Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Old Testament authority

How is the OT relevant to us today? In what way can we say that it is authoritative for us as Christians? There is so much that is different - so many commands that we do not keep. Does it have anything to say to us?

Chris Wright helpfully points out the nature of OT authority in his Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. For starters, we have to realise that 'authority' is a bigger term than 'command'. Clearly, we do not keep many of the commands of the OT, but that need not mean that it isn't authoritative for us. Once we've got that clear, there are at least four avenues by which the authority of the OT upon us becomes clear.

The reality of the God of the OT - 'the reality of the identity of YHWH implies the authority of an ethics of worship and response. Inasmuch as we encounter the reality of this God in the pages of the OT we encounter that authority also... [T]he reality of YHWH's character implies the authority for an ethic if imitation and reflection of that character in human behaviour. We ought to behave in certain ways because that is what YHWH is like, and that reality is sufficient authority.'

The reality of the story of the OT - 'the reality of this story, rendered to uson the pages of the OT, carries authority for an ethic of gratitude in view of God's actions for Israel in the past, and an ethic of missional intentionality in view of God's purposes for humanity in the future.'

The reality of the word of the OT - 'the reality of this word, delivered to us in the scriptures of Israel, carries authority for an ethic of covenantal obedience for us as for Israel, for we know the One who said these things (Heb. 10:30).'

The reality of the people of the OT - 'the reality of this people, rendered to us in the OT Scriptures, generates an ethic of paradigm and analogy, in which we assume the moral consistency of God and ask, "If this is what God required of them, what, in our different context, does God require of us?"'

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Shakespeare or slogans?!

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out , brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Shakespeare)

Last week some of the UCCF staff were encouraged to think through the importance of form as well as content in the Bible and in our communication of it. Sometimes good communication isn't about making things as absolutely simple as they possibly can be, finding that timeless truth and saying it in the least possible syllables. Rather, the way something comes across can be as important as the content itself. Take the above quote for example, it's harder to understand than the bumper sticker which says "life sucks; then you die", but, even though the two things are saying more or less the exact same thing, doesn't Shakespeare communicate so much more? The slogan leaves me cold and cynical, but is soon forgotten. Macbeth leaves me desperately sad at the hoplessness of people, at the meaninglessness of this world and at life which is but "a walking shadow" (made worse by the fact someone can express this so beautifully).

Although I didn't need much convincing that form matters as well as content, I'm feeling more determined to think hard about how I communicate something, especially when teaching the Bible. I don't want to strip passages down to merely a slogan and miss the message of the form.

(oh, just to make sure everything is properly referenced - this all came from Jason Clarke, who I think was quoting Carl Trueman, who was quoting Shakespeare and presumably a car he saw at some point...)

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

What grounds of assurance?

After a busy couple of weeks, I've returned to The Bruised Reed to finish it off. Having discussed the justice that shall be sent forth to victory (see Matt. 12:20) under the title 'Grace shall reign', Sibbes concludes in true Puritan fashion with evidences I can look for in my own life that this is true of me.

My question is this: are these the best evidences to looks for? They're generally very inward-looking and subjective rather than outward-looking and Christ-focused. Now, I don't doubt that Sibbes believes that the work of Christ is the ground of our assurance and that in a different context that would have come out - I don't expect him to say everything every time! And it must also be said that he does qualify his evidences by laying out three stages of experiencing them, starting when we resist but fail - but what about those times when the emphasis seems to be on the failing rather than the resisting?

Must I be able to 'justify all Christ's ways' all the time? What about if I doubt? What about the many times when 'reasons of religion' are not the strongest reasons at work in me? What about when Christ's will comes into conflict with others within me and loses very, very quickly? And so on.

I don't think Sibbes is wrong per se, particularly in view of his qualification, but is this balanced advice? Don't we need at least a pointer to the fixed, never-failing realities of the gospel to keep the anchor held firm? I'm not entirely sure what I make of what he says here - I've got more questions than answers.

But I'll end with my favourite 'evidence' - which seems spot on to me. If you can't even find a glimmer of this, then you're in for real difficulties:

'If we had liberty to choose under whose government we would live, out of a delight in the inner man to Christ's government, making choice of him only to rule us before any other. This argues that we are like-minded to Christ, a free and a willing people, and not compelled to Christ's service otherwise than by the sweet constraint of love. When we are so far satisfied with the government of Christ's Spirit that we are willing to resign up ourselves to him in all things, then his kingdom is come in us, and our wills are brought to his will. It is the bent of our wills that makes us good or ill.'