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Reflections on a Conference.

For three days I listened to Dr Don Carson speaking on aspects of the letter to the Ephesians.  Unlike some of my colleagues, I enjoyed it (sorry folks!).  It was well prepared, thoroughly researched and prompted me to think.  These for me are important attributes of a conference speaker.  We were told he was preaching.  He wasn't, he was teaching.  I did not agree with everything he said, though the vast majority was totally uncontentious.  I had expected a brash north American, instead I got a softly spoken man with deep convictions, some I share, some I don't.

One thing he said in the final Q&A session that I totally agree with is that we cannot 'not talk' about things just because they are contentious or thorny.  If we say 'topic x' is off limits for discussion, then we set ourselves up for explosions and fissions and schisms.  As I heard it, he even acknowledged that what some term 'heresy' has a vital role in forcing the church to think about topics and issues.

He also said that we need to avoid selectivity in our use of the Bible.  We should not skip past the bits that disquiet or disturb us, but should wrestle with them.  Whilst he and I would come to to some very different conclusions, we share a passion for taking the whole Bible seriously.

So, good stuff.  Not rocket science.  Not new.  But good to hear it said.


There has to be a 'however' or a 'but' or two.

Firstly, in common with many people he spoke of the supreme authority of Scripture, which is contra Baptist (at least British Baptist) principles.  The supreme authority for us is 'our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ'.  As revealed in scripture for sure, but it is the incarnate WORD, not the written Word where we locate authority.  Some will say that is semantics, but its not.  Our supreme authority is none other than the infinite God, not the finite records of inspired writers.

And this leads me on to my second 'but'.  In the final session, focusing on the list of roles in Ephesians 4 - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers - he said that these were all 'ministries of the word'.  I am not sure I agree with this, are not pastors primarily carers?  But suppose I accept the premise, then actually I'm thrown back to the beautiful Johannine phrases that 'the Word became flesh and dwelt among us' along with good old Karl Barth's WORD. Word, word scheme.  Actually, these roles are not (just) about the word, the human speech of those who fulfil them, albeit inspired by God's Spirit.  No, they are about incarnating the Word (the message of the scriptures) and, mysteriously and mind-blowingly, the WORD (the Christ, of which the church is the visible body).  If I was mischievous, I would amend Barth's scheme to WORD, Word, works.  But then you'd need to understand the whole Hebrews thing about Abraham and the intimate relationship of faith and work.  Yes, I am called to 'preach the word' and I am a word-person.  But, dare I say, I - and we - are also called to incarnate the word, to live the gospel not just pronounce upon it?

Another minister made a profound and pertinent comment on this concept of 'word' ministries.  Where does this leave the person who has not learned to read?  Who has dyslexia?  Who is blind?  Who has learning disabilities?  Is s/he excluded from this set of roles?  I think of the intuitive pastoring gifts of many with Downs syndrome; of the simple proclamations of faith by the person with severe learning difficulties; of the willingness to go to tough places of the person with few advantages in life.  These people incarnate the Word, incarnate the WORD.  For Dr Carson to be correct in his conclusion on this we need a broader, deeper, more theologically sophisticated understanding of what we mean by the word 'word'.... Or is that just semantics too? :-))

Good to be given something to chew on.

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