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Category Archives: Theology

A new blog Under The Water

I have started a new blog site called, Under the Water.

I will maintain both sites, but Under the Water will have a more specific and narrow subject as summarised on the About page:

Under the Water is a writing project that I plan to use to tease out some questions about whether a Baptist Church has a place in Australia. Along the way I will deal with practical and theological issues on Baptist beliefs and behaviours. I am writing from the perspective of both a Church Minister (or to use the common Baptist terminology, Pastor) and a potential research student working towards completing a post-graduate theological degree. At some point in the next few years I am planning to write a formal thesis dissertation and the articles on this blog are a way of thinking through that process in smaller, less academic, bite size pieces.

I have kicked things off with a small chat about defining ‘Church‘.

So, add the site to your feedreader or subscription and come along for the ride.

What topics or issues, related to Under the Water, would you like to see or discuss there?

 

 

 
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Posted by on 10/09/2013 in church, Culture, leadership, Theology

 

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The Bible in 3D – Press Release

3Dpromo

The full website and details are here. Below is the press release which was prepared today after we did the photo shoot.

For most people, reading the Bible is like watching a foreign movie with no subtitles. A seminar in Katoomba on 22 March 2014 will take the mystery away and make it jump off the page… in 3D.

Doug Haley and Mike Bull, both from Katoomba, and Albert Garlando from Sydney, are holding a one day seminar in the ballroom of the Carrington Hotel for Bible readers and lovers of great literature. It is designed to show how the ancient texts use the same techniques to connect with people as the screenwriters, directors and musicians behind today’s pop culture.

“Modern readers see texts as flat transmissions of data, so they miss a whole channel of communication,” said Mike Bull. “To compensate, Bible scholars have given us a list of rules which is as long as the Bible itself! But the Bible is just like any other well-crafted book. You just dive right in and let the author fill you in as you go along. We’ll show you how the ancient writers added depth using clever tools like symbols, symmetry, repetition and fractals.”

“The good thing is that the best TV shows and movies are using these sorts of things more and more in their stories. The Bible is a very visual, artistic and musical book, so this new generation raised on visual media already has all the skills they need to understand and enjoy it.”

“The most surprising payoff is the book of Revelation. Readers don’t get what it’s about because they don’t have the books of Moses under their skin. It’s like watching Shrek with no familiarity with the fairy tales, nursery rhymes or pop culture behind its clever references and ironic jokes. Watching Shrek is good training for Bible study!”

Doug Haley, who is doing a PhD on Isaiah and tutoring in Old Testament at the University of Sydney, will introduce the Bible’s visual language. Mike Bull, a local graphic designer and theology blogger, will explain the literary devices. Albert Garlando is the pastor of Marsfield Community Church in Sydney, and he will talk about how all this highbrow stuff plays out in life and ministry.

For info on the seminars and a free ebook, visit www.readingthebiblein3d.com

Full contact details:

Michael Bull
PO Box 331
Katoomba NSW 2780
T 0419 415 056
info @ readingthebiblein3d.com

 
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Posted by on 24/07/2013 in Bible, Hermenutics, Theology

 

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Abra Kadabra … Whamo! You’re a Christian

There is a type of thinking that is popular among Christians that says you become a Christian simply by repeating the words of a prayer to God. This prayer varies in exact wording among different denominations and branches of the Christian Church, however the basic elements are all the same. Say the prayer, and hey presto you’re now a Christian. If you ever struggle with your faith in the future or fall away completely, that’s OK, because once upon a time, you prayed a prayer so you have a spiritual insurance policy against fire damage.

One of the problems with that idea is there are no examples of it in the Bible. Another is that it is not a common practice throughout Church history until very recently (last century). But, the biggest problem is when you base your spiritual confidence in something you do instead of something God has done in the person of Jesus then you are “placing all bets” on your own personal worth and accomplishments. If that’s the case, you had better make sure your record is completely, 100%, perfect.

I prayed a prayer, therefore I am going to heaven. In other words, I’ve paid my dues, so God owes me one.
Christianity is never presented this way in the Bible. Instead what we see is Jesus calling people to repent of self-confidence and self accomplishment and instead trust in his accomplishment on their behalf. i.e. to trust in his completely, 100%, perfect record and perfect offering of himself to satisfy the justice of God on your behalf.

My self-confidence and sense of personal peace or enjoyment of my faith will vary all the time, but the accomplishment of Jesus stands and remains consistent. If I doubt my sincerity when I prayed such and such a prayer, my confidence could waver. But, if I doubt, or am discouraged, defeated, depressed or disillusioned in myself Jesus has called me to look away from myself and look to him. I am not a Christian because of something I have done or haven’t done. Rather I am a Christian because I am relying and trusting in what the Bible says Jesus has done on my behalf.

J.D. Greear has written a little book called “Stop asking Jesus into your heart”. He explains the difference between relying upon Jesus and “praying a special prayer”.

“Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ. You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer. But don’t make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture. The sinner’s prayer is not a magic incantation or a recipe you follow to get a salvation cake. The real stuff—the stuff that matters—is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak. The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.

we might express our assumption of that new posture in a “sinner’s prayer”—or by “asking Jesus into our hearts,” or some equivalent thereof—but just because we’ve prayed that prayer doesn’t necessarily mean we have repented and believed. The flip side is also true: just because we haven’t prayed that prayer (or can’t remember praying it) doesn’t mean we haven’t repented and believed. “Repentance and belief” and “asking Jesus into our hearts” are not always interchangeable.”

~ Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J.D. Greear

Are you repenting of your sin and trusting in Jesus or are you trusting in some words you once recited as a prayer?

 

 
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Posted by on 22/03/2013 in Bible, Culture, discipleship, Evangelism, Reading, Theology

 

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Modernising the Apostles Creed

a not-so-sacred cow in Edinburgh via karen_roe in flickr

a not-so-sacred cow in Edinburgh via karen_roe in flickr

During a baptism class on Sunday, where many children were present, I was briefly explaining some of the key phrases of the Apostles Creed. Who is God? Who is Jesus? What does “ascended” mean? etc. I also noticed that the version of the creed we were reading had retained a few archaic English terms like “thence” instead of “there” and “Ghost” instead of “Spirit”.

I told the parents present I would update that language so the kids understood what we were talking about. If they read in the Bible, and hear in Kids Church that “God the Holy Spirit” is the third person of the Trinity and then read “Holy Ghost” in the creed, are they going to become confused? I think it’s very likely and not just for the children.

Here is my suggested modern rendering the Apostles Creed. The creed has changed much since its earliest appearance as a Latin statement of belief. Some of those changes have attracted controversy. Others were simply to modernise the language. In my version below, I have changed the wording in a few places. Have I retained the meaning adequately? Is the Apostles Creed an untouchable “sacred cow”? What do you think?

The Apostles Creed – A Modern Children’s Edition by Albert Garlando

I believe in God the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth,

I believe in Jesus Christ, God the Son, our Lord:
He was made into a baby by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary; he suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, then he died, and was buried; he went down into the grave.
The third day after, He arose again from the dead;
He went up into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
He will come back from heaven to judge everyone who has ever lived.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; He brings every believer into the holy Christian Church and gives them the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and everlasting life.
Amen.

 

 
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Posted by on 26/02/2013 in church, discipleship, Theology

 

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EVERYONE who asks RECEIVES

Smore! You want SMORE?!

Smore! You want SMORE?!

I certainly have not received everything I have ever asked for. Sometimes that has been a good thing, especially when my mother used to say, “You’re asking for it kid!

What about the times, when I sincerely, politely, humbly, even altruistically, asked for something and still did not receive it. What was the deal there?

Have I not received it “yet“? Is it a case of timing or delayed gratification?

Have I received it in some other form I am unable or unwilling to recognise?

Perhaps the premise or the promise is flawed. Merely a delusional distraction of some kind?

What on earth was Jesus going on about when he said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” in Matthew 7:8?

I read it again the other day and it jumped out as a dogmatic statement. When I flicked back a couple of pages I noticed that “asking” and “seeking” featured regularly in the section of scripture, commonly referred to in Matthews Gospel as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, where this verse is found.

At the start of the Sermon, Jesus said,

“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and

“”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Matthew 5:3,6

If, as seems to be the case, he is using a poetical form of rhetoric to make his point, this would show that those who are the poor, the impoverished, the ones who lack in some way, thus their hunger and thirst, are the ones who will be on the receiving end of God’s grace, mercy and generosity. There is a sense in which they do not need to ask or seek because they will be pre-emptively supplied by God in some way.

This seems to be reenforced in Matthew 6:8, where Jesus said,

“your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

However he then goes on to teach the Lord’s Prayer, which has a series of requests in which the petitioner first asks for God’s kingdom.

Later in Matthew 6:33, he tells them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Previously when I’ve read that verse, I took it as a sort of reassurance that Jesus was referring to my temporal comforts. i.e. there was some sort of theistic bargain taking place. If I “seek” his kingdom, I will taken care of in the food and clothing department, ignoring the full context of the sermon.

The verbs and participles in Matthew 7:8 are all in the present tense (except for “will be opened”), so it could be read as;

“For all those who are asking are receiving and all those seeking are finding and to all those knocking it will be opened”

Putting this together with the preëmptive statements in Chapter 5 and 6 and the imperatives of the Lord’s Prayer (“pray like this…”) and Matthew 6:33 (“seek first the kingdom…”) God is using the means of prayer (asking, seeking, knocking) to carry out his goal of giving us his kingdom, his righteousness etc. It is not a case of bargaining; “If you bow down and worship me then I will give you these riches” – that offer came from someone else. Instead it is more the sense of; “God is giving you new life, and a new world view, as you worship him, apart from self interest, self justification, self vindication, and realise your own radical spiritual depravity.”

This is the only way “your righteousness exceeds that of (the self-appointed religious élite of their day) the scribes and pharisees.” When it is derived, or better understood as, received from God through Jesus. The difference between the first century application and today is merely context and politics. Then it was nominally religious posturing in defiance of an incumbent foreign government to look more self righteous before ones peers. Today, the posturing still happens, but its in the form of token environmental salvage or political endorsement of a minority whim both of which are fashioned to appear as gracious and tolerant and yet, like the scribes and pharisees of old, is dresses up in elaborate, eloquent, scolding arrogance towards any who buck the trend.

It may be said of them, as it was of me in my belligerence, “they’re asking for it.” Jesus assures them, they’ll “get it.” We all will. The question is not, are you getting what you asked for, but, what are you asking for? 

What are you asking for?

 
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Posted by on 03/01/2013 in discipleship, Jesus, Reading, Theology

 

Benefits of Leviticus

I am about to end a 7 week study of the first 7 chapters of the Old Testament book Leviticus. This section of the book deals with the sacrificial system of worship used in Israel from 1446BC when they left Egypt up to about AD70 when the last temple was destroyed.

This book has been ridiculed and attacked because of the strong indictments it makes against purification and ceremonial behaviours that Israel was to abstain from. These seem too harsh for the post modern sensitive eclectic spiritualists and anti-theists. Many Christians have shied away from the book instead of engaging it head on to deal with the counter cultural precepts it has.

My 7 week study didn’t get to the controversial personal purity laws – that comes later on, maybe next year ;) Instead, I focused on the ritual sacrifice ceremonies introduced at the beginning and sought to understand how these fit into the overall story of the Bible and, what, if any, instruction or relevance they have for anyone today.

Why not teach something easier or a little more directly applicable to a modern hearer? Why not emphasise Bible stories or passages that have universal appeal on matters of peace, harmony and personal fulfilment? To answer that, a few months ago, before starting the series, I jotted down a few of the benefits of studying Leviticus. Some of these apply to any book of the Bible and some are specific to Leviticus.

1. All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. Full stop. Period. c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. If the reliability and authority of the Bible is impugned by Leviticus than the rest of it is worth kindling. So, it is a worthwhile exercise to wrestle with this book, in an honest way, to understand it through historical and grammatical interpretation to find the original authorial intent and the original audience expectation (as much as may be possible with available internal and external evidentiary sources, references and support).

2. Psalm 119:130The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” i.e. through the reading and study of one part of the Bible we will improve and increase our understanding of other parts of the Bible. Instead of quoting one or two selective verses from the book of Leviticus and making a biased criticism about how it is out of date, irrelevant, oppressive, sexist, discriminatory and contradictory, why not read all of it and see how it integrates with the rest of the Bible and perhaps resolves some of those concerns about the way some controversial topics are handled.

3. Leviticus provides an example of liturgy and right worship (by ‘right’, I mean both worshipping rightly and worshipping the right object). Leviticus shows that worship includes fear, confession of sin, death of a substitute in the place of the sinner, rescue and redemption of the sinner, praise and thanksgiving.

4. Leviticus reinforces the covenantal patterns of how God relates to his creation. In the process of creation, destruction and recreation we have vivid instruction that leads to a fuller understanding of life, death, resurrection and glorification.

5. Leviticus fills out our understanding of many of the theological terms used in the New Testament. e.g. sacrifice, atonement, forgiveness, sin, guilt, offering, peace, priest, purification, holy, unholy etc.

6. In contrast to Israel who approached their worship with trepidation, we enter God’s presence boldly through Jesus who has perfectly completed all the types, symbols and ceremonies of the Law. He is our righteousness, peace, sanctification, sacrifice, atonement, heavenly bread, high priest, scapegoat and retribution for our sin.

7. Leviticus points us to Jesus as the ceremonies and rituals anticipate one who is greater that will forever satisfy the justice and share the mercy of God.

What other benefits have you enjoyed from studying the book of Leviticus?

 
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Posted by on 05/09/2012 in Bible, Hermenutics, Jesus, Preaching, Theology

 

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The light was on, but…

The account of a blind man being healed in John’s gospel seems to be a chiasm.

A chiasm is a mirrored literary structure where the use of words or images compliment or contrast each other in a definite sequence. It typically follows an ABCBA type pattern. Which places a climax point in the middle as well as at the end. Back when scrolls were in popular use the pivot point of the story was in the centre of the scroll as it opened.

In the case of John chapter 9. The words and images are all connected to sight and light and contrasted with darkness and blindness.

In this case the chiastic outline I’ve used has 7 steps.

1. The power of the (spoken) creative Word of God

vv.1-7 (characters: Jesus, disciples, blind man)
c.f. v.5 – “I am the light of the world” with Gen 1:3-5let there be light” & Psalm 119:130, “your words give light
The man blind from birth is “sent” home seeing

2. A division occurs between those who “see” and those who don’t

vv.8-12 (characters: Neighbours/Jews, blind man)
Where is this man?” They can’t “see” him and they refuse to “see” the wonder of the miracle that a blind man has been healed. Their eyes are behind a veil as it were, preventing them from seeing. c.f. 2 Corinthians 3:13-18

3. Debate about the purpose of the sabbath

In the law (Ex20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15) the sabbath was an occasion for resting from work for the purpose of drawing near to God in public worship. A blind man would have been ceremonially unclean and excluded from most of the festivals and sacrifices that made up Israel’s worship. Being healed meant, he could rejoin and fully participate in the community.
vv.13-17 (characters: Jews, Pharisees, blind man)
This man is not from God…” or “… he is a “prophet” Which is it? He can’t be both.

4. The test – will the testify accurately about his experience with Jesus?

vv.18-23 (characters: Jews, parents)
He is our son… he will speak for himself” – The parents trying to avoid persecution provide an opportunity for the formerly blind man to speak on behalf of Jesus. This is a climax point. Will he ratify his account and invite ridicule, mockery and social exclusion or will he remain silent in order to not to offend the religious zealots?

5. Those who “get it” are truly mature because they ‘do his will’

vv.24-34 (characters: Jews, blind man)
The debate intensifies about what it means to understand and apply God’s word. The Jews make an appeal to Moses (v.28), but they still can’t see the wonder of what has taken place. They start by saying, “give the glory to God“, but when the man does (v.33) they are offended at the prospect that God would act in this way.

6. The one who believes, conquers and is co-judge

vv.35-39 (characters: Jesus, blind man)
When the healing first occurred the Jews asked, “Where is the man“, but they aren’t prepared for the answer. Now Jesus returns to the conversation by addressing the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He is “the man” in more ways than one. Because the healed man places his trust in Jesus and worships him he enjoys the victory of true sight (v.39). As a result the healed man is now, by his testimony of faith, a co-judge against those that refuse to see and worship Jesus as the fulfilment of the Messianic promises.
c.f. Isaiah 35:4-5, Isaiah 42:6-7

7. The one who disbelieves is not glorified (does not receive God’s rest) but remains in guilt

vv.40-41 (characters: Pharisees, Jesus)
Are we blind too?”
The Pharisees are claiming to “see” without the aid of the “light of the world“. Their insistence is going to exclude them from sharing in the forgiveness, healing and life that God brings with his light. Compared to the healed man who was “sent” home freed from his blindness, the Pharisees “remain” in their guilt – i.e. they are culpable before God for what they claim to understand from Moses and the law.

Other articles related to Chiasm’s:

Jim Hamilton’s ‘Chiasm’s on the brain
Mike Bull, Bible Matrix

Mike’s book explains the significance behind the recurring 7-fold pattern I’ve used above to outline John 9. It starts in the 7-day creation story, continues with the 7 festivals of Israel and the 7 key elements of the tabernacle.

A. Creation

B. Division

C. Ascension

D. Testing

C. Maturity

B. Conquest

A. Glorification

 
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Posted by on 31/08/2012 in Bible, Gospel, Hermenutics, Jesus, Preaching, Theology

 

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