NT Wright in the Times
A couple of weeks ago there was a nonsense letter in the Times about Scripture, faith and reason being the pillars of the Anglican church, with the conclusion that we can only read the Bible in the light of Enlightenment (and in particular German critical) thinking. The point being, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have no place in the Anglican communion. NT Wright replied brilliantly, with a very helpful assessment of what tradition (not faith) and reason have in the place of the church – in essence, being tools to interpret Scripture, no more. His letter is worth repeating – especially if you're the kind of preacher that needs, from time to time, to demolish the liberal interpretation argument.
Sir, The Church of England, says Peter Nancarrow (letter, Oct 8), “rests upon scripture, faith and reason”. The normal trio is actually “scripture, tradition and reason”. Classic Anglican theology does not see these as equal and parallel “sources”, to be played off against one another. They are interlocking methods. As we read the scriptural accounts which converge upon Jesus (on whom alone the Church rests), we do so in an ongoing dialogue with tradition (what the Church has said down the years) and with the proper use of reason (ruling out arbitrary, fanciful or speculative readings). This remains a complex and exhilarating task, not to be captured by caricature. The idea that the so-called “wings” of the Church “deny the intellectual progress marked by the Enlightenment” ignores most of the leading theological and biblical studies of the last generation, which have taken on the Enlightenment’s proper questions but frequently come up with different answers. In any case, “the intellectual approach of the present age” is hardly that of the Enlightenment. The massive and multilayered critique offered by “postmodernity” on the one hand, and actual contemporary historical scholarship on the other, has refuted or made redundant many 19th-century critical theories, including those of the Tübingen school, cited by Mr Nancarrow. To suggest that a “middle liberalism”, in between the two “wings”, is the natural result of using one’s intellect to grapple with 1st-century texts must itself be challenged, as much in the name of “reason” itself as of scripture, tradition, or anything else.
The Right Rev Professor N. T. Wright, St Mary’s College, St Andrews
Good listening on iTunesU
We've launched a very small extension programme for Cornhill this year, targeted at those who, for whatever reasons, choose or are unable to go on to further study, but want to continue to learn. It's an exciting idea – and as part of it, I've been catching up with some of the excellent resources at iTunesU where several US colleges have put material online. This morning I walked over London Bridge (bike is sick) to the dulcet tones of Carl Trueman. He has a nice way of bringing history alive with asides and quips that make it enjoyable and instructive. Take this morning, on early medieval iconclasm. I paraphrase: "the way to get young men involved in church is to give them something to smash up and tell them they're doing it for the Lord." Tongue in cheek, of course, but brings Alcuin of York to life.
Here are three of the best (search through iTunes)
- Carl Trueman on Medieval Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary)
- David Wells Theological Survey (Gordon Conwell)(two series)
- John Frame on pastoral and social ethics (Reformed Theological Seminary)
When circumstances make us bonkers
I had to stay at home briefly the other morning to meet someone so, for a change, I was around for Radio 4's Thought for the Day. It was Lucy Winkett and – not to put too fine a point in it – she was bonkers. I'm not sure how much of what she said she actually believes, or how much she was trying to say Christian things in a way that people who weren't Christians understood. But it was still bonkers.
Before we cast too many stones, I'm sure that all of us shape what we say by circumstances. That's right and good, and part of being as wise as a serpent. But whilst circumstances should shape language and how we present things, it should not change the heart of what we say. We might want, at a funeral, say, to speak sensitively of the judgement to come, but we should not deny its reality.
It's a fine line. And in seeking to step carefully along it, I'm sure we often err both one and the other. But one thing is sure – if we start changing the gospel, however well meaning we may be – we are just as bonkers as Canon Lucy.
When you're studying a passage, inevitably you want to ask questions of the text to which there are not always answers. That's fine and good. And it's OK to think what the answers might be and whether they scan when comparing Scripture with Scripture. But it is easy to make too much of this kind of groundwork for application which must always be, at best, somewhat speculative.
Take Ezra 2, for example. It's a long list of names of those who returned to Jerusalem in 538BC. Names are grouped (broadly speaking) by leaders, geography, family and role and there are not a few mysteries. Take Nehemiah (Ezra 2.2). Who he? Could it be that the eponymous hero of the second part of this story made an early visit to Jerusalem? No wonder that he was so moved by the state of the capital in Nehemiah 1.
There's nothing in the immediate text to suggest yay or nay, but do some basic background work and you will discover that Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in Nehemiah 1 in the year 445BC. Even if he were a very young adult leader in Ezra 2, that would make him at least 115 by the time of Nehemiah. Highly unlikely. That's a clear avenue of application to avoid.
But sometimes there are no answers. Take the small number of Levites who returned (compare Ezra 2.40 with Ezra 8.15-19 and 1 Chronicles 23). Why so few? I don't think there's a clear Scriptural answer. Fensham suggests that it may be because their work was lowly and so they didn't want to return. Possibly. but, do you see, there's no way of cross checking that fact, and so, I would suggest, that is not a legitimate line of application: "even if your work is lowly, you should still be committed to it."
It's not that it's unbiblical (See Col 3.23, for example). But it's not derived from the text and so it's you making a point, rather than God making a point, if you preach it that way.
Five things that have gone
Preachers are always behind the times. Here are five things no longer available, just in case you've forgotten. Many preachers do.
- Berni Inn. 1997.
- Russell Harty. 1988.
- Posthouse hotels. 1996.
- The Old Covenant. 33AD. Important one this. We cannot preach the Old Covenant. It is finished. When preaching from the Old Testament, therefore, we must preach the New Covenant. Duh!
Serving God’s words
Peter Adam has recently retired as principal of Ridley Melbourne having reached the milestone of his sixty-fifth birthday. IVP have published a Festschrift which is meant to accompany his two volumes (Speaking God's words and Hearing God's words – now called Written for us). Entitled, Serving God's words, it has some excellent essays in it which will stimulate the mind and heart. Contributors include Don Carson, David Peterson, our own Mr D Jackman Esq, Peter Jensen and Gerald Bray (see full list of contributions here).
There is a consistently high standard of contribution, including the slightly idiosyncratic (but ultimately worthwhile chapter on the use of the Homilies today by Gerald Bray). But for the purpose of this review I want to pick up on the chapter by Michael Raiter. Michael is the Director and Founder of the Centre for Biblical Preaching in Melbourne. He has written a chapter on unction, entitled "The Holy Hush." It's a careful and measured response to the sometimes difficult territory of what it means to preach in the power of the Spirit, especially engaging with Lloyd-Jones and some of the Acts and 1 Corinthian texts. It's a useful chapter because Raiter starts off by describing one situation where he experienced the so-called 'hush.' He's got no axe to grind, therefore; but he wants to understand the experience biblically and know how to pray for his ministry and others. Is it really true. as EM Bounds puts it, that "there is a wide spiritual chasm between the preacher who has it and the one who has not"?
It's getting to be a cliché, but it's worth the price of the book, I think. I'm glad the good folk at IVP pressed ahead with this book, despite it being somewhat niche. I hope it finds a wide readership.
Underestimating the enemy
I did enjoy the Ryder Cup. Incredible golf and astounding drama all rolled into one. And, of course (sorry US readers) drubbing the home team. Well, scraping by at least. No one can deny the drama. It was especially precious because Europe had been written off Sunday morning (and not just by those West of here). Here, for example, is a delightful ESPN article which makes delicious reading in the light of later events (it's gone viral).
It's a reminder, however, that it is possible to underestimate the enemy. Evangelicals probably waver between two extremes when it comes to the activity of Satan – overestimation where we see him under every stone (strange, because he's not omnipresent), and underestimation, where we see him not at all. My sin is the latter, I'm sure. Partly this may be shaped by our particular eschatology – whether pan, post, a etc. Partly it may be shaped by our reaction against certain excesses we see elsewhere. But he is real, dangerous and – though the vanquished – present. Preachers need particular wisdom to fight his guiles and prowling nature (1 Peter 5.8).
Carrie on tour
It's been too long since Carrie Sandom, who runs our women's ministry stream, spoke at The Gospel Coalition women's conference. Here she is.
Pray now, use later
Here's a very exciting project. It's the latest in UCCF's gospel reading initiatives and, I think, the best so far. It's called Uncover and is Luke's gospel in a small pocket moleskine format with space for notes and occasional QR codes (don't worry, oldies, they're students, they'll get it) which link through to videos and other material. It's not overloaded with notes – there's space to let the gospel speak for itself. I'm very excited about the potential for getting students reading the gospel.
Please pray for this. It's a huge project being taken up by lots of CUs – some of whom will be more comfortable doing this kind of thing than others. Some will be stretched. There will be discouragements – and, we trust, a whole heap of encouragements and, most importantly, gospel success. It's not wrong or ungodly to pray for this!
But if you're very excited about the idea of using something similar yourself, you've got to wait a bit. The pocket book gospels will be more widely available, probably from next Easter on. But you needn't wait for the resource. Why not start reading with a friend now…?
On the value of notes…
I had a note last week that meant the world. Short, simple, straightforward. And it brought the warmest encouragement to my heart.
I often try, as a pastor-teacher, to send such notes. We often – in our moments of self pity – think that people should be sending us such communication. And of course, isn't it lovely and delightful when people do? But actually, we didn't sign up for that. We are the servants of our people – not the other way around. And a great way to serve is to write. So get yourself a pen, a postcard and consider writing 140 characters to someone in your church. Wait, that's Twitter, but it's the same principle.
"Lovely to see you on Sunday"
"Hope the Lord is sustaining you through the hard times you're experiencing"
"Great to hear you pray in the prayer meeting"
"Thank you for reading the Scriptures so well"
And so on. It's a great way to keep connected to your people and it will mean the world to them. As it did to me.
Adrian recommends Lamy fountain pens. (Well, you never know – they may send me one.)