Fanning the Flame: Bible, Cross, and Mission

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Titled after the landmark 2003 National Evangelical Anglican Congress—the first such event in fifteen years—Fanning the Flame contains important material written specially for the occasion. Its theme of 'Bible, Cross and Mission' explores why each of these themes can rightly claim to be essential to our identity as evangelicals, and why each is crucial in a different way:

* The Bible is God's Word from which we will not stray, by which we must live, and which we must proclaim.
*...

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Overview

Titled after the landmark 2003 National Evangelical Anglican Congress—the first such event in fifteen years—Fanning the Flame contains important material written specially for the occasion. Its theme of 'Bible, Cross and Mission' explores why each of these themes can rightly claim to be essential to our identity as evangelicals, and why each is crucial in a different way:

* The Bible is God's Word from which we will not stray, by which we must live, and which we must proclaim.
* The Cross is God's gift from which everything we believe and do flows.
* Mission is God's calling to which we are all committed.

Contributors include: Peter Ackroyd
• Phil Baskerville
• Wallace Benn
• Gerald Bray
• Andrew Cornes
• Graham Cray
• Tim Dakin
• Dave Fenton
• Ida Glaser
• Edith Humphrey
• Simea de Souza Meldrum
• Rico Tice
• Timothy Ward
• David Zac Niringiye

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310249870
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 6/6/2003
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Gardner (Ph.D. Cambridge University) taught for seven years at Oak Hill Theological College after his ordination, and then moved to parish ministry in Cheshire. In 2003 he was appointed Archdeacon of Exeter. He has published a number of books and articles, including commentaries on Revelation and on 2 Peter and Jude.

Chris Green is vice principal at Oak Hill Theological College in London. He has worked in three churches in the London area and taught frequently at the Cornhill Training Course and he contributes to Oak Hill's biblical studies programm. He has published commentaries on 2 Peter, Jude and 2 Timothy and edited a book on preaching. Chris is married with two sons and enjoys music, reading and watercolor painting.

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Read an Excerpt

Fanning the Flame

Bible, Cross, and Mission
By Paul Gardner, Chris Wright

Zondervan

Copyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0310249872


Chapter One

The Bible, Its Truth and How It Works

Timothy Ward

In this chapter Timothy Ward deals with the issue of truth. He points out that, for the Christian, all truth pivots on the person of Jesus Christ. But it is in the Bible that we discover who Jesus is, which leads on to the issue of biblical 'infallibility', 'inerrancy' and 'inspiration'. The author investigates the meaning of these terms in the light of their traditional evangelical understanding. More recently 'speech-act' theory has appeared. Ward argues that this new way of viewing scriptural truth, although it has pitfalls, is a valuable part of the Christian's arsenal. He also examines the 'sacramental' view of the Bible, but rejects this as being a helpful hermeneutical tool.

* * *

Introduction

The true focus of Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Christianity has at its heart the Bible, but the purpose of the Bible is to point us to the person of Jesus Christ. The words of the Bible exist only to serve the Word made flesh. One of the greatest theologians of the early church, Augustine, expressed the point well. We ought to use Scripture, he said, 'not with such love and delight as if it were a good to rest in, but with a transient feeling rather, such as we have towards the road, or carriages, or other things that are merely means'. The aim of Scripture is to bring us to God, he points out, and Scripture is just the means to that end. Paraphrasing Augustine, we might say that he warns against the danger of becoming a Christian 'trainspotter'-loving the means of transport (Scripture) so much that we neglect the destination (a relationship of love with God).

It is important to begin a discussion of the truth of the Bible this way because it is often alleged that the classical evangelical understanding of the Bible as itself the Word of God attracts attention away from Jesus Christ as the Word of God. It is feared that, in some evangelical churches and in the lives of some evangelical believers, trust in the Bible somehow displaces trust in Christ, and that high claims made for the words of Scripture focus attention on them, and away from the living spiritual reality to which they point. Of course, if and when that happens a grave mistake has been made, for Christ calls us first of all to be disciples, not bookworms. All faithful Christian living, and all faithful Christian theology, have at their heart the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, all the best writing throughout Christian history on the topic of the Bible and its truth focuses on Christ.

The first sections of this chapter present some of the main arguments that have been advanced in favour of the classical evangelical view of the Bible as itself the Word of God. Some readers may not have encountered these arguments together in one place before, even in brief form, and will find their presentation here helpful. Other readers, especially those who find the classical evangelical view of the Bible problematic in various ways, may feel some impatience at the rehearsal of these arguments in the first part of this chapter. Such readers are encouraged to note the extent to which these arguments are, in their best form, remarkably Christocentric. (These readers may also find it helpful to engage with the notes; in a short chapter aimed at a wide readership it has been necessary to relegate some important material, both traditional and contemporary, to the notes.) It is regularly alleged that the classical evangelical view of the Bible, under the influence of various Enlightenment philosophies, replaces Christ's spiritual authority with the primary authority of the Bible, established independently of him. What follows here is intended to suggest that, though frequently made, this criticism is seriously open to question.

Evangelical theology must have a healthy respect for its own traditions; that they are old and widely criticized does not necessarily mean that they are erroneous. Yet it is also true that faithful theology never stands still in its formulation of the truth, and is never uncritical of inherited traditions. Theology always needs to learn from the best of new thinking across a variety of fields, in its ongoing reformation. Later sections of this chapter, discussing the question of how the truth of the Bible works, will therefore engage with some contemporary issues of concern, especially questions of hermeneutics, language and personhood. I shall suggest that recent work in these fields can and should inform evangelical thinking about the Bible in creative and stimulating ways. Indeed, in the work of such writers as Anthony Thiselton, Kevin Vanhoozer and Nicholas Wolterstorff this kind of reformation of the evangelical understanding of Scripture is already taking place.

The Truth of Jesus' Own Words

Jesus makes staggering claims for the origin of his own words. He claims not only that he has been sent by God the Father, but also that the words that he speaks come directly from the Father: 'I declare to the world what I have heard from him' (John 8:26 NRSV); 'the words that you gave to me I have given to them' (John 17:8 NRSV; see also John 12:49). That means that the words spoken by the Word incarnate are the very words God the Father has spoken to God the Son within the life of the Trinity itself. It is possible to get tied up here in questions to which we cannot know the answer - such as, in what language do the persons of the Trinity speak to each other? What is important, though, is to take seriously what Jesus presents to us in simple but striking terms: when we hear him speaking words in ordinary human language (in the Aramaic language he spoke, or translated into our own language) we are hearing divine language. God the Son is telling us what he has heard God the Father say. God, by definition, speaks only what is perfectly true, so in the words of Jesus we encounter perfect truth.

This has a significant implication for everyone who has not met Jesus in the flesh, and Jesus draws this out shortly before his death. He prays to his Father, regarding his disciples, 'the words that you gave to me I have given to them ... I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us' (John 17:8, 20-1 NRSV). Jesus passed on the Father's own words to the disciples, who, after his ascension, passed those words on to others. In doing so, they did not just bear witness to what they had heard and seen of the Word incarnate, although they certainly did that. As they faithfully passed on what Jesus had said, they also spoke words God himself had spoken. To hear the Twelve pass on the words of Jesus was therefore to be addressed by God. This is exactly the point the apostle Paul makes when he calls himself an ambassador for Christ, 'since God is making his appeal through us' (2 Corinthians 5:20 NRSV). It also explains why Jesus, in the verses from John 17 just quoted, links the hearing of God's words through the first disciples with coming to be 'in' the Father and the Son. To respond in faith to the apostles' proclamation of the words spoken by the Word incarnate is both to be addressed by God himself and to come into relationship with God himself.

Jesus and the Truth of the Old Testament

Of course, only a small part of the Bible is spoken directly by Christ during his earthly ministry. In thinking about the claim that can be made for the truth of the rest of the Bible, we turn first to the Old Testament. As before, we begin with Jesus. Many writers have documented in great detail that, for Jesus, what the Old Testament says is both historically accurate and of divine origin. First, Jesus constantly refers to characters and events in the Old Testament with the assumption that he is referring to real history. It is sometimes argued that Jesus was here accommodating himself to the literal interpretation of Scripture of his Jewish contemporaries, but Jesus seems to go further than that. For example, his references to Abraham at the violent climax of the long discussion with the Jews in John 8 (vv. 52-8) make little sense if significant details given about Abraham's life are not historical. As John Wenham has pointed out, Jesus had no qualms about overturning dearly held religious beliefs, if they were in fact wrong. Had parts of the Old Testament in fact been historically inaccurate, he would not have baulked at correcting his hearers' view of their Scriptures.

Second, for Jesus the Old Testament is not just historically true. It is also, and much more importantly, of divine origin, in the strong sense of that claim: whatever it says is what God says. For Jesus, God is the ultimate author of the Old Testament. It is therefore true in what it says about matters that go beyond ordinary history, such as the theological interpretation it gives to history, as well as prophecy, the creation, the nature of humanity and the character and actions of God himself. Jesus often uses the phrase 'it is written' to introduce a quotation from the Old Testament. This phrase seems to be tantamount to saying, 'God says'. This is particularly clear in his temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Three times Jesus responds to Satan with 'It is written' and a quotation from the Old Testament. This response to the Tempter can only be thought of as effective if in these verses Jesus is quoting a spiritual authority higher than Satan. That Jesus does not need to bolster his responses to Satan with 'God says', but is quite happy with 'it is written', strongly suggests that for him the two phrases are interchangeable and identical in meaning.

A further very illuminating example is found in Matthew 19:4-5. Here Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 ('For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh'). In the context of Genesis, these words are not put explicitly into God's mouth, but are simply part of the narrative. However, Jesus introduces them as being spoken directly by God: 'the one who made them at the beginning ... said'. That would be an extraordinary mistake to make for a Jew who knew his Scriptures well, if a clear distinction had to be drawn between God saying something and merely Scripture saying something. Jesus, though, draws no such distinction. For him, 'Scripture says' and 'God says' are interchangeable phrases of identical meaning.

It is worth noting that other parts of the New Testament equate the voice of God and the voice of Scripture in the same way. The apostle Paul introduces a quotation from the Old Testament thus: 'the scripture says to Pharaoh' (Romans 9:17 NRSV). In fact, though, what he quotes are words that, in the Old Testament context, God spoke directly to Pharaoh. Words can have no greater mark of authority and truth than when God speaks them, so why would Paul be happy to ascribe the words simply to 'scripture'? It can only be that, for Paul, as for Jesus, to say that 'Scripture says' is no less a claim to truth and authority than to say, 'God says'. Paul does exactly the same in Galatians 3:8. He introduces some words that, in the Old Testament, God spoke directly to Abraham; thus, 'the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith' NRSV. Paul does something remarkable here. He personifies Scripture, saying that it 'foresees' something that only God can foresee, and ascribes to it some words in fact uttered by God. When Scripture is put on this level, it can only be that for Paul, as for Jesus, 'Scripture says' and 'God says' are interchangeable terms, with identical meaning and force.

Jesus and the Truth of the New Testament

I have discussed Jesus' views of the truth of his own words and of the words of the Old Testament. What, then, about the rest of the New Testament? As before, we begin with Jesus himself. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them the Holy Spirit, his Spirit, who 'will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you' (John 14:26 NRSV). This Spirit is also the Spirit of truth, who will declare to the disciples whatever he hears from Jesus: 'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears ... he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you' (John 16:13-15 NRSV). These are crucial words, for in them Jesus promises his disciples that the process of the communication to them of divine words from the Father through the Son will not end with the Son's ascension. Instead, the ascension will enable the sending of the Spirit, who will speak only what the ascended Son gives him to say, who in turn is given everything he has by the Father.

Jesus is giving us here a trinitarian explanation of revelation. The Father gives everything he has to the Son, who sends the Spirit to speak only what the Son gives him to say. We are on the verge of deep theological waters here, but in the context of the upper room, shortly before his death, Jesus is making one clear practical point. He is explaining that, after his ascension, certain human beings will be given by the Holy Spirit words to speak that are of equal divine origin and character to words uttered directly by the Father or by the Son. The fact that all the disciples remain sinners till the day they die does not alter the fact that, if they faithfully pass on what the Spirit gives them to say, their words are God's own words, just as much as the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes.

However, the full implications of this promise do not apply to every believer. Not everything that you and I say is also at the same time God speaking. You may write me a letter of Christian teaching and exhortation, but that letter, however 'inspired' it may be, should not be added to Scripture. We may feel that the Spirit is telling us certain things, but we should not claim unqualified scriptural authority ('God says to you') for those words. Exactly the same point was recognized in the early church, during the process of discerning what was really Scripture, and so belonged in the Bible, and what was not. Not everything that every Christian wrote about Jesus in the early centuries, and not every letter that was written, was added to the Bible. Over time, the early church weighed the writings of the earliest Christians, to determine in which of them God was speaking by his Spirit and in which of them he was not.

Continues...


Excerpted from Fanning the Flame by Paul Gardner, Chris Wright Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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