Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chasing the fox

Random things happen to me. Quite a lot. Take the weekend for example. I found myself in Oxford, browsing secondhand bookshops with a guy called Andrew Jones (aka TallSkinnyKiwi). If you're into books, Oxford is the place to be, and if you need a recommendation, TallSkinnyKiwi the the guy to ask. In the basement of the Oxfam bookshop on St Giles Street he found me a little gem - Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship by Lesslie Newbigin. Those of you familiar with my blog will know that doubt and questioning is a recurring theme. Andrew and I had never met before but I think he must've sussed that I'm a bit of a questioner and so pushed it my way. I'm only one chapter in at the moment but every line has been sweet - check this out:
'Questioning can go on forever and lead nowhere. There are always fresh questions which can be asked. Asking questions can become an all-consuming passion which can never be satisfied, for which any claim to know the truth is a kind of treason against the intellect. A recent writer has wittily suggested that there is a parallel between this certain kind of academic tradition and fox-hunting. The whole point is the chase; if the fox is caught the fun is all over, and we have to look for another fox. Surely, the asking of questions is a vital part of our encounter with reality. But reality finally encounters us when we have to answer the question put to us by the incarnate logos: "Who do you say that I am?" Similarly, one hopes that one day the hunter is confronted with the cruel reality of hounding a fox to death.'

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On the importance of tents

I'm pretty sure that my most quoted verse in the whole bible is John 1v14. It's the fulcrum of history. Eugene Peterson offers my favourite rendering of it, "The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood." But you don't need to know more than very basic Greek to recognise that all the various translations are paraphrasing a root noun that basically means tent. According to John, when Jesus appeared on the scene it was as if God was, 'pitching his tent among us.' So it would seem then that the humble tent now becomes a pretty important New Testament image (as indeed it was in the Old). However, it was only yesterday, doing some prep for a talk on the subject of worship that I came across this in Revelation chapter 7v15: "he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them". Same writer using the same metaphor. He clearly knows exactly what he's doing.
The importance of tents then? Well, don't you see? If the incarnation was merely a pitching of God's tent among us, what we can look forward to eschatologically is that great day when we will be fully enveloped within the tent of God. And even for someone with a deep-rooted loathing of camping, that sounds very cool indeed.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Five Act Play

"Imagine that a Shakespearian play is discovered for the first time but most of the fifth act is missing. The decision to stage the play is made. The first four acts and the remnant of the fifth act are given to well-trained and experienced Shakespearian actors who immerse themselves both in the first part of the play and in the culture and time of Shakespeare. They are told to work out the concluding fifth act for themselves.

This conclusion must be both consistent and innovative. It must be consistent with the first part of the play. The actors must immerse themselves in full sympathy in the unfinished drama. The first four acts would contain its own cumulative forward movement that would demand that the play be concluded in a way consistent and fitting with that impetus. Yet an appropriate conclusion would not mean a simple repetition or imitation of the earlier acts. The actors would carry forward the logic of the play in a creative improvisation. Such an improvisation would be an authentic conclusion if it were coherent with the earlier acts.

This metaphor provides a specific analogy for how the biblical story might function authoritatively to shape the life of the believing community. Wright sees the biblical story as consisting of four acts - creation, fall, Israel, Jesus - plus the first scene of the fifth act that narrates the beginning of the church's mission. Furthermore this fifth act offers hints at how the play is to end. Thus the church's life is lived out consistent with the forward impetus of the first acts and moving toward and anticipating the intended conclusion. The first scene of act five, the church's story, begins to draw out and implement the significance of the first four acts, especially act four. The church continues today to do the same in fresh and creative ways in new cultural situations. This requires a patient examination and thorough immersion in what act four is all about, how act four is to be understood in light of acts one through three, and how the first scene of act five faithfully carries forward act four."

Michael W. Goheen expounding one of Tom Wright's ideas in Reading the Bible as One Story

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 09, 2007

Don't look back...

This week I was in Oxford checking out a Theology course that I'm considering bringing to Manchester. Sitting in on a lecture the following thoughts occurred to me... Why do we have a habit of reading our bible's backwards? So many people, when looking for models of how to live well for God look backwards. And why not, after all the majority of the bible's content is set in the past. But why is that past recorded for us? Is it there to show us how to live now - or does all that history actually serve a different purpose? I'm increasingly convinced that the story of the bible is a progressive revelation of what I'm beginning to refer to as 'the ultimate dream of God'. All of the bible is anticipating a future perfection that is far beyond the scope of our imaginations. In the same way that the Old Testament anticipates the coming of the King the New Testament anticipates his Kingdom. Here's a practical example: Slavery can easily be justified 'biblically' by reaching backwards in the book - but it's impossible to make a case for it when you look forward and get a glimpse of what God has in mind for his creation.

I wonder how many of the issues that Christians argue over would become irrelevant if we could all get out of the bad habit of looking back...

PS - I'll post something tomorrow on Tom Wright's 'Five Act Play' that will help explain this a bit more clearly.

Stumble Upon Toolbar