Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Foundations Autumn 2007

Foundations: a journal of evangelical theology, 58, Autumn 2007, Affinity
In his editorial note, Kenneth Brownell tells us that this is his last issue as editor. I don't know at this stage who will be taking over the role. But thanks is due to Ken Brownell for his labours in editing Foundations over the years. I always look forward to receiving the journal every spring and autumn and this issue does not disappoint. It's a shame, as the outgoing editor reveals, that he has sometimes struggled to find articles of sufficient quality for this, the foremost theological journal for independent evangelical churches. Brownell contributes a useful Church History Literature Survey to this edition.
Robert Strivens, Principal elect of the London Theological Seminary has an article on The Evangelistic Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He comments that for "the Doctor", preaching was the primary means of evangelism. Many people tend to think that Lloyd-Jones was mainly a Bible teacher, with his famous expositions of Romans and Ephesians. But while at Westminster Chapel, he invariably preached evangelistically on Sunday evenings. These meetings were Lloyd-Jones' equivalent of a weekly evangelistic campaign. Church members brought their non-believing friends along to hear the gospel preached and many were converted. Lloyd-Jones worked hard to engage non-believers in his sermons, but not at the expense of gospel truth. He believed than the non-Christian must be brought to a sense of their sin in the presence of a holy God before he or she will cry out to the Lord for salvation. Strivens recognises the value of personal witness and Christianity Explored courses, but he argues passionately for a return to evangelistic preaching as the New Testament sanctioned method of outreach. This may not mean preaching evangelistically every Sunday evening as "the Doctor" did, but we need to remember that it is through the foolishness of preaching that God is pleased to save those who believe. We may no doubt feel totally inadequate for such a task. But this in itself should drive us to our knees to seek the blessing of the Spirit on the preaching of the gospel so that sinners are brought to salvation in Christ.
Dr Anthony McRoy is a lecturer on Islamic Studies at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, he writes on Faith of Constantine - Pagan Conspirator or Christian Emperor. His main goal is to refute a conspiracy theory perpetrated by Dan Brown in The Da vinci Code and Islamic apologists. It is suggested that Constantine was in point of fact a pagan who affected Christianity in order to corrupt the faith with pagan influences. The Council of Nicea, where the doctrine of the Trinity was defended and clarified is often cited as an example of Constantine's paganising policy. McRoy responds by setting out the evidence that Constantine was regarded as a Christian by other believers, by pagans and that he thought of himself as a follower of Jesus. When Constantine relocated from Rome to Constantinople, the city bore a distinctly Christian flavour in its architecture and public policy. All this is not to say that Constantine's conduct would be entirely acceptable to contemporary evangelical churches. But the evidence from all sides shows that he was far from being a underhanded pagan conspirator. As McRoy points out, whether it was right for the Church to get so close to the State under Constantine is a different matter altogether.
Evangelicals are often guilty of neglecting the riches of church history in the name of holding to the Bible alone. But Dr Nick Needham regards this as a serious failing. In his piece on Learning From Tradition, he argues that we need church historical consciousness to deliver us from narrow provincialism. Engaging with Christian tradition will broaden our perspective on the whole counsel of God. Evangelicals often tend to overlook the history of the early church and the middle ages. That is to our detriment, because the early church was especially preoccupied with the central question of Jesus' identity as God and man. In today's world, we cannot simply tell people to "come to Jesus", unless we explain to them who Jesus is. It is here that the great creeds and confessions of the early church can be of such help to us in our present situation. The Reformers did not reject church tradition altogether. They valued the Ecumenical Councils and the teaching of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux and others. These men did not accept tradition uncritically as was the tendency in the Roman Catholic church. But neither did they adopt the position of the Anabaptists who renounced tradition to read the Bible without the guidance of the church. One such Radical Reformer wrote scathingly of Ambrose and Augustine as "apostles of Antichrist". Sadly, Sebastian Frank developed a Modalist view of the Trinity and a Gnostic understanding of the incarnation. Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I wonder whether the contemporary evangelical attitude towards tradition is more Anabaptist than Reformed. Today's evangelicals need to learn to value the wisdom of the past. As we do, we will be saved from many errors and have our theology enriched by engaging in the historical expression of the communion of the saints. Nick Needham has done some stirling work in making church history accessible with his ongoing series, 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers (2002 revised edition), Part Two: The Middle Ages (2000), Part Three Renaissance and Reformation (2004), Grace Publications.
The prodigious Dr Needham also contributes an in-depth review of Robert Letham's Though Western Eyes- Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective, Mentor Books, 2007. Letham has written appreciatively, yet not uncritically of Orthodox theology and spirituality. This book is certainly on my 2008 reading list.
I really enjoyed reading these stimulating articles and reviews. See here for subscription details.

1 comment:

Peace Bunny said...

I struggle to grasp your concept of reality. I fail to see beyond the existence of Christianity in current mainstream culture as anything beyond the result of moral enslavement of pagans by the Roman conquerers.

Jesus, a combination of many pagan characters, Sun Gods and the such, was a figure created to make the religion seem more acceptable to the people of the time, as he was so similar to the figures they already worshiped.

Also, even if an assumption was made that the bible is a document of high factual value, Christian people pick and choose what messages to follow. Christian people should not profit from financial investment, or war. Christianity should not war upon other identical religions, such as Islam. Christians too should not eat pork or fish on certain days.

The only differences I can see between Islam and Christianity is the focus on Jesus and Mohamed (PBUH). So why choose one and not the other?

Sorry for so many questions,

Peace Bunny