Tag Archives: Bible

By the Waters of Babylon

Come sit by the waters of our land of captivity;
Defy its profiteering smile police: weep for Zion.
Turn your tear-stained face from this crass entertainment empire
Lest placated you forget how truth and freedom feel:
Lest you let them make a circus of our Christ-song.

If I should forget thee, O true Kingdom of my God,
Then let my freedom song cease altogether.
Grieve by the waters for the real and the right:
Don’t let them numb the pain with their ephemera.

Come brother, hang your harp on the willow tree with me,
The Lord’s song to them is just a curio.
Don’t let them win a submissive grin lest the winds should change
And you forsake your home, your God, your heart.
Don’t let the culture-colonizers quench our sorrow.


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Fellowshipping the healing process

I’ve said that I pray laptop closed… but I want to fellowship my healing today. This is new to me. Enter, dear reader: you, the one sitting there in your chair, behind the fourth wall. Come and sit with me as I try to connect with God. If you can’t bring yourself to accept his reality, feel free to eavesdrop anyway if you can stand the heat. Whoever you are, I know that you are there. Accompany me in my isolation; keep watch over me lest I turn back to my imaginaries as I pursue God. I cannot see you and I do not know who you are, but I know that, whoever you are, you are real and you are there; more real and more there than any known, familiar figure I could conjure into my imagination and pretend were there instead. Hopefully you are emoting with me as I pour my heart out right now, rather than wondering if I’m some kind of lunatic, but you are what you are, and that’s not something I can dictate. Here is a song for the ride. I apologise for any awkward associations it might have with you. It just captures my emotive state right now, and I invite you to share in that if you want to.

For God alone my soul waits in silence.
Why should I invite imaginary ghosts from my past into that sacred space?
From him comes my salvation.
Why should I draw back from him in my need and run to my mind’s pantheon of expired greats?
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Why should I keep lying to myself that they will do anything but shackle me here while the walls of the vault crumble all around, when I have seen it with my own eyes – when I experience it over and over?

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is found in him.
Speak to them no more. Leave them. Forsake them and come into the light. Believe. Trust.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge, is God.

O you who hear prayer,
to you all flesh shall come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Let that blood, that rich, glorious blood, ever atone for me, precious one. I feel I need it more than any soul on earth. Teach me the height and depth and breadth of its spread. Teach me how foetid the dirt it can cleanse, how ingrained the disease it can excoriate, and still leave its subject alive.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
Heavenly Father, in your mercy, let me see how richly I have been blessed, that you chose me to bring me near!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
Heavenly Father, in your mercy, I am ungrateful and blind. Grant me that I may be satisfied with the goodness and holiness of all that you are. Enough to make me leave my past behind and make you alone my salvation, my glory, my mighty rock, my refuge.

All quotations taken from the Bible, ESV.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 6

Today my thankfulness has been grounded in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is a book overflowing with thankfulness, care, kindness and joy. It was a balm to the eyes of my battle-wearied mind today; a mind that hated the sin it committed even as it committed it; sick of the mechanical pattern of being beaten down again and again by the same thought patterns and weakened and waylaid as if being battered repeatedly with the turning paddles of a water wheel; wasting hours of my time chasing the winds of some adolescent disappointment and lying there trapped in my fanciful, godless world of reanimated, decomposing dream-corpses.

Sin paralysed me and left me gasping for the Word today, and when I could remove myself from my stupor, he delivered – and what a balm; what a mind-freeing ointment to deliver me from my bonds. As I turned my eyes away from the text to search for a pen, and the footsteps pacing downstairs gathered speed and force, and the anxiety began to blossom in my mind once more, I wrote the following before the peace of Christ gave way to the banal, chilly dread, lest I should be walked in on with a Bible open instead of a job application by those who would mistake the divine doctor for the one who was keeping my mind in chains.

O love of Christ that keeps on giving, what should I offer to your name?

Yearning for us through and with your saints down the ages.

All you want is to see us grow and flourish in you.

That wasted body of Paul exulting in its throes, that they might prove the Son of their Father, holding very life as cheap, but that he might be your visage to us.

O Fount of Love, like a Mother Hen, you delight in your own little chicklings, hastening them in to grow that they might meet death with the same aplomb.

What can I give you for all that you gave? What can ransom the life of a man, even a God-man? Were I to give my deepest-seated loves, my shelves full of sin-records and old memories, it would still be a cheap offering for the blood and love of such a God.

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Too Scared to Cry: The Church that Forgot How to Lament

Moore, Russell (2014) ‘Too Scared to Cry: Social media outrage and the Gospel’, published on DesiringGod.org on 28th May  2014. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/too-scared-to-cry-social-media-outrage-and-the-gospel [last accessed 30th May 2014]

I only wish there were a ‘reblog’ button for Moore’s article. The point of it is that we have forgotten how to lament. And I completely agree with it. I see this so often in the world as well as in Christian circles. Instead of being sad, we’ve got to be angry – at people and at God. We’ve got to be angry, and to make accusations and impositions on people and things to change. We shake our fists and our heads, we demand our rights from man and God, to be respected, to be prospered, we call down fire from heaven, and we say ‘How can a loving God have ordained this?’ in disgust and unbelief.

No, no, no. Let us wail and lament and cry and fast and rend our hearts for our pitiful state – our cruel world, our raggedy English church that wallows in the same mire and takes it into its delicate pores. Let’s learn to lament together about this condition, rather than stoking each other’s indignation. Let us share sadness, rather than anger. If we will permit ourselves to be sad, there might be wisdom and insight, and with these, a foundation of repentance for the bearing of more and better fruit. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” said Jesus (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Grief, sorrow, wisdom and insight appear to be bosom chums, after all. We would do well to get used to tempering our grief with sorrow, I feel; then we might be able to bear wisdom and insight and use them fruitfully.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
(Ecclesiastes 1:18 KJV)
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:4 KJV)

Let us crack open the Scriptures, read what God says and promises to peoples who live and behave like our churches, and lament. Never was the Word of God so readily available to our people, and never were our churches so illiterate in it, and never did our churches so blithely disregard it, blaspheme it even – so dare we feel entitled to blessing, prosperity and a bounteous harvest? What impudence, to complain “The Lord hasn’t been speaking to us or pouring his Spirit out on us lately, and there is no increase”, and to feel justified in railing at God for this! For a long time now I have felt that we are dancing on the edge of an iceberg. All around are the symptoms of decay, and God knows what monstrosity lurks beneath. If these signs are all around, then why is it a surprise when ministries and endeavours praised and encouraged by churches at the proposal stage then fail for lack of support when put into practice, or when parochialism, individualism, selfish priorities, lack of diligence, lack of unity, pressure to ‘perform’, the idolatry of leadership and the devaluation of follower-ship and submission to authority, and a crumbling sense of community, push lone wolves into lone ministries that have to scrap with each other for resources in order to survive, because those who could be providing the resources have been driven by those same things to be the bosses of their own ‘lone’ ministries? Are these not just more symptoms of the underlying leprosy? What sort of house is a house struck by a leprous disease, when you need a safe structure in which to dwell and operate that’s not going to disintegrate when you need it to support you? Would you trust the decaying loft beams to hold you up while you try to build a dormer window for your roof extension?

The really sad thing is, I think, that not even the victims of this situation can claim that they do not also contribute to the problem in some way. Individuals make demands on the resources of church communities for their ministries with the intentions of doing good, but it is the church communities that have to suffer the loss of those resources if the individuals do not contribute anything to that church community from which they have taken. The church is already a large and struggling ministry from which many are prepared to take, but to which few are prepared to give in time, money, fellowship or service. Stretching the church’s resources further cannot be a help to that community, if it is already sick and weak. To put it another way, while I am working at Joe Bloggs’ street evangelism project, I am not visiting my widow friend from the 10:45 congregation – if, indeed, I were the rare and sought-after sort of churchgoer who actually visited widows and supported evangelists, as per the Biblical mandate.

Let us not be angry at this, nor let us be shocked. Let us not point fingers, even if we have specific scenarios in mind. Nobody has been wronged who is not in some way guilty, so let us not be furious: there is no-one towards whom we can rightfully direct fury; we’re all stained with the same blot, and our indignity is shared. Rather, this is what happens when you have a diseased condition in the churches and the Christians who inhabit them (and those who don’t). But where fury cannot be justified, let us not grow apathetic like people of the world do. It’s the classic get-out clause, and an excuse to do nothing, when everybody and nobody is to blame. We are not excused, and the disease does not disappear, just because nobody is allowed to rage at anyone or anything. The response I think we need to offer is a lament, and that’s a response that the world at large doesn’t seem to include in its repertoire: it seems to me that when the world goes about the business of getting down to brass tacks, it usually only rages and plots in vain, and anything else is widely considered an admission of defeat. Those moral defeats that it cannot deny: the Holocaust, the Great War – the world laments. But as for us, let us lament those things that the world would conceal: we have already surrendered to the gospel in moral defeat, we have accepted the intrinsic vileness of our condition and do not need to hide or distract ourselves from it by reviling others, and those of us who are wise stake our lives on the cause of God, and nothing can defeat that cause. Let us weep and pray and search our hearts, that they might be set right, and rifle through our practices and our ministries and our subcultures and our churches, each to that which has been put under his own stewardship, with carefully-chosen advisers, to find out where the rot is and to seek to expel it and turn away from it – this is the essence of repentance after all. God heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds – but I cannot recall where he promises any such thing for people who have allowed themselves to be driven by judgemental, self-exalting and other-abasing anger against people and things and God.

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A Sight for Sore, Western, Christian Eyes.

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February 11, 2014 · 12:46 am

When to be Wary of a “Biblical” Idea

There are certain words, used in certain fields, that have the magical ability to grant legitimacy or illegitimacy to anything they’re applied to, simply by virtue of being used. Like Midas, these words can turn anything they touch into gold. One such example is the word “scientific”. If someone claims that their method is scientific, then it’s bound to be good, right?  Another word like this is “democratic”. Others are “equality”, “tolerance” and “ethical”. Marks and Spencer is described by a lot of people as an “ethical” shop – therefore it’s surely a good place to shop, right?  Now in Christian spheres, we have the word “Biblical”. If someone calls a phenomenon or an idea ‘Biblical’, it means it’s pretty sound by Christian standards.

But here’s the thing.  These words are powerful, and unless people have a chip on their shoulder they don’t always look into the implications of what they mean or the connotations they have.  For instance, does merely calling something “scientific” make it scientific, or are there real life implications attached to this label that have to be fulfilled in order for it to apply, that are being overlooked? To consider another example, is a clothes shop ethical just because the word ‘ethical’ is plastered across its store front window?  Why was there all the palaver about the horse meat scandal? At least partially because the product did not turn out, upon further examination, to be what it said on the label. I feel that the same set of problems potentially applies for the word ‘Biblical’, and this worries me.  If you like an idea, you can call it “Biblical” and people will agree with you; if you don’t like an idea, you can call it “unbiblical” and people will leave it alone. What does this have to do with the Bible? Not necessarily very much, as long as the label acts as its own justification. Unless the label is peeled back, the lid is taken off and the contents are tested, people’s trust can all-too-easily be breached. In the case of the horse meat scandal, the consequences were lawsuits and financial ruin. In the case of Biblical exegesis, the consequences can be all-too-easily brushed aside. The assumptions behind our tendency to place automatic credence in the label ‘Biblical’ are as follows:

[Bible = the Word of God] + [The Word of God = infallible] = [“Biblical” = infallible].
And unthinking people, forgetting that certain real life conditions have to apply for something to be as “Biblical” as someone says it is, and forgetting that there’s a middle man applying the quotation marks in this equation, might deem anything labelled “Biblical” to be infallible – just like that.  Just utter those magic words and you could get off Scot-free; no homework required, and no questions asked – and what being “Biblical” actually implicates in real terms might be completely overlooked. People forget that between the word and its designation there is a person applying it, and that that person has a fallible mind and possibly an agenda, and might sink to any depths to garner support for said agenda, including pretending that he actually knows what the Bible says about this thing that he’s touting as ‘Biblical’.

I do not mean to say by this that this ‘sinking to any depths’ is always done with a deliberate malicious intent to deceive; but if you have invested your whole life and perhaps your career in the things you believe in, and you want others to believe in them too, then it is tempting to fudge a translation of something to make it ‘fit’, or to quote a Bible passage that perhaps only tangentially relates to what you wanted your reader to take away with them. People often don’t mean any harm, but when they’re aware of the debates that are raging around them that are all trying to attack their point of view, the temptation to find ways of defending it at the price of integrity is significant, as well as the temptation to over-compensate by emphasising a certain doctrine above others in a way they shouldn’t.

What I find ironic is that many people are more eager to pronounce of the Word of God fallible than they are to declare the same about unsupported statements concerning it – when in reality the Word of God – written, as it is, by supernaturally inspired men – is the text that has most justification for its claim to infallible status.    I think that this might be partly owing to etiquette.  Even if the the average punter were aware of the middle man’s authorial presence, who would dare be so impolite as to imply that he hasn’t done his homework? Who would think of being so darned unchristian as to mistrust his judgement – and not only that – but to go out of his way to prove him wrong?  How untrusting!

It’s time to wake up. The Christian faith is a battle, not a tea party. Truth matters, and there is only one Word on which we need to hang our hat: the Word of God. If anyone claims that something is “Biblical” or “unbiblical” and doesn’t refer back to the Word, then the jury’s still out on it. In fact, don’t stop there. Look at the evidence they give carefully, because ‘Biblical’ can mean anything from ‘being a hit in a Bible concordance search’ to ‘being representative of conservative evangelical Christian beliefs’. The distinction matters. There’s something disenchanting, I know, about approaching media with a default attitude of ‘suspicious’.  But if we’re searching for truth – and the term ‘Biblical’ is claimed by Calvinists, Wesleyans, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Charismatics and the like – then in itself the word cannot be taken on face value.  Unless we’re happy to do what C.S. Lewis calls ‘wait in the hall’ of mere Christianity; that is, to adopt a form of Christian faith so devoid of specific tenets that it is not directly contradicted by any denomination that claims to be ‘Biblical’ but likewise cannot qualify a person for membership of any church, then the usage of the word ‘Biblical’ has to be investigated carefully. I am not a Postmodern; I believe that God invested his Word with meaning.  Randy Newman says in his book ‘Bringing the Gospel Home’ that when trying to explain the gospel to family members we must remember that the true gospel is very ‘easy to miss’ in the midst of all the packagings and listener-friendly nuances we try to give it.  No kidding.  If something as foundational as Christ’s atoning death and Resurrection is easy to miss, then how much easier to miss must everything else be…?

For evaluation criteria of the validity of any so-called ‘evidence’ that might be provided in support of the “Biblical” label, I can’t give an exhaustive list. However, if you do find something a bit fishy and want to challenge it, then before going to the trouble to build up an argument for an opposing view, consider the following for starters:

  • Are the quoted verses being taken out of the context of their paragraph/chapter/book?
  • Is the text being interpreted in a manner contrary to its overall function in light of the New Covenant? (To give an example, for Christians, the Old Testament commands have a different significance in the light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the meaning they had when they were first given.  There is a large section of laws in the Old Testament about foods that are or aren’t acceptable to eat, whereas in the New Testament, Peter declares all foods acceptable, and it is Peter’s statement that is binding for Christians living under the New Covenant – i.e. us.  To use the Old Covenant implications of those passages to support an argument that isn’t bound to Old Covenant times is to misapply the Old Testament)
  • Can the quoted passage be linked to an ongoing theme in the Bible, or is the quoter trying to make it represent their own agenda?
  • If so, is the quotation representative of other resurgences of that theme, which might show it to be more complex than the quoter is making it out to be?
  • Is the ‘evidence’ being wrung out of the wording of only one translation of the Bible?
  • Does the evidence hinge on a misconstrued definition of the “original Greek” word for x, y or z?
  • Do reputable commentaries and study Bibles include, decline to mention, or positively reject the interpretation that the quoter gives?

In some cases you might also want to check whether what a person says accords with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.  I must stress however that this is slightly dangerous ground and can open lots of cans of worms that you might not have the time or the energy to pursue. The Apostolic Fathers are not always right, but for certain kinds of enquiries they can be very helpful.  Letters and treatises written by people who were directly discipled by the apostles are likely to be pretty good indicators of what the 1st century church actually believed, even if it erred in places. Our authority is Scripture; I’ve made that clear, and actually by reading the Fathers you can appreciate just how highly they regarded Scripture too.  But there are times when people come up with certain interpretations of Scripture that they claim to be ‘historical’, and at this point to refer to your Westminster Confession claiming that it is representative of ‘historic’ Christianity seems somewhat moot. It can be helpful, for instance, to consult the Church Fathers when a person says that a certain doctrinal point goes ‘right back to the early church’ and then backs himself up with a certain interpretation of a Bible passage.  A close-up look at the early church might tell us how ‘early’ that piece of doctrine actually is and how long that particular Bible passage has been interpreted in that way, and by whom.  In other words, it can falsify their claim that that doctrinal point was held by the very early church (or it can affirm it).  But as the very early church was subject to the Word of God and could err, so must we be subject to it, knowing that we too can err.  An even closer look at the early church can help us determine whether a doctrinal point is present in the early writings in the exact form given by the person who ascribed it to them, or whether the doctrine has been ‘interpreted’ into the writings or has ‘evolved’ out of them via nuanced readings. But it is important to set some boundaries regarding what extent your own Biblical hermeneutics ought to stand or fall on the conclusions of such a study, knowing that the conclusions you draw will not signal the end of the whole debate as it rages on, and that there are people who know much better than you do what sorts of questions and ways of responding to questions are likely to produce valid answers.  It is also safer to start reading the Fathers with a supporting commentary or a translation from an author or publisher you trust. I’m not a Patristics scholar but I know from experience that in fields like this it is easy to fall into a pothole if you aren’t familiar with how the internal debates play out or what’s at stake, or what counts as acceptable practice in the field. Not knowing Greek or Latin could already make you vulnerable to translators who might not state their theological a priori in the way that Bible translators do; a commentary, we would hope, at least states its allegiances.  The upshot of this is that if you’re going to ‘do’ Patristics and come out undeceived then you have to be prepared to do it properly and probably with your eyes wider open than you’re used to keeping them.

If you want to launch an intellectual offensive, then be my guest.  But if a person provides evidence to support the ‘Biblical’ label, and you can pick out fallacies in the evidence they provide and the conclusions they draw from it, you might not have to go that far.  What’s the difference between something deemed to be “Biblical” and something deemed to be “unbiblical”?  Sometimes an honest analysis of the Bible; sometimes only an agenda.

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