Saturday, 29 March 2008

a leftist blog

also worth a look.

Obselete it may be, it is certainly good at calling attention to folly in public life.

The atheist principles are quite well hidden, too (which is a good thing, as this post only exposes its author's ignorance regarding religions).

I have been reminded by recent travels that it is a wonderful freedom to cherish that we can examine opposing opinions (relatively) openly in this country. And how often we discover that monumental positions and generalisations hide the fact that there are surprising (and maybe shifting) areas of agreement between those whose labels make them opponents.

a conservative blog

worth a look (if any blog is worth a look!)

Witty, generally calm tone, not afraid to call a spade a spade... Certainly provocative even when it seems a bit off.

Archbishop Cranmer lives again and is swashbuckling his way through modern British politico-religious life.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Structured procrastination really works!

I’ve managed to clear loads of blog posts that were building up in a wretched Word document. These last few days have been great for that (and for laundry, washing up, minor plumbing work, church admin and piano practice) – while I really should have been spending more time on my management essay for NTI and writing a sermon for Hope on Sunday…!

See here for philosophical background (= feeling good about putting things off in fancy language by a clever guy).

More silly roads

Spotted some time ago by Mum while in chauffeur mode (should that be ‘chauffeuse’?)
1) Churches. That's in Bradford on Avon.
2) Late Broads. That was in Winsley

Not bad, but can it really compare with this one or to Haggis Gap, also in Fulbourn?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Vantage Point

A surprisingly great film. Perhaps a little formulaic in its ending, and disappointing in not focussing on the real political issues or implications of the attempt on the life of the US President (at a summit concerned with uniting against international terror), but not without power to make the audience think.

Kate said that the film’s message was a little simplistically pro-American in that one subtext was, even when you try to negotiate with these people there is violence against you, and you can’t trust anyone. But Vantage Point doesn’t quite push to the conclusion that what is needed is more security, more curbs on liberties, oranything like that. It is quite taken up with its observing of the moment. Plus its major message seemed to me to be the triumph of the middle-aged man. Dennis Quaid especially, but also Forrest Whittaker, and even John Hurt has bis brief moment of decisive action. Middle age is OK guys – you can still save the world!

Hybels on leadership and 'business'

Courageous Leaderhip is a difficult book for me to evaluate. I don’t have Hybels’ experience in leading churches large and small, or his familiarity with the exciting world of wealthy, fast-moving American people. The stories, advice and soundbites that make up Courageous Leadership are inspiring and stirring, and often truly glorifying to God. It’s hard for me to know quite what in leadership practices and theories might be well suited to the church, to many churches, or at least to a very large church like Willow Creek.

But this I know, I won’t be convinced by appeals to what is not there in the Greek text of the New Testament. Whatever else Hybels has got right about Jesus’ leadership style, he did not get the Lord’s words right when he quoted them (from the KJV) on p.71 – ‘“I must be about my father’s business”… I’m fascinated by the very fact that he called it a business.’ But Jesus didn’t call it “a businesss”, his phrase en tois tou patros mou dei envai me [forgive the lack of proper letters] does not refer to a business. In fact the noun that might be ‘business’ is absent from the Greek, with just its article tois to hint at what it might be. Most modern translators prefer to supply ‘house’, and to translate en as ‘in’, rather than ‘about’ (which went with ‘business’ in the KJV).

The extent to which lessons learned from business might come into the leadership of the church will have to be resolved with less flimsy materials. Turning the whole thing on its head, much more provocatively, is Richard Higginson’s contention that

‘The Christian faith is actually a crucial piece of management data. It provides essential clues for understanding who people are, why things go wrong and how situations can be changed for the better. If that seems a bold claim, it chimes in with an observation which I hear increasingly often, that the best in modern management theory is really Christianity in secular guise.’ [Transforming Leadership: A Christian Approach to Management (London: SPCK, 1996), p.19.]

Which is a pretty neat bit of colonisation, worthy of any Calvinist

Apologies Bilezikian

The blog can be a suitably unfortunate medium for critique. Web-based discussions tend to lower the tone of debate (please excuse the understatement, I’m English) for many reasons. Remoteness and anonymity are high on the list, of course, but there is a lower standard of editorial involvement, too, by both the external and internal censors. Because it’s only a blog, I don’t need to worry too much about the tone, the implications, or whatever – I can always disclaim it later, with a wave of the hand, it’s only a blog, after all…

So, my apologies to Prof Gilbert Bilezikian for the unecessarily patronising and acerbic tone of some of my posts on his book Community 101. [See here and here for appreciative posts, and here and here for the rude ones.] I don’t agree with his exegesis or discussions of several related theological areas around gender and Christian leadership, but he has been a faithful servant of Christ for a lot longer than I have, and deserves more respectful interaction. Bill Hybels’ tribute to Bilezikian in Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) was a rebuke to me this morning, and I hope it will be an ongoing reminder of my need for more charity and less smugness.

I shall leave the original posts intact to show how close to the wind uppity young bloggers can sail.


That last post was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In this case, I am the blogging camel, and the straws are little fragments of Armenia. I offer them as just that – titbits on a fascinating and surprisingly influential culture and cultural idea. This is not done in the spirit of trivialising (though it is hard for an Englishman not to trivialise the histories and cultures of most of the world, given our false modesty about our own cultural achievements, especially as the eccentric and depreciating tone of the educated English ‘writer’ [the ‘’ are there for my personal disbenefit!] ) but of respectful curiosity…

Armenia were the winners of the 2006 Chess Olympiad (it’s like the World Cup), moving up from a mere (!) bronze in 2004, despite being a country with fewer than 3.5 million inhabitants. They walked all over the mighty Russians and Chinese, and as a team they only suffered defeat in a single game.

Top Armenian Grandmasters include Aronian, Akopian, Lputian, Vaganian, Miniasian, Anastasian, Movsesian… anyone else see a pattern here!?

This plucky group of letters (xxx[consonant]ian) caught my attention, and I kept my eyes out for more Armenians on the world stage. In no particular order…

24, Season 5 featured the patriotic but unwise Miles Papazian, who worked for the US government.

Look out for Demos Shakarian (and family) and their global influence (some pretty positive, even if their excesses are to be deplored) via The Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, or, slightly less catchily, the FGBMFI.

Gilbert Bilezikian, influential Protestant theologian, Professor Emeritus at Wheaton College.

Yossarian, the (anti)hero of Joseph Heller’s masterpiece Catch 22 is surely Armenian-American.

Rather more spuriously linked to this confederacy is the Telmarine Lord in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian!)

Rousas Rushdoony, whose name explodes my convenient Armenian surname formula, a powerful figure in some conservative Christian circles in the US.

Alan Hovhannes, who also doesn't fit, was the most prolific composer of the 20th century, writing in a unique, accessible style - almost liturgical in places, often conjuring up the stark landscapes of his Scottish and Armenian parents' homelands.

There’s a war with Azerbijan, a small issue of a ‘genocide’, a history of oppression by bigger people, and lots of present-day agro. See armenipedia for some eccentricity of a Caucasian kind…(actually that's a bit rude, it's just a specialised and slightly more partisan wikipedia spin-off). They have the oldest and possibly crustiest national church in the world, but there have been great revivals in the Armenian Apostolic Church in the last 170 years and there are hundreds of thousands of evangelicals in the diaspora. Lots of gospel rejoicing, and much, much more...

Novelist Julian Barnes seems strangely fascinated by it, too (10½ Chapters, p.236 on Ararat as the centre of the world but not getting any of it because of three empires converging, the third of a chapter about a deranged woman who climbs the mountain in the mid 19th century and discovers the clergy to be as dodgy and backward as prejudice predicted, the chapter entitled project Ararat, the Art coming to rest there… Sometimes one wonders just how darkly witty Barnes is: ‘You might have deduced from a glimpse of the Tigglers’ Expedition Room that Spike and Jimmy were a couple of naked refugees being sent as hired killers to exterminate most of Eastern Turkey’ [269-70], not to mention the ‘year of moody Bible study’ [266] which could just as easily have been capitalised!

“They drove until the road ran out and the two shapes of Great and Little Ararat rose ahead of them

‘Kinda like man and wife, ain’t it?’ Spike remarked.

‘How d’ya mean?’

‘Brother and sister, Adam and Eve. The big one there and the little neat pretty one by his side. See? Male and female created He them.’

‘Do you think the Lord had that in mind at the time?’

‘The Lord has everything in mind,’ said Spike Tiggler, ‘All the time.’ Jimmy Fulgood looked at the twin shapes ahead of them and kept to himself the reflection that Betty Tiggler was an inch or two taller than Spike.” [272-3])

and more!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Tattoos and Armenia

Tattoos in European culture have often represented stepping outside the boundaries of society, whether to indicate bravery, piety (Armenian Christians used to mark themselves to show they had made an important pilgrimage), impiety… machismo… or simply eccentricity. [Victoria Finlay, Colour, p.359]

More fascinating details and stories hinted at there by Finlay’s super book. However, my critical mind can’t help but notice that Armenia is not exactly a European culture (its shared Christian culture does not make it European since its church predates any medieval or modern sense of ‘Europe’ and was all but inaccessible to Western Europeans during its formative years and the even more rambunctious formative years of Europe) which may undermine Finlay’s point about European tattooing habits until the last few decades, anyway. Which makes me ask, what is the history of the European tattoo?

Maybe Bilezikian

Despite the weak argumentation and convenient overlooking of Scripture, GB does make (at some length, pp.171-74) a good point about a double standard operating in some complementarian circles. Telling a powerful story of a Sunday visit to a church which denied all public ministries to women (men were greeters, men were ushers, men spoke from the front, men preached, men served communion – women sat quietly), grieving him so much that he could not share the Lord’s Supper, GB revealed a great irony… At this service the church was commissioning a missionary to be involved in church-planting and leadership development in Africa, and said missionary ws a women. GB seemed to be the only person who noticed the disjunction, a disjunction with racist overtones – women are not good enough for leadership here in the wealthy White West, but they are suitable for such roles among foreigners, especially Black foreigners in more primitive cultures.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwan makes a similar point in Gender and Grace (IVP, 1990). There’s something to think about seriously.

No Bilezikian

While we're thinking about timeliness, here's the follow up to two earlier posts on Gilbert Bilezikian's egalitarian cheekiness, Yes Bilezikian and Hmm Bilezikian.

Arguing against the complementarian understanding of headship on pp.166-68 of Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness, GB makes a few leaps on 1 Cor 11:3…

[It is] a statement about the headship of Christ to man (A), man to woman (B) and God to Christ (C). With total disregard for the biblical ordering of those three clauses a glib but popular interpretation of this verse turns it topsy-turvy to make it a hierarchy. A top-down God-Christ-Man-Woman chain of command is obtained by shifting the clauses around and by rendering “head” as authority – ABC becomes CAB!

However, the biblical order for these verses is not one of hierarchy (CAB) but of servanthood (ABC): The head of every man is Christ because at creation, when all things were made through him, he endowed the man with life (A); then, the head of the woman is man because her life was drawn from the man (B); and finally, the head of Christ is God because God provided the life of the Son at the Incarnation (C). With this sequence that culminates with God, Paul wanted to demonstrate a truth he stated in the immediate context: ultimately “everything comes from God”. (167)

A major problem with this interpretation is that GB wants to make something of the ‘physical’ order of Paul’s clauses in order to undermine any discussion of their logical relationships, and so has simply decided that the heuristic order is one of temporal sequence – creation of Adam, creation of Eve, Incarnation of Christ. But the idea of the incarnation is not present anywhere in the context. And if Paul was interested in saying that men and women have a totally symmetrical relationship, why chose to make so much of the temporal order of two events very close in time (creation of Adam and of Eve in relation to the Incarnation, as if what was important about salvation history was ‘…creation of males, followed by creation of females, followed by incarnation of Son of God…’) there in verse 3? And again again in verse 12, the asymmetry of which GB does not even touch on? Neither temporal history nor mythological history nor Heilsgeschichte is crucial to Paul’s point here: he is talking about propriety in worship now on the basis of sex differences that find analogies in other relationships in which the Godhead is involved. It will not do for GB simply to scoff at some normal verbal reasoning (such as we might find in school entrance exams for 11-year olds – it’s not rocket science!) as the reader notices that C:M, M:W and G:C make a chain G:C:M:W. Paul did not have to put the relational pairs into that latter ‘order’ because anyone reading the text can infer the ‘order’ if necessary. [There is plenty more that can be said about GB’s flat usage of ‘authority’ in dealing with his opponents, and his mischaracterisation of complementarian exegesis, but not right now!]

Nevertheless this interpretation apparently explains for GB why the Holy Spirit is absent from these verses (167), since he thinks that if authority were in view, then the Spirit should be there in the chain of command. This is an odd claim indeed. GB has already announced the role of the Spirit in giving life (back in Genesis and in regeneration, the new life of the Christian) so in fact if either the word kephale or the thrust of this passage were about source of life, as GB wants to claim, we would be more likely to see the Spirit in the list. Whereas the Spirit is of course never called head of the church anywhere in the Bible, so his omission from a section that looks at authority relationships is not in the least surprising. [Do we see here that the more GB tries to expound his bad interpretation of 1 Cor 11, the more unstuck he comes…?]

GB’s exposition also completely ignores verses 4-10 which have more than a little relevance to the question of the relationship between men and women, and contain such statements as a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. The idea of authority is hardly absent from the context. Plus, we have Wayne Grudem’s exhaustive study of kephale (head) which demonstrates that ‘head’, not ‘source’, is the primary meaning of the term over several centuries of Greek usage [a 1985 article in Trinity Journal 6, 38-59, which surveys over 2,000 examples; and further interaction with other scholars in ‘The Meaning of Kephale (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies’ in Grudem & Piper, eds, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway, 1991), pp.425-68.] GB simply assumes the meaning ‘source’ in the passage quoted at the top, without any discussion or admission of evidence to the contrary.

Matthew 1:19 again

Thoughts from PJ on my mulling on Matthew 1:19 and whether it was because Joseph was righteous or despite that...

1. You assume that the outcome of J. being righteous/obedient to the
law would be death by stoning as (approximately) in John 7: 59 ff. We
should note that there was a debate in Jesus' time about acceptable
grounds for divorce. Matthew 19: 1-9 and Mark 10 do record an attempt
to trap Jesus but do so by forcing him to take a side in a
contemporary debate. Cf. the wording of the question in Matthew 22:
17. Supposedly, the divergence between Matthew 5: 31 and Luke 16: 18
(which does not mention the 'except for adultery clause) reflects this
debate in some way. I am not sure what I think about that. I cannot
find a reference for it now either. I did however find Dr David
Instone-Brewer's pages (through Tyndale House, but that just confused
me more <>).

2. How does this point in Matthew relate to other discussions of
divorce in Matthew (5: 31 and 19: 1-9). When Marvin Wong preached on
Mark 10 in the summer, he mentioned John Piper's position paper on
divorce and remarriage, which attempts to show -inter alia- that
Matthew mentions the exception 'on grounds of adultery' (contra Luke
16: 18) in order to maintain Joseph's 'justness' in divorcing his
pregnant betrothed. See

3. We have two participles. Are they both causal or both concessive?
Or, is one causal and the other concessive?

I am not convinced that it is impossible for two adjacent participles
to have such divergent meanings as 'because' and 'although', but I
think it is more natural to take them as a pair.

Concessive: can we have 'although he was obedient to the law (of
Moses; thus should end the engagement)' and 'although he did not want
to subject her to public disgrace' and 'he planned to divorce her

There seems to be a disjunction here, i.e. the sentence as a whole
cannot be taken concessively. Righteousness -> divorce and his desire
to avoid scandal for Mary (wishful thinking in that culture?) ->
There is no concession and hence we can disregard this option.

Causal: because J. was obedient to law (a) and because he did not want
to subject her to public disgrace (b), he decided to divorce her (a)
and to do so quietly (b) [OK, I have split up the verb and the adverb
into two verbal ideas for illustrative purposes].

Mixture (i): although J. was obedient and because he did not want...

This, I take it, avoids the problem of Joseph not having Mary stoned
to death (although I do not think deigmatisai could refer to
execution). It is however much harder to prove to be the correct
translation. I am never happy with an argument consisting only of 'it
means this because it must (even though it strains the grammar)'.

Mixture (ii): because J. was obedient and although he did not want...
This, as in my concessive and causal renderings, assumes that divorce
was the/a law-abiding option. Again, a *quiet* divorce is not in a
concessive relationship with wanting to avoid public disgrace. This is
perhaps the easiest option to reject as nonsense.

I will have to think some more about justifications for mixture (i).
Both causal is my current favourite, but it involves assuming that
obedience to the law made divorce (for adultery) the right thing to
do. If Piper is right, Matthew stands on that side of the debate.

Key points: consider the whole sentence and note the two ideas in
divorce quietly.

4. What would a quiet/secret divorce look like? The beginning of
Deuteronomy 24 says nothing about informing the elders vel sim.

5. What did Joseph know at this point? What did Mary say when she was
found pregnant? Joseph's dream happens subsequently in Matthew. From
Luke 1: 27 ff. we may speculate that Mary could have told Joseph about
Gabriel's visitation. Would he have concluded that she was a lying
adulteress or that she was deranged?

6. As you say, what does dikaios mean? 'Just under the law's
demands' as in Philippians 3 or 'doing the *right* thing' or 'doing
justly (in some bigger sense)'?

Clearly I'm going to have to think some more on this!

Eternal life in the Old Testament

Scholars often claim that the Old Testament says very little about eternal life. This may be true, however Psalm 49 (Edwards) and Psalm 73 (Von Rad) have a lot to say about the subject, as in Karl Pfisterer notes in his Prism of Scripture (p.267) on Jonathan Edwards’ philosophy of history.

Christmas stable as a generative symbol

How can I possibly connect that staple of advent calendars and popular piety with a famous philosopher? Linda Munk has done it for me…

Before the porrige spoils, I shall leave this chapter on Taylor and the Feast of Tabernacles, but not without citing the distinguished twentieth-century philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), who, in The Star of Redemption, makes a connection other scholars have not made (as far as I can tell) between the sukkah of the Feast of Tabernacles and “the manger in the strange stable in which the redeemer comes into the world.” What is “noteworthy” about the festival of Christmas, Rosenzweig writes, is that it “did not conform to a holiday of the Jewish calendar like Easter and Pentecost”. Yet in the past centuries

the festival has… undergone a development… which has brought it into a degree of proximity to the Jewish festivals of redemption. The house opens up to admit free nature. The hospitality of a warm room is extended to the snow-covered Christmas tree, and this opening up of the house to admit nature, and the manger in the strange stable in which the redemer comes into the world, have their exact couterpart in the open sky admitted by the rook in the tabernacle-hut in memory of the tent of meeting which grnted rest to the eternal people during its wanderings through the desert. (Munk, 94)

Sounds juicy and clever, warm-feelings and imaginative philosophy are no bad thing. However, I hate to spoil your fun, but there was no stable. [And Father Christmas isn’t real either, sorry.] Professor Ken Bailey makes a compelling case that there weren’t many stables in rural Palestine, and that families kept their animals in their one-room houses, on the ground floor beside the raised terrace of the family zone. The word translated ‘inn’ in Luke’s infancy narrative should be rendered ‘guest room’ – indicating that Jesus was born in a private house that had a second room (the guest room) that was full of other relatives at the time. After all, why would Joseph, a native of Bethlehem, have to go to an ‘inn’ rather than to the many houses of his extended family in the area!?

What does that do to Rosenzweig’s elaboration of the stable in relation to the Feast of Tabernacles?

I think that the first thing it shows is the limits of typology-allegory in biblical interpretation. Let’s not get too excited about every detail, every putative pattern, etc. Tempting though it is, it’s probably more of a shame to promulgate silly ‘pre-critical’ exegesis than it is to do without it. Silly stuff undermines respect for decent pre-critical exegesis, which the church and her theology need.


Not something I’ve really worked out on this blog or in much of life. Procrastination (hopefully of the structured variety) is high on my agenda, though I never seem to quite get round to finishing even that. Planned posts on Turkey, Thorntons et al are building up somewhat.Whoops!

Kate is great

Thank you, Lord!

She has all the best ideas (finding TEAM, The World We All Want, NTI, a provocative interpretation of ‘The Visitors’ in A History of the World in 10½ Chapters that sees the popular historian cruise-ship lecturer as Abraham and the terrorists as the three angels of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18, which fits Barnes’ biblical imagery and his anti-orthodox slant on the narratives) and the impetus to help us carry them out. Plus she is great company, prayerful, hardworking, loves interesting cooking, encourages me all the time and rebukes me when necessary, and so much more!

Concerts in long johns

The recent cold cold snap caused some consternation among the semi-professional amateur musical classes. Two concerts in the space of a few very cold days in Ely Cathedral and Cambridge’s Round Church were great fun, thanks to Jane’s great violin playing (and the awesome grand in the cathedral’s Lady Chapel), but its was flippin’ cold. Thankfully I have a pair of dark blue long johns, not that the effect reached my fingers, not that the audience seemed to mind…

Saturday, 1 March 2008


Cannot be reduced to a three-fold typology, as much dogmatics and popular discussion tries to do today. You've heard it all before, amillennial, postmillennial and premillennial (of which there are two branches, the sober 'historic' and the wacky 'dispensational'). Everyone knows that Reformed people are amillennial, unless they're a bit enthusiastic like Iain Murray or Doug Wilson (or full-on scary theonomists) in which case they're postmillennial. In any case, Reformed people don't waste time on futurist fiddling with eschatological texts.

Meanwhile, in the real world...

A group of Puritan chiliasts awaited Christ’s transient, premillennial advent, which would signal the end of Antichrist (the Pope of Rome), the conversion of the Jews, and the opening of the millennium.

[Linda Munk, The Devil's Mousetrap: Redemption and Colonial American Literature (OUP, 1997), p.100].

But even this was not like the modern pre-mils, for this millennium did not have Christ here on earth bodily. It was like the postmillennial vision of the millennium. A generation or so later, Jonathan Edwards spoke of the various “comings” of Christ (4 of them) in the run up to the end [in sermons that were posthumously published as A History of the Work of Redemption]. He comes, but not in the sense that he will come. Puritan Thomas Shepherd had already written of the "double coming" of Christ and the "sixfold coming of Christ".

Shepherd rejected an earthly millennium such as the one taught by modern premillennialists. However, unlike Calvin, who taught that the destruction of Antichrist, the restitution of all things and the second coming all coincided, preceded by a universal call the Gentiles – i.e. the church age - Shepherd was interested in a periodization of this church age based on the idea that Antichrist would be destroyed sometime before the full second coming of Christ. The churches would be purified, would fall into complacency because of delay of the parousia, but would be ‘awakened by a cry from the bridegroom before his final appearance’ (Pfisterer, Prism of Scripture, p.110). Shepherd placed the virgin churches of New England in the ‘purification’ period of the timeline, and warned against complacency (‘security’) instead urging them to see this period as an opportunity – a time for converting many, a time for mission. ‘We must be very careful here not to presuppose the modern notion of the failure of the parousia, for delay here has a positive and not a negative meaning and function’ (ibid., pp.110-111)

This calls to mind Patricia Parker's great piece of feminst criticism, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, 1987), and its discussion of expansion and waiting. Her first chapter contains surprisingly reasonable comments about Biblical themes of delay and dilation (pp.11-12) starting with Rahab (the 'wide', 'broad' prostitute of Jericho) and the temporal space before the eschaton, which she persists in calling 'The Apocalypse' (e.g., pp.9, 18) - guaranteed to confuse us all!