Tag: QTC

10 propositions on the relationship between church, mission, and worship

This semester at college, in the wisdom of our curriculum setters, I’m doing some nicely overlapping thinking across three of my subjects – Church Ministry and Sacraments, Christian Worship, and The Modern Evangelical Movement . This is my attempt to integrate some of that thinking and give you some of the fruit of the grunt work I’ve put in on a couple of essays. I’ll post those essays at Venn Theology at the end of semester if you’d like to read more…

1. It starts with God – God is a relational God – both internally, within the Trinity, and externally – on his own mission – the Missio Dei (Mission of God in Latin). This mission is to gather a people to himself, who will glorify him for eternity – and he conducts this mission by sending Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the world.

2. The Church is on a mission from God – The church is the gathered people of God. We are instruments of God’s mission. United with Christ, equipped by the Spirit to take part in the gathering of God’s people. The church is a divine pyramid scheme – it exists to grow itself. Our union with Christ has an “incarnational” pay off, where when we act together as the Body of Christ we are being like Christ to the world around us. Mission is one of our primary tasks as a church, some have suggested mission is our human focused task, while worship is our god focused task,

3. This mission involves the proclamation of the Gospel in word, deed, and “being” by a priesthood of all believers– perhaps, after reading John Dickson’s Promoting the Gospel this week, “the promotion of the Gospel” is a better category. But we’re all on mission together. This mission will necessarily involve words, but it will also involve demonstrations of the truth of the gospel through how we relate to one another and the world around us as the people of God.

The church’s participation in mission to the world began in earnest with the calling of Paul (Acts 9:15), who defines his mission, which he invites his churches to partake in, as preaching Christ to those who have not heard (Romans 10:14-16, 15:17-21), as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20, Colossians 4:2-6), to bring them to faith (Romans 10:17, 16:25-26, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23), and present them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:25-29).

The church is called to be different (Col 3:1-17, Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18), and its conduct and ‘being’ is a fundamental part of its mission (John 13:35, 17:14-18, 20-23, 1 Peter 2:12, Matthew 5:14-16, Romans 12).

Some see social transformation as the content of evangelism, emphasising the incarnation and conflating “setting the oppressed free” with “proclaiming good news” (cf Luke 4:18-19) – but the preaching of the good news is what truly frees the oppressed.

4. While how we do and think of church (ecclesiology) and how we do and think of mission (missiology) are very closely related – they must be distinct – we can’t collapse them into each other. Many modern “missiologists” see the church exclusively as a tool for mission, so the social context of the church shapes church. If the church is incarnational, and is an entity equipped by God to do certain things (teach the gospel, administer the sacraments, “worship”) – then there are certain things that are non-negotiable even if they’re culturally weird. This is particularly true because part of how we define the church is by looking to the New Creation – where there is no mission to expand the church because the people are already gathered.

5. The Reformers worked with a “mother” analogy for the church. This is helpful. Though mission wasn’t a big deal during Christendom, and was more the role of governments who were understood as God’s tool for expanding the Christian state, the idea that the church is simultaneously responsible for “begetting” the faith of believers and nurturing believers is helpful – especially in the light of discussions and debates about who Sunday gatherings are for – where a dichotomy between serving believers and serving seekers has been unhelpfully pushed in recent times.

6. Mission is worship. If worship is magnifying the work of God as we praise, glorify and serve him, and involves the sacrificial giving of ourselves and our gifts for others (which I think is the definition of worship) – then mission is a form of that. Perhaps the ultimate form of that in our time and space – though this changes in the New Creation.  Participation in the mission of the church, as a subset of the mission of God, can be understood as an extension of the God glorifying purpose of each individual believer for which he has given us gifts that we are to use to build the body.

7. Worship is God focused, but involves being “poured out” in the service of others – Paul frames glorifying God, worship, and service, as using one’s gifts to serve others (Romans 12:1-12, 15:14-17, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5), and sees preaching the gospel as his service and priestly duty (Acts 20:19-27, Romans 1:1, 15:16, Ephesians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, Colossians 1:23-29, Titus 1:1).

God gathers his people to pour them out as gifts for others (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:1-16 (Especially if, following Carson, the church is understood as the “host of captives” cf the Levites (Numbers 8, 18)), Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:6).

Spiritual gifts are used in the service of others, to produce maturity (Ephesians 4:8-16, Colossians 3:12-17, Romans 12:1-16, 1 Corinthians 12, 14), and to proclaim the excellence of God amongst the pagans (1 Peter 2:9-12).

The language used of the church in these passages is the language used to define worship.

8. Worship is mission. This does not necessarily follow point 6, but when point 7 is introduced the argument becomes a little easier to make – the way the church worships God functions as a testimony to others, and thus, alongside point 3, leads to the conclusion that our explicitly God focused worship of God is part of our mission. Because it is part of who we are as God’s people, and who we are as God’s people is part of our mission. This is not its only function – because it is part of what it means to truly be human (if the chief end of man is to Glorify God and enjoy him forever), and we will continue worshipping after every knee has bowed to Jesus, and in the throne room of God after judgment – where there are no non-Christians to gather. But in the here and now – our decision to not worship ourselves, or our idols, is part of our testimony to who God is – and is the only right response to the gospel of Jesus’ Lordship.

9. So, Corporate Worship – the stuff we do when we gather – is also mission.  The tasks of the church – preaching, the sacraments, and ‘worship’ (in the what we do at church sense of the word) – involves making a clear and appealing presentation of the gospel of Jesus. Clarity requires some form of contextualisation. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 14 seems to base the unbeliever’s response to the gathering in their ability to perceive the truth of the gospel in the clarity of the gathering – corporate worship, the sacraments, and identity shaping orientation in the form of the Sunday service achieve this goal, and simultaneously the goal of worship and mission – when they involve the gathered people of God sacrificially serving one another with their gifts in a manner that clearly demonstrates and declares the truth of the gospel of the crucified saviour. Both aspects of the “mother” role of the church are accomplished in this manner.

10. Clarity on what the gospel is, what mission is, and what worship is, should nurture Christians and encourage them to worship with all of their lives, by being on mission with all of their lives. The Sunday gathering of the church should do this, thinking of the church as the permanent community of God’s people, on a permanent mission, rather than just God’s people when they gather, and missionaries when they’re outside the walls of the gathering is also helpful.

None of this seems all that controversial unless you spend a bunch of time reading stuff by people who disagree with points 3, 4, 9, and 10. Most Christians agree with 1 and 2, while 5, 6, 7 and 8 are matters that are settled by how one understands what the church is, what the gospel is, and what worship is… the methodology I used in coming to these conclusions was largely to start with a look at how the Bible develops the concept of what it means to be the people of God, and how this people is called to interact with God, with each other, and with the world around them.

I think this is a pretty useful way of thinking about life, and church – and even stuff like music – does anybody have any qualms with the logic?


11 Exciting things (studying at) Queensland Theological College has taught me

There’s something nice about looking back over your old essays and realising that you’ve developed – for me this is true both in terms of my writing, and my thinking.

In a haze of essay induced insomnia the other night I started writing a list of things that College has made me more sure of, or taught me, that I think will be useful for the rest of my life.

1. The gospel is the lordship of Jesus – This means it first functions corporately, and individual salvation, where Jesus deals with sin, is a result. This effects the way I articulate the gospel. It’s not about me. Or you. It’s about him. I was convinced of this in first year, partly from a “word study” – which is a pretty poor basis for making decisions by itself, but partly because it’s a really cohesive summary of both the Old Testament expectations of a coming king, and the New Testament presentation of Jesus. Individualism is a relatively new animal. The word study – the Greek word we translate as gospel was already used in Roman culture as the word for when a herald announced a new king.

2. The Gospel should be proclaimed with wisdom, grace, winsomeness, clarity – and this means understanding the world around you. – What I love about the wisdom literature, Paul, Augustine, and Luther, is that they provide a model for engaging with the best thinking the world has to offer – and using it, or rejecting it – to proclaim Jesus. They also provide a model for using the best methods available to communicate.

3. Biblical Theology as the key for holding the Bible together and understanding anything – spending time reading German scholars who are either deists, or functional atheists, who bring this presupposition to the Biblical text and emphasise its humanity (which is an important aspect) over its divinity (which is the most important aspect) is depressing. The Bible makes the most sense if you allow for some divinely inspired intertextuality between the 66 books that were put together in our one book. Biblical theology makes doctrine possible.

4. The fundamental hermeneutical importance of purpose – I’m increasingly convinced that each book of the Bible is written for a purpose, or two, or three – otherwise, why write them. Often the purpose is explicit, sometimes it’s clearly implicit, other times its a product of its context which is revealed by other books (like reading Psalms against the history of Israel). Any “big idea” of a passage should somehow relate to the big idea of the book – or you run the risk of communicating something the author isn’t.

5. The book as hermeneutical unit. As a corollary to the last point, this means that if each book is a coherent piece of literature, of varying genres, then you’re expected to, by the second reading, know how the book ends, and appreciate how the particular passage you’re looking at helps the author communicate his purpose. This also assumes that the Bible is meant to be dwelt on and read more than once. This means textuality is the first step before intertextuality – so, for example, the best way to understand what function Matthew is having the Pharisees play early in the gospel is by seeing how they develop by the end of the gospel, not how John treats Nicodemus, or even, necessarily, how the Pharisees were actually perceived in history – though these are important.

6. Mission (making the gospel known to people) is worship, and includes being, saying, and doing. I’m not yet ready to argue that mission=worship, but I’m sure it’s a subset. Most passages where Paul talks about evangelism involve the sacrificial use of one’s gifts to serve the body, and reach others. How we do corporate worship is to be intelligible, and should result in visiting unbelievers converting.

7. Systematic theology is a product of biblical theology – creation and new creation are profoundly important. The Bible is the best method for understanding God’s revelation because it points to how he is revealed in Christ. It teaches us about God. It teaches us about us. It does this best when you figure out how different passages relate to us through Jesus and the narrative of salvation history (how God worked out his plan over time). The new creation is the telos for most aspects of systematic theology, creation supplies us with the tools to figure out the nature of things sans sin. Sin obviously messes things up – so much that it gets its own point below. But understanding what we were meant to be, and how we will be, is important.

8. The incredible significance of the fall – bad theology, bad ethics, a weak understanding of Scripture, and too positive an anthropology (understanding of humanity) flow from playing down the effect of sin. Sin breaks everything. So much that God sent Jesus to die to atone for it to not just move us past our initial anthropology when we are united to him, but move us towards our future anthropology. Sin especially breaks our ability to think, and particularly our ability to know God and ourselves. All the problems in contemporary theology, and in public debate, stem from failing to understand how sin has affected humanity.

9. Ethics is a product of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, the fall, mission, and eschatology. This is the conclusion of 6, 7, and 8. How we lived is framed by the theological realities, who God is, who Jesus is, who we are, and where we’re going.

10.Integrating ideas is important. I feel like I’ve got a better, more nuanced grasp of things I knew before college, partly because I’ve put time into reading, not just people I agree with, but critically reading people I don’t, and figuring out – with help from brilliant and ministry minded lecturers – how things fit together. I complain a lot about the stress of college, and the workload, but there’s no doubt when I read stuff I wrote a few years ago my thinking has developed – and the beauty of a well thought out college curriculum is that it has developed through integrating multiple streams of thought and data into one or two big ideas. I’m convinced that if you have an anaemic view of one thing, the flow on effect to all other things is more significant than you might think (except Greek). So if your doctrine of Scripture is wonky, everything else is wonky – this is true for most doctrinal points.

11. Practice makes better – especially with writing. I’ve produced, after culling things back to their word limit, 30,000+ words a semester of essay, that’s 150,000 words so far. My essays now are much easier to read, and their arguments much more cohesive, than in first year, and I’m producing them in significantly less time. Having something that forces you to produce work, and assesses it, is great for honing a craft.

I certainly slept better after thinking about why I was spending so much time on an essay.

*Disclaimer – these thoughts are my own, and not necessarily representative of anything the QTC faculty teaches or believes if they don’t want to teach or believe said things…

Liveblogging Carson

Don Carson is at QTC this week. I’ll be posting some summaries of his lectures on the New Testament’s use of the Old over at Venn Theology.

David and Goliath for the YouTube generation

QTC’s preaching course got high tech this year. The people doing it had to upload a video to YouTube as part of a portfolio. My friend Brian smashed it out of the park with this little sermonette on David and Goliath. It’s laugh out loud funny in a couple of parts, but such a great example of preaching narrative in an engaging way – one of the limitations was a 6 minute time limit, and having spoken to Brian I know the ending would have been a little more fleshed out had he more time. But wow. Brian has skillz.

You can read the preaching class’s blog here.

Liveblogging QTC Preaching Week at Venn Theology

Venntheology.com is where I put college related stuff. Over the next three days QTC is hosting preaching week, featuring stuff from:

  • David Jones
  • Luke Tattersall
  • Phil Campbell
  • Gary Millar
  • Mike O’Connor
  • David Mansfield
  • Steve Cree

That’s a pretty good line up. In no particular order. Registrations for the event have closed – but if you feel like you’re missing out – or you’re here at preaching week and don’t want to take notes then I’ll be putting mine online. The talks are also being recorded, and I’m sure they’ll be added to QTC’s treasure trove of online resources.

That is all.

New Page: College Resources

I’ve collated all the useful posts I’ve written about being a student at QTC (predominantly being a first year student) into a single page. I’m adding apps, links, and other resources I’ve found useful. If you see any gaping holes in any areas – like apps I might find useful. Let me know.

Movement at the QTC station

Speaking of press releases… it was announced to us yesterday at college, and released to the world via a media release, that the Rev Dr. Bruce Winter is stepping down from his role as principal at our college and moving into a role as a research professor, lecturing in New Testament and Systematic Theology.

It’s cool that he’s sticking around, sad that he’s stepping down. So a little bittersweet. I’ve really appreciated Bruce’s hermeneutic and his emphasis on family based ecclesiology. Plus he’s a leading expert on the socio-historical context of the New Testament and going to Greece and Turkey with him was a pretty life changing experience.

That photo sits on his desk. In a frame. Because I put it there.

If you’re an Old Testament/Hebrew expert who wants to fill theses big shoes – then QTC would like to hear from you.

Sixteen things I love about college

Lest you read that last post and think that I’m a negative nancy who isn’t enjoying the College experience, let me put your mind at ease with this list of things I am loving about being at college… I listed 16 because the experience has been more positive than negative – and I suggested 12 improvements.

  1. Studying with my wife
    What an amazing privilege. I need to keep reminding myself, even when she gets better marks than me, that it’s an amazing opportunity to live life together (all hours of the day) in a way that we couldn’t when we were both working, and we possibly won’t again for a long time.
  2. Filling in gaps/gaining knowledge
    Knowledge is like high fructose corn syrup. And I’m like a fat kid addicted to soft drink. Knowledge might puff you up – but it’s addictive and I’m enjoying the process of trying to quench my seemingly unquenchable thirst. I love reading. I love ideas. I love debating with scholars in my head and on paper. The library is an awesome new discovery for me. I managed to studiously avoid the library in my first degree. But, so many books, so little time. Our librarian is also amazing.
  3. Writing Essays
    Knowledge will only get you so far, I love the process of communicating knowledge through writing. Essays are where it’s at as far as motivating study and clarifying thoughts and arguments goes. I have thoroughly enjoyed the topics I’ve chosen to write about where choice is available, and benefited from the exercise when choice isn’t.
  4. Having the Bible come to life
    Standing in front of the Bema in Ancient Corinth is possibly literally a once in a lifetime experience, doing it with a bunch of people from college and a lecturer who specialises in first century Roman culture and its interaction with Christianity is an amazing experience. But that’s only the tip of the obelisk when it comes to the question of how college has fleshed out my understanding of the background to the Old and New Testaments. I’m pretty firmly settled on historical context being an important hermeneutical key – so the chance to dig around in primary source documents from the Ancient Near East, Qumran, Greek and Roman philosophy, and political proclamations from the Roman empire has been a really rewarding experience.
  5. Having to justify our presuppositions, and having our assumptions challenged
    College is a stretch, some scholarly ideas are worth considering, and you’re almost always richer for undergoing the process of considering (and rejecting) them. Someone told me that if you get to college too late in life you’re already to set in your ways for it to effect you – I hope that’s not the case for me.
  6. Being taught by faculty who love the Bible and love us
    While the pitfalls and potholes of modern scholarship are many and varied, our staff are academically excellent and theologically orthodox. They model the appropriate approach to scholarly pursuits, while also demonstrating a love for God’s word and for us. It’s encouraging to see the two spheres of theology and ministry come together like they do in our teachers.
  7. Mission
    Before we went overseas on our trip we went to Toowoomba for a week of mission. It was an experience. Time spent with other people, in a foreign church, seeing how stuff gets done in the real world, and doing some RE and other evangelism stuff, was great.
  8. Studying with other people
    Some people have told me that the best thing about college is the relationships you form with other people. It’s probably true. I’ve loved serving with others on mission, travelling overseas with 20 other students, and just hanging out and chatting about significant (and not so significant) theological and practical issues. The college community is a blast, and little random acts of generosity and kindness from other students have been greatly appreciated.
  9. Constructive arguments about theology
    I love arguing. I love arguing with smart people in an encouraging way and having my thinking stretched.
  10. Chapel
    Chapel services have been pretty amazing experiences. Hearing fellow students and the staff preach, singing together, being encouraged by God’s word, singing and praying together has been a consistent highlight of the week for me all year.
  11. Handball
    Seriously. How cool is handball. I heard it’s almost banned at other colleges in Australia.
  12. The Coffee
    Roasted with care. Ground fresh every morning. Brewed scientifically. Turning a profit. How can I complain.
  13. The Drive
    We did have the coolest car going to college from the northern suburbs of Brisbane. The drive to and from college was almost always eventful.
  14. Language “study hour”
    So, you may have the impression that I don’t love studying Greek and Hebrew. You’re right. but one thing I do like is that QTC built time to study the languages into the program so we don’t have to at home (in theory).
  15. The Location
    Eating lunch overlooking the river. Oh, the serenity.
  16. Free Bread
    Brumbies give us free bread every Wednesday.

Twelve things I would change about the college experience

As a follow up to my last post about college related stress, and on a slightly similar note, here are some things I would change about the Bible College/Seminary (for American Readers) experience. You can sum up these points with “make the college experience more reflective of real life.” I have some other thoughts about the process the Presbyterian Church uses for sorting out its candidates. But I’ll keep this general for the sake of maintaining my position as a candidate…

  1. Make ministry more of a priority
    I feel like I’ve been sucked out of any sense of normal church life (well, normal based on the last eight years of heavy involvement in church life) by the college experience. I’ve almost forgotten what its like to talk to somebody on a week night, or talk about anything other than what I’ve learned or been thinking about during the week on a Sunday. It’s what people ask. And I’m often too tired or distracted to care. College students are meant to be involved in church life, as a candidate I’m meant to do ten hours a week… But count off the hours of church on a Sunday (twice), Bible Study, and a Staff meeting and my time is up. This may be my bias against languages speaking – but I spend a lot of my time doing language grunt work, and a lot of that time wondering what the payoff is in terms of my future ministry, the answer, in the day and age of amazing computer programs and multiple reliable translations, “not a whole lot.”
  2. Teach more practical stuff, earlier
    Maybe if I’d done MTS I wouldn’t be saying this – but shouldn’t our facility for training and equipping people for ministry be training and equipping people for ministry. I’m sure most ministry stuff is better caught than taught – but having some formal apologetics training, and a bit of pastoral care/counselling training from the outset would be terrific, and ending up with some how to do the business of church would be nice too. Just thinking about the practical side of ministry, and how things are going to work in the real world when rubber meets road, would be a more valuable exercise than most language classes (there it is again). Role playing, talking to experts, practical stuff that gives you some idea at how you might tackle awkward pastoral issues wold be heaps more useful than hoping you get some really sticky situations in your 10 hours of parish time.
  3. Get students thinking about modern communication technology
    Call me biased, but I reckon every Bible College student should blog. Blogging helps to find a written voice. It’s a chance to articulate thoughts on issues raised in class. It’s a chance to be creative, and to think about application. It’s a chance to get ideas out into the world. Blogs could even be part of the assessment process. Vocational ministry is about communication. Bible College students should be thinking about how to use technology, social networking, emails, anything they can get their hands on – for the sake of the kingdom. Blogging is great for crystallising thoughts. They should not only have to blog, but they should have to post comments on the ideas of their friends (on their blogs). This is only a partly serious suggestion. But most marketing people think the Internet is the future – so we have to encourage people in ministry to be thinking about how it fits with their future. The college itself needs to think about how to use the web better, both in terms of its own homepage and the wider world of social networking, blogging, and multimedia stuff.
  4. Make students teach RE as a community service/part of the curriculum
    Why are we keeping young, dedicated people who are being educated about the Bible out of what is a golden opportunity for loving and serving our communities.
  5. Equip students better mentally to cope with Scholarship
    Rather than spending a week before college starts grappling with the Greek and Hebrew alphabets – we should be helping prepare students for the challenge of dealing with  stupid “Emperor’s New Clothes” scholars are going to present to their thinking. Academia rewards new and exciting ideas – which gives rise to a lot of people getting excited about really dumb stuff that shouldn’t be taken seriously past showing why it’s dumb. College should not be a time where you lose your faith and have doubts preyed on by scholars with an agenda who you’re not really warned about. Some scholars are wolves in wool
  6. Modernise assessment processes (get with the programs)
    Seriously. Who uses pen and paper for anything other than taking phone messages (other than GTD people) any more? Why am I expected to lug a pen into an exam and scrawl illegibly as fast as I can answering four questions in 2 hours? Get with the times. Students inevitably write slower than their ancestors, and type faster. Concerns about plagiarism or cheating with the power of the Internet are both stupid and unfounded – a) because you can check for plagiarism as quick as you can say “google” and b) because the whole idea of a robust education is getting people to interact with the ideas that are out there – and it’s stupider to expect students to rote learn said ideas in order to regurgitate them in an exam situation. There are tens of good computer programs out there aimed at making the art of theology easier – why aren’t these being deliberately included in the curriculum so that a lifetime of sermon preparation/Bible teaching is also easier?
  7. Make language learning more reflective of reality, and more useful
    Most ministers I speak to who use Greek and Hebrew (and its a minority) do it with the aid of books and computer software. And yet we’re expected to memorise paradigms and rote learn vocab in order to spurt it out on demand. I can’t imagine that situation ever arising in the real world… “Excuse me Reverend, could you tell me, on the spot, why this word in my KJV is translated in that way” – aren’t we better off teaching (and I’ve got to give my Hebrew lecturer credit here) people to understand the way the language works (like an animal), equipping students to dissect words and getting a bit of linguistic theory under their belts to avoid illegitimate totality transfers and to understand semantic ranges. At the moment we spend so much time doing rote learning stuff and writing out paradigms until our fingers and eyes bleed that we’ve got almost no time to look at the actual Bible or think about any of the other three subjects.
  8. Get rid of exams
    Why do we think asking for regurgitation in two hours, on paper, is a good way to assess thirteen weeks’ worth of work? No one does, and it isn’t. Assessment on a regular basis (to encourage people to keep up with the work – rather than trying to cram it into the short term memory) that is more closely modeled on the real world (discussions, presentations etc) is surely a better gauge of a person’s progress. Show some initiative and encourage people based on educational notions of learning styles and the like.
  9. Make assessment marking less arbitrary (death to word limits)
    My own, very personal bugbear,1 is the word limit. Word limits are entirely arbitrary. I am not suggesting no limit on writing – but to use words is dumb. It misunderstands language. It actually encourages dense rather than flowing writing, and complexity over simplicity. Let me explain. Every sentence is an idea. That sentence was five words. My last three sentences used a total of thirteen words. Other people may use the same number of words to express less, others more. Others may use the same number of words but triple the number of syllables, or enhance the complexity of the words they use. We all know that shift+f7 gives you a thesaurus that is capable of turning your rudimentary slang into highbrow academia. Essays should be given a qualitative assessment, not a quantitative one. Students should be penalised for including stuff that’s irrelevant to their argument – but they should not be penalised if their argument required extra words because it needed them. And if you want a limit in order to make the lecturer’s job easier when it comes to marking – set a typeface, type size, and line spacing – and then set a page limit. That will encourage more concise writing. That’s how journalists do it too. You write in column inches, not in word counts (unless you’re a freelancer paid by the word). And you cut stuff from the bottom if you have to edit it. Lecturers should stop reading when the writing gets boring. That’s real life. It’s also reflective of preaching (where you should go as long as you’re interesting – according to QTC’s preaching lecturer). The vast majority of my time writing assignments is trying to cut five hundred words from an assignment that doesn’t have five hundred words to spare. The only options seem to be to lose substantial and important logical steps to an argument, or to go over the word limit and cop a penalty. If anybody knows how to, in 2,000 words, interact with scholarship (at least 10 peer reviewed articles), the Bible, and other primary documents while answering a question that is contentious enough to be at the scholarly coalface, then please, let me know.
  10. Make assessment criteria clearer (and stick to it)
    The Australian College of Theology provides guidelines for assessing essays that almost universally get ignored (so far as I can tell). Of the five essays I’ve had marked thus far – only one referred directly to this criteria in terms of the mark given, the rest seemed just to go with some sort of vibe (though the marks have all been fairly similar).
  11. Encourage the development of the fruit of the Spirit above the fruit of the head
    I’ve chatted to a few people disillusioned with the college process online, and in real life, in the last little while – and if a criticism comes up enough, from enough different people, sooner or later you’ve got to wonder if it has merit. Assessment of someone’s capability to do ministry is almost always based not on what they know, but if they know God. And if they are suitably gifted. I don’t know how the college can do his better – but I don’t think stress, diarrhea, grumpiness, worry, academic envy, and tiredness, nor did I notice broad knowledge of scholarly opinions, Greek parsing, or Hebrew pronunciation mentioned as desirable attributes in Galatians 5 (and my Greek isn’t that bad, nor is the semantic range of the items in the list that broad).
  12. Start later, finish later (or at the same time)
    Again, a personal bugbear. Our college advertises that it finishes in time for students to beat peak hour home. Which is great. What they don’t advertise is that you have to drive to college in peak hour. We live 17 km from the college (according to the GPS) and it takes 40 minutes to get there in peak hour, and 25 minutes off peak. Peak hour seems to start at about 3pm anyway – so the trip home isn’t substantially faster. And seriously, who is at their best in an 8.30 class?

1 I know I break this rule a lot here – I write too many words. But seriously. I’m a journalist. Brevity is my thing. You will find almost no adjectives in my writing. I don’t pad out my sentences with flowery language. I might choose a cool noun here or there, but I try to carry my writing with my vocab in one word bursts. I try to be a sniper rifle, not a shotgun. Word choice is about precision, not about scattering a few words in the breeze hoping one will hit the target.

A note on notes

I had a Greek exam today. I didn’t know my οις from my ους. Whoops. The good news is that it’s only worth ten percent and that component was only worth one tenth of ten percent. I don’t think there’s any bad news.

For anybody out there who is remotely interested – I’ve set up a tumblog for my lecture notes. I’ve only put a couple of things up so far, but I’ll be putting them all online in the next day or so. It’s almost entirely unedited stream of consciousness type stuff – but it may be useful if you’re a QTC student or have an interest in first century Roman culture… There are no Hebrew notes – they are too hard to type.

Check it.

A summary of Gary Millar’s visit to Queensland Theological College

Gary Millar came, he talked, he conquered. We all now want to be deep thinking Irish men who love preaching the gospel.

He is a man greatly gifted by God as both a thinker and a pastoral worker. He shared some insights into some of the trials he has faced in ministry that would send a mere mortal crazy. He has been around the block a few times and he is still faithfully toiling for the sake of the gospel – and still making sure that he preaches the good news of Christ crucified week in, week out, despite the opposition.

In the interest of providing a nice resource for posterity here is a summary of all the posts that I have read reviewing his time at QTC.

Night One – Song of Songs

QTC Day One – Preaching

QTC Day Two – Deuteronomy

QTC Day Three – Preaching again

Gary Millar on Application

Gary’s tips on application

  • Know the context of the passage and the context of your people.
  • Know the people you’re teaching the Bible to – people keep changing. We have to keep reading the culture.
  • We have to know individuals and know the challenges facing every stage of life.
  • “We need therefore to know every person who belongs to our charge… we should know deeply every person in our flock.”
  • We have to be able to apply the gospel to teenagers, to grandparents… to every member of the flock.
  • Start where people are rather than where you think people ought to be.
  • We need to be prepared to spell things out – and keep spelling things out. We only want to have one thing to say – the gospel. And we need to be prepared to keep saying it. We don’t need to be original.

Our challenge is to preach and teach for people’s good and God’s glory.

Questions to ask when applying:

  1. Is my teaching applied specifically enough?
  2. Do I know my culture and context well enough?
  3. Do I know the individuals in my church well enough?
  4. Do I know the unique challenges facing the individuals in my church well enough?
  5. Do I care enough to find out?
  6. Is my speaking health promoting or damaging right now?

Gary Millar on the Song of Solomon

Last night Gary Millar spoke on Song of So(ngs)lomon. With a particular focus on how to preach it. He had what I think is a pretty interesting take on the book – an interpretation that would make Song of Songs a nice foil to Ecclesiastes (which explores the futility of a life lived pursuing material happiness).

He suggests the book is written by Solomon about “the one that got away” – a woman who rebuffed his advances because she had found true love with her “beloved”. The thrust of the argument is that the book then gives Solomon’s insights into a life lived pursuing happiness and completion through the pursuit of sexual encounters – and comes to the conclusion that true happiness is found in its proper context, and if you fully subscribe to his theory, real satisfaction and joy comes through experiencing the love of God.

Here are my notes in slightly edited form. Simone has blogged her response to the evening here.

  • What is Song of Songs doing in the Bible? Nobody seems to know – none of the commentators agree.
  • When we read the Bible our starting point has to be “this is the word of God” – and with careful reading we really should be able to figure out what it’s about.
  • There’s a very long tradition of ignoring the sexual element – the Westminster council suggested that any reading along those lines was incorrect… Calvin said “it’s about sex, what’s the big deal?”
  • The people who insisted it wasn’t about sex believed it was all about Jesus.
  • Ascribed to Solomon – uniquely placed to write this sort of treatise on love and marriage. 1,000 women, world’s wisest man… Solomon realised that he’d mucked it up. And that’s why he wrote this book.
  • The key to the book is found in the last few verses… chapter 8 verses 1-11. “Solomon had a vineyard”… These statements unlock the whole book – almost certainly a reference to Solomon’s harem. “Lord of the multitude”… the tenants are probably the staff of the harem… each was to bring for its fruit 1000 shekels of silver… “my vineyard (body in ch 1)”, the thousand shekels are for you and 200 are for those who care for the harem. Solomon would pick someone, send the guys out to make an offer they couldn’t refuse, and it seems there was a feisty woman “my vineyard is my own” – don’t try to buy me. Money, wisdom and henchmen can’t buy you love.
  • Solomon is the wisest man in the world. He is rich. He is powerful. “Who does this woman think she is…” perhaps leads Solomon to reflect on his life and “who does he think he is”. Perhaps realises that somewhere along the line he’s lost the plot.
  • Solomon realises he has missed out on real love. And perhaps even a relationship with God. And so he writes about a young couple who are passionately and permanently in love. As the book goes on it becomes less and less likely that Solomon is one of the lovers. He becomes distant to the story.
  • The book opens up a raft of very difficult pastoral issues – because as soon as we start talking about issues surrounding sex people become edgy. Many people have baggage in this area.
  • The man works really hard to make his beloved feel beautiful. His beloved is his standard of beauty cf Driscoll (one area where he was helpful). It’s clear when reading the poetry (though sometimes the imagery is culturally odd for us) that this man thinks and puts all of his effort into making his words encouraging for his wife.
  • It’s hard to distinguish between actuality and anticipation. The book is full of images that are clearly enticing but can’t actually be tied down. General pictures not specific pictures. It’s a mistake to press this book into service of saying anything about sex. The metaphors are deliberately slippery – nudge, nudge, wink, wink – you can’t work out what the specific language is. Immensely sexual but not explicit.
  • It’s not entirely clear who is speaking at what point. We’re not sure if the people are real or parables. We’re not sure if he’s writing through the lens of rejection and imagining the world of the woman who turned him down… the way in which this relationship is described is with Solomon as a stranger to this kind of love.
  • Chapter 1 v 5-6 – dysfunctional families do not rule out the possibility of real love. Solomon seems to be urging us to hold out for the real thing.
  • Chapter 3 v 6 – “Solomon’s carriage”, King Solomon made it himself, royal guard, wearing the crown etc… This woman is dreaming about her wedding. It’s a royal wedding – she dreams of her dream man rocking up in the royal regalia. No suggestion throughout the rest of the book that this is a royal wedding, she gets beaten by the night watchmen which is unlikely if she’s a princess etc… Possible explanation: The girl has a dream, having seen Solomon’s wedding she imagines her wedding to be something like this. Her dream man has the face of her lover – by the end of chapter 3 it could potentially still be Solomon.
  • Solomon is being passed over for this woman’s real king. “I opened the door…”, “oh daughters of Jerusalem what would you tell my lover…” – this is not how things work for Solomon in terms of securing a wife. Solomon starts to understand that he has love wrong.
  • Solomon isn’t the Bible’s sex therapist – he warns us of the problems of sexual idolatry.
  • Because of Ephesians 5 we’re used to modeling love on the trinity. But Solomon instead suggests we need to look the other way. We should see marital love as an echo of God’s love for us.
  • God is the ultimate – not sex. So at the end of his debauched life Solomon comes to the conclusion that he’s mislead it and that God should be the focus.

Gary Millar on preaching

Apologies – these are rough notes – Kutz is also liveblogging

A couple of questions I ask myself as I teach parts of the Bible.

  • Have I pointed people to what God has done for us in Christ as a solution for all our problems?
  • Have I reminded people that when we come back to God we both discover his forgiveness and are set free to live for him?
  • We haven’t preached the gospel if our message is to “be like” someone, or “be good”, we haven’t preached the gospel. Even if it is “be disciplined” we haven’t preached the gospel. These things aren’t wrong in themselves but they are wrong by themselves.
  • Have we pointed people to grace despite our sin?
  • We must give the reasons to live in a way that brings glory or honour to Jesus. The ultimate reason to live a holy life is Jesus Christ himself.
  • The hard work of teaching the Bible comes because we have to work hard to get this message under peoples’ skins. Speech not only conveys information it has other force and purpose. It may be to challenge or encourage, to make us laugh or feel sad – but this comes down to the intention of the speaker.
  • Good exposition invites the listener to feel with the text as well as to think with it.
  • One of the things we need to do is to be thinking that we need to recover the rhetorical impact of the text – we need to encourage people to feel the same way as the original hearers of the text. For example: Amos 1-2 – “you know what really bothers me about our neighbours… you know what really bothers me about you…” as a rhetorical device.
  • Preaching can involve stealth bombing – sometimes we need to surprise people. Working hard to get the text in to their lives will help people to listen.
  • The first 90 seconds is the most important part of a sermon – you’ve got about 90 seconds to convince people to listen (this may be a concession to people’s sinfulness). We need to justify the audience’s decision to keep listening. We must connect with people. We must exegete the listeners. We must speak to the people in front of us.
  • We can’t make general statements on behalf of our audience – “as followers of Jesus we all want to be living for God” – don’t assume the people are anywhere at all.
  • Work really hard at understanding people who aren’t like you. Single people, women, young people, people who come from different cultures and demographics.

How to preach OT with Gary Millar

Gary Millar is an Irish OT scholar who is Yoder smart. I’ve been wanting to use that pun since listening to Mark Driscoll.

He’s at QTC today speaking on how to preach the Old Testament. He’s got seven basic ways to bring an Old Testament passage to Jesus. These are the points with some notes.

1. Follow the plan – Genesis to 2 Kings is a narrative that leaves us waiting for the ultimate king – wherever you are you can say “this is the first bit of the plan which will ultimately lead to Jesus”

2. Expose the problem – sometimes the Bible just shows up that left to our selves we do some horrendous things. Some narratives just highlight that we are deeply sinful people.
3. Some parts are there to explain categories – what is Leviticus doing in the Bible? Several things. It explains how sacrifice works – how can we understand sacrificial language in the NT if we don’t understand how it worked in the OT. Leviticus explains the category of “ritual cleanliness” – we can’t leave the house without becoming unclean (like Israel who couldn’t avoid becoming unclean).
4. Highlight the attribute – Some stories are there just to show us what God is like. What’s the book of Hosea there to do? In essence it’s there to show us the love of God to an unfaithful people. If you’re preaching on Hosea you highlight the love of God by being faithful to the text – but at some point you have to interact with the NT and what it has to say.
5. Trace the fulfillment. Micah – the “ruler coming out from Bethlehem” – some passages make it easy, in others it’s harder. Different to “following the plan” which involves following the story, tracing the fulfillment is more direct/specific. God promised to do this, he did this.
6. Focus on the action – David and Goliath – the action is 33 words of 58 verses. The rest is David’s commentary on the action – it’s the Lord fighting his enemies. (extra thinking – David and Goliath is like a boxing match with a huge descriptive build up and a very quick knock out).
7. Point out the consequences – Some parts of the Bible make it very clear that if you live without God this will happen, if you live with God this will happen… how wisdom literature fits into the scheme of Biblical theology.

“I think that boring preaching is sinful and we’ll have to answer to God for it.
Boring preaching makes the pew warmer feel guilty and then bored. They walk out feeling worse than they felt when they walked in.”

When approaching the OT Gary takes the following steps.

  1. I sit with a big bit of paper and divide the book up into the chunks that I’m going to preach on…
  2. Read the book as many times as I can
  3. Write down what I think the big idea is for each passage.
  4. Write down if one of the seven options works beside each passage – and I make sure I’m never doing the same one of those seven two weeks in a row.

He added the following insights…

  • When we take bigger chunks of narrative there are more possibilities.
  • The further back you go in history the longer and more complex it becomes to “follow the plan”