Category Archives: Theology

A fun example of the human side of Biblical inspiration

Originally posted on 10 June 2008

Like all evangelicals, I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. This means that God inspired human writers in such a way that every word in the Bible (in the original language and original documents) is exactly the word God intended to be there. But this does not mean that God simply dictated the Bible, nor that he turned the authors into automatons. He understood the character and personality (and expertise and background) of the writers, and worked in partnership with this to write a series of documents that is truly unique – a divine collaboration that is both infallible and inerrant (in the original).

To interpret the Bible, we must understand both God (as far as possible, and doing so empowered by God’s Spirit) and the human author. This means that, amongst other things, we must understand the author’s personality, culture, context, writing style, background, training and experiences.

A fun example will illustrate…

The story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years is repeated in different Gospels. Mark, the most direct of the Gospel authors explains her situation like this:

Mark 5:25-26 – “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (NIV)

Continue reading A fun example of the human side of Biblical inspiration

The marks of a genuine Christian – reflections on a sermon

This morning at church, we looked at the first six verses of Colossians chapter one. Our pastor titled the sermon, “The marks of a genuine Christian”.

He’s a good communicator and preached well. But this morning did expose a weakness in the evangelical desire to chunk the Bible up into ‘bite size chunks’ and preach verse by verse exposition. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses – and there is a danger that we impose an artificial structure onto God’s Word that distorts its meaning.

I don’t want to sound like a whiner about this, but it really does irritate me when evangelical presuppositions result in glaring omissions from Biblical exposition. To put it simply, I think our pastor got it wrong this morning – not in what he did say, but in what he didn’t.

Today’s sermon gave us three marks of a genuine Christian: Faith in Jesus (v4); Love for other Christians (v4); and, Hope of heaven (v5). But what about verse 6 – that the Good News of the Gospel is bearing fruit? The New Living Translation helpfully translates verse 6 as the Good News “is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives since the day you heard and understood the truth about God’s grace.”

This emphasis on changed lives in the here and now is then reiterated powerfully in verses 10 and 11.

In fact verses 8 through 13 just repeat what was said in the first six verses. The “three marks of a genuine Christian” are repeated again, but it seems to me that there is clearly at least a fourth sign: that our lives are meant to demonstrate that the Gospel has come (I also think there is something there about growing in our depth of understanding of what God has done for us – but I’ll leave that for another day). If everything we believe makes no difference to how we live now, what is it worth? And that does not simply mean some spiritual longing for a better life somewhere else. It means that we strive hard to “make it on earth as it is in heaven” – just as Jesus taught us to pray!

Faith in Jesus, love for others and the saints, and hope in heaven are definitely signs of being a genuine Christian. But they are not enough. The Bible is clear and consistent in its witness that you prove your Christian beliefs by your good works. Colossians 1 itself is clear on this. Why do evangelicals so easily and consistently miss the “good works” theme of the Gospel when it is in such plain sight?

The Jesus Manifesto – by Len Sweet and Frank Viola

Originally Posted on 23 June 2009

I was sent an email today that contained an excellent manifesto from one of my favourite thinkers and authors, Len Sweet.

It’s titled: “A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. A Jesus Manifesto for the 21st Century Church”
by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

You can read the original at their blog: http://ajesusmanifesto.wordpress.com/

It really is worth it. Thought-provoking and powerful. I like it a lot, and think we need to take our Christ-centric nature more seriously.

Thoughts on the Tyranny of Freedom

This was originally two postings, on 20 and 21 January 2005 – updated on 26 March 2010

George Bush gave his second inauguration speech earlier this week. Sky News tells me, he used the word “freedom” 27 times – not including references to “liberty”. This was certainly the clear theme of his speech. As a Christian, knowing that Bush is one of the most prominent voices of modern Christians, I listened with a sense of unease. I wonder of he means what I mean when he thinks of freedom?

Not only am I uneasy in general with the current US Administration (and with the millions who support it, seemingly blind to its alienation from the rest of the planet), I am specifically concerned about the fact that this Administration, embodied in Bush, has subtly redefined issues and is deluding millions of people.

I need to spend more time reflecting on my disquiet. George Bush’s speech was certainly inspiring – and he pulled it off – better than could be expected. He is known to butcher the English language – he did not do that this week. But he lacked real passion and conviction. It was obvious that he was reading someone else’s words. It was obvious that he was aiming for media-friendly sound-bites, rather than flowing, passionate speech. During the past week, he has specifically stated that he wanted to deliver a speech that would be remembered by history (maybe even carved in stone in the Capitol like other inaugural addresses have been in the past). It was not one of those. But, in general, it was a good speech – if you’re American, anyway.

Continue reading Thoughts on the Tyranny of Freedom

The seven streams of church – a sermon podcast

Originally posted on 7 August 2008

Last week, I preached my final sermon at the church my family has attended for the past 5 years. I relied heavily on a sermon preached by John Broom, of Meadowridge Baptist, on the occasion of his last sermon after over 20 years of ministry at the church.

The sermon was the final part of a series on “What Jesus would say to…”. The essence of the sermon was that “church” has been expressed in at least 7 distinct ways over the course of church history. Today, as the church in the West enters a “post Christian” world, it needs to recaptures the “instincts” expressed in these seven streams, and become the holistic church God intended.

Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (7 Mb, MP3 file).

The summary of the seven streams is below…
Continue reading The seven streams of church – a sermon podcast

Galatians 5 – struggling in Christ

I was at Bible Study at church tonight, and Richard Coekin, our senior pastor made a very interesting statement. In relation to Galatians 5, he argued that one of the key functions of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin, and cause internal conflict within us.

Galatians 5:16-18 says,

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Richard then said: “If you’re not at war with yourself, you’re not a Christian.” I like that. I think he’s right. To be a Christian is to be constantly trying to become like Christ. Since that’s an impossibility this side of eternity, it must be an aspiration. And therefore, anytime we fall short of that, the Holy Spirit convicts us and then empowers us to improve.

It got me thinking (briefly) about the churches and preachers who promise that you can “come to Jesus and everything will be OK”. In fact, better than that, you can “live your best life now” and all your troubles will be over. But maybe not. Maybe you’ll start an inner war with yourself that won’t stop. Maybe that’s a sign of being a Christian. A strangely comforting thought…

Church is not the end, it’s the means

Originally posted on 22 June 2005

Too much of what happens in the typical local church is focused on the activities of that church and its people. I believe that this is due to a fatal flaw in the way most people think about church. They tend to see church as an end, as an entity that exists for its own purposes.

But church is not an end. Church was never meant to be the goal of Christian endeavour. God is not interested in empowering us to create better churches. No. Church is simply a means – a means to an end.

God is interested in extending his kingdom throughout the whole world. He is interested in empowering his church to impact of the world. In particular, God is interested in empowering local churches to impact local communities in very practical ways. After all, Jesus came to “preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Churches that focus the majority of the time, resources and facilities on their own internal programs, including worship, preaching, youth ministry, Bible study, young adults, women’s groups, etc, have lost sight of the purpose of their existence.

I believe this is one of the primary emphases of the emerging church movement – to bring the church back to its primary calling to be a vehicle for the establishment of God’s kingdom in this world. The church is not the end, it is only the means. It is not an institution – it is a strategy to assist us become the people of God.

Salvation for all?

Originally posted on 1 June 2008 and updated on 18 March 2010

One of the growing dividing lines between “emerging church” and “traditional” evangelicals is their views on hell, eternal life/damnation and the doctrines that link to this (including original sin, God’s hatred of sinful humanity, what Christ’s death accomplished, atonement and so on). In other words, this is core doctrine stuff and worthy of full consideration.

Yet, most people’s vision of hell has more to do with Dante than the Bible. They take little account of the many different Biblical words that are all translated “hell” in our English Bibles. They take little account of the historical and cultural backdrop to the Biblical references. But, probably most significantly, they just don’t take account of the Bible itself.

I am certainly not going to attempt to deconstruct or construct a theology of hell here. Maybe some time in the future. You can certainly do some reading yourself (see some of the comments below), and especially the Wikipedia entry and http://www.tentmaker.org/

What I would like to do is just list some verses that raise some very real questions for me. Ever since my first formal studies of Biblical intepretation, the dangers of proof texting have been drummed into me. The danger is that you take a single verse (often, a single phrase from a single verse) without looking at the context. And then you make it say whatever you want it to say.

Continue reading Salvation for all?

A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren’s latest book

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a fan of Brian McLaren. I am not sure I buy into every single thing he says (how could I?), but I do like his writings. And I have been privileged enough to get to know him personally over a number of years, and am even more impressed at his humility, his grace and his desire to learn from others. He is eminently teachable, exceptionally approachable and a remarkable Christ-follower.

Brian’s latest book has just been released. It’s called, “A New Kind of Christianity”, and chatting to him about it, he feels this book is one of his best contributions so far. I have had it on pre-order with Amazon.co.uk, and due to some technical issue between Hodder and Amazon, it has not yet been supplied to Amazon.co.uk. But you can order it through Eden.co.uk, pre-order at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net (in South Africa).

Brian’s goal with this book is to deal with ten key issues that are blocking discussions and engagement both within Christianity, and those looking in at Christianity. He wants to help us to deal with these fundamental issues, so we can build a platform for further discussions on some of the details that threaten to divide our churches today. From what I can tell, he has succeeded in getting the discussions going. I have listed the ten questions below. Whether you agree with Brian’s answers and analysis or not, his questions are really good ones, and need to be dealt with.

I hope that fans and critics alike will engage with the content of his book, and not deal in personal attack and ranting rhetoric. What do you think of his questions? How would you answer them? How does that help you think more deeply about your own Christian faith?

Continue reading A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren’s latest book

Confessions of a Bible Deist

Originally posted 11 Feb 2005

From Surprised by the Voice of God, by Jack Deere

This is chapter 17 from the Jack Deere’s book. The book is about how evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God can also believe that God speaks today, outside of the words of Scripture. His book is a magnificent treatment of the topic, which includes practical methods, theological discussion, personal testimony and helpful advice in avoiding the many excesses that may result from the application of this viewpoint.

Purchase the book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Kalahari.net.

Augustine had an entire book of confessions. Perhaps you will indulge me for just a single chapter of my own. Here is my confession: Somewhere along the way in my academic study of the Bible, I became a Bible deist. You probably studied deism in one of your high school history classes. The framers of the Constitution of the United States were mostly deists. They believed in a religion of morality based on natural reason, not on divine revelation. They believed in God, but they didn’t think he interfered with the natural laws governing the universe. He created the world, and then left it alone – like someone who wound up a giant clock, and then left it to run down on its own. A Bible deist has a lot in common with the natural deist.

They both worship the wrong thing. The deists of the eighteenth century worshiped human reason. The Bible deists of today worship the Bible. Bible deists have great difficulty separating Christ and the Bible. Unconsciously in their minds the Bible and Christ merge into one entity. Christ cannot speak or be known apart from the Bible. At one time, Christ did speak apart from the Bible. He used to speak in an audible voice to people on their way to Damascus, give dreams, appear in dreams, give visions, give impressions, and do miracles through his servants. However, the Bible deist believes the only one who does these things today is the devil. In fact, the devil can do all the things Christ used to do. The devil can speak in an audible voice, give dreams and visions, even appear to people and do miracles. Jesus doesn’t do these things any more. He used miracles and divine revelation in the first century to wind up the church like a big clock, and then left it alone with only the Bible. The Bible is supposed to keep the clock ticking correctly. That’s why a Bible deist reads a passage like Isaiah 28:29:

    “All this also comes from the LORD Almighty wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom”

and in his or her mind, translates it into something like this:

    “All this also comes from the Bible, which is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.”

Bible deists have a tendency to substitute the Bible for God. They actually deify the Bible. Bible deists read John 10:27 like this: “My sheep listen to the Bible; I know them, and they follow the Bible.” They hear Jesus say, “If I go away, I will send you a perfect book” (John 16:7). What God used to do in the first century is now done by the Bible. If the Bible can’t do what God used to do – heal, give dreams, visions – then the Bible deist maintains that these things are no longer being done, and that we don’t need them anyway.

Bible deists preach and teach the Bible rather than Christ. They do not understand how it is possible to preach the Bible without preaching Christ. Their highest goal is the impartation of biblical knowledge. Their highest value is being “biblical”. Actually, they use the adjectives “biblical” and “scriptural” more often than the proper noun “Jesus” in their everyday speech.

Continue reading Confessions of a Bible Deist