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EFAC Australia

Essentials

As I write this it seems that everything has changed. A number of media commentators have already begun to speculate as to what life will be like once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Will there be a new ‘roaring 20s’ post-pandemic as there was post-WW1 and Spanish Flu? Will there be a reassessment of value and meaning after so much upon which we have come to depend was so radically upended?

In 1625 an outbreak of the bubonic plague killed more than 10,000 people in London, during which time the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral was the poet-priest John Donne. In his biography of Donne, John Stubbs writes of the fear that gripped London during lockdown.

‘Certain of waking up with the telltale sores on their bodies any day, people were gripped by criminal fearlessness to seize and enjoy what they could while they were still alive. Donne understood what motivated the spirit of suicidal hedonism that was loose in the city. [In a sermon he] described those who said to themselves, “We can but die, and we must die… Let us eat and drink, and take our pleasure, and make our profit, for tomorrow we shall die, and so were cut off by the hand of God”.’ (John Stubbs, John Donne: The Reformed Soul, Norton and Co. 2006, p. 424-5).

Will we see a revival of this same worldly fearlessness and hedonism, much like was witnessed in the 1920s? What we can be certain of is that even as the world stops its ears to theAs I write this it seems that everything has changed. A number of media commentators have already begun to speculate as to what life will be like once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Will there be a new ‘roaring 20s’ post-pandemic as there was post-WW1 and Spanish Flu? Will there be a reassessment of value and meaning after so much upon which we have come to depend was so radically upended?

In 1625 an outbreak of the bubonic plague killed more than 10,000 people in London, during which time the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral was the poet-priest John Donne. In his biography of Donne, John Stubbs writes of the fear that gripped London during lockdown.

‘Certain of waking up with the telltale sores on their bodies any day, people were gripped by criminal fearlessness to seize and enjoy what they could while they were still alive. Donne understood what motivated the spirit of suicidal hedonism that was loose in the city. [In a sermon he] described those who said to themselves, “We can but die, and we must die… Let us eat and drink, and take our pleasure, and make our profit, for tomorrow we shall die, and so were cut off by the hand of God”.’ (John Stubbs, John Donne: The Reformed Soul, Norton and Co. 2006, p. 424-5).

Will we see a revival of this same worldly fearlessness and hedonism, much like was witnessed in the 1920s? What we can be certain of is that even as the world stops its ears to the word of God and lives for the present moment, the word will not be chained. The eternity set in the hearts of each person will certainly be reawakened for some by the failing of earthly confidences and the collapse of worldly forms of security.

This edition of Essentials includes good food for thought in our ‘lockdown’ state, as well as continuing to make a contribution to issues that will no doubt return to the prominence in the not too distant future. Jodie McNeill reflects on some flexible ministry methods and opportunities during the recent bushfire season, and now during the suspension of public services. Chase Kuhn asks a theological question about the nature of church particularly relevant to those with an ecclesiology centred on gathering and fellowship—are we still the church if we cannot meet? Chris Brennan thinks through the issues of ministry resilience, expectations and burnout. In two separate but related pieces Andrew Judd and Steven Daly contribute to the ongoing conversation on same-sex marriage and human sexuality. We also join Ivan Head as he leads us into the deep riches of Romans 8. Finally, the issue also includes several book reviews, on the assumption that, while some of us are working frenetically at the moment, others among us might have some spare time to dig into a worthy tome!

Gavin Perkins
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The Last ThingsLastThings
DAVID HÖHNE
CONTOURS OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
IVP, 2019

(Author’s disclosure: David Höhne is presently supervising my M.Th.)

The Last Things are generally presented as four in number, being death, judgement, heaven and hell. In this volume David Höhne gives us six last things, taken from what may seem an unexpected source, namely the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. As soon as you think about it though, expounding eschatology using the framework of this prayer makes a lot of sense. The first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are big petitions, oriented towards God’s original and ultimate purposes for his creation. They set out a vision for our faith and hope and, as they are given to us to pray by Jesus Christ, we may expect that they do express the will and plan of God. To organise the teaching of Scripture about the last things under the heading of God’s name being hallowed, God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done seems like a sane and sound approach to eschatology. The last three petitions also lend themselves to being expounded with reference to ultimate things: daily bread is about the sustenance of life—will God sustain our lives despite death? Forgiveness of sins counts most of all at the last judgement, and deliverance from temptation and evil is the hope of the new creation.

Apart from the use of the Lord’s Prayer as an organising framework, another distinctive of this work is that it seeks to say what can be said about the End from our current situation, living in what Höhne call ‘the Middle’. The Middle is the period between the resurrection and the return of Jesus. Höhne wants to describe the experience of Christian hope in this situation theologically. In the Middle we have the gospel, which is a promise from the past, for the future. In the Middle we do not see the Beginning or the End, but we have these promises, which are the means by which God gives himself to us. God is with us, the people whom he is perfecting, through his word of promise and by his Spirit. Life in the Middle is the life of prayer, the church calling upon God to fulfill the promises he has made, and trusting that he will. This is an experience of faith and hope expressed in prayer.

A third feature of this work is that it engages pretty seriously with both Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann. This makes it a stretching read. Höhne aims to construct his eschatology using the resources of Scripture, organised by the Lord’s Prayer, drawing on the methods of Biblical theology that Moore College is well known for developing, leaning also on Calvin for theological method, and sifting Barth and Moltmann so as to integrate their best insights and critique their inadequacies. The Contours in Theology series is a set of ’ ‘concise introductory textbooks’, but this is not an introduction to a first year theology course’s section on eschatology. It is more at the level of an introductory textbook for a later specialist course in eschatology. Just so you know.

The chapters on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer come in two sets. To give you an indication of the guts of the book, let me describe the first of these sets of three chapters. The first set focusses on the hope that God’s heavenly fatherhood will be perfected on earth. This is traced first through the theme of the hallowing of God’s name. Philippians 2:9-11 is the touchstone promise, that ‘in honour of the name of Jesus every knee shall bow’. Höhne traces the theme of the hallowing of God’s name from Moses and the Temple through the Exile and to the Word made flesh who is given the Name above every name, through whom God’s Name is and will be hallowed on earth as in heaven. The next chapter traces the theme of God’s fatherhood perfected on earth by the coming of his kingdom. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is the touchstone promise. There we learn that after the destruction of the enemies of the Messiah, finishing with death, he will hand the Kingdom over to God the Father, and God will be all in all. The chapter expounds the biblical development of the Spirit-empowered Son of God, chosen from the people to deliver the people. Jesus is that Messiah, ‘mighty over sin, death and evil’ (p. 113). He is not only king but rather king-priest, establishing right worship and leading the people in it. These things he does through the shedding of his blood, and sending his Spirit to gather his church. This church lives by God’s promise of the defeat of death in the resurrection of the dead, and the consequent entire advent of his kingdom on earth as in heaven. The next chapter is on the doing of God’s will on earth as in heaven. The touchstone promise is Ephesians 1:3-10 where we learn that the mystery of God’s will is that he intends to sum up all things in the Messiah. This chapter traces the planned and mysterious choices of God in bringing this will to pass. God plans ‘to bring blessing to the many by the choice of the one/few’ (p. 168). Jesus is the focus of God’s plan for creation, and in this life he is the interpreter and executor of God’s will, the one through whom the will of God is known and done on earth as in heaven. Through him the will of God in blessing and the curse will be perfectly realised.

I hope you get the idea, that this is not a book narrowly focused on what will happen in the End. It is a book about the whole plan of God from the beginning, through the middle and to the end. The End is known through promises received and believed in the Middle. These promises must be carefully considered and their various strands thoughtfully integrated. These promises are rooted in God himself, and contain the hidden fullness of what they offer even from the beginning. These promises all find their ‘Yes’ in Jesus Christ. So if you work through this book you will get a whole theology, really, not simply eschatology. There are discussions of the four last things to be found here: death (and resurrection), judgement (and forgiveness of sins), heaven (and the new earth) and hell. There’s the millennium, the beatific vision and other topics too. But Höhne wants the book to ground eschatology in our ordinary Christian lives, so he repeatedly asks, ‘What can we know?’, ‘‘What should we do?’ and ‘What can we hope for?’ in the here and now, in the Middle that precedes the End. He wants to include our current eschatological experiences of prayer and church in his account of the last things.

This is, then, rather an ambitious book, and will ask readers to do some work. This is its biggest weakness for a general readership. I did not skip easily from page to page, but I am glad to have made the effort. Its best strengths are firstly its creative and useful way of framing eschatology through the Lord’s Prayer. (I’m tempted to try a topical sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer after reading this book.) A second strength is that its account of the End is consciously and explicitly drawn from the beginning and addressed to us where we really are: in the Middle. Another way of saying this is that it is evangelical, founded on the gospel. The last strength I will mentions is its many stranded approach: using biblical-theological methods, grounded in lots of exegesis, but also reading theologians, most obviously Calvin, Barth and Moltmann, and allowing them to extend and refine this eschatology where their insights seem valuable.

IvanHeadRomans 8 is a powerful affirmation of the way in which God is on our side. The Rev’d Dr Ivan Head seeks to make plain some of its depths. Rev Head was a member of the Sydney Diocesan Doctrine Commission for about ten years. He is a parishioner of St Jude’s Bowral NSW.

Romans chapter 8 from beginning to end affirms that God is for us—from our beginning to our end. I use the phrase God’s ‘for-us-ness’. William Tyndale, the Bible scholar and a primary translator of the Bible into English as it then was, coined the phrase ‘at-one-ment’ (atonement) to better translate Paul’s Greek language into an English New Testament (1526). His translations made a significant, creative change to the English language, both then and now.

In Romans 8, we discover that God is for us, and for us irrevocably. Paul exclaims that ‘It is God who justifies’ (8:33b). God puts right, and God is for us (8:3b), acting fully on our behalf, as one who would be our Father. Human salvation in Christ emerges, unshakeably, from deep within God’s time, from where God has anticipated and foreseen our core need that is now addressed and met in Christ (8:29-30). This provision consists not only of the death of Jesus as ‘God’s Son in the likeness of sinful man’ (8:3b) but most importantly by means of an unbreakable relationship established between the believer and the Spirit of Christ (by the Spirit of Christ) which Spirit indwells at the centre of the human person (8:11). Metaphors for closeness (inter-personal, spatial, and built), only take us so far at this point. For instance, if the Spirit of Christ dwells within us it may be more accurate to speak of an intrapersonal relationship.

Twice in verse 11 Paul refers to indwelling, to place double stress on this remarkable claim. Indwelling follows the raising of Jesus from the dead by the same Spirit of God, which is a pre-condition for the new relationship, and the new mind-set in the believer. It is remarkable to consider that the agent of the resurrection dwells within each human person awakened to faith.

At the beginning of this chapter (8:1-2), Paul tells us that God has provided for us in Christ. We read that God has removed us from the zone of negativity and penalty: ‘There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death.’ At the end of the chapter (8:38-39), Paul exclaims: ‘I am convinced that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This inseparability is remarkable and demonstrates the for-us-ness I refer to. Having said that the Spirit of Christ dwells in the believer,

Paul writes what may be considered one of the most profound statements in the whole of the New Testament. At 8:16 he writes: ‘The Spirit himself co-witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God’. John Wesley said that this testimony of the Spirit was immediate and direct. This aligns with the modern philosopher Alvin Plantinga where he asserts that ‘we are right to take belief in God as basic’. Belief in God can properly be the move the mind makes prior to all other moves—neither inferred nor deduced but given; and this is neither a prejudice nor a refusal to think.

Romans 8 is saturated with the word Spirit. The Spirit is both the agent of Christ’s resurrection and the agent and matrix of Christ’s unbreakable relationship with the human person. Paul uses the word Spirit more than twenty times in this chapter. A very specific renewal of the human person is outlined. The renewal exchanges one human mind-set for another (8:5- 9). One mind-set is purely human and closed in on its own resources. It may even be hostile to the very idea that there is a God. The new mind-set is informed by the Spirit of Christ which begins to co-form us. The indwelling Spirit literally informs us (8:29). The person in Christ is said to be conformed to, or co-formed to the image of God’s Son. Paul uses the word symmorphy which could pass untranslated into English, as has the word synergy.

Paul believes that men and women in Christ share a new destination that is achieved by God’s seamless intervention through Christ and the Spirit. This destination is not a goal or set of achievements in the modern sense of a better future made by human endeavour alone, a kind of utopia created by adopting self-help points, programs, or political policies. This destination involves an end to death itself. He makes this very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:26 where death is ‘the last enemy to be destroyed’. This challenges our imagination. For Paul, raising Jesus from the dead cannot stay confined to raising Jesus from the dead. This act is inherently an act of for-us-ness.

That death is said to be destroyed is profound. For us now, it is a reality at the limit. Death sits on our life-horizon. It is not something we have mastered or can master even with our best thoughts. We ponder it from this side of our own death, and daily we move closer to it. We know that the destination Paul hopes for and trusts in is not yet seen (8:25): ‘But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’ Paul is hoping for a renewed human existence in a glorified creation where death is no more.

I offer three translations from the Greek text for Romans 8:17, where this claim is made.

King James: ‘And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.’
RSV: ‘and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him, in order that we also may be glorified with him.’
NIV: ‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.’

We can also translate this verse by picking up one element of the NIV in its use of ‘co’ in co-heir. Thus: ‘And if children of God, we are also heirs, heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ if indeed we co-suffer that we may be co-glorified.’ I am using the prefix co- in the translations to stress the closeness of the Spirit which is sent to indwell (8:11) the human person. We must be careful not to self-isolate at this point. The Spirit minutely achieves our salvation from within us. However transcendent and mysterious, the closeness of the Spirit is real and as much internal to the human person as transcendent. Closeness and internality do not blend the identities of Christ and the believer, but neither does it leave the identity of the believer alone.

Paul wrote (Galatians 2:20): ‘I have been crucified with Christ, so it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’ The Greek verb has the same co- prefix (sunestauromai) which could be translated ‘co-crucified’ as much as crucified with. Using co- really focuses on the closeness that Paul says holds between Jesus Christ, the Spirit, and the believer. There is an inclusion that claims to be real. Paul stresses that closeness again in the challenging passage at Colossians 1:24 where he says ‘Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the church.’ Romans 8 invites a longer study of the working out of the Spirit’s indwelling.

Paul’s trajectory across Romans 8 heads to the moment when ‘the children of God will be revealed.’ Believers will be revealed in a resurrection glory already seen in Jesus. The resurrection of all the dead is as important to Paul as the one-off resurrection of Jesus. This can be difficult for the modern Christian to realise but Paul says explicitly at 1 Cor 15:16: ‘For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.’ For Paul, neither makes sense without the other, however much the resurrection of Jesus is the core of all his content. At 1 Cor 15:17 Paul says: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain (empty, futile), and you are still in your sins.’

The NIV (picking up a specific phrase from the Septuagint Greek Bible) says that God’s own Son dies in the flesh ‘as a sin offering’ (8:3). From the moment of resurrection and our receipt of the resurrecting Spirit, God establishes a new, unbreakable relational bond with us. The Spirit makes us children of God and siblings of Jesus. Paul says that as a result, each person in Christ becomes ‘more than victorious’ (8:37). At 8:32 he asks: ‘will he not give us all things with him?’ This statement is focused entirely on an unbreakable personal relationship with God that holds throughout all the circumstances of life. Paul notes these extreme highs and lows in the last two verses of chapter 8 which once again stresses the unbreakable relationship with God. ‘For I am sure that not death, not life, not angels, not principalities not things present not things to come, not powers not height not depth not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

The inseparability in the Spirit of Christ and the believer may be the main point of Romans 8. In all these ‘nots’, those things that cannot break the bond of God’s love in Christ, we also hear God’s unequivocal ‘Yes’ as Paul said at 2 Cor 1:20: ‘All the promises of God are Yes in him’.

The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire BibleWholeCounse
TIM PATRICK AND ANDREW REID
CROSSWAY, 2020

Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid have done us a great service in producing this challenging and practical apologetic for preaching systematically through the entire Bible. They recognise there are many good contemporary resources on how to preach. ‘Instead, this book is about what to preach, and about how to plan and manage a long-range, ordered, and deliberate preaching program.’ (p. 23) The authors’ foundational conviction is that God has revealed himself progressively, that these words have been inscripturated, and that they are sufficient for the establishment of his people and their ongoing growth. Most importantly, they argue that all of these words are necessary for the growth of God’s people today. So, ‘we wish to encourage preachers to make it their goal to preach the entire Bible because we are convinced that all of it is the word of God for us.’ (p. 22) They recognise that this is ‘a monumental ambition.’ (p. 23) Indeed, their argument ultimately leads to this challenge: ’All vocational preachers should set themselves the goal of preaching though the entire Bible over a thirty-five-year period.’ (p. 81)

Although not their primary purpose, Patrick and Reid argue refreshingly for preaching solely from Scripture, given its ‘inspiration, perspicuity, inerrancy, sufficiency and authority.’ (p. 224) They remind us of how fortunate we are to have the written word of God (p. 36) and, more particularly, they argue well for the authority of both the Old and New Testaments (pp. 52-58). The authors remind us of the need ‘to let the Bible set our agenda.’ (p. 71) They note there is a significant difference between saying, ‘What does God say about X?’ and ‘What does God say?’ Asking the latter question should ensure appropriate proportionality in our preaching and, concomitantly, in our theological debates and lives. It should ensure we are alert and committed to what God is alert and committed to, proportional to his revelation. Simultaneously, it should prevent us from making claims where God is silent. As preachers, it forces us to ask the questions, ‘Why is this passage in the Bible?’, ‘How does it contribute to the whole?’ and ‘What would we lose if it wasn’t there?’

Patrick and Reid argue especially well for preaching that recognises the progressive and cumulative nature of God’s revelation. In other words, preaching that lives and breathes biblical theology. ‘The goal is to understand the theology of the passage itself; where the theology fits into the progress of the revelation of God’s purposes outlined in the Bible, which find their focus in Jesus; how it engages with the theological priorities of the Bible already revealed; and how it contributes to further develop that theological revelation.’ (p. 91) In addition to the integration of biblical theology, Patrick and Reid also argue for the integration of systematic and gospel theology into the regular preaching series (pp. 94-101). On this basis they argue against, for instance, preaching a doctrinal series synthetically, or having special evangelistic sermons. Incidentally, I am very mindful that the biblical, theological, pastoral and homiletical skills required to preach through the entire Bible in this way are substantial. The authors exemplify the implementation of their proposed preaching program by dividing the Scriptures into six different sections and planning for series from a variety of genres throughout the year. Where there is more than one preacher, they discuss the principles by which they have chosen preachers for texts. For those at home in reformed evangelical contexts, their illustrative program will not be unfamiliar and is quite accessible. However, for those used to using the common lectionary, moving to their proposal will require significant change and congregational training, which they address on pages 223-7.

While having great sympathy for the overall thrust of the authors’ argument, I have wrestled nonetheless with some of the theological, pastoral and practical implications of their 35-year plan. While recognising that all of the Bible is God’s word and is helpful, I need more help in understanding how, for example, the food laws or the dimensions of the temple need equal treatment compared to the New Testament passages of their fulfilment. The theological question is also raised as to whether some parts of Scripture are more pertinent than others to God’s people at certain times and contexts. Of course, the danger is that many pertinent parts are avoided because of the preacher’s competence, disposition, theological position, contextual misreading, external pressures, or any number of other reasons, so one well understands the authors’ fallback position. Pastorally and practically, covering the Gospels and significant sections of the Old and New Testaments only once in 35 years may be unrealistic, even within a strong biblical theological framework, where one is constantly bringing to the congregation the biblical, systematic and gospel implications.

In our own Australian context, for instance, surely the issues addressed in 1 and 2 Corinthians bear repeating more than once every 35 years!

I wonder whether the authors may be placing too much freight on the sermon, even when it is accompanied by a weekly Bible study before or afterwards. Indeed, the book could be strengthened by more discussion of the place of the sermon within the broader task of training all in the whole counsel of God. Enabling families to train each other and their children, greater use of an adult Sunday School program, as is so ably done in many North American churches, greater use of a year or more at theological college and even greater encouragement of individual learning will take pressure off all that is being asked here of the sermon, which includes teaching, exhortation and evangelism. It would also give greater freedom to the preacher to use the sermon for those ministry aspects of the word of God for which it is best suited and needed in that particular context. Indeed, changing one’s focus from the sermon to training by numerous means for all in their various stages of life and discipleship takes pressure off the sermon while still giving it a high place in congregational life. Such a focus does ask more of a preacher. It means charging them with the assessment and implementation of a congregation’s teaching needs, including the preaching program. Nonetheless, that is the role we see Paul adopting in Ephesus, as outlined in Acts 20.

Such considerations aside, The Whole Counsel of God is a great encouragement to read, both for its affirmations and its challenges. Australians have much to be thankful for in terms of our contribution to biblical theology. This integration of biblical theology and preaching, with its practical call, takes this contribution to the next step.

The Key Text on Human Sexuality

STEVEN DALY

If we should be shaping our thinking and living by the teaching of Scripture, we should give Scripture our particular and careful attention. In this extract from a longer presentation Stephen Daly attends to Genesis 2, the key text that bears on the current debates about God’s will for our sexual behaviour. Steven is Rector of Leederville in WA.

GENESIS 2

I’m assuming we know the story well. In fact, the better we know the story of Adam and Eve, perhaps the less we understand how shocking this story would have been in the ancient world. Shocking in the sense that it contains a number of shocks or surprises—points in the narrative where events take a turn that would have either been unexpected or indeed where the opposite may have been expected. One shock is that the Adam (his name means ‘Earthling’) will serve and preserve the Garden. We were expecting that the Adam would have been created to serve and preserve the gods. But no! God will look after the Adam as the Adam looks after the Creation and not the other way around.

Another shock is the method Yahweh God chooses for answering a problem, a problem that he himself has spotted, that problem being that is is—quite emphatically—not good for the Adam to be alone. Given that no suitable helper was found for the Adam amongst all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the wild animals, the surgical intervention that follows comes as a complete surprise. Why? What we’re expecting is for Yahweh God to stoop to his knees and begin again with the modelling clay, just as he did with the Adam in the first place (2:7) and also every other breathing, animate organism (2:19). The creation of the woman—who we will come to know as Eve—is an utterly unique and distinctive creation event. The causing of the Adam to fall into a deep sleep, the removal of part of his side, the closing up of his side, the making of the part into a whole, a woman, the bringing the woman to the now awake man—not something we’ve ever seen before in the biblical narrative nor will ever see again. Why? Because this methodology is commentary on things we’ve already been told. You see, firstly, we already know that the woman will be for the Adam a ‘suitable helper’. This phrase, literally, ‘like-opposite helper’ is in no way demeaning, for Yahweh God himself is the helper of Israel. But the sense of it is this: the helper will be a complementary partner, matching and suitable, not identical— indeed radically different in way that is complementary and complimentary. They’ll be radically different, maybe even opposites, but in ways that makes each other look good. The methodology displays an opposite truth: that the woman is just the same as the man, ultimately of one being, of one substance, of one kind. Someone—as the Adam will recognize perfectly in just a moment—someone just like me.

Secondly, the bizarre methodology of creation that we find in Genesis 2 makes emphatic and unmistakable something that we were told in Genesis chapter 1. God made from nothing, from uniformity, from disorder and chaos, a bipolar cosmos: light and darkness, heavens and the earth, dry ground and seas, night and day, water creatures and birds of the air—polarity everywhere. The crowning achievement of the six-day creation story is the creation of humankind. Humankind is created in order to rule, to have dominion and to subdue, continuing the work of bringing order from disorder, of creating and maintaining boundaries, of bringing diversity and complexity and beauty out of chaos. The crowning polarity in a bipolar universe is the last polarity created—humanity made male and female, and both male and female created in the image and likeness of God. In the Bible, the language of image has to do with representation. Humanity has been created to be imagebearers, created in order to represent God, like God.

Both chapters present the creation of sexuality as of supreme importance. In Genesis 1 the crowning glory of this bipolar cosmos is the creation of gendered, sexual humankind, male and female, representing God. In Genesis 2 the special glory of this relational universe is the creation of gendered, sexual humankind, man and woman, serving and preserving. Both stories have the same ending, the creation of sexuality. The making of humanity with male and female gender is extremely important to the mission of humanity, as they faithfully represent Yahweh, Lord of Hosts, Almighty God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, and work with him and for him in the Garden.

A third shock—out of many—and indeed it’s a scandal—are the words the Adam says in response to seeing Eve for the first time, for he does not say what we expect him to say. Genesis 2:23, ‘the Adam said, “This time it’s bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh. This one I call ‘Woman’ because from Man this one was taken”.’ What he doesn’t sing and dance about is how beautiful she is. He doesn’t celebrate her sexual attractiveness even though she is brand new and completely naked and those of us who have given it any thought— which is at least some of us—have assumed that she was the most beautiful woman ever created. And given the values of the Ancient Near East, this omission is astonishing. But nevertheless, her beauty is left to our imaginations; nothing is ever said about it directly. And there is no celebration of romantic love. Rather, what the Adam does see is twofold: this one is family; and in the making of woman you also have the making of man.

I’ll explain that second statement first: In the making of woman you also have the making of man. The original human was always referred to as being male, but the Adam represents humanity; man as opposed to the other animals. To be a Son of Adam is to be a human being. Now we get the Hebrew words eesh (man opposed to woman or husband) and eeshah (woman opposed to man or wife). And now to the first statement: this one is family. The Hebrew phrase ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ is a common Hebrew saying, meaning, ‘of my own family.’ The equivalent English expression is ‘my own flesh and blood’ which is actually how the Hebrew euphemism is routinely translated. We belong together by the closest and most unbreakable of ties is the meaning of both figures of speech. The man is celebrating the fact that he recognises her instantly as family. They belong together intrinsically. God split the Adam in order that there might be a reconciliation and recombination, a coming back together again that is creative. The reconciliation will create family.

The scene ends with one last shock, verse 24: ‘Thus so a Man (or husband) leaves his father and mother and clings to his Woman (or wife), and they will be one flesh.’ For the ancient reader, the shock of this verse would be very considerable, for what he or she would have been expecting was: ‘Thus so a woman (or wife) leaves her father and mother and clings to her Man (or husband). And they will become one flesh.’ In most traditional cultures—and certainly in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East—when a young woman marries, is expected to join her husband’s family. Upon marriage, the young woman has joined her husband’s father’s household, and she is usually a long way down the honour ladder (lots of people get to tell her what to do). Even though this was the universal, Ancient Near Eastern pattern, the Bible asserts that it is wrong. No, the man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife so as to create a new family. God’s design for marriage was countercultural when it was first revealed and it has been offending people ever since. All cultures and societies have had a problem with it, in one way or another, as they find that either it fails values to value what they value in marriage (such as patriarchy or fertility) of that it values things that they dislike (such as faithfulness).

We already know what the words ‘one flesh’ mean—it means one family. But in a secondary, and yet undeniable way, the phrase ‘they will become one flesh’ refers to sexual intercourse, for that is also how the Bible uses the phrase—see Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6, for example. Sexual intercourse will be a private, intimate, relational and physical picture of a public, legal and social truth—these two people are one flesh, that is, one new family. Sexual intercourse creates a new family, whether or not children are the result of that sexual activity. Sex before marriage—a familiar and meaningful phrase in our culture—becomes something of a contradiction in terms, biblically speaking. And indeed, the Bible condemns fornication (consensual or not) and adultery because both acts are theologically unreal—these acts ignore the bond and boundaries established by the act itself—and therefore are acts of faithlessness.

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Genesis 2:24 in biblical revelation. This verse is the cornerstone when trying to understand what the Bible thinks about sex and marriage. Paul refers to Genesis 2:24 directly in 1 Corinthians 6, which is the only place Paul discusses sexual sin in any detail, that is to say, explains why sexual sin is sexual sin. In that passage, Paul could have used any number of arguments to cut the ground from his opposition, who were arguing for the acceptability of having sex with temple prostitutes. He doesn’t use a moral or ethical argument. He could have; but he doesn’t. His text is not The Sermon on the Mount, or the Golden Rule, but rather Genesis 2:24. And his argument is a spiritual one and it is this: You cannot have sexual intercourse with a prostitute because you are already having spiritual intercourse with Jesus. You are one with him in Spirit. The step that’s missing is the one that is assumed: sexual intercourse includes spiritual intercourse. What God has brought together let humankind not separate.

Paul also refers to Genesis 2:24 directly in Ephesians chapter 5, telling us something already that we know: That the real and substantive importance of marriage is that it represents something important about God and marriage will find its fulfilment in the marriage of the Lamb: Marriage has a spiritual meaning, a prophetic aspect—telling the world about God’s saving work on behalf of humanity through the person Jesus of Nazareth. Thus the point of sexuality is marriage and the point of marriage is to represent God and representing God is the mission and purpose of (the point of) humanity.

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral LifeSecondMountain
DAVID BROOKS
ALLAN LANE, 2019

I reviewed David Brooks’s book The Road to Character in the last Essentials. At the end of that review I mentioned that I was considering taking the chapter on Augustine to my Big Questions reading group, because of its attractive discussion of Augustine’s experience of God’s transforming grace. Well I did that, and my mostly non-Christian friends and I had a very good discussion there. Then when I picked up Brooks’s next book, The Second Mountain, it provided an illuminating personal backstory to the writing of The Road to Character, because as it turns out, Brooks has been on a spiritual journey, and during and since the writing of that previous book, he has embraced the Bible, the religious attitude to life, coming to faith in God, a Jewish-Christian identity, and even, almost—perhaps partially or waveringly—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You come across this surprising story in chapter 21 of the book, entitled ‘A Most Unexpected Turn of Events’. But more of that a bit later.

Although it contains a chapter or so of spiritual memoir, the book is really a continuation of the project of his former book, about the spiritual impoverishment of our current culture’s moral ecology, and the possibilities inherent in discovering a better moral ecology. The term ‘moral ecology’ is a term for the systems of belief and behaviour that we live our lives in. These may be local, such as the culture of an organisation that rubs off on those in it, or they may be quite encompassing, such as the classical honour codes of the ancient world. As Brooks tells it, we have moved from an early-to-mid 20th century moral ecology he calls ‘We’re all in this together’, to a postwar, 60s-counterculture-influenced moral ecology he calls ‘I’m free to be myself ’. While this was an understandable shift, it has gone too far, and left us too self-focused. We live on what Brooks calls the first mountain, the mountain of life tasks: get an education, a job, a spouse; cultivate talents, reputation, success; seek personal happiness. But Brooks is convinced that we must see that there is a second mountain, and that mountain that is not about personal happiness but about moral joy; not about self, but about others, about communities. Our current moral ecology is too dominated by slogans like ‘You can do anything’, ‘Follow your dreams’ and ‘Make your own way there’. The problem is that at the outset we don’t know who we are or what ‘our own way’ might be. Nor do we have a dream to follow. We just don’t know what will deliver to us the life we seek. Freedom is not what we need, but rather we need a tried and tested road shown to us, and encouragement to walk it.

So Brooks wants to give a plan for life that is aimed at the moral joy that is the promise of life on the second mountain. The heart of the book discusses four commitments for a second mountain life. These are vocation, marriage, philosophy and faith, and community. These four commitments become the arenas in which we build a life which goes to work on us. Making these commitments integrates us so that we escape the empty moral ecology of the Instagram life (individualistic, aesthetic and insecure) and discover the richer moral ecology of the relationalist life (interdependent, integrated, assured). Commitments don’t erode individual freedom (as the hyperindividualist fears). Rather, our commitments actually give us what we seek, namely: identity, purpose, freedom and moral character.

Brooks carried me along with his enthusiasm, his urgency, his marshalling of anecdote, quotation, research and story. He gives the wisdom of self-help: how to get a handle on your life. He seeks to update and re-recommend the best of an old set of convictions about the centrality of commitment and community, of forgetting and submerging yourself in something bigger than you (‘we’re all in this together’). It is encouraging, heart-warming, inspiring. I think there’s good advice here, and the basic Judeo-Christian ethic is expressed well in modern idiom. The right life is to love: to commit to others in a deep way seeking to serve their needs and weave a culture of mutual love, leading to deep joy. It occurred to me that my teenaged son could benefit from reading the chapters on vocation and marriage (so could my daughter, but she’s a bit young yet).

But when Brooks turned to the long, very personal account of his awakening to faith, I was really engaged, and I ended up quoting Brooks in my Good Friday sermon: ‘I am a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian, but how quick is my pace, how open are my possibilities, how vast are my hopes.’ (p. 262). This book is influenced (strongly) by Christians and Christian ideas and convictions, and is written by a pretty famous Jewish New York journalist and writer who has discovered in Christians he encountered and the Christian perspectives he slowly grasped something unexpected, compelling, liberating and life-changing. His last chapter is an enthusiastic manifesto, bubbling and overflowing with newfound conviction about the importance of pursuing a different vision of the good life. Where his journey will take him is yet to be seen, but it is wonderfully interesting to watch him go.

It is also interesting to see Christians through his eyes, to hear what struck him, confused him, put him off or attracted him as he engaged with Christianity. Walls obstructed his progress. ‘I found that many of the walls in the Christian world were caused by the combination of an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a spiritual superiority complex.’ (p. 256. He names evangelicals explicitly here). He sees these complexes building four walls that hinder. First is a siege mentality, ‘a sense of collective victimhood’ amongst some Christians, The second wall is ‘bad listening’, where in dialogue we just ‘unfurl the maxims regardless of circumstances’. The third wall is invasive care, where ‘people use the cover of faith to get into other people’s business when they have not been asked’. The fourth wall is intellectual mediocrity, where’ ‘vague words and mushy sentiments are tolerated because everyone wants to be kind’. By contrast, Yale professors are ‘brutal in search of excellence’. (pp256-7)

Read this book for a thoughtful take on our modern predicament, some ideas for a different approach, for a modern spiritual memoir and also for a few perspectives on how Christians can appear to outsiders coming into our orbit.

Three paths on the Bible and same-sex marriage

ANDREW JUDD

Anglican synods have been debating and discussing issues of sexuality and especially the status of homosexual relationships. and will continue to do so. Andrew Judd seeks to describe the paths that are before us, and to recommend the path he sees as most faithful to God. Andrew is Associate Lecturer in Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne.

I find the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality a difficult topic to talk about. This is not because I think the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is especially unclear, but because its implications are so deeply personal. During last year’s discussions at Melbourne synod on issues of human sexuality, I felt a great concern for those dear friends who identify as gay or are exclusively same-sex attracted—some who I have long been sharing the gospel with, some who are beloved Christian brothers and sisters, some who were in the room. Coming together as a church to discuss this topic can be difficult and even painful, but it is important. Anglicans around the world are now being asked to decide whether to revise our standards of worship and doctrine to accommodate rapidly changing cultural attitudes to homosexuality in western countries. Our Constitution and the Thirty-Nine Articles give the power and responsibility to us as a national church to change our traditions and ceremonies in light of changing times, with only a single restriction: that nothing may be done that is contrary to the word of God (Article XXXIV). We must begin our conversation by seriously and humbly wrestling with Scripture, asking what the Bible teaches about God’s intention for our sexuality.

My purpose here is to support my fellow Anglicans in wrestling with this issue by offering a summary of the scholarly discussion over what the Bible teaches on homosexuality, and an explanation for why I believe the traditional path on marriage and sexuality is the one that Christ is calling us to take. As Christians have engaged with the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, they have tended to take three main paths:

A. THE TRADITIONAL PATH

This view says that the Bible teaches that sex is designed for marriage between a man and a woman, and that we should do what the Bible says. Under the traditional view, sex is intended as part of God’s vision of lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. Western culture has become very skilled at separating what God has joined together: contraception allows sex without reproduction; reproductive technology means you can have children without sex; Tinder means you can have sex without relationship. But the traditional view stubbornly insists that sex, marriage and family are not things that humans invented; they are joined together with a particular purpose within the creator’s design for human relationships.

Anglicans teach doctrine through liturgy. Our first order marriage service establishes the three biblical purposes for marriage: 1) as a symbol of the union between Christ and his church, 2) for companionship, faithfulness and strength, and 3) to establish families within which children can be born and nurtured. This doctrine of marriage and its distinct purposes within creation is anchored in Genesis 2, which celebrates the archetypal account of the first marriage, between Adam and Eve. Sex is designed for marriage, because one of the things marriage is designed for is to enable humans to fulfil their task and blessing of filling and ruling the earth by growing families. God’s people are consistently called to honour the creator’s design by avoiding those sexual practices of other cultures that fall outside this purpose for marriage. Leviticus 18, for instance, tells Israelites to avoid any sexual activity outside God’s original design. Verse 22 gives the example of sex between two people of the same gender: ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.’ This is not an arbitrary new rule just for Israel (in fact it applies to foreigners as well as Israelites), but an expression of the design established in the beginning.

This design for marriage is assumed by the New Testament. When Jesus is asked about a contemporary issue of marriage and sex, he answers based on the design principles established in Genesis (Mark 10:6–9). When Jesus uses the general term ‘sexual immorality’ in Matthew 15:19 this includes any sexual activity that is outside the creator’s design and hence unlawful for God’s people under the Jewish Torah. When Paul wants to give examples of sexual practices that fall outside this design, he explicitly refers back to the examples in Leviticus (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). While consensual homoerotic sex between adults was known and often celebrated in the ancient world, God’s people were called to be unashamedly different. The Old and New Testaments assume that sex between two people of the same gender is outside God’s intention and plan for marriage.

At the same time, the Bible does not condemn anyone for being attracted to the same sex, or for having a sexual orientation towards the same sex. Whether we are exclusively attracted to people of the same sex, or the opposite sex, the call for any follower of Jesus is the same: to honour and worship God with our body, to resist temptation as Jesus did (Hebrews 4:15), to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and to claim our situation as an opportunity to celebrate the kingdom to come. Christ does not call us to heterosexuality but to holiness.

B. THE REVISIONIST PATH

This view says we should do what the Bible says, but it turns out the Bible is actually positive, or at least neutral, about homosexual sex. We’ve been reading it wrong all along. This is a relatively new path, which has been around since 1980 when John Boswell published Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Boswell and his followers raise doubts about the traditional interpretation of a number of passages in the New Testament. In particular, they focus on the standard translations of two key Greek words (malakoi and arsenokoitai) which appear next to each other in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 and are often translated separately as ‘male prostitutes, sodomites’ (NRSV) or together as ’men who have sex with men’ (ESV). Malakoi means ’soft’ and is traditionally understood in this context to refer to the passive male partners in a homosexual act. Arsenokoitai is a new word which doesn’t appear in any of the literature we have before Paul. Paul may have coined the term. It is made by putting two words together – man (arsen) and bed (koite) – to make the word ‘man-bedders’: men who take other men to bed for sex. Those on the revisionist path argue that the meanings of these words are in fact unclear and that the New Testament may be urging us to avoid only one particular type of homosexual sexual activity rather than homosexual sex in general. The suggestions for what that type of sex might be vary depending on whom you ask, but some theories are: exploitative relationships, such as sex between men and boys; or sex in the context of pagan temple prostitution; or homosexual sex between people who are really heterosexual (and so going against their nature): or even anal sex without a condom. A slightly broader argument is that first-century Jews like Paul had no concept or experience of homosexual orientation, or of consensual same-sex relationships, and so what they were condemning was something very different to the modern, exclusive, lesbian couple or gay couple.

This path has much to commend it. Those who are on it are genuinely seeking to understand what the Bible says and to put it into practice. Good scholarship has indeed shown that some of our traditional assumptions need revision: for example, translators were almost certainly wrong to use the traditional words ‘sodomites’ (NRSV) or ‘effeminates’ (KJV). The sin exemplified by Sodom (Genesis 19) is not homosexuality in the straightforward sense people sometimes assume. Homoeroticism is indeed one element in the story, but the concept of a settled sexual orientation and identity implied by the terms homosexual and heterosexual was completely foreign to most humans who lived before the twentieth century. The ancients had a far more fluid concept of sexual desire and practice than we do. So the revisionists are absolutely right that when we apply a text to our own situation, we need to be aware of the gap between our own context and the situation being spoken into.

The problem with the revisionist position, however, is that 40 years after Boswell’s exciting new hypothesis the evidence needed to prove his ideas just hasn’t arrived—in fact, it’s mostly gone the other way. The best scholarship on the historical and linguistic background for the words in Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians 6 and Romans 1 still points to a basic meaning of men who practise homosexual sex.1 Even more significantly, when we move from narrow linguistic questions to consider Christianity’s theological and ethical vision of human relationships, Boswell and his followers struggle to get around the fact that only two ways of expressing our sexuality are ever celebrated in the Bible. The first is faithful lifelong marriage between a man and a woman which embodies the creation mandate to fill the earth. The second is chaste singleness within a community of deep love which embodies the kingdom to come, where marriage will be replaced with a new kind of intimacy. The revisionist path has an uphill battle to find space for other types of sexual activity within these two biblical visions of human relationships.

C. THE PROGRESSIVE PATH

This view says the Bible teaches that God’s purpose for sex is heterosexual marriage, but the Bible is wrong and needs updating. Those on the progressive path agree with those on the traditional path about what the Bible says. This view recognises that Jesus and Paul almost certainly assumed that homosexuality was contrary to God’s design for marriage— of course they did, they were first-century Jews! To the first Christians, who were all Jewish, homosexuality represented the parts of Greek and Roman culture that were most foreign to Israel’s distinctive ethics. This view, which is emerging as the consensus amongst secular scholars of ancient sexuality, sees the revisionist path as wishful thinking with little historical merit.2 However, these progressive voices depart from the traditional path on whether the Bible is right. They suggest that the Bible contains errors in its doctrine and morality at points, and so we can and should resist or even improve on those parts of it that do not sit comfortably with our modern values. The church wrote the Bible, and we can rewrite the Bible.

I admire those who hold this view for their honesty, and we agree with them about what the Bible says. However, I do not agree that we should privilege our own cultural views on the purpose of sexuality over the theology of creation and marriage which is consistently developed from Genesis to Jesus and has been championed by Christians everywhere throughout history. I hold grave concerns about rewriting those parts of Holy Scripture we find challenging. Walking away from Scripture as the authoritative word of God does not lead us closer to Jesus.

CONCLUSION

I believe that the biblical vision for human sexuality is clear. I also believe that it is beautiful, and that God’s commands are for our good as well as for his glory. The traditional path may be a hard one to travel, but it is the one we are called to take. It is a source of great joy and encouragement to me to share life together with the many gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted men and women in our churches who love Jesus and are quietly committed to following him on this path, trusting him with their whole lives—even, and perhaps especially, with their sex lives. The church as a whole can learn much from their example about what following Jesus looks like as we await his return. Jesus calls us to give up our lives, take up our cross, and follow him no matter the cost. If, for some of us, life has become a little too comfortable, a little too much like the world, incurring too little a cost, then we might look to these celibate gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted saints whose lives can serve as a living, breathing sermon, an example to follow, and a reminder not only of the cost of following Jesus but also that he is worth giving up anything to follow.

‘there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ (Mark 10:29)

NOTES

1 See, for example: William Loader, “Reading Romans 1 on Homosexuality in Light of the Biblical/Jewish and Greco-Roman Perspectives of its Time”, ZNW 108.1 (2017): 119–149; Roy Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 241–242.

2 For a leading example see William Loader’s exhaustive study The New Testament on Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

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