Saturday, July 27, 2019

Concerning Theology & Praxis

Concerning Theology and Praxis

Praxis is a technical term denoting the way in which theology is played out and expressed in practice. It is obvious that our theology concerning a particular issue needs to precede its practical application.

The supporting theology for the proposed endorsement of same-sex marriages by our church seems to run as follows:

God is a God of love and justice
LGBT+ persons have been and are currently being treated unjustly and unlovingly.
To prevent any further discrimination we must be prepared to marry them.

It is not difficult to see the disconnect between the statements which precede the therefore and that which follows.
It is like saying, “Children are being abused therefore we should give children sweets.”
No, if children are being abused we should stop abusing children.
Whether it is good to give children sweets is another matter entirely though doubtless that is what they would like.

The word ‘therefore’ is in fact a non sequitur in both instances.
That LGBT+ persons should be treated with love and justice goes without saying and the church has much to repent of for not having done so.
This is a justice issue.

However whether or not same-sex persons should be married is a holiness issue, and if we wish to apply the phrase, “in the sight of God” to such union then God needs to be consulted.
This is a holiness issue.

We may not drag the holiness issue under the banner of justice by means of a false ‘therefore,’ and call the whole thing a matter of ‘justice’. To do so is pure sophistry.

It would seem that the cart, consisting of the proposed praxis concerning same-sex marriage, is being pushed by humans. This is hardly surprising as the theological horse intended to draw it is too puny for the task. Too puny by far.

Peter Frow

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Faith is like the Square Root of Minus One

Jesus is The Truth, the wellspring and yardstick for all truth and the Creator of all things both visible and invisible.

It follows therefore, that when anyone reaches the very pinnacle of their particular discipline they will find themselves looking into the face of Jesus.
Thus all disciplines, whether Architecture, Medicine, Accounting, Psychology, History and all the rest will ultimately be found to subsume seamlessly under His Lordship.

Theology is indeed the ‘Queen of the Sciences,’ (though not many campuses would acknowledge this in our day) and ‘The fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom.’

This is why Scripture in employing metaphors to illustrate spiritual truths finds them ready to hand in the fields of agriculture, medicine, biology, philosophy, meteorology and many more.

Which leads me to the discipline of Mathematics.
Could one not find illustrations from mathematics which would bring to light spiritual truths.
One could call this synthesis of Theology and Mathematics, “Theomatics.”

Well that rolls off the tongue quite nicely, but it would need to include some real arithmetic anomalies.
For example the Marriage Institution which declares that “—the two shall become one flesh.” Would have to be rendered, 1 + 1 = 1
And the doctrine of the Trinity would need to be, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1

This really doesn’t look like a promising line of theological exploration.

However, The square root of minus one is an intriguing mathematical concept which might just come to our aid in helping us get our heads around some Biblical Brain teasers.

Most people know that if you multiply +1 by itself you will get +1
And if you multiply –1 by itself you will also get +1
So the square root of +1 (√1) could be either +1 or –1
So what then is the square root of –1 (√-1) ?
Clearly it can’t be either +1 or –1

The mind does a back flip in trying to visualise the answer.
For this reason this was sometimes termed an imaginary number until mathematicians objected to this term pointing out that although difficult to conceptualise it was not only real but very useful and effective in certain applications.
Thus the square root of –1 became abbreviated to the symbol  i and it is termed not an imaginary number but a complex number.
It is used extensively in vector arithmetic.
We must explain that unlike a number which has only magnitude, a vector is an entity which has both magnitude and orientation.
Now what is noteworthy, is that if a vector is multiplied by i that is the square root of minus one, it has the effect of swinging that vector through 90 degrees without altering its magnitude.
Thus, if a certain vector of say 1 metre in length and lying in a horizontal plane, was initially oriented to point North, after multiplying it by i it would point East. Multiply it by i again and it will now point South and so on.

How might this help our understanding of ‘Faith’:
Scripture states that, “—God has given to every man a measure of faith.” (Rom. 12. 3)
Thus from this text, faith is a gift from God for which man can claim no merit.
Yet Hebrews 11 verse 6 declares that, “—without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
Here, clearly God is pleased when we exercise faith, for it would make no sense for God to be pleased with a gift He had given with no activity on man’s part.
Also Jesus commends the centurion for his great faith and upbraids the disciples for their ‘little faith’

Ephesians 2.8 reads: For by grace we are saved through faith, not of yourselves it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.
Herein lies the tension between Calvin and Arminius:
The pure Reformed position would be that both the grace and the faith with which the grace is appropriated are gifts of God, for if faith must be exercised with volition by man then it becomes a work and man may claim merit for it and we know no merit can attach to man in respect of his salvation.
To Arminius, the grace is the gift, but it must be appropriated by the exercise of our faith, but the objection remains that if volition is employed in such exercise, this becomes a meritorious work.

But what if faith is a complex concept, neither work nor gift or perhaps both at the same time, just as the square root of minus one is a complex number whose answer is neither +1 or –1 or perhaps both at the same time.
So complex is the relationship between gift and works in the entity called faith that it defies conceptualization.
Yet difficult as it is to conceive, its effects are abundantly manifest for it can change the orientation of a person.
Thus a person coming to faith in Christ will experience a change of orientation – once hell-bound he is now Heaven-bound, once afar off, he is now brought near by the blood of Christ.

This might help explain Jesus imperative to Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” while shortly afterwards he declares that the wind (that is the Spirit) blows where He wills: quite unpredictable and beyond man’s control.

In future when one encounters a conundrum like this in Scripture, one need simply say, “Ah well, it’s just like the square root of minus one, - incomprehensible but effective.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Manna & Mercy - A Critical Evaluation Part 4.

A Bloodless Soteriology

To be fair on Daniel Erlander, though he dismisses the Passover with the one-liner, “Before they left the slaves ate a special meal called Passover”. he does mention that, “The worship of the partner people included the offering of sacrifices, ……” and that this, “ served as a way for restoring the divine-human relationship,” (P15) and that Jesus’ Body and Blood is, “given and shed for all for the forgiveness of sin.” P54.
So this critique really relates to Alan Storey’s clip under the Manna & Mercy banner entitled “Why did Jesus die?”
In this he makes the statement that Jesus died as the ultimate expression of His love.
This statement is manifestly true. Who would dispute this.
However he also makes the statement that God didn’t send Jesus to die. It could not possibly be the will of a loving father that his son should die. He illustrates this with an account of how his father encouraged him not to retaliate when bullied, which resulted in his getting a ‘blood nose’. Did my father want me to not retaliate? The answer: “Yes”, Did he want me to get a blood nose? The answer “Noooo.” Q.E.D.
He delivers this piece of homespun logic with compelling homiletic passion, but unfortunately neglects considerations of God’s sovereignty and omniscience, not to mention flying in the face of numerous texts.

For example Isaiah 53  reads as follows in verse 10:

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him;
He has put Him to grief when He makes His soul an offering for guilt…”

And verse 11
“…and He shall make many to be accounted righteous and He shall bear their iniquities”

“The Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world.” Would be another relevant text.

Lest one is inclined to dismiss these as mere ‘proof texts’ one needs to consider them against the entire metanarative of the Bible.
This could be summed up as, “Mercy triumphing over justice in the person of Jesus.”

The difficulty with a soteriology which is simply anchored in Jesus’ loving and pacific response to the worst that man can do, is that it regards any reference to 'the blood' as incidental to the central issue of atonement.

From Genesis to Revelation the principle that, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,” is underscored countless times culminating in Jesus as “the perfect sacrifice offered once for all,” (Heb Chapter10.)

These texts would include:

God making clothes of animal skins to replace the fig leaves
God accepting Abel’s sacrifice not Cain’s
Noah’s sacrifice of animals on emerging from the ark
Abraham sacrificing the ram on Mount Moriah
The Passover
The Levitical system of sacrifices – very gory affairs: blood everywhere
The list is endless, but reaches it’s ultimate fulfillment in Jesus’ gruesome utterance that, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall not have life within you.”
This statement is interpreted fully in the book of Hebrews, and lands ultimately in Revelation where the great multitude from every nation, tribe and people are wearing robes that have been ‘washed white in the blood of the Lamb.’

Also, while one can certainly agree wholeheartedly with Alan that God’s forgiveness is extended to all, he makes no mention that this gracious offer is appropriated by faith.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus……...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith ( Heb. 10. 19,22)

Was it God’s will that Jesus should die?
How else can one interpret His prayer in Gethsemane?

“If it be thy will, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done.”

With no word from the Father that the cup might be permitted to pass, the Son sets His face resolutely towards the bloody agony of the cross. No mere blood nose this.
From the Cross He will reign as King of Kings with crown of thorn -
From the Cross, as the spotless Lamb of God, He will offer up the perfect sacrifice once for all, taking on Himself the penalty of our sin that we might go free.

’Tis mystery all, the Immortal dies,
Who can explore His strange design,”

A bloodless soteriology is no soteriology at all.

Manna & Mercy - A critical Evaluation Part 3.

The Virgin Birth

It would seem that Erlander does believe in the Virgin Birth because on Page 39 of the M & M manual he says, “The Spirit of God breathed into Mary’s womb as the Spirit had breathed into the watery depths to bring forth the first creation.” This is not quite the same concept as the Holy Spirit ‘coming upon and overshadowing’ Mary, nevertheless, there is no hint that the paternity of Jesus is traceable to some human father.

So this blog is not a critique of Erlander’s view of the virgin birth, but rather that of Alan Storey who I understand has the distribution rights for the M & M material and who has published a series of video clips under the M & M banner.
One of these deals with the virgin birth:
In this Storey describes accurately the shame endured by both Joseph and Mary resulting from the latter’s pregnancy. Quite correctly he points out that any assertion that no human father had been the cause, would have been greeted with total incredulity on the part of the Nazarene townsfolk, – completely understandable since such a thing had never been known to happen before, nor since for that matter.
Having got to this point however, Storey adds his own name to the list of skeptics, despite the unambiguous accounts of Holy Spirit conception in the birth accounts of both Matthew and Luke’s gospels.
He postulates instead that Mary’s pregnancy was the result of rape by one of the Roman occupying force. Quite why he does this is not clear. Perhaps it arises from the post-enlightenment compulsion to explain away the miraculous. Perhaps it is to enlist Mary as a high-profile celebrity to the most worthy crusade against the abuse of women. (although this would neglect the reality that a ‘Non-virgin Mary’ would not be nearly such a celebrity.)
However, what I find amazing are the theological implications of Storey’s assertion:
Quite how one arrives at a coherent Christology in which Jesus is confessed as, “Truly God and Truly man,” with a Roman soldier as the real father, is for me as much of a mystery as the mystery of the Godhead itself.
Storey, without any grounds for so doing, throws a brick into the Christological gearbox, and this with a wanton disregard for the results of such theological vandalism.
One would hope that at the very least he would cross his fingers should he have occasion to recite the Nicene Creed (It could certainly be no more than a mere recitation).
Better still, he might consider resigning from the Methodist ministry lest he become party to the people called Methodists becoming “a dead sect holding to a form of godliness while denying the power thereof,” which according to Wesley, “they shall surely become if they do not hold fast to the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out.”

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Manna & Mercy - A Critical Evaluation Part 2.

Educating Jesus

Just as Erlander has made no secret of the fact that he has been influenced by Liberation Theologians, so he states plainly that Feminist Theologians have played their part in his thinking and approach to Scripture.
The implication of this is that any portrayal of God as masculine is considered unacceptable and to be not merely avoided but corrected.
One can but admire the determination with which he approaches this task, as pitfalls abound on every hand.
Let’s follow his strategy:

The Bible uses the pronouns he, him and his hundreds if not thousands of times in reference to God. For example: In Psalm 136 the words he, him and his occur 31 times in 26 verses.
Erlander is at pains not to perpetuate this ‘error’, so not once throughout the M & M manual does he refer to God with a masculine pronoun. This requires considerable skill and restraint.

Repeatedly Scripture refers to the relationship between God and Israel as that between husband and (oftentimes unfaithful) wife (Is. 54. 5-8; Jer. 3. 6-14; Hosea Chs. 1-3)
Erlander studiously avoids any reference to God as husband to Israel.

In several places in Isaiah and Jeremiah God refers to himself as the Father of Israel.
Erlander prefers to see the relationship between God and Israel as that between mother and child ( M & M p. 5.) although it is with difficulty that one finds any textual support for this.

God is often referred to as King but never as Queen.
Erlander refrains from any reference to God as King. 

Erlander coins the phrase, “The wombishness of Jahweh” (M & M p 44)
In fact throughout the manual Jahweh is depicted as a somewhat weepy, mothering figure.

Jesus always refers to God as Father (close on 200 times in the Gospels) and instructs us to do likewise. All the New Testament writers refer to God as ‘Father’.
In Romans 8, the evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is that we have a natural inclination to address God as “Abba Father” (Rom 8. 15)
Yet Erlander refuses to refer to God as ‘Father’, deeming this to be unacceptably sexist.

Priscilla and Aquila are referred to several times in the New Testament. They are never mentioned singly and present a wonderful model as a married couple of considerable maturity and stature in God. Certainly their ministry has an apostolic profile although they are never referred to as apostles.
Erlander however sees fit to promote Priscilla to the status of ‘apostle’ while making no mention whatever of poor Aquila. The reference given is Romans 16. 3 which simply refers to both Priscilla and Aquila as ‘fellow workers’  of Paul.

Finally, it is clear from the Gospels that only “The Twelve” were with Jesus at the Last Supper. (Matt. 26. 20; Mark14. 17)
Erlander considers this very sexist and remiss of Jesus, so his illustration of the Last Supper augments the 12 males (13 with Jesus) with 13 females resulting in perfect parity of the sexes.
His message to Jesus would run something like this, “Respectfully Sir, I sense that in having only twelve males at the Last Supper, you were unduly influenced by the prevailing mores and sexist attitudes of the time. It would have been far more appropriate to have both men and women at this important event. I have drawn you a picture of the arrangement we regard as being more suitable given the more enlightened understanding we have of such matters in our time.”

There can be little doubt that the overall tenor of Erlander’s Manna and Mercy manual is one of eisegesis rather than exegesis. (see our post entitled “Exegesis versus Eisegesis” of Aug 4, 2016)
As with the liberation motif, Erlander has certain points he wants to make, and he does not shrink from distorting the Biblical narrative in order to make these points.
The trouble is that the Manna & Mercy manual by virtue of its humorous and pictorial presentation, offers itself as a Biblical overview for those beginning to study the scriptures. Such ‘beginner students’ can easily be duped into mistaking Erlander’s distortion of the Scriptural account for the actual narrative of the text.

This is not to say that some of the points that Erlander wishes to make aren’t worth making.
For example, the communion table is most assuredly inclusive and not confined to men. –But this conclusion is the result of theological reflection on a number of texts and does not constitute grounds for a revision of the Gospel texts.

--A pity that Erlander couldn’t have ”played it straight.”

As mentioned in our previous post, this begs the question as to whether one who approaches Scripture in such a careless and cavalier fashion can be considered trustworthy to conduct us through it’s pages.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Manna & Mercy: A Critical Evaluation Part 1

Daniel Erlander’s course entitled “Manna and Mercy” presents itself as an overview of the entire Bible. It is user-friendly in its presentation and includes many of Erlander’s (often humorous) line drawings.

It is inevitably something of a whistle-stop tour and clearly some things have to be left out, but as one is whisked past well known landmarks one often thinks, “Hey what about this?” The reply seems to be, “O that, yes but what you really need to see is this.”
Take for example Noah and the Flood: Perhaps because the overall theme of the course is God’s mercy, Erlander reasons that God would not, could not, should  not do such a thing as wipe out nearly all of humankind even though they were behaving incredibly badly (Gen 6. 5-8). With that he takes his censor’s scissors and excises Genesis 6. 7 to Genesis 8. 22 from the Biblical record. Feeling that this leaves a bit of a hole in the narrative, instead of God saying, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land …” (Gen. 6. 7), he has him saying after considering the destruction of the human race, “I will not! Can a mother destroy her child, her delight, her joy. (see M & M p 3.)The reference given is Gen. 9. 11 which bears no relation to the preceding statement. In fact the reference to mother and child is lifted out of context from Isaiah 49. 15 where, referring to Israel in exile the Lord says,
 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.”

Erlander makes no secret of the fact that his view of Scripture is strongly influenced by Liberation Theologians.

This accounts for his racing through the book of Genesis without a mention of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob nor yet of the twelve tribes of Israel.
To be fair they do get a mention in a throwaway line at the start of the section dealing with the Exodus. (M & M p 4.)
Exodus however, does have a liberation motif which is both strong and clear. Erlander teases this out over the next three chapters (M&M pgs. 4-15)
However, the Biblical record of the conquest of Canaan presents a problem to Erlander: with the exception of Rahab and her household, Joshua’s strategy is to put to death everyone, men, women and children, in the towns and cities which he conquers (Joshua Chs. 6 through 11)
It is always going to be hard to discover motifs of mercy and liberation in accounts such as this. Erlander’s solution to this difficulty is as bold as it is inventive: He decides to re-write the book of Joshua.
In the Revised Erlander Version (R.E.V.) “…victory came when Joshua’s army attacked from the outside while oppressed slaves revolted from the inside. When the cities fell, these collaborators then became full members of the people of Israel. ” (M & M p 17)
So then it was only the ‘big deals’ who were killed.
Any serious student of the Bible should continuously be asking three questions which in turn constitute three steps:
1.                 What does the text say?
2.                 Using sound hermeneutic principles how do we interpret the text?
3.                 Taking due note of the interpretation, how does the text apply to our context

There is usually scope for a range of interpretations in steps 2. and 3., but because Erlander tampers with the source data at step 1., it renders any attempt to answer the questions in steps 2. and 3., futile.
In addition to Erlander’s propensity to excise and revise texts he also has a marked tendency to trivialize key texts. Take for example the Passover (Exodus Chapter 12) This is alluded to in the following sentence: “Before they left, the slaves ate a special dinner called Passover.” (M & M p 4.)
There is no mention of the blood of an unblemished lamb being applied to the doorposts and lintel of each dwelling so that death would not befall the firstborn of the children of Israel – this a clear prefiguring of Christ’s death on the cross, the Lamb of God shedding His blood that we might have life.
A special meal? Yes indeed! A very special meal!

There can be little doubt that the overall tenor of Erlander’s Manna and Mercy manual is one of eisegesis rather than exegesis. (see our post entitled “Exegesis versus Eisegesis” of Aug 4, 2016) He has certain points he wants to make, (some of them valid) and he is prepared to excise, revise and trivialize texts in order to enlist the support of Scripture in making these points.

All the above begs the question as to whether one who approaches Scripture in such a careless and cavalier fashion can be considered trustworthy to conduct us through it’s pages.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Pocket Pack of Hermeneutic Principles

Hermeneutics, is the discipline concerned with ‘Interpreting the Scriptures Correctly,’ or as stated in 2 Timothy 2. 15, “…rightly dividing the Word of God” (KJV)
Hermeneutics at an academic level can be a vast and complex business, yet any student of the Bible can grasp the elements of the matter. Indeed, whether one is a preacher or teacher of God’s Word, a leader of a Home Group, a Sunday School teacher or simply reading the Bible for one’s own spiritual nourishment, it is important to have a few important Hermeneutic Principles under one’s belt.

These fall naturally into two groups namely:

  • Principles of Context
  • Principles of Interpretation

So here is a Pocket Pack of Hermeneutic Principles which I hope will be found useful by any student of the Scriptures wishing to unlock their rich treasure:

The Master Key

The purposes and character of God are fulfilled and revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
As the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testaments speak of Him, so He affirms their truthfulness and authority.

Principles of Context

1.     The text must be understood within the context of the passage in which it occurs
2.     The text must be understood within the context of the book and the literary genre in which it occurs.
3.     The text must be understood within the sweep and thrust of the entire Bible.
4.     The context of the writer must be taken into account.
5.     The purpose of the writer must be taken into account.
6.    While we take note of the historical context of the text, in applying it to our current context, we yet allow Scripture to be the yardstick for what is pleasing and acceptable to God. We do not allow our context to be the yardstick for what is acceptable in Scripture.

Principles of Interpretation

1.     Scripture is its own interpreter: one text will expand upon or give insight into another.
2.     The New Testament interprets the Old.
3.     John’s Gospel interprets the Synoptic Gospels
4.     The Epistles interpret the Gospels.
5.     The systematic and didactic Epistles such as Romans and Galatians, interpret the historic and incidental.
6.     The universal interprets the local and cultural.
7.     The clear interprets the obscure.
8.     There is an unfolding (or progressive) revelation evidenced in Scripture such that our understanding of God and his purposes both creative and redemptive become clearer and fuller as they are revealed “line upon line and precept upon precept.”
9.    Taking due account of the above principles, unless there is compelling Scriptural evidence to the contrary, the plain meaning of the text is the true meaning.

In earlier posts we explained ‘The Master Key’ and also Principle 8. more fully.
In subsequent posts we may tease out certain other of the above principles in order to make them clearer.