Twelve glorious pounds gets you this:

relating-faithHaving a commendation on the back cover, it is no surprise that I am a fan of Rob Knowles’s work.  I am also a friend!  Friend first, then fan, or “Frand” as my son tells me!

Anyway, below is the write up on the Authentic Media website for his alarmingly critical-but-profoundly-biblical look at church and culture and church-culture!

If £12 is too much, you could get it here for £7-ish.    If that is too much, get in touch with me and I’ll send you a copy myself!  You can see why I think this so important by reading my redacted version under “commendations” below.

In this book, Robert Knowles seeks to encourage Christians to embrace and model authentic biblical Christianity – or “Relating Faith” – in their discipleship, church, and mission. Our faith is relational in that “love for God and neighbour sums up the Law and the Prophets” and in that, in response to the Great Commission, we are to relate our faith in Jesus Christ to the world where it is actually at today. Such “relating faith” is biblical not least in that Christians are to be matured and refereed in their love, or biblical lawfulness, primarily through the Holy Spirit’s formative and relational activation of biblical speech-acts.

Knowles argues, however, that the Western church has so allowed itself to be shaped by ancient, modern and postmodern Western culture and thinking, that it has in effect lost its authentic biblical shape as “relating faith”. Knowles identifies five broad kinds of inauthentic or unbiblical sub-culture within the contemporary Western (and especially British) church that, whilst they are by no means the whole truth about the church, have still critically compromised its biblical shape and mission so as to render the church “non-relational” and even oppressive. Knowles then argues that these five counterfeit non-relational church sub-cultures are responsible for Christians hopping between churches or else leaving the church in droves, and for non-Christians increasingly seeing the church as irrelevant.

In order to address this problem, Knowles gives detailed expositions of the shape of authentic biblical discipleship, church and mission on the one hand, and of the shape of Western modernity and postmodernity on the other hand. In the light of these expositions Knowles argues that the apparently more “modern” and/or “postmodern” shape of the five inauthentic or unbiblical contemporary church sub-cultures that he has identified has resulted, in part, from a long-standing anti-intellectual, anti-theological, and anti-biblical attitude of cherished ideological and cultural ignorance within the church. Notably, Knowles argues that this pietistic attitude has allowed the church to see false prophecy as “true”, and to see the truly prophetic, the theological and even sometimes biblical doctrine as, at best, of only marginal or “merely academic” importance. This conclusion forms the platform from which Knowles calls Christians back to authentic biblical discipleship, church and mission – to “relating faith”.

COMMENDATIONS
“Rob’s gift to the Church is to communicate rich theological truth in profoundly relational ways with the Scriptures at the centre. Those who want more and know there’s more but just don’t know where to look, would find in Rob’s work a goldmine of wisdom, and Christ is the fount of it all.”
– Rev’d Richard Matcham, Minister of Barton Baptist Church, Torquay

“I am glad to commend this book. It combines such technical-sounding topics as speech-act theory and postmodernism with very practical issues in bible study and the Christian life. Dr Knowles has shown that these are down-to-earth tools and issues which can be of practical use in everyday Christian discipleship. Issues such as that of church leadership are also raised in a practical way.”
– Anthony C. Thiselton, Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology, University of Nottingham

“Rob Knowles is one of those people who has had a massive influence on my life and ministry; his work is always thoughtful, challenging, and very helpful. Rob always seeks to be thoroughly biblical, and he’s never one to duck the tough questions or offer easy platitudes. I thoroughly recommend this volume as one which will help you significantly in your life and ministry.”
– Rev’d Ted Fell, Vicar of All Saints Anglican Church, Kings Cross, London

Finally, a review from the above link.  I’ll use Tim’s review, I’m sure he won’t mind, since we were the central defense duo for the famous Woodies FC in the late 90’s.  I’ve saved his bacon a few times and now by quoting him he can return the favour!

By ‘Tim’

A very enlightening read for anyone who attends church; a helpful read for people who are struggling with church; and an indispensible read for people who lead Christian churches or facilitate church activities, church structures or church communities.

Dr Rob Knowles has written a book about how the church can be more like God intended it to be. Knowles is a philosophical theologian who has written a previous, more theoretical book, an exposition of Professor Anthony Thiselton’s theology (Anthony C. Thiselton and the Grammar of Hermeneutics – Paternoster, 2012), whose influential thinking he also scrupulously acknowledges here in Relating Faith.

Relating Faith had me ‘laughing out loud’, ‘nodding in agreement’ and ‘making sharp intakes of breath’ in equal measure. Before I explain why, a quick, simplified précis of the contents.

Part one of Relating Faith (on Discipleship) outlines some ways in which people can experience, and be formed as disciples by God, through reading the bible. This section has practical examples and a novel model for devotional times. This section of the book proceeds in detail to expound Christian discipleship in terms of love, or biblical lawfulness.
Part two, (on Church) draws on this account of Christian discipleship as ‘love for God and for others’, and explains the ways in which the church has often departed from this emphasis. No one tradition is given prominence, and whatever your church tradition there is something challenging for you to reflect on.
Part three (on Mission) summarizes contemporary ideas in the Western world, and how these influence church culture and Christians’ attitude to and practice of relating to those around them – particularly with respect to mission.

Back to the reactions I mentioned earlier, and also a chance to comment on the style of the book.
• ‘Sharp intakes of breath.’
The book is hard hitting in style. It contains detailed accounts of the ways in which our behavior tends to be narcissistic. It also describes many ways in which church has become distorted. Behind this, one senses the author’s conviction and excitement that a more ‘truthful’ view of things can ‘set us free’ from such distortions. Grace is also strongly highlighted (chapter 3). If you have similar assumptions to me, then I expect Dr Knowles will convince you that the Western church has a longer way to go before it appears like the ‘bride of Jesus Christ’ than you previously assumed.

• ‘Nodding in Agreement.’
The book puts forward a detailed explanation as to why we sometimes find church less than perfect. The author uses ‘types’ such as ‘Applause-seekers’ or ‘Local Heroes’ to describe the ways in which the church has (sometimes unwittingly) copied ways of doing things from the culture surrounding it, such as celebrity TV shows or business models of leadership. From my limited experience of different churches, these examples often ring true. More fundamentally, this analysis offers a different starting place for reforming churches than ’10 things to make your meetings more welcoming’.

• ‘Laughing out loud.’
The author has a way with words. A classic example is the 101 word sentence in chapter 9, in which Knowles seeks to essentially capture the downsides to the ‘consumerist-driven’ ‘bad aspects’ of postmodernity influencing western culture. The book is aimed at the general reader. The author himself acknowledges on p.168 that there are a plenty of ‘long words’. Some people may find reading takes a fair bit of effort. But it’s a good way of expanding anyone’s vocabulary, plus it’s a gripping way of getting a handle on some of the key ‘buzzwords’ and ‘ideas’ which really shape contemporary society.

Personally, I found the book contained dense nuggets of description which chimed with – or even explained for the first time – my experiences in many different spheres of life. To give just a few examples: it provoked new excitement about devotional times; raised awareness about the influence of the culture around me, including why I have sometimes in the past found various jobs rather oppressive; convicted me that I had failed to love others, perhaps because I related to them in ways which were more about trying to win approval in my internal church structures; and gave hope and a particular vision for the church – as a God centered community of people – as potentially loving, wise, growing and relationally mature.

If you’re serious about your faith, PLEASE get this book!
relating-faith
X marks the spot

X marks the spot

Having had the best part of the weekend in Oxford (Baptist Union Assembly), I must say what an inspiring place it is.  I’m sure the sun shining was a major factor, not to mention  the incredible falafal wraps I enjoyed, with a decent pint at the famous pub favoured by C. S. Lewis and the Inklings.

pub

C. S. Lewis was ‘ere.

I wandered around the oldest University in the world, Balliol College (£2 entry fee!), established in the 13th century, and counts among its past students Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, and in 1360 AD John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English – a dangerous thing to do.

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John Wycliffe, c. 1360

 

The main entrance to the college is on Broad Street, and it was here that a terrible event took place in both 1555 and 1556.  This cross marks the spot where three Reformers were burnt at the stake for their part in the Reformation, accused of “heresy”, i.e. Protestantism.

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Martyr’s Cross, Broad Street, Oxford

Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester); Nicolas Ridley (Bishop of London); and Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), were burned alive on this spot.  To the left is Balliol College, and to the right are some shops, including outside seating areas for the coffee drinkers.  It is an incredible thing to see and think about.  This sign to the left of the cross describes the scene:

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Chosen? Israel-Palestine and Theological Assumptions

Chosen? Israel-Palestine and Theological Assumptions

al_nakbaMay 15th is the commemoration of the Palestinian ‘Al-Nakba’ or Catastrophe that began (officially) in 1948, and in a perverse marriage of political and religious ideology, continues today!  This blog has several theological-historical accounts of this particular subject, and below is a book review by a respected New Testament theologian on a book by an esteemed Old Testament theologian.

Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 

Today we are witnessing a sea change regarding evangelical attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In its cover story for its March 2015 issue, Sojourners Magazine illustrated this change with an article that went viral: “Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-Jesus.” The article shows how many conservative North American evangelicals have always listened to and supported the Israeli narrative. But here’s the change: evangelicals are now discovering the Palestinian narrative. This has led them to go back to their Bibles and to rethink many theological first principles.

Chosen

This change has been quantified by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which has conducted regular interviews among evangelicals for years (see G. M. Burge, “Are Evangelicals Abandoning Israel?,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 33.7 [October 2014]: 50–51; D. Brog, “The End of Evangelical Support for Israel,” Middle East Quarterly 21.2 [Spring 2014]; S. Bailey, “American Evangelicals’ Support For Israel Is Waning, Reports Say,” Huffington Post, April 9, 2014). The Pew Forum’s October 2010 survey conducted at the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, made one thing clear: younger evangelicals who see social justice as an integral part of their discipleship now see the moral ambiguity of this conflict. While once evangelicals gave exclusive support to Israel, today that support is balanced in that younger evangelicals have sympathies with both sides in this struggle and are rejecting the unilateral commitments held by an older generation.

A number of authors and books have been contributing to these theological shifts. The esteemed OT scholar Walter Brueggemann has long had an interest in this conflict. His well-known book, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise and Challenge in Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002) is the premier study of “land” (as in Holy Land) in biblical theology. And it inevitably drew him into the question of modern claims to possess the Holy Land based on theological commitments. Now Brueggemann has supplied a brief and poignant guide for churches that want to discuss further. Chosen? is his unrelenting Amos-like appeal to Christians to rethink their theological assumptions when looking at the Middle East. This book joins a host of recent volumes that do the same thing, from popular-level works (e.g., R. Dalrymple, These Brothers of Mine: A Biblical Theology of Land and Family [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015]) to heftier theological works (e.g., O. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, NSBT 34 [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015]), and my own Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010). In a word, evangelicals are revisiting this topic and asking if their views are contributing to or rather undermining the peace process.

Brueggemann’s offering is a short, fifty-page study of theological assumptions followed by a Q&A section. The book concludes with an outline complete with questions showing how the book can be used in a study session. In four chapters, he summarizes in easy-to-read style what he thinks are the four essential problems we face:

  1. Reading the Bible. Brueggemann challenges how we use the Scriptures and draw simplistic connections between ancient Israel and the modern Israeli state. His specialty is the OT Prophets, and at moments throughout the book, the thunder of Jeremiah or Elijah leaps from the page.
  2. Chosenness. Brueggemann wants us to rethink what election means and how it can be exploited. He warns against any position that produces a theological exceptionalism or privilege due to lineage claims or promises (whose ethical component has been ignored). Above all, he challenges the so-called “unconditional” nature of this status.
  3. Land. In a handful of pages, he summarizes his major academic theses: the land is a gift and living in it brings enormous moral duties. Moreover, in the New Testament, the land experiences a transformation of identity and purpose.
  4. Zionism. Here he describes what happens when misdirected theological commitments evolve into political ideology. He illustrates how this happened in biblical times and quickly shows how it is happening today.

This is a passionate book. And readers should be warned: it will upend many of the things we’ve heard in churches most of our lives. Some readers will cheer, some will despair, and others will reject his views out of hand. But perhaps that is why this specialist in the Prophets sounds like a prophet himself. He writes to discomfort the comfortable. And reactions both negative and positive are inevitable.

When a major scholar like Brueggemann writes from the heart—when he writes for the church and its disciples—we would all do well to pause and listen carefully. This is not an amateur we are reading. This is a man so thoroughly steeped in the Hebrew prophets that his heart beats with their rhythm. And he has thought long and hard—a career’s worth—on this utterly timely subject.

 

Theodicy: The problem of evil – for beginners

Theodicy: The problem of evil – for beginners

Below are four excellent introductory pictoral videos that introduce the problem of theodicy, and how we can begin to think about it theologically.

No doubt we’ve all heard people say, (rather dismissively as though this is their lifetime study project):  “I don’t believe in God because of all the evil and suffering in the world!”

Heard it all before mate!  If I had a £1 for every time I’d heard this!  As though it’s the Ace in the pack!  “Oh, yep, you got me!  I’m just another delusional Christian living in denial of the evidence!”

As if the absense of evil and suffering would create humble worshippers in their millions!  Hardly.

‘The odd I see’ all around me is the evidence of evil everywhere, not least that which originates in me.  The-od-i-cy or ‘theodicy’ is the way in which theologians have engaged with all this ‘odd’ as they sought to integrate a comprehensive Christian worldview.  To not engage is to not theologise.  Disengagement creates a feeble Christianity that ‘won’t go there’, when Christian theology insists:  Go there you must; there are no off-limits, no out-of-bounds, no secrets, no dirty laundry, no skeletons in the closet of Christian Theology.

P. T. Forsyth’s theodicy is masterful and you can read a brilliant introductory series to it here  or read a comprehensive treatment of it here.

As an aside, though not at all unconnected, in Forsyth’s 1896 book ‘The Charter of the Church’, he writes,

“Culture, aesthetic or even religious, is now the most deadly and subtle enemy of spiritual freedom.  It is the growth of culture in the decay of Gospel that the soul’s freedom has increasingly to dread.  It is there that our Noncomformity is in most danger of being untrue to itself and its mission.  We are suffering.  But it is less from grievance now than from success.  We share a prosperity which is passing through variety of interest, refinement of taste, aesthetic emotion, tender pity, kindly careless catholicity, and over-sweet reasonableness, to leanness of soul.  It is more at home in literature than in Scripture, and in journals more than either.  And it tends to substitute charity and its sympathies for grace and its faith.”

(pg. v-vi)

Here, Forsyth likens suffering as it relates to Christian faith with not suffering, as we would typically understand it.  It is a strange irony that human prosperity inevitably leads to a “leanness of soul”that proves quite deadly to actual biblical faith.  Elsewhere, in Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he states with his usual eloquent genius, “[Another] vice of the Christian hour is spiritual self-satisfaction, well-to-do-ness, comfort.  The voice of the turtle is heard in the land.”

The Bible is ultra-realistic, even brutal in not allowing humanity to escape to our man-made utopian fantasies of a pain-free future.  This seems to me to prove the point:  Sin is unreality.  The Bible will not let us get away with sloppy thinking or cheap living.  In this way, God uses suffering to force us to face evil and suffering’s reality in Him.

Anyway, I suspect this one subject alone is the greatest need of our time, and possibly the most misunderstood and not-understood.

  1. Evangelism without a working paradigm of theodicy will be just ‘ism’ without the evangel;
  2. Mission that does not articulate theodicy will be superficial;
  3. Preaching that doesn’t begin to adumbrate theodicy is going to be a pleasant time of jokes and story telling that will be forgotten by the time the lukewarm coffee is served;
  4. And ministry that does not address theodicy in the lives of all people will likely lead to a sentimental avoidance of all things nasty (i.e. the stuff we don’t talk about in polite society), in thought, word and deed, a theological dissonance of sophomoric proportions!

People will suffer, and unjustly at that, so it is the task of a robust theodicy to speak into this great big gaping abyss.  For it was of course, into the great big gaping abyss of human sin and rebellion that the Son of God did hang on a tree until all of humanity had been reconciled to him.  Our salvation is the way of suffering.  “Picking up your cross” is not the same as picking up your socks!

These four excellent videos will introduce you to this complex discussion.  They are the creations of a superb educator, and you can visit his YouTube channel here.

Captured by Love

Captured by Love

This wonderful “Confession of Faith” can be found here at Michael Hardin’s ‘Preaching Peace’ website.

We confess we have been captured by love –
the constant source of the universe,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Jesus has captured us for freedom.
In his truly human life
he was God among us, crucified by us.
God raised him from death
for the forgiveness of our sin
and the re-creation of our life.

His Father is our Father –
The source of his life and ours,
the God of Israel,
in whose gracious purposes
all creation is drawn to fulfillment.

His Spirit gives life to all
transforming our life from the inside out
by worship, scripture and sacrament
into the community of Christ and of the future
for the sake of the world.

In this triune God we bear witness
to the love which has captured us.
Our vocation lies in God’s mission –
to communicate it here in Aotearoa New Zealand,
to embody it socially
and to care for God’s glorious creation.

In this new-given unity
we live in confidence and hope;
anticipating the healing of creation
and the final flourishing of peace
in Christ.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Hamill
Coastal Unity Presbyterian Parish
Dunedin, New Zealand

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Near Redgate Beach, Torquay (c) Gralefrit 2016

(Davidic Aphorisms Pt.1)  “Personally, I prefer the Hegelian distinction between true and spurious infinity.”

(Davidic Aphorisms Pt.1) “Personally, I prefer the Hegelian distinction between true and spurious infinity.”

What follows will not make immediate sense, or even later sense.  But I’ve discovered that comment threads by my brother David on the Guardian newspaper website (no less), are a work of art.  They are (or have become) a bunch of genuine aphorisms that will betray a sense of the sublime in the ordinary.  It’s not easy to say this, since he is my brother after all, but they have made me laugh out loud, despite their often serious points, and they deserve a wider audience…..

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While cooking is a pleasure, and eating it even more so, Ellen is right to highlight the kind of narrowing of horizons that poverty engenders. Clearly many middle-class people work as hard, if not harder, than poor people, but the point is that having access to cash or credit greatly expands the range of options and a sense that life has a purpose for yourself and your family. Being poor strips away many of the motivations for living healthily because, well, what’s the point in trying. It’s not an excuse, but it might go some way to explaining why poor people eat worse more generally.

It’s weird how the most violent people and the most anti-violent people share the common characteristic of having no sense of humour.  The world would be a better place if we just felt freer to take the piss out of each other more of the time.

What you’re saying only makes sense if you thought that religious belief was automatically opposed to evolutionary science, which I don’t think it is. As with Genesis, its the meanings to which it has been put (racism for one) that is important. It’s all about interpretation.

Nietzsche would be disgusted.

And yet, by the same logic, christian bakers are obliged to bake cakes celebrating gay marriage because to not do so is discrimination. It seems oddly inconsistent…

What I love about philosophy is the way it unsettles our commonsense view of reality. Everything, even the most mundane, is up for grabs. If only I could find a way to teach it in schools, colleges or universities! I’d do it for peanuts if I could.

Not being funny, but I’d hazard the guess that you haven’t read much theology, have you?

Hard to know what to think about this, its either an interesting way of revealing unconscious bias towards belief, or completely fatuous. Either way, I wouldn’t say it, not because I have a superstitious belief in the power of words, but because I don’t think it’s a relevant way to pray (mainly because I believe that God is love).

Maybe, but it is possible that you have misjudged the situation somewhat. I’m not convinced that having low expectations/aspiration is automatically connected to a sense of entitlement by virtue of being male and white (that is a bit of a leap, and not one which I feel is justified). Not seeing the relevancy of striving in school could more easily be explained by a sense that striving academically is a potential cul-de-sac career wise. Speaking for myself, it never entered my head to strive for anything beyond factory/shop work because I didn’t know anyone in my social circle who did anything different. My experience may not be exemplary in this, but I think that the idea that white boys have low expectations because they feel entitled (for what and by whom?) simply because of their ethnicity and gender is a bit bizarre and insulting.

Possibly the issue is not so much that you commented on white males being inherently privileged, but that you suggested that young, working class white boys had imbibed this privilege and had a sense of the entitlement which reality failed to deliver on.

In my own experience as someone who grew up working-class, it is the sense of entitlement that I encounter in the middle-class (male and female) which strikes me as the greatest difference between us and them.

To be honest, I see your point, it is repellent, but it accurately describes the reality.

Being poor sucks!

Personally, I prefer the Hegelian distinction between true and spurious infinity (the former being a dialectical relation, the latter a mere endless progression onwards and upwards). Hegel’s true infinity is quite similar to the Kantian infinitude of aesthetic judgement.

One thing I love about Kant is that he was intelligent enough to recognise that the most important questions can be convincingly argued as either yes or no.

I’m a christian, and I have no idea what you’re on about.  I also choose not to wear a poppy because it clashes with my red eyes. Freaks people out.

Well, I enjoyed the article at least. Star Wars may not be Macbeth – and Lucas is no Shakespeare – but as a massively popular story, its interesting to analyse it this way.

I strongly doubt that robots will ever replace humans in any significant way.

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