Thursday, September 28, 2006

Psalm 2 and the Book of Revelation 3

I've been trying to read Revelation with Psalm 2 glasses on.

4) Passages which follow the pattern of Psalm 2

Psalm 2 gives us the following pattern War/Persecution > Vindication/Enthronement / > Warnings/Blessings.

E.g. A united world makes war against God and Christ (1-3) > God responds in wrath by establishing (thereby vindicating him although he is rejected) his King/Christ/Son (4-6) who will judge/rule the nations (7-9) > warnings and blessings given accordingly (10-12).

There are many passages of Revelation which follow this same pattern or part of it.

11:7-13: The beast wars against God’s witnesses and kills them (and the world is apparently united in rejoicing about this), God raises them from the dead to his throne room (thereby vindicating them).

12:1-6: The Dragon wars/persecutes/tries to kill the offspring of the woman who is the King from Psalm 2, who is subsequently snatched up to the heavenly throne (thus himself enthroned).

13:1-14:13: Various wars/persecutions on God’s people are engineered by the beasts (13). Next we see the Lamb/Son and all the other sons of God standing on Mount Zion (14:1-5 cf. Psalm 2:6-7). Warnings and promises of blessing follow (14:6-13).

16:14-21: Kings unite to war against God, God proclaims from the temple (Zion again!) that ‘it is done’ and God’s enemies are judged with the fury of God’s wrath (cf. Psalm 2:5, 12).

See also 17:13ff (to probably the end of 19 or maybe 20:6 or maybe the end of the book with the description of the New Jerusalem and the blessings and warnings of 21) which seems to follow the same pattern.

John evidently saw the 'persecution > enthronement' pattern of Psalm 2 in the life/death/resurrection of Jesus himself (as did the rest of the apostles, see Acts 4:23-31) and as somehow normative for subsequent kingdom/church-history, with himself (and Christians in general perhaps, given 12:11) in the shoes of the Psalmist - proclaiming warnings and blessings. Psalm 2 tells the story of the Messiah, the Messiah's people and the Messiah's Kingdom.

Psalm 2 and the Book of Revelation 2

I've been trying to read Revelation with Psalm 2 glasses on

3. Themes and Allusions

These vary in how specifically they echo Psalm 2 (i.e. I’m pretty convinced they do so intentionally, but judge for yourself).

The world united in revolt (Psalm 2:1-3): See 11:10, 13:3 and 7-14, 16:14, 17:13-14, 19:19. Two things strike me as interesting here in the way John draws on Psalm 2; first is the role which the beast and the dragon play in unifying the world and second is the way that the revolt against Christ is manifested in persecution/war against his people/saints/prophets.

God’s terrifying wrath (Psalm 2:5): See 6:15-17, 11:13. We should note that in Psalm 2 God’s wrath is manifested in his declaration that he’s established his King on Zion (Psalm 2:6), see 11:15-18 (a passage saturated in Psalm 2 allusions) and 14:1.

The swiftness of Judgment (Psalm 2:12): Psalm 2 warns that the Son’s ‘wrath is quickly kindled’ and Revelation 18 echoes this idea of swift and unexpected judgment, see 18:7, 8, 9, 10, 17, 19. The target is Babylon, which is associated with (but not the same as) the kings of the earth in 17:2 and 18:9.

The ‘Gospel Call’ (Psalm 2:10-12): This is echoed in the eternal gospel of 14:7 and the global reign of the Lord God Almighty in 15:3-4.

The Beattitude (Psalm 2:12): The ‘blessed are’ formula crops up all over Revelation (yes there are seven, none of them directly quote from Psalm 2, several of them come after ‘Psalm-2-esque’ proclamations of judgment and or warning), see 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, 22:14. The ‘refuge’ is perhaps alluded to in 7:15.

Psalm 2 and the Book of Revelation

One of the courses I’m doing this semester is on Biblical Theology and the Book of Revelation. Part of the out-of-class work involves reading Revelation at least once a week.

This week David Field suggested we read Revelation with Psalm 2 in our minds. For my benefit/thinking processes I’m going to blog some of the references and allusions I’ve spotted, and, who knows, maybe others will find it helpful too.

1. Direct Quotations and Near-Quotations

2:26-27, 12:5, 11:18, 19:15. Three of the four (all except 11:18) reference the reign of the Son in ruling the nations 'with a rod of iron'. I reckon 2:26-27 especially is worth a good look where this is extended to the one who overcomes.

Plus all the times ‘Kings of the earth’ appears (see below).

2. Characters

The main characters of Psalm 2 are big players in Revelaton as well

The Kings of the Earth (Psalm 2:2): These Kings are mentioned all over the book, although interestingly enough, the phrase ‘kings of the earth’ is used seven times, see 1:5, 6:15, 17:2, 17:18, 18:9, 19:19 and 21:24-26. (NB. While we're on the subject, its worth thinking about why most contemporary preaching I've heard on Psalm 2 moves very quickly from the Kings of the earth to the whole world being in revolt against God and Christ. This of course is true and is taught in the Psalm (Psalm 2:1), however, the Psalm (and apparently Revelation) have a special emphasis upon the political rulers of the nations. Why is that?)

God and his Christ/Son (Psalm 2:2, 6 and 11-12): Psalm 2 portrays the rule of the Christ (‘anointed’) as being God’s own rule. Similarly Revelation characteristically talks of the joint rule of the Christ (or the Lamb, who is seen to be the Davidic King of Psalm 2 in Rev 5) and God in for e.g. 3:21, 6:15-17, 11:15, 22:3. An interesting line of investigation would be to think why John usually uses ‘Lamb’ to describe the Christ in these passages?

The Psalmist/Prophet (Psalm 2:1-7, especially 10-12): John is commissioned, as the Psalmist before him, to prophesy against national Kings (10:11).

Not sure what all of this means yet, except that it means the events of Revelation are a fulfilment of Psalm 2.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Reformed are Reforming

THIS is interesting. May the Lord, in time, do something similar here.

Playing the Numbers Game

Aubrey Malphurs helpfully advises church planters not to ‘overemphasize or denigrate numerical growth’[1].

I suspect it’s the denigrating numerical growth that English-born ‘conservative’ evangelicals like me find all too easy. Hence our instant suspicion of anything big and visionary that talks in 'success' language (i.e. anything American).

But here’s the fact of the matter: numerical growth matters.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said ‘it’s not numerical growth that counts but spiritual growth’. Of course, the reality is that both spiritual growth and numerical growth matter, and the two shouldn't be divorced.

God wants to save large numbers of people.
We could go to many bible texts to show this, from the uncountable multitude in Revelation 7 to the dramatic harvest in the parable of the sower (Mark 4). We should pray, plan, and work for numerical growth.

Of course this should be qualified by a thousand qualifications about how dangerous it can be to focus on numbers. The trouble is that sometimes the importance of numerical growth is suffocated under a pile of qualifications and we sit on our conservative bottoms not going for numerical growth all the while patting ourselves on the back for not being like 'other men' (usually Hybels and Warren). So I’m not going to mention the warnings and dangers of going for numerical growth because if you’re

a. English or
b. Conservative evangelical

you’ve already thought of them all!

Since every extra number represents a person in the new earth instead of hell, how can numbers not matter? Since part of the God-honouring wonder of the eschatological Church is its sheer size, how can numbers not matter?

God wants his saved people to become like Christ.
Actually, this is an important part of the nature of the salvation of God – that his people are transformed into true human beings in the likeness (and for the everlasting glory) of his Son, Jesus Christ the second Adam, the true Israel, the Author and Finisher of our faith. So of course we must invest our time in growing in maturity in Him. And since God’s people must persevere and grow if they are to make their calling and election sure, true numerical growth that counts into eternity cannot be divorced from growth in maturity.

The answer is not either or, but how to make sure we integrate the two, as a growing church must aim for maturity or else its growth will amount to nothing, and as a maturing church that wants to continue maturing must aim to keep growing.

[1] Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992) p.63

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ever read anything good on the Song of Songs?

This should be more than worth a read (warning, it's quite long as it's a masters dissertation). Elsewhere on the blogosphere it is being rated as the best thing around on the Song of Songs. And, knowing the author and her general premise on this sadly neglected book of the bible, I'm guessing it probably is. It's a pdf file so don't know if that creates problems for mac users or not.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mars Hill Church

Following on from the previous post, this church looks interesting. Mars Hill Church Seattle is pastored by Mark Driscoll, and defines itself as in some ways an emerging church whilsts wanting to be distanced from the theological liberalism elsewhere in the movement (Mark seems to be basically Reformed Evangelical in his thinking as far as I can tell, with some Charismatic stuff thrown in for good measure). Apparently Don Carson recommended two books by Mark at a recent conference as combining good theology and practice with respect to the whole Emerging Church issue.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Emerging Church

I recently finished reading Don Carson’sBecoming Conversant with the Emerging Church’ (snappy title again from the Don). My interest in the book stems from

a. My interest in Church Planting, particularly in planting churches that will reach out to ‘dechurched’ and ‘unchurched’ people groups in the UK.

b. My interest in ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church). What does it mean to be the Church? What are the non-negotiables, what is ‘up for grabs’?

These combined mean I have come across Emerging Church ideas over the years, since the movement is, by and large, an attempt to re-think Church in the light of postmodernism. In interacting with ‘Emergent’ and ‘Fresh Expressions’ material I have been both stimulated and alarmed. Both of these ‘movements’ seem to be asking so many of the right questions, yet all the while coming up with some pretty bad answers.

The book is well-written and being taken at least partially from addresses given at various times this helps hold Carson back from using too many big words (except perhaps in chapter 4).

Carson starts by identifying the Emerging Church Movement (Chapter 1) as being characterised by protest against modernism, traditional evangelicalism (in its cultural conservatism), and the seeker-sensitive/megachurch movement, often linking the three under the heading of how the church has woefully capitulated to modernism (p.41). This definition shapes the discussion from there onwards, with Carson asserting that the movement must be assessed on the accuracy of its reading of contemporary culture and the scriptures. He then hints at his conclusion by asking

‘Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new emerging church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise.’ (p.44)

That the Emerging Church Movement is in exactly such a danger is what Carson goes on to assert in the rest of the book. So, having identified the strengths of the movement and commended them for attempting to engage with modern culture (often with evangelistic concerns) in chapter 2, Carson goes on to argue that emerging church leaders have misread modernism (and Christianity that is influenced by modernist thought) and uncritically looked to postmodernism (which he also argues they have read simplistically) as the antidote (chapter 3). Then in the fourth chapter Carson sets forward his own analysis of postmodernism and its ‘contribution and challenges’. This essentially boils down to a distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' postmodernism; hard postmodernism being the really dangerous one since it says we must either be omniscient and thus knowing all things completely, or ignorant, knowing absolutely (!) nothing (and since we are not omniscient therefore we know nothing, and cannot be absolute or certain about nothing).

In chapter 5 he applies this thinking to the Emergent Church movement arguing that it ‘vehemently denounces modernism, but offers nothing very penetrating when it comes to postmodernism’ (p. 125) and has consequently failed to distinguish between the positive criticisms of modernism that postmodernism makes and the false dichotomy of hard postmodernism. This means the movement is characterised by a dislike of certainties and absolute truth-claims, an avoidance of difficult truth-related questions, and a failure to handle scripture responsibly and let it be the final arbiter in matters of truth and falsehood. As the final stroke in his analysis of the movement in chapter 6, Carson examines two books by prominent emerging church leaders (Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy and Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus) and from them ably illustrates the weaknesses from chapter 5. Both writer’s redefinitions of judgment, repentance, the atonement and sin lead Carson to conclude

‘I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel.’ (p.186)

In seeking to correct errors in some evangelical thinking and practice (cultural conservatism, arrogance and sectarianism, failure to listen and engage with the culture etc.), it seems the Emergent movement has ‘swung the pendulum so far the other way’ (p. 187, emphasis mine) as to fall into another set of errors.

In the final two chapters Carson turns to scripture, firstly listing many and briefly commenting on ten passages of scripture that talk of propositional truth and historical facts, then finishing with a brief exposition of 2 Peter 1 as it relates to issues of truth and experience, subjective and objective knowledge, showing how the bible sees the two as inter-related (against the false antithesis found in postmodern thought). Here Carson concludes the book by saying that if emerging church leaders want their movement to be faithful and to bear lasting fruit

‘they need to spend more time in careful study of scripture and theology… to take great pains not to distort history and theology alike…And above all, they need to embrace all the categories of the Scriptures, with the Scriptures’ balance and cohesion – including as we saw in the previous chapter, what the bible says about truth, human knowing, and related matters’ (p.234)

In all this Carson hopes the movement can learn to be both

‘faithful to the bible and effective in evangelizing the rising number of alienated biblical illiterates in our culture’ and thus help ‘brothers and sisters who are more culturally conservative than they are to learn to reconnect with the culture’ (p.234).

This book is well worth the read, even if it means persevering some of the more technical material in the middle. If the book has a weakness it’s that Carson doesn’t give a detailed evangelical alternative to the questions the Emerging Church raises, though perhaps this was outside the scope of this book. As far as I can tell we need an approach to being the church (and planting new churches) that is driven from start to finish by the bible as well as in touch with 21st century western culture(s).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

1966 and all that

Following on from comments in a lecture this afternoon, some might find THIS an interesting read. It's my brief thoughts after reading the first volume of Dr D. M. Lloyd-Jones' biography by Iain Murray and offers an insight into something of the ministry and legacy of the man other than the controversy surrounding 1966.

Whilst on that subject, suffice to say I am of the opinion that Lloyd-Jones has been proved right in much of what he called for and warned against back then, even if the results of his disagreement with Stott were tragically damaging. And it is interesting to note that many of John Stott's heirs at least implicitly recognise the rightness of some of the Doctor's insights. Evangelical Anglicans (conservative ones anyway), who are John Stott's closest theological heirs, have been spearheading the 'gospel partnership' movement, whilst those evangelicals who've most rigorously pursued the politics of Keele have often (not always of course, but often) gone on to lose sight of John Stott's gospel. I say this tentatively and humbly, and in full knowledge that hindsight is a wonderful thing, all the while prayerful that the mistakes I make in my life (whether theologically or politically) don't damage the cause of the gospel too much.

Perhaps I will dare to comment more when I have finished reading the second volume of the Lloyd-Jones book and the relevant Stott volumes.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More Keller

My attention has been drawn to three talks by Tim Keller look which look interesting. I haven't listened to them right through but he's usually a good listen. He's speaking on 'Preaching the Gospel', 'Doing Justice' and 'Being the Church in our Culture', mp3s of which can be found at THIS site.

Infant Faith?

Imagine, the oft-obligatory 'interview'/'testimony' slot at an evangelistic event -

Interviewer: So, X, tell us, when did you first trust the Lord?
Interviewee: Well Y, I first trusted the Lord when I was a baby being breast-fed.
Interviewer: Yes, but when did you make a decision to ask Jesus to be your Lord and God?
Interviewee: Jesus has been my God since I was in the womb.
Interviewer: ....

This morning we looked at Psalm 71, which includes these verses;

71:5-6 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you (ESV).

Which seems on one reading to suggest the possibility of infant faith. However, the NASB translates it as

For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother's womb; My praise is continually of You.

Which seems less clearly to suggest infant faith.

Then I looked at Psalm 22:9-10

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God (ESV).

Seemingly far clearer on the whole infant salvation issue. This time the NASB is in agreement it seems

Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother's breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother's womb.

Taken together (if it is legitimate to read these two almost identical passages from separate Psalms in the light of one another) these verses create great problems for two groups of people

a. Arminians
b. Adult-only baptists

Is it just poetic hyperbole? Am I missing the wood for the trees? Or could it be that the Psalmists(s) meant what they said how they said it?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

God's Law and Sundays and that sort of thing

Here is an interesting post from someone else about the law (of God through Moses rather than of the land). I've added my own remarks to the comments section for that post. Rather than posting a separate post on the law here I thought I'd let someone else get some of the hits. Share the love and all that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thank you

Oooh, another milestone has been passed today - 1,000 hits on the blog since records began (8 weeks ago). I really am humbled by those who take an interest in my ramblings, so thank you if that's you. I hope in some small way this site is interesting and helpful for you.

Soli Deo gloria.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blog 50

This is something of a milestone. This is blog number 50. Wow, I didn't think I had that much to say (I probably don't because I nick a lot of my ideas from others).

Anyway, as with all good milestones (be they the 1,000th episode of 'The Simpsons' or the final episode of 'Friends') it seems appropriate for this blog to contain very little fresh material and instead serve as a hotch-potch of prior 'highlights'. So, here's my personal fave blog posts so far;

A review of the new Superman film

Reasons to study new testament Greek (and, yes Ros, of course, Hebrew also)

Some thoughts on a particular view of Church Membership

Some thoughts on a particular view of men and women teaching in the Church

The signs in the gospel of John and a reference to Britney Spears

Is it all now or is it all later or what?

Posting Postman

Here in this blog entry is a book review I had to do last semester. This blog entry relates to it also. You might find it interesting if you are in education or if you don't entirely swallow the idea that media are value-neutral.

Book Review: ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ by Neil Postman

Neil Postman fears we[1] are ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ in a culture where ‘we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves’.[2] The book is concerned with what Postman calls ‘the most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century’, namely, the shift from print to television.[3] This is a transition that has been disastrous for American culture, causing a decline in ‘the seriousness, clarity and, above all, value of public discourse’[4].

Postman begins with the cornerstone of his argument - the relationship between media and epistemology. Media are not neutral tools but culture-shaping metaphors.[5] Put another way, ‘definitions of truth are derived, at least in part, from the character of the media of communication through which information is conveyed’.[6] Change the medium and you change the content and nature of the discussion. Thus, Postman shows how in the ‘Age of Typography’[7] public discourse was characterised by the biases of the medium of print, namely, content and meaning, seriousness, coherence and order, and a high regard for rational coherent argument[8]. Print was the paradigm for all ‘public business’[9] in a culture equipped for exposition.[10] The transition started with the telegraph - the first of a new wave of technologies that Postman sees as favouring a discourse structure opposite to the printing press – prizing entertainment, immediacy and disconnectedness and discouraging coherence and analysis.[11] Television, with its emphasis on image rather than words, gives the ‘most potent expression’ to these biases and has now replaced print as the discourse-shaping medium. Accordingly, the ‘reality’ it creates has become normality[12] and entertainment has become the ‘natural format for the representation of all experience’.[13] Aiming to make the biases of television ‘visible again’ to a culture that has accepted it as the norm,[14] Postman spends the remainder of his book unveiling the influence of television on modern American public discourse. Firstly, he argues that televising public information has trivialised it and caused viewers to lose the ability to discern falsehood from truthְ Because television is inherently visual, truth is all too easily related to the ‘credibility’[15] of the reporter.[16] Similarly the essential discontinuity of television news has made coherence and contradiction redundant categories for the determining of truth.[17] Secondly, Postman derides the ‘gross technological naivety’ of Christian leaders who have assumed the neutrality of television and produced a ‘user-friendly’ version of religious discourse verging on the brink of idolatry with the preacher, not God, the celebrity.[18] Thirdly, in politics, it is the Politicians who have become the celebrities, elected no longer on the basis of ability but on image.[19] ‘Image politics’ has created a passive electorate who ‘ignore what does not amuse’ – television accomplishing what the censors and dictators of yesteryear only dreamed of.[20] Fourthly and finally, Postman laments the ‘crisis’[21] of an education system infected with the same trademarks of television he’s already described in the other areas of public discourse.[22] For Postman, education concerns epistemology more than information,[23] therefore an education system shaped by television reinforces the expectation that all public business will be conducted as entertainment.[24]

Postman’s argument is clearly written and persuasively illustrated from American history and contemporary culture. As a result it is difficult not to be compelled by the warnings he sounds and most significantly his de-bunking of the ‘media are neutral’ myth is highly convincing. Although the book is now over 20 years old, one suspects that much of what Postman says about television has simply been enhanced by more recent technological developments like the internet, as his own ‘prophetic’ statements suggest.[25] Additionally, although obviously a cultural conservative, he largely succeeds in his effort to be concerned with epistemology rather than cultural elitism.[26]

He writes from a modernist stance[27] that elevates reason, that values coherent argument, and believes that there is such thing as truth and objectivity[28]. It is this worldview that is both the strength and weakness of his case. So whilst he insightfully analyses the effects of various media, he scarcely ponders why television would be created and utilised in this way. What is it about western society (and human nature generally) that causes us to prefer the image to the word, choose to be entertained rather than engage in serious thought; why are we prone to passivity and escapism? Consequently, the solution Postman reluctantly offers is limited. Whilst far from reactionary (he is not naïve enough to believe the answer is to ban or destroy television),[29] Postman’s solution stems from his faith in the modernist-rationalist creed – no surprise given his (at times perhaps idealistic) eulogising of the Age of Reason. Therefore, because the problem is the epistemology of a technology the solution is educational – if people learn the ‘epistemology and politics of media’ then its power to destroy discourse and culture will be lost.[30] Postman himself expresses doubts about such ‘mystical faith’ whilst feeling compelled to end on a note of hope.[31]

However, from a Christian worldview perspective, Postman inadvertently stumbles on a far deeper analysis of the problem, though understandably he never pursues it. In the first chapter he uses the 2nd commandment as an illustration of the relationship between medium and meaning - one reason [32] why a biblical worldview would see the problems which Postman analyses as the latest manifestation of a far more fundamental problem. Humanity likes to pervert the truth about God and the world, replacing the word of the creator with graven images and lies of our own fashioning.[33] No wonder that idolatrous people would create a technology like television and use it to exalt celebrities, to hide from the harsh reality of life, to feed their self-infatuation and satiate their own pleasures. So basic is the problem in humanity that reason and education offer no solution.[34] As a result, even if education could resolve the presenting issues that Postman helpfully addresses, anesthetise the ill effects of television, and prevent total ‘culture-death’,[35] the Huxleyan prophesy that ‘what we love will ruin us’[36] will remain and return merely in a different form with a different technology.

[1] Postman is talking about America in the 1980s, but both the links to ‘us’ in the UK and to the early 21st century are (hopefully) implicated in the remainder of this review.
[2] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death – Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, (London: Methuen, 1987) p. 144.
[3] Ibid., p. 8.
[4] Ibid. p. 30.
[5] That is, they work by implication and suggestion, more inconspicuously than bald statements. See Ibid. pp. 10-14.
[6] Ibid., p. 16.
[7] This period seems to cover the founding of America in the 17th century to the latter part of the 19th. See Ibid., pp. 42 & 64.
[8] Ibid., pp. 51-2 & 64.
[9] Ibid., p. 43.
[10] Ibid., p. 52.
[11] Ibid., pp. 70-75, 78-79.
[12] Ibid., pp. 77-81, 94-95.
[13] For example he argues that television has become the ‘paradigm for our conception of public information’ such that other technologies follow suit in bringing us news in the same show-business format. See Ibid., pp. 89 & 113. Similarly, Postman asserts that television has come to shape education ‘by its power to control the time, attention and cognitive habits of our youth’. See Ibid., pp. 149-150.
[14] Ibid., p. 81.
[15] i.e. ‘the impression of sincerity, authenticity, vulnerability or attractiveness’ See Ibid., p. 104.
[16] Ibid., pp. 102-104.
[17] Ibid., p. 112.
[18] Ibid., pp. 120-125.
[19] Ibid., pp. 135 & 137.
[20] Ibid., pp. 144-145.
[21] Ibid., p. 149.
[22] Ibid., pp. 151-152.
[23] Ibid., p. 148.
[24] Ibid., p. 159.
[25] Ibid., pp. 80, 157 & 166.
[26] Ibid., pp. 16-17.
[27] This generalisation should not be seen to confine his entire viewpoint. There are times when Postman demonstrates views not traditionally associated with rationalism. His discussion on sacred space would suggest he might hold views more closely associated with Romanticism on some issue. See Ibid., p. 121. It has also been suggested that Postman writes as a postmodern, albeit one who mourns the passing of the modern. See ‘Post (Modern) Man or Neil Postman as a Postmodernist’
[28] E.g. Postman sees epistemological relativism is a blind-alley and says ‘some ways of truth-telling are better than others, and therefore have a healthier influence on the cultures that adopt them. See Ibid., pp. 24 & 27.
[29] Ibid., pp. 163-165.
[30] Ibid., pp. 166 & 168.
[31] Ibid., pp. 167-168.
[32] Ηe returns to the same territory when asserting the idolatry of religious television. See Ibid., p. 125.
[33] See Romans 1:18-23.
[34] Romans 18:21 suggests that human reason is no guard against this destructive tendency, but often a further manifestation of the problem.
[35] Postman, Amusing, p. 161.
[36] Ibid., p. viii.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Genesis 22

We were taught from Genesis 22 today in chapel and challenged to trust the LORD in the way Abraham exemplified. There I was also reminded of how common it is (and especially was in my church background) to see Christ-typology in Isaac and/or the ram. I suspect the typology runs deeper than that though;

Jesus 'is' Isaac the only son who went willingly to be sacrificed (Isaac remains passive throughout Genesis 22).

Jesus 'is' Abraham - totally obedient to the LORD thus winning the benefits of the covenant for his family and all the families of the earth (cf. Genesis 26 vs. 5 where Isaac receives the covenant promise on the basis of Abraham's obedience, not his own, a verse which probably refers back to Abraham's obedience in ch 22, especially given vs. 16-18. Thanks to Thomas Renz for first pointing this out to me).

(NB: Thus we are brought into covenant blessing by Christ's passive (dying on the cross) and active (fulfilling the demands of the LORD) obedience? Or is that splitting hairs? )

Jesus 'is' the lamb provided by God so that the sons of Abraham might live

Jesus 'is' the mountain of the LORD/temple (the mountain of Genesis 22 was later the site for the temple) where provision is made.

And finally, as pointed out this morning, Jesus is the LORD (this one's not typology because he actually is the LORD) who demands that his people love him more than their family (cf. 22:12 with Luke 14:26).

No doubt there are others I have missed.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Abraham, Sarai, De ja vu & Christ

No doubt these thoughts are not original to me (especially points 3 and 4, I’m sure I’ve heard them from someone else), but I think there are some striking similarities between Genesis 16 and the fall narrative of Genesis 3.

1. A misrepresentation of God
Does Sarai’s assertion that ‘the LORD has prevented me from bearing children’ in 16:2 echo Εve’s extension of God’s prohibition of eating the tree to touching it in 3: 3? Could both be cases of a skewed view of God as more harsh than in reality? Could both cases be evidence of the husband’s failure to communicate what God had really said adequately?

2. An arrogant attempt to grasp what God alone would provide
This is certainly true of Abraham and Sarai, they failed to trust God as the one who would provide them with a child as he had promised and tried to do it their way. Similarly, God emerges in Genesis 1 and 2 as the source of knowledge about what is good and evil (cf. 1:31, 2:18) and presumably humanity, rather than remain in innocence, where to progress to wisdom and maturity over time and under God (cf. this blog entry). Snatching at the knowledge of good and evil becomes then an arrogant attempt to become wise without God.

3. A husband who failed in his responsibilities
Adam should have listened to God not to Eve since after all he was created first and therefore received the word of God about the tree directly from the LORD. Similarly, Abraham should not have listened to Sarai’s reasoning instead of the promises of God he had received (in Ch 12:1-9 but also in Ch 15 where God addressed Abraham’s concerns over his childlessness and established a covenant). Compare the similarity between 3:17 and the end of 16:3.

4. A wife who ‘took’ and ‘gave’ when she shouldn’t have
See how the language of 16:3 compares with and echoes 3:6. Accidental? Coincidental? We think not.

5. A bout of blame-shifting
Hagar hates Sarai, Sarai blames Abraham, Abraham shrugs his shoulders and passes the buck back to Sarai. Is all this meant to echo the blame shifting in Genesis 3:10-13?

6. An intervention by the LORD in judgment mixed with mercy
The LORD intervenes in the crisis, beginning by asking a question (cf. 3:9 with 16:8) and following by pronouncing the way things will be from now on, a mixture of mercy and judgment.

7. A judgment which involved ongoing family tension
Ishmael will fight with his brothers (16:12) whilst Adam and Eve will engage in a power-struggle (3:16b). Also, could 16:12 be meant to evoke memories of the family tension that flowed out of the fall in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel? This is surely judgment on Abraham and Sarai who have failed to be any better than Adam and Eve, a cursing of their attempts to obtain blessing independent of God?

8. A display of divine mercy in the promise of offspring
Compare 16:10-11 and 3:15 and examine them in the context of Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15:1-5.

So what then? Is this any more than a neat literary trick? Or does this passage indicate that we should expect Israel’s history, covenant/bible history and human history to contain a repetition of the mistakes of the fall. The tragic drama of Genesis 3ff. is played out across the bible, across history, across our lives. We really are like our parents Adam and Eve, we repeat their choices every time we fail to trust God, or seek to find what God alone has promised from our own resources (see Paul’s use of the Hagar story to illustrate salvation by works vs. salvation by grace in Galatians 4:21ff.).

Similarly God's intervention in judgment and mercy is repeated throughout the bible and throughout history. Especially, scripture testifies that salvation comes through child-bearing. Though not the legitimate heir (and hence why the Messianic promise of 3:15 and that given to Abraham will not be ultimately fulfilled through Ishmael’s line) there is a measure of blessing for Hagar and her line which must surely be understood in relation to the Abrahamic promises and as a mini-experience of the original creation blessing (1:28) to which all the offspring promises of scripture relate. This offspring theme finally reaches climax in the true seed and heir of Abraham and the blessing to the nations which comes through him. In him, who experienced the full judgment of God (including the social/relational/familial dynamic in the curse found in Genesis 3-4 and 16:12 – he was truly hatred by his ‘brothers’) the promises of God are graciously fulfilled and the Ishmaels of the world are invited to become full heirs and sons of Abraham by faith (Galatians 4:1-7).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What am I doing at Oak Hill this semester?

The headline to this blog should be taken at face value and not as evidence of some self-doubting angst on my part (though I do of course sometimes ask 'what am I doing here?' in that sense too). For those who may be interested to know, here be my modules for year two semester one;

Introduction to Christian Theology Part 2: Covering the doctrines of Salvation, the Trinity, the Church, and the End of all things, as well as how all of these relate to one another.

Reading Biblical Hebrew: More grammar but then followed by fun stuff in semester 2.

Biblical Theology and the Book of Revelation: Does what it says on the tin - learning about biblical theology via John's Apocalypse of Christ.

Introduction to Acts and the Pauline Epistles in Greek: More New Testament overview type stuff but with learning to use Greek in exegesis.

Christian Mission in the Contemporary World: Biblical and Historical Survey of Mission and then some.

Introduction to Pastoral Care and Counselling: How to nurture people towards Christlikeness.

Monday, September 04, 2006


September is here and so is the start of year two semester one. Actually, things don't really hot up until next week when lectures start for real, therefore I'm hoping to use some spare time this week to finish reading 'Becoming conversant with the Emerging Church' by Don Carson. This book is proving to be very helpful in thinking through the issues around reaching post-modern people with the gospel (the Emerging Church movement which Don Carson is writing about is a particular kind of response to post-modernism).

With that in mind I have had my attention drawn to this article by American Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller, which argues that reformed evangelical theology has the resources needed to reach out to postmoderns without the need to sell various doctrines down the river (usually sin, judgment, substitutionary atonement) as sadly seems to be happening in some 'Emerging Church' contexts.

As usual the solution is not to change the gospel or cut out bits of the bible but to dig deeper into its rich resources which speak to every age.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Not very good essay about the Kingdom of God

Here (continuing the spring clean from last year's work) is a short essay I wrote summarising the theme of 'the Kingdom of God' as it occurs in Mark's Gospel. I'm not totally pleased with the essay but it did include some thoughts I'd never really though before, especially about the pattern-setting nature of Mark 4. I also enjoyed footnote 15, but there we have it.

The Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Mark – A Summary.

The Kingdom of God[1] is a central theme in Mark’s presentation of ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’ and is therefore interwoven with other major themes in the book, namely, Jesus’ identity, death and resurrection, and the nature of discipleship.

The phrase first occurs in 1:15. Having announced that his entire book is about ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’ Mark describes that gospel in terms of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. If it is correct to see Isaiah 52:7 as one of the key texts standing behind this verse[2] then it becomes clear that Mark understands the kingdom in terms of the reign of God, i.e. his promised kingship rather than a particular time and place.[3] Jesus is announcing that the time for the fulfilment of God’s promised exile-ending reign, bringing salvation and judgment, has arrived. Additionally, given the Christocentricity of Mark’s introduction, it seems evident that not only is the kingdom announced by Jesus, it is also somehow focussed on him and his ministry.[4] This seems to be at least one implication of the authority Jesus displays in these early chapters; healing, forgiveness and exorcism being evidence that through Jesus’ ministry God is reigning in salvation and judgment.[5]

Understood in context then, 1:15 indicates that the kingdom is a present reality. The time of fulfilment has arrived and the kingdom has drawn near[6] and its message requires believing repentance now. However, there are also a number of texts which appear to speak of the kingdom futuristically, as the coming reign of God which is yet to be manifested. 9:47 (in a passage about sin, judgment and hell) talks of ‘entering the kingdom’ as synonymous with entering ‘life’. Likewise, several times in 10: 17-31 the kingdom is described in terms of eternal life, salvation and the life of the age to come[7]. It is the juxtaposition of these two (apparently) opposing understandings of the timing of the kingdom that is at the heart of Mark’s portrayal of the kingdom; the kingdom is both a present reality, and one that awaits future fullness. This is most clearly set out in the various parables of 4:1-34 which emerges as a key text for understanding the kingdom in Mark.[8] The teaching in Mark 4 comes at a crucial junction in the gospel when the nature of the kingdom dramatically announced in Mark 1 needs clarifying given the mixed responses Jesus has received[9] and the peculiar priorities he has displayed.[10] If the parables are understood in the context of Jesus’ explanatory discourse with his disciples it becomes clear that the kingdom has arrived but it is a ‘secret’ known only by those to whom it is revealed and concealed from those on the outside.[11] The proclamation of the kingdom meets with rejection or superficial responses unprepared for a kingdom that involves tribulation.[12] However, the kingdom is not destined to remain a secret,[13] but will gradually grow as the word is spread despite apparent failure. This growth will eventually climax in a ‘harvest-time’[14] when the kingdom is fully realised in trans-ethnic global proportions.[15] Hence the reign of God has arrived and at the same time awaits (and grows towards) the time of fullness.

The pattern given in Mark 4 is expanded upon in two major ways throughout the rest of the gospel, firstly in what Mark records of the ‘career’ of the King of the Kingdom - the Messiah, and secondly in the picture Mark gives of the nature of life in the kingdom for its subjects – those who will become the disciples of the King. Further, because the kingdom is located in the person of Jesus Christ, his story is the unfolding of the kingdom as pictured in Mark 4, a story which will prove paradigmatic for all who identify with him and become his subjects as his kingdom grows. Hence, although Jesus is the Christ, his identity is a secret which must be revealed to be discerned.[16] The majority it seems reject or misunderstand his kingship, eventually climaxing in his death. However, even in his death the secret of Jesus’ kingship is revealed for those who have eyes to see it – as indicated by the fact that the title King[17] is only directly ascribed to Jesus the six times it is used in the passion narrative.[18] Although subject to severe rejection, in his death Christ is exercising his kingship in service of his many subjects whom he came to ransom.[19] Although there are no recorded resurrection appearances and the only direct reference to the kingdom after the crucifixion is probably a final example of the kingdom misunderstood or missed altogether,[20] Mark is at pains to show that Jesus’ kingship is not destined to remain a secret shrouded in death. Christ will be raised to life and will reign in glory.[21] This is not only foretold[22] but also prefigured in the transfiguration, when three disciples witness the coming of the kingdom in power.[23]

If the story of Jesus is the story of the kingdom then it follows that the kingdom is entered or rejected on the basis of response to Jesus’ kingship.[24] More specifically, because the kingdom has come but is a secret shrouded in the rejection of the king, entering the kingdom is an act of grace on the part of God (those who enter must ‘receive’ the kingdom like children and must have their blind eyes miraculously opened)[25] and faith on the part of the hearer who must be ready to follow a rejected Christ and trust his word about the glorious future of the kingdom.[26] Hence life in the kingdom until the time of the ‘harvest’ will be marked by the same rejection, suffering, and servant-hood that characterised the earthly experience of the King.[27] Through its subjects the kingdom will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth such that it reaches the global and ethnic proportions predicted in the mustard-seed parable.[28] Entering the kingdom now will mean reward as the kingdom grows and will culminate in eternal life when the King is fully revealed.[29]

[1] Greek = η βασιλεια του θεου
[2] Paul Barnett, The Servant King: Reading Mark Today, (Aquila Press: Sydney, 1991) pp. 28-29.
[3] R. T. France, Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark, (London: SPCK, 1990) p. 12.
[4] Mark 1:3, 7-8. John the Baptist is the voice preparing the way for the coming of the LORD in judgment and salvation as prophesised by Isaiah and Malachi. What he actually does is prepare the way for Jesus Christ. The correlation between Jesus’ identity and the kingdom will be explored further below.
[5] Donald English, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Mark – The Mystery of Faith, (Leicester: IVP, 1992) p. 19.
[6] For the significance of the use of the perfect tense of the verbs in 1:15 in relation to the kingdom. See R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press 2002) p. 91.
[7] Mark 10:17, 23, 26, 29-31. See also Mark 14:24 for another text which implies the kingdom is yet to come.
[8] All three parables are explicitly about the kingdom. After Mark 10 these verses are the most intensive string of direct consecutive references to the kingdom in the gospel, containing three out of the total of 15 references.
[9] Ranging from amazement to murderous plotting, see for example Mark 1:27 and 3:6.
[10] For example, avoiding large crowds (see Mark 1:35-38, 45) and forbidding the disclosure of his Messianic identity (see Mark 1: 34).
[11] Mark 4:10-12.
[12] Mark 4:16-19.
[13] Mark 4:21-22.
[14] All three parables picture the kingdom starting small but finish with pictures of growth and fruition. See Mark 4:20, 29, 32.
[15] The description in Mark 4:32 echoes the picture of Daniel 4:12 which concerns the global nature of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (see Daniel 4:1, 22). Given the importance of Daniel for Jesus’ ministry, majoring as it does on the theme of God’s kingship and containing the vision of the ‘son of man’ figure with whom Jesus identified himself (see Mark 14:62 and Daniel 7:13-14), it seems highly probable that Jesus is saying his kingdom will have the same global breadth as Nebuchadnezzar’s.
[16] Mark 8:14-30.
[17] Greek = βασιλευσ. See footnote 1.
[18] Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26 and 32. Barnett argues that this signals the appearance of the kingdom. Barnett, Servant King, p. 29.
[19] Mark 10:45, 14:24.
[20] Mark 15:
[21] Mark 8:38.
[22] Mark 8:31, see also Mark 14:24 where Jesus looks forward to life in the kingdom as his death approaches.
[23] The most obvious reading of Mark 9:1 is that it refers at least firstly to the transfiguration which follows. This understanding fits with the way the resurrection is closely connected to the transfiguration at several points in the narrative, e.g. the disciples can only tell of it once Christ has been raised (see Mark 9:9).
[24] In Mark 10:21-23 the failure of the rich man to follow Jesus illustrates how hard it is for such to enter the kingdom.
[25] Mark 10:14-15, 52.
[26] Mark 8:34-38.
[27] Mark 8:34, 10:39, 45.
[28] Mark 13:10-13, 27.
[29] Mark 10: 29-31.