Month: October 2011

learning from those who have gone before

Here’s an extended quotation not only worth pondering but also one with which we must engage: 

The idea of cultivation and exercise [of spiritual awareness of God's presence], so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast-flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push-buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter [of the Bible], have our short devotios and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious advernturer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us: Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men [and women], trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit. These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul. 

For this great sickness that is upon us no one person is responsibile, and no Christian is wholly free from blame. We have all contributed, directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor, average diet with which others appear satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted another’s notions, copied one another’s lives and made one another’s experiences the model of our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward. Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire-grass and, worst of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very very pasture of the blessed.

I’m withholding the source (i.e. author and book) for now, primarily because I want the quotation to speak for itself.  I will disclose that the source is not recent, in the sense that it appeared within the past 5 years; the source of the quote comes from a work published in 1948.

chatter on the Spirit

All of the following sites came to my attention on Friday (28-Oct), but I am only just now able to mention them due to a somewhat hectic schedule.  Given the subject matter of my dissertation, and my general interest in theological discussion about the Spirit, I was naturally drawn to each of these sites:

  • The first is an article by Mark Cartledge on the ‘Nature and Function of New Testament Glossolalia’ (2000).  I remember reading it shortly after it came out and wanting to return to some of its arguments.  There was much that I appreciated about his presentation, but there were also points where I would want to nuance things a bit differently.
  • The second is a post by Scot McKnight, briefly interacting with a book by Mark Galli. I have not read the book, but I am quite interested to do so.  I especially like the notion of the Spirit being ‘disruptive’ in the life of the believer–’disruptive’ in a good sense of the term–but I’m not too comfortable with the role of the Spirit being associated with ‘chaos.’  I see what Galli is trying to do and suggest; I’m just thinking there could have been another way of saying things.
  • The third is a brief look at 1 Cor 13 by Mark Dabbs, a chapter that he considers to be the ‘the best chapter on spiritual gifts in the Bible’. While I depart only at minor points from Dabb’s treatment, I thoroughly appreciated this bit of sage advice: ‘don’t get caught up in the gift. Get caught up in the one who gave the gift, God, and how He wants us to use those gifts in loving ways.’
  • The fourth is from C. Michael Patton, ‘Why I Am/Not Charismatic: Biblical Arguments for Cessationism’, which is always a fun discussion to have.* As with the Cartledge article, there are points where I agree with Patton’s reasoning and points where I simply cannot agree.
  • The final one is from Sam Storms, ‘Why I Am/Not Charismatic: Biblical Arguments for Cessationism Response’, which, as you can probably gather, replies to Patton’s arguments. Storms raises a number of excellent points and questions for Patton, many with which I enjoy and support. However, there were also points in Storms’ argument where I found myself shaking my head.

I might take some time and enter these conversations, or at least offer my perspective and see what happens.

UPDATE [10-Nov]: C. Michael Patton has responded to Sam Storm’s response (see above), which once again created multifarious reactions within me. After reading Patton’s response, I have concluded that I will have to dive into this discussion and will do so in good time.  (I have to finish a couple more pressing matters first). However, I will offer this as a teaser: to both sides of the debate (i.e. Cessationists and Continuationists), those of you asking when a small number of specific gifts will cease;** I think the apostle Paul would say, “You’re asking the wrong question, and you’re focused on the wrong point.”  (That should ruffle some feathers).

* Yes, there was a bit of sarcasm in that comment.
** Let’s face it, the issue about the (non-)cessation of spiritual gifts is really only about the ones mentioned in 1 Cor 13.1-2, 8b–i.e. tongues, prophecy and knowledge.

ancients talking trash

When speaking about the person and teaching of Manes, Archelaus (bishop of Caschar) not-so-subtlely states:

And, in good truth, I hold Marcion, and Valentinian, and Basilides, and other heretics to be sainted men when compared with this person.

Ouch! But Archelaus goes on to explain himself:

For they did display a certain kind of intellect, and they did, indeed, think themselves capable of understanding all Scripture, and did thus constitute themselves as leaders for those who were willing to listen to them. But notwithstanding this, not one of these dared to proclaim himself to be God, or Christ, or the Paraclete, as this fellow has done, who is ever disputing, on some occasions about the ages, and on others about the sun, and how these objects were made, as though he were superior to them himself; for every person who offers an exposition of the method in which any object has been made, puts himself forward as superior to and older than the subject of his discussion. But who may venture to speak of the substance of God, unless, it may be, our Lord Jesus Christ alone?

The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes 38.

a prodigious centre

Thursday, 20-Oct, 10.00pm marked the end of a 5-week course I teach on Pauline theology,* a course I’ve had the opportunity to teach several times already. While the material (or, notes) for the course remains virtually the same, I typically take the time to read through–albeit in a somewhat casual way–some of the latest treatments on the subjects discussed. This is partly for my own awareness of the state of Pauline scholarship in these areas, and partly to prepare myself for possible questions from the students. If time allows, I also attempt to re-read some of the older works so that I stay in touch with their arguments and continued relevance.

In my recent preparatory reading, I became more aware of the scholarly interest in trying to ascertain the ‘centre’ of Paul’s thought or theology. (I say ‘more aware’ because I always knew this to be a key point of inquiry, but I might have inadvertently overlooked its details and significance while searching for information about other topics or themes). This increased awareness might stem from my earlier reading of Herman Ridderbos’ Paul: An Outline of His Theology (1975), where he spends adequate time dealing with that particular issue. It might also stem from the fact that I was more relaxed and open while reading this time round. Thus, what was previous familiar suddenly became new and exciting.

The various proposals for what constitutes the ‘centre’ of Paul’s theology range from general concepts (e.g. grace or love), to theological categories (e.g. justification [by faith] or Christocentric soteriology), all the way to specific persons (e.g. Jesus or the Holy Spirit). Admittedly, there are times when the boundaries of this range are blurred so that a combination of proposals becomes a new option (e.g. our union with God ‘in Christ’ or God’s apocalyptic victory in Christ). While all of these, and certainly many others, represent fundamental aspects of Paul’s theology, I struggle with seeing any of them as the ‘centre’ of his theology.

I say that partly because, despite the apparent difficulties of his logic or argumentation, I believe Paul operates according to rather basic principles or beliefs. Accordingly, I also say that because I believe Paul would say something (or, someone) so enormous, obvious and essential stands behind each of the other proposals. And it is this enormous, obvious and essential other that I think forms the centre of Paul’s theology, and that centre is the person of Yahweh; everything else, for Paul, emanates from this centre. While I would love to say this proposal is original to me, I am neither that arrogant nor that foolish; Gordon Fee says something similar as does Thomas Schreiner. However, I will relish in the joy of having come to this conclusion on my own before finding comfort in the fact that I am not alone in reaching it.

* The five weeks cover: the (not so) ‘New Perspective on Paul’; the (developing?) eschatology of the Thessalonian letters; gifts, love and meaning in 1 Cor 12-13; faith and ‘sacred space’ in Gal 3; and the ‘election’ of Jews and Gentiles in Rom 9-11.

surprised myself (or, just lucky)

Brought to my attention by Jeremy Myers, I just took a quiz on ‘civic literacy’ over at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute website. The quiz begins with the following foreboding question and follow-up statement:

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%. Can you do better? Questions were drawn from past ISI surveys, as well as other nationally recognized exams.

My score: 22 out of 33 question right, or 66.67%. I’ll throw in the added variable that I did this while enduring the beginning stages of a massive migraine. So, that would mean my score otherwise might have been 66.68%. Or not. Maybe I just got lucky.

What I found interesting (or sad, really) was the comparative table at the end of the quiz–the one that shows the differences between ‘citizens’ and ‘elected officials’ on each of the 33 questions. The interesting/sad part: only on four questions did ‘elected officials’ do better than ‘citizens’, and the margin of difference is not that wide; on every other question, the ‘citizens’ hammered the ‘elected officials’.

Okay, time to sleep off this migraine.

words being Fry-ed

For the past two Sundays evenings my lovely bride and I have been watching a series by the inimitable, Stephen Fry.*  The series is called, “Fry’s Planet Word” and for those able to access BBC iPlayer, episode 1 is here and episode 2 is here.

To speak generally, Fry in episode 1 explores not only the nature of language as a distinctly human characteristic but also its evolution, especially the 2000+ languages that ostensibly emerge from a single tongue. Along the way Fry intimates a concern about the apparent devolution of language (or, linguicide–as he will later call it) brought about by the advancement and development of the ‘global village’, where a small number of languages are becoming the lingua franca of this village. The concern is therefore not with the interrelationships with other peoples and cultures that can be and are formed; instead the concern is with the loss of particular languages that are essential to the unique identities of those peoples and cultures.

Then, and retaining the generality of my comments, Fry in episode 2 picks up the theme of ‘language as identity’ and places it at the forefront of his investigation. Specifically Fry examines accents and dialects not only as unique in form and character but also inextricably bound to people’s sense of self. It is here that the concern intimated in episode 1 receives explicit attention. The attention falls on those languages or dialects that have struggled to survive, not because of the history (or, historical existence) of the language or dialect of a particular people but because that language or dialect retains, reflects and recalls the history of the people who possess it. Hence Fry’s (appropriate and needed) concern: if a language or dialect is lost, the identity of those who possess it is also lost; and that loss would truly be a tragedy, especially if the loss was the result of a desire to create a linguistic homogeny suitable for life within the global village.

I’ll end this post with a quote from the conclusion of episode 2, followed by a slight reapplication.  While the context of this quote is people’s fascination with identifying themselves with a particular football club, the substance of Fry’s remarks apply to things beyond that fascination.

Those who say, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter to me; I have no sense of identity. It doesn’t matter to me that I’m British. It doesn’t matter to me that I’m English. It doesn’t matter to me that I’m from Shropshire or Yorkshire or Kent or Norfolk.’ Maybe they’re right, but I can’t feel like that; I have this . . . I can’t help but belong. I think it was Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister of the earlier part of the 20th century, who said he was a patriot but he wasn’t a nationalist. And they said to him, ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘Well, I think a patriot loves his country but a nationalist hates everybody else’s country.’ (56.54–57.33)

To broaden the application of Fry’s comments: patriotism is people loving and cherishing specific aspects of their culture or nation, those things that make them who they are and distinguish them from others cultures or nations; but that does not mean they necessarily hate those who are unlike them. Nationalism, on the other hand, is people arrogantly perceiving aspects of their culture or nation as so unique and superior that such things must become universal for other cultures or nations. Nationalism is hateful because it has little-to-no regard, respect or love for the unique and historically rich identity of others.

* Stephen Fry is one of several people in the UK I would love to meet. So if Fry is reading this, or if someone has connections: if ever in Cheltenham, then coffee, tea or lunch–my treat.