Saturday, 19 January 2013

The everlasting God

Instead of thinking in terms of theological trends we should think more in terms of God’s attributes.

The challenge we face with any kind of natural theology (or theology in which we find God in the natural world) is that there are inevitable limits. The idea of the natural carries the idea that potentially the world can exist happily without God. It is an attractive word since it contains a certain purity and innocence to it, yet whether or not it is used by Christians it does not necessarily have to include God. In fact, although we can rightly have a natural theology the idea of ‘nature’ is one of the most powerful referents to a world without him.

The charm and beauty of the term can belie an element that is easily distorted and bent into an idol. Note the second commandment. No idol is to be made out of anything in heaven above or the earth beneath. The law and the natural world are found together in the Bible in the one book of the law or way of life of God’s people. Psalm 19 is a beautiful reminder of their co-incidence, but we must be aware of how they can be separated also.

Faith in the God of natural theology, although greater in certain respects than a God of revelation and religion (Romans 1 v.20), will inevitably be confined to the natural circumstances of this world. This is a God that is known by all and universally present, but no tradition has been developed concerning his person. There is no consistent body of truth to acquire that revolves around his personal attributes. In the end natural theology will not only be left to fend for itself, it will become distorted in the most ugly and degraded way, if no access can be found to God’s miraculous intervening power (Romans 1 vs. 21-32). We urgently need to call on God (Romans 10 v.12).

We must know that God is not something in the world, something to be acquired in the sense of anything anybody may acquire. God is not something in nature, even in human nature. This makes God both common and cheap. Natural theology is inevitably limited to this- it makes our God common to all, when he is personal to Christians. We should not ‘acquire’ anything in the world through the sinful nature. It must be through the one who has died to the world, and whose acquisition of anything in the world is only temporary for the Kingdom of God. No ‘getting’ or acquisition of anything in the world, be that a career or wealth should be through the sinful nature. The permanence of status is given by God in Christ Jesus. It is not simply a function of nature.

Natural theology is positive as a bridging project working on commonalites between Christians and non-Christians. A natural theology refers to the substantial, rather than the personal revelation of God. However, no matter how great that natural and inherent ability or resource is, and it may be very great, it has no lasting power. It comes to an end, like all the things of this world. Worse still it becomes corrupted by the ugliness of sin.

But our God is everlasting. He never comes to an end. He is inexhaustible. There is forgiveness and grace with him. The things that he reveals to us shall be as gold that never perishes. It has to be God. All the things of this world will wear out, and the children of the world have become corrupted, but where my God is there is forgiveness, grace, renewal strength and resource.  Hallelujah! My wonderful everlasting God.

Matthew 6 vs. 19-21
Hebrews 1 vs.10-12
Deuteronomy 29 v.29
Isaiah 40 v.31

I enclose a short update on some of the work of All Nations Tutorial College over the past year. My prayer is that this will be an encouragement and inspiration to you!

The completion of the first year of our Applied Theology course was crowned by the following testimony of Chinese evangelist David Xia on completion of an essay on the Trinity in the New Testament. The course is run over skype.

Here is his testimony:

'On the morning I laid down my work on the Trinity, it was the first time I was revealed by the grace of God that Jesus is indeed the true and only manifestation of the invisible almighty eternal One - nothing less but equivalent to The One in nature. It was not by rational speculation or academic research that I was led to this point for sure. I have to say that all along the time by that morning I was unable to 'think' through how Jesus the Son of God could be the very 'God' per se, and have been therefore holding a view of error that God the Father is 'in a superior and mightier position than Jesus', who acted merely as 'the ambassador' working out God's will and plan on earth.'
...In my cultural environment 'Academy' is manipulated and controlled by secular government and thus only serve for the purpose of the legitimacy and survival of the sovereign regime on earth. It is a complete different cultural case where the human freewill does not act at all, where in its counterpart West the human freewill has over-worked to such an extend that it does not give much way to inspirational revelation.

China is a difficult context in which to work, but lessons learnt are nonetheless applicable to us all as believers, and in this regard I enclose a work on Christianity and other religions. This I have found to be an especially helpful boundary setting resource that God by his grace has helped me develop for the course. This proved decisive in working through the polytheistic religious context of China, and our own secular and denominational contexts that fail to acknowledge one true religion founded on the Lord Jesus Christ, and are often keener on state religion and denominational interpretations than they are on Jesus Christ. Those of you who are keen on Barth get ready for a healthy challenge to him in this resource!

in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Nick Bensted

PS Having read the resource I hope that the words 'Christianity is a relationship and not a religion' will never cross your tongue again, if they ever have! (said with respect and a smile). Too often the burden is on compromise among us. i.e. we want a relationship with God, but are not prepared to meet the exacting requirements of that relationship.

Christianity and other religions

This is an unashamedly academic approach to this topic, yet it is intensely practical in it’s outworking. Many Christians today glibly claim that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, simply as an excuse not to prove the reality of Jesus’ Lordship among those who profess God either falsely through another religion, or without thorough conviction in a mere ‘Christian’ denominational capacity. The implications of not making Christianity comparable to other religions in the proper way, following our Lord Jesus’ incarnation are very significant, leading on an international level to inappropriate approaches to war and terrorism, and among Christians to denominational divisions that deeply shame the Lord Jesus Christ.

So is Christianity in the proper context, a religion? And why is that significant?


The theologian Karl Barth's famous essay, 'The revelation of God as the abolition of religion' concentrates on the superlative of GOD to the extent that the abolition of religion is recommended. This treatise takes the view that this is based on an existentialist interpretation of the apostle Paul, and that Barth has not in fact got Jesus right here. Please refer to the final comment, following the quotation of Barth’s words in full for a proper explanation.

This view confuses the superlative of GOD and the 2nd person of GOD, the Lord Jesus Christ to the exclusion of the necessity of Christianity as the supreme religion, and the function of other religions in this life. Jesus Christ was a religious Jew and could not have made God's superlative comparable without this aspect of his being. Nevertheless he retained all the attributes of God in this, and this is the point Barth is trying to make perhaps, although he doesn't need to exclude the necessity of Christianity expressing it's truth among other religions in order to make it.[1]

It should become apparent to all Christians that we need to be cautious in our approach to comparative religion, ensuring we maintain focus on exalting God above all, and at all times.

  1. An example from the English language.

Adjective, comparative, superlative: high, higher, highest.

In comparative religion we must first of all remember that GOD is the highest or the Most High. He not only is this, and always has been this, he has proved this by coming amongst the religion of man, and yet still retaining all of who he is as God (Colossians 2 vs. 9-10).

Most High (intensifies the meaning of highest).

elyown: Most
Original Word: עֶלְיוֹן
Part of Speech: Adjective
Transliteration: elyown
Phonetic Spelling: (el-yone')
Short Definition: Most

I. עֶלְיוֺן22 adjective 1 high; — masculine singular ׳ע Deuteronomy 26:19Deuteronomy 28:11 Kings 9:8 (? reading ׳הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה הָע as 5L Benz) = 2 Chronicles 7:21, of ׳י Psalm 97:9.
2 upper Bethhoron, ׳ע Joshua 16:5 העליון 1 Chronicles 7:24; 2Chronicles 8:5, the upper (opposed to lower), of house Nehemiah 3:25; compare 2 Kings 15:35; 2Chronicles 23:20 5t., + Genesis 40:17 (uppermost basket); feminine singular הָעֶלְיוֺנָה the upper pool 2 Kings 18:17 = Isaiah 36:2Isaiah 7:3the highest side-chamber (צֵלָעEzekiel 41:7; feminine plural הָעֶלְיוֺנֹת Ezekiel 42:5 the upper chambers (לְשָׁכוֺת).
3 of Davidic king exalted above monarchs Psalm 89:28 (compare Deuteronomy 28:1, above).
II. עֶלְיוֺן noun masculine Highest, Most High (probably = foregoing); —
1 name of God Numbers 24:16Deuteronomy 32:8Psalm 18:14 = 2 Samuel 22:14Psalm 9:3Psalm 21:8Psalm 46:5Psalm 50:14Psalm 73:11Psalm 77:11Psalm 78:17Psalm 83:19Psalm 87:5Psalm 91:1Psalm 91:9Psalm 92:2Psalm 107:11Isaiah 14:14Lamentations 3:35,38; with other divine names: אל עליון Genesis 14:18,19,20,22 (see Di) Psalm 78:35יהוה עליון Psalm 7:18Psalm 47:3אלהים עליון Psalm 57:3Psalm 78:56.
5 of rulers, either monarchs or angel-princesבְּנֵי עֶלְיוֺן = אלהים Psalm 82:6.
[עֶלְיוֺןadjective id. (Biblical Hebrew id.); — plural of God, קַדִּישֵׁי עֶלְיוֺנִין (double plural, Buhl, as sometimes Biblical Hebrew, Ges§ 124q Köii. 1. 438 fDaniel 7:18,22,25,27.


Conclusion: we must build up the superlative reality of GOD in or lives if we are to impact other religions with the power and presence of the good news of Jesus Christ. This will certainly lead to more conversions!

The command to worship one LORD and God

The first and second commandments in the Old Testament are strongly focused on the idea that there is to be no other God besides the LORD.

Exodus 20 v.2 ‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me’.

verse 3 ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow to them or worship them: for I, the LORD your God am a jealous God punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments’.

The reference to idols and other gods is very much interlinked, since Israel’s worship of other gods was represented by worshipping and bowing down to idols. All worship of other gods includes the worship of a power or powers that are not Lord of creation, and therefore means some form of worship of created things will be involved. Other religions all involve being weighed down, or distracted and misshapen by a focus on created things. They have form, but not power as the New testament puts it (2 Timothy 3 v.5). The power of God comes from his love. Jesus Christ reinforces this Old testament focus, but puts in more positively, since he was fulfilling these laws!

‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. (Matthew 22 vs. 37-39).

  1. But how do we actually make a comparison with other religions? We could say we have already said enough. The comparison is implicit, since the general subject is religion, nothing more needs to be said other than to positively express Christianity.

e.g. Isaiah 40 v.18 “To whom then will you compare GOD? What image will compare him to…Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its peoples are like grasshoppers…

There is of course a great deal of mileage to this argument, but there are occasions in the Bible in which explicit comparisons, or proofs are made e.g. Elijah on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 and God’s comparison to the gods of other nations by choosing to be Israel’s God in particular. Indeed the incarnation is implicitly a comparison with other religions, since in becoming man, and especially a religious Jew, Jesus Christ instituted a comparison with other religions. An even greater extremity was endured in that Jesus Christ suffered at the hands of a false religion. However, in a remarkable way the character and attributes of GOD were retained and proved on the cross. Thus a comparison is certainly not to be feared, and more than appropriate in certain circumstances.

Colossians 2 v.15 ‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross!’.

  1. Although, the notion of comparative religion is unavoidable, as we have seen, we must still face the fact that making Christianity comparable is not the core missionary project, it is rather an aspect of the extension of the notion of God to all, including other religions. The three Abrahamic faiths could be understood to be under Abraham’s tent. But there is still the question of which faith erects the tent and makes the rules on religion. This is a further reminder of expressing God as a superlative reality. We need reminding because Satan is an arch-enemy, a deceiver, continually seeking to usurp the place of God.

  1. Satan seeks to occupy the minds and hearts of Christians with false gods and false religions. Instead of their minds being filled with love for God, he would rather their minds be led astray to the worship of other gods. The Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit – it is place of worship, that should be occupied and filled with the Holy Spirit, in order that he or she can worship the true and living God in spirit and in truth. Worship is literally ‘worth’ ship. It involves ascribing and assigning the worth that is due to God’s name. No other God is worthy of our worship. Other gods are not worthy of our undivided attention and loyalty- no-one and nothing can take second place to GOD. Only Jesus Christ is Lord, and only he is the Messiah.

  1. False spirituality

Messiah means anointed King and refers to the fact that only Jesus is the one to share an exclusive, perfect and undivided relationship with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit was and is unique. The Holy Spirit is described as ‘a wind from God’ in the beginning, and it was through the direction of the Son that he worked on creation and works today in the new creation.

Why is this information important in comparative religion? False religions seek to deceive Christians and others by a reference to spirituality. Yet this spirituality has no explicit connection with Jesus Christ, and so can be deceptive. The claim of the spiritual person is to know God, but one’s action can deny one’s language. Man is composite- body, soul and spirit and he needs a body in which to act out his faith. When taught a false religion or denied an active expression for a true faith, the Christian can be deceived by false spirituality- the collection of beliefs which are essentially untrue in terms of their belief system, but also in their incapacity to produce meaningful action in society.

  1. Christianity’s comparison with other religions is to be made only in the sense that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, and that no-one comes to the Father except through him. No other way of approaching God is the true way to do so. It is a lie or a deception. Not even the Old Testament sacrificial system, if relied on, can enable us to approach God today. The closest religious system to Christianity is obviously Judaism, but even this is judged to be false by Jesus Christ. (see the book of Hebrews for a close comparison).

  1. An enquiry into other religions is fraught with danger. We must first of all clearly mark out the boundaries of our own faith, before undertaking such a work. A Christian will very often have challenge enough simply studying Theology and philosophy and founding his thoughts sufficiently on Scripture, before engaging in detail on the complexities of other religions.

Appendix- extracts from Karl Barth’s essay, ‘The revelation of God as the abolition of religion’

‘..The image of God is always that reality of perception or thought in which man assumes and asserts something unique and ultimate and decisive either beyond or within his own existence, by which he believes himself to be posited or at least determined and conditioned. From the standpoint of revelation, man’s religion is simply an assumption and assertion of this kind, and as such it is an activity which contradicts revelation – contradicts it, because it is only through truth that truth can come to man. If a man tries to grasp at truth of himself he tries to grasp at it a priori. But in that case he does not do what he has to do when the truth comes to him. He does not believe. If he did, he would listen; but in religion he talks. If he did, he would accept a gift; but in religion he takes something for himself. If he did, he would let God himself intercede for God: but in religion he ventures to grasp at God. Because it is a grasping, religion is the contradiction of revelation, the concentrated expression of human unbelief, i.e. an attitude and activity which is directly opposed to faith. It is a feeble but defiant, an arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do, but now cannot do, or can do only because and if God himself creates it for him: the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God. We cannot therefore interpret the attempt as a harmonious co-operating of man with the revelation of God, as though religion were a kind of outstretched hand which is filled by God in his revelation.

Again, we cannot say of the evident religious capacity of man that it is, so to speak, the general form of human knowledge, which acquires its true and proper content in the shape of revelation. On the contrary, we have here an exclusive contradiction. In religion man bolts and bars himself against revelation by providing a substitute, by taking away in advance the very thing which has to be given by God ... He has, of course, the power to do this. But what he achieves and acquires in virtue of this power is never the knowledge of God as Lord and God. It is never the truth. It is a complete fiction, which has not only little but no relation to God. It is an anti-God who has first to be known as such and discarded when the truth comes to him. But it can be known as such, as a fiction, only as the truth does come to him ... Revelation does not link up with a human religion which is already present and practised. It contradicts it, just as religion previously contradicted reve- lation. It displaces it, just as religion previously displaced revelation; just as faith cannot link up with a mistaken faith, but must contradict and displace it as unbelief, as an act of contradiction ...

‘It is not inherent in the nature and concept of man that he should be unrighteous and unholy and therefore damned and lost. He was created to be the image of God, i.e. to obedience towards God and not to sin, to salvation and not to destruction. But he is not summoned to this as to a state in which he might still somehow find himself, but as one in which he no longer finds himself, from which he has fallen by his own fault. But this, too, is a truth which he cannot maintain: it is not present to him unless it comes to him in revelation, i.e. in Jesus Christ, to be declared to him in a new way – the oldest truth of all in a way which is quite new…’


‘The preceding expositions have established the fact that we can speak of ‘true religion’ only in the sense in which we speak of a ‘justified sinner’. Religion is never true in itself and as such. The revelation of God denies that any religion is true, i.e. that it is in truth the knowledge and worship of God and the reconciliation of man with God. For as the self-offering and self- manifestation of God, as the work of peace which God himself has concluded between himself and man, revelation is the truth beside which there is no other truth, over against which there is only lying and wrong. If by the concept of a ‘true religion’ we mean truth which belongs to religion in itself and as such, it is just as unattainable as a ‘good man’, if by goodness we mean something which man can achieve on his own initiative. No religion is true. It can only become true, i.e. according to that which it purports to be and for which it is upheld. And it can become true only in the way in which man is justified, from without; i.e. not of its own nature and being but only in virtue of a reckoning and adopting and separating which are foreign to its own nature and being, which are quite inconceivable from its own standpoint, which come to it quite apart from any qualifications or merits. Like justified man, true religion is a creature of grace. But grace is the revelation of God. No religion can stand before it as true religion.’


These extracts illustrate and explain Barth’s notion that there can be no ‘true religion’, apart from the notion of ‘justified sinner’. There is in fact very considerable truth to this as it is founded to a significant degree on the apostle Paul’s preaching. It is therefore a very considerable and weighty judgement to consider. However, to make such a distinction as has been noted is indeed an incidence of monophysitism, because it does not bring about the reality of Jesus’ Lordship. Jesus was only Lord because as Almighty God he came as a man, and in particular as one born under the Jewish law (Galatians 4 v.4). From the very circumstances of his birth, through to his death, resurrection and ascension there is an implicit ruling comparison, not an abolition of Judaism nor other religions. The language of ‘abolition’ is based on Barth’s existentialist interpretation of the apostle Paul, which is common today among many, who glibly say that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion without truly understanding what they mean and the implications. This gives them the opportunity to excuse themselves from the more difficult road of actually humbling themselves to make their Christianity comparable to other religions and to all cultures and peoples. If they did so they would find that their confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ would be from the heart and accompanied by his resurrection power.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Theology and Psychology

Teaching a set of A level Psychology tutorials recently left me thinking about the relationship between Psychology and Theology. I have now also finished preparing and teaching the first year of the All Nations Applied Theology course. A milestone! More on that later.

It has been argued by sociologists such as Comte, that modern science is a pinnacle of human evolution and achievement, a development that has outgrown theology and philosophy. In his book, ‘The God delusion’, Richard Dawkins also mentions Thomas Jefferson’s idea of removing Theology professorships. Despite this, they remain! On the other hand I have often heard theologians being a little dismissive of Psychology, as though their own knowledge of God means they don’t have psychological challenges! So what is the relationship between Theology and Psychology?

This is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but a short historical overview, which takes the idea of Psychology being a science seriously, as well as the historic contribution of Theology to knowledge and society. In fact Theology originally provided a framework for modern science, including Psychology and rightly understood still does. Modern science, as an independent structure and a development of philosophical science is really dependent on the development of empiricism in philosophy, the idea that we do not innately know, but need to test out theories through observation and analysis. Of course this rests on the idea that the data out there is reliable and consistent.

The above is an underlying assumption of science, but every scientist will know that although many scientific discoveries can be established as fact, theories need to be stretched, tested and reassessed to confirm, strengthen and extend existing knowledge. To the theologian God is a stable presence that remains to undergird and sustain reality as the Creator. This is reflected by the fact, that although man’s knowledge and thought processes have developed, the essential object of study remains constant – God and his creation. This is understood through faith in God’s guiding hand through history. A guidance, which modern science does not overturn, but helps us to understand. As Anselm of Canterbury put  it, ‘Faith seeking understanding’. Such understanding can come through science, but faith in God is still the final object.

In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament God is a Saviour, who travels with his people through their history. Through time God adapts to their circumstances, as a loving Father might adapt to the stages of childhood. However, this picture would be inadequate by itself, since it would it would deny the holiness of God. Being of heaven he is undisturbed by events upon the earth. He loves those who dwell there, and longs 
to save them, yet he is completely other than them, and in no way manipulated by them in any of his loving, kind and gracious acts towards them. God will disturb and even disrupt human history if his love as a Father is disregarded. In surveying history, and the development of thought, we must remember this crucial personal distinction. Otherwise, God will become subject to a human process- a situation that severely undermines his identity, and with it the future of those who are thoroughly dependent upon who he is. Historical evaluation of modern ideas is entirely necessary in Theology.

Augustine and the beginnings of western psychology

Augustine was the first to develop a clear notion of the Trinity in the western world. Augustine, although he had no knowledge of the Greek language, developed aspects of Plato’s thought to explain human psychology in relation to God. Perhaps his intention was to set limits on Greek philosophy through modelling humanity on the filoque in the Godhead. This formulation of the Trinity notes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whereas the Greek idea is more centred on the individual hypostases in the Godhead. It could be argued that the bond of love, as an emphasis, rather than that of knowledge, between the persons of the Godhead was an important source of his psychological insights. Yet it should be stressed than this can only be regarded positively as an emphasis.

Augustine used the following three aspects of life to describe human psychology and education. Love. object and knowledge. His view was that these three needed to be in proportion to one another. If knowledge outgrew love, it would be going beyond it’s limits as an expression of humanity. Was Augustine concerned about a disproportionate knowledge that objectifies another, without loving them as a person? One needs to know about human beings in order to know them, and so objective knowledge is necessary. The problem identified by Augustine it seems is that objective knowledge may well objectify people. We therefore need to consider what kind of objective knowledge we mean. In a modern scientific context Augustine does make sense here. Although, it may be that Augustine was only talking about proportion rather than kind, the distinction between a qualitative and quantitative knowledge is touched on. Excessive quantitative analysis objectifies people, leaving society without a quality of love that uses knowledge as a discipline, rather than using other people as things. Psychology should be seen as a discipline that does have objective knowledge of people, but does not objectify them, in the sense of not recognising the distinct qualities of individuals. Modern Psychology has advanced our objective knowledge, but this is not the kind of knowledge that inspires people to pour their lives out in service to others. Instead we are left with a science that gives us helpful insights into human nature, but has as its foundations the assumptions of material science leaving God and the Holy Spirit out of the picture.

The Reformation

brought the beginnings of the revelation that life is to be ordered by the word of God, rather than by the  ‘natural’ authority of  the church. A key difference between Augustine and Luther has important psychological implications for western individuality in relation to body and mind. Discipline in the Medieval era tended to be very harsh, in keeping with the idea that sin was something to be physically expunged. There was not so much of the clear concept of Jesus’ teaching that sin is first of all a problem of the human heart, meaning that it begins in the thoughts of a person, and cannot simply be dealt with by treating the body harshly. Perhaps the most important doctrinal difference between Luther and Augustine centres around the Latin phrase ‘simul justus et peccat’. This phrase means that Christians are both sinful and righteous at the same instant. It was a phrase that was quoted by both Luther and Augustine, but crucially they meant very different things by it. Augustine meant that in his body he was both sinful and righteous, whereas Luther meant that he was extrinsically righteous and intrinsically sinful. In other words by faith he psychologically perceived that God had justified him, whilst he still recognised that he did sin. This was a liberating truth enabling the Christian to proceed on the basis of God’s love and provision for human sin, rather than psychologically cramped by the guilt of one’s own failings.

Modern science through the reformation presented a larger picture of God, through the emphasis on personal knowledge of him through faith. This gave rise to a general confidence about reality, increasing the individual’s consciousness of God’s love and grace and the light that this shone on the human soul. Faith is a controlling influence on consciousness, helping a person to be guided by the core issues. . The knowledge of who we are, not only the dogmas of the church, is intimately related to how we understand God. Theology has a Psychology. Calvin, notes at the beginning of his Institutes, that this is a key issue to address. Given the vast scope of his influence, we may note this increased self-awareness as a staging post. The church’s understanding of reality needed to be substantially corrected by the word of God, and this ought to include some careful self-examination. This was Calvin’s major contribution to the western mind. Calvin worked out the reformed church’s faith systematically in relation to Scripture. This led to the structural institution of Christianity, strongly influencing the mind-set of the western world.

There are many further developments that could be explored, but for the last five centuries this mind set has remained generally fixed for reformed Christianity.


This has been written from memory, but I am aware of the following references and influences:

Comte, Augustus
Dawkins, R. ‘The God delusion’
McGrath, A. ‘Iustitia Dei, A history of the doctrine of justification by faith’
AQA A level text books in Psychology and Sociology

Thursday, 15 November 2012

An honest appraisal of Anglicanism

An honest appraisal of Anglicanism

Born an Anglican it is only recently that I have really seriously thought about the 
very idea of an Anglican church. (I am also a Pentecostal). 

The name sounds like it is a church for the English. I have listened to a number of 
bishops and other commentators on Anglican identity desperately trying to explain it, 
without success in my view. 

To my mind being an Anglican only really makes sense if one is in relation with
people from other nations as an equal. Anglican hierarchy doesn't make a lot
of sense. It is only when Anglicans are humble enough to get down on their
knees and pray with Christians from other denominations and work together
with them that we can actually see what Anglican identity is. 

If they are seriously intent on that it is not simply because they believe they
are equal, but also because they believe they have something profoundly
important to share. I suppose the fear is that no one will listen.  Sticking
to your intellect, education or to the belief that your theology is more orthodox
is easier to do. But all these are the very strengths of the Anglican church
which others would appreciate if only the time, effort and humility were taken to 
communicate them.

The truth is that an entrenched refusal to appreciate the immediate cultural
barriers of race renders the word Anglican in England a constant stumbling block. 
This is perhaps why many of the most effective Anglican Christians are not English,
but African. And there are more of them as well.

It is time for us to appreciate what it might cost someone to renounce their own
ethnic identity to become Anglican. Although we cannot be exactly sure of the reasons
why millions have done so, it does nevertheless tell us how precious Anglicanism actually is. 
Should we not be willing to share the many elements of Anglicanism that are properly Christian 
as widely as possible?

It is time for us to dig down deeper and realise the resources of God that are
placed within the Anglican tradition and to lay down our lives to share what
we have with the world.

Could this be one of the keys to something very special that God is about to do throughout
the world?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Advertising Inquiry


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Monday, 27 August 2012

The most influential book in the world

How to interpret the Bible

Of fundamental importance to human life is whether or not certain events actually took place or not. If they did not they are consigned to irrelevance or at least sidelined as far as a general canon of literature is concerned. Non-historical literature, although important reading for a politician on holiday, would never be essential reading for him when he is at work, at say the foreign office. 

In this regard, whether the Bible is or is not a history (natural or human) is crucial. We often hear about the Bible being history, but we really need to examine what that means. First of all, the Bible cannot simply be a history, since so much of it is unmistakably prophecy.

The first part of the Old Testament is the Pentateuch or the law. This was probably written by a prophet, and if not certainly strongly features the prophets Abraham and Moses. The second part of the Bible is referred to as the historical books. They are about the prophetic establishment of the Kingship by Samuel and the maintenance of the Kingship through the prophetic word (2 Sam. 7 vs. 1-18). Although bright Messianic hopes are born during this time, in many respects these books are concluded with dismal failure and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. Next comes the wisdom literature, not much prophecy here, although wisdom is crucial for keeping prophecy in check. During the exile the prophetic books (major and minor) come to feature more strongly again and these overtake the former prophets (Zechariah 1 v.6).

Prophetic history is a far more accurate summary of the Bible than history alone. But history it is nonetheless.

However, according to the Bible all history, and this is crucial to understand the Bible, is founded on God's word. The heavens and earth were created by God's word, and empires rise and fall by God's word. The most fundamental description of the Bible is that it is God's word. But this is in some respects too fundamental, and may become fundamentalist if it is pressed too hard. If those things that are mentioned in God's word did not actually take place in human and natural history, and the word of God cannot be established through these subjects, it will inevitably be sidelined and (perhaps politely) ignored.

Whether or not the Bible is a science or an art is also an important question, but science changes a great deal and art, perhaps more. To keep to task we need to know that the Bible is God's word, that the prophets and their New testament counterparts spoke that word, and that those words became established as human history.  The first principle of interpretation of the Bible should be (and in fact is) the establishment of human event, rather than comparing the Bible to works of art or the current knowledge of the day. In this regard the book of Genesis should be treated as any other book, and we should ask ourselves what is God saying through it in this in terms of human and natural event.

In fact the established principles of interpretation of the Bible are fivefold- literal/historical, allegorical, tropological (moral) and eschatological. The difficulty with many readings of the Bible since the Reformation is that they have been popularised.  The tendency is to say that (although this was not encouraged by Calvin and the reformers, on the contrary!) is that the Bible is to be interpreted and accommodated to current trends in art, science or the humanities. It is not interpreted historically as a substantial, classically and dynamically unchanging piece of God's work. This might be because of the fifth principle of interpretation, which was introduced at that time- accommodation. This noted that God accommodated for the lack of knowledge of the biblical characters, using language that they could personally grasp. This is  a very important principle truth, but if it is not held in tension with the other principles of interpretation it may fail to recognise that the crucial matter is that God said it, rather than the particular context in which it was said. If God says something it always has abiding significance, although we will of course need to search out the contemporary relevance and meaning.

The Bible is not subject to science, to art or to the humanities and social sciences, although knowing about these subjects can of course help us to read it with more depth and understanding. Assessing the extent of knowledge of the society concerned in a situation in the Bible, and comparing it unfavourably with a more developed one misses the point entirely. The Bible is a classic work of history. It records the most substantial and vital truths about God and human nature, which do not change.  An unfavourable comparison of the Bible with  more modern sources of knowledge also neglects the fact that wisdom can be lost over time as well as gained.

Applying the Bible

The matters discussed must go some way to explain why the Bible is of abiding significance, and is still the best selling book in the world, but it does not mean that the Bible becomes automatically relevant to education. The Bible must be applied to education or the next generation will not realise that it is God's history (and future) and therefore the foundational text of societies. It is by studying it, meditating on it, trusting it and believing it that we find hope!

Real application means comparing and contrasting God's word to the situation and seeing how the light of God can be thrown on it. This will inevitably mean that God's word will be read as though it has answers i.e. it will need to be believed and depended on! And this is the essential challenge. As Jesus said, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent'. (John 6 v.29). What does John's gospel ask us to believe? That the Son of God stepped into human history, and now everything is to be read in the light of the the fact that the Word, who was and is God, became flesh.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A theological structure for discourse on nature and society

The foundations of western society are widely accepted to have been influenced by reformed notions of the individual, and at the very least the possibility of a personal knowledge of God. The discussion of revelation and reason that has been conducted so far rests upon some of these assumptions. The theologian Karl Barth often spoke of the freedom of God's being, and this freedom from any human construct is again assumed in Trinitarian ontology, and even in theology more generally. This does raise some important questions regarding what theology has to say to society more precisely. Important as God's freedom maybe the inevitable question of how he speaks, lives and engages with society must be faced. Far from detracting from previous material covered this concern does in fact enhance the meaning of it by bringing it's relevance to bear more accurately and widely. To carry meaning God's transcendence will have to be seen in his economy. Perhaps an overemphasis on God's freedom have more to do with the accumulated cobwebs of Protestant liberalism than the clear and incisive voice of Scripture.

This problem of the social mediation of theological knowledge has been thoroughly addressed by the eminent evangelical theologian Professor Alister McGrath. Exactly how this is carried out is of vital importance since it lays the groundwork for the very foundations of education. McGrath's 'scientific theology' trilogy is a detailed and complex theological engagement with the modern epistemology of the natural sciences. Of primary importance to McGrath, given his thesis, is the term nature itself. Indeed he devotes an entire volume to this introducing it with the following words,

'This opening volume clarifies the general position to be adopted, before moving on to a detailed engagement with the concept of 'nature', which is of such decisive importance in any discussion of the relation of the natural sciences and theology…'

He later goes on to conclude:

'This process of mediation (of social concepts) means that our perception of what 'nature' means – or what it means to be 'natural' is covertly shaped by a series of influences, which deny us direct access to an allegedly neutral or self-sufficient notion of 'nature' itself….Nature itself offers no ontology as a means of categorical justification. It is an interpreted and socially mediated category. For the theologian this raises the critical question: given that 'nature' is an interpreted and mediated notion, what interpretation is to be preferred'.

The argument proceeds to advocate on the basis of this reasoning that the concept of nature needs to be reclaimed by a doctrine of creation. Yet there is an uneasy sense at this point that this is not a secure foundation to proceed from. And indeed McGrath notes shortly after that 'nature' offers 'little promise as a basis – or even a dialogue partner – for a scientific theology'. Is there therefore no objective notion of nature to be found? Nature here is contrasted with creation in an unusual manner. The idea that nature has no objective basis not only undermines classical philosophical foundations, more vitally it is without Scriptural precedent. Essentially this means a rejection of socially agreed ideas of nature, since they are assumed to have a fundamentally subjective quality - they are a matter of interpretation. Proceeding from the more secure basis of revelation we may note this to be a view that does not have adequate foundation. The plain meaning of Scripture debunks this at several points.

The prophetic literature describes God's use of the natural constructs of other nations to discipline Israel in her disobedience and wanderings from the secure words of her Lord. This is indeed socially mediated to Israel but it has an objective character because of the Lord's use of it in comparison to the unnatural ways of Israel.  An illustration of this principle is provided by the prophet Ezekiel who speaks to Israel in chapter 5 v.5 of the book that bears his name,

'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the centre of nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the countries and nations around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees'.

Whether or not nature is a meaningful notion does of course depend upon the ultimate mediator of the notion. Without a prophetic standard there is no secure way of knowing whether one notion of nature contains a substantial body of truth that another does not. As can be seen from the above this involves more than simply being in possession of Scripture, but the insight of Israel's prophets on the relative value of the ways of life of nations and communities. Nothing could be more important and relevant than this in the current 2011 European debt crisis. This serves to highlight how vital the concept of socially mediated notions of nature are. As McGrath notes the Christian notion of nature is essentially undergirded by a doctrine of creation (see earlier treatment in this work), and therefore carries a distinct identity, but this needs to be rightly set against the socially mediated notion of nature that is carried by the various national institutions of a country. The ideas of nature carried by institutions are not socially mediated alone. According to the prophets they are in fact a kind of social scientific yardstick in the hands of the Lord. There are indeed question marks as to whether the natural sciences as a 'pure' focus can act as a sufficient measure to mediate the theological knowledge brought to us by the prophets, and by the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit's power. Could it be that the enlightenment focus on the sciences has caused us to miss some of the larger targets that the social sciences set their sights upon?

In all the interesting discussion on nature we should one important fact: that we are in fact often inclined to worship nature and so the gathering of the knowledge about it. It is all too easy to construct an idol out of particular types of knowledge. Even the concept of nature itself is thrown into relief by the revelation of the Lord. The prophet Isaiah notes in chapter 40 of the book that bears his name.

'Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing'.

This is not cause to abandon the concept of nature in theology. But it is clear some strong re-evaluation is necessary! The focus in this verse is on the theological deconstruction of nature, to which McGrath may be referring. But if God is understood to be the prime force of good in the world we must find some way of understanding how it is that he is at work in nature and society. And there is plenty of evidence in Scripture to support the idea that God uses the pagan concept of nature to make statements in the world concerning himself, although for the Christian this notion can only remain distinguished when it is recognized that God sees nature with personal objectivity as the Creator and sustainer thereof.