Wednesday, 17 August 2011

a considered opinion?

I have been asked to preach in October on a particular controversial topic; Christian Zionism! The request came with a plea to present a 'considered opinion'. That gives me my title for the session; "Christian Zionism: a considered opinion". I am excited by this title, especially the second half of it.

More than 30 years ago I was spending 6 months in an Asian country. The country had a border with a much smaller nation which was ruled by a fierce anti-Christian government. Two young teenagers from the smaller country were pursuing their education in the larger country and had come to a clear faith in Christ; they had been baptised, at their request. Myself, 2 other English preachers, a long term missionary and the two teenagers spent the night in a small wooden house. When the 'boys' had gone to bed the missionary was very subdued. She said "when it is discovered what these boys have done, they will be poisoned by their families."

I had a very broken night. The question that kept me awake was a simple one; "is what I am preaching worth these two fine young men dying for?" I had an old friend who used to say "a man is not a man until he knows what he is ready to die for". I could have given a list of 'Bible truths' that I was willing to die for, but how many of those truth was I willing to let someone else die for?

I have a somewhat deserved reputation for being pedantic; I think truth is important and ought to be precise. I probably have a reputation for having 'opinions' too, but I endeavour to keep my opinions in two water-tight compartments. There are those which are really a 'best fit' hypothesis to some Bible theme. I am willing to share those opinions with you if you ask me, but I have another list of 'opinions' I am ready to die for. More... I have some convictions which are so strong, and in my view so crucial, that I preach them without fear or favour, even though I know the repercussions are such that anyone believing them may have to put their own life on the line too.

If any of my hearers ever have to make that choice I would want to be sure they were laying down their lives for Bible truths which were clear and fundamental and significant and not something which was my own 'best fit' theology.

Blaise Pascal is reputed to have coined the phrase;
"In essentials, unity.

In non-essentials, liberty.

And in all things, charity."

It is a good motto for a preacher. There are issues where a man or woman will have cause to quote Luther's famous words;
"My conscience is subject to the word of God.

Here I stand. I can do no other".
but there are times too when in honesty and humility a preacher will need to end his session with the words;
"...this is my considered opinion."

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots or Revelation: the only real options

The version best known by Christians of an older generation is...
Where there is no vision, the people perish: Prov 29:18 KJV
It has been a favourite with many a preacher. The general interpretation was that unless we have a God-given goal, usually held by the leader, the work of God will fade and vanish. The New King James Version corrects this misunderstanding...
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law. Prov 29:18 NKJV
This is referring to a quite different Biblical concept. When there is no revelation of God's will people will live lives which are without restraint.

In the UK we have been experiencing a time of civil disorder and mob activity. We have generations now who have never been taught that God has placed limits on human freedom and that he will hold us accountable when we cross those lines. We have generations who are experts on their 'rights' and who could hardly name a 'responsibility'. Sooner or later the behaviour that we have seen on our streets is inevitable to a society which has 'no revelation'; they will simply, as the wise man told us 3000 years ago, throw off restraint.

Why not? Atheistic evolution has no reason for the requirement for a man or woman to 'love their neighbour as they love themselves'. Dawkins and others struggle to create the notion that 'collectively' we have evolved into communities which realise that survival is a better prospect when we 'stick together' but it is an empty logic.

If there is no God, and the fool lives his life on that presumption, why not cast off all restraint?
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. Psa 14:1 NKJV
This famous verse is actually telling us the mind-set of certain people. God is not in their thoughts; 'in their thoughts/heart' they are working on the assumption that 'there is no God'. In the UK our TV screens have been taken up with experts from one field or another who 'explain' why thousands of youngsters have taken to the streets in looting and destruction. The real answer is much more simple than those we constantly hear. The cause of the riots? practical atheism. The 'fool' has the mind-set that there is no God; There will be no 'repercussions'. The only fault is in getting caught. The 'atheist' will produce 'abominable works' because there is no logical, ultimate, restraint upon his behaviour. His mind-set is a personal pragmatism; if it suits 'me' that's a good enough reason.

Are riots and looting wrong? Why are they wrong? If we are the simple product of an atheistic evolution how can anything be wrong? Right and wrong are redundant categories; all that really matters is 'what do I get out of it?' If there is no God and no future judgment, why is rioting 'wrong'? Unless there is a revelation of a God who requires his creatures to behave in certain ways that he has ordered, why not 'cast off restraint'.

So how should those who believe in a God who has revealed 'right and wrong' respond in the face of riots? We must be active agents of a 'revelation' of the will of God and we must point men and women to one who took on his own shoulders the 'lawless-nesses' of a whole world and made a way back to God. Ultimately relationships between one person and another can never be on a right foundation until those persons are themselves rightly related to God; the horizontal relationship can never be truly 'right' until the vertical relationship is mended.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor 5:18–21 NKJV

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Some thoughts on Bible versions. Part 5. ESV

More vanishing truths. ESV

The ESV comes highly recommended by almost everyone. It is an evangelical revision of the Revised Standard Version. (Bible-Researcher: ESV It began as a reaction to the 'inclusive NIV' and it is advocated by a galaxy of evangelical academics. Originally it claimed to be adopting a 'literal equivalence' philosophy of translation but now seems to have adopted the phrase 'essentially literal'. It has the easy reading style of its RSV and is gaining acceptance in many circles. I use it frequently in my studies; but I don't trust it.

Several times in the writing of Paul we have reference to a contrast between what he calls 'the old man' and 'the new man'. Rom 6:6; Eph 2:15; 4:22, 24; Col 3:9–10. It is a thrilling image and one that is crucial to a true understanding of Paul's teaching about the effects of regeneration. The references make it clear that there can be no peaceful co-existence between the 'old man' and the 'new man'. In a key passage in Romans Paul details the consequences of the behaviour of 'one man'; Adam, and goes on to expound the consequent effect of our union with Adam being ended and our union with the 'new man' being begun. That foundational understanding is necessary in understanding Paul's teaching about the 'old man' and the 'new man' and their mutual exclusivity. It is key to understanding the nature of the new life into which the Spirit brings us.

The 'old man' is human solidarity under the wrong head and is the direct consequence of Adam's first rebellion. That act created a different kind of 'man' and a different entity to which we are all joined by first birth. Adam is said to be a type/figure of another man; the new man, Christ Jesus. What a tragedy then than all these ideas are cut off at the root by the ESV decision to interpret 'the old man' and the 'new man' as the 'old self' and a 'new self'. In the ESV we slide from direct Biblical revelation into the mists of psycho-babble and non-biblical notions of 'the self'. It is quite impossible to get back to revealed truth from this position. The truth of the end of 'the old man' and the beginning of the 'new man' have disappeared from the ESV.

And not only from the ESV... the NIV takes this same route, as does the NASB. What we have here, in the ESV and in the NASB are versions which claim to hold to 'literal equivalence' but which have chosen to translate these key passages in the light of 'dynamic equivalence'. I know that many of my friends will disagree with me, but I hold that it is impossible to understand what Paul is teaching about the radical nature of regeneration if we confine our studies and thinking to the likes of the ESV, NIV and NASB.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Some thoughts on Bible versions. Pt 4 NIV

Disappearing truths in the NIV?

Some time ago I was asked to be the speaker at a church house party weekend. I was 'commissioned' to do 4 sessions and after having prayed felt I should do a mini-series on the Christian's walk. I had in mind the way we begin and the way we must continue and had a series of verses in mind, particularly from Paul's letters.

I was interested in the word 'peripateO' which means to walk about (or around). Paul uses this key picture of the Christian life 32 times in his letters. Rom 6:4; 8:1, 4; 13:13; 14:15; 1 Cor 3:3; 7:17; 2 Cor 4:2; 5:7; 10:2–3; 12:18; Gal 5:16; Eph 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15; Phil 3:17–18; Col 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Th 2:12; 4:1, 12; 2 Th 3:6, 11. It speaks of the steady 'one step at a time' pattern of Christian living.

I had some key verses in mind:
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Rom 6:4

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 2 Cor 5:7

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Gal 5:16

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, Col 2:6

I prepared my outline thoughts using my New King James Version and then I hit a snag. I asked what version of the Bible the people at the house party would be using; answer: The New International Version. Why would that be a 'snag'? Well, the NIV has systematically eliminated the picture of the Christian life as a 'step by step obedience' by refusing to translate 'peripateO' as 'walk'. It opts instead for 'living', 'acting', 'behaving', 'use', among others. The favoured choice is 'living'. In fact, it has chosen not to translate it but rather to explain what Paul means by his use of the word.

There are times when short-cuts look very much like vandalism. If the NIV is prepared to take this kind of short-cut how do I know what other short-cuts it may take? And that is the problem; it undermines my confidence in what I am reading. I may 'understand' much more easily what I am reading but how do I know if I am now reading what Paul really meant?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Some thoughts about Bible dogs. Pt 3 worship

Now what on earth can dogs teach us about worship?

Christians have very different ideas about worship. For some it is the Sunday morning service at the local parish church, for others it is a worship band and enthusiastic communal singing. The most frequent Greek word translated 'worship' in the New Testament is proskuneO (Strongs G4352); It is a Greek word which has the Greek word for 'dog' right at the centre of it. It almost certainly derives from a word which has come to mean 'kiss', like a dog licking his master’s hand.

It is an interesting choice of word. In Hebrew the word for 'worship' means to prostrate yourself in surrender. If you combine this idea with that of a dog submissively licking its master's hand you have a fascinating insight into what the Bible means by 'worship'. It has almost nothing to do with music and very little to do with praise; it is the state of affectionate surrender to a master.

The idea of personal submission has gone AWOL (absent without leave) from much of contemporary Christianity. Perhaps the family pet has something to teach us here?

Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Matt 4:10 KJV

Apparently the only true service of God begins with the submission of a personal affection to Jesus Christ himself.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Some thoughts about Bible dogs. Pt 2 Part of the family

I made a point of explaining that 'dogs' never became part of the 'family'. There is an exception to this.

There is a Bible character who begins outside the family but becomes an integral part of the family. It seems that he was a Kennizite and that implies that he was not one of the descendants of Israel. He rose to prominence in the family of Judah and was commissioned to reconnoitre the land of Israel before the Conquest.

He seems to have been a foreigner who was integrated into the family of Judah and left a lasting legacy of courage and naked faith. Perhaps it was because his origins were remembered that he was always known by the name that showed he was not originally part of the family. They called him by the name that indicated a foreigner from outside the family; in English 'dog' or 'whelp', in Hebrew... Caleb. Joshua 14:6.

Here was a man with little spiritual legacy and, so far as we can tell, no right to be part of the Bible's story but we know him as a man of extraordinary faithfulness to the revealed will of God. It is an encouraging reminder that it is not our past which determines our destiny and usefulness in the kingdom of God, but our current obedience.