Mushy Squishy Touchy Feely

In two separate articles by two different theologians, separated by continents (America and Europe), and 100 years, I read the budding frustration of what was happening within Sunday School education, followed by the flowering of the present state of adult education in the Western church today.

P. T. Forsyth was suspicious of the effeminate in contemporary religion in his day.  The same charge has been levelled at the church today: a place for women, children and the deluded.  I’ve heard that said with my own ears.

In an address to the Sunday School Union in 1900, Forsyth set his sights on the shapelessness of what passed for Sunday School teaching:

PTForsyth“The Sunday School is too much left to well-meaning and hard-working people, who, with all their earnestness, have no experience of controlling others, and no sense or power of discipline.  The teachers are . . . . gentle and fear to hurt feelings; or they are too tender about ejecting black sheep . . . . They have young ideas about what Christian love means.  They are too anxious to be loved and not enough concerned to be obeyed . . . . I am afraid that many teachers have more interest in the affections of their scholars than in their souls.”

P. T. Forsyth ‘As Congregational Minister’ by Clyde Binfield in ‘Justice the True and Only Mercy,’ pg. 172-3

Admittedly, some of his language needs qualifying today.  I would want to rephrase notions of control and discipline; ‘ejecting black sheep’ is a little mysterious; and finally what would mean to obey in this context?    I am not afraid of these notions, just that my 21st century conditioning requires that of me, as any misreading/misapplication of this could quite easily slip into authoritarianism.  The thrust of Forsyth’s comment is about right, and continues to be about right for today.

What Forsyth bemoans in the bud, Michael Hardin bemoans in the flowering.  For if Forsyth was right (and he was), the inevitable consequence will be what Hardin observes in today’s church:

In his ‘What The Facebook’ (pg. 65-66) he writes,

WTF“…I have met thousands of Christians and have been in countless churches.  Sadly, most of those I have met do not know their Bibles….How can we encourage Christians today to take the Bible seriously enough to pay attention to its narrative flow, to its novelistic detail, to its story or plot line? . . . . .

. . . .We desperately need more and better Bible education in the churches.  Adult Sunday School classes in so many churches teach little more than pabulum.  There is no real thinking going on or engagement with the actual text of Scripture.  Often education in the church has become a mushy squishy touchy feely “what do you think?” as though the pooling of ignorance is beneficial.  It is time for the rest of Christianity to knuckle down and for everyone to learn how to read Scripture, to learn its story and reap its benefits.  If we don’t get serious about our biblical literacy we might as well cede the Bible to the Fundamentalists and that is something I will never do.  Will you join me?”

Obviously there are exceptions here and there.  These comments are macro-observations by two sharp cultural critics who have a high value on theological and biblical literacy.

 

 

SUN

‘Let your light shine’

A Devonshire Summers day

 

Prophecy: “Ad hoc cries of an expressive, diagnostic, or tactical nature, delivered as ‘spontaneous’ mini-messages” it is not!

Some thoughts……

On Prophecy

Broadly speaking, my view is that prophecy is either an anointing of the Spirit or a gift of the Spirit, depending on which form of prophecy is in view.

I believe that the biblical prophets had a unique anointing that nobody else has had since the closing of the canon.

The canon of Scripture is slightly disputed in that 1 Enoch is part of the Ethiopian canon. It is interesting that 1 Enoch correctly predicts the ambiguity surrounding its future reception!  Beyond disputes about the extent of the canon (there is no canonical statement about the limits of the canon!), I am a cessationist when it comes to the anointing of the biblical prophets.

I am not a cessationist when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, since such a view seems absurd given Paul’s and Peter’s view of the church as a body that grows out of each part doing its work and administering God’s grace in its various forms.

To distinguish between more and less “spectacular” gifts in this respect seems arbitrary, since each part of a body remains important. To say that any gift has ceased is to say that a part of the body has become unnecessary, which is precisely what Paul warns against.

To distinguish between the inaugural and the continuative has some validity: the Scriptures constitute a once-for-all inaugural revelation; but the Holy Spirit relates the Scriptures to us ever-freshly in a continuing manner. However, when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, the inaugural vs. continuative distinction becomes invalid as stated above, and it is better to speak in terms of anointing (inaugural) vs. gifts (continuative).

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Understanding a Mystery

Understanding a Mystery

Israel or Palestine – where is it heading?

A sermon by Richard Matcham based on Romans 11:25-36

“Lord I pray that the raw nerves and thin shells this topic will likely touch upon, will enlarge the capacity of us all to engage truthfully with the text and the world, and challenge us to be contentedly discontent with mystery, that we may be more loving to one another, and truly worship you in all your unsearchable and inscrutable ways.  Amen”

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, on a topic that really interests you, and at the crucial point of insight, understanding and genuine learning, you hear the comment, “Ah, we can’t ever know that, it’s a mystery!”

We often deploy the “mystery card” because it seems to be a way of protecting our own limited understanding on a subject.

Take for example, the Trinity (you know what I mean)!

I’ve faced this situation quite a few times over the years, especially as a young Christian man in my mid-20’s, hungry to learn and know God.

“The Trinity,” we shout, “it’s a mystery.”  And with that mystical phrase, the conversation is closed, and genuine biblical understanding is shoved into the cul-de-sac of frustrated, genuine enquirers, where they stay until they learn to stop asking awkward questions!

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Your absolute and indestructable identity

EATING YOUR TRUE SELF

“Jesus says, ‘If you eat this bread you will live forever’ (John 6:51).  It is so interesting that he chooses taste, flavour, and nutrition as the symbol of how life is transferred and not intellectual cognition.  If you live by the momentary identity that others give you, that’s what dies when you die, and you’re left with nothing.  Your relative identity passes away, but it is like the painful erasing of an unwanted tattoo.  When Jesus says he’s giving himself to you as the bread of life, he’s saying, as it were, ‘Find yourself in me, and this will not pass or change or die.  Eat this food as your primary nutrition, and you are indestructable.’  This is your absolute and indestructable identity.

We all slowly learn how to live in what Thomas Merton would call the True Self – who you are and always have been, in God.  Who you are in God is who you are forever.  In fact, that’s all you are, and it’s more than enough.  Everything else is passing away.  Reputations, titles, possessions, and roles do not determine our identity.  When I hand out the Eucharist bread I love to say to the assembly, ‘You become what you eat.  Come and eat who you are – forever!’ You access Great Truth by absorption and digestion, almost never by analysis or argumentation.”

Richard Rohr, YES, AND…

The Hermit and King

The Hermit and King

Three Questions

It once occurred to a certain king that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the king, but they all answered his questions differently.

KingIn reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance a table of days, months, and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action, but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said that however attentive the king might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a council of wise men who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

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They Never Will Care

They Never Will Care

PeterTForsythA student (of Forsyth) was sent to preach in a comfortable suburban chapel, and whose route. . . . took him through one of the worst slums in London.

“The sight of barefoot children in sordid alleyways, and all the other signs of deprivation, incensed him to an anger which he could not contain as he faced his furred and feathered congregation from the pulpit.

Waxing eloquent on social justice he recalled to his hearers what he had seen, and being met with a sea of complacent faces he blurted out:  ‘You don’t care, do you?  Damn you!’

Next morning, he found himself . . . . in Principal Forsyth’s study.  Forsyth was holding in his hand a letter of complaint from the church officers, and for several minutes the student was subjected to a stern lecture on proper pulpit behaviour.

Eventually dismissed, the hapless young prophet was just going through the door when Forsyth called out to him:  ‘Oh, just one word more, Mr …..  They never will care, you know – damn them!'”

Keith Clements, P. T. Forsyth: A Political Theologian? in Justice and the Only Mercy, Trevor Hart, pg. 146-7

PTForsyth.jpg

A Moment of Grace

A Moment of Grace

20160307_154633OuchOuchOuch!
How can loving you hurt so much?
You came; we saw; you conquered – us.
But we have to give you away.
Ouch.

It hurts boy.
But you have been a joy.
A treasure, heaven sent;
But we knew the time was short,
For you, to us, were lent.

A bundle, given for a season;
Given to us, for no known reason.
Your mother and father loved you, you must know that;
But their pain told in life’s twists and turns.

In fact boy, you’ve been loved by so many,
Our home, the church, our wider family;
And true agape-love always hurts; better to have loved and lost, and all that agony!
There is no anaesthetic for open heart surgery.

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