Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I'd value your prayers as I go off on my pre-ordination retreat.

It's good remember that the purpose of retreating is that we might advance!

I'm very much looking forward to hearing Bishop John Taylor, the former Bishop of St Albans.

I was wondering if I could take Mrs Lloyd with me. Perhaps if I concealed her in a trunk, as Archbishop Cranmer is reputed to have done?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dobbie on Trusting God

Our new youth and children's worker, Chris Chapman, has kindly loaned me a copy of Lieut-General Sir William Dobbie GCMG, KCB, DSO, 's A Very Present Help: A tribute to the faithfulness of God (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London, 1944), which may make a welcome addition to St Gregory the Great on Pastoral Care and the ordinals as my pre-ordination retreat reading.

General Dobbie, who was the Governor of Malta during its heroic defense in 1940, wrote the book to acknowledge something of his great debt to God and as an imperfect way to express his thanks. He writes in the hope that "the rising generation" may see "that it is a practical and intensely real thing to let Christ come into one's life, and that to-day, as ever before, it is no vain thing to trust in the living God."

There are chapters, amongst other things, on Prayer, the Bible, Service, Christ as Friend and 3 on the "miracle of Malta".

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Passion For Life

An intitiative of the Gospel Partnerships to encourage Bible-centred churches to connect with one another, with people and Easter, that they might connect with God in 2010.

The power of an hour

One of Garry North's themes is what one could achieve in an hour a day if one stuck at it for a long time. Stick to knitting, don't get bored and soon you will have knitted a lot. Think and read about your knitting, make lots of tiny improvements and you'll soon be an expert on knitting.

For us lesser mortals, maybe 20 mins. a day is a more realistic target.

I believe John Piper had the habit of spending 20 mins a day reading Jonathan Edwards. He has become something of an expert and the benifits are clear to see in his wider ministry.

Similarly, my Greek might get better if I spent 20 mins a day on it. Well, maybe not...

Didn't John Stott have patterns of study: an hour a day, a day a week, a week a year, or something like that?

The evangelical quiet time ought to have similar effects over time. With 10 mins. a day of Bible reading, you'd read the whole Bible pretty regularly. Stop to think and pray about it and you'll see the benifits.

I wonder if one can do a PhD in 20 mins a day? Probably not if one is distracted by pointless blogging.

A gag

The Rotary Club speaker announces, "This nation is going to the dogs because of two reasons: ignorance and apathy." One member turns to the other and whispers, "Do you think that’s true?" His fellow club member replies, "I don’t know, and I don’t care."

Dig in

Gospel ministry is not about "winning" or gaining a following. But under God we rightly want to have as much positive influence over a lifetime as we can. We want, to use a horrible phrase, to be "strategic".

I have sometimes thought that going somewhere not especially strategic and staying there might be the most strategic thing to do.

Dick Lucas' ministry has been massively influential and I guess a visionary could see the potential at St Helen's Bishopsgate, but I understand that when he first went there the congregation was pretty tiny and elderly and he was his only parishoner? Perhaps that's not quite right, but you get the idea. It was a long term ministry.

If the minister is to be something of a father to his people, as Paul was to his converts, then it seems strange that the minister should abandon his family if an apparently better offer comes into view.

There is great value in having buried people's parents and baptised their children.

People want to know that their pastor loves them and is committed to them. That means being there.

If there are people in a church who oppose a gospel ministry, it is no bad thing if they know the minister will be carried out of there in a box, feet first. They probably don't want to fight for the next 20 years.

So all things being equal, how about 30 years in some little market town?

These thoughts were stirred up again by this, from Mr North to which Dr Field pointed:

The average American Protestant pastor stays at one congregation for about 5 years. Then he moves on. He never builds up what the Communists called a cadre. The members know that he will move on if he is successful, or if he gets bored, or if he confronts problems that don’t go away rapidly.

A congregation’s lay leaders dig in and wait out the pastor, who come and go. Pastors find that they face roadblocks in their ministries because the laymen in the boards know that they hold the hammer, long-term.

A pastor who sticks for a decade begins to get his way. He wears out the laymen. If the pastor is both patient and prudent, he can outlast the opponents. He has the pulpit. They don’t.

Liberals in the mainline denominations figured this out over a century ago. If they could gain control the denomination’s national boards, which were full-time paid positions, they could outlast the laymen and pastors at the General Assemblies. What they forgot was attrition. When old members died, they were not replaced by young members. Because the liberals made the church seem more like the world, outsiders figured that they could keep their tithes and offerings for themselves, and use their Sunday mornings for amusement. The mainline denominations wound up with too many chiefs and not enough braves: leaders with a declining number of followers. But this took a century. The liberals dug in; their opponents came and went. The liberals had a long-term plan. The conservatives didn’t.

Pick a geographical location and dig in. Don’t leave. Don’t answer the call of more money elsewhere. Become a fixture in the community. Become reliable people who are called on, year after year, to show up at meetings. Most people will not show up. Those who do will wind up in the positions of leadership. Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. He was right.

A familiar face is a trusted face. A person can get away with almost anything if he is one of the town’s good old boys. The smaller the town, the truer this is. As Hyde’s book shows, a person who has shown up for years can slowly move an organization in almost any direction he chooses unless there is someone else on the other side who is equally faithful organizationally and equally self-conscious. There rarely is.

Praise her in the gates

Tomorrow is Mrs Lloyd's second wedding anniversary. Fortunately my parents and sister have sent us cards, so that has reminded me. It was wise of them to cause them to arrive a few days early! My father avoided the problem of remembering his wedding anniversary by marrying my mother on his birthday, which always seemed wise to me.

Some would say she deserves a medal for putting up with Mr Lloyd. I'm sure you wont agree, dear reader. But she should be decorated for all her hard work in house and home, for her fantastic help, her faithful mothering of child, father, dog and cat alike and a list of accomplishments too long to mention. Mrs Lloyd has often gone above and beyond the call of duty and has done those jobs which Mr Lloyd has shamefully neglected or has proved incompetent to perform. She has joyfully put put chests of drawers when I would still have been looking at the plans (or more likely starting then stopping to look at the plans). Lawns have been mowed and bins emptied while my back was turned for little more than a moment.

Mrs Lloyd has created a pleasent action-packed home on a meagre curate's stipend and is a happy hostess.

Apart from being quite a looker and about a million times more trendy than Mr Lloyd, Mrs Lloyd is also adorned with purity, reverence and an the inner beauty of a gentle and quite spirit, which is of great worth in the sight of God. Which isn't to say that she can't surprise with some penetrating comment that no one else had mentioned.

I shall be celebrating our wedding anniversary by attending morning prayers, staff meeting, teaching in HT parent and toddler club, going to a meeting with ministers from 2 other churches, and attending Rev'd Dr Jim Packer's talk at Holy Trinity on the lessons of the Canadian Anglican church.

But Mrs Lloyd has proved a Proverbs 31-er indeed. Her piano lessons have dressed her family in purple. And we are off to scoff the proceeds, as it were, on Thursday 3rd at the Sussex Ox.

Now I need to rush out to buy her something cotton, I believe. Though the interweb would seem to suggest that china is an acceptable modern alternative.

Do you think this blog post would serve as a suitable substitute for a card?


Over the last couple of days I have heard three rather surprising comments.

Someone described me as eccentric. I can't see that myself. I'm totally normal. Its the rest of the world that's eccentric if there be any eccentricity about! Wherein is this eccentricity to be seen?

Someone else said, "You look too young to be a minister". Maybe I should be flattered as I've not long turned 30 and my hair has a smattering of grey, which I believe is a good thing in the Bible.

And finally, a long-term so-called friend who thinks that she has a special mission to keep me humble told my wife that she was doing an excellent job in knocking off some of my corners but that the job was not yet complete. What corners? And maybe I like my corners? And is that really Mrs Lloyd's job? And...

Faith & Works

Someday I might plagarise Rev'd John Cheeseman's outline on James 2 regarding the relationship between faith and works.

Despite Rm 3:28 and James 2:24, James is not contradicting Paul. Since Romans and James are the Word of God and God doesn't make mistakes or lie, context must allow us to reconcile the apparent, superficial verbal contradiction.

James is saying that "such" empty intellectual in-word-only-and-not-in-deed hearing-and-not-doing faith cannot save.

We must distinguish and ask in what sense Paul and James are speaking of faith and justification.

If James and Paul had a chat, they would agree that faith alone saves and that faith which is alone does not save, since it is not true faith. They would agree that we can neither in any way merit salvation or contribute our good works to it, nor say we believe in Jesus and wilfully indulge in a sinful lifestyle. Romans 6 shows that Paul could be just as strong as James in combating antinomianism. Faith is the cause, basis or grounds of justification. Good works are the proof or fruit of justification.

James then gives 4 illustrations about faith and works. The first 2 are examples of conterfeit faith and the final 2 are examples of real faith.

A: (1) vv15-17. The case of the armchair do-gooder

(2) vv18-20. The case of the "believing" demons

B: (3) vv21-24. Abraham's unbelievable faith in God's promise and power

(4) vv25-26. Rahab the Harlot's risky faith

Archbishop hates Articles

In his evening sermon yesterday, which God-willing will soon appear on our church website, The Rev'd John Cheeseman reported a conversation he had 40 years ago with Archbishop Michael Ramsey. John asked the Archbishop what he thought of the 39 Articles, which are part of the official doctrinal basis of the Church of England. Ramsey replied, "I intensely dislike them".

John commented that it is no wonder Anglicanism is in the mess that its in.

We could do a lot worse than get back to the 39 Articles which at one time Anglicans were meant to believe.

John pointed out that Articles 11 and 12 are particularly helpful on the relationship between saving faith and good works.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Discovering Discipleship

I preached this morning for 11 mins (+ preamble & prayer) at St Nicolas', Pevensey on the BCP gospel reading, Luke 5:1-11, with a sentence on the other two readings, saying that they could be taken to be Calls to Discipleship, though that is not the most exciting comment in the world since from one point of view the whole Bible is about discipleship.

It was an interesting service: 11am Sung Eucharist, largely according to the Prayer Book. There were robes, lights, a procession, Gospel from centre of church, incense, bells and so on. Eastward position.

My headings (which also appeared on a green handout, for Trinity) were:

Discipleship Discovered: Following Jesus
Luke 5:1-11

Discipleship is a response to the unique power and authority of Jesus (v8) revealed in his teaching (vv1-3) and miracles (vv6-7, 9)

Being a disciple involves taking Jesus at his word, doing what Jesus says because he says so, even if it seems stupid (vv4-5)

Jesus is powerful even when our best expertise is powerless, able when we are incapable, strong when we are weak (vv4-7)

Sinners (like Peter and us) rightly fear Jesus the Lord (v8)

But Jesus’ friends have no need to be afraid (v10)

Jesus calls his unworthy disciples to call other disciples after Him (v10)

Follow Him, whatever you have to leave behind (v11)

Word and Sacrament (Lk 5:1-11)

Is it fanciful to see Word and Sacrament here in this call of the disciples?

The word is no problem, that's explicit in the text: Jesus taught them the word of God.

If sacraments are visible words, enacted signs, significant actions of Jesus in which he involves his people, where they receive from him by his grace and power, is not the miraculous catch of fish sacramental? It is interpreted by the Word: as you caught these fish (by my grace and power, despite your inability) so you will catch men?

Presumably as the climax of this new covenant they had made with Jesus they ate (some of the fish) with Jesus, though I guess they might have straight away left everything behind (v11)?

Convinced? Or is that such a weak view of what's sacramental that its not worth bothering with?

Ordination Gift Ideas

Someone suggested that I should have a special wand to use when pronouncing the absolution after I am ordained to the priesthood (let the reader understand).

I fear there may have been a little satire in their tone.

They remain to be convinced that, in the words of the Prayer Book:

Almighty God... hath given power and commandment to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins
BCP, the absolution from Morning Prayer, p3

Perhaps some further Bible study is called for.

Friday, June 20, 2008

GAFCon Representative

I gather from David Virtue that if we take Archbishops at GAFCon to represent the active Anglicans in their churches, then GAFCon easily stands for well over 70% of Anglicans.

Correction? On the Today programme this morning I think they said the organizers claim that the conference represents 50% of church-going Anglicans, so perhaps I got my wires crossed there. Apologies.

Prayer To Mary

I have just been leafing through the Armed Forces Operational Service and Prayer Book (Ministry of Defence, JSP 587, Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board), which contains some useful and some not so useful material, including funeral services from other faiths.

I'm afraid that with the best will in the world, it seems to me that the "Evening Prayer [sic!] to Our Lady" gives to Mary the place that belongs only to Christ. I don't think she or her son would like it!

Please don't "pray" it. You can read it here for research purposes only!

Hail holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
to Thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and wailing in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, Thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of Thy womb Jesus.

O clement, O loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Capital letters for Mary seems to me to give her far too high a status.

Better to go straight to Christ, knowing that he is the only mediator between God and man and that anyone who comes to him he will by no means turn away.

This prayer seems to me obviously to pray to Mary whereas I have heard some try to distinguish talking to Mary and asking her to pray for us, which sounds like as a bit of a fudge to me anyway.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Oxford Thinking

The University has launched its biggest ever campaign.

Perhaps it could mark it by a thorough return to its motto:

“The LORD is my light” (Psalm 27:1)

I might then be inclined to give it some cash if I had any.

I was pleased to see that the chairman of the Campaign is an LMHer and that the college's 130th anniversary this year gets a mention.

I wonder how much it cost them to send everyone that lovely glossy boasty book, by the way?

Ruth & The Prodigal

I've noted the comings and goings in Ruth before.

I wonder if the book might not be fruitfully compared with the story of the prodigal son.

In both, there is a movement from the Father's place of provision, from being well fed to hungry, a journey to a far off country of sin where there is eventually a lack of food, suffering and judgement. The characters come back to their senses and go back to where God has provided.

Ruth's humility in 2:13 where she says that Boaz has comforted her and spoken kindly to her though she is less than one of his servant girls put me in mind of the Prodigal's recognition that he is not worthy to be called a son and that the servants are better off than he. Boaz shows a kindness and generosity like the Father's.

The readers of Ruth must not be like the older son, begrudging God's generosity to a gentile younger son.

Have you got the keys?

As I understand it, according to the BCP and the canons, in the dear old C of E, the presbyter has the power of the keys. He is to excommunicate gross notorious unrepentant sinners.

But he must notify the diocesan bishop who must give an opportunity for an interview and who may then give a ruling which the presbyter is to follow. The Bishop has a master or skeleton key.

Has the presbyter lost the power of the keys? Is this a good, right or acceptable system?

Texts on the power of the keys (and excommunication) most welcome too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ordination goes episcopal

Normally when presbyters are ordained in the C of E, other presbyters join with the bishop in laying hands on the ordinand deacon.

Apparently, in this diocese of Chichester, Bishop John has set the practice that now the bishop alone lays his hands on the candidate and ordains him. Other presbyters may then separately lay hands on the candidate and pray for them quietly as a sign of welcome and blessing.

I understand this arose because of the confusion over women's ordination. I guess some men did not want to be touched by women presbyters and some deny that they are such. I guess some men didn't want to touch women too. This way the peace is kept and contamination is spared.

As I understand it, in this diocese the ministry of women is welcomed but it is retired bishops who priest all the women. I'm not sure I understand that policy, but there we go.

I absolve you & I bless you

In the ordination service with which Bishop Wallace Benn is soon to ordain me presbyter (priest), d.v., it says that the special responsibilities of priests include absolving and blessing the people in the name of Christ. I’m perfectly happy to promise so to do, but I wonder if anyone can help us out with the exegetical basis for that? Also, how would you prove from the Bible that the minister is specially authorised to represent Christ (to his congregation)?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Liturgical Reform Programme steps 1 & 2

I stand by my earlier comments about designing new furniture for a sinking ship but I think the top 2 liturgical reforms I'd like to see are:

(1) The full scale authorisation of a good modern language version of the BCP. Something like the English Prayer Book (Church Society / OUP) would be great. It seems to me that Common Worship accepts the principle with the modern language BCP communion service. Since all Anglicans love the BCP and claim it for themselves, who could possibly object? Come on, synod, vote now, you know you want to.

(2) The authorisation of a Lord's Supper service according to an explicitly covenantal renewal pattern using lots of Scripture, traditional texts (such as The Apostles' Creed) and some permitted variations.

By the way, why does the BCP communion service have us saying the Lord's Prayer twice?

The hurt of hearing the mass

The other day I was at a clergy event where I was supposed to go to a communion service led by an anglican minister. To my surprise, it turned out afterwards that it had been from the Roman Missal.

I didn't walk out, but if I had been braver I might have done when the minister was holding up the wafer saying "this is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". This seems at best confused and confusing to me and likely idolatry, if really believed.

There was also much careless talk of sacrifice. Whilst the service didn't say, "now I will offer a meritorious good work to propitiate God" it sounded like the minister thought he was helping the achieve the salvation of the world by what he was doing. To my mind the service needs to be much more explicit on the one perfect completed never to be repeated sacrifice of Christ and our unworthy sacrifice as one of thanks and praise.

Prayers for the dead and invocations of the saints are without biblical warrant and risk undermining the work of Christ.

And I'm nervous about kissing the table.

I didn't join in with the dodgey words but I did communicate. Amusingly there were 2 Roman Catholic clergy present who didn't communicate but all the Anglican ministers did.

What should I have done?

Think I need to read John Bradford, The Hurt of Hearing the Mass.

It is a real shame that one can't trust supposedly Anglican services to be the real thing.
There should be a law against it. Oh, oops, nearly forgot, there is, but no one bothers about that... Maybe I should have called the police, or the Bishop.

Monday, June 16, 2008

One main point?

Just to share a little more sermon preparation angst:

Do you buy the idea that sermons should ideally / normally / always (!) have one main point?

I’m not sure I’m really convinced. But maybe that’s laziness!

Yet, its good if the sermon has a certain overall coherence, I guess. Of course it’s a problem if the whole thing’s self-contradictory, but I’m inclined to think, further, that its good, on the whole, for the sermon to have a clear single general thrust or direction.

I’m not over keen on reducing my sermons to a single pithy aim sentence, but perhaps I should be?

Presumably a walk through a Psalm could be faithful and edifying without being crunched out into three section headings?

I’m inclined to think a sermon that gives 4 things we need to know about God or even 3 lessons about Jesus and 2 reasons to follow him, would be perfectly acceptable. Would these be disqualified by the one main point rule? A problem of trying to squeeze everything into one point is that the point can be made so blandly inclusive that there’s not much point in making it.

Admittedly, we must not sacrifice clarity.

One advantage of having a summary sentence and saying it repeatedly is that there’s more hope that after the sermon someone might remember what you were saying. There’s not much hope for the congregation if the preacher cant summarise what he was on about!

I’m satisfied if, as a bare minimum, I can say something true and useful to my hearers from the text that’s been read. And I hope they’re not all completely asleep throughout.

If you confine yourself to the main point of a unit, when do you make the points that the text is making by the way, the things that the Bible really affirms but which aren't necessarily the melodic line of the book? If you wanted to say quite a lot of what the text implied, would the one-main-pointer have to take very small sections?

I sometimes fear my sermons are in danger of tending to be a jumble. Perhaps that’s because I don’t want to leave out things that are true and useful. Or interesting things that I’ve been struck by.

Any help?

How many will we catch?

I guess there’s always a danger that we see what we’re looking for, even if its not there! But I still reckon that post-millenial kind of texts crop up pretty often. Of course it doesn’t prove it, but in so far as the passage I’m preaching on this Sunday has anything to say about millenialisms, it seems pretty optimistic about the effectiveness of gospel ministry.

If the disciples thought at all about how many men they would “catch” in their new fishing ministry, Luke 5vv10 and 6 might lead them to expect amazingly large numbers of converts. Simon could reasonably expect that as he recognised his sin and inability but believed and obeyed Jesus’ word, he’d have an amazingly fruitful ministry. So it has turned out.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Cleansing of the Temple (Jn 2)

Here's the text of my handout for a sermon on the cleansing of the temple in John 2, which in due course should appear as an audio file on the Holy Trinity, Eastbourne website.

The real Jesus of the Bible repeatedly surprises us (cf. 2:1-11)

Jesus is determined (v15), zealous (v17) angry and formidable

Righteous indignation is possible (cf. Eph 4:26; Mk 10:14) though beware… (vv24-25; Rom 10:2; Prov 19:2)

Why is Jesus angry?
(1) The glory of God (vv16-17; cf. Acts 17:16)
(2) The needs of others (including gentile nations, Mk 11:17) – exclusion & exploitation

Do we share Jesus’ concerns and godly responses?

Jesus judges even (possibly seemingly) plausible corrupt religion

What would Jesus say of us, our worship & religion? How can we put our own house in order?

Jesus has astonishing, unique authority (v18) as the Son of God (v16), the Lord (Mal 3:1)

Make your peace with Jesus, submit to his lordship

Jesus’ resurrection confirms his identity & authority (v19, “I”)

Jesus is the New / True / Ultimate Temple:
(1) God’s glory dwells in Jesus (1:14, “tabernacled”; 2:11). We go to Jesus to meet God (1:18).
Church buildings ≠ the Temple (Acts 17:24)
(2) the place of sacrifice – (vv14-16), Lamb of God (1:29)

The Jerusalem Temple was obsolete after Jesus died and was destroyed in AD 70, as he predicted (Mt 23:38-24:2; 27:51)

deep, sincere, continuing trust in Jesus (vv23-25; 2:11; 20:31)

Chesterton on the Real Jesus

G. K. Chesterton said something like this:

People sometimes have the impression that “Christianity is something weak and diseased”. They think that “Jesus was a gentle creature, sheepish and unworldly, a mere ineffectual appeal to the world.” They imagine that Christianity belongs to the “dark ages of ignorance” and that “superstitious” people who are “still strongly religious… are weak, unpractical, and behind the times”.

“I only mention these ideas to affirm… that when I looked into them independently [for myself] I found, not that the conclusions were unphilosophical, but simply that the [supposed] facts were not facts.”

“Instead of looking at books and pictures about the New Testament I looked at the New Testament. There I found an account, not in the least of a person with his hair parted in the middle or his hands clasped in appeal, but of an extraordinary being with lips of thunder and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils, passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like a an angry god – and always like a god.”

“Christ had even a literary style of his own, not to be found, I think, elsewhere; it consists of an almost furious use of the a fortiori. His “how much more” is piled one upon another like castle upon castle in the clouds. The diction used about Christ has been, and perhaps wisely, sweet and submissive. But the diction used by Christ is curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea.”

“Morally it is equally terrific; he called himself a sword of slaughter, and told men to buy swords if they sold their coats for them. That he used even wilder words of the side of non-resistance greatly increases the mystery; but it also, if anything, rather increases the violence.”

“We cannot even explain it by calling such a being insane; for insanity is usually along one consistent channel. The maniac is generally a monomaniac…. Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside one another [or so it might seem]. The one explanation of the Gospel language that does explain it, is that it is the survey of one who from his supernatural height beholds some more startling synthesis.”

Ch 9, ‘Authority and the Adventurer’ in Orthodoxy (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1996, first published 1908) (pp217-218)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Zeal according to knowledge

The Lord Jesus Christ is surely the ultimate example of “zeal according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2; cf. Prov 19:2).

Jesus’ disciples remembered that it is written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17 quoting Ps 69:9)

And, John tells us, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them [those who saw the signs he was doing], for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2:24-25)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Comings and Goings in Ruth

The other day I noted some patterns in Ruth, though I wasn’t sure what to make of them.

I wonder if chapter 2 might be a deliberate reversal of chapter 1. In her own estimation, Naomi goes out from Bethlehem full in chapter 1 and comes back empty (v21). In contrast, in chapter 2, Ruth goes out to the field of Boaz empty and comes back full. If Elimelech acted in faithlessness bringing God’s judgement on his family, Ruth acts in faithfulness and her family experiences God’s blessing.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Questioning Questions

I fully admit the great power of a good question. And I enjoy a good discussion. And let’s have a full and frank exchange of views.

But if you are ever invited to speak at an Initial Ministerial Education event or such like, please do more than ask some questions or facilitate. We don’t really need you to share your academic problems with us.

We already know we are hopelessly confused and divided. We need help to love God and our neighbour better, preach the Word and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ as we serve our churches and the lost world.

In particular, please avoid questions that are incoherent or self-defeating. Do not assume your conclusions. Do not present false dichotomies.

By all means stir the pot up and open cans of worms and pour some petrol on the sticks and light a fire, but let’s put the pot, the worms and the fire to good use in the end.

Thank you.

Of course, we don’t have all the answers, but we do have some fixed points that are of first importance according to the Scriptures and we need reminding of them often.

The Power of the Bible

Yesterday Professor Steve Moyse gave some reflections at IME 4-7 on the power of the Bible to change and move us. Moyse is a New Testament scholar, head of theology at the University of Chichester and is involved in homegroups at church and does some lay preaching etc.

(1) He spoke of his conversion while at University through the Christian Union getting him to agree to reading Luke’s gospel. He found it spoke to him with convincing power, he met the risen Jesus and became a disciple.

(2) Then Moyse went to a Bible study on Genesis 22 and thought it was appalling that Abraham should contemplate killing his son and think that it might be the will of God. (Moyse didn’t mention Heb 11, by the way, which confirms what the Genesis text hints at that Abraham reasoned that God can raise the dead). Moyse seems subsequently to have become a liberal since he thinks Mark contradicts John and so on.

Now, we deny what (2) is meant to imply, of course. But Moyse seemed to want to ask how we account for the transforming power of the Bible if we do not hold to a fundamentalist doctrine of Scripture (though a version of (a) below could be seen as fundamentalist).

He had 4 options:

(a) There is something intrinsic about the Bible that makes it powerful.

(b) God chooses to use the Bible in this way.

(c) Literature (not just the Bible) can speak with power and transform.

(d) The transforming power of the Bible is an illusion. The power comes from us not it.

We deny (d) though we accept that who I am and my context shapes my reading of Scripture. My spiritual state also affects what I hear.

(a), (b) and (c) are perfectly compatible with one another.

Books communicate and mediate personal relationship (c), though the Bible is as special case since its author is living and active in its reception. The Holy Spirit speaks the words of the Bible to us today (Heb 3 & 4). The Bible is intrinsically special (a) since God wrote these words, but they are also ordinary human words with real human authors. God chooses (b) to continue to use the words he caused to be written. God’s choice is appropriate not arbitrary. A version of (b) could be a mindless hyper-charismatic magical or superstitious use of the Bible as directly addressed to me divorced from its original intended meaning.

Questions about authorial intent and meaning become easier (and more complex) when we remember a speech act view of language (we do things as people addressing people with words, not just stating propositions, but bringing relationships into being and altering them) and consider God as the ultimate author of Scripture. We need not think that Isaiah understood everything that his book properly means to us.

There is some mileage in the kind of distinction that Moyse mentioned between (original intended) meaning and (later or fuller) significance. In a way, all exegesis and systematic theology is application.

Moyse has a new book out, by the way, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (2008), which is basically a series of case studies on NT use of OT followed by some literary and theological reflections.

Furniture Design: a priority?

At our Initial Ministerial Education 4-7 residential conference, someone said that in the church we are not merely rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic while the ship sinks. We are designing new furniture! We need to get out there with the gospel. This was all with reference to the shelf-space the Common Worship series now takes up and how long the whole process of devising it and adapting it each week takes.

Now, furniture design may in the long term contribute to the spread of the gospel and good liturgy is essential to good Christian life, work and evangelism, but he has a jolly good point.