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Theology Networks and CU Missions

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

It’s coming up for the time of year when Christian Unions across the UK run mission weeks - five days of intensive evangelism and events explaining the gospel of Jesus to university students. Since Theology Networks are CU groups, this means that when the CU runs a mission week, we are part of that mission!

Now obviously as Theology Network we are always looking to share the gospel of Jesus with our departments (and anyone else really...!) but here are a few ways specifically for Theology Network to get involved in the wider CU mission.

Run Theology Network events.

If you haven’t already, why not run an event during mission week specifically for Theology students? A couple of possible talk titles would be “Can you be an academic theologian and have faith?” or “Do theologians need Jesus?” - anything to provoke a discussion about what it means to have personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Do lecture shout-outs.

Help the wider CU advertise for their main events by flyering your lecture rooms and by doing lecture shout-outs. All it takes is a thirty second announcement inviting your course-mates along to the events. Just think - no one else has access to so many theology students except you guys!

Serve the CU with what you have learnt.

As theology students you will probably have a better understanding of how to answer peoples’ questions about the bible than the rest of CU - simply because that is a big part of your course. Make yourself available to the CU by being around when questions will be asked the most, for example at lunchbar Q and A sessions or during questionnaires. But you don’t know everything, so don’t act like it!

Invite your friends.

Invite anyone and everyone to the events during mission week - housemates, coursemates and friends from your societies. You might even want to consider inviting them for dinner before some of the evening events so that they don’t feel awkward about coming along.

Get involved in everything.

Theologians sometimes have a nasty habit of thinking too much and doing too little! Sign up for helping out with some practical jobs like setting up venues or flyering on the streets. You are a slave of Christ - act like it!

Josh Oldfield, Theology Network Relay Intern in Edinburgh

He took to Himself a body

Friday, December 19th, 2014

The great Athanasius on Christmas:

The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father's Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire. 

Read the whole thing

Martin Hengel on the Reliability of the Gospels

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

What's going on with Theology Network...?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

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The term for Theology Network (TN) really started with a bang! At Forum, UCCF’s student leaders’ training conference, TN had a real presence – a giant banner on the front of the main marquee and at the TN stall in the exhibition space, many gimmicks were employed to encourage students to get involved.


Theologians are the coolest...

There were large turnouts at the events specifically for theology students, and real interest in getting new groups going or rejuvenating old ones in places such as Bristol, Exeter, Oxford, Cardiff and Durham. The stronger presence at Forum has really made a significant difference to the ministry of TN across Britain. In general, students are better aware of what TN is and what it’s trying to achieve, and there’s a real encouragement among the students involved about being part of something bigger and national.



Since Forum there has been real progress with TN groups across the country, with strong groups running really helpful programmes in many universities up and down Britain.


York St John's first TN meet

Aberdeen, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Nottingham and York St John have all been doing particularly well. Many groups at their first few meetings had many more students than they were expecting. At the Durham TN freshers’ event, 30 students who had come along to hear a graduate speak on ‘Mistakes to avoid as a Christian studying theology’ had to share just four pizzas between them! Group leader Owen said, ‘Many non-Christians turned up too, knowing full well what TN was. It was a very positive evening.’ At Cambridge, former TN group leader, Jamie Klair, commented:

We are seriously blessed in Cambridge. Half the fresher theologians came to our event, heard about TN and the lecture series, ate scones, and got a free ESV Bible. Please pray that the lecture series is well attended. Thank you for all your support.

Work with theology students across London has also moved forward significantly, with the move of TN Associate, Tom Creedy, from Nottingham to Central London and the help of former St Andrews TN leader, Connie Keep (now UCCF Staff Worker in Central London). Tom has facilitated the re-launch of the King’s College London TN group recently, and is meeting one-to-one with students from Roehampton University and Heythrop College.


TN has been joined by a Relay Worker in Edinburgh this year. Relay is UCCF’s ten-month discipleship programme which gives recent graduates the chance to work alongside a CU and be discipled by a Staff Worker. Josh Oldfield is particularly working alongside Edinburgh CU’s theology students. Please pray for him, and all the TN staff, as they build relationships with the CUs and seek to build up Christian theology students.


Josh thinking about theology...

Uncover John

UCCF’s next gospel project, Uncover John, was launched at Forum. Uncover John consists of six seeker Bible studies in John’s Gospel designed to be used by Christian students on a one-to-one basis to introduce their friends to the person of Jesus. In order to encourage and equip theology students to make use of this resource, Edinburgh PhD student, Josh Coutts, has produced six companion studies for TN groups. These will equip Christian students with an understanding of the theological and historical issues in each of the Uncover John passages, and embolden them to step out in faith and read John’s Gospel with their non-Christian coursemates. Please pray for them as they do that!


Words for Life

Each year, UCCF runs a number of preachers’ training weekends known as Biblical Evangelism Conferences or Words for Life. Students are invited to attend and deliver an evangelistic talk to a small group on a given Bible passage, and then receive thorough feedback. These are ideal opportunities for theology students to test out gifts and calling to ministry, so please pray that we will be able to encourage students to come, and that God will place a sense of calling to serve the church in future ministry in many hearts. 


The Edinburgh TN group leaders have recently realised how unscary it can be to run an evangelistic event in a theology department. On 4 November they ran an event specifically aimed at freshers, on the topic: ‘Can an academic theologian have personal faith in Jesus?’ Josh Oldfield spoke about the nature of Christian faith and evidence for the historical Jesus. Around 20 first-year students with no previous connection to the Christian Union came along, many of them non-Christians. Lots of good conversations were had afterwards, and the group leaders, Ian and Rachel, are now emboldened to go bigger and better for Christmas.

Christmas is always a really opportune time to run overtly evangelistic events in theology departments! A number of the groups will be offering mulled wine and mince pies to entice students to hear guest speakers. For example, the group at Nottingham have an event on 3 December called ‘Christmas: The Promised Presence of a Seemingly Absent God’. The hope is that these events will dovetail with Christian Union carol services and encourage non-Christian theology students along to what are some of the CUs’ biggest evangelistic events. Please pray for all the groups – for creative ideas, for boldness, and the work of the Spirit in hearts.

This first appeared in Friends of Theology Network – a free, termly newsletter for supporters of this work. To sign up to receive this go to: http://www.uccf.org.uk/supporter/sign-up/cu-friends

Christmas is about home...

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Theology students' greatest danger...and privilege!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

In his classic address to theology students, BB Warfield says four things we all still need to hear today:

  1. Study hard: you can't be godly if you don't
  2. Study theology as worship and devotion
  3. Don't think you're too good for church - Jesus went to church!
  4. Most of all, keep love for Christ burning as a fire in your heart

Here he is on the danger of a cold heart:

We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of the theological student lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him, because they are customary. As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross early materials of which it is made. The words which tell you of God's terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you— Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, and inflections, and connections in sentences. The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms, with premises and conclusions, fitly framed, no doubt, and triumphantly cogent, but with no further significance to you than their formal logical conclusiveness. God's stately stepping in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history, curiously interplaying to the production of social and religious conditions, and pointing mayhap to an issue which we may shrewdly conjecture: but much like other facts occurring in time and space, which may come to your notice. It is your great danger. But it is your great danger, only because it is your great privilege. Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the great things of religion may become common to you! Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life, sunk in the daily struggle for bread perhaps, distracted at any rate by the dreadful drag of the world upon them and the awful rush of the world's work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such things as God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God!

Do you know what this danger is? Or, rather, let us turn the question—are you alive to what your privileges are? Are you making full use of them? Are you, by this constant contact with divine things, growing in holiness, becoming every day more and more men of God? If not, you are hardening! And I am here today to warn you to take seriously your theological study, not merely as a duty, done for God's sake and therefore made divine, but as a religious exercise, itself charged with religious blessing to you; as fitted by its very nature to fill all your mind and heart and soul and life with divine thoughts and feelings and aspirations and achievements. You will never prosper in your religious life in the Theological Seminary until your work in the Theological Seminary becomes itself to you a religious exercise out of which you draw every day enlargement of heart, elevation of spirit, and adoring delight in your Maker and your Saviour.

Read the rest

A Theology Network Christmas

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

The Christmas season is looming! Well, almost... This might seem a little soon, but prompted by the release of the new John Lewis Christmas advert (mind those tears!) and an obsession with starting on the Christmas music early, we’ve been having a think about festive ideas for your Theology Network groups.

CU Carol Services

All around the country Christian Unions organise fantastic Christmas events - such as great carol services in co-operation with their student unions and other societies. As theologians in the Christian Union - get involved! Sing in the choir, bake mince pies or, if you would rather stick to your strengths, offer to do a reading from the bible (1 Timothy 4:13 anyone?)

Or, since the CU Carol Service is usually the biggest evangelistic event of the year, why not organise a pre-event event (if you know what I mean?!). Think mulled wine and mince pies, Christmas music and decorations, and have a speaker (the Carol Service speaker themselves? Or an evangelical lecturer?) give a short talk on ‘Christmas for theologians’. Hold it in a venue close to the church (the divinity department, a pub function room, a large flat) and when done have everyone walk to the Carol Service together!  

Christmas debates

It’s only November - but now is a great time to start organising. Get creative now by thinking of ways to share the gospel with theology/divinity departments. Previously, TN groups have hosted debates on the theology of the incarnation, on the virgin birth etc. It’s just a perfect opportunity to challenge other students on the historicity of Jesus’ life and the implications of those nativity events - case in point “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”! (Matt.1:21)

Smaller events

If that sounds a little too formal, why not have a think about organising some smaller initiatives that will brighten up your course-mates’ Christmas? Give out candy canes or mince pies in your 9am lectures (you will, we are sure, attend these regularly anyway!), put on a hilarious, do-it-yourself nativity, host a short talk on the real meaning of Christmas, or write something on the same topic for your student newspaper. People love Christmas and they appreciate your generosity and Christmas spirit - they might even start asking questions as to why you love caring for them and why you get so excited around Christmas!

Revision sessions

Finally, have a think about getting together as a group to revise for those pesky Christmas exams. Make a day of it, share some good food, pursue theological excellence, and invite your friends who aren’t Christians to join in!

Give your ideas in the comments below!

Know God better, love Jesus more, join the Christmas revolution!


Post by Josh Oldfield, Theology Network Relay Intern, 2014-15

Origins of Christianity vs. Other Religions

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Why Nietzsche was better than Dawkins

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions:

What, however, we should never forget is where those larger notions of the moral good, to which even atheists can feel a devotion, come from, and this is no small matter. Compassion, pity, and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never risen at all. Many societies have endured and indeed flourished quite well without them. It is laudable that Dennett is disposed (as I assume he is) to hate economic, civil, or judicial injustice, and that he believes we should not abandon our fellow human beings to poverty, tyranny, exploitation, or despair. Good manners, however, should oblige him and others like him to acknowledge that they are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity's moral premises: the ideals of justice for the oppressed the church took from Judaism, Christianity's own special language of charity, its doctrine of God's universal love, its exaltation of forgiveness over condemnation, and so on. And good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more "inhuman." On this score, it would be foolish to feel especially sanguine; and there are good causes, as I shall discuss in the final part of this book, for apprehension. This one reason why the historical insight and intellectual honesty of Nietzsche were such precious things, and why their absence from so much contemporary antireligious polemic renders it so depressingly vapid. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies16.]

HT Bobby Grow

Even more advice to theology students!

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

The final installment from John Frame:

21. Don’t be one of those theologians who get excited about every new trend in politics, culture, hermeneutics, even theology, and thinks we have to reconstruct our theology to go along with each trend. Don’t think you have to be a feminist, e.g., just because everybody else is. Most of the theologies that try to be culturally savvy are un-Biblical.
22. Be suspicious of all trendiness in theology. When everybody jumps on some theological bandwagon, whether narrative, feminism, redemptive history, natural law, liturgy, liberation, postmodernism, or whatever, that’s the time to awaken your critical faculties. Don’t jump on the bandwagon unless you have done your own study. When a theological trend comes along, ask reflexively, “What’s wrong with that?” For there is always something wrong. It simply is not the case that the newest is the truest. Indeed, many new movements turn out to be false steps entirely.
23. Our system of doctoral level education requires “original thought,” but that can be hard to do, given that the church has been studying Scripture for thousands of years. So you’ll be tempted to come up with something that sounds new (possibly by writing a thesis that isn’t properly theological at all in the sense of #3 above). Well, do it; get it out of the way, and then come back to do some real theology.
24. At the same time, don’t reject innovation simply because it is innovative. Even more, don’t reject an idea merely because it doesn’t SOUND like what you’re used to. Learn to distinguish the sound-look-feel of an idea from what it actually means.
25. Be critical of arguments that turn on metaphors or extra-Biblical technical terms. Don’t assume that each one has a perfectly clear meaning. Usually they do not.
26. Learn to be skeptical of the skeptics. Unbelieving and liberal scholarship are as prone to error as anybody. More so.
27. Respect your elders. Nothing is so ill-becoming as a young theologian who despises those who have been working in the field for decades. Disagreement is fine, as long as you acknowledge the maturity and the contributions of those you disagree with. Take 1 Tim. 5:1 to heart.
28. Young theologians often imagine themselves as the next Luther, just as little boys imagine themselves as the next Eli Manning or Shaquille O’Neal. When they’re too old to play cowboys and Indians, they want to play Luther and the Pope. When the real Pope won’t play with them, they pick on somebody else and say, “You’re it. “ Look: most likely God has not chosen you to be the leader of a new Reformation. If he has, don’t take the exalted title “Reformer” upon yourself. Let others decide if that is really what you are.
29. Decide early in your career (after some experimenting) what to focus on and what not to. When considering opportunities, it’s just as important (perhaps more so) to know when to say no as to know when to say yes.
30. Don’t lose your sense of humor. We should take God seriously, not ourselves, certainly not theology. To lose your sense of humor is to lose your sense of proportion. And nothing is more important in theology than a sense of proportion.

HT: Rev Dr James Dobson via Andy Naselli

More advice for theology students...

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

From John Frame:

11. If you get a bright idea, don’t expect everybody to get it right away. Don’t immediately start a faction to promote it. Don’t revile those who haven’t come to appreciate your thinking. Reason gently with them, recognizing that you could be wrong, and arrogant to boot.
12. Don’t be reflexively critical of everything that comes out of a different tradition. Be humble enough to consider that other traditions may have something to teach you. Be teachable before you start teaching them. Take the beam out of your own eye.
13. Be willing to re-examine your own tradition with a critical eye. It is unreasonable to think that any single tradition has all the truth or is always right. And unless theologians develop critical perspectives on their own denominations and traditions, the reunion of the body of Christ will never take place. Don’t be one of those theologians who are known mainly for trying to make Arminians become Calvinists (or vice versa).
14. See confessional documents in proper perspective. It is the work of theology, among other things, to rethink the doctrines of the confessions and to reform them, when necessary, by the Word of God. Do not assume that everything in the confession is forever settled.
15. Don’t let your polemics be governed by jealousy, as when a theologian feels bound to be entirely negative toward the success of a mega-church.
16. Don’t become known as a theologian who constantly takes potshots at other theologians or other Christians. The enemy is Satan, the world, and the flesh.
17. Guard your sexual instincts. Stay away from Internet pornography and illicit relationships. Theologians are not immune from the sins that plague others in the church.
18. Be active in a good church. Theologians need the means of grace as much as other believers. This is especially important when you are studying at a secular university or liberal seminary. You need the support of other believers to maintain proper theological perspective.
19. Get your basic training at a seminary that teaches the Bible as the word of God. Become well-grounded in the theology of Scripture, before you go off (as you may, of course) to get first-hand exposure to non-Biblical thought.
20. Come to appreciate the wisdom, even theological wisdom, of relatively uneducated Christians. Don’t be one of those theologians who always has something negative to say when a simple believer describes his walk with the Lord. Don’t look down at people from what Helmut Thielicke called “the high horse of enlightenment.” Often, simple believers know God better than you do, and you need to learn from them, as did Abraham Kuyper for instance.

HT: Rev Dr James Dobson via Andy Naselli

So you're about to start studying theology...?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

For all those about to start a degree in theology (or biblical or religious studies too), here's part one of John Frame's 30 pieces of advice to theological students and young theologians:

1. Consider that you might not really be called to theological work. James 3:1 tells us that not many of us should become teachers. And he says that teachers will be judged more strictly. To whom much (Biblical knowledge) is given, of them shall much be required.
2. Value your relationship with Christ, your family, and the church above your career ambitions. You will influence more people by your life than by your theology. And deficiencies in your life will negate the influence of your ideas, even if those ideas are true.
3. Remember that the fundamental work of theology is to understand the Bible, God’s word, and apply it to the needs of people. Everything else: historical and linguistic expertise, exegetical acuteness and subtlety, knowledge of contemporary culture, philosophical sophistication, must be subordinated to that fundamental goal. If it is not, you may be acclaimed as a historian, linguist, philosopher, or critic of culture, but you will not be a theologian.
4. In doing the work of theology (the fundamental work, #3), you have an obligation to make a case for what you advocate. That should be obvious, but most theologians today haven’t a clue as to how to do it. Theology is an argumentative discipline, and you need to know enough about logic and persuasion to construct arguments that are valid, sound and persuasive. In theology, it’s not enough to display a knowledge of history, culture, or some other knowledge. Nor is it enough to quote people you agree with and reprobate people you don’t agree with. You actually have to make a theological case for what you say.
5. Learn to write and speak clearly and cogently. The best theologians are able to take profound ideas and present them in simple language. Don’t try to persuade people of your expertise by writing in opaque prose.
6. Cultivate an intense devotional life, and ignore people who criticize this as pietistic. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible, not just as an academic text. Treasure opportunities 40 to worship in chapel services and prayer meetings, as well as on Sunday. Give attention to your “spiritual formation,” however you understand that.
7. A theologian is essentially a preacher, though he typically deals with more arcane subjects than preachers do. But be a good preacher. Find some way to make your theology speak to the hearts of people. Find a way to present your teaching so that people hear God’s voice in it.
8. Be generous with your resources. Spend time talking to students, prospective students, inquirers. Give away books and articles. Don’t be tight-fisted when it comes to copyrighted materials; grant copy permission to anybody who asks for it. Ministry first, money second.
9. In criticizing other theologians, traditions, or movements, follow Biblical ethics. Don’t say that somebody is a heretic unless you have a very good case. Don’t throw around terms like “another gospel.” (People who teach another gospel are under God’s curse.) Don’t destroy people’s reputations by misquoting them, or quoting them out of context, or taking their words in the worst possible sense. Be gentle and gracious unless you have irrefutable reasons for being harsh.
10. When there is a controversy, don’t get on one side right away. Do some analytical work first, on both positions. Consider these possibilities: (a) that the two parties may be looking at the same issue from different perspectives, so they don’t really contradict; (b) that both parties are overlooking something that could have brought them together; (c) that they are talking past one another because they use terms in different ways; (d) that there is a third alternative that is better than either of the opposing views and that might bring them together; (e)that their differences, though genuine, ought both to be tolerated in the church, like the differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters in Rom. 14.

HT: Rev Dr James Dobson via Andy Naselli

Did John rely on a 'signs source' for his gospel?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Rudolf Bultmann (1971) set the agenda for modern source analysis of John by postulating a 'signs' source, a 'discourse' source and a 'passion' source to account for a sizeable percentage of John's unique material. Only the signs-source ever commended itself to a large number of scholars...

Gilbert van Belle's exhaustive survey of scholarship on a signs-source summarizes five arguments supporting its existence and five reasons that make him conclude the hypothesis to be improbable (1994: 366-376). In its favour are (1) the fact that the first two signs are numbered (John 2:11; 4:54), as if John were relying on a source containing all seven signs that he presents (the rest without numbering); (2) the possibility that John 20:31 reads like the end of a Gospel because it formed the end of the signs-source (and thus it highlights the positive value of these sēmeia); (3) certain stylistic peculiarities in John's miracle narratives; (4) the homogeneity of the form of these narratives, which is distinct from the synoptic miracle stories, and (5) the seemingly different theology and Christology of these texts.

On the other hand, (1) John could have numbered his first two signs as easily as a source could have; the lack of further numbers does not really count for or against a separate source document. (2) Chapter 21 should be viewed as an epilogue designed to be an integral part of the Gospel. (3) There are more stylistic affinities between the miracle accounts and the rest of the Gospel than there are differences. (4) The form-critical homogeneity is equally attributable to John. (5) Why appeal to a source at all, especially when there are other explanations of the theological tensions? If the final editor of John were really correcting the theology of his source(s), why did he not simply remove all trace of it, or at least radically subordinate the strand of thought he inherited to his own? While it might seem to bolster the case for historicity to appeal to an early written source on which the fourth Gospel drew, the evidence is too slight for us to do so with any confidence.

…Pierson Parker's famous tongue-in-cheek dictum (1956: 304) has proved prophetic: 'Unlike the various parts of Matthew and Luke, the writings supposed to underlie John exhibit the same theology and the same language and style throughout. It looks as though, if the author of the Fourth Gospel used documentary sources, he wrote them all himself.'

From The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, by Craig Blomberg, pp.45-46

Theology Football Squad

Monday, June 30th, 2014

This world cup I have really enjoyed. The games are exciting, the teams tend to have an attacking philosophy and there have been lots of goals. Given the joy it has brought, I have decided to combine it with my studies to come up with a theology football squad. So without further ado, here it is.

Theologians United: Starting Eleven


Goalkeeper – Athanasius of Alexandria

A world class keeper, Athanasius is a stalwart shot stopper. This was vicariously demonstrated at the Nicene Cup, where he saved attempt after attempt from the talented playmaker Arius. With a determined yet composed mind-set, this boy’s courage in the face of adversity makes him the first name on the team sheet.

Right-back – Anselm of Canterbury

This player will never settle for anything less than the greatest conceivable result. Always to be relied upon, Anselm will not be satisfied with his performance without a complete sacrifice on his part, as demonstrated by his excellent marshalling of inform striker Guanilo last week.


Centre-back – Thomas Aquinas

Coached by Aristotle, it is no shock that he is at the heart of the defence. Don’t be fooled by his analogical interviewing style – this man is the real deal. Aquinas’ natural ability manifests itself in working with the players around him up towards the desired victory. His athleticism, ability to read the game, strength, speed and his prolific goal-scoring from set plays are just five proofs of why he should be in the team.


Centre-back – Augustine of Hippo

Following a disastrous move from city to city and his latest off-pitch confession, it is a real surprise Augustine has made the starting line-up. Having overcome his original sins, it was thought he had turned a corner, but recent events suggest otherwise. However, his past record of being able to ascend to lofty heights from even the darkest moments of his career may have inspired the manager to choose him, knowing that a bit of grace is what this player needs to shine.


Left-back – N. T. Wright

This lad has offered a fresh, new perspective on how to be a left back, causing a division of opinion amongst commentators and players alike. Having had his techniques undermined and exploited by strikers Piper and Carson, in recent seasons Wright has had to reign in his novel approach and has begun to incorporate more traditional elements to his game. Nevertheless, with a tremendous output, jovial attitude and vast experience, the opposition must be wary of his prowess.



Right Midfield – John Wesley

Something of a perfectionist, this winger has developed his game to a high standard. Having been ridiculed for his training methods, his play has silenced the critics with its sublime organisation combined with exuberant performances. His roaming attacks strangely warm the heart, igniting a spirit of attacking football.


Central Midfield – John Calvin (Captain)

Having instituted a reformation in the fortunes of Geneva United, it was predestined that Calvin would have his name on the team sheet. Having had triple honours at club level, it is now time for him to make his mark on the world stage. Emphasising simplicity, this man’s ability to dictate play and allow others to build upon his work is impeccable.

Central Midfield – Karl Barth

A revelation of late, this dogmatic midfielder plays off Calvin and gets stuck into the action. Following the manager’s word, he is a reliable, yet visceral player, enforcing his side’s dominance. However, this abrasive style can often cause dialectical dischord between him and his fellow teammates.


Left Midfield – Cornelius Van Til

It was presupposed before this column that Van Til would be selected, as his skill is truly transcendental! Through this one man, many other players are united through his excellent distribution of the ball, electric movement and game management. One risk with his selection may be his long time feud with Barth, ignited by Van Til calling him irrational after a club match. 



Forward – Martin Luther

The manager’s faith in Luther has been fully justified as he has had some stunning performances of late. Only he can grace the pitch with such speed, aggression and skill. A great communicator, Luther leads by example and inspires others to get the best out of their attributes. However, he does not see the coach as the final authority on tactical matters, which could prove a problem if he disagrees with the manager’s interpretation on how to win the game.


Forward – Soren Kierkegaard

Whilst his form is objectively uncertain, this player’s subjective commitment to the cause is unquestionable. Modelling his style on the father of football, Abraham, Kierkegaard is a classic centre forward. Regardless of the guise he has assumed, he always pops up in the right position to score. However, with his fragile temperament, it was a leap of faith on the manager’s part to pick him for this important match.


Tactical View



Substitutes and Management

Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa all find themselves on the bench today. Whilst these three persons have a perichoretic chemistry, the nature of team does not suit their ticci-tacca style. However, if the team needs a change, these top players of Cappadocia F.C. all have a lot to give. 

Also substitutes are Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff. A liberating presence on the team, these two attackers can open up oppressive defences to great effect. However, the beautiful game requires a revolution before they truly have a place in football.

Duns Scotus may make his debut today. This lad’s nominal quality is far exceeding most others, with his precision passing a delight to observe. His presence on the park is universal, and his ability to formally distinguish the flaws in the opposition is a marvel to behold. 

In form striker Francis of Assisi is on the bench. Whilst he spends his time with lots of birds, this man’s charity on the ball is to be admired. Moreover, his work ethic is to be praised, carrying on even when he is faced with stigmatic injuries.


Manager – Paul of Tarsus

No one else could manage a side with so many big names. Having been a world class player, being an extremely zealous footballer, Paul has brought that ethic into his management, encouraging his players to unite in spirit. Moreover, he has successfully coached Thessalonica F.C., Corinthians, Ephesus United among other clubs. Recognising that a team is like a body, he has a good balance to his squads. Yet most importantly, he engenders a philosophy within his players to be living sacrifices for each other.


Do you agree with this selection? Who would you choose? Leave your comments below, and thanks for reading. 

Thanks to my father for contributing to some of the selections. 

Guest post by Nathan Hood, a former Edinburgh Theology Network group leader who blogs at solumjesum.blogspot.co.uk

Introducing the Image of God

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

As a culture, and the Church that speaks in and to it, we are gripped in a series of questions about what it means to be human. We saw Conchita win Eurovision 2014, marriage law in the UK has changed, zombie films and shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ are incredibly popular, some folk in Switzerland support voluntary euthanasia for the elderly, and American states continue to maintain the death penalty. Closer to home, pretty much everyone has taken a ‘#selfie’ of some kind. Even the Pope.


The thread that runs through these disparate ideas is actually deeply theological. And it is a thread that carries on running into the theological, ethical and pastoral complexities of Disability Theology, gender, and beginning and end of life ethics. Understanding what it means to be human – as God defines us – doesn’t necessarily solve all these questions and conundrums, but it is a Doctrine with a long tradition that is a deep and valuable resource for engaging with the many questions facing the Church in the contemporary world.

Biblically speaking (and I hope to explore this in more detail in future articles) the Image of God is a theme which runs throughout Scripture. It is used exclusively of the creation of humankind in Genesis 1:26-8, and even after the Fall, it is still vitally important (for example, the prohibition of murder in Genesis 9:6 is grounded in the Image of God). The concept underpins the understanding of humanity that Scripture works with, and finds its culmination in the New Testament. Sinclair Ferguson rightly says of the phrase that whilst it ‘is infrequent, the interpretation of man which it enshrines is all-pervasive[1] Ultimately, when we talk about the Image of God, theologians must (as ever!) be mindful of Jesus, whom Paul in Colossians 3:15 describes as being ‘The Image of the Invisible God’. This is a theme adopted, among others, by Barth and more recently Anthony Thiselton, who writes of Jesus Christ as ‘The Paradigm of the Truly Human[2]. By knowing Jesus and beginning to understand the glorious mystery of who he is, we can start to understand who we are in the light of what God has said and done.

HT: Tom Creedy, Theology Network ASW in Nottingham, who blogs at admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk

[1] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Image of God, in eds., Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, J. I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology, (Inter-Varisty Press, Leicester, 1993), p. 328

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, (Eerdmans, Cambridge, 2007), p. 243

Best short video on why theology matters!

Friday, April 4th, 2014


Source Criticism and Christ

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

I recently gave some theology and biblical studies students from a nearby university a passage that I had created from several reformation-era authors and I asked them to perform source criticism on the text.

They were to identify the different authors and my redactive glosses that glued them together by observing changes in writing style, form, genre and language: all the hallmarks of a text compiled from multiple authors.  These students performed the task well: without exception they chopped up the text into multiple sections according to the criteria of source criticism.  


There was one problem, however: I had lied to them.  There were no multiple authors and redactive glosses, what they had before them was a section of John Calvin’s Institutes.  So why did I play this rather cruel trick on these students?  To prove one thing: it’s all about presuppositions: we will always see what we want to see in any text to some extent based on our pre-existing values, our ideas of what the text is and what the text will communicate to us.  If we approach any text with superstition, we’ll tear it apart, as the students proved when I gave them that passage by Calvin.

So how does this help us when we approach the Bible?  Well, quite simply, presuppositions are dangerous things.  They obscure the biblical text and allow it to reinforce rather than challenge our worldview.  We can never free ourselves from presuppositions, however: there is no such person who can approach anything with absolute neutrality.  Does this mean that we can never approach the Bible in a proper way?  By no means.

The 19th century Scottish clergyman Thomas Chalmers wrote a work with the enigmatic title The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.   In this work he claims that we will always have idols, so the best way to get rid of them is to replace them with something better: when we compare an idol to the beauty and truth of Christ it will pale into insignificance.  I believe the same can be done with our incorrect presuppositions.  We would be absolutely hopeless in our attempts to read the Bible had God not given us a presupposition with which to approach the biblical text.  Jesus speaks it clearly among other passages in John 5:39-40, speaking to a group of Jews:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

Jesus clearly states here that all the Scriptures speak about Him.  He is the subject of everything in the Bible.  This is the primary presupposition that the Bible gives us to enable to interpret it: it’s all about Jesus.  From this we can take great encouragement: when we’re bogged down reading 2 Kings and we have no idea what it means, we know that we already have the answer: Jesus.  So ask the question of the Bible constantly: how is this pointing to Jesus?  This allows us to read the Bible with confidence: it’s all about Jesus.  Allow this presupposition to fill your mind as you read and study the Bible.

Guest post from Dave King, UCCF Relay Worker in St Andrews

Image and a whole lot of hilarity courtesy of http://st-eutychus.com/tag/source-criticism/

What are theologians for?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Kevin Vanhoozer asks 'What are theologians for? Why doctors of the church prescribe Christian doctrine'


On his blog, Between Two Worlds, Justin Taylor summaries Vanhoozer's seven conclusions:

[First,] Doctrine tells us who God is and what God is doing in Christ. So, doctors of the church prescribe doctrine in order to preserve the integrity of our Christian witness.

Second, doctrine tells us who and what we are in Jesus Christ. And doctors of the church prescribe doctrine to preserve the integrity of Christian identity. We’re not like the other nations, we’re a holy nation, a people of a new covenant.

Third, doctrine says of what is in Christ that it is. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine in order, as I’ve said, to minister reality—the only reliable tonic to the toxins of meaninglessness and nothingness.

Fourth, doctrine restores sinners to their senses. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine to wake up people who are sleepwalking their way through life, helping us see with the eyes of the heart the bright contours of the splendors of God revealed in Christ.

Fifth, doctrine provides a fiduciary framework for understanding God, the world, and ourselves. And doctors of the church prescribe it to dissipate the mist of confusion and apathy about the meaning of life.

Sixth, doctrine directs the church in the way of wisdom, godliness, and human flourishing. If we prescribe doctrine, we’re clarifying the mission of the church and we’re answering another question, maybe for another time, what are the people of God for?

And seventhly, doctrine instructs not only the head, but orients the heart and guides the hand. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine so that our faith, hope, and love, our credenda, spiranda, and agenda, will go with the grain of the Gospel and correspond to the historical and eschatological reality of what is in Christ.

So, in sum, theology sets forth in speech what is in Christ. And at its best, it’s the attempt to set forth in persons what Christ is like. That is, doctrine is for growing disciples. . . . I’m suggesting, then, that the pastor-theologian is the church’s primary care physician. Problem is, too many pastors have stopped doctoring.

The Trinity made the Universe

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

This is a guest blog post from Jesse Califf who, with a few friends, blogs at Stuff is about Jesus, where they "spread Jonathan Edwards' vision of reality." For what that vision is, read on...


Jonathan Edwards believed that beauty involves uniformity and harmony, or “mutual agreement.” [1] Beauty has to do with one thing’s right relationship to another thing, or multiple things rightly relating with each other. This is true of squares on a chess board, interior design of a room, the colors and shapes in a painting, the structure of a building – in all of these the beauty of the whole involves the relationship of the parts.

This observation that beauty has much to do with proportion and harmony is a powerful clue that Yahweh – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in relationship to one another – created the universe so that it reveals “his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom 1:20 ESV). George Marsden describes Edwards’ conviction that “all created reality is like a quintessential explosion of light from the sun of God’s intertrinitarian love.” [2] The world was created by a God who was love and relationship “before the world existed” (John 24:5, c.f. 24).

There is a profound reason why human beings find many things in this world beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, and satisfying. We find music pleasant when a band is able to play well together. We find a family attractive when they get along, when they understand each other and appreciate each other. The reason we find these things pleasant and attractive is because they are glimpses of that Great Love which we all seek. They are images of Jesus, who is rightly related to his Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is in himself harmony, love, relationship, and therefore beauty. Each person in the Godhead rightly relates to the other. Love did not come into existence when God created human beings and related to them. Rather, God is love, and relationships exist because he created the universe to display his beauty.

This world exists so that we could know God. We must see beyond the temporal beauties of this world to Jesus Christ, for he is the Word through whom the world was created. Edwards called these temporal beauties (e.g. music, family, paintings, etc.) “secondary beauties.” They are images which point to the “primary or highest beauty,” the Triune God. We ruin ourselves if we obsess over secondary beauties. Go to the source. Go to the fountain of beauty.

This does not mean we become ascetics. It means that I can be passionate about listening to and playing music because I know the God of harmony. And I can enjoy friends and family because I know the God of relationship and love. It means that we experience the beauty of this world in a relationship of thanksgiving to and worship of God alone. “He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:20-21 ESV).

Read more on this vision of reality from Jesse and friends at stuffisaboutjesus.wordpress.com (A theology of the Atrioventricular Node anyone?).

[1] Edwards, Jonathan. The Nature of True Virtue. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960. Print.

[2] Marsden, George M.. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Print.


Reformation fire in one's belly

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Recently, we received the following email from a website user, and it was sooo encouraging I thought I'd share it with you all! (With permission of course!) 

I listened to this course a few years ago and it quite literally changed my life. I now love theology, but more importantly, I love Jesus Christ and am passionate for others to know Him and the riches of his Word. It was through Piper's talk on justification that the light of imputation of Christ's righteousness dawned in my head and my heart, liberating me from a history of guilt and shame.

Recent listening to Union with Christ has been excellent in deepening understanding of this gloriously liberating truth, as well as reading and digesting more on the Trinity regarding the nature and character of God.

Church history has become an absolute joy and it's been wonderfully humbling to see how much we still have to learn from our forebears. I'm now passionate about introducing others to Church history and seeking to enrich the Church via the treasures of our past.

The articles and audio downloads available on theology network are phenomenal and are mighty and meaty for anyone wanting to press on in knowing God.

Reformation is now the fire in my belly, to echo the swans that are not silent and whose cries echo throughout history into eternity. I often pray for the ongoing work of theology network and for the raising up of young men and women who are zealous for the ongoing reforming of the reformation through faithful, biblical preaching and teaching. That this might overspill into the revival of our nation and a revitalised impetus for world evangelization.

As I was scouring for new downloads it occurred to me that I've never written to let the team know the value of their labours in my own life and in many students with whom I've been working.

So a heartfelt thanks to the Lord for his grace in and through you as His majesty is magnified through your ongoing work.

Your sister in Christ,

Becky Holden

Thanks Becky!! You can find out more about the Foundations course here. And if you've enjoyed the resources on theologynetwork.org or there are topics you'd like to see covered, please let us know too!

Does James contradict Paul and the Reformers?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013


This is a 5 minute excerpt from Mike Reeves' series on Justification:


HT: Glen Scrivener - Christ the Truth

The story behind Tolkien's stories

Friday, January 11th, 2013

In Tolkien's essay, On Fairy Stories, the great man explains the profoundly Christian worldview that shapes his writings - the theology of story. Here, Matthew Fox-Lilley gives us a little introduction:

‘An exciting epic of travel and magical adventure’ (Observer) has arrived to grace the silver screen. Cinemas are sheltering millions from the winter world as we escape from austerity and cynicism into a world of wonder: the now warmly familiar Middle Earth. We might say that J. R. R. Tolkien’s fairy story, The Hobbit, has magically broken into a disenchanted world; magical The Hobbit may be – but Tolkien would maintain that the Modern Industrialised West is anything but disenchanted.

Tolkien and his good friend C. S. Lewis would have us ‘…remember [our] fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And [we] have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years’ (Lewis, 2000a, pp.98-99). Tolkien was happy to weave a spell on his readers if through his fairy-stories he could dispel some of the colder untruths of soulless modernity, and help us escape their un-Romantic notions.

‘But,’ he writes in his essay, ‘there are also other and more profound ‘escapisms’ that have always appeared in fairy-tale and legend. There are other things more grim and terrible to fly from than [mere pragmatic materialism]… There are hunger, thirst, poverty, pain, sorrow, injustice, death.’

Fairy-stories appeal to our imaginations; they strike a chord with our hearts; and they whet our insatiable appetites for happy endings and consolation. And such appetites, if insatiable under the sun, are telling. ‘If, as Christian doctrine teaches, all humans are exiles from paradise, then how natural that they should feel pangs of longing, painful in their fallenness yet pleasurable in that they point to genuine realities in which they may someday partake’ (Downing, 2002, p.150) – and fairy-stories echo Eden. They lift our eyes to a hope as yet unseen. In his essay On Fairy-stories Tolkien shows that he was aware of this and was glad that it was so.

He stands in stark contrast, then, with most modern authors. A friend of mine reads scores of children’s books as a judge for the Children’s Book of the Year, and remarks at how many of the books now are “issues” books, representing family conflicts, death and psychological trauma. And it is helpful when film and literature mirrors true truths of the vanity of our fallen world to the heads and hearts of children and adults alike – but to beat down our hearts with the stick of the Fall with nary a taste of the hope set before us is a monotonous theme of despair. It is only stick and no carrots – always winter but never Christmas, because Christmas is a lie.

The spell that binds our culture is that ultimate reality is ultimately vanity alone, that hope is dangerous in here, and so it is better to “grow up” and shine on our hearts and minds the cold “light” of day. Eternity might well be on our hearts, but this is an evolutionary aberration; our hearts may well be restless, but there is no place of true rest; we might feel that we are restless wanderers, East of Eden, but Eden is just as much a myth as Middle Earth.

Tolkien, however, wrote within a Christian worldview and was not satisfied with mirrors alone – he demanded windows, and his fictions opened windows through which we can still see glimpses and foretaste divinely joyous realities! Faced with the longings of the human heart, he believed that ‘all along our hearts spoke true. They were made for what they longed to find’ and that in the gospel story the ‘Maker himself has once and for all vindicated those fleeting glimpses of ‘Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief, which art affords us’ (Caldecott, 2001, writing of Tolkien (and quoting his essay)).

In this essay Tolkien claims that ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded’. Over time he persuaded Lewis to this same theology of story, that ‘…fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach…’ (Lewis, 2000b, p.511), and yet that ‘something’ is there for those who seek – for he is not far from any one of us.

Tolkien writes that ‘Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all the things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves mortal men, when we are enchanted’. It is not so concerned with the creatures described but ‘the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country’ – the magical breeze so needful to dispel the dry and stifling atmosphere of post-“enlightenment” materialism. To read fairy-stories can be to open windows and let in that light which is the life of men.

Later, in writing to his son of his essay, Tolkien described how ‘For it I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears…’ (in Carpenter, 1990, p.100) – ‘the “good catastrophe”, [that] describe[s] the sudden, miraculous “turn” from sorrow to joy that on the brink of tragedy rescues the story from disaster… and makes the Consolation of the Happy Ending possible’ (Flieger and Anderson in Tolkien, 2008, p.14).

He remarks upon this common ‘dark’ moment (think ‘Good Friday’) found again and again in stories, just before the happy ending, and then ‘by a kind of Faërian free association, Consolation leads Tolkien to Joy and Joy leads him to evangelium and the essay’s “Epilogue”, a vision of eucatastrophe that occurs not in the imaginary world but in the real one. …calling the Gospels of the New Testament, the story of Christ, the most successful fairy-story…. The little eucatastrophes of fairy-tales, of “Snow White” and “Cinderella” wherein a dying heroine can be restored to life by a kiss… are foreshadowings of the Great Tale’ (Flieger and Anderson, ibid).

Again and again in film, books and music we see and hear this gospel shape. This storyline is seemingly woven into the fabric of the human heart as knitted together by God, and cannot but express itself through even the most unlikely authors; sometimes we speak better than we know.  ‘We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, whereas materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to the abyss and to the power of evil (Pearce, 1998, p.58).

I leave you with one more quote from his essay – one to make your heart sing! – and I hope that you will go on to read and love this work as I do, and that in turn it will help you enjoy the gospel with that same quality of joy (though to a pre-eminent degree) that fairy stories give us:

‘The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. … But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation. … The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality’. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits’.


Carpenter, H. (1990) (ed.) ‘The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien’ (Unwin Parperbacks: London).

Caldecott, S Over the Chasm of Fire: Christian Heroism in the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, in Joseph Pearce (2001) (ed.), ‘Tolkien: A Celebration’ (Ignatius Press, San Francisco).

Downing, D. C. ‘The Most Reluctant Convert’ (IVP: Downers Grove).

Lewis, C. S. (2000a) Weight of Glory in Walmsley, L. (ed.) ‘C. S. Lewis Essay Collection: and other short pieces’ (HarperCollins: London).

Lewis, C. S. (2000b) On Three Ways of Writing for Children in Walmsley, L. (ed.) ‘C. S. Lewis Essay Collection: and other short pieces’ (HarperCollins: London).

Tolkien, J.R.R. ‘Tolkien On Fairy-Stories’ edited by Flieger, V. and Anderson, D.A. (2008) (HarperCollins: London).

A further interesting article


Matthew Fox-Lilley is a UCCF Christian Union Staff Worker in the Midlands.

Christ versus Claus?

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

This is an oldie but a goodie - from the (now retired) Merrie Theologiane:


The Merrie Theologiane loves the odd bit of art.  In this Christmas card for the Skinny Magazine, artist Nick Cocozza imagines the greatest head to head “in all history” – the patron saint of Xmas, who leads his devotees in a pilgrimage of Coca Cola consumerism each ‘winter holiday’, against baby Jesus (now grown up), the one who bangs on about the real meaning of Christmas (virgins, mangers, angels, wise men, asses, etc.).  Just do a bit of letter jiggling, and it’s clear that Santa is Jesus’ sworn enemy! Right? Wrong! 

If Santa and Jesus met (and most surely they already have!), Santa would be very much on Jesus’ side!  The real Santa, is a great Hebrews 11 style witness to help us celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the world at Christmas time.  Santa Claus/Sinterklaas/Saint Nicholas was a bishop in south eastern Turkey in the fourth century.  Gift-giving, stockings, generosity, chimneys, being nice to children, bags of chocolate coins, all have their origins in the life and legends of old St. Nick. 

The stories surrounding St. Nicholas – of selfless generosity and care for the poor (and the odd miracle!) – give us a glimpse of a man who was a great example of love for Jesus producing love for neighbour.  So Claus and Christ are no enemies. But there was another occasion on which Santa Nicholas gave evidence of his great love for Jesus – and this one did involve some boxing… 

Bishop Nicholas was one of the 318 in attendance at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325AD, from which we get our Nicene Creed.  There was great controversy because Arius, a priest from Alexandria, was arguing that, though Jesus was fully human, he was not fully divine.  On hearing Arius’ denigrating of Christ, ‘jolly old St. Nick’ got up and gave him a good slap round the chops!  The rest of the council agreed with Nicholas, and Arius was condemned a heretic, but Father Christmas found himself behind bars for the night!


Judo chop!

So you see Christ vs. Claus is really very far from reality – and we should reclaim this great prize fighter of the faith for the Lord he loved!  Gene Edward Veith suggests we need to tweak the Lapland mythology to suit this end: “Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean.”  And maybe we need some new songs and TV shows too:  "'Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,' 'Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,' 'Frosty the Gnostic,' 'How the Arian Stole Christmas,' 'Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus.'"

So when you’re writing your letters to Santa this year, remember that a very very long time ago, he wrote one to you:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth;

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost.

But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

  [Translation of the original text of the 325AD Nicene Creed from Schaff's Creeds of Christendom]

Glen Scrivener's Anti-Santy Ranty

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Glen Scrivener's brilliant poem comparing Santa with God.


They say there’s a big man who lives far away,
Supposedly jolly but it’s hard to say.
I’ve never seen him, and neither have you.
But the children believe, and I spose that’ll do.

He’s known as a loner, with many a quirk
No time for a chat, he’s embroiled in his work
He keeps to himself, for most of the year,
I reckon we’re grateful he doesn’t appear.

We send him requests, for particular needs,
But we never hear back, who knows if he heeds?
We try to be good, give his arm a twist,
To merit our place on his blessed little list.

And maybe one day if we do what we should,
He’ll give us our things, so long as we’re good.
I’ve had it to here, I’m calling his bluff:
He’s a weird moralistic dispenser of stuff!

Granted, this rant is a strange one to pick
But listen I’m not really after St Nick
As strange as he is, and Santa is odd,
In fact I’m attacking most folks’ view of God.

It’s God who we see as a distant Big Guy –
An ancient, invisible, St Nick in the Sky.
“He’s sees you asleep, He knows when you wake
He’s watching and waiting to spot your mistake.”

And just like with Santa, requests we hand in,
We want all his things but we don’t want him.
That’s our connection with old Father Christmas.
We might dress it up, it’s essentially business.

Throughout the year, good behaviour’s our onus
When Christmas rolls round we’re expecting our bonus.
“Just leave us the gifts Nick, we’ve been good enough!
And then please push on, now we’ve got all your stuff!”

I mean Santa is interesting, curious, quirky
But no-one wants him to share their Turkey!
I’m sure his “ho, ho, hos” are sublime,
But I fear what he’ll say once he’s drunk our mulled wine.

That’s old St Nick, but the picture rings true,
It’s how we imagine what God is like too.
But Christmas resounds with a stunning “Not so!”
The One from on high was born down below.

To a world in need He did not send another.
God the Son became God our Brother.
He drew alongside, forever to dwell,
Our God in the flesh, Immanuel.

This God in the Manger uproots all our notions:
A heavenly stooping, divine demotion.
Born in a stable, wriggling on straw,
Fully committed to life in the raw.

Santa gives things and then goes away.
Jesus shows up, to befriend and to stay.
Santa rewards those with good behaviour.
Jesus comes near to the broken as Saviour.

If you don’t like God, I think I know why…
You probably think He’s St Nick in the Sky.
You’re right to reject that far-away stranger!
This Christmas look down to the God in the manger.

Follow Glen Scrivener at his blog Christ the Truth, and on Twitter @glenscrivener

Book review: 'Unapologetic Apologetics'

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

This book is an odd one. The premise is very specific, but the application and utility of this book cannot be understated.

“Unapologetic Apologetics” is a book of essays on apologetics that was borne out of discussion between a variety of former students at Princeton Theological Seminary. The story, at least to this part-time theology nerd, is quite interesting. The Seminary used to be powerful, biblical, and ran modules on apologetics. Eventually, they stopped. This story is told in one of the essays in this book, which as a story provides a stark warning to those of us who love study, love our institutions, and desire that Jesus be made famous even by people whose names end in “BA (Hons), MA, PhD, M. Div” and so on. This book seeks to begin to equip us to do so - I think it succeeds.

As a tool for apologetics, this is a useful one. Think of it as a swiss-army knife; it’s not perfect for any particular job, but it will get you started. The essays in this book are all written by serious brains, and reflect genuine and sustained engagement with the ideas that are discussed. And the range of ideas is pretty broad! Theology and Religious Studies students need to be jacks of all trades, at least at undergraduate level. Curveballs can fly in from all sorts of directions, and so a broad understanding of a range of key discussions is very helpful. “Unapologetic Apologetics” provides a fantastic starting point for lots of those discussions!

The first section, nattily entitled “Foundations”, is three essays that set the scene for the rest of the book. The first two of these are both by William Dembski, and the first is “The Task of Apologetics”. This opening essay is broad in its scope, but clear in its conclusions; “There is an inviolable core to the Christian faith. Harsh as it sounds, to violate that core is to place ourselves outside the Christian tradition. This is the essence of heresy”. We aren’t dealing with obscure Greek verbs here, this stuff matters. Dembski rightly challenges us to be “not merely a seeker after truth but an apologist for the truth”. The second of Dembski’s essays is particularly relevant, engaging with what he calls “The Fallacy of Contextualism”.  The problem with this c-word comes when we move from the valid observation that underlies moderate contextualism, and instead “embrace the dogma that contexts fundamentally determine what is true”. This essay is a useful one, with the bold concluding aim, “the goal will be to transform the Christian context into the secular context”. The third essay in this opening is the aforementioned history of apologetics at Princeton Seminary, which provides a useful case study for those of us seeking to be faithful and at the same time academically rigorous and critically engaged.

The second section of this book equips the reader to think powerfully about the bedrock of Christian confession; Scripture. The three essays here touch on some of the most important issues surrounding discussion of Scripture, and which relate to some of the most common discussions in apologetics. The first of these is Dembski on “The Problem of Error in Scripture”. His opening question hits the nail on the head; “Is it possible to steer clear of a wooden literalism on the one hand and a hypercritical approach to the Bible on the other?” C.S.Lewis once wrote a stunning essay called “Fern Seed and Elephants”, where as a literary critic he observed that many critical biblical scholars are in fact very poor literary critics, simply as they fail to understand the text! There is obviously more to it than that, but Dembski’s essay is helpful here. Jay Wesley Richards’ essay on “Naturalism in Theology & Biblical Studies” is incredibly useful, engaging with the underlying cultural philosophy of much of our contemporary world, and why it is a shoddy basis for engaging in Biblical Studies! The third and final essay here continues the Princeton story, with Raymond Cannata’s “Old Princeton and the Doctrine of Scripture”.

The Third section, on Christology, is where this book really gets going in my opinion. The opening essay, “Is the Doctrine of the Incarnation Coherent?” is a good attempt at answering a frequently levelled challenge to Christianity. This is solid apologetics. We then read “Christology and the “Y” Chromosome”, before coming to one of my favourite essays here, “Can a Male Saviour Save Women?” Starting with a refutation of Mary Daly’s infamous “If God is male then male is God”, this is a thoughtful but firm analysis of some of the issues that arise in the touchstone of feminism and theology.

The Fourth part, simply titled Theology, is a trio of excellent though unrelated essays. The best here - and my overall favourite in terms of utility - is Leslie Zeigler’s “Christianity or Feminism?” This is a superb introductory engagement with the issue, one of great concern to at least half the world’s population, and a defining issue in recent and modern theology. There is an interesting essay here about “Jesus’ Paradigm for Relating Human Experience and Language About God”, but I was more interested in “A Pascalian Argument Against Universalism”. Universalism is of course another hot topic, so it is interesting to see it included here. This flows perhaps out of the contrast of this book and its apologetics approach, compared to the more pluralistic and relativistic attitudes of contemporary Princetonian thought.

The Fifth part is perhaps the least useful, except for specific theological engagement with science. William Dembski provides two of the three essays, opening with “What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution & Design”, and following that up with “Reinstating Design Within Science”. The bold title of the first of these two is, in my opinion, better answered and grounded by Michael Horton in his systematic Theology, The Christian Faith. The closing essay in this section is another interesting one, with a more philosophical bent; “The Challenge of the Human Sciences: The Necessity of an Interactive & Dualistic Ontology”.

The afterword makes an insightful observation that demonstrates the value of this book. Commenting on the (American) trend of seminary students losing their faith, James Parker III comments; “They survived university studies because they understood the pervasive influence of naturalism at the university”.

HT: Tom Creedy, who blogs at Admiral Creedy, and is our new Theology Network ASW in Nottingham!

Discovering the Trinity in my life

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Everyone is a theologian, but...

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

To be human is to be a theologian. For, as Barth put it, everyone has a god. Even the logical positivists, amidst their howls of disapproval, can be called theologians. It is simply that they worship and study a different logos to the Christian theologian. To understand this we are going to need to re-define theology for ourselves. We will need to rescue it from the idea that it is just about reading books and studying languages.


Mike Reeves reading theology with his pet monkey

The word ‘theology’ includes the idea of the Logos, for theology is a logia, a logic or language about the theos (God) who determines it. Theology can be the study of any number of gods; but Christian theology is about knowing the true and living God as he reveals himself through his Logos, his Word, Jesus Christ. Since knowing God through his Word is the definition of being a Christian, we can see that all Christians are therefore Christian theologians. As for us, we can see that we are Christian theologians simply because we are Christians, not because we are enrolled on some particular course of study. It is therefore a complete misunderstanding of what theology is when you hear someone cheerfully (and perhaps also a bit scornfully) affirm: ‘I am not a theologian!’ As if theology could be left behind once the exam had been sat. All too often what that will mean is simply that they are a bad theologian, failing to test everything in the fire of God’s truth.

The question to ask any Christian is not, ‘Are you a theologian?’ We know they are. The question is whether the person is a good theologian or a bad theologian. We don’t mean whether they can remember the Chalcedonian definition or parse a word. Being a good theologian is not about intellectual ability. Christian theology is, as Anselm famously put it, faith seeking understanding, and therefore the only qualification for being a good theologian is faith in Jesus Christ, the revealing Word. To be a good theologian is to seek to know and rely upon the Word of God better. It is to be a faithful Christian.

Taken from Pursuing the Illogical Studies by Mike Reeves.


Christianity and Liberalism

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I remember sitting in a lecture on Christianity and world religions while a religious studies student at university, and the class being asked by the tutor to raise their hands in support of either exclusivism, inclusivism or universalism. Out of a class of around 50, only three others joined me in raising their hands for exclusivism (i.e. salvation only through Christ). The shocking thing was that the majority of people in the class were ministry candidates! As the weeks passed I discovered that several of these individuals did not believe in things like the virgin birth, the full deity and humanity of Christ, the necessity of the atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, or the final judgement, to name but a few.

I wish at the time I had read J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. Gresham Machen wrote at a time when the West was still outwardly Christian, but what was taught and believed in the churches was increasingly estranged from historic Christianity. He makes a profound point: “the issue in the Church of the present day is not between two varieties of the same religion, but, at bottom, between two essentially different types of thought and life.” That is, historic Christian faith and liberalism are not two branches of the same religion, they are different religions. And we cannot honestly claim the name Christian, if we refuse to hold Christian beliefs.

Here’s the same point in Gresham Machen’s words:

But, it will be said, Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. The assertion is often made, and it has an appearance of godliness. But it is radically false, and to detect its falsity one does not even need to be a Christian. For to say that "Christianity is a life" is to make an assertion in the sphere of history. The assertion does not lie in the sphere of ideals; it is far different from saying that Christianity ought to be a life, or that the ideal religion is a life. The assertion that Christianity is a life is subject to historical investigation exactly as is the assertion that the Roman Empire under Nero was a free democracy. Possibly the Roman Empire under Nero would have been better if it had been a free democracy, but the historical question is simply whether as a matter of fact it was a free democracy or no. Christianity is an historical phenomenon, like the Roman Empire, or the Kingdom of Prussia, or the United States of America. And as an historical phenomenon it must be investigated on the basis of historical evidence.

Is it true, then, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life? The question can be settled only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity. Recognition of that fact does not involve any acceptance of Christian belief; it is merely a matter of common sense and common honesty. At the foundation of the life of every corporation is the incorporation paper, in which the objects of the corporation are set forth. Other objects may be vastly more desirable than those objects, but if the directors use the name and the resources of the corporation to pursue the other objects they are acting ultra vires ["beyond the powers"] of the corporation. So it is with Christianity. It is perfectly conceivable that the originators of the Christian movement had no right to legislate for subsequent generations; but at any rate they did have an inalienable right to legislate for all generations that should choose to bear the name of "Christian." It is conceivable that Christianity may now have to be abandoned, and another religion substituted for it; but at any rate the question what Christianity is can be determined only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity.

The beginnings of Christianity constitute a fairly definite historical phenomenon. … The name originated after the death of Jesus, and the thing itself was also something new. … At that time is to be placed the beginning of the remarkable movement which spread out from Jerusalem into the Gentile world--the movement which is called Christianity.

About the early stages of this movement definite historical information has been preserved in the Epistles of Paul, which are regarded by all serious historians as genuine products of the first Christian generation. The writer of the Epistles had been in direct communication with those intimate friends of Jesus who had begun the Christian movement in Jerusalem, and in the Epistles he makes it abundantly plain what the fundamental character of the movement was.

So says Gresham Machen, Christianity is something, it is a message, a set of beliefs or doctrines based on the claim that at a certain point in history, God became a man and lived and died and rose again, and these acts mean something specific. We are free to deny these beliefs, but what we come up with in their place will not be Christian

So how would this have helped me as a student surrounded by people who called themselves Christian but did not believe in Christianity? It may have given me confidence to challenge them, but ultimately, I think, it would have given me confidence to love them – confidence that in believing historic Christian faith based on the New Testament, I was being authentically Christian, and more able then to rely on God’s love for me, and so to love them as sheep still yet to come home to the Shepherd.

You can read the whole of Christianity and Liberalism here online. 

Or listen to Mike Reeves and Carl Trueman discuss the importance of doctrine


Theology According to Jesus - a new course from Theology Network

Friday, November 9th, 2012

In an open-fire warmed English pub in January, I mused upon some spiritual and some more trivial matters with my mate and fellow theology student Jim. 'I'm not saying that truth isn't important' insisted Jim before taking a hearty swig of his pint of ale, his enthused eyes peering over the brim. 'But I want to focus on following Jesus rather than worry about what to believe about the bible, eternal life, salvation and all that'. The idea is instantly plausible and appealing to me. Who really finds the thought of ticking rigid doctrinal boxes more attractive than following the loving, wise and humble example of the greatest man who ever lived? Jesus Christ challenged social conventions, associated himself with outcasts and taught that everyone should love one another. Evangelical Christians seem more concerned with maintaining the theological status-quo, figuring out who is and isn’t ‘sound’ and teaching that everyone who isn’t a Christian is going to hell. 

Jack (just out of picture) chatting with his friends in the pub

What does Jesus mean then, when he says ‘you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’? That sounds different from what Jim was saying – he thinks that focusing on ‘knowing truth’ will be dry as a cream cracker and will shrivel his enthusiasm. But it’s different from the doctrinal box-ticking brigade whose frequency of using the word ‘sound’ as an adjective can rival that of any scouser. The truth that Jesus offers is an authentically liberating, mind and heart expanding, possibility opening powerhouse. That’s why we’re offering the Theology According to Jesus course to Theology Network groups. The aim being that we learn theology from Jesus and experience the liberating power of the truth he gives us. The five sessions are as follows:

1) Jesus according to Jesus – Did the historical Jesus really think he was the son of God?

2) The Bible according to Jesus – What did Jesus believe about the Bible?

3) Sin according to Jesus – What did Jesus say about sin?

4) Salvation according to Jesus – What did Jesus say he had come to do? What did he think he was achieving by dying and rising?

5) Heaven and Hell according to Jesus What did Jesus believe about judgement and life after death?

HT: Jack O'Grady, Theology Network ASW in London

Why the Trinity matters so much

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Trinity matters for the way we pray - because it's about who we're praying to and how welcome we are. Mike Reeves explains:

Trinity was the hot topic in the life of the early church - and we need it today too as Mike Reeves shows here:

The confidence of the church is weak, Christian after Christian lacks assurance. Trinity is vital to overcoming this as Mike Reeves shows:

HT: Dave Bish who first posted these videos on his blog

Happy Reformation Day!

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

‘The first and keenest subject of controversy between us’

Thus Calvin described the doctrine of justification in his response to Cardinal Sadoleto. He could not have put it more accurately, for, from the moment Luther understood from Romans 1 that God’s righteousness is an entirely unmerited gift, justification was the matter of the Reformation. ‘Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised,’ wrote Luther, ‘even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed’. It is the belief, he said, ‘on which the church stands or falls’. Not everybody grasped or shared this: men like Erasmus thought Reformation could be a mere moral spring-clean; radicals took it to be a simple revolt against the old ways; Zwingli just opened the Bible, but not really to find Luther’s idea of justification there; and some, like Martin Bucer and Richard Baxter, just understood justification differently. However, Luther’s experience with Romans 1 was to be the model for the mainstream Reformation: through the Bible, the essential matter of justification was discovered. Justification was what made the Reformation the Reformation.

For those who accepted that God freely declares sinners to be righteous, justification was a doctrine of comfort and joy. As William Tyndale put it, ‘Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man's heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.’ Luther himself felt that by it he was ‘altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.’ And no wonder: the fact that he, a failing sinner, was perfectly loved by God because he was clothed with the very righteousness of Christ himself gave him a dazzling confidence.

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satis­faction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’

This happy, heartfelt reaction to justification can be sensed in the music of the Reformation. Take, for instance, the traditional ‘Hosanna’, sung at the Mass. In 1555, Palestrina, then almost the official musician of Rome, wrote a new score for the ‘Hosanna’ in his Mass for Pope Marcellus. To hear it is to hear Rome’s Counter-Reformation spirituality: it is exquisite music, but there is something cerebral and dutiful about the choir’s intoning of the Hosannas. A hundred and ninety years later, Johann Sebastian Bach, an ardent Lutheran all the way down to his tapping toes, wrote his version of the ‘Hosanna’, and the difference is striking. The exact same piece was set to music, but in Bach’s Lutheran hands, it has an entirely different resonance: now the Hosannas are belted out with an unmistakeable, unbounded enthusiasm and joy. Such was the natural effect of believing Luther’s doctrine of justification.

Taken from pp171-173, The Unquenchable Flame


What is Trinitarian Affective Theology?

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Trinitarian Affective Theology's central axiom and hermeneutic is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a communion and union characterized by harmonious selfless-love. All other aspects of theology, such as God’s purpose and motive for creation, Christology, spiritual anthropology, sin, grace, justification, etc., are then understood through this foundational lens.

Like Augustine, affective theology begins to form this conclusion about the Trinity from 1 John 4, "God is love."  But what is love? It’s time for a bit of grammar: the Bible uses love as a transitive verb—a verb that requires an object.  Love in the Bible is not the end or the goal but defined rather by the object that captures our affections.  Therefore, for love to happen there must be a lover, love, and a beloved someone or thing.  Trinitarian affective theology understands “God is love” to mean that eternally the Father (the lover) has initiated love to his Son, the Son (the beloved) in response has eternally reciprocated his love for the Father, and the Holy Spirit (love) is the bonding agent that communicates the love between the Father and the Son.  The Father is not concerned for himself but only his Son, and the Son is not concerned for himself but only his Father, and the Holy Spirit is the person who communicates this self-less love between the two (John 8:50-55).  In Jesus's prayer to the Father he describes this dynamic of their relationship as "the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (John 17:5).  The essence, the weightiness, the heart of God is an eternal loving family—Father and Son united in Spirit.  God is love.


A slightly less profound goodness for spreading

If all of this is true, Trinitarian Affective Theology understands the motives for God to create to reside in his social ethos of three-in-oneness—that is, the eternal love that God has in himself overflows into creation (Colossians 1:15-16). Or in the words of the heavenly Dr. Richard Sibbes (1577-1636):

If God had not a communicative, spreading goodness, he would never have created the world. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves, and enjoyed one another before the world was. But that God delights to communicate and spread his goodness, there had never been a creation nor redemption. God uses his creatures, not for defect of power, that he can do nothing without them, but for the spreading of his goodness; and thereupon comes all the subordination of one creature to another, and all to him.  Oh that we had hearts to make way for such a goodness as God would cast into us, if we were as we should be.  God’s goodness is a spreading, imparting goodness. (Sibbes, Successful Seeker, v. 6, 113.)

We see this to be true at the peak of God’s creative act when he says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God creates humanity as the visual illustration of his likeness that he had before the creation of the world.  The likeness and the image of God in humanity therefore reflect the reality that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have in themselves, i.e. male and female are united in spirit and flesh in harmonious self-giving love (Gen. 2:24; Ephes. 5:31-32).  Humanity was therefore created to know God, and to know God is to love God as God loves, and to reflect this love with each other.  

If we jump ahead in God’s story we discover something even more amazing, we are saved from our hatred of God to a greater reality than Adam and Eve had prior to their fall. That is, the glory that Jesus has with Father before the foundation of the world, Jesus desires to give to us, that we may be one with each other as God as the Father and Son are one (John 17:22-24). We get to participate in the divine communion and union of God through the person of the Holy Spirit—talk about the goodness of God spreading!  That is Trinitarian Affective theology in a nutshell.

So much more could be said, needs to be said here about Trinitarian Affective Theology; thankfully it has been said. Hopefully just a small taste here of God’s goodness and Trinitarian Affective Theology might entice you to check out other material like the Table Talk with Ron Frost on God’s Heart and Ours

HT: David Searight, member of the Cor Deo mentoring team and former Theology Network ASW in Edinburgh.

Did you miss Transformission South West??

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Dave Bish (UCCF South West Team Leader and blogger at the blue fish project) says...

On Saturday 20th October we gathered in Exeter for our sixth Transformission conference. The aim is simple - look to Christ. A veritable band of brothers gathered to preach Christ on the theme of Adoption. Mike Reeves spoke in the two plenary sessions - showing us the wonderful welcoming heart of Jesus' Father who is also our Father, and the free adoption we have in him.


In between, either side of lunch, delegates were assigned a seminar on Adoption and.... church history, evangelism or Bible reading. Smaller scale opportunities to gaze on Christ together and apply the gospel to our lives. We were thrilled to have a good representation from across the South West and a growing number of friends joining us from local churches.

One student reflected that she couldn't believe she'd never heard such goodness about God before, while another was dumbfounded that so many of his friends hadn't come. We don't know why they didn't come either, but we're trusting God met with those who did, to transform them for mission - to be those overflowing with the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - well placed to commend the Triune God to others.

Dave managed to sneak Mike outside to ask him a few questions about the Triune God - here are the first three of nine short videos where Mike explains why understanding that God is Trinity matters so much. Dave first posted these on his blog, the blue fish project.





Why I love historical theology

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

I remember the first time I got excited about church history. Please don’t stop reading!

I was part of small group being taught by a UCCF staff worker, Andy Grundy, who was animated as he told us the story of the life of William Tyndale; a genius linguist and pioneering theologian, cruelly betrayed and bravely martyred. I was on the edge of my seat. The story was gripping and Tyndale’s loyalty to Jesus was touching, but what really caught the attention of my heart was the fact that, although I stood in the wake of this man, I hadn’t heard of him until that afternoon. I was a Bible-believing evangelical, happily going about my quite times without a clue that I owed my English Bible to this man. He had lived and died to make the scriptures available to me. This was the heritage I never realised I had, and I found it deeply moving to discover it.

Not long after, I found one of my personal spiritual ruts had its cure in the past. This time, it wasn’t about what someone had done so much as what they had thought and taught. Somebody had lived through something similar to me, fought the battle, seen the light, and written all about it long before I was born. The hero was Martin Luther, and the battle was that I was just never sure I was really a Christian. As a young teenager, I’d become a Christian hundreds of times, convinced that my sins and doubts proved nothing genuine had happened at my last ‘conversion’. Was my faith real? Did I truly believe, or was I fooling myself? Luther came in like a bulldozer and showed me that real faith wasn’t self-conscious and inward-looking as I had been, for that was faith’s greatest enemy. Instead, faith simply looks to Christ and believes his promise of mercy, love, and security. By looking at my faith (or lack of it) all the time, I’d made it all so complicated when the reality was beautiful, liberating simplicity. Just Jesus! I owe Luther a pint or two of Einbecker when we meet in the new creation.

More recently, my theological study has taken me into fifth-century Egypt where I have kept company with Cyril of Alexandria and his friends. These men are famous for their stunningly massive theology of the person of Christ: God who walked the streets of Nazareth. As I’ve learned how to peel back the layers of different cultures, ages, and language, I’ve found that our fathers in the faith saw Christ with a depth I’d never really known. Reading Cyril and the others, I’ve frequently had my eyes opened to the wonder of Jesus and my heart enlarged by his love and humility. I hope that something of Cyril has rubbed off on me when I think of his love of worshipping the Lord, his seriousness about scripture, and his sensitivity to the pastoral needs of his congregation.

I love historical theology because it’s changed my life. Next to the friends and family who have shown me Jesus and nurtured my faith, I’m indebted to men and women long dead who wrote theological books, beautiful hymns, and honest prayers. Athanasius, John Bunyan, Anne Steele, John Calvin, and many more. Of course not everything from the past is easy to read, or even worth the effort – but there’s gold to be found! Theology Network does loads of the hard work for you by picking out the classics and making them available online. I can’t recommend highly enough that you sit down sometime with Richard Sibbes to kick you off and learn from an old saint who walked your road before you, and now cheers you on with a great crowd as you go.


Dan Hames photographed in the act of enjoying historical theology
HT: Dan Hames, Theology Network ASW in Oxford.

Talking about Jesus and the Trinity from the OT

Friday, October 19th, 2012

So “Where does Jesus say, ‘I am God, worship me!’...?” Of course, the answer to this common Muslim question is that Jesus doesn’t, or at very least he does not use those actual words anywhere in the Gospels. And so any verse you come up with from the Gospels is likely just to get dismissed by the Muslim person you are speaking with. The issue of course is whether we would expect Jesus to say, “I am God, worship me!” in the first place. It assumes a lot about God and what he is like and what he would say. It may well be what we would expect Allah of the Qur’an, but we need to start with the God of the OT and think about what he is like.

Give up Jacob – do you realise who that is?!

So let’s rewind and start again. “Where does Jesus say, ‘I am God, worship me!’...?” The way to have a great conversation is to reply, “Which God are you talking about? Are you talking about Allah? Or, are you talking about the God of Adam, Abraham and Moses?” Now that probably wasn’t the answer your Muslim friend was expecting, but it is exactly the right kinds of questions to be asking.

The next step is to open up the OT scriptures. A simple verse to open up is Genesis 3:8 where we read of the God of Adam walking in the garden of Eden. Already we are encountering a God who is very different to Allah. This is the kind of God you really could imagine entering the human race.

Where else might you go? You could check out verses that talk about a person called the Angel of the LORD. For example, it is the Angel of the LORD who speaks from inside the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3:1-6). Note verse 6 – the Angel speaks as though he is God and Moses says that he was afraid to look at God. This is no created angel representing God (check out Genesis 48:15-16 to see this Angel really is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). What’s more because he is the Angel of the LORD, then he has been sent by someone else called the LORD. He is the one sent by God in heaven. And this is exactly how Jesus keeps talking about himself. Check out John 5:36-40:

I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

What we are beginning to see in Exodus 3 is that there are two persons called the LORD, two persons who are God. This all becomes clearer when we get to Exodus chapter 19. There the unapproachable, hidden LORD of heaven descends on Mount Sinai in a thick cloud. Exodus 19:24 reads, "The LORD replied, "Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them." There are two persons called the LORD and what we learn at Sinai is one could be seen and one could not; one who travelled in the pillar of cloud/fire and one who spoke from heaven at Sinai. So in Exodus 33:10-11 Moses would speak face to face with the LORD in the tent, yet later in the same chapter having asked to see the LORD’s glory Moses is not permitted to see his face (Exodus 33:18-23). There is no contradiction if we have been reading Exodus carefully! These verses are but the tip of the iceberg, but already the Jesus of the Gospels is beginning to become much clearer. Check out how John introduces Jesus to us. John 1:14-18 is an exposition of Exodus 33-34 (dwelling/tabernacled, glory, Moses, law, grace & truth are all allusions), but it is verse 18 which caps it all off: “No-one have ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” John wants us to think back to the unseen LORD and the visible LORD of Exodus 33-34. Jesus is the LORD Moses spoke to face to face in the tent.

Well, there’s far more that could be said on this topic and far more OT texts we could look up. But that’s enough to get you started…!

HT: Jonathan Carter, former Theology Network ASW at Cambridge, and current PhD student at New College, Edinburgh.

The Old Testament and Witnessing to Muslims

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

How should we go about trying to witness to Muslim people? There’s lots that could be said on this question, but here I want to persuade you that one key is to use the Old Testament lots.

A very Old Testament

Why is that the case? Well, there’s a bucket full of good reasons, but what I want to show is that is that the OT should be the key plank in our overarching apologetic with Muslims.

Think about it: the Muslim position is that their prophet Muhammad (who lived about 600 years after Jesus) came in continuity with Jesus and the earlier prophets of the Bible. In fact, the Qur'an itself tells people to look at the previous scriptures if anyone is in doubt as to what is revealed in the Qur’an. Yet, the problem Muslims face is that when you read the Qur’an it differs on significant matters with the Bible. So the Muslim is forced to say, “Your Bible has been changed!” Ever heard that before?!

Now this is a difficult view to defend because we have complete copies of the Bible from centuries before the Qur’an was written – how can the Qur’an say check out the Bible, if it was already corrupted? But there is an even better answer! Muslims typically believe that it was Christians who changed the Bible, especially the apostle Paul and the council of Nicea (325AD). So when you pull out your favourite NT verse to show Jesus is God, Muslim people tend to just to dismiss it as being exactly the bits they expect to be corrupted.

But what happens if we can get all the important points from the OT? Suddenly we have out-maneuvered the “Your Bible has been changed!” charge. Muslims tend to trust the OT more, because they think that Jewish teachings are much closer to Islamic teachings (none of that polytheistic Trinity nonsense and they don’t eat pork etc). But even if they think the Jews changed the OT, then here’s the question to ask: Did the Jews change the OT scriptures and the Christians change the NT scriptures independently, yet to teach the same ‘wrong’ doctrine?! Or, to turn this around, if the OT and the NT both agree on a key doctrine, yet the Qur’an disagrees, then who should we trust? By using the OT we are showing that the problem is with the Qur’an without actually saying so and at the same time showing why we can have such confidence in the message of the NT!

I remember a Muslim guy rather aggressively telling my friend that Paul invented the whole idea of Jesus dying for our sin. My friend opened up Isaiah 53 with him and suddenly he went quiet and started listening. So are we ready to use the OT?

Check back here in a few days to learn how…!

HT: Jonathan Carter, former Theology Network ASW at Cambridge, and current PhD student at New College, Edinburgh.

Focus on... St Andrews Theology Network

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

St Andrews is a unique place to study Theology as a Christian. A great number of our professors, lecturers and tutors would classify themselves as Christian, and they provide a great example of what a praying academic looks like. In some courses we’re reminded that true theology is only done through prayer and encouraged to make prayer a daily habit. Yet, at the same time, we do have to deal with the divisions that arise out of theological disputes, and we face the difficulties of learning how to integrate a living faith with our academic studies.

In the beginning was the Word

The focus for our group this year is two-fold. From an internal perspective, we want to really equip Christian theology students with the tools and support needed in engaging with these issues. There are so many perspectives and factors that play into these, and they can be quite overwhelming, especially for those who are just now beginning to study (but for us 4th years, too!). With this in mind, our format for the year is to have weekly topics about some of the more common trouble areas – for example, authority of Scripture, hermeneutics, models of the atonement. We have a mixture of academics and pastors coming in to share insight in these areas, and already this year we have gained a great deal from their wisdom. While the bulk of our meetings are given to these discussions, we are also seeking to be intentional in praying together. We know that it is so easy to get caught up in debates, so we have built in some prayer meetings in order to take a step back and refocus on Christ as a theological community.

In addition to our weekly meetings, we have some other events and socials on the schedule. As the New Perspective on Paul has been quite a hot topic in our college – especially with Tom Wright here – we decided it would be useful to host some “New Perspective Evenings” in which we could informally discuss the different facets of the debate and their implications. Our first one last year was well attended and was helpful in framing the debate for further discussion. We are hoping to continue with more evenings this year and look forward to fruitful conversations.

From a missional perspective, we are focusing on taking steps to build good relationships within our college. There has been some tension in the past between our group and other theology societies, and in general between those who would call themselves evangelical Christians and those who wouldn’t. As a first step, we recently hosted a “Wine and Pudding” social in conjunction with the college society that was incredibly encouraging; there were a lot of great conversations, and we’re hoping that it has set a good precedent for dialogue and friendship between the groups.

Visit the groups section for more info on Theology Network groups!

HT: Sydney Drain, Theology Network group leader at the University of St Andrews.

What are you up to today in light of your theology of tomorrow?

Friday, October 12th, 2012

It was the confident, menacing gaze of the oafish preacher which destroyed any courage the students may have had to challenge his previous sentence. He was fully aware that his opinion was highly debatable and would ruffle more feathers than a battery hen attendant with a life-long vendetta against poultry; but he relished the fact that any objections made in the Q and A would be powerfully defeated due to his greater age, confidence and bible knowledge. I slumped in the seat of the stuffy classroom where the university’s Christian Union met and did my best to reciprocate the preacher’s sentiment with a look of moody disapproval. In hindsight I imagine that this look was the preacher’s prize; every face of his listeners which turned to shock, anger or worry was like another skittle rolling in the alley.


Signorelli's 'The Resurrection of the Flesh'

I have no remaining memory of what the text or topic of the talk was, only the sentence in which we were exhorted to ‘not be bothered with politics, or be too concerned for the environment, because God’s gonna burn it all up in the end anyway’. He must have had 2 Peter 3:7 in mind, which refers to the heavens and the earth being ‘stored up for fire’, a fire which many theologians take to be for purification rather than destruction. Alas, my naivety left me silent as I churned through a list of people who I wished were present to challenge the motion: Wilberforce, Luther King Jr. and so on. 

‘God is gonna burn it all up in the end anyway’. As these words ricocheted around my mind, I thought of a view over Rio De Janeiro from Sugarloaf mountain I had enjoyed the previous year. The rich red and yellow glow of the sun as it kissed the water on the horizon, still spreading its light over the magnificent combination of human settlement and rugged mountains. I also remembered the spread of fields that surrounded my upbringing in Wiltshire, enriched through April showers yet lit up by an early glimmer of summer’s sunny hope. The taste of my late Granny’s apple pie when the pastry would crumble and give way to the tangy sweetness of stewed apple. The sound of Pachabel’s Canon in D Major, which because of its painful beauty has become the most unoriginal piece for a Bride’s entrance. These things are just small tastes of the wonderful world we live in, which God himself describes as ‘good’ no less than seven times in the first chapter of the Bible, before announcing after having surveyed his entire work of creation, that it is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). However, I couldn’t help thinking that if God’s final verdict on the world is a trip to the cosmic scrap heap, then my enjoyment of these things would be somewhat dampened.

Despite my frustration, this preacher (who had incredibly chunky hands and in my mind’s eye morphs further into the image of a gorilla in chinos every time I recall the event) did make a vital truth lodge in my mind. What you believe about the future determines how you will act in the present. If I think that my eternal destination is a cloud, upon which I’ll sit in a nappy strumming a harp, then I would hone my musical skills and do some sit-ups. If I think that there is no hell, then I might vigorously pursue a career in sex, drugs and rock and roll because ultimately there would be no consequences. If I think that God will eventually destroy this world, I might decide to begin helping him out on his demolition project now. Our understanding of the final act in the drama of history has a major influence on the way we read the script today.

So is our planet headed for heavenly healing, or doomed for the deity’s dumpster of destruction?  

Here are three highly recommended resources that answer that question and help us think through today’s implication of God’s future plan:

The Physical Future - Paul Blackham

Why does Jesus' resurrection matter? - NT Wright

Where are we Heading? Armageddon or Apocalypse? - Mike Reeves


HT: Jack O'Grady, Theology Network ASW at King's College London

The most exciting thing possible...

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Welcome to the re-born Theology Network blog! Here you will find snapshots of all things theological, mini books reviews, news from the Theology Network groups and events, and lots more besides. We’ve left the posts from the old Merrie Theologiane blog below for you to peruse for your amusement.

Theology Network is driven by a conviction: theology is not the preserve of ivory tower academies, it’s not first and foremost meant to be a matter of reading what one theologian says about another theologian (and usually in language that’s pretty difficult to decipher!) – theology proper is simply about knowing God better. And that is what makes theology the most exciting thing possible! Really? Yes really. Christian theology is a matter of getting to know the God of the Bible better, and the truth is, He is wonderful.


A boy doing some theology

That’s why theology is so exciting – it’s about knowing this God; the God who is, from all eternity, a Father loving his Son by his Spirit, the God who has revealed himself to us in the Scriptures, the God who has himself come to us in Jesus Christ and displayed his unimaginably great love for us on the cross. That’s why Christian theology is so exciting, it’s not a matter of trying to bend our minds around some philosophical construct – it’s about knowing this God!  And Christian theology is transformative: as we dive deeper into knowing the true and living God, he grips not only our minds, but our hearts too – how could knowing him more not lead us to love him more, since he is lovely?! And then theology becomes very practical: as Jesus taught, when we love him, we will obey his commands (John 14:15).

So let’s do theology – let’s know God better, love Jesus more, and join the revolution!

And here are some great places to start:

Audio: Mike Reeves – Enjoying the Trinity: A Delightfully Different God

Article: Michael Horton  - Union with Christ

Christ vs. Claus?

Friday, December 24th, 2010


The Merrie Theologiane loves the odd bit of art.  In this Christmas card for the Skinny Magazine, artist Nick Cocozza imagines the greatest head to head “in all history” – the patron saint of Xmas, who leads his devotees in a pilgrimage of Coca Cola consumerism each ‘winter holiday’, against baby Jesus (now grown up), the one who bangs on about the real meaning of Christmas (virgins, mangers, angels, wise men, asses, etc.).  Just do a bit of letter jiggling, and it’s clear that Santa is Jesus’ sworn enemy! Right? Wrong! 

If Santa and Jesus met (and most surely they already have!), Santa would be very much on Jesus’ side!  The real Santa, is a great Hebrews 11 style witness to help us celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the world at Christmas time.  Santa Claus/Sinterklaas/Saint Nicholas was a bishop in south eastern Turkey in the fourth century.  Gift-giving, stockings, generosity, chimneys, being nice to children, bags of chocolate coins, all have their origins in the life and legends of old St. Nick. 

The stories surrounding St. Nicholas – of selfless generosity and care for the poor (and the odd miracle!) – give us a glimpse of a man who was a great example of love for Jesus producing love for neighbour.  So Claus and Christ are no enemies. But there was another occasion on which Santa Nicholas gave evidence of his great love for Jesus – and this one did involve some boxing… 

Bishop Nicholas was one of the 318 in attendance at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325AD, from which we get our Nicene Creed.  There was great controversy because Arius, a priest from Alexandria, was arguing that, though Jesus was fully human, he was not fully divine.  On hearing Arius’ denigrating of Christ, ‘jolly old St. Nick’ got up and gave him a good slap round the chops!  The rest of the council agreed with Nicholas, and Arius was condemned a heretic, but Father Christmas found himself behind bars for the night!


Judo chop!

So you see Christ vs. Claus is really very far from reality – and we should reclaim this great prize fighter of the faith for the Lord he loved!  Gene Edward Veith suggests we need to tweak the Lapland mythology to suit this end: “Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean.”  And maybe we need some new songs and TV shows too:  "'Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,' 'Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,' 'Frosty the Gnostic,' 'How the Arian Stole Christmas,' 'Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus.'"

So when you’re writing your letters to Santa this year, remember that a very very long time ago, he wrote one to you:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth;

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost.

But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

  [Translation of the original text of the 325AD Nicene Creed from Schaff's Creeds of Christendom]

Ahead of the Game

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

For most of us, the classic image of the theologian is the delightfully backward ageing gent.  He's obviously a very clever chap, but he's socially rather awkward and needs more than a little personal grooming advice.  Clothed in tweed, his socks are odd, and his hair is a mess.  His shirt buttons are in the wrong holes, and his v-neck is inside out.  

Well the Merrie Theologiane would like to present to you a lineup of theologians with their heads so much in the game, that even their threads prophetically anticipated the popular culture of many years to come.

Take the Cappodocian Fathers whose attire quite obviously inspired urban streetwear brand Bape, modelled here by Lil Wayne.

Or imagine the Puritan great John Owen prancing around Oxford, 'hair powdered, cambric band with large costly band strings, velvet jacket, breeches set round at knees with ribbons pointed, and Spanish leather boots with cambric tops.'  He wore enough powder his hair, some said, to discharge eight cannons.  Indeed, perhaps enough to nominate him father of the metrosexual movement.

A more modern approach to ‘theological’ clothing is yet to catch on in the divinity schools of the world, but there’s potential…



Okay, there’s no potential.  For a much better approach to clothing have a read of Zechariah’s vision:  

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
  Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
   Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by. (Zech. 3:1-5)

Poop Idol

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Everybody knows that toilet humour is a no no. Even in the least polite company it's a bad business to joke about flatulence or to sound off about the delicate details of one's 'personal life'. Oddly enough, the Bible writers generally did not share our embarrassment about these things. One of the most famous examples is undoubtedly Elijah's potty-mouthed attack on the god Baal in 1 Kings 18. Having set-up a showdown between Baal and the LORD, he invites the prophets of Baal to call down fire from their god on a sacrifice. When Ball does nothing, Elijah suggests with more than a hint of sarcasm that perhaps Baal is 'relieving himself' and so unable to answer.

Molech: name-calling is positively encouraged

Elijah's cheeky low blow is far from just a politically incorrect gaff at an interfaith prayer meeting. He's getting at something quite deep in a biblical understanding of false gods, and it's something that is covered-up with blushes and swoons in our English translations. Whenever we read about 'the detestable god Molech' or 'the detestable god Chemosh', the Hebrew is literally referring to these gods as 'turds'. Look them up and you will see why they are singled out for such name-calling. They're foul, filthy, useless, and fit only to be expelled and flushed away. In the face of the Living God, so are all our idols.

The greatest false god is of course the one who set himself up against the LORD at the very beginning, and for him is reserved the title 'Beelzebub' (2 Kings 1; Mark 3:22). It means 'lord of the flies', and the implication is fairly obvious. Beezebub, the prince of demons, is the most 'detestable' of all and therefore attracts the most flies! Next time you are 'driving out a demon', you may want to meditate on the wastefulness and shame of all that steals our love from the LORD God of heaven, and on the glory and goodness we find in Jesus.  

Ye Merrie Captionne Competitionne!

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Merriment is always at its best when shared.  A good joke usually benefits from an audience, and unfortunate (but amusing) accidents beg to be spied upon unintentionally.  Chuckling with a friend is indeed good medicine.  So this month we are inviting readers to share in the mirth by taking part in our first ever caption competition.  Three pictures below await the wit and wordplay of Theology Network readers.

To submit your captions, click on 'comments' below and give us a caption for 'Whitefield', 'Aquinas' and 'Piper'.

The best entry will receive a copy of that book of most merrie theologie, The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves. 

Let the banter begin!








Writers on the Run

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Some of the best theology, praying, and writing has been the result of writers of on the run.  The pressures of foes giving chase, persecutions on the horizon, or even the provocations of the devil himself have, more often than not, brought-forth gold from the furnace so that the Church of Christ is built up and encouraged.

Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century, and though he was wildly popular with his people, influential enemies were often on his case.  Athanasius fled Alexandria no less than five times and often for his life.  Yet it was during these times, laying low in deserts and even as far afield as France, that he produced some of the most wonderful literature that the early post-apostolic Church has to offer.  He famously escaped a group of imperial guards on the river by turning his boat around to face his pursuers and telling them he had just passed 'Athanasius' and suggesting that he was 'not far off'.  Sometimes it takes a moment of pressure to trigger a stroke of genius.

                                                                                                                                                                         Charles Wesley: You could often find hymn in a tight spot

Another fugitive theologian, Charles Wesley, being run out of an Irish village by an angry mob, was led to escape through a farm house, and to hide under a hedge by a brook.  Breathless, and with the shouts of his attackers around him, he penned the words,

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Like her Saviour, the Church will be hated by the world for His sake.  But it is from the middle of the strife and violence that the beauty and grace of Jesus may be seen and enjoyed.  And His promise to be with us always will sustain us to the end.


Hitting All the Right Notes

Friday, January 29th, 2010

All good theologians have strong opinions about music, for theology is very musical in itself.  Whether you're caught-up in Irenaeus' theology of 'recapitulation', transported by the poetry of Efrem the Syrian, or simply soaked in the Psalms.  You see, there are no two ways about it: meditating on the good news of the gospel should make us sing.  The melody line of the gospel of a harmonious Triune God strikes deep resonances in our hearts.  We're used to dumb and monochrome idols, but the living God awakes our hearts, turning the volume to eleven and shaking the walls.

Handel's Messiah is perhaps the most famous example of theological music.  It dances around the scriptures retelling their central story of the Messiah; from Isaiah's prophecy of the Son to be born to a virgin, to the nations raging against the Lord and his Christ in Psalm 2 , to Job's declaration that his own eyes will see his Redeemer standing on the earth at the last day.  It is stirring stuff and the music is far from incidental.

Handel's Messiah: Hallelujah, etc.

Karl Barth, whose style of writing is often described as being musical, once wrote, '...whether the angels play only Bach in praising God I am not quite sure; I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart and that then also God the Lord is especially delighted to listen to them.'

You may not be convinced by Barth's musical taste but, he has a point.  Martin Luther makes a similar one, though he is—as usual—rather more pointed.  Having written that music is a gift of God, he concludes,

A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvellous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.

So let your theology be musical.  While theology might normally be regarded as dry, dull and unrelational, those of us who have experienced the all-singing all-dancing love of the living God know that it is music to our ears.  In your evangelism, preaching, and sharing don't subject people to braying and grunting–  sing out the gospel of Christ in all its beauty, and see how hearts respond.

Avez-Vous Faim?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

July 2009 marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation theologian John Calvin.  At first glance, Calvin does not not appear to be the merriest of theologians.  He was a quiet and bookish, a workaholic, and almost always ill.  His imagine is definitely a bit stiff and starchy, and in certain crowds his name alone provokes a yawn.  Yet there is a much ignored side of Calvin which reveals a measure of merriment below his seemingly stern exterior.

Commentating on Deuteronomy 14:26, Calvin says we ought to enjoy our food and drink in the company of the great Vintner, who has presented us with heavenly gifts.  Elsewhere, speaking about food and drink he says,

If we study… why he has created the various kinds of food, we shall find that it was his intention not only to provide for our needs, but likewise for our pleasure and our delight… For, if this were not true, the Psalmist would not enumerate among the divine blessings, ‘the wine that makes glad the heart of man, and the oil that makes his face to shine.'

John Calvin: Rumoured to have had 250 gallons of wine included in his pastoral pay packet

Calvin famously described the creation as a theatre for the display of the glory of God, but he also wants to tell us that we are here 'not only to be spectators in this beautiful theatre but also to enjoy the vast bounty and variety of good things which are displayed to us in it'.  He would never have approved of drunkenness or gluttony (and rightly so), but for him it was no coincidence that fermented grapes, a juicy steak, or a hearty fry-up taste so good.  The scrawny, pale Frenchman may not exactly have been a party animal, but he definitely advocated serious enjoyment of the good and perfect gifts of our heavenly Father.  A very merrie 'bravo!' and 'amen' to that.


The Delirious Melons of Valentinus

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD - c. 202) has taught us many things about how to do theology.  He also provides a great example of how we should do our apologetics (well, at least sometimes…maybe!).  In Against Heresies, when demolishing Valentinus’ Gnostic speculations, he gives this great technique: just laugh at them, and then call them a melon!  I’ll merrily quote in full for your amusement…

Iu, iu, and pheu, pheu! Truly we may utter these exclamations from tragedy at such bold invention of ridiculous nomenclature, and at the audacity that made up these names without blushing. For when he says, "There is a certain Proarche before all things, above all thought, which I call Monotes," … it is obvious that he admits that he is talking about his own inventions…and unless he had been on hand the Truth would have had no name. There is no reason why someone else shouldn't assign names like these on the same basis: There is a royal Proarche above all thought, a Power above all substance, indefinitely extended. Since this is the Power which I call the Pumpkin, there is with it the Power which I call Utter-Emptiness. This Pumpkin and Utter-Emptiness, being one, emitted, yet did not emit, the fruit, visible, edible, and delicious, which is known to language as the Cucumber. With this Cucumber there is a Power of like quality with it, which I term the Melon. These Powers, the Pumpkin, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, sent forth the remaining crowd of the delirious Melons of Valentinus.

An actual photo of two Gnostics speculating

So let’s follow Irenaeus’ advice: don’t be a melon by trying to find truth through speculations, but instead seek the one true God who has revealed Himself to us in His Son!

The Mammas and the Papias...

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

The death of Judas has been the subject of many apologetic discussions about the reliability of the Bible, since it appears that Matthew 27v3-10 has Judas hanging himself, while Acts 1v15-20 has him falling headlong in his field and bursting open. Most people attempt to harmonise the two somehow, and others frankly have no idea what to make of it.

It wasn't money Judas wanted, but pies...well at least according to Papias!

One of the most entertaining (if not entirely reliable) contributions comes from Papias in the early part of the second century who tells us that Judas survived his hanging and died later because he became extraordinarily obese, thus splitting open. Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis and a disciple of John. His 'Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord' is one of the Apostolic Fathers. He's not always taken terribly seriously (for example, Eusebius makes comments about his lack of intelligence) yet the man clearly had a special gift for prose. Here's his rather graphic description of the late Judas. 

"Judas was a terrible walking example of ungodliness in this world. His flesh so bloated he was not able to pass through a place where a wagon passes easily; not even his bloated head by itself. For his eyelids, they say, were so swollen that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen even by a doctor using an optical instrument, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. His genitals appeared more loathsome and larger than anyone else's and when he relieved himself, there passed through it puss and worms from every part of his body, much to his shame.

After much agony and punishment, they say, he finally died in his own place and because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now. In fact even to this day, no one can pass that place without holding one's nose- so great was the discharge from his body and so far did it spread over the ground."

Whether Papias' account is a trustworthy or just a big fat porkie is really impossible to say. Whatever we make of him, he's great proof that historical theology is far from boring, but often merrie and sometimes morbid.

Going Clubbing in Alexandria

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) was Archbishop of Alexandria in Egypt.  He is known primarily having the heretical teaching of Nestorius condemned.  While one might assume this would endear Cyril to the Christendom, he has endured something of a mixed reception. 

You see, this Archbishop wasn’t merely a man of bushy eyebrows, waffling words, and impenetrable theology.  An early move once in office was to close down the churches of the Novationist sect.  Soon he had also expelled a large number of the Jewish population in response to their slaughter of Christians (lured onto the streets with the story that their church was on fire).  A feud between Christian factions resulted in the murder of Hypatia, a neo-Platonist philosopher.  She had been dragged from her carriage and slashed to death with pieces of broken pots.  Alexandria was apparently used to violence, street riots and murder mysteries, and in Cyril the city had what Edward Gibbon called an ‘episcopal warrior’ to lead the church.  Gibbon wasn’t paying a compliment.

Cyril: usually left the halo at home

Cyril led an army of devoted monks who dealt with theological opponents by throwing rocks at them and wielding clubs.  This method of debate appears to have been commonplace in the fourth century.  Certainly the 431 Council of Ephesus at which Cyril’s Christology was upheld against Nestorius has to rank as the most aggressive Council on record.  One eyewitness said,

‘the followers of [Cyril]… went about in the city girt and armed with clubs… with the yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely… carrying bells about the city and lighting fires… They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to flee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obscenities.’

The evil Nestorius stayed away, fearing for his life- probably correctly, as he was unanimously excommunicated.  However Nestorius’ supporters arrived late and disputed the vote, so both Nestorius and Cyril were deposed.  Cyril apparently bribed his way back into office with fourteen oriental rugs, eight couches, six tablecloths, four tapestries, four ivory benches, six leather benches, and six ostriches.

While something of a loose canon, Saint Cyril demonstrates for us that saintliness and sainthood aren’t necessarily related- and that the Lord will choose to use even the most unlikely people to defend his gospel.  Cyril’s mission was to preserve the mind-expanding truth that ‘God walked the streets of Nazareth’, and we certainly owe him for making sure we never forget it.

Soul Winning Made Easy

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Pigs and persistence

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

St Francis of Assisi is famous for two things: preaching to birds, and the useless saying ‘Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words’.  Presumably his theology of preaching was dictated by his audience.  Francis earned himself the nickname ‘God’s Jester’ and the 14th Century Tuscan work, Fioretti di San Francesco, follows the escapades of his band of monks for our spiritual instruction and amusement.

The RSPCA have requested that you do not try this at home 

One of the best known is the story of St Juniper who joined Francis in 1210 and of whom Francis remarked, ‘Would to God, my brothers, I had a whole forest of such Junipers’.  Boom boom.  One of the friars was ill and Juniper asked if there was anything he could do for him.  The brother asked for a simple meal of a pig’s foot, so Juniper happily trotted off in search of a pig.  He spotted one wandering around in a neighbour’s farm and lopped-off a foot for his brother.

The owner of the pig was furious and hurled abuse at the Franciscans.  Francis demanded that Juniper apologise and make some reparation to the farmer.  Juniper was a simple soul, though, and failed to understand how the man could be so upset about such an act of kindness so he retold the story of the pig’s trotter as if he had done the farmer a favour.  When the farmer exploded at this, Junpier assumed he had misunderstood and gave him a hug, told the story again- this time hamming it up great deal- and asked that the whole pig could be given to the Franciscans.  The farmer was won over by Junpier’s pigheadedness and donated the animal to be slaughtered.

Perhaps Juniper would have looked back to the father of monasticism, St Anthony, who is also the patron saint of pigs.  While on a year of solitary retreat and prayer, Anthony was tempted by the devil appearing to him in the form of a fierce porker which viciously mauled him.  Anthony graciously resisted the temptation to fight back and serve-up bacon butties, was enveloped by a ‘wondrous light’ and the pig was transformed into a humble and docile porcine companion.  Since then, ‘Tantony’ (a contraction of ‘Saint Anthony’) is the nickname given to runt piglets in the litter.

We speak like our gods

Friday, March 6th, 2009

C. S. Lewis was a lord of language. Sometimes he used his powers to explain the difference between Christianity and other faiths, but in The Horse and His Boy he gets readers to feel the difference as he takes them out of beautiful, Aslan-serving Narnia to Calormen, land of the demon-god Tash. There in Calormen readers enter a society that Tash has made as haughty, cruel and bigoted as himself. 


And what does that look like? It isn’t just all the whips that are revealing; it’s all the words. The Calormenes liked ‘talking to one another very slowly about things that sounded dull’, and all those words betray the real nature of Tashism. The stodginess, pomposity and intimidation involved in worshipping Tash all leak out into the language. For example, the Tisroc (‘May he live for ever’): ‘ My son, by all means desist from kicking the venerable and enlightened Vizier: for as a costly jewel retains its value even if hidden in a dung-hill, so old-age and discretion are to be respected even in the vile persons of our subjects’. Or try saying a Calormene proverb: ‘Application to the root of business is the root of prosperity, but those who ask questions that do not concern them are steering the ship of folly toward the rock of indigence’.

In contrast, the words of those who know Aslan are perky and bright. Their proverbs are pithy: ‘Nests before eggs’; ‘Come live with me and you’ll know me’. It seems that the living Lion makes his followers and their words lively. His joy makes them playful. And what Lewis shows so well is that the truth seems to be captured and presented better by lively speech.

In other words, we speak like our gods. One has to wonder what Lewis thought of stodgy and pompous theology. 

Naked come, naked go

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Romans 5 is very clear that within humanity, there are really two humanities; one headed by Adam and destined for death, and the other headed by Christ and promised eternal life. Orthodox Christians have always held that the way to transfer membership from the first humanity into the second is to be born again by the Holy Spirit.  Yet for some throughout Church history, the idea of charting new paths from one to the other has proved far more attractive.

The Adamites were a well known North African cult in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Centuries, devoted to regaining the innocence of pre-Fall Adam.  Their main expression of (or motivation behind) this rediscovered ‘liberty’ was to practice ‘holy nudism’- both in every day life, and in public worship.  They tended to meet underground, and referred to their services as ‘Paradise’.  Their favourite Bible moment was, unsurprisingly, David’s undignified dancing in his pants at the return of the ark in 2 Samuel 6.

Adamites having a jolly in the street, disturbed by armed soldiers

Despite being condemned as heretics by the likes of Augustine, the Adamites saw something of a revival in 15th Century Bohemia with a sect of Taborites who ‘indulged in predatory forays upon the neighborhood, and… committed wild excesses in nocturnal dances.’  A further revival in 17th Century London saw Adamites rejecting most civil, moral and social restraints on their behaviour- including marriage, adherence to the law, and the ‘false modesty’ of society.  Perhaps due to the chillier location (London is hardly Algeria) this group tended to restrict their displays of the ‘divine state of grace’ to closed meetings in members’ homes.

Stay in bed!

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Enjoying the comforts of one’s bed has long been a hobby associated with students.  Yet it seems that eminent theologians have also noted the great benefits of the discipline.

C. S. Lewis wisely noted,  ‘At the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies, there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven.’ (From Surprised by Joy)  A sound piece of advice for the reader who wants to clock-up a decent lie in.

G. K. Chesterton was so enamoured with staying in bed that he wrote a short essay, On Lying in Bed.  In it he imagined that ‘Lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a coloured pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling.’ 

GKC is mortified when he realises he forgot to put the clocks back last night

After some time ruminating on the merits of lying in bed for a good deal of time, Chesterton gets firm. ‘The tone now commonly taken toward the practice of lying in bed is hypocritical and unhealthy…  Instead of being regarded, as it ought to be, as a matter of personal convenience and adjustment, it has come to be regarded by many as if it were a part of essential morals to get up early in the morning... Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.’

Clearly, a breakfast (or lunch) in bed now and then is the mark of a man or woman of fine moral character.  Let’s not forget that Moses enjoyed lying in bed and thinking about theology often (Deuteronomy 6:7), Adam and Boaz both got their wives by enjoying a good sleep, and of course the promise of the new creation is finally to enjoy the Sabbath rest of God’s 7th Day (Hebrews 8).  Until that great day, we are to rest- with theological appreciation- on the promise of Psalm 127:2, ‘the Lord gives sleep to those he loves.’

Indulging a Laugh

Friday, October 31st, 2008

On this day, 491 years ago, Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 95 theses for debate over the matter of indulgences.

An actual photo of Luther nailing up his theses

Some of the theses were actually quite funny, like Thesis 82, which asked why the pope didn’t just release all souls from purgatory out of love, instead of charging for it. Later, though, Luther realised he’d missed a trick, and he circulated a pamphlet inviting people to see an even greater collection of relics than that in Wittenberg. This included:

·    Three flames from the burning bush on Mt Sinai
·    Two feathers and an egg from the Holy Spirit
·    Half a wing of the archangel Gabriel
·    A section of Moses’ left horn [Exod 34:29, in the Vulgate, Moses‘ face was ‘horned’ from the conversation with the Lord]
·    Two ells of sound from the trumpets on Mt Sinai
·    A remnant of the flag with which Christ opened hell
·    A large lock of Beelzebub’s beard, stuck on the flag

Who says you have to be always serious to reform the Church?  The laughter of the Reformation was one its most powerful weapons, exposing and humiliating bankrupt theology.

Posted as part of the Challies.com Reformation Day 2008 Symposium.

'A merry heart doeth good like a medicine'

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

‘What a bubbling fountain of humour Mr. Spurgeon had!  I laughed more, I verily believe, when in his company than during all the rest of my life besides.’  That’s what people said about Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century ‘prince of preachers’. 


A 19th century cigarette card of Spurgeon.  The text reads: ‘When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm refreshing sleep obtained by a Cigar, I have felt grateful to God and have blessed His name.’

There was laughter everywhere with Spurgeon, too much so for some.  Someone once complained about all the gags in his sermons, to which Spurgeon said ‘He would not blame me if he only knew how many of them I keep back.’

His love of cigars provided a steady stream of giggles.  While he would enjoy a cigar en route to his church so as to prepare his throat, others felt this to be unchristian behaviour.  ‘Mr Spurgeon, tobacco is the devil!’ said one outraged contemporary.  ‘Yes, that’s why I burn it!’ replied the preacher.  (Lest the reader is worried, he once told a fellow preacher that if ever he smoked excessively, he would quit smoking immediately.  The suspicious colleague asked ‘What would you call smoking to excess?’  ‘Why, smoking two cigars at the same time’, replied Spurgeon.)

Such humour was an effective way of bringing to the surface the real issues in the people around him.  One day, for instance, a rather pompous gentlemen loudly exclaimed to his face ‘Mr Spurgeon, I don't agree with you about religion; I am an agnostic.’  ‘Yes!’ he replied, ‘that is a Greek word, and the exact equivalent is ignoramus; if you like to claim that title, you are quite welcome to.’

At other times, there wasn’t much of a reason, he just enjoyed the joke.  During a heated few months when he debated some theologians who believed in baptismal regeneration, he quietly had a baptismal font installed in his back garden as a birdbath.  ‘The spoils of war’, he called it

All this is made rather pertinent by the fact that Spurgeon used to suffer from terrible attacks of melancholy.  More than anything else, his humour was a weapon for his own heart.  He knew the truth of Proverbs 17:22.  As he put it when preaching on Philippians 4:4, ‘I want you to notice, dear friends, that this rejoicing is commanded. It is not a matter that is left to your option.... You are commanded to rejoice, brethren, because this is for your profit.’ 

Navel or no?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Today in theological debate, mentioning Adam and Eve is likely to get you into discussion about the interpretation of Genesis 1, the age of the earth, or whether the Fall was a real historical event.

There was a time, however, when you’d have been pinned to the wall by your sparring partner and forced to declare your position on the thorny issue of whether or not Adam and Eve had navels.  While Monks spent time literally 'navel gazing' over the puzzle in the quiet of their monasteries, fierce rival factions warred outside over what they took to be a key theological battleground. When Michelangelo painted Adam with a navel on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he was labelled a heretic by some theologians.  In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne an English philosopher published his Pseudodoxia Epidemica in which a whole chapter was dedicated to the evils of ‘Pictures of Adam and Eve with Navels’, describing it a ‘vulgar error’.

Michelangelo dares to paint Adam's navel on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

The opposite team argued hard for Adam and Eve’s belly buttons, laughing-off accusations that they must have pictured God with one since the our first parents were made in His image. Unfortunately, this group had to deal with some internal politics as three distinct camps emerged; the pre-umbilicists, mid-umbilicists, and post-umbilicists.  The first group assumed that Adam and Eve were created with navels (usually in order to give the appearance of prior history, solving the infamous chicken and egg connundrum); the second posited that surely Adam’s navel was created when the Lord removed his rib to create Eve, and Eve went without; the third places the umbilicus on the pair after the Fall as a reminder that they’d been severed from the Lord, just as a child would be severed from his mother at birth.

The debate over whether Adam and Eve’s navels were intrusions (innies) or protrusions (outies) is still simmering in theology faculties around the country.

Armed to the Teeth with Laughter

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Tertullian, the great North African theologian writing around 200 AD, was like a cross between Bruce Banner and Oscar Wilde: scary enough that you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, and very, very funny.

Tertullian, ready either to explode or write a 'Knock! Knock!' joke.

Tertullian chuckled so much it disturbed people.  First of all, he used to laugh at how simple – in fact, how absurdly simple – truth is, meaning it takes a humble mind to recognise it.  Once, he put it like this:

‘The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed, because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible, because it is silly.
He was buried, and rose again: it is certain,  because it is impossible.’
Fighting talk for those who reasoned God couldn’t become man, nor three be one!

But he also used to laugh at the absurdity of false belief.  This was quite appropriate, he reckoned:

‘There are many things which deserve refutation in such a way as to have no gravity expended on them. Vain and silly topics are met with especial fitness by laughter. Even the truth may indulge in ridicule, because it is jubilant; it may play with its enemies, because it is fearless. Only we must take care that its laughter be not unseemly, and so itself be laughed at; but wherever its mirth is decent, there it is a duty to indulge it.’

Marcion was a heretic to be given exactly such treatment.  Marcion, reasoning that Jesus was God, felt he had to deny that Jesus was fully human.  Tertullian reckoned this merely proved that Marcion himself was not fully human, because he must be lacking a brain.  Tertullian thought he probably had a pumpkin instead, meaning Marcion was half-man, half-fruit.

He dished out such lines because he believed they were just the sort of jolt the pompous heretics, puffed up with all their pretentious ‘profundity’, needed.  And, especially for dealing with those who denied Jesus’ humanity (and so were a bit inhuman themselves), it was a very human way of arguing.  

Perhaps PC means we can’t be like Tertullian any more (or like Paul in Galatians 5:12).  Or is it that PC, bone-dry theology is itself a bit half-man, half-fruit?

Bibles worth burning...

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Reading different versions of the bible can be a good thing. But sometimes it can be quite surprising. Read Psalm 91:5 in the Coverdale Bible of 1535 and you’ll find ‘Thou shall not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night’ (‘bug’ meant ‘something terrifying’). 

Bored or naughty typesetters, however, once forced bible readers to be much more wary:

In the 1562 edition of the Geneva Bible, Matthew 5:9 read ‘Blessed are the placemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’ 
A 1716 edition of the King James Bible has Jesus say ‘sin on more’ in John 5:14, rather than ‘sin no more’. 
A 1795 edition had Jesus say in Mark 7:27 ‘Let the children first be killed’ instead of ‘Let the children first be filled’.

Probably the worst mistakes, however, were made in the 1631 and 1653 ‘Wicked Bibles’.  In the 1653 edition, 1 Corinthians 6:9 read ‘the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God’ and the 1631 edition had the seventh commandment as ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’  The bibles were ordered to be burned, and the sloppy (one hopes it was just sloppiness) printer fined a then-hefty £300.

The Wicked Bible

In the Charing Cross Bible of 1651, the bored typesetter replaced Ezekiel 48:5 with the following rant: ‘I amme sick to mye Hart of typesettinge... I telle you, onne daye laike this Ennyone with half an oz. of Sense should bee oute in the Sunneshain, ane nott Stucke here alle the livelong daie inn this mowldey olde By-Our-Lady Workeshoppe.’ 

It also included the following three extra verses at the end of Genesis 3:

25. And the Lord spake unto the Angel that guarded the eastern gate, saying Where is the flaming sword which was given unto thee?
26. And the Angel said, I had it here only a moment ago, I must have put it down some where, forget my own head next.
27. And the Lord did not ask him again.

Unlike the ‘Wicked Bibles’, however, the Charing Cross Bible was (after painstaking research) proved to be a forgery.  

Those priceless Puritans!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

The old Puritans aren’t generally known for their rollicking laughs; yet when it came to naming their children, they seemed to have the most roguish sense of humour.  Not satisfied with biblical names, some sought to give their children whole bible verses or edifying slogans for Christian names:

‘Job-Raked-Out-Of-The-Ashes,’ ‘Search-The-Scriptures,’ or ‘Fly-Fornication’ for example.  Surely no child could be so-named with a straight face.

Perhaps the best-known example was ‘Praise-God’ Barebone, a member of the Nominated Assembly in Cromwell’s day.

Praise-God Barebone

‘Praise-God’ got off lightly, though – his brother was called ‘Christ-Came-Into-The-World-To-Save’ Barebone.  Nevertheless, he decided to exact his revenge on his son, naming him ‘ Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned’ Barebone.  Unsurprisingly, people found it easier to refer to the son simply as ‘Damned’ Barebone. Yet, for some reason, ‘Damned’ preferred to be known as Nicholas, and it is under that name that he founded London’s first fire insurance company and fire brigade

If you’d like some more Puritan advice in naming your child, maybe one of the following can inspire you:


What a fool!

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Some of most rib-tickling theologians of all were the ‘holy fools’ of the 6th century, who behaved foolishly so as to defy the conventions of the sinful world.  Perhaps the most famous was Simeon the Fool.

Simeon the Fool (as he never looked)
Simeon the Fool (as he never looked)

He famously began his ministry of folly by entering the city of Emessa (dragging a dead dog behind him) and mimicking Jesus’ healing of the blind man.  Jesus had used saliva and clay on the man’s eyes; but when a man suffering from leucoma in both eyes approached Simeon, he anointed the man’s eyes with mustard, burning him and so aggravating his condition that he went completely blind. 

The rest of his ministry consisted of streaking in the circus, tripping people up, and consuming vast amounts of beans on solemn fast days – with predictable and hilarious results.  During church services, he would pelt the priests with nuts and blow out the candles; at other times he would drag himself around on his buttocks, punch adulterers, eat raw meat and defecate in public. 

Simeon was understandably revered by many (and was later canonised as a saint); yet when he ran naked into the crowded women’s section of the bath-house and jumped in to join them, he was promptly beaten and thrown out by the women, who suspected that perhaps he was not as foolish as he pretended. 

Simeon has inspired many people down through history, men such as Basil the Fool and John the Hairy, and is widely followed today.

Pull up a chair next to Martin Luther

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Fartin' Martin

The good theologian chuckles at how absurdly good the gospel of Jesus is. He laughs, because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. And he knows the power of a good giggle: tittering at what tempts him robs it of its power. So don’t be a pompous ass. Be a merrie theologiane!

Luther knew how to be merry: at home, Luther had his own bowling alley (he loved bowling – he’s said to be the guy who standardised the rules, fixing the number of pins at nine); he even had his own brewery.  Much of the Reformation in Germany stemmed from Luther having people over for dinner.  He had people over the whole time.  And over supper they’d talk theology: sometimes it was justification, sometimes the theology of farting.  For example:

“I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away.  When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too.  Have you written it down on your list?’”

Clearly the Devil’s taunts weren’t so bad after that! 

Fancy some more?  Laugh your way through this most rip-roaring read: