Monday, November 26, 2012

Nicky Gumbel and Christopher West ...

An important emerging friendship and alliance for our collective mission to the West

It is good to see the deepening collaboration between Nicky Gumbel and Christopher West.  One of the most potent pastoral alliances anywhere in Christendom is the emerging cooperation between HTB's Marriage Course and JPII Theology of the Body.  To be on the ground floor of this strategic missionary alliance, please attend our "Parish Built on Love" mission January 24-27, 2013.  Or if you can't come, read Christopher's newest book, Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing,  which Nicky is endorsing and which Christopher will speak about at Truro. For more information about Christopher's newest book and tour see  and,

Through the Bible, Week 12

The Prophets: Announcing the Judgment of God

The Prophets, along with priests, sages and scribes, were another order of ministry in ancient Israel.  Like the other orders, their ministries revolved around the covenant - its exposition, maintenance and execution.  The 10 Commandments was the core of the covenant and was exemplified in the rest of the Hebrew scriptures.  Unlike the other orders however, the prophets alone functioned as a "check" on royal power and prerogative.  Unlike the nations around them, Israel's king did not have absolute power.  His word was not law.  He was not "son of God" - at least in the sense of the Pharaohs.  Instead, in Israel, the LORD God continued to govern Israel through the covenant.  Even the king was subservient to the covenant and it was the job of the prophet to remind him of this fact.  This is precisely what Nathan was doing when he rebuked David for having committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).  During the divided Kingdom and exile, the Prophets loom large on Israel's spiritual and social horizon.  To digest this "largeness", it is important to make some distinctions about the various prophetic functions, specifically we will distinguish between:  the prophetic corpus, tradition, experience and the prophetic office.

A.    Prophetic Corpus

The "Early Prophets" refer to the biblical story contained in Joshua  through 2 Kings. Christians refer to this part of the scriptures as the "historical books," which is something of a misnomer.  This is canonical - or prophetic - history and reflects the interests and concerns of the prophets.  This is prophetic writing in the form of historical narrative.  Because these books comprise a narrative unit, there is growing scholarly opinion that it took its final editorial form during the exile, possibly under the knowing eye of Jeremiah, or Baruch, his scribe. The book of Jeremiah and 2 Kings ends with the same historical account of the fall of Jerusalem (compare Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24:18-25:30).
The "Latter Prophets" refer to the biblical messages within the books from Isaiah to Malachi.  Again this is something of a misnomer, because some of these "later prophets" prophesied before the "history" was written or even before it occurred.  These later prophets are distinguished not so much by chronology as much as by their preaching, which has been preserved in this corpus of books.  It is probably best to think of them as anthologies of their "greatest hits."  Sermons that made them (in)famous and got them either imprisoned or exiled.

B.     Prophetic Tradition

 There are two parts of the prophetic tradition roughly corresponding to the prophetic corpus.  There is the "written prophets" which consists of the public ministry of Elijah and Elisha, who ministered during the divided Kingdom.  Their stories are found in 1 and 2 Kings.  There are also the "writing prophets" which comprise Isaiah through Malachi.  The writing (or their speeches) show deliberate signs of borrowing and reflection on the written traditions.  They are expositions of the prophetic history, helping Israel to understand how defection from the covenant had severe social and theological repercussions.  Their message in a nutshell: "we don't break the covenant as much as we break ourselves against the covenant."

The prophetic experience and office will be explored in part two of this post.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lincoln on Thanksgiving

Lincoln's National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation

It has seemed to me 
fit and proper that
God should be solemnly,
reverently and gratefully 
as with one heart
and one voice,
by the whole 
American people.

If you have not seen the new movie of Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Fields, then I urge to do so this holiday weekend.  He truly was our "Redeemer President," bearing within himself our divided union to the end of his life.  By his life and death we were given a new birth of freedom.  Will we ever see his likes again in the Presidency?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 11, part 2

 Psalm 137

The Psalter opens with two psalms that set the horizon for all the other psalms that follow.  Those horizons are torah meditation (psalm one) and messianic expectation (psalm two).  The rest of the praying in the Psalter oscillates between these two horizons, like the Sun that rises in the East and sets in the West.  Torah meditation is what makes us blessed (ashrey), people whose hearts are inclined to love and follow God.  Torah gives us our orientation in this world.  But this world is fallen and every orientation eventually gets shunted into disorientation.  Life is full of disappointment and hardship.  Messianic expectation is the necessary corrective because the Torah tends to be misread, misquoted, misunderstood and disobeyed, so that only God's true hearer of the Word can teach us how to (re-)appropriate it.  This horizon helps re-orient us in our times of disorientation and the disappointment that life entails.  The drama of all praying occurs between these two poles - as we are shaped into adequate conversation partners for the LORD God.

Psalm 137 is a three stanza prayer-poem of disorientation - indeed, radical disorientation.  It is poem that oscillates between two cities: Babylon and Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the city of Israel's orientation, her "true north."  Babylon is the city of disorientation, a place of exile.   Stanza one specifies the setting as "by the rivers of Babylon."  Babylon was rich in rivers and canals.  The Greeks called it "Mesopotamia" meaning "in the midst of rivers."  The Babylonian exile and the accompanying dislocation and humiliation which comes from being torn from one's home and house of worship is the background of this psalm.  We are told this humiliation is exaggerated by her captors: "Sing us one of the songs of Zion" they taunt.

Stanza two examines the interior experience of exile, from the rivers of Babylon to the rivers of grief Israel feels:

"How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?
 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!"
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I don't remember you."

So far so good.  But the really hard part occurs in the third and final stanza,  where the focus is on the LORD and prayer is made to him.  It is a prayer of retribution, especially the last and most shocking verse:

"Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!"

This is pure vengeance and undiluted hatred, a wish for retribution in kind: "May you get what you gave." 

But it is also pure prayer - giving all of it up to God, the good, the bad and the ugly.  The Psalter excells at giving us permision to say what is in us. Even more, it gives voice to what is in us.  Maybe the Israelite exiles should be able to forgive those who raped their women, impaled their sons and bashed their babies against rocks.  But they would never be able to if they did not have a place to send their rage and their hatred.  God is the rock upon which Israel is invited to rage.  God is the harbor against the storms of the soul.

True prayer never occurs if the worshipper is false before God.  Praying our anger is the first step in giving it up to God in forgiveness.

Psalm 137 may not be a "model" prayer.  But is certainly an honest prayer and an accurate portrayal of the human heart in the grip of great grief and pain  And in that sense it is good example of how to pray.  It is a hopeful prayer because it invites even our darkness into the conversation with Him who is light and in whom no darkness dwells.  He is strong enough to absorb and heal all our darkness.  This is what Psalm 137 invites us to do.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 11

The Psalms

The book of Psalms is the "prayer book" of the Bible.  Its five sections correspond to the five books of Moses, otherwise known as the Torah.  Every word of God uttered in the Torah has its corresponding answer in the scripted prayers of Israel.  As we noted earlier (cf. Week 7, part 2), Torah is a personal word, a "yarah" -  literally a "targeted word."  And personal address merits a personal response.  The Psalms are the personal response to God's personal address in Torah.

The nature of the Psalms as personal response suggests something important about the nature of God and the nature of humans.  It suggest first, that God actually wants us to respond to him in ways that are consistent with his initiative and his nature.  God comes to us personally and he desires that we respond personally, with all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of God.  God relates according to his nature, which we also learned is personal.  God has an investment in us and a desire for us.  So God reveals his inner self to us.  "YHWH" (translated "LORD") is God's personal name, revealed to Moses at the burning bush.  To know God is to respond in kind - personally.  The Psalms are inspired speech that guides us into the kind of response that God seeks to elicit from us.  The personal nature of this conversation finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus - the great "I am" (a translation of "YHWH") who is both God's initiative to humans and response from a human in one person.  The book of Psalms was Jesus' prayer book and his own words and prayers resonate with echoes from this book.

To keep one's focus on the personal nature of this kind of praying it is important to remember that the hebrew word "YHWH" is translated in english as "LORD" (in all capitals).  It sounds like a title, but it is not.  Wife is a title; Elizabeth is a personal name.  YHWH is God's personal name.  And its utterance should evoke memories of God's self-revelation: the encounter Moses has with God in Exodus 3 as well as the patriarchal stories, where God is revealed to them even when they do not know the full import of this name.  (All personal knowledge is achieved over time through many interactions, for persons are complex).  The Psalms preserve the interior experience of interacting with God's personal nature, as believers respond to that revelation with a corresponding self-revelation.  This is important to remember because the Psalms are not really "model" prayers as much as they are "accurate" prayers.  That is, they do not show praying as it was really meant to be.  We have to wait for Jesus to see that (Father forgive them for they know not what they do.." is a model prayer).  But by teaching us to pray truthfully and honestly in all of our grief, pain, heartache, hope and praise, they prepare for the praying that Jesus' himself instructs.

As a good illustration of "accurate praying" versus "model praying" we should look to Psalm 137, what some consider to be the most offensive prayer in the Bible.  Given the distinctions I have just made, I believe it is actually one of the most pastorally instructive prayers in the Bible.  We will look at that in more detail later in the week.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shed to Study Project, Weeks 10-11

Painting and flooring is done.  There is still exterior painting to finish, but everything is primed so safe for the winter.  This week we start the trim and bookshelves.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 10

Wisdom: Seeing the World through Covenant Eyes

Wisdom is usually the name given to the literature found in the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Songs of Songs and Proverbs.  Each are concerned with living life in a fruitful way given the challenges that life presents.  Job teaches us that life is learning how to suffer.  Ecclesiastes present life as a quest for meaning. Proverbs is a collection of truism on a life well lived.  And Songs of Songs is about the essence of life, which is love.  The Song of Songs is also the "sound track" of the Bible, given its nuptial melody from Genesis to Revelation.

Wisdom is sometimes referred to as "creation theology" as opposed to "covenant theology."  This is an unnecessary and, I believe, an inaccurate distinction.  All of the Bible is covenant theology because it all arises from the covenant bond(s) that God initiates with humanity, culminating in the new covenant in Jesus' blood.  Wisdom is one of the varied literatures and concerns in the Bible which views creation from the perspective of the covenant.  Other Ancient Near Eastern cultures have their sapiental traditions: proverbs, sayings, songs, and the like.  However, in the Old Testament these common forms have a unique perspective.  All wisdom literature is about life lived, but the wisdom found in the OT is about living in the world as a "gift" not a "given."  The world and our life in it is a gift because we have come to know its Creator in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  God is a generous God, who gave his only begotten Son.  Creation bears the imprint of its Creator.

One helpful way to make this distinction between biblical and non-biblical wisdom is to compare Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek with, say, Carl Sagan's Cosmos.  Both are looking at the world, looking even in wonder and astonishment.  But there is an interior understanding, an intimacy even, in Dillard's account that is missing in Sagan's.  Same world but different meaning.  Dillard sees the world as "gift".  Sagan sees it as a "given" - billions and billions of years old and it will eventually burn out.  Sagan's "world" is not sustained but rather self-sustaining. It is a disenchanted world and only merits speculation.  However, the world of Dillard (and the Bible) is enchanted and merits adoration and praise.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet....

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  

Psalm 8:3-6, 9

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why I Am Grateful for Bishop Welby's Appointment


A number of you have asked if I welcome the news of Bishop Welby's appointment to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  Short answer is "yes."  The reason, in part, is because I see four aspects of his formation that are particularly timely - providentially ordered it seems to me - and together they promise to strengthen our Church's life and witness in the world.

1) HTB - +Welby was shaped by the ministry of Holy Trinity Brompton, which means he is comfortable participating in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He is a fully functioning trinitarian Christian and thus he believes peoplc can change under the influence of the Spirit.  He relates to people out of an optimism of grace rather than a psyche draining, soul sucking hermeneutic of suspicion.

2) JPII - he is a student of Catholic Social Thought and has been profoundly influenced by Pope John Paul II's social vision.  In time, I hope he will become an equally serious student of JPII's exalted anthropological vision.  Though +Welby believes in original sin he does not start there nor does he think it symptomatic of a deeper, darker problem.  He views people with affection rather than alarm.  JPII's anthropology will strengthen his ordinary approach to the human situation and particular persons.  It is also an antidote to what ails us Anglicans.

3) Leadership - he understands organizational systems, what makes them effecient and what keeps them from serving the mission of an organization.  In that regard +Welby has a "Petrine charism."  He is inheriting massive, decades long organizational dysfunction within the Communion.  He cannot fix it by himself but he may be able to correct it enough to keep it from sabatoging his ministry to the Church.  He will need the help of his friends.

4) Reconciliation - he worked with the legendary Andrew White at Coventry Cathedral and he has traveled the world mediating "level 5" conflict.  +Welby understands the work of mediation and he makes important distinctions often missed when discussing the minstry of reconciliation. For example, he understands that reconciliation is a process and in conflicts, like we are experiencing in the Communion, relational conciliation will often precede the theological and institutional.   Honesty requires us to acknowledge that the theological and institutional division in Anglicanism will not be healed for decades (they are too deep and entrenched), but that fact must not keep us from trying to heal relational wounds, to walk the path of forgiveness and, yes, love. Only then will we be able to address the wounds inflicted against the Church's tradition and her ministry to the world.

One final word: be modest in your expectations but be bold in your intercession.  There are many destructive forces in the Church, but the Spirit of God is stronger still.  Our intercessions will help keep him responsive to the Spirit of Jesus.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shed to Study Project, Week 9

This week we finished dry walling the shed.  Actually John Cardinal did it all.  Tonight I finished priming all the exterior wood.  Tomorrow we hopefully begin painting interior and exterior.  Next week we should be able to install the floor.  Good progress.  I may be able to move in before Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 9, part 2

The Monarchy

The establishment of Israel's monarchy is recorded in 1 Samuel 8.  It is clear that monarchy arises from a dual agency: the will of the people who demand it and the will of the LORD God who consents to it.  Indeed, kingship was already envisioned and foretold in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, in a passage that scholars often refer to as the "Law of the King:" 

You may appoint a king over you, whom the Lord your God will choose.  One from among your brothers shall you set as a king over you....But he shall not multiply horses to himself....Neither shall he multiply wives to himself....Neither shall he multiply to himself silver and gold...and he shall write himself a copy of this Law [torah]... to keep all the words of this Law and these statues to do them, that his thought not be lifted above his brother the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom.

The king is forbidden to amass large quantities of horses (i.e. instruments of large standing armies), wives (i.e. compromising alliances and palace intrigue, of which wives are an instrument) and gold (i.e. a regime of heavy taxation and conquest).  These three proscriptions are really one: to prevent the way of life that is characteristic of the great imperial states from which Israel has been and will be redeemed.  It is a law designed to create what we might call a limited state. Just as the dietary and purity laws impose moderation on the lives of the ordinary Israelite, the "Law of the King" imposes moderation on the life of the king and his administration.

Though Solomon violates all three statutes to kings, David is known for violating only one, the one pertaining to many wives.  The biblical narrative names eight such wives, of which the episode pertaining to his adultery with Bathsheba is the centerpiece (2 Sam 11-12).  The book of Samuel devotes two chapters to this episode, a rather large amount of material considering, by modern standards, this was a mere"private" sin.  Private sin yes, but with wide ranging public consequences that haunt him and the country all the way to the end of his reign - and beyond.  As John Stott reminds us, David broke four other commandments when he violated this one: beginning with covetousness, then theft and bearing false witness, and finally murder.

Even though David famously repents after Nathan's parabolic rebuke (see Psalm 51), God announces judgement: "I will bring against you evil from within your own house" (2 Samuel 12:11).  And indeed, David's appetite for women infects his sons.  Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar and Absalom sleeps with his father's wives. Amnon dies too early to know where his sin will lead, but with Absalom both bloodshed and treason are mixed in with his inability to constrain his sexual urges. In the end, David leaves his succession in shambles between warring wives and siblings.  The biblical narrative leads us to believe that none of this would have happened if David had the self-possession to love and be loyal to one woman.

The image of Eden still shines through the tragedy of the biblical narrative and the divine standard of faithful nuptial love remains clear through its violation.  Indeed, the life and love of David's great grandparents recorded in the book of Ruth is a stinging rebuke to his marital infidelity, its interpersonal destructiveness and the abiding effect on Israel's national character.