Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Better Handling the Word of Truth?

One of the fruits of walking through the Bible in a year with others and talking about it with them is that it has made me re-examine my approach to doctrine. I have an emerging rule of thumb. (New to me, although the Apostle Paul would probably say: Richard, what took you so long?)

It goes like this.  Take the two controversial old chestnuts of "election" and "Baptism of the Spirit." Most of us, including me, spend our time wheeling out a hotch-potch of philosophical arguments and New Testament texts when we "discuss" these things.

Following Paul, and his commendation of the Bereans, (remember when it says "Scriptures" here it means the Old Testament as the New has not been completed and collated yet), I'm beginning to think there's a better way to approach it.

In other words, if you can talk about a doctrine for a long time, without ever seeing/understanding how it connects to the Old Testament story, then chances are, however good it may sound to you and your supporters / denomination / powers of logic etc etc, you're barking up the wrong tree.

The Old and New Testaments do not preach two different messages. They have the same message. Many of us reach for backup in philosophical arguments to bring weight to our New Testament references because we simply don't know/understand the Old Testament that well. The Old and New Testament are like a married couple, two beautifully distinct entities, yet one, by the Spirit, and they live in and through each other.  To use a big word, they are perichoretic - in the image of them who wrote them. The Bible is God's Trinitarian self-portrait, given as a gift to the human race.

For me, before I venture into any abstract talk about "eternal decrees" regarding election, I want to ground it in the language and story of Abraham and his somewhat dysfunctional family line. For this is the paradigm that God, in his wisdom, chose to teach us about these things.

When you next talk to someone about the Baptism of the Spirit, why not meditate together first on the ordination of Aaron and his sons or the calling of Rebecca to be Isaac's bride.  Only then talk about your disagreements, assuming you have any left ;-)

These Old Testament events open up new paradigms for our understanding to explore these issues whilst still setting firm boundaries. They are primarily relational paradigms for God is relational. They are not primarily metaphysical paradigms, for God is not a logic machine!

That said, I am not naive. I don't expect, in one blog post, to unify God's church across the world! There are things we won't understand and therefore disagree on. But, this to me seems as good a starting point as any.

Suck it and see for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Don't get this entry at all I'm afraid Richard.

Richard Walker said...

If you let me know who you are, I can try and shed some light for you. :-)

Jonathan Robinson said...

Some good thoughts there, thanks Rich, theology should come out of the biblical narrative not our philosophical constructs.

Jon F from RFC said...


Interesting post. Ok, so this is your assignment since you've got the week off ;-)

So imagine you are a Berean living approx 1950 years ago. Paul's letters are being passed around between the churches and your church has received the letter to the Ephesians. There's an awful lot about election at the start of Paul's letter. What in the Old Testament would help you confirm that Paul isn't creating his own new theology, but this fits in with what was revealed in the Old Testament ? I'm assuming this is the way the Bereans went about things and this is what they were commended for.

Your response might help anonymous reader #1.


Richard Walker said...

I'd say "Have a listen to this"

I'd also say that predestination and election a la Eph 1 must be understood Trinitarianly, with Jesus at the centre of the Father's pre-creation eternal decree, not us, so that we don't end up looking like the fatalists of almost every other world view around.

Look at Abraham and his son Isaac for the best paradigm I can think of - off the top of my head.  See this too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jon F for your helpful example. I quite understand how Isaac and a number of other stories are an example (or more than that) of Father, Son and even Spirit. Those who deny that the Spirit wasn't then until Pentecost would only have to look at Genesis 1 to see otherwise. But please give me some examples for how "having Jesus at the centre of the Father's pre-creation eternal degree" changes the way we see election and predestination. Please connect the dots between the leaps.

I totally agree that we need the Old Testament to understand the New. The many prophesies in the Old T and references of texts in the New from the Old tell us this, and that is just a start. But sometimes I think that we can metaphor everything so that everything becomes a paradigm of everything.

Take for example the word 'Trinity' (which you use a lot in your blog). This word is not in the Bible. We have constructed this word to help us understand Father, Son and Spirit. But is it always helpful? Does it mean we read differently into the workings of the Father, Spirit and Son? Do we see metaphor when there isn't metaphor?

I choose to remain anonymous, not being one for impressive language I don't want to blow my cover when I really not good at debating these things!!!

Richard Walker said...

If God is consistent in his/dealings with creation, which he is, then I don't see why, once you know this, you shouldn't be allowed to see it (although admittedly sometimes by faith) shot through the whole Bible, Gen 19:24 being a prime example.

So long as the text doesn't deny what you are saying about it and what you're saying agrees with the broad sweep of the bible revelation, then I don't think it's wrong. I admit I often push it further than others are comfortable with, but that doesn't make it wrong.

The problem is not seeing trinity everywhere, for God has implicitly revealed his trinitarian nature to us all over creation, such that we have no excuse if we don't get it (Rom 1:20). The problem is that often our definition of trinity is defective in the first place.

God's primary vehicle is metaphor - story and parable, because most of us (including me) never go to university to study academic theology, especially if we live in the plains of South Sudan.

Having Jesus at the centre of election means that love is the overflow of election not will or power, it means that there is a God who calls us in love up into the life of love that he shares with his Son rather than saying "Worship me now! Get down and give me 20 hallelujahs!

It may not change the outcome, but it certainly changes the colour.

In truth my anonymous friend, I make cheques on this blog that I'm not sure I can always cash, but that is because I am ignorant, not because there isn't an answer. Nevertheless, I am convinced that God's Trinitarian nature changes EVERYTHING we understand about reality, not just moral issues. Christianity is not Islam + forgiveness. It is so much more.

dave bish said...

I think this is very helpful - Jesus only makes sense in view of the Old Testament which is why all that "this was to fulfil" stuff is there. God spent a good couple of millenia giving us the grammar to understand who Jesus was when he arrived, it's a bit odd if we skip all of that or think we'll understand clearly without that.