Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not quite a book review: Michael Bird

I recently read Michael Bird's Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question as well as his A Bird's-eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message, and though I'd offer up a few thoughts. I read them over too long a period and without taking enough notes to call this a review though.

Bird's Pauline introduction book was pitched at just the right level for what I wanted to read. Pauline studies were never my strong suit, but over my 10+ years as a believer, I've grown more and more endeared to Paul. Yet sometimes it's hard to keep a big picture in one's head of Paul, his life and letters. Bird's book does an excellent job at doing that, dealing with some particularly difficult contemporary issues in a clear, summative yet not dismissive manner. Bird offers up his position, a short account of why he holds that position, and a few timely footnotes to the broader debate.

The Messianic book was pitched at a more academic level, and I confess I don't have the background in Historical Jesus research to fully appreciate it. What I did appreciate was the strong historical defence for a messianic Jesus who presented himself in messianic terms that match at least a range of messianic hopes from the 1st century period. The notion of performative messianism resonated with me also. Finally, I managed to take enough away from this book to crop up in at least a couple of recent sermons/talks and fuel my ongoing interest in biblical theology (in the sense of Old/New Testament unity and convergence).

Bird's work is solid, reformed without being narrowly confessional, and worth your time.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

4 distinctives that leave me without a denominational fit

1. I'm convinced believer's baptism is a more biblical practice than infant baptism.

As I read the NT, the silence on the issue is one of the first things that strikes me. But as you read about baptism in the NT, its presentation as a sign of repentance and faith which follows repentance and faith in response to the gospel is clear. I remember what pushed me over the line on this issue, it was reading Piper's "Brothers, We are not professionals". The difference between Old Covenant and New Covenant membership is definitive for me on this issue.

More pragmatically though, I'm a bit of a wheneverist on the issue. I don't believe in rebaptism of those baptised as infants, because baptism is once for all, and if someone was baptised as a child, is living a life of faith and repentance, we don't need to get them baptised 'properly', as if the sacrament was ineffectual. I think we need to be more biblical in encouraging believers to get baptised, and less caught up in debates that often involve an ontology we're not otherwise committed to.

2. The 3-fold order is biblically unconvincing.

At least from the NT. The terms for bishop and presbyter clearly overlap in usage, and deacons are not what they are now. I'm not opposed to the 3-fold order, especially given its historical emergence in the early church, which I have no problem with, I just can't insist on it as a distinctive.

3. Normative, not Regulative, principle.

The Presbyterian/reformed tradition is totally unconvincing to me on this issue. I think this is shifting in a lot of those circles though. A good Missiology should disabuse us of the Regulative principle straight up, and if not, we need to think a lot harder about culture & gospel.

4. Pacifism & Community

Are the two key things the Anabaptists got really right (well, not all the historic Anabaptists got Pacifism right). I recognise the idiosyncrasy and minority theological position of pacifism within contemporary Christianity, but I find the ethical conclusion from reading the scriptures inescapable on that issue. (Yoder was right!)

As for community, the corporate emphasis of life in Christ is often underplayed and under-resourced in other traditions, which plays to individualism and self-worship. Anabaptists on this score get high marks.

Friday, November 06, 2009

November update

I realise I haven't blogged in a while. I make no particular promises on when I will resume posting content of value.

We had a lovely holiday in Victoria, visited some old friends, and some more recent ones; saw some spectacular parts of the world. While we were there we also met up with Pioneers at their head office, and have kicked off an official application process with them, in line with our plans to teach in Mongolia.

My wife's grandfather died and we cut our holiday short to attend the funeral. Now we are back, but I have been thrust straight into preparing talks for a youth camp, as well as interviewing for a number of jobs for next year.

Hoping life will settle a little next week and I will get back to the studies in full force.