Paganism... is also a sort of permanent and natural magnetic pole of religion, and in this sense a constant threat for every religion. Christianity demands unceasing effort, continual filling of its forms with content, self-testing, and a "trial of the spirit". Any divergence between form and content, or the emergence of form as a value and goal in itself, is paganism. It is a return to natural religion, to belief in form, ceremony, and sacred objects without regard to their content and spiritual meaning. In this sense even Christian rites and sacred objects may themselves become centers of pagan veneration and may overshadow what they solely exist for: the liberating force of truth.
Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
There seems to be an assumption in many Christian circles, especially in the US, that God would be a free-market capitalist. (In the UK, people assume that God would be some kind of moderate socialist. Both seem to be completely wrong.) Here's a bit of Amos 8...
Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
"When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"—
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.
Amos 8:4-7, NIV
Isn't it interesting that Amos condemns in the same breath practices we would agree are immoral, like cheating with dishonest scales, and practices we would assume are perfectly legitimate, like boosting the price and looking forwards for opportunities to make more money?
Of course, I'm fairly sure that God wouldn't go down the statist redistributive route either - it quite clearly encourages laziness.
The sort of economic model God seems to be encouraging here is one driven by the priority of worship and rest (New Moons, Sabbaths) as well as hard work, and one driven more by love and concern for others (especially the poor) than by desire for profit and growth of the economy.
Monday, November 24, 2008
My next essay is on the whole hell debate - eternal conscious torment v anihilationism and so on. Here are some quotes on hell that I've come across...
If any human beings find themselves in hell, they will have no-one but themselves to blame. If any find themselves in heaven, they will have no-one but the Lord to praise.
Our friends who long to get rid of the eternal punishment should cease to argue against God and instead obey God's commands while there is still time.
Augustine of Hippo
The principal danger of the 20th century will be: a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christians without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and a heaven without a hell.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Richard Baxter (I was surprised by who originally said it...)
It is safer for the evangelist to have hell more frequently in his heart than on his lips.
To remember hell prevents our falling into hell.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I heard J. John speak the other day. In my past experience, he's not a great writer (though he's certainly ok), nor a sharp exegete (or indeed a good ballet dancer). This was, however, the first time I'd heard him speak, and he really impressed me. Michael Green described him as "the best evangelist in England". One thing he said really hit me. It was something like this...
Do we have enough time to do everything God has for us to do?
If so, then why don't we have enough time?
The conclusion, of course, being that we do lots of things which aren't what God has for us to do, and to manage time better we need to avoid doing those things...
Monday, November 17, 2008
I quite like James Bond films. Cheerful, escapist, random gadgets, most people acting heavily in stereotype, etc. In some ways, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day were the archetypal Bond films - taking all the normal devices to such extremes it became self-parodying. I certainly laughed...
Like its predecessor, Casino Royale, only more so, this is not a classic Bond film. It is a well-made action film - more Bourne than Bond, but almost all the stereotypes are gone. Many would say it is darker for that. But is it?
I think that is actually a theme running through the film - who is the darker Bond - the violent, injured, over-tired Daniel Craig, or the calm, sophisticated Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan? At the very end of Quantum of Solace, Craig steps into the role of the calm, professional Bond, but when he does it, he has become a calm, professional killer, who does not feel for the women he seduces and unintentionally leads to their deaths, and who no longer seems motivated by revenge, because he feels nothing for his victims. Which is colder, a man who kills out of anger and revenge, or a man who feels nothing as he does it? Who is more heartless, the man who is torn apart by wanting to kill those responsible for the death of the woman he loves, or the man who doesn't care what happens to the women he sleeps with?
Maybe Craig is actually the warmest and most likeable Bond yet, even if on the surface it seems the opposite...
We must not talk to our congregations as if we were half asleep. Our preaching must not be articulate snoring.
So right! If we are not interested and engaged in what we are saying, how can we expect our congregations to be? (And why is that so rarely taught?)
The task of every generation is to discover in which direction the Sovereign Redeemer is moving, then move in that direction.
Edwards sounding remarkably charismatic there...
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Both from his wonderful little book Jonah.
If the Holy Spirit were completely withdrawn from the church today, the church would go right on as if nothing had happened. This is why men outside see the church as being no different from the world.
We just say 'Isn't it awful what the young people are doing today?' We don't realise that the young people have been asking questions and we are not giving the answers.
Friday, November 14, 2008
7. Where possible, there should be follow-up after prayer ministry to encourage the working through of decisions made into the wider life of the individual.
8. “False” experience should be discouraged, since we do not want people's faith to rest on something that is not truly of God.
9. “True” experience should not be hyped, as this encourages false experience and also runs the risk of making such experience a badge of spirituality. While there is a slight tension here with my point 3, it is mostly resolved when it is realised that much of the effect of the Holy Spirit on the emotions does not result in strongly visible or audible signs.
10. Preaching should focus on the proclamation of Christ, not the proclamation either of the speaker or of experiences. While the style of the preaching should be appropriate to the content and therefore affective, the persuasiveness should come from the Holy Spirit and from the content of the message, not the style of the preaching. This is superbly exemplified by George Whitfield.
Interestingly enough, were these guidelines to be embraced, a large proportion of the criticisms both by the “conservatives” of the charismatic movement and of the “conservatives” by “charismatics” would vanish.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Some people say that there is a God; others say that there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies - probably because they are generally the same people.
Both are from "If My Preaching's Bad, Try My Jokes" by David Pytches.
And here are points 4-6...
4. Similarly, people within any given meetings should be equally open to the possibility that God will not overwhelm anyone at the meeting in this way. God is not a mechanistic process.
5. Discernment of the type outlined by both Jonathan Edwards and 1 John 4, should be regularly taught and strongly encouraged, especially in churches where such experiences are common and there is the danger of experience becoming theologically primary. It should especially be a core part of the training of prayer ministry teams, where such exist. The Scriptures must retain theological priority.
6. Leaders and those responsible for prayer ministry should be aware of and careful of physiological and other factors that might cause “false” experience, and should be careful concerning them, as well as praying against them, particularly ones created by deceits of Satan. There are occasions where it may be wiser to continue with prayer ministry when people are exhausted, but there are many others where it is wiser not to.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I recently finished writing an essay on true and false charismatic experience, which finished with 10 recommendations. Here are the first three.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, ESV
1. The structure of meetings should be such that when it is clear that God, through his Holy Spirit, is bringing conviction of sin, righteousness and judgement, then there should be a good opportunity to respond and to spend time allowing him to do his work rather than being distracted by the next thing happening. This might be via a structured and pre-prepared time of “prayer ministry” (for example); it might be via having the flexibility in the structure of the service to allow such a time to be introduced at short notice.
2. Since God gives gifts for the building up of the church, and there is no convincing argument that gifts of prophecy and tongues (for example – see 1 Cor 14:39 and 1 Thes 5:20) have ceased, there should be opportunity to use them within church gatherings, but when this is done it should be done in accordance with 1 Cor 14:26-33. [The precise nature of those gifts is a different matter...]
3. Likewise, both meetings structurally and individuals within the meetings should be open to the possibility of being overwhelmed by God in such a way that there are strong physical and emotional effects. Our praising of God and hearing about God should be of such a type to stir the affections. Indeed, if there is a long period without any perceived effect of the Holy Spirit on the emotions of an individual Christian, especially when they are focusing their attention on God, this should be cause for concern. The expectation of the possibility of emotional overwhelming includes the leaders of such meetings. Whitfield was overwhelmed in this way while preaching at least once, and situations where a distinction exists in expectations of experience between the leader and Christians in the congregation are, from my point of view at least, deeply suspicious.Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
To expound a Scripture is to bring out of a text what is there and expose it to view... The opposite of exposition is imposition, which is to impose on the text what is not there.
Stott, I Believe in Preaching.
My endeavour is to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head: never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.
Jesus taught profound truths in very simple ways, sadly today we do the exact opposite. We teach simple truths in profound ways, and a lot of the time we think we are being deep but we are just being muddy. Spurgeon wrote, 'A sermon is like a well. If there is anything in it, it appears bright and reflecting and luminous. But if there is nothing in it, it's deep and dark and mysterious...
J. John, Preach the Word
Preaching is not the proclamation of a theory, or the discussion of a doubt. A man has a perfect right to proclaim a theory of any sort, or to discuss his doubts. But that is not preaching. “Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any” said Goethe. We are never preaching when we are hazarding speculations. Of course we do so. We are bound to speculate sometimes. (but) ... Preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the truth and the truth has been revealed.
How lightly expressions like "God-forsaken" are used! They are part of the terminology of casual blasphemy in cultures where religious formalism prevails or where the mass of the population is in a post-religious phase.
Alec Motyer, The Message of Amos
Thursday, November 06, 2008
This is a surprisingly good film (when it came out, I heard that it was rubbish) about the Crusades, specifically the fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Typically, they've messed around with history a bit... Orlando Bloom plays Balian the blacksmith-turned-knight who realises the futility of it all.
Here's one of the best dialogues in the film (from about 1 hour 40 mins in):
[Bishop] How are we to defend Jerusalem without knights? We have no knights.
(Balian looks around, and finds a teenage lad.)
[Balian] What is your condition?
[lad] I am servant to the Patriarch.
[Bishop] He's one of my servants
[Balian] Is he?
[Balian] You were born a servant. Kneel.
[Balian] Every man at arms or capable of bearing them, kneel! On your knees!
[Balian] Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright, that God may love thee. Speak the truth, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. That is your oath.... Rise a knight. Rise a knight.
[Bishop] Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?
That dialogue has great potential for talking about what the priesthood of all believers (for example) means...
There's lots of other interesting stuff in the film, like questions about who is a Christian and who isn't, and what it means for an earthly place to be called the "Kingdom of Heaven", as well as the importance or otherwise of the earthly Jerusalem. Can't say I agree with them on everything of course, though there are some good points made and it's interesting nevertheless...
In terms of the politics, people generally seem to agree that it's fair to everyone. There are good and bad people on the "Christian" side, there are wise and stupid Muslims (though I can't think of any Muslim characters who were bad in the way that some of the "Christian" nobles were, but on the other hand there are only a few Muslim characters who really get developed...).
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I asked this last time too...
With the US being over so many time zones, and with the exit polls and results from the East Coast having the potential to affect stuff on the West Coast and in Hawaii, why don't they just do the obvious thing, and have all polling stations open for the same 24 hours, so that in Maine it might be 5am Tuesday to 5am Wednesday, but in California it might be midnight Tuesday to midnight Wednesday or whatever. That way, all the polls would close at the same time, and results from one coast wouldn't influence those from the other.
This seems to be important. A group of Muslim scholars have produced a common statement of belief, with the aim of trying to get some kind of peace with the Roman Catholics.
However, the problems are all in the detail, and the BBC really don't get it... I'll just mention a few.
Significantly the letter acknowledged that the Prophet Muhammad was told only the same truths that had already been revealed to Jewish and Christian prophets, including Jesus himself.
Yes, but Muslims claim that the reason the beliefs are so different now is that the Christians and the Jews corrupted theirs, but the Muslims kept theirs the same. Incidentally, there is quite a lot of evidence for what the early Christians believed, and there is absolutely none that they believed the same as Muslims do today.
Or this, from the letter itself:
Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets.
Well, quite. The question is over who isn't a combatant. Personally, I don't think that British civilians in London count, but others seem to disagree. And I don't think I've ever seen any Muslim in a position of authority arguing that Israeli women and children weren't combatants and that those who attack them are wrong.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's good to work with Muslims and that it is helpful to agree on some important ethical issues. But the BBC's:
The document examined fundamental doctrine and stressed what it said were key similarities - such as the belief in one God and the requirement for believers to "love their neighbours as themselves".
once again misses the point. For Christians, this is a response to God's salvation. Christianity is not about obeying ethical precepts. It is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, which then leads to us seeking to follow him.