Monday, March 30, 2009

Perhaps Maths Is Useful Afterall

I just got two pretty massive books in the post today. God's Empowering Presence by Gordon Fee and Doug Moo's commentary on the The Epistle to the Romans. It seems rather strange that a commentary on one of the sixty-six books in the Bible could be lengthier than the Bible itself, but such is the nature of the Book of Romans that it actually merits such verbose treatment. Fee's book is quite unique, in that he carries out an exegesis on every part of Paul's letters which deals with the Holy Spirit. It seems like a book aimed mostly at scholars and students, which means some of it is likely to go over my head. I mean he doesn't even write Greek words using the English alphabet! What's up with that? Instead he uses the Greek alphabet, so I'm left trying to use my (limited) mathematics knowledge in order to work out what word Fee is referring to. I can pick out most of the letters, but there are still some I'm not so sure on. It does give me a certain sense of accomplishment when I work out one of the words though, so it's not all bad. In fact, why not join me in my quest for self-satisfaction by working out the English spelling of this word: χάρισμα

See, it's fun, isn't it? (As a clue, one of the Greek letters in this word is the equivalent of two English letters)

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Here is a paradox which Alister McGrath sets forth in one of his many books:

The 2oth century gave way to one of the greatest and most distressing paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practised by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence.

However, similarly paradoxical is the fact that Christianity has been the reason for some people to engage in crusades and warfare, while for other people it has been the reason to remain completely pacifist and anti-conflict. In short, it has been the motivation both for the militant and for monks.

I love paradoxes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Personally Corporate

In surveying the books of Ephesians and Colossians (especially Ephesians) I have been convicted about how individualistic my Christian life is. ‘As long as I’m doing alright then that’s all that matters’ is the mentality I have adopted. Personal maturity (whatever that looks like) in Christ is my goal, and yet the irony of it all is that maturity in Christ will not be accomplished if it remains an individual, personal thing; it is corporate maturity which Christ seeks, and nothing less.

“No man is an island”, wrote the poet John Dunne. If this is true of the human race, then it is most certainly true of the Church. We are all connected together in the body of Christ, whether I like it or not! And as a result, how my fellow members are doing should matter to me. My job isn’t just to use other people as a gauge for how I’m doing spiritually, and either despair or take pride in myself, depending on who it is I’m comparing myself to. Perhaps the phrase “You’re only as strong as your weakest link” also applies to the Church as much as to other groups of people. We as a Church are in one sense only as mature as our most immature member. Is that to say there is no such thing as personal maturity and holiness? Of course not, but the point Paul makes in his ecclesial passages is that we are in this together. I am not a lone ranger, but am part of something so much bigger than myself. I am to use whatever grace has been given to me to build up those who are perhaps struggling, and I am to take encouragement and instruction from those are further along in the journey than I am.

Such a corporate mindset goes right against the grain of my natural way thinking, and so I must seek the mind of Christ if I am to look beyond myself and start looking at the Church from His point of view - that is, a body of believers to sacrificially give yourself for in order that they be made whole.

As Mulholland Jr. writes, our goal is to be "conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others". Yikes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Books Are Cool

I'm developing something of a book fetish lately. I just love acquiring new books, even if I don't get around to reading them for a couple of years. I've been thinking about books lately, and it struck me that there is something almost immortal about them. I mean people were writing books thousands of years ago, and yet we ultra-moderners in the 21st century are still doing the same thing. There is no "new way" to go about it as such. 50 years ago you made a record. 20 years ago you made a CD, and now you release your music on mp3's. However, a thousand years ago you wrote a book, a hundred years ago you wrote a book, and now you write a book, and as long as people are still able to read, your product will be timeless. Do you want to become immortal? Write a book.

I've discovered a couple of websites which let you download some Christian books for free, which is pretty cool. None of them are particularly new, but you can still find some high quality stuff if you search around. I got a couple of G.K. Chesterton books, and so far I'm a big fan. I've just finished 'Orthodoxy', and it's a tremendous read. Extermely insightful, witty, and intelligent. Some of it went over my head, but he gives a very compelling defense of Christian Orthodoxy in the face of modernism and relativism and a lot of other ism's, and yet he manages to do so by keeping things light hearted, and even romantic. Whether you're Christian or not I think it's a compelling read, and written by a man who was exceedingly well respected, even amongst his foes.

I've got a couple of other random books from these websites also: some existentialist philosophy by Soren Kierkegaard, some existentialist theology by Karl Barth, with a few puritan classics thrown in there too. Will I ever read any of them? Probably not, but I bet you're thinking I'm at least slightly more intellectual now given the mere mention of these books on my blog, and so mission accomplished.

Currently -- ignoring mandatory class reading -- I'm ploughing my way through The Cross of Christ by John Stott. It's a magnificent piece of work, carefully detailing the reasons for and achievments of that most important moment of human history - the crucifixion of Jesus. I should be done with it shortly, but given the topic at hand it's a book I shall keep coming back to again and again. Anway, I can't recommend the book enough.

Oh, on a slightly different note, I've set myself a target this year, and I want a couple of people to be aware of it so that I have more motivation to reach it. I'm trying to memorise the Book of Romans, or at least 15 of the 16 chapters. So far I'm almost done with chapter 1. Will it even be possible to memorise the book and still retain information in my head such as what my name is and so forth? I'm not sure, but we shall see. I've never done anything like this before so I don't really know what to expect, but if nothing else it's at least a plan/goal of some sort. You have to start somewhere, right?

That's about it. I really only wrote this because it's virtually impossible to go to sleep after playing Tuesday night footy, but since I'm getting kind of tired now I may just give it a go. For all you loyal readers out there I may get back to more prolific blogging in the near future given that my course is ending in a couple of weeks. I'm not sure though. There are just so many blogs out there similar to this -- only more informed and intelligent -- and right now I'm kind of thinking what's the point in just adding to the clutter. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has a blog, under the illusion that people actually want to read what they have to write. Maybe I'm just indulging in self-pity, given that my hits counter is practically in the negative these days - that's right, people are actually unvisiting my page. That said, it's not as if I've put too much effort in, so you reap what you sow and such. Perhaps I'll get into again after I finish doing Scripture School stuff. And on that suspenseful note...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Faith, Works, and Salvation

I've been thinking a lot recently (uh oh) about faith and works and salvation and all of that. I haven't finalised my thoughts by any means, but a couple of things have occurred to me.

(1) I, and probably many others, am probably more of a Paulian than a Christian. I wrote a piece about Jesusanity a while back which tackled the issue of promoting Jesus' ethical teaching while neglecting His atoning sacrifice on the cross and such. Well, what I fear many of us are guilty of is being members of Paulianity, where we promote the doctrine of "Saved by grace through faith" and neglect almost everything else Paul said, and everything all the other NT writers and Jesus said. Would Paul be happy with this? I doubt it.

(2) As a result of my Pauline focus, I think I may have missed what salvation is all about. Sounds kind of drastic, but for the most part I think it's true. For me, good deeds done out of love have always been "evidences" of salvation. Faith saves me, faith in Christ means I have peace with God, and my (theoretically) increasing Christlikeness is the evidence of that. The more and more I think about this, the more flawed I think it is. Well, not so much flawed as incomplete. I wrote something down along the following lines, but I can't quite remember where. Anyway, it was something like,

"Good works are not the evidence of our salvation; they are the goal."

Salvation is not mere intellectual assent. The essence of being a Christian isn't just thinking like a Christian should think; it's becoming like Christ in both character and conduct. When we reduce our good deeds to proof that we are saved, we really miss the point of salvation. And what's more, we end up selling Christ's salvation as being something purely cerebral and fideistic, thus losing its redemptive, reforming, life-altering aspect. Of course our works should point people to something else, namely the lordship of Christ and the glory of God the Father. We are to preach not ourselves to people, but Christ.

That said, God's purposes in salvation are much greater than we might dare to think, and they very much include our good deeds which are born out of our new character. What's more, the apostle Paul would certainly agree:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Eph 2:9-10


"For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. " - Rom. 8:29

Christlikeness is the goal, and yet so often I settle for so much less.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Irresponsibility Breeds Disobedience, But More Importantly, Humour

Having inadvisedly watched an episode of The Simpsons with my two nephews yesterday -- inadvisedly because they are both under the age of 5 -- one fears the worst. Owen will begin to develop a sharp tongue and say things like "Hell" and "Later, man", while Luke will sit on a couch and drink beer all day. At least that's how I see things panning out anyway.

However, there are positives to be taken from this life-shaping experience, namely the knowledge that my nephews have a sense of humour. Isn't such knowledge a small price to pay for childhood disobedience? Don't answer that...

The episode we watched had two of the best Simpsons' moments in the shows history - the first was the scene where the Witness Protection Program change the Simpsons' name to the Thompsons, and then the guy keeps on saying "Hello, Mr Thompson" to Homer but getting no response. The second was slapstick at its best - Sideshow Bob stepping on the rakes. These are classic Simpsons moments, and I can say as a proud uncle that my two nephews, especially the elder one, found them hysterical. Owen was actually laughing so hard at the rake scene that I could tell it began to hurt. It has happened to me on a few occasions, where you just end up willling for the thing to end so that you can stop laughing. Of course I was laughing with him, partly because what we were watching was comedy gold, but also because it was just so funny to see these two little boys laughing so hard.

I'd like to think that all of this made my irresponsibility worthwhile. And if not, well at least there's a good chance that I may not be asked to babysit again. It's like when you are first asked to wash the dishes as a kid, but you decide to wash them really badly in the hopes that your parents won't trust you with the job in the future. Yep, that's the kind of child I was, and apparently that's the kind of 'adult' I am. Oh dear...

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Big Ideas

Confession time: If there has has ever been anything on this blog that you thought to be spiritually insightful, then there is a good chance I learned it from my Scripture School teacher, Dr Arden C. Autry. The following is a piece of his that was written in response to a question which went something along the lines of, "So Arden, what's the 'big idea' of the Bible?"

In short, everything that I've written about in this blog concerning Christianity -- with the possible exception of the Todd Bentley and Joel Osteen posts -- falls somewhere into what Dr Autry calls The "Big Ideas" of the Bible. I find that sometimes it helps to just stand back from the nitty gritty details of Christianity -- as a snooker player would stand back from the table -- in order to soak in the big picture, so you can see where it has all come from and where it is going.

So without further delay, here is your chance to do so. By the way, there will be some form of prize (most likely a congratulatory comment) for the person who can come up with a fitting synonym for 'reclaiming' that begins with the letter 'c'.

The “Big Ideas” of the Bible

-- Monotheism (one will as Source of all)
-- spiritual significance of material world; God’s will to bless creation
-- humanity in God’s image; capacity for relationships of love and will
-- orderly, “lawful” world (e.g. sowing & reaping) [purposeful narrative]

-- The Fall; brokenness
-- created wills choosing against the Creator’s will [narrative of loss]

-- redemption; atonement; healing of broken relationships
-- remnant saved to reach the rest [evangelistic imperative]
-- promise of Creator’s purpose being realised [narrative of promise]
(God’s promise elicits faith, hope, and love.)

-- ordered relationship between sovereign God and responsible humanity
-- God’s initiative in election; human response of faith and obedience
-- redeeming relationships, provided by grace, dependent on faithfulness
-- revealed and lived out in history of Israel and the Church
-- life of purpose; Creator/Redeemer’s intention revealed (revelation)
-- context of promise/fulfilment
-- context of love/grace and commitment/faithfulness [journey narrative]

-- God’s Word made flesh; ultimate, definitive revelation; covenant embodied
-- fully God, fully human (Emmanuel, God and humanity reconciled)
-- He makes our story His story, so that He can make His story our story
-- fulfilment of creation/redemption narrative assured
What Adam was created to be,
What Abraham/Israel was called to be,
That’s what Christ incarnate is.
That’s what we are in Christ (the body of Christ).

Communion Community
-- It takes the whole covenant people of God to inherit and exhibit the promises and fulfilment of God focused in Christ. [His narrative becomes ours.]
-- love within the church
-- love for the world (from God)
-- belonging to God and one another in the Holy Spirit, who makes Jesus known
(The one, true Holy Spirit is known [1] by whom He makes known and
[2] by the connections He creates.)

-- Kingdom of God (God’s purposes by His power), already and not yet
-- hope energising the present faith/faithfulness (future shaping the present)
-- resurrection life now and future
-- judgment, ultimate resolution of justice
-- glory of God manifested
-- creation healed
-- One will realised and glorified by all [creation/redemption narrative complete]

Arden C. Autry, PhD, October 2005

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Indictment of a Spoiled Generation

I came across this Conan O'Brien clip on another blog and thought I'd post it here too. It kind of puts some things in perspective for we spoiled westerners. Enjoy.

Louis CK on Conan

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I've recently joined a website called Shelfari, where you basically show off how many books you've read in order to impress the few friends you have who choose to sign up and do likewise. In terms of books I've read/am reading/want to read there are 72 on my shelf, roughly half of which have been written by Bill Bryson.

As I was scanning through my virtual bookshelf, it was funny to see a little bit of variety (though admittedly not much). For example, sandwiched between Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris is Harrington on Hold'em Volume's 1, 2, and 3 (the Workbook) by professional poker player Dan Harrington. For a disciple of tournament poker these books are the bible, so perhaps they are related to some of the other books on my shelf after all.

Also taking up space on my shelf is Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon (creator of The Wire). This book finds itself between Mighty in Word and Deed and The Holiness of God. Though the chronicles of the homicide unit in Baltimore -- a city with roughly 300 murders a year -- doesn't exactly fall in line with a book detailing the perfect moral character of God, Homicide is still a fantastic read, albeit a fantastic read sprinkled (read: saturated) with foul language.

Anyway, if you're not a member of Shelfari then click the link I just gave a sign yourself up. It's a good time killer if nothing else.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lost and Found

In each of my Luke-Acts assignments there is a devotional part at the end, where you are given a couple of passages from Scripture to read, describe, and learn from. Here is one such devotional study (it won't necessarily read like a blog entry, but at this stage it's the best I can do):

Luke 15:1-10

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

In this passage we find Jesus teaching two sets of people - tax collectors and sinners, and Pharisees and scribes. The former group were gathered around Jesus, eager to hear what He had to say. The latter group were indignant at this, grumbling amongst themselves because “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (15:2). In response to these murmurings Jesus told three parables, two of which are found in the passage in question.

The first has to do with a man losing one of his hundred sheep, and going out to look for it. Jesus’ rhetorical question implies that this would be common practice in the day (15:4). When the man finds the sheep he brings it home and rejoices with his friends. The message on Jesus’ lips is that so it is in heaven when a lost sinner repents. The second parable has the same point, except this time the story is based on a woman who is searching for a missing coin. She sweeps the whole house until she finds it, and when she does there is much rejoicing.

The parables of Jesus are generally said to have one main message, but in this instance I think there are several points of contact and therefore several messages to take from these parables, especially given the context (Jesus was teaching both sinners and Pharisees it seems). For me, the message which comes through has to do with the person of Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes complained about “this man” who treated sinners so favourably. Jesus’ parables can be seen as a defence of His character and an insight into His heart; and consequently, an insight into the heart of God.

In both of these parables, the compassion and love which Jesus has for sinners shines through. Jesus doesn’t tell of a man waiting for his sheep to find its own way home. Nor does the lost coin just present itself to the woman. The one who lost his precious object diligently searches “until he finds it” (15:4, 8). No stone is left unturned; no blade of grass goes unsearched. A lamp is lit and shines into all the dark corners until the lost item is found.

So it is with Jesus. He “receives sinners and eats with them” because they are the ones He came to save. As He said earlier, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Lk. 5:31). But rather than making them come to Him, He reaches out to them; He searches for them until He finds them. His sinlessness and holiness do not force Him to remain aloof, distant from those He is so unlike. He can act towards the lost with holy love, shining His light in the dark places in order that those who were lost in darkness can be found.

Later on in Luke, Jesus gives one of several mission statements. He says that “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10)*. It’s important that I don’t overlook this seeking aspect to Jesus’ salvation. I was not saved because I came to God, said the right things, and therefore He had no choice but to declare me “justified”. God’s salvation is not contained in a box, and he who finds the box wins the prize. God is a seeking God, and His heart is for sinners like me. His salvation spreads out across the world, proclaimed to men and women through the Gospel of grace. Our God is not a passive God, but an active one; a God who seeks out the lost. Jesus said that “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). As such, there are few passages in Scripture which give us as clear an insight to the heart of God than this series of parables in Luke 15. For me, they completely disrupt any false ideas I have of God, and any false ideas I have of myself. When I contemplate the holiness of God and my own sinfulness, I am left astounded by the heart of Jesus on display here, which is the heart of God Himself. A part of me dares not think it true, and yet a part of me knows that if this is not God’s heart then there is no hope for people like me, who require nothing less and nothing more than divine grace in order to be saved. Being a recipient of this grace, I am to carry it forth to the world around me, because this is the message the world needs to hear.

* There is another mission statement which is intrinsically linked with the above, and which I didn't mention. That statement is "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45). God's activity in seeking out sinners is complimented and completed in God's activity in saving sinners, namely through the cross of Christ.