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biblical-christianity-in-african-perspective

Reviewed by iServe Africa apprentice Daphne Kabeberi:

This book contains a lot more than I’d expected to find in it. I’d thought it would specifically be about African Christianity as a phenomenon, but I ended up receiving an excellent summary of the main Christian doctrines.

Unlike many theological writings, its simple language and style make it easy to read. It is divided into 18 chapters which first lay a foundation for believing the Jesus of the Bible, and then go on to explain the implications of this for sinful mankind and for the church that exists in a sinful world.

On any given topic, the book borrows from the whole counsel of Scripture and is therefore faithful to the overarching Biblical story of redemption in Christ. The author avoids taking any divisive denominational stand on the doctrines outlined. Instead, he tends to lay out various view points as long as they can be scripturally backed, which I found helpful.

At the same time there is a distinctive African perspective which means that this book fulfils the very real need of helping Christians understand the spiritual peculiarities evidenced in African contexts. It’s quite interesting that the author isn’t African, although he seems to have worked extensively and intensively in Africa.

The author does an excellent job of convincing the reader that every single African practice must be weighed up against God’s will for man as revealed in his Word. He teaches that Christians shouldn’t blindly follow tradition in matters like initiation, but rather realize that our highest loyalty is to God and our primary community and acceptance is to be found amongst fellow believers. Readers are reminded that only God can deliver us from evil, so it is sinful and counterproductive to attempt to seek protection through magic, necromancy, etc.

In conclusion, much as it’s primarily written to help those serving in African contexts to apply the Bible to their situations, it has very useful information for all contexts – even for unbelievers who would like to better understand Christianity. It is the sort of book any Bible scholar or pastor would want to have on their bookshelf as simple, handy reference material.

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One of the big cultural differences I’ve encountered in Kenya is the perception of written communication. Each year, in the session on communication at our induction workshop for the new apprentices we ask for the advantages and disadvantages of oral and written communication. If you asked that question of a group of UK fresh graduates I’m pretty sure that you’d hear quite a lot of disadvantages of oral communication and quite a lot of advantages of written. In Kenya we come up with the reverse – lots of advantages of oral communication and hardly any advantages of written (beyond the fact that there’s a record).

It’s a challenge to the western mind to appreciate the sentiment of the elder John who would “rather not write with pen and ink” but “see you… and… talk face to face” (3 John 13-14). It’s a challenge to those of us who gravitate towards blogs and emails rather than picking up the phone or getting out and seeing people. Certainly there are great advantages in bodily presence, fellowship over food, really connecting. The great joy we look forward to is seeing Christ face to face. And there are advantages in the process of communication – body language and facial expressions helping us get the tone and mood more accurately, immediate feedback, the chance to work things through, clarify misunderstandings, negotiate, develop a conversation in new directions.

And I was reminded by our Eastern European sisters (whose culture may in some ways be closer to Africa than NW Europe) that coming and visiting someone to talk about something or request something, rather than writing an email, communicates effort and importance and humility. It is more costly and risky but at the same time harder for the person being visited/asked to say No!

So there are lots of advantages to face to face communication but as Harrison often reminds us and as Njeri reminded me a in a recent post, there are advantages to pen and paper too in this present age.

  1. Writing gives stability, consistency and longevity to a communication. As Njeri points out, how would we know anything about Athanasius and Augustine and Luther if they had never written? How much of the detail of Paul and his missionary journeys would have survived if Luke and Paul himself hadn’t written? Oral communication can carry words a long way over long time periods but over time it inevitably gets distorted and splits into multiple traditions and versions which all recite the history somewhat differently. You can imagine the confusion after a few hundred years when one story teller recites the teaching of Paul in one way while another recites it very differently. One says that Jesus said this, while another tells us Jesus said that. We end up with different gospels and little way to tell between them which is the true one. This is why the laws of nations are written down. Some of the earliest writing discovered is of legal documents. Imagine the chaos if law was passed on orally and each policeman and judge just had to remember the law as it was passed down to them with no fixed point to refer to (we may think that sounds rather familiar in our context but that’s another story). Similarly, when it comes to organisations, having written policies is what maintains consistency and impartiality (1 Tim. 5:21). Interestingly, when it comes to the Bible, although there was certainly some oral transmission involved at certain points, compared to most ancient narratives, God’s Word was written down very early, often by the eye witnesses themselves (Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:24; John 5:46). Luke clearly wanted to move things from oral to written (Luke 1:1-4). The Bible is not just a bunch of amorphous ideas, like a jellyfish, shifting, without sharp edges – according to Jesus it is very important that every word in the original languages is persevered precisely, unaltered (Matt. 5:18 cf. Rev. 22:18-19). Our faith rests on the fixed rock of truth.
  2. Writing takes responsibility, accepts accountability. Recently a friend checked with the local government whether he and his organisation were complying with all the statutory requirements to operate as an NGO in a particular location. The council representative checked through the requirements and said, “Yes, you’ve done everything you need to do.” My friend asked, “Can you put that in writing for us? Just a note to say that we have done everything we need to do and are legal here?” To which the answer was, “Errrr, no – I’d rather not do that.” When you put something in writing and put your name at the bottom you take ownership of your words. Walter Chen: “Good managers want to be held accountable and aren’t looking for ways to weasel out of responsibility.” When we just speak words into the air we can deny them or edit them later. When we have written there is something to stand by. When God puts his word in writing he is taking ownership of it. “Thus says the LORD.”
  3. Writing indicates the seriousness and trustworthiness of a warning or a promise. This flows from the last point. When we say, “I’ll put it in writing” we are saying that we seriously mean what we say. A written warning in the workplace is a step up the discipline ladder from a verbal warning. A written commitment to pay back a loan usually has more seriousness (and legal currency) than a verbal agreement. A particular case in point is a Last Will and Testament (which if you haven’t done you should get done today!) which is a written document. As Luther realised, the whole Old Testament can be looked at as a legal Will – a set of promises that require the death of the one who made them for them to come into force (cf. Heb. 9:16-17; Matt. 26:28; Rev. 5:1-10).  Sentiments also mean more if they are put into writing too. “I love you” said to my wife is one thing. “I love you” written down for her in a letter or card and given means something slightly different, perhaps even more. Another way of looking at the Bible is as a love letter – God has put his love for us in writing.
  4. Writing gives time to think, structure, craft and REVISE. This is one of the great advantages of written communication. Once my words are out of my mouth they are gone. Once they are on paper I can screw up the paper and try again, or today just tap a few keys to delete a sentence, substitute a word, change the order and flow. I can read and check it. I can leave it overnight and read it again in the morning and find that it is far too harsh. Even better I can ask my wife to read it before I hit send! When you read the Bible you see huge amounts of careful crafting. Think of Lamentations – the way the poetry is so carefully organised with each verse starting with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That wasn’t something that someone came out with spontaneously. Or think of the New Testament letters, crammed with theology, where every word counts. When it comes to a carefully nuanced, precisely weighted communication, often writing is best.
  5. Writing develops clear, focussed thinking & communication. Harrison has reminded us of this a number of times. Prayer letters and reports have as much value for the writer as for the recipient. It is a way to discipline your thoughts. Walter Chen again: “Writing out full sentences enforces clear thinking.” Jeff Bezos of Amazon: “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking” (RT Chen). There is a vagueness and sloppiness and incoherence that you can might get away with in verbal communication that gets ‘found out’ very quickly when you are forced to put your thoughts on paper. As someone once said, when your thinking is confused, “Write yourself clear.” And – old advice – write something out in old fashioned pen and ink and paper before you hit the computer – that will get you even clearer.
  6. Writing can be re-read multiple times. This is a major advantage of written over oral communication. Isn’t it great to get a letter from a friend or fiancée and be able to read it over and over? My daughter loves to read her favourite books again and again. And for understanding: when I’m reading J I Packer or John Owen I often have to stop and read a paragraph again, maybe two or three times to get the full impact. Paul tells Timothy to think over what he is saying (2 Tim. 2:7) and he can do that because he has it in writing. He can read the words about the good soldier and the athlete and the hard-working farmer because he has the letter in his hands. He can pore over it, read it slowly again and again. And we can do that with the whole Bible (thank God for Bible translators).
  7. Writing gives opportunity to develop complex arguments and accurately cite sources. Oral communication can communicate quite complex ideas – think of a science lecture or a Puritan sermon – but there comes a point where a book is a better form. You cannot convey 20 points in a sermon and you certainly can’t show all the interconnections and implications and look at the issues from different perspectives and address all the counter-arguments. This is why book writing and book reading is so important. Think how impoverished our thinking and theology would be if there had never been an Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Dostoyevsky writing serious, long books. And particularly when it comes to scholarship and the academic exercise, writing allows you the format not only to structure complex ideas but also to give credit and evidence by citing very precisely the words and work of others, something that is essential not only to integrity but also to being able to check the truthfulness of our words.

So let’s long for face-to-face but let’s also keep writing…

 

Cutting wisdom from Carl Trueman:

I am increasingly convinced that pride is the root of problems among students. I was convicted recently by a minister friend quoting to me 1 Timothy 1:5-7:
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
My friend made two observations about this passage. First, the drift into dubious theological discussion is here described as moral in origin: these characters have swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; that is why their theology is so dreadful. Second, their desire is not to teach but to be teachers. There is an important difference here: their focus is on their own status, not on the words they proclaim. At most, the latter are merely instrumental to getting them status and boosting their careers.

Thus, what concerns me most is that students may simply desire to be teachers. If that is their motivation, then they have already abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, and their theology, no matter how orthodox, is just a means to an end and no sound thing. It is why I am very sceptical of the internal call to the ministry as a decisive or motivating factor in seeking ordination. Nine times out of ten, I believe that the church should first discern who should be considering the Christian ministry, not simply a rubberstamp act as a putative internal call which an individual may think he has.

Further, such students whose first desire is to be teachers are more likely to try to catch whatever is the latest trendy wave. Orthodoxy is always doomed to seem uncreative and pedestrian in the wider arena; if the aim is to be a teacher, to be the big shot, then it is more likely that orthodoxy will be less appealing in the long run – though there are those for whom orthodoxy too is simply a means to being a celebrity.

If a prideful desire to be a teacher, to be a somebody, is the fundamental problem, then one other aspect which is increasingly problematic is the whole phenomenon of the internet. Now anyone can put their views out for public consumption, without the usual processes of accountability, peer review, careful editing, timely reflection, etc., which is the norm in the scholarly world and has also been the tradition in the more theologically responsible parts of the Christian publishing industry. The internet has few quality controls and feeds narcissism. Again, I have a friend, a minister in a North American Presbyterian denomination who says that, as he reads many blogs, his overwhelming feeling is one of sadness as he sees men seriously undermining their future ministry through the venom they pour out on others. I think he is right.

Of course, all young theologians and aspiring church leaders say stupid and unpleasant things. I still blush about comments I made fifteen or twenty years ago which now seem arrogant and offensive, and certainly unworthy of a Christian. But for those of us who are older, the sins of our youth are thankfully now long vanished from the public sphere; yet such sins committed today can live on indefinitely in cyberspace. I shudder for those who have not yet grasped this basic fact and who say some frightful things on the internet which will come back to haunt them the very first time a church googles their name as part of doing routine background checks on a potential ministerial candidate. But more than that: I shudder at the kind of self-appointed arrogance among ministerial candidates and recently-minted graduates which the internet can foster and intensify.

Paul’s words to Timothy seem prophetic in times such as ours. Students should cultivate pure hearts, good consciences, and a sincere faith. That way they will safeguard their theology from becoming idle speculation.

[interviewed by Martin Downes in Risking the Truth: Handling error in the church, Christian Focus, 2009, p. 31-33]

Related resources:

 

Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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As Pentecost Sunday approaches I was reading through Acts in our church community group and was struck by this verse:

And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2)

For a disciple not to have heard about the Holy Spirit seems to be Not A Good Thing.

For those of us who are concerned to emphasise (I think rightly) the priority of preaching Christ and him crucified and who see the Spirit’s role mainly as (to use J.I. Packer’s expression) a ‘spotlight ministry’, drawing the attention to Christ not himself, this stress on the Spirit in Acts is an important thing to reckon with. Is there a danger that those of us who would think of ourselves as ‘conservative evangelicals’ might be so keen to distance ourselves from the excesses of hyper-Pentecostalism and unhelpful (or downright non-Christian) pneumatologies, that we might leave people with no doctrine of the Spirit at all? “If it’s not all about tongues, how do I know whether I have the Spirit?” I was asked recently. Where does the Holy Spirit fit into our proclamation and church and the Christian life?

Acts 19:2 makes me think:

  • Presumably preaching the gospel usually included mention of the Holy Spirit and his work. Acts 2 is a great example. The focus from beginning to end is on Christ but all the persons of the Trinity are mentioned: the exalted Christ has received his Father the Spirit to pour out (v33). (A gospel outline like 3-2-1 can be helpful in making sure we talk about the Trinity early on and don’t leave it till later as an embarrassing bolt-on.)
  • Presumably the invitation to receive Christ and to be baptised usually mentioned the Holy Spirit. Again, that’s what happens in Acts 2: baptism-forgiveness-Holy Spirit. Baptism is into the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). When Paul reminds the Galatians of their conversion he appeals to them as ones who clearly knew that they had received the Spirit at that point (Gal. 3:2) – that was not debate – that was obviously what had happened – he wants to remind them how they received the Spirit – i.e. by hearing and believing the gospel of Christ crucified not by Law keeping. It also seems the Galatians knew their Christian life had begun by the power of God’s Spirit (Gal. 3:3), the question is whether they will go on that way.
  • Presumably the early discipleship of believers would have been full of reminders of the gospel including explanation of the Spirit’s role in their salvation. You certainly see this throughout the apostles’ letters to the young churches. They are constantly reminding believers of what has happened to them so they grasp the enormity of it and live in accordance with it. Their focus is always on Christ and him crucified but wherever they talk about justification by faith and salvation through the blood of Christ, the Spirit is never far away. Ephesians 1: The Father chose you before Creation, the Son died for you on the Cross, the Spirit sealed you as you believed (cf. similarly 1 Peter 1:2). Titus 3:4-7: Father, Son and Spirit; justification and regeneration. Romans 8: stellar chapter interweaving the glorious gospel of Christ and the true work and marks of the Spirit.

Putting this altogether it seems that for the apostles to speak about Christ was inevitably to speak about the Spirit-anointed Christ. To speak about his death and resurrection would have inevitably led to talking about the Spirit who unites us with Christ to make the benefits of his death and resurrection ours. They would have left no one in any doubt that without the Spirit of Christ they are dead and that from their first breath of faith to their final good work, all would be the Spirit’s work in them. They would have talked about how God sent his Son to redeem us and the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts that we might be swept up into the Son and cry out to the Father as our Father. They would talked of our natural blindness and desperate need every day for the Spirit to open our eyes wider and wider to Christ.

Is that my message and life?

 

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I’ve been enjoying Daniel Strange’s For Their Rock Is Not Our Rock in preparation for a session for the iServe Africa second year apprentices. (The fact that it opens with a quote from Bavinck which begins, “We live in a strange world…” is not the only reason I love it.)

In the most recent issue of Themelios (41:1), Kyle Faircloth provides a helpful review of Strange’s work – particularly his dissertation The Possibility of Salvation Among the Unevangelised (published 2006) and his more recent 2014 book Their Rock. However, Faircloth goes on to challenge Strange on the idea that the definitive protoevangelium (first preaching of the gospel) is at Genesis 3:15 (rather than at Gen. 12) and particularly that this pre-Abrahamic gospel provides a source of ‘remnantal revelation’, transmitted, suppressed and distorted within pagan cultures, worldviews and religions. Faircloth’s challenge is not only exegetical and historical but also doctrinal – that the idea that special revelation is mixed into general revelation and that non-Christian cultures are supressing not simply the truth about God in general terms but specifically supressing the remnantal revelation of Gen. 3:15 (the serpent crusher promise) opens the possibility of people being saved in other religions apart from gospel preaching.

Strange makes a rejoinder to Faircloth’s critique in the same issue of Themelios where he clarifies a number of issues. Although I’m not really equipped to add anything to the debate I made some notes of my own in response to Faircloth:

  1. Against the idea that Genesis 12:1-3 is the preferable historical starting point for gospel proclamation over Genesis 3:15 see the excellent points by Glen Scrivener (Genesis 12 – Key to the Old Testament).
  2. Against the claim that no one in the generations from Adam to Abraham could have understood the promise of Gen.3:15 as messianic see Jack Collins, “A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman’s Seed Singular or Plural?,” Tyndale Bulletin 48, who argues from Hebrew syntax that the ‘he’ in Gen. 3:15b would normally taken to refer to an individual. Some have suggested that Eve may have thought that in Cain she has gotten The Man (Gen. 4:1). As Jack Collins notes, “in Genesis 4:25 the woman calls her son Seth zera‘ ’aִhēr (‘another seed [descendant]’) in place of the one slain. That is, she recognises that neither Cain nor Abel could be the ‘seed’ of 3:15: Cain because of his banishment from the Lord’s presence (4:16), and Abel because of his premature death.” To make it even stronger, perhaps Michael Barret is right (Beginning with Moses, p. 128) to translate Gen. 4:1 “I have acquired a man, even Jehovah” which would mean that Eve understood Gen. 3:15 not only as a promise of a human saviour but of the God-man.  Later, the naming of Noah by Lamech (Gen. 5:28-29) is given prominence in the narrative similarly to Cain’s naming by Eve  and again there seems to be something of the sense of anticipation – “Could this be The One to save us?”
  3. Against the suggestion that the messianic/singular understanding of Gen. 3:15 does not appear until the 2nd century AD: Jack Collins (same article) concludes that the LXX translators understood it (rightly) that way in the 2nd century BC. Furthermore, as G. K. Beale and many others have noticed, Noah is presented very much as another Adam, as are Abraham and Isaac and many other later Bible figures (e.g. Samson, Solomon, Uzziah, Job). This, together with the head-crusher theme (cf. Joshua 10:24; Judges 5:26; 9:53; 1 Samuel 17:49) strongly suggests that, throughout OT times, Gen. 3:15 was a very important source of messianic expectation – they were looking for the serpent crusher.
  4. Against the suggestion that this view (seeing Gen. 3:15 as the protoevangelium, understood by the Adam and his descendents as referring to Christ) is not a particularly Reformed/Calvinist view, note the puritan Matthew Henry (1662-1714) on Gen. 3:15: “A gracious promise is here made of Christ, as the deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. Though what was said was addressed to the serpent, yet it was said in the hearing of our first parents, who, doubtless, took the hints of grace here given them, and saw a door of hope opened to them, else the following sentence upon themselves would have overwhelmed them. Here was the dawning of the gospel day. No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed… By faith in this promise, we have reason to think, our first parents, and the patriarchs before the flood, were justified and saved and to this promise, and the benefit of it, instantly serving God day and night, they hoped to come.” The early Baptist theologian John Gill (1697-1771) called Gen. 3:15 the “declaration of the grace, will, and work of Christ” (Doctrinal Divinity, ch. 9). Both Henry and Gill pointed to kephalidi in Hebrews 10:7 [“In the heading of the scroll it is written of me”] and understood this to mean that Christ is telling us that he is written about at the beginning of the Law – i.e. in Gen. 3:15 – and specifically that it is written there that he will come to do the will of God – i.e. come on a mission to destroy the devil through his sacrificial death (cf. Heb. 10:7-10).
  5. In support of Dan Strange’s monogenetic (single beginning) view of human origins, culture and religion we might mention:
    1. The clear biblical teaching that all are descended from one man (Acts 17:26).
    2. Dan Strange’s account is actually more focused on the proximity of all humanity to Noah’s family and Babel than on simply on Gen. 3 (in his rejoinder he registers surprise that Faircloth spends so much time there). So to the promise of Gen. 3:15 is added the cataclysmic salvation-judgment event of the flood, the proclamation of the Noahic covenant and then the judgment of Babel.
    3. Supportive evidence in the widespread ancient stories of divine creation and flood (e.g. the animals went in two by two), linguistic echoes (e.g. perhaps in ancient Chinese characters?) and a disproportionate attention to snakes, serpents and serpentine monsters (and dragons) in the mythologies of cultures across the world (e.g. the Leviathan of the Ancient Near East, king dragons of China, Shesha and Vasuki of Hinduism or giant snakes narrated by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History 8:11-13,17).
  6. Against the charge that the remnantal revelation view opens the door to ‘implicit faith’ and members of other religions being saved without hearing the gospel, it is important to emphasise (as Dan Strange is very keen to do in Their Rock and underlines in his rejoinder to Faircloth) that remnantal revelation is a) twisted beyond salvific usefulness and b) always supressed. Actually this is not only an issue for the remnantal revelation view – if those are right (and I think they are) who say that the sermon of creation (Ps. 19:1-6) is a Christological sermon then the truth supressed and faith rejected when we look at the heavens and turn away is also a ‘gospel’ truth which is (perhaps) hypothetically salvific but the point is, again, that it is never salvific because it is always supressed. There is no more chance of someone being converted by remnantal revelation or creation revelation than someone being born without a sinful nature. We are born blind to Christ and eyes are opened as the Word is preached.

So what? Does any of this matter very much. Well perhaps it does in emphasising a) that the promise of the serpent crusher is the fountain of all our gospel hope and b) that it is this serpent crusher whom the world is rejecting (John 16:9).

Serpent crusher

 

Job cover

I’ve absolutely loved Christopher Ash’s Preaching the Word series commentary on Job. So many things I’d never seen. Deep, paradigm-shaking stuff on God’s governance of His universe. A real preacher’s commentary. Great on the detail. Great on the big picture and the flow. Great pastoral sensitivity and compassionate insight. Here’s a taster:

God gives us a forty-two-chapter book… Not an SMS… A journey… Why? Because there is no instant working through grief, no quick fix to pain, no message of Job in a nutshell.

About 95% of the book of Job is poetry… We cannot sum up a poem in a bald statement; we need to let a poem get to work on us.

Job has integrity; he is not so sure about his children.

There is something dark in human hearts, and Job knows it.

A whole burnt offering… pictures the hot anger of God burning up the animal in the place of the worshipper… We can imagine Job doing this for [his children] one at a time: “This one is for you,” and he lights the fire, and the animal is consumed… And so on until all the children were covered by sacrifice.

The Bible portrays for us a world that lies under the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of the Creator, who has no rivals… And yet he does not govern the world as the sole supernatural power. He governs the world by means of and through the agency of a multiplicity of supernatural powers, some of whom are evil.

The book of Job is not about suffering in general… Rather it is about how God treats his friends.

The Satan, for all his malice, is doing something necessary for the glory of God. In some deep way it is necessary for it to be publically seen by the whole universe that God is worthy of the worship of a man and that God’s worth is in no way dependent on God’s gifts.

Empathy may be inarticulate… But comfort must be articulate and active. Empathy may be silent, but comfort must include speech.

[Job] has been taken away into a different realm, a realm of suffering so deep [his friends] cannot reach him… To them Job is no longer a living person.

A true Christian believer may be taken by God through times of deep and dark despair… We need to recognise that there may be times in the life of a believer when the future appears utterly blank and all we can do is look back with regret.

How do you and I respond when the wild world breaks into the farm, when the disorder and chaos of a dark world invades our ordered world and makes mincemeat of our plans and hopes? Come outside the farm, says the Lord to Job, and have a thoughtful tour of the wild world outside.

We are forced to consider the strange but wonderful possibility that evil is created to serve the purposes and glory of God.

Satan, the Leviathan, is a horrible monster. But he cannot go one millimetre beyond the leash on which the Lord keeps him.

The normal Christian life is warfare and waiting and being loved and humbled by God and being justified by God… The blessings we get now are just a tiny foretaste of the blessings to be poured out at the end.

 

 

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