Monday, May 10, 2010

Theology on Fire...

Time for a more serious post.

I've picked a very small little book from John Stott entitled "Balanced Christianity: A Call to Avoid Unnecessary Polarisation" and just finished reading it.

It deals with four issues that have a strong tendency to divide the church and cause us to forget the Gospel: "Intellect & Emotion" (Preaching style); "Radical & Conservative"; "Form & Freedom" (Worship style and Church Structure); and "Evangelism & Social Action".

[I initially used 'vs.' instead of '&', but quickly realised there was me subtly forgetting the Gospel again!]

Published in 1975, part of me is sad we still haven't seemed to learnt from Stott - or, at least I haven't. And the main way I would learn this is through reading the Bible, and through the teaching of my Church leaders. The last thing I would want to do is point fingers, but I would recommend this tiny book to all Christians, and in particular, preachers/church leaders. They can then set their flocks an example whereby the 'othering' of other congregations with different secondary preferences is eradicated.

Anyway, this is not the main point of this post. What I wanted to present to you from the book was an extract which sums up, almost perfectly a thought/conviction I hold, and am enthusiastic about:

"In particular, nothing sets a heart on fire like truth. Truth is not cold and dry. On the contrary, it is warm and passionate. And whenever new vistas of God's truth open up to us, we cannot just contemplate. We are stirred to respond, whether to penitence or to anger or to love or to worship. Think of the two disciples walking to Emmaus on the first Easter afternoon, while the risen Lord spoke them. When he vanished, they said to each other: 'Did our hearts not burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?' (Lk. 24:32.) They had an emotional experience all right that afternoon. They described their sensation as a burning heart. And what was the cause of their spiritual heartburn? It was Christ opening the Scriptures to them!

It is the same today. Whenever we read the Scripture and Christ opens it up to us, so that we grasp fresh truth in it, our hearts should burn within us. As F W Faber once said, 'deep theology is the best fuel of devotion; it catches fire, and once kindled it burns long' (quoted by Ralph G Turnbull in A Minister's Obstacles 1946, Baker 1972, p. 97).

This true combination of intellect and emotion should be apparent in the preaching as well as the understanding of God's word. No one has expressed this better than Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who gives this striking definition of preaching: 'What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. Reason concerning truth ought to be mightily eloquent as you see it in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man's understanding of it it defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire' (Preaching and Preachers, Hodder & Stoughton 1971, p. 97)."
(John Stott, "Intellect and Emotion", p. 22-23)

I have experienced this burning heart often in my own quiet times reading the Bible, and in church listening to a sermon, or listening to one as I walk via my iPod. But not as often as I or, dare I say, God would like. Often we know what we have to do, but fall short of conviction because there is no Biblical fuel to power us on. Like a real engine, preaching puts a spark to the theology passing through the sermon. If there is not fuel, there is no movement. When we understand the Bible, we are compelled to act upon it, and we do not cease to forget it.

You can buy and read it for yourself here.

1 comment: