Wednesday, February 22, 2017

λαῖλαψ: theophanic storm?

It is a rare word, λαῖλαψ (lailaps, rhymes with prolapse). Essentially meaning a whirlwind of hurricane it is sometimes associated with God's wrath against evil (Job 21:18; Jer. 32:32), or the destructive effects of evil (Wis. 5:23), or used in describing evil's temporary nature, frost (Wis. 5:14) or clouds (2 Pet. 2:17) carried away by a storm.



But in Sirach 48:9, 12 it is the whirlwind which takes Elijah "up" and in Job 38:1 it is the wind out of which God speaks. So it seems appropriate that it is also a λαῖλαψ which reveals Jesus' God-like powers of weather control when he clams the storm (Mk. 4:37, Lk. 8:23).



And that my friends is all ten uses of λαῖλαψ in the Bible.

The Significance of Jesus' Miracles

In a helpful corrective to common approaches to the miracles Paul Achtemeier writes,

While much can and has been said with respect to the significance of miracle-stories in the Gospel traditions, let two observations suffice for the present. First, it must be pointed out that the fact that miracles are recorded of Jesus in no way makes him unique for his age. The fact that Jesus performed miracles, or that miracles could be reported of him, does not in itself prove his uniqueness. Similarly miraculous acts are reported of many of his contemporaries, Jewish and Gentile alike. Rudolph Bultmann, in his work on form-criticism (soon to appear in English under the title History of the Synoptic Tradition), has assembled a large amount of material which indicates the relative commonness of miracle-stories in Jesus' time. Thus, whatever miracles as such would prove about Jesus, they would also prove about a number of his contemporaries.

Secondly, one cannot avoid the impression that the Gospel traditions themselves understood the basically neutral character of the miraculous. That is to say, witnessing a miracle performed by Jesus would not con- vince a man that Jesus unquestionably was the Son of God. Quite the contrary. In one instance at least, a miracle of Jesus proved to his contemporaries that he was working, not at the behest of God, but of the Devil (Mark 3:22) ! The fact of miracles as such, then, does not make Jesus unique for his age, nor does it constitute irrefutable proof that he was God's Son.

This, in turn, means that we must look elsewhere to find the significance which the miracles had for the Gospel traditions. A careful study of the miracles will indicate that the significance lies, not in the acts themselves but in the person who performs them. Therefore, Jesus does not draw significance from the fact that he performs miracles; rather, the miracles are significant because they are performed by Jesus, who is the Son of God. This is illustrated in the account of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41 ). The reaction of the disciples to this miracle —"Who then is this?"—indicates that it was the person of Jesus which holds the significance.

From "Person and Deed" Interpretation 16, 1962, p170

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Conflict in Mark's Gospel

E.S.Malbon, a narrative critic of Mark's Gospel diagnoses three different layers of conflict, she writes

The conflict between God and Satan is clearly a mismatch in God’s favour in Mark’s Gospel, and the conflict with the authorities, although not without intrigue, lead to a known outcome: the seeming victor of the authorities, Jesus’ crucifixion, is overturned by the victory of God, Jesus’ resurrection. Thus the conflict between the Markan Jesus and the disciples is of the greatest dramatic interest for the implied author and the implied audience. Jesus and the disciples are the only “round” characters in the Markan narrative. The other characters are “flat”: the unclean spirits are always evil; the Pharisees are always conspiring. The disciples change . . . The dynamic portrayal of the disciples in their relation to Jesus is one of the reasons the implied audience is most drawn into their conflict.

Mark's Jesus: Characterisation as Narrative Christology, 2009, p49

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Non-Propositional Gospel

James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love (2016), writes,

". . . the gospel isn't just information stored in the intellect; it is a way of seeing the world that is the very wallpaper of our imagination. . . Our imaginations are captured poetically, not didactically. We're hooked by stories, not bullet points. The lilt and cadence of poetry have the ability to seep down into our imagination in a way a dissertation never could." (p107)

Which makes you wonder why I'm about to embark on 3 years of dissertation writing, I guess I'll have to make sure I keep writing songs as well.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Early Christian Writing Style

Hengel notes three significant features of early Christian writing

1. Codices were used rather than scrolls
2. Terms like God, Lord, Jesus and Christ are always written as nomina sacra
3. The scribes were not calligraphers but document scribes who worked in their spare time for the community

He writes: "This development of a distinctive Christian scribal tradition which presumably goes back to the beginnings of Christian literature in the first century 'seems to indicate a degree of organisation, of conscious planning and uniformity of practice among the Christian communities which we have hitherto had little reason to suspect, and which throws a new light on the early history of the church.' The circumstances and customs in the church in the second half of the first century do not seem to me to been as diffuse and chaotic as people like to present them today."

Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, 1985/2003, 79. 
He quotes Roberts and Skeats, Birth of the Codex, 1983, 57.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

An Alternative to Secret Santa

For a few years now the adults in my family-in-law have not bought each other presents but have indulged in a Secret Santa so secret that no one know who they are getting a present for. Everyone buys a gift and then they are distributed randomly. Last year I decided to codify and develop the rules for this game in order to make it more methodical and to eliminate the ability of couples to work together to get the gift they wanted.

This is good fun. Takes about an hour and is usually a source of much hilarity and mirth. Last year we tried these rules for the first time and it was a great success, for everyone except me. I had bought a truly awful booby prize (a giant second hand soft toy Santa) and delighted in seeing someone else open it with horror and revulsion but with almost the last stroke of the game I ended up holding it much to everyone else's amusement.

Robinson Rules for Secret Santa Distribution Game, version 1

Friday, December 16, 2016

Three Christmas Blogs

At this time of year, when for the 10th, 20th, 50th, time in your ministry you are trying to find something fresh and orthodox to say about Christmas reading blogs can be a real boon. Here are three good thoughts, all of which could become your best Christmas sermon yet . . .

The (Real) War of Christmas

A Reluctant Evangelist Journeys with a Magi 

Making the Nativity a Bit More Terrifying with the Help of Revelation 12

Bonus feature: And of course people still don't really care that Jesus was not born in a stable of an inn, or anywhere near an inn really.  Which is why despite this being known for decades now, every church will still have a nativity in a stable. Except perhaps where Ian Paul has been preaching?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

6 Principles for Christian Political Engagement

I don't know how I haven't come across it before but the Lausanne publication, Global Analysis, looks to be a very useful Evangelical publication with high quality content you wont find anywhere else. I mustn't spend my day trawling through back issues, as tempting as that may be, but may I recommend to you a helpful article on Christians facing political crisis in Brazil over the possibly-corrupt impeachment of a possibly-corrupt president? The six principles, which are enlarged upon in detail in the article, are equally applicable to other contexts, they are:

  1. Knowing how to behave is more important than knowing what position to adopt
  2. Cultivate Christian political reticence
  3. Distinguish the different debates
  4. Avoid dichotomous thinking and recognize the many possible positions
  5. Go beyond simplistic moralism in the Christian perspective on corruption
  6. Distinguish between an ideal and the carrier of that ideal
I recommend reading the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Often it has been said, and sometimes by me, that most "successful" church plants in the West in recent times have simply been transfer growth in action. Church growth through siphoning people out of older churches into the new ones. Result: some large churches growing, while many others struggled to compete, and overall the church shrinks. The whole thing is equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks, it may make some people happy and more comfortable but it is doing nothing to address the fundamental crisis. Ian Paul uncovers some unpublished research from the UK that pushes back against this assumption. Well worth a read.

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, December 12, 2016

No God, No Science: Michael Hanby

This may be old news for some, but thought this was both an interesting autobiographical account of an academic journey and also a really fascinating and important project. Enjoy

Michael Hanby's book is on Amazon and kindle, if I ever get round to reading it, I'll let you know!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Orthodox Christianity and the Original Manuscripts

Shane Pruit has been sharing his wisdom about out of context scripture use. It is a reasonably useful piece, although perhaps more helpful in critique than construction (but then the latter is always much harder to do). However he begins with a most extraordinary statement:
Orthodox Christianity believes that in the Scriptures in their original manuscripts are without error and fault.
Which just blows the mind. Clearly Shane is making a value statement here, "orthodox Christianity" is a judgement as to what Shane finds orthodox rather than a historical or sociological claim, but even so what are these original manuscripts he speaks of? Certainly, when dealing with a letter from Paul, e.g., we can posit at some point there was just one original version. But what do we do with Genesis, Job, Isaiah, or the Gospels all of which were composed over time, combining various sources, being edited and added to by different folk depending on the needs of the day and the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to speak of an original manuscript? At what point in the history of composition and editing do we say, "that's it, that is the original!"?

Even if we are comfortable positing the past existence of some final form of any particular Biblical book neither we, nor the historical church, have ever had access to such manuscripts. So how does any statement regarding their lack of error or fault help any discussion of anything? What would be much more helpful would be a statement about what the Bibles we actually have today are and what they can be relied on for.

Worse still, the doctrine of inerrancy encourages the sort of magic-book-from-the-sky thinking that is true of Mormonism or Islam. Instead orthodox Christianity recognises that God has spoken in many times and in many places through his prophets, and in these last days through his Son, and that his ongoing willingness to reveal himself through human beings and human processes (such as the formation of the canon) is far more wonderful, gracious and miraculous than any supernatural Kindle delivery could ever be.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and the hopelessness engendered by the dominant forces of our society that push us to live meaningless lives as consumers and victims without transcendent meaning or purpose.

Professor Said Shahtahmasebi, Director of the Good Life Research Trust Centre and editor of Dynamics of Human Health, writes:

Over the last 20 years, I have repeatedly challenged the conventional wisdom about suicide, emphasizing that suicide rates follow a cyclical pattern (the sequence of downward and upward movements of suicide rates). Instead of concentrating efforts on breaking the cycle, decision makers, mental health services, and researchers claim credit for lowering suicide rates when the cycle is on the downturn, then demand more funding to continue with the same services. But when the cycle is on the upturn, they claim suicide is a very complex issue with many socio-economic and environmental risk factors and that they, again, require more funding to extend the same service to more people.

Instead Shahtahmasebi relates how projects where community relationships and family support is increased show that suicide rates can be substantially reduced. Why should this be? It seems obvious to me, instead of being considered as individual consumers with a medical condition to treat, they are having their social bonds and meaningful relationships reinforced and being supported in the existential crisis of life. In meaningful human relationships they find purpose and support for living life.

Suicide is a rational response to hopelessness: why suffer longer if things will not get better? Drugs to ease the pain cannot change the cause of that pain or the futility of a life without hope. Here is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has to offer our world, the hope, the faith, that this world is not all there is, but that there is so much more to being human than what our consumerist individualist materialist society has to offer us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why You Want to be "Left Behind"

Two different posts on the rapture came across my desk this morning, and I thought, surely I have blogged on this myself? But no, I have not. I must have preached on it at some point, because I can remember pontificating on this subject, but not here. Well in order to make good for the omission enjoy Rhett Snell and Doug Chaplin as they explain why being "raptured" or "taken" is not actually the Christian aspiration.

Image result for bed rapture funny

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Need for Humble Atheists (and Theists)

Read the rest of this helpful article by John Thamatil. (I'm not sure about his frequent, continual, undefined use of liberal - but never mind) HT

What binds many atheists together is an unshakable conviction that they know everything there is to know about religion, namely that it is irrational bondage to immutable doctrine. No amount of counterevidence can convince such atheists otherwise. What irony! But where do they come by this knowledge about religion? Their expertise seems to be derived by virtue of sheer sentience alone.

By contrast, if a theologian were to broadcast her convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology without some years of careful reading and study, she would be met with jeering laughter and summarily dismissed. Why then are uninformed atheists who have never read in theology exempt from similar derision? Sadly, every pedant believes himself entitled to his unearned convictions about religion.

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.