Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

The Current Need for Spiritual Discernment

August 23, 2008

This week has brought more sad news about the behaviour of leading Christian figures. First there was the news that Todd Bentley who has been the leading figure in the ‘Lakeland Revival’ has been forced to stand down after filing for divorce from his wife and admitting to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. Then there was the admission from Michael Guglielmucci whose song the Healer written when he was diagnosed with cancer had been an inspiration to many people admitted that he never actually had cancer- the whole thing had been fabricated.

Since I have been studying 1 Corinthians so much of what Paul writes there came to mind as I considered these sad episodes. Notably the dangers that there are in promoting the cult of celebrity Christian leaders and the need for spiritual wisdom and discernment. But perhaps one the in Corinthians came to mind more than others. And that is there is a theme running through Corinthians where Paul seeks to shame the ‘super-spiritual’ Corinthians by telling them that even the people of the world are wiser and more discerning than they are. it’s not a major theme in the letter but read it carefully and you will see that appears at several points e.g 5:1; 6:1-6; 14:23. And it is indeed to our shame as Christians where we have less common sense let alone spiritual discernment than the world around us. It must appear to the world that we are not people of faith but just plain gullible.

We live in an evangelical sub-culture where we need to reassess the nature of true Christian experience and true spirituality. That will require boldness and a willingness to stand up to those who would bully others in the light not of plain scriptural teaching but their so-called experience. We live in a day when the principle of sola scriptura not only needs to be recovered but also when we need to consider carefully how the rule of Scripture is to be applied.

Matthew Henry on Adam’s Rib

August 21, 2008

I came across this very moving quote by Matthew Henry on the creation of woman in Genesis 2.  He writes,’ the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.’ It is beautiful vision of the complementarity of the sexes and the mutual responsibilities within marriage.

The Truth of the Cross- Again

June 4, 2008

I’ve mentioned this book before but at last have managed to read the whole thing. Its a funny little book in appearance- slightly bigger than A6 in size. But the content is great as Sproul sets out a biblical and historical view of the atonement. He sets this view out very clearly and very simply. It is good book for anyone to read in this day when this view of the atonement is being undermined. Certainly it would be helpful for anyone seeking a clear understanding of the biblical view and/or anyone  young in the  Christian faith.

Was Moses a Junkie?

March 7, 2008

Was Moses a junkie? According to Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem he was. According to Shanon Moses experiences on Mount Sinai were the result of taking psychedelic drugs made from concoctions drawn from the acacia tree which is frequently mentione din the Bible.

Acacia wood is mentioned 29 times in the Bible never in relation to a strange brew. In fact 26 times it is mentioned in relation to making furniture.

Again we find pseudo science masquerading as scholarship in relation to the Bible and capturing headlines. Shanon’s case is made on the basis of his experiences in the Amazon and have nothing to do with any kind of biblical research. Or for that matter any kind of proper research. He says Moses experiences cannot be based on a divine human encounter. Is this because of some empirical research? No, its because ‘I don’t believe [it]! Clearly no bias in his research then.

It would be interesting to know if Shanon knows of other instances where psychedelic  experience have led to the construction of a highly sophisticated moral and legal system. Or why Shanon thinks Moses was angry at the idolatrous revelers in the camp in Exodus 32.  For Shanon the whole Pentateuch and the subsequent history of Israel rests on a bad trip.

That this work should merit serious discussion or be given publicity is shameful and yet again demonstrates not the purity of science but how easily it is corrupted.

The Muslim Jesus

August 27, 2007

I finally got around to watching Melvin Bragg’s documentary ‘The Muslim Jesus.’ It was good, informative and well balanced. It of course inevitably raised the question of whether or not ‘Jesus’ was a bridge between Christians and Muslims or a barrier. In much the same vein last week a Dutch minister suggested that Christians should call God ‘Allah’ in an attempt to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims. Whilst we have of course a shared vocabulary and share a common figure in Jesus the problems begin to arise when we come to definitions and understandings. As one Islamic scholar put it in this programme Christians had in fact a wrong view of Jesus as they had allowed tradition to colour their understanding. A Christian scholar laid much the same charges at the door of Islam.

Two particular issues were raised in my mind. The first was the issue of critical evaluation. There was it appeared to me little critical evaluation of the Christian tradition from the point of view of Islamic scholars. They naturally assumed that the Islamic view was correct but there seemed to me to be little critical evaluation of how the Christian view of Jesus emerged. Why from the 1st century onwards did Christians proclaim Jesus crucified and risen from the dead if these things did not happen? As those who emerge from a later tradition it seems to me the weight of proof is upon the Islamic scholars to show that the earlier view is incorrect.

The second issue that occurred to me was the theological one. If the Islamic view of Jesus is correct Christians are hopelessly misled. I am reminded of Paul’s words about the historical reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins and your faith is futile.’ As has rightly been said Christianity is Christ. So the issue of the identity of Jesus is one not simply of historic interest but huge theological significance.

One thing that perplexes me considering the debate it this- and I am no Islamic scholar by any stretch of the imagination. It seems to me strange that Islam can respect Christians as ‘people of the book’ if our book is fundamentally flawed. In Christian theology the whole New Testament is centred upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and raised from the dead. This also determines our understanding of the Old Testament. So I’m not quite sure why Christians are honoured as ‘people if the book’ if both their book and their interpretation of it is so fundamentally flawed.

So is Jesus a bridge or a barrier? I suppose he is both. He is a barrier in that there is a radically different understanding of Jesus between the two faiths. But He may also be a bridge if Christians and Muslims can engage in a constructive discussion over the key historical and theological issues.

Musn’t Grumble

August 27, 2007

I can never recall if it was Francis Xavier or Francis Assisi who said that they had heard men confess to all kinds of sins, even sin they could not imagine but they had never heard anyone confess to covetousness. Covetousness joins that list of invisible sins such as gluttony that scarcely register on the sin radar. I have thought much recently about another invisible sin, grumbling. It is something which truly blights the church but which few take seriously as a sin even though they experience its bitter aftertaste. Yet the God takes the sinfulness of grumbling seriously. If you doubt that then read Exodus 16, Numbers 14 and Paul’s commentary on this episode in 1 Corinthians.

Why is grumbling such a serious sin?

1. In the first instance it is serious because it arises from an absence of grace in or lives or an acknowledgement of that grace. Grumbling in effect says I deserve better.

2. It arises from a resistance to God’s providence in our lives. Like the Israelites we fail to rest in God and trust in Him.

3. Grumbling in churches is very often, as it was in the desert, directed at leaders. There is that failure to be thankful for those whom God has given to the church as His gifts to build up the body of pride.

4. Grumbling is often closely allied with a sense of self-pity.

5. It also arises from pride. Pride which refuses to acknowledge that we are imperfect like the people around us.

6. Where there is grumbling there is an absence of Christian love.

The effect of grumbling in our own souls is to produce cynicism. Its effect on others is to dishearten them. Its effect upon God is to bring the judgement of God.

Grumbling should be taken seriously and we should repent of it.

Luke’s Birth Narrative

August 2, 2007

I’ve enjoyed reading Robin Lane Fox’s Classical World where he takes the reader across five centuries of ancient history in about 600 pages. I take it however Fox is no friend of Christianity since he has another book sub-titled ‘Truth and Fiction in the Bible.’ In his book Classical World as he comes to consider the rise of Christianity he writes, Luke’s account of Jesus birth coinciding with ‘a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed’ means that the ‘first Christmas rests on a historical impossibility.’ He bases this contention upon the fact that there is no other evidence of this decree, that the gospel’s dating is contradictory and that Judea was responsible for its own taxation.

Fox’s statement is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that he has no real reason for introducing the issue into his narrative- other than to have a swipe at Christians. Secondly, having introduced the problem he makes no attempt to explain it- is he constrained by space. Thirdly, as far as I can recall Luke is the only ancient source he subjects to criticism. Fourthly, and perhaps most extraordinary of all, he dismisses Luke’s account as ‘a historical impossibility.’ This is remarkable since Fox happily quotes the New Testament as a reliable historical source at other points in his book. Why all of a sudden has its historical detail become not only unreliable but impossible? It strikes me that Fox cannot resist having a go at Christianity.

Scholars have of course been aware of the difficulties surrounding this detail in Luke’s gospel for a long time. Indeed they have suggested several possible solutions, which in itself rules out the charge of ‘historical impossibility.’ Ben Witherington III offers what appears to me to be a good solution to the problem. He writes ‘it is more probable that Luke is referring to a census under Quirinius that took place prior to the famous one in A.D. 6–7. If so, we have no clear record outside Luke of such an action by Quirinius, though it is not impossible that it took place. Herod’s power was on the wane at the time of Jesus’ birth, and a census in preparation for the change of power could well have been forced on Herod since he had fallen into some disfavor with Augustus near the end of his life. We know also that Quirinius had been made consul in 12 B.C. and a person of his rank serving in the East frequently had far-reaching authority and duties. It is thus not improbable that, acting as Caesar’s agent, he had Herod take a census. It is also possible he was governor more than once in Syria, though the possibility also remains that Luke may be identifying him by his later and, to his audience, more familiar office. It is less likely that Luke means that Quirinius started a census in 6 B.C. and finished it in 6–7 A.D., for he says that this was the first census the governor took (distinguishing it from some later one). The upshot of all this is that Luke’s reference to the census does not suggest a different date for Jesus’ birth than does the Matthean evidence.’
Green, Joel G.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, I. Howard; editors, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 1998, c1992.

Sadly once again the pretence of scholarship, which is more polemical than scholarly, has been used to undermine the reliability of the Bible.

Grace in the life of Jacob

July 16, 2007

I have been reading again Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology and thoroughly enjoying it. I have just finished the section on the life of Jacob. What struck me most about Jacob was the abundance of god’s grace in his life. How God called him rather than Jacob showing his grace and establishing Jacob, as Paul shows us in Romans, as the paradigm for predestination. How Jacob’s vision of the angels ascending and descending the ladder- Vos says the order is important!- reminded Jacob of God’s providence in his life. And of course that wonderful mysterious wrestling match where God deals with Jacob so graciously.

The other great thing that struck me form the point of view of preaching the life of Jacob was how important it is to keep God at the centre of our message. If you like the story of Jacob is not about Jacob but about God’s great plan of redemption. The danger is that if we keep Jacob at the centre then we preach the passage and apply it by substituting ourselves for Jacob. When, to borrow from one of Dick Lucas’ preaching instructions, ‘Its not about you silly!’

I’m reminded also of DR Davis advice that if we keep God at the centre of preaching narrative we’ll not go far wrong in our interpretation.

How to be Happy – Though Married

June 2, 2007

My Dad who was happily married for over 40 years used to joke that he was going to write a book called, ‘How to be Happy though Married.’ He may have been closer to the mark than he knew.
A recent article in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy has suggested that married couples will be happier if they accept that their relationship will not be perfect. It says that it is a “myth that, with enough effort we can achieve a state without suffering.” And perhaps the most stunning observation of all- the Hollywood version of romance is a myth!

It is good to have this injection of reality into the modern mindset, where largely there is a myth of the perfect life perpetuated. And where people are the victims (often culpable ones at that) of unrealistic expectations in a culture where advice comes from magazines. Of course what the Bible seeks to present us with is a realistic vision of life where fallen people live in a fallen world. Where we cannot obtain perfection in this life. But we can know the grace of God through which we can still find purpose and help in this broken world. More than that we can also find redemption from this world in heaven where we will enter that realm where the defects of sin have been removed.

One suggested remedy for marital conflict is to practice mindfulness from Buddhism, but in a non-religious. A much more creative answer is to be in a right relationship the God who has created us for his glory and who has revealed Himself to us in His Son Jesus. And who has promised us His peace and His contentment amidst the realities of living in this fallen world.

10 Theological Reflections on Genesis 1:1

May 19, 2007

There can be few more controversial chapters in the Bible than Genesis 1. As we look at it we must remember that it is above all a theological explanation the origins of the world. So I want to offer 10 theological reflections on the chapter.

  1. God is eternal- existing outside time
  2. In the beginning there is nothing except God- there is other rival or competing force. Therefore everything else that is has been created.
  3. God created all things- He is eternal, matter is not.
  4. God exists in Trinity- it offers a pre-trintitarian vision of God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  5. God is separate from the world that He has created.
  6. God created by simple fiat- His word is powerful
  7. Creation is orderly- it is not random and chaotic
  8. There is nothing that exists outside of God that He has not created
  9. God is all that is real since He alone exists outside creation
  10. There is only one true God- the God revealed in Genesis 1