Monday, September 19, 2005

The Chess season has started ...

... and I played like a donkey. A stupid thicky no-brained crapy donkey.

Stupid, stupid game.

3 hours of building myself into a winning position, having lured my opponents pieces into the queenside, enabling a quick and effective knockout on his kingside. And just short of winning a substantial amount of material, and all sure of victory, I bodged it, smudged it, messed it, ruined it ... and lost it.

STUPID *$"!*## **ing ##ing @@ing game! (challeng-ing, frustrat-ing and disappoint-ing, is what I mean, of course, what were you thinking?)

Imagine painting a beautiful picture for 3 hours and you're so pleased with it as you couldn't have done a much better job. And just as your putting on the finishing touches, getting excited about showing others, you go and spill paint all over it. @&%#!% gutted. Rubbing my hands, smelling victory one minute, pulling my hair out in anger the next. In my rage I would have gladly ram raided a charity shop in my Fiesta, or something, if I had had any guts left.

So, instead of introducing my victorious game with an air of 'this is just one example of my brush the opponent of the board technique', I'll have to be more humble.

Here is the stupid frigging game:
(Just click on the picture to open the java-board to play through the game)

The position after white's 26th move, just before the blunder.

The bible is not a buffet

The bible was never meant to be used like some use a buffet: ooh, that looks nice, yes, and a bit from this dish too. Oh Charles, you don't want those two things together? Yes, I do actually dear. And I wouldn't mind a bit of desert from over there too. Oh, Charles, how could you mix those …

And while many may 'Amen' here, I suggest most of us in the evangelical tradition are guilty of doing just this. We have a canon within a canon, and constantly recourse to those texts we like, that tell us what we want to hear, and that our teachers constantly quote.

But what about the texts that make us uncomfortable? What about the texts that seem to question our theological models? We do want to be commited to the scriptures don't we?

'There are no difficult texts for me! What difficult texts does he mean anyway?', I hear someone shout defensively who doesn't actually read the bible and think! (Some of us tend to do something similar with Christian books. I remember being a fervent convert to John Piper's books and his take on the Sovereignty of God / free-will debate, but the problem was, because of the security I felt in this theology, I wouldn't have even thought of picking up a book by one of his opponents like Clark Pinnock – such approaches had been stamped as 'theologically dodgy', 'deceived', 'dangerous' – and all without having read them! Likewise a friend of mine gave one of the charismatic Jack Deere's book to his non-charismatic sister and she refused to even begin it. Why? What are we afraid of? P.S. I continue to enjoy much of Piper's material.)

Another will silently stop reading this before they get too challenged, like those of us who never read our personal Pinnock or Deere…

Yet another will read on with an infuriated sense of know-it-all-ness mixed with masochism – because although we may smile away difficult texts in the day, they are there in the night, tapping on the window, or calling our name, just as the lover aroused the sleeping beloved in the Song of Songs. When we read the bible, we know that those texts are there. But will we bother to get up, and attend to the knocking?

Well, if any are like me, then we simply trust our teachers have considered difficult texts, and that there is thus good reason not to let them bother us too much. They swatted all the flies for us. 'Consider yourselves dead to difficult contadicting-my-theology-and-messing-with-my-religious-bubble bible-texts', perhaps is an appropriate mantra (Rom 6). But that is the truth isn't it? We hide behind a wall of people we feel know better. They give us security, and we don't want dodgy books or difficult texts messing with our theology and religious practices.

But I've got to tell you, NO one has yet domesticated the bible into any one theological watertight structure. In truth, it was never a very good pussy cat. And perhaps that is one reason why some continue to hold on to various high doctrines of scripture like inerrancy – to sooth our consciences about attempting to cage a beast that refuses to be trapped.

And what is more, this 'wall of teachers' certainly doesn't know all the answers to the tough questions, and any who suppose they do haven't thought about matters thoroughly enough. There is no one Bible-Answer-Man. Well, if there is, I still have a few questions …

But back to the subject. If a bible wasn't meant to be used like a buffet, ripping proof-texts from this and that context and stuffing them all together to make certain this or that doctrine or argument, then how are we too use it? Is there any way of making sense of scripture as a whole? Is there good reason not to apply aspects of OT law other than by making anachronistic divisions between moral and purity laws? Is there a way to intelligently engage with the whole scriptural canon as canon and recover some sense that 'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' (2 Tim 3:16)? In the following blog I will be over-viewing and discussing Tom Wright's 'five-act' hermeneutic as a fresh way of using the scriptures theologically and practically, one that takes us beyond the dangerous 'proof-texting' of most in main-stream evangelicalism.

This is written in the conviction that we need not be afraid, that scripture can take its rightful role among us again (and not merely theoretically). And please note, I'm picking on the evangelicals because I am one! The bible is not a buffet, but it serves us with a real feast if we know how to read it!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Christianity that is culturally embedded, and doesn't know it

'it is not simply the Bible's context that we must understand. As many have pointed out, it is equally important that we understand and appreciate our own, and the way it predisposes us to highlight some things in the Bible and quietly ignore others'

– Wright, N.T. Scripture and the Authority of God. London: SPCK, 2005. p. 94

For a long time now I have been clear that I am a beast of culture, that 'no man is an island' and that this embeddedness colours the way I understand and interpret the world. However, and this is where the rubber hits the road, it is one thing to agree to this, yet quite another thing to really see it when it comes to our own religious beliefs and practices. Is this not true? While many of us may nod to the suggestion that culture affects how I know things, some of us have held this apart from any acknowledgement of such contamination in our reading of scripture. I suspect that this is particularly true for those who are sure that they 'simply believe the bible'.

However, many of us in evangelical churches have become more and more self-conscious of how our cultural embeddedness has influenced not just apparently theoretical categories like epistemology, but the grit and meat of what we mean when we say, in the light of scriptures, 'gospel', 'repentance', 'righteousness', 'eschatology', 'justice' and so on (I must admit that the word 'justice' made a guilty exit out of my theological back door into the gardens of those I labelled 'gifted that way', for more years than I care to remember).

Add to that our religious priorities and practices. Recently I visited a church that would claim to be 'bible believing'. However, the entire worship section of the service was filled solely with songs about Jesus and ME, how his death on a cross saved ME from hell … praise God, etc. Now, I for one will not suggest that what they were singing was entirely untrue. Indeed, thank God that Christ's death on the cross, and the wave of God's mercy that comes crashing over me through it and his resurrection, brings ME into a new relationship with my heavenly Father. The matter is about appropriate emphasis. Indeed, should it not disturb this 'bible believing' church that Jesus in the gospels, and Paul and his letters are rarely so individualistic? OUR Father, Give US, forgive US as We forgive, and lead US etc.

More importantly, given the thrust of Jesus proclamation of the 'kingdom of God', and the theological forces that shaped Paul's letters, should it not cause moment for pause and serious rethink when our entire focus, and the sum total of what we call 'church worship' and the purpose and benefits of the gospel is reduced to ME, a spiritual encounter with Jesus, and perhaps hell. For many, I could sound highly sacrilegious if I went on, but it is precisely at this point, I suggest, that we see the impact of our cultural embeddedness. But it takes seeing first. Our modernist individualism, colonialism, consumerism etc. has deeply coloured how we do and think things religion-related, and yes, even those of us who are sure we are just ' bible believing'!

However, when we can admit that our cultural embeddedness has sometimes distorted a healthy reading of scripture, we can start the exhilarating journey of rediscovering what 'gospel', 'kingdom of God', 'salvation' and the like signify in the teaching of Jesus and Paul etc. Much exciting research and study remains to be done. I pray that God will revive our vision of the breadth and beauty of his kingdom-call.

Theological addendum: 'Critical realism' suggests to me that the process of acknowledging my epistemological 'blinkeredness' is a helpful and illuminating aspect of my progress on Carson's 'hermeneutical spiral'. Nevertheless, I would resist the suggestion that my 'social construction of reality' is i) entirely arbitrary and ii) a bad thing (and why should it be if we are incarnational about this).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Give me the frigging blue pill Morpheus

During my undergraduate theological studies one of my seminar leaders and lecturers, a brilliant and provocative thinker by the name of Tim Gorringe casually mentioned that he had not really begun to understand theology until after he had finished his undergraduate degree! Now, seven years later, I am starting to understand! I guess I was never your most agreeable student, Tim, sorry about that.

My summer, though quiet on the blog front, has been a scurried frenzy of reading in vain attempts to resolve the emergence of one theological question after another. Tiring, disturbing, deeply enriching, exciting and even exhilarating – and all at the same time. Indeed, I've read some very exciting material, and I'm looking forward to reviewing some of it here and discussing it. Oh yes, in between I visited family and friends and spent 'quality time' with my wife.

Among other things I've been reading:

· Bedell, Geraldine. Make Poverty History. London: Penguin, 2005.
· Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
· Chalke, Steve, and Alan Mann. The Lost Message of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
· Greene, Colin. Christology in Cultural Perspective. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003.
· McKnight, Scot. The Jesus Creed. UK: CPI Bath Press, 2004.
· McLaren, Brain D. The Last Word and the Word After That. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
· ------. A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.
· ------. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/conservative, Mystical/poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-Yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian. Grand Rapids: Youth Specialties, 2004.
· Tomkins, Stephen. A Short History of Christianity. Oxford: Lion, 2005.
· Wright, N.T. Scripture and the Authority of God. London: SPCK, 2005.
· ------. Jesus and the Victory of God. London: SPCK, 1996.
· ------. Paul for Everyone. Romans. Part 1: Chapters 1–8. London: SPCK, 2004.
. Blog after blog after blog ...

… all of which have been powerfully speaking to me even though I find myself sometimes in provisional disagreement.

On top of that, I've been listening to a number of provocative and disturbing audio messages and debates involving Walter Brueggemann and his take on aspects of OT theology, hermeneutics, epistemology, psychology and personal faith.

You know the scene in the Matrix where Neo has just realised that he can download entire fields of knowledge from a computer. He sits there in his jack-seat stunned and say, 'I know Jujitsu!' 'You want more', he is asked: 'Damn yes!' Well, I'm sitting in my jack-seat saying 'I now definitely know less than I thought I did and I'm deeply humbled'. Do you want more: 'Damn yes!' OK, maybe I don't want that blue pill.

Well, that's what my summer has been like. How was yours?