Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why Don't Bible Translators Have The Balls?

1 Kings 12:10 says this:

The young men who had grown up with him replied, "Tell these people who have said to you, 'Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter'-tell them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's waist.'"
1 Kings 12:10, NIV

Except it doesn't.

A literal translation of the Hebrew of the end of the verse is this:

My little one is thicker than my father's loins.

I think it's pretty clear what that actually means. Here's Iain Provan's (restrained) comment on the verse:

If the "little one" is a finger, this is the only place in the OT where it is so. Given the location of the loins in the lower part of the body, and the fact that power and sexual potency were very much associated in the Ancient Near East, it may well be that the "little one" is in fact the male sexual organ. It is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that young men might respond to a challenge by using language containing fairly basic sexual imagery. Whatever is the case, the claim is that Rehoboam is a bigger man than his father - a power to be reckoned with.

Iain Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (NIBC)

So why do Bible translators avoid sexual imagery when it seems to be there in the Bible? The Bible wasn't written by a bunch of prudish ivory tower academics, so why do we make it sound as if it was? Are we trying to be holier than God?

Here's the offending question in lots of different translations:

My little finger is thicker than my father's loins! (NASB)

My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. (Message)

My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. (Amplified)

My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! (NLT)

My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. (KJV)

My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. (ESV)

Compared to me, my father was weak. (CEV)

My little [finger] is thicker than the loins of my father. (Young's Literal)

My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. (TNIV)

If I was going for a non-literal translation, I might go for something like "I've got the balls to do stuff my father could never do." For a literal translation, how about Provan's "My little one is thicker than my father's loins"? At least it leaves the probable innuendo in.

Why don't translators have the balls to translate the Bible properly? It might help people realise that the Bible is about God interacting with real people in the real world.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Sin of the Fathers

This is one of my quirky interpretations that I thought of ages ago, but don't think I've put on here before. It's about the whole question of "punishing children for the sin of the fathers".

The Second Commandment is a famous example:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:4-6, NIV

And here's a famous counter-example:

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.

Deuteronomy 24:16, NIV

The questions then are "What does it mean for children to be punished for the sin of their parents?", "How is that fair?" and "How come the Bible says both that God does it and that he doesn't do it?"

My take on it is, as I said, a little quirky, but seems to deal with all the problems, so I like it.

Let's take the example of child abuse. Child abuse is wrong. All the evidence says that children who have been abused are much more likely to go on to abuse. That in no way exculpates the abuser who was themself abused as a child. They should be punished. And when they are, they will, in a sense be punished because of their parent's sin.

We take after our parents. My dad supports Liverpool. I support Liverpool, even though I've spent much more of my life in Manchester. It happens in sin as well. If my dad stole things (he doesn't, as far as I know), I'd be much more likely to steal things. If my dad worshiped idols, I'd be more likely to worship idols. Hinduism seems to run in families.

I reckon that children are punished for the sins of their fathers when and because they share in those sins by copying their parents.

So on one level, we should recognise that our sin has consequences for others as well. If I am an idolater, my children are more likely to be idolaters and to be punished for it. Children are punished for the sins of their parents. (when they commit them themselves)

On another level, we shouldn't punish other people just because we don't like their parents. Children have quite enough sin of their own, and they should be punished for that rather than for the sins of their parents.

On a third level, what I do is my responsibility. We shouldn't blame our parents for our own failings. We are not punished for the sins of our parents - it's our own responsibility and our own fault. We are punished for our own sin.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Solomon - the Ambiguous King

Much though I respect Dale Ralph Davis as a Bible expositor, and much though I love and have benefited from almost all of his series of expositions on Joshua - 2 Kings, I have to disagree with him on the first half of Solomon's reign. He takes what I tend to think of as the "classic" view, of seeing the presentation of Solomon in 1 Kings 1-10 as entirely positive, with the wheels completely coming off in 1 Kings 11. But that's much too monochrome.

In pretty much every chapter, there are strong hints that there's something seriously rotten, and in every chapter of his book, Davis sweeps them under the rug. Provan, on the other hand, in his commentary (NIBC), tends to focus on the negative elements, sometimes at the expense of the many positives.

I guess I see 1 Kings 1-11 almost as the story of the end of the great Davidic monarchy over Israel, as the rotten bits, having started with David's adultery with Bathsheba, eventually corrupt it, even as it reaches its peak of splendour.

Because I missed lots of them until re-reading 1 Kings recently, and my attention was further drawn to them by Davis trying to argue that they weren't there, then reading Provan showed me they most definitely were, here are some of the bigger signs of rottenness in Israel in 1 Kings 1-10.

  • 1 Kings 2 reminds me of the sequences in the Godfather films where everyone is killed off. Solomon uses inconsistent arguments, breaks promises and makes bad excuses to do it.
  • The assessment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:3 is mixed. He loves God, but he worships at the high places (which is one of the key phrases for apostasy later in the book)
  • 1 Kings 4:15 - Solomon has a daughter called Basemath, which isn't an Israelite name (same name as Esau's foreign wife). Neither, for that matter, is Solomon.
  • He builds the temple, but he spends much longer building his own palace, and the palace building is mentioned right in the middle of the temple building. The temple is lavish, but the palace is even more amazing
  • In 1 Kings, the characters are very clearly conscious of the Law - Solomon himself quotes from it extensively in his prayer of dedication for the temple. Yet he breaks every single one of the rules about kings in Deuteronomy 17, most of them before 1 Kings 11, and we're told about his wives there:

16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again." 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
Deuteronomy 17:16-17, TNIV

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Psalm 62:11-12a

These verses were given to me by my tutor for this term, and I thought it would be good to post them on here.

Once God has spoken;
twice I have heard this:
that power belongs to God
and that to you, O Lord,
belongs steadfast love.

Psalm 62:11-12a, ESV

Rudyard Kipling - If

I should admit to having fond memories of this poem. It was read fairly frequently at my primary school. Thinking about it now, it seems to define not so much what is meant by maturity (though there's a bit of that) as what is meant by respectable traditional Englishness. I can't see many other cultures going for this particular set of virtues. Many of them are thoroughly good, but I'm not at all sure I'd commend them all.

Oh, and if you're reading it - watch out for the bit which is looking for people dangerously set up for a gambling addiction...

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

US Anglicans Back Down?

This is an interesting story. It's the BBC, granted, but that usually means there is at least a kernel of truth behind the story. I'd be very interested seeing what has happened.

Will it be too little too late? (quite possibly, but hopefully not)

Will the US Anglican church actually return to something resembling Biblical Christianity? (I doubt it, but that's what I'm praying for)

Will it be enough to hold the division over until we can split over something worth splitting on, like the uniqueness of Christ? (failing repentance from the Americans, I think that's the best scenario)

ETA - Ah Mohler, who is usually good on these things, says there's actually no change. I've certainly heard it's the usual evasive wording and so on. In that case, it's not so much a case of "too little too late" as "nothing except window-dressing".

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Kevin (not his real name) is a friend of mine at theological college. When we started, there were some people I naturally got on with very well, and Kevin wasn't one of them.

I guess the main problems I had were that Kevin was from quite a different sort of church background to me, and we talked a very different theological language. To me, what he said just sounded as if it was empty cliches and as if there wasn't much actually going on. When he spoke about his faith and some of his spiritual disciplines, it didn't sound true to me and to be honest, I really didn't see what he was doing at theological college.

It wasn't until we actually had to spend time together praising Jesus that I really recognised him as a brother in Christ, and all of a sudden, I found him much easier to love.

My plan now, when I find other people who claim to be Christians really difficult to love, is to ask them to tell me about Jesus, to try to see their passion for him.

Maybe that says more about me than about anything else. There's one local church leader, who I know only from a book of theirs which was badly thought through and unsound. My opinion of them is very low. But other people who know them know the good work they are apparently doing and love them better and are willing to put up with some less than amazing books.

There really isn't a substitute for knowing God together for learning to love someone.

Rant about Critical Theology

Dale Ralph Davis seems to lose patience with modern critical scholarship...

Critics, of course, believe this is a sure sign that [1 Kings 6] verses 11-13 constitute a later insertion into the text, usually a 'deuteronomistic' insertion (J. Gray), or, more precisely, a squib from the special group of law-oriented deuteronomistic editors (G.H. Jones). You can see yourself how such assertions thrill the mind and warm the soul...

My problem with such critics is that they never get to the claim of the text itself. They seem to suppose that once they label a text 'deuteronomistic' they have done their work and don't need to listen to or explain its claims. So what if a text is deuteronomistic? What does it demand from us or give to us? But the critics never arrive at these questions. By dubbing a text 'secondary', they emasculate its authority and so have no need to pay further heed to it. They may deny this, but read their scintillating comments for yourself. When they see an 'intrusive' text, they don't ever seem to ask why this intrusion intrudes. We must not ignore purpose or intention in the present form of the text.

Dale Ralph Davis, from 1 Kings - the Wisdom and the Folly

Monday, September 24, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

I always used to find most Westerns dull (sorry Dad!). This one certainly isn't, even though there are long stretches with nothing happening.

The basic plotline is that rancher Christian Bale has to get the evil Russell Crowe onto a prison train. There's a lot of well done action - the body count by the end is huge, but at it's mostly an exploration of the psychology of the two men.

Bale is playing a man who is desperately trying to look after his family, but more than that, he seems to be trying to search for meaning in life. Crowe is playing a completely lawless villain, who has no qualms about killing anyone but spares some. At the same time, he is an artist who has an incredibly charismatic personality and an interestingly ambiguous relationship with God. He recognises that he is completely evil and only ever acts in his own interests. He loves quoting Scripture, but expects to escape God's judgement. But is he wholly demonic?

Anyway, I enjoyed the film. It's really well made and well acted, and everything makes sense in the end.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Word Became Flesh

The sermon in church this morning was on John 1:1-18. Being a bit greeky-geeky now, I followed along in Greek. One (random) thing I thought was interesting and shocking in the passage was the use of the word εγενετο (egeneto), but it's completely hidden in pretty much every English translation. Let me explain...

εγενετο is quite difficult to translate into English. It means something along the lines of "happened" or "came to exist" or "came to be". And it comes up quite a lot in the passage.

Verse 3:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (NIV)
All things through him εγενετο; without him εγενετο not one thing (literal).

Verse 6:
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. (NIV)
εγενετο a man, sent from God, his name John. (literal)

Verse 10:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.(NIV)
In the world he was, and the world through him εγενετο, and the world did not know him.(literal)

Verse 12:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (NIV)
But to those who received him, he gave the right to become (same word as εγενετο) children of God, to the ones who believe in his name.(literal)

Verse 14:
The Word became flesh (NIV)
The word flesh εγενετο. (literal)

εγενετο in John 1 is clearly used of the act of creation. In verse 3, we see it used of the creative action of the Word in making all things - every single thing that came to exist (εγενετο) was through the Word. That includes John (v6) - one of the key emphases of the beginning of John's gospel is that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist, which has led some people to think that it was written to people who liked John the Baptist. But John was created by the Word, just the same as everything else. It includes the whole world (v10). It even includes the act of re-creation in the life of the Christian (v12) - that is described with εγενετο as well. The Word makes those who believe him into children of God by his creative action.

But then there is v14, and it is a shock. The Word, the one who makes every single person and thing in the entire universe, the Word εγενετο flesh. The one who was with God and was God in the beginning (v1-2), the one who created everything, himself becomes one of the things that he has created. The Word became flesh. If you aren't amazed by that, you haven't understood it. If you think you understand it, you aren't even close to understanding it.

Jesus is amazing - the one who made everything, himself made flesh. The creator of everything is himself created as well as being creator and uncreateable. Wow.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What if Oxford stopped teaching Theology?

[ETA - this is entirely my own opinion and in no way represents the opinions of any institutions or organisations with which I may be affiliated or associated]

An idea that some people in Oxford have been batting around recently is the idea of stopping teaching theology at the university.

On one level, it would mark an important stage in the development of the university. Oxford was the first university in the English-speaking world (if you can call England English-speaking in the 1100s), and it was founded to teach theology. Theology led to the other subjects, to revolution via the Reformation, and then eventually the university dropped theology. Some would say it would mark a coming of age. Some would say it marked the beginning of the end. The highest knowledge that we can have is the knowledge of God.

On another level, I think there's a very good argument for dropping theology. The way that subjects are studied now is via investigation, via the power of the mind. On a fundamental level, theology should not be like that because we cannot put ourselves over God to investigate him, though that doesn't stop a lot of people trying.

On yet another level, I think it would be enormously beneficial. If funding for academics studying theology was cut, theology would be done mainly by the Church, and I think that's right. It also tends to get better results when theologians actually believe what they are investigating. There are exceptions (MacCulloch for one), but I expect bits would get absorbed into History, Philosophy, Literature, etc.

Selfishly, as I'm doing a theology degree at Oxford, it would be a pity. On the other hand, it is generally the tutors who are paid either by churches or to study history who are the best at what they do, and I don't suppose I'd cry much if people who have devoted their lives to trying to argue that Jesus never existed suddenly lost their funding. But Jesus loves them anyway, so I suppose I should.

So abolish theology as an academic subject at secular universities, and leave studying theology to the Church? Yeah - why not?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Funny Sign

From the BBC website:

Anglicans and Abortion

My friend Sean forwarded this onto me.

Important link.

It's an online petition protesting at Anglican support of the pro-choice organisation, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in the US, and encouraging the Anglican Communion to take a more explicit stance against abortion, as well as to take more practical action to help make abortion unnecessary. The group are also formulating a statement on the use of human embryos in stem cell research.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Early Christians and the Bible

Lots of Christians view the Bible in lots of different ways. I think it is very useful to think about how the early Church viewed it.

The reason for that is because of the apostles. It was the apostles (plus a few of their friends) who wrote what is now the New Testament. It was the apostles who had been personally commissioned by Jesus to tell people about him. It was the apostles (equipped and strengthened by the Holy Spirit) who founded the church. I'd therefore want to make two assertions:

  • Jesus and the apostles were right in their view of the Bible
  • If we want to know their view of the Bible, a good place to look is the early church

For example, I think that Polycarp of Smyrna and Papias, who grew up in a church led by John and went on to lead churches of their own, would be in a fair good position to tell us what John meant and how he meant his writings to be understood.


The first thing that is worth noting is that they all regard what we'd now call the Bible as authoritative. Actually, the Bible didn't exist in its present form then. What they had was the Old Testament, a collection of four gospels, various collections of letters and assorted other stuff. But for the early Church, if the Old Testament taught something, or if the apostles taught it, that settled the issue.


Early on, especially while the so-called Apostolic Fathers (people like Polycarp, Papias, Ignatius, who had known the apostles) were alive, they didn't draw much distinction between what they had written down by the apostles and what they remembered the apostles saying. They saw the two sources as basically saying the same thing.

By the late 100s AD, all the Apostolic Fathers were dead, and there were people suggesting (mostly weird) new ways of understanding the Bible. The response of church leaders like Irenaeus and Tertullian was that the Old Testament and the writings of the apostles should be understood as they had been understood by the church before - that they should take the traditional understanding, because the tradition went back to Jesus and the apostles.

By the mid 400s AD, Vincent of Lerins summarised it well. He said that Scripture was "sufficient, and more than sufficient", and that it should be understood in the same way as it had been understood "always, everywhere and by everyone". If that wasn't clear, it we should go with the opinions of whole church councils, and if there was still doubt, we should follow the opinions of Christians who lived holy lives.

This of course raises an interesting question - should we understand the Bible in the "traditional way"? Should Luther have understood the Bible in the same way as the rest of the church? The answer is that it wasn't how the church had always understood the Bible. Over the 1500-odd years between the apostles and Luther, there had been a significant drift. Luther based a lot of his opinions (as did Cranmer, as did Calvin) on going back and reading early Christians. In fact, they saw that they needed to show that at least bits of the early Church agreed with them.

If quite a few Christians wrote on a topic between AD100 and AD350, and all of them say essentially the same thing about it, I think that's the right way to interpret the Bible. But not between 1200 and 1450, because that doesn't have the same guarantee of apostolicity at one end.

Christ and the Old Testament

One area where the opinion of early Christians is pretty much unanimous, and disagreeing from many modern Christians is about the Old Testament. Early Christians thought it was all about Jesus (Jesus is recorded as thinking that too).

Justin Martyr put it well in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (2nd century).

The Scriptures [OT] are much more ours than yours. For we lt ourselves be persuaded by them, while you read them without grasping their true import.

The normal way of interpreting the Old Testament is what we now call typology. John Chrysostom defined typology as "prophecy in terms of things" - what happened to on person or group of people acts as a picture for what happens to another. Where Platonic philosophy had a lot of influence on the Church, this sometimes tended to spill over into uncontrolled allegorising. But Christians in Antioch, especially Diodore of Tarsus and Theodoret, drew up some helpful guidelines for using typology with historical passages in the Old Testament, which they described as Theoria. I'm going to use my sermon on Psalm 21 as an example, because this is the approach I used there.

  • Keep the literal sense of the text. It is still true, it still matters.
  • There must be a correspondence between the historical figure and the spiritual one. For example, David and Jesus were both God's anointed king over his people, and were both called "Messiah".
  • The two figures need to be apprehended together, though differently. So in Psalm 21, David praises God because he is victorious over physical enemies. In my application of it to Jesus, Jesus praises God because he is victorious over spiritual enemies.

So, to summarise. Early Christians saw the Bible as authoritative. They saw that it should be interpreted in line with the way it had always been interpreted, and they saw the Old Testament as being about Jesus.

I wish that more of the church agreed with them!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quotes from Reagan

I keep meaning to write something on how the early Christians used the Bible. Instead, here are some quotes from Ronald Reagan.

Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'

All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.

I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.

I tend to describe my political views as somewhere between Ronald Reagan and the Green Party...

Selecting Leaders

What do the following Biblical characters have in common?

  • Mirian and Aaron in Numbers 12
  • Abimelech in Judges 9
  • Ish-bosheth in 2 Samuel 2
  • Absalom in 2 Samuel 14-18
  • Adonijah in 1 Kings 1
  • Jereboam son of Nebat in 1 Kings 12
  • Zimri in 1 Kings 16
  • Omri in 1 Kings 16
  • Athaliah in 2 Kings 11
  • Shallum in 2 Kings 15
  • Menahem in 2 Kings 15
  • Herod
  • Diotrophes in 3 John

There may be others, but those are the ones I can think of quickly.

Answer - they are the people I can think of who put themselves forwards as leaders over God's people. All of them persuaded others it would be a good idea. And all of them are judged for it.

Now how do we go about getting leaders for churches?

I hadn't thought this through as clearly when I was going through selection for ordination in the C of E. But I knew I didn't want to put myself forwards. On the other hand, however, the vicar at my church was fairly new and hadn't got round to setting up a group or anything to ask people if they would think about ordination, and it was pretty clear he wasn't going to ask anyone to think about it just yet. It took me ages to get to the point where I felt compelled to ask him if he thought I would be suitable, and even then I felt horribly guilty for asking, but it felt like I had to do it.

This post arose out of a conversation I had a few days ago with a leader at a local church. He said he got people involved if they volunteered rather than asking them. I think that's the wrong approach.

Leaders should not volunteer. They should be selected.

Of course, there is still plenty of scope for "we need 5 people to help out at this event" or conversations along the lines of "Have you thought about getting involved with any groups in the church?" // "I'd really like to help out with the children's work" // "Oh - that's great."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Affective Preaching

Random question - why are conservative evangelicals so afraid of affective preaching?

(By affective preaching, I mean preaching where the preacher displays strong excitement or sadness or pain or something. Preaching which engages the emotions as well as the mind and not just through the mind. Preaching that is designed to move people. And I don't mean acted stuff - that's rubbish.)

Is it that we're scared of emotions? Or scared of using other people's? But surely there's an important balance - if we're preaching through something that is really really tragic and where we have to understand something of the depth of the sadness to understand the passage (as Psalm 137), shouldn't we be willing to take them there?

I heard a sermon on Psalm 137 last night. It was good, and very well applied (I think that's the most difficult bit with that passage) but I think it would have been better if we'd gone with the Israelites and seen more of their grief to get inside what they were feeling.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why Women Shouldn't Lead Churches

I've said before, and I still think it, that the theological arguments seem to me to be inconclusive, and that in the C of E at the moment, it should be an issue of conscience as to whether women lead churches. I'm part of a denomination where women do lead churches, and I'm fine with that. I've got friends who are women who intend to lead churches, and I'm happy to support them in that. I wouldn't be happy to be a woman who led a church, but that's because I'm a bloke.

I've also said before that there are some things which seem to me utterly obvious from the Bible, which are relevant to the whole area.

  • Leadership is about service. The point of the "leader" is that they are meant to serve, to equip everyone for using their gifts to build one another up.
  • Women should be involved in positions of responsibility in churches, including doing stuff "up front"
  • Men and women are not identical. The marriage relationship is equal but not symmetrical.
  • Faced with a choice between a woman who believed in the Bible and a man who did not, I'd much rather have the woman leading my church.

But given all of that, if I was going to vote on whether women should be appointed from now on to lead churches, I'd vote against it. Here are some reasons:

  • The early church was socially revolutionary in lots of ways. Yet while they had women in leadership positions, and churches led by married couples, even couples where the woman seemed to be more theologically aware or in some way dominant (e.g. Priscilla and Aquila) I am not aware of any churches where the sole senior leader was a woman. Why not? Theological education does not seem to have been a requirement. Neither does social status. If we apply the famous principle from Vincent of Lerins - that we should interpret Scripture in accordance with the way it has been done everywhere, always and by everyone, it is clear that the interpretation which allows women to be the sole leaders of churches is an innovation, and so more likely than not to be wrong.
  • If we examine those groups where women have been allowed to lead churches, the first one of note is the heretical Montanist group (in many ways similar to some modern Pentecostalism). More modern examples are generally churches or provinces that are dying and where the authority of the Bible is respected less, which suggests it is an unwise route. I am not saying there is a causative influence in any direction; I am making an observation about the company we keep.
  • As it stands, with women leading churches, there is an inconclusive Biblical argument that we should not (but strengthened by tradition), a strong cultural argument that we should and a strong argument from tradition that we should not. To my mind, the arguments against probably have it on balance.

My mind may of course change in the future.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

David F Wells - God in the Wasteland

An interesting read, and one which got me thinking. Wells is at his best as a critic of culture, though sometimes he comes across as an old man who just prefers his way of doing things. He is, however, very good at turning a phrase, as is evident in the subtitle of the book - "The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams". I've put some more quotes from him here.

I've discussed the main theme of the book here (marketing the church), and spun off it in a direction which Wells hinted at but doesn't seem to have followed much here (are we all liberals now?).

He never really gets to the level of Schaeffer in providing a really big picture or in terms of getting doxological. Having said that, he is good as a cultural critic, and he does seem to get to the root of issues, but what he doesn't seem to do is dig around that root and see that actually there are good bits, and there are ways in which he is affected by the bad bits that he hadn't spotted. I think Wells's real value though is as a flagwaver - alerting people that something is up.

One of the things which makes him very good at that is his phrasing. Here are some more great quotes.

... our unflagging preoccupation with psychological wholeness as a substitute for holiness...

I suspect Wells would not like being cut up into soundbites, but I think the genre of soundbites, despite its many weaknesses, has some excellent qualities.

It is the conceit of modernity that the past is nothing more than a dead weight, that constant innovation is the only key to a better life and richer truth... And we persist in this delusion despite the fact that the lives of us moderns... are everywhere characterised by emptiness, superficiality, banality and destructiveness, whereas the lives of those who lived in previous ages and knew so much less than we do today were often comparatively more human, more serious, and more profound.

Or this, which I'm not sure about, but answers my questions as to why Wells is so anti-marketing...

Even when the machinery is hooked up to market specifically religious claims, it provokes little angst in postmodern quarters, for the machinery itself is perceived to render the marketed object harmless: it's just one more commodity in a crowded marketplace.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Are we all Liberals Now?

This is spinning off something David Wells wrote in God in the Wasteland. According to Wells, Schleiermacher (in many ways the founder of modern theological liberalism) argued that God was as we experienced him in ourselves. Wells argues that the church today has essentially followed Schleiermacher on that.

That got me thinking. What if the three main traditions today - evangelicalism, charismaticism and catholicism - complete with their weaknesses and so on, can all be explained by saying that they are all essentially liberal?

I'm not suggesting for one moment that those three traditions are mutually exclusive - there are certainly plenty of people who are within at least two of those traditions, or even all three.

What if the essence of modern catholicism is that it says that God is as we experience him in the Eucharist? Does that explain what is often the narrowness of approach, the insistence on doing things our way? Does it explain the doctrinal paucity and growing emphasis on inclusion? It seems to.

What if the essence of modern charismaticism is that it says that God is as we experience him in worship? Does that explain the uncritical acceptance of passing trends? Does it explain the way that language is often used suggesting that God is not experienced by people who worship in different ways? Does it explain the exaltation of the worship leader? It seems to.

What if the essence of modern evangelicalism is that it says that God is as we experience him in the Bible? Does that explain the narrowness of vision, the rejecting people who think differently even if they seem to base their opinions on Scripture? Does it explain the hugely cerebral nature of so much and the exaltation of the preacher or the Bible scholar? It seems to.

As Wells points out, God is bigger than we think he is. He is bigger than our experience of him. He is transcendent. And it seems that when we forget that, we are essentially idolaters. Maybe we are all liberals now. We certainly need to recover our sense of God's transcendence and holiness.

Advice for New Theology Students

A friend pointed me today to this article by John Frame (originally a booklet). It's pretty good advice for people starting theological college, especially in a directly Reformed context.

I've got to give advice to the new first years here. I'll probably tell them to spend as much time praying as they possibly can, to make their top priority learning to preach and to read Provan, Longman and Long's A Biblical History of Israel before going near any university stuff on the Old Testament.

Marketing the Church

I'm currently reading David F Wells' book God in the Wasteland, in which Wells argues that the church has essentially sold out to modernism.

One area in which he says this has happened is the area of seeing what the Church is about as marketing - that of identifying a group to "sell" a "product" to, of marketing it and so on. In particular, he sees the danger as being the willingness to change or adapt the product to fit people's perceived needs rather than their actual needs, and of being faithless to God in order to be faithful to culture.

To my mind, however, he presents the issue as too black-and-white. We certainly should not sell out wholesale to the marketing philosophy. We should not change the God we proclaim or seek to worship him in ways which he has said are unacceptable. And it certainly seems to me that some churches, especially in the US, have gone too far in that regard. The whole Purpose Driven Church movement, for example, runs that risk because of the lack of clarity as to what the gospel actually is.

But neither does that mean that we should not be wise in the way that we seek to relate the unchanging truth about God to a changing society, or that there is some valuable wisdom which is used by marketers. Some marketing techniques imply a worldview opposed to that of the Bible. But not all do, and some can be co-opted for serving God.

Here's an extract.

Today, evangelicalism reverberates with worldliness. In first impressions, this worldliness does not appear ugly at all. Quite the opposite. It maintains a warm and friendly countenance, parading itself as successful entrepreneurship, organizational wizardry, and a package of slick public relations insights that are essential to the facilitation of evangelical business.

Now, there is nothing wrong with entrepreneurship or organizational wizardry or public relations or television images and glossy magazines per se. The problem is with the current evangelical inability to see how these things carry with them values which are hostile to Christian faith. The problem, furthermore, lies in the unwillingness of evangelicals to forsake the immediate and overwhelming benefits of modernity, even when corrupted values are part and parcel of those benefits. What is plainly missing, then, is discernment, and this has much to do with the dislocation of biblical truth from the life of the church today and much to do with the dying of its theological soul.

I agree. But I think that at times Wells overreacts. Maybe that's necessary in the kind of wake-up call he was intending to give though.

What we need is discernment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Davis - Truth and Impressive Truth

Here's a great insight from Dale Ralph Davis (writing on 1 Samuel 22, which is a long poem David wrote):

Now David could have "studied brevity" here. Instead of the 69 Hebrew words or the 141 English words (NIV) in verses 8-16, he could simply have written "Yahweh intervened on my behalf." (five words). Why didn't he? ... Although such a statement would be factually true it would not be impressively true. David doesn't merely want you to tell you a fact about Yahweh, he wants you to see Yahweh in all his saving fury.

I think that's a big part of the difference between preaching and lecturing. It amazes me that it took me so long to realise (i.e. up until a few years ago) that the way things are said conveys as much information as what is said.

Davis again

This dilemma reminds me of the time someone, apparently in Philadelphia, asked George Whitfield if he might print his sermons. Whitfield replied "Well, I have no inherent objection, if you like, but you will never be able to put on the printed page the lightning and the thunder."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Quotes - David Wells on Emptiness

I'm currently reading (among other things), God in the Wasteland by David Wells. I'm still only partly convinced by his main point, but he has some very good quotes.

We may now have everything, but none of it means anything any more.

We have become TS Eliot's "hollow men," without weight, for whom appearance and image must suffice. Image and appearance assume the functions that character and morality once had. It is now considered better to look good than to be good. The facade is now more important than the substance - and, that being the case, the substance has largely disappeared.

God in the Wasteland, David F Wells

Preaching - Text Work

I recently reviewed a book which was good on lots of aspects of preaching, but not great on working on the actual text.

Here's a short piece by Ryan Gosling which is better than that that whole book on text work...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I thought it would be worth stopping briefly before term starts and making a note of where I'm at with regards to various controversial issues in the Christian world.

Labelling: I don't like it, because labels tend to aid division rather than unity and because "insiders" and "outsiders" usually use the same label to mean different things. If I have to use labels other than "Christian", I tend to go for moderate conservative evangelical Anglican, which is sufficiently long that it gives people an idea of where I'm at without necessarily referring to a clearly defined group. I am aware that there are moderate charismatics and "open evangelicals" with whom I would agree almost 100%.

Uniqueness of Christ: Absolutely. He is both perfectly God and perfectly man; salvation is found only in him, and only through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Scripture and Revelation: Scripture is perfect, authoritative. My view comes very close to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I don't think there is subsequent revelation with the same authority, but I don't see that necessarily means there is no further revelation, but that further revelation is not binding in the same sense and would need to be tested against Scripture.

Ordination of women: I think by the time someone asks the question, they've already missed the point. In the Bible, the nearest equivalent to ordination is functional rather than ontological - it is ordination for a specific purpose rather than for being able to put Rev in front of your name. People were chosen as leaders of specific churches rather than just flying "church leaders" (with the exceptions of apostles, but the ordained ministry in the C of E is functionally much closer to the pastor / teacher / church leader than that of the apostle). The way the C of E sees ordination is generally at least partly ontological. Given that we've got this ontological status thingy, that women are clearly meant to be doing at least some of the jobs it covers and that the NT doesn't really address the question, I don't see any reason why women shouldn't be ordained. It could be argued that in Acts, Priscilla and Aquilla seem to act like an ordained couple would today; I think there's useful scope in that idea.

Women leading churches: This is closer to the real question on whether there is a gender-based difference as regards ideal roles within the church. To be honest, I'm not sure. I don't think either side's Biblical arguments are particularly persuasive; my instinct is therefore that we should treat it as an issue of conscience. I certainly don't see arguments for men refusing to submit to women who are in a position of authority in churches. There are however big questions of how marriage relationships work if the woman is a church leader and the man isn't...

Roman Catholicism: There's a regular commenter on here who I think is an evangelical charismatic Roman Catholic, and I don't have a problem with that. I think some of the official teachings of the Roman Catholic church are seriously flawed, but I also think the same of some of the official teachings of the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church (I might comment on those at a future date).

Cessationism: Seems to have no valid Scriptural support. But neither does the view that God follows our every whim.

Praying for the dead: Is good, pastoral and wise. The old doctrine of Purgatory is, however, complete tosh. That's a very bad reason for praying for the dead, but just because one reason is stupid, doesn't mean the rest are.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Glorious Contradiction - God's Promises to David via Nathan

The last post was of course a spin-off from one of Dale Ralph Davis's thoughts. This is a spin-off from that, which I don't think DRD picked up on.

God makes two promises to David through Nathan. The first is in 2 Samuel 7

Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'

2 Samuel 7:9-16

But after David commits adultery and murder, Nathan makes another promise to David from God.

Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.

This is what the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.'

2 Samuel 12:10-12

So God promises that David's line will reign forever, but also that the sword will never depart from his house - that there will always be one of his descendants ruling, but that they will always be killed violently.

Isn't that interesting? I wonder how those two fit together.... I wonder if the people who were expecting a Messiah who would be from David's family to come and conquer and be a military hero rather than to come and suffer and die remembered the promise in 2 Samuel 12.

David, Bathsheba and moral compromise in the Church

The story of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11 is fairly well known. Roughly speaking, David, military hero, awesome king of Israel and God's chosen and anointed leader takes a year off while his army is out fighting. He sees a woman - Bathsheba, who appropriately (or not) enough is taking a bath. David likes the look of her, has sex with her, she gets pregnant. Her husband, who isn't even an Israelite, is off fighting for David. David gets him back and tries to get him to sleep with his wife; he refuses as he's still mid-campaign, so David arranges for the tactics to go a little wonky to get Uriah killed.

The application of that story I hear second most often is that it's a bad idea to find yourself with lots of time on your hands and nothing to do, especially if you're a bloke with a fairly strong sex drive and opportunity to use it. That is a true and valid application. It's why 2 Samuel 11 comes right after 2 Samuel 10, which is about the war that David should have been fighting in instead of watching naked women. But I don't think it's the main point.

The application that I hear most often is that even the best human leaders mess up, but that doesn't stop God using them. That's kind of true, and it is definitely important to know and understand that there is such a thing as real forgiveness, but it is a) so not the point of the passage and b) like a surgeon, very dangerous when not qualified properly.

What is the main point? Well, in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan the prophet confronts David with his behaviour in quite a clever way, ending with this conclusion from God...

Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.'

"This is what the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.' "

Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die."

2 Samuel 12:9-14, NIV

Yes, David repents, and that's what Psalm 51 is about, and there's a lot we can learn about repentance from that. Repentance saves David's life here, but it doesn't make it all alright. The next EIGHT CHAPTERS are all about the virtual collapse of the kingdom because of David's sons Absalom and Amnon and their lack of self control when it comes to having sex with the wrong women and killing people, which was exactly David's problem. Later, David's son and successor Solomon would have the same problem with women, which would lead to the kingdom splitting up. The start of the disastrous downward spiral in Israel's history from the high point of God's promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 and his victories in 2 Samuel 8-10 is often traced to Solomon's palace building, or to his very large number of foreign wives who introduced adultery, but actually I think it starts with David and Bathsheba. Yes, there's a kind of repeat of that with Solomon, but Solomon is just following in the footsteps of his father, only worse, as Solomon's son does after him.

The key message of 2 Samuel 11, David and Bathsheba, is that sin among the leaders of God's people is incredibly destructive. Yes, it can be forgiven if and when we repent, but that only means we don't go to hell immediately (and sinning more because we think we can be forgiven needs to be repented of itself). But it doesn't take away the awful temporal consequences of that sin for God's people.

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
James 3:1-2, NIV

David was one of the best kings there was, but he was not good enough.

The lesson of this is that leaders need to be holy. And while that should be strived for, at the end of the day, it is unattainable. The only adequate leader of God's people, the only king who is good enough is Great David's Greater Son - Jesus.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

TV v Church

I was on TV this morning. I'd much much rather have been at church. But I said yes to being in the audience of some BBC religious discussion program before checking to see whether it was on Sunday morning or not. "No-one could possibly be stupid enough to film a religious discussion programme on Sunday morning." I thought. "It would blatantly make for a biased audience."

I was sitting right behind the panel on a kind of tiered seating thing. That meant that I couldn't scratch my crotch or pick my nose at all for an hour or so. Not that I do that sort of thing much normally, but knowing that I can't makes it very difficult not to. Great evidence for the existence of original sin - we want to do exactly what we're forbidden from doing. But the prospect of having a decent fraction of the country knowing me as the guy who was adjusting his genitals on live TV while people around me were discussing murder stopped me in the end.

Anyway, I'd much rather have been at church, and wish I'd checked my diary first or said "no" or something. I'll go this evening, but I just felt as if I was getting settled into the morning congregation there...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Greg Haslam - Preach the Word

This book seems to be very highly regarded among charismatics, especially the more theologically conservative ones. It's a book of 52 talks-cum-essays on the subject of preaching, given by a range of preachers from moderate conservatives (John Stott, Chris Wright) to popular evangelists (J John, Jeff Lucas), to black Pentecostal pastors. Each takes a different angle (e.g. Narrative Preaching, How to Preach Old Testament Law, Preaching to Change Nations, ...)

As is inevitable with so many contributors and so many topics, there is a range of quality, and a range of different views on several topics (especially e.g. how much to prepare / script and the balance between Biblical exposition / thematic preaching / speaking into situations) but many of them really are very good. I've quoted it a fair few times on here.

What this book excels in is stuff about motivating people for preaching and stuff on the craft / art of actually preaching. What it is weak on, perhaps because it doesn't aim to cover it, is how to get the main point from a passage.

Or, to say the same thing in technical language, it's good for motivation to preach; it's probably the best book I've ever read on homiletics, especially from a charismatic perspective; don't expect it to cover much in the way of exegesis.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Cars are odd things. My previous car was also my first car. It was a Fiat Punto. The guidebook to used cars said that Fiat Puntos were meant to be reliable. I didn't buy that guidebook again...

The first big problem was when the oil thingy malfunctioned. Then something made a hole in the side of the cylinder block, so I had that replaced. Then the head gasket blew in the replacement. So I got a different guidebook and bought a Toyota Yaris. Everyone agrees they are reliable.

The reliability has been great so far. I got it on an approved used car thing, so it's on warranty as well. First problem I had was a slow puncture. I took it to Kwik Fit, where they told me that the dodgy tyre was significantly older than the car. Had that replaced. Today I had a tyre blow, as in properly blow while driving down the M4.

If the steering suddenly goes both light and very difficult to control at the same time, the car starts tilting to the right and there's a huge amount of noise and smoke coming from a wheel, chances are you've blown a tyre.

That makes it three times inside a year I've had to get breakdown people out. And the only previous time in my life I've needed them was in 1982.

(Photo added 8th September, 1259 to show what a tyre looks like after such an event)

Taking Sides

Why should we take sides?

Why should we seek to see our party, our way of thinking about things, people like us, succeeding?

How easily does what we think of as seeking to stand up for God become seeking to stand up for ourselves against others who do not see themselves as serving any less faithfully than we ourselves are?

God has made it clear that he will prevail. He has shown that those who oppose him will fail.

So why take sides?

Our battle is not against flesh and blood.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit, Baptism in the Spirit, etc.

There is a lot said and a lot written about people having the Holy Spirit. I thought it would be worth clarifying what I think to be the fairly clear teaching of the Bible and the testimony of experience. I am writing this partly in reaction to reading Greg Haslam's essay “Be Filled with the Spirit”, which I refer to from time to time, but you don't need to have read it to understand what I'm saying.

One of the problems with incomplete teaching from the Bible is that when we have experiences which do not fit with that incomplete teaching, there is a danger of saying that the teaching we received was incorrect, even though it was actually incomplete. So it is with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit

This is very much the “traditional position”. All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they become Christians.

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Romans 8:9-11, ESV

There doesn't seem to be any way to deny this. If we don't have the Holy Spirit, we don't belong to Jesus, and we don't have new life. All Christians receive the Holy Spirit.

But just because we have the Holy Spirit, that does not mean that we have the fullness of experience of the Holy Spirit.

And if someone asks “Surely we got it all automatically when we believed?” Dr Lloyd-Jones replied “If you have got it all, why are you so unlike the New Testament Christians? Got it all? Got it all at your conversion? Well, where is it, I ask?”

Filled with the Holy Spirit by Greg Haslam in Preach the Word

This having the Holy Spirit but not having a full experience of the Holy Spirit is commonly misinterpreted by Pentecostals as not having the Holy Spirit at all. But as we have seen, all Christians must be indwelt by the Spirit, otherwise they are not Christians. So what more is there?

Some Christians are sometimes filled with the Holy Spirit

It's important when we're talking about these things to use the same language as our translations of the Bible use. That is because otherwise we'll end up talking a different language to the Bible, and we'll misunderstand it.

The Bible does talk about a second-level experience of the Holy Spirit, called in most modern English translations “being filled with the Spirit”.

Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit isn't always obvious. Being filled with the Holy Spirit generally is, as a quick look through the New Testament shows.

Being filled with the Spirit is mentioned 10 times in the New Testament, 9 of them by Luke. In Luke 1, John the Baptist is filled with the Spirit even in the womb as part of his job of proclaiming Jesus. His parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, are both filled with the Spirit and the result is that they praise God for what he is doing in Jesus. In Acts 2, the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit, and speak in tongues, then preach about Jesus. In Acts 4, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and preaches, then later all the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and preach. In Acts 9, Saul/Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit, his blindness is healed and immediately he begins preaching. In Acts 13, he is filled with the Spirit again, and confronts the false prophet Elymas. Again in Acts 13, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit as they rejoice despite persecution. And in Ephesians 5:18, we are commanded to “be filled with the Holy Spirit”, which is a continuous imperative - “go on being filled in the Holy Spirit”. The consequences of being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 are “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:19-21, ESV)

From that, there are a few points we can make about being filled with the Holy Spirit.

  • It is a repeatable experience – Peter and Paul are both recorded as being filled with the Spirit on separate occasions.
  • It therefore follows that it is not a permanent state, which is also implied by the command to go on being filled with the Spirit.
  • It leads to some kind of verbal proclamation, whether preaching, rejoicing, tongues or (in the case of Paul v Elymas) powerful cursing
  • It can happen either at the first reception of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 2, 9) or subsequently (e.g. Acts 4, 13)

I strongly suspect that the programmatic reference for being filled with the Spirit is Micah 3:8

But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.
Micah 3:8, ESV

Being filled with the Spirit is about being empowered to proclaim God's word.

Because being filled with the Spirit is much more obvious than just receiving the Spirit, it also seems to happen when some kind of external evidence that the Holy Spirit has come is needed. The classic example of this is in Acts 10-11, with the first Gentile converts. Peter is preaching at the house of a Roman centurion called Cornelius (though he has to be told specifically in a vision to go there), and Cornelius and co start “speaking in tongues and extolling God”, which is classic Acts behaviour for being filled with the Spirit. Peter sees this as evidence that they have received the Spirit, and hence that Gentiles can become Christians too, which seems to come as a surprise both to him and to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:18).

Reflecting on my own experience, it seems to me that my conservative background often but not always tends to downplay being filled with the Spirit, and play up receiving the Spirit. It wouldn't at all surprise me if that sort of emphasis was what led to the heresy which observed people being filled with the Spirit and concluded that they were receiving it for the first time.

One of the mistakes which most annoys me at times is in the language we use when talking about being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is not a case of us having more of the Spirit. The Spirit is not a liquid of whom we can receive more. The Spirit is a person. Being filled with the Spirit is not us having more of the Spirit, but the Spirit having more of us. It is being surrendered to the Spirit, so that we are not actively opposing what the Spirit is seeking to do in us.

Baptism in the Spirit

The other phrase used a fair bit in the Bible, is “baptism in the Holy Spirit”. In charismatic circles, I usually hear this used either (heretically) as referring to a reception of the Holy Spirit after conversion or as a synonym for being filled with the Spirit (so Greg Haslam). In conservative circles, I usually hear it as referring to initial reception of the Spirit.

Most of the New Testament references are unclear as to which they refer to. Jesus is said to baptise with the Holy Spirit. which is symbolised by the Holy Spirit visibly descending on him at his baptism. Pentecost is described as being baptism with the Holy Spirit, but as we have seen, Pentecost is both receiving the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. Ditto with Cornelius receiving the Spirit in Acts 10-11.

But Paul helps us out. In 1 Corinthians 12, he wrote:

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV

We were all baptised in one Spirit into one body. That makes it pretty clear it's something which affects all Christians and so is to do with reception of the Holy Spirit rather than filling with the Holy Spirit.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I use GMail. Now they've put together a video to show how it works...


There's an interesting discussion of gender differences (partly from an evolutionary biological perspective) here. It's interesting - the idea that men have a higher standard deviation in most traits explaining why women do better at things such as GCSEs where the distribution is squashed down at the top end (a decent proportion get A*, there is no A****, more get A*s than Fs) and why men do better when it is squashed up at the bottom end (e.g. wages, where there is no upper bound but there is often a minimum wage).

The whole thing reminds me that I have yet to come across a good theology of gender. Anyone got any ideas?

Some of the basics are clear - male and female are different but of equal value. There's something called "headship" which men have in marriage, but the exact nature of that is disputed. Men and women are mutually dependent upon one another.

But so many of the details are obscure. I think the Bible doesn't spend a lot of time on it, partly because stereotyping doesn't work. Maybe that's the answer - that each situation needs to be worked out individually, on the basis of some very broad principles and wisdom.

Any ideas? Helpful books on theology of gender?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


This is a film about the life of Martin Luther, roughly from 1505 (when he decided to become a monk) to 1530 (Augsburg Confession).

As a retelling of the story, it gets the main details right, but often skips over stuff. I guess it's over 2 hours as it is though, so probably couldn't have had more detailed scenes in the disputations, for example. I'd have been happy watching a 4 hour version, but some people might not.

Some of the details did annoy me though. Had they researched Luther's preaching / lecturing style, or did they just make it look modern? How could Luther cite the Bible with verse references when they weren't invented until the middle of the century? Had Melanchthon actually taken his name as early as it is used of him here? (he was born Philipp Schwartzerd).

But for a basic biographical introduction to Luther, it was pretty good. And it's a moving story. It's a real shame it didn't seem to be released at the cinema in the UK, and it's not available in most DVD shops.

Church Size

Here's a thought that came out of a discussion I was having with a friend last night, sparked by the realisation that neither of us felt especially part of the churches we'd been going to for the last year, whereas both of us had been core members of churches before that.

The maximum number of people who can attend a church congregation is generally limited by the size of the building, seating, etc.

The maximum number who can feel as if they belong to a church congregation is much smaller. It is generally limted by the layout of the building - specifically the number of people who can comfortably socialise in the space used, given the layout.

One big factor, for example, would be that if the seating is in tightly packed rows, only the ends are effectively useful for socialising because there isn't sufficient room to turn around otherwise, and people can't move freely into or out of the row.

Just a thought, but it intuitively seems right.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

I went to see the Bourne Ultimatum with some friends last night.

What sets this apart from pretty much every action film I have seen is the quality of the filming and editing. It's deliberately largely done with handheld cameras, and often with shots lasting less than 1 second, especially during action scenes, which gives it a very breathless feel. You can't always see exactly what is going on during fights, but that is deliberate and it works very well. It's more like you're in the fight, or in the car crash or whatever. And then when it calms down, there will be a long, fairly still shot with little happening except the ruins of what just got destroyed, again fitting the pace.

Plotwise, the film is fairly simple. Jason Bourne tries to find out who he is by running after whoever he thinks might know. There are some clever bits, but it's the filming that really makes this a great film, and it doesn't have the kind of plot holes or cheesiness that makes Transformers, for example, so difficult to watch. Definitely worth seeing at the cinema.

Guardian as Troll?

Alan Wilson points to an interesting comment on the Guardian website. Are the Guardian writers essentially functioning as unprincipled trolls to try to get readership up and hence increase ad revenue?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Animal Rights Protesters

There were a load of animal rights protesters in Oxford today. There usually are outside the site where the medical primate research stuff happens, but this time they were doing a big protest through the middle of Oxford.

I'm all for people's rights to public assembly and all - I can see that it's potentially a right I might quite want to use in the future, but sometimes the people who use it make me want to get out the (possibly apocryphal) Brown note generators.

Anyway, today's lot seemed especially concerned about a monkey named Felix. Their concern is of course commendable, though some fusspots might think that on balance Felix the monkey should probably be a lower priority than Darfur or Iraq or whatever.

I was tempted to get up and give a rabble-rousing speech. Something along these lines (with appropriate pauses and so on):

Friends, we have come here today to say that this must end!

They must stop all experiments on animals now, or we will stop them!

Free Felix now!

They say this is medical research!

But they are cutting Felix's brain out!

We will not let this continue!

Not while we and our children are alive!

If they want to do experiments, let them use us instead!

Who will volunteer to take Felix's place?

But I didn't.

Private Property in Deuteronomy 15

I've spent a fair bit of the last week in Deuteronomy, with the help of Gordon McConville's excellent commentary. Here's another of the things that struck me:

Deuteronomy 15 contains three groups of laws. Roughly summarised, they are:

Debt release: Debts between Israelites are to be cancelled every seven years. Lending to Israelites who are poor is compulsory, even if the year for debts being cancelled is coming up. While poverty is seen as something that will not be eradicated (v11), it is nevertheless to be aspired against (v4).

Manumission: There was a form of indentured slavery in certain situations, which was very different from slavery as later practiced by the Arabs, British and Americans (among others). These laws put a maximum period of 7 years on it, with the expectation of very good treatment and tell the "owner" to send the "slave" off with very generous gifts.

Firstborn: God claims the firstborn of all animals, and they are to be eaten in a kind of communal party.

What was striking about this was thinking about the underlying implications. There's a lot of talk about a "social contract" now - that we agree to pay taxes and obey the law in return for living in this society. But that kind of thought seems hugely foreign to Deuteronomy. For a start, I'm not at all sure it recognises ideas like private property in the modern sense.

Property, especially land, is seen as belonging primarily to God, and is God's to give graciously to whomever he wants. For example, in Israel, permanent financial transfers of land seem to have been prohibited. The rich being expected to lend to the poor is interesting as well - it doesn't have all of the rubbish baggage associated with a welfare state where the state is seen as obliged to provide and keeps it much more personal, but at the same time it undermines the idea that the property of the rich is actually theirs. Ditto with the debt release and the manumission - property is only seen as being loaned for a limited time rather than actually as owned in the way we'd understand it now.

And yes, I see recognition of that at times in the church with things like

For all things come from You,
And of Your own we have given You
1 Chronicles 29:14b, NKJV

But I don't think we actually live like it most of the time. We tend to see our property as ours, and we choose to give some of it away, rather than seeing our property as God's, and us as borrowers of it.