Interview with Baptist Theologian Rev. Dr. John Colwell

On the 10th May 2015 John Colwell was my invited guest preacher at church, you can listen to his sermon here.  Afterwards, following lunch back at home, I took the opportunity – since it’s not every day a Bible scholar pops round – to ask him some questions. staff_johncolwell_80John is a pastor/scholar, a man who loves the Church because he loves God first.  He was tutor in systematic and historical theology at Spurgeon’s College for fifteen years, serving in pastorates both before and after.  He has written on Theological Ethics, Practical and Pastoral Theology, and among his several books, he has written, The Rhythm of Doctrine, Living the Christian Story and Promise and Presence, as well as publishing on the eschatology of Karl Barth.   Continue reading

This Present Darkness: A Theology of the Demonic

What follows is a comprehensive set of notes (in list form) by theologian Rob Knowles, of a series he delivered on the paranormal and demonic a couple of years ago.  This is an eye-opening read and one that should temper naive evangelical zeal in regard to the demonic, with a degree of wise caution, coupled with serious biblical insight into its sheer complexity and reality.

When we read in Scripture that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 6:12), Paul is not playing mere religious games.  He sees and he knows.  What follows, is an unpacking of what Paul was getting at, that we too might see and know.

May the sovereign grace and sureness of Christ’s salvation be ever in your heart and mind as you read:

 

Theology of the Paranormal/Demonic

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How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world

My friend, theologian Rob Knowles, who has featured on this blog before, has allowed me to publish his basic outline of the Temptations of Jesus and how they are a paradigm for every Christian disciple of Christ.  PDF available here:  The 3Temptations of Jesus Christ.

What we will find here, is a profoundly insightful hermeneutical work on something that close to all readers of the Bible kind of skim over, and I write this placing myself firmly in that category.

Rob has kicked me up the exegetical backside with this excellent study, and if it’s too long for you to read, I make no apology save that this is one of the very ‘conditions’ that will be exposed in the study.  If this doesn’t get your interpretive juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

I hope you enjoy….

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The Temptations of Jesus Christ: Explanation

1. Overview and Preliminary Points
The temptation narratives occur in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), but not in John, and are only present in embryonic form in Mark. Matthew preserves the original order of the temptations, whereas Luke alters the order because Luke’s focus is often on the temple, and so he wishes to emphasize the temple by putting the temptation that features the temple last. Below, as in the Bible study, we will follow Matthew’s ordering of the temptations.


First of all, we may note that commentators stress that Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus may hint at parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ temptation and that which was suffered by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve fail to resist the tempter, with the result that Paradise becomes a wilderness, then the Second Adam enters that wilderness, resists the tempter successfully, and so restores the wilderness to its original paradisiacal condition.


Second, commentators also stress that Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation narratives parallel and contrast with Israel’s testing in their desert wanderings, where many argue for this inter-textual relationship with respect to Mark as well. If Israel were baptised in the Sea of Reeds, Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan; if Israel was then tested in the Sinai, Jesus was then tested in the Negev; and if Israel went on to inherit a Promised Land, and a Ministry (in the case of the Levites), Jesus went on to inherit the Kingdom of God and a Ministry too. The contrast comes in that whereas Israel failed to resist Satan, Jesus succeeded. The desert, then, as a harsh place of testing, is also God’s place of preparation for the reception of inheritance. Israel’s failure to resist temptation delayed – but did not ultimately overrule – God’s fulfilment of divine promise.


Third, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul parallels the Christian experience with Israel’s desert wanderings. Thus, by implication, Jesus’ temptation experience tells us something about Christian experience too. As we are tempted, so Jesus was tempted. As Israel often failed the test, so we often fail the test. But, if this is so, how can we see ourselves – our failures – in Israel’s behaviour? And how can we see ourselves – our successes – in Jesus’ behaviour? How do the relevant passages of Scripture interpret us?


Fourth, John the Baptist also tells us that Jesus will baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). But, if fire signifies refinement, or discipline, and if the desert signifies the place where God refines and disciplines us, then we may even draw parallels between seasons of discipline within the Christian life and the temptation narratives. As Jesus was tested for a season, so we – having received a baptism of fire into a season of discipline – after we have “suffered for a little while” will be “made strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). And St. Peter should know, for he himself was handed over to Satan, the sifter, to be sifted like wheat, where sifting, like fire, is a purification or refinement motif. And if even apostles are handed over to Satan during special seasons of discipline – (and Satan cannot be made to “flee”, even by exorcists, during such seasons) – then will God not hand us over to Satan as well when we need a specific “sifting” kind of discipline? Of course he will! And during such times, will not the devil tempt us in every manner possible? Of course he will!


And, of course, fifth, if Christians experience discipline individually, then churches experience it corporately according to Revelation 2 and 3, as the risen Lord specifically states. The Bible is not individualistic, unlike us modernists, and so can mean groups when we think only of individuals. According to one Old Testament scholar, what would have struck Jesus’ original Jewish audience as hilarious about the rich man deciding to build bigger barns for his grain was the fact that he decided what to do by himself, rather than by taking it to the elders and the community.


In other words, Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, individual Christians, and Christian churches all experience baptism, testing, and inheritance. It is a revealed pattern for what spiritual life is. If spiritual life, positively speaking, is love for God and neighbour, then spiritual life, negatively speaking, is about resisting material self-empowerment or “self-feeding” in relation to the physical appetites, about resisting spiritual self-empowerment or seeking to “control God” or god-like power in relation to being rescued from our predicament in this world, and about resisting sociological self-empowerment or seeking to “enthrone self” or “exalt self” socially or competitively, whether overtly or covertly.


To these three temptations we now turn, because we have fallen into them very badly. And as one famous Welshman once said: “There’s no news… like bad news”.

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England and Wales: Al-Nakba re-imagined

walesenglandHow would you feel if:

  • You were Welsh,
  • and you lived in Wales,
  • and the English built a wall between England and Wales?

And if:

  • the English built a wall actually into Wales, dividing up villages and farms,
  • and stopped you from going to England, even to a nearby hospital?

And then:

  • built English towns inside Wales,
  • and joined their towns with roads that only they could use?

And then:

  • made it almost impossible for you to build houses in your country, and destroyed houses already there that they said were illegal?

 

Suppose the English did all this and forced it on you by military force, what would you feel then?

You would feel

Angry

Depressed

Full of despair

The whole idea is ridiculous.

It would be so unjust.

So how do you think the Palestinians feel?

This scenario is suggested by Friends of Sabeel UK, and describes the situation using England/Wales instead of Israel/Palestine.  The feelings expressed here are a natural consequence of colonization and occupation.  This describes a present Palestinian reality, and it can be traced back to the 19th century political ideology and aspiration of European, secular Jews, that found expression in the events of May 15th 1948.

In a ‘meeting of ministers’ just before the British general election, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, answered my question about this intractible problem.  Although he answered very well and showed knoweldge and integrity, he did admit to me that this one issue is the single biggest problem he faces.

This is the Day Israel celebrates as Independence, and the Palestinian Muslims and Christians as ‘Al-Nakba’ or catastrophe.  The whole world needs to turn this event from a catastrophe to a eucatastrophe, and in this regard, the Church, with her Resurrected Lord, must be at the forefront of this, instead of the eschatological horror show that is Christian Zionism.

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Cry With US – One Palestinian’s Prayer

Yohanna Katanacho Catalyst Live Reading 2013 BMSPalestinian scholar Yohanna Katanacho, who spoke at the excellent BMS Catalyst Live event in Reading, UK in 2013, offered a way forward in this conflict that was saturated in forgiveness whilst living a reality of pain and persecution.
I met Yohanna and his family whilst visiting Nazareth in 2013, and found in him a humility of steel that comes with being called by God to speak Gospel truth into any given context.
He penned a poem called ‘Cry With Us’ that reads like a prayer of sanity, humanity and faith:
***
“This is a season of weeping and mourning, but it is not void of hope.
Our tears are the bridge between brutality and humanity;
our tears are the salty gates for seeing a different reality;
our tears are facing soulless nations and a parched mentality;
our tears are the dam preventing rivers of animosity.
For the sake of the mourning men, cry with us to reflect your amity.
For the sake of the poor children, cry with us demanding sanity.
For the sake of lamenting mothers, refuse violence and stupidity.
Love your enemies and cry with them is the advice of divinity.
Bless those who curse is the path to genuine spirituality.
Pour tears of mercy; compassion is true piety.
Pray with tears, for the sake of spreading equity.
Followers of Jesus: crying is now our responsibility.
But don’t cry for your friends only;
but also for your Enemy.”
***
And all God’s people said “Amen!”

‘Thin Soup’ Church

Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!”  But because we live in a global business age of organisation, efficiency and profit, there are thousands of books on growth.  If you are more organised, more efficient and more profitable, you will grow….if you stick to our new-fangled formula!

The Western church has been swallowing this bitter pill for decades.  We’ve put down our Bibles, and picked up secular ideas and initiatives – why?  church numbers are declining, people are leaving the church, pews and seats are becoming empty, coffers are down, bills are up, and then someone said, “Hang on a minute, if we just branded ourselves like Nike, or glamorised ourselves like L’Oreal, or popularised ourselves like celebrities, we too can achieve what they achieve!  And should the gates of hell get too close, we’ll just sloganeer them out of town with a TV ad campaign!

What does it mean to be a growing church in this context?  In fact, what does it mean to be a growing church and be faithful?  Can the Church ever be faithful and successful?  Can we do sexy marketing, or shall we just stick with cheesy slogans to do with baby’s and mangers, bunnies and daffodils?  How can we claim to proclaim something better, something the world needs, something unknown and un-buyable?  Can the church compete with a world that clamours for everything but Christ and him crucified?

Can we ever be faithful and successful?  What does it mean to be a Growing Church?

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A Palestinian Catastrophe is a World Catastrophe

AlexLeading up to (yet) another anniversary of the ‘catastrophe’, or ‘Al-Nakba’, of the Palestinian people following the events prior and up to and since 15th May 1948, I will be posting excerpts highlighting this tragic situation from various angles.   I have taken my lead from the excellent book ‘Palestinian Memories by Palestinian theologian Alex Awad, Dean of Bethlehem Bible College and pastor of international East Jerusalem Baptist Church:

“Many Westerners view the Arab-Israeli conflict through distorted lenses, and not surprisingly, their understandings of the realities on the ground is influenced by blurred, false or partial information.

*

Notably, numerous Christians in the United States and the West view the Arab-Israeli conflict from a perspective strongly influenced by popular sentiment relating to Biblical Israel and its place in the Promised Land and the way in which all of this relates to the political entity that is modern Israel. Pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the powerful Jewish-American lobby, have also had a significant effect on both Christian and secular perceptions.

*

These organizations influence – not control, but influence – many American institutions, including branches of government and the media. In addition, Hollywood has contributed much towards shaping Westerners’ distorted perceptions of the Middle East, with many popular films advancing the very worst stereotyped, comic-book portrayals of Arabs, be it the murderous terrorist, the “primitive” nomad, or the depraved oil sheik.

*

The events of September 11, 2001 have also resulted, perhaps understandably, in even greater polarization between the Arab and Western worlds.  All these factors, combined with the tragic history of the Jews in Europe over the centuries, culminating in the Halocaust, have molded the lenses through which Westerners usually view the Arab-Israeli conflict. The purpose of [my writing], then, is to offer an overview of the land, its history and its people, one that might challenge and alter the prevailing assumptions with which the conflict is commonly seen.”

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I commend the book to you. alex_awad_2