I have to confess that for much of my Christian life, I’d not really stopped to consider the person of Mary and what she contributes to the church today. I knew about the major controversies of church history, and the significant differences between the Roman Catholic understanding and that of reformed Protestantism. But at a personal level, I’d never stopped to ask the question, “What does Mary mean to me?”
There are many kinds of truth.
This opening statement may cause rejoicing in the hearts of the many relativists who now populate western society. However, the statement is not meant to encourage relativism, but proper thought—and, of course, those two things really don’t go together.
The issue of gender roles within marriage is one that has become increasingly controversial during the feminist revolution of the last 30 years. It is interesting to read a book like New Testament Nuptial Imagery1 from 1971, where the ‘traditional’ concepts like the submission of the wife and the headship of the husband are simply stated without revision or alternative suggestions.
Only 14 years later, a work like Bilezekian’s Beyond Sex Roles2 is typical of much recent scholarship that has proposed different interpretations of passages like Ephesians 5:21-33. In opposition to the traditional understanding, many commentators like Bilezekian portray their position as ‘egalitarian’ (defined as “asserting the equality of all people”3). Equality of all people, they assert, is a biblical principle demanded by passages like Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
Have you ever had a ‘girl crush’? You know, that admiring, platonic devotion women sometimes feel for other women. (The male version is, of course, the ‘boy crush’—most often expressed in adulation for preachers and thinkers like Don ‘The Don’ Carson and or John Piper.) Perhaps you adore Elisabeth Elliot, that beloved missionary. Perhaps you revere Susannah Wesley—she of the apron and the many children. Perhaps you idolize one of those regal, older women—someone you know who radiates calmness, wisdom and humility.
Sarah, wife of Abraham, seems like an ideal candidate for a girl crush. Her very name means ‘princess’. Her beauty was legendary (Gen 12:11). Many women (I’m one of them!) have been inspired by the Bible’s call to imitate her persevering faith and trusting submission (Heb 11:8-12, 1 Pet 3:1-7).
So when my Bible study group came to Sarah’s story, I think we were all expecting something pretty special. But we were unimpressed.
The distresses of the human soul and ‘inner world’ can be many. Sometimes people speak of having to deal with their ‘inner demons’. Most of us can cope when this is simply a vivid metaphor. But what happens when we realize the struggler is speaking literally—that is, they think that their inner distress is due to real demons at work in their soul?
Okay, that’s freaky—so medieval.
Recently I received the following comment after a sermon series on the Nicene Creed:
The Nicene Creed is like a favourite old horse that has died. No matter how you flog it—no matter how well you groom it—it needs to be buried and a new horse bought. It was good, but now it’s dead!
Here is my reply: thank you for the colourful (but anonymous) expression of your opinion. However that’s all it was: an expression of opinion without any reasons why the opinion was valid! I would have been helped by less certainty about your conclusion and more evidence for why you consider the Nicene Creed to be obsolete.
It’s the question that every Christian parent knows is coming sooner or later. I’m driving when six-year-old Thomas pipes up from the back seat. We’re alone, which doesn’t happen often in a family of six, so it’s a precious time for us. Deep thoughts are clearly running through his head: “Mummy, why do some people believe in Jesus and not others?”
As a change of pace from regular systematic expository preaching, and often to fit in with school holidays, I have developed a couple of sermons series entitled ‘Creedal conundrums’ that looks at phrases in the creeds that often puzzle people.
Another month, another Briefing! While you are enjoying the fruits of the May issue (on infertility and the ethics of IVF), this next lot of Saturday posts will focus on the topic of the June Briefing: hell, judgement and the Sabbath. (more…)
In a consumer-driven society, the preacher of the gospel can feel the pressure to aim always at the felt needs he/she guesses may exist in the potential hearer. Like all good angels of light, this too has its own attraction—and perhaps even some value. But as is usual with such blindingly beautiful apparitions, it too needs to be resisted, or at least received with great caution.
Once again (a deliberate attempt to tie in to previous posts), the pressure arises from the desperate search for a ‘point of contact’ (on the apparent assumption that this is not obvious, automatic, or already there since the gospel makes its own landing ground). It is often spoken of in terms of having to make the presentation of the gospel ‘relevant’ to the hearer.
I was listening the other day to a satirical comedy show on British Radio. The presenter was making a point about human relationships. The bulk of his satirical piece consisted of a reading from Genesis 2:18-25, in full, from the King James Version of the Bible (“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him …”). He read it slowly and theatrically in a fake American accent. During the reading, the audience laughed uproariously. When the reading was finished, the skit was effectively over; the point was made. The show moved on to the next topic. (more…)
My desk is currently cluttered with various currencies, my passport, boarding passes and luggage tags. Yes, it’s time for an overseas trip—which, in my job, happens reasonably regularly.
I guess going to new places, crossing continents and meeting new people all sounds exciting—and, in some ways, it is. But the reality of international ‘business’ travel is that it is tiring, expensive and often lonely. And now I can add one more disadvantage to the list: it’s dangerous! I’m not talking about terrorism or volcanic cloud-induced engine failure; the airline regulators and happy-go-lucky security people seem to have that under control. No, the greatest danger I think I face in my travel is much more spiritual: it’s the danger of greed and discontent.
It was a glorious Sydney autumn afternoon: brilliant blue skies, gentle breeze with the sounds of children laughing and playing in the background. I was at a party, and I had just met a radiographer. Apparently they do things with X-rays, not radios! As we got talking, she told me about her work doing ultrasounds for pregnant women. Then all of a sudden, without even realizing it, she led us into some very deep water—although, strangely, I was the only one who was drowning; she floated along quite happily. (more…)