Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Holy Trinity - again!

I am very happy to commend Stephen Holmes book, The Holy Trinity: Understanding God's Life.
Pub: Paternoster 2012
200 pages, xix introduction, 30 pages biblography and index
Price: see amazon!

There are a number of good books that cover this story, the development of the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Steve mentions almost all of them in his footnotes and often through direct engagement with them in the text.

What makes Steve's book different is the clarity with which he draws together the threads of Trinitarian debates from the 4th Century to the time of the Reformation. As Steve shows what he calls 'The Harvest of Patristic Trinitarianism', pp. 144-46, stands for the Medieval and Reformation period scholars also. For this summary alone the book is worth having.

In his opening and closing chapters Steve engages with 20th Century Trinitarian scholarship and boldly shows where these have departed from the Ecumenical settlement of Trinitarian study. Steve offers an historical study to show that the older tradition has strong exegetical roots. He limits his study in this way, 'Nothing I have written excludes that possibility [that this settled doctrine was always wrong]; I do, however, attemnpt to show just how strongly exegetical the traditional presentations of the doctrine were.' page xvi.

For those seeking a brief introduction to the history of Trinitarian thinking within the church and an engagement with 20th Century contributions Steve's book is a good starting place. The footnotes and bibliography will guide you to many other valuable resources. And Steve's writing about the Cappadocian Fathers will have you rushing out to buy English versions or learning Greek to read them for yourself.

Thanks to Steve for this book. And thanks to Paternoster for what promises to be a very helpful series. The series is entitles: Christian Doctrine in Historical Perspective. Coming volumes:
Andrew McGowan, The Person and Work of Christ
Robert Pope, The Church and the Sacraments
Andrew Kirk, The Church and the World

Sunday, 29 January 2012


Daniel chapter 4 is about kingship.

The chapter is set in the form of a letter. A royal letter from Nebuchadnezzar to his people. The letter contains a report of a dream, the interpretation of the dream, the fulfilment of the dream (an unusual element) and a confession.

The Possibility of kingship - vv. 10-12+20-21
The great tree to which all peoples are gathered is the kingly reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Good government, good kingship is a gift from God. It is good for people to live in stable, secure, prosperous communities, and this requires good government. Rom 13:1 is relevant here.

The Problem of kingship - v. 30
Power corrupts. The best of government can be twisted by pride and self interest. As Nebuchadnezzar declares his own greatness he is stealing from God the glory which belongs to God alone. Grasping after divine attributes destroys true humanity, we are not lifted up but diminished, we become sub-human, more animal like than human like. Phil 2, the Lord Jesus did not grasp at the image of God. When government, or governmental systems deny and reject God and his authority over them they diminish and become less than they could be and should be.

The Perfecting of kingship - vv. 2-3, 34-37
Only in a robust confession of God as King can any human, or any kingly reign, be perfected. This is an essential element in faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified. God as King has the right to demand such a sacrifice, God as King has the right to be such a sacrifice. Our humanity is made perfect in Christ Jesus and his reign as King in the Kingdom of God.
An acknowledgement of God as King, the Kingdom as God's, leads to a humble submission to the will of God, we will do things his way.

Should we not pray for such Kings, governments, not only for our land but for every land?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Every Day

Matthew 25 follows on in theme from Mt 24. The Lord Jesus is coming again, how are we to live every day until he comes?

1-13 - Be Prepared
The contrast between the wise and the foolish is in the preparations they make. Neither know how long the bridegroom will be, the wise bring extra oil, just in case.
We don't know how long the Lord Jesus will be, so we are to live prepared, as though he might be a long time but will come suddenly and we need to be ready when he comes.

14-30 - Love God
The contrast between the two faithful servants and the one wicked servant is in their love for God. The two love God and so serve their Master without delay and making good use of the generous gifts he has given them. The wicked servant turns God's generosity into cause for blame because he doesn't love God.
How will you display your love for God? Will you receive his gifts? Will you use his gifts in his service? This is what we are to do every day until Jesus comes again.

31-46 - Love your neighbour
The sheep are commended for loving others in the same way as Jesus has loved. The goats are condemned because their is no evidence of love for others in their lives. To not love and care for all in need is to disobey the Lord Jesus and reject his love for you.
I think Carson's comments in his Matthew 13 to 28, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary are plain wrong. Which is surprising since Carson notes that the deeds of the sheep are not the cause of salvation, but the evidence of salvation. How then can you limit the deeds of salvation to those shown to Christian brothers? Carson appears too concerned in his comments to prevent any hint of salvation by works that he mistreats the parable and misses the point.
The second command is that we love our neighbour, whoever needs our care, our help, our love. This is what we are to do every day until Jesus comes again, love as he has loved us.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Here is a review of this book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J Köstenberger and Michael J Kruger, which wasn't published, so here it is for you.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Andreas J Köstenberger and Michael J Kruger
Apollos, 2010
235 pages, 13 pages indices

Which came first … the diversity or the unity? the heresy or the orthodoxy? Is it possible that our contemporary commitment to diversity (plurality) is adversely affecting our understanding of early Christianity?

Köstenberger and Kruger, in a brief work, offer a serious historical review of the place of unity and orthodoxy in early Christianity. Responding to the influence of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934, Eng trans. 1971), seen in the work of Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels among others, Köstenberger and Kruger provide a scholarly refutation of this thesis and of the uncritical adoption of a thesis by using it as an unquestioned paradigm.

Bauer, followed by Ehrman and Pagels, suggests that earliest Christianity was very diverse with no theological unity, no notion of canon of Scripture until these were imposed in the fourth Century by power hunger Roman bishops. By earliest Christianity Bauer means mid to late second century, thus ignoring the evidence of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, which is convenient for his thesis.

By careful historical work Köstenberger and Kruger are able to demonstrate that there was considerable unity in theology, especially in Christology in the first century; that the use of the Old Testament by the first century church introduced the concept of canon and that in fact the fourth Century councils merely confirmed the canon that had already emerged and that the science of textual criticism gives us great confidence in the text of the New Testament as we have it in critical Greek editions and modern English versions. This book could have been much longer, thus adding weight to Köstenberger and Kruger’s conclusions, however the many footnotes (645 in total) in the volume illustrate the considerable scholarly consensus behind Köstenberger and Kruger’s conclusions.

The diversity, or growth of heretical opinions, in the second Century requires a unity of theology to diverge from. Orthodoxy is not an heretical idea forced upon the church, but an outworking of our unity in Christ. We are grateful to Köstenberger and Kruger for reminding us that there are limits, boundaries to Christian truth and faith, there are opinions which no matter how sincerely held are not Christian.

At least we can be grateful to Köstenberger and Kruger for demonstrating how a thesis, which even Walter Bauer described as ‘conjectural’ can over time become received wisdom without gaining any new historical support. Of great concern is the way that contemporary writers, such as Ehrman and Pagels, allow their commitment to a philosophical pluralism to drive their ‘scholarship’ into unsupported conclusions.

A scholarly debate about a bad thesis may not seem immediately relevant. However, in days when we need to recover our confidence in the gospel it is good for us to know that we can hold to orthodoxy Christianity without fear or shame; that orthodoxy Christianity is not one Christian option among many, but is in fact true. We do not need to concede that truth is a function of power and power is the only truth. Truth matters, truth exists as does error. With God’s help we can seek for truth, preach truth and live in that truth which he is.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

God Is Able

Daniel 3 is the first of two conflict stories in Daniel, the other is chapter 6. In both chapters faithful Jews find themselves facing the threat of death. However, in both the real conflict is not between Nebuchadnezzar and some defeated Jewish captives, but between Nebuchadnezzar and the God of Israel.

Daniel 1-6 is a series of court tales, narratives about life in the court of a pagan king. (see the commentary by Ernest C Lucas, Apollos, 2002 for a defense of this analysis.) We need to consider how we learn from stories.
Learning from stories involves the use of our sanctified imagination, an imagination guided by the Holy Spirit in the following ways:
1. we need to let the story grasp, impact us in the same way as it would have affected those who first heard/read the story;
2. we need to imaginatively set our life setting, our questions, our concerns alongside those of the story and find points of contact that the Holy Spirit inspired story might impact our life, and our story.

Nebuchadnezzar is able
In chapter 3 of Daniel Nebuchadnezzar displays all his ability: he can command the construction and worship of a huge image; v. 15 he can challenge the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - is he able?; he can punish Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, although not very successfully. In the end of the story Nebuchadnezzar is able to acknowledge the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as being the God who is able.
How often do we allow our abilities, gifts from God, to be used by us to challenge God? All such challenging of God is futile, how can the creature challenge the Creator?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are able
To confess their faith. They believe that God is able to save them and that he will save them, v. 17. But, even if he chooses not to, they will still believe in this God, still obey his first two commandments and not worship Nebuchadnezzar's image.
Not only do they confess this, they live by it, they believe it. This confession shapes their lives.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are able to live in humble submission. Not to a pagan king, but to a Heavenly King, a God who saves and intervenes.
By God's Spirit we too can be able to live in humble submission to our God and his gracious purposes.

God is able
This is the point of the chapter.
God is able to be present in the flames with his persecuted people. Nebuchadnezzar describes the fourth man as an angel of the Lord, the figure is God being present with his people.
God is able to save, not even the smell of smoke clung to their clothes.
This God is still the same God, he is still today powerfully able to do all that pleases him to be present with his people and to save his own.
Surely it makes a difference to us that we know and worship and depend upon such a God who is eternally able?

Tommy Smith - Emergence

Over the last week I've been listening to this 2011 cd by Tommy Smith and the Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Tommy Smith is one of, if not the, hardest working Jazz musicians in Scotland today. His encouragement of young Jazz musicians is a great encouragement to many and has resulted in many fine recordings.

Of special note on this disc I would mention the version of the Flintstones theme, which is filled with life and energy, surely the only appropriate way to cover such a ya-ba-da-ba-doo tune. The version of 'Take The A Train', the Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington standard is a highlight on the disc.

If you don't think you like Jazz try this disc and you will find you do. I would also encourage you, once you try this disc and discover Tommy's music look out for other discs such as Torah, and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Rhapsody In Blue Live and too many other Tommy Smith recordings to mention here.
Get the disc, enjoy the groove, love the music.