Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Did Chrisianity Abolish Paganism?

I know that Constantine's political endorsement of the Church brought power over the dying paganism of the Roman empire, but the fact is that the Christian gospel did "out-think, out-live and out-die" the ancient pagan world, as T.R. Glover put it. A few thoughts: (1) The Unknown God was now revealed in our world, in human flesh; (2) The nature of God was astonishingly good and gracious in salvation; (3) The Christian gospel bridged transcendence and immanence, time and eternity; (4) The creation is being renewed by God from within, with the problem of evil being addressed in a daring way (God embracing the power of evil and suffering to defeat it from the human side); (5) there is hope, not a cycle or gradual decay to nothingness (the Resurrection and Return of Christ); and finally, (6) the dynamic presence of God the Holy Spirit in the lives of people, changing, healing, guiding. Sacrifice and ritual and offerings were ended by the cross of Christ.
If the ancient and early church had operated with the modern liberal theology so fashionable today, their message would have been greeted as essentially the same world-view as paganism itself in metaphysics and meaning.
Had the gospel been what some theologians want to make it, the church would have produced no martyrs, no persecution, no world-changing influence. There would be no church today; Christianity would have dwindled away into the blend of other similar panetheistic systems of thought.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pascal's Principle applied to a Gospel problem

"There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition." (Pensees, XI.430). Take gospel criticism as a case of this principle. There will be sufficient reason to believe an account (transmission, plausibility etc), while others will prefer to view it sceptically. The believer and the sceptic may both build a case. The raising of Lazarus may serve as an example. The absence of this account in the Synoptics has been construed as evidence that the fourth gospel author or tradition has made up this account.  The Synoptic Gospels, it is argued, would surely have included such an event in their account of the climactic final week of the Lord's ministry. So is there a sufficient, plausible explanation of this difference without assuming unreliability in John?
I think, first, that the sceptical approach that sees Jn 11 as a creation faces its own implausibility challenge. On the accepted dating of this Gospel's publication in the late decades of the first century, an invented story would run the obvious risk of discrediting the book. Even if the events were decades in the past, the people involved in that family and context would know that Lazarus was not actually raised by Jesus. I find it incredible to think that scholars could imagine the gospel writer getting away with this invention. In families today, most descendants have some knowledge of what happened to their grandfather, even great-grandfather. A tall story about a real person would discredit the church and its message - and give ammunition to its enemies.
A simpler explanation is at hand, with the clue found in Jn 11:10-11. Lazarus's return to life through Jesus' prayer made him a powerful witness for Jesus, a fact that placed him in danger of being killed by the opponents of Jesus. When the Synoptic gospels were published, Lazarus may still have been alive and in continuing danger through his fame. But by the time of the fourth gospel, Lazarus was probably dead, and his story could be told in public.
You see here how the two mind-sets differ in how they construe the evidence. The believer credits the narrative with a presumption of reliability, and can see plausible reasons for apparent problems of relating it to other Gospels. The sceptical reader presumes unreliability and finds an alternative possible explanation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pascal's Principle of Qualified Knowledge

I am not referring to Pascal's famous "wager", but to one of his other thoughts in Pensees:
"There is light enough for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition." (XI.430)
He is speaking of Biblical evidences, of how God reveals his reality and actions. God provides a witness and a warrant for those to believe, without depriving people of the choice of scepticism and refusal to believe: "Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not."
Wherever I turn in Christian thought and life, I am struck by this observation. Take the historical reliability of the New Testament. There is solid and sound historical documentation and connections between the events and the transmission, but without ruling out the choice of scepticism by scholars who spin their own theories to reconstruct the Biblical narrative.  If we wish to place our faith and life upon the Scriptures we are standing on adequate and sound foundations. Others can choose to doubt - the Cartesian principle of ingrained scepticism is chronic these days. But they cannot invalidate the truth-claims of the New Testament. There is room for faith as well as for doubt; there are grounds for confidence in believing, as well as room for the chosen screpticism.
Those who hold to the orthodox faith have never claimed to know all or to live without faith in the claims of the Bible. We only claim that there is sufficient and cogent warrant for the claims of Jesus Christ and that no sound scholarship or history has plainly overthrown the evidence. We distinguish the claims of speculative theology from the scope of warranted evidence.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can God Get a Book Published?

Liberal aand revisionist theologians reject the idea of the Bible as the written Word of God. This is a given in modern theological thinking. The Bible represents the religious "God-consciousness" of people down the centuries, but it is not God speaking through their ideas in a real personal revelation.

There is a strange irony here, though - since the same theologians who deny the idea of God putting a book together through inspiring human prophets and apostles, write their own books and get them published. They have ideas, put them in writing, get them published, want them discussed and heeded. Why can't God do the same?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who is pursuing whom?

I am not sure that the grammar in the title is correct, but you get the idea. Is the Christian faith a matter of our pursuit of an elusive, mysterious "God beyond God" - the Christian form of the generic human experience of the numinous divine "ground of being", a pursuit of the unknowable God. Or is it the determined pursuit of a lost and wayward humanity by the revealing, seeking God of creation? Which version of "God" matches the parables of Jesus better?
This is one of my basic problems with the Tillichian theology that is influencing the church so much: it is the opposite of the Bible's story. Just set the two catch-phrases side by side and you will see the stark contrast: "the God beyond God" versus "the Word became flesh".
These two theologies lead to different spiritualities, different moralities and different religions.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Meaning of "Revision"

I was reading a book by a contemporary theologian recently and I thought, "This is not Christianity at all -it is mystical paganism masquerading as Christianity." The words "God", "Jesus" and other Biblical terms, were used but in senses completely at odds with their plain, Biblical and orthodox designations.

How do you describe such a theology? It is common these days for orthodox Christians to describe those whose views are extremely liberal as "revisionist', but is this really an adequate term? When you revise something, you may improve it, or refine it or modify it - but it remains recognizably the same thing. In the rules of meetings, a motion can be amended (that is, revised), but the chair should rule out of order any proposed amendment that is completely contrary to the original motion. It seems to me that some theologians are way beyond revising orthodox Christianity; their version is essentially the opposite of the historic Christian faith.
This was the reason why the Nicene fathers spent such time defining in laborious terminology the meaning of Christian orthodoxy.
I am trying to think of a better term for this type of theology.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Where Heresies come from . . .

"Heresies are not produced by ignorance but by the speculations of learned men." (Steve Addison)

This is from Steve Addison's great new study of church planting and gospel movements, "Movements that Change the World", (Missional Press, 2009).
This is a critically-important book, and should be read by all who care for the Church of Jesus Christ.
Have a look at Steve's blog-site, www.movements.net

I'm back to this blog!

I have decided to use this blog again, while I am working on a new personal website. Lots of changes for me since my last entry - change of job, change of ministry, new home, new congregation, new grandson . . .