Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Nose for Theology

Peter Leithart has a thought about noses:
"Idols have noses, but can’t smell (Psalm 115). That means, for starters, they can’t breathe in the aroma of sacrifice. So what’s the point of turning animals to smoke? It also means that they are not to be feared. If their noses don’t breathe in, they can’t breathe out either. Yahweh can breathe life into Adam; idols can’t. Yahweh’s nose burns against disobedient Israel; idols noses can’t burn, nor can they breathe out smoke and fire. Therefore: Do not fear them."
See also a thought on hearing, from Jeremy Begbie on Music.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jealousy Wins

Ron Frost on Jealousy, Beauty and God:
"Beauty and jealousy are oil and water words—they aren’t a good match—but in God they come together. God’s beauty is seen in his relational devotion—in his love. Even in our humanity we see beauty in the people who love us well. The wrinkles of a caring grandmother are winsome etchings of love to the eyes of her grandchildren; and the aging body of a devoted wife will still bring a unique beauty to her husband’s heart from their many shared years of life..." READ MORE 


Elsewhere: Don't miss Marcus Honeysett's review of Love Wins

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Song of Songs: Who's being allegorical eh?

Ellen Davis, in a book review observes:
"a sexual interpretation of the Song is allowable, but scholars interested in the poet’s original intention must in honesty admit that such an interpretation is metaphorical, indeed allegorical."
Very daring for her to throw the accusation hurled against the mainstream back at these modern critics: Historical and Literary study of The Song says it's allegorical to say it's just about human love!!

These are days when many resist any interpretation of The Song as about the love of God for his people... following the footsteps of Mahaney, Driscoll and Marcia Falk etc. One has to ask why?!

The mainstream historical approach held by the church for centuries (millenia) is not dead today. See it maintained by many - such as Ellen Davis, Robert Jenson... along with the Church Fathers, Reformers and Puritans. Catch it as Tim Hughes writes "altogether lovely" into Here I am to Worship (yes: that's a quote from the Bible!), or in Prosch's 'His Banner over me is love".... charismatic worship songwriters haven't been afraid to embrace the language of this song. They're not prudes, neither were the puritans. Not embarrassed to have a god of whom we cannot speak fully without the language of eros.

In her commentary on The Song of Songs Davis echoes others who've said it is the most Biblical of books. Though you'd think it the least, for the lack of modern preaching of it...
“The Song is thick with words and images drawn from earlier books. By means of this “recycled” language, the poet places this love song firmly in the context of God’s passionate and troubled relationship with humanity (or, more particularly with Israel), which is the story the rest of the Bible tells. Far from being a secular composition, the Song is profoundly revelatory"
The examples of recycled language are almost endless, shepherds and kings, all the talk of Lebanon which evokes the temple and Solomon's curtain, love better than wine, garden language evoking Eden... the one whom my soul loves etc. And:
"The Song of Songs answers that tragic history, stretching all the way back to Eden. What we hear throughout – and only here in the Bible – is mutual love speaking at full strength."
Have the Song as part of your Christian Scriptures and you'll be able to derive an allegorical interpretation that will be useful to think about marriage (not that the Bible is short on valuing marriage!). Have it read as literature laden with the gospel and you'll have categories and language and encounter with God that can handle intimacy and jealousy and passion and love strong as death. No cold submission to a lord, no dispassionate love that lets us go, but the burning passionate heart of the God who truly loves.


Further consideration of Ellen Davis approach, interacting with Origen, in Jason Byasse's Roomy Hearts in a More Spacious World.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christ and his Church in the Book of Psalms (Andrew Bonar)

I'm enjoying reading Andrew Bonar's book on the Psalms. I came across Bonar a few years back when Tim Chester was blogging from Bonar's excellent Leviticus commentary - a book that really draws the gospel out of a book that intimidates Christians more than most! Both are freely available from Google Books which is great.

In his notes on Psalms Bonar demonstrates the importance of reading them "with your left eye on David and your right eye fully on Christ." Much like the Song of Songs this is a 'both/and' book.... though Scripture is always firstly about Christ, and only then applicable to us in Christ. Psalms are beloved for speaking to the human condition but they do more - they sing of the gospel (which of course makes them deeply applicable to all!).

As Augustine said, "the voice of Christ and his Church was well nigh the only voice to be heard in the Psalms... Everywhere diffused throught is that man whose Head is above, and whose members are below" Bonar says: "we ought to recognise his voice in all the Psalms, either waking up the psaltery or uttering the deep groand - rejoicing in hope or heaving sights over present realities." And Tertullian says we see the person of Christ in all the Psalms.
Here's a couple of examples from Bonar:
On Psalm 27 (p94 - pdf 109): "the Righteous One's confident assertion of safety when lonely amid surrounding foes" 
"To see the Lord, in his temple where everything spoke of redemption, - there to see the Father's beauty, was the essence of his soul's desire. This "beauty" is the Lord's well-pleased look; such a look as the Father have, when his voice proclaimed, "this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased". It also means, all that makes God an object of affection and delight to a soul. Nothing could be more desirable to Christ than this approving look of his Father, teling, as it did, his love to the uttermost. And nothing to us sinners, can equal this look of love; it is the essence of heaven now, and heaven for ever. It is the "one thing;" for from this holy love proceed all other blessings. to catch glimpses of this "beauty" in the temple was our Lord's aim; he engaged in no other pursuit of earth. Neither did David..."

And on Psalm 63, which he calls "the righteous One finding water-springs in God":
"A Psalm for David - a Psalm for David's Son - A Psalm for the Church in every age - a Psalm for every member of the Church in the weary land! What assurance, what vehement desire, what soul-filling delight in God, in God alone - in God the only fountain of living water amid a boundless wilderness....  And when we read all this as spoken of Christ, how much does every verse become enhanced. His thirst for God! His vision of God! His estimate of God's loving-kindness! His soul satisfied! His mouth full of praise! His soul following hard after God!... And when verse 7 shews us the soul under the shadow of God's wings, rejocing, we may say, it is not only like as "the bird sheltered from the heat of the sun amid the rich foliage sings its merry note," but it is the soul reposing there as if entering the cloud of glory, like Moses and Elias"
I look forward to more reading from Bonar, and others who've gone before us, as I prepared to preach on one of the Psalms later this summer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hebrews: Preaching Christ in the New Testament

This week we gathered our Southern teams for an end of year get together - think lots of food and prayer and Bible, in a warehouse in a field in Hampshire... We were joined for a day by our friends from Cor Deo, with Peter Mead walking us through Hebrews.

I was particularly helped by the observations on Hebrews as a sermon, and the way this makes sense of the seemingly very hard warning passages which function as transitions between the three main movements in the sermon. An exposition of Christ, in the three main movements, unpacking three main Old Testament texts, leading us from Exodus to Sanctuary to City, to the hope of being in our home town with our God.

Here's a two minute taster of Peter Mead on Hebrews:

Download: Extract from Hebrews Pt 3

And here's seven minutes from my talk on 'room in God' with some interference in the background.

Download: Extract from Room in God on what it means to be inside Jesus' prayer life

Full session downloads
Session 1 - Dave Bish - Room in God
Session 2 - Peter Mead - Hebrews pt1
Session 3 - Peter Mead - Hebrews pt2
Session 4 - Peter Mead - Hebrews pt3
Session 5 - Jim Walford - Living by the cross

Peter blogs at Biblical Preaching and the Cor Deo blog.
COR DEO Event: Reading God's Heart: July 2nd, Chippenham

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Worst Messiah Ever?

Chris Oldfield on Jonah 3 - Resurrection & Repentance.
A good use of 30 minutes as Chris equips a group of students with the gospel.... connecting up Luke 24, Jonah 3 and Song of Songs 8.... 
the story of the most rubbish preacher, and the worst Messiah ever who drowned who got thrown into the sea, who got strung upon on a cross, worst rescue plan ever, the worst idea ever... the God who loves... we know a kind God.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Knowing the Heart Melting Love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

On Father's Day, on Trinity Sunday... let the gospel resound.

"Collect together all the expressions of God's love to you, and let them lie glowing at your hearts, and melt them." Jeremiah Burroughs, Hosea p182.

"How wonderful to call You Father, How merciful my Father's love. I might have hoped to be Your servant, But You delight to call me son." Matt Giles, How Wonderful

Paul prays that we'll know the full dimensions of the love of God in Christ... Sibbes calls for us to be swallowed up in the love of God. Calvin says that needs for us to be participating in the Spirit. Peter says it's about participating in the divine nature. Moses says we're just the same as everyone else if God doesn't go with us. Jesus says I will always be with you. Jesus prays Abba. The Spirit says Abba. The Father says, "Son, come in to the party".

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Learning to breath Narnian air

"We must learn to trek across the Narnian countryside, swim in the Narnian seas, distinguish Calormenes from Archenlanders, and navigate the etiquette of centaurs (it’s a very serious thing to invite a centaur to dinner; they have two stomachs after all). Indeed, we must learn to breathe Narnian air, a metaphor that Lewis uses elsewhere to describe what it means to come to know God..."
More from Joe Rigney at Desiring God

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit.... and an imaginative university mission

As someone involved in helping to equip students to bring the good news about Jesus to students I find Michael Green's observations in Compelled by Joy helpful. (£5.84 from book depository):

Photo from the IFESWORLD stream
...here is an account of one of the most imaginative missions held in a British university in 2010. It began with a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a house party in the vacation before the mission, where students really 'fell in love with Jesus'. This was crucial, and led to fervent prayer among them before the mission, continuing into a 24-7 prayer throughout the mission itself. The chief student leader gathered around himself people with a big vision of for the university, clever networkers and students with wide circles of non-Christian friends. The outcome was highly creative. For one thing, they opted for a lot of decentralised events which really made the week come alive.
There was no single 'big name' evangelist, but the diverse gifts of the assistants were used to the full. They went into the houses of the students and spoke at dinner parties, tea parties, events where Christians were grilled by all comers, film evenings, pudding parties and so forth. At these parties the host explained that there would be a five minute talk after the meal, followed by discussion and coffee - often far into the night. The main missioner acted more as an encourager and father figure to the team than as the single oracle, in striking contrast to how things are often done...  students took initiative in inviting friends, because of the trust and freedom given them.
Naturally they had the normal lunch and major evening events as well. But daily they ran a lot of street questionnaires... the assistant missioners had plenty to do during the day, and by taking students with them they developed the timid and boosted the confidence of younger Christians. They organised whitewash teams which went to clean grubby student kitchens and bathrooms, serving the community by showing the love of Christ in a practical way. The visiting team lived among students, which was very important for establishing relationships, many of which bore fruit in conversations as the week progressed.
Needless to say, after a mission of this quality they had many takers for the follow-0up course which began the next week. There is no one ideal way of running missions... the vital elements are prayer, a winsome and fearless presentation of the faith, massive student enthusiasm and involvement and, as always in student work, food! Much depends on careful preparation beforehand, and on the equally careful follow-up of the two classes of people who leave their names: those who have decided for Christ and those who are interested but not persuaded. But in today's climate, the annual mission remains a powerful tool for university outreach.
Important lessons for us from Michael Green's story here? Students to be full of the Spirit moved to pray and innovate and make Jesus known - I'm not convinced evangelism is my first gift (though I love being involved on the front line) but I really love to be used to hold Christ up to his people that they might be filled again with the Spirit, moved to prayer, to boldness, to creativity - even to administration and strategic planning... in all kinds of ways so that all kinds of people might come to know Jesus.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Abba! Can you have your Spirit coach me a bit...

"The more we come to know the Father through the Son who introduces us to him and vice-versa, the more we can respond with the love that comes from having the Creator himself care for us with a fully-informed love.  He, the one, who knows all about us—even the hairs on our head!—is not forcing distance on us. Instead he draws us near, embracing us as we come to him with our cares, concerns, and questions." READ MORE

The Resurrected Son. Christ, our Joseph

"The dead are raised!" So Jesus described his ministry. A widow's son, a vicar's daughter, and the beloved son of the heavenly Father. Paul proclaimed Jesus and the Resurrection so strongly that men mistook him for advocating two gods, Jesus and Anastasios (Resurrection). Resurrection is astounding because we all observe that it is death to die, and yet Jesus persistently challenges this notion. Death can be a precursor to life, sorrow to gladness, judgement to blessing. This is the story Jesus tells, or at least that Moses tells of Jesus as he writes Genesis 45.

Joseph is the key figure of the final quarter of Genesis, a beloved son condemned, enslaved, accused, neglected, raised up and then encountered by his killers, though they do not recognise him. In Genesis 45 we see something of the risen Joseph with his brothers. In three parts we see the response of people to Joseph. Firstly his brothers, then the Pharaoh and then his father, Jacob/Israel.

Initially we find Joseph moved by his brothers. Calvin says: “The stoics speak foolishly when they say it is heroic not to be moved by compassion…” As with Joseph here, and Jesus in Luke 19:44, Biblical heroes are passionate not apathetic. They weep. Joseph's heart is moved and he declares to his brothers - I am Joseph, and their eyes are opened, like those of the Emmaus road disciples over broken bread. And they are dismayed. But he speaks comfort to them. Matthew Henry: "Behold Jesus manifesting himself as a Brother and a Friend to those who once were his despisers." There is grace and love for those who cast the beloved into the pit.

There comes a time when Christ, our Joseph, cannot restrain himself, our beloved comes leaping over the mountains (Gen 45:1, Song 2:8) with love for his brothers. Brothers who hated and killed him. As for Peter, this Jesus whom you crucified is risen. So too, you meant Joseph's demise for evil, but God sent Joseph ahead to preserve a remnant, to save life, to spread life. The true Beloved Son was sent by The Father. Through the trespass of Israel's sons the peoples of the world are fed - and perhaps yet there will even be hope for old man Israel.

Good news comes to their ears in private, with many tears. The dreams are being fulfilled. Joseph is ruler of the world, saviour too. Just as the dreams had said, though they'd heard and been jealous for glory and overthrown him - father Israel had treasured these things in his heart. Like Mary would he forget, and then find faith? And the good news comes to the Pharaoh. He empowers Joseph's promises - come and I will give you rest, come and I will give you the best of the land. Bring your father down here. Come and live!

The brothers go, blessed with many riches, bearing a two-fold gospel. There is bread for a cursed world, and the beloved son who had died is alive! They come to their father with the news. Jacob's heart is numb to it, he does not believe. Like Thomas. His knowledge fails. him. Yet when the words of great Joseph are told and his blessings seen things change. His spirit revives within him. Life returns to the dead man, as to the twelve year old to whom Jesus said: arise. Born again, he is not Jacob but Israel. And he will go to find sight of his beloved son. As Matthew Henry reflects: "Let my eyes be refreshed with this sight before they are closed." He comes in search of me and I long to see him. The Spirit returns the compassion he has for me with love for him.

Christ, our Joseph is risen! He has love for those who killed him. He invites them to come and take the best of his world as they find their life in him. He calls those who love him to come and see him, to find themselves risen. Look to Christ as he reads your heart with his tender words, so pray to the True Joseph, Jesus, with Spurgeon (Sermon 2516):

“Lord, You have read that book right through, and now You know all things, You know that I love you. Alas, I did sell you into Egypt! There was a day when I chose Egypt and its pleasures rather than You and there have been days since when I have sold You again into Egypt by treating You with lukewarmness, and giving myself up to other lovers. Yes, Lord, I have sold You to the Ishmaelites by doubting You and mistrusting You. And by my sins I have stripped You of Your many-colored garment. And by my own folly I have let You go away from Your Father’s house and from the chamber of her that bore You. You know all this, my Lord, but I know You, too, because You know me so well.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

I fear that many of our prayers are lost

Jeremiah Burroughs writes on Hosea 3, of how the gospel means seeking King David... which Burroughs concludes means Christ, great David's greater son. From his commentary p195:
"None can seek God rightly but through Christ, they must seek God in Christ.... You know no God out of Christ, none but he that was in the lap of Mary, and sucked her breastsl he means, none out of him. We must not, we should not, dare to look upon God but through Christ, and seek him together with David. This is the evangelical way of seeking God; when we have sinned, if there be any way of help, it must be by seeking a merciful God; thus far nature goes and msot people go no farther; yea, most Christians, though they have the name of Christ in their mouths, yet their hearts go no father than natural principles carry them. But the seeking God in Christ, is the true spiritual and evangelical way, "the mystery of godliness," to present a Mediator to God every time we come into his presence. I fear that many of our prayers are lost for want of this. There is much fasting and prayer through God's mercy amongst us, and I would to God there were no abatement; but though we ask, Will God leave his people when there is such a spirit of prayer? let us know, if it be not a seeking God in his Son, it is our own spirits rather than the Spirit of God. We may be earnest in prayer and cry mightily to God, yet if we take not up his Son in the arms of faith, and present him to the Father, thousands of prayers and fasting days must be all lost for want of this. The truth is, we must not depend so much on our prayers, though we are to rejoice and bless God that there is much prayer; but God's dealings towards us seem as if he would take us off, not from the practice of prayer, but from relyying on it, to rely upon free grace in Christ alone. As this is the supernatural seeking of God, so it is the most powerful.... We seek him because he is merciful, that is one way yea, we seek him because he has promised mercy, this is a step higher, but we must go higher yet, we must look to his Son, in whom all promises are Yea and Amen; otherwise, though we seek him never so earnestly though we challenges his promises, and cry to him to remember then, yet if we do not act our faith on his Son, we may altogether fail."
In Christ alone my hope is found. If we would be Christ, if we would be Triune, if we would be evangelical... look not to self, look not to my heart and my desires, look not to some generic god, but let me look to Christ.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

VIDEO: Help! I'm scared of dying (Luke 8:40-56) (Biblefresh)

My last preach at church was videoed, never seen myself preach before...


Biblefresh #1: "Help! I'm dying" from frontierschurchexeter on Vimeo.

More than a Peasant Princess

"I think if The Song of Songs was about Soloman going to court, 
and being let off the punishment due his treason against the King, 
we'd have no problem reading it Christocentrically..." READ MORE

Monday, June 06, 2011

Samuel Josiah

Our second son was born yesterday morning!

The birth was really quick and we were glad to bring him home in the evening.
Very thankful for a good first night, valuing your prayers as we pursue gospel-shaped parenting and family life.

It's been great to see his older brother embracing and identifying 'Baby Sam'.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Take off your shoes

If God doesn't go with us, we're the same as everyone else. Yet new atheists claim they see no evidence for god being here. And then:
“Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”
That's Exodus 3:5, Moses at the burning bush, right? Yes, but then the same thing happens to Joshua. There's no burning bush. This is Joshua 5:15 which is where my Bible read through landed me this weekend. There a man who appears to Joshua (a bit like the man who appeared to Abraham just before Sodom was destroyed). This man is then identified as "the commander of the Lord's army", whom Joshua worship and then:
And the commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (5:15)
Has to be Jesus doesn't it. Matthew Henry: "This Man was the Son of God, the eternal Word." The same one who Jude tells us led his people out of Egypt is now ready to lead them into the land. Out of slavery, into the land. The music strikes up again, God is with them. Ask an Israelite who is your god - "the one who brought us up out of Egypt" - now "the one who brought us into the land". Later Jesus...
"And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his EXODUS, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem"
I'd love to know why translators use the word depature and only footnote that the greek word is Exodus... surely it'd help us to make the connection rather than obscure it!?? Peter will Exodus too (2 Peter 1:15). Who is god - the one who sent Jesus to the cross and then raised him...  Exodus-theme tunes are all over the story of God. And they're meant to be all over my life too... out of slavery to liberty, and at every step being carried by the Lord Jesus who fights for me... lifting the curse and bringing me into blessing.
"In fact, the primary feature of clean animals is their feet, in one sense or another. To understand this, we must bear in mind that the ground was cursed under the Old Covenant (Genesis 3:17). Men normally wore shoes, and it was ceremonially important to wash the cursed soil off one’s feet before entering a house (Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 43:24; Judges 19:21; Luke 7:44; John 13: 3-15). Holy ground, where the curse was removed, required men to go barefoot (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15)." (Jim Jordan)
The Exodus story is a story I need to make sense of life. It's a story that tells me my god is one who will turn up, who will fight for me. And if he doesn't then I'm stuck between the enemy and the sea, between the wilderness and the promised land. Shoes off... like when Jesus washed his disciples feet?

Some great resources on Exodus. David Capener's preaching series on Exodus is well worth a listen: I AM THE EXODUS; EAT MEI love David's narrative style and the connections he's making all over the place. He put me on to Tim Keller on Exodus 14 at the Gospel Coalition conference.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Christianity that does not need the Spirit of Christ?

"These men devise a Christianity that does not need the Spirit of Christ. [Paul] holds out no hope of blessed resurrection unless we feel the Spirit dwelling in us (Rom 8:11). These men invent a hope devoid of such a feeling.... they will answer that they do not deny we ought to be endowed with the Spirit; but that it is a matter of modesty and humility not to be sure of it.... it is a token of the most miserable blindness to charge with arrogance Christians who dare to glory in the presence of the Holy Spirit, without which glorying Christianity itself does not stand! But, actually, they declare by their own example, how truly Christ spoke: "My Spirit was unknown to the world; he is recognsied only by those among whom he abides (John 14:17)"

Says who? Don't google it.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Are you refreshing company?

 Let me tell you about a guy I know. He works for UCCF and he's a member of a Newfrontiers church - and he loves those labels (Galatian 3:28), they matter a lot to him, and he cares which labels you wear too. He's interested in what you make of him almost to the point of anxious fear (1:10, 2:12) and will make much of you (4:17) though strangely you'll feel your gospel-joy lessened for being with him.... CONTINUE READING.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Saint wades further into Christ

The Antinomian Controversy centres on a disparity between two competing versions of God's promise, one in which much is required of us, the other in which it is not. Behind the debate, two different visions of God himself. Janice Knight's exploration of this in her Orthodoxies in Massachussets studies the literature of the players in the Controversy, and those who influenced them. Study of history isn't because we aspire to the past, but to let the breeze of the centuries blow through, to lift our own cultural blinders and to humbly learn from those who knew Christ before us. The key parties in Massachussets stood on the shoulders of their teachers, Sibbes and Ames.
"Ames admits that "since our love is a desire of union with God it come sin part from what is called concupiscence or appetite. We desire God for ourselves, because we hope for benefits and eternal blessedness from him" Ames's disciples rhapsodize over the beauty of the beloved, but they also appealed to more self-interested and material desires... considering the bounty of his gifts not just the beauty of Christ. The dowry characterises their presentation of spiritual marriage as often as does the ecstatic enjoyment of the bridegroom. The Amesians often convert the affective union of Canticles (The Song of Songs) into the contractual marriage bond of Protestant practice, a contract stipulating duties and rewards.... " (p104-5, Knight)
The difference isn't just linguistic, but reveals difference in convictions, and expectations.
"Unlike (Amesian) Hooker's sinner, the Sibbesian saint is taught not to look for spiritual harvest; his heart is set up on Christ, more than upon the pardon of sin, or salvation...he has Christ in his eye and heart above all blessings."
All that I have I share with you isn't about the spouses stuff but about the spouse.
Sibbesian "Cotton likens spiritual baptism to a wading in grace
"First a Christian wades in the rivers of God his grace up to the ankles, with some good frame of spirit." Still afflicted with the dryness of his soul and overpowering thirst and desire, the saint wades further - to the knees, the loins, and further still till all is drenched. As Cotton joyously predicts: "they you shall swim as fish in the water with all readiness and dexterity... such a Christian does not creep or walk, but he runs,... every way drenched in grace... he is never drawn dry."
While there is progressive baptism in grace.. rather than in measured units there is a fluid motion, which culminates in the sudden change... this is an experimental (experiential) faith known only to initiates; this is a draught of holy water recall only by those who have been so drenched."
(p117)
Knight notes that Amesians do have some talk of this intimacy, but frequently emphasise other matters. Where Sibbesians save their best imagery and language and hours to speak of Christ, the Amesians best metaphors are used to speak of sin. For the Sibbesians the saint has a changed taste, a new relish, a sweetness. As he is inhabited by Christ, the saint becomes sweet: "his heart is as fine silver, everything is sweet that comes from him... grace in a Christian makes us sweet, sweeteness our person and our actions.. sweetens our persons to God.... it makes us delectable for Christ and his Holy Spirit to lodge in our souls as in a garden of spices." (p118)

What have I learned from reading Janice Knight's Orthodoxies in Massachussets?
I find these Spiritual Brothers to be good friends to urge me on, they show me a deeply rooted experiential Christianity, focussed upon Christ, with a growing taste for him. I have some questions about them but much encouragement from them.
As someone who first tasted real Christianity in a strongly charismatic context as a student, the Sibbesians sounds like forefathers who knew the intimacy we enjoy.
As a Newfrontiers guy today, it's all right up my street... solidly set on Christ, full of the Spirit and warmly relational (without claiming that Sibbes or his sphere of influence would have much appreciated belief in continuation of spiritual gifts).
As a UCCF evangelical 'things of first importance' man it's so beautifully Christocentric and attractive that it can't help but unite Christian brothers and sisters from across the church for mission, and in the same breath it frames our message in mission: Christ.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Your God will be My God!


The Bible tells us that we become like what we worship, what I love shapes me and my relationships with others. So it will be that the church is shaped by her vision of God. Janice Knight highlights a divide in the 17th Century church which can help us see better today. In Orthodoxies in Massachussets she compares two kinds of puritans, two orthodoxies: The Intellectual Fathers (Ames) and The Spiritual Brethren (Sibbes). 

Their Community
The Intellectuals pursed a more radical reformation of the church in England and caused them more trouble with authorities. They took a stronger lead, their "emphasis on the pedagogy of preparationism distinguished them... marking that relationship as more paternal than fraternal" (p36), whereas the Spiritual Brethren were more moderate, and relational.
Their reputations were as the learned Ames contrasted with the sweet-dropper Sibbes.
What kind of leader am I?
Am I a brother, leading as I go with people... or a guru who gathers a crowd?
The difference less about personality, and more a god-question...

Their pulpits - occupied and vacated.
"The Cambridge preachers emphasised the efficacy of the word preached, the Amesians argued that the imperative of hearing the word could be as easily achieved through circulation of printed texts" which they were often left to do when exiled from their pulpits, as they often were. The Sibbesians would often retain pulpits through their emphasis more on changing affections than changing church structures. Knight's analysis here reminded me of the most apparently vibrant wings of the Church of England today. The New Wine Anglicans and the Conservative Anglicans. So similar and yet many ways quite different, and it's always the latter who seem to be in trouble with the authorities.



Their Preaching - beleaguering or renewing?
John Cotton was "a resistant auditor" of William Perkins who had "laid seige to and beleagured his heart" (p38). Cotton was left in doubt until "the word as preached by Sibbes turned Cotton's affections... made him a thoroughly renewed Christian.. filling him with joy..." How does my preaching make people feel? Do I hunt people down or do I lead them into joy?

Later Cotton's simple and affecting words would convert John Preston. "From Richard Sibbes to John Cotton to John Preston - the converting Word was passed from mouth to mouth, heart to heart... " The Cambridge Brethren included John Owen (converted through Cotton), Thomas Goodwin and Jeremiah Burroughs. "At the centre of this apostolic family stood Richard Sibbes" (p41) Seems unlikely that Knight means that in a Newfrontiers-sense, but there's certainly something of the apostolic about Sibbes for his influence and leadership!

Who is God? A God firstly of Power or of Love?
All preachers aim to preach the whole counsel of God but it makes a difference what you think comes first, what controls everything else. Emphasis is very important. Ames' fundamental understanding of God was as "sovereign, beyond understanding and with implacable power", where Sibbes first understood God as overflowing love. (p73).
"Whether God acts primarily by power - pure or as bound by contract - or whether he acts from unconditional love determined for these Puritans not just matters of doctrine but theories of civil society and individual subjectivity. Definitions of sainthood and citizenship, relations of anxiety to confidence, and discipline to piety, were imbricated in these structures of rhetoric. And in practice the balance preacher struck between divine love and power varied to a surprising degree" (p74)
For all the categories and ideals there's always variation! Nonetheless themes emerge:
When Ames read the Bible he found on nearly every page a testimony to the lordship of God. The most compelling representation of the divine is not as brother or as bride, but the Kyrios of Paul or the Old Testament 'Jehovah, or the Lord'.
While Cotton and Sibbes celebrated the new age of the gospel in which 'the poorest believers were taught to say, Our Father' (p74)
Ames prefered metaphors of relation to God "rooted in recognition of necessary human submission to godly omnipotence..." though of course "he and his disciples spoke warmly of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Christ. Yet their primary interest was always in the application of power to the human subject, not a meditation on God's unconditional mercy." (p75)
Asks me, what do I see?
"This is not to suggest that Ames's God of power has no place in [Sibbesian] thought,. but rather that it is not the primary attribute" in their theology. "Sibbes argues that there is not one attribute set down more in Scripture than mercy" (p82) ...the sermons of the Cambridge Brethren refuse to enthrone an incomprehensible lord, but instead draw God down from heaven..... his love is a near love.
Metaphors of kingship are never the most persuasive for the circle of Sibbes. In calculating the relation between God and humanity they find a comforting equation 'there is a greater hight and depth and breadth; there are greater dimensions in love and mercy in Christ than there is in our sins and miseries' unlike the disturbing balance struck by Hooker or Shepherd, here benevolence answers human inadequacy.
Do I beleaguer hearts or comfort with love?
Come after people or welcome them warmly?
Do I think I have to show God to be more powerful than any other god - a playground preacher arguing 'my god is bigger than your god', or can I simply and persuasively show the overflowing love of God to people, to win their hearts?
"Moreover their doctrine of the trinity reflects this happy bias.... it is Father not Lord, that names Cotton's God... through Christ, the saint discovers a pledge of adoption to an indulgent father, who can no more deny his creature than he can deny himself. The soul that is too broken to pray can count on God to supply the want... desire to make known nothing but Christ... travail until Christ was formed in [them]..." (p83-4)
O to see Christ formed in me and others!
Not about controlling behaviour, but seeing the work of the Spirit in people.
See that and then we're going places...
Just as the Sibbesians have a more personal Christology than the Amesians, so too their doctrine of the Holy Spirit is more personal and immediate. Their application of redemption more closely resembles a true marriage of hearts than the contractual arrangements of the Amesian covenant.... the [Spirit] assures us of [our salvation] and knits us to Christ, and changeth and fits us to be members of so glorious a head, and so translates and transforms us more and more from glory to glory... rather than the cool logic of contract, the indwelling of the spirit is known here by the warmth of God's breath in the believer's heart..unlike the mysterious God of Ames, the 'I AM' to be tamed only by the covenant, Sibbes's deity 'comes to spread his treasures... to empty his goodness into our hearts... the transformation of thy God to my God is the central moment in the saints life." (p87)
As with Ruth, let your God become my God. Not just by cold contractual allegiance but intimate relationship bound in a marital covenant. And as your God becomes my God, then your people become my people. Who the 'God' is in that sentence is going to effect everything that follows.