Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Snap in the Tail

 Anyone who reads my theological reflections may have noticed that I invariably try to conclude with a thought-provoking one-liner. This may include a touch of satire or humour.

I think I acquired this habit from a tradition that arose during the many missions that Jill and I have led to Mozambique and Swaziland.

Here the trick is to spot an incident that has occurred during a particular day and pen what became known as “The News”. This being set to a jaunty Calypso melody and accompanied with a guitar, has the following lyrical structure:

The Refrain goes:

It’s in the news, it’s in the news, indubitably it’s in the news

Some makes you happy some gives you the blues

But nevertheless, it’s all in the news. 

Then would follow a four line verse with a humorous “snap in the tale.”

For example, a young man named Scott while helping to paint a Mozambican pastor’s church building almost got himself electrocuted because he backed into some bare wires he had failed to notice.

The News that day went: 

This is truly shocking news that we hear

That Scott has two twenty volts in his rear

He’s God’s man-of-power-for-the-hour we know

He’s got power from above and power from below 

Then there was another young man, name of Brayden, who started out on his first preach whereupon all the Mozambican ladies in the front row proceeded to whip out their boobs and feed their babies – which Brayden found a mite distracting.

The News that evening went as follows: 

When Braden takes his preaching station,

He finds himself with a major temptation,

But with only the slightest hesitation,

He keeps abreast of the situation. 

And so on; I have strings of such doggerel. I was even asked to sing some news at the wedding of a couple who had been on mission with us, a Congolese man marrying a Zulu girl. Well, that was a first.

But to return to the brief article entitled, “The Holy It”, what I hoped to gently convey to the worthy women who coined the formula, “The Parent, The Sibling and the Holy It,” and to those who shared such views was: “Really Ladies this is unlikely to catch on and besides it is doctrinally unsound. (Not that doctrinal unsoundness is proof against popularity) Well, such an irenic approach is a lot to pack into a single punch line and I manifestly failed.

Interestingly, my first attempt was say, tongue-in cheek, “This is unlikely to be improved upon,” and then it occurred to me that readers would conclude that I was advocating the new formula and so I changed it to, “It remains to be seen if this will gain much traction.” And would you know, folk were still left wondering whether I was seriously considering the change.

Jill is always telling me that people do not understand my humour. 

So, I conclude that the best thing men can do to assist the feminist cause is to listen to their wives. 

Peter Frow

December 2022

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Basis for Theological Engagement


Some years ago I had coffee with a man of God whom I value highly. The atmosphere at the time was beyond awkward. You see I had listened to him preach a sermon on Genesis 3 in which he had seemed to trivialise the Fall. I had written saying that to trivialise the Fall was by implication to trivialise the Cross which was its antidote.

As we drank our coffee his displeasure was unmistakable:

“You and I have nothing in common,” he said, “We do not even have a basis for discussion.”

In reply I said, “Can I suggest two things which might form a basis?”

“Firstly, the Bible is the Word of God” I thought he might buy that because after reading the Scripture in a service he would conclude with, “This is the Word of God”

“Secondly, that Jesus Christ is the interpretive master key that unlocks the whole of it.”

After some hesitation he agreed, and though to this day some awkwardness persists in our relationship, we do have a basis for theological engagement. 

I heard one of our ministers say, “The Bible is a contested authority today” which of course begs the question, “By whose authority is it contested?”

I heard another of our ministers say, “The Bible is not our only authority, there is the authority of experience.” Referring to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

It seemed that he was regarding the four items of the Quadrilateral as four legs of a table whereas it is clear that with Wesley Scripture was always the supreme authority, the secure bedrock on which the tripod of Tradition, Reason and Experience stood. There was no question of an adversarial or alternate relationship between the Bible and Experience.

Of course, The Bible is not our only authority, a maths textbook has authority for instance. There is veracity in many writings, indeed in many religious writings. The point here is that the Bible is acknowledged as having supreme authority. It has canonicity, it is the yardstick by which the truthfulness of other authorities is measured, not only in matters of Faith and practice, but at least in matters of Faith and practice.

I heard yet another of our ministers refer to “recent revelation.” Yes, there are fresh discoveries in the field of science for instance, but I think he had in mind an extension to the canon of Scripture, something like the Book of Mormon, inserted between Revelation and the maps. It’s an interesting conjecture as to what such a book might be called. Perhaps one might hold a competition as to the best title for such a book. 

Regarding Jesus Christ as the Interpretive master key for unlocking the whole of Scripture, it is not enough that our hermeneutic have Christological content, it needs to be Christocentric.

Everyone in town would like to hitch Jesus to their wagon, to co-opt Him to their particular hobbyhorse or crusade. We all bring our own biases, hurts and life experiences into play when we study the Scriptures, but by keeping Jesus central in this, we will discover our biases corrected, our hurts healed and our eyes opened to God’s truth as it stands revealed in His Word. 

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness of me” says Jesus.


Peter Frow


The Nature of Theological Engagement


I am eternally grateful to my Systematic Theology Professor Dr. Adrio Konig for instilling in me as a student a healthy approach to theological engagement. He had deliberately populated his department with a wide range of different theologians: There was Simon Maimela, a liberation theologian, Len Hulley, a Methodist, Brian Gaybba, a Catholic, A Pentecostal whose name I forget and Konig himself who was Dutch Reformed. Konig’s approach was as follows.

·       Make sure you listen carefully to what each theologian says.

·       Make sure you understand how and why he or she has arrived at their position.

·       Don’t simply sign up to one or other position but establish your own position.

·       Make sure that you can give a well-reasoned account of this position.                                                                                                                                       

I found this approach quite liberating. I remember writing an assignment for Dr. Gaybba and receiving a good mark although I was pretty certain that he didn’t share the position I was advocating. He simply recognised that I had tried hard to build a rational case for this position from Scripture. (I sent greetings and an expression of gratitude through a mutual friend in Grahamstown to Dr. Gaybba last year shortly before he died.)

John Wesley also gives us a good example to follow. With amazing humility considering what an apostolic giant he is on the landscape of church history, he writes in the preface to his Forty Four Sermons.

Are you persuaded you see more clearly than me? It is not unlikely you may. Then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have known. Show me it is so by plain proof of Scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread, and am therefore unwilling to leave it, labour with me a little, take me by the hand, and lead me as I am able to bear. But be not displeased if I entreat you not to beat me down in order to quicken my pace. I can go but feebly and slowly at best; then I should not be able to go at all. May I request you further not to give me hard names in order to bring me into the right way? Suppose I were ever so much in the wrong, I doubt this would set me right. Rather this would make me run so much the farther from you and so get more and more out of the way.


The challenge is to hold firmly to one’s convictions, (for faith is the certainty of things hoped for but not seen) while maintaining a teachable spirit. How marvelously Wesley models this. 

One of my “Fathers in the Faith” was the late Ian Thompson. A theologian of considerable stature, he held office at different times as Principal of FEDSEM and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in South Africa. Yet he was one of the most humble and saintly men I have ever had the privilege to meet. Conversing with Ian especially on theological matters he was always gentle and concerned to understand what a person was saying. Rock steady in his convictions yet without trace of the judgmental. I recall his saying to me on one occasion, “Peter our conversation must be always gracious yet seasoned with salt.”

Well, I’m still trying to get that right.

I confess to a certain admiration for Martin Luther as he debates with his ecclesiastic adversaries in the Market Square of a German town, using the earthiest of language. The apostle Paul too, was not above using earthy language when he wished to make an important point: Of the circumcision party he says, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves.” And, “…Christ Jesus for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ…”(KJV)

The fact is that at times this imperishable Gospel which we are called upon to proclaim from the rooftops, must be defended and contended for robustly.

Theological engagement may be robust so long as it is respectful.

I am disappointed when in a theological discussion a person adopts an ad hominum approach and begins to catalogue my shortcomings. This is unhelpful. I am able to produce a far more comprehensive catalogue of my sins than may be apparent to him or her.

In any theological engagement, it is important to play the ball and not the player.

It is especially important to avoid the ‘hard names’ that Wesley refers to.

Affixing a person with a pejorative label is no substitute for dealing with the issue. 

So then, why not play it safe and avoid theological engagement? 

The thing is none of us has the monopoly on truth.

None of us is yet fully mature in Christ.

We have yet to attain to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13)

And this involves doctrinal soundness and stability, “so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…” (Eph 4. 14)

Yes we have the elementary doctrine of Christ in place, the stuff of the Nicene Creed, we know that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, not of ourselves it is a gift of God, but we must go on to maturity (Heb 6.1 ; Eph 2.8)

The fact is that we need to be “filled-out” by other believers. Each of us comes from a different context and has traveled a unique journey with Jesus, and so together we are able to pool our testimonies and perspectives, to enrich one another and so approach to a fuller understanding of Him. That is why Scripture says, “..speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ……when each part is working properly the body grows so that it builds itself up in love.” Eph 4. 16 

This involves respectful, truth-seeking, theological engagement. 

Peter Frow

September ‘22  

The Holy It


I’ve been reading the autobiography of Father Brian D’Arcy the Irish priest who wrote a column for the Irish tabloid Sunday World entitled, “Father Brian’s Little Bit of Religion.” The column was widely read and continued for some 30 years.

Father Brian writes that while on sabbatical in San Francisco he encountered a group of women including nuns who were working to revise the Trinitarian formula, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” which they considered unacceptably sexist and patriarchal.

They eventually came up with, “Parent, Sibling and Holy It.” 

It remains to be seen if this will enjoy much traction.


Peter Frow

December 2022

On Being Judgmental


If you do not condone what I do,

I will be offended,

I will be hurt,

I will say you are unloving,

And I will judge you to be judgmental.


It’s curious that I never feel more judged than by someone who informs me that I am being judgmental.

Somehow those who are exceedingly broadminded as to what they deem permissible, become suddenly rather ‘narrow’ towards those who don’t share those same permissive views. The new tolerance becomes highly intolerant of anyone holding a more scrupulous position. 

Certainly, there is a Scriptural injunction to, “Judge not lest we be judged.” Within the context this means we are not to adopt a Pharisaic ‘holier-than-thou’ stance towards others lest we be judged by God. However, as Professor Richard Hays points out, this has come to mean, “I’ll wink at your sin if you wink at mine.” 

The fact is that there are two kinds of judging:

the one we must not do

and the other which we must do. 

The one which we must not do is the stone-throwing, condemnatory kind, the one which mistakes self-righteousness for righteousness, which fails to acknowledge that there is none without sin and that but for the grace of God we are all in deep, deep trouble. 

The kind of judging which we must do is perhaps better termed the practice of discerning right from wrong. 

Romans 12. 2  puts it this way:

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may test and approve what is God’s good and perfect will.” 

Thus, while believers must live each moment with a profound consciousness of God’s grace, we must also be spurring one another on in the quest for holiness. 

None of us can claim to have arrived, yet together we press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and if anyone is caught in a transgression, those who are spiritually mature should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. (Philp. 3. 14; Gal 6. 1) 

To do so is not to be judgmental but simply to recognise that, “I am my brother’s keeper.” 

Peter Frow

October 2022

The Heavenly Chariot


I would describe my doctrinal position as ‘Mere Orthodoxy.’

There are some theological circles in which I move

where such a confession is reckoned ‘seriously uncool.’

Inexcusably retrograde.

Yet if in such circumstances I incline to feeling beleaguered,

To my aid comes G. K. Chesterton,

Like a gale, a refreshing wind, he comes:


“People have fallen into the foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.----- It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse, yet it is utterly un-historic to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. --- It is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist, as it is easy to be a snob. ---- It is always simple to fall, there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”*

 Well, I’m clinging on to that chariot with all my strength. 

Peter Frow

October 2022 

*G.K. Chesterton - Orthodoxy

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Mr. Chairman


Mr. Chairman…

Ahem, that is, I meant to say: Chair

Chair, it has been observed that the Bible has a decidedly sexist bias having been written by men for men.

Seemingly Jesus himself is one of the chief culprits here:

To appoint twelve males as apostles would seem to indicate that he was not immune to prevailing first century Jewish prejudices involving the severe dis-empowerment of women. His choice of these men seems also to be wanting in discernment including as it did the ‘bad apple’ Judas, although measured against the mediocrity of the other eleven, he at least showed a measure of resolve. Jesus could surely have done better by including certain women of noble character and spiritual stature such as Martha and Mary Magdalene.

Further, he unfailingly addressed God as ‘Father’ and never as ‘Mother’. This too must be considered unacceptably patriarchal in the light of current enlightened mores relating to these matters. 

It would seem then Chair, that one of the chief tasks of this commission would be to educate Jesus. 

It is worth mentioning however that in pursuing this objective we might well encounter considerable difficulties, not least of which is that Jesus is God, and indeed were we to attain our goal we might discover that the situation had become less sexist but more ‘Godist’.


Peter Frow

September 2022