Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One Down...

...three to go!

The first exam went ok, no 'googlies' to speak of. Now need to fill my head with as much Hebrew as possible before tomorrow afternoon.

Other news: Christ Church Central has kindly linked to this blog from their website. Check out their site if you want to know about our sending church (includes text/sound files of nearly every sermon preached over the last two and a half years).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Coming Soon

Over the weekend I read Steve Chalke's new book 'The Intelligent Church', about re-shaping the church and her mission for the challenges of 21st century post-christian, post-modern, post-everything society.

Chalke's ability to ask so many of the right questions and come up with the worst answers left me sad and frustrated. I plan to put a review of it up on this blog, mainly because it is a book that is bound to be popular and widely read and therefore its ideas will be influential in the 'evangelical world' - especially (given the subject matter) in circles where church planting is on the agenda. But as this week is revision week and next week is exam week it'll have to wait.

So there's something to look forward to.

If you're interested in praying, my exams are as follows

Tuesday: Doctrine (1.5 hours)
Wednesday: Hebrew (3 hours)
Thursday: New Testament (1.5 hours)
Friday: Greek (3 hours)

By friday lunchtime the fun will be all over. Then cometh the summer.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Should we just 'Adam and Eve it'?

One of the benefits of being at bible college is the opportunity it gives to think hard about some thorny issues. I'm talking about the kind of issues that are (in some respects at least) 'secondary' (e.g. although I would baptise babies I would happily fellowship with someone who doesn't) but nevertheless important because

a. They're part of what God has given us graciously in his loving self-revelation in the bible.

b. Therefore they must be (ultimately) for our good and our spiritual health and the health of our churches (otherwise why would God have bothered telling us anything about them?).

Last night for example, I was at a lecture held at college looking at the issue 'can women preach to men?' where a guy called Graham Cole was arguing for a 'yes' (some people may be surprised to hear that such views are given an airing at a 'fundamentalist-faschist-narrow-minded-calvinistic' institution like Oak Hill, but let me tell you, not only are they given an airing but they are backed by several members of the faculty, and women do preach in college chapel services!). It was a great opportunity to hear from someone committed to scripture and yet taking a different view to the one I've always taken. I went prepared to be persuaded, though clear in my own head why I've always held to more of a 'no' position.

Graham Cole presented his case very tightly, with more than a little passion and much skill. However, I'm sorry to say that he failed to persuade me. Although his case makes sense logically not all of the steps in his argument are (in my opinion) true.

Of crucial importance was his interpretation of 1Timothy 2:11-15 which is perhaps the clearest apparent prohibition of women publicly preaching to a mixed congregation. Cole's argument was that in 1Timothy Paul was addressing a specific situation in the church at Ephesus where people were getting misled by false teaching (which is true) and therefore he is re-establishing the authority of his own apostleship and his teaching in the church by restricting who can teach. So, when Paul refers to the Genesis story (2:13-14) to back up his prohibition he is making an analogy to Eve being misled by listening to the serpent instead of listening to Adam who had been given God's word. The point (in this view) is not so much that 'women can't teach men because there's a basic difference between them by nature or in the way God has ordered his world' but 'those who have received God's word should teach it and others should listen'. So, women could've taught freely in the church in general, it's just that not so in the church in Ephesus because they were listening to false teaching and as a result Paul was needing to restrict the teaching role to those to whom God's word had been first given (himself especially and through him Timothy) and those they would appoint as trustworthy (the elders Timothy is to appoint in ch3).

The problem however is that Cole failed to explain why all the people Paul does permit to teach publicly to a mixed congregation are men. Why forbid all women to teach any men? And if the teaching/leadership office is open to women in exactly the same way as to men, why not get Timothy to appoint faithful elders and 'elderesses' in chapter 3, those men and women who were godly and gifted and reliable who hadn't been duped by the false teachers?

More crucially however, was his suggestion that Paul was using the creation story of Genesis 1-3 purely as an appropriate analogy rather than to say something specific about the nature of men and women and God's created chosen order. In my opinion, this view hinges on there not being any theological significance in God creating Adam first and not Eve, such that when Paul says 'Adam was formed first, then Eve' he's talking about the mere facts of the story to say that those who receive God's word first (which in the Genesis story just happened to be the man because he was made first) should teach it and others should listen (which just happened to be Eve). In other words, God could've created Adam second but it just so happened he didn't, and we can't read anything theological (about the nature of how God does things and orders things) or anthropological (about the way God has made humans and wants his people to be ordered) into it. This seems a highly unlikely and minimalistic reading of Genesis and Paul and I'm unconvinced by it for the following reasons;

a. Genesis 1-3 is a carefully ordered narrative, and just about all the other details do have theological significance. It seems unimaginable that just about everything else in the story is meant to tell us something about the nature of what it means to be human and about how God relates to humans etc. etc. and yet the fact that Adam is created first and received God's word first is incidental and tells us nothing about the nature or order of how God want things to be.

b. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 reads more naturally as taking the Genesis account as normative for male-female order in God's people (not just illustrative of falling foul to false teaching). He uses the specific example of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 to back up a general statement about men and women in vs. 12. This, I would argue, better explains the general language of 1 Timothy 2 and also the male-dominated pattern of leadership in the rest of the letter (and indeed the rest of the scripture).

So, practically, I'm afraid I still think women shouldn't teach or have authority over men, which means that the regular, authoritative preaching of God's word to his gathered people should be given to those men who have been given to the church as pastor-teachers and appointed by the church to serve in this way (whether full-time paid or not). If this is what God has said we should do then it must be better than doing it our own way and it must ultimately be for our good.

However, much more thought needs to be given to the biblical gift of prophecy, since it is abundantly clear that this is different from what the bible calls teaching and yet it is a gift that women can exercise in the context of church meetings (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). It seems that perhaps the problems over women's minsitry wouldn't arise so much if our church services and our church life wasn't so minister/clergy dominated and instead teaching-leaders exercised their ministries in an Ephesians 4:11-16 kind of way - equipping everyone else to be able to use their gifts to build the church. We need the authoritative and regular teaching of God's word by pastors so that the whole church is able to speak the truth in love as we grow up to be mature Christ-like christian communities.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

'Give me a Sign' (as Britney Spears once said)

Lots of people say that there are seven 'signs' done by Jesus in John's gospel, around which much of the gospel is arranged. As these signs are key to what John says his book is about (see John 20:30-31) it seems a good idea to try and get them right (i.e. know how many there are and what are they doing there, has John arranged them in a special way etc. etc.?). In a lecture this afternoon it was suggested that the seven signs are;

1. Water into Wine (2:1-11)
2. Healing the Official's Son (4:43-54)
3. Healing the paralytic by the Pool (5:1-14)
4. Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-15)
5. Walking on Water (6:16-24)
6. Restoring sight to the Blind Man by the pool (9:1-34)
7. Raising Lazarus from the Dead (11:38-48)

As far as I can see there are three problems here;

a. The resurrection is 'missing' (and it's the biggest of the signs - hence why John 20:30-31 comes at the climax of the resurrection appearances).

b. The walking on water miracle is a misfit as it isn't called a 'sign' either directly or by implication like the others are. However it functions (more later) it doesn't seem to be a 'sign' around which the book is structured like the rest.

c. And, following on from b., if we were to include all the miracles as 'signs' then the post-resurrection miracle (loads of fish) is also missing from the 7.

Also, the outline above doesn't really seem to offer an awful lot by way of clues to the structure of the book as a whole (in my humble opinion).

So, here's an alternative suggestion, for your perusal, comment, criticism etc.

A Water into Wine (2:1-11)
B Healing the Official's Son (4:43-54)
C Healing the Paralytic by the Pool (5:1-14)
D Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-15)
(Ds) Walking on Water (6:16-24)
C' Restoring sight to the Blind Man by the Pool (9:1-34)
B' Raising Lazarus from the Dead (11:38-48)
A' resurrection of Jesus Christ (20:1-31)
(A's) Harvest of fish (21:1-14)

This alternative outline yields some interesting results and suggests some areas for digging deeper into John;

1. Firstly, there seems to be a chiastic structure for the signs in John. In case you worry I've joined the 'chiasm-mad brigade' (there is one believe me!) then have a think about why there are two healings involving pools (C and C') both taking place on a Sabbath, also think about why there are two miracles involving rescue from death (B and B', especially note how B draws attention to the official's son being 'near death' 4:47). The connection between A and A' is less obvious perhaps but for my money I reckon the water into wine miracle is a picture of the new creation whereas the resurrection is the miracle heralding the new creation (taking place as it does in the first day of the week). Why these pairs unless we're supposed to make a comparison? It suggests more could be learned from a study of how these pairs of signs function.

2. This chiastic structure draws attention to the stand alone sign in the middle, the feeding of the 5,000 (D). This suggests that this is in some ways a very important sign. No wonder it has a 'sister-miracle' (Ds, also see 3. below), is followed by some long and in depth teaching by Jesus as he explains the feeding miracle in terms of his whole mission, death and resurrection and the nature of true faith (rest of chapter 6), all climaxing with a pivotal moment in the disciples' understanding of Jesus and a major prediction of his death (6:60-71). Again, this suggests more could be learned about the Holy Spirit's presentation of Jesus through John by looking at how this important sign functions.

3. As miracles that are not called signs either directly or implicitly (and signs is a key word in John) I've designated (Ds) and (A's) as 'sister-miracles', functioning as support and supplementation to the major signs they accompany. I suggest that probably the walking on water miracle relates to the message of the feeding sign just as the fish miracle relates to the resurrection. Both (Ds) and (A's) are private revelations to the disciples alone, involving the same geographical location and boats etc. suggesting they are related somehow. This highlights the importance of D and A', both being supplemented in this way. Again, this suggests another potentially fruitful area for further study.

4. There is an escalation as the signs proceed. In B Jesus heals someone nearly dead, in B' he raises a man four days dead. In C the man has been paralysed for 38 years, in C' for all his life. A' obviously far surpasses A. This escalation could suggest a forward momentum to the book, the signs intensifying and thrusting us forward to the resurrection - the sign of all signs, when we are explicitly given John's purpose and told how we should respond to the signs in the clearest terms (John 20:30-31).

Other areas for study this proposed structure throws up include:

  • Geography - the signs move from Galilee to Jerusalem, back to Galilee then to Judea/Jerusalem again (then Galilee again for the resurrection sister-miracle). What does this tell us?
  • Sabbaths/Feasts - C, C', and D all take place during feasts and or Sabbaths. What is the significance?
  • Is there a significance to the fact that the first sign takes place on the 3rd day, being (apparently) 'twinned' with the resurrection (see John 2:19-20 and reference to three days and the resurrection there)?

Any comments, criticism, thoughts welcome.

Disclaimer: I think at least some of the ideas here are based on stuff I maybe vaguely remember from reading the RML on John so don't know how much is my thoughts and how much is my memory)

Monday, May 15, 2006

What does God know and does it really matter?

I had a timely reminder last night that it matters what we think and teach about God, even down to the nitty-gritty, the details we might be tempted to think of as 'merely academic'.

My doctrine essay is on Open Theism (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Theism). This is an increasingly popular view of God that sees him as so committed to human freedom that he doesn't completely know the future. He has goals for the world and for his people which he works towards (and, say the Open Theists, he'll eventually achieve them because he's so much better at doing stuff than anyone else in the universe) but because he gives human beings absolute free will he doesn't know the details of how things will pan out. Which means that in our lives stuff can happen that God didn't know beforehand, things he didn't plan and things he isn't totally in control of.

As the idea gets more popular in evangelical circles, some people are loving Open Theism, others are quite upset. Then others are saying that it doesn't matter all that much - Open Theists and those with a more 'traditional view' should be the best of pals because after all its only about dotting the i's and crossing the t's rather than fundamental stuff isn't it?

So, last night I was having a conversation with someone who is going through the mill and finding it hard to cope on a daily basis, unable to see how things are going to resolve, but is nonetheless aware of God's help and strength and is trusting him regardless. What did she say was sustaining her through it all? Knowing that God sees the end from the beginning.

A God who isn't in control of our lives, doesn't know the detail of the future, and will never violate human freedom to make his plans happen cannot ultimately offer any real comfort in dark times.

Maybe those i's need dotting and those t's need crossing after all.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Gleanings from the WC

More about George Whitefield's preaching (I should mention he was massively used by God in a trans-atlantic revival - literally thousands came to Christ through him);

He was not content, as many, with sticking on a meagre tail-piece of application at the end of a long discourse. On the contrary, a constant vein of application ran through all this sermons.

And more;

It was no uncommon thing with him to weep profusely in the pulpit...He felt intensely for the souls before him, and his feelings found an outlet in tears...(this) smoothed down the prejudices which many had conceived against him. They could not hate the man who wept so much over their souls. 'I came to hear you' said one man to him; 'with my pocket full of stones, intending to break your head; but your sermon ot the better of me, and broke my heart.' Once become satisfied that a man loves you, and you will listen gladly to anything he has to say.

I'm going to make sure my sermons are riddled with thought out prayerful application.

I'm going to pray for the Whitefield kind of love for people.

(The quotes are from a J. C. Ryle essay about Whitfield in a book called 'Select Sermons of George Whitefield', in case you're interested)


Reading in the toilet is a great thing and I commend it to everyone. The lavatory is an ideal place for reading those magazine articles (for me this means UNCUT and The Briefing) and anything else that you want to read that's not very mentally-taxing but that you wouldn't otherwise get the time for.

Recently I've been discovering the benefits of reading about George Whitefield (1700s preacher to thousands who often found himself on the wrong side of the Church of England, people from Christ Church Central take note!). Here's something written about Mr Whitefield's preaching that struck a chord with me;

He never used that indefinite expression 'we', which seems so peculiar to English pulpit oratory, and which only leaves a hearer's mind in a state of misty confusion. He met men face to face, like one who had a message from God to them...The result was that many of his hearers used often to think that his sermons were specially meant for themselves.

I can't help but read things like that and think that

a. all our talk of 'explaining the bible' to people misses this dynamic, prophetic, direct and urgent aspect of preaching God's word out all together. Preaching is not less than 'explaining the bible' but it is surely much more.

b. our attempts to be winsome and accessible (a very good thing) sometimes mean we are light, vague, sometimes frivolous even.