Archive for January, 2012
31 Jan 2012
A few thoughts on the proposals for allowing same-sex marriage.
It seems to me that the Christian view on marriage can easily be lost in the discussion. This view was expressed by Jesus when he said, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mt. 19:6; Mk 10:9, ESV). Note that it says "God", not "the state".
What does this mean? It means that when a couple make their vows to each other, something else is happening. God is involved. God is joining them together. God causes the two to become one.
It means that the state needn't be involved at all. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read of the state marrying people. (Nor of the church marrying people, in fact.) So, while it is immensely helpful if everyone knows who is married to whom, and therefore for the state to keep records of marriages, the state does not itself join people together in marriage. God joins them together.
But what if the state's definition of marriage is different to God's definition of marriage?
It certainly makes things a bit confusing. Some people might think they are married, when in fact they are not (because God has not joined them together). Or, conversely, some people might think they are no longer married to each other when in fact they are (because God had joined them together, and that hasn't been revoked).
The latter was the case in Jesus' day. The society had introduced "any cause" divorce (Mt. 19:3), where a marriage could be annulled for "any cause", not only for adultery (or other extreme breaches of the marriage covenant). But this wasn't the definition God was using. So what happened if a man divorced his wife (for "any cause") and then married someone else? In God's eyes, he was still married to his first wife, so in taking another wife he was committing adultery against his first wife. So Jesus said, "[W]hoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Mt. 19:9, ESV).
So how should Christians respond to the proposals for same-sex marriage?
For a start, we shouldn't panic. If the state's definition of marriage is wrong, that's not the end of the world. God will still join people together, using his own definition.
But if the state tries to overreach itself, then there could be cause for concern.
For example, if the state thinks its role is to define words, so that it would be illegal to use the word "marriage" with the "wrong" meaning, then that would be very worrying (not least for poor Humpty).
Or if the state thinks its role is actually to educate children (rather than simply to ensure that children have access to a good education), and if part of that state education is to indoctrinate children into a particular view of marriage, then that too would be very worrying.
But in terms of the definition the state uses when it writes a list of who is married to whom, I personally don't see that as too big a deal in itself.
26 Jan 2012
After the cover, the first chapter—What Is a Worldview?—introduces the theme of the book, which is "an attempt to spell out the content of a biblical worldview and its significance for our lives" (p.1). A worldview is defined as "the comprehensive framework of one's basic beliefs about things" (p.2). Everyone has a worldview, which emerges "quickly enough when they are faced with practical emergencies, current political issues, or convictions that clash with their own" (p.4), and "our worldview functions as a guide to our life" (p.5). Unpacking that a bit more, Wolters introduces two key terms that will feature throughout the book: structure and direction. Our worldview tells us how everything is structured, and our worldview tells us about the basic direction things are taking through history.
So what might a biblical worldview look like? We could start with
the basic definition of the Christian faith given by Herman Bavinck: "God the Father has reconciled His created but fallen world through the death of His Son, and renews it into a Kingdom of God by His Spirit."
The biblical worldview presented in the book is one which takes
all the key terms in this ecumenical trinitarian confession in a universal, all-encompassing sense. The terms "reconciled," "created," "fallen," "world," "renews," and "Kingdom of God" are held to be cosmic in scope (p.11).
Now, this might not seem particularly out of the ordinary, but many (perhaps most) Christians would, in practice, tend to limit the scope of these terms. There would be a "sacred" realm and a "secular" realm, where the "secular" realm is perhaps not entirely fallen, not entirely reconciled, or destined to be discarded rather than renewed, and where the "sacred" realm is perhaps something over and above what God originally created. So, in order to distinguish this cosmic-in-scope biblical worldview, it is often called the reformational worldview, partly because it builds on some emphases associated with the Protestant Reformation, and partly because this worldview carries within it the hope that nothing of the created order will be rejected or replaced, but that the entire created order will be—and is being—reformed, renewed and restored: creation regained. (Another way of identifying this view of things is to say that "grace restores nature", p.12.)
The next chapters look in more detail at the components of this worldview, looking at the structure and original direction of things (Creation: part 1, part 2) and then the story of the shifting direction of things (Fall and Redemption), before unpacking what difference this might make to our lives (Discerning Structure and Direction). The postscript (with Mike Goheen) sets this whole discussion in a broader framework of the biblical narrative.
19 Jan 2012
A substantial commentary on one of the synoptic gospels can easily fill its pages by concentrating on questions about the composition of the text and about the details of the historical events themselves, with constant reference to the other gospel accounts.
Strikingly, and refreshingly, Joel Green in his lengthy (928-page) commentary on Luke's Gospel shows no concern whatsoever with these questions. Rather, his overriding aim is to hear what Luke is trying to communicate, within the context of the Old Testament scriptures, and within his own historical and social context.
I've been reading this commentary very slowly for almost a year, mainly for personal reading, but also for a couple of sermons and a few Bible studies. Sometimes it's felt like a lot of reading, but I've never found myself wading through irrelevant material. Instead, I've been repeatedly struck with how rich Luke's Gospel is in its portrayal of Jesus.
So what, for Green, is the message of Luke's Gospel? Throughout the commentary, our attention is drawn back to Jesus' inaugural speech, in which he stated his own mission, "To bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives" (4:18). "Poor" is to be understood not simply in material terms, but as those who are socially poor, marginalised, oppressed, rejected, and weighed down by sickness or the guilt of sin, and "release" is to be understood not just as setting free from whatever might hold someone captive, but in terms of full inclusion in the community of God's people, often demonstrated by a communal meal.
This sets the tone for the rest of the gospel, in which Jesus' mission is seen to be diametrically opposed to the way his society was ordered. Those at the forefront of the culture were concerned simply with their own status, and had no room for someone who preached and lived a message that involved losing one's own status for the sake of those on the margins of society. The climax, of course, is Jesus foregoing any status by dying an ignominious death on the cross, in order to bring release, forgiveness and full inclusion to those who were bound by sin.
While reading the commentary, I've been challenged to think about how Jesus would speak to our society. Is his message as diametrically opposed to the way our society functions as it was to the society in which he lived on earth? I think it is. Our society is built not so much on social greed (status), but on economic and personal greed (money and pleasure). But Jesus' message is just as radical, calling us to a total rethink of our whole value system. Once we have received Jesus' welcome and forgiveness, we are to value our resources (including our money) as opportunities to benefit those in need, and thereby to gain true riches in the economy of the age to come, rather than as opportunities to advance our own position in the economy of the present age.
11 Jan 2012
What is the dominant worldview — or religion — of people in the West? Arthur Jones identifies the "Western Religion" as being materialism, with the related beliefs that "physical nature is all there is" and that "enjoying material possessions is all that matters". It is the story of science, technology, economic growth and consumerism, as follows:
- How do we gain true knowledge? Through science – by asking the elite scientific experts to share their wisdom.
- Why do we want that knowledge? So we can develop the technology to control the world (even including human behaviour).
- Why do we want to control the world? So we can have constant economic growth.
- Why do we want constant economic growth? So we can all live in a consumer paradise.
I think he's onto something, though I suspect many in the West would live as if the second statement is true ("enjoying material possessions is all that matters") while not being so sure about the first ("physical nature is all there is").
6 Jan 2012
Ideas can stick around for a long time.
I've been watching some lectures on political philosophy: Justice, with Michael Sandel. The episode below is about John Locke (1632-1704), and his very influential idea of people's inalienable rights to life, liberty and (bizarrely) property, ideas which were (coincidentally) formulated around the time that Europeans were colonising North America, and claiming its land as their own.
It seems that these quirky ideas about private property are still in vogue today, particularly among some (not all) who take the label "libertarian", and that there is a connection between holding these views and denying climate change. At least, that's what George Monbiot and Matt Bruenig say.
Conclusion: philosophy really matters.
1 Jan 2012
[W]ork is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. ... A ... consequence is that ... we should no longer think of work as something that we hastened to get through in order to enjoy our leisure; we should look on our leisure as the period of changed rhythm that refreshed us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work.
The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.