Monday, June 30, 2008

Shepherding the Flock

It strikes me that there are two things that I need when it comes to pastoral care.

The first one is that I need comforting in the trouble of life. I need to be reassured of the gospel. I need to have my broken heart bound up. I guess this is what we normally think of when we think of pastoring.

But I also need to be led. I need to pushed on and led on to greener pastures. I need to be made to go deeper in my understanding of Scripture and my love of Christ. I need to be challenged to grow.

Let's call the former reactive pastoring and the latter directive pastoring.

Would it be fair to say that some churches are very good at reactive pastoring but not so good at directive? They look after the weak, but never encourage them to become stronger. They take care of people, but never prod them into doing things they don't want to do. The result is self-indulgent Christians.

On the other hand, might it be legitimate to point out that some churches are good at being directive but very bad at reactive care? They know where people should be, and will do anything to get them there. They helpfully push the strong, but sometimes don't notice when the weak fall by the wayside. The result is often dishonesty, as people don't feel free to admit their failings and weaknesses.

Not so Jesus. He knows when we need leading on to greener pastures, and he knows when we need carrying through the valley of the shadow of death. Isn't it great that Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, knows just how to look after us?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I want to be free

David Davis is my hero. I think he ought to be your hero too. This week he has taken the Chiltern Hundreds (which is a funny way of saying he resigned from Parliament; there are historical reasons into which it is unnecessary to diverge now) because he believes in liberty. Specifically, he believes that the state ought not to have the right to lock anyone up for longer than is absolutely necessary without charging them with a crime. I cannot see how anyone can be against that belief.

I know that people think we are facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. Personally, I don't believe that. But even if I did, I would not consider it prudent to combat that threat by surrendering fundamental rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. It should be blindingly obvious that one does not fight against threats to one's liberty by giving up that liberty. This week, Islamist terrorism won a battle in the heart of British government: Parliament, the guardian of the people's freedom, allowed our freedom to be diminished. Why? Because we are scared of terrorists. And that means they win. Terrorists win if we are terrified. They win if we are scared enough to change our way of life.

I don't want them to win. I am not scared of them.

All power to Mr Davis. I hope he can rally the country behind his cause.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


A thought process aided by Bonhoeffer's Creation and Fall...

I was pondering yesterday how temptation seems to be strongest when you are on your own. Introspection, self-absorption, lust, laziness, pride... All seem to hit me, at least, when I'm by myself.

Then I had a sudden flash: what does that tell me about my sinfulness?

It tells me that the source, fountainhead and spring of all that is wrong and corrupt in my life is not out there but in here. I am the sinner. The blame cannot be shifted in any way, not even to the devil or all his angels. Sin comes out of my heart, because that is where it begins. I could explain all of the things that led up to my sin, all of the contributory circumstances, but would still at the end of the day have to say 'I sinned'. Nobody made me. None of the circumstances caused it. It was all me.

Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Yes, but" Theology

A problem which plagues conservative theology especially is what I call 'yes, but' theology. A desire for 'balance', 'moderation' or even just a (generally good) desire to take into account the whole of Scripture results in the truths that Scripture presents being blunted, sometimes against each other. It works like this...

Person A: I'm not worried about future finances; God has promised to provide.
Person B: Yes, but we do need to be prudent and wise in our saving and make sure we provide for our families!


A: Jesus says I should lose my life for his sake.
B: Yes, but of course you ought not to do anything rash or foolhardy!


A: Human reason is utterly corrupted by the fall.
B: Yes, but of course humans are still in the image of God so we can still address them as rational people.

'Yes, but' theology evacuates the promises, threats and descriptions given by God of any force, and it does so in the name of thoroughness, systematization, and consistency. In reply, I say... No. When the Word of God is heard, it comes with force that crashes through every system. It may involve us in what seems to be a contradiction. It may cause us to pursue a course of action that looks like fanaticism. But it (he!) will not be tamed.