God as our Father, the privilege of Adoption

Recently I have been greatly helped by a blog series on Adoption from C J Mahaney and particularly the chapter on Adoption  in J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God.

Packer says this:

Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers. (J. I. Packer, Knowing God)

J. I. Packer considers adoption the highest privilege of the gospel—higher even than justification—because of the richness of the relationship with God with which it is associated.

In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge [justification] is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father [adoption] is a greater.

Some time ago I started reading Thomas Watson on the Lord’s Prayer alongside a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer we were having at church and noted the following in answer to his question, “Wherein lies the happiness of having God for our Father?”  Privilege indeed.

(1) If God be our Father, he will teach us (Is 48:17)
(2) If God be our Father, he has bowels of affection towards us
(3) If God be our Father, he will be full of sympathy (Ps 103:13)
(4) If God be our Father, he will take notice of the least good he sees in us
(5) If God be our Father, he will take all we do in good part
(6) If God be our Father, he will correct us in measure
(7) If God be our Father, he will intermix mercy with all our afflictions
(8) If God be our Father, the evil one shall not prevail against us
(9) If God be our Father, no real evil shall befall us
(10) If God be our Father, we may go with cheerfulness to the throne of grace
(11) If God be our Father, he will stand between us and danger
(12) If God be our Father, we shall not want anything that he sees to be good for us
(13) If God be our Father, all the promises of the Bible belong to us. Pardon…Salvation…Healing. A Child of God may go to any promise in the Bible, and pluck comfort from it
(14) God makes all his children conquerors
(15) If God be our Father, he will now and then send us some token of his love
(16) If God be our Father, he will indulge and spare us
(17) If God be our Father, he will put honour and renown upon us at the last day
(18) If God be our Father, he will settle a good inheritance on us. ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’
(19) If God be our Father, it is a comfort in case of the loss of relations
(20) If God be our Father, he will not disinherit us

One of the most important books since the Bible?

I gave up reviewing Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  It was all too depressing.

Seems I made a big mistake. Harper Collins have just published the Love Wins companion, and accordingly to their publicity:

…in The Love Wins Companion, Rob Bell offers commentary on the positive and negative attention his groundbreaking book is receiving, delivering a crucial supplement to one of the most important books since the Bible.

One of the most important books since the Bible? It is? And we know this for sure?  And HarperCollins felt the need to let the rest of us know?

The Bible in English (2)

Appropriately for the year which sees the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, I’ve finally finished the Bible In English – that’s the book I referred to in my last post by Shakespeare Scholar and Professor Emeritus at University College, London David Daniell. To be honest it’s about as long as the real Bible in English, and has taken me longer to read. But it was well worth it.

One reviewer has said that “great history should be partiale, passionnée and politique. Professor Daniell achieves this superbly.”

That reviewer is quite right. Daniell is clearly passionée – a huge enthusiast for wonderful story of commitment, danger, adventure and politics which brought the Bible to us in our own Language. He has admiration for the Lollards who first brought the Bible in a version of English we would understand, but reserves his greatest praise for William Tyndale, whose translation introduced into English language such phrases as “give us this day our daily bread”, still familiar almost 500 years later. Tyndale died in 1536 as a martyr for his work, praying: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” And yet despite this (because of this?) only three years later the Great Bible, largely based on Tyndale’s work was, under Henry VIII’s command, placed in all parishes in the kingdom. Tyndale’s work also formed the majority of the base of the King James Bible, and perhaps every one of the more than 3000 translations since.

As an English scholar Daniell is alive to how much the Bible (starting with Tyndale) has influenced the English language, and is extremely partiale in expressing opinions about his favourite (Tyndale) and least favourite English stylists. But you always feel that this is primarily not about loving the English Language, or the technicalities of this or that approach to translation. As Daniell says:

Tyndale would have commented that such things matter far less than the truth that “Scripture is a light and sheweth us the true way, both what to do and where to hope.”

As a history of how generations have worked and suffered, sometimes to death, to make that Scripture available to us in a language we can understand, this book is magnificent.

The Bible in English (1)

Over the past couple of years I have been dipping in and out of a marvellous book by Shakespeare Scholar and Professor Emeritus at University College, London David Daniell, called The Bible in English published by Yale University Press.

He sounds like my sort of chap… Loves John Buchan (so do I!), used to sing second tenor (same as me!) with the London Symphony Chorus. And he loves the Bible, not just as literature, but, as far as I can ascertain from reading the book, because he loves the Gospel. I am sure it is a very scholarly work, but it’s not a hard read and is full of great stories and anecdotes, as well as some pithy and amusing commentary.

It’s fascinating to see how the Bible in English has evolved. Daniell leads us through the early years from the 8th Century Lindisfarne Gospels, through Wyclif and the Lollards. We linger over the story of Daniell’s beloved Tyndale and then pick up the pace through the 16th century with Coverdale, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops Bible and finally the King James Bible of 1611, whose 400th anniversary of course we celebrate this year. He talks extensively about the Bible in America, there is a detour into the world of Handel’s Messiah, and then through to the Revised Version, and the present day.

There are gems throughout the book, but what tempted me to post on this was a fascinating curiosity of a Bible-translation from the 18th Century by a certain Edward Harwood DD, who I later discovered was educated at the same Grammar School in Blackburn I attended 250 years later.

Harwood decided to produce a translation of the New Testament following in the literary footsteps of his contemporaries, Samuel Richardson (Clarissa), Henry Fielding (Tom Jones), Tobias Smollet and Lawrence Sterne. Not perhaps the best models for the Word of God.

His title page explains:

As Daniell says:

When it came out James Boswell called it a ‘ridiculous work’ and C. S. Lewis remarked in 1950 that Harwood was ‘no doubt…by our standards, an ass.’

There are some amusing examples. This for example is the start of the parable of the Prodigal Son, followed by the much more direct prose of the Authorised/King James Version

A Gentleman of a splendid family and opulent fortune had two sons. One day the younger approached his father, and begged him in the most importunate and soothing terms to make a partition of his effects betwixt himself and his elder brother — The indulgent father, overcome by his blandishments, immediately divided all his fortunes betwixt them. (Harwood)

A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. (KJV)

Amusing…appalling even, but it gets worse. Try this from the Sermon on the Mount

Do not think that the design of my coming into the world is to abrogate the law of Moses, and the prophets – I am only come to supply their deficiencies, and to give mankind a more complete and perfect system of morals. (Harwood)

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (AV)

If Jesus came into the world to give mankind a more complete and perfect system of morals, I’ve been reading a different Bible.

One last example from 1 Cor 13

Benevolence is unruffled; is benign: Benevolence cherishes no ambitious desires: Benevolence is not ostentatious; is not inflated with insolence.

It preserves a consistent decorum; is not enslaved to sordid interest; is not transported with furious passion; indulges no malevolent design.

It conceives no delight from the perpetration of wickedness; but is first to applaud truth and virtue.

It throws a vail of candour over all things: is disposed to believe all things: views all things in the most favourable light: supports all things with serene composure.

Benevolence shall continue to shine with undiminished lustre when all prophetic powers shall be no more, when the ability of speaking various languages shall be withdrawn, and when all supernatural endowments shall be annihilated.

Oh dear! If you want to see what Edwards has done to your favourite passage then you can find the whole work on Google Books.

Worth consigning to the dustbin of history, then.

However, Daniell reminds us that we cannot be too smug. How about this from another translation of 1 Cor 13

[1] If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate…. [11] When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good…[12] We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1 Cor 13:1, 11-12)

Is this really any better?  Daniell comments on each verse:

[1] Ecstasy? Nowhere in the passage does the Greek refer to that… Paul’s ‘sounding brass and tinkling cymbal’ have vanished, their place taken by a banal commonplace from a B-movie soundtrack…

[11] Barely recognisable as Paul’s ‘I spake as a child’ passage, this, for the sake of appeal to an immediate visual image, again with sound added, totally abandons the Greek. Worse, it corrupts the sense. Paul is not describing infantile gratification. He is illustrating spiritual growth by a parallel with human mental maturation…

[12] …This is the world of feel-good fiction. Instead of the wonder of Paul’s ‘being known’ by God, ‘face to face’, is the singalong triteness of the sunshine…

And in case you are still wondering, this is Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

Perhaps an unfair comparison? Possibly… You decide!

Understanding through Worship

Rob Bell’s book has stirred up a lot of debate and I’ve been conducting a number of debates on facebook with my brother and my niece. You can find their blogs here and here. I feel totally inadequate to face the issues raised. How could a loving God condemn those who reject him to eternity in Hell? It’s a good question worthy of an answer that has been throught through and chewed on.   How do we reconcile God’s wrath – showed most graphically this weekend of all weekends in the horrific death of his only Son Jesus on the cross – with his mercy?

Well of course the answer is found in the cross too.  I know the theory well.  And in many ways I am very happy with the explanation of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

But somehow seeing it all written on the page, in a book, or in the many excellent blogs on the subject, it all seems inadequate as an explanation. That’s partly my human-ness as I reduce God to my level. But perhaps there is something else too?

A quotation cited in a book about Bach’s sacred music I am currently reading really struck me:

The satisfaction theory of the atonement, when it was transposed from devotion to dogmatics, from meditation to systematic theology, created enormous problems: for the doctrine of God, for the portrait of the life of Jesus Christ, for the interpretation of the Bible. With the elimination of its full liturgical and sacramental context, it did not make sense – or, alternately, made entirely too much sense, transforming the mystery of the cross into the transaction of a celestial Shylock who demanded his pound of flesh. Bach’s St Matthew Passion rescued “satisfaction” from itself by restoring it to a liturgical context in which it could give voice to central and fundamental affirmations of the Christian Gospel[1]

I am not sure that I can go along with what Pelikan says here. Although no doubt there are those who would.  But nevertheless the thought struck me forcibly that perhaps it is only in Worship that we can truly understand the fullness of the Atonement. Or to put it another way.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
(Psalm 73:16-17 ESV)

Certainly I was greatly blessed today listening again to two wonderful arias from the St John Passion commenting on Jesus’ final words from the Cross as recorded in John’s Gospel – “It is finished!”

Es ist vollbracht!
It is accomplished !
What comfort for all suffering souls!
The night of sorrow
now reaches its final hours.
The hero from Judah triumphs in his might
and brings the strife to an end.
It is accomplished!

Mein teurer Heiland, laß dich fragen,
My beloved Saviour, let me ask you,
since you have now been nailed to the cross
and you yourself have said : It is accomplished,
have I been set free from death?
Through your pain and death can I
inherit the kingdom of heaven?
Is this the redemption of the whole world?
You can indeed not speak for anguish;
but you bow your head
and silently say : yes!

[1] Pelikan, Jaroslav, Bach Among the Theologians (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 100-101

Love Wins (3) – Questions, questions, questions

So to the next chapter.

Questions are powerful things. And Rob Bell is the master of them.  With a question you can cynically demolish a position without appearing to take sides, or genuinely respond to the problems and stumbling blocks many people face.

Sometimes it seems that Bell is describing positions which people think Christians hold.  Repeating the misunderstandings about the Christian faith which genuine seekers after truth have, because that’s what they’ve been taught, or what someone has told them Christians believe or the Bible says.

So by picking different parts of the Bible, Rob Bell comes up with verses which seem to say that becoming a Christian happens in so many different ways it’s no wonder we are confused. I can see how people could on the face of it become confused from a casual reading on bits of the Bible. So how can we know for sure? Let’s hope later in the book he explains that. After all, that’s pretty important isn’t it? That determines both our life now and our eternal future doesn’t it?

Or does it?

Do people who are not followers of Jesus spend an eternity in Hell? Is having a personal relationship with God something which the Bible even talks about? What happens if the missionary that was supposed to be coming to tell you how to become a Christian gets a flat tyre? How can God send some people (many people) to Hell, and still be a God of love?

I just really hope he answers some of these questions, but I worry that he won’t.



Love Wins (2) – Millions of us

So to the Preface and some first impressions from a quick read of the whole book.

According to Bell, millions of us

…have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in…heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in Hell with no chance for anything better… This is misguided and toxic…

Bell has written this book, he says, in a spirit of open and honest enquiry to enter into a discussion (which is itself divine) and to show us that the historic, orthodox Christian faith is a deep, wide, diverse stream with many opinions. Except presumably the one above, which is “misguided and toxic”

So Rob Bell lays his card on the table from the start.

“In this book,” he appears to me to say, at least from a first reading, “I will set up some caricatures of the Christian which are obviously half-truths, or couched in such as way as to invite disbelief, and then I will invite you to disassociate yourselves from them. In some cases I’ll keep my options open and hold two opinions at once, so that I can defend myself from the worst charges of heterodoxy. I’ll say I’m going to address some big questions, but not actually answer them. I’ll quote some Scripture of course to back it up, but selectively and in some cases out of context, even though that’s what I am suggesting others do. And I’ll imply that if you reject my message you are rejecting Jesus, even though that’s what I am accusing others of myself.  Finally I’ll appeal to the human attractiveness and reasonableness of my version of what I will call orthodoxy as the final arbiter so that you will want to accept it, and will appear to be inhuman and callous and denying love itself if you believe anything else.”

That’s my first honest impression… Let’s see if it survives a re-reading chapter by chapter.

And while I am trying to be honest, maybe there is something in me that secretly worries he might be right, and what I have been taught that Scripture teaches is just wrong. Really I shouldn’t worry about that. I should let Scripture speak for itself. But all of it. That’s my bottom line, by the way, in this journey. The truth and utter reliability of the Bible. So with that in mind let’s see where God’s Word and Rob Bell together gets us.