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This is taken from Paul Blackham's comment here but it's too good to leave in the blog's underbelly:

"Several years ago I had some conversations about the kind of world we live in: what are the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about it? As you can imagine this got nowhere because what appears to be ‘natural’ is already determined by our inner convictions, the state of our heart, the framework of our minds, our spiritual state.

Some people I spoke to, including atheists and Christians, genuinely believed that the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about the world are that it is almost a ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ or ‘meaning-less’ environment in which the actors [humanity and if applicable god/gods/demons/angels etc] play. Thus the meaning comes from the players, from the things they say and do, whereas the stage itself has no message as such. Some of the Christians did concede that an indirect knowledge of the existence, power and wisdom of ‘God’ might be derived from the ‘stage’ but that no substantial or saving or personal knowledge of ‘God’ was available from the stage itself. Needless to say the atheists and agnostics tend to be more aggressive than that, arguing that there is nothing at all in the whole universes that has any intrinsic meaning, nothing beyond religious humans/documents that speak of the Person and Work of Christ, no ‘bare facts’ that tell the gospel story.

It would not be too hard to trace the genealogy of these assumptions and that view of the universe to the Enlightenment split between fact and meaning, the attempt to start from an ‘objective’ or ‘value-free’ view of reality. That is precisely what the early modern writers were trying to do and they explicitly speak about excluding ‘tradition and theology’ from all observation. [The contrast with Jonathan Edwards is amazing, when we consider when he is writing and observing the world around him.]

Now, obviously, with this kind of assumption will make us read not only ‘nature’ but also history in a particular way. If the world is essentially either devoid of meaning [atheists/agnostics] or else the meaning is ambiguous or of limited value [a non-specific deity who is powerful and wise etc] then it is easy to see how ancient people would be regarded. They are too early in the labourious upward climb of science/progressive religion/ethical development/civilisation. If there is no meaning [as the atheists suggest] then the only knowledge to be gained is the ‘brute facts’ of the mechanisms of the universe and because the ancients had clouded such knowledge with mythology and religion their grasp of such things was at best basic but more likely completely absurd. For those who accept the basic framework but allow ‘God’ to be another player who has ‘intervened’ in the mechanical system, then yes, perhaps ‘God’ was able to somewhat boost the progress of his own religious group, introducing hints of further heights on the long road ahead, whilst ensuring that the people at the current stage of development kept their minds fixed on the stage they were at.

So, now we are at our current stage [final?] of the progress we can look back on those on the lower slopes in antiquity and with affectionate congratulations applaud those who were able to glimpse beyond the slope they were climbing to the fog-shrouded heights of the mountain. It was good that they did that, and perhaps the glimpses of the higher slopes encouraged them on, but ultimately all they were required to do was labour on up the specific slope they were on.

However, what if the world is radically different than that?

...continue reading "What kind of world do we live in? [Paul Blackham]"

I'm holding four Men's Breakfast type things on the Saturdays in November.

We began last Saturday determining to begin our thinking again with Jesus.

Handout below.

The audio isn't crystal clear but it has an unplanned detour into Acts 17 that provoked good discussion afterwards...

...continue reading "Bacon, Bible and the Boys 1 – Jesus Shaped in Everything"

A real mish-mash of thoughts...

Everyone - theologians, scientists, historians, philosophers, etc - we all follow a method of enquiry summed up by Anselm's motto faith seeking understanding. This is not simply how Christians do theology, science, history and philosophy, it's how all creatures must proceed.  We believe certain axiomatic truths, we have heart commitments to certain ways of viewing reality, and we move out into the world on these bases, finding confirmation as we go.

Here's an older post on how the Large Hadron Collider is a great example of this.

Here's another post arguing that all scientists are believers.

And below is a sketch of some things a Christian can positively say about cosmology.

I'll just jot down three thoughts on the multiverse, two quotes from Barth and then a suggestion about how to proceed with Christ at the centre of our thinking.

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The multiverse

1) The Bible teaches a division of creation into invisible and visible - the heaven and the earth.  There is a non-observable realm - and it's vitally important and related to the seen realm.  But this is not the same as the observable universe versus the non-observable multiverse.  For the bible, the heavenlies are a counterpart to earth in a way analagous to the unseen Father's correspondence to His visible Image, Jesus.

2) The seen and unseen realms are reconciled to one another in the decisive, once-for-all event of the crucifixion.  (Col 1:20)

3) There simply is no room in a Christian cosmology for multiple incarnations or multiple atonements.  And this is really the downfall of the multiverse - its relation to Christ.  Christ does not bridge multiple universes in multiple incarnation, He bridges heaven and earth in His singular incarnation.

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Two Barth Quotes from Dogmatics in Outline

“‘Heaven and earth’ describe an arena prepared for a quite definite event, in the centre of which, from our standpoint of course, stands man.” (p60)

“…heaven and earth are related like God and man in the covenant, so that even the existence of creation is a single, mighty signum, a sign of the will of God. The meeting and togetherness of above and below, of the conceivable and the inconceivable, of the infinite and the limited – we are speaking of creation. All that is the world. But since within this world there really exist an above and a below confronting one another, since in every breath we take, in every one of our thoughts, in every great and petty experience of our human lives heaven and earth are side by side, greeting each other, attracting and repelling each other and yet belonging to one another, we are, in our existence, of which God is the Creator, a sign and indication, a promise of what ought to happen in creation and to creation – the meeting, the togetherness, the fellowship and, in Jesus Christ, the oneness of Creator and creature.” (p64)

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How to proceed in Christian cosmology

Beginning from 'the Cosmic Fine-Tuner' would be like beginning with heaven alone.  Beginning from the standpoint of the anthropic principle would be like beginning with earth alone.  The Christian can refuse both options.  We begin with the heavens and the earth - the theatre of God's Glory.  Of course God's Glory is His Son, dying to save.  The cross is the crux of creation (Col 1:20).  When we begin with this in mind we are able to relate the unseen and seen coherently.

The Christian knows that not only is there a Word (Logos) to make sense of the world - not only an explanation beyond.  That Word became flesh, taking our world to Himself.  Therefore the Word from beyond has become a Word in our midst.  The Christian can simultaneously be in touch with this world and with its Explanation - they are one in Christ.

While we ought not to approach Christ 'according to the flesh' (2 Cor 5:16), still according to the Spirit there is a way of examining this earthed Logos.  Now 'according to the Spirit' means 'according to the Scriptures' and therefore this will be a thoroughly theological enquiry.  And yet it will not for that reason be a groundless, ethereal investigation.  This world in its this-world-ness has been taken up into the life of God and proven to be, beyond any question, a realm fit for God (Col 2:9).

Now that we have seen the creative Word in the world and now that we have seen Him - the visible Image - reconcile the world to the invisible Father in the creative Spirit, we have seen a triune dynamic that is inherent to all creation.  Interpenetration of spirit and flesh, then and now, unseen and seen is at the heart of reality.  This will lead us to expect similar perichoretic dynamics in the created order.  As we move on from what the bible strictly says about creation, we will wear these bible-glasses to investigate creation.  This conceptual framework will help us to understand the inter-related-ness of space and time, of waves and particles etc etc.

Just some sketches of thoughts...

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What does the phrase "Jesus is Lord" mean?

I've heard people go on about the Lordship of Jesus at great length, but in every statement in which the phrase appears I could have easily swapped "Jesus is Lord" for "God is big" and there'd have been no material change in the meaning.

So go and 'do evangelism' because God is big.  And He says so.  ... And also hell is hot ...and time is short.  No back-chat now, off you run.  Remember Who's Boss!

Sound familiar at all?

Well what does 'Jesus is Lord' mean?  And how does His Lordship relate to evangelism.

Well first of all, "Jesus is Lord" literally means "'Yahweh-to-the-rescue' is Yahweh".  Which is a statement worth meditating on!  Yahweh-to-the-rescue is Yahweh!

And now meditate on its implications for evangelism!  To abbreviate the above (at the risk of causing misunderstanding): Our God is Jesus who is Rescuer.  Therefore the Lordship of Jesus and His saving passion are not two different things.  And obedience to this Lordship is not so much to be submissive to an edict as to be swept up into this passion.

Second of all, it means the true God of Israel and the true Lord of the universe is Jesus.

Therefore if you hadn't already seen it, you need to go back and read the Old Testament properly (ie in the way it was intended).  And also, if you haven't already, you need to revisit your notion of God.  He is entirely Jesus shaped.  That Nazarene who bled for me is Lord.  Not some ancient explosion or some foreign god.  Not even some familiar theistic god of popular understanding.  And certainly not little old me.  No if we're going to talk about God, let's talk about Jesus.  He is Lord.  This will mean very different gospel conversations to the regular "Let's first agree there's a Higher-Power" chats.

Thirdly it means that the universe I'm in and the universe my friend is in is Christ's universe.

Imagine you and your friend have been teleported into the tabernacle (and no-one's said "Oi, goy, get outta here!").  But you're surrounded by goats and bulls being slaughtered and priests with special clothes and holy spaces specially demarcated and furniture arranged just so.  Imagine you lived there.  Imagine you'd never lived anywhere else.

Your friend couldn't help but be fascinated by some aspect of the tabernacle.  Perhaps she's besotted by the 12 precious stones in the high priest's breastpiece.  Or the cherubim woven into the curtain.  Or the fire burning on the altar.  It'll be something.  And she'll no doubt have some ridiculous notions about what these things are all about.  But whatever you talk about with your friend you're actually in a gospel presentation.  And the very terms of your discussion and the raw materials of her values, hopes and fears are derived from that gospel.

If you didn't know how to "have a gospel conversation" in that environment it could only be because you yourself hadn't grasped the gospel meaning of the tabernacle.  You'd need to study the Scriptures more, understand the gospel more.  In short you'd need to see how the whole tabernacle proclaims "Jesus is Lord."

Well you know the application.  We do live in a gospel presentation (Psalm 19; Rom 10:17ff; Col 1:23).  And if we don't know how to bring a conversation about a bullying boss or a wayward teenager or ongoing depression or state education or economic inequality or marital troubles or politics or mid-life crises around to the gospel then we need to take the Lordship of Jesus more seriously.  We need to go back to the Scriptures and in His Light to see again.

I used to think evangelism was inserting trite presentations into trivial conversations.  But 'Jesus is Lord' changes all of that.  Jesus is not a foreign intruder into a conversation that's about something else.  He is the One who makes sense of it all.

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Unlike the scuttling basements of many a blog page, the comments section of Christ the Truth is its most redeeming feature.  For those who only get the RSS feed you are missing out.

I thought I'd give you excerpts from some of Paul Blackham's comments which would otherwise languish in the blog's underbelly.

Jesus - centre of all reality
...what if Jesus actually IS God? What if the prayer/holiness/sovereignty stuff is actually all about our relationship with LORD Jesus? What if Jesus is not the agent but the content, the substance and all these other things are ‘agents’ for Him? What if Jesus is the centre and substance of every creature’s relation to the Living God? What if the LORD God of the Scriptures is Jesus?...

Jesus - centre of our Doctrine of God
...what would happen if all the attribute/substance stuff was only described in a Trinitarian context? What if Jesus was allowed to be the centre and soul of the doctrine of God? Ok, I know that is just fantasy and it will never happen…. but wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus was really taken that seriously!!!...

Jesus - centre of the Scriptures
...If the Bible reveals the Living God then it just has to be deeply connected to Jesus. The more I go on and realise just how completely Jesus surrounds us in creation then it makes more and more sense that He is present in the Scripture in a much deeper way than is often described. Too often the doctrines of Scripture spend all the time working at issues of inerrancy, when that might come a lot easier if the Bible is seen as the ever-living presence/clothing of Jesus...

Changing the world through love
...the ancient Christians changed the world when their gospel living, their sheer ‘unreasonable’ love for Jesus was so intense and so ‘impractical’ that it could not be ignored. By trusting the Spirit and obeying Jesus even when it seems impossible or foolish… By trusting the Spirit to really change the world to the pattern of Jesus… we aim for something much more than a re-adjustment of the furniture on the sinking ship… we join Jesus in aiming for a really new world where sorrow, injustice and death are illegal and impossible...

On Apologetics
...if we are trying to render the ‘concept of god’ as reasonable or if we are trying to ‘demonstrate’ that the Bible is the Word of God or if we are deploying philosophical arguments that never end up with ‘ergo, Jesus is the glory of God, the eternal Son of the Father’… then we are obviously trusting in the flesh. Of course we want to believe that if only we work hard enough or organise well enough or develop the best campaign or get the new ‘technique’ then we don’t really need to fast and pray, we don’t need to follow Jesus in sheer dependence on the Spirit on the way to crucifixion. Yet, the truth is that when the apostle Peter spoke of giving an apologia, he did so in a letter that consistently argues that the glory comes after suffering, that we will be thought strange for the way we live, that we should be living such good lives that people ask us about Jesus...

On engaging atheists
...The great temptation is to want to be ‘reasonable’ – i.e. to find a non-’religious’ foundation that will show us to be wise and the atheist to be foolish. The only foundation is Jesus. He is why we believe in God...

God's glory - not the glory of Allah
...It is not arbitrary to say that God’s glory is His grace – because the apostle John makes it so very clear that God’s eternal glory is manifested at the Cross. The specific words of Jesus concerning His own glory have to be our starting point here. My most common conversation partners in theology these days are various Islamic theologians [especially those amazing guys from the 8th/9th centuries] – and their understanding of the transcendant glory of Allah is really serious. If you really want an exaltation of divine glory that is utterly, utterly opposed to human autonomy/glory then those are the guys you really want to be reading. However, is that what the Living God Himself said about glory when He walked among us? Where did He say that His glory was to be seen? Is the glory of Allah substantially different than the glory of the Trinity?...

On Christ Alone
Matthew 11:25-3o - Everything is in the hands of Jesus – whether revelation or redemption. We can know nothing of any god other than what Jesus chooses to tell us. How do we know that there is a Father other than what Jesus tells us? How can we prove the deity of the Father other than through Jesus? How can we find rest for our souls other than through Jesus?

Recently we were challenged to ‘get serious with god’ over the summer… but Jesus wasn’t mentioned. I imagined a follower of Odin heading home to get on his viking helmet and wielding his battle-axe with more passion and commitment or a follower of Baal putting aside his tiredness and heading out for some serious immorality after work.

If we are not dealing with Jesus then does it matter whether we get serious with Odin or Ra or Vishnu or Artemis or Allah or the Prime Mover.

Christ alone… in all the Scriptures… or else why bother at all?

On the Enlightenment
I think the Enlightenment brought a re-structuring of European thought generally – from specifics to universals. Think of the contrast between John Owen and John Wesley. Both are such amazing Christians, but they live on different sides of the Enlightenment fence. Wesley is a ‘global’ or universal man, thinking of a truth for all humanity. Think of the way that Wesley relates to the empiricist philosophers of his day, whereas Owen is related to a much older philosophical world. Wesley is ‘modern’ in a way that could never be said of Owen. Owen was still thinking in that more ancient mode where the universal vision was very much at the edge of his thinking… or perhaps it is more to do with the ‘universal’ being at the edge of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. Wesley traveled around the world, around his global parish – but the Puritans didn’t really feel that need.

Is it possible for us to have the global heart of Wesley while rejecting the Enlightenment ‘objectivity’ that feels so shocked that we are condemned sinners? Of course, the very last thing we want is to dig up a scholastic zombie as if the missing ingredient is more Aristotle!

Jesus Himself, of course, is the glorious solution – a great love for everybody He meets but without that ‘objectifying’ train of Enlightenment thinking. He faces the chaos and suffering without any of the self-pity or bitterness… yet joy and hope pour out of Him. Glory! What a mess we make of our thinking and feeling… and we only realise what a mess we make as we look at His glory and maturity!

Sex
This is important. I’ve been reading some of the books and sermons on sex/virginity from the early centuries after the apostles. The contrast with especially modern evangelical thought is shocking. Today, in the church community almost as much as outside, sex is something to be simply ‘celebrated’ and enjoyed – and there are plenty of Christian sex manuals etc etc. Sex problems are seen as resolved through better techniques or losing repression or ‘communication’. The idea that a closer relationship with Jesus might be helpful is not a common solution. Of course, when the most intense experience of intimacy in the culture is ‘mind-blowing sex’… then of course sex is seen as an end in itself. To celebrate sex is seen as a big enough goal in itself and why shouldn’t the Bible be forced to have such a limited horizon? The deep damage that this kind of attitude has for single and LGBT Christians is frightening. How can we really hold sexual practice up as the most intense relationship/intimacy, constantly trying to pair everybody up, and also pretend to be so shocked when single and LGBT Christians believe the hype?

...The best sex help we can offer is to remind us/seduce us back to the Divine Romance. That is the full and complete and ultimate human experience of intimacy… and from that ecstasy we do begin to see both the joys and sorrows of our fallen human sexuality… not in hopeless frustration or obsession, but as a grace given to some of us in order to lead us to our true Spouse.

On Song of Songs as a love triangle
I think that there are two men after the bride – the wealthy and powerful king with his many lovers and the humble, rural Shepherd who has eyes only for His love. The bride is caught up into the king’s seduction/power… but her heart is always really for her true Love. Will she be one of many in the glittering palace… or will she be the ‘one, true love’ out on the mountains, in the shepherd’s home?...

On biblical masculinity
...think of the different kinds of men within the Bible. Would artistic, multi-media Ezekiel spend his free-time with Jehu?

Who is the proper man – Esau or Jacob, Cain or Abel, Joseph with his fancy clothes and fear of ‘sex’ or Judah with fairly ‘relaxed’ view of what’s on offer sexually speaking? Would bi-polar, zealous Elijah fit well with the very reliable/stable Daniel?

David himself is such a complex character. On the one hand he is a sorry figure, hunched over his roof-top porn… setting a destructive example to his sons… yet on the other hand he is capable of such profound and deeply masculine expression in the psalms; tremendous integrity and courage before Saul and Goliath.. but cowardice and stupidity before the Philistine king; passion for the LORD Jesus when enacting the ascension in transporting the ark, but the seedy and humiliating “hot-water bottle” of the latter years.

On Calvin and Barth
...Calvin begins with the utterly transcendent God before the world began… whereas Barth wants to always begin with the actual point of contact, the one mediator, Jesus Christ. I find that both theologians lead me to worship.. reading them both is like walking into a grand cathedral. Calvin carries me away to eternity, to divine counsels and the being of god in a more classical sense. Barth confronts me with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, here and now.

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"What assumptions about sex are behind the common opinion that the Song is only an erotic poem, only a celebration of human sexuality and marriage, full stop?

Tremper Longman: “There is absolutely nothing in the Song of Songs itself that hints of a meaning different from the sexual meaning.”

When commentators express such opinions, are they already implicitly assuming a materialist view of sexuality?  Are they coming to the text with a presupposition that sex has no inherent transcendent meaning?  To put it the other way round: Doesn’t sex itself hint at a meaning different from the sexual meaning?"  Peter Leithart

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"What assumptions about sex are behind the common opinion that the Song is only an erotic poem, only a celebration of human sexuality and marriage, full stop?

Tremper Longman: “There is absolutely nothing in the Song of Songs itself that hints of a meaning different from the sexual meaning.”

When commentators express such opinions, are they already implicitly assuming a materialist view of sexuality?  Are they coming to the text with a presupposition that sex has no inherent transcendent meaning?  To put it the other way round: Doesn’t sex itself hint at a meaning different from the sexual meaning?"  Peter Leithart

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Further to this musical discussion...

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It only just struck me that a movement going from major to minor and back to major again involves the second note of the triad descending and then ascending again.

Huh?

Huh??!

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Mike Reeves on a theology of music:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

ht Dave Bish - click for more resources and good comments.

His basic point is that Christians are generally pretty atheistic when they think about the world around us.  We readily think that Christian truth is a gloss that we apply to the blank sheet of 'nature'.  But no, this is the Lord's world.  Therefore we should be looking to all things (music included) to tell us the gospel of Christ.

After these mp3s, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I listened to a sermon in which the preacher tried a bit of a theology of everything himself.  He remarked, "I'm not sure why we sleep.  I think it's to do with God teaching us humility.  Keeping us inactive for 8 hours a day teaches us who's boss."

Really?  Is that the best he can do?

Which made me think - everyone has a theology of everything.  It's just that they don't often have a gospel theology of everything.  For this preacher, the natural world preaches the bigness of God and the smallness of man - which featured in his preaching much more than the actual gospel.  Strange to think that 'death and resurrection' didn't occur to him...

Anyway, that's by the by.

Enjoy the mp3s!

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31

Mike Reeves on a theology of music:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

ht Dave Bish - click for more resources and good comments.

His basic point is that Christians are generally pretty atheistic when they think about the world around us.  We readily think that Christian truth is a gloss that we apply to the blank sheet of 'nature'.  But no, this is the Lord's world.  Therefore we should be looking to all things (music included) to tell us the gospel of Christ.

After these mp3s, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I listened to a sermon in which the preacher tried a bit of a theology of everything himself.  He remarked, "I'm not sure why we sleep.  I think it's to do with God teaching us humility.  Keeping us inactive for 8 hours a day teaches us who's boss."

Really?  Is that the best he can do?

Which made me think - everyone has a theology of everything.  It's just that they don't often have a gospel theology of everything.  For this preacher, the natural world preaches the bigness of God and the smallness of man - which featured in his preaching much more than the actual gospel.  Strange to think that 'death and resurrection' didn't occur to him...

Anyway, that's by the by.

Enjoy the mp3s!

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