Month: May 2012

apparently I’m a teenage girl

Last Friday I was called a teenage girl. And it wasn’t the first time.

It’s happened twice now. In a matter of months.

Both times happened at the youth group I help lead. And both times it was said as a compliment. (I think.)

Last Friday we were pouring over David’s cry from the depths in Psalm 25. We were wrestling with the couplet at the heart of his prayer — where he asks God to draw near to guide and protect him, his anointed one:

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.

We were exploring, why does David say that he is lonely exactly?

Hurting we could understand. Desperate and hard pressed? Yep. Makes sense. Acutely aware of his own guilt and possible (maybe even probable) contribution to his plight? Tick.

But lonely? Why is that?

I ventured to suggest that maybe David was feeling lonely in his afflicted and besieged state (surrounded by his enemies) because that’s what hard times tend to do.

At least, that’s what they do to me. They makes my world shrink — so the pain is all I see. And, in doing so, they leave me feeling cut off — like no-one could possibly understand how hard life’s become for me.

That’s when I got called a teenage girl.

Apparently, this is something teenage girls resonate with. I’m not sure I want to encourage catastrophising. But if we do with our hardships what David does — casting ourselves on the Lord’s mercy — then maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

a word of grace for the same-sex marriage debate

We all feel the problem, don’t we?

However you ended up here, you’re talking about same-sex marriage. And you’re feeling pinned.

You really want to say something about God’s grace in Jesus. But you’re struggling to be heard as anything but a moralistic, judgemental bigot.

Maybe — keeping Romans 1.18ff in mind — you’re trying to explain that not just homosexual sin but all sin can be traced back to idolatry.

Perhaps you’ve mentioned something about not expecting people who don’t trust Jesus to buy into Christian morality (a little uncomfortably given your convictions about Jesus being Lord of all and hence of his vision for life applying to all).

But nothing seems to be getting through.

So how can we speak a word of grace into the same-sex marriage debate?

In his brilliant little paper on ‘Preaching In A Secular Culture’ (available at Redeemer City to City), Tim Keller isolates four keys for speaking the good news of Jesus in a secular culture — and having it actually heard as good news:

  1. <strongSpeak to Christians and non-Christians at the same time. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds — the good news about Jesus is the key not only to becoming a Christian but also to growing as one.
  2. Proclaim grace not moralism. Sounds obvious, right? But incredibly hard to do in practice.
  3. Show that it’s always about Christ. Again – Duh. And, again, very difficult to do without forcing the connection (e.g., by allegory).
  4. Aim for the heart (or the imagination) not simply the emotions or the mind.

I’d love to unpack this in detail. But I’ll limit myself to picking out one point of particular relevance for Christian interventions the same-sex marriage debate. Namely, how do we pull off Point 2 — speaking a word of grace rather than moralistic condemnation?

The key, Keller suggests, is to work hard to “show how the person and work of Jesus Christ bears on the subject” so people can hear us proclaiming good news not simply (what we consider to be) good advice.

Surely, Christian talk about sin — all sin not just homosexual sin — must take its cue from the way Jesus extended unconditional acceptance to sinners (“Neither do I condemn you” was his word to the woman caught in adultery in John 8) before making demands or calling for transformation (“Go and leave your life of sin”).

It’s worth asking ourselves the question: Do our interventions in the same-sex marriage debate have the savour of Jesus to them?

I suspect we won’t get very far until we start owning up to our sin and failures in this regard. Showing how the way Christ deals with sinners is good news — which, nevertheless, demands change and transformation — for all of us.

beyond Pentecostal Christology (ii)

I want to comment on one other aspect of Edward Irving’s Christology before I turn to examine his contention that regeneration and baptism in the Spirit are two separate experiences. In particular, I want to ask:

What are we to make of Irving’s focus on the mighty works of Jesus as evidence of his Spirit-empowerment?

Take this typical example (from his article ‘Facts Connected with Recent Manifestations Of Spiritual Gifts’ in Frasers Magazine, 1832, where Irving is summarising the content of what he had already been preaching for the previous six or seven years):

[A]ll the works of Christ were done by the man anointed with the Holy Ghost, and not by God mixing himself up with the man. The person is the Son of God; the bounds which he has consented to speak and act in are the bounds of mortal manhood; the power by which, when within these narrow bounds, he does such mighty things, against and above the course of nature, death, and hell, is the power of the Holy Ghost; and the end of the whole mystery of his incarnation is to show unto mortal men what every one of them, through faith in his name, shall be able to perform; as it is written in the first of these chapters, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works which I shall do he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12)

Of course, I wouldn’t want to deny that Jesus did do his mighty works by the power of the Spirit. And, as I’ve already mentioned, there is lots to commend this brand of ‘Spirit Christology’.

However, I do wonder why Irving focuses so narrowly on the spectacular mighty works in this connection — even while maintaining that it’s all the works of Christ that Jesus does in the Spirit’s power. And this presumably should include the climactic achievement of Jesus’ atoning suffering and death.

Some of the summaries in Acts could be swung in this direction (e.g., Acts 10.38 — although the context widens the scope significantly). But a close reading of the narrative of Luke-Acts calls for something broader — as emphasised by David Hohne’s important work on the Spirit’s role in locating Jesus as the Messiah, enabling him to fulfil his vocation, opening up the possibility that we might share in Christ’s sonship through faith, and ‘activating’ that possibility as the ascended Jesus pours out the Spirit on all flesh.

I wouldn’t want to repeat in Christological terms the old — and thoroughly gridlocked — attempt to play off gifts of the Spirit against the fruit of the Spirit. But, as with that debate, what we need is a way of integrating the two strands of New Testament evidence.

We need, in other words, to think together the (messianic) mighty works of Jesus with his work on the cross. And the way to do that, I’d suggest is by paying closer attention to Christ’s Sonship — something, once again, that trinitarian theology would tie very closely to his sharing in the Spirit…

catching up with reality

You’ve no doubt noticed that the pace of posting has slowed down here lately. Long gone are the days of one (and sometimes two) posts a day. Now one or two a week feels like a stretch!

What’s changed?

Well, I guess you could say I’m finally catching up with reality.

You see, about seven and a half months ago my life was invaded by the most charming, beautiful, absorbing, and fascinating little person — my son, Benjamin. And my reality changed. Forever. (For the better.)

Since then, I’ve been playing catch-up. My schedule, plans, and expectations — about how much energy I have, how productive I can be, etc — keep needing to be adjusted. Downwards.

I’ve resisted it, of course. Kicking and screaming at every turn. Swinging erratically between denying I need to adjust at all and feeling crushed by my sense of inadequacy.

But the new reality keeps pressing it’s claim. And, while I don’t want to speak too soon, I think I’m finally responding.

This dynamic isn’t unique to new parents, mind you. I experienced a version of it when I first got married — my experience and expectations took a while to catch up with that new reality too.

And every Christian experiences it throughout our days as we wait for Christ’s return.

We’re swept up in the new creation, the new humanity God’s launched in Jesus. In him there’s a new reality.

Like Ephesians 2 reminds us, we were dead in sin, subject to the evil one, objects of wrath, strangers to God, at war with him and his purposes. But now things have changed. Because of what God’s done through Jesus everything is different.

But we’re all still catching up with the reality. Fighting it. Denying it. Falteringly recognising and embracing it. Regretting how far short of it we keep falling. And occasionally, by the mercy of God, reveling in it.

Thank God he’s so patient with us!