One of the most important hermeneutical constraints one should adopt in order to avoid such reductionism is this: Permit the various attributes and characteristics of God to function in your theology only in the ways in which they function in Scripture; never permit them to function in your theology in such a way that the primary data, the data of Scripture, are contradicted. Thus one must not infer fatalism from the sweeping biblical data about God's sovereignty; one must not infer that God is finite from the constant biblical portrayal of God personally interacting with finite persons. From God's knowledge and sovereignty we must not justify prayerlessness; from the exhortations to pray and not give up, we must not suppose God is coerced by our much speaking (compare Matt. 6:7-8 and Luke 18:1). Precisely because God is so gloriously rich and complex a being, we must draw out the lessons the biblical writers draw out, and no others.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Saturday, February 25, 2006
I'm just writing a short article about the area of self-worth and self-acceptance. A lot of my thinking on this springs from my own journey of self-acceptance and also my experiences of having a sister who struggled with anorexia for many years.
And I suppose in a way that's the best place to start, because it's one extreme view. One of the problems with anorexia is often that the person has or at least presents such a low view of their own worth that they want to starve themselves, harm themselves or even take their own lives.
We see the same kind of thing in a lesser form in a lot of other places. I know that one of the difficulties of being a teacher is helping pupils who have very little self-esteem achieve anything. Their lack of confidence in themselves can be paralysing.
And it's a problem society in general has latched onto as well. I'm sure if you go into most bookshops, you'd find books on how to build your self-esteem. And in my experience, the normal ways to try and build self-esteem are to base it in some way on who we are or on what we do. So people accept themselves – they think that they are worth something – based on their job, or their family, or their ethnicity, or their money, or their looks, or their sexual prowess or their fame or their fruitful ministry. They think that makes them worth something.
But at the end of the day, that doesn't work either, and I can see three main problems with it. The first is that it can lead to jealousy and dissatisfaction. You see, if I'm worth something because I'm clever, then surely if I meet someone who is more clever, then I'll think they are worth more than me. If I'm worth something because I'm popular, then that means celebrities are worth more than me. If I'm worth something because of wealth, then someone who is richer is worth more than me. And so we end up jealous of others. We end up idolising them, but secretly wanting to pull them down, so that we can be better than they are. We see it all the time.
Another problem is that it fails to cope with the reality that life isn't always easy. If I'm worth something because I'm a talented sportsman, then what happens after a car accident which leaves me in a wheelchair? What about Job?
But the biggest danger with basing our self-worth on who we are or what we do is that it leads to pride. If I'm worth something because I'm middle class English, what does that mean about those who aren't? Are they worth less? If I'm worth something because I'm wise or rich or strong, what does that mean about those who aren't? So if that's true then why shouldn't I boast? Surely if it makes me worth something, it's worth me boasting about!
But God brings low our pride, so that he alone will be exalted.
This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise boast in their wisdom or the strong boast in their strength or the rich boast in their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these things I delight,” declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 9:23, NRSV
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and I regard them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...
from Philippians 3, NRSV
What is it about me that is worth something? According to Jeremiah and to Paul, only the value of knowing God, in Christ Jesus my Lord. And that isn't because of something I've done. It's nothing to be credited to me. It is entirely because God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. It is because God the Father made me, because God the Son became a man and suffered and died for me, because God the Holy Spirit dwells in my heart and is bringing me into union with Christ.
Anything else I could trust in would fail me in the end, but God is my strength and my refuge. It is in him that I can accept myself, not because of anything I have done or can do, but because God loves me and has accepted me. And therefore, I should accept others because God has accepted them.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Friday, February 10, 2006
Here are some of my thoughts on events that were current at the time I wrote about them, as well as on society generally:
This morning, I was reading 1 Timothy 5:3-16, and thought there were interesting applications for a Christian view of the Welfare State. I am not saying the government should follow these principles, only that they are interesting ones to consider.
I fully recognise that the passage is speaking about the specific situation of the Christians (probably in Ephesus) looking after widows within their congregation. However, I think it's interesting to note the following prinicples:
1. Family First
Paul suggests that the first place people should look for support is their own families, and indeed that families have a duty to support relatives who are in need.
Honour widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.
1 Timothy 5:3-4, ESV
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8, ESV
If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows.
1 Timothy 5:16, ESV
I think this suggests that even unbelieving families have a duty to care for one another (v8), and therefore the expectation would be that it is not the place of the state to provide for those who have families who are able to care for them. Perhaps the state could assist the families to care for them, but should not encourage independence from families. Yes, there are difficulies here where the families are abusive (including failing in their duty of care), but I think that crosses into the realm of criminal law rather than social security policy.
2. The Deserving First
Following Christ is of course all about God's grace shown to us and transforming us. We cannot earn God's favour. To provide some balance, Paul says that the church should concentrate on helping deserving widows.
She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach.
1 Timothy 5:5-7, ESV
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.
1 Timothy 5:9-10, ESV
Were the government to apply this, it would suggest that social security should be linked to the kind of life the person was living or had lived, as judged by the government's criteria. Were they using their time well? - e.g. helping in charity shops, caring for people, foster care, ...
3. The Danger of Idleness
Paul warns agains the danger of the recipients of support becoming idle, a phenomenon which is sadly seen all too often today. He suggests therefore that people likely to become idle should not be supported by the Church.
Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.
1 Timothy 5:13, ESV
Were the state to decide to do this today, things might change quite dramatically in some areas!
4. Encourage Self-Sufficiency
One of the problems Timothy was facing was the problem of younger widows wanting support, when they could have remarried and been supported that way. Note that women then rarely seem to have earnt enough to become self-sufficient. Paul deals with this quite clearly.
So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
1 Timothy 5:14, ESV
If people can support themselves, including by marriage, they should.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Lots of people have already written lots of sensible stuff about the mess that's going on. Here are a few quick thoughts from me, with an emphasis on what I haven't seen written elsewhere...
- To the protesters, it isn't about freedom from being offended. It's about the imposition of Sharia law in Europe. That's why there's no incongruity between their offence and the anti-Jewish cartoons which seem to be common in the Middle East. The only incongruity is in their trying to argue it on the basis of freedom from being offended. It's a well-organised campaign as well. I don't think the timing coming so soon after the Religious Hatred Bill went though the Commons is a coincidence.
- Images of Mohammed aren't condemned in the Qur'an - it's only tradition, and not a universal one at all. There are plenty of historic Islamic pictures of Mohammed. Here's a selection of some, many of which are of Muslim origin.
- These cartoons seem to have been brought to the attention of the Muslim world by some Danish Immans, presumably the same ones as circulated all the Danish flags for burning. My question is "how did they get enough copies to circulate?" Did they copy the cartoons? And if so, how is that less bad that a newspaper publishing them?
Sunday, February 05, 2006
10:15am, 5th February, 2006
On the A6, just Stockport-side of the Rising Sun junction
lots of people being friendly and handshaking, both before and after. No-one actually spoke to me properly though. There was an opportunity to stay for tea or coffee, but I didn't take it.
Probably around 150 people there, wide age range, but weighted towards the older end. Single figures of kids came in for a blessing at the end of communion, having been at Sunday school beforehand.
Type of Service:
Modern-language communion from printed service sheet. Led by the youngish curate (of South Asian extraction), wearing surplice & stole. A few bits sung, choir processed in.
Mostly fairly traditional stuff, played on an organ. There was a reasonable choir (robed) and the singing was ok.
A visiting chap from the Leprosy Mission (which is supported by the church) was speaking, seemingly from a different passage to the ones that had been read. Nothing heretical, but no real challenge.
ok, but didn't really grab me
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
I just finished reading Dawkins' God by Alister McGrath.
(I earlier referred to McGrath's critique of Dawkins here.)
McGrath is very nice about Dawkins and very humble about what he himself is achieving in this book, but he completely rips Dawkins' arguments about God to shreds. In doing so, he covers a lot of ground - history of evolutionary theory, genetics, Dawkins' own ideas about the selfish gene and the meme, the history of the science / religion debate, philosophy of science. And there's a long long way to go before any of my efforts even get vaguely near that kind of standard.
He doesn't even bother fighting on the biology; he doesn't need to.
As a readable critique of Dawkins and atheistic scientism in general, this is excellent. As an introduction to the fields raised, it's good too. And it's not just aimed at Christians.