Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Towards Better Bible Studies Training

Here's a Word document with some thoughts on how to prepare and lead a Bible Study with some suggested resources. The notes are from a couple of training sessions I ran for home group leaders and others at Holy Trinity.

Monday, January 21, 2008

When God Pitched Up

Below is the text of my handout for a sermon preached yesterday on John 1:10-14. There are some more jottings (in a Word document) here.

(1) An Amazing Miracle: (v14)

God became a man

The incarnation

Jesus: (i) fully God – the eternal “Word”, The Son

WYSIWYG – (Jn 14:9; Heb 1:3; Col 1:15, 19; I Jn 1)

--> we can know God (v18)

(ii) fully human – “flesh” – (Jn 11:45; 4:6; Mt 4:2)

--> God knows us (Heb 4:15)

astonishing love – we must really matter to Jesus (2 Cor 8:9)

“made his dwelling” (v14) = “tabernacled” – (Ex 33)

Jesus the New Tabernacle / Temple (Jn 2:21)

--> if you want to know God, go to Jesus

(2) A Terrible Tragedy: (vv10-11)

God’s world rejected Him

--> don’t make the same mistake: recognise Jesus

(3) A Wonderful Privilege: (vv12-13)

But all who received Jesus became God’s children

“Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”? – (Jn 8:42, 44)

we are not all / automatically children of God

--> receive Him / believe in his name (v12)

born again Christians (v13; Jn 3:3; Eph 2:1)

“right” (v12) – “power / authority” --> confidence

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The illusion of progress?

As the PhD might be a very long time in emerging, I feel I ought to demonstrate I've been doing something on Thursdays since August. Mainly typing out bits of Calvin. Here are some notes on his doctrine of the Lord's Supper from Institutes of the Christian Religion Library of Christian Classics Volumes XX and XXI edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles (London / Philadephia, SCM / The Westminster Press, 1960) and Calvin: Theological Treatises Library of Christian Classics Volume XXII, Translated with Introduction and Notes by J. K. S. Reid (London / Philadelphia, SCM Press / Westminster Press, 1954) - (Word document, 19350words, 45pp).

Calvin on Lord's Supper Bibliography

I’ve been toiling away today at a bibliography for Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. I could have saved myself plenty of work if I’d done some more Googling earlier.

Dr Keith A. Mathison (author of Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine Of The Lord’s Supper (Phillipsburg, P & R Publishing, 2002)) has an extensive bibliography for an ThM seminar he taught on the subject at Reformed Theological Seminary in January 2006 online here.

The only things I have to add are:

Ferguson, Sinclair, “Calvin on the Lord’s Supper and Communion with Christ” in David Wright and David Stay (editors), Serving the Word of God: Celebrating the Life and Ministry of James Philip (Mentor, 2002)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas, “Not Presence But Action: Calvin on Sacraments” Perspectives 9 Mr 1994, pp16-22

Zachman, Randall C., Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2007)

Update (31/1/08):

While I was at it, I should also have Googled Calvin bibliography and I would have come up with The Calvin College Meeter Center Calvin Bibliography.

Tony Lane also had a ‘Guide to Calvin Literature’ published in Vox Evangelica 17 (1987) 35-47.

English (Any!)

Almost anyone who's ever read anything I've written will know that I'm badly in need of a good spell checker.

Using the Word spell checker just now, I was quite often puzzled as to which of the correction options I was actually originally aiming for!

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that it would be handy if Word had an "English (Any)" option, so that one didn't have to choose between UK & US spellings. If you've got a document with lots of quotations its sometimes a job to work out whether the original used English or American spellings. And if your American spelling is even worse than your English spelling, are you then meant to as Word to switch dictionaries each time? Being lazy I tended to allow "s"s or "z" and willingly overlook "u"s, and so on.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Things You Must See Before You Die

With a nod to Revd Sam Allberry, here's something from yesterday's sermon (more jottings for which are available here).

Let me tell you a few book-titles I found on Amazon this week - (I've been using my sermon preparation time wisely!):

Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die

1000 Places to See Before You Die

1001 Natural Wonders: You Must See Before You Die

1001 Historic Sites: You Must See Before You Die

101 Things to Do Before You Die

101 Things to Buy Before You Die

300 Beers to Try Before You Die

1001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die

Fifty Places to Sail Before You Die

Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die:

1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die

1001 Albums: You Must Hear Before You Die

1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die

1001 Books: You Must Read Before You Die

1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die

The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die

Ten Fun Things to Do Before You Die

There’s also, by the way,

101 Things Not to Do Before You Die

Its an exhausting list, isn’t it!

After that lot, you might need

Unforgettable Islands to Escape to Before You Die

I'm not knocking those books (necessarily!). I'm interested in some of them myself.

But I think a list of books like that makes you realise, doesn’t it, that many people sense they're missing something in life.

They’re trying to squeeze as much as possible out of the time left to them on this planet.

They’re not satisfied and they don’t know quite where to look for peace and rest.

There would be something a bit desperate if someone had all those books on their shelves, wouldn’t there?

But the Bible’s message is much saner and much simpler.

This passage (Simeon's song in Luke 2) tells us that the one thing we must do before we die is, as it were, see Jesus.

Don’t worry too much about all those books and pictures and places and films.

The only really essential thing is to come to appreciate Jesus – to come to terms with him.

Simeon says, in effect, "now I've seen Jesus, I can die happy".

That's the message of Simeon’s song:

Jesus is at the centre of things.

He alone brings salvation and light for all people.

Jesus is the one who brings peace.

Lasting satisfaction and rest, meaning and purpose are to be found in him.

If we put Jesus at the centre of our lives, we'll be able to look back on them without regrets.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Limits of Grammatical Historical Exegesis

This might be worth a read.

The Presence of God Qualifying Our Notions
of Grammatical-Historical Interpretation:
Genesis 3:15 as a Test Case

by Vern Sheridan Poythress

[Published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50/1 (2007) 87-103]


Evangelical scholars have championed grammatical-historical interpretation as an objective means of sifting truth from error. This approach has value if we use it as one focus, but limitations if we use it as a total account. The temptation arises to think of objective interpretation as implying total domination of the text in order to capture its meaning. God himself poses an obstacle in several ways to hermeneutical dominance. God as master author limits our understanding of the authorial mind. God the Spirit as inspirer of human authors limits our understanding of human author's minds. God as archetype for man as the image of God implies the necessity of understanding the divine mind in order to understand the human mind. God as master of history limits our ability to confine the text to its immediate historical and cultural horizon. God as Lord of language limits our control on word and sentence meaning. God as present through the Spirit among interpreters limits our control on our own minds. Various limitations can be illustrated in the challenge of interpreting Genesis 3:15.


God as Sovereign is present with human authors, with the text of the Bible, and with the recipients. On all three fronts his presence is the one true foundation for the proper functioning of communication. On all three fronts his faithfulness gives hope for our understanding. God gives us access to genuine truth. But on all three fronts there is no such thing as mastery that evaporates mystery and succeeds in fully controlling meaning.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How to carry on theological debate?

You have got to love Calvin's refreshing directness!

I am planning to do some thinking about the view that all of creation is sacramental so I have noted this comment from Calvin:

… if they simply understand “sign” as what is adduced for a comparison… what end or measure will there be? There is nothing that by this reasoning will not be a sacrament. There will be as many sacraments as there are parables and similitudes in Scripture…. I admit that whenever we see a vine, it is a very good thing to recall that Christ said: “I am the vine, you are the branches”; “My Father is the vinedresser”. Whenever we meet a shepherd with his flock, it is good that this also come to mind: “I am the good shepherd”; “My sheep hear my voice”. But anyone who would classify such similitudes with the sacraments ought to be sent to a mental hospital.

(Institutes 4.19.34, FB ed. p1481-2)

Probably Incoherent Trinitarian Musings

An interesting discussion on the way back from vicar training last night around things Trinitarian, such as, should we begin with the one-ness or the three-ness and how do we best describe the unity and diversity in the Godhead. I’m not quite sure where all this got us and if we avoided heresy, but it was stimulating to talk about it and perhaps worth revisiting some rambling thoughts here to see if I’ve got any of it straight in my own head! It made me wish I’d been in Rev’d Dr Mike Ovey’s Trinity Lectures. It’s a shame we so quickly get into foreign words like hypostasis, substantia and ousia and that East and West didn’t seem to understand one another. Corrections welcome.

It seemed to me my interlocutor wasn’t the greatest fan of talking of one substance as the basis of unity. I can understand that there are dangers in thinking of some extra substance of goodness that stands behind the Persons and makes them God. My friend wanted to describe the unity of the persons of the Godhead and their divinity in terms of relationships.

However, it seems to me we need something more than relationships to ground the unity – and that we can usefully describe what it means to be divine or the One God of the Bible (such as uncreated) without necessarily having to talk of persons and relations. I guess mutual indwelling (perichorisis) – relationship language – does help us out in describing the unity. We could also say something about agreement of purpose and will, but it seems to me that we also need to talk of shared attributes.

As I had understood it, the relationships between the members of the Trinity ground their distinctiveness. The Son is all that the Father is except Father, and so on. You could say this strong statement of unity actually emphasises relationships since it is the relationships alone that are highlighted as distinguishing the persons. It is the relationship of eternal begetting / begottenness that makes the Son the Son and not the Father. Otherwise he shares all the attributes of the Father and is God (holy, wise, powerful, loving etc.) just as much as the Father is.

However, I guess we ought to say that the Son is God as the Son (in a Sonly way, in eternally begotten relationship with the Father) and so on. The persons are all that they are always in relationship to one another. They have their attributes as who they are in relationship, interdependently and in unity.

I think my friend also had some questions about some ways of talking about simplicity, but I cant quite remember / grasp what they were?

We don’t want to start parcelling out attributes amongst persons. We might call the Son the Wisdom of the Father but we don’t want to say the Father isn’t wise! The Father is never without the Son so I don’t know how much sense it makes to try to isolate the persons. For example, would the Father know an Other, or indeed know himself in an Other without the Son? Presumably not. But that’s just a way of saying we must be Trinitarian. All the persons are essential and eternal and any monadic account of “God” or “god” is inadequate.

My friend said he thought Calvin wasn’t very happy with Nicene-creed language of the Son as “God from God” etc. and stressed that it is poetic. We don’t have a reference for this? I guess the battle is to hang on to the fact that Jesus really is God, not God in some weaker sense. Sure, you might say the Son is True God in himself but all the persons are always only what they are in relationship.

It is also interesting to ask what we should make of John 5:26, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” So that would seem to mean that there is a prior sense in which the Father has life in himself in which the Son does not? Clearly we must say the Son is eternal and uncreated but do we say he gets his life from the Father by virtue of / in his eternal begetting / begottenness? Is self-existence therefore an attribute of the Godhead or is it also an attribute of the Father but not of the Son? However, I guess the Father is only the Father in so far as he begets. So the Father is also dependant on the Son in terms of relationships: it is (eternally) having a Son that makes the Father a Father. The Father has no independent-apart-from-the-Son life as Father. Which is happy since in any case there wasn’t when he was not.


Theological Word Count

Wallace Benn mentioned at vicar-training yesterday that Richard Baxter wrote more words in English than any other theologian. Baxter also served as something of a local doctor on a Wednesday, apparently!

Calvin on the Supper Reading

I'm just beginning to wonder what secondary literature I should be reading on Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Supper. So far I've come across the following. Any further pointers gratefully received!

Ferguson, Sinclair, “Calvin on the Lord’s Supper and Communion with Christ” in David Wright and David Stay (editors), Serving the Word of God: Celebrating the Life and Ministry of James Philip (Mentor, 2002)

Gerrish, B. A., Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Eugene, Wimpf and Stock Publishers, 1993)

Mathison, Keith A., Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine Of The Lord’s Supper (Phillipsburg, P & R Publishing, 2002)

McDonnell, Killian, John Calvin, the Church and the Eucharist, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1967)

Nevin, John Williamson, The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist edited by Augutine Thompson (Eugine, Wipf and Stock, 2000) originally published 1846

Tinker, Melvin, ‘Language, Symbols and Sacraments: Was Calvin’s View of the Lord’s Supper Right?’ Churchman 112 no 2 1998 pp131-149

Wallace, Ronald S., Calvin’s Doctrine of Word and Sacrament (Edinburgh, Oliver and Bond, 1953)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas, “Not Presence But Action: Calvin on Sacraments” Perspectives 9 Mr 1994, pp16-22

Zachman, Randall C., Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2007)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ceremonies that point to Christ

No doubt there’s more to say here, but I’ve been helped by the way Revd Dr Paul Blackham of All Souls’, Langham Place, analyses the 3 ceremonies Luke mentions in chapter 2 that might shed light on the coming Messiah:

Circumcision (v21). In Genesis 17 the giving of circumcision as the bloody sign of the covenant and its implementation sandwiches the renewing of the promise of the seed through Isaac. It is perhaps in part a way of looking forward to the birth of the Messiah.

Redemption of the Firstborn (v23). In the Passover all the people deserve judgement but the first born male stands in for or represents the nation, bearing the wrathful punishment of God, unless a lamb dies in the place of the firstborn. Exodus 13 commands that firstborn males always have to be redeemed, just as if the people of God were still in captivity in Egypt. The firstborn Son is still to come to die as a substitute in the place of the people, bearing the wrath of God, releasing God’s people from slavery.

The ceremonial purification of Mary after childbirth (vv22, 24, cf. Leviticus 12). The pain of childbearing comes from God’s curse against sin in Genesis 3. It is through the birth of a child that the curse will be removed. Jesus will, of course, bring cleansing to his people and access to God.

Blackham’s sermon, The Child Who Divides (sermon code D040/03, 29th Dec 2002) is available on the All Souls’ website.

Comfort for Israel the widow

The widow Anna who speaks to those who were "looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:25) about the child Jesus becomes a more significant figure when we realise that Israel, the people of God, is often pictured as the LORD's bride in the Bible. In Lamentations 1, Jerusalem is a widow in need of comfort. The final "consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25; cf. Isaiah 40), the ultimate end of exile, comes in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the wedding of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).