An Integrated Approach to Reading the Bible: Centring the Church

In a previous post, I mentioned that I am teaching an Intro to the New Testament course this year and that the first lecture is on hermeneutics. There, I mentioned three benefits to thinking about hermeneutics, or how to read the bible. I want to now suggest how we can develop an integrated framework for reading the scriptures.

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Three Benefits of Hermeneutics: Wisdom, Humility and Conviction

I’m looking forward to leading an Introduction to the New Testament Course this year for lay folk in the Church of England. The first lecture is on hermeneutics, or how we read the bible*. Hermeneutics is a bewildering subject and yet one that has rich pay-off both for growing as readers but also as disciples and followers of Christ.

Here are three benefits that I have identified as I have engaged with hermeneutics. No doubt there are others, but these seem to be the most pertinent to discipleship.

Continue reading “Three Benefits of Hermeneutics: Wisdom, Humility and Conviction”

I’m looking forward to leading an Introduction to the New Testament Course this year for lay folk in the Church of England. The first lecture is on hermeneutics, or how we read the bible*. Hermeneutics is a bewildering subject and yet one that has rich pay-off both for growing as readers but also as disciples and followers of Christ.

Here are three benefits that I have identified as I have engaged with hermeneutics. No doubt there are others, but these seem to be the most pertinent to discipleship.

Continue reading “Three Benefits of Hermeneutics: Wisdom, Humility and Conviction”

The Heart of the Matter: Christ and the Fleshly Politics of Our Age

“The flesh desires against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh…” Galatians 5:17

“My kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36

The Fleshliness of Contemporary Politics

Human systems of government fail because they mistake means for ends, or subsidiary ends for ultimate ones. The problem, for the Christian, is not simply that these philosophies are materialist, in the sense of having a concern for one’s material state of affairs (money, property, means etc.). Though, of course, these philosophies are materialist as well, and deeply so. Capitalism seeks to alter the material state of the individual and communism that of the collective via the proletariat. It is a problem when material change becomes the ultimate end. But their concern with matter is not the heart of their failure. For Christianity, after all, is also interested in the material and in man’s material means. Yet it does not seek to alter the material as a chief and ultimate end. If Christianity does alter a person’s material status, then this is always indirect. It is always sublimated to a higher end—that of the conversion of her soul, her character, her heart, her very self.

The problem is not simply that human systems of government and politics are too “material”, then, but that they are fleshly. That is, they leave man in a state that is unconverted and self-centred, apart from God. St Paul often uses flesh in the sense of “human nature” apart from God and left to its own devices. Our human systems are fleshly in the sense that they would make us materially wealthy or transformed (through whatever means), but leave our very selves languishing in a prison of despair, our souls shackled to the flesh which, left to its own devices, will only do us damage. These philosophies and systems of thought would leave us free to our own devices which is precisely the problem. Free to our own devices, we are free to destroy ourselves.

Christ comes to put the flesh to death, by his own death, and to convert the soul. If the material means of a person are changed, then this is a side-effect, an important side-effect, but a side-effect nonetheless.

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Resolutions for 2021 and a Personal Review of 2020

I wrote a list of New Year’s Resolutions for last year and found it a pretty helpful exercise on the whole, especially in terms of setting and re-setting priorities throughout the year. I’m back at again this year but with slightly more specific goals (using Full Focus’s Executive Planner). I haven’t stuck in the dates by which I want to complete all of the goals because, well, this is a public blog. But most of the goals and dates are out there and will, hopefully, keep me accountable. So, here goes, in no particular order…

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Courage and Competence in the UK Coronavirus Response: A Counterfactual

It’s fair to say that the driving motivator of the UK government’s response to the coronavirus has been fear. Fear of widespread cases and fatalities and fear of an overwhelmed health service. Fear, by and large, leads to, and is undergirded by, concerns with safety.

And there was much to fear when the virus appeared on the scene in early 2020. The virus was a kind of unknown; we did not know how it would operate. Indeed, it seemed to affect different populations, and different parts of a given population, differently. Fear seemed a natural response to the unknown. It seemed right to prioritise safety above all else. So, here in the UK, we went into a series of national lockdowns—two, in fact, as well as other measures that came pretty close to the life-altering existence that lockdowns represent.

Courage

But what if the government had appealed to alternative motivators for tackling this pandemic? Specifically, what if it had appealed to the courage of its citizenry?

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On Not Living Ahead of Time: The Hopeful Realism of Advent

St Bene’t’s, Cambridge, where I worship, are putting together a series of Advent reflections, with one for each day. I post mine below.

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The subject of my reflection is Augustine’s Letter to Boniface (Letter 189) and is inspired by the thoughts of Canadian philosopher James KA Smith on the letter which you can listen to here:

“we ought not to want to live ahead of the appointed time”

Near the beginning of the fifth century, the great ecclesiastical writer St Augustine addresses a Christian politician weary with his civic duties and the terrible tumult of his times (plus ça change!). We sadly do not have the surviving letter from Boniface to Augustine and so we have to infer Boniface’s attitudes and thoughts from Augustine’s prose. When we do, what we notice is a figure anxious about reconciling his allegiance to God with serving in the government of the time. Among other things, Boniface is particularly keen to know whether he should lead military campaigns as a Christian. Augustine cautions Boniface against abandoning the position he finds himself in and from running away from the gifts God had bestowed on him to fulfil his tasks for the common good.

While we might not follow Augustine in all of his conclusions (we may well raise an eyebrow at Augustine’s justification of Christian involvement in battle, for instance), his words have peculiar relevance and resonance for the Season we now find ourselves in— the Season of Advent. I want to draw our attention, in particular, to Augustine’s short and suggestive supplication: “we ought not to want to live ahead of the appointed time”.

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Christian Life is Lived Between Christ the King Sunday and Advent

James KA Smith’s address to Christians in Parliament from 2018 is a must listen for the week between Christ the King Sunday (a relative newcomer to the Liturgical Calendar) and Advent. Check it out below:

The Little Things and the Unglamorous Ordinary

A friend last night reminded me last night of the significance of the small and seemingly insignificant things of life—making coffee for a loved one, spending time with one’s parents, relating well to the person we find annoying. For the Christian, if all the situations we find ourselves are in some way a gift from God, then how we relate to these things, people and situations seems to be of infinite importance.

It seems that most of life is spent in the mundane humdrum. Yet it is easy to get distracted by the flashing lights of false visions that we might have for ourselves (who we might be, where we might be working, and so on). I’m reminded of Eugene Peterson’s quote that discipleship and wisdom take place in the unglamorous ordinary. It is here that God would have us, for it is here that we grow.

Writing Break

My blog writing will probably be slightly sporadic over the next couple of months.

This is because I am working on a book project: turning my thesis into a published monograph. I’ve had fun working on this in the morning using the Ulysses writing app which I would thoroughly recommend. But this side of Christmas, you might see slightly fewer posts. I’m still working on the Tribalism series (number two is almost ready), as well as few other pieces on history and theology in the Church, Quietness (drawing on language from the Book of Common Prayer), Christianity and Class and some personal reflections as an Anywhere-r on finding a Somewhere.

In the meantime, I updated my About Me page, which you can check out. I’ve dropped in a section in which I outline where I broadly sit within the political and theological landscape, for those who are interested.