Blogroll: Emmanuel Evangelical Church

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Blog and Talks from Emmanuel Evangelical Church, North London
Updated: 1 hour 9 min ago

Doctrine of God, Seminar 1: Images of God

Mon, 25/09/2017 - 00:00

Emmanuel Training and ResourcesModule T1.2 The Doctrine of God

Seminar 1: Images of God

Introduction

In this module we turn to our next major topic: the doctrine of God. We’ll be considering God’s character, his essence and attributes, and also the doctrine of the Trinity.

We’ll also be working through some of the practical implications of the biblical doctrine of God. This is one of the themes of this seminar, in which we’re looking at a portion of John Calvin’s Institutes on the subject of images of God (Calvin, Institutes, I.x-xii). This was obviously a big issue when Calvin wrote in the sixteenth century, for like the other Reformers Calvin was confronted with medieval Catholic churches that were stuffed full of icons, statues and so on. It remains an issue for us today, for we find images of God all over the place – and not just in churches.

Before getting into the reading from Calvin, there are some additional questions today designed to help you to look closely at the Second Commandment. This will be a

As ever, let the questions below guide your reading so that you know where to focus your attention. And if you’re pressed for time, omit the questions marked with a *.

Questions to think about

Before you begin looking at Calvin, think about these questions:

a. Is it permissible to paint pictures of Jesus? If not, why not? Does context make any difference? For example, are icons in worship any different from children’s Bibles, pictures in art galleries, graffiti, and so on?

b. Is it permissible to paint pictures of God the Father, or the Holy Spirit?

c. Leaving aside representations of God, do you think it is wise or appropriate for churches to contain pictures, statues, carvings etc. of anything else?

The Second Commandment

Please read Exodus 20:1-6, containing the First (vv. 2-3) and Second (vv. 4-6) Commandments.

d. What does the first commandment prohibit?

e. What does the second commandment prohibit? In order to answer this question, please pay attention to:

  • What v. 4 says.
  • What v. 5a says.
  • How vv. 4 and 5a relate to each other. In particular, are vv. 4 and 5a giving (i) two separate commandments; or (ii) a single commandment in which v. 5a explains and expounds v. 4?

Study questions on Calvin, Institutes, I.x-xii

In previous chapters, Calvin has been talking about the way in which God reveals himself in and through the created world. In I.x, Calvin explains briefly that God’s revelation in Scripture agrees with his revelation in creation. This opens the way for the subject of images in I.xi-xii, which will occupy most of our attention in the tutorial.

In I.xi Calvin sets out what he thinks about statues and images of God. He doesn’t mince his words.

1. What does Calvin think about statues or images of God (I.xi.1)? How does he argue his case in I.xi.1-2? In particular:

  • What biblical texts does he allude to? (Note that the actual references in [square brackets] are added by the editor; Calvin clearly expects us to know the Bible well enough that the references should be obvious.)
  • What does he think is demonstrated by each of these texts?

For reflection: How does Calvin’s teaching here compare with your answers in the “Second Commandment” section above?

In the following sections Calvin addresses a number of counter-arguments against the view he has set out in I.xi.1-2. The first counter-argument is addressed in I.xi.3.

2. What arguments in favour of images of God does Calvin consider in I.xi.3? How does he respond?

For reflection: Are you persuaded by Calvin’s response in this section?

3. What further argument against images of God does Calvin set out in I.xi.4?

For reflection: What do you think of the tone of Calvin’s discussion on this topic so far? Do you think such an approach is justifiable? Why or why not?

In sections I.xi.5-7 Calvin considers another argument sometimes advanced in favour of images of God: that they are “the books of the uneducated” (I.xi.5).

4. Does Calvin think images of God are acceptable as “the books of the uneducated” (I.xi.5)? What different reasons do he give to support his view (I.xi.5-7)?

For reflection: Do you agree with Calvin’s response at this point? Why or why not?

5. What will tend to be the result, in Calvin’s view, if people begin using images for educational purposes (I.xi.9)? Why, according to Calvin, will this result follow (I.xi.9)? Do you agree?

Some people who supported the use of images in worship attempted to defend their position by saying that they weren’t really worshipping the idol. Calvin takes them on in I.xi.11.

6. What is the “wily distinction” that Calvin mentions in I.xi.11? What does Calvin think of this distinction? (See also Calvin’s further development of this argument in I.xii.2-3.)

Calvin’s views obviously have implications for what artists may depict. He sets out his view on this subject in I.xi.12.

7. What, in Calvin’s view, are artists permitted to reproduce (I.xi.12)?

For reflection: What implications does Calvin’s argument have? Do you think Calvin is being consistent here? Do you agree with his view?


Having outlined his view on what artists may legitimately depict, Calvin has some things to say in I.xi.12 about where such art may and may not be placed.

8. In Calvin’s view, is it permissible to have any images at all (whether of God or anything else) in churches (I.xi.13)? Why or why not?

For reflection: What do you think seem to be Calvin’s overall motivations in this discussion of images? Even if you disagree with some of his exegesis, do you sympathise with his motivations?

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A word to sons... and therefore to all of us

Fri, 22/09/2017 - 00:00

I’d like to say a few words by way of challenge to young men as they’re growing up. It concerns how they relate to their parents, particularly (but not exclusively) their fathers.

This will be most obviously relevant to young men who are approaching adulthood. At the same time, it will also be relevant in various ways to the rest of us. For as Paul writes in Galatians 3:26, all of us are sons of our Heavenly Father through faith in Christ.

One of the great temptations of young men as they grow older is the wrong kind of competitiveness. As boys grow into men, they enter what we might call a different relational “space”. That is, they (rightly) start to relate as men to other people, such as their parents and siblings. They start exercising leadership, initiative, and a new kind of emotional strength. This is all good, but it brings some dangers.

For when young men start to act like young men, they soon notice (perhaps subconsciously) that this relational space is already occupied. To put it most simply, there’s already a man in the house – normally their father, though it might be a brother, or even a mother in single-parent families where mum needs to fulfil the roles of both parents. And naturally, therefore, a kind of “competition” can begin. It’s rather like watching the family equivalent of two rutting stags: two male egos are in a confined space, and the new buck wants to kick the old geezer out of the way so he can take the top spot.

It’s quite easy to see this happening: the young man stops responding to his father with a respectful “Yes, dad”, and instead reacts with a grunt and a roll of the eyes. Or worse, you start to see public mini-confrontations that are a little like the adult equivalent of the (so-called) Terrible Twos.

As I mentioned before, it’s not only young men who encounter this kind of temptation. All of us can face similar temptations in the way we relate to our heavenly Father. As we grow older (and hopefully a little wiser) in the faith, we can easily start getting a little too big for our spiritual boots. Of course, it’s right that we should take on more responsibility as Christians as we grow more mature in the faith, or as we tackle increasingly complex situations in our lives. But the danger is that we can change from humbly accepting our Heavenly Father’s wise instruction to resenting it, questioning it, and even rejecting it.

The challenge – both for earthly sons with earthly fathers, and all of us with our Heavenly Father – is not to allow our growth in maturity (such as it is, and it’s often less significant than we might think) to diminish our deep sense of respect and honour towards those who are and will always be, older and wiser than us. Our Heavenly Father will always be wiser than us. And sons will find that their dads can still teach them a thing or two, even when the grey hairs start multiplying.

“You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face of an old man,
and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32)

 

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Reformed Catholicity - study day in Oxford

Wed, 20/09/2017 - 00:00

If the previous Greystone Theological Institute conference is anything to go by, this forthcoming event on Reformed Catholicity with Dr Mark Garcia will be a mind-stretching blast. Well worth coming along if you're free. Check out the details here. Extracts from the blurb below:

Combining lectures, open seminar discussion of texts and ideas, fellowship, and feasting, this Greystone Study Day event will explore select historical, biblical, and theological features of Reformed catholicity. From Ignatius and Irenaeus to the place of the biblical canon and the Eucharist in Reformed theology, this event provides an opportunity to recover and refine principles necessary for the advance of Reformed theology and ministry.

'Catholicity' is an often-misunderstood term, and 'Reformed catholicity' sounds to many like a contradiction, but in fact the early and formative voices of Reformed Protestantism were persuaded the life and health of the Church depends on its catholicity in Protestant, not Roman Catholic, terms. Further, while Reformed catholicity is regularly presented only as a form of retrieval, it should also be recognized as a biblically-shaped mode of constructive theology. In recent decades, developments in the 'theological interpretation of Scripture,' 'canonical hermeneutics/theology,' and advanced research into the texts and figures of post-Reformation Reformed theologians and confessions have returned the question of Reformed catholicity to the attention of the Church. New efforts include a considered zeal:

  • to retrieve the best of the patristic and medieval traditions which the Reformation renewed;
  • to reconsider the Reformed catholic efforts of bodies such as the Regensburg Colloquy and Westminster Assembly as well as figures such as Martin Bucer, Richard Hooker, William Perkins, John Williamson Nevin, and Herman Bavinck; and
  • to renew the Church's practical commitment to the Bible as Holy Scripture and christologically-determined canon, rather than mere historical artifact or source material.

Advances in responsible models and commendations of catholicity in theology are plentiful and varied, and some of the most promising ideas proceed not only from scholarly voices across the disciplines in our own day but also through premodern and orthodox Reformed contributions. These and other shifts in scholarship—especially work on canon, the rule of faith, the nature of history, and pneumatology—place us in an enviable position of great opportunity. This module argues for the nature and the importance of Reformed catholicity, and charts the way forward for further development.

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Where does victimhood come from?

Mon, 18/09/2017 - 00:00

An article by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning entitled “Microaggression and Moral Cultures” goes a long way to explaining the background to, and the implications of, the culture of victimhood that has in recent years increasingly come to dominate public discourse.

Originally published in Comparative Sociology (Vol.13, No.6, pp.692-726), a version of it can be found free online in a variety of places.

Here are a few extracts to give you a flavour:

Microaggressions, as defined by Derald Wing Sue, a counseling psychologist and diversity training specialist, are “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, and sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue 2010: 5).

Here are some other actions identified by Sue or others as microaggressions: • Saying “You are a credit to your race” or “You are so articulate” to an African American (Sue et al. 2008: 331).

• Telling an Asian American that he or she speaks English well (Sue et al. 2008: 331).

• Clutching one’s purse when an African American walks onto an elevator (Nadal et al. 2013: 190).

• Staring at lesbians or gays expressing affection in public (Boysen 2012: 123).

• Correcting a student’s use of “Indigenous” in a paper by changing it from upper- to lowercase (Flaherty 2013).

Increasingly, perceived slights such as these are documented on websites that encourage users to submit posts describing their own grievances

John McWhorter cautions against using the concept in a way that is “just bullying disguised as progressive thought” (Etzioni 2014; McWhorter 2014).

A culture of victimhood ... individuals and groups display high sensitivity to slight, have a tendency to handle conflicts through complaints to third parties, and seek to cultivate an image of being victims who deserve assistance.

Reliance on third parties extends beyond reliance on authorities. Even if no authoritative action is taken, gossip and public shaming can be powerful sanctions.

A second notable feature of microaggression websites is that they do not merely call attention to a single offense, but seek to document a series of offenses that, taken together, are more severe than any individual incident.

A third notable feature of microaggression complaints is that the grievances focus on inequality and oppression – especially inequality and oppression based on cultural characteristics such as gender or ethnicity.

Victimhood as Virtue ... aggrieved parties are especially likely to highlight their identity as victims, emphasizing their own suffering and innocence. Their adversaries are privileged and blameworthy, but they themselves are pitiable and blameless.

“Competitive victimhood,” with both sides arguing that it is they and not their adversaries who have suffered the most and are most deserving of help or most justified in retribution (Noor et al. 2012; Sullivan et al. 2012).

In sum, microaggression catalogs are a form of social control in which the aggrieved collect and publicize accounts of intercollective offenses, making the case that relatively minor slights are part of a larger pattern of injustice and that those who suffer them are socially marginalized and deserving of sympathy.

Different forms of conflict and social control may be more or less prevalent in a given social setting. Sometimes observers will characterize an entire society or segment of society according to which forms of moral life are most prominent – what we might refer to as its “moral culture.” For example, social scientists have long recognized a distinction between societies with a “culture of honor” and those with a “culture of dignity”

In honor cultures, it is one’s reputation that makes one honorable or not, and one must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor. Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing, such that “in honor cultures, people are shunned or criticized not for exacting vengeance but for failing to do so” (Cooney 1998: 110). Honorable people must guard their reputations, so they are highly sensitive to insult, often responding aggressively to what might seem to outsiders as minor slights (Cohen et al. 1996; Cooney 1998: 115-119; Leung and Cohen 2011).

Because insulting others helps establish one’s reputation for bravery, honorable people are verbally aggressive and quick to insult others (Leung and Cohen 2011).

Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack (Cooney 1998: 122, Leung and Cohen 2011: 510).

A Culture of Dignity ... people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others (Berger 1970; see also Leung and Cohen 2011). Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important. Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor (Leung and Cohen 2011: 509).

Unlike the honorable, the dignified approve of appeals to third parties and condemn those who “take the law into their own hands.”

The rise of microaggression complaints suggests a new direction in the evolution of moral culture.

Microaggression complaints have characteristics that put them at odds with both honor and dignity cultures. Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response. But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all. Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether. A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties.

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Psalm 127-128, The holiness of the ordinary

Sun, 17/09/2017 - 00:00
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Psalm 45, The Royal Wedding

Sun, 10/09/2017 - 00:00
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Psalm 72, Tribute for the King

Sun, 03/09/2017 - 00:00
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1 Peter 4:7-11, Focusing on the important things

Sun, 27/08/2017 - 00:00
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1 Peter 4:1-6, You don't have to be a victim

Sun, 20/08/2017 - 00:00
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Celebrating the Reformation in London

Fri, 18/08/2017 - 00:00

The good folks at Selhurst Church in South Norwood, London, were kind enough to let me know about a forthcoming conference marking 500 years since the Reformation. It's on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 August, and features Dr James White as the main speaker. Well worth a look if you're free. All the details online at www.selhurstchurch.org.

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1 Peter 3:18-22, The forgotten virtue of courage

Sun, 13/08/2017 - 00:00
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Repent of your ingratitude

Thu, 10/08/2017 - 00:00

Jordan Peterson is the latest of many people to point out the astonishing ingratitude of the millennial generation.

Click here for an example of what I'm talking about (skip to about the 9 minute mark).

This is tragically ironic, because in almost every way, we're in the top fraction of a percent of the most prosperous people who've ever lived in the history of the world.

There are differences among us, to be sure, but as a whole, people in the modern West are better off than vast majority of people alive today, and we're certainly incomparably better off than the vast majority of people who've ever lived.

This remains true by almost every conceivable metric, whether you look at health, life expectancy, wealth, financial independence, political freedom, access to education, social mobility, national and personal security, availability of technology, amount of free time, or whatever else.

The reason for this incredible privilege can in the end be boiled down to one simple historical factor: we are heirs of a western civilization that was build over many centuries on the foundations of the Christian faith, where every aspect of life was shaped in one way or another by the gospel of Christ.

And we should be thankful for that.

This is particularly important as a caution in the light of some of the things we've been thinking about at Emmanuel in the book of 1 Peter in recent weeks. We've noted on many occasions that our culture is heading in a pretty bad direction in many ways. Yet even while we acknowledge that this is true, we ought also to recognise that it's not as bad as it could be. In fact, in historical terms it's almost unimaginably better than it could be. So even while we lament the decline of Christian morality in our world, we ought to be grateful for small mercies, especially when those small mercies are in fact rather large.

So let's repent of our spirit of ingratitude.

And just as importantly, let's repent of the spirit of inactivity and victimhood that such ingratitude produces. Instead, let's march out joyfully into the strange and glorious world that the Lord has put us in, resolved to serve the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and strength, and to be grateful for the boundless opportunities we have to do so.

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1 Peter 3:13-17, Preparing for the coming battle

Sun, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
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Exploring baptism

Fri, 04/08/2017 - 00:00

We have a baptism service this coming Sunday, which gives us an opportunity to think again about the meanng of this important moment in our lives.

Here's an extract from the order of service at that point, explaining what baptism is all about, followed by some of the discussion whestions we'll be following during the discussiomn after the service:

Introduction

The Bible teaches that all who follow Christ must repent of their sins, trust in him and be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself commanded, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:18–20). The apostle Peter said, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38).

Baptism is the formal moment of entry into the people of God, and a sign and seal of God’s covenant. Accordingly, the Bible associates baptism with such covenant blessings as union with Christ in his death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, moving from death to life, and indeed salvation itself (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1–6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). As members of the church, all those who have been baptized belong to Jesus Christ, and Jesus himself invites us to feed by faith on his precious body and blood, sustaining us while we await his final coming in glory.

These blessings are not received without faith. So today we pray that N’s faith would be strengthened and their repentance deepened as they grow towards maturity in Christ, and that God would equip them day by day to remain faithful as servants of Christ.

Matthew 28:18–20

  • Who should be baptized?
  • What else should happen to those who are baptized?

Acts 2:38-39

  • Who should be baptized?
  • What else does God do for those who are baptized?

Romans 6:1–6

  • What happens when we’re baptized (vv. 3-4)?
  • What results follow from this (vv. 5-6)?

1 Peter 3:21-22

  • What does baptism do?
  • Does v. 20 help us to understand the imagery that Peter is using in v. 21?
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Seminar 6: The Attributes of Scripture

Fri, 04/08/2017 - 00:00

Emmanuel Training and ResourcesModule T1.1 Introduction and the Doctrine of Revelation

Seminar 6: The Attributes of Scripture

Introduction

In this seminar we continue our study of the doctrine of Scripture, turning to the topic of the so-called Attributes (i.e. properties) of Scripture. In effect, we’re exploring the implications of the divine authorship of Scripture, asking this question: Since the Bible is the word of God, what qualities should we expect it to have?

We’ll be reading chapter 4 of Tim Ward’s book Words of Life (Nottingham: IVP, 2009). This is a creative articulation of the classic Reformed and evangelical doctrine of Scripture that takes into account some significant developments in the philosophy of language that took place during the 20th century known as Speech-Act Theory. It’s not necessary to understand Speech-Act Theory in order to appreciate the section that we’ll be reading, though we may touch briefly upon it during the seminar. If you want to explore the subject in more detail then reading the rest of Tim Ward’s book would be a great place to start, as he clearly has a strong grasp of the subject.

A great strength of Ward’s work is his deep familiarity with a range of important theologians in many different historic Christian traditions from the early church to the present day. For example, in chapter 4 alone you’ll find references to Reformed theologians such as John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Herman Bavinck, G. C. Berkouwer and Richard Muller, as well as Martin Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Thomas Aquinas, and church fathers such as Augustine, Athanasius and Basil of Caesarea. This wide-ranging historical awareness is very helpful in helping us to place our own theological position in its historical context, and highlighting lines of continuity and discontinuity with our forefathers in the faith.

Traditionally, as Ward explains (p. 98), Reformed and evangelical expositions of the doctrine of Scripture have tended to focus on four main attributes of Scripture: necessity, sufficiency, clarity (sometimes called perspicuity), and authority. After a brief introduction, Ward’s exposition follows these four headings, exploring their meaning, their biblical and theological basis, and their implications for approaching Scripture today. The study questions below are grouped so as to highlight these four sections of Ward’s work.

This chapter of Ward’s book self-consciously builds on the biblical and theological background he has established in the previous two chapters (which are not set as preparation for this seminar). If you find yourself at times yearning for more in the way of biblical and theological background to the issues we’ll be talking about, you may want to read the rest of the book. It’s well worth the time and effort.

For what it’s worth, I personally disagree with what Ward says at just one point in this chapter. I won’t tell you exactly where in the questions below; I’ll leave you to work through the issues for yourself at this stage. If you’d like to know where I would put things a little differently, we can talk about this in the seminar. I should highlight that my disagreement doesn’t relate to the doctrine of Scripture itself (at least, not directly), but rather to the connections that Ward makes to other doctrines. To my mind, his exposition of the doctrine of Scripture itself is profoundly helpful.

Questions to think about

a. Why do you think God chose to ensure that his revelation to the world was written down? Could he have done it any other way? How might our lives as Christians have been different if God’s word had not been written down?

b. Do you think there are any important moral issues that are not addressed (either directly or indirectly) in Scripture? If so, can you give any examples?

c. How well do you think you understand the Bible? Would you say the Bible is clear in its teaching?

d. Do you think the Bible is true in what it teaches (1) about God; (2) about moral issues; (3) about historical and scientific matters? What are the implications of your answer?

Study questions

1. Ward explains that “a doctrinal statement” (such as an evangelical summary of the attributes of Scripture) can sometimes be “picked up [and] passed on ... and in the process [lose] in many people’s minds its biblical and theological underpinnings” (p. 98). What does he mean by this? What “two unfortunate effects” can result (pp. 98-99)? What is the “one danger [that] then always lurks” (p. 99)?

The necessity of Scripture (pp. 100-108)

In the first major section of the chapter, Ward turns to the first attribute of Scripture under discussion, the necessity of Scripture. The first couple of pages will probably sound somewhat familiar, as they draws on sections of Calvin’s Institutes that we have discussed previously.

2. Ward (following Calvin), explains that “we must identify Scripture as the necessary Word of God because without such a Word our knowledge of God would be insufficiently grounded, unreliable, and even... subjective” (p. 101). How have people criticised such views in more recent times (p. 101)?

3. Though these may be some truth in this charge of “rationalism”, Ward nonetheless has a significant response to this criticism. What were “Calvin [and] many of his theological heirs... primarily concerned with” (p. 101)?

4. Ward points out that “Scripture speaks regularly of a right kind of certainty in faith” (p. 102). What kind of “certainty” is he talking about (p. 102)? How do the following biblical texts support Ward’s argument (p. 102-103)?

  • 1 John 5:13
  • Luke 1:4
  • Exodus 17:14
  • Ezekiel 43:11

For reflection: Do you ever feel the need for this kind of “certainty”? How should we approach Scripture in order to find such certainty?

Ward now turns to Francis Turretin, who expands on some of the points made by Calvin. On p. 103 Turretin distinguishes between verbal revelation (revelation in words) and written revelation (revelation in written words).

5. According to Turretin, in what sense is written revelation “necessary” (p. 103)?

6. Ward highlights an aspect of explains that points out an implication of Turretin’s teaching that “remains a vital one in the contemporary church” (p. 105). What contemporary issues does Ward have in mind (p. 105)?

For reflection: Bearing in mind what you’ve now read about the necessity of Scripture, how would you seek to address these contemporary issues?

The sufficiency of Scripture (pp. 108-117)

Ward turns now to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

7. What do the following biblical texts (cited on p. 109) imply about what Scripture is sufficient for?

  • Psalm 119:1
  • 2 Timothy 3:15
  • Revelation 22:28-19

Ward highlights a distinction on p. 110 between the material sufficiency of Scripture and the formal sufficiency of Scripture that might be worth clarifying:

The material sufficiency of Scripture is the claim that “Scripture contains everything necessary for faith and life” (p. 110).

The formal sufficiency of Scripture is the claim that “Scripture [is] its own interpreter” (p. 110); i.e. by reading the whole of Scripture we’re able to understand what the individual parts mean. This idea is “very close to the idea of the clarity of Scripture” (p. 110; see further pp. 117-129).

8. Despite being accepted “in the early centuries of the church” (p. 109; see the quotes from Athanasius and Augustine), the material sufficiency of Scripture was gradually undermined and eventually denied during the Middle Ages. What “two views” discussed on p. 111 were responsible for this denial?

9. When the Reformers re-stated the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture (see the quotes on pp. 111-112), they were seeking “to make a point against opponents on both sides” (p. 112). Who were these two groups of opponents, and what points were the Reformers seeking to make (p. 112)?

10. Having stated his own definition of the sufficiency of Scripture on p. 115, Ward explains a number of points that his definition does not imply (pp. 115-116). Can you identify and explain what these points are? (Hint: I can count at least five, perhaps six, distinct points.)

For reflection: Do you find any of these points particularly illuminating? Why? Do you disagree with any of them?

The clarity of Scripture (pp. 117-129)

11. “Luther made an important distinction between what he called the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ clarity of Scripture” (p. 118). Can you explain this distinction (pp. 118)? How does it help us to explain why we don’t always find Scripture easy to understand (p. 118)?

On p. 123, Ward begins to explain “what the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not imply” before turning to “what it does imply”. Let’s look first at what the clarity of Scripture does not imply:

12. “The doctrine does not, first of all, imply that preaching is unnecessary” (p. 123). Why not (pp. 123-124)?

Still on the subject of what the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not imply, Ward turns to the issue of disagreements between Christians.

13. “What are we to make of disagreements between Christians who hold to the clarity of Scripture?” (p. 125).

For reflection: How should the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture affect your own personal Bible reading?

The authority of Scripture (pp. 129-142)

Finally, Ward turns to the doctrine of the authority of Scripture. In this section, he addresses both the infallibility and the inerrancy of Scripture, two themes that have become rather controversial in some evangelical circles in recent years.

14. “The phrase ‘the authority of Scripture’ must be understood to be shorthand for ‘the authority of God as he speaks through Scripture’” (p. 130). What does Ward mean by this? How does the “Highway Code” illustration help (p. 130)?

15. According to Ward, what do the terms “infallible” and “inerrant” mean (p. 132)? (Note, as Ward himself says, that other people have offered different definitions of these terms.)

For reflection: Do you find this distinction between infallibility and inerrancy helpful?

16. Can you outline the “three aspects of the mainstream inerrantist position” (p. 133) that Ward outlines on pp. 133-136?

17. “If we subscribe to inerrancy, what should our approach be to apparent or alleged errors within Scripture?” (p. 140). What two points does Ward make in answering this question (pp. 140-142)?

For reflection: Do you believe that the Bible contains any errors?

Categories: Friends

Revelation in an hour

Thu, 03/08/2017 - 00:00

Here's an extract from a handout from a recent Bible study designed to introduce the book of Revelation in one hour. OK, it ended up taking two hours (quite a lot of the handout isn't here), but it was a noble aim...

Introduction (1:1-4a)

1:1 Authorship: Revealed by God through an angel to John

1:2 John wrote it down

1:3 Revelation is a blessing: “Blessed... reads aloud ... hear ... keep”

1:4a To the seven churches of Asia

Seven churches in chs 2-3

“Seven” = “totality”? “The whole church”?

1. The covenant-historical context of Revelation

How does Revelation fit into the historical story-line of the Bible as a whole, and how does it relate to major events in world history?

•  Revelation is about events that were imminent at the time it was written (before AD 70)

1:1 “the things that must soon take place”

1:3 “the time is near

22:6 “what must soon take place”

22:10 “the time is near

22:12 “I am coming soon

22:20 “Surely I am coming soon

•  What events are in view? Why do they matter?

“Behold, he is coming with the clouds” (1:7)

Revelation 1:7 explains that the big event on the horizon was the “coming” of Jesus, the Son of Man, which at the time of writing was “soon” to take place (see the above passages, especially 22:12, 20). Many people assume that this “coming” in Revelation 1:7 is a reference to Jesus so-called “second coming” or “final coming” at the final Day of Judgment, when Jesus will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. But although the Bible does speak of this “final coming” of Jesus (e.g. Mark 13:32-36; Matthew 24:36-25:46; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Revelation 21-22), this is not what Revelation 1:7 is talking about.

The clue is found in the phrase “he is coming with the clouds” (Revelation 1:7), which alludes to an important passage in Daniel 7:13-14. Daniel 7 contains a vision of four beasts (matching the vision of the four-part statue in Daniel 2), which represent four kingdoms (Babylon, Persia, Alexandrian Greece, Rome), each of which is overthrown by the one that comes after it, before the fourth beast-kingdom is finally overthrown by the Son of Man (or, in Daniel 2, the Kingdom of God, which amounts to pretty much the same thing). The Son of Man receives all authority when he “comes with the clouds” into the presence of the Ancient of Days in heaven (Daniel 7:13-14) – exactly the same as the phrase found in Revelation 1:7. Notice that (according to Daniel 7) Jesus isn’t “coming” to earth; he’s “coming” into the presence of God the Father (the Ancient of Days) in heaven, where he is enthroned and “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” (Daniel 7:14).

But although Jesus isn’t coming physically to earth, his “coming” into the Father’s presence in heaven is nonetheless connected with events on earth. But what events are these? In Mark 13 (and Matthew 24 and Luke 21), Jesus himself tells us, for he uses the same imagery again: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). This is part of a well-known conversation between Jesus and his disciples about the Temple in Jerusalem (v. 1), when Jesus predicts that the Temple itself will “be thrown down” (v. 2).

So then, the heavenly “coming” of Jesus mentioned in Daniel 7 and Revelation 1:7 has a visible manifestation on earth: the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the final end of the Old covenant order associated with it. These are the historical events that Revelation has in view. Obviously these are connected with Jesus’ final sacrifice for sins (he “has freed us from our sins by his blood”, Revelation 1:5), which brings to an end the ongoing sacrifices of the Jewish Temple. Only towards the end of the book (from about chapter 19 onward) does the perspective shift towards the final coming of Jesus.

Daniel 7 further explains that when Jesus receives “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him” (v. 14), the church will share in this authority. “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them” (Daniel 7:27). Revelation also picks up this theme from Daniel. Jesus “has made us a kingdom” (Revelation 1:6), and “they shall reign on the earth” (5:10).

So then, this is the message of the book of Revelation:

Jesus has overthrown the kingdoms of the world, and brought to an end the Old Covenant order of Temple worship. He now reigns in heaven, and is sharing his rule with his people in earth, while his kingdom continues to grow as history marches on towards his final coming in glory.

2. The literary structure of Revelation

What is the overall “shape” of the book of Revelation?
And how does an understanding of this shape help us to interpret it?

•  Multiple structures, highlighting multiple layers of meaning

•  Seven letters, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls

Letters: preparing the churches for the coming judgments

Seals: unveiling the coming judgments

Trumpets: announcing the coming judgments

Bowls: pouring out the coming judgments

3. Some significant imagery in Revelation

How should we seek to understand some of the significant imagery in the book of Revelation?

•  A huge task! (Almost?) every biblical image and every biblical book

•  Some important biblical passages to get started with

Daniel 7. See above.

Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21. See above.

Daniel 2. Corresponds to Daniel 7 in the structure of Daniel 2-7, and highlights the growth of the Kingdom of God (the rock that becomes the mountain that fills the whole earth) throughout history following the heavenly enthronement of Christ.

Psalm 2. An enthronement Psalm, speaking of the rule of the Davidic king over all the kings and nations of the world.

Exodus 19. Israel as a priestly kingdom, a vocation taken up by the church following the resurrection and ascension of Christ (e.g. Revelation 1:6).

Next, I’d encourage you to try to immerse yourself in the imagery of Exodus 26-40; Leviticus 1-11; Ezekiel; and Zechariah.

•  Some important biblical images

Trumpets. Exodus 19; Leviticus 23; Numbers 10; Joshua 6. Announcement of God’s presence, whether in worship, judgment, leading his people out to war, etc.

Mountains. Associated with Eden, Jerusalem / Zion, Mount of Olives, and figuratively with the Tabernacle . Places of encounter with God.

Ugly, distorted beasts (e.g. dragons, many-headed monsters). Daniel 7. Distorted creatures, powerful but twisted. Associated with ungodly political powers.

Powerful and beautiful animals (e.g. lions, oxen, eagles). Ezekiel 1. Manifestations of created strength and beauty. Associated with godly power.

The earth. Often better translated “land” in Revelation (except Revelation 21-22); often referring to the first-century land of Israel.

4. Interpreting a sample passage from Revelation

Bearing in mind everything we’ve looked at so far, how should we approach a particular section of the book when we come to look at it in detail?

•  Revelation 12

v. 1         “Woman ... sun ... moon ... twelve stars”; Genesis 1; Twelve tribes of ______________?

v. 2         “Pregnant” – who is her child?

v. 3         “Dragon”, cf. v. 7; Genesis 3

v. 4         What does the dragon want to do to the child?

v. 5         Who is the “male child” again?

“Rod of iron”, from which Psalm? _________ Why is this significant?

v. 6         What happens to the child?

1260 days? Cf. 11:3?

Where does the woman go?

vv. 7-12  What happens during the “war in heaven”? What happens afterwards?

“Michael” – echoes of Daniel 8; 10?

v. 13       What does the dragon do next?

v. 14       How does the woman escape?

v. 15       What does the dragon do next? Waters of judgment; Genesis 6-8; Exodus 14?

v. 16       How does the woman escape this time?

v. 17       What does the dragon do next?

Who are “the rest of [the woman’s] offspring”?

Will the dragon will succeed in capturing the woman and her offspring?

•  Revelation 20:1-6

vv. 1-3    What happens to the dragon next?

vv. 4-6    What happens to those “who had not worshipped the beast”?

Categories: Friends

Lucky traders

Tue, 01/08/2017 - 00:00

In the providence of God, the Promised Land of Israel was located on one of the busiest trading routes in the ancient world. Many thousands of traders would travel through the narrow strip of fertile land between the great desert of the east and the Mediterranean on the West on their journeys between Africa and Arabia in the south, and Syria, Asia Minor, and other regions to the north and east.

As they did so, they must have noticed the peculiar habits of the people of Israel. Unlike other ancient peoples, these Israelites didn’t have multitudes of temples to many gods; their town squares weren’t littered with hundreds of shrines to dozens of idols. (At least, they weren’t supposed to be.) No, they worshipped one God, whom they insisted was the LORD not just of Israel but of the whole world.

But if they had happened to be passing through the Land of Israel in the seventh month – the month the Israelites called Tishri – they would have noticed something else too. On the fifteenth day of this month, the Israelites held a festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. It was like a giant nation-wide camping holiday – all the people would live in little home-made shelters for a week, recalling their 40-year journey through the wilderness in the days of Moses.

These traders would have hoped that their travels brought them to Israel at this time. For the Feast of Tabernacles was (as the name suggests) a time of feasting, of celebrating, of banquets and parties and food and drink. And it was a time when everyone was welcome – the Levite and the widow, the servant and the orphan, and of course the sojourner. Any foreigner who happened to be travelling through the land of Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles would be invited to eat and drink with the people of God.

For the LORD who rules over the whole all also offers blessing to the whole world – blessing pictured in the rich culinary delights the Israelites offered to all who passed by. The people have God have always been people of feasting, who share God’s good gifts with the world around them.

Next Sunday is Big Sunday Lunch at Emmanuel. Don’t miss out.

Categories: Friends
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