Mush Watch

I went with the family to WEC last night. The service was pretty good. To my surprise Philip Hacking was the speaker.

Afterwards, I was reflecting with Susan on one of the songs we sang on the way home. Now everyone chooses a bad song to sing now and again, so I am not challenging the one who chose it, but this was a particularly bad song. It can be found here. The last verse goes


Father, I love You
Come satisfy the longing in my heart
Fill me, overwhelm me
Until I know Your love deep in my heart

Now it is not that I am against experiences and feelings when in relationship to God. Would that we had more, in some ways. It’s just that the theology is so bad, misleading and damaging.

As I began to sing the last two lines, Romans 5:8 popped into my head:

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)

Note the difference. In the song we are praying that the Father will make his love known through a feeling. The Scripture tells us God the Father makes his love known through a demonstrable fact. The song makes no references at all to the objective facts of redemption. In fact, it is not even distinctively Christian! As you might guess, I didn’t sing those lines after all.

Susan put my concerns rather succinctly: I don’t need to know God’s love as a feeling. I need to know God’s love just like I know tomorrow is Monday.

Isn’t she wise? That’s such a good statement!

Mush Watch

Mixed Up

So, things get worse in the Anglican Communion. There was a chap being interviewed on BBC Breakfast this morning who is on the General Synod (whatever that is). He was arguing that the division that we see is all about culture not about theology.

Pardon?

Is he deaf? blind?

Anyway, he went on to argue that as communication improves and as more and more Africans gain the courage to ‘come out’ the church there will have to compromise on the homosexual issue. In other words, some time in the future ‘they’ will catch up. Not only is this view gravely in error (it is about theology – the theology of man, of marriage) but it also demonstrates the tendency of the Western elite to patronise the poor. Yes, one day they too shall be as enlightened as we have made ourselves!

Aside from all that, there was something much, much, much more important! Did you see what he was wearing!? He looked like a typical clergyman, at least from the neck to the waist – black clerical shirt, little white Fairy liquid collar thing. But above he was a hippy. Below, the jeans of a thirty-something Dad at the weekend. It was a bit like these kiddies books you get where each page has a picture of a person in a different outfit, but the pages are split in three so you can mix and match! You know, woman in flowery hat, policeman’s tunic, frogman’s legs. That kind of thing.

The interviewee didn’t seem to know what he was. Summarises the Anglicans, really.

Mixed Up

Harry’s Insight

Here’s an interesting start to an article at Harry’s Place on religion and politics in the US:

Religions die in a number of ways. First, they can be put to the sword and flame: the fate of Zorastrianism at Alexander the Great’s hands. Second, they can go underground, as Marranos Jews did during the Inquisition (and, some might say, Zoroastrians did in Persia), until the hidden faith mutates in the minds of the forgetting generations into something only half understood. Third, in a liberal society, the children of the religious just find that they have better things to do with their time.

Good comment, but in the UK it’s not just the children of the religious that have better things to do with their time – it’s the self-professed religious these days!

The rest of the article is a bit patronising, but the start is good…

Harry’s Insight

More Blogroll Changes

Recently I was telling a friend that I had removed a couple of blogs from my blogroll. These were blogs from the “emergent church” faction of the blogosphere, which, after some consideration, I could not recommend or suggest that I approved of.

After further consideration today I felt it necessary to take a further step in this direction with the removal of those asociated with the so-called “Federal Vision”. I confess I am not able to mount a robust argument against FV – I await the time to study the issue in depth. However, I am sufficiently concerned about it that I feel it necessary to remove any suggestion that I support it by listing their blogs.

I make an exception for any who blogroll Doggie’s Breakfast. My reciprocation I see as a common courtesy.

More Blogroll Changes

The Spirit and Interpreting Scripture

A few days ago I posted a quote from Moises Silva’s book Interpreting Galatians. He was proposing that, all other things being equal, the accuracy of the exegesis of passage of Scripture would be no better for spiritual believers as it would for unspiritual unbelievers.

It was quite a surprise to read this, and one is tempted immediately to reject the idea. Surely a believer, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is much better able to get to the real meaning of the text of Scripture? This seems to be the accepted view. Silva cites Bruce Waltke to this effect. As a check, I looked at my copy of Know the Truth by Bruce Milne (easier than wading through my John Owen tomes) and found a section in it headed “Scripture can be interpreted only by the Holy Spirit”. In other words, it seems, the unbeliever has no chance. Waltke argues that the espousal of Enlightenment values has led to the percieved diminution of the role of the Spirit in exegesis.

Silva’s argument against Waltke is based on two pieces of evidence. Firstly, the scientific method of exegesis seems to work. Unbelievers do get it right. Secondly, many believers come up with bizarre interpretations. Silva therefore asserts that there is no discernible correlation between spiritual health and interpretation.

The interesting element of Silva’s argument comes when he tries to explain this apparent phenomenon. He believes that the key to this question is understanding the nature of the Bible. It is both human and divine. In one sense it is “just another book”, but in another it is completely unique. The human elements of the book lend themselves to human enquiry, independent of spiritual state. For example, the understanding of the Greek language is a scientific endeavour subject to rules and procedures. It is analogous, says Silva, to the procedure for driving a car. There is no reason why the spiritual state of the driver should have any bearing on the quality of the driving. So too with exegesis.

However, the Holy Spirit witnesses to us that we are God’s children, helps us to understand the things of God, transforms our hearts in obedience. These are things that happen as believers read and meditate on the Scripture, which cannot happen to the unbeliever.

It seems to me that in this view, the Holy Spirit takes the ‘knowing’ of the believer from mere knowledge of what the Bible is saying to knowing that it is true and, where appropriate, that it is true for him/her. Ultimately, the Spirit testifies to the truth of the relationship that the believer has with God.

All well and good. The only problem I have with this division of human/divine is that there remains the possibility that a believer can be way off track in interpretation, and therefore get the wrong idea of what the Bible is saying and still be called a ‘believer’. But there are certain elements of biblical revelation that must be believed to be true for the person to be a believer. If the individual gets the exegesis of any part Scripture wrong, the Spirit can’t testify its truth. The work of the Holy Spirit would be contingent upon the correct application of the scientific method of exegesis. This can’t be so. Therefore, doesn’t that mean that the Spirit must play some role in attaining a correct interpretation, at least in the key areas?

But what about Silva’s two points of evidence against this idea? A closer inspection of Silva’s assessment of the evidence for or against a correlation between spirituality and accurate interpretation does seem rather flimsy and subjective.

I’m afraid at this moment I must conclude that Silva is wrong.

The Spirit and Interpreting Scripture

Ruined

The Bible shouts loud and clear that God is holy. But God’s holiness is no mere abstract idea. It defines how our lives must be:

Be holy, because I am holy.
(1Peter 1:16, NIV)

Isaiah did not just see the words about God’s holiness written on a scroll. He had a vision which he recorded in Isaiah 6. It had a profound effect on him and on the seraphs surrounding God’s throne, each I suggest for different reasons.

Firstly, the seraphs in the vision are themselves holy in their life and conduct. There is no grubbiness of sin about them. But their reaction before God is maybe surprising. They cover up their faces and feet with their wings. What caused this? I suggest that the gulf between God as creator and them as creatures is so vast that they feel compelled to do so. God is so very ‘other’ than his creatures.

Secondly, Isaiah’s immediate response to the vision is to become acutely aware of his sins. He knows he is “a man of unclean lips”. Well, who knows what “unclean lips” meant! In our day profanity and vulgarity are commonplace and we just live with it. So it might be difficult to imagine such an extreme response from Isaiah. But it reminds us that anyone who comes before God (and we all shall) will become intensely aware of his every moral failure, great or small. God’s holiness makes this inevitable.

The awareness of our sin is not just new interesting information about ourselves, like doing some kind of Myers-Briggs personality test. It carries implications. The consequences of moral failure, having seen God, led Isaiah to cry out, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” He knew he was in deep trouble, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

One day we all will see God. We will all sense our impending ruination, unless we are saved somehow.

Ruined

Getting to the Meat

When I was a kid, my palate was not very sophisticated. Besides, I just wasn’t interested in eating. I would much rather play instead. So, I used to have real difficulty identifying what kind of meat I was eating. (Not that I cared much.) Was this lamb, beef, pork, turkey? I was confused. It was funny for my parents. Eventually I got teased about it. “No, it’s Giraffe!” they would jokingly say.

Like most kids gradually I learned. One of the key indicators to what I was eating was what went with the meat on the plate. Mint sauce with lamb, apple sauce with pork, tartare sauce with fish (fish? – yup, I began to joke about it too) etc.

When reading the Bible there are certain things we consider the real meat and certain things we consider the embellishments – sauces, garnishes etc. Prepositions can be treated as the parsley on the hollandaise sauce – nice, if you like that sort of thing, but disposable if you don’t. Either way let’s get to the real meat!

However, the importance of prepositions shows up in this pair of verses from Paul:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.Romans 8:3,4 (NIV)

How did you read it? In this case it seems to me that the preposition is crucial. Often we read

… the law might be fully met in us …

as

… the law might be fully met for us …

Did you get the difference? In other words, often we read this verse, which is about our ongoing sanctification (‘in us’), as a verse about the atonement (‘for us’).

There are some people who take the view that the law has no place in the life of the believer. They want to read the Scriptures in this way. Therefore, the idea that the God might be doing something with the law in us, they say, is unacceptable. “For us”? Yes, on the Cross. “In us”? No, the law is obsolete.

But you can only take this view if you ignore the garnish. Here, the prepositional garnish is an essential pointer what the doctrinal meat is. Yes, we can try and do without it – “lets get to the meat!” we say. But this attitude makes for a pretty dull meal, which may consist of a slab of something we find difficult to identify.

Getting to the Meat