May 192010

I recently heard a sermon that got me thinking, “So what?”

Well, it actually got me thinking a lot more than that, although it was primarily because I didn’t agree with a lot of it – or, at least, felt it was ‘lacking’ in certain areas. But it was the ‘So what?” question that got me going and I was wondering how often we don’t adequately deal with the ‘So what?’ of our faith and what we say about it.

Let me explain what my particular ‘So what?’ issue was in this instance.

The preacher took an opportunity to have a bit of a dig at the ‘God is love’ approach to Christian faith. This, they felt, was a limited understanding of God and threw away a significant part of the Bible which speaks of God’s justice, wrath and judgement. We got the ‘God loves us’ bit, but in the usual illustration of a loving parent who chastises (punishes) their child ‘for their own good’. I got the distinct impression that God didn’t do nearly enough of that these days and we would be well warned that he might just decide to smite us all for being miserable sinners one day.

Now, I don’t deny that the Bible speaks of a God of judgement, but surely that is the point of the cross. Jesus was judged in our place. All our iniquities were laid on him. He became sin for us. And whatever other verses you want to throw into the mix. Christ’s death on the cross brought about forgiveness for our sinfulness, did it not? God looks on Jesus and pardons us, does he not? Yes, God judges, but God has judged Jesus so that we won’t be.

Or am I missing something? Was Christ’s death on the cross not quite enough? Did Christ only die for some of our sins?

And if that’s not the case then, other than to illustrate (one of) the purposes of the cross, why keep banging on about God’s judgement and wrath? Is it because it simply goes against the grain to think that people are getting away with things we don’t like? But is this not the very point of God’s grace – we have ‘got away with it’, even the worst of ‘it’? It’s not grace otherwise! It’s our own efforts to self-improve to be ‘good enough’ to be accepted.

But what of texts which speak of a final judgement? We still have to go back to those questions about Christ’s atoning death. It either did it all or it didn’t. If it didn’t, we’re all stuffed. If it did then beating me down with how awful I am and God will judge me is a pointless exercise. What is more likely to get a response – a threat or a gift? If the ‘judgement’ of God only falls on those who reject his gift, then why offer only a threat and ignore the gift? And if it is the gift that matters, why dwell on the threat?

I get the need for a balanced picture of God. I’m just not sure that the correct balance is 50:50 and that whenever ‘God is love’ is preached it needs to be balanced with judgement. Otherwise, we risk, I think, diminishing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus with a whole series of ‘So what?’ questions.

Jan 182010

I was at the evening service in my home church last night and, I must confess, didn’t particularly engage with the theme of the sermon. It struck me as bordering on eisegesis rather than exegesis. To be fair, what it was doing was asking questions of the text that weren’t (I would have said) inherent in the text – the questions didn’t arise from the text; they were being imposed upon it (in my opinion). But, as I said, it did kick off a train of thought that I’m still wondering about.

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Jan 042010

Apologies up front – this is very much a ‘thinking out loud’ blog entry and may well descend into a bit of a rant. You have been warned! Even so, I’d appreciate your thoughts.

On Sunday I was leading the whole service and the choice of hymns, reading, sermon, etc was entirely mine. Over Advent we have spent a bit of time in Luke’s gospel and finished off towards the end of Luke chapter 2. I decided to pick up from that point and deal with a passage that isn’t (in my experience) covered very often – the incident of Jesus, as a boy, doing a bunk from the family group and being found in the Temple. I felt it fitted well with a Ne Year start as I believe the passage does a number of things, including giving a glimpse of Jesus’ future life, ministry and purpose but also leaving us with a challenge also very appropriate for the beginning of a new year and a new session – where would we expect to find Jesus if we went looking for Him?

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Dec 222009

Stewart has challenged me to:

Summarize the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.

So… here goes…


God’s Love

Humanity turns away

Jesus died for everyone

Live in forgiveness and faith

I tag:

Mrs Gerbil





Nov 132009

No, not a shiny new sports car or fancy techno-toy, but a Bible. An NLT Mosaic Bible to be precise. Actually, to be even more precise, the ‘deluxe’ version:

Mosaic Bible - cover

I ordered one a little while back and collected it today. And very pretty it is too. Lots of ‘niceness’ about it, including dictionary/concordance, Hebrew and Greek word studies, centre-column cross-reference and a huge section of devotional material including full-colour artwork. Did I mention it was very pretty? Some sample pages below and you can get more info at Tyndale’s Mosaic website.

Sample page 1Sample page 2Sample page 3

And no, I’m not on any commission, just very impressed by a beautiful book made more beautiful.

May 082009

Warning: (some) sarcasm/irony ahead – read with discernment.

I’m wondering if Lochcarron and Skye didn’t miss a trick with their overture. Or indeed, if those in Aberdeen presbytery didn’t miss the same trick. Rather than re-ignite the homosexuality debate, perhaps it would have been much safer ground to oppose Rev Scott Rennie’s appointment on the much plainer Biblical (and indeed, plainly dominical) stance on divorce. After all, Jesus had nothing specific to say on homosexuality, but he did condemn, most strongly, divorce.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery. Matthew 19:9 (NRSV)

Actually, on second thoughts, maybe that wouldn’t have worked in their favour. After all, Scott Rennie hasn’t remarried (arguably), so his lawyers would have a field day with that one. But then again, he did divorce for reasons other than ‘unchastity’ or ‘marital unfaithfulness’ so there may still be good grounds here.

OK. Time to switch off the sarcam/irony.

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May 052009

It can’t have escaped your attention that there’s a serious row brewing for this year’s General Assembly. It concerns the Rev. Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister living with his partner. He has been called by a congregation in  Aberdeen. Pesbytery have upheld the call, but a significant minority raised an official objection and the case is being heard by GA.

This has all the makings of a row big enough to seriously split the church, for all sorts of reasons. There’s the homosexuality issue; there’s the right of call of a congregation to be considered; there are issues of marriage, and what it is. And the big problem seems to be that there are entrenched views which cannot see past their own agenda – and, as usual, it is the vocal minority, on either side, which makes the headlines.

I’ve just listened to the Radio Scotland phone-in, Morning Extra, and it was fascinating how it seemed (in general) to be the laity who saw in black and white and the ministers who were on being honest about how much of a struggle this was. That said, one lady, a minister’s wife, was most eloquent and patiently explained how we read a translation and we simply don’t fully understand the cultural baggage that underpins the very few verses that speak about homosexuality and so we cannot know, in that balack and white sense, what was being said. To echo some of the ministers who were on, we seek to follow Christ in our imperfect understanding of God’s Word.

I originally intended posting about Biblical interpretation, or about an overarching moral and ethical framework we discover in Christ, but I’m not sure that rehearsing the same old arguments here will further the discussion at all. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the issue is black and white. The ‘plain meaning of scripture’ is a cop-out that precludes study. Why should this one issue be so clear when virtually everything else taught in scripture results in a tension between different things.

Even if this debate stays at the level of the ‘legalities’ – the right of call or an unmarried couple in the manse – it’s going to be messy. The fallout from it is going to ripple through the entire church and, from what I can see, the wider relationships the CofS has with other denominations. Is this going to be another ‘Anglican Communion’ split issue? I really hope that it can be resolved in a far more amicable and gracious way than it seems to be heading.

Creating online petitions is the entirely wrong way to go about this debate. It simply polarises the issues and creates artificial division. It undermines the authority and purpose of the General Assembly. It says, openly, that the petitioners do not believe that the Assembly can deal with the issue in a balanced, prayerful and gracious manner. It sends the message that they who shout loudest get their way. The tactics of the vocal minority have been morally dubious and legally questionable. Forward Together had to issue an apology for seriously misrepresenting Scott Rennie’s personal history.

This debate has been put off for too long, I believe. The ‘period of reflection’ has been stretched out too far. I think it is time for the discussion, following refelection, to happen. But it needs to be just that – a discussion, not a bullying tirade that seeks to undermine the structures of the church or the work of the majority who struggle daily with how to represent Christ to those to whom they seek to minister.

Apr 212009

About this time last year I posted some thoughts on substitutionary atonement. At the time I expressed my concern about some of the problems with it. In light of another blog discussion I ended up diving into, I reread what I’d written and realised my thoughts needed refined.

In hindsight, there have been a number of issues that have prompted me to revisit the subject and, in particular, it was a discussion about the theology of The Shack over at the Parchment and Pen Blog. But there have been other influences, not least some of the questions arising out of my dissertation and, strangely enough, about a workshop at the recent Candidates’ Conference on different expressions of spirituality.

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Mar 012009

I was preaching today at my placement church and it was one of those times when you really wish it was someone else in your place. Everything started off well enough but one young lad had been brought back in from junior church by his mum a little earlier. That was fine until about 5 minutes into the sermon he let out a loud and very obvious yawn. It was all I could do to keep a straight face especially with the ripple of laughter that went round immediately after. I suspect he knew what was coming because this sermon is probably one of the longer ones I’ve done. To be fair, I was doing a bit of editing on the fly, giving only a couple of examples of scripture where I had three or four and so on. Nonetheless, it was longer than usual.

It was also fairly warm in the church and one elderly lady fainted and, rightly so, there was a bit of concern about her. But what to do? Keep going or stop and make sure everything was fine. Stuart, my supervisor, was signalling to just keep going and I did. But it was obvious that people’s attention had been lost and I expect that my ‘punchline’ ended up falling a bit flat. I suppose that that is when we pray that it is not our words that are heard, but what God wants to communicate that is heard.

Ah well, all part of the learning process.

If anyone wants to read the sermon (and I cannot take responsibility for the consequences of doing so), then it’s now in the downloads section. The sermon is the first (barring an introduction) of a series on the Apostles’ Creed. The theme was “The God I believe in”. Because it’s a follow-on, there may be bits that seem to come from nowhere but I’ve tried to edit these to make better sense in isolation.

Jan 202009

I’ve uploaded the short talk I used for my speech training session to the downloads page (and fixed the non-working downloads while there). It’s called ‘Confusion’ and is a slightly different take on John 4 and Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It developed out of a passing thought as I was preparing for this Sunday.