About Me

My photo
Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Free IVP book offer: Today ONLY

On Wednesday, October 30, the e-version of Randal Rauser’s book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (InterVarsity, 2012) will be available for free for this one day only at

Amazon.com,
B&N,
and Christianbook.com.

In addition, the e-version book will be 50% off for the month of November.



Randal is a fabulous writer — exceptionally clear and honest and funny and challenging.

Here is the blurb:
In the real world, we don't usually sit in lecture halls debating worldview issues in systematic arguments. Chances are that we're more likely to have haphazard, informal conversations over a latte in a coffee shop. Meet Randal Rauser, a Christian, and Sheridan, an atheist. Over the course of one caffeinated afternoon, they explore a range of honest questions and real objections to Christian faith. Do people hold to a particular religion just because of an accident of geography? Is believing in Jesus as arbitrary as believing in Zeus? Why would God order the slaughter of infants or send people to hell? How do you know you're really real, and not just a character in someone's book? Their extended conversation unfolds with all the rabbit trails, personal baggage and distractions that inevitably come in real-world encounters. Rauser provides substantive argument-based apologetics but also highlights the importance of apologetics as a narrative journey. As we get to know Sheridan, we better understand the personal history that drives his atheism and the issues that motivate his skepticism. This imaginative narrative is a model of the rigorous pursuit of truth in conversation. Apologetics is not just about winning arguments; it is a transformative apprenticeship where eternity touches down in everyday life. It's about the discovery of truth through winding, weaving, honest, aimless, pointless and completely purposeful conversations between people who desperately want to know the way things really are. You, dear Reader, are already in this book. Randal has written you into the story, and you're sitting with him and Sheridan in the coffee shop, listening in on their dialogue. Discover what they have to say to each other--and to you.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Did God create the darkness and the sea?

Quick thought:

In Egyptian myths about the origin of the cosmos everything began in a dark cosmic sea. Similarly, in the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish there was nothing but water to start with. Everything came out of that.

Genesis 1 is the same. Everything starts with a dark and watery primeval state. Creation involves God organizing the waters and putting them in place so that life can flourish.

God says "Light be" but he does not say "darkness be."

God divides the waters into the waters above (kept at bay by a solid sky dome) and from the waters below (the seas), and the seas from the land. In this way God creates the sky, the sea, and the land as distinct zones. God organizes creation by moving water around; however, God does not create water.

This suspicion is reinforced by the way in which most OT scholars (though not all) translate the opening of Genesis: Something like this—"In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep . . ." In other words, creatio ex nihilo has many theological merits (and I am not suggesting that the church abandon it) but it is very likely that Genesis 1 does not teach it. The interests of Genesis lie elsewhere.

So it seems that in Genesis 1 (and that's all I'm talking about here) darkness and water are not so much brought into existence as contained and funneled to serve divine purposes. They are not evil but they are only declared "good" by God when they have been constrained and given a functional role in the cosmos.

So there, woven into the very fabric of the good created order, are the remnants of primeval darkness and chaotic seas—under divine control but dangerous none the less (as Noah's flood shows).

It would be interesting to do a wee bit of theological reflection on this.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

John MacArthur's "Strange Book"

John MacArthur's latest book, Strange Fire, and the accompanying conference seems to be causing something of a poo storm.

It is hardly surprising. MacArthur, who has long opposed the charismatic movement, has now taken aim in his second anti-Charismatic book. Here is the cover blurb:
Dr. John MacArthur teaches about the Holy Spirit and reveals how some parts of the Charismatic movement dishonor God. When Nadab and Abihu offered a strange fire to the Lord (Lev 10:1 3), when the Pharisees attributed the Spirit s work to Satan (Matt 12:22 37), and when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1 6), each was an affront that brought severe consequences even unto death. The Bible is clear that affronting the Holy Spirit is no laughing matter. Yet millions do it every day. The Charismatic movement, with more than half a billion members worldwide, is the fastest growing religious movement in the world. It boldly plasters the Holy Spirit s name on unbiblical worship like barking, jumping, laughing, trance-like states, extra biblical revelation, incomprehensible speech, inaccurate prophecies and ineffective healings. To the misguided many, these are the works of the Holy Spirit, but they are not from God at all. Strange Fire offers a biblical message to make right what has been wrong, help believers discern true worship and free those who have been swept up in false worship. With thorough exegesis, historical context of the Charismatic movement and pastoral guidance, this book reclaims the true power and import of the Holy Spirit for evangelicals and rebuffs those in the Charismatic movement who tempt God s wrath with strange fire.
Of course, I have been around charismatic churches for long enough to know that there are some weird and silly things that go on. And there are some false teachings that have crept into parts of the movement via certain teachers (not least the prosperity gospel). Thankfully, there are a lot of charismatics that are able to offer intelligent critiques from within the movement. And that is as it should be.

Now I have not read this book but I'm sure that I'd agree with some of his criticisms of aspects of the charismatic movement. However, from the summaries of its content that I have seen MacArthur goes waaaaaay beyond offering constructive critique. To his mind the entire movement is inspired by Satan, led by false teachers, and populated mostly by false believers.

Really? Wow! That is bold. But it's not merely rude—it's also just plain wrong. I know he thinks he's speaking prophetic truth to an unfaithful church, but PLEASE!

At this point I am torn. I could wax lyrical about all the reasons this is wrong but it is so blooming obvious that it seems patronizing to even spell it out. And plenty of other bloggers have done it very eloquently. (And don't even get me started on cessationism—a view clearly lacking in biblical support.)

My only point in the post is this: it is a very sad thing that MacArthur's Christianity is so terribly narrow that it feels compelled to write off Christians who fall outside its boundaries as misguided and even pseudo-Christians. A criticism aimed at correcting warped aspects of the movement (which, as everyone knows, is by far the fastest-growing part of the church in the world) could have been a helpful contribution. But damning it to hell?

And here's the problem for a charismatic evaluating the book: MacArthur's accusations are exceptionally strong. He is, in effect, claiming that acts that charismatics take to be acts of God in the world are actually satanic. Now this makes MacArthur's book (in the eyes of the charismatic) an attack on God's gracious work. In other words, it makes MacArthur's text an unwitting agent of Satan. It is hard to respond to such books charitably! But messengers of Satan can, as Paul discovered, be seen as gifts of God. So perhaps the best way for charismatics to respond is to take the critiques seriously, learn from them, change things that need changing, and reject MacArthur's errors.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Rain

Rain
There are holes in the sky
Where the rain gets in,
But they're ever so small
That's why the rain is thin

—Spike Milligan

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

What the Eucharist means to me (Holy Communion as deep church)

I became a Christian in a charismatic evangelical context and for many years I struggled to find much of interest in the Eucharist. This was largely because we associated encountering God with ‘the warm fuzzies’ (the kind of feelings you had while worshipping) and ‘the warm fuzzies’ were normally experienced while singing. Stopping the singing to ‘do’ Communion felt like breaking the flow of the worship rather than following the Spirit’s lead. In other words, Eucharist got in the way of worship. Of course, nobody would ever say this — after all, Jesus commanded us to do it — but I was certainly not alone in my unspoken disappointment with the Lord’s Supper.

Behind this disappointment lies an implicit belief that matter and spirit are very distinct things and that God is encountered not in the material but in the spiritual, in the inner world of thought and feeling. Communion is just too darn physical to easily integrate into our Christian worlds. But integrate it we must and the Eucharistic theology that evangelicals usually employ to do so is that of Ulrich Zwingli. According to Zwingli, communion is simply a memorial of the once-for-all death of Jesus. It works by focusing our thoughts on what Jesus did for us (thereby allowing it to work in the inner, non-material world). But it is not about the presence of Christ because Christ is in heaven and cannot be present in the Eucharistic elements. Thus the Lord’s Supper is, for many evangelicals, a celebration of divine absence; it’s about what we do, thinking about Jesus ‘until he comes’.

The problem with the Eucharist for Zwinglian evangelicalism is that there are plenty of more interesting and less weird ways to think about what Jesus did for us. We could, for instance, sing about it. What’s the point of faffing around with bread and wine? Strictly speaking we don’t need the Eucharist at all. Consequently, for many evangelical churches Communion is celebrated infrequently and as quickly as possible so that we can get on with the more important stuff. (We may never put it like that but our actions let the cat out of the bag.) McEucharist, the fast-food approach to Communion, was my world for many years.

No longer. Now I consider the Eucharist to be the central aspect of Christian worship. And the rich, overt physicality of the ritual is a large part of its power. I love it that touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound are all involved. I love it that both time and space are not set aside but are swept up into the sacred encounter and bow their knee before the Lord. We move our bodies: we make the sign of the cross, we share the peace, we go up to receive the elements, we kneel, we reach out to receive, we eat, we drink. And what we receive is so mundane and yet reveals that the mundane can be a place of encounter with the divine.

I love it that in this simple ritual we celebrate the whole biblical story. Here we affirm the goodness of creation (grain, water, and grapes) and of the human work that transforms it (into bread and wine); here we acknowledge sin and our need for ‘forgiveness of sins’; here, in this modified Passover meal, we recall God’s way with his people Israel and the exodus from slavery; here we are drawn into the new covenant relationship with God; here we find our faith in the enfleshment of the Word inscribed into the Eucharistic symbols (and if incarnation does not persuade us of the goodness and spirituality of the material world then nothing will!); here too we ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’, and not only his death but his resurrection for the logic of Holy Communion makes no sense if there is no living Lord to commune with; here God’s Spirit constitutes the church as the unified body of Christ (‘we are one body because we all share in the one bread’); here we celebrate the presence of Jesus with us (because by the Spirit the elements mediate the very life and presence of Christ to us) but also recognize that this presence is currently a presence-in-absence. The Eucharist is also fundamentally eschatological — a foretaste of the banquet in the coming age of the kingdom of God. As foretaste it simultaneously reminds us of both the now and the not yet, the presence and the absence of Jesus. It invites us to affirm our present experience as good but deeply broken and to look forward in hope to the coming kingdom of God. I love it that in one simple ritual meal we are invited to participate in an act that situates us within this grand narrative. It is a ritual through which we participate in a story in which we find our identity.

I also love it that the Eucharist is not a celebration that leaves us unchallenged. Paul hammers the wealthy members of the church in Corinth for allowing the hierarchical social values of Roman society—values embedded in meal practices—to be played out in their Eucharistic meals. But those very values undermine the unity we share in Christ and so Paul concludes that if they eat in this manner ‘it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat’ (1 Cor 11:20). For to eat at Jesus’ table is to acknowledge that everyone else who is present is equally valuable, equally a part of the body, equally loved by God. This feast is subversive and to share it with others comes with a challenge. The meal invites us to think about each other and to treat each other differently. It also challenges us to conform our identity as communities and as individuals to the image of the crucified God. At the heart of the celebration is the narrative of one who loved the world and so set aside his own rights for the sake of others. That sacrifice becomes the model for our own narrative-shaped identities. For Paul the church is called to cruciformity, a patterning of our living on the story of Jesus. That will look different in different circumstances but the pattern remains the same: serving the other in sacrificial, humble love. This meal can serve as one means by which God transforms us by the Spirit so as to embody that narrative and I’m up for all the provocation and support I can get.

On the issue of communion with one another, I love the thought that when we meet around the table we commune not only with the Lord and with those present but also with the saints all around the world and indeed throughout time. There is a very real sense in which during the sacred time of the Eucharist I feel temporally closer to the saints of the past, celebrating with them, than I do to people alive today in secular time. I feel connected with the apostle Peter, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, Anselm, Hildegard, Cranmer, and countless believers who I’ve never even heard of. At this table I feel like we belong together.

Finally, I love it too that the Eucharist is not about what we do; it’s about what God does. ‘This is my body, which is given for you . . .’ (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24). The Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s gift to us. Not a gift for the worthy but the unworthy. The Son of God loved us and gave himself for us. In Communion we come at the invite of the Lord and while we must actively respond to the invitation we don’t make anything happen — God does. In the epiclesis God is traditionally invited to send his Spirit on the elements and on the congregation, for without the Spirit the ritual is nothing. We reach out our hands and receive what it given to us by grace. We do not take the elements as if we deserved them. We come in humility and receive the gift of eternal life. But we come with confidence because God is gracious. I find this thought deeply inspirational. (‘Just as I am, without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come, I come’). I am not Atlas and I cannot hold the weight of the world on my shoulders. I cannot even hold my own weight. If my future or the future of the world depended on me then we’re all stuffed! But it does not. It depends on God’s purposes and God’s grace. In Communion we celebrate the God who loves and promises and brings to pass. We are the recipients of an unmerited gift. Eucharist reminds me that when we fall, as fall we do, we fall in grace, not from grace.