Saturday, June 29, 2013


It could be that our faithlessness is a cowering cowardice born of our very smallness, a massive failure of imagination. Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn't believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that. No claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe.

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

The Kingdom

The kingdom is not simply some cipher that we can fill in with our ideas about what a good society ought to look like. Nor is it merely a way of reemphasizing the eternal sovereignty of God, though this is certainly part of what the proclamation of the kingdom entails. Rather the proclamation of the coming kingdom of God, its presence, and its future coming is a claim about how God rules and the establishment of that rule through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus the Gospels portray Jesus not only offering the possibility of achieving what were heretofore thought to be impossible ethical ideals. He actually proclaims and embodies a way of life that God has made possible here and now.
Stanley HauerwasThe Peaceable Kingdom

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Learning Scripture by heart

I'm a great believer in memorising texts, the better to appreciate and understand them, though it gets harder and harder to do as you get older.  Nevertheless, as you can see from this extract, I'm in good company. 

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119 verse 72.

You that are gentlemen, remember what Hierom reports of Nepotianus, a young gentleman of Rome, qui longs et assidua meditatione Scripturarum pectus suum feterat bibliothecam Christi, who by long and assiduous meditation of the Scriptures, made his breast the library of Christ. Remember what is said of King Alfonsus, that he read over the Bible fourteen times, together with such commentaries as those times afforded.
You that are scholars, remember Cranmer and Ridley; the former learned the New Testament by heart in his journey to Rome, the latter in Pembroke hall walks in Cambridge. Remember what is said of Thomas a Kempis, — that he found rest nowhere nisi in angulo, cum libello, but in a corner with this Book in his hand. And what is said of Beza, — that when he was above fourscore years old he could say perfectly by heart any Greek chapter in Paul's Epistles.
You that are women, consider what Hierom saith of Paula, Eustochiam, and other ladies, who were singularly versed in the Holy Scriptures.
Let all men consider that hyperbolical speech of Luther, that he would not live in Paradise without the Word; and with it he could live well enough in hell. This speech of Luther must be understood cum grano salis. — Edmund Calamy
[or possibly his father, also called Edmund]

Friday, June 21, 2013


From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119 verse 71. 

It is good for me to be afflicted. I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty, and strengthened by my weakness, and with Saint Bernard desire, "Irasecaris mihi; Domine", O Lord, be angry with me. For if you chide me not, you consider me not; if I taste no bitterness, I have no physic; if you correct me not, I am not thy son. Thus was it with the great grandchild of David, Manasseh, when he was in affliction, "He besought the Lord his God": even that king's iron was more precious to him than his gold, his jail a more happy lodging than his palace, Babylon a better school than Jerusalem. What fools are we, then to frown upon our afflictions! These, how crabbed soever, are our best friends. They are not indeed for our pleasure, they are for our profit; their issue makes them worthy of a welcome. What do we care how bitter that potion be that brings Health. — Abraham Wright [most likely from A Practical Commentary on the Psalms,’ 1661]
It's worth adding another comment, this time from George Bowen [in his Daily Meditations]:
Even the profoundest affliction does not, perhaps, teach us everything; a mistake we sometimes make. But why should we compel God to use harsh measures with us? Why not sit at the feet of Jesus and learn quietly what we need to learn?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Siding with the poor

Jesus did not limit his work to moral motivation. He also preached by the way he lived. When rich and poor stood opposed to one another, he never took his place with the wealthier but always with the poorer. He was born in a stable; and while foxes have holes and birds have nests, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. His apostles were to give no consideration to the accumulation of capital. They were to go out without purse and without food.... Powerful is the trait of compassion, imprinted on every page of the Gospel where Jesus came into contact with the suffering and the oppressed. He did not push aside the masses who were ignorant of the law, but drew them to himself.

Abraham Kuyper
 The Problem of Poverty

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Your neighbour's good

The more someone rejoices over his neighbour's good, the more he shares in it. So if you want to have a share in the good of all, rejoice in the good of all. Make the good of others your own if it pleases you, and make the evil of others your care if it displeases you. That is the way of salvation: that you rejoice over your neighbour's good and grieve over his evil, and think good of others and evil of yourself, and honor others and despise yourself.

Brother Gilesqtd. in The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Feeding our brother

We are our brother's keeper. Whatever we have beyond our own needs belongs to the poor. If we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly. And it is sad but true that we must give far more than bread, than shelter.... If we do give in this way, then the increase comes. There will be enough. Somehow we will survive; "The pot of meal shall not waste, nor the cruze of oil be diminished," for all our giving away the last bit of substance we have. At the same time we must often be settling down happily to the cornmeal cakes, the last bit of food in the house, before the miracle of the increase comes about. Any large family knows these things -- that somehow everything works out. It works out naturally and it works out religiously.
Dorothy DayLoaves and Fishes

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Believing in the commandments

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 119.
Verse 66. — For I have believed thy commandments. These words deserve a little consideration, because believing is here joined to an unusual object. Had it been, "for I have believed thy promises," or, "obeyed thy commandments," the sense of the clause had been more obvious to every vulgar apprehension. To believe commandments, sounds as harsh to a common ear, as to see with the ear, and hear with the eye; but, for all this, the commandments are the object; and of them he saith, not, "I have obeyed"; but, "I have believed."
To take off the seeming asperity of the phrase, some interpreters conceive that "commandments" is put for the word in general; and so promises are included, yea, they think, principally intended, especially those promises which encouraged him to look to God for necessary things, such as good judgment and knowledge are. But this interpretation would divert us from the weight and force of these significant words. Therefore let us note, —
1. Certainly there is a faith in the commandments, as well as in the promises. We must believe that God is their author, and that they are the expressions of his commanding and legislative will, which we are bound to obey. Faith must discern the sovereignty and goodness of the law maker and believe that his commands are holy, just, and good; it must also teach us that God loves those who keep his law and is angry with those who transgress, and that he will see to it that His law is vindicated at the last great day.
2. Faith in the commandments is as necessary as faith in the promises; for, as the promises are not esteemed, embraced, and improved, unless they are believed to be of God, so neither are the precepts: they do not sway the conscience, nor incline the affections, except as they are believed to be divine.
3. Faith in the commands must be as lively as faith in the promises. As the promises are not believed with a lively faith, unless they draw off the heart from carnal vanities to seek that happiness which they offer to us; so the precepts are not believed rightly, unless we be fully resolved to acquiesce in them as the only rule to guide us in obtaining that happiness, and unless we are determined to adhere to them, and obey them. As the king's laws are not kept as soon as they are believed to be the king's laws, unless also, upon the consideration of his authority and power, we subject ourselves to them; so this believing notes a ready alacrity to hear God's voice and obey it, and to govern our hearts and actions according to his counsel and direction in the word. — Thomas Manton.

Friday, June 07, 2013


The most fundamental of these desecrations has been the reduction of the human image, which we once understood as the image of God, to an image merely of humanity itself as a "higher animal" -- with the implied permission to be more bewildered, violent, self-deluded, destructive, and self-destructive than any of the animals. From the desecration of that image, the desecration of the world and all its places and creatures inexorably follows. For it appears that, having once repudiated our primordial likening to the maker and preserver of the world, we don't become merely higher animals, merely neutral components of the creation-by-chance of the materialists, but are ruled instead by an antithetical likeness to whatever unmakes and fragments the world.
Wendell Berry"Against the Nihil of the Age" in Imagination in Place

Newbigin's six views of the church 2

Newbigin's six views of what the church will be... will be a community of truth. This may seem an obvious point, but it needs to be stressed. As I have tried to show in these chapters, it is essential to recognize that all human thinking takes place within a "plausibility structure" which determines what beliefs are reasonable and what are not. The reigning plausibility structure can only be effectively challenged by people who are fully integrated inhabitants of another. Every person living in a "modern" society is subject to an almost continuous bombardment of ideas, images, slogans, and stories which presuppose a plausibility structure radically different from that which is controlled by the Christian understanding of human nature and destiny. The power of contemporary media to shape thought and imagination is very great. Even the most alert critical powers are easily overwhelmed. A Christian congregation is a community in which, through the constant remembering and rehearsing of the true story of human nature and destiny, an attitude of healthy scepticism can be sustained, a scepticism which enables one to take part in the life of society without being bemused and deluded by its own beliefs about itself. And, if the congregation is to function effectively as a community of truth, its manner of speaking the truth must not be aligned to the techniques of modern propaganda, but must have the modesty, the sobriety, and the realism which are proper to a disciple of Jesus.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, page 228/9

[The next in this series is here

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Newbigin's six views of the church 1

Newbigin's six views of what the church will be...

1...a community of praise. That is, perhaps, its most distinctive character. Praise is an activity which is almost totally absent from "modern" society. Here two distinct points can be made.

a. The dominant notes in the development of the specifically "modern" view of things has been (as we have noted earlier) the note of scepticism, of doubt. The "hermeneutic of suspicion" is only the most recent manifestation of the belief that one could be saved from error by the systematic exercise of doubt. It has followed that when any person, institution, or tradition has been held up as an object worthy of reverence, it has immediately attracted the attention of those who undertook to demonstrate that there was another side to the picture, that the golden image has feet of clay. I suppose that this is one manifestation of that "disenchantment" which Weber regarded as a key element in the development of "modern" society. Reverence, the attitude which looks up in admiration and love to one who is greater and better than oneself, is generally regarded as something unworthy of those who have "come of age" and who claim that equality is essential to human dignity. With such presuppositions, of course, the very idea of God is ruled out. The Christian congregation, by contrast, is a place where people find their true freedom, their true dignity, and their true equality in reverence to One who is worthy of all the praise that we can offer.

b. Then, too, the Church's praise includes thanksgiving. The Christian congregation meets as a community that acknowledges that it lives by the amazing grace of a boundless kindness. Contemporary society speaks much about "human rights." It is uncomfortable with "charity" as something which falls short of "justice," and connects the giving of thanks with an unacceptable subservience. In Christian worship the language of rights is out of place except when it serves to remind us of the rights of others. For ourselves we confess that we cannot speak of rights, for we have been given everything and forgiven everything and promised everything, so that (as Luther said) we lack nothing except faith to believe it. In Christian worship we acknowledge that if we had received justice instead of charity we would be on our way to perdition. A Christian congregation is thus a body of people with gratitude to spare, a gratitude that can spill over into care for the neighbor. And it is of the essence of the matter that this concern for the neighbor is the overflow of a great gift of grace and not, primarily, the expression of commitment to a moral crusade. There is a big difference between these two.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Secular Society under attack one can be blind to the evidence that the liberal, secular democratic state is in grave trouble. The attacks on it from powerful new religious fanaticisms are possible only because its own internal weaknesses have become so clear: the disintegration of family life, the growth of mindless violence, the vandalism which finds satisfaction in destroying whatever is comely and useful, the growing destruction of the environment by limitless consumption fueled by ceaseless propaganda, the threat of nuclear war, and-as the deepest root of it all-the loss of any sense of a meaningful future. Weakened from within, secular democratic societies are at a loss to respond to religious fanaticism without denying their own principles. What could it mean for the Church to make once again the claim which it made in its earliest centuries, the claim to provide the public truth by which society can be given coherence and direction?

Certainly it cannot mean a return to the use of coercion to impose belief. That is, in any case, impossible. Assent to the claim of Christ has to be given in freedom. But it is never given in a vacuum. The one to whom the call of Jesus comes already lives in a world full of assumptions about what is true. How is this world of assumptions formed? Obviously through all the means of education and communication existing in society. Who controls these means? The question of power is inescapable. Whatever their pretensions, schools teach children to believe something and not something else. There is no "secular" neutrality. Christians cannot evade the responsibility which a democratic society gives to every citizen to seek access to the levers of power. But the issue has never confronted the Church in this way before; we are in a radically new situation and cannot dream either of a Constantinian authority or of a pre-Constantinian innocence.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 223-4

Former mercies

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 119. 
Verse. 65. Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O Lord, according unto thy word 
He knew that God's gifts are without repentance, and that he is not weary of well doing, but will finish the thing he hath begun; and therefore he pleads past favours. Nothing is more forcible to obtain mercy than to lay God's former mercies before him. Here are two grounds, First. If he dealt well with him when he was not regenerate, how much more will he now? and Secondly, all the gifts of God shall be perfectly finished, therefore he will go on to deal well with his servant. Here is a difference between faith and an accusing conscience: the accusing conscience is afraid to ask more, because it hath abused the former mercies: but faith, assuring us that all God's benefits are tokens of his love bestowed on us according to his word, is bold to ask for more. — Richard Greenham