Friday, 15 August 2014

Effective Preaching

In the final chapter of his very worthwhile Leading God's People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012) Christopher A. Beeley cites a passage from St Augustine that in his words "deserves to be framed and displayed in the study of every preacher" (119):
Just as our hearers are delighted if you speak agreeably, in the same way they are swayed if they love what you promise them, fear what you threaten them with, hate what you find fault with, embrace what you commend, deplore what you strongly insist is deplorable; if they rejoice over what you say is a cause for gladness, feel intense pity for those whom your words present to their very eyes as objects of pity, shun those whom you proclaim in terrifying tones are to be avoided; and anything else that can be done by eloquence in the grand manner to move the souls of the listeners - not merely to know what is to be done, but to do what they already know is to be done.
Christian Teaching 4.12.27 (pronouns for the hearer altered from singular to plural) 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

What It Means to be Oppressed

We too readily forget, however, what it means to be “oppressed.” Liberation Theology has made it fashionable to speak of “the poor” and “the disempowered.” But this approach is too narrow. Hegel, Heidegger, Gadamer, Pannenberg, and others have shown that humans may be imprisoned by their historical finitude or “thrownness.” In other words, society and their situation in history have foreclosed certain options. A thoroughly “rationalist” or evidentially “scientific” society may make Christian belief more difficult, and this becomes therefore a force of oppression. Sometimes churchpeople may become a little complacent about their privilege of not being among unbelievers. But if God’s vindication of the oppressed includes those weighed down with constraints imposed upon them, by their race, gender, or society, who is to say how far God’s act of vindication can reach? To be born outside of the heritage of the Christian Church or a Christian family is thereby to be exposed to the dominating and oppressive structures of “principalities and powers,” whether in the form of aggressive secularism or religious paganism.

Anthony C. Thiselton, Life after Death: A New Approach to the Last Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 182

Graded Rewards in the Final Judgement?

Some passages may seem at first sight to suggest "grades" of rewards or penalty, as when Paul speaks of builders who build with different types of materials (1 Cor. 3:10-15). But the text makes it clear, as James Dunn insists, that there are not six types of work (gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw), but simply combustible and noncombustible material (gold, silver, marble). This will survive the fire. Dunn comments, "Those who have Christ as the foundation of their lives will be saved...(even if in some cases) saved only by a whisker." God is faithful in completing what he has begun. The Last Judgment will reveal that those in Christ are in a right relation with God.
          On the subject of graded "rewards" and penalties, we must refer back to what we asserted about "internal" consequences when we discussed the wrath of God in the last chapter. Clearly there will be no "external" distribution of these Christians. Any external "reward" would pale into insignificance compared with the privilege of being admitted to the glory and presence of God in Christ. If "heaven" means perfect bliss, there is hardly room for personal comparisons of achievement. But this may not preclude the "reward" of knowing that God's grace and gifts have been effective in unimagined ways. When Isaiah declares, "His reward is with him, and his recompense before him" (Isa. 40:10; 62:11), the meaning is that the very presence of God is his reward. Yet whether each believer will have the special satisfaction of knowing that his work had borne fruit and remains a significant factor, or will be eclipsed by the sheer glory of God and privilege of justification, is difficult to say with certainty. Certainly Paul suggests that deeds done "in the body" will feature somehow; but whether in individual terms or as contributory to the new creation as a whole is not clear. On the other hand, being in Christ cannot imply any sense of regret without questioning the all-sufficiency of the work of Christ.

Anthony C. Thiselton, Life after Death: A New Approach to the Last Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 181-82. Thiselton's citation of Dunn is from James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 491.

Presumption, Despair, and Hope

Both presumption and despair are denials of hope or trust.
"Presumption is a premature, self-willed anticipation of fulfilment of what we hope for from God. Despair is the premature, arbitrary anticipation of the non-fulfilment of what we hope for from God. Both forms of hopelessness...cancel the wayfaring character of hope. They rebel against the patience in which hope trusts in the God of the promise."
J├╝rgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (London: SCM, 1967), 23. Cited from Anthony C. Thiselton, Life after Death: A New Approach to the Last Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 21-22.