What is the value of evangelical theology?


Savvas Costi writes: Much delight and anticipation accompanied the news that Graham McFarlane, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the London School of Theology (LST), where I studied, was releasing another book. A Model for Evangelical Theology may not be the most exciting title (as evidenced by the look on my wife’s face when she first saw what I was reading!) but it’s a goldmine of insightful gems analysing our current cultural milieu with suggestions to help the church move forward. The richness of what is contained within these pages is not something that can be excavated with a quick glance. I was pleased to see McFarlane include regular pause moments for reflection throughout the book, where questions were asked to stimulate deeper thinking. It’s also printed with space down the margins for those wishing to annotate, and there is an extensive suggested reading list at the end of every chapter. Those willing to dig deep and wrestle with the book’s key ideas will benefit most from reading it.

The title of the book comes with extra baggage because the word ‘Evangelical’ has become highly politicised. Much of its modern usage, particularly in America, is driven more by its political rather than theological beliefs. In the section which looks at the evangelical in theological method, McFarlane is clear to state that he is particularly concerned with the euangelion, or “evangel” in evangelical, which translates as the “gospel” or “good news” (p 60). McFarlane helpfully argues that

theology is exegesis of the gospel, [and that] its potency is seen to the degree it achieves the purpose of the gospel’ (p 219).

This is highly practical stuff because the gospel has the capacity to change lives. A feat which many Christians will affirm! In fact, the late Colin Gunton (a big influence on McFarlane’s thinking) goes as far as to say that if Christianity is true, ‘then it changes everything. Theology is the task of exploring that change’ (p 42).


As you read this book, it becomes very clear that McFarlane’s definition of theology is expansive and goes beyond the often assumed “study of God” mantra that is banded about in many faculties. The book draws attention to the vital place of theology in public life, and the need to keep it rooted with the task of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. A disconnect between theology and the gospel has contributed to something of a crisis in the Western church; a theological amnesia leading to a weak sense of identity (p 243). This should not be the case because a robust theology will always be shaped by the gospel. John Webster puts it succinctly; ‘the gospel is that which brings theology into existence and holds it in being’ (p 28). It’s great to see that like the apostle Paul, McFarlane is still keen to keep the gospel as a matter of ‘first importance’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

This is all consistent with McFarlane’s integrative approach, not just for doing theology but also for having a theological method, something which permeates ‘every aspect of faith’ (p. xi of the preface). There is an important distinction to make here:

Integrative theology describes what we believe and is a form of theology that seeks to draw different disciplines together in order to create what we might call a holistic entity. An integrative theological method, on the other hand, describes how we believe (p 63).

This is a useful discipleship and educational tool. What enables someone to grow in their faith? How does one come to believe in the good news of Christianity? This might sound like a mere technique for getting someone to believe, but McFarlane is clear to reject this. He is not talking about ‘a technique to be learned that can be picked up and laid back down at will.’ He is speaking in terms that are broader, and refers to ‘a particular way of living in the world’ (p 9). This way is multifaceted involving different strands that all need to be held together if this is to be ‘done’ effectively. We might call these different strands, ‘the Evangelical Quintilateral’ (p 67), five sources or “tools” for living as a Christian—Scripture, tradition, reason, experience, and community. McFarlane devotes a whole chapter to looking at each source in the second part of his book.


What McFarlane is proposing is a partial revision of an older model, one which can be traced back to John Wesley, with the aim being to ‘revive contemporary theological inquiry’ (p 67), where its relevance for ordinary living is clear to see, and where students and teachers of theology remember its true purpose; ‘to critically discern, articulate, and commend visions of the true life’ (p 205). I find that it is in McFarlane’s handling of theology as a subject matter in particular that you really get your money’s worth from reading the book (not surprising given it’s his specialism). The preface makes clear that the book is also written ‘to ignite a theological flame’ for further study, and below is a short selection of some points that are expounded upon in the book:

  • ‘Theology necessitates engaging in struggle and conflict’ (p 8).
  • ‘Good theology engages with the here and now, with the issues Christians face in their own lives … within the midst of our own and others’ messiness.’
  • ‘To be a theologian is to be bilingual’ (p 12).
  • ‘Theologians, like anyone learning a new language, are only successful in learning and maturing in their craft to the degree they live in the text—indwell it’ (p 13).
  • ‘Theology is not static but constantly moving … enabling us to sort out “the sound beliefs and practices from the unsound ones”’ (p 22).
  • ‘Theology cannot be anything other than communal’ (p 25).
  • ‘Theology arises from personal encounter and personal engagement, its goal is to end in personal transformation’ (p 27).
  • ‘Theology is not something that only an elite perform—it is the prerogative of all who follow Jesus Christ’ (p 37).
  • ‘We—all of us—do theology, but only some of us study’ (p 39).
  • ‘Theology is a response to faith.’
  • ‘Theology serves the reading of the text [scripture]’ (p 72).
  • ‘The question is never “Doestradition play a role in your theology?” but rather, “which tradition controls your theology?”’ (p 103).
  • ‘Theology is, in a sense, an experimental science.’ (p 167).
  • ‘True theology is something that … needs to be experienced, and experience needs to be theologically sound’ (p 190).
  • ‘[The church] is the living space where theology is birthed … [and] is also the context that most significantly moulds our theology.’ (pp 207–208).

Theologians have had something of a rough ride in academia over the last century (pp 204-205) and it is sad to see that university student numbers have dwindled in recent years, but McFarlane (along with Volf and Croasmun) put this down to theology losing sight, ‘to some extent, of the (gospel) forest for the sake of the (academic) trees’ (p.206). But this is to be expected when theology is divorced from the church. How then, can this be remedied in secular university settings where a large number of students are coming from non-churched backgrounds? If one is being truly rigorous in their pursuit of the truth (a main aim of academic research), then space should be made to facilitate and scrutinise the full spectrum of ideas, which should include giving a fair hearing to the Christian gospel. However, to grasp a fuller understanding of all that the gospel entails requires that we adopt forms of rationality that are personal, or relational, because as Parker Palmer has said, ‘truthful knowing weds the knower and the known’ (pp 164–165). There is a relationality to plausibility. This is worth keeping in mind when it comes to Christian apologetics.


Diminishing levels of faith literacy has been toxic for society (as argued by Krish Kandiah) and given how the pandemic over the last year has prompted a surge of interest in matters relating to faith and spirituality, as well as due recognition being given to the enduring influence of Christianity, a strong case could be made for saying that theology still has an important contribution to make in the academy. And as stated earlier, it should never be reduced to mere head knowledge. Studying theology is not meant to be an end in itself, but rather, a transforming ‘encounter with the triune God’ (p 49) that empowers believers to live as authentic Christians wherever they find themselves (p 43). The church should then step up to nurture its members in their own ‘faith seeking understanding,’ enabling them to respond to the call to unashamedly reach out and offer its message in ways that can be reasonably upheld. McFarlane is keen to ensure this is done in a way that is adequate to the task of theology, to better enable people to flourish (p 245), with the academic being ‘an aid to the ordinary, not a replacement or upgrade’ (p 39).

There is a challenge here because McFarlane’s proposal runs counter to the prevailing wisdom of the surrounding culture. In a relativistic, plural society it is radical to assert that ‘knowing the truth really is possible’ (p 19) and that Christian theology is more than just another narrative. To also emphasise the important role of tradition and community goes against the grain of the fragmented individualism that is pervasive in the West. This is nothing new because historically the church has always operated from the margins, seeking to bring renewal whilst maintaining an identity that is distinct from the surrounding culture, in whatever context it has found itself in. Perhaps the need to maintain faith in an objective reality is necessary to uphold notions of truth that are durable and universally recognised (p. 154). Secularism by itself implodes because there is no reality by which to regulate it. Without this accountability, truth and error can sleep in the same bed. This really is a sorry state of affairs and one in which, unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with in today’s world of “fake news”.


Although it’s been over a decade, it was certainly worth the wait being able to engage with McFarlane again. Given my church background in Newfrontiers, the book enabled me to see afresh the value of tradition (much like how James K.A. Smith helped me to see the value of liturgy). I gained much during my time sitting in on McFarlane’s lectures all those years ago, as well as studying for my undergraduate at LST. For me personally, it sparked my love of reading and laid the foundations for teaching teenagers in the classroom, encouraging them to do the “hard thinking” required to help make sense of the world we live in. We need both ordinary and academic theology together if the church is to be effective in its mission, with the ordinary (or devotional) being the foundational discipline that enables academic theology to have any significance (p 39). I hope that McFarlane’s proposed method gains a wide readership across both academic and church settings, guiding them to form the habits required to enable them to thrive.


Savvas Costi is a graduate from the London School of Theology who currently leads the Religion and Philosophy department at a secondary school in East Sussex. He did his teacher training at King’s College London. He is married with one daughter.


If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.


Comments policy: Good comments that engage with the content of the post, and share in respectful debate, can add real value. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Make the most charitable construal of the views of others and seek to learn from their perspectives. Don't view debate as a conflict to win; address the argument rather than tackling the person.

65 thoughts on “What is the value of evangelical theology?”

  1. This is nothing new because historically the church has always operated from the margins, seeking to bring renewal whilst maintaining an identity that is distinct from the surrounding culture, in whatever context it has found itself in.

    Only since the 1970s has the Anglican Church become in terminal decline, its always been central to power and control, Bishops still sitting in the Lords many implicated in scandal and coverup. Thankfully the rise of secular thought and freedom of expression has seen the decline of Anglicanism as a vehicle of power. On the margins struggling seems a better place than being a huge corporate monolith.

    Reply
  2. “In a relativistic, plural society it is radical to assert that ‘knowing the truth really is possible”

    The reason we have a plural society is that we live in a plural world. It’s that simple. I recall, as a trainee BBC radio producer in 1985, working on the Commonwealth Day service held annually at Westminster Abbey. It was broadcast by the World Service, and produced by Religious Programmes to whom I was seconded. It was a multi faith service, reflecting the commonwealth. My mentor told me that the way we found truth was in dialogue, rather than by imperialism. That service impressed me, and on the back of it we held a number of interfaith dialogues, broadcast from our home at Bush House. The listenership was in millions and the programmes groundbreaking. The World Service fully reflected the BBC motto – It reads, of course, “nation shall speak peace unto nation.” The motto goes back to the BBC’s formation, on 1 January 1927, when it was adopted by the new Corporation to signify its purpose.

    Nations don’t always speak peace but they do it best when they acknowledge pluralism. Theology is done best when it acknowledges pluralism. The commonwealth values faiths – not one faith. Faiths – plural – speak and are represented at the commonwealth day service. We live in a pluralistic world.

    Oh and the commonwealth day service was held at the Abbey for obvious reasons. The sovereign attends. But it also prevented places like St Helens Bishopgate complaining to a bishop about what was going on in their diocese.

    Reply
    • It was an equally plural world in which Jesus of Nazareth asserted “no one comes to the Father except by me”.

      Consider world-views. James Sire’s book on this is excellent. He has eight questions which prise out the differences between world-views. Here I’ll use the simpler set of questions posed by Middleton and Walsh in their book “Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be” (1995):

      1) Where are we? What is the nature of the world/universe around us? Even the nature of ultimate reality.
      2) Who are we? What is it to be a human being?
      3) What’s wrong?
      4) What’s the remedy?

      With those questions, it is clear that there very significant divergences between difference faiths at a fundamental level. For instance, consider the differences in the answer to the first question between Bhuddism and Islam.

      Years ago I heard of a local Anglican church whose vicar invited a Bhuddist to speak to the Sunday School. When people objected, he is reported to have said, “well, we all pray to the same god.” To which it was pointed out that Bhuddism does not have a personal god to whom one prays.

      The only way of having some ‘service’ incorporating different faiths is to so dilute the expression of each in a way which makes in anodyne and basically empty.

      However, I suppose, speaking as an Anglican myself, that is precisely Anglicanism in some of its expressions.

      Reply
      • I would have to disagree David. As a curate I served in a predominantly Jewish area of London. One year during Holy Week our church choir joined with a choir from the synagogue and sang excerpts from Handel’s Messiah as part of a devotion on Good Friday evening. The Rabbi and I spoke after each excerpt about what the texts meant to us and our traditions. It was an extremely profound ‘service’ and the dialogue helped all who were present.

        The saddest part of that Holy Week? My training incumbent had suggested I visit the newly installed Free Baptist pastor and invite him and members of his congregation to join us with members of the other churches and synagogues. I made the visit. His response was this: “not only will I not tell members of the congregation about what you are doing but if I discover that any of them have attended I will exclude them from our fellowship”.

        Reply
        • That’s a beautiful story. It’s time we recognised we are like the six blind Indians touching different parts of the elephant and Christians need to give up their imperialist ideas in this plural world. As the Bishop said in “The Great Divorce”, “I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, if he had lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience … What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature!”
          Andrew, thank you for helping us to see what could still be! Clearly the conduct of Paul and Barnabas in the the synagogues of the Roman Empire, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was entirely wrongheaded and insensitive.

          Reply
          • And to know that only part of the elephant is touched and thereby described is to claim to see the whole elephant, the whole, absolute truth while claiming to see only in part.
            Andrew, claims this.

          • As the Bishop said in “The Great Divorce”, “I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, if he had lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience … What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature!”

            Um… you do realise that bishop has been sent to Hell? He’s not meant to be a role model! This is like basing one’s life philosophy on something said by Hannibal Lector or Darth Vader!

          • Andrew apparently doesn’t understand grammar so as a former teacher of languages, let me remark that the world is not “plural” (the word means “more than one”) but “pluralistic ” (which means “having more than one part” , something which has been affirmed by everyone in history except Parmenides and the Eleatic school of Zeno). Only nouns can be “plural”, hence “worlds”. To say the world is “plural” is a solecism. If Andrew means “there are many individual worlds”, each operating according to its individual ontology, he is welcome to that belief, but that is shared by neither logic nor Christianity, which recognises only one cosmos made by the one God. Either Christ is who the Creeds claim him to be, or he isn’t. (The fundamental principle of logic, the law of non-contradiction. )
            John 1.1-14 declares the divinity, eternality, personality, creative activity, incarnation and sole saving work of the Word of God. If Andrew doesn’t believe that, he should not read that text on Christmas Day or any other day. If he does believe this, then he should follow through on the logic of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
            In any case, learn the difference between “plural” and “pluralistic “.

          • Unfortunately, that story about the elephant sounds nice, but does not work in practice. All religions (and philosophies) have ‘world views’, as I have described above, and others have done so much better and in more detail. In other words, the people are feeling the same parts of an animal – e.g. the head – and finding different things. They have views on things like the nature of ultimate reality. These views can be incompatible, c.f. the example I gave of the Islamic and Bhuddist views of the nature of ultimate reality. Both cannot be true. It may be that neither is true, of course.

            I recall a talk where the speaker put a slide on the overhead projector (it was a long time ago). The picture had two people talking, with the text:

            A: All religions are the same. Name any two.
            B: Melanesian frog worship and Christian Science.

            As for Christianity’s “imperialistic ideas”, it flourished against empire in its first three centuries despite persecution (see Rodney Stark). In rise of Christianity in Africa did not really happen until after the retreat of empire from its colonies (see Lamin Saneh). When the missionaries were expelled from China in 1949 (I think), they wondered what would happen to the Church there. It has flourished.

            In contrast, in the decaying heart of empire is Christianity on the retreat.

            Christianity does have a claim about kingdom, if not empire. It comes from the mouth of Jesus himself, who describes himself as the one who will judge all the nations.

          • Good points about the Blind Men And Elephant story:

            (1) The empirical approach
            (2) The realisation that truth lies in comprehensiveness – seeing as many angles as possible.
            (3) The implied censure of the blind men for stopping at step 1 and thinking that they had seen the whole truth already.

            Bad points about the story:

            (1) Often people claim to *see* things when in fact they only *want* or *like* things.
            (2) If the story is meant to apply to religions or worldviews, that means that all religions and worldviews are (even: can only be) correct, within a larger whole. Yeah, right.
            (3) Most possible ideas and theories are incorrect – the incorrect ones infinitely outnumber the correct ones. To any question there is only one correct answer. Does this story take account of that? No, none at all.

    • The reason we have a plural society is that we live in a plural world

      We don’t though. We live in a singular world. People have many views about the world, but at most one of those views is actually true.

      If we really lived in a plural world, then it would be true both that the coronavirus is a virus, and that it is not a virus but a result of 5G fields emanated by shapeshifting lizard-people attempting to control our minds.

      But actually only one of those is true. Because truth is singular, not plural.

      Reply
      • “We don’t though. We live in a singular world. “
        No, we live in a plural world. There are many languages. One isn’t true and all the others false. There are many cultures. One isn’t true and others false. There are several different climates. One isn’t true and others false.
        The world has several different attitudes towards clothing and nakedness. One isn’t true and others false.
        Some people eat meat, others don’t. Some people love singing whereas others don’t. In some places people wear shoes, whereas in others they don’t. Some people drink alcohol, whereas in some places it is prohibited.
        Some people travel around the world, whereas others remain where they are born.
        It’s a very plural world.
        And yes, there are a number of religious traditions, and a number of traditions within a given religion. And yes, I believe in the distinctiveness and ultimate truth of Christianity. But I have respect for the traditions of other religions, and wish to accommodate them, as I wish them to accommodate my tradition.

        Reply
        • No, we live in a plural world. There are many languages. One isn’t true and all the others false.

          All propositional statements made in those different languages refer to the same singular world, though: a true statement doesn’t become false when translated, nor does a false statement become true. So the world that all the languages refer to is singular, not plural.

          There are many cultures. One isn’t true and others false.

          They all exist in the same world, though, and so actually insofar as the cultures relate to that world, then yes, some are true and some false.

          There are several different climates. One isn’t true and others false.

          There is one single true temperature at any given place and time. Other claims for what the temperature is at that exact place and time are false, not true.

          There is one single truth about the climate over the whole planet Erth at any given time. That is how weather forecasts work. Try telling the met office that there are several valid views of what the global climate was at 00:30 GMT last Tuesday and watch yourself get laughed out of the building.

          The world has several different attitudes towards clothing and nakedness. One isn’t true and others false.

          It is true of false whether a given person is clothed or naked at a given time. It is not both true and false that I am wearing clothes right now.

          Some people eat meat, others don’t.

          And whether a given person eats meat is true or false.

          Some people love singing whereas others don’t.

          And whether a given person can sing in tune is true or false.

          In some places people wear shoes, whereas in others they don’t.

          And whether someone is wearing shoes is true or false.

          Some people drink alcohol, whereas in some places it is prohibited.

          And there is one true answer for the ABV of a given drink, and all other answers are false.

          Some people travel around the world, whereas others remain where they are born.

          And whether someone has ever left the area where they were born is singularly either true or false.

          It’s a very plural world.

          It’s a singular world; there is one world, and the state of it, and its history, are singular.

          And yes, there are a number of religious traditions, and a number of traditions within a given religion. And yes, I believe in the distinctiveness and ultimate truth of Christianity. But I have respect for the traditions of other religions, and wish to accommodate them, as I wish them to accommodate my tradition.

          You don‘t think they’re true, though, do you? Because we live in a singular world, and there is one truth, and if one religion is true then the others aren’t.

          Reply
          • It doesn’t matter. Lots of other people think they are true. All these peoples and religions exist. All of those people practice their religions. It’s therefore, whether you like it or not, a plural world.

          • It doesn’t matter. Lots of other people think they are true. All these peoples and religions exist. All of those people practice their religions.

            It doesn’t matter how many people practise their religions; just as it doesn’t matter how many you-tube videos the 5G lizard people make. They’re still wrong about the world.

            Because the world is singular, not plural.

          • Once you present your proof about the true religion then you will be God and I will submit. Until then, we live in a plural world.

          • Once you present your proof about the true religion then you will be God and I will submit. Until then, we live in a plural world.

            No, we live in a singular world that we know imperfectly, not a plural world.

          • you don’t seem to have any understanding of what plural, or pluralistic means.

            Explain then. What does ‘a plural world’ mean?

          • So evidence means nothing. We are expected to treat equally things for which there is plenty of evidence and things for which there is none?

            This is a naive, simplistic perspective that has not been properly thought out.

    • This is nonsense. The fact that there are many cultures is not a new discovery, and everyone knows that. Secondly, the fact that there are many cultures and beliefs does not make it any harder or easier to discover what is and is not true, since people merely believing something is not the slightest evidence for its truth.

      Reply
      • Pluralist: (the Cambridge dictionary is helpful)

        a person who believes that the existence of different types of people, beliefs, and opinions within a society is a good thing
        Including or considering many different types of people, with different beliefs, opinions, and needs:

        Reply
        • That’s not how you used the word above but at least it’s not confusing “pluralist” with “plural”, as you did in at least four comments above.
          In any case, the first and paramount concern in Christianity is not whether there is a range of different or even contradictory opinions on a matter (when has this ever not been the case?) but whether there is a knowable truth on a matter. That should be obvious to anyone with even a small acquaintance with the Johannine writings where it is strongly insisted that believers in Christ can know the truth that the truth liberates, and truth and error are mutually exclusive categories.
          The same principles of logic that control mathematics and the empirical sciences also direct Christian theology and its affirmations. If Christ really is who the creeds say he is, then the judgments made about him by Judaism Islam and Buddhism cannot be true.
          This is the basic point of logic that Andrew seems unable to grasp.

          Reply
          • The use of the word plural was by the author of the blog.
            Do check.

            I’m very happy with the logic, but the burden of proof is on those who make such a claim. Until then we live in a pluralistic world. As the Cambridge Dictionary makes clear.

          • I know the author used the word “plural”. And so did you, compounding his mistake. Do check.
            The world has always been “pluralistic”. Many of the differences between peoples are irrelevant to the question of truth. Similarly the languages we use. The same truths can be expressed in any number of languages because in practically every case there is no essentialist relationship (perhaps excluding words of onomatopoeic origin) between the sound of a word and its meaning. Ideas are a different matter. The pursuit of social peace and good communication are worthy goals when Christians try to share the gospel with non-Christians. Harold Netlund has explored this at length, first as a doctoral student pointedly contradicting his Doktorvater John Hick, who popularised religious relativism in a way that appealed to RE teachers a generation ago. But good manners (as our post-Christian culture sees it) is not the same as pretending our differences are purely ones of language or form. As always, matters turn on the identity of Christ. Modern Jews, if they have left behind the Talmud’s claim that Yeshua was a sorcerer who deceived the Jewish people, still persist in claiming he was nobody like the person Paul proclaimed. But they would have to add John, Mark and the author of Hebrews to that list of misinterpreters of Jesus.
            Judaism still has to grapple with the questions, when will the Messiah come and who is the character of Isaiah 53?

          • So what would your answer to the question of how we approach those 15 million or so Jews be James?

            Same as how we approach anyone else, obviously: state what we think is true and then let them make up their own minds.

      • I do not follow this at all. Are you saying that the more cultures there are, the harder it is to establish truth? Why? Truth is not ascertained by means of studying what cultures believe in the first place. The fact that people believe things has no evidential force whatever.

        Secondly, how can plurality be a good rather than a neutral thing? Being neutral, it is as good as it is bad, and as bad as it is good. Would it be better if each individual were there own independent culture? After all, that would stretch the principle of pluralism to the max.

        Reply
        • I’m saying that establishing the “true” religion as a fact is an impossible project. What do you think the word religion means?

          “Secondly, how can plurality be a good rather than a neutral thing?“

          Who is saying it is anything other than a neutral thing? It’s simply a fact of the world.

          Reply
          • It was you who quoted a Cambridge dictionary definition of “pluralist” above as being “one who thinks the existence of different beliefs within a society is a good thing”.

            Is establishing the truth of Christianity as impossible as you imagine? Have you never read 1 Corinthians 15? Our faith does offer itself for confirmation on this question: did Jesus actually rise bodily from the dead?
            And the catholic answer is clear. I hope you able to affirm this and know why.

          • I know what the Cambridge dictionary definition is. I happen to agree with Christopher that it is simply a neutral thing. At least we seem able to agree that it is a pluralistic world, which is what S doesn’t seem to grasp. It was S who perpetuated the use of the word plural. Maybe he believes it means something else.
            The bible is often offered as proof for itself. That is true of other sacred texts as well.

          • It was S who perpetuated the use of the word plural.

            It wasn’t; I merely responded to your use of it in https://www.psephizo.com/reviews/what-is-the-value-of-evangelical-theology/#comment-389799

            I which you tried to claim that the reason we live what the original author correctly observes in a plural[istic] society (which we do) is that we live in a plural[istic] world (which we do not).

            Let me repeat that: the society we live in is plural[istic]; it contains multiple viewpoints about the world.

            The world we live in is not plural[istic]: we live in a single world, with one truth.

          • Yes, and the way that liberals perpetually confuse something local (society at a given time, in all its transience) with something cosmic (the way the world is) shows how stiflingly narrow and parochial their horizons are, and how inadequate for the formation of a worldview. Unless I have missed something.

          • Let’s be more accurate. The societies around the world we live in are plural[istic]; they contain multiple viewpoints about the world.

          • Andrew, you appear to be wilfully confusing ‘plural’ meaning that there are many different viewpoints, with ‘pluralism’, a philosophical position accepting the possibility of different viewpoints. I don’t know why you are doing this.

          • Folks, you have all had a good run of these tit for tat exchanges. I think I have seen enough of them now, and I am giving notice that, after Christmas and for the new year, I won’t be allowing them.

            So in future, any tit for tat comments that don’t actually engage with other views properly in the spirit of the comments guidelines will be deleted.

          • Do read the thread Ian. Your contributor confused them and I simply ran with his phrase. I am sure everyone knows what was meant.

            Have a really wonderful Christmas

  3. ERROR ALERT- ERROR ALERT-ERROR ALERT

    “A COMEDY OF ERRORS”

    “A True Parable of Fact Truth Error Causation Consequences and Cost”

    “The Case of the Error of Experts of Professional Negligence”

    They were distraught, bereft, the owner, the woman and young daughter.
    Told to their advocate, it had been booked in. It was precious loved and valued bringing great joy to their lives. The dog with severe and painful tooth decay had been booked in for an extraction and overnight stay.
    Returning the next day the dog was returned to them castrated.
    From extraction to castration.
    Expertly mutilated, lost in interpretation, lost in error.

    Compiled from memory without contemporary file notes, from more than 30 years ago.

    Different style, genre, voice, same author.

    Reply
      • Hello Ian,
        This comment is really a carry- over from your earlier article, which developed into a prolonged thread about truth/fact/historicity/scripture/interpretation/ error. In connection with this article it relates the point about truth. Much could be written on that point alone without looking at the points of connection with theology, Today, in both orbits there seems to be much root canal truth decay.
        My so-called parable seeks to encapsulate a number of points, I made in the comments section of that earlier post, and is in contrast to the stance taken by Andrew and Penelope. In that regard, it has something of an allegory to it as well as parable.
        The points include:
        1. There is one author throughout scripture, it is God’s revelation of himself: a foremost doctrine of revelation (which I thank RT Kendal for his note form theology) that seems to have been eradicated in the academy, or at least the circles of scholarship that Andrew and Penelope seem to inhabit, which appear to lack an appreciation of the meta narratives of whole the canon and remain locked into prominent biblical scholarship from the past, but which seems to have been presented by the like of Chalke as the King’s brand-new set of clothes.
        2 One voice but many voices, through literary styles, genres, histories but always and only One God, through different names eg El, Yahweh, Rapha, Provider, Jesus, Truth, consistent, gradual, whole canon, full complete self-revelation of the same Person(al) God.
        3 The Error is in many places but flows from the denial of the supernatural revelation.
        It is seen in, in combination, literary criticism, higher critics, radical form and redactorism; defining scripture by human constructionism and by human interpretation, by straw-manning inerrancy, not to context, text isolationism. It is also present in claims of contradiction. Your article on one such claim relates to the death of Judas.
        4. This was to be illustrated by my illustration/parable. I was the advocate. I placed myself in the story, which took place in space, time and history. Mother and daughter were real and this really happened.
        5 It was remembered by me some 30 years later (not the product of a faith community!!!). Think to biblical NT times when there was emphasis on truth and accuracy in oral tradition and transmission and memorization a standard of memorization that is almost incomprehensible today. “He Walked Among Us” a PDF book I linked in the earlier comments, by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, on the historicity and reliability of scripture, while not on your level of scholarship contains much scholarly reference and citation. If I may say, it could merit a skim, if you are not aware.
        6 It was remembered with accuracy and reliability, without setting out with precision contemporaneous witness statements which I took verbatim. Notwithstanding, it is wholly reliable even if it omits such details others may wish to have or may speculate on. The whole of the laws and rules relating to the admissibility of evidence revolve around reliability.
        7 There are other points that could be flagged up from my illustration such as the catastrophe of error through professional, misunderstanding of the owners instructions, through getting the purpose completely and tragically wrong, even in the face of previous studied and recorded historical identifiers, themes, written records, tests and “diagnosis” of nature and purpose (at the veterinary practice and in biblical scholarship). Not only were they not checked, they were overlooked or ignored for causation.
        8 My amusement came in trying to make a point with a different autograph to endorse the point: different names, styles, genre there was but one author, me, the same Geoff. But, it was moderated, not recognizing the same author!
        9 Indeed, it was the same message I’ve tried to get across in the whole thread: if scripture and God revealed therein can not be relied upon to be what it claims to be then it is we, not scripture, that is at the centrifugal point of a whirlwind of error, with eternal whole world catastrophic consequences and cost.

        Reply
  4. ERROR ALERT- ERROR ALERT-ERROR ALERT

    “A COMEDY OF ERRORS”

    “A True Parable of Fact Truth Error Causation Consequences and Cost”

    “The Case of the Error of Experts of Professional Negligence”

    They were distraught, bereft, the owner, the woman and young daughter.
    Told to their advocate, it had been booked in. It was precious loved and valued bringing great joy to their lives. The dog with severe and painful tooth decay had been booked in for an extraction and overnight stay.
    Returning the next day the dog was returned to them castrated.
    From extraction to castration.
    Expertly mutilated, lost in interpretation, lost in error.

    Compiled from memory without contemporary file notes, from more than 30 years ago.

    Different style, genre, voice, same author.

    Ian Paul, thanks for the laugh Ian. I inserted a different name GE and this comment was moderated. Thanks for emphasizing the point!

    Reply
  5. So, the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition and reason has become the five-legged office chair by adding experience and community. That’s definitely worth some reflection; but I wonder if it will produce more stability? I ask because the Living in Love and Faith document seems to be adding those two extra metrics into its theological reflections and this inevitably introduces subjectivism. Is subjectivism not the antithesis of theology?

    Reply
  6. At this time in the Christian calendar, pointedly relevant is this:
    Allah begets not, neither is he begotten. And none is like him. The Qur’an 112.3.4

    Reply
    • I remember asking my systematics tutor, “what does begotten mean?” (in the context of the creeds etc.) His reply was “it means ‘not made'”. It makes sense in that when Greek speakers were needing to find the verb describing the relation between the eternal Father and Son which makes clear that the Son is not created in any way, they were somewhat at a loss, and so say γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα with the link of the first verb to μονογενῆ from John 3:16.

      How that might relate to the classical Arabic translated into ‘beget’/’begotten’, I don’t know.

      Reply
      • “begotten” does not mean “not made”, it means “generated”, “caused to be”. The addition of “not made” is a qualification that the generation of the Son was eternal and not within creation or to be compared to the creation of the angels. Whoever wrote that bit of the Koran apparently thought that Christians believed the Son was a human creation, perhaps like pagan demigods. There were ple ty of Arabic speaking Christians in the seventh century but none to help the author of this surah.

        Reply
        • The point is that ‘begotten’ in the context of the creed means something different from ‘made’.

          The Qu’ran clearly sees Jesus as a human being, the penultimate prophet.

          Reply
          • Yet it still affirms the Virgin Birth – not that that signifies divinity in itself, since the Koran affirms that “Allah made Adam from a clot of blood “, whatever that means.
            The more I learn about Islam and its mysterious, obscure origins, the more it seems to me like an offshoot of Judaism with heretical Christian elements. I suppose the first Muslims were probably Arab converts to some sect of Arabian Judaism. There were after all a lot of Arab converts to Judaism living in the Hejaz in the 7th century. I suspect Muhammad (who had Christian relatives) was one of these.

    • Hi Jeff, I have a little book called ‘Ruhullah’. Page10: “But Imran 3:45 and surah Ambiyaa 21:91 …Allah said that He would put his Word into Maryam. Who or what is Allah’s “Word”? To better understand this, read Surah Ambiyaa 21:91: “And she (Maryam) guarded her chastity, therefore We breathed into her of our Spirit and made her son a sign for all people””. This book shows how the gospel can be extracted from the Qur’an by explaining the meaning of some obscure or ambiguous words in the light of the gospel.

      Reply
      • Thanks, Steve, that’s helpful.
        How is it understood in Islam, do you know?
        I recall being on “mission” too many years ago, in Gravesend (a great name for a gospel opening). Our teams went out in twos, door knocking, with a Spiritual Beliefs survey/ questionnaire. One question was who do you think Jesus is? Tick box answers, included “Son of God” ; “prophet” which was answered “prophet” by one man of the Islamic faith, who was open to answering questions, unlike some in the Church.
        The final question was, If you could have a personal relationship with God would you want one. He was greatly discomfited by the question, not knowing how to answer. (Allah, is far above personal relationship, is he not?)
        All the team wore the same purple sweatshirts as we went about. They had the words prominently written, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring Good News.”
        On one occasion when I was on my own, a young man asked what we were doing. “Trying to explain to those who are interested, what we believe.” I replied. “Nobody knows what to believe any more. Take me, I’m a Sikh, but I cut my hair” He said. “Would you like to hear what Christianity is, what we believe, I asked”? “No, thanks -it’s against my religion” were his cheery parting words.
        That was more than 20 years ago.

        Reply
        • PS. Somewhat paradoxically, and as if in confirmation of the young Sikh, many who said they didn’t believe in God, the first question, to the final question said they would be interested in a personal relationship with God if they could!

          Reply
          • This too was instructive.
            Bearing in mind that the incumbent at that time was Bishop Nazir- Ali at Rochester, who embraced the Anglican led mission teams, we trained in the avoidance of giving offence.
            One no-no was to place the Bible, if we had one with us, on the floor, if invited into a home.
            It would be seen as offensive to put our Holy Book on the ground and a discredit to our faith!

            “Imperialism”: for a criticism of the so-called “imperialism” of Christianity, if we need to be reminded, Christianity isn’t and never was white, middle class, middle-aged and middle minded. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is not imperialistic. Islam in contrast is not a democracy, (is not pluralist) but a theocracy, is it not?

            “Conversation”: And as for “conversations”, my wife and I were approved Local Authority shared, respite carers for children with disabilities even though our Christian faith was not hidden, as a CoE minister was one of our referees, as was a dentist Methodist Local Preacher. We were allocated a family of the Islamic faith as we were considered to be a good fit, aware of some of their traditions, culture and beliefs. In due course we were invited to a wedding reception and to their Mosque. We thanked them but declined and that did not sour our relationship. All the while my wife continued to wear a cross.

          • Yes, indeed, James.
            Joyful days led by Daniel, ( a Six Preacher at Canterbury) Peter and John.
            Street drama, school invitations, pub work, care homes, mens breakfasts, early morning commuter trains, celebrity speakers, local radio, professional Christian theatre groups ,
            Ishmael ( rev Ian Snake) sleeping on church hall floors, team early morning prayer and Bible study, £2 a day spending money, troubadour style walk-singing through the streets.
            There were a number of teams, so that we seemed to be everywhere with prominent sweatshirts and the children from their involvement with sketches told their parents, conversations with teachers.
            All part of Walk Kent for 4 weeks. Did another week at Tunbridge Wells.
            As you know, it was overwhelmingly lay from Anglican, Methodist Baptist Independent, Charismatic churches, with people using annual leave to get invovled.

  7. I’m afraid I’ve had this little book for ages but I have not found the right person to give it to. It was written by someone who was/is a Muslim but is now a convert to Isa (Jesus). The unknown author shows how the gospel is embedded in the Quran. It just reminds me that God does not leave himself without a witness in any scripture. It is only obvious, I suppose, when the Spirit (Ruhullah) breathes on the written word.

    Reply
  8. I am looking forward to reading this book. Graham has no reason to remember but I recall a delightful conversation with him some years ago when I spent a day teaching at LST. I rejoice in one particular feature of this book. Half of the theologians commending the book on the cover are women. That alone tells me a forward thinking and independent mind is at work here.

    Reply
    • Independent mind, David?
      Now there’s a thought!
      Forward thinking? Based on? Known how?
      There is only ONE Independent Mind that knows all minds.
      There is only ONE MIND with forethought, WHO knows the future.
      There is only ONE mind that does not change MIND, but does change minds (of others).
      There is ONE Mind that that is independent of Open or Process theology.

      “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” G.K. Chesterton

      Reply
      • Actually we all have minds Geoff. God gave them to us. We are meant to use them intelligently, faithfully and as part of loving God with all our being. ‘Independent’ as in not a mind trapped or inhibited by human traditions, or unquestioning, closed religious beliefs or ways of thinking that resist the constant, renewing, forward-calling of the Spirit.

        Reply
      • Oh G K Chesterton was quite the wit, quite wrong about some things and quite right about others. This is my favourite GKC quote:

        “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly“

        Have a very blessed and happy Christmas Geoff!

        Reply
  9. Hi All,
    Completely off topic…
    I was thinking how fractals display ever increasing detail whilst still holding the same picture. Is there a book that explores fractals in Theology? I mean how the story of salvation is the same throughout scripture but gets more detailed until it becomes completely fleshed out, as it were.
    Thanks,
    Steve

    Reply
  10. Taken from Ian Paul’s Twitter account here is a link relating to the historicity, reliability, plausibility of the virgin birth, incarnation, that it is “not untethered from historical reality, from historical sources.” (Justin Brierley.)
    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/unbelievable/2020/12/why-the-virgin-birth-makes-remarkable-historical-sense/

    This is unique to Christianity in contrast and contradiction of all, the -world -over, faith positions.

    As put in the review of McFarlane’s book: “if Christianity is true, it changes everything.”

    Reply

Leave a comment