Thursday, 30 April 2009

Get to know the classics - Luther

Martin Luther is one of the great Christian thinkers of all time and very important in the history of the Protestant churches. This Monday night (4th May) at Get to Know the Classics Mark Glanville will introduce us to Luther and his book Bondage of the Will. In it Luther takes on Erasmus over the question of God's sovereign grace in redemption. We meet Luther in full flight, showing his theological insight and his argumentative flair.

Get to Know the Classics is held once a month 7:30-9:00pm on a Monday evening at Presbyterian Theological Centre.

Monday, 27 April 2009

An enigmatic life - David Broughton Knox

This 2005 biography of (David) Broughton Knox has been my weekend reading. He was Principal of Moore (Theological) College from 1959-1985 and led it to from being a fairly parochial institution to being on the way to becoming the highly influential college it is now.

Brian Edgars review from Journal of Anglican Studies Vol. 6(1) 127-28 can be found here.

If you, like me, live with his influence, then you should read this book. For my self I am a Moore graduate from 1995, and living in Sydney and working in the evangelical scene the influence of Moore is widespread. Just take the example of theological education in Sydney. As well as Moore itself three of the four staff at PTC are Moore graduates, as are the Principal and several staff of SMBC and several of the staff at Morling College. Some of these were directly students of DBK, others of us have been taught by people who were profoundly shaped by him and by the college he lead.

Students and graduates of PTC would benefit from reading this and getting a historical prespective on DBK and Moore. I was surprised at the relative lack of formal study in theology he had himself, he had a D Phil in Historical Theology but his own undergradaute 'seminary' experience at St John's Higbury was very poor. The English Reformers were his main point of reference. For instance he did not start reading Calvin's Institutes until after he had finished his BD.

Much of DBK's life was filled with controversy and conflict. Some of the key conflicts were with Liberalism and Anglo-catholicism and it is claimed that he thought of MTC as being "Protestant and not Anglican". This shaped his theology.

The discussion of Knox's teaching shows his great ability to teach a way of thinking about theology without giving a great deal of content. He was committed to the scripture principle and tried to get students to engage with the Bible rather than to build on the thought of other writers. This is a great strength in many ways, though it seems as if many of his students interviewed for the book thought that a bit more interaction with others would have improved his teaching.

I was surprised at the level of conflict he had with the Diocese during his time as Principal. This was the most enlightening part of the book for me. I did MTS with Philip Jensen at UNSW from 1988-1991 and then was at MTC 1992-1995. During that time there was a fair bit of conflict still going on, and I'm sure I was only aware of a small part of it. Reading this helped me see where some of that conflict came from.

The piety of DBK's background and own life are impressive; as is his commitment to ministry and church life. This is part of the "enigma" of DBK. For his theology could seem highly 'intellectualist' and yet he had a quite piety. He taught about the importance of "fellowship", "friendship" and "relationship"; yet seems to have been somewhat awkward and prone to fights; however there were many people who knew him as gentle and compassionate.

There is much to thank God for in the life of DBK. For those of us who never knew him, it is worth reading this book to understand more about him and his influence.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The problem of "translation"

There was a strange story in Sydney Morning Herald yesterday about Manly local council honouring the artist Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo with an exhibition and website. On the website his self portrait has been edited to remove the cigarette from his mouth in line with the councils anti-smoking policy. (See the pictures at the right).

The story doesn't explain exactly how the picture contravenes the policy, in fact it says that the instruction had been to remove the whole painting! This story seems ridiculously extreme, but it is a real problem. How do you present something from one culture in another one in which some aspects of it will clash?

I remember being at a production of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" in which the "comedy" had members of the audience on their feet booing its misogyny. Do we change the play so it is a comedy for us, or do we try to explain to people how it would have worked, or do we just let them boo?

We sometimes struggle with the same kind of issues in translating the Bible. How much do we tidy it up for contemporary audiences? Do we get rid of gendered language? How about expressions that seem crude to us? (On that compare 1 Sam 25:22,34 in the King James and the NIV.) What about terms that might seem confusing for us, such as 'flesh' (Gk: sarx) which most modern translations will now translate as "sinful nature" (e.g. Romans 7:5,18,25).

There is a bad argument for moving to gender nuetral language (people are offended by gender specific language) and a good argument (people actually don't get gender specific language). But of course it isn't as simple as those two arguements make it sound.

Have you got good, bad or amusing examples of the problems of translation between cultures?

Monday, 20 April 2009

"Big" mission startegies?

Skye Jethani applies the theology of the cross (see Carl Trueman's summary ) to church strategy. There is a place for strategies, probably even for big ones, but we must never think that we change the world by them. When we do gain the final perspective on God's providence no doubt we shall see that the key events have been as apparently unimpressive as the cross. Faithfulness is the key.

Looks like an interesting book.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Proverbs and ministry

The book of proverbs may have been composed to train young men in the court. Kings certainly need wisdom to rule well (Prov 8:15). I imagine the emerging leaders of Israel working through the sayings of Solomon and preparing for their future roles. That makes me think that one fruitful way to use the proverbs is to relate them to leadership in the people of God. In the past of toyed with a project which explored Proverbs as ministry wisdom and I thought I’d give it a try here and see how it works.

I read Proverbs 14 on the train this morning, so that I where I am going to start.

Three themes in the chapter strike me as connecting with ministry.

The first is the value of wisdom. The chapter opens with a vivid image. On one block of ground a wise woman carefully places brick on brick constructing a home (presumably an unusual task for a women in ancient Israel). Her next door neighbour already has a lovely house, which she is determinedly demolishing. (Prov 14:1 cf v11). Of course fools don’t realise what they are doing. You’ve seen it in lives and families and probably in churches. Pastors are to build for Christ, and there are terrible warnings for those who destroy his church (1 Cor 3:10-17). Pastors and elders need to take extra care that they gain wisdom and act wisely. Wisdom bring protection, folly brings a beating (14:3); folly is gullible, wisdom is discerning (14:15).

The rash action, the thoughtless word, the inability to see how our actions hurt others, fights for my preferences and my preferred styles; time wasted on the unimportant while a ministry runs to seed, these are some of the actions of the foolish pastor. Inevitably there is pain for the pastor, and worse the Lord’s church is torn apart, rather than built up. On the other hand it is a great joy to see a humble, godly, united ministry team building a church under the Lord.

How do we get ministry wisdom? It is a gift of the Spirit, so pray for it. It is the invitation of Proverbs (1:2-7), so go there. If this project extends beyond this post it might help you find wisdom in the Proverbs.

Ch 14 gives one key step to wisdom: stop and think about it. 14:8 says the wise and prudent “give thought to their ways”. That seems to be a result of being wise, that you understand what you are doing, but it is also a path to wisdom. Want to be a wise pastor? Stop and think! Turn over your situation and your plans in your mind, ponder them, and don’t just shoot from the hip. Be aware of what are the big decisions and prayerfully think them through. Even if you have the right to make them alone, don’t; take counsel. Strive to understand what you are doing. 14:16 says the fool is “hotheaded and reckless”. The art of counting to 10, of not sending the email straight away, of not keeping a count of wrongs but letting things go; all of this is at the heart of pastoral wisdom. Wise pastors are reflective.

The second theme that catches my eye is the need for hard work. I have Proverbs 14:4 on notice board of my office “where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” Though the version I’ve used translates empty as clean, and I think that is the point. If you want everything nice and neat don’t get any work done, but if you want a harvest that takes work and work makes mess. 14:23 reinforces the fact that results require effort. There is a time to sit around and reflect to plan and understand –then there needs to be effort. I can remember several meetings I’ve been in, in which resolutions were made but nothing was done. Any growth, any results, any harvest will come from God’s hand, but will also take effort. Do not bemoan how unresponsive people are to the gospel, unless you are making clear and realistic efforts to proclaim the gospel. So get to work, and remember that work will make mess.

The third theme is found in two achingly beautiful the proverbs about the hidden depths of the inner life. Ministry is about people. So ministry wisdom means knowing something about ourselves and others. Sometime the experience of ministry promotes a deception that we have direct access to other people’s experience. We don’t. A lot of what who we are is known only to us and God (or only to God). So remember that “each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (14:10). As you talk and share with people, you don’t really know what is going on for them; nor they for you. That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to understand, but remember that there will always be depths of the inner life which will not and cannot be shared.

14:13 reminds us of the enigma of human experience: “even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief”. Maybe the best thing to do with this proverb is simply to recognise how true it is. Until God wipes every tear from our eyes there will always be sorrow. That’s good to remember that when leading worship. Joy is not the only Christian experience, or even the main one. Lets have joy, but also allow for lament, because it will come. For more on this see Carl Trueman’s great piece “What can miserable Christian’s sing?” which you can find here.

Friday, 10 April 2009

When did this happen?

There comes a point when something we are totally immersed in changes; yet we have been so immersed that we have not noticed the change. Parents experience it with children - they wake up one day and realise that their kids are adults, and they ask themselves, When did this happen?

This week I have enjoyed being at the Discendi Studio conference at PTC Sydney - a conference organised by the three theological colleges of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. I have had the "When did this happen?" experience several times. It happened when I listened to a theological student or recent graduate deliver a scholarly paper, and I had to remind myself that I was not at an international scholarly conference. It happened when I heard students and graduates wrestle with issues of ministry practice with a level of maturity and an ability to integrate several disciplines to the issues. It happened when I listened to the warm camaraderie between lecturers in the respective colleges, seeking to work together to do the task of theological college even better. It happened in the warmth of fellowship experienced. I have come away from the conference with great gratitude for what God has done in our midst and great optimism for the future. When did this happen? I guess it's been happening for a few decades now - slowly and steadily - but there's no doubt that theological education in the Presbyterian Church of Australia is coming of age.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Discendi Studio

Today we wrap up Discendi Studio the theology conference supported by the three Presbyterian Colleges in Australia. The title means "zeal to learn" and comes from a line from Calvin's Institutes. The theme has been "Calvin and theological scholarship" and we've had some great examples of just that. Some of the papers have been Calvin Scholarship - such as Calvin and the Jews, or Calvin as a commentator. Others have looked at historical issues such as the rise of Calvinism in Australia (1938-78) or various theological and Biblical topics with some interaction with Calvin. One of the highlights of the conference have been the short papers which students and others have done. The genre of a 20-25 minute brings as brevity and clarity which Calvin would have appluaded.

It has been great seeing students, staff and others from different states getting to know each other, talking through issues and finding out about the state of play in different states. I hope that people will stay in touch.

The presentations have been recorded and they should be available in some form (watch this space).