Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Good Old Days?

I really do wonder why I've never heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes 7:10. Come to think of it I don't think I've heard many sermons on Ecclesiastes at all, funnily enough. There's a strange part of me (more than simply a part, perhaps you might think) that quite likes the fact that there are some biblical authors who seem quite depressed. Perhaps there is biblical warrant for being a grumpy old man if we consider Ecclesiastes and good old Jeremiah? Then again, maybe not. Jeremiah didn't exactly get praised for his bouts of moaning. I guess resignation to the absurdities of life must be the order of the day instead then...

Anyhow, I digress... that verse, oh such wonderful biblical truth (ahem, he he he - you'll see), so easy to see that the author had to be inspired by God to come up with such great words of wisdom - here it is in full:

"Do not say "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions" (NIV).

Told you - God's a clever chappy; he must have a sense of humour too when you look at the church and penguins and sloths come to think of it. Next time someone harps on about the "good old days" when we had "hymns" (whatever they may be) instead of "songs" or the "proper" KJV instead of the New International Perversion (yes, sadly I have heard it called that), then perhaps you might like to direct them to this verse. Change has biblical warrant - sorry to any readers in or from Norfolk, I know I shouldn't use the "c" word. But then surely c***** is what being a follower of Jesus is all about?

I hope that when I get old(er) I can avoid the temptation to summon everyone back to a supposed golden era from my youth. Hopefully I'm not already inadvertently doing it. As we look back, we must ask ourselves whether the world is really getting worse or whether it is just different to what it used to be. Is there more fighting or are we more aware of it thanks to 24hr news? Is our culture really more anti-faith than before or has it just altered perspective (is that ok, Norfolk? No? Oh well, too late, quod scripsi scripsi) to think about these things in a different way? Have we as God's people failed to change (sorry, done it again) and assumed that old ways, old methods, the "good old days" are actually how things ought to be?

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts

Last Saturday I led a seminar on the Spirit in Luke-Acts, comparing Jesus' empowerment with that of the disciples. I thought I'd post a key idea that we looked at (can't post it all, that would be too long!).

The influence of more rational approaches to faith, particularly perhaps stemming from our theological education systems, seemed to run into slight difficulties when we considered the role of experiences in these narratives. Luke emphasises interpretation of Scripture immediately following both Jesus' and the disciples' Spirit-reception. They begin to re-read the OT under the empowerment of the Spirit. Jesus interprets in conflict with the devil and then spells out his understanding of his ministry in terms of Isaiah 61. Peter interprets the Pentecost events in terms of an eschatological reading of various OT passages. Later, Saul becomes Paul and suddenly re-interprets Scripture due to his experience of Christ and the Spirit coming upon him. So, is it really correct to tell people not to interpret the Bible through their experiences but always to start with the biblical data?

This issue of the role of experience is probably most helpfully raised by the growing prominence of Pentecostalism as a branch of Christian expression and with its own growing number of scholars. Such  methodology has historically tended to be frowned upon by evangelicals and other Christians, claiming that it is too dangerous to interpret the "objective" Scriptures through "subjective" experiences. However, isn't this precisely how the NT came into being? Was it not the experience of the Spirit that led people to read the OT anew and understand themselves as God's eschatological people?

Perhaps we should see experience and our reading as mutually informing instead of in competition. After all, experience gives us presuppositions that put filters in place when we read. If we have a pre-understanding that is informed by a lack of experience, then perhaps we will struggle when we come to read certain passages about "supernatural" experiences. Is it not the case, after all, that if we believe we have "met" God and are loved by him then we find it easier to relate to texts that claim just such an experience? Perhaps one possible "blessing" of postmodernism is that it opens us up to more than a rational, logical approach to faith and enables reason, experience and other factors to act together dynamically. At the very least, it helps us to be more honest in our interpretation, acknowledging that experience and other factors do play a role whether we like it or not.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

You are the light of the world

We had a church away day last weekend and one of the passages looked at was from the sermon on the mount - salt and light. The speaker didn't (to my mind) really explore much about light - much of it was merely assumed as known or associated with witnessing. What might Matthew/Jesus have meant here by "light" I wonder? It is a metaphor capable of various meanings depending on where you look. It could be talking about standing out. It could be one part of an ethical dualism (Greek thought?) of light and dark as good and bad. It could be taking some of the Ancient Near Eastern imagery associated with light and deity found also in the OT (e.g. Isaiah 60:1-3; Isaiah 49:6; Numbers 6:24-26, etc.) that spoke of blessing, salvation and the presence of God. Given that Matthew so often wants to show OT fulfilment, perhaps some of this is implied here. But in what sense are we "light" in terms of blessing/salvation/God's presence if this is indeed what is being said?

Perhaps there is a clue in the way that the servant imagery of Isaiah is applicable both to an individual and also to God's people more broadly. Maybe it also has links to the idea of being blessed and a blessing to others as promised to Abraham. What I wonder is, how much of this cluster of imagery is applicable in this instance - particularly the "salvation" bit. We tend to like to only use such language of what Jesus did and does, not of ourselves. But is there a sense in which derivatively God's people are "light" in the sense of salvation to the world also? Or, are we only mirrors who reflect the true light to others?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pentecost "hymns"

Having sadly missed the boat with my choice of "hymns" for ascension day, I thought I'd best get in early for Pentecost. I'm sure that all those leading services next Sunday will be eternally grateful...

“Wind of change” (Scorpions)
“Fire in the Sky” (Yngwie Malmsteen)
Or, better perhaps - “There’s a Fire in the House” (Steve Vai)
"Firestarter" (Prodigy)
“Brand New Start” (Alter Bridge)

Technically the Vai one isn't a hymn as there are no lyrics... So perhaps my Anglican friends might call it a postlude or recessional or something of that ilk (at least that's what Wiki thinks and Wiki must be right...?!).

Friday, 3 June 2011

Deep(ish) stuff from a wayward mind

My mind once again took to wandering off on its own paths despite the best efforts of Sunday's preacher (sorry!). We had a reading from John 14, including that well known phrase "I am the way", etc. This got me thinking - how often is this verse simply used (in evangelical circles at least) to bolster the idea that faith in Jesus is the only way to "get saved" and saying nothing about what happens "thereafter"? This tends in my mind to be a bit of a "get them inside the fold" mentality where Jesus as the "way" almost becomes merely a "gate" to get us in to eternal life. What if his being "the way" is referring to the way to live - how to be "fully human"? Maybe salvation should be conceived less in future terms and "getting a ticket" or the like and more as an ongoing reality with a future aspect. So, being saved is being (or growing to be) like Jesus as well as having faith in him. Perhaps I'm too pre-occupied with the imitation of Christ idea I'm toying with, but there seems to me to be a clear connection to this theme even in John 14:6.

Well, it would seem that my brain isn't the only one to wonder along such lines, as I found out when reading a really good little book this week "The Imitation of God in Christ" by E. J. Tinsley. It's not new, it's about 50 years old, but it is still great stuff. He links the "way" to the Old Testament calling on Israel to imitate God, actually translating Torah as something like "signpost". The constant theme to walk in the ways of God as embodied in Torah (which is narrative as well as legal, of course) finds fulfilment in Christ as he imitates and thereby reveals the Father. The NT then points to an imitation of Christ, which is not merely a copying but being conformed to Christ by the Spirit. Good, eh? If you want to know more, either read it or ask and I might blog a bit on it.

Brian Mclaren has also been thinking and writing about John 14:6, wondering if the exclusivist interpretation often encountered is really helpful or accurate. Not quite the same thing as I was wondering, but food for thought I suppose. Like Brian, though, I think it can be unhelpful to be so focussed on who is "in" or "out", rather than on getting on with actually being what God has called us to be - like Christ. Perhaps we should be less ready to pronounce with certainty who is "saved" - but then I ought to watch out perhaps as statements like that tend to get people in trouble.... (Mr Bell for example)!

Oh, no! Not me as well!

Before the bandwagon had a chance to get out of town I thought I'd best jump on it right quick, so here's my own blog... til I get bored anyhow.

I hope to post the odd mix (emphasis on odd, probably) of musing, amusing and just plain confusing stuff. Well, tis my blog so I can write what I like.

Missed the ascension day service yesterday (bummer, eh?!), so I thought I'd post my own list of possible "hymn" choices that really ought to have been played (but probably weren't):

"Learn to Fly" (Foo Fighters)
"The only way is up" (Yazz)
"Spirit in the sky" (um, um, who was it? can't be bothered to google it...)
"Letter from America" (Proclaimers - yes it is relevant, check the first line)
"Going up up up" (most of NCFC fans for the past goodness knows how long...)

Any other suggestions?