Ah! Wisdom

Ah! Wisdom

We Protesting Protestants are (more often than not – be honest) averse to Christian instruction that talks of rules or maxims, for we have shed the Pharisaical and Catholic yoke of a Religion of Rules.

Pah!

We 500+1 Protestants are basically averse to authority; we don’t like being told what to believe or how to behave, and we have the post-Reformation but un-Enlightened opinion that “Rules: they is bad!”

I highly commend this video below. I came across these maxims a few years ago and, like Luther, nailed (or rather blue-tac-ed) them to the wall in my study at church.  Like Luther’s 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Door, they’re not on my wall now, but I hope in all the wisdom and mercy of Christ that they become me and I become them, that I may not be found a prisoner to rules, but a free man in Christ.

May the same be true for you too. All grace to you.

I bumped into a JW…..

I bumped into a JW…..

…..and it didn’t hurt.  They were a trio of lovely people.  One of whom I had met several times until, I suspect, she (a 70+ Italian living in England) was banned from visiting me; I can only assume that was the case, since her frequent visits stopped so suddenly.  It may have been my poor tea making ability, but in all honesty, I do pride myself on making pretty dang good tea!

Anyhoo, the trio were loitering around the cliffs of Devon whence I came upon them.  I have a love for these people “of faith” and tried to convey as much.  As soon as it was revealed, like a dirty secret on EastEnders, that I was a “Christian”, and worse, a “Baptist minister”, well, all manner of gehenna and rotten-exegesis broke loose.

I wanted to go down the relational, friendly, understanding, “liberal”, loving route, but was thwarted by the doctinaire police from the school of eisegetical proof-texting sloganeering.  I really wanted to love these beloved personages towards the love of God, but they seemed intent, bent…..hell-bent on bringing to the fore an apocalyptic Hebrew Scriptural Hermeneutic that astounded, but sadly, didn’t surprise me.

What do I mean, I hear you sigh?  Well, for one, the strength of their apologetic was rooted in an Old Testament apocalyptic rhetoric of judgment and retribution.  I know full well there are Pslams (other genre are available) that betray a particular aspect of sin and judgment and wotnot.  But, for the love of God, the love of God was not so much a silent witness, as more a total absentee; more AWOL than anything else (“You weren’t there man!”)

When asked what the primary message of Jesus was, it turned out to be a revenge attack on the wicked and immoral.  I asked, in all seriousness, with a straight face, “Did the coming of Jesus make any difference?”  “Yes!” they replied, before quoting extensively from the imprecatory Psalms.

My heart sank, whilst my eyebrows rose and my toes curled.  Jesus didn’t make a difference from a pre-Gospel; pre-incarnation; pre-logos-becoming-flesh text.

“Didn’t Jehovah say we will be his witnesses?”  Indeed my ill-learned friend, he did (Isaiah 43:10).  But why fixate on an Old Testament text when you could fixate on a New Testament text:  “…and you will be my (Jesus’) witnesses in Judea, Samaria….everywhere…”  (Acts 1:8).  Jehovah’s Witnesses-Jesus wtnesses….oh my brain can’t cope with this theological explication! 

What a great eye-brow was raised that day!  Like I’d invented the verse.  Anyway, that’s (not) a moot point.  The point is this.  Given the apocalypyical legerdemain, I thought I’d ask a simple question to my three friends, the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

“Where are the Jehovah’s Witness between AD 100 and when Charles Taze Russell decided to have a go in the 1870’s?”

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They said what…?

“It’s not the existence of God we’re bothered about but the existence of you who say you believe in him.”  Andrew O’Hagan

“Fundamentalism:  a religious way of being that manifests itself in a strategy by which beleaguered believers attempts to preserve their distinctive identity as a people of group in the face of modernity and secularisation.”  Malise Ruthven

Jesus came to save us from religion.”  Paul Tillich

“Revelation is a process not a printout.”  David Jenkins

“The one thought that possesses me most at this time and, I may say, has always possessed me, is that we have been dosing our people with religion when what they wanted was the true and living God.”  F. D. Maurice

“[He] demonstrates to the thoughtful eye how really irrational a rationalist philosopher can be.”  William Golding

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Lemonade-Twaddle Christianity

S¯ren Kierkgaard

“The sort of [person] who now live cannot stand anything so strong as the Christianity of the New Testament (they would die of it or lose their minds), just in the same sense that children cannot stand strong drink, for which reason we prepare them a little lemonade – and official Christianity is lemonade-twaddle for the sort of beings that are now called [adults], it is the strongest thing they stand, and this twaddle then is their language they call “Christianity,” just as children call their lemonade “wine.”

Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom (1854), pg. 277

The Visitor and Inquisitor

One day, Jesus comes back.  He wanders through the streets and squares of a southern town, where just the day before 100 so-caleld heretics had been burnt at the stake.  The story-teller narrates, ‘He appeared quietly, unostentatiously, and yet – strange, this – everyone recognizes him.  Saying nothing, he passes among them with a smile of infinite compassion.’

The_Brother_KaramazovPeople who touch his garment are healed, a blind man’s sight is restored.  He even raises a small girl from the dead.  The crowds erupt, shouting and sobbing.  At this very moment, the Grand Inquisitor, a man of ninety, emerges from the cathedral.  The crowd meekly parts, and they bow their heads to the ground.  He then has the Visitor arrested.

Later, recieving the prisoner, the Grand Inquisitor says to him, ‘I know who you are.’  He accuses the prisoner of meddling.  The old man sentences the Prisoner to being burnt at the stake the next day.

The gist of his accusation against the Prisoner is that whereas the Prisoner has acted to ensure humanity’s freedom, the Grand Inquisitor acts to ensure humanity’s happiness.  He ensures their happiness by providing them with bread, with certainty, and with belonging.  The people, claims the Grand Inquisitor, cannot bear the freedom that Jesus has left them with; it was uncharitable of him to attempt this.  All those centuries ago, by refusing the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus had said no to buying people’s loyalty with bread, or with a display of miracles on demand, leaving them only their free wills and consciences from which to act.  ‘But the people are mere sheep,’ said the Grand Inquisitor, ‘and you have asked too much of them.  The freedom is an intolerable burden, which we have toiled for fifteen centuries to remove.’

The only response the Prisoner makes is to draw near to the old man, and kiss him on his bloodless ninety-year-old lips.  The old man shudders and cries, ‘Go, and do not come back . . . . do not come back . . . . . ever!’

A paraphrase from Chapter V, ‘The Grand Inquisitor’, in Fyodor Dostoesvsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, pg.227-54

Moor Sillouette

I took this on Dartmoor, Devon, UK

Twelve glorious pounds gets you this:

relating-faithHaving a commendation on the back cover, it is no surprise that I am a fan of Rob Knowles’s work.  I am also a friend!  Friend first, then fan, or “Frand” as my son tells me!

Anyway, below is the write up on the Authentic Media website for his alarmingly critical-but-profoundly-biblical look at church and culture and church-culture!

If £12 is too much, you could get it here for £7-ish.    If that is too much, get in touch with me and I’ll send you a copy myself!  You can see why I think this so important by reading my redacted version under “commendations” below.

In this book, Robert Knowles seeks to encourage Christians to embrace and model authentic biblical Christianity – or “Relating Faith” – in their discipleship, church, and mission. Our faith is relational in that “love for God and neighbour sums up the Law and the Prophets” and in that, in response to the Great Commission, we are to relate our faith in Jesus Christ to the world where it is actually at today. Such “relating faith” is biblical not least in that Christians are to be matured and refereed in their love, or biblical lawfulness, primarily through the Holy Spirit’s formative and relational activation of biblical speech-acts.

Knowles argues, however, that the Western church has so allowed itself to be shaped by ancient, modern and postmodern Western culture and thinking, that it has in effect lost its authentic biblical shape as “relating faith”. Knowles identifies five broad kinds of inauthentic or unbiblical sub-culture within the contemporary Western (and especially British) church that, whilst they are by no means the whole truth about the church, have still critically compromised its biblical shape and mission so as to render the church “non-relational” and even oppressive. Knowles then argues that these five counterfeit non-relational church sub-cultures are responsible for Christians hopping between churches or else leaving the church in droves, and for non-Christians increasingly seeing the church as irrelevant.

In order to address this problem, Knowles gives detailed expositions of the shape of authentic biblical discipleship, church and mission on the one hand, and of the shape of Western modernity and postmodernity on the other hand. In the light of these expositions Knowles argues that the apparently more “modern” and/or “postmodern” shape of the five inauthentic or unbiblical contemporary church sub-cultures that he has identified has resulted, in part, from a long-standing anti-intellectual, anti-theological, and anti-biblical attitude of cherished ideological and cultural ignorance within the church. Notably, Knowles argues that this pietistic attitude has allowed the church to see false prophecy as “true”, and to see the truly prophetic, the theological and even sometimes biblical doctrine as, at best, of only marginal or “merely academic” importance. This conclusion forms the platform from which Knowles calls Christians back to authentic biblical discipleship, church and mission – to “relating faith”.

COMMENDATIONS
“Rob’s gift to the Church is to communicate rich theological truth in profoundly relational ways with the Scriptures at the centre. Those who want more and know there’s more but just don’t know where to look, would find in Rob’s work a goldmine of wisdom, and Christ is the fount of it all.”
– Rev’d Richard Matcham, Minister of Barton Baptist Church, Torquay

“I am glad to commend this book. It combines such technical-sounding topics as speech-act theory and postmodernism with very practical issues in bible study and the Christian life. Dr Knowles has shown that these are down-to-earth tools and issues which can be of practical use in everyday Christian discipleship. Issues such as that of church leadership are also raised in a practical way.”
– Anthony C. Thiselton, Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology, University of Nottingham

“Rob Knowles is one of those people who has had a massive influence on my life and ministry; his work is always thoughtful, challenging, and very helpful. Rob always seeks to be thoroughly biblical, and he’s never one to duck the tough questions or offer easy platitudes. I thoroughly recommend this volume as one which will help you significantly in your life and ministry.”
– Rev’d Ted Fell, Vicar of All Saints Anglican Church, Kings Cross, London

Finally, a review from the above link.  I’ll use Tim’s review, I’m sure he won’t mind, since we were the central defense duo for the famous Woodies FC in the late 90’s.  I’ve saved his bacon a few times and now by quoting him he can return the favour!

By ‘Tim’

A very enlightening read for anyone who attends church; a helpful read for people who are struggling with church; and an indispensible read for people who lead Christian churches or facilitate church activities, church structures or church communities.

Dr Rob Knowles has written a book about how the church can be more like God intended it to be. Knowles is a philosophical theologian who has written a previous, more theoretical book, an exposition of Professor Anthony Thiselton’s theology (Anthony C. Thiselton and the Grammar of Hermeneutics – Paternoster, 2012), whose influential thinking he also scrupulously acknowledges here in Relating Faith.

Relating Faith had me ‘laughing out loud’, ‘nodding in agreement’ and ‘making sharp intakes of breath’ in equal measure. Before I explain why, a quick, simplified précis of the contents.

Part one of Relating Faith (on Discipleship) outlines some ways in which people can experience, and be formed as disciples by God, through reading the bible. This section has practical examples and a novel model for devotional times. This section of the book proceeds in detail to expound Christian discipleship in terms of love, or biblical lawfulness.
Part two, (on Church) draws on this account of Christian discipleship as ‘love for God and for others’, and explains the ways in which the church has often departed from this emphasis. No one tradition is given prominence, and whatever your church tradition there is something challenging for you to reflect on.
Part three (on Mission) summarizes contemporary ideas in the Western world, and how these influence church culture and Christians’ attitude to and practice of relating to those around them – particularly with respect to mission.

Back to the reactions I mentioned earlier, and also a chance to comment on the style of the book.
• ‘Sharp intakes of breath.’
The book is hard hitting in style. It contains detailed accounts of the ways in which our behavior tends to be narcissistic. It also describes many ways in which church has become distorted. Behind this, one senses the author’s conviction and excitement that a more ‘truthful’ view of things can ‘set us free’ from such distortions. Grace is also strongly highlighted (chapter 3). If you have similar assumptions to me, then I expect Dr Knowles will convince you that the Western church has a longer way to go before it appears like the ‘bride of Jesus Christ’ than you previously assumed.

• ‘Nodding in Agreement.’
The book puts forward a detailed explanation as to why we sometimes find church less than perfect. The author uses ‘types’ such as ‘Applause-seekers’ or ‘Local Heroes’ to describe the ways in which the church has (sometimes unwittingly) copied ways of doing things from the culture surrounding it, such as celebrity TV shows or business models of leadership. From my limited experience of different churches, these examples often ring true. More fundamentally, this analysis offers a different starting place for reforming churches than ’10 things to make your meetings more welcoming’.

• ‘Laughing out loud.’
The author has a way with words. A classic example is the 101 word sentence in chapter 9, in which Knowles seeks to essentially capture the downsides to the ‘consumerist-driven’ ‘bad aspects’ of postmodernity influencing western culture. The book is aimed at the general reader. The author himself acknowledges on p.168 that there are a plenty of ‘long words’. Some people may find reading takes a fair bit of effort. But it’s a good way of expanding anyone’s vocabulary, plus it’s a gripping way of getting a handle on some of the key ‘buzzwords’ and ‘ideas’ which really shape contemporary society.

Personally, I found the book contained dense nuggets of description which chimed with – or even explained for the first time – my experiences in many different spheres of life. To give just a few examples: it provoked new excitement about devotional times; raised awareness about the influence of the culture around me, including why I have sometimes in the past found various jobs rather oppressive; convicted me that I had failed to love others, perhaps because I related to them in ways which were more about trying to win approval in my internal church structures; and gave hope and a particular vision for the church – as a God centered community of people – as potentially loving, wise, growing and relationally mature.

If you’re serious about your faith, PLEASE get this book!
relating-faith

Christianity Builds Me

Guest post by Dr Rob Knowles:

How is belief related to desire?
“We may indeed want to believe in something, and therefore believe in it. Thus, for example, we want to think that we are good, righteous, not that bad, better than average, not as bad as so and so, morally more advanced than Daily Mail readers – and so on. And we tend to believe this, even as Christians, even though Jesus says ‘God alone is good’ and Paul says ‘all are sinful’.

***
But when somebody says, “ah, but you would believe that, wouldn’t you, you‘re a Christian”, then you know that they have done almost no study. They are just repeating a speech-utterance that it has become fashionable to utter in tipsy conversations in pubs, restaurants, and at the kitchen-table soirees of middle-class pretenders.

***

In the history of the world there have been very few genuine intellectual challenges to Christianity. Claims are forever being made, by a Dawkins or a Fry. And such characters tend to be brilliant orators and conversationalists too – they have mastered the mockery of their opponents; they have mastered how to win in sophistic exchanges; they can make those with double their IQ – but with the hesitancy of intellectual integrity – look like fools. But all that is in spoken exchanges. It is in their texts that they come across as mere popularists, as intellectual lightweights. Dawkins is no Wittgenstein; and Fry is no Heidegger. Wittgenstein and Heidegger both help us to understand Christianity. Dawkins and Fry merely obscure and caricature it.

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