Archive for November, 2007

Edwards’ Religious Affections

November 30, 2007

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I have been re-reading Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections. I’ve finished it and really it is a must read classic. Unfamiliar with his style and language the first time I read it I really struggled. It took me several stop-start attempts across a few years to finally get through it but it was great. This time, more familiar with Edwards, I got through it much more quickly, thoroughly profited from it once again and saw many things that I missed the first time round. The book is a quite brilliant spiritual pathology that at once inspires and cuts deeply. It is well worth every minute spent on it by the careful reader. If you have to read one book that’s really going to stretch you in your Christian life make it this one.

Incidentally Sam Storms, founder of Enjoying God Ministries has produced a book called Signs of the Spirit which he has called an interpretation of Religious Affections. It is an attempt to make Edwards’ thought accesible to the 21st century. If you are unfamiliar with Edwards it may be a good place to start.

One reviewer says of the aim of the book ‘By staying biblically grounded one can truly embrace full humanity, emotions, intellect, spiritual affections in the redeemed image of God.’ That really is what Religious Affections is all about.

Breaking into Suburbia

November 28, 2007

It is a question that I have often wrestled with- although not often enough. It is the question of how as Christians we break into suburbia.

Our church worships in a quiet suburban area. For many people it is the ideal place to live. Good housing, few obvious social problems, respectable church-going people, good schools, nice local shops, easy commuting distance to the city centre etc. Any attempts to engage the locals on Christian matters are likely to be met with the response, ‘we belong to church x, y or z.’ It is an attempt to ward off those who might pry or who might be too enthusiastic about their religion. People are happy to tick their church box but are suspicious of those Christians who talk the language of salvation. To use that painful expression of RC Sproul they believe that good respectable people that they are they will obtain ‘justification by death.’ I see them Sunday by Sunday. As I travel to church they go to the golf club, or the newspaper shop, or go jogging or out for a walk with the kids.

Nonetheless the issues are there when occasionally one glimpses behind the net curtain. There are the broken marriages, the lonely people, the debt, the dysfunctional families, the underage drinking, the pornographic addiction, the stress of working to fuel the perfect lifestyle. Not least the emptiness that no amount of money can fill.

The great question is how we break into that suburban world. A world rife with individualism that shuts its double-glazed doors to the outsider. A world which we as middle-class Christians have bought into at least in part. Perhaps we have bought into so much that we can no longer recognise the spiritual vacuum at the heart of the materially comfortable lifestyle.

So how do we break into the suburban world? A world in the grip of the spiritual poverty that the rich young man knew. We cannot I have discovered engage suburbia through our programmes- suburbia is too self-sufficient for that. We cannot meet them on their own ground because everyone’s home is his castle. Individuals in an individualistic world are suspicious of our community. We cannot even ask them to church because we are a small church and the consumer mentality rules church as it does everything else. The consumer looks and asks, what do they have to offer my family?

I have many more questions than answers. And would welcome hearing from anyone who is ministering in such a context.  Most ‘successful’ attempts to minister in this context, as far as I can see, simply reaffirm the suburban mindset rather than seeking to transform it through the gospel.

I’m glad to see some folk on the web who are tackling this issue- even if it relates to the American context. If this issue concerns you click the link below and consider the resources. At the minute it is stronger on analysis than answers. But it is a first step on a long journey.

www.stevekmccoy.com/reformissionary/suburbia.html

Jesus-The Missing Years

November 19, 2007

Well at last for all of you who were wondering what occurred during Jesus life between his visit to the temple aged 12 and his baptism around thirty you are about to find out the answer. Courtesy of Hollywood. A new $20 million dollar production, ‘The Aquarian Gospel’ is to go into production. The film seeks to tell how Jesus during this period went to India and embraced Indian religions including Buddhism and Hinduism. It purports to be based on scholarship. Suitably the film is being created by the team behind the film 300– a fantasy based on a comic book. Perhaps the whole enterprise is best summed up by the Guardian newspaper which describes it as ‘a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus’s life.’

I know lots of Christians will get hot under the collar about this historically inaccurate portrayal of Jesus. But it strikes me that Hollywood will once again do the cause of the gospel a great service- a bit like Dawkins does. For once again Hollywood- unintentionally- will bring the discussion about Jesus into the public arena. It will make the church interact with the surrounding culture. And it will get people reading the gospels. All in all it will be an instrument in the hands of the living Lord to bring people into His kingdom. Which is a far cry from the producers aims to fill a few cinema seats with a sensationalist misrepresentation of Jesus.

Norman Mailer’s God

November 17, 2007

The Times newspaper recently published an interview with the lat Norman Mailer on his views about God. Mailer stated that having been an atheist for thirty years he then came to believe in God. He described the God he could visualise as ‘an imperfect, existential God doing the best He (or She) could manage against all the odds of an existence that not even He, our Creator, entirely controlled. Note the possessive: our Creator. God, as I could visualise such a being, was an Artist, not a lawgiver, a mighty source of creative energy, an embattled moralist, a celestial general engaged in a war, but never a divinity who was All-Good and All-Powerful.’

Mailer’s vision of God is a classic late 20th century vision of God not so much in its characteristics as it conception. For we live in a world in which everyone conceives of God in a way that please them. Mailer notes that he could read theology because he found it ‘dictatorial’. In other words, in typical fashion, he didn’t like someone telling him that this is the way it is. The late 20th century vision of God is a re-hash of man’s essential problem that he strives for autonomy and rejects God’s self-revelation. Although Mailer is shrewd enough to know where this leads. That it is the path that ends in totalitarianism.

The idea that man becomes his own authority in matters of knowing God is a self-referentially absurd idea. It leads us in the direction that Freud, Feuerbach et al criticised Christianity for leading us, the believe in a God who is nothing more than our own self-projection.  Yet its where sinful man’s flight from God leads.

But in rejecting the idea of knowing God through his self-revelation we end up missing the glorious truth that lies at the heart of the Christian faith that Gods self-revelation culminates in the revelation of His love through His self-giving through His Son Jesus. It is the great message of love, redemption and eternal hope. But we miss it once we decide to make God in our own image.

Thoughts on Reading

November 8, 2007

I enjoy reading Tim Challies blog at www.challies.com and have just read his post on reading. It is something that I have recently reflected upon myself- why I read. The reason I was reflecting on it is that I am reading Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections again. Although i haven’t read the book for a number of years I was shocked when I started to read it again. I was shocked by how much it had influenced me and yet I could remember so little of the detail. It reminded me that reading for me has, during my adult life, been something that I have engaged in to give me a suite of mental furniture.

I seldom takes notes when I read. Nor do I underline books- I was put off that practice by a fearsome university lecturer! My interest in reading a book in seldom in consuming the detail  but using it as an aid to thought. The book becomes an interlocutor as I engage with its ideas. It is through this that my own thinking is shaped. Thankfully I usually retain some detail, if the book is good. And like Challies I usually retain the capacity to revisit the page where I read something- though i wonder how long that will last the more I read and the older I get.

I believe that good reading and consistently reading has been of immense benefit in my Christian growth. Like Challies I’m grateful for the gift of reading, the provision of books and the joy I have received through this practice over the years. I would earnestly encourage all Christians to start reading for its immense spiritual benefit. I would encourage you in part because I’m not naturally a reader. Often I find it hard work to keep reading. Due to ill health I often missed school when I was younger and I reckon it took me a long time to catch up in terms of reading.  My reading at times remains frustratingly slow. But the benefits far outweigh the labour. It is a great discipline to keep reading and forms an important dimension of training ourselves to be godly.

If you’re a blogger but not a disciplined reader how about an IT fast until you read and finish a good book?