this inconsistency didn’t seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
  4. Everyone deals in circularities:
    1. I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
    2. You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what’s true because it’s proved itself effective when judged by science.
  5. Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources – ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method.  One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn’t happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method.  There’s faith for you.  Which leads to…
  6. Everyone is faith based.  We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
  7. I kept getting asked for ‘evidence’.  My responses were in three broad categories, first I’d point to Christ risen from the dead, second I’d simply quote Scriptures.  But probably the most effective thing was to say “everything!  Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you.”
  8. Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again.  Basically it’s saying: “Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it.  Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus.  Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing?  Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis?  In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time.”
  9. In this sense theology is a science.  It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate .  This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge.  Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word.  The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be.  But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren’t falsifiable either.  Premises are the light by which we see.  It’s their success in seeing that recommends them.
  10. The failure of “science alone” to see the world was very evident to me.  It didn’t seem particularly evident to them.  That Beethoven’s 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them.  That it was “beautiful” was a verdict they couldn’t make with anything like the same certainty.
  11. The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of “the onward march of science”, demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition.  There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts.  Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this.  All their calls for “evidence, evidence” were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm – to serve their greatest love.  They need a new paradigm, or better – a new love.
  12. The call for “evidence, evidence” in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison.  What counts as ‘evidence’ for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm.  This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above.  Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
  13. My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility.  I’m ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment.  I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me.  The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren’t that great anyway!).  This is especially so given what I’ve been arguing above.
  14. Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise.  Many of the commenters were American ‘de-converted’ evangelicals and knew a lot of bible.  The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the “all Christians are bigots” tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
  15. On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things.  All they’ve heard has been from other atheists.
  16. And of course there were many more who I’m sure just ‘listened’.  My time at Speaker’s Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you’re aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails.  Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
  17. Turning the other cheek hurts but it’s powerful.  I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
  18. The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable.  The hatred that’s there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me.  But if we’re surprised and outraged let’s get a grip – no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
  19. Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the “stinking, sliding, scuttling” floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him.  (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it).  I spent a few hours in an internet forum.  His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart.  He’s the One we proclaim.  His attitude is the attitude we take.  And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
  20. There is a time for shaking dust off your feet.  Some need to spend a little longer in the battle.  But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner.  :)

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Further to the discussion here

1. The early church taught a substitutionary, propitiatory, sacrificial death as the key to Christ’s ‘sweet exchange’ with sinners.

e.g. For Irenaeus, Christ’s filling out of Adam’s distorted image necessitates a ‘filling up of the times of his disobedience’ (Ad. Her. III.21.1).  In taking on Adam’s substance, He took on Adam’s curse, satisfying it at the cross, ‘propitiating indeed for us the Father, against Whom we had sinned’ (V.17.1) and ‘redeeming us by His own blood’ (V.14.3).

For Athanasius the curse of Genesis 2:17 is key.  The Word becomes incarnate in order to take a body capable of death “so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished.” (De Incarn. 8)  Moreover this death is specifically a sacrifice (ch9; 10; 20) made under God’s curse (ch25).

2.  Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) cannot mean a disruption to the Father-Son love since God’s wrath is an aspect of His love.  Perhaps if we thought that wrath was some other thing, divorced from love, then we might say that God’s wrath poured out at the cross breaks the Father-Son union.  But no, if God is love and if this wrath is a reaction of love to the sin that Christ had become, then there is no danger of breaking the homoousios.

3. PSA means God saves us from God.  It says that the ultimate problem facing humanity is not death or corruption or sin or the devil but God Himself.  Sin is not our real problem – wrath is. We need to be saved from the Judge Himself.  And we can only be saved by the Judge Himself – the Judge judged no less.  Certainly Christ ransoms us from all those lesser powers (and therefore certainly there is a place for Christus Victor etc).  But that’s not the ultimate meaning of salvation.  It’s a divine curse, a divine judgement, divine wrath from which we must be delivered. PSA takes this with the seriousness it deserves.

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There are the cold and clinical ‘latins’ who are all about the ‘law court’ and ‘satisfaction’ and ‘penal substitution’.

And there are the warm and generous eastern types who speak of ‘trinity’ and ‘adoption’ and ‘theosis’.

Or if you’re on the other side:

There are the faithful and biblical evangelicals who remember God’s ‘justice’ and ‘wrath’ and ‘propitiation’

And there are the wishy-washy liberals (i.e. everyone who’s not an evangelical) who never face the problem of sin and judgement.

So which is it?

Matt Finn’s post and Sam Allberry’s comment show the way forward.  The penal self-substitution of Christ (which is very clearly taught in the Scriptures) only makes sense with a strong doctrine of the Trinity and of union with Christ.  Only if the Crucified One is God Himself intercepting His own judgement, and only if I am crucified with Him does it hang together.

It’s just a real pity that those churches that are strong on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) are often weak on trinity and union with Christ.  And in that context PSA gets horribly twisted.  And so many who oppose it say to themselves “If it’s PSA or the trinity, I’ll stick with the trinity.”

If that were really the choice then I don’t think I could blame them.  But it’s not the choice.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Eph 2:13,18)

We’ve got to hold together the legal and the familial – PSA and trinity/union with Christ.

Perhaps we need to remember JI Packer’s three word summary of the New Testament: “adoption through propitiation”. And let’s hold on equally tightly to both.

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In a previous post I asked for feedback on this quote:

And so the biblical mindset starts with the assumption that God is the center of reality. All thinking starts with the assumption that God has basic rights as the Creator of all things. He has goals that fit with his nature and perfect character. Then the biblical mindset moves out from this center and interprets the world, with God and his rights and goals as the measure of all things.

No prizes for guessing this comes from John Piper.

In the comments of the last post people mentioned lots of the same issues that I have with it.  Let me go through my beefs.  I’ll post this in stages.  Today I’ll just talk about the first sentence.

1) In the first sentence we are encouraged to be God-centred.  Good.  But which God?

Cue groans from across the blogosphere.  I know you’re thinking ‘Glen, go and drink some beer, shoot some pool and cut the man some slack.’   But before you think I’m just being nasty or pedantic, let me just say there’s nothing wrong with this sentence and I don’t at all begrudge Piper saying it.  You’ll find such sentences on my own lips.  I’m just picking up on this phrase to highlight some of the things that go on in theological discussions.

Here’s the point.  The person who cries ‘God-centred’ the loudest is not necessarily the most biblical.  (Nor is the person who cries ‘biblical’, but that’s another story).  The absolutely key question is what kind of God is central to our thinking.  And that question is not resolved in the slightest by saying He’s central.  In fact to say that ‘God’ is central to our theology is basically a tautology.

As Simone Weil says:

“No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol.”

We’re all God-centred.  The question is, which God?

I have little patience for theologians or bloggers who claim a superiority because they are ‘God-centred’.  Often it’s accompanied by the accusation that their opponent is ‘Man-centred’.  (And one of these days I’ll write a post about how they’re both wrong – we should be ‘God-Man (i.e. Christ)-centred’).  But really, in Simone Weil’s sense, we’re all ‘God’-centred.  What we really have to do is sort out who this God is who is central to our thinking.

But let’s note well:  the fact that our theology should be (and, in a sense, always is!) utterly consumed by and radically focussed upon God, in no sense tells you whether God Himself is consumed by and focussed upon Himself.  Those are two entirely separate questions.

One is about our theological method, the other is about the ‘theos‘ who, of necessity, stands at the centre of it.

Of course we should have our hearts and minds fixed on the living God, and of course if we fixed our ultimate affections elsewhere that would be idolatry.  Ok, great.  What bemuses me is the claim that God Himself must fix His affections on Himself lest He be an idolater too.  Do you see how theo-centrism as a theological method gets confused with theo-centrism as a doctrine of God?

And, more dangerously, do you see how such a method is in fact anthropocentric? It’s an argument that says ‘We would be idolaters to set our affections on lesser beings, so God must be an idolater if He did that.’  It’s a theology from below.  And yet I find it on the lips of the very people who want to accuse all around them of man-centredness.

So let’s be clear – everyone is already God-centred in their theology.  The real issue is what kind of God we’re talking about.  And the question of theo-centric method does not at all settle the question of God’s own being.  While we must be theo-centric, we have to admit that God Himself is higher than the ‘musts’ that apply to us.  The theologian who says God “must” love Himself higher than the creature has actually followed a theo-logic that is less than God-centred.

We do not by nature know the kind of being that God is.  And we cannot reason it out from the basis of how we find life as creatures.  To tell a person that ‘God’ must be at the centre of their thinking will not tell them anything really.  God cannot be assumed from the outset, He must be revealed.

The fact that all the gods of human religion are self-centred means nothing.  The fact that we are called to be ‘God-centred’ means nothing for God’s own life and being.  It neither means that God should be centred on us, nor on Himself.  The question of His own being is the key question and it can only be resolved as God reveals Himself.

Now I’m not saying that this first sentence from Piper commits him to any of the things I’ve outlined here.  As I’ve said, you could find the same sentence on my own lips.  I’m just trying to clear some ground and say what being ‘theo-centric’ is and isn’t and how it can and can’t be used in these discussions.

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More to follow…

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A friend and I were discussing the negative impact of a certain theologian on the evangelical landscape.  (No, not him.  Nor him.  I haven’t blogged about this guy).

Anyway my friend brought up an aspect of his personal life that exemplified the problems in this theology.

I said, “Yeah, but when discussing this publicly, you can’t raise that.”  He said “Why not?”

Hm.  Good question.

I found myself falling back on a sporting analogy (which is a sure sign you’ve lost the theological argument).  I said “Well, you need to play the ball and not the man.”  There was a pause on the other end of the phone line.  My friend’s thick Welsh accent came back:  “You’re not a rugby player then?”

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rugby tackle.

See, in  rugby you watch the ball and you take out the man in possession.  You take him down with a ball-and-all tackle and you pile on.  And if the ball goes to someone else, you take them down.

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51219904CS007_Eel_v_Pan.

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You don’t play the man without the ball – but if he’s got the ball, your orders are to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice.’

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My friend continued… “Just read the theological debates of the reformation.  They played the ball and the man.  You can’t separate them.  Theology is personal.”

Well, what could I say.  I’d been exposed.  I could only pray he wouldn’t ask me what sports I did play.  You see my winter sport was hockey.  And not ice hockey – that would be a fine Lutheran pursuit wouldn’t it?  You can just imagine a huge body check on Erasmus, face pressed into the plexiglass.

No, my winter sport was field hockey.  You know – the game where the referee blows foul every 30 seconds because of some kind of obstruction, stick check, foot violation.  It’s the most clinical of sports.  You play the ball only.

And my summer sport?  Cricket.  This abstracts man from ball by a good 22 yards.  But actually it leads to a very passive-aggressive atmosphere.  You bowl the ball, and it doesn’t matter who’s at the other end.  But off the ball, in between deliveries, the fielding side take the opportunity to cast aspersions on the batsman’s technique, girth and sexual orientation.

The lesson?  Never debate a cricketer.  They’re all clinical and polite on the surface – dressed in white for goodness sakes.  But you just know they’re dissing your momma behind your back.

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Anyway, what do you think?  Do we take the man out along with the ball?

And how do your sporting experiences shape the way you engage theology?

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I’m halfway through Mike Reeves’ excellent lectures on a theology of revelation.  Go and listen now if you haven’t done already.

Maybe I should put them somewhere prominently and permanently on the blog because they explain much better than I can the thinking behind ‘Christ the Truth’. 

To be an evangelical theologian is to have your method entirely shaped by God’s coming to us in Jesus.  Just as we are saved through God’s grace alone by Christ alone, so we know God by God’s grace alone and through Christ alone.  This being the case, we need to be saved from our ‘wisdom’ every bit as much as we need to be saved from our ‘works.’

Anyway, all these sorts of thoughts were circling through my head when I came across this quote posted on Tony Reinke’s blog.  It’s all about how we should ‘restore the bridge’ from classical literature to Christ!

“What then shall we say if we would restore the medieval bridge from Homer, Plato and Virgil to Christ, the Bible and the church? Shall we say that Christianity is not the only truth? Certainly not! But let us also not say that Christianity is the only truth. Let us say instead that Christianity is the only complete truth. The distinction here is vital. By saying that Christianity is the only complete truth, we leave open the possibility that other philosophies, religions and cultures have hit on certain aspects of the truth. The Christian need not reject the poetry of Homer, the teachings of Plato, or the myths of the pagans as one hundred percent false, as an amalgamation of darkness and lies (as Luther strongly suggests), but may affirm those moments when Plato and Homer leap past their human limitations and catch a glimpse of the true glory of the triune God.

I reject the all-or-nothing, darkness-or-light dualism that Luther at times embraced. But I also reject the modern relativist position that truth is like a hill and there are many ways around it. Yes, truth is like a hill, but the truth that stands atop that hill is Christ and him crucified. To arrive at the truth of Christ, the people of the world have pursued many, many different routes. Some have only scaled the bottom rim of the hill; others have made it halfway. But many have reached the top and experienced the unspeakable joy that comes only when the truth they have sought all their lives is revealed to them. …

If we are to accept these verses [Romans 2:14-15] in a manner that is in any way literal, we must confess that unregenerate pagans have an inborn capacity for grasping light and truth that was not totally depraved by the Fall. Indeed, though the pagan poets and philosophers of Greece and Rome did not have all the answers (they couldn’t, as they lacked the special revelation found only in Jesus), they knew how to ask the right questions—questions that build within the readers of their works a desire to know the higher truths about themselves and their Creator.”

—Louis Markos, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (IVP Academic 2007), pp. 13-14

How do you think your mild-mannered correspondent reacted?

Well – go and see.  Here’s a selection of my many comments!

I enjoy the blog. I hate this quote.

Christ and Him crucified does not sit atop a hill as though waiting for natural man to ascend! The Truth steps down to meet us in ignorance, just as the Life steps down to meet us in death. And besides, which natural mind has ever drawn near to the crucified God? Such truth has only ever appeared as folly to the world, yet this *is* the power and wisdom of God.

This quote is epistemological Pelagianism. Salvation and knowledge go together. We must oppose synergism in the one as strongly as we oppose it in the other. No wonder Luther shows the way. We’d do well to heed his cautions…

It is incontestably and trivially true that pagans can write meaningful novels, develop life-saving medicine, pursue world-enlightening science, make correct philosophical and moral observations. And it’s equally true that pagans can work for peace, give blood and generally be very, very nice people. No-one’s saying unbelievers can’t say true stuff, just as no-one’s saying unbelievers can’t do good stuff. The trouble comes when someone tries to co-ordinate nature and grace in either knowledge or salvation. Whenever the natural is seen as a stepping stone into grace alarm bells must go off. Whenever co-ordination, stepping-stones, bridges, spectrums, pilgrimmages, ascents up hills are discussed flags have to go up…

Truth is relative – relative to Christ, the Truth (good name for a blog I reckon). His subjectivity is the one objectivity. There are therefore whole worlds of understanding that make some kind of sense within their own terms of reference and which make some kind of sense of the world but are falsely related to the true Logos. Therefore in toto and at root they are utterly false. And there can be no bridge between these worlds and the world in which Christ crucified is central. There can only be redemption from these worlds. Such a redemption will require wholesale rethinking (metanoia – change of mind)…  2 Cor 10:5!…

I’m happy to call any number of pagan statements ‘true’ – just as I’m happy to call any number of pagan actions ‘good’. (For me this parallel between knowledge and salvation is key.)

It allows me to say:

1) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ is of great benefit to the world.

2) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ can be truly seen by the regenerate as evidences of common grace.

but,

3) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’, viewed from the pagan themselves, does not lead towards but away from Christ and Him crucified.

A pagan’s goodness leads them away from the grace of Christ, a pagan’s wisdom leads them away from the revelation of Christ…

I could tell you all sorts of propositions that surrounded my saving faith in Christ, but I’d be reflecting back on a miracle. I wouldn’t be telling you the natural steps that secured salvation any more than the servants at Cana would be telling you how *they* drew wine out of those stone jars.

Just as there are no discrete human deeds that add up to divine righteousness, so there are no discrete human understandings that add up to divine knowledge. All must be of grace, all must be of revelation.

 

So there.  I also discuss Acts 17 and Romans 2 a bit.  And there’s even some good points made by other bloggers!  Common grace really is astounding  ;-)

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I was there eight years ago in Oak Hill chapel.  Graeme Goldsworthy and Paul Blackham debating the object of faith in the Old Testament (yes that was the issue – I know these things get muddled up, but that really was the issue).

If you haven’t heard of these names, sorry – this post won’t make a lot of sense to you…

A little background.  I had grown up and been converted in Sydney Anglican churches (my Canberra church, St Matthew’s, was essentially a Sydney church plant and all its clergy have been Moore College educated).

On the other hand, I had been working at All Souls, Langham Place for the previous 9 months and, against all my background and initial protests, I had begun to lean towards Blackham’s view on Christ in the OT.  Nonetheless, my mind was not completely made up and I was extremely interested to hear Goldsworthy.

I can pinpoint the moment when I swung decisively against the Goldsworthy position.  A young student I’d never heard of called Mike Reeves asked the first question from the floor:

“What exactly is faith? And what exactly is the proper object of faith? The importance of that is to do with whether it has changed or not.”

Blackham answered:

“Faith is trusting, loving, knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is always the object of faith. From the beginning until the end. So Martin Luther, “All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15. The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus… The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ… Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come.” The object of faith is the person of Christ, explicitly so. A trusting knowledge of him.”

Goldsworthy answered:

“How can I disagree? Faith is defined by its object. There are all kinds of faith that people have: the truckdriver has faith in his truck that it will get across the bridge; he has faith in the bridge that it will bear him up. A Christian has faith that God’s assurances in his word that what he has done in his Son Jesus is sufficient for his salvation. The point where we may disagree is that to me if God puts the person and work of Christ in the form of shadows and types and images in the OT and assures people that if they put their trust in that they are undoubtedly saved, then that is deemed to be faith in Christ. It is faith in Christ in the form in which he is given, and the work of the Spirit all through the Bible is with regard to Christ as he is presented.

It was hearing that question and those two answers that tipped me decisively towards Blackham on this question.

Goldsworthy rightly identifies the point of disagreement.  For him, God puts Christ in the form of shadows etc such that Israelites who trusted the shadows and had no knowledge of the Person were deemed to have trusted in the Person.

Now to me that’s a bad reading of the OT, a bad reading of the NT and a bad reading of systematics – doctrine of God and soteriology for starters.

But here’s the point of this post.  Eight years on it’s very encouraging to hear more and more people who say that OT faith was in the Person of Christ.  Wonderful.  What intrigues me though is when they still identify themselves on the Goldsworthy side of the debate. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not into drawing lines for no reason.  And no-one wants to make it into some ‘foul wide ditch’ dividing evangelicalism.  It’s nothing of the sort.  But there is a point of disagreement here.  And Goldsworthy himself has identified it.  He says God put Christ in the form of shadows, OT saints trusted the shadows only, God deemed it faith in Christ.  Blackham says God presented Christ explicitly in the OT (shadows being one consciously understood means) and the OT saints explicitly trusted Him.  That’s the point of departure.

Now to me, a person who says ‘OT saints hoped in the Messiah but were fuzzy on details’ lies decisively on the Blackham side of this debate.  But often they are an anonymous Blackhamite.  And anonymous even to themselves.

Here’s what tends to happen.  It is assumed that the debate is merely a disagreement over the degree of progress in revelation.  And so a person figures that they’re with Goldsworthy because they acknowledge progress and Blackham doesn’t so much. 

But really, the debate is not about progress.  It’s about the object of faith.  If you say they hoped in the Messiah, Goldsworthy has told you which side of this debate you’re on.  And it’s not his.

We can still all be friends, brothers, sisters, co-workers in the gospel.  But let’s at least acknowledge that there are distinctions and on what side we stand. 

Maybe you believe they trusted Christ, but still you identify as Goldsworthian.  That’s ok.  I say you’re speaking better than you know.  I deem you to have trusted Blackham anyway.

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A flurry of recent blogging on Christ in the OT.  A whole swathe of posts written in the past.  Why?

I write on this the same reason I write on pastoral theology, on doctrine of God, on evangelism, on preaching, on everything:

KNOWING JESUS IS CRUCIAL!

KNOWING JESUS IS EVERYTHING!

DON’T MESS WITH KNOWING JESUS!

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That’s why.

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Yet another conversation containing the names Goldsworthy and Blackham has collapsed under the weight of pointed comments that got out of hand. And I was the chief commenter.

[deep exhale]

And this is precisely why people hate the issue being brought up.

It aggravates old wounds.

Wrong response 1:  We should be able to discuss such things dispassionately.

No, actually.  If we’re not emotionally engaged it’s obviously not an issue close to the heart of the gospel.  Dispassionate disagreements are not worth having at all.  But I think this is an issue touching on the nature of faith, our doctrine of God, the supremacy of Christ.  If those things don’t tug on heart strings there’s something wrong.  Dispassionate engagement is not an option.  But Christian engagement is a necessity.  Dying to self.  Crucifying the flesh with its desires.  Giving our lives up for others.  Paul said he’d go veggie for life if it protected non-meat-eating brothers. (1 Cor 8:13)  That’s not dispassionate engagement, it’s a costly love for those with whom we disagree.  We should feel strongly and make the conscious effort to swallow pride, to abandon the need to be right, to look on people we feel are mistaken and love them (Mark 10:21).  Such disagreements among believers should be prime opportunities to give and receive grace.

Wrong response 2:  Given the aggro that attends it, it’s always wrong to raise this issue.

Well – maybe on the Paul-going-veggie example, we should just go vegan!  And Paul says he’d do it for life.  There will be seasons when we just have to go veggie.  And this must not be with the thought of regrouping for our next assault.  It must be with the thought, “I will shut my mouth indefinitely on this issue if that is in their best interests.”  But then of course Paul did actually side with the strong and taught accordingly.  There must be ways of raising the issue while at the same time making every effort to serve those with whom we disagree.  We have to find ways of doing that.

What we really need to do is go on mission together.  Like in the best buddy movies, we need to go into the front lines as a rag-tag bunch of awkward, mistrustful rejects.  But as the heat of the battle presses us together, as we start sticking up for each other, as we see each other’s gifts serve the common good, then we’ll have that common love and respect for each other that is the ground not the goal of such discussions.

But we’re very sick at heart you know…

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Bobby writes here about the dangers inherent in confessionalism

I particularly liked this phrase:

I’m not saying that our various traditions and confessions aren’t important, but that “our” stake in those confessions is unimportant.

It’s so true that we have a stake in our theological positions and Christian labels.  We find identity in the alignments we make within the body.

This is what can make Christian blogging so darned nasty at times!  Let’s be honest – there’s a lot of unChristian-ness on Christian blogs.  Why?  Well a lot of it is because we’re not just discussing ideas out there.  We have a stake in our positions.  We justify ourselves through our theology.  We have bought into our tribe and our tribal identity.  We know where we stand in the world because we wear the colours…  And this bozo over here is flying a different flag.  And it’s so hard to hear what they say because they’re not dressed up as one of you.  It’s easier simply to shout out “You’re a blue tribe, I’m a red tribe.”  But what has that achieved?  Only to re-inforce our party-spirit, to demonize and to distract our attention from the actual content of our Christian witness.  

Paul faced exactly this with the Corithians:

I am of Paul”  “No, no, I am of Apollos” (1 Cor 3:4).

The “I” is very prominent here. We beat our chests and find strength in our parties.  

And Paul’s answer? 

“You are Christ’s!” (v23) “And in Him, Paul and Apollos are yours! (v22). 

When you understand you don’t belong to Christian teachers or factions but to Christ, there’s a tremendous liberation.  I’m not a “red tribe” man.  I belong to Jesus.  “The LORD is my banner” (Ex 17:15)

And free from the need to beat my tribal drum I can see Paul and Apollos and Cephas for who they are – just servants of Christ.  I don’t belong to them, they belong to me.  Everything they say is mine in Christ.  All their good stuff doesn’t belong to them, it belong to Christ and in Christ it’s mine. 

We don’t have a stake in our theological positions.  We belong only to Jesus.  Every other position belongs to us. 

21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.  (1 Cor 3:21-23)

 Here’s a sermon of mine on exactly this point: 1 Corinthians 3

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