The Real Rocky Story

rockyRocks in the Bible – here we go!

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deu 32:4 NIV)

For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede. (Deu 32:31 NIV)

There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. (1Sa 2:2 NIV)

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; (2Sa 22:2 NIV)

And who is the Rock except our God? (Psa 18:31 NIV)

They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. (Psa 78:35 NIV)

He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. (Isa 8:14 NIV)

Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal. (Isa 26:4 NIV)

While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. (Dan 2:34 NIV)

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Rom 9:33 NIV)

and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1Co 10:4 NIV)

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (1Pe 2:6 NIV)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (1Pe 2:7 NIV)

“A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”  (1Pe 2:8 NIV)

Rock of ages, cleft for . . .


Osborne’s hermeneutical method

I did some stuff on hermeneutics a little while back for London Theological Seminary and I found Grant Osborne’s Hermeneutical Spiral particularly helpful. He covers issues surrounding intended meaning, grammar, context, syntax, genre analysis, methodology, homiletics and much else besides. I’d highly recommend it as a go to reference book. I was particularly helped by his material on methodology (see ch. 15; pp. 347-73). He outlines the various methodologies employed as follows:

  1. The synthetic method – seeks to trace various themes through Scripture (eg. covenant). This method appreciates unity, but can artificially impose itself on Scripture, and fail to recognise diversity.
  2. The analytical method – studies distinctive themes of books but undermines (sometimes even denies) the overarching unity of the canon.
  3. The history of religions method – considers the ways in which the Bible borrowed ideas from surrounding religions. Any parallel is considered a precursor to the Bible. This approach obviously relies on certain liberal presuppositions.
  4. The tradition-critical method – the developing creed of the community is of greater relevance than historical accuracy. The view unnecessarily plays one off against the other and is more interested in the expression of faith than the reality of the events.
  5. The Christological method – we interpret every part of the Bible in light of the Christ event. Obviously a good thing but we need to beware of allegorising or spiritualizing OT texts, or losing the importance of God’s historical dealings with Israel.
  6. The confessional method – the Bible is a series of faith statements to be adhered to. True, but beware of the tendency to dismiss any sort of critical engagement with the historical development of the text.
  7. The narrative method – tracing the development of themes in the development of the book. The danger is that historical issues can become determinative, and the overall theology lost.
  8. The multiplex method – employing the strengths, whilst being aware of the weaknesses, of all of the above (Osborne’s preference unsurprisingly).

The other helpful discussion in this section is regarding the necessary disciplines in a sound hermeneutical method and the relationship between them.



Exegesis informs Biblical theology which informs Systematic theology. Historical theology underpins them all as a control. Osborne adds a fifth, practical theology, and notes that there is in fact an ongoing dialogue between the five disciplines rather than a neat logical progression (p. 351). It’s an excellent book well worth having on the shelves – get it on your Christmas list!

N.T.Wright and Doug Campbell Going Toe-to-Toe

Last week Duke University hosted a panel discussion on Pauline theology at which N.T.Wright was an invited guest. The panel was chaired by Richard Hays, and also on the panel were Duke scholars, Ross Wagner, Susan Eastman, and Douglas Campbell. You can see the 90 minute discussion here:

The discussion was wide-ranging, informative and interesting but perhaps the lasting impression from the debate was the manner of Prof. Cambell. He was, at points, confrontational, dismissive, disrespectful, and plain rude. At some point widely read and influential theologians need to apply their great learning toward an ethic of academic engagement. Disagree, of course, but please please do so with love, grace, humility, and charity. Not to do so dishonours God, dishonours your brother or sister, and fails to witness to God’s agape love to the world (1 Jn 4:7-12). Big brains require bigger hearts.

10 Second Sermons

10secHere’s a fun little resource from comedian Milton Jones called 10 Second Sermons. Milton Jones is the daddy of one-liners and he combines his brilliant wit with his faith to provide us with some great ways to laugh out ourselves and provoke some serious thought. It’s only 80 pages with large print, pictures etc. It’s the kind of book you could have next to you when you prepare talks or on the coffee table in your living room. It’s winsome charm will disarm the most ardent sceptic. Here’s just a few of his nuggets:

“Christianity is like a Cornish pastie. There’s something in it, but sometimes it’s difficult to find out what it is exactly.”

[Church is like] “a baseball bat. For most of the time they play a nice little game with their friends. Then once a year they go out into the High Stree and hit someone over the head with it.”

“God is Calvin Klein. We are pants.”

“Salvation is like being returned to factory settings. But you have to admit there is a factory, and that there could be some settings.”

You’ll have to buy the book the get the rest.

Jonathan Edwards On Why Free Will Is Not Virtuous

shop_Freedom-of-the-WillNext week I’m teaching some A-level RE & Philosophy students on free will and theological determinism. Some of the best stuff I’ve read on this comes from 18th c. New England Puritan, Jonathan Edwards. His book, Freedom of the Will, addresses the Arminian position that claims that for a choice to be meaningful it must be free. They argued that the will must be ‘indifferent’ – i.e. free from any prepossessed bias if the will was to be truly self-determining. Edwards ruthlessly prosecutes this line of thinking and demonstrates that no decision is perfectly ‘free’; what’s more, if it were it would not be a virtuous thing. Here he is in his own words (taken from Part 3, section 6):

“If indifference belongs to liberty of will, as Arminians suppose, and it be essential to a virtuous action that it be performed in a state of liberty, as they also suppose, it will follow, that it is essential to a virtuous action that it be performed in a state of indifference.”

“If the action [argues the Arminian] be determined by a preceding act of choice, it cannot be virtuous; because the action is not done in a state of indifference.”

“But, if there be any acts which . . . spring immediately from perfect indifference and coldness of heart, they cannot arise from any good principle or disposition in the heart; and consequently, according to common sense, have no sincere goodness in them, having no virtue of heart in them.”

“the Arminian scheme of liberty is utterly inconsistent with the being of any such things as either virtuous or vicious habits or dispositions. If liberty of indifference be essential to moral agency, then there can be no virtue in any habitual inclinations of the heart.”

“But how plainly contrary is this to the universal sense of mankind, and to the notion they have of sincerely virtuous actions, which is, that they are actions which proceed from a heart well disposed and inclined; and the stronger and the more fixed and determined the good disposition of the heart, the greater the sincerity of virtue, and so the more of the truth and reality of it.

In sum Edwards is saying that if you want free will in its purest form then that will must be at total liberty – utterly indifferent to prior influence or disposition. And if this is the case then at any point we are ‘as near to choosing as refusing’ with each possibility equal in likelihood. So to choose repentance and faith is not virtuous as you could as likely have chosen the contrary. Edwards does believe in a type of liberty – not the liberty of indifference, but what has sometimes been termed the ‘liberty of spontaneity’. In other words, the liberty to act in accordance with your disposition and prepossessed bias. Original sin means our bias is away from God and toward sin which is why we need his grace to restrain and transform. When we have been regenerated our wills are now inclined toward obedience, and our works, performed in union with Christ, the power of the Spirit, and to a God glorifying end are truly virtuous.

Would Calvin have allowed drums in church?

calvinLast night in our Guided Reading Group we reached the thorny topic of ‘worship,’ by which I mean the corporate gathered worship of God’s people in church. We had some sections from Grudem, Calvin, and  Keller to wrestle with, and we talked through normative principle and regulative principle and all that jazz. It was Calvin that I found most surprising, refreshing, and even contemporary. Here’s the drift of his argument from Institutes IV.X.27-32:

27. “many unlettered persons, when they are told that men’s conscience are impiously bound by human traditions, and God is worshipped in vain, apply the same erasure to all the laws by which the order of the church is shaped . . . [yet] some form of organization is necessary . . . all things be done decently and in order.”

Calvin is countering those who, having learned of the papal excess in ritual, are now removing all ritual or order – they think they’re free to do whatever they like (it could be a word against some forms of Lutheranism from the time). Calvin’s point is some order is required if Paul’s instruction regarding decency and order is to be followed.

28. “When it is understood that a law has been made for the sake of public decency, there is taken away the superstition into which which those fall who measure the worship of God by human inventions . . . that false opinion of obligation and necessity, which struck consciences with great terror when traditions were thought necessary to salvation, is overthrown. For here nothing is required except that love be fostered among us by common effort . . . When we have the church set up in good order, we provide for its peace and quietness.”

Again, Calvin is saying ‘don’t chuck the baby out with the bath-water.’ Some sort of order is necessary for everybody’s well-being.

29. “As a consequence . . . we shall not establish an order in those trifling pomps which have nothing but fleeting spendor, but in that arrangement which takes away all confusion, barbarity, obstinacy, turbulence, and dissension.”

One of Calvin’s big principles – aedificatio ecclesiae – does it edify?

30. However, because God did not “prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given . . . the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age . . . it will be fitting to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones.”

Here’s where Calvin started dropping bombs – he’s advocating a regulative principle in so far as that principle appeals to the general rules of Scripture. Each time and age must work out, according to the general principles, how it practises worship.

31. “Now it is the duty of Christian people to keep the ordinances that have been established according to this rule with a free conscience, indeed, without superstition, yet with a pious and ready inclination to obey.”

Order is important, and we should submit, but there will be some exceptions and we are not bound by the customs.

32. “this knowledge assures first that each one of us will keep his freedom in all these things; yet each one will voluntarily impose some necessity upon his freedom, in so far as this decorum of which we spoke or considerations of love shall require . . . establishing no perpetual law we should refer the entire use and purpose of observances to the upbuilding of the church. If the church requires it, we may not only without any offense allow something to be changed but permit any observance previously in use among us to be abandoned.”

We should restrain our personal liberty for the sake of the good of the whole. Some ceremonies may be more or less useful and we are free to use or abandon.

Calvin was an advocate of the regulative principle but his use of it is a good deal more liberal than some other advocates. He notes the necessity of order, decency, and dignity in worship, but then allows a great deal of freedom under the ‘general rules’ of Scripture on the issue. Different cultures and ages have a large amount of freedom in working out how to worship God together. With a little updating of the language and concepts Calvin could speak a powerful word amongst the various denominations today.

Would Calvin have allowed drums in church? He’d have been playing them!

How to create a healthier work culture

This will be my final post on things I picked up from this years Global Leadership Summit. In the opening session Bill Hybels’ addressed a number of topics, first of which was how you create a healthier culture in your organisation. His reflections were incredibly honest and his suggestions insightful. He gives five as follows:

  1. Get some outside objective input – Hybels hired an outside firm to come and evaluate the culture health of Willow Creek. It was painful, but he said they’d have never got that level of honesty trying to do it themselves. If you’re serious, pay the money and do it properly. Hire an outside consultant.
  2. Own the turnaround. The senior pastor has to take charge of the organisation’s culture. Hybels argues its far too important to delegate. Again, if you’re serious about this issue then take responsibility.
  3. Train people – make sure they are equipped and appropriately challenged in their roles. People want to have a sense of real significance in their role.
  4. Honest reviews – make your reviews regular (he suggests 6 monthly) and specific – what needs starting, what needs stopping, and what needs to be continued. More than just work based – take an interest in the whole person – they aren’t a resource to be spent and discarded.
  5. Work at conflict resolution – train people to deal with unresolved issues, don’t let stuff fester.

Hybels reminded us that people don’t leave jobs or companies, they leave managers. The health of the organisations culture is the responsibility of the senior leader and its too important not to take seriously.