Reading Scripture Corporately

25 05 2009

Oliver O’Donovan has a new book out: “A Conversation Waiting to Begin: the Churches and the Gay Controversy“. At the launch, he gave a lecture entitled, “The Reading Church – Scriptural Authority in Practice“.

In the lecture he’s picking up on a phrase from the “Jerusalem Declaration” issued at GAFCON: “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.”

Here are a couple of tasters from O’Donovan’s article:

  1. “Another requisite for the public reading of Scripture … is a public reader. A task once confined to the clergy has now largely been made over to lay members of the congregation, but far from dignifying lay ministry, this has, on the whole, merely marginalised a task on which a great deal in the act of worship depends. I confess that I know of no church that trains its readers; its reading readers, that is, for when we call people “readers” and say we train them, we have something different in mind, which is itself eloquent! When I hear a lesson read with careful thought, with pace, articulation, pause and pitch all placed at the service of the sense of the passage, I make a point of thanking the reader, since the effort made will not have been asked for and probably not appreciated. Yet many a church may stay alive by the ministry of its readers which would otherwise die by the ministry of its preachers.”
  2. “All authority arises from mediation of reality. The free imagination and ranging purposes of the human mind are brought to heel by an interruption of something that simply and unnegotiably is the case. And the authority of Scripture is the moment at which the attested reality of God’s acts disturb the ideal constructions and zealous projections of human piety. Those who are anxious about the church’s weakening attachment to Scripture do not anticipate a loss of piety, but a rank growth of it; they fear the promiscuous multiplication of religious images in which history and fantasy are blended in equal measure, in which Star-Trek and Jesus are equally apt for our devotion. Attending the Eucharist as a visitor at a strange church on Palm Sunday, I was surprised to find the reading of the Gospel dispensed with altogether, and in its place a devotion in which members of the congregation stood up one by one and imagined the biographies and experiences of various objects that figure in the passion story: the tree from which the wood of the cross was made, the nails used to fasten the victim to the cross, etc. The fact that this exercise was embarrassingly insipid is, of course, neither here nor there; religious imagination has had more than its fair share of insipidity in the past, and recovered. The important point was why the Scriptural narrative was displaced from its customary place of honour in Eucharistic worship: it was to free up the religious imagination, to ensure space for the mind to wander freely through the gallery of images without being inconveniently summoned back to what has actually been told us of those events.”

Posted by Rick Creighton

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Keeping in step with the Spirit – Christologically

15 12 2008
Depiction of the Trinity

Image via Wikipedia

Do you think Christologically about the the Holy Spirit? Suppose we’re talking about our New Testament freedom, in the Spirit, to learn to live as God intends. What difference does Jesus make to that freedom (over and above the difference made by, e.g. Moses or Isaiah)? Is it just that Jesus made Pentecost possible – and so the Holy Spirit was given after him – and the Spirit makes obedience possible?

If so, your understanding of the Spirit isn’t Christological.

Revival movements – even ones which start well – need to beware of this danger: rightly speaking of the inward moral power of the Holy Spirit, but doing so unchristologically. That way lies the worst sort of legalism. (The Montanists1 were an early example.)

The antidote? Reflecting more deeply on what it means for us to be in Christ. Through his Spirit, we enter into Christ’s freedom. We participate in Christ’s authority within the created order.

Or, to put it in Paul’s words, we are no longer slaves, but sons.2


For more on this, see Oliver O’Donovan’s book, Resurrection and Moral Order, p22-27.

Posted by Rick Creighton


1 Montanism was a prophetic movement within Early Christianity, dating from approx. 150AD. (See EarlyChurch.org.uk for more.)

2 Cf. Galatians 4v1-7: ‘What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.’ (NIV)

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From ethics to the gospel (01)

3 11 2008
Timeless and Universal?

Image by stephenccwu via Flickr

Is ethics part of the gospel? Is ethics contained within the gospel? (Or is it something extra; perhaps something to raise alongside the gospel, or perhaps something to address only after a person already believes the gospel?)

If you come at that question with the Law vs Gospel1 distinction in mind, you might answer “No!”.

But there are hidden costs to saying no…

If ethics isn’t contained in the gospel, then you’ve got two choices:

  1. Be consistently evangelical, and ignore ethics altogether (antinomianism)
  2. Be half-heartedly evangelical, and include ethics after all (legalism)

Neither of these are good. And the answer isn’t to find some halfway-house between them either. So what is the answer? Well, that’s what my next post will start to tackle.


In the meantime…

You can find a more fulsome exploration of all this in Oliver O’Donovan’s book, Resurrection and Moral Order. Here’s a taster:

The foundations of Christian ethics must be evangelical foundations; or to put it more simply, Christian ethics must arise from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it would not be Christian ethics. … [But if we separate faith and morality,] we become either moralists or antinomians. By ‘moralism’ we mean the holding of moral convictions unevangelically, so that they are no longer part of the Christian good news, and can, therefore, have the effect only of qualifying it … as a ‘ministry of condemnation,’ or as a rule which is supposed to govern an area of life which Christ has not touched or transformed. By ‘antinomianism’ we mean the holding of the Christian faith in a way that expresses disregard, or insufficient regard, for moral questions. Once it is decided that morality is not part of the good news the Christians welcome and proclaim, believers will have to choose between being thoroughly evangelical and ignoring it, and respecting it at the cost of being only half evangelical. A belief in Christian ethics is a belief that certain ethical and moral judgements belong to the gospel itself; a belief, in other words, that the church can be committed to ethics without moderating the tone of its voice as a bearer of glad tidings.

from Resurrection and Moral Order, p11.

Posted by Rick Creighton

The next item in this series (‘From ethics to the gospel’) will be posted on Monday, 10th Nov, 2008.


1 Law and Gospel: i.e. the Lutheran distinction between the doctrines of Law, which demands obedience to God’s ethical will, and Gospel, which promises the forgiveness of sins in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For more info: Wikipedia: Law and Gospel article.

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