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 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.

Jan 212008

It looks as though my soap box this semester is going to be the different methods of approaching scripture. I’ve just been reading about form criticism and that’s not actually what I want to blog about, but it did spark off a train of thought. I’ve also been reading recently some of the debate over scriptural inerrancy, infallibility and so on.

Claims for inerrancy always seem to be accompanied by great long riders over what constitutes an error. Literary gymnastics then ensue to wriggle round the very obvious inconsistencies and ‘errors’ we indisputably (I use the word reservedly) find in scripture. It occurred to me this evening that when God created this world it was ‘very good’. Not perfect, not absolutely right, not without error, but ‘very good’. Good enough, fit for purpose, just as God wanted it. It also occurred to me that our God-inspired/breathed scripture is much the same – good enough for purpose. And what’s its purpose? To point to and witness to Jesus Christ so that we may know Him and claim Him as our own Lord. And it’s good enough for that. We don’t need the letters that Paul was replying to, we don’t need Paul’s missing letters, we don’t need to know who wrote Hebrews or whether any of the other books were written by the name we put at the front. Because what we have is good enough to witness and point us to Jesus. Because when we get to that point then the Spirit has something to work with and, all too often, we forget that we worship a Trinity and that the Spirit is God as well and the Spirit has a purpose.

I really wonder if ‘inerrancy’ springs up through an unreconciled sense of doubt, a need to ‘know’ absolutely. I think it also springs up through a real misunderstanding of what/who is God’s Word. We invest that word, ‘Word’, with too much of our own meaning – text on paper and so we create a fourth member of the Trinity (if you see what I mean). And for that to be the case, the Bible has to be perfect, inerrant and ‘absolute’ – like God and not just like God, but to be God.

But I can live with doubt. The more I learn, the less I realise I know. I also realise I can’t know absolutely. But I do have faith. I have faith that God is much bigger than my doubts; that God can accommodate my doubts far better than my knowledge can hope to accommodate God.

For me, scripture is ‘good enough’. It points me sufficiently towards Jesus. It leaves room for the Spirit to work. I’ll always wrestle with scripture because I’ll never properly understand it. Even it it was perfect, it’s being read and interpreted by a very imperfect person; a person with doubts and faith.

ps – just in case this apparent ‘evangelical-bashing’ is giving liberals a sense of righteousness, I’m just as opposed to allowing scripture to be interpreted however we please, but that’s a subject for another blog, another day.

Dec 082007

I’m currently reading some NT Wright as part of revising a block on the “Third Quest for the historical Jesus” for Modern Christology. One particular essay has an anecdote that I particularly like, so I’ll paraphrase it here:

When he was chaplain at Worcester College, Oxford, Wright would welcome all 1st year undergraduates and speak to them, albeit briefly, personally. He would often get an embarrassed comment that he wouldn’t be seeing much of the person as they didn’t believe in God. To their consternation and surprise, he would ask them, “Which god don’t you believe in?” Thereupon a confused jumble of definitions would be trotted out: the being who lived in the sky; sometimes did miracles; sent bad people to hell; let good people come to heaven. His reply (predictably enough) was, “I don’t believe in that god either.” Following it up with, “I believe in the god I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.”

I suspect that it’s actually a common enough conversation, or at least potentially so, for most Christians. It raises loads of questions, I think, not least of which might be:

  • How often do we assume we’re speaking about the same God?
  • How mixed up is our Christian witness with cultural ‘myth’?
  • Is our Christian witness centred on Jesus, or some comfy interpretation of Him?

There’s loads more, but it’s interesting how such an innocuous, and amusing little anecdote can raise such big issues.