Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Jesus Walked on Water So You Don’t Have To!

When Jesus walked on the water, He didn’t come along urging His disciples to step out of the boat. He wasn’t doing it to show the disciples what they should be doing. He didn’t walk on water to give them a great challenge. He wasn’t calling them out of the boat to walk on the water FOR HIM. No! It’s the other way round entirely. Jesus walked on the water for THEM.

But, you ask, what about Peter? He stepped out of the boat. Surely we should be like him?! Well, maybe not. Three of the Gospels tell us of Jesus walking on the water, yet only Matthew mentions what Peter did, which suggests that Peter’s role wasn’t the most important part of what was going on. For, you see, this miracle is all about Jesus and points us to Him, not Peter. It’s Jesus who is at the centre.

And what does Matthew really tell us about Peter anyway? Does he tell us that this was a fantastic thing that Peter did and that all the other disciples should really have done the same thing? Does he urge us to follow Peter’s example? No, not at all!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

We eat His flesh; We drink His blood: An Apostolic View of the Breaking of Bread

I wrote a journal article a few years ago on the theology of the Breaking of Bread among the early Apostolics in the UK. (You can find basically the same material in pp.6-13 of this paper.) The basic jist was that D.P. Williams and other early Apostolics didn't believe that the Lord's Supper was just a memorial. (They weren't Zwinglians!)

So the other day I was getting quite excited to find some new material that I hadn't seen before from D.P. Williams on the Lord's Supper, where he writes that at the Table, 'we eat His flesh; we drink His blood.' (And before anyone gets carried away and thinks that I or D.P. Williams have gone Roman Catholic and started to advocate transubstantiation, have a look here.)

Anyway, for some reason this non-Zwinglianism doesn't seem to be all that well known a fact. And today I think I might have discovered why that is.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Pentecostal Theologies: 2 Reviews

I've been trying all week to write a review of Amos Yong's Renewing Christian Theology to post here. The problem is I've written about 3 different reviews now, and each time it turns into a massive essay. So maybe I'll come back to it again, for there is a lot in there that I'd like to interact with (and by that I suppose I really mean argue strongly in the other direction). But in the meantime, I thought I'd just post here the short review I wrote for Amazon. And while I'm at it I'll give you a quick (and much more positive)  review I wrote for Amazon of another recent work of theology by a Pentecostal systematician: Simon Chan's Grassroots Asian Theology.


Amos Yong with Jonathan A. Anderson, Renewing Christian Theology: Systematics for a Global Christianity (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014)

Academically, this will be a significant book. It's engaging, constructive, provocative, and incredibly readable too. Particularly to be appreciated is Yong's application of theologia crucis to Pentecostal distinctives.

Catechetically (i.e. for teaching the faith in the church) this won't be a helpful book. (But then, that's not what it was written for in the first place!) It's light on several key doctrines (Person of Christ/Hypostatic Union, orthodox Trinitarianism) and doesn't even touch on others such as faith, grace, works and justification. It's also, at significant moments (e.g. doctrine of Scripture, nature of the atonement, approach to other religions), considerably removed both from traditional Classical Pentecostal theology (think Pearlman, Williams, Arrington, or Horton) and from the beliefs of typical Pentecostal churchgoers (at least in the UK).

Monday, 1 September 2014

Going to University in Leeds? Looking for a Church?

Sorry to my regular readers, but I'm hijacking my own blog today. September has rolled around and the new academic year will soon be upon us, which will mean tens of thousands of students arriving in Leeds at the University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan/Leeds Beckett University, and Leeds Trinity University, as well as the colleges. So, I thought I'd write today to any new students coming to Leeds and looking for a church when you get here. (And if you happen to know any students heading off for university in Leeds this year, then pass this on to them!)

1) Why it's important to get into a church right from the beginning of your time at university

The first few weeks at university are full of new experiences, busyness, and getting used to a new routine and a new way of life. So sometimes new students are tempted to think 'Oh, I'll find a church in a few weeks when everything's calmed down a bit and life is less busy.' The problem is that things don't really calm down a bit, life's never really less busy, and and you've started the habit of putting off going to church.

In fact, church isn't another busy thing to add to your first week. No - it's a rest from the busyness of your new uni life. True, it might not be the same people and things might not be done the same way as your church back at home, but even despite the differences, there will be something there that's the same — or, rather, someone. Jesus is the same. And even if you don't know anyone in your new church yet, even if all the songs are different, even if it doesn't have the same weekly round of meetings that you're used to at home, the most important thing is exactly the same: Jesus.

Friday, 29 August 2014

A Pentecostal Reflection on Contemporary Worship and Consumerism

Here's a very important reflection on contemporary worship from Pentecostal theologian Simon Chan's latest book. Read and reflect.
Much has been said in recent years about the "dumbing down" of worship and the conspicuous absence of a sense of reverence and awe in so-called contemporary worship. But the underlying problem is a culture of consumerism and self-fulfilment. The church is expected to be a service provider to meet the needs of its consumer members. In this consumerist context, people are not likely to encounter anything like the fascinans et tremendum that humans experience in the presence of the holy God. Traditional words such as "holy", "praise", "honor", and "majesty" are still freely bandied about, but for the modern Christian, worship is largely a personal experience in a celebratory and friendly atmosphere. There will be a lot of acclamations about God's goodness, love and intimacy, but little that suggests the awesome presence that elicits reverence and awe, fear and trembling (Heb 12:28-29; Ps 96:8-9) leading to bowing or prostration (Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 1:17). The inability to understand these qualities has resulted in considerable shrinking of modern worship.
(Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology, pp.88-89)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Basil on Baptism

While we're on the topic of baptism, here's a really interesting excerpt from Basil the Great on the relationship between baptism and faith, and the question of how baptism now saves.
Well, then, if the separation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son in baptism is dangerous for the baptizer and useless for the baptized, how is it safe for us to separate the Spirit from the Father and the Son? Now faith and baptism are two ways of salvation that are naturally united with each other and indivisible. While faith is perfected by baptism, baptism is established by faith, and each is carried out by the same names. For as we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so also we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The confession that brings salvation comes first and there follows baptism which seals our assent.
(Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 12,28)

Now, Basil is not one of the church fathers about whose theology I know a great deal (I think On the Holy Spirit is probably the only work of Basil's that I've read). But this paragraph has always struck me. And here's why:

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Baptism Saves - well, that's what the Bible says!

I was preaching about Noah on Sunday, and while the account of Noah and the flood may be found in Genesis, you can’t think about Noah without wrestling with a Scripture from the other end of the Bible – 1 Peter 3:18-22. Peter specifically writes about Noah and the Ark and makes the connection with us and our salvation, but along the way he perhaps leaves us good evangelicals with a few awkward questions. While one of those questions might be about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison, the more pressing question is probably the one found in verse 21, where Peter tells us that baptism ‘now saves us’!

Why does Peter say that? Why does he say that baptism ‘now saves us’? Well, remember, this is the Word of the LORD. It’s not just Peter’s ideas – it’s God’s very words. So it’s definitely true what he says.

So, what exactly does Peter say now saves us?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Abel was a Christian

A while back I wrote about how Eve was a Christian. Well, her son Abel was a Christian too. We're not told about what happened while Cain and Abel were growing up, but it's clear that their mum and dad must have told them about the Lord Jesus. Undoubtedly Adam and Eve told the boys about what had happened in the Garden before they were born — about the Serpent, the Sin, the Sanction and the Saviour (Gen. 3). So that’s how the boys know about sacrifices.

So when the time came and Cain and Abel brought their own sacrifices, there was a difference between them. But what was the difference between their sacrifices? Well, there are two obvious differences in the text. Firstly, they bring different things (Gen. 4:3-4) and, secondly, the LORD looks on them in different ways. 'And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.' (Gen. 4:4-5)

But why the difference? It doesn’t say directly — so it must be sth obvious! Now, remember, the normal way to read a book is to start at the beginning and keep going. (I know that sounds very obvious – but sometimes we forget that with books of the Bible, and sometimes we know the stories very well outside the context of the biblical book they’re in.) So, normally you’d read Genesis 4 immediately after reading Genesis 3. And, when we see this contrast between plants and animals here in these sacrifices in Gen. 4, we’d have just read of a contrast between plants and animals in Gen. 3 — the contrast between fig leaves and the death of a substitute.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Some Examples of How the Words We Sing Really Do Matter

Okay, so I promised last week that I'd give some examples of song lines that really do matter. I almost hesitate to give any examples, as I really don't want to upset anyone. Yet, if I can't even point out a few concerning song lines in writing, how could I explain the problem to someone face to face? So, please don't be upset if I critique your favourite song, but here goes.

I'll start with an easy one. And it's an old one too (just to prove that I'm an equal opportunities critic). I think I'm already known in certain circles (especially in my church and in my family) as the pastor who doesn't like Away In A Manger! (In my defense, I'd just like to point out that I am not the only pastor in the world who doesn't like it.) How could I possibly object to such a lovely Christmas carol? Because of one line. One line which gives a very false impression of who Jesus is. Which line is this? 'The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.' But the little Lord Jesus did cry. God the Son didn't just come into this world with the appearance of a baby. No! He took to Himself true and full humanity. He was a real baby in Bethlehem. And real babies cry. So the little Lord Jesus didn't just gaze silently around the stable. No. He cried. He relied on His mother to feed Him and change His nappy (or whatever the ancient equivalent was). He took on true humanity and lived as a true human baby.

And that's very important for us and for our salvation. For, as Gregory of Nazianzus helpfully pointed out back in the 4th Century, 'the unassumed is the unhealed' (Letter 101.5). In other words, if Jesus hadn't taken on every aspect of our humanity, then He couldn't have saved every aspect of us. Jesus hasn't just saved our souls - He's saved us a whole people. So the crying baby in the manger is very good news indeed.

But let me move right up to date for another two examples. They both come from Hillsong, from musically interesting, quite catchy songs. The first song is Oceans, which I've heard everywhere lately — from evangelical Anglican churches to Pentecostal ones. And I have to admit, as a song I really like it. There's something about it that makes you not mind at all that it's over 8 minutes long and still want to listen to it again. But, as theology I find it concerning.

Why? It's particularly the first verse that worries me:

Monday, 18 August 2014

Eden, the Spirit and the Goal of Redemption

I’ve been preaching from Genesis of late, which has made me think a lot about the Garden of Eden and man’s estate (to use the old theological term) before the Fall. I’ve also been reading quite a lot from one of my very favourite theologians of all time – Cyril of Alexandria – who has helped me quite a bit in thinking about Eden.

The verse I’m really thinking of here is Genesis 2:7 which tells us that ‘the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.’ I somewhat worry that so often in our concern for defending the historicity and truth of the Scriptural account of creation we can actually end up getting sidelined from the most important aspects of the first few chapters of Genesis. (I’m not at all saying that the historicity and truth of these chapters is unimportant in any way, I’m simply saying that preaching on Genesis 1 and 2 – i.e. proclaiming Christ – is not the same as a lecture on historicity.) And Genesis 2:7 is a hugely important verse from which we wouldn’t want to get distracted.

What does Genesis 2:7 tell us? If our primary concern is merely with defending creationism we may easily get distracted here and see it as no more than a verse that speaks directly against evolution. But I’m convinced that it tells us a lot more than that. Genesis 2:7 isn’t just about the fact that man was created by a special act of God. Firstly, it shows us that man was created in a different way from the animals. The LORD God Himself – that’s the Word of God through whom all things were created (Gen. 1:3; John 1:3; Col. 1:16), who walked in the Garden (Gen. 3:8,10), the Word who is the Son who makes the Father known (John 1:18), i.e. the Lord Jesus – in loving condescension stooped down to the dust of the earth and formed the man. He had simply commanded the earth to bring forth the animals (Gen. 1:24), but He Himself stoops down to mould and fashion the form of the man. And how does the Lord Jesus give life to this man whom He has formed? By ‘breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life.’