I read a disturbing piece in The Times on Saturday about some of the antics that will go on in Fresher’s week at Universities all around the country. Events and initiations will include ‘whores and pimps’ parties, pull a pig competitions (where lads compete to pull the largest ugliest girl they can find for ‘humour’), traffic light parties (where the colour you where indicates availability for sex), nakedness, funnels, and all manner of other ‘fun’.
But what’s really going on here? Why do people do this stuff? Is it just all a bit of harmless high jinx – a normal rite of passage for any student?
I’m not so sure. I’m no killjoy, but I think there’s something stranger going on with all this. Rites and rituals, marking entry into a community or significant events, are nothing new. They enact and therefore enforce the message of the community.
But what’s the message for Freshers? Your status, identity, and value within the new community requires you to submit to those who have gone before. The outrageous nature of what is asked demonstrates the requirement of absolute submission to the existing culture and ‘authorities’. For you to ‘know your place’ you must be shamed and degraded. And the best way to do that is to make you drunk and display your shame and nakedness. Strange, no?
In the Bible these sorts of images are used in the prophets to speak of God’s judgement against enemies. Societies and unions that encourage (coerce) excessive drunkenness, promiscuity, nakedness, shame, and degradation aren’t your friends. They are antagonists playing God. Now, we all do this. The Fall means that relationships are broken down with respect to God and respect to others. It’s just that the symptoms of this disease manifest at Universities are blatant and crude. If you’re a fresher do yourself and your peers a favour. Stay a million miles away from these kinds of events.
I’m a bit slow off the mark with this one as this book was actually released in 2009. I stumbled across it having spoken with some of the OT boffs at Tyndale House and then saw Scot McKnight’s blog describe John Walton’s work as ‘game-changing’. I have to say, having just finished John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One it is an incredibly stimulating and important work. If you haven’t read it, you really must, as I suspect his position will filter down and exercise enormous influence over evangelicals seeking to reconcile the biblical text with modern science.
It’s impossible in a few hundred words to adequately represent his argument so I’ll give it to you in a nut-shell and leave you to buy the book and decide for yourself whether you find it persuasive. In essence Walton is arguing that Genesis 1 is more interested in ‘functional ontology’ rather than material origin. Walton carefully examines similar texts from around the Ancient Near East and concludes that all have in common a concern to describe the functions of the creation, and the role and presence of the deity within the creation. Ancient cosmology is about function not origin. Walton is an evangelical and is thus crystal clear that God did it all, but argues that Genesis 1 is more concerned with the function and ordering of the created world than the exact mechanism by which it came into material existence. So days, seasons, firmaments and expanses are about bringing order and function to that which he made. His discussion of hebrew terms like bara and tohu wabohu is stimulating indeed. Walton argues that Genesis 1 is ultimately a sanctuary text which depicts creation as a temple in which priests serve and God rules. The seventh day then is not so much about rest as about rule – the temple is finished; now the deity comes to his throne and begins to rule through the work of the priests in the ordered system. Walton is committed to reading the text on its own terms and has a good critique of ‘concordism.’ He believes in 7 actual days and a historical Adam. But what he is suggesting is that questions of material origin are not to the fore in the narrator’s mind – everyone took it as read that God did it – the question is teleological – to what end? Now, I know this thesis will provoke lots of questions and the best thing I could say is read the book for yourselves. For what its worth I think its compelling and in lots of ways convincing, without agreeing with everything in the book. [The real challenge Hebrew lovers is to try and translate Gen 1 according to Walton’s theory – I’m not sure this is very easy but am still working it through]. This is a book that takes the text seriously and seeks to understand it on its own terms. The conclusions, if correct, would go along way to helping resolve perceived tensions between the biblical text and modern science, and would give a new slant to the meaning and message of Gen 1.
I was reminded yesterday of this helpful little grid which aids us when considering the things we disagree about, and how to go about it. The bottom right corner is stuff that’s clear but not tremendously important – i.e. where did Paul get his haircut – hopefully nothing to fight about here. Bottom left is stuff that is unclear and unimportant – i.e. is the ‘eye of a needle’ an actual gate or a metaphor – doesn’t really matter; point is the same – don’t start a fight over this one. Top left is stuff that is important but not all together clear. For example issues around church polity, charismatic gifts, or proper administration of the sacraments are all important issues and we should have a view. But church history teaches us that good and godly men have disagreed over these things so we should be humble, teachable, and charitable as we talk and engage those with whom we disagree. Top right are things which are clear and important – i.e. the deity of Christ – such things are sufficiently plain in Scripture that should someone disagree we need to be gentle but firm concerning the clarity and importance of such doctrines. So, next time your at homegroup, and the red mist descends think about the issue at hand – it’s clarity and importance – and respond in an appropriate and godly way.
Ok, he’s really called Herman Bavinck – an insanely sharp Reformed theologian from back in the day (1854-1921 to be exact) – but I can’t resist calling him Batfink. Forgive my childish ways. A hundred years ago he published a massive work in Dutch entitled Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. In the last 20 years this work has been translated and made available in English in 4 fat volumes entitled Reformed Dogmatics. Our new assistant pastor and myself are going to endeavour to keep one another sharp by reading together the first volume – his prolegomena – that’s basically a 600 page intro to the other 3 vols – some boy eh!? As we go I might jot down a few notes and put them up here for anyone who is crazy, I mean keen, for this sort of stuff. So from the opening twenty pages here’s some stuff:
- Dogma is about the articles of faith and it is the Word of God which grounds the articles of faith. “The power of the church to lay down dogmas is not sovereign and legislative but ministerial and declarative.”
- “theological dogma is always a combination of two elements: divine authority and churchly confession” … “one of the greatest difficulties inherent in the dogmatician’s task lies in determining the relation between divine truth and the church’s confession.”
- but everyone faces the same problem – “a religion without dogma, however vague and general it may be, without, say, faith in a divine power, does not exist, and a nondogmatic Christianity, in the strict sense of the word, is an illusion and devoid of meaning.”
- Even “unbelief has at all times been most dogmatic (Kant).”
- The Reformed solution to the problem is to say that revelation is antecedent to faith but dogma is not. Dogma is not the object but expression of faith (take note creed lovers – that’s an important distinction) – and it is therefore necessarily a moral enterprise, not merely an intellectual one. Faith stands between the Bible and dogmatics.
- “the content of our knowledge of God depends on the epistemological road taken.” God is known through faith, not “knowledge” in the intellectualist sense. Knowing about God and knowing God are not the same.
- God cannot be know apart from his revelation – dogmatics aims to transcript that revelation as seen in his Word
- “However, if the revelation contains such a knowledge of God, it can also be thought through scientifically and gathered up in a system.”
- “Precisely because a true faith-knowledge of God exists, dogmatics has the knowledge of God as part of its content and can rightly claim to be a science.”
- “dogmatics is a positive science, gets all its material from revelation, and does not have the right to modify or expand that content by speculation apart from that revelation.”
- “God’s thoughts cannot be opposed to one another and thus necessarily form an organic unity.”
- “Theology and dogmatics, too, exist for the Lord’s sake” – that the church may learn to know the love of God, and that the manifold wisdom of God be known to the world.
So that was a bit longer than planned, but it gives you a flavour of the man’s genius. Watch this space for more snippets as we go.
Here’s a great quote from the great man which was shared on the Reformation 21 blog:
“A certain vainglorious party of Pretenders to intellect and culture tell us now that the old Puritanic faith is nearly extinct; there are only a few of us ignorant people who now hold the same truths as John Owen, John Bunyan, Goodwin, and Charnock; but all the elite of the world, those who have all the “sweetness and light” to themselves, the thinkers, the mental gentility have all been sensible enough to give their votes for something more suitable to the times. In the name of God, we shall show them the difference yet, and by his Spirit He will din their ears with the gospel ram’s horn till they and their Jericho come down in a common ruin. The evangelical doctrine which shook Europe will shake it yet again, and England shall yet know that the self-same truth, for which her martyrs died and for which her Puritans fought on many a wellcontested field, shall break the rationalism and ritualism of this land in pieces yet, and all else that standeth in the way of the true gospel of the living God. We are not afraid nor discouraged, but we cry mightily unto the King that we may once more lift up a shout because of his presence, for then human philosophy shall be ashamed, and old Rome shall know, and all the cubs of the beast of Rome shall know, that the Lord liveth, and his invincible truth shall win the day.”
As a church we put quite a high premium on meeting twice on a Sunday. I know not everyone does, and that’s fine, but here’s a couple of reasons why we think it’s a good thing:
1. Practically we have shift workers and parents of toddlers. If you have to work shifts on a Sunday, you’re still able (hopefully) to make one of our other services. And if you do we’ll all try and be there so you’re not left alone. If we all decided to drop the evening service the person who’s worked an early shift finds none of their friends are there – not cool. Similarly, if you’re fielding little people at the morning service its nice to be able to come out on your own in the evening and enjoy some adult company. Practically it’s a way of expressing love for others – we go out of our way to try and make sure people have a meaningful Sunday experience and that’s a church-wide project.
2. Second, Sunday is resurrection day. Why did the early church move their gatherings from the Sabbath to the first day of the week? Cos its resurrection day. And what does resurrection signify? The dawning of new creation – Spring has Sprung. Sure it’s still a bit wintry as spring days often are but the corner is turned and the dawn of new creation has begun. So what? So resurrection day is new creation day – its a time to, in a very small way, anticipate something of new creation. So we gather together as God’s people, hear from God, sing to him and worship him, and enjoy time with God and one another – and its an all day thing. So we meet together in the morning, eat with people at lunch, enjoy recreation if the afternoon, meet together in the evening, go home, go to bed. It’s an all day celebration of resurrection day in anticipation of new creation day.
So there you have it. Two simple reasons why meeting twice on a Sunday is a gooooood thing.
You can get Martin Luther’s Concerning Christian Liberty on Amazon kindle for absolutely zero pounds, which, considering it is one of the classics of the last half millennium really isn’t half bad. It’s only 32 pages long (in my kindle version) so is a short and easy read. Here are my highlights to whet your appetite:
“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”
“This is that Christian liberty, our faith, the effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life, but that no one should need the law of works for justification and salvation.”
“Christ, that rich and pious Husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all His good things”
“works are not the means of his justification before God; he does them out of disinterested love to the service of God; looking to no other end than to do what is well-pleasing to Him whom he desires to obey most dutifully in all things.”
“Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fullness and riches of his own faith.”
Now I should just say that I think Luther’s view that the whole of Scripture could be divided into precept or promise is too simplistic, and I disagree with Luther’s view that the law has no place in the Christian life (but that’s a whole other much longer post!). But nonetheless, it is a little work well worth reading.
For my summer reading this year I read through Paul Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. In many ways an excellent book with many helpful reminders for pastors.
The basic thesis of the book is that pastors, like everyone else, are in the middle of their own sanctification. And what is the means God gives to help Christians in the middle of their sanctification? One of them is the local church. Yet the reality is many pastors feel like they cannot be honest about their own struggles with their brothers and sisters, perhaps out of pride, or perhaps out of fear. Whatever, pastors end up leading a double life – one way with the congregation in public, another behind closed doors with the family. In the end bitterness and failure aren’t far behind.
The solution? To find our identity in Christ not ‘our’ ministry, and to embrace the God-given means of sanctification – the people, brothers and sisters, God has given to help us. The book certainly isn’t an ‘easy’ read in the sense that time and time again Tripp paints an all too familiar portrait of the weaknesses that beset most of us. In that sense its hard and uncomfortable reading, but necessary if we’re to confront the dangers which surround and inhabit us. Here’s a book every pastor should read, and then re-read once a year for the sake of a healthy soul and the glory of God.