Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I only trust people who are willing to criticise me.

People, especially Christians, are too often too nice. If people only ever say nice things to me, I have no reason to believe that they mean them.

If people sometimes say nice things to me and sometimes say hard things to me, then I have more reason to believe that the nice things are actually meant.

Of course, there are some people who are just too negative, and some people are wrong. I don't trust everyone who criticises me, just the people who get it right.

It's kind of the corollary from that famous verse in Proverbs:

The wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
Proverbs 27:6, NIV

I count people as close friends when I can trust wounds from them.

Of course, the corollary to that is that I should be a good friend by giving trustworthy wounds, which I'm not always very good at. I need to be the change I want to see in others.

The people who only ever say nice things, comfortable things, to other people are actually enemies, because they are in it entirely for what they get out of it. Real friends give wounds.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Quote - GK Chesterton

On five occasions in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but on each occasion, it was the dogs who died.
GK Chesterton

History of Jeremiah

I'm still on camp, but here's a response to something I read a few days ago...

The book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament has some very interesting features, some of which are also very unusual. One of them is to do with the idea of early editions.

Pretty much everyone agrees that some of the material in Jeremiah dates back to the 500s BC. I think all of it does, and I think the arguments against it are pretty flimsy. Pretty much everyone also agrees that the book was written in Hebrew.

The earliest copies or bits of copies we have of Jeremiah are from the Dead Sea Scrolls (stored in about 70AD, written down before then). Just for reference, that's a lot lot earlier than any of the copies we have of classic Greek literature of the same sort of period. But at that stage, there seem to be two separate editions of Jeremiah – a shorter one and a longer one. When the Jewish scribes translated the Old Testament into Greek in about 100BC, they translated the shorter version of Jeremiah. The one that is printed in most Bibles is the longer one. The longer version doesn't seem to have bits in that the shorter version doesn't – it's just more long-winded, especially with titles for God. It's also structured in a more complicated way.

Most “critical” scholars seem to suggest that this means the book of Jeremiah developed slowly, with different people editing and compiling it, and that the process was still going on at the time of Jesus. They suggest that the shorter version is the older one, and that people added to it – for example the longer titles for God and so on, as a result of more complex liturgy.

I'd like to suggest an alternative.

In the modern world, we see two difference processes happening with books changing over time. We see people improving on and lengthening books – second editions and so on. But we also see people shortening long-winded books to create abridged versions which might fit better into a sensible-sized paperback.

In general, lengthening books results in extra chapters being inserted, and some bits not changed at all. But abridging books tends to result in long-winded bits being shortened and maybe the structure changing to make it simpler.

My suggestion is that what seems to have happened with Jeremiah fits the idea of abridging better than the idea of lengthening. So I argue that the longer version is the original, and the shorter version is the later abridged version – maybe it fit better onto a single big scroll or something. The longer version is, after all, the longest book in the Bible.

The problem with all attempts to reconstruct the history of literature when editions aren't dated and all you have is fragments and copies of earlier scrolls is that it isn't easy to tell the difference between the two ideas. It is amazing therefore that so many “critical” scholars hold onto their own pet theories so fiercely. My theory of an original compiled by one or two people (e.g. Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch), then later abridged because some people thought the original was a bit long-winded makes at least as much sense as the various critical theories, and has the advantage that it fits with the traditional view of the book as by Jeremiah. So I'll stick with it for the time being.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I'm on camp for the next week and a bit - might not be posting much on here therefore.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Panic Buying and Stupid Government

There are lots of floods around in England at the moment. They aren't affecting me yet, which is good. But the government in badly-affected areas has advised people not to panic buy. That is stupid.

Panic buying is an understandable reaction to the possibility of being cut off from supplies of water and food. You buy enough to last a couple of weeks. The problem with panic buying is that shops do not stock enough for everyone to last a couple of weeks. The aim in this sort of situation is to make sure that everyone gets enough to survive for however long it takes before easy access to food and water is restored, which means that me going to Tescos and buying all their bottled water is not helpful for everyone else.

But advising people not to do it is really stupid. Because then some people do it anyway, running the risk that there isn't going to be enough left for the people who don't. In other words, advising people not to do it automatically means that you are giving the people who ignore your advice more chance than the people who do not ignore your advice. In other words, it is discriminating against the people who think you are sensible and giving the people who don't trust you even more reason not to do so.

Introducing rationing - fine. Introducing non-linear pricing schemes, clever, if you can get them to work. Making an emergency law against panic buying then shooting anyone who breaks it - unethical, but it'd work. Saying "if this lasts longer than 5 days, we will make sure you have enough food and water. We'll fly it in if we need to." - good. But advising people not to panic buy, stupid, because too high a proportion will ignore you, making ignoring your advice the optimal strategy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Random Oxford Stuff

Oxford is odd. Recently, someone decided it would be a good idea if they removed the surface of at least 3 main roads here, but I have seen no evidence whatsoever that they intend to put it back. This is especially annoying since it includes both main roads into the city that aren't liable to flooding.

There isn't, it seems, one single haberdashers in the whole of Oxford. There are, however, vast numbers of tourists. Tourists in Oxford confuse me. What are they looking at? The Ashmolean (outside of - the good bits of the inside are all closed for rebuilding), the Radcliffe Camera, the view from Carfax, Keble, the Martyrs' Memorial? That's about it, isn't it, and there's better examples of all of that in London or Cambridge? Oh, ok, not the RadCam or the Martyrs' Mem if they are interested in Anglican history, which I very much doubt. (Yes, some of the colleges are nice too, but they're closed to tourists.) Hordes of tourists punting down the Backs in Cambridge, I can understand. Or maybe they're all here for just one morning on their way from London to somewhere else. Stratford maybe.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Union with Christ, Harry Potter, Salvation, etc.

A bit of a stream of consciousness post coming up...

I was at church this evening, and it was really cool that one of the verses read out was 1 Corinthians 15:26, which features prominently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was only released yesterday. Shame in a way that it wasn't picked up on, or explained properly.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:26

The reason it wasn't explained properly was that the church I go to is doing a (thankfully very rare) doctrinal series in the evening services at the moment. I tend to dislike doctrinal series of sermons for many reasons, including the fact that it's a lot harder to learn something from them if it's already a topic I've thought and read about. Another of them is that it makes it too easy for the preacher to set the agenda and just say what they wanted to say anyway about their favourite subject, whereas working through a book should (hopefully) constrain them more to say what the passage says.

Anyway, this series is on Union with Christ. As I've argued before, at greater length, Union with Christ is the dominant Biblical metaphor for how we are saved, but it is so often ignored by evangelicals at the expense of substitutionary atonement (the idea that Jesus died in our place). Of course, substitutionary atonement is an important, true and Biblical idea, but it's not the only important, true and Biblical idea and the idea of union with Christ seems to be more frequent and more important in Biblical thought, so it's great seeing an evangelical church spend some time thinking about it, even if it does mean doctrinal sermons in the evenings for a bit.

What the preacher said got me thinking a bit. One of the difficulties with preaching union with Christ is that it's difficult to explain beyond saying we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. So I modified something the preacher said to come up with an analogy... Like all analogies, it isn't perfect, and like all my drawings, it requires a bit of imagination.

The way things are naturally, we're separated from God. But not only that, we're also falling into death. We can't stop ourselves, and we can't swim. We are going to drown. It's actually our fault we are here too because we have ignored God and the way he wants us to live our life.

(I would have labelled the barrier as sin, but actually even perfect created things are separated from participating in the glory of God.)

Jesus then comes into our situation. He didn't have to come this side of the barrier, but he does. He comes, he grabs us, if we trust in him, and he dives into death himself. He could have stopped us falling for a bit, but that wouldn't actually have done any good; we'd still be separated from glory and we'd only have died again later; we'd still be on the slippery slope.

And Jesus goes through death with us, holding us, united to us.

But then, because he is God and he didn't have to die, and he is more powerful than death, he comes out the other side. He rose to life, and he raises us to life too, with him, in glory, never to die again.

Spiritually, this is true for Christians now, because we have been united with Christ by him taking hold of us and us trusting in him. But physically, we haven't died yet. We're still waiting for that, but we know that because Jesus has gone through suffering and death and been raised again to glory, and because we are united with him, when we go through death, we will be raised and will be united with him in glory.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter 7 - No Spoilers

Might as well write a review, since I've read it, but try to do so without giving away any spoilers.

This is one of the better books in the series - the action keeps going, the suspense and tension works, etc. There's actually a lot more action than I can remember being in any of the other books, and a lot more deaths. I lost track of the number of second-rank characters who got killed about halfway through, and a fair few first-rank ones do as well.

In terms of tying up all the loose ends, it pretty much manages it. It manages some decent twists, some of which would certainly be helped by an eye for detail in the previous books and a good memory.

A good ending to the series? Yes. Any good sermon illustrations? Most certainly, but not necessarily the ones that were expected.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Modern Music and Abandonment

I was reading a very interesting article here, which argues that the theme and reason for the popularity of much modern music, including a lot of the violent stuff, is that it speaks to a culture of parental abandonment.

Here are some quotes:

The odd truth about contemporary teenage music — the characteristic that most separates it from what has gone before — is its compulsive insistence on the damage wrought by broken homes, family dysfunction, checked-out parents, and (especially) absent fathers.

This is the sound of one generation reproaching another — only this time, it’s the scorned, world-weary children telling off their narcissistic, irresponsible parents, ...[Divorce] could be rock’s ideal subject matter. These are songs about the chasm in understanding between parents — who routinely don’t comprehend the grief their children are feeling — and children who don’t know why their parents have torn up their world.

(Hat tip to Richard England.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Don Carson - Love in Hard Places

Growing up, Don Carson was probably the scholar I respected most. At university, he was respected to the point of being seen as almost inerrant.

Since then, I've increasingly come to see that while he is a very good scholar, and that books he writes are generally among the best on a topic, he is certainly fallible. In Carson's case, that means that he sometimes has a tendency to assume his conclusions, and cover it up with weak arguments which he treats as strong. It's a common failing among well-regarded academics, on all sides of most debates. Don't get me wrong – most of his arguments are good, but it's taken me years to be able to see the difference between a good argument of his, an overstated argument with a right conclusion (according to fallible me) and an overstated argument with a wrong conclusion (according to fallible me).

The other common academic failing is that of overstating uncertainty, and that is more annoying because it allows almost any opinion to be treated as equally valid.

Anyway, this is an interesting book of Carson's. I bought it because I thought it would be about how to love people I find it difficult to love. It isn't really. It's more about what love means in situations when it is intellectually difficult to see, such as forgiving unrepentant enemies, how to love Osama Bin Laden, nature of just war, and so on. Much of it I agreed with, the rest of it was at least thought provoking.

There are also bits about the importance of love for God and other Christians, but Carson is at his best when he is doing exposition and intellectual analysis of situations rather than application.

Here's a great quote:

Popular culture saunters between a sentimental view and an erotic view of love. The erotic view is fed by television, movies, and certain popular books and articles; the sentimental view is nurtured by many streams, some of which we shall think about as we press on, but the result is a form of reductionism whose hold on the culture is outstripped only by its absurdity.

Applied to God, the sentimental view generates a deity with all the awesome holiness of a cuddly toy, all the moral integrity of a marshmallow... Applied to Christians, the sentimental view breeds expectations of transcendental niceness. Whatever else Christians should be, they should not be nice, where niceness means smiling a lot and never ever hinting that that anyone may be wrong about anything (because that isn't nice). In the local church it means abandoning church discipline (it isn't nice)...

None of this is to say that “un-niceness” has any allure for thoughtful Christians. It is merely to say that the surrounding culture's sophomoric reduction of “love”, even Christian love, into niceness does not give us the scope to think through the diversities of ways in which the Bible speaks of Christian love, the diversities of contexts that demand something a good deal more profound than sentimental niceness.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The triumph of Oxbridge is that it has a significant number of brains the size of planets.

The problem of Oxbridge is that the head is generally larger than the brain.

The tragedy of Oxbridge is that it is frequently impossible to discern the size of the brain simply by looking at someone's head.

Science Video

So funny...

Monday, July 16, 2007

All things to all people versus Unity in Christ

One of the big questions facing the Church over the next decade or so is probably this:

In a multicultural and heavily fragmented society, how do we hold together the importance of being "all things to all people" in evangelism and visibly expressing the unity that all Christians have in Christ, while recognising that everyone has gifts needed for the building up of the Church?

Some people go so far in either direction that they lose the other point of view entirely. For example, the FreshExpressions movement seeks to tailor church very specifically to subgroups of society who often aren't reached by "normal" church. But in doing so, they alienate all the other subgroups of society.

But the converse doesn't work either - with some subgroups actively defining themselves by rejection of the norm, there often isn't a common central ground where everyone can feel at home.

I don't know the answer, but here are a few pointers.

  • In some places, the early Church faced similar problems, particularly with Jews and Gentiles. In those situations the apostles' big message was that Christ had abolished the distinction in himself, so that Christians from different backgrounds should meet together, eat together and accept one another. We see them getting attacked by the Jews for this policy.
  • Solutions now need to be local rather than global. The situation in different places is different - some groups don't exist in some areas, in some areas the differences are more pronounced than others, etc.
  • Many people are members of more than one subgroup in society.
  • Being clearer about the difference between evangelism and discipleship is important. There is no reason we should expect non-Christians to mix with people from very different backgrounds, but Christians should.
  • Church services targeted at specific groups is inadequate if it is the only thing that is going on. Alternating between group-specific and united services might not be, but it would create timetabling headaches, and people would tend to go to the service at the same time every week.
  • If evangelism (in the sense of introducing non-Christians to Jesus) should involve "being all things to all people", and church services should involve unity across different groups, then evangelism should not be the main focus of all church services, though some church services may be targeted at specific groups and hence be evangelistic
  • The best people to target things at a specific group are people in that group. The second best are people who spend time with that group and become identified with it, but it needs to be real identification.
  • The unity expressed between Christians from different backgrounds is itself a witness, but should not be the only form of witness.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything

This is just about the best introduction to science generally for non-scientists that I've ever read.

Bill Bryson manages to cover topics such as cosmology, geophysics, astrophysics, very basic chemistry and atomic physics, paleontology and evolutionary biology, all from the point of view of how they were discovered, thought of or argued about, and always focusing on the interesting characters involved as much as the science. He is refreshing in his honesty sometimes. Yes, it's only a basic introduction, yes, he makes a couple of mistakes, but I still learnt stuff about some of the characters and arguments involved in the history of science.

If you want something heavier, Gribbin's History of Science is much more thorough and a good read. If you want something more fun and interesting, this is great.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harry Potter

I went to see Harry Potter 5 at the cinema the other day. It was good fun and moderately diverting, but I thought it was the weakest of the films so far, as I thought it was also one of the weakest of the books so far.

The book was full of teenage angst stuff, and the film tried to be entertaining and interesting for younger kids. As a result, they cut out most of the angst, played down the torture scenes, etc. They even got rid of my favourite possible twist - the idea that it is actually Neville who is the saviour-type guy and Harry is the decoy.

Anyway, I came across this interesting quote from JK Rowling back in 2000, and thought it was both interesting and potentially relevant to the plot of book 7.

Harry, of course, is able to battle supernatural evil with supernatural forces of his own, and Rowling is quite clear that she doesn't personally believe in that kind of magic -- ''not at all.'' Is she a Christian?

''Yes, I am,'' she says. ''Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.''

from here, and originally linked to from Christianity Today.

So then, Dumbledore as Christ, Harry as man, Snape as Judas (I think in HP he has to be complicit rather than not), and so Dumbledore's death has in some way accomplished the defeat of Voldemort. Or not.

But it'd be cool if it was - sermon illustrations and opportunities to talk about Jesus galore...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Quote - Mascall on Critical Scholarship

The critical scholar is not committed, within the area of his research, to accepting the Church's presuppositions about Jesus, but he should not be committed to accepting naturalistic presuppositions either. If he does accept the latter, then the results of his research will in all probability contradict the beliefs of the Church, but this is because he has begged the question from the start. In examining, for instance, the evidence for the virginal conception [of Jesus], if he begins with the presupposition that such an event is impossible he will end with the same conclusion; if he begins with the presupposition that it is possible he may end with the conclusion that the evidence for it is good or that it is bad or that it is inconclusive. This is as far as scholarship can take him. The Christian will accept the virginal conception as part of the Church's faith.

In the rare cases where faith appears to be contradicted by scholarship whose conclusions have not been prescribed from the start, [the critical scholar] may be cast down but will not be destroyed. For he will know how temporary and mutable the conclusions of scholarship essentially are, and he will also be conscious that he himself may not have perfectly comprehended the Church's faith.

E.L. Mascall, The Secularisation of Christianity

Hat tip to CQOD.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Funny Video - I Will Survive

If you haven't seen it before, this is worth watching at least once...

It's also worth reading the thing below. It's not really funny, but it's important.

The Historical Jesus - Lost in Translation?

The central problem of Christianity, from the point of view of non-Christians, is who Jesus was. CS Lewis famously summed it up in Mere Christianity by saying that either Jesus was a lunatic who thought that he was God when he wasn't, or he was a liar, who knew he wasn't God but claimed to be, or that he was Lord - he claimed to be God and he really was God. Lewis then goes on to show that the evidence is strongly against Jesus being either a liar or a lunatic, and therefore it is highly likely that he is Lord.

Various attempts have been made to get out of this. Some people try saying that those aren't the only three possibilities, and try to concoct a fourth, usually by mixing the ideas of liar and lunatic, which they don't notice still falls foul of the same evidence. An altogether cleverer way out is to question whether Jesus actually claimed to be God at all. The Bible clearly portrays him as doing so, but what if there is a difference between the Jesus of faith, as presented in the Bible, and the Historical Jesus - Jesus as he actually was?

(And yes, before people get penickety, I know that the Historical Jesus movement started a long time before CS Lewis, and that some of them (e.g. Borg) are coming from somewhere different to my description above. Borg, for instance, is trying to present a Christianity that fits in with his worldview where God can't act at all in history. I discuss that issue here.)

The evidence that they focus on tends to be things like the difference between different accounts in the gospels. If the accounts are too similar, they say they are copied from each other, and if the accounts are too different, they suggest it is because the writers are making things up. This is especially true with John, because John is very different to Matthew, Mark and Luke in lots of ways, so some people think it is mostly an invention, and that Jesus didn't say most of the things in John. (Incidentally, some good has come out of this too, as it has made people look more carefully at why the gospel writers structured things the way they did, and so helped us to see their emphases, main points, etc.)

I want to suggest that a lot of the questions that are being asked are actually irrelevant, that Jesus only said two things he is recorded as saying in the gospels, and that we can tell that the gospels provide true accounts of Jesus.

A lot of this is because of the simple problems of translation. The Bible we read today is in English. The gospels - the bits directly about Jesus - were originally written in Greek (well, some people argue that Matthew wasn't, but the earliest copies we have are in Greek). But Jesus almost certainly spoke Aramaic and Hebrew most of the time. So we know that what we have in the gospels is at best a translation of what Jesus said. There are two exceptions, where Jesus' words in Aramaic are recorded - "talitha koum" (Little girl, get up) and "eloi, eloi lama sabacthani" (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?).

But it gets more complicated than that. Greek doesn't have a neat distinction between direct speech and indirect speech - you can't tell the difference between "He told me to get up" and "He told me: 'Get Up!'" So we can't tell whether what we have are the words of Jesus neatly translated into Greek, or whether it is the apostles reporting what Jesus said indirectly.

And it gets even more complicated. Greek and Aramaic aren't very similar as languages. It isn't possible just to translate straight from one into the other and keep the sense the same. It's like the problem of translating the Bible into English. Some people translate literally word for word and lose the flow of what is said and sometimes leave it incomprehensible. Other people translate so that it is the same meaning, but it's said quite differently. We don't know exactly how the people who wrote the gospels went about translating Jesus' words into Greek. I've suggested that Matthew, Mark and Luke may have gone for a more literal translation, John may have gone for a translation that aimed to convey the same sense, but not necessarily translating literally. (Of course, John might have been literally translating what Jesus said - I don't think we can know this side of heaven.)

Which rather leaves us with a problem. What we have in the Bible is a translation of either what Jesus said, or what he meant, quite possibly put into the authors' own words. How can we know they are reporting it accurately?

I think the answer to that is fairly simple, and often missed by the Historical Jesus scholars. The people who wrote it clearly believed that it was true. The people they wrote it for clearly believed it was true. They quoted what the apostles described Jesus as saying as being what Jesus said. And the people they wrote for included people who had known Jesus. The early church, while some of the apostles were still around, regarded the gospels as faithful records of what Jesus had said and meant. And they were in a position to know.

But that doesn't mean they were gullible. The gospels were all written before AD100. After then, other accounts of what Jesus said and did were written (and the Gospel of Thomas might have been earlier). A few people were taken in by them, but the church as a whole rejected them because they weren't saying what Jesus said - they were saying what the authors wanted Jesus to have said. They could tell the difference, and they did.

We can tell that the gospels provide a reliable account of the historical Jesus, even if it is in translation, because the people who were in a position to know what Jesus did say and do agreed with the gospels. And these were not academics or people just along for the ride. These were people who staked their lives on what Jesus had said and done, repeatedly, and in most cases were killed for it. Whether the gospels record something very close to what Jesus actually said and did, or whether they provide an interpretation of what Jesus said and did, they're still true.

And so the problem for non-Christians remains. The people who were following Jesus were willing to stake their lives not only on Jesus claiming to be God, but on Jesus actually being God. Who was he? Was he mad, bad or God?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Sorry about the lack of substantive posts recently. I'm in the middle of moving rooms, and, as my Facebook status says, rooms are heavy things, so I can only move them slowly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

If I wrote theology exams at Oxford...

The papers would rely far less on memory of which scholar said what and far more on ability to construct an argument from the data available. There would be a "general paper", for which revision other than a thorough knowledge of the subject would be essentially useless, and with questions like

What happens to aborted foetuses on a spiritual level?

What would we lose if Zephaniah was not in the Bible?

What would St Paul's favourite flavour of ice cream have been? Answer in the style of Origen of Alexandria.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Job Descriptions

Scott Adams asked for funny ways to describe your job. Mine used to be this:

I electrocute children, then I teach them to build nuclear weapons.

It was so funny seeing people's expressions when I tried using that line while on Selection Conference for ordination training...


I had a great weekend at my sending church's houseparty in Derbyshire. The speaker was Tim Hanson, vicar of Wharton.

His main point was that the unity between individuals in the church is how God reminds Satan of Satan's past defeat and future destruction at the hands of Jesus, from Ephesians 3:10-11, then applied through large chunks of Ephesians to details of our individual and corporate lives. It certainly seems a legitimate take on Ephesians, and I don't recall seeing Ephesians through that lens before.

Oh, and for those I spoke to about my concern in getting back past Silverstone, the journey was fine and just over 2 hours - I went via the M42, and then cross-country from Banbury.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cult of Mary, Cult of Scripture, Cult of Self

The good is often the enemy of the best.

I grew up learning not to trust any kind of religion that prayed to Mary. But the respect for Mary started completely innocently. At the time of the Nestorian controversy, roughly AD400, the big question was over the relationship between Jesus as human and Jesus as divine. Calling Mary "theotokos" or "Mother of God" was an important way of saying that Jesus as human was the same as Jesus as divine - the two descriptions were talking about the same person. And where stuff about Mary has been helpful in history, it has been helpful because it has pointed to Jesus. As soon as Marian devotions lose their Christ-centred-ness, they end up heading rapidly towards idolatry.

It's exactly the same with some of the cult of personal experience in modern charismaticism. In Worship As You Like It?, Sotirios Christou points out the vast proportion of modern charistmatic songs that are about our experience of God rather than about God himself. One example of this would be the chorus of "There is a louder shout to come" by Matt Redman.

O what a song we'll sing and O what a tune we'll bear;
You deserve an anthem of the highest praise.
O what a joy will rise and O what a sound we'll make.
You deserve an anthem of the highest praise.

The chorus is primarily praising our future response to God rather than God himself. And there is a place for considering our own experience to point to Jesus. But as soon as our experience of God becomes central rather than God himself, then we're back into idolatry, just like with Mary.

The same is true of the way many evangelicals treat the Bible. The Bible is all about God, and about how he has revealed himself to us, supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God's supreme revelation, not the Bible.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Hebrews 1:1-4, ESV

Once again, in the way that we treat the Bible, there is a danger of the focus slipping off God and onto his word. And when that happens, that's idolatry. The word exists to point us to God.

I guess what I'm saying can be summed up roughly like this:

Whenever there is something good, something worthy of respect, something God uses to point to himself, there is a danger that we take it and we worship it instead.

More Wycliffe Stuff

Jonathan Aitken (yes the famous one) has written a good piece about Wycliffe.

In general, I agree.

[Edited to add: Ruth Gledhill also made some perceptive comments a few weeks ago.]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lichfield Cathedral

I visited Lichfield Cathedral today, because it looked interesting in photos and I'd never been there.

It's famous for, among other things, having three spires and being the burial place of St Chad.

It's also got a very heavily carved West end.

Oddly, the choir area is larger than the area for the congregation. That's probably partly because Lichfield is such a small city, but it would make any events with more than a few hundred people a tight squeeze, which kind of negates a lot of the point of cathedrals. Pretty though...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sola Scriptura and Richard Hooker

One of the classic doctrines of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura, but all too often it is misunderstood and misexplained. It's especially helpful to look at what it does and doesn't mean with reference to Richard Hooker and the so-called Regulative Principle.

One of the main Reformation criticisms of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church was that sometimes people in power claimed that it was essential to believe what they said in order to be saved. The Reformer's response to this was to say Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone contains what it is necessary to know for salvation.

That is what the main Reformers believed, and we see it, for example, in the Ordination of Deacons service in the Church of England:

[Question]: Do you accept the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
[Answer]: I do so accept them.

But that's not the way a lot of people understand the doctrine of sola scriptura, especially the people who disagree with it. The other approach to it is represented by some of the so-called Radical Reformers such as Grebel, Hooper and Cartwright. Hooper came up with the “Regulative Principle”, which roughly put said that only what is explicitly commanded in Scripture is right to do in church. Cartwright took it further and said

Scripture is the onely rule of all things which in this life may be done by men.

Richard Hooker argued both against the Roman Catholic view that there were things that it was essential to know for salvation that weren't in the Bible and the Radical view that everything that was right was in the Bible. One example he gave was that if we rely on the Bible to tell us absolutely everything rather than just what we need to know to be saved, then we're stuck, because the Bible itself doesn't tell us which books are in the Bible.

The schooles of Rome teach scripture to be so unsufficient, as if, except traditions were added, it did not conteine all revealed and supernaturall truth, which absolutely is necessarie for the children of men in this life to know that they may in the next be saved. Others justly condemning this opinion grow likewise unto a dangerous extremity, as if Scripture did not contain all things in that kind necessary, but all things simply, and in such sort that to do any thing according to any other law were not only unnecessary but even opposite unto salvation, unlawful and sinful.
Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 2.8.7

I tend to agree with Hooker on this. Because of their views that Scripture tells us everything, not just everything we need to know to be saved, the Radicals ended up intepreting large chunks of it out of context and failing to recognise that Jesus is the main character. As Hooker said, “their common ordinarie practice is, to quote by-speeches in some historical narration or other, and to urge them as if they were written in moste exact forme of lawe.”

So what implication does this have for churches that use the Regulative Principle today? I really don't get it. Where does Scripture command the Regulative Principle? Where does Scripture define which books are Scripture and which aren't? Where does Scripture command the hermeneutics you are required to use to understand it in the way you need to if you follow the Regulative Principle?

Interestingly, Hooker was also a fan of the perfection of Scripture, but was very clear that it was perfect for the purpose of telling us everything we need to know to be saved and to be "thoroughly equipped for every good work" rather than perfect for everything.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Stupid Terrorists

I, for one, am glad that the terrorists we have at the moment seem to be a spectacularly stupid and incompetent bunch. OK, they probably won't stop short of world domination, but I'd rather have incompetent terrorists than the IRA any day.

I've taught a lot of bright Muslim kids. I'm glad they don't go in for terrorism.

I don't agree with Scott Adams that the (considerably more competent) terror attacks on Israel are necessarily stupid. Their purpose seems to be to a) to get the 72 raisins they are expecting if they die as martyrs. b) to keep reminding the Muslim world that they should attack Israel. Of course, they'd be much more sensible to try non-violent resistance if they genuinely think they're being oppressed by the Israelis.