Monday, 30 April 2007

Philippians and the City of God

In the Autumn and Winter of 2006 I preached my first series of expository sermons in the evenings at Rock Baptist. There was a definite improvement in terms of time management, delivery and relevance of application as the series progressed! Quite a lot of that was due to the very useful practical parts of the TEAM course, which I started on the mid-series break.

I chose Philippians because I love it, because it is considered relatively 'easy', because I hadn't heard anyone preach on it at Rock and because of a few things I read in Leithart's Against Christianity. He argues that Philippians is actually a very political letter - not only on the basis of the uses of polis cognates (our citizenship is in heaven 3:20; live as a citizen worthy of the gospel 1:27, unfortunately obscured by NIV, ESV, etc) at critical points in the argument but because of the character of the city of Philippi.

Philippi was a Roman Colony, keenly aware of its political and legal privileges. Land was generously given to trusted army veterans when the city was constituted as such, and these citizens were treated as if they lived in Rome itself. But for Paul, all of this is dung, just as all the privileges of Jewish citizenship are dung without membership in Christ.

One day I may get round to posting more thoughts on Philippians, but a juicy morsel worthy of immediate publication was passed to me the other week by Patrick James (not to be confused with our mutual friend James Patrick). He found this in Tacitus (Annals 12.32.2)...

id quo promptius veniret, colonia Camulodunum valida veteranorum manu deducitur in agros captivos, subsidium adversus rebellis et imbuendis sociis ad officia legum

...and kindly translated it, to spare me embarrassment and hours of frustration:

in order that this ['pacifying' the tribe of the Silures] might come about sooner, a colony - Colchester - was founded on captured land with a strong company of veterans - a garrison against rebellions and to imbue allies with obedience to the laws.

So, colonies were not merely outposts of the great city, but were there to encourage the adoption of the great city's laws. Does anyone else think that there might be a fruitful analogy to be drawn with the position of the church (individual congregations? city-clusters of congregations?) in the world...?

The Parable of the Dawkins

Here's a story for everyone. (It's in Finnish, too, if that's any use to you.)

Pointy hats are a great literary device!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Concerning Halloween

I really should be in bed now, but I got reading about a particular facet (not the right word, I'm sure, but most of my brain cells have nodded off) of the emerging church, calling itself simple church. Very relevant to us as we pray and plan for a church to be planted from Rock.

And then I turned to some old favourites. Everything this man writes is stimulating and much of it is infuriating. Just when you thought you 'knew' that 'Halloween' was 'wrong' (probably without thinking about it much, like me)...

Sunday, 22 April 2007

but why did he stay up?

Yes, the book was fun, but maybe it was endochrine secretions, or, more likely, caffeine. I tucked into a late afternoon tea at a friend's birthday party and noticed how many people avoided it because of the risk of inappropriate wakefulness. My current boss was one of these people. Maybe I am too, because after the party we went to Bury St Edmunds to see a fabulous one-man show about Hudson Taylor and at 9.30pm there I was tucking into a coffee...

If that impassioned performance, and deep challenge to the audience wasn't enough to stimulate the grey cells and the heart, I was also buzzing with the success of the afternoon's concert in honour of the birthday gent, Dr Michael Schluter. The piano was a reconditioned Steinway from 1917 that felt as good as new and was a joy to play, and the programme was a collection of stalwarts plus a few surprises, punctuated by songs from Mike's brothers-in-law.

Debussy, Prelude from Suite Bergamasque
Mendelssohn, Song without words in A flat, "Duetto"
Rachmaninov, Prelude in B major
Brahms, Rhapsody in G minor
Beethoven, Sonata No. 18 in E flat, 1st mvt
Brahms, Intermezzo in E flat
Chopin, Waltzes in D flat and C# minor
Mozart, Fantasia in D minor
Gershwin, Prelude No. 1
Bankole, Rhapsody on a Theme from Egun

The Documents in the Case

A rare thing for me these ancient and decrepit days, I stayed up very late last night (someone else happily slept next to me despite the light) reading Dorothy Sayers' The Documents in the Case, an early whodunnit from the pen of (in my opinion) the best of the golden age crime novelists. It had been on the 'to read' shelf (which is about 5 ft long) for several years but I picked it up yesterday after enjoying an 80s BBC adaptation of another Sayers, Have his Carcase, starring Edward Petherbridge. (If anyone reading this blog is old enough to remember these dramas, you'll know that Petherbridge might have been born to play Lord Peter Wimsey, and the only regret was that the BBC asked him to play the part when he about 20 years too old for it, great lighting notwithstanding!)

This early Sayers (written in conjunction with Robert Eustace, a doctor who assisted various early 20th crime novelists) is surprisingly fun, despite the absence of Lord Peter. Her observations of middle class London life, and the explorations of various popular scientific and philosophical ideas that arise in the course of conversations are neat, winsome, pointed and addictive. The characters are all complex, and even when the murder is solved, the various, often contradictory, narrative perspectives (the novel is a collection of letters) continue to play in the reader's mind.

The explorations of gender mores and the references to endochrine secretions caught my eye, as I'm delving into that at the moment for the Jubilee Centre (and in some ways, there's not much more to say than what Sayers did...). Plenty of religious imagery and ideas to keep the idle mind active. The word 'decoct' (like concoct, only you get what you want by breaking down something else, not by putting it together) was a treat, and took me back to happy undergraduate days at Cambridge making up silly words with Nick and Paul over green tea, in a rather neo-Edwardian fashion. (You can tell I like this stuff, can't you. I sometimes wonder whether I wouldn't have done a bit better as English gent in the 20s, or even a whimsical Lord...)

The engineers in the story came across as slightly repressed characters - bad empathizers, in the language of Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, he is related to Ali G) - and one of them was hopelessly uncultured. I did think that was rather unfair, given that of the engineers I know, one is an international concert pianist, another writes songs, another wears cravats...

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

personal typology

Thinking in an unstructured, over-enthusiastic fashion about typology (as about everything else) I just read this interesting essay on Romans 7 when I doubtless should have been doing something else. One comment underneath the essay is particularly exciting, as it explores the idea of reading the individual Christian life as typologically related to the larger story of redemption. Food for thought.

Monday, 16 April 2007

: - P arable

Let me temporarily interrupt the Buddhist thoughts for this, from Doug Wilson's blog. If you ever want to be taxed, amused, provoked and edified you could do worse than visit...

The Kingdom of God is a Fine Automobile
Topic: Parable

The doctrine of the kingdom of God is like a fine automobile. Some parts of it are lush, and polished, and comfortable, with climate control, and windows that go up and down with the press of a button. Other parts of it are cold and metallic, greasy, heavy and far too . . . doctrinal.

Two men had the same make and model of car, same year, and they each sought to improve it according to their lights. One of them, when he was filling the gas tank up one evening, had a sudden, blinding insight. How much lighter his car would be if he only took out the engine block. He could fly down the road, and he wouldn’t have to worry about gas expenses any more. He could use the space for a second trunk, and he could dispense with all the messy and expensive issues of upkeep. He had once scraped his knuckles badly getting the oil filter off—he remembered that incident particularly.

The other man, the first man’s neighbor, saw him engaged in the task of removing the engine one day after work, and asked him about it. Having heard the explanation, he went home shaking his head. It was appropriate, he thought to take the engine out—in fact he had done the same thing to his car the night before. But the point was always to remember that the engine was the heart of the gosp . . er, car. That was why he planned to ride the engine block to work the next morning. Why mess with all that other stuff when all the horsepower was located right there?

The next morning, of course, found both of them stuck in the driveway. After about ten minutes it got embarrassing, and so they both went inside.

Doctrine, theology, and careful definitions are metallic and clunky. They are sometimes greasy and always heavy. And because they are heavy, the car is light and moves down the road. Application, life, love, and communion are the interior of the car. Because there is a place to sit, and drive, the engine is useful, and the light interior has weight and purpose—and can move down the road.

There are those who want us to give up our emphasis on Reformation doctrine. Think how much lighter your car would be! Your teaching on marriage and family would be greatly appreciated in many circles if you didn’t have that big metal block under the hood. On the other side, there are those who want us to give up all the life and application. They want us to sit on the engine block of doctrine, incessantly gunning the five points of Calvinism for all the neighbors to hear.

Brethren, there is a more excellent way.

Just a thought, which has popped into my head since I'm currently reading the literature on the psychology and biology of sex and gender... I'd love for someone to cast this sort of a parable in a feminine fashion. All these masculine examples are great, but maleness and femaleness are needed to fully express the glory of the image of God.