An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Temptation 5: examples 3 oranges not peaches?

• The temptation to be oranges and not peaches

An orange is segmented – a peach is a peach all the way through.

How do we see our Christianity? The temptation is to segment it – rather than let it go all the way through.

The temptation is to split life up into sacred and secular.
The temptation is to say that Christianity is only for certain areas.

But as we know
Nothing matters but the kingdom. But because of the kingdom everything matters.
If we take the lordship of Christ seriously we can’t live like oranges, we can’t split our lives up by putting a Christian icing on our secular cake.

When it comes to our work – are we confessing Christians but practicing atheists?
Christianity is more than a leisure activity: what we do on Sundays and some evenings. Our faith has to permeate all of our lives. Our thinking, our behaving and our desiring.

Let’s avoid the temptation to live as if God doesn’t exist in our business, our politics, the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, the way we save our money, the way we spend our working hours ….

We need to be peaches not oranges!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Temptation 4: examples 2 ambulance drivers or tunnel builders?

• The temptation to be ambulance drivers rather than tunnel builders.

Let me tell you a story:
A group of devout Christians once lived in a small village at the foot of a mountain. A winding, slippery road with hairpin curves and steep precipices without guard rails wound its way up one side of the mountain and down the other. There were frequent fatal accidents. Deeply saddened by the injured people who were pulled from the wrecked cars, the Christians in the village’s three churches decided to act. They pooled their resources and purchased an ambulance. Over the years, they saved many lives although some victims remained crippled for life.

Then one day a visitor came to town, Puzzled, he asked why they did not close the road over the mountain and build a tunnel instead. Startled at first, the ambulance volunteers quickly pointed out that this approach (although technically quite possible) was not realistic or advisable. After all, the narrow mountain road had been there for a long time. Besides, the mayor of the town would bitterly oppose the idea. (He owned a large restaurant and service station halfway up the mountain.)

The visitor was shocked that the mayor’s economic interests mattered more to these Christians than the many human casualties. Somewhat hesitantly, he suggested that perhaps the churches ought to speak to the mayor. Perhaps they should even elect a different mayor if he proved stubborn and unconcerned. Now the Christians were shocked. With rising indignation and righteous conviction they informed the young radical that the church dare not become involved in politics. The church is called to preach the gospel and give a cup of cold water. Its mission is not to dabble in wordily things like social and political structures.

Perplexed and bitter, the visitor left. As he wandered out of the village, one question churned round and round in his muddled mind. Is it really more spiritual, he wondered, to operate the ambulances which pick up the bloody victims of destructive social structures than to try to change the social structures themselves?

Are we tempted to go for the short-term option of driving ambulances – or do we want to make a real difference in building tunnel?

Are we tempted to go for the easy option? For status quo plus?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Temptation 3 examples 1: cruise ship or battleship?

For most of us temptations can be classified into three types: money, sex and power.

But there are some more subtle temptations that we face. It’s those I want to finish by looking at.

• The temptation to see church as a cruise ship and not a battle ship

The temptation is to see church as a cruise ship – where we are entertained, where our needs are met; but a better image of the church is as a battleship – where we have to play our part, where we are equipped and trained, where what we do is not for ourselves but for others? The temptation is to think: what can I get out of it but it should be: what can I give?

Monday, 27 June 2011

Temptation 2 Lessons in dealing with temptation – or taking the LID off!

Lessons in dealing with temptation – or taking the LID off!

1. Temptation is not sin

As we saw in Matthew 4 Jesus was tempted.
Heb. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.

Temptation is not a sin – giving in to it is!
As Martin Luther once said, we can’t stop the birds flying over our head, but we can stop them nesting in our hair.

2. We can’t always resist temptation by separation from it

Charles Spurgeon: “What settings are you in when you fall? Avoid them. What props do you have that support your sin? Eliminate them. What people are you usually with? Avoid them

There is good advice here. But if taken to an extreme we will disengage from the world – and that’s not what God wants!

But it may be for some that you are in situations that you need to avoid.

However, Origen discovered that removal doesn’t always work!
He castrated himself – and yet still found he had the desires. The problem is the mind. Our mind is a battleground.

The key is to renew our minds. Be reliant upon the Spirit and on Scripture.

Jesus in the wilderness when tempted by Satan quoted scripture at him. All the scriptures Jesus quoted came from the book of Deuteronomy. No doubt that was what he was reading and meditating on. Like Jesus Get the word of God into us. Use that.

There are 5 things we need to do with scripture:

Meditate- much neglected part; it helps it become part of us.

Philippians 4:8 whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

3. Temptation is a problem for all Christians

We all face temptation. Usually it comes in three categories: Money, Sex and Power. Money might be stealing, fiddling or gambling; Sex might be pornography, sex outside of marriage; Power might be an oppressive use of it, a desire to dominate and so on.
We need to guard our hearts and minds in these areas.
No one is exempt form temptation. Even the most spiritually mature.

Jesus faced it

1Cor. 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

4. There is a limit to temptation
- not beyond what we can bear 1 Cor 10. 13

5. We are to pray not to be tempted - prayer is a powerful weapon; it is the most subversive thing a Christian can do! Particularly when tempted.

Mark 14:38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation

If you are tempted pray! It’s the best defence against temptation.

6. Accountability – we have each other. If you are faced with temptations that you give into confess it to a friend. Ask them to pray for you. Ask them to ask you how’s it going?

If your problems come through the Internet – use accountability software.

7. We mess up – deal with it!

What if we do give in? Don’t let the enemy accuse us. Confess it to God – and maybe someone else - and ask forgiveness.

God has provided a way out. On the cross he dealt with our sin and our sins.
Our sin – the hardness of our hearts, our old self, has been dealt with – put on our new self, a new heart in Christ.

Also our sins the ones we continually commit that come from that sinful heart have been dealt with.

Sin and sins have been covered by what Jesus did for us on the cross.

Confess and ask for forgiveness.

There are two lies we can succumb to:
Once won’t hurt – falling down the slide may look like fun, but it hurts at the bottom!

You have blown it – giving into temptation means that that’s it. God doesn’t love you. That’s a lie of the enemy. Nothing you can do can separate you from God if you confess and ask his forgiveness.

Temptation - the slides

Temptation 1 - the source

We are working our way through the disciple’s prayer and we have now come to the section: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Temptation is a bit like a kid’s slide.
We stand at the top thinking I don’t need to go down – but the look of it, the thrill of it can be attractive – then when we do give in it can be a little painful.

In many ways we think it’s like this – when in fact it’s like this or even this.
(see the slides)

Let’s look at the slide of temptation:

Dealing with it
Examples of temptations we might not know we have fallen in.

The source of temptation

Lead us not into temptation – is the phrase from the disciple’s prayer. Is it then the Lord then that leads us into temptation?
This verse almost seesm to imply that.
However, the key to understanding the scriptures is to let the scriptures interpret themselves. Let’s look at the book of James:

James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

James 1:14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

So, temptation, in part, comes from our own desires. It is from our hearts, our won desires.

There is however, another source:

Matt. 4:1  Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Matt. 4:3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

The devil is a source of temptation. We are in a battle – we have an enemy.
The good news is that he has already been defeated!

The verses we are looking at tonight are a couplet:
Lead us not into temptation BUT deliver us from evil.

The devil is the tempter. We need to be aware of his wiles.

But we should remember that the devil is not the opposite of God – the devil is a creature but God is the uncreated, self-existent and eternal creator. God has no opposite. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; the devil isn’t omni anything!

He is the one who comes and tempts us and then when we fall into the temptation he says – see look how bad a Christian you are, look what you have done. He is the tempter and the accuser.

So, how can we deal with temptation? I'll deal with this in a subsequent post/

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Thinking in Tongues by James K. A. Smith - a review

James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2010, 155 pages. ISBN 978-0-8028-6184-9

What has Azusa Street to do with Geneva or even Amsterdam? Is it possible to integrate pentecostal and Calvinist or even neocalvinist views? Smith maintains that it is and with this manifesto he tries to do just that.
Reformed charismatic is obviously not an oxymoron. However, most Reformed charismatics tend to be pietist in outlook. Smith writes from a neocalvinist perspective, a perspective that rejects pietism but embraces a transformational perspective on culture and society. Smith taking his cue from Alvin Plantinga's seminal paper 'Advice to Christian Philosophers' here issues advice to pentecostal philosophers; advice that comes with more than a neocalvinist assist. Smith makes no claim to being exhaustive or comprehensive but claims to be offering an outline, a manifesto.
I must confess that the Pentecostal/ charismatic perspective sketched by Smith here is one I don't fully recognise - I wish that it were. I left a charismatic house church two decades ago because it was dualistic and had a tendency towards neo-gnosticism; if Smith is correct things have changed over the years. Smith's program[me] for pentecostal philosophy strangely warmed my heart. He identifies five 'key aspects of a pentecostal worldview'; aspects which owe much to neocalvinism:

1. A position of radical openness to God
2. An 'enchanted' theology of creation and culture
3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and materiality
4. Affective, narrative epistemology
5. An eschatological orientation to mission and justice.

To each of these I would shout a loud 'Amen, preach it!' If this is pentecostal philosophy, then give me pentecostal philosophy! Smith has ably shown that a charismatic neocalvinism is a viable option. Pentecostalism is often caricatured by an escapist world-denying mentality, one that stresses the heart over the head, emotions over the rational and is profoundly anti-intellectual. Smith has adequately demonstrated that it need not be.
In chapter 3, the longest in the book, he sketches a pentecostal epistemology, making a good case for understanding it as resonating with a "'postmodern' critique of autonomous reason" (p. 52). It is not antirational, but antirationalist (p. 53). His 'core claim is that 'pentecostal worship constitutes a kind of performative postmodernism, an enacted refusal of rationalism' (p. 59). I love the way he describes a Pentecostal epistemology as being 'more like dance than deduction' (p. 82).
Chapter 4, subtitled 'Science, Spirit, and a Pentecostal ontology', takes a look at a pentecostal contribution to metaphysics. Smith maintains that a pentecostal ontology is one of 'radical openness and thus resistant to closed, immanentist systems of the sort that emerge from reductionistic metaphysical naturalism' (p. 88). He describes it as an 'enchanted naturalism' and contrasts it with reductionalistic naturalism and naive supernaturalism. He views naturalism as a spectrum from the reductiuonistic naturalism of Dan Dennett to the interventionist supernaturalism of naïve pentecostalism, passing through non-reductionistic rationalism of Arthur Peacocke, and Philip Clayton and the enchanted or non-interventionaits supernaturalism advocated here by Smith. This is a rich typology and one that will bring clarity to the discussions on naturalism(s). Smith is arguing for a supernatural materialism that contests the natural/ supernatural distinction. Here he draws, perhaps predictably considering Smith's previous works, on radical orthodox's 'participatory' ontology (p. 100).
The philosophy of religion comes under scrutiny in chapter 4. The contemporary paradigm is that doctrine is prior to worship and that ideas trump practice (p. 111). Pentecostalism challenges this. Chapter 5 is perhaps the most explicitly pentecostal, it takes a look at glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and the challenge with which it confronts the philosophy of language. Smith side steps the theological issues and focuses on the philosophical. This chapter provides a model for how pentecostals can do philosophy.
The book concludes with a heart-felt plea for others to take up the baton and so see, as Smith has stated elsewhere First Things (April 2008), pentecostals at the academic table rather being on the table as a topic of study.
Al Wolters once wrote: 'I believe that neocalvinism, if it remains true to its radical original intuition, can truly embrace the riches of other traditions, even as it shares its own with others.' Smith has done just that with this book.

 [First published in Philosophia Reformata 76 (2011): 160-162]

Philosophia Reformata 76 (2011) is now out

PHILOSOPHIA REFORMATA volume 76 (2011), no. 1


Bruce Wearne, Introduction by guest-editor


Jacob Klapwijk, Creation Belief and the Paradigm of Emergent Evolution

John Satherley, Emergence in the Inorganic World

Henk Geertsema, Emergent Evolution? Klapwijk and Dooyeweerd

Russ Wolfinger, Whence the Question Mark?

Bruce Wearne, Some Contextual Reflections on ‘Purpose in the Living World?’

Gerben Groenewoud, Augustine and Emergent Evolution

Chris Gousmett, Emergent Evolution, Augustine, Intelligent Design, and Miracles

Harry Cook, Creation and Becoming in Jacob Klapwijk’s Theory of Emergence

 Book Reviews

Henk Jochemsen and Jan van der Stoep, Different Cultures, One World: Dialogue between Christians and Muslims about globalizing technology (M. Verkerk).

Willem Drees, Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates (J. de Ridder)

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Inquiring About God: Selected Essays Volume I and Practices of Belief: Selected Essays Volume II (J. Smid)

James Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (S. Bishop)


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Gospels as eye witness accounts by Peter Williams

Williams looks at the names in the Gospels and compares them with names in the apocryphal gospels and the names in use at the time in Palestine:

The Gospels have the pattern of names we would expect them to have if they are reporting what real people said and did.

The pattern would be too complex for an ancient forger to produce.
He also looks at the geography and botany in the Gospels.

He concludes:

Can't prove everything to be historical
But if the Gospels result from conspiracy or incompetence this is not what you would expect
If the Gospels were produced on basis of stories several steps removed from eyewitnesses this is not what you expect

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Bell's hell?

There are obviously two versions of Rob Bell's Love Wins book that are available. The one in which he is a universalist and the one in which he isn't.

The furorer started with Justin Taylor's post about Bell's promotional video. Piper responded with a tweet: "Farewell Rob Bell". What he meant by that is anybody's guess -- farewell from Christianity, from evangelicalism, from new calvinism, from Zondervan (the book was Bell's first from Harper Collins)? I don't know about love winning but the publicity certainly meant that the publishers won!

Why the fear? What is wrong with posing questions? I don't agree with all Bell's answers, but the questions he raises are important and need to be addressed.

How biblical is the so-called 'traditional' view of hell? Many evangelicals have taken different views on this topic - does that stop them being evangelicals or even Christian? Why the concern over boundaries - who is and who isn't an evangelical? Since when has a correct view of hell been an indicator of whether one is 'in' or 'out'? Since when has a literal reading of the Bible been an indicator of whether one is an evangelical or not?

There are many types of universalism - some may have some biblical warrant others clearly do not. Likewise, there are many views of hell - some may have biblical warrant others don't.

Here's my rough draft of a range of views:

1. Hell as a place of eternal torment/ punishment (either mental or physical or both)

2. Hell as a place of separation from God

3. Annihilation

   3.1 Conditional immortality
     3.1.1 Those in Christ are resurrected the rest are annihilated
     3.1.2 All are resurrected – then face judgment those not in Christ are then annihilated
    3.2 All are created immortal after the resurrection the unbelievers are punished and then annihilated.

4. Purgatorial view

  4.1 Hell as a place of discipline
  4.2 Hell as the opportunity for post-mortem decision

5. Inclusivism – some may be saved - even if they have not heard of Jesus - based on the revelation they have received

6. Universalism

   6.1 Christian universalism: all will be saved through what Christ has done
   6.2 Pluralistic universalism:  all will be saved – no matter what

Bell seems to hold to a version of 6.1; for example:
What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone
is saving everybody (p. 155)
but and it’s a big but with a form of 4.2. But it seems that human free will trumps all that God has done:
God gives us what we want, and if that's hell, we can have it.
We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free. (p. 72)

And that's what we find in Jesus's teaching about hell - a volatile mixture of images, pictures, and metaphors that describe the very real experiences and consequences of rejecting out God-given goodness and humanity. Something we are free to do, anytime, anywhere, with anyone. (p. 73)

Bell is then no universalist - we have the freedom to reject what God has done.
On the other hand he seems to be arguing as follows:

1. God is sovereign and in control of all things
2. God wants all to be saved
3. Therefore, all will be saved.

If 1 and 2 are true then 3 must follow. However, Bell seems to want to add
4. Unless we want to reject the offer of salvation

Bell is obviously questioning evangelical shibboleths- he is an iconoclast, and doesn't mind whose toes he steps on - more power to him!

The focus of the criticism has been on Bell's view of hell. This misses some of the excellent points he makes, particularly in chapter 2. This is a brilliant chapter: for example this extract:

Honest business
redemptive art
honorable law
sustainable living,
education,making a home,
tending a garden --
they're all sacred tasks to be done in partnership with God now, because they will all go on in the age to come.
(p. 47)

Ultimately, Bell's message is that free will is sovereign: we get what we want.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Tom Wright for Everyone by Stephen Kuhrt - a review

Tom Wright for Everyone
Putting the theology of N. T. Wright into the practice of the local church
Stephen Kuhrt
SPCK, 2011
ISBN 978-0-281-06393-2
160 pp; £9.99

Theology shapes practice. Here Stephen Khurt, a vicar in New Malden, has shown how Tom Wright's theology has shaped his church. His aim in this book is to 'encourage a greater engagement with Tom Wright's theology'. 

This book works on many levels: it is an excellent introduction to the largely pietist contemporary evangelicalism in the UK (ch 2); it is a great bird's-eye summary of Tom Wright's career (ch 1) and theology (ch 3); and it shows how the latter can change the former with positive results (ch 4-7).

Khurt has written before briefly of sssh-free church and the impact Wright's ideas have had on that. Here he shows further how Wright's ideas have shaped his church's approach to pastoral care, mission and church life. Ideas really do have legs!

For ordinands this book will be a God-send. Not only does it introduce them to one of the most stimulating theologians of our age but it shows how theology can really shape practice with positive results. May the lessons Khurt has gleaned from Wright shape other congregations for the better.