26 September 2009


intertextual(I made a few revisions to this post after ruminating on it after I posted it. Hopefully the line of thought is a bit clearer as a result.)

In my studies in the Book of Acts lately I’ve been thinking about the issue of intertextuality. The term is a school of thought that attempts to investigate the interconnectedness between texts. A good way to describe it is to think of a bricoleur (handyman or craftsman) who creates improvised structures by appropriating pre-existing materials which are ready-to-hand. The bricoleur constructs new arrangements by the practice of bricolage through several key transformations: addition, deletion, substitution and transposition.

Of course, one always needs a good academic quote to explain things:

The term “intertextuality” is of rather recent coinage in both Jewish and Christian circles. It denotes not just relationships among texts, but also relationships between texts and their cultures.”

Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic period, pg. xx

The phenomena of intertextuality – the imbedding of fragments of an earlier text within a latter one – has always played a major role in the cultural traditions that are heir to Israel’s Scripture: the voice of Scripture, regarded as authoritative in one way or another, continues to speak in and through latter texts that both depend on and transform the earlier.”

Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, pg. 14

I think the key concept here is that intertextuality “denotes not just relationships among texts, but also relationships between texts and their cultures.” In scripture, it is the enculturation of a concept from one culture to another, i.e., from ancient Hebrew culture to the Greek-Jewish culture of the New Testament.

One good example on intertextuality that recurs throughout the Jewish scriptures is God’s Passover the five books of Moses (Ex. 23:10-19; Lev. 23:4-8), with synoptic views in Ex. 12:1-13 and Deut. 16:1-8, and echoed in Ezk 45:21-24 and Ezra 6:19-22. It is picked up again in the New Testament as the writers wrestled with the idea of a New Passover taking place in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5:7):

7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast- as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Paul is the master of intertextuality,one need only to look at Romans and his understanding of Abraham (in Gen. 15) and what God wants to do for Israel.

There are obvious examples of this in the New Testament, such as the use of the texts in the Gospel of Matthew related to the coming of messiah. For example, Matt. 1:20ff:

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).

What I see here is that there is more involved than seeing this passage as a prophecy; for me it resonates with how this fits into God’s plan for his people.

Often prophecy is used for apologetic purposes, more to support the idea how it is mathematically improbable for one person to fulfill all these prophecies of Messiah, yet here is Jesus, who fits the bill exactly. Put this prophecy on the pile with other scriptures that will rationally and intellectually prove beyond a doubt that the bible is true and God is real.

This is the same as someone describing a movie to us, giving us the bits they enjoyed, but missing the plot of the story completely.

By doing this, I think we miss the benefit of seeing what God is doing through out the ages to bring his plan to fruition, if we only see OT scripture as a proof text. To quote N. T. Wright:

God had a single plan all along through which he intended to rescue the world and the human race, and that this single plan was centered upon the call of Israel, a call which Paul saw coming to fruition in Israel’s representative, the Messiah (Justification, p 35).

Wright also states that failure to read scripture this way is like trying to figure out a puzzle with half the pieces missing.

So the key is to maintain the unity of the text without ignoring the bits that help us to understand what God is doing in the world.

As one writer states, it is the “absorption et transformation de l’autre text” (the absorption and transformation of another text.) It is the idea of a dialogue taking place between the writer and another text or dialogue.

I share this because as I look over the writings of the new testament and how it is related to event of the Old Testament, it leads me to rethink the role of what we commonly call prophecy. It is not that I don’t believe in prophecy, but I do believe that we should not lift stories and events about how God worked (and is working)among his people and set them up as kind of a proof text, independent of context and connection to the rest of God’s work. Kind of misses the point, I think.

(image credit here)




21 September 2009

Gregory Nazianzus on the Holy Spirit

DescentOfTheHolySpirit This is a great quote from Gregory Nazianzus on the person of the Holy Spirit:

“XXIX.  This, then, is what may be said by one who admits the silence of Scripture.  But now the swarm of testimonies shall burst upon you from which the Deity of the Holy Ghost  (Luke 1.35; 3.22; 4.1) shall be shown to all who are not excessively stupid, or else altogether enemies to the Spirit, to be most clearly recognized in Scripture.  Look at these facts:—Christ is born; the Spirit is His Forerunner.  He is baptized; the Spirit bears witness.  He is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up (Luke 4.1, 18).  He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them.  He ascends; the Spirit takes His place.  What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power (Acts 2. 4)? 

What titles which belong to God are not applied to Him, except only unbegotten and begotten?  For it was needful that the distinctive properties of the Father and the Son should remain peculiar to them, lest there should be confusion in the Godhead which brings all things, even disorder itself, into due arrangement and good order. 

Indeed I tremble when I think of the abundance of the titles, and how many Names they outrage who fall foul of the Spirit.  He is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Mind of Christ, the Spirit of The Lord, and Himself The Lord, the Spirit of Adoption, of Truth, of Liberty; the Spirit of Wisdom, of Understanding, of Counsel, of Might, of Knowledge, of Godliness, of the Fear of God. 

For He is the Maker of all these, filling all with His Essence, containing all things, filling the world in His Essence, yet incapable of being comprehended in His power by the world; good, upright, princely, by nature not by adoption; sanctifying, not sanctified; measuring, not measured; shared, not sharing; filling, not filled; containing, not contained; inherited, glorified, reckoned with the Father and the Son; held out as a threat,  the Finger of God; fire like God (to manifest, as I take it, His consubstantiality); the Creator-Spirit, Who by Baptism and by Resurrection creates anew; the Spirit that knows all things, that teaches, that blows where and to what extent He lists; that guides, talks, sends forth, separates, is angry or tempted; that reveals, illumines, quickens, or rather is the very Light and Life; that makes Temples; that deifies; that perfects so as even to anticipate Baptism (As in the case of the Centurion Cornelius, Acts 10. 9), yet after Baptism to be sought as a separate gift; that does all things that God does; divided into fiery tongues; dividing gifts; making Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers; understanding manifold, clear, piercing, undefiled, unhindered, which is the same thing as most wise and varied in His actions; and making all things clear and plain; and of independent power, unchangeable, Almighty, all-seeing, penetrating all spirits that are intelligent, pure, most subtle; and also all prophetic spirits and apostolic in the same manner and not in the same places; for they lived in different places; thus showing that He is unconfined.” Orations 31.29 


16 September 2009

This is just a test...

I've been looking for a way to post papers and articles on my blog without making them inline. Scribd has an ipaper system that looks promising. Take a look and see if it works for you. Here it is (j'espoir)

Seeking Justice Sermon

Actually, it works rather nice, but I have to make my margins wider on my blog. Since I'm using the original blogger template, I'll have to ask my wife to do it for me.

But anyway, it works. Let me know what you think.


09 September 2009

15 Theses by Wolgang Simson (Conclusion)

01_Hours_a15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history.

As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God's Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighborhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world.

You are welcome and encouraged to redistribute this article.

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07 September 2009

15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (part 8)

religions-cafe 13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all. "Blessed are you when you are persecuted", says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the "repressive tolerance" of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with his absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualization of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

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15 These by Wolfgang Simson (Part 7)

Lords-Supper 11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people "into the church," and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the "Lord's Supper" to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to "celebrate the Lord's Supper" in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the "Lord's Supper" was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

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04 September 2009

15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (Part 6)

worship 9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The "Body of Christ" is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faith can trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to reemerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called "worship service" requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalized patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour "worship service" is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a "high input and low output" structure. Traditionally, the desire to "worship in the right way" has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to "worship in truth and in spirit," not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as "the Way of Life." Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start "acting powerfully?"

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Eating the carrot?

snoopy-carrot-eat This is one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons. I had a similar experience this week. I had about 12 boxes of books from the library of my previous existence. I finally said enough was enough and called a local book dealer to take them off my hands.

It was tough to see these old friends leave, but I hope they will all find a good home.

What’s the spiritual application? I have no clue, I am enjoying eating the carrot. I took the money over to Kohl’s and bought a bunch of clothes to take back to France.

Oh well. 

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15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (Part 5)

Puzzles 7. The right pieces - fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and "independent" churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual "ministers" can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker's original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional "holy man" doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalization of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), "there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

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03 September 2009

15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (Part 4)

sml-church 5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become "fellowships without fellowship." The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied "sidewards", like organic cells, once these groups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as with Solomon's Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone

The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating "from house to house," whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than a part of the whole task of "equipping the saints for the ministry," and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

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Old Testament holy war and the character of God: defining the terms


A request came to me to provide an answer to the question of the Canaanite conquest, and how do we square that with the idea of a loving God (for background on this, go to Dan van Loon’s posts here and here). But having said that, I am now finishing the study I started earlier on this topic, so I will try to share a bit of my conclusions.

A. Is the war of conquest against the Canaanites Jihad? Genocide? Ethnic cleansing? We need to understand that what occurred in the books of Joshua and Judges was not Jihad. Let me explain.

According to the most Muslim traditionalists, the world is divided into two camps:

  1. The House of Islamic Peace (Dar al-Salam), where Muslim governments rule and Muslim law prevails.
  2. The House of War (Dar al-Harb), which refers to the rest of the inhabited world.

The presumption is that these two camps will compete and that fighting is inevitable. Therefore the duty of Jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule. Those who fight in the Jihad qualify for rewards in both worlds — treasure in this one, paradise in the next. From the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad onward the word Jihad is used in a primarily military sense.

Commonly, Jihad requires Muslims to “struggle in the way of God” or “to struggle to improve one's self and/or society.” The four major categories of Jihad that are recognized are:

  • Jihad against one's self (Jihad al-Nafs),
  • Jihad of the tongue (Jihad al-lisan),
  • Jihad of the hand (Jihad al-yad),
  • Jihad of the sword (Jihad as-sayf).

Islam focuses on regulating the practice of Jihad. It is a call to all Muslims to engage in this struggle, ongoing and intentional. You will hear of fundamentalist Muslim groups who will declare a Jihad against a group or country (such as Al Qaeda against the US), but this is an extension of the central idea of Jihad.

Put simply, Jihad is a struggle that every devout Muslim is called upon to wage against the enemies of Allah. It is ongoing, and will not end until the conditions discussed above are realized. The best that the enemies of Islam can hope for are truces. The ultimate goal is submission of the world to Allah and the rule of Islam.

It is important to note that Jihad is mandated by Allah through the Qur’an, but it is declared by people (e.g., leaders), who also identify who the enemies are to be.

B. The focus in Scripture is on Yahweh war, or as it is incorrectly called, “holy war.” The term refers to war sanctioned by Yahweh (usually translated in our bibles with the phrase LORD, all capitals). But we need to note some important differences.

The conquest (and hence Yahweh war), was a single event, a unique event and limited event, lasting one generation, and was not meant to be a model of how future generations of Israelites should live and behave toward their contemporaries. It was an act of God, a call to take part in the Yahweh war. Yahweh war is not a feat of military prowess by the Israelites, or even their victory.

C. Genocide is a word sometimes used to describe the Conquest of Canaan. Genocide means the killing of an ethnic or culture group. In current usage, it is based on vicious self-interest, based on some view or myth of racial superiority, and is little more than ethnic cleansing.

The conquest of Canaan is never seen as ethnic cleansing, or as a mark of moral superiority. Nor is the action of Israel seen as a mark of oppression.

It seems, therefore, that we need to define our terminology. Jihad and genocide are not the same concepts as Yahweh war. To define the conquest of Canaan in these terms misses the point and clouds our understanding of the events. Our discussion can now move into the arenas of philosophy and theology.

When we do this, we find that there are no simple answers for this question. But a comment by N.T. Wright about the Conquest in his book Evil and the Justice of God (IVP, 2006) seems a good place to start:

“We look back from our historical vantage point – and post-Enlightenment thought has looked back from its supposed position of moral superiority – and we shake our heads over the whole sorry business of conquest and settlement. Ethnic cleansing, we call it; however much the Israelites had suffered in Egypt, we find it hard to believe that they were justified in doing what they did to the Canaanites, or that the God who was involved in this operation was the same God we know in Jesus Christ.

And yet ever since the garden, ever since God’s grief over Noah, ever since Babel and Abraham, the story has been about the messy way in which God has had to work to bring the world out of the mess. Somehow, in a way we are inclined to find offensive, God has to get his boots muddy and, it seems, to get his hands bloody, to put the world back to rights. If we declare, as many have done, that we would rather it not so, we face a counter-question: Which bit of dry, clean ground are we standing on that we should pronounce on the matter with such certainty? Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared that the primal sin of humanity consisted in putting the knowledge of good and evil before the knowledge of God. That is one of the further dark mysteries of Genesis 3: there must be some substantial continuity between what we mean by good and evil and what God means; otherwise we are in moral darkness indeed. But it serves as a warning to us not to pontificate with too much certainty about what God should and shouldn’t have done” (pp. 58-59).

Wright is saying that there must be a consistent understanding between what God understands as good and evil and our understanding of good and evil. If we judge the conquest of Canaan from our human, philosophical, ethical, moral standards in a way that is not based on God’s understanding of good and evil, we can very easily be presented with a moral and intellectual gap that may seem insurmountable.

In light of this, there are several questions we can address in the discussion in this issue:

  1. We have already discussed how the issue of Jihad in the context of Islam relates to the books of Joshua and Judges, whether it is the same thing as Jihad. How can we understand the idea of “holy war” in Joshua, can we see it as morally justifiable, yet condemn Jihad in the Islamic context?
  2. What of the philosophical-ethical issue of the conquest? Can we ponder it through our 21st century mindset, which leads us to interpret the conquest as ethnic cleansing or something similar?
  3. How can our understanding of the conquest square with the historical, grammatical situation of event, i.e., how did the Joshua and the people of Israel understand about the conquest?
  4. What are the theological issues attached to the question of the conquest? Can God’s command to destroy the Canaanites be seen as a viable command, something that had to be obeyed?

The discussion above is not an attempt to assuage the reality of the discussion, or pretend to offer a defense or apology for the conquest. It is merely an attempt to define our terms.

For my part, although the conquest doesn’t completely set with my view of the world, I do understand that we have to look at the event from the world perspective of ancient Canaan, and deal with the issue from that perspective, and not force our 21st century world view upon the event.

From there, I understand the event of the conquest in terms of God’s dealing with the Israelite people. This event wasn’t something out of context and out of character with God’s overall plan. As Wright says above, this is one of those times that God saw the need to get his boots dirty and his hands bloody in order to put the world to rights.

More to come.


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02 September 2009

15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (Part 3)

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moravians there was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as "a house of God". At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God:

  • Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit,
  • Have "meatings," that is, they eat when they meet,
  • They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings,
  • Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God's word, dialogue, not professor-style,
  • Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, `lose their face' and their ego by confessing their sins,
  • Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

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A philosophy of education and experience?

JDewey.jpg (337×449)

John Dewey proposed a philosophy of education that focused on traditional education (education from without) and progressive education (experience, education from within). Traditional education focuses mainly on content, but it can become a “banking concept” for the transfer of knowledge.

Progressive education (education from within, or experience) is the other school of thought. Basically, it is grows out of our life experiences; but without sufficient or proper content, it will do little to offer growth or development. For Dewey, there needed to be a proper tension between education and experience.

As an educator in the church, I think we need the tension between what we are taught and what we experience in our spiritual formation. Teaching that is little more than throwing words out to the learner and hope that somehow they will appropriate them and figure out what we need to know and put into practice is not much use, either to the learner or to the body of Christ . 

Our preaching and teaching needs to educate us (think of it, if you will, as providing the raw materials), it should also provide guided, practical experiences that will help us to understand and assimilate what we have learned and how to apply it to life in order to promote growth and development in our spiritual formation.

Next time: What are we to teach?

01 September 2009

15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (Part 2)

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of "church" remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

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15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (Part 1)

House Church Central has an article by Wolfgang Simson with 15 theses on the church. At some point later I want to do a series of posts on each of his points. What are your thoughts? 

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called "The Way". One of the reasons was, that they have literally found "the way to live." The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

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04 August 2009

More on Missional

the-sower-vincent-van-gogh-300x234I recently came across this quote by Ed Stetzer. I think it is telling for the body of Christ today.

Missions historian Stephen Neil expresses the concern that when churches focus on societal transformation, and particularly when they call it missions, then “everything” is mission. Neil explained, “when everything is mission, nothing is mission.” Those words were prophetic: he spoke those words to a movement that progressively moved away from church planting and evangelistic missions to a near total focus on social justice.

Moreover, are there historical patterns that further confirm Neil’s concerns? When we look at the history of missions, it is frequent (dare I say common?) that those churches which focus on societal change lose their focus on evangelism and church planting. The most healthy churches engage in evangelism (individual transformation), church planting (collective transformation), and societal impact (cultural transformation). And one tends to lead to the others. The best societal impact occurs when it is a reflection of individual and collective, gospel transformation.

When I am told that their church is missional, or they are “being sent,” what I see and hear don’t always align.

Besides losing our focus on evangelism and transformation, our mission ventures run the danger of becoming a project.

Food for thought.

A Few Takes on “Being Missional”

I’ve been doing some research on what it means to be a missional church. Here are a few quotes I’ve come across while researching the topic that I think are worth considering.

“Churches throughout the Western world find themselves increasingly marginalized from society as they endeavor to relate the good news to people whose assumptions and attitudes have been shaped by modernity and postmodernity. Our post-Christian, neopagan, pluralistic North American context presents cross-cultural missionary challenges every bit as daunting as those we would face on any other continent.

Unfortunately most pastors and church leaders have had no missiological training. Consequently they resort to marketing strategies in place of missionary insights in their attempts to reach out to a population that is becoming increasingly distanced from the church.”

– Eddie Gibbs in Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry

“Since that time, the market machine has spun out many conflicting definitions of missional church. In general, these definitions share a sense that the church is not primarily about us, but about God's mission. But consensus breaks down over what God's mission is and what it means to participate in it.

For others, the missional impulse has been translated into a consumer-oriented mentality—again, an approach that the authors of Missional Church explicitly reject. Some pastors I know are being pressured with missional language to focus their preaching on felt needs. Thus, preaching on "How to Be a Better Spouse" or "How to Be Financially Successful" is considered missional, while preaching straight through a book of the Bible, a common Reformational practice, is seen as an old habit of Christendom. When our needs set the agenda, how can we learn to embody the gospel that is not just our story, but first and foremost God's? The seeker-sensitive mentality reflects a profoundly different ecclesiology from that of Missional Church, which claims that God's people need to rediscover the centrality of God's action in shaping our witness to the world.”

-J. Todd Billings “What Makes a Church Missional?”

Knowing God

barth_writing Great quote from my reading Barth's Church Dogmatics this morning:

"We took as our starting point what God Himself said and still says concerning God, and concerning the knowledge and reality of God, by way of the self-testimony which is accessible and comprehensible because it has been given human form in Holy Scripture, the document which is the very essence and basis of the church (CD II.2,p3)

I especially like this observation: Our starting point concerning the doctrine of God is neither an axiom of reason nor a datum of experience. The measure that the doctrine of God draws on these sources betrays the fact that its subject is not really God but a hypostatized reflection of man.

This all goes to say that it is by God that God is known.

This struck me when I read this in Don Miller’s Blog:

Our artists walk away and make secular music and write secular books because they want to say something beautiful and meaningful and so have to walk away from the self-help gospel they grew up hearing about in church.

When we start believing the true story, we will start telling it, and when we start telling it, we’ll help make sense of the world. Story is a sense-making device. And the gospel of Jesus makes sense.

Powerful stuff.

The point of this interpolation is this: We approach our knowledge of God as something we can learn is we study or try hard enough, thus the principles or self-help program approach to knowing God.

What would happen if we took our understanding of God seriously?

10 April 2009

A thought from C. S. Lewis


I came across this C. S. Lewis quote from  The Great Divorce.


Time is the very lens through which ye see –small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope –something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all (p 140f).

This quote gave me pause for thought. When you consider that MacDonald explains that Lewis’ voyage from Hell to Heaven wasn’t just locomotion, but also increasing in size, works to help me realize that my view of heaven and ‘--by implication, of God, are bound by where I stand in the universe.

This has also come true this week through the SSD conference led by Larry Crabb. I know I do have a skewed view of God and who he is. I can hide on this side of my spiritual telescope and pretend I have it all together.

The telescope is actually meant to be more of a microscope, to help hem see my shrunken heart and land of perpetual pre-dawn that the characters of Lewis’ book lived in before they took the bus to heaven.


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09 April 2009

Missional Activity (according to Larry Crabb)

pegs-1I want to share a few thoughts that Larry Crabb presented at the School of Spiritual Direction this past week.

It deals with the idea of what it means to be missional. Yes, of course, I’ve been a fan of the emerging church and what it means to be missional, but there always seems to be something missing.

I think Scot McKnight’s comment about postmodernism and its relationship to the emerging church in the April 2009 issue of the UK Magazine Christianity,

We found that it tasted good, even if at times we found ourselves spitting out hard chunks of nonsense.

I can concur with that sentiment. However, Larry Crabb gave a short overview of what he thinks it means to be missional, which I would like to reproduce here.

Disclaimer: Any cloudiness or murkiness engendered by this article is my fault and not Larry Crabb’s.

Larry suggested that often we approach the missional activity like this:


This is based on our Passion, message, vision, and Strategy.

What do we do? We dialogue, organize, and initiate. And we end up with:

  • Package the message
  • Get a plan
  • Create a team
  • Pray

The result? We make it happen!

This is linear, systems thinking at its best.

Larry Crabb suggests another path: Reflect, repent, and release.

Again we start with an Idea:

1. We begin by reflecting as asking the questions: What is my ruling passion? What is God’s passion? What other passions do we see?

2. We look at Relationships. The questions we ask may include:

  • What is my lifestyle?
  • Am I weary or tired?
  • Can I say “no”?
  • Am I appreciative of others?
  • What kind of feedback am I getting?
  • What is my history?
  • Do I have self awareness of this idea?

3. This leads to Repentance.

  • Where’s the fire?
  • Is there a spirit of rest?
  • Do I have the courage to say no?
  • Is it attractive to others (especially to those closest to me)?

4. This leads to a Release to Ministry. This leads to:

  • Prayer
  • Discerning a commitment
  • What has God provided
  • The message is developed
  • There is a deliberate strategy

This is definitely not systems thinking. It is also not how we usually do ministry. Think about it, and work through it, and give me any feedback you may have.




01 February 2009

Alpha Talk on Healing

I've decided to post my talk that I did for the Alpha course on the topic of healing. I think I've arrived at what I think is a good theology of healing.

There is a lot of interest in health and being well and well being. I recently googled the phrase healing, and these are some of the results that I found:

  • Faith Healing
  • Spiritual Healing
  • Holistic Healing
  • Nordic Healing
  • Energy Healing
  • Healing Crystals
  • Theta Healing
  • Pranic Healing
  • Color Therapy for Healing
  • Reiki Healing

There was at one time a bit of an embarrassment to talk about healing in the church. It was a family secret that we kept hidden from view and did not talk about openly. My theological training made the assumption that even if the gifts survived the apostolic age, they were of no use or value to the church today.

But the conversation has changed. It has changed from a topic that caused embarrassment or anxiety to the reality that healing does exist, and what is its source?

This is no surprise, as health is the power to be a human, as exercised the vital functions of the soul and the body. Health and life is not an eternal possession, it is temporal, and therefore a limited possession. It is entrusted to us, but it does not belong to us. It is a gift from God.

Perhaps nothing has challenges us more than physical illness. We can make a space shuttle land on a dime after circling the heavens, but we have no cure for the common cold; the strongest athlete can be struck down by an invisible microbe.

The doctor can set the bone, cut out the tissue, and administer a drug, but it is only life itself that can join cells back together again and restore our health.

But the realm of the spirit is at once powerful, largely unknown and beyond our control, and perhaps we find it threatening.

But to believe in healing prayer:

1. We must first believe that the spiritual world is real,
2. We must believe that powers in the spiritual world affect things in the physical world.

In order to gain an understanding of what healing is, we will look at the subject healing as it is found in the Old Testament, in the ministry of Jesus and in the rest of the New Testament. We will also look at Church history as well, and then at what is happening today.

I. Healing in the Bible

1) Old Testament

The Divine Magna Carta - Ex. 15:26 He said, 'If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.'

Our Part - Psalm 30
1I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. 2Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
3You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
Our Response - Psalm 107: 15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for the human race, 16for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron. 17Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
21Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for the human race.

2) The Ministry of Jesus

As we look at the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament, we find that 25% of gospels stories focus on healing the sick, driving out demons, and raising the dead.

A. Jesus chooses the twelve (cf Matt. 10:1ff, where he commissions them)

1. Matt. 4:23

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

2. Nine miracles, mostly healing Matt 8:1-9:34

Jesus heals a man with leprosy 8:1
The faith of the centurion 8:5
Jesus heals many 8:14
Jesus calms the storm 8:23
Jesus restores two demon-possessed men 8:28
Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man 9:1
Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman 9:18
Jesus heals the blind and the mute 9:27

3. Jesus goes throughout Galilee Matt 9:35-38

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'

What does that look like?

4. Sends out disciples to heal, preach Matt 10:1-8

  • 1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil1 spirits and to heal every disease and illness...
  • 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: "The kingdom of heaven has come near." 8 Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

5. Cf Luke 10:1-20, sends out 72 disciples in pairs

  • 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
  • 9 Heal those there who are ill and tell them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you."
  • 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'

B. Rest of New Testament

1. There are about ten stories in Acts of people who are healed, raised from the dead, or being freed from demonic oppression.

2. Book of Acts – First event after Pentecost is Peter and John healing the man in the temple.

3. 1 Cor. 12-14 Spiritual gifts are listed and discussed, which show that they were not the domain only of the apostles, and didn't end with them.

II. Healing in Church History

First of all, it is clear that Jesus considered that his major mission, in addition to teaching, was to heal and cast out evil spirits. This is how he spent his time, and he even risked his life to heal on the Sabbath.

    He passed his healing power on to the Twelve, the disciples, then on to the entire church. The book of Acts shows that the early church did the same things that Jesus did. Peter healed the sick and even raised a woman from the dead, while Paul also healed and raised the dead.
    In the first four or five centuries after Christ, it was expected that healing might take place. But by the fifth century we begin to that Christians no longer learned to pray for healing. Instead, the sick were encouraged to visit shrines and pray for the intercession of the saints.

Examples from the Church Fathers

1. Irenaeus (130-200 AD), Against Heresies 2.32.4 Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles

2. Tertullian, c. 212 "There are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit that appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, perform many cures, and foresee certain events."

3. Origen, c. 248
"Not a few cures are brought about in the name of Jesus, and certain other manifestations of no small significance have taken place."

4. Augustine (354-430 AD), City of God, book 22:8

a) "The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people.

b) "In the same city of Carthage lived Innocentia, a very devout woman of the highest rank in the state. She had cancer in one of her breasts, a disease which, as physicians say, is incurable. She took herself to God alone by prayer, and she was immediately healed.

    The physician who had advised her, when he had examined her after this, and found that she who was afflicted with that disease was now perfectly cured, eagerly asked her what remedy she had used. But when she told him what had happened, he is said to have replied, I thought you would make some great discovery known to me. She --upset at his indifference, quickly replied, "What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead?"

4. Reformers
– An essential task for the Protestant reformers was to cleanse Christianity of everything that in their opinion had served to corrupt the true faith. This meant ridding it of such practices such as the adoration of saints, veneration of relics and pilgrimages to holy sites, many of which were closely associated with healing. The Protestant church tried to discourage belief in sacred and miraculous healing as a dangerous superstition, but holy sites and relics did not disappear overnight.

  • John Calvin - Calvin claimed that supernatural healing ceased with the death of the last apostle (Cessationism) and that Catholics making pilgrimages to healing shrines was vile "papist superstition" and should be abolished. Calvin's doctrine of cessation of miraculous healing is principally based on two propositions. First, they have fulfilled their function of certifying the gospel when it was new, and second, what really matters is the healing of the soul from sin.

  • Martin Luther - Luther's emphasis was on faith as trusting Jesus for spiritual healing.
    "This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way; the process is not yet finished, but it has begun; this is not the goal, but it is road; at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified."

5. John
(1703-1791) – Wesley believed that the first 300 years of church history showed that various gifts had survived the time of the apostles.  He said one reason these gifts did not extend as normal past the first 300 years was because of "general corruption of faith and morals" among Christians.  The faith of many grew cold as dry, formal people took over and belittled the gifts. Wesley is quick to point out these were not "fools or scoundrels" who were involved with the gifts. 

Commenting on the charge that no early church father directly claimed to speak in tongues or healed he says:

Perhaps this is true of those whose writings are in existence . . .  But what are these in comparison to those which are lost?  And how many saints of the first 300 years of the church left no written account at all?

III. Healing today

God's desire is for people to be well; he provides for such wellness not only through creation and human vocation, but also through the renewing power of God's Spirit through the gospel of Christ.

Examples of healing today: Indonesia in the 1960's; my own experience.

How does Healing happen?

1. Acts 3:16, Peter says, "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him."

This healing will not be a "Let me do it TO YOU!" affair

  • It involves intentionality – "Look..." (Man reacted as beggar looking for alms, Peter wanted to heal)
  • It involves relationship – "Look at us." (It wasn't just Peter, but Peter and John who did the healing, i.e., community) 
  • The Means: Trust in the object of our FAITH.

    I remember a film about the evolution of flight, featuring a number of contraptions that people invented while trying to fly. One was a bicycle with a set of bird-like wings attached. Pedaling the bike caused the tires to roll while a series of gears, chains and levers moved the wings in a flapping motion.

    The rider was shown heading full speed toward the edge of a cliff with his wings flapping. His momentum carried him off the edge and allowed him to "fly" about three feet through the air before he headed down to crash in a heap.

        It can be said that this man believed his machine would fly. His willingness to ride it off a cliff proves his faith, and while we cannot doubt the sincerity of his faith, we must question the object of his faith. No amount of faith in that flying machine would make it fly. It was simply the wrong object of faith for flying, or more importantly, it could not be trusted to deliver on the man's faith.

2. Prerequisites

Eph 2:6 - And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no-one can boast.
10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1) Simplicity

Faith is not a weapon by which we demand things from God or put him in subjection to us. Faith is an act of self-denial. Faith is a renunciation of one's ability to do anything and a confession that God can do everything. Faith derives its power not from the spiritual energy of the person who believes, but from the supernatural efficacy of the person who is believed: God! It is not faith's act but its object that accounts for the miraculous. Healing is not a right; it's a favor from God and even a constant miracle, for which we are to thank the One who gives us health now and full wholeness in a time yet to come.

(We can't be like the prodigal son, who demands his inheritance from his father and then goes off to do what he wants with his life.)

Faith and Prayer are not meant to be a replacement for hygiene, exercise and a healthy lifestyle, medicine, or the struggle for better living conditions for all. They are meant to complement, supplement, and partner with them.

2) Love

3) Words of Knowledge

It is important as we approach prayer for healing that we take time to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, to discern what his will is for the person for whom we are praying.

4) Prayer

a. Where does it hurt? Ask the person what is wrong and what they would like us to pray for. N.B. the question of Jesus in John 5:6 –"Do you want to be healed?"3

b. Why does the person have this condition? Sometimes there is a root cause to the problem.

c. How do I pray? Pray to God to heal in the name of Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to come upon the person; sometimes anointing with oil, laying on of hands.

c. How do you feel? Sometimes we are healed immediately; sometimes we feel nothing, in which case we continue to pray (example of Jesus and the blind man in Mark 8:22-25)

d. What next?

  • God loves us whether we are healed or not. We are free to come back for prayer whenever we want.
  • No burden for lack of faith on the recipient, or that we somehow can lose our healing.
  • Important to continue to pray and root our lives in the community of the church, where long term healing often occurs.
  • We must continue our obedience to the call and commission of Jesus Christ found in Matt 28//, and to proclaim the kingdom of God

Healing is more than a cure. Take the example of Marva Dawn. She is an older looking lady who often wears a worn dress. Physically handicapped, she wears a leg brace and often needs help to walk, and is blind in one eye. Her medications for her infirmities take a toll on her physically, but she doesn't wallow in physical or emotional pain.

She has four Master's degrees and an earned PhD in Ethics, she has taught at both Notre Dame (give American pronunciation as well) and Regent's college in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

N.B. – The Error of believing that you can lose your healing.

  • for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Rom 11:29
  • God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Num 23:19