Your Christian Life

I’ve been re-reading Mike Reeves’ brilliant little book on the Trinity called ‘The Good God, enjoying Father, Son and Spirit’ (just check out the reviews on Amazon for proof).  His conclusion is short and succinct enough to warrant popping it here, in the hope that people will be inspired enough to get his book, read it and enjoy God afresh.  I’ve added the pictures.  When the book launched, Mike allowed me to take thirty copies back to my church in the hope of selling a few – they all went….

goodgodConclusion:  No Other Choice

“What is your Christian life like?  What is the shape of your gospel, your faith?  In the end, it will depend on what you think God is like.  Who God is drives everything.

So what is the human problem?

 Is it merely that we have strayed from a moral code?

Or is it something worse:  that we have strayed from him?

What is salvation?  Is it merely that we are brought back as law-abiding citizens?

Or is it something better:  that we are brought back as beloved children?

What is the Christian life about?  Mere behaviour?  Or something deeper:  enjoying God?

And then there’s what our churches are like, our marriages, our relationships, our mission:  all are moulded in the deepest way by what we think of God.

In the early fourth century, Arius went for a pre-cooked God, ready-baked in his mind.  Ignoring the way, the truth and life, he defined God without the Son, and the fallout was catastrophic:  without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father; thus alone, he is not truly love.  Thus he can have no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him.  Arius was left with very thin gruel:  a life of self-dependent effort under the all-seeing eye of his distant and loveless God.

The tragedy is that we all think like Arius every day (my emphasis).  We think of God without the Son.  We think of ‘God’, and not the Father of the Son.  But from there it doesn’t really take long before you find that you are just a whole lot more interesting than this ‘God’.  And could you but see yourself, you would notice that you are fast becoming like this ‘God’:  all inward-looking and fruitless.

The twentieth-century Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, put it like this:  ‘If we reject the Trinity as the sole ground of all reality and all thought, we are committed to a road that leads nowhere; we end in an aporia (a despair), in folly, in the disintegration of our being, in spiritual death.  Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice.’

However, starting with Jesus, Athanasius found himself with a God who could not have been more different from the God of Arius.  It wasn’t that he found himself with some extra small-print in his description of God (‘the Trinity’):  Athanasius had a God of love, a kind Father who draws us to share him eternal love and fellowship.

The choice remains:  which God will we have?  Which God will we proclaim?  Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know that God is truly a loving Father.  Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know him as our loving Father.  But as Luther discovered, through Jesus we may know that God is a Father, and ‘we may look into his fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us.  That would warm our hearts, setting them aglow’.

Yes it would, and more:  it would bring about reformation.

 z1dUrF3wMichael Reeves, The Good God, pg. 106-7

A Theological Colossus

A Theological Colossus

Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848-1921) is a theological colossus coming out of Scottish Congregationalism. I have heard him quoted and cited by T F Torrance, Alister McGrath and other luminaries (Gralefrit – ahem). He has been the most consistently abiding theological influence on my own life and thinking. I once knew a powerful visitation of God’s Spirit while studying The Holy Father.  True and amen.

PeterTForsythThis son of a postman, excelled at university graduating with first class honours when he was 21. Steeped in liberalism, he was ordained to the ministry at Shipley, Yorkshire in 1876. He had a fresh encounter with the grace of God in Christ in 1878 which renewed his mind, expanded his theology and gave him succour for his febrile state of health.

“It also pleased God by the revelation of his holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way that submerged all the school (academic) questions in weight, urgency, and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace. And so whereas I first thought that what the Churches needed was enlightened instruction and liberal theology, I came to be sure that what they intended was evangelization….” Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, pp192-193

He then became the principal of Hackney Theological College in Hampstead then back into parish ministry.

Forsyth holds together in a pastoral and prophetic synthesis, the rigors of academic theology, (The Person and Place of Jesus Christ), a deep love for the church (The Church and the Sacraments), the joy of prayer (The Soul of Prayer), preaching as sacramental as the traditional sacraments, a love of the arts (Christ on Parnassus) and a unifying vision of the Cross (The Work of Christ). He is relevant to every phase of ministry, every era of the age we live in and every teacher, preacher and pastor.

Here are some quotes that may be useful:

Continue reading

Be at Leisure to Know God

Gregory the Theologian (or Gregory of Nazianzus) 329-389 AD, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, speaking of God and those who would study God (i.e. theology!), in quite astonishing and uncompromising ways.  Challenging -yes.  But what a read…

 

“Not to every one, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

thNot to all men, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified. For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun’s rays. And what is the permitted occasion? It is when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring images; like persons mixing up good writing with bad, or filth with the sweet odours of ointments. For it is necessary to be truly at leisure to know God; and when we can get a convenient season, to discern the straight road of the things divine. And who are the permitted persons? They to whom the subject is of real concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theatre, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments. To such men as these, idle jests and pretty contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement.

Next, on what subjects and to what extent may we philosophize? On matters within our reach, and to such an extent as the mental power and grasp of our audience may extend. No further, lest, as excessively loud sounds injure the hearing, or excess of food the body, or, if you will, as excessive burdens beyond the strength injure those who bear them, or excessive rains the earth; so these too, being pressed down and overweighted by the stiffness, if I may use the expression, of the arguments should suffer loss even in respect of the strength they originally possessed.

Now, I am not saying that it is not needful to remember God at all times…I must not be misunderstood, or I shall be having these nimble and quick people down upon me again. For we ought to think of God even more often than we draw our breath; and if the expression is permissible, we ought to do nothing else. Yea, I am one of those who entirely approve that Word which bids us meditate day and night, and tell at eventide and morning and noon day, and praise the Lord at every time; or, to use Moses’ words, whether a man lie down, or rise up, or walk by the way, or whatever else he be doing Deut. 6:7 — and by this recollection we are to be moulded to purity. So that it is not the continual remembrance of God that I would hinder, but only the talking about God; nor even that as in itself wrong, but only when unseasonable; nor all teaching, but only want of moderation.”

(Oration 27. 3-5)

Love Your Enemies

Palestinian_refugees_1948Palestinian Christian Bible Scholar, Yohanna Katanacho, spoke at Catalyst Live, Reading, UK 2013.

Today is the 1948 anniversary of Israeli independence and the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe).

Loving enemies is still the best way to make friends.  Pray for Israelis and the Palestinians.

Source: Love Your Enemies

Yohanna Katanacho Catalyst Live Reading 2013 BMS

Where He is, there I shall also be!

Where He is, there I shall also be!

Thoughts of unworthiness can come and go.  Sometimes they stay and hover in our mind as though they are the things that matter most, that they are the truth to us being us, or me being me.  We lie to ourselves, thinking that this must be what God really thinks about us!  

Well, I for one am not immune to such thoughts.  I know, as a Christian that I deserve death and hell.  I know I do.  My own sinful nature tells me, my sins acted out tell me, my sins in thought, word and deed.

But.

I am a Christian.  I follow a saving and risen Jesus.  He has defeated sin and death and He is Lord.  I walk by faith and I live in grace.  Not arrogantly, but utterly dependently.  Not slothfully, but watchfully.  Not as if I have achieved anything for myself, but because Jesus has achieved everything for me that I could never achieve.

It’s all grace.  It’s all Christ Jesus.

The following was said by that tortured soul, the Reformer Martin Luther.  He had depressive tendencies, he had dark thoughts, and he knew he was a sinner, yet he said this…..

 

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, then tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf, his name is Jesus, the Son of God, and where he is, there I shall also be!”

So of course we deserve death and hell.  That’s why Jesus came to rescue the world, to save it.  Full of sinners as it is, people like you and me.  Jesus ensures we always get what we don’t deserve.  This is the bold confidence we have.

Because of Jesus.  Where He is, there I shall also be!

At the intersection between scones, nudity and theology…

And then, as we were serving tea and scones in the dining room, my brother David, in a heavenly voice, said without recourse to any current or prior conversation:

“I think that the problem with nudity, the reason it seems offensive, is not so much the sight of genitals (which are hardly what you’d call offensive), but because clothes help to designate our place in society.

Public nudity is in this sense highly a/anti-social, kind of like a denial of normal social codes because there is no place for it except in the brief intermediary space of the changing room. It isn’t the imagined threat of another’s sexuality that offends, but their taking up of a position outside of considerations of status or social context.

We need to be able to place people, and clothes go a long way to helping with that. Since we rely on social codes all the time to function, someone stepping outside of them is equivalent to having two fingers stuck up at the bulk of humanity. Personally, I don’t care if people want to go around naked, and I actually like swimming nude, but doing it in public seems a pointless and immature thing to insist upon, like growing ridiculously long fingernails or not washing – you’re free to do it, but what kind of freedom is that?

Also, just to add a theological note on this (which, naturally is by far the most offensive thing anyone can possibly do!), the animal skin clothing that God made for Adam and Eve in the bible was not particularly about making sure we covered our naughty bits up to satisfy a strangely schizoid deity’s need for modesty. It was meant to be read allegorically as a sign that our attempts to hide our shame (a consequence of the knowledge of good and evil) are inadequate, and so God replaced our fig leaves with something he provided for us. The twist in the story is that, in Christ, he is himself the lamb-skin that protects us.

But anyway…”

But anyway indeed.  More tea?

How To Argue About Politics

The Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday called for a General Election on June 8th (despite saying she would do no such thing).  We will doubtless hear political discourse, expert or otherwise, reach for new levels of over-blown rhetoric, unattainable promises and outlandish threats that go beyond even apocalyptio-dystopio proportions.

Politics is necessary and sometimes interesting, but of late it is rather like trying to fit the glass shoe on the feet of one of the Ugly Sisters….even if it fits, it’ll be the wrong foot!

Having said that, arguing and getting your point of view across, is a dying art in a world of fake news, opinionated blatherers and general social media swampery.  In our current political system, we often have soundbites and slogans; character assassinations; ridicule and dismissive gesturing.  Who really wants to be the winner in all this?  Afterall, even if the Ugly Sister did manage to squeeze into the tiny glass shoes of another….she would still be ugly!!!

I am reading through Gary Gutting’s book What Philosophy Can Do, and right from page one, he outlines the sheer practical force of philosophy as it relates to many areas of life.  He starts with politics, hence the opening quote below, but he goes on to tackle Science, Capitalism, Education, Art, Religion, Economics and Agnosticism. 

I hope the quote below helps others to think more clearly about what we say and how we say it; what we know and what we don’t know; for example, there’s a world of difference between “freedom of thought” and “correctness of thought”.

20170419_092639“Taking examples from recent political debates, this chapter explains and illustrates important logical principles and distinctions needed for effective argumentation.  

We first distinguish between real and bogus arguments and then discuss and illustrate the Principle of Charity, which shows how fairness to opponents can make arguments more compelling.

Next, we examine the distinction between deductive and inductive arguments, and, regarding inductive arguments, explore the essential but often neglected Principle of Relevant Evidence.

The following section introduces the notion of convictions (and the related notions of pictures).  Both concepts will have major roles in later chapters.  Reflection on the part convictions play in arguments will lead to an important distinction between what is logical and what is rational.

Two further sections explore arguments between people who are equally competant on a given topic (epistemic peers), leading to a distinction between freedom of thought and correctness of thought, and an analysis of the logic of disagreement.

Finally, we consider the value of arguments that fail to convince anyone else, formulating a Principle of Self-Understanding.”

pg.1 (all italics original).