I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryon’s latest book “The road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island.” I used to like Bryson. I liked his infatuation with meaningless, yet intriguing trivia (ask my friends). I liked his slightly ironic way of writing. I liked his love of Britain (which is undiminished). All that and more. Yet he has, I’m afraid to say, become an angry old man. Very angry, indeed, and in places, expletively angry (if that is an adjective: looseness with the English language being – ironically – one of the things he gets angry about).
Notes from a Small Island was a fascinating travelog: laugh out loud funny. Its sequel is like a series of Wikipedia entries strung together with occasional humour and lots and lots of anger. It’s all rather disappointing, and in the unlikely event that Bryson ever reads this blog, I’m inclined to deliberately misspell the next sentence. Its only fair.
There are a lot of angry pastors. I mean, a lot. Sure, there’s lots to get angry about – sin for one thing, and the way that it breaks things. But it seems to me that many pastors are just angry about stuff, period. I see that ugly temptation in my own heart all too clearly, especially as I get older. I get angry about false teaching. I get angry about sinful behaviour. I get angry about scurrilous accusations (although, of course, never ones I make myself).
I know there’s a good kind of righteous anger, but – frankly – that’s mostly a cop out, for I’m rarely really concerned for the Lord’s glory more than my own or my ministry or my church. So – despite all the excuses – my anger is mostly, if not entirely, sinful. And it is ugly. Boy, is it ugly.
You see, angry preachers do not serve their churches except, very often, to make others angry too. And that is no kind of service. Rather, “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger.” It’s a tough calling, but one every preacher must embrace without question.
These questions are designed to help you get the most out of Alex and Brett Harris’s book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. We’ll begin by reading the first part of the book (chapters 1 to 4; pp. 3-60). Once we’ve done that, we’ll get together to talk about it – and, of course, to work out what we’re going to do about it.
You may find it helpful to make notes of your answers, along with any other thoughts that occur to you as you’re reading the book.
Questions for discussion
1. What are Alex and Brett not doing in this book (p. 7)? What are they doing (pp. 7-8)?
2. What did Heidi do (p. 20)? Why did she find it particularly difficult (p. 20)? What did she learn from the experience (pp. 21-22)?
3. What was the problem with many “other movements that were started (or fueled) by young people” in the past (p. 25)? What is different about the one described in this book?
4. What did George, David and Clara do (p. 31-32)? What can we learn from them?
5. How do elephant owners keep their elephants from wandering off (p. 29)? How are teenagers like elephants (pp. 28-29; see also pp. 44-45)?
6. At what age were young people considered to be adults in the year 1800 (p. 30)? What age do you think young people are considered to be adults in 2015? At what age do you want to be treated as an adult?
7. What do you think of this quotation from p. 33: “The problem we have is with the modern understanding of adolescence that allows, encourages, and even trains young people to remain childish for much longer than necessary.”
8. What are “kidults” (p. 51)? Why are they “the logical result of the myth of adolescence” (p. 51)?
9. What are the “Five Kinds of Hard” (pp. 57-59)? Which of these things do you think you’re going to find most difficult?
A friend of mine just mentioned a wonderfully thought-provoking quotation from poet Scott Cairns: ""Let's pretend for now there is no such thing / as metaphor."
This is a tremendously thought-provoking exercise, not least because without disagreeing with what I take to be Cairns' point, it's possible to say exactly the opposite thing with an exactly equivalent effect: "Let's pretend for now there is no such thing / as non-metaphor."
Both statements have the effect of rejecting both the false dichotomy between metaphorical and non-metaphorical language, and also the associated claim that only literal, non-metaphorical language speaks about things as they really are. For in truth all language is metaphorical, and nowhere is this more true than in biblical and theological contexts.
For more, check out George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By; and Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2 (God and Creation), ch. 3.
I’ve been testing and using both versions of the new NIV audio Bible app sold by Hodder Faith. This app is designed to accompany the excellent audio Bible narrated by David Suchet. This is not the place to review that particular resource, other than to say his reading style is quite superb (apart from his quirky pronunciation of ‘Colossians’!). In terms of audio Bibles there’s nothing else quite in this league.
The iOS app (Hodder tell me an Android version may be released in the future) marries the NIV text with some additional functionality. More of that in a moment. If you already have the NIV audio Bible on your device (either downloaded direct or uploaded from the CDs) then the cheaper £2.99 app is for you. Wonderfully, this automatically senses whether you have the audio files and then links them through on installation, a process which worked perfectly for me. The more expensive version (£19.99) contains all the audio files, but otherwise has exactly the same functionality. Just beware, in terms of installation, you should expect to use 1.4Gb for the full version and 207Mb for the smaller version (though this requires the audio files which, bizarrely, are 2.3Gb on my phone).
So what do you get? At its most basic you get the NIV 2011 text linked through to David Suchet’s excellent audio. This is a useful resource on its own. However, there is more. The text display functions are – to my mind at least – very useful. You can, for example, turn off verse and chapter numbers making a more true-to-life reading experience (something I happily recommend, the app calls this ‘reading view’). There are also other text features that you’ll find in other Bible apps (red letter text on or off and so on).
There is also a powerful journaling function allowing you to add notes and bookmarks to the text – useful, for example, if you make sermon notes. If you have other Bible apps, you will get the same functionality there; I consider this therefore a useful rather than stand out tool.
However, it is in the synchronization between text and audio that this app really stands out and what makes it a winner for me. In my Bible-in-a-year reading, for example, it’s helpful to ring the changes by listening not just reading. In our small groups where we’re reading through the New Testament together, it makes a change to have one of Paul’s letters read to us, rather than us stumbling through the text.
I’m a big fan of the NIV audio Bible and this excellent, clean app has just made it better and more easily accessible. I am very happy to recommend it wholeheartedly.
This review first appeared in Evangelicals Now, an excellent Christian newspaper!
Alex and Brett Harris's book Do Hard Things contains some remarkable insights.
For example, did you know that the first time word "teenager" was ever used in print was in 1941? And this lexical oddity was not merely the invention of a new word; it was part of a process of invention of a new stage of life and a new kind of person - the Teenager.
Until around 200 yrs ago, people thought different about growing up. The concept of "adolescence" or "teenage years" just didn't exist in the popular mind. Instead, you started out life as an infant, then after a year or two you became a child, and then you grew into an adult. The aim of childhood was "to grow up as promptly as possible in order to enjoy the opportunities and shoulder the responsibilities of an adult. The girl became a woman; the boy became a man." There was no in-between adolecent stage. You became an adult around the age of 13 or 14, and at that point you were "ready to do adult work."
The teenage years, by contrast, are a new invention. They're an attempt to have many of the privileges of adulthood without any of the responsibilities. Today we've pretty much bought into this distorted vision of life. "Society doesn’t expect much from young people during their teen years – except trouble. And it certainly doesn’t expect competence, maturity, or productivity. The saddest part is that, as the culture around them has come to expect less and less, young people have dropped to meet those lower expectations."
Sad to say, this is significant for those of us who oare adults, too. For we've all grown up in this culture - a culture where we've come to expect less and less of ourselves - and we're now in danger of passing on those low expectations to the next generation.
That's why I'm looking forward to reading Do Hard Things with a bunch of young adults from Emmanuel.
A few weeks ago, I started re-reading Paul Miller's outstanding book A Loving Life with a few folks from church, before meeting with them to talk about it. The first set of discussion questions can be found here. We had our second meeting yesterday evening, and the second set of questions is below. The third set will appear in a few days.
Quotations to think about
What do you think of these quotations from A Loving Life?
a. “Love doesn’t go through the day with a measuring stick, testy over the unevenness of life ... Picture Ruth bending down and collecting individual stalks of grain in the hot sun – unthanked, unprotected, and unknown. This is the face of hesed.” (pp. 72, 75)
b. “We can easily forget that all Ruth’s triumphs of love are done while she is single, without marriage prospects. In fact, her greatest triumph is embracing singleness as a way of caring for someone in a seemingly dead-end relationship.” (p. 103)
c. “Boaz is the formal goel [redeemer], but Ruth is the Christ figure, the one who dies so others may live.” (p. 152)
d. “A leaking, low-level irritability is a great temptation on a journey of love. You feel you have the right to be moody – you’ve earned it. It is a way of exacting emotional payment for a disappointing life ... I go through the motions of love, but anger smolders just below the surface like a simmering rant.” (p. 109)
e. “Both Ruth and Tamar are childless widows and foreigners who find themselves alone and vulnerable ... They have both been hurt, but neither wallows in her victimhood. Each comes up with a daring plan that involves approaching an older man for marriage in an audacious setting. The result? The two feisty women become the heads of dynasties, even legends ... These gutsy women help us redefine femininity ... humility joined with power, sensitivity with guts.” (p. 148)
f. “Boaz does not shy away from the responsibility of leadership, visiting the field in the hot part of the day and staying with his workers.” (p. 96)
g. “Boaz’s humble serving reveals the man ... Men don’t usually serve women in traditional cultures. They feel they will lose their dignity ... In liberal cultures such as our own, men are so concerned to treat women as equals that they don’t serve them. Men become passive, almost spineless with women ... A real test of a man’s character is how he treats women.” (p. 95)
h. “Drinking vessels are a big deal in cross-cultural tension. The Samaritan woman in John 4 was shocked that Jesus was willing to put his lips on her drinking vessel. In the American South in the 1950s there were separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks. By inviting her to drink, Boaz isn’t just quenching her thirst; he is welcoming her into community.” (p. 84)
Questions for reflection
1. In what ways is Naomi transformed by Ruth’s love for her?
2. Do you agree that “Ruth is the Christ figure”? Why or why not?
3. In what ways might Ruth (or Naomi) have been tempted to feel like a victim? Is this ever a temptation for us today?
4. How does Boaz relate to other men, and how do they relate to him (see especially Ruth 2:4-7, 9, 15-16)? What does this tell us about Boaz’s character?
5. In what ways do men today display “sloth and cowardice”? Men: Are there any “childish things” that you should “put away”?
One of the many fascinating things about Richard Hays' book Reading Backwards is the degree to which he highlights how much the best of modern biblical exegesis has moved on since Calvin.
(For the avoidance of all doubt and the preclusion of all misunderstanding, I should clarify that I do not think that the best of contemporary theology has moved on very far past Calvin, nor do I think it desirable that it should do so. It goes without saying that Calvin remains with good reason perhaps the foremost theological influence in the Reformed church, and indeed as a biblical exegete Calvin was unparalleled in his day. The only reason for comparing Hays to Calvin specifically is because Calvin was so good.)
The point can be seen most clearly by comparing and contrasting the different approaches taken by Hays and Calvin to the Gospels.
Hays' project highlights the importance of the distinctive approaches taken by each of the four evangelists to the Old Testament Scriptures. These Scriptures of course constitute the decisive literary, theological and historical background to the New Testament, but each of the evangelists alludes to them in different ways. Each of the four Gospels must therefore be read on its own terms in order to allow the distinctive literary and theological resonances of each to sound clearly.
Calvin, on the other hand, wrote a commentary on a harmony of the Synoptic Gospels, thus effectively obscuring the literary shape of each of them. In effect, Calvin wrote a commentary not on the Gospels at all, but rather on a series of events that are described in the Gospels. But these events are all squished together in Calvin's work, with the result that the theological voice of each becomes obscured, and the whole becames less than the sum of its parts.
If we imagine each of the four Gospels a piece of music, it's rather as though Calvin has decided that the best way to listen to them is to put them on at the same time, while Hays remains determined to listen to each separately, precisely because he respects the integrity of them all.
The good news is that Calvin would, I'm quite sure, have been delighted with (and very probably humbled by) Hays' work. For Reading Backwards manages not only to portray the nuances of each of the Gospels in their distinctive colours, but also to magnify the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ as the evangelists portray him. As Richard Bauckham comments, in Hays' hands "intertextuality and high Christology turn out to be two sides of a coin."
So, here’s a thought. In many of our churches, we have reading rotas for public worship. I like hearing different voices, so I’m broadly in favour of this. But I’m also keen to do my own reading for the sermon for two reasons.
The first reason is practical. I want to read the reading the way that I – having studied it and prayed over it – believe it should be read. There is a tone or pace or emphasis I want the reading to have which befits how it will be expounded. Someone else reading the passage can (sometimes) actually work against this purpose. I know many preachers feel the same.
The second reason is theological. Do you notice how Pastor Timothy is required to commit himself to both the public reading of Scripture and to exhortation (1 Tim 4.13)? I suppose you could argue that being committed to the public reading does not mean he actually has to do it himself, but that seems to go against the grain of the passage where everything else is precisely about what Timmy must do himself. Seems odd if the public reading is not included in that list.
I wonder why that is? We cannot precisely be clear, but it must be something to do (especially in light of pastorals) with the way the Scripture itself is the thing (2 Tim 3.16-17) and preaching itself is only preaching if it is preaching of the word (2 Tim 4.2). For Timothy to publicly read Scripture shows the congregation how he himself sits under it and it is his master too.
Can encouraging others to read and being committed to public reading yourself be reconciled? I think saying that having others read is your commitment is a fudge. There’s an easier way, which most evangelicals would do well to heed. It’s a radical idea and I call it two readings. You do one. Someone else does the other.
Way out, huh?
PS I’m no Anglican expert, but I think you’ll find that in an old book called The Book of Common Prayer.
Have you been to see Everest yet? I can’t say that the film holds much attraction for me; but then you may be completely unexcited about the Lance Armstrong movie The Program, which I can’t wait to get to the cinema for.
Bizarrely, my nephew is a vicar in the parish in Hove where George Everest (1790-1866) is buried and he tells me that there are occasional visitors to see the headstone. Even more bizarrely, he never even saw the mountain itself, but had his name attached to it, almost by accident (George that is, not my nephew, although come to think of it, I don’t think he’s been to see the mountain either).
However, the most bizarre thing about the whole incident is that the boy George didn’t pronounce his name the way we do. It’s not Ev-er-est. But Eve (as in Adam)-rest. So there. Try that one out at dinner parties! I feel sad for poor George. No one is really going to care, are they, and we are not going to start pronouncing the mountain with a different emphasis.
And, of course, it simply doesn’t matter very much. Which – in a roundabout way – brings me to the public reading of Scripture, round one. There’s a bit too much preciousness about how words in Scripture are pronounced in certain circles; what would it really have sounded like, that kind of thing. I think some of that discussion is a load of tosh – as though anybody I know pronounces David with anything other than an Anglo Saxon gloss.
When it comes to public reading we want clear voices and annunciation, good and even pace and tone. I think precise pronunciation comes well down the list, if it even makes it at all (especially given that even scholars are a little uncertain). All of which is to say, let’s prepare people well for public reading, but let’s not add burdens to them that don’t need to be added. It’s an unnecessary mountain to climb.
OK, so we all know that articles with titles like "14 things succesful people do before breakfast" are just a gimmicky way of attracting the attention of people with short attention spans while requiring little in the way of journalistic skill from the author. Or blogger.
But having said that, some of these clickbait list articles are quite intriguing, and I reckon it's possible that Christians could learn something from this one.
Let's first remind ourselves that (1) God made the world, and therefore his ways work and other ways fail; (2) even without special revelation, there's nothing to stop an unbeliever stumbling accidentally on broad principles that might make them productive and fruitful; (3) this is all the more likely in a society shaped by (unacknowledge) Christian values; (4) it therefore follows that productive and competent non-Christians might have a great deal to teach unproductive and bumbling Christians about how to get things done; and (5) one way to pick up such tips is to figure out the Christian "equivalent" of whatever our most productive non-Christian friends are doing, tweaking them as appropriate to remove obvious howlers.
With that in mind, here's my best guess about 10 things productive Christians might do before breakfast:
1. Wake up early
2. Drink water instead of coffee
4. Read the Bible
5. Chat with the family
6. Avoid leaving mess behind you
7. Thank God for the gift of a new day
8. Pray a bit more
9. Read the Bible and chew it over for a while
10. Write down what you're planning to do after breakfast
Any productive Christians out there want to tell me something I've missed?
Cracking stuff here from Peter Leithart on prayer.
"Jesus makes some astounding promises in Luke 11. I want to clear out the clutter and convince you to believe Him and to act on it.
"Then Jesus adds straightforward promises. Ask, seek, knock. Everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. Everyone who knocks finds the door opened for him.
"Pray knowing that you pray to a God who doesn’t give stones or serpents to his kids. Believe Jesus, and pray accordingly.
"We end up using God’s sovereignty to excuse our pessimism, our laziness, our lack of vision.
"It’s almost as if we think poor God has over-committed, and we need to protect Him from His enthusiasm. Jesus was a bit rash, and we need to provide the qualifications that He left out.
"God doesn’t need our loopholes. He doesn’t want our excuses. He has committed just as much as He wanted to commit, and He committed everything. We repent of our piety. We need to repent of our orthodoxy.
"Here’s the promise in a nutshell: God always gives you what you ask, or something better.
"Pray, and then start looking for answers. Faithful prayer leads to expectant living. Pray for the Spirit, and wait to see the Spirit work all around you. Faithful prayer leads to Spiritual living.
"This is your Father’s world. He has your back, He goes before you, He is the rock beneath you and your heavenly Father above. This is your Father’s world, and He has created this wide world is as a playground for His children.
"So: Go pray; and go play."
We tackled this question in Forum, our interactive post-service discussion group, a few weeks ago at Emmanuel. We began by simply trying to clarify in our own minds what degree of freedom and restriction we currently experience, while at the same time trying to work out what level of restriction we would be prepared to tolerate in future.
This latter aspect of the question was particularly useful, since it's very easy to allow ourselves to succumb unthinkingly to a one-tiny-step-at-a-time process of encroachment on our liberty, so that we end up like the proverbial frog-boiled-alive, never noticing the gradually increasing heat until we doze off and end up cooked.
In response to the following 16 hypothetical scenarios, we sought to decide whether:
- We are currently in this situation; or
- We're not currently in this situation, but we'd be willing to tolerate it; or
- We're not currently in this situation, and we'd be unwilling to tolerate it.
Here are the scenarios:
1. Christians may believe whatever they like, but may not express certain beliefs publicly (e.g. online, in the street).
2. Christians may believe whatever they like, but may not express certain beliefs in semi-public contexts (e.g. at work).
3. Christians may believe whatever they like, but may not express certain beliefs privately (e.g. at home, within their families).
4. Christians may believe whatever they like, but may not express certain beliefs or share their faith at work.
5. Christians may not believe whatever they like; certain beliefs are prohibited.
6. Churches must register with the government.
7. Christian Ministers must register with the government.
8. All Christians must register with the government.
9. Christian Ministers must register with the government and undergo compulsory training.
10. Christian Ministers must register with the government and undergo compulsory training, and unless they “pass” will not be allowed to minister in certain contexts (e.g. schools, universities).
11. Christian Ministers must register with the government and undergo compulsory training, and unless they “pass” will not be allowed to minister at all.
12. Churches may not own property.
13. Christians may not work in the public sector (e.g. hospitals, schools, universities).
14. Christians may not wear religious symbols in public.
15. Christian families must allow government inspectors to inspect their homes.
16. Christian children may be interviewed by government inspectors without their parents being present.
It was a salutory exercise. I commend it to you.
On our stopover this week, we spent an hour thinking through how we develop passions, not quite as sexual as it sounds! I mean passions in its broadest sense: a love for God, a love for each other and a love for others. These three ingredients are essential in marriage and ministry and spouses should be constantly praying and thinking through how they cultivate these in themselves and nurture them in their partners.
Perhaps it seems like an obvious list, but it is no less radical for that. We know that loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, is a constant battle. We know that loving our partners (husbands loving wives, Ephesians 5; wives loving husbands, Titus 2) is always a stretch. And we know that a ministry which is devoid of love for others will end up being cold and fruitless.
You don’t need a B-list preacher like me to explain to you what these three elements look like: you’re constantly ministering these truths to others. So go on, Mr & Mrs Preacher. Over to you. Where is your marriage and ministry strongest? Where is it weakest? What needs to be your priority for prayer?
Romans 1:1-7 – A Gospel-Filled Introduction
Paul is introducing himself and his gospel message
(Likely Paul wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 57)
Two reasons for the letter to the Romans:
(1) Paul plans to visit the church at Rome and hopes they will help him on his projected mission to take the gospel to Spain (1v10-13; 15v23-33)
(2) Though Paul has never visited Rome, he is well informed about the church there (ch. 16) and likely wants to address some of their issues. In particular, it seems there were tensions between Jews and Gentiles in the church. Likely the church at Rome was originally mainly Jewish, but the Emperor Claudius had ejected the Jews around AD 49 (Acts 18:2). Gentiles would have taken on the leadership of the church. But then after Claudius’ death in AD 54, some Jews had returned. One can imagine some friction!
In summary, Paul writes to promote humble, loving, united partnership in gospel mission both within the church and with himself.
Paul – an apostle (v1) – one who is sent out with authority (cf. an ambassador)
The Apostolic Gospel:
Is this how you would summarise it?
The Gospel of God (v1)
Gospel = Good news, announcement of an epoch changing event, e.g. the birth of a new king or a victory in battle
So as God’s gospel it is true and powerful. We are not to tamper with it and we don’t need to
… promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (v2)
This helps to authenticate Paul’s gospel – it fulfils the Scriptures
… about God’s Son (v3)
All about Jesus! A person not an “-ism” or merely rules etc. A personal relationship of trust and obedience
… who as to his human nature was a descendant of David (v4)
… and who through the Spirit of holiness (= The Holy Spirit) was crowned / appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (v4)
In his earthly ministry Jesus was the Son of God in weakness
… JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD (v4)
Christ = messiah, anointed one, the long promised rescuer-king
The response the gospel requires:
Jesus Christ calls all the nations to the obedience of faith (vv5-6)
How are we responding to this gospel?
Do we recognise that this gospel is for all people?
This is the kind of gospel ministry to seek out, to support (in prayer, financially, practically), to engage in.Marc Lloyd
“Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?” If you are serious about ministry, then the answer to that question will always be “Yes” – “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” Are there pressures in marriage? There are. Are there pressures in ministry? There are. Are there pressures that come precisely because you are both in ministry and marriage? There are.
Like the privileges, these will be largely dependent on circumstances and seasons. Your pressures are not mine; and mine are not yours. In just a few lines I can hardly help you work these all out, other than to say the same gospel truths you apply day in and day out to other people’s lives are the same gospel truths which you need to preach to yourself and apply to your own lives.
But those in ministry often have a more significant problem: it is being honest about and identifying the problems in the first place. We (perhaps subconsciously) persuade ourselves that things are better than they are and that habitual sin (in particular) is just a passing phase and my temper/lack of patience/porn habit/alcohol problem/Facebook addiction (delete as applicable) will soon go away.
And yet it does not. And so a spiral starts and our marriages and our ministry get out of control. How do we arrest the decline and break into this spiral. Here’s one idea. Mr Preacher, carve out some time with Mrs Preacher. Plan for it. Then each of you list three of the biggest pressures on your marriage and ministry. Try to be specific: don’t just say “not enough time” – if you identify general malaise, you’ll only ever come up with general solutions and you’ll not get very far.
Compare your list. You may be surprised at the similarities – that gives you some idea what to work on. You may be surprised at the differences – that in itself is telling you something. Then apply gospel truths and realities to these issues. Work out some gospel grace-filled solutions, plan some baby steps; pray together. That will be a start.
Oh, and please can I say, on behalf of those you serve and your family, if you need help, please, please, please, swallow pride and seek it out. It may be one of the best things you ever do.
Richard Hays' book Reading Backwards is a remarkably insightful piece of work, which prompts some thoughts about how the four evangelists (and for that matter the other NT authors, though that is not Hays' concern here) depicted Jesus' divinity.
It is sometimes assumed that the apparent reticence of the evangelists to ascribe deity to Jesus (at least in straightforward, blunt, propositional, "Jesus is God" terms) reflects either the fact that they would have disagreed outright with the idea; or perhaps the fact that they were feeling their way towards something that they did not fully grasp, and which only later came to understood more fully.The former possibility is problematic for obvious reasons; the latter seems to me somewhat patronising.
What is less commonly considered is the possibility that the New Testament authors may have grasped with a great deal of sophistication and nuance exactly who Jesus is (though perhaps not in the terms that became prominent in later theological and philosophical discussions of the incarnation), and that they simply chose to express this understanding in narrative form, within a complex of allusions and echoes, narrative retellings and reidentifications, metaphors, types and figures - the sort of thing Richard Hays calls "Figural Christology". The substance is all there; our failure to see it reflects less the NT authors' crudeness or lack of theological development, and more our somewhat shrunken idea of what counts as "theological truth".
In any case, perhaps even to ask "What did the evangelists believe about Jesus?" is a slightly misdirected question, because it all to easily draws our attention away from the NT text to speculations about what was believed by people long dead. This is a mistake, and one which inevitably leads to dead-end speculation, because apart from the evidence of the NT writings we have very little idea what the NT authors believed. It's also pretty tragic, because we have no direct access to the minds of long-dead men, but the NT writings are directly in front of us. And it is these writings, not some speculative reconstruction of the thoughts of the men that wrote them, which comprise the Holy Scriptures and teach us the faith.
These writings - inspired as they are by the Spirit of God, so that the human authors may well have spoken better than they knew - certainly do speak of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, in whom Israel's God came to be present in the world; a man whose words and works are the words and works of God; a man in whom the invisible became visible, the eternal became temporal, the immortal became mortal; a man through whose sacrificial saving grace God was and is at work to save the world. These and similar narrative formulations may lack something of the philosophical precision of later Christological formulations, but I'm not sure they lack so much of their substance. On the contrary, at its best, the road to Chalcedon and beyond is simply an attempt to draw out and express again (perhaps in response to critics, perhaps as a natural process of spiritual-intellectual development, perhaps in pursuit of further clarity, perhaps for other reasons) what the Scriptures actually say about Jesus.
I suspect that exegetes like Richard Hays have a great deal to teach us about how the Scriptures speak of our Saviour.
There’s a whole heap of self pity going on when it comes to ministry and marriage. For the most part, ministers and their wives have it pretty good. Yes, that’s right: there are countless privileges which we would do well to remember, joys in both marriage and ministry that many do not have. These are going to depend on your particular circumstance, of course, but a useful discipline for any ministry couple is to name them. Yes, write them down and thank God for them. Keep your list and then when you feel under pressure, get out the list and rejoice all over again.
Some of these joys will be common to other married couples but will have a particular flavour. All married couples (I trust) enjoy some kind of sexual intimacy, right? But a ministry couple where the wife is at home, can grab an hour at lunchtime every now and again, sidestepping the perennial marriage conflict “I’m too tired.”
Some of these joys will be peculiar to those married and in ministry. Again, these will be highly dependent upon your own circumstances, but God has graciously given you a front row seat for the work he is doing in other people’s lives; that’s a precious grace which we must not ignore.
So, as the old song goes:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
This should always be the Christian attitude of course and the glorious combination of marriage and ministry is no different.
I’ve written before about we can think wrongly about competing priorities in life and it’s worth thinking that through again. There is a school of thought which ranks our roles in some kind of order and then uses that as a grid to process our lives. It goes something like this: I’m a Christian first (responsibility to God), husband second, father third, pastor fourth.
There are two problems with this. First, it’s theological twaddle. Second, if acted upon it would give rise to some very odd behaviours and priority setting. Frankly I would spend all my time on priority number one.
But back to the twaddle. It’s simply incorrect to set things that God calls us to do well against our responsibility to him. They are not two things. I’ve been helped with this by something Christopher Ash wrote which never made it into his larger marriage book, but which is nonetheless helpful. It’s worth repeating in full and you therefore get the bit of the book no one else has got.
“The double-command to love God and neighbour is a unitary command rooted in love for the one God; Deuteronomy 6 is in Paul’s thought here (Rosner 1994:164-6). There cannot be conflicting demands on us arising from this one demand, or else the universe is at war with itself. ‘Hardly could a more frightful thing be conceived than that there might be a collision between love for God and love for the persons for whom love has been planted by Him in our hearts’ (Kierkegaard, in O’Donovan 1994:226). O’Donovan uses a cricketing analogy: ‘God does not stand in line waiting his turn at the wicket, not even at the head of the line. Rather, he brings this or that neighbour to the head of the line, and demands our best attention for him. And at another moment, perhaps, he closes the wicket, sends the whole line away, and demands to inspect our books’ (O’Donovan 1994:233).”
You get the point. Practically what does that mean? I can tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that priorities don’t matter. Oh my, do they matter! And we have to make wise and godly choices about how we spend our time so we can be godly pastors, fathers, husbands. But we don’t set these things off against one another as though they are competing priorities that never serve each other.
For each couple this will look different at different seasons and with different ministries. But a starting point for each couple is to surely list what God calls us to do (try to do that using biblical language) and then prayerfully and carefully evaluate the time, energy and focus you’re giving to each one.
That’s a start, at least.