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
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Communion: A Table Liturgy

Cross on Cliff“Whether Prince or pauper, commoner or King, wealthy or poor, foolish or wise, lost or found, young or old, man or woman, sinner or saint, Conservative or Labour, despairing or hopeful, healthy or unhealthy, rested or tired, faithful or unfaithful, hungry or full, grumpy or happy, doubting or sure, successful or failure:

Come to this Table.
The Table of Christ.
One Table, One Saviour, One Church, One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Do not come because you are perfect, but because you are not.
Do not come because you know everything, but because you don’t.
Do not come trying to earn God’s love, you can’t.
Do not come to impress others.
This Table of Christ is a Table for sinners.
There is room for everyone.
This Table of Christ speaks of a sacrifice for sinners.

The invitation is to all who are near and all who are far off.
The invitation is for all who believe and who want to believe.
The invitation is to share in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The invitation is to show God’s willingness to draw you near to Himself.

A God so near: Take and Eat.
A God so near: Drink this, all of you.
As He was crushed for our sins;
So we crush the bread between our teeth.
As He was lifted up;
So we lift up the cup.

The Cross of salvation; the Blood of the New Covenant; A broken body – Jesus the Son of God slain. For all sin everywhere.

And as you eat and drink physically, so eat and drink spiritually.
This physical act, sharing the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is a profoundly spiritual act of the heart.

It doesn’t depend on feelings or mood, but on Christ who says come.
Take Mary’s advice and “Do what He says!”
It depends on a rolled away stone, an empty tomb, a Risen Saviour.

So come.
Here it is.
The gracious offer of God to forgive and redeem.
The gifts of God to the world.
The power of God for salvation.
Body, blood, cross.
Bread, wine, table.
One God, One salvation, One Cross, One Saviour, One Way, One Church.
Amen.

Communion

Atheists Take Note (this Easter)…

Top 10 tips for atheists this Easter

church

This is a re-post of Dr John Dickson’s excellent challenge to Atheists to up their game in their critique of Christianity:

There is a dissonance between Christ’s “love your enemies” and Moses’ “slay the wicked”.

Atheists should drop their easily dismissed scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity, and instead quiz believers about Old Testament violence and hell, writes John Dickson.

As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism. So it’s only natural that believers would find some of the current arguments against God less than satisfying.

In the interests of a more robust debate this Easter, I (Dr John Dickson) want to offer my tips for atheists wanting to make a dent in the Faith. I’ve got some advice on arguments that should be dropped and some admissions about where Christians are vulnerable.

Tip #1. Dip into Christianity’s intellectual tradition

This is the 1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30, the widely accepted date among historians for the crucifixion of Jesus (the 1,981st if you find the arguments for 3 April AD 33 persuasive). Christians have been pondering this stuff for a long time. They’ve faced textual, historical, and philosophical scrutiny in almost every era, and they have left a sophisticated literary trail of reasons for the Faith.

My first tip, then, is to gain some awareness of the church’s vast intellectual tradition. It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic. Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are giants of Western thought. Without some familiarity with these figures, or their modern equivalents – Pannenberg, Ward, MacIntrye, McGrath, Plantinga, Hart, Volf – popular atheists can sound like the kid in English class, “Miss, Shakespeare is stupid!”

Tip #2. Notice how believers use the word ‘faith’

One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons. That might be Richard Dawkins’ preferred definition – except when he was publicly asked by Oxford’s Professor John Lennox whether he had ‘faith’ in his lovely wife – but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds. I think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons. Only on the basis of my reasoned conviction can I then trust God – have faith in him – in the sense meant in theology.

Tip #3. Appreciate the status of 6-Day Creationism

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Kraus have done a disservice to atheism by talking as though 6-Day Creationism is the default Christian conviction. But mainstream Christianities for decades have dismissed 6-Day Creationism as a misguided (if well-intentioned) project. Major conservative institutions like Sydney’s Moore Theological College, which produces more full time ministers than any college in the country, have taught for years that Genesis 1 was never intended to be read concretely, let alone scientifically. This isn’t Christians retreating before the troubling advances of science. From the earliest centuries many of the greats of Judaism (e.g., Philo and Maimonides) and Christianity (e.g., Clement, Ambrose, and Augustine) taught that the ‘six days’ of Genesis are a literary device, not a marker of time.

Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps

One slightly annoying feature of New Atheism is the constant claim that believers invoke God as an explanation of the ‘gaps’ in our knowledge of the universe: as we fill in the gaps with more science, God disappears. Even as thoughtful a man as Lawrence Kraus, a noted physicist, did this just last month on national radio following new evidence of the earliest moments of the Big Bang.

But the god-of-the-gaps is an invention of atheists. Serious theists have always welcomed explanations of the mechanics of the universe as further indications of the rational order of reality and therefore of the presence of a Mind behind reality. Kraus sounds like a clever mechanic who imagines that just because he can explain how a car works he has done away with the Manufacturer.

Tip #5. “Atheists just go one god more” is a joke, not an argument

I wish I had a dollar for every time an atheist insisted that I am an atheist with respect to Thor, Zeus, Krishna, and so on, and that atheists just go ‘one god more’. As every trained philosopher knows, Christians are not absolute atheists with regard to other gods. They happily affirm the shared theistic logic that there must be a powerful Mind behind a rational universe. The disagreements concern how the deity has revealed itself in the world. Atheism is not just an extension of monotheism any more than celibacy is an extension of monogamy.

Tip #6. Claims that Christianity is social ‘poison’ backfire

Moving from science and philosophy to sociology, I regard New Atheism’s “religion poisons everything” argument as perhaps its greatest faux pas. Not just because it is obviously untrue but because anyone who has entertained the idea and then bumped into an actual Christian community will quickly wonder what other fabrications Hitchens and Dawkins have spun.

I don’t just mean that anyone who dips into Christian history will discover that the violence of Christendom is dwarfed by the bloodshed of non-religious and irreligious conflicts. I mean that those who find themselves, or their loved ones, in genuine need in this country are very, very likely to become the beneficiaries of direct and indirect Christian compassion. The faithful account for an inordinate amount of “volunteering hours” in Australia, they give blood at higher-than-normal rates, and 18 of the nation’s 25 largest charities are Christian organisations. This doesn’t make Christians better than atheists, but it puts the lie to the claim that they’re worse.

Tip #7. Concede that Jesus lived, then argue about the details

Nearly 10 years after Richard Dawkins says that “a serious historical case” can be made that Jesus “never lived” (even if he admits that his existence is probable). It is astonishing to me that some atheists haven’t caught up with the fact that this was always a nonsense statement. Even the man Dawkins cites at this point, GA Wells (a professor of German language, not a historian), published his own change of mind right about the time The God Delusion came out.

New Atheists should accept the academic reality that the vast majority of specialists in secular universities throughout the world consider it beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus lived, taught, gained a reputation as a healer, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and was soon heralded by his followers as the resurrected Messiah. Unless sceptics can begin their arguments from this academic baseline, they are the mirror image of the religious fundamentalists they despise – unwilling to accept the scholarly mainstream over their metaphysical commitments.

Tip #8. Persuasion involves three factors

Aristotle was the first to point out that persuasion occurs through three factors: intellectual (logos), psychological (pathos), and social or ethical (ethos). People rarely change their minds merely on account of objective evidence. They usually need to feel the personal relevance and impact of a claim, and they also must feel that the source of the claim – whether a scientist or a priest – is trustworthy.

Christians frequently admit that their convictions developed under the influence of all three elements. When sceptics, however, insist that their unbelief is based solely on ‘evidence’, they appear one-dimensional and lacking in self-awareness. They would do better to figure out how to incorporate their evidence within the broader context of its personal relevance and credibility. I think this is why Alain de Botton is a far more persuasive atheist (for thoughtful folk) than Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Kraus. It is also why churches attract more enquirers than the local sceptics club.

Tip #9. Ask us about Old Testament violence

I promised to highlight vulnerabilities of the Christian Faith. Here are two.

Most thoughtful Christians find it difficult to reconcile the loving, self-sacrificial presentation of God in the New Testament with the seemingly harsh and violent portrayals of divinity in the Old Testament. I am not endorsing Richard Dawkins’ attempts in chapter 7 of The God Delusion. There he mistakenly includes stories that the Old Testament itself holds up as counter examples of true piety. But there is a dissonance between Christ’s “love your enemies” and Moses’ “slay the wicked”.

I am not sure this line of argument has the power to undo Christian convictions entirely. I, for one, feel that the lines of evidence pointing to God’s self-disclosure in Christ are so robust that I am able to ponder the inconsistencies in the Old Testament without chucking in the Faith. Still, I reckon this is one line of scrutiny Christians haven’t yet fully answered.

Tip #10. Press us on hell and judgment

Questions can also be raised about God’s fairness with the world. I don’t mean the problem of evil and suffering: philosophers seem to regard that argument as a ‘draw’. I am talking about how Christians can, on the one hand, affirm God’s costly love in Jesus Christ and, yet, on the other, maintain Christ’s equally clear message that those who refuse the Creator will face eternal judgment. If God is so eager for our friendship that he would enter our world, share our humanity, and bear our punishment on the cross, how could he feel it is appropriate to send anyone to endless judgment?

This is a peculiar problem of the Christian gospel. If God were principally holy and righteous, and only occasionally magnanimous in special circumstances, we wouldn’t be shocked by final judgment. But it is precisely because Jesus described God as a Father rushing to embrace and kiss the returning ‘prodigal’ that Christians wonder how to hold this in tension with warnings of hell and judgment.

Again, I’m not giving up on classical Christianity because of this internally generated dilemma, but I admit to feeling squeamish about it, and I secretly hope atheists in my audiences don’t think to ask me about it.

***

I doubt there are any strong scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity. Most of those in current circulation are nowhere near as persuasive as New Atheism imagines. Contemporary sceptics would do well to drop them. Paradoxically, I do think Christianity is vulnerable at precisely the points of its own emphases. Its insistence on love, humility, and non-violence is what makes the Old Testament seem inconsistent. Its claim that God “loves us to death” (literally) creates the dilemma of its teaching about final judgment. Pressing Christians on this inner logic of the cross of Christ will make for a very interesting debate, I am sure. Believers may have decent answers, but at least you’ll be touching a truly raw nerve of the Easter Faith.

Dr John Dickson is an author and historian, and a founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity.

 

Postscript:

In a separate “incident” within this whole debate, David Bentley Hart recently produced a scintilating reply to Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker that kind of makes the point of this post – the debate, if you can call it that, between materialists/atheists and those of faith.  Hart writes,

“Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. . . . Precisely how does materialism (which is just a metaphysical postulate, of extremely dubious logical coherence) entail exclusive ownership of scientific knowledge?”

And as a final foray on my part into Hart’s reply, he lays out as plain as he can, why we have this horrendous if not infantile situaltion today,

“The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players). Everything else is idle chatter—and we live in an age of idle chatter.”

I encourage you to read Gopnik’s post and Hart’s response – it is breathtaking and brutal!!  You can feel Hart’s irritation even if he doesn’t really get out of theological first gear!

Drifting?

just-do-itThe Christian life is not easy.  It takes determined, hard graft, long-term view of life. Many people fall under the spell of easy-living, and for some unearthly reason, when some people become Christians, they expect their life to be one of ease, one sweet breeze.  Where oh where did they get that from?  What dark corner of the heart hides such a banal and idle sentiments?

But this is not so.

Not so, say the Scriptures, not so says Jesus, not so says Paul, not so says the witness of the New Testament.  Hebrews is a book of amazing theology, great exhortation, but also some sober warnings.  The very first warning says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

In other words, if we do not “pay attention”, we will drift away…..away from God, away from Christ and all His salvation splendour.  Not drifting away requires a determined, hard-graft, long-term view of life.  The Christian life is much more about growing potatoes rather than eating chips; it is much more about feasting like kings rather than snacking like peasants or starving like fools

Carson-PlenaryOnce again, Don Carson nails it…..

“People do not drift toward Holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;

we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;

we drift toward superstition and call it faith.

We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;

we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;

we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

 For the Love of God, p.23

CROSS

Damned Money

There are lots of generous wealthy people in our world.  I get that.

There are lots of generous poor people too.  I get that.

There are lots of practically minded people.  I get that.

There are lots of non-practical philosopher types too.  I get that.

But why when money rears its ugly head do we suddenly see how secular and goddless we really are?

Why is it that great riches can be a web of deceit that it blinds people to the Kingdom of God?

What kind of Church is Jesus the Head of?  A Church with everything in order?  All sinners purged?  All accounts robust and healthy?  All the building needs taken care of?  The minister’s salary way beyond the minimum wage?  A godly investment in mission and ministry?  Clean carpets?  Clean teeth?  Cleen sheets?  Is Jesus the Head of this kind of Church?

When will we learn that faith and damned money are diametrically opposed?  Don’t misunderstand me.  Godly people can be very generous and in my experience often are, but why are so many people who let others know of their wealth, so damned atheistic in their worldview?  Why do these people impose a pathetically rigid, humanistic, managerial order onto something (the Church) that doesn’t funtion like that?  When will Churches stop being like Corporations?  When will we stop reinventing biblical faith as ‘the bottom line?’

british-money_thumb

Let me defend why faith is diametirically opposed to money.  Money will divide the closest of families when there’s a sniff of money to be had.  Money will tear apart loving families as people made in the image of God become animals clawing at every last damned penny like wild animals, devouring anyone who stands in their way.  Money brings out the worst in people – because we’re greedy at heart.  In fact, we’re idolatrous at heart, which is why Paul likens greed to idolatry (Col 3:5).

The tensions within ministry are obvious.  We will always have needs and wants.  Our resources will always be stretched between the maintenance and the mission of the Church.  But if the Church does not recover the heart of the Gospel, of generosity, of sacrifice, of giving, then we will see churches fall prey to the zeitgeist of centralised secular bureaucracy meddaling in Church affairs with ever-increasing loopholes of complexity that we must just through, like performing religious poodles, in order to recieve our prize – the all conquering reclaimed tax!  The Golden Calf of British Churches!

The Church is Gospel centred or it is nothing.  Even tax reclaimed on giving in the UK is a massive mistake.  Since when did churches rely on the prevailing generosity of short-term governments.  When this generosity ends (and it will), we will see thousands of churches close overnight – why – because they will all have relied on the altruism of Government.  This is a big mistake, and in this setting, secularism will strike a massive blow against the Church in the UK.  But what we will be left with is a leaner and ‘meaner’ church.  Or as I like to imagine, a Church more biblically faith-FULL.

Imagine if Abraham had insisted he knew the ram was going to be caught in the thicket.  He didn’t know how or what or when God was going to provide.  He just obeyed God!  He stepped out in faith, even if it seemed to suggest that God wanted child-sacrifice.  But Abraham was so in tune with God that he trusted – even for God to raise Isaac to life again if need be.

Abraham-sacrificing-Isaac

But imagine where his faith was at, as Isaac lie there, bound and gagged, atop a pile of fire wood, his own dad stood over him, one arm raised with a razor sharp dagger in his hand – ready to plunge into the heart of his boy.  He didn’t know, but he trusted.  This is the kind of faith required “to please God” as Hebrews says.  This is the kind of faith we must never allow mere money to interfere with.

I want that for myself and for all God’s people.  I want this kind of trusting to take place.  Not driven by the bottom line but the last word.  Not what we can see now, but what faith reveals in the not yet.  I want us to see God and have our own stories to tell, of when God took us up on a mountain, confused but obedient, and how he brought us down, changed.

SeaRocks

Affable Bustle

“Churches that seem to live in an atmosphere of affable bustle, where all is heart and nothing is soul, where men decay and worship dies.  There is an activity which is an index of more vigour than faith, more haste than speed, more work than power.

It is sometimes more inspired by the business passion of efficiency than the Christian passion of fidelity or adoration.  Its aim is to make the concern go rather than to compass the Righteousness of God.  We want to advance faster than faith can, faster than is compatible with the moral genius of the Cross, and the law of its permanent progress.

We occupy more than we can hold.  If we take in new ground we have to resort to such devices to accomplish it that the tone of religion suffers and the love or care for Christian truth.  And the preacher, as he is often the chief of sinners in this respect, is also the chief of sufferers.  And so we may lose more in spiritual quality than we gain in Church extension.

In God’s name we may thwart God’s will.  Faith, ceasing to be communion, becomes mere occupation, and the Church a scene of beneficent bustle, from which the Spirit flees.  Religious progress outruns moral, and thus it ceases to be spiritual in the Christian sense, in any but a vague pious sense.”

P. T. Forsyth, The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ, p.119

Abraham’s Faith?

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_035

Whilst considering grace for a sermon, and I just cannot get my head or heart round this exquisite reality in the Christian faith, I came across that old wily character that for too long I have read as some what of a hero.  Yes, at times a scoundrel (who isn’t?), but essentially a man of faith tested and proven.  But I was shocked, when I had my presupposition challenged.

(The 1635 Rembrandt (left) is a favourite of mine, ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’).

Abraham in fact models a kind of ruthless self-seeking at the expense of others by taking those around him and dragging them through the bush backwards (for wont of a better metaphor)!  He deceives Pharaoh, Abimelech and seriously hurts his own wife.  He allows Hagar to be mistreated (including by having his wicked way with the poor women), and then we come to the most famous story of all (GEnesis 22).  A story of faith I thought.  Read on….

“Suppose, however, that God is well aware of Abraham’s tendency to forfeit his family to danger and uncertainty?  What if the test is really designed to see just how far Abraham will go? . . .

. . . Perhaps God needs to see if there is ever a point where Abraham is willing to sacrifice himself rather than his family.  He has sacrificed the other members of his household; will he go so far as to sacrifice this son of promise? . . .

What might we have heard from an exemplary Abraham?  “Take me!  I am old.  The boy has his whole life in front of him.”  Or might we even have heard the Abraham of old (cf. Gen 18:25):  “Far be it from you to expect such a thing. . . . ”  But . . . . this Abraham risks nothing but silent obedience. . . . Abraham makes every effort to go through with the sacrifice of his son.  Only God’s intervention keeps him from murder. . . .

Abraham, ironically, names the place “YHWH will see.” . . . . But what has YHWH actually seen?  On the mountain, YHWH sees a man who fears, a man in need of grace. . . .

Whether or not Abraham has passed the test, we do not know.  We fear not.”

Gunn and Fewell in Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, p.98-100

I suspect Abraham was a failure because we are failures.  We try to save our own skin every single time.  He’s like us, and that is why for Abraham, God provided a lamb, and for all of us, God provided a Lamb.  We didn’t and can’t pass the test, but Jesus can and does.