Blogroll: Sussex Parson
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 10 posts from the blog 'Sussex Parson.'
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Speaking on Exodus 15 at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (24/6/21) Nigel Styles suggests that in the Bible Egypt is characteristically thought of as death-land.
It is fitting that modern museums' Egypt sections are devoted to embalming.
When Joseph is sold into slavery, the traders are selling funeral supplies (Genesis 37:25).
In the Bible one often goes down to Egypt, rather as if it were Sheol, the place of the dead.
The waters of the Nile and the Red Sea are the waters of death - and of salvation (Exodus 1:22 and chapter 2; Exodus 14-15).
Styles argues that the message of Exodus, and indeed of the Pentateuch, might be summed up as deliverance from death for dwelling with God.Marc Lloyd
One way of thinking about the story of the Bible is as salvation through the waters.
Salvation through the waters.
You may remember that in the beginning, in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and God brought order to the creation.
God rules and separates the waters, creating the habitable world.
God is effortlessly in control and provides for human beings.
In the Flood, the waters bring judgement, but Noah and his family are saved through the waters.
Christians have often thought of the church as a new ark: God’s provision of the place of safety from the waters of judgement, where God’s people can be kept safe.
Again, if we believe and obey God and enter the ark of the church, we will be saved.
And so it is in our chapter that the soldiers and sailors are saved by obeying Paul and sticking with him.
Staying with Paul and the boat means salvation.
In the midst of the storm, Paul gives the others the good advice to eat something.
But I wonder if we’re meant to think of Jesus taking bread and giving thanks and breaking it and eating.
Here’s the Feeding of the 5000.
Or the risen Jesus meeting with the disciples on the Emmaus Road and recognised by them as he breaks bread.
Or the Lord’s Supper, celebrating God’s salvation.
God will feed his people and bring them safe to glory.
In the Old Testament, the foundation story of the people of God is the Exodus is salvation through the waters.
The Lord’s Supper was a Passover Meal that looked back to that deliverance.
Maybe there are some other hints of Passover here:
Eating on the 14thDay.
Staying in the house or the boat.
Getting rid of the grain / no food left over.
After the Passover, in the Exodus, God’s people are saved through the waters of the Red Sea and again God’s enemies are judged and experienced a watery grave.
The Jews weren’t generally great sea-farers.
To them the seas represented chaos and danger, threat and death.
They thought of it as monstrous.
The seas and the fishes could represent the pagan nations.
Jesus, of course, was often in a boat.
He taught on the Sea of Galilee.
He calmed the storm.
He walked on the waters.
He ruled over creation and chaos.
He saved from danger.
In the Old Testament, the typical leader was a shepherd.
But in the New Testament a number of the apostles are fishermen.
Jesus calls them to be fishers of people.
They are to take the gospel to the nations.
Paul is a great sea traveller.
He is the Apostle to the Gentile nations.
John the Baptist had spoken of salvation through the waters.
God’s people needed a new Exodus, they needed to be made clean.
And Jesus spoke of his death as a baptism he must undergo.
Judgement would flood over him and drown him.
He would die and rise that his people might live and be saved.
Salvation through the waters.
And Jesus said his disciples would face a similar baptism.
They too would suffer and enter into the promised glory of the Kingdom.
We’ve said before that Paul is like Jesus.
Both are tried but are innocent.
For much of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was on a great journey to Jerusalem.
And Paul is on this great journey to Rome.
In the final chapters of Luke and Acts we find a favourable Centurion.
This storm and shipwreck may be Paul’s passion narrative, Paul’s suffering and cross – followed by a kind of vindication, a resurrection.
And in the end, the Bible tells us, in the New Creation, there will be no more sea:
no more danger, or threat, or chaos, or judgement, or death.
And no more Gentile nations because all who trust in Jesus will belong to the people of God.
So the message of the Bible is salvation through the waters.Marc Lloyd
What story is this?
A Jewish prophet heads west on ship.
There’s a storm.
The pagan sailors throw their cargo into the sea.
The prophet is central to the saving of the sailors.
He ends up in the water.
But then he is saved on the beach.
And the boat’s crew and many pagans are saved.
What Old Testament story is that?
But it’s Paul’s story too, isn’t it?
Paul is a new and better Jonah.
In some ways he’s an anti-Jonah.
Jonah was fleeing from God’s purposes; Paul was obeying them.
Jonah was running away; Paul was under arrest.
Jonah was reluctant but compelled; Paul was willing and compelled.
The sailors are saved by getting rid of Jonah but by sticking with Paul.
Jonah’s message was one of judgement; Paul’s is one of salvation.
But in both cases a great many pagans are saved as a result of their messages.
Both of them will bring the Word of God to a great pagan city.
So Paul is shown to be a true prophet.
God has spoken to him.
What he says comes true.
His word can be trusted.
Believe the word of God through Paul and you will be saved.Marc Lloyd
L. P. Hartley famously wrote: “The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.” We might feel that acutely when we think about Richard Woodman and the Reformation. It’s amazing to us that publicly disagreeing with the Rector of Warbleton can lead you to being burnt alive. And it’s hard for us to imagine how God and the Christian faith could matter so much to our society – that people would think it right to kill one another over the nature of Holy Communion. Woodman and his executioners agreed on so much.
They all claimed to worship the Triune God and believe the Bible. And yet they thought the points of disagreement worth killing and dying for. It’s inconceivable to us, really. But I think these things do matter and are worth remembering.
Woodman was probably born in Buxted in East Sussex in 1524. He became a farmer and iron-master, employing one hundred men, living in the parish, where he was church warden.
Woodman had become convinced of the Reformed or Evangelical Protestant faith of the Reformation.
If we wanted to pick one event as sparking The Reformation, it would be Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Whittenburg on 31st October 1517, seven years before Woodman was born.
Luther was an extremely devout monk, but he had become concerned for the salvation of his soul. The question of how sinners can be forgiven by a holy God was at the heart of the Reformation.
We can sum up the Reformation teaching about salvation in five statements – in Latin five “solas”, five “alone” statements:
For Luther and his followers, salvation is:
(1) in Christ alone
(2) by grace alone – by God’s free gift
(3) through faith alone – received by trusting in Jesus
(4) to the glory of God alone
(5) according to Scripture alone.
In other words, they thought the whole system of the Medieval church had gone wrong. Their protest wasn’t just about a few corrupt priests. They rejected the system of indulgences in which time off purgatory could be bought by priests saying mass for the dead. They thought the idea that good works could build up merit was wrong. We are put right with God by Jesus’ death in our place on the cross, not by the prayers of the saints or the sacrifice of the Mass. You don’t need the priest as a go between with God, you need to put your trust in Jesus.
And we know this from the Word of God, not because the Pope says so, or because of the tradition of the Church.
Those “solas” or “alone”s are really important because everyone believed in grace, and faith, and Jesus, and the Bible but the Reformers thought that by adding good works, and merit, and man-made traditions, the Catholic church had undermined the grace of God and the finished work of Christ.
The Reformation gained influence in England in the time of Henry VIII (reigned 1509-1547) and was thoroughgoing during the reign of his son Edward VI (r. 1547-1553).
And Woodman had obviously become passionately committed to many of these Scriptural truths.
Our knowledge of him comes from John Foxe’s best-selling, Acts and Monuments of these latter and perilous days, sometimes known as The “Book of Martyrs”, which he wrote from 1563-1583, and which you can read online. It claims to preserve Woodman’s records of his various arrests, release, escapes, trials and a letter he wrote.
Woodman’s troubles began during the reign of the Catholic queen, Bloody Queen Mary (r. 1553 –1558), when he was arrested in the pariah church at Warbleton for interrupting the Rector’s sermon and criticizing him for turning “head to tail” and preaching the exact opposite “clean contrary” to what he had previously preached. Like many, the Rector had adapted himself to the times. During the highly Protestant reign of Edward VI, he had married but after Mary came to the throne in 1553, he conformed to the Roman Catholic religion again.
Woodman’s story is often a dramatic one. He lived in the woods near his house for six or seven weeks with his Bible and ink and “other necessities”, so as to avoid arrest. He escaped to Flanders and from there to France but he secretly returned home. He was at last betrayed by his brother, whom he’d fallen out with over money.
On the day of his final arrest, he hid in the eaves of house while the authorities searched it for him, but thinking he was about to be discovered, in desperation jumping from his house without shoes on, and he says, he stepped upon a sharp cinder with one foot in a great mirey hole, and fell down withal, and was caught by Parker the wild!
The Dictionary of National Biography recounts the tradition that Woodman was detained in the second story of the church tower at Warbleton, which, it says, bears some indications of having been used as a prison.
Woodman shows great courage and boldness at his various hearings (of which there were thirty-two in all) before an assortment of Bishops and others, including one unnamed fat priest, and they get into lengthy legal and theological arguments, and a certain amount of mutual abuse.
Though he can’t really understand Latin, Woodman shows better Bible-knowledge than some of his inquisitors who dismiss his arguments as “Bible babble, Bible babble”! He’s accused of heresy and of preaching, marrying and baptising without being a priest, which he denies.
Woodman is committed to the authority of Scripture and says he’s willing to be corrected by it, but he’s not persuaded by some of the traditions of the church or willing to simply accept the authority of his betters, much to their annoyance. They discuss familiar Reformation disputes: the marriage and learning of the clergy and the number of sacraments. There are detailed discussions about baptism, original sin and the freedom of the will. The Bishop of Chichester says that “We offer up in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar the body of Christ, to pacify the wrath of God the Father”. But Woodman says we are sanctified by the once for all offering of Christ on the cross.
Woodman was eventually condemned, he says, “for God’s everlasting truth” because he would not believe that there remained neither bread nor wine after the words of consecration at Communion and because he claimed that the body of Christ was only received by the faithful.
This can seem pretty technical and obscure stuff to us, but the Reformed thought we risked idolatry if we said the bread and wine of Holy Communion become Jesus’ body and blood. And these arguments get us into how we can know God and be saved. Is it by obeying the Pope or the Bible? And is it through trusting Jesus or receiving the merit of the church and the saints?
After his trial, Woodman says to his accusers: “I am no heretic, I take heaven and earth to witness: I defy all heretics: and if you condemn me, you will be damned, if you repent it not. But God give you grace to repent all if it be his will.”
Woodman wrote during his final imprisonment: “So I was caried to the Marshalsea again, where I am, and shall be as long as it shall please God: and I praise God most heartily, the ever he hath elected, and predestinated me to come to so high dignity, as to bear rebuke for his name’s sake: his name be praised therefore, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Foxe comments: “And thus have you the Examinations of this blessed Woodman, or rather Goodman: wherein may appear as well the great grace and wisdom of God in that man, as also the gross ignorance and barbarous cruelty of his adversaries…”
On 22 June 1557, along with nine others, Woodman was burnt at the stake in Lewes, in front of the Star Inn, where the Town Hall is today. This was the largest number of people burnt in England at one time and was intended to serve as a warning to others.
The Bible text on the Woodman memorial in the churchyard at Warbleton is John 16v2:
Jesus said to his disciples: “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.”
Some words from Hebrews chapter 11:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
* * *
Foxe’s Acts and Monuments / Book of Martyrs: https://www.dhi.ac.uk/foxe/
Many good studies of the Reformation exist:
Michael Reeves on the English Reformation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sB-Z2_va4wo
Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering The Heart Of The Reformation
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation
A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation
Alec Ryrie, The English Reformation: A Very Brief History (Very Brief Histories)
The opening line of the novel, The Go-Between (Hamish Hamilton, 1953)
 In the 1583 edition, the material about Woodman is in Book 12 thematic section 12, pp2007 / 1983ff https://www.dhi.ac.uk/foxe/index.php?realm=text&gototype=&edition=1583&pageid=2007
Christians are sometimes worried there is a danger of bibliolatry, of worshiping the Bible or of confusing God with his written Word. However, Tyndale was bold to say: "God is nothing but his laws and promises, that is to say, that which he bids thee to do, and that which he bids thee believe and hope. God is but his word, as Christ saith... my words are spirit and life." (Obedience of a Christian). Commenting on this, Peter Jensen says that for practical purposes to believe and obey the Bible is to believe and obey God, whose word it is: "our whole relationship with God via promise and command is shaped by these words. All true worship is response to the word." Global Anglican 135/1 (2021) p1. In Calvin's words, "We enjoy Christ only as we embrace Christ clad in his promises." (Institutes 2.9.3)Marc Lloyd
From The Rectory
Over recent weeks we have become reacquainted with that strange firey-yellow ball in the sky, which we might have been forgiven for forgetting. As I write it’s a glorious sunny day and I’ve been able to keep my sunburn more than adequately topped up of late, despite the silly hat and the factor 50. We even experienced that rarest of events: a hot bank holiday.
Sunshine is an amazing free gift, available to us all, and one for which we often fail to be thankful.
It’s possible to understand something of why some cultures have worshiped the sun, I think, though the Bible puts it firmly in its place as something God has made and rules. The Bible tells us that the creation displays the invisible qualities of its Creator: his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:16). And in particular it waxes lyrical about the heavens and skies, and especially the sun:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands….
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19)
If we reflect on sun, it can shed light on its Maker and our relationship to him. The Psalmist can also say: “The LORD God is a sun and a shield;” (84:2).
The sun is unimaginably great and we are relatively small and insignificant. The vastness and power of the sun are hard for us to conceive. It contains 99.7% of the total mass of our solar system and 1.3 million earths could fit inside it. We literally revolve around it! How much more, then, the One who created and sustains the sun, and countless other stars and planets.
At night we can’t see the sun and in Britain the clouds very often hide it. But of course it’s always there, as is God. And we always depend on the sun. Without its heat and light, there could be no life on earth. And, whether we realise it or not, we are equally dependant on God who gives light and life to all people (cf. John 1:1-5).
The prophet Malachi anticipates the judgement of God on wickedness, but he also says that for God’s people who revere his name, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” (4:2). This final chapter of our Old Testaments has often been taken as a prophecy of Jesus the Messiah, not least in the Christmas carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing:
Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Maybe next time we enjoy the sunshine, we might pause to remember the Light of the World who has risen from the grave. May his light dawn afresh in our hearts and scatter our darkness.
For further reflections biblical reflections on the sun, the stars and many other aspects of creation, I’d recommend Andrew Wilson’s book, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Zondervan, 2021), on which I’ve drawn above.
The Revd Marc LloydMarc Lloyd
I guess many of us will be vaguely aware of talk of God as Unmoved Mover or Uncaused Cause and maybe even of this as an argument for the existence of God: if stuff exists or changes, it must have a great Maker or one who affects it.
Edward Feser puts forward what he calls an Aristotelian Proof for the existence of God both more informally and then more formally (in 50 points). This argument is that real change exists. It is the actualization of potential. And this is not possible unless there is something that can actualize without itself being actualized, a purely actual actualizer (Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Ignatius Press, 2017, p12).
One thing that strikes me about this is that he argues not just for some great powerful creator. He argues that a purely actual cause of the existence of things which is immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, intelligent and omniscient is required (p37). In other words, the God of classical theism must exist.
And this is only one of his five proofs. He also offers:
(2) a neo-Platonic (composition / parts require One simple cause)
(3) Augustinian (universals must exist in the mind of God)
(4) Thomistic (nothing could exist unless there exists a being whose essence is existence) and
(5) rationalistic proofs (the principle of sufficient reason requires a necessary being the existence of which must be explained by its own nature).
Feser argues that none of the objections to these arguments succeeds "and indeed that the most common objections are staggeringly feeble and overrated."
He says: "This is a confident claim, I realize. But natural theology, historically, was a confident discipline. A long line of thinkers from the beginnings of Western thought down to the present day - Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, Thomists and other Scholastics, early modern rationalists, and philosophers of some other schools too, whether pagans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, or philosophical theists - have affirmed that God's existence can be rationally demonstrated by purely philosophical arguments. The aim of this book is to show that they were right, that what long was the mainstream position in Western thought ought to be the mainstream position again." (p15)Marc Lloyd
God-willing some more in tomorrow's sermon but here are some jottings:
Perhaps Paul tells a kind of joke in Acts 26v19. He says to King Agrippa: “I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” “So, your majesty, we could all agree to get rid of these chains, couldn’t we? But apart from that one little detail, your majesty, be like me!”
Paul sometimes calls himself a prisoner of the Lord and a slave of Jesus Christ. That’s the hidden reality behind what’s really going on here.
Role reversals and hidden meanings can be the stuff of comedy. And maybe there’s something of that here as Paul begins to cross examine the judge, King Agrippa. V27: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Paul is on trial, but in a way Agrippa is on trial here too, isn’t he? His thoughts and motives begin to be exposed and it all becomes too much for him and he walks out. Maybe God’s word will ask us some searching questions too. Perhaps it will convict us.
The King perhaps thinks its laughable that in so short a time Paul should persuade him to become a Christian, but Paul defends faith in Jesus as perfectly reasonable. He says, for example, in v8, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
There’s also some word play in our chapter. In v24, Festus says to Paul, “you’ve gone crazy, you’re out of you mind to believe in Jesus and the resurrection.” “Your great learning has driven you insane.” It’s a kind of mania. And Paul defends himself: he’s not insane: what he’s saying is true and reasonable and a matter of common knowledge and public record and capable of investigation. Jesus’ ministry is well known and wasn’t done in a corner.
Paul has actually already used that mania, insane word earlier in his defence. In v11, he talked about his obsession, his rage, his mania, in going to foreign cities to persecute the Christians. Before Paul ever became a Missionary seeking to make Christians, he was an anti-Christian counter-Missionary travelling around to destroy believers. Paul would say, “I was out of my mind, but Jesus has brought he to my sense.” “My craziness was trying to fight against Jesus, not my believing in him”.
Perhaps Luke wants us to raise a smile at the whole scene in these chapters. It’s described in chapter 25v23 as King Agrippa and his sister Bernice come in with great pomp and enter the audience room with the high ranking officers and leading men of the city.
But its all a bit silly, really, isn’t it? The Governor has already shown himself too weak to do the right thing and release Paul, although he knows there’s no case to answer. Paul’s innocence is stressed at the beginning and end of our reading And Paul has already appealed to Caesar.
Some commentators call this chapter a show trial. It’s a bit of an entertainment and a spectacle. But its not a real proper full trial at all. This is all a bit of a farce.
The point of this is that the Governor Festus wants to have something to write to the Emperor about Paul. He doesn’t want to look silly by sending Paul off to the Emperor saying, “Your Majesty, I’m sending you this innocent man because I’m incompetent and wanted to keep the locals happy and it all got a bit out of hand!”.
And for all his pomp, we have to remember that King Agrippa is very much in the grip of Rome. He gets to be called King because its convenient for the Emperor. Agrippa is King only as long as he’s useful to Nero. He doesn’t have the real power here.
If we’ve been reading Acts, we might remember another King Herod Agrippa, the father of the one we read about today. At the end of Acts chapter 12, we read about him in Caesarea wearing his royal robes and sat on his throne, but struck down, eaten by worms and killed because he failed to give praise to God, while the word of God continued to grow and spread. The latest King Herod Agrippa hasn’t obviously learnt the lessons of his father’s gruesome death.
And it might just be worth mentioning that there were rumours about Agrippa and the nature of his relationship with his sister, Bernice.
Paul seems pleased to be able to make his case to someone who knows about Jewish affairs, but Agrippa isn’t everything one might hope for in a judge, either in terms of power or, probably, in terms of personal morality. Paul, of course, looks to Jesus as the true Judge and King. It’s the high court of heaven that really matters to him. Despite his serious predicament, I expect Paul managed a smile at Festus and Agrippa.
So, Festus and Agrippa are trying to come up with something to write to the Emperor about Paul. But Paul certainly knows what to say about the charges against him and about his mission.
This hearing allows Paul to gain a hearing for the gospel. He makes the most of this opportunity not only to defend himself but to proclaim Jesus.
There’s a repeated word in chapter 26, which we could use to structure our consideration of what Paul says. In v6 he says, I stand before you on trial, or being judged, and in v22 he says I stand before you bearing witness, or testifying about Christ.
Paul’s trial is an opportunity for testimony.
We could sum up his defence and message then in two points:
(1) V6: I stand before you on trial because of the hope of Israel and the promises of God which are fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
And (2) v22: I stand before you to testify to the fulfilment of the Scriptures in Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection and proclaiming light to the nations.
Paul saw the light on the road to Damascus (v13) and Jesus has sent him to proclaim light to those in darkness (v18). He’s seen the Light and he shares the light. V23: Jesus is proclaiming light to his own people and to the Gentiles.
Jesus is the Servant of the Lord from the book of Isaiah who would bring light to the nations, and Paul is joining in this ministry.
Paul is like one of the prophets of old, like Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, authorised and commissioned by God. This is really God’s message and mission, not Paul’s.
The theme of reversal is here again: Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus and then God opened his eyes. Paul was blind but now he sees. And now, v18, Jesus sends Paul to open the eyes of others.Marc Lloyd
Craig Carter draws on Lloyd Gerson's account of Platonisms broadly conceived (From Plato to Platonism), giving five characteristics of Platonism that he also sees as foundational for Christian Platonism which is rejected in modernity or post-modernity, which he views as a kind of hyper-modernism:
Platonisms ("Ur-Platonism") were:
(Contemplating God with the Great Tradition, p290-294)Marc Lloyd
Steven J. Duby, God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture (IVP Academic, 2019) 334pp
Many of the concerns of this book are methodological (what should theology proper be, what are its sources, methods and aims etc.). But this book is not just prolegomena. There is plenty of God, his revelation, the Christian tradition and indeed of Christ here, sometimes in mind-stretching and heart-warming ways. The learning and scope here are impressive. Sometimes the treatment is pretty technical and the footnotes sometimes risk taking over the body of the page, but no less worthwhile and interesting for that.
Chapters cover theology (God in himself) and the economy (God’s action and revelation), natural theology, the role of Christology and the incarnation in theology, theology and metaphysics and analogy in theology (similarity and difference between Creator and creation and in our language about God).
Duby argues that, by God’s gracious self-revelation and in limited ways, it is possible for pilgrim theologians this side of glory to know God in himself, not merely as he appears to us in the incarnation or in his other external works. Our knowledge of God is true if not complete.
Natural knowledge of God plays a role in this, as special revelation shows. It “provides traction for the reception of supernatural revelation, but its insufficiency and suppression by sinners underscores the need for it to be corrected and augmented by the gospel.” (p293)
Christ is the centre and climax of divine revelation but our access to him is mediated by Holy Scripture. God’s revelation and not just the incarnation is the starting point and formal authority of theology.
There are wrong forms of curiosity or metaphysical speculation, but these should not paralyse us. Strictly historically speaking, it is best to see metaphysics as the study of created being. It is not therefore part of theology proper as such, but some metaphysical concepts can be usefully deployed as we speak of God.
Some of us need to get over some aspects of Barth! He “can be an insightful and thought-provoking dialogue partner without being allowed to dictate the conditions under which theology proper must be done today. Protestants can and should be catholic and avail themselves of the work of Athanasius, Augustine, Boethius, John of Damascus, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and many other pre-Reformation theologians” as well as the Reformed and Post-Reformation Scholastics (p295).
That theology "is not immediately practical and certainly not oriented to questions of technique and efficiency is in fact one of its salutary aspects. Contemporary preoccupation ... with "mission statements," "measurable outcomes," and the like needs to be relativized by the joy of knowing the triune God. It needs to be relativized by a strong sense of the fact that the greatest thing a minister of the gospel ... can do for others is to communicate faithfully about the rich wisdom and goodness and holiness and love of the triune God - and their free and gracious exercise in the economy." (p295)
Even if you don’t want to get into every footnote, this book is well worth a look and the content of each chapter is well signposted if you find yourself inclined to a bit of skimming.