Friday, 28 March 2014

"With God, we shall gain the victory ... "

"With God we shall gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies" (Psalm 60:12). When, Lord, we're feeling defeated, Your Word gives us great encouragement. The battle isn't ours. It's Yours. The victory isn't ours. It's Yours. In the heat of the battle, You are our "strong tower against the enemy" (Psalm 61:3). When we're feeling the ferocity of Satan's hostility towards the truth of Your Word and the Gospel of Your grace, help us to remember that You, Lord, are "enthroned for ever" (Psalm 61:7).

Our Rock And Our Salvation

You, Lord, are "our rock and our salvation" (Psalm 62:2,6). We think of Your Son, Jesus Christ - the "Rock of our salvation" (1 Corinthians 10:1-4,16), and we say, "Your steadfast love is better than life ... I will praise You as long as I live" (Psalm 63:3-4). We look at Jesus, our great Saviour, and we say, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

A Godly, Christlike And Spirit-Filled Life

What kind of people are we to be? What kind of life are we to live? Lord, You're calling us to live a life of "love" (Proverbs 17:9). How, Lord, do we learn what love is? - We learn from You. You show us what love is - "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son ... " (John 3:16). In Jesus, we see perfect love - "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). The Holy Spirit fills our lives with Your love - "The fruit of the Spirit is love" (Galatians 5:22). Help us, Lord, to live a Godly, Christlike, Spirit-filled life - a life of love.

The Joy Of The Lord

"Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord" (Psalm 64:10). Lord, You give us joy - true joy, lasting joy. This is Your joy. It's not just a passing emotion. It's more than a feeling that doesn't last very long. Your joy changes us. It gives us the strength to live as "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Praying Through God's Word: Psalms

Psalm 1:1-6
Lord, we thank You that Your way is the best way. It’s ‘make up your mind’ time. Every day, we must make up our mind – Will it be the way of the world? Will it be the way of the Word? It cannot be both. It must be one or the other.
Lord, help us to choose Your way. Help us to keep on choosing Your way. May we always know, in our hearts, that Your way is the best way.

Psalm 2:1-12
We thank You, Lord, for Jesus Christ - Your Son, our Saviour. What a great Saviour He is! When we think of Jesus, may our hearts be filled with true and lasting joy. We search for happiness - but we don't find it. Why? - Because we look in the wrong place. We look within ourselves. What do we find? - An emptiness which keeps on gnawing away at us, 'There must be more than this.' There is. There's Jesus. He changes our focus. We start looking less at ourselves and more at Him. We see that real happiness - true and lasting joy - doesn't come from within ourselves. It comes from Jesus - "Hallelujah! I have found Him ... Through His blood I now am saved."

Psalm 3:1-6
Lord, we are surrounded by so many enemies. They are Your enemies, enemies of Your Gospel, enemies of Your truth, What are we to do? What can we do? Left to ourselves, we are helpless. Our situation is hopeless - until You come to us with Your love and Your power. You assure us that You love us. You are with us and You lead us in the pathway of holiness and victory. You lead us on the pathway that brings glory to You.

Psalm 4:1-8
Lord, we thank You that You answer the sinner's prayer. Jesus is Your Answer. He is our Saviour. He is the Gospel Answer. He is the Good News that we need to hear. He is the Good News of Your amazing love. He is the Good News of Your saving power. Lord, we thank You for Jesus - our wonderful Saviour.

Psalm 5:1-12
Lord, without Your help, we are nothing and we can do nothing. We need You, Lord. We can never be what You call us to be if we don't come to You and receive strength from You. We come to You in our weakness. It is the weakness of our sin. We come to receive Your strength. It is the strength of Your salvation.

Psalm 6:1-10
Lord, help us not to get bogged down in what's happening to us right now. Help us to lift up our eyes and see Jesus. Help us not only to see Him as a figure from the past - a man who lived a long time ago. Help us to see Him as the Lord who is coming to us from the future, coming to us from the glory, coming to us from from heaven, coming with His salvation, coming to establish Your eternal Kingdom.

Psalm 7:1-7
Sometimes, Lord, we feel like we're in a deep, dark hole. We don't want to be in this place - but we are! Help us to know that You're there with us. You're not there to blame us for getting into this mess. You're there to assure us that there is hope.

Psalm 8:1-9
Lord, we thank You that You don't keep Your distance from us. You come near to us. You show us Your love. You give us Your peace. You fill our hearts with Your joy. You lead us forward with hope. Thank You, Lord.

Psalm 9:1-20
“I will give thanks to You, Lord, with all my heart …My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you . The Lord reigns forever … The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:1,3,7,9).
We give thanks to You, Lord. Where does our thanksgiving begin? It begins with thinking. We think - and we thank. We think about what You have done for us. We thank You for what You have done for us.
We thank You, Lord, that we have the victory in Christ. When Satan attacks us, help us to remind him that Jesus is Lord. Help us to tell him, “Jesus is my Saviour – and He’s a lot stronger than you are!” We thank You, Lord, that Satan – our determined enemy – is also our defeated enemy. He’s been defeated by Jesus – and Jesus gives His victory to us! When Satan to us, “I’m stronger than you are”,  help us to answer him with Your Word: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Psalm 10:1-18
Lord, when it feels like You've forgotten us, help us to see the truth as it really is. We have forgotten You. We've taken our eyes off You - and now everything's out of focus. There's a blurring of our vision. Lord, take us to the Cross of Jesus. Show us that we're not forgotten. We're remembered. 

Psalms 11:1-13:6
We thank You, Lord, that You have opened up for us a great future. What glory awaits us in Your eternal Kingdom. What encouragement this gives to us when we're going through a hard time! Help us, Lord, to lift up our eyes, to catch a glimpse of Your glory, to be changed by Your glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Help us to "turn our eyes upon Jesus", to "look full in His wonderful face." As we look upon Jesus, may "the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Psalms 14:1-15:5
When our faith is being sorely tested, help us, Lord, to turn to You. Help us to know that, through it all, You are there with us - suffering with us, leading us into Your joy. Teach us, in our suffering, to wait for the day when You will "restore our fortunes", when You will answer our prayer: "O that salvation ... would come", when we will, again, "rejoice" and be "glad" in You (Psalm 14:7).

Psalm 16:1-11
True and lasting joy comes from You, Lord. This joy doesn't depend on good things happening to us. Even when bad things are happening to us, this joy, Your joy, is still there - because You are still there. You're with us - and You're for us. The world cannot give this joy to us. Joy is Your gift. The world cannot take this joy away from us. Whatever happens to us, there's one thing that never changes - You are our God. This is where our joy comes from. It comes from Your faithfulness. Help us to remember this - especially when everything seems to be pulling us away from You.

Psalm 17:1-15
Lord, we long for a closer walk with You. Sometimes, Lord, we take our eyes off Jesus, our Saviour - and we wander far away from You. Always, You are calling us back to Yourself. In love, You wait for us to return to You. You call us to make a new beginning with You.

Psalm 18:1-24
Lord, You are "our strength, our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our shield and the horn of our salvation, our stronghold (Psalm 18:1-2). What more can we ask for? You are all that we need - and more! Help us, Lord, not to stagger along in our own strength when You're calling us to stand in Your strength and march on with You to victory (Ephesians 6:13). Our own strength isn't strength. It's weakness. Your strength is the only true strength. We are strong when we stand upon Your gracious promise - "My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is mad e perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Psalm 18:25-50
We thank You, Lord, for Your salvation and Your victory. Help us to walk with You in salvation and victory, obeying Your command - "Clothe yourselves in humility", heeding Your warning - "God opposes the proud", and trusting Your promise - He "gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

Psalm 19:1-14
Lord, You're always speaking to us. Every day and every night,You speak to us through Your created world. You prepare us for hearing the voice of Jesus, Your living Word. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, Your written Word. Help us, Lord, to become aware of Your presence, to listen to the voice of Jesus - calling us to come to You, and to receive new life, as we put our trust in Jesus, our Saviour.

Psalms 20:1-21:13
“We trust in the Name of the Lord our God...Through the unfailing love of the Most High’ we ‘shall not be moved” (Psalms 20:7; 21:7). Lord, we thank You that You are a solid rock for our faith. You are the only solid rock for our faith. Without You, Lord, the foundations are shaking. We're about to collapse. You pick us up. we're broken in pieces. You put us together again. Our life is going nowhere. You give us a new sense of direction. Without this input from You, our lives are empty. Everything we do is futile. When You are there with us, everything changes. It's Your love that makes the difference. It's Your love that changes us. Thank You, Lord, for Your love.
When our future seems so uncertain, help us, Lord, to put our trust in You. Help us to remember Your Son, Jesus. Help us to remember that He is our Saviour. When we fear the worst, may we always remember that our Saviour is absolutely trustworthy and completely dependable. When our love for Him seems so weak, may we remember that His love is never weak. It’s always strong. When we fail Him, may we remember that He will never fail us. His love is an unfailing love. When we’re feeling down, may the love of Jesus lift us up. When we don’t feel like singing, may we look to You to fill our hearts with praise to You.

Psalm 22:1-18
"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1). This was the Psalmist's prayer. Often, it's our prayer - it's the way we feel, even if we don't actually speak the words! More than that, it was our Saviour's prayer (Matthew 27:46|). On the Cross, "our sin was laid on Him" (Isaiah 53:6). When we're suffering, help us to see Jesus - suffering for us. Help us to see Him - risen, exalted and returning for us. Help us to say, "Thank You, Lord. I am not forsaken. I am forgiven."

Psalms 22:19-23:4
We thank You, Lord, for Jesus Christ, our great Saviour. He died for us. He was raised from the dead for us. He is coming again for us. We think of all that He has done for us, and we say, "Hallelujah! What a Saviour!"

Psalm 23:1-6
Sometimes, we nibble at our food. We don’t feel like eating. We’re off-colour. Often, Lord, we’re like that with Your Word. We could be enjoying a feast – but we’re not! We’re too easily satisfied. There’s no real hungering and thirsting for Your life-giving Word. Lord, give us more hunger for You. Fill us with a deeper desire for Your presence and Your blessing. Help us to feast on Your Word – the Word of life, the Word which we need so much, the Word which leads us into all the blessing that You want so much to give to us.

Psalms 23:5-24:10
Lord, we thank You that You are preparing a wonderful future for us. It's glory with You. It's eternal life: "I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6). Fill our hearts, O Lord, with resurrection hope - the true and living hope, the sure and steadfast hope that comes from knowing You, the God who has raised Your Son, the God who raises us up, with Jesus, to everlasting life.

Psalm 25:1-22
Knowing You, Lord, is more important than knowing a lot about this, that and the other subject. Where does the best education from? It comes from You. You teach us about the things that really matter. you teach us about eternal things. You teach us what life is really all about. You are "the God of our salvation." You "lead us in Your truth" - the truth that changes us, the truth which inspires us to become all that You want us to be (Psalm 25:5).

Psalm 26:1-27:12
"Your love is ever before me, and I will walk continually in Your truth" (Psalm 26:3). Lord, it's Your love for us that inspires our loyalty to You. You love us. This is what makes us want to walk with You. In Your love, You lead us in the way of Your salvation. We don't begin with walking with You. We begin with worshipping You. We celebrate Your love for us, and we receive Your strength - strength for living the new life, the life that brings glory to You.

Psalms 28:1-29:11
Lord, You are "the strength of Your people." May each of us say, "You are my strength" (Psalm 28:7-8). Your strength comes to us through fellowship. We receive strength from others, and we give strength to them. Your strength is more than human strength - the strength that comes to us through fellowship. It is the strength which comes to us through faith - faith in You, our Lord and our God. 
"The Lord is my strength ... The Lord is the strength of His people" (Psalm 28:7-8). We come to You, Lord, in prayer - when we're on our own, and when we're gathered together with other worshippers. As we pray, You give us Your strength. It is the strength which comes to us from Your Word. We grow strong, as we listen for "the voice of the Lord" (Psalm 29:3-9). Teach us, Lord, that we need more than human words. We need Your Word: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

Psalm 30:1-12
“I will exalt You, O Lord” (Psalm 30;1). Lord, You are not exalted because we exalt You. We exalt You because You are exalted. How do we come to the point where we exalt You? We realize our need of You – “when You hid Your face, I was dismayed” (Psalm 30:7). We look to You for mercy – “To You, O Lord, I called; to the Lord, I cried for mercy” (Psalm 30:8). You hear and answer our prayer – “You turned my wailing into dancing. You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11). You call us to worship You – “Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy Name” (Psalm 30:4). Help us, Lord, to worship You: “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever” (Psalm 30:12).


Psalm 42:1-11
Lord, help us to move beyond the shallow waters – to move, with You, into the deeper waters of Your love and Your blessing. We think of deep water – and we think of danger. Yes! There is danger – but there is also something else. You are with us – and You assure us that, though the dangers are great, You are greater than they are! Lord, lead us into the deeper waters – not with fear of the dangers, but with expectation of Your blessing!

Psalm 119:105-112
Lord, You have so much to teach us – and we have so much to learn. How do we learn from You? - You open up Your Word to us. You speak to us words of life. You shine Your light upon us. You show us how much You love us. Every day You have something to say to us. Every day, You have something to share with us. Every day, You show us more of Your love for us. Help us, each and every day, to take time to learn from You.

Praying Through God's Word: Proverbs

Proverbs 1:1-7
Lord, help us to be doers of Your Word. Hearing Your Word is easier than doing Your Word. We hear what You’re saying to us – but do we do what You’re telling us to do? This is the great question we must always ask ourselves. It’s the great question that You’re always putting to us. It’s a question that calls for an answer – ‘Not my will but Yours be done’ (Matthew 26:39).

Proverbs 1:8-19
Lord, when Satan comes, we are very weak. We need a strength which is not our own. We need Your strength. Your strength – this is the strength against which Satan cannot stand. Lord, help us to take our stand against Satan. Help us to stand in Your strength.

Proverbs 1:20-33
Lord, help us to win others for You. You've called us to be Your witnesses. How can we be Your witnesses - when there is so much about us that is unworthy of You, so much that speaks so loudly of ourselves, so little that proclaims the amazing grace of Jesus? Lord, we thank You that, along with this high calling - "you shall be My witnesses", you give to us Your wonderful promise: "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you" (Acts 1:8).

Proverbs 2:1-15
Lord, help us to grow in Christ. Help us to go often to Your Word. There, we will find strong warnings and precious promises. Help us to heed the warnings and trust the promises - to grow in Christ.

Proverbs 2:16-34
Lord, we love to hear Your promises of love. Sometimes, we need to hear Your words of warning. In Your warnings, we hear the voice of Your love. In Your love, You're calling us back from a way that will do us great harm. You call us into a better way - the way of Your great salvation. Lord, when we are being pulled away from You, bring us back to Yourself. Speak to us with Your Word of warning, the Word that calls us back so that we can move forward with You and for You. When we don't want to hear it - That's when we most need to hear it. Speak to us, O Lord, and help us to listen. "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3).

Proverbs 3:1-18
Lord, we want everything to go smoothly - but that's not what You've promised us! Your way can seem like a long and winding road - but it's better to be facing problems, as we walk with You on the pathway of holiness, than to be having an easy time of it because we've stopped standing up for You.

Proverbs 3:19-35
Lord, our faith is often put to the test. Soon, we become aware that our faith is very weak. When we start to feel that our faith is so weak, help us to remember something - Our God is always strong. With You, as our God, we go from strength to strength. It's not our own strength. It's Your strength.

Proverbs 4:1-9
Thank You, Lord, that You do not keep Your distance from us. In Your Son, Jesus, our Saviour, You have come to us. This is more than "From a distance, God is watching us." From a distance, You have come to us. Help us to come to You. Help us to know that you are near to us.

Proverbs 4:10-19
There are times, Lord, when it seems like the light have gone out, and we can see nothing - nothing but darkness. When this happens to us, help us to catch a glimpse of the brightest light of all - the light of Your love. This is the light which will never go out. It is not our faith that lifts us out of the darkness. It's Your love - the love that we see in Jesus, in His dying for us, His rising for us and His returning for us.

Proverbs 4:20-27
When we feel like giving up, Lord, help us to keep our eyes fixed on Your Son, Jesus. He is our Saviour. He'll give us the strength that we need to keep on walking with You in the way of faith. He'll give us the strength that we need to keep on living in obedience to Your Word. We are often weak. He is always strong. When we feel like we can't go on, when all of our love has gone, help us to remember the love of Jesus: "Jesus loves me! He will stay, close beside me all the way; He will always be my Friend, and His love will never end."

Proverbs 5:1-14
Lord, we are so easily entangled in the ways of the world. We try to disentangle ourselves - but we can't do this by ourselves. we need Your power. We need Your love. It's Your love that changes everything. It's Your power that makes us new. Show us Your love. Show us Your power. May Your love lift us out of our sin. May Your power lead us in the way of Your salvation.

Proverbs 5:15-23
We thank You, Lord, for the love of Jesus. There is no love like the love He has for each and every one of us. Before we ever thought of loving Him, He loved us. Before we were even born, He gave Himself, in death, for us. What a wonderful love! It's the greatest love of all.

Proverbs 6:1-15
What is our opinion of ourselves? Is it the same, Lord, as Your opinion of us? You see as we really are - sinners. That's not all that You see. You see something else, something that fills us with hope for the future. You don't write us off as hopeless cases. You see us as sinners, saved by grace. It's Your grace that makes the difference. It's Your grace that changes us.

Proverbs 6:16-35
Lord, Your Word is our "lamp" and "light" (Proverbs 6:23; Psalm 119:105). Your Word shows us the ways we are to avoid - and it shows us the way we are to follow: Your way, the way of obedience and blessing. Help us, Lord, to watch how we live, to take care that we do not drift away from You, to keep on choosing Your way, the way that brings glory to You.

Proverbs 7:1-27
You teach us, Lord, "to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). Show us the wrong way so that we can avoid it. Show us the right way so that we can choose it. Often, Lord, we know what is right but we don't do what's right. We need the power that comes from You. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we fail, over and over again. With the Holy Spirit, living in us, we are learning to choose the good way of living, the way that pleases You and brings glory to You.

Proverbs 8:1-36
We seek, Lord, for the way of wisdom - and we find that it is also the way of happiness (Proverbs 8:32-34). The world seeks happiness in wealth. Your Word teaches us that wisdom is better than "silver, gold and jewels" (Proverbs 8:10-11). How are we to find wisdom? We find wisdom when we find Jesus. He is our Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is also our Joy. When this world is getting us down, He says to us, "Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Proverbs 9:1-18
Lord, You come to us with bread and wine. You come to us in Jesus, our Saviour. You come to us in love. You show us how much You love us. There is no love like Your love for us. It's the best love. It's the greatest love. It's love "so amazing." It's love "so divine." Thank You, Lord, for Your wonderful love.

Proverbs 10:1-22
There is a wise way of living - and there is a foolish way. We're always being pulled away from the wise way. We're always being dragged into the way of foolishness. Sometimes, Lord, we don't need much persuasion to turn away from following You. Our hearts are already drifting away from You - before Satan comes with his subtle - yet strong - temptations. Help us, Lord, to choose the "way that leads to life" - and not the "way that leads to destruction" (Matthew 7:13-14). Help us to choose Jesus, our Saviour. Help us to know that, in Him, we have the forgiveness of sins, given to us as Your gift of grace; the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to live for You; and eternal life, being prepared for us in Your heavenly glory.

Proverbs 10:23-11:11
"With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbour" (Proverbs 11:9). Lord, this is straight talking - from Your holy Word. We need to hear this kind of thing. It keeps us on the right track. It keeps us from going off the rails. When, Lord, we're tempted to speak words that will hurt other people, help us remember Your Word to us: "The tongue is a fire ... With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men ... this ought not to be so" (James 3:6-10). Help us, Lord, to keep quiet - or end up saying, I wish I had never said that - It's better to 'put a zip on it' than to 'put our foot in it'. When we have nothing good to say, help us to say nothing at all.

Proverbs 11:12-31
Lord, You're calling us to win others for You. You're calling us to share Your love with them. You're calling us to bring Jesus to them. Help us, Lord, not to keep Your Good News to ourselves. Help us to pray, "Here I am, wholly available - as for me, I will serve the Lord" (Chris Bowater).

Proverbs 12:1-14
Lord, show us the way we are to go: "The root of the righteous stands firm" (Proverbs 12:12) - and the way we are not to go: "He who follows worthless pursuits has no sense" (Proverbs 12:11). Does it make any sense to follow "worthless pursuits", when we can be "filled with all the fullness of God"? You show us the most sensible way to live: "Let Christ dwell in your heart through faith" (Ephesians 3:17-21). You direct our attention to Jesus, who is "the Way" (John 14:6) - the Way to life and the Way of life.
 

The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today

If you want to read the list of footnotes, which accompanied the original article, click on this link – The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today.
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Ernest Best was Professor of New Testament at the University of Glasgow. Robert Davidson was Professor of Old Testament at the University of Glasgow. The late George Macleod was the Founder of the Iona Community. Each of these men has exerted a significant influence on the ministry of the church of Scotland. Comments made by Best, Davidson and Macleod provide an appropriate point of departure for this short study concerning contemporary preaching. In his book, From Text to Sermon, Best writes, ‘The preacher … ought to avoid merely using the text as a jumping-off for what he wants to say.’ 
When invited to introduce a former student Rev. Fraser Aitken to his first charge, Neilston Parish Church, Davidson preached from Ephesians 3:8, concerning Paul’s description of his ministry in terms of preaching ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Macleod’s book, Speaking the Truth in Love, contains this arresting remark concerning ‘preaching’ which, though it ‘may be without doctrinal error hardly stirs a soul’. Taken together, these three comments highlight three essential features which must surely characterize evangelical preaching in every generation. Our preaching should be grounded in Scripture, centred on Christ and empowered by the Spirit. The Scriptures, the Saviour and the Spirit here we have a ‘threefold cord’ that cannot be broken. By stressing the importance of the Bible for contemporary preaching we are not simply being ‘traditional’. We ground our preaching in Scripture because we find Christ in the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27; Jn. 5:40; 2 Tim. 3:15). We do not base our preaching on Scripture simply because we wish to be ‘Biblicists’. We preach from Scripture because the Spirit points us to the Son through the Scriptures (Lk. 24:2; Rom. 10:17). This ‘threefold cord’, the Scriptures, the Saviour and the Spirit, must be preserved if contemporary preaching is to be truly evangelical. Today’s preachers are, like Paul, called to ‘preach the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Our situation is not however precisely the same as Paul’s. We are to preach the Word of God ‘as addressed to modem man’.  This application of the gospel to the situation of modem man requires to be handled in a careful and sensitive manner. We dare not remain locked in the past if we are to speak a word which has genuine relevance for the present day. On the other hand, the threat of modernism’ is real. We can be so easily ‘squeezed into the mould of the world’s way of thinking’, rather than allowing our minds to be renewed by ‘the living and abiding word of God (cf. Rom. 12:1-2 J. B. Phillips; 1 Pet. 1:23). Where modern thinking is accorded an undue importance, the gospel can be seriously distorted. This kind of distortion takes place in the theologies offered to us by Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich. Commenting on Bultmann’s theology, G. C. Berkouwer writes, ‘The fact that he proceeds from a pastoral and missionary motive namely, to preserve modern man from rejecting the New Testament because of its mythical structure – does not diminish by one iota the theological presumption of this undertaking’. K. Hamilton describes Tillich’s theology thus: ‘Jesus Christ and the biblical revelation have been fitted into a structure already complex without them.’ One particularly serious consequence of this type of theological reductionism is selectivity in the use of Scripture. This may be illustrated with particular reference to the theology of Bultmann. Discussing Bultmann’s exegetical procedure, N. J. Young offers a penetrating analysis. Bultmann’s norm for understanding the New Testament is the theology of Paul and John as interpreted by Bultmann. Those parts of the New Testament which do not accord with Bultmann are not given careful attention. Paul and John, as well as the rest of the New Testament, are treated in this way.This method of exegesis, ‘in which a variety of views are acknowledged, but only one selected for attention, leaving the others virtually ignored’is particularly noticeable when he discusses Paul’s eschatology. He acknowledges that there is evidence that Paul does have an ‘apocalyptic eschatology with its expectation of a cosmic catastrophe’.Nevertheless, Bultmann pays no further attention to this aspect of Paul’s eschatology. What are we to make of this approach to the New Testament? This is what Young says: ‘If some parts of the New Testament prove to be impervious to a particular hermeneutical approach … it may be because the hermeneutical approach is not adequate for the task, not because it claims too much.’Young contends that there is a better way than Bultmann’s way. ‘A proper recognition of the diversity of the New Testament witness… makes unnecessary Bultmann’s attempt to achieve harmony by silencing those voices which appear to him to be off-key.’Best makes this point more positively without any direct reference to Bultmann’s theology. ‘Christ is greater than any single description of him, and we need the variety we have in the New Testament.’What relevance does this discussion of Bultmann’s selective exegesis have for the preacher? N. Weeks, clearly alluding to the kind of theology propounded by Bultmann, makes an astute and most important observation: ‘The belief that modem man cannot understand biblical concepts becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that men cannot accept such truths, then we will not preach and teach them. Hence they will not be received because faith comes by hearing the word preached. If we would preach the ‘whole counsel of God’ from the pulpit, there must be a thorough searching of the Scriptures in the study. Selective exegesis can never be a real option for those who would seek to ground their preaching in the Scriptures. To dissociate ourselves from Bultmann’s method of reading the New Testament is not to involve us in stepping back from the complexities of biblical interpretation. Rather, we stress that the complex business of biblical interpretation will never permit one particular line of interpretation to take a stranglehold over our thinking. Whenever a particular method of interpretation dominates our thinking, it becomes our authority. Scripture the authoritative Word of God is then moulded to fit what we think it should be. The interpretation of Scripture is not to be separated from the authority of Scripture. Divorced from an authoritative Word from the Lord, biblical interpretation can become a very confusing business. We are not, however, forced to choose between a real involvement in the complex issues of biblical interpretation and a naive biblicism which refuses to get involved with the difficult questions. It has been said that ‘the Bible is like a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim’.There are many areas where differences of interpretation can leave us quite confused. Nevertheless, we are still able to affirm that Jesus Christ is the centre of the biblical message. We are still able to experience the power of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to Christ through the Scripture. By refusing to align ourselves with Bultmann’s approach to the New Testament we are not dissociating ourselves from his concern with relevance. We are, however, stressing that there is another concern to which we must give careful attention faithfulness: ‘In seeking for relevance we must not renounce faithfulness.’We must not set relevance and faithfulness over against each other, as though we are forced to choose between them be faithful at the expense of relevance; be relevant at the expense of faithfulness. Relevance and faithfulness belong together. Relevance is not to be divorced from faithfulness but grounded in faithfulness. God’s Word is seen to be ‘the living and abiding word of God’ as God’s people believe it to be and proclaim it as ‘the living and abiding word of God’. The faithfulness which is ever relevant involves a real commitment to walking in the Spirit as ‘ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2. Cor. 3:6). J. Veenhof, expounding the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, emphasizes that it is the Holy Spirit who binds faithfulness and relevance together. He ‘makes it clear that this ancient word never becomes antiquated but is permanently relevant’.This relevance is always a matter of something more than mere words. Our lives as well as our words must be faithful to the Word of the Lord. Faithfulness and relevance do not belong only to the study and the pulpit. There is a life to be lived in the world as well as a sermon to be preached in the church. Our lives are to be a ‘letter from Christ’, ‘known and read by all men’ (2 Cor. 3:2). In the pulpit, faithfulness and relevance are to be held together. In the study authority and interpretation are to be held together. If, in the study, Scripture is not honoured as the authoritative word of God, there will not be faithful preaching from the pulpit. A commitment to faithfulness carries with it a concern for relevance, since God ‘is not God of the dead, but of the living’ (Matt. 22:32). He is the living God and his Word is to be proclaimed as the living Word. If we are to speak a word of relevance, we need to interpret God’s Word for this generation. It is not sufficient to affirm the authority of the Bible, if we do not give serious consideration to understanding what God is saying to the world of today. The preacher, who seeks both faithfulness and relevance, will seek to understand the relationship between authority and interpretation. In the preface to his book, A Theology of the New Testament, G. E. Ladd writes, ‘All theology is a human undertaking and no man’s position can be considered final.’
However strongly we affirm the authority of Scripture, we dare not elevate our own theological understanding to the level of Scripture itself. When we recognize clearly the distinction between authority and interpretation, we will not be afraid of interacting with theological perspectives different from our own. We need openness without a loss of the divine Word. We need not make the ideal of ‘open-mindedness’ so prominent in our thinking that we end up empty-minded, with no clear conviction concerning the divine Word. Nevertheless, we must surely welcome the kind of openness described by G. C. Berkouwer in the foreword to his book, A Half Century of Theology: ‘A curiosity that works itself out in passionate study and serious listening to others promises surprises, clearer insight, and deeper understanding no matter from which direction they came.Our interpretation of the vital relationship between authority and interpretation is directly connected to our understanding of the dual character of Scripture as both the Word of God and the words of men. Scripture speaks to us with authority because it speaks to us as the Word of God. The study of Scripture involves us in the complex business of interpretation, since it speaks to us as the words of men, words written at various times and places by many writers. E. Schillebeeck describes the dual character of Scripture in a helpful way: All human speech about what comes ‘from above’ (‘it has been revealed’) is uttered by human beings, i.e. from below … However human it may be, this language is not an autonomous human initiative.G. C. Berkouwer offers an insightful perspective on Scripture as both Word of God and words of men. He describes ‘scripture’ as ‘the human witness empowered by the Spirit’.He stresses the divine origin of this witness: ‘This witness does not well up from the human heart but from the witness of God in which it finds its foundation and empowering as a human witness … This Scripture finds its origin in the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ, and witnesses of him through the human witness.’Berkouwer emphasizes that this ancient word speaks with relevance to every generation: ‘These witnesses are not ‘lifted out’ of their time and milieu, but as living witnesses could interpret in their era what was destined for all times.’He helps us to understand both how we are to approach Scripture and how we are not to approach Scripture: ‘Believing Scripture does not mean staring at a holy and mysterious book, but hearing the witness concerning Christ.’It is within this context of a human yet divine, ancient yet permanently relevant witness concerning Jesus Christ that we are to understand our confession of faith. The Bible is the Word of God: ‘The respect for the concrete words is related to this and the ‘is’ of the confession points to the mystery of the Spirit, who wants to bind men to Christ through these words, through this witness.The faith with which we are to receive God’s word has been well described by Calvin: ‘The word is not received in faith when it merely flutters in the brain, but when it has taken deep root in the heart.’From Berkouwer and Calvin the preacher can learn much. Faithful, relevant, authoritative preaching is preaching which focuses upon Christ, preaching which is empowered by the Spirit, preaching which calls for faith that takes deep root in the heart. With this understanding of preaching, we will take care to hold doctrine and experience together. J. 1. Packer emphasizes that ‘revelation is … much more than propositional’.E. Schillebeeckx emphasizes that ‘the right propositional understanding of revelation … must be kept in a right relation to the experience with which this propositional language is associated’.Developing this theme further, Schillebeeckx describes Scripture as the point of contact between the spiritual experience of the biblical writers and today’s readers and hearers who are now being invited by Scripture to enter into the same experience of the living God: ‘As a testimony to the experience of those who created it Scripture is an offer a possibility that this experience can be extended to others’.There is the relationship between the words of Scripture and the power of the Spirit. Rightly understood, the words of Scripture are not mere words. They are words which speak with power. Jesus makes this point within the context of his own ministry. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn. 6:63). Paul, like Jesus, could not conceive of ministry as a thing of words only. True ministry is ministry empowered by the Spirit: ‘My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4): ‘Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction’ (1 Thess. 1:5).
In our preaching of God’s Word today, we must  pray earnestly for this dual ministry of the Spirit: “The Spirit … opens up the Scripture to us and ‘opens’ us to the Scripture.”
Being opened up by the Spirit to the Scripture can be an uncomfortable experience. Where the Word of God is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the situation described in the letter to the Hebrews; “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (4:12-130.
Scripture does not only speak of salvation. It also speaks about sin. Scripture does not only speak of the love of God. It also speaks about the holiness of God. When Jesus spoke of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He said this: “When He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).”
There are uncomfortable truths concerning which the Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).
If we would be faithful preachers of God’s Word, we must preach what people need to hear, and not simply what they want to hear. This is not only the way of faithfulness. It is also the way of relevance. Those who seek relevance at the expense of faithfulness turn out to be irrelevant. Their shallow ans superficial preaching turns out to be no real substitute for “the living and abiding Word of God” through which alone the hearers can be “born anew” (1 Peter 1:230. Before we can truly appreciate the grace of God in the gospel, we must understand that “there is no human solution to the human problem.” This can be a painful experience. we do our hearers no favours if we pay little attention to the uncomfortable truths of God’s Word. G. C. Berkouwer ends his discussion, “The Voice of Karl Barth” with these words: “He discovered the powerful witness of the ‘tremendous’ word that always speaks against us so that we can learn to stop speaking against it.”
To appreciate Barth’s emphasis on the centrality of Christ, we must first hear the Word speaking against us. Concerning the message of the Bible, Barth writes; “”The Bible says all sorts of things certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing – just this: the name of Jesus Christ.”
In the presence of Jesus Christ, we learn that we are sinners, but we also learn that Christ loves sinners. Unlike the Pharisees, who despised ‘sinners’, Jesus Crist “receives sinners” (Luke 15:2). In the presence of Christ, we encounter both perfect holiness and perfect love. In Christ, we discover “an unmerited abundance of love.” This love leads us to a special kind of obedience – the obedience of love: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In Christ, we face the claim of love upon our lives. This living presence of Christ, inviting us to receive salvation and calling us to embark on the pathway of discipleship is the depth-dimension of preaching. On the face of it, preaching involves a preacher giving an address to a congregation. There is, however, something much deeper than that going on when the Word of God is preached. In an article entitled, “Biblical Theology and Preaching”, D. G. Miller highlights this depth-dimension of preaching: “In a real sermon … Christ is the preacher. The preacher speaks through the preacher … The biblical view of preaching is to confront men with the question, “What think ye of Christ?” And out of this question, to have the encounter shift into the dimension of a personal confrontation by Christ, who himself asks, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the unique task of the Christian preacher.”
Describing further the purpose of preaching, Miller continues: “Preaching must always be for decision. Our aim is not merely to inform the mind, to stimulate the feelings so that men have a rather pleasant emotional experience: it is rather to strike directly at the will with the demand for decision … until we have confronted men with the issue so that they either have to surrender or rebel further, to accept it or reject, believe or disbelieve.”
This decision concerning Jesus Christ is also a decision concerning the meaning, purpose and direction of our own lives – “Deciding about him is at the same time deciding about ourselves.” As we hear the story of Jesus Christ, the Word of God tells us the story of our own lives – what we are and what we can become. The call for decision is a call to leave behind what we are in our sin, and move on to what we can become in Christ.
If evangelical preaching is to make a significant impact on today’s world, it dare not rest content with giving theological lectures. stressing the relevance of the Bible to our life today, D. E. Stevenson describes the Bible as “a hall of mirrors” and offers this advice: “Look into it properly and you will see yourself.” The preacher dare not place himself far above the people, preaching a message which goes over the heads of the people. The preacher, no less than his hearers, must sit under the Word of God. If he is to preach a message which is relevant to the life of his hearers, he must first find in Scripture a Word that is relevant to his own life. This involves much more than being an academic theologian who seeks intellectual stimulation from his study of the Bible. The preacher is not to remain a stranger to the people. He dare not speak as a theologian, proud of his education yet detached from his hearers’ life-situation. The preacher is to be a friend to his hearers. He lives among them. He meets them in the streets and at the shops. He visits them in hospital and at home. He teaches their children at school. He hears about and shares the joys and concerns of the community in which he lives. Within this very human context, the pulpit must not become an ivory tower of irrelevance. Though not merely human – he is an “ambassador for Christ”, bringing to his hearers “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20), the preacher must not ignore the very human context in which the Word of God is to be preached. In preaching from the Scriptures, he proclaims a Word which transforms the present, and not merely a word that belongs to the past. The preacher, who is sensitive to the pastoral relationships which exist between himself and the people, will not preach messages which could be preached anywhere and at any time. He takes account of the particular situation into which he is called to preach God’s Word. He seeks to hear and to speak the Word which God wants to speak to this people at this time. The method of preaching will vary from sermon to sermon, from one series of sermons to another. The manner in which we preach remains constant. It is to be preaching grounded in the Scriptures, centred on the Saviour and empowered by the Spirit.
Such preaching has relevance, not only for the Church but also for the world. The Gospel cannot be kept within the ‘four walls’ of the Church. Paul described the Gospel in this way – “The Gospel for which I am suffering and wearing chains like a criminal.” He then went on to say, “But the Word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9). Sometimes, the preacher will feel like Paul – imprisoned within his circumstances. he may feel imprisoned within a clerical strait-jacket. He may feel imprisoned within the limitations of being only one man, able to do so much and no more. Like Paul, however, the preacher can lift up his eyes to the Word of God, which is able to break free from such imprisoning limitations. When the Word of God is preached, it is not simply a proclamation by one man within the ‘four walls’ of the Church. It is a proclamation which reaches out into the world. It is carried by the hearers into their life-situations. this fact encourages the preacher to believe that the message he preaches may be just the spark which sets the Church on fire with a real desire to pass on the Good News of Christ’s love to the needy world. The possibility of being the spark, which lights a fire, gives the preacher greater boldness. It assures him that his preaching is not as insignificant and ineffective as he may sometimes feel it is. there is, however, a humbling factor here. The preacher receives boldness in the answer to the prayers of God’s people: “Pray … for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19). There is no true boldness in preaching without the prayers of faithful men and women who call upon God on behalf of the preacher.
With the supporting prayers of God’s people, the preacher goes into the pulpit. Through the continuing witness of God’s people, the preached word goes beyond the pulpit into the world. The preacher is one among many within the fellowship of the Lord’s people. His ministry is significant, but so also is the ministry exercised by others. As we consider the relationship between the pastor and the people, we must never forget that the spark which gets the fire going is the power of the Holy Spirit. In all the works of ministry – the ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the people, there is something we must never forget: “We are servants of the word and not its masters … Not only are we servants of the word … we are unprofitable servants.”

John Hick's Religious World

Introduction

John Hick is eminently readable. He is a theologian who wears his heart on his sleeve. He has no time for the kind of theology which uses traditional language without making clear whether such language is to be taken literally. Hick puts his cards on the table. There is no way he will entertain anything other than a thoroughly demythologized theology. Thus the pluralist theology of John Hick and the theology of conservative evangelicalism are poles apart. Nevertheless, the conservative evangelical may benefit from Hick’s frankness. We know exactly where we stand with Hick, who says what he means without worrying about whose sensitivities he is offending. The evangelical who is in dialogue with other less radical theologies than that of Hick has to spend time over questions of basic comprehension. With Hick, he can concentrate on responding to his theology without being sidetracked by the issue of correct interpretation. It is often said that in order to understand a theology, we need to understand something of the theologian’s development and progress. This is particularly true in the case of Hick. He began his theological development as a conservative evangelical. He has moved via theodicy to universalism, and then to a demythologized Christ. Commenting on his concern with theodicy, as reflected in his early book, Evil and the God of Love, Hick writes, '(I)n wrestling with the problem of evil I had concluded that any viable Christian theodicy must affirm the ultimate salvation of all God's creatures.'

Taking this stance on universalism, Hick questions the viability of the view that the only way of salvation is the Christian way: ‘Can we accept the conclusion that the God of love who seeks to save all mankind has nevertheless ordained that men must be saved in such a way that only a small minority can receive this salvation? It is the weight of this moral contradiction which has driven Christian thinkers in modern times to explore other ways of understanding the human religious situation.’ At the heart of Hick’s own exploration of other ways of understanding the human religious situation lies a demythologized Christ. This view of Christ, for which Hick was to gain both fame and notoriety through his book, The Myth of God Incarnate, may be summed up thus: The incarnation is ‘a mythic expression of the experience of salvation through Christ... (which) is not to be set in opposition to the myths of other faiths as if myths were literally true-or-false assertions’. This brief summary of Hick’s theological development raises the issue of whether or not he has begged some important questions. We might well ask such questions as these: Is it true that any viable Christian theology must affirm the universal salvation of all God’s creatures? Is it self-evident that there is a moral contradiction between God’s desire to save all mankind and the view that not all will receive salvation? How legitimate is it to write off biblical teaching about Jesus Christ as mythology which has nothing to do with literally true-or-false assertions?

Hick and the Contemporary Scene

The question now arises of the relationship between the problems Hick addresses and the theology he propounds. We have the impression of the problems creating the theology rather than the theology working with the problems. Is this not a case of the tail wagging the dog? Hick writes as though a modern theology must make drastic changes as it moves from one problem to another. We may well wonder if this does not undermine the divine origins of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its relevance for every generation. Hick makes much of the uniqueness of the contemporary situation. He writes as if the problems of pluralism were entirely unknown in earlier generations There may be some truth in Hick’s analysis of the modern world. We need however to look at the history of pluralism at a time before Hick came ‘to live in the multi-cultural, multi-coloured and multi-faith city of Birmingham.’
 

We can, in fact, go back into the world of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. In the Old Testament, there is a continuing conflict between God and the gods. The peoples of the Ancient Near East could accept and worship as many extra deities as their needs demanded. Within this pluralist context, the Old Testament proclaims God not as one among many but as the God who is incomparable ― the God in whose sight the ‘gods’ are nothing. In the New Testament, we find Paul preaching in Athens, a ‘city... full of idols’. When Paul preached Christ ‘perhaps... (the Athenians) were astonished that anyone would want to bring still more gods to Athens, god capital of the world! Athenians, after all must have needed something like the Yellow Pages just to keep tabs on the many deities already represented in their city!’ From the Old and New Testament Scriptures, we discover that pluralism is nothing new. The people of God in biblical times could not avoid the fact of pluralism. They did not, however, succumb to its pressures. Hick’s reaction is very different. Pluralism for him is the norm to which the Christian message is expected to conform. A Christ-centred message is not congenial to modern pluralist society. So the Christian message must be adjusted in order that it can be fitted more readily into the contemporary outlook.

For Hick, the pluralist context has become the pretext for treating the biblical text lightly and for producing a theology which no longer accords the central place to Christ.

A Demythologized Christianity
Hick assumes that the only viable interpretation of Christianity will be a thoroughly demythologized one. ‘Christian theology has long recognised the presence and function of myth in the scriptures ... and has long been concerned to couch the Christian message in ways that are intelligible to the demythologized modern mind.'
Although Hick may take demythologization for granted, we must point out the importance Scripture attaches to historical truth - for example, ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.’ Again Paul declares that Jesus Christ has been ‘designated Son of God in power ... by his resurrection from the dead’. Hick, however, will not think of Christ in this way. Commenting on the direct connection between demythologizing and pluralism in Hick’s thought, James Cook writes: ‘For Hick the unique character and claim of traditional Christianity are obstacles in the way of attaining “a global religious vision” to which he feels Christians are being called ... When proper deference has been paid to John Hick’s statement that The Myth of God Incarnate needed to be written because of the growing knowledge of Christian origins, one suspects that a motive at least as strong is the opinion that Christianity must surrender the uniqueness of the incarnation in order to make peace with other world religions.’ In order to understand the significance of this ‘global religious vision’, we should appreciate how deeply committed Hick is to both demythologizing and pluralism. Hick is not one of those theologians whose definition of ‘myth’ is so ambiguous as to leave us wondering how seriously he takes the whole process of demythologizing. Here is how he defines myth: ‘A myth is a story which is told but which is not literally true or an idea or image which is applied to something or someone but which does not literally apply, but which invites a particular attitude in its hearers.’ He proceeds to describe ‘the truth of a myth’ as ‘a kind of practical truth consisting in the appropriateness of the attitude it evokes’. By speaking of this ‘kind of practical truth’, Hick tries to look behind ‘the incarnational mythology to the religious experience which it expresses’. In this way, he seeks to discover a ‘quality of psychological absoluteness’ in the ‘incarnational mythology’. In other words, he emphasizes the believer’s personal testimony this is true for meas distinct from the authoritarian demand that Christianity be presented as an absolute truth for the adherents of other religions as well as for Christians. This view of practical truth is very different from that of the New Testament, which refuses to dissociate practical from historical truth. According to the apostle Paul, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then all who believe and preach the Christian gospel are in error. Take away the historical truth of Jesus Christ, and we are left not with practical truth, but with an illusion. Hick relates the incarnational mythology to pluralism by suggesting that we have not properly understood the ‘Christian myth of incarnation if we take it to mean an exclusive claim for Christianity as the only way of salvation’. Hick’s pluralist theology makes a radical contrast with the views of Lesslie Newbigin, who distinguishes between cultural pluralism and religious pluralism. ‘Cultural pluralism I take to be the attitude which welcomes the variety of different cultures and lifestyles within one society and believes that this is an enrichment of human life ... Religious pluralism, on the other hand, is the belief that the differences between the religions are not a matter of truth and falsehood, but of different perceptions of the one truth: that to speak of religious beliefs as true and false is inadmissible.’ Hick would not allow such a distinction. According to Hick, ‘(I)t is not appropriate to speak of a religion as being true or false, any more than it is to speak of a civilisation as being true or false.’ In line with this, Hick describes religions as ‘distinguishable religio-cultural streams within man’s history, (which) are expressions of the diversities of human types and temperaments and thought forms’. In Hick’s view, cultural pluralism and religious pluralism are inseparable. From his radically pluralist perspective Hick writes, ‘I now no longer find it possible to proceed as a Christian theologian as though Christianity were the only religion in the world. Surely our thinking must be undertaken, in the “one world” of today and tomorrow, on a more open and global basis.’ Hence Hick ‘seeks to develop a Christian theology of religions which takes the decisive step from… a ... one’s-own-religion centred to ... a God-centred view of the religious life of mankind’. This contrast is presented with a view to developing a ‘global religious vision’. This approach is open to question on two counts. First we must call in question the idea that a Christ-centred view is neither God-centred nor global in its vision. Christians are convinced that salvation has its origin in the God who so loved the world as to give his only Son. When we keep Christ at the centre of our theology, we honour God and his global concern for man’s salvation. Second, we must challenge the view of God contained in Hick’s ‘global religious vision’. According to Hick, ‘a revelation of the divine reality to mankind ... had to be a pluriform revelation, a series of revealing experiences occurring independently within the different streams of human history’. What kind of ‘God’ does this suggest? Does Hick not leave us with a ‘God’ who can be conceived in whatever way we choose? To pursue Hick’s global religious vision is, in effect, to abandon the search for truth. Is that a price worth paying? If, in view of his radically pluralist theology, Hick is still to be regarded as, in any sense, a Christian theologian, it can be only in the sense that he belongs to a Christian religio-culture tradition. He was born and brought up in a society shaped by Christianity. Any attempt on Hick’s part to continue to speak of salvation must face the criticism that, ‘in this total relativism, we have no ground for speaking of salvation at all’. Hick’s discovery of a ‘quality of psychological absoluteness’ (that is, truth for me) would appear to be nothing more than sheer pragmatism. He does not wish to be burdened with a theological absolute, which must be imposed on adherents of all religions. Nevertheless, conscious of the need for an absolute, he clings to this notion of ‘psychological absoluteness’. Cut loose from the historical foundations of the Christian faith, Hick’s theology offers no alternative but a leap, which bypasses history and moves from a rather contentless ‘divine transcendent’ to ‘man’s religious awareness’. He stresses the importance of ‘the construction of theologies (in the plural) based upon the full range of man’s religious awareness’. The adequacy of this preoccupation with experience has been questioned by Newbigin ‘Anyone who is familiar with the religious literature of the world knows that the religious experiences of the biblical writers are not unique. There is a large amount of devotional literature in the worlds of Hinduism and Islam which can be used without incongruity by a Christian. What is unique about the Bible is the story which it tells, with its climax in the story of the incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection of the Son of God. If that story is true, then it is unique and also universal in its implications for all human history'.
However much we may value the religious experiences associated with the other religions, we, who take seriously the biblical story, must affirm that the way between the divine transcendent and man’s experience, the true and living way, is Jesus Christ. When the focus of attention is on man’s experience rather than Jesus Christ, theology becomes more of a description of pluralist society than a proclamation of the gospel. With Hick’s account of Christian beliefs, we find that theological affirmation is swallowed up by sociological observation. Emphasizing that ‘Christian beliefs consist in the beliefs of Christians’, he stresses the variety of beliefs held by Christians. It is this which, according to Hick, must be ‘the starting-point for our inquiry into the relationship between Christianity and the other religions of the world’. If Christians hold such a variety of beliefs, it follows that ‘the Christians of one age cannot legislate for the Christians of another age’. In effect, as a modern pluralist, Hick is trying to retain the name ‘Christian’, while dissociating himself from historic Christian beliefs. Hick’s demythologized, pluralist theology is presented as an authentic expression of Christianity. In taking his own version of Christianity as the starting-point for dialogue with other religions, Hick contemptuously dismisses those who would honour the Scriptures and stand by the faith once for all delivered to the saints ‘Christianity will we may hope outgrow its theological fundamentalism, its literal interpretation of the idea of incarnation, as it has largely outgrown its biblical fundamentalism.’ Or again, ‘The doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity may turn out to be part of the intellectual construction which has to be left behind when the disciple of Jesus discards the cultural packaging in which Christianity has wrapped the gospel.’ However confident Hick is about his version of Christianity the question remains whether, in fact, his view is a denial rather than an interpretation of the gospel. Once we have seen what Hick proposes to leave behind, we may wonder where he would take us from here. Hick writes, ‘the future influence of Jesus may well lie more outside the church than within it, as a “man of universal destiny” whose teaching and example will become common property of the world, entering variously into all its major religions and also secular traditions.’ Without speculating about Hick’s view of the whole range of ideas and practices which are collectively described as the New Age Movement, we may note a general similarity between Hick’s theology and New Age teaching. If this Movement has been shown to depart radically from biblical theology, a similar criticism may be levelled at Hick. Does he not present us with a deviation from rather than a variation of Christianity? In stressing the importance of dialogue between the various world religions, Hick contrasts dialogue and confrontation. ‘The dialogue between these who accept and value religious diversity is quite different from the older kind of confrontation in which each group was concerned to establish the unique superiority of its own tradition.’ While true dialogue must always be more than a monologue in which both sides speak at each other rather than to each other, we must not overemphasize the contrast between dialogue and confrontation. The Communist writer, Milan Machovec has made this point well. ‘We do not want half-baked believers in dialogue: we want to confront real Christians.’ Authentic encounter is the way to fruitful dialogue. This is the approach which has been emphasized by Stephen Neill. He seeks to enter into the heart and spirit of other religious without disloyalty to his own. He asserts, ‘It is those who have the deepest and most confident faith themselves who have the courage to launch out on this adventure of the human spirit.’ He insists that ‘dialogue does not involve indifference to truth or the abandonment of all objective criteria of judgement’. A deep and confident faith is not the same as ‘self-assertion’ which ‘is always a sign of lack of inner confidence’. Neill maintains, ‘the Christian cannot compromise. Nevertheless, his approach to other forms of human faith must be marked by the deepest humility.’ The contrast between Neill and Hick is striking. Neill writes, ‘There are certain basic convictions which must be maintained, if Christianity is to be recognisably Christian.’ These convictions include ‘The Christian faith may learn much from other faiths: but it is universal in its claims: in the end Christ must be acknowledged as Lord of all.’ In the light of this understanding of dialogue, representatives of other religions may not readily assume that Hick’s theology is an authentic expression of Christian faith.
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Link to the full article with footnotes - John Hick's Religious World 

Praying Through God's Word: 1 Kings

1 Kings 1:1-53
No-one goes on forever. We read about David’s reign coming to an end, about David being replaced by Solomon (1 Kings 1:30). Help us, Lord, to pray that the future will be “greater” than the past (1 Kings 1:37,47). In all of life’s changes, help us to remember this: You are the living God (1 Kings 1:29) – the God who remains constant when everything else is changing, the God whose love is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable.
1 Kings 2:1-46
We thank You, Lord, that You are the God of new beginnings. Your purpose doesn’t stand still. It moves forward. Will we move forward with You? – That, Lord, is the question that each of us must ask answer. We cannot stand still. There are two ways we can go. We can move forward with You. We can go back to the past, back to what we were before Christ saved us, before He took hold of our lives, before He began to make us new people. Dare we even think of going back to the old life? That life can’t even begin to compare with our new life in Christ. Help us, Lord, to press on into the future, Your future, the new life in Christ, eternal life.
1 Kings 3:1-28
Which is most important to us – “building our own house” or “building the House of the Lord” (1 Kings 3:1-30. How often, Lord, do we think about the things that matter most to You? Are we too busy thinking about the things that matter most to ourselves? These are not questions to be ‘brushed under the carpet’. They are questions that demand our attention. They are questions that You, Lord, are asking us. You’re calling us to “consider our ways” (Haggai 1:5,7). Are we walking in Your way? or Are we going our own way? Call us back to Yourself, Lord. Call us back from a way ill lead us far from You. Call us into a way that will bring us close to You. Lead us to Jesus – He is “the way, the true and living way” (John 14:6).
1 Kings 4:1-34
Lord, give us wisdom (1 Kings 4:29). Help us to share this wisdom with others (1 Kings 4:32-34). What, Lord, is wisdom? Is it knowing a lot about history, geography and science? No, Lord, true wisdom is knowing Jesus, knowing that He is our Saviour, knowing that He shows us what life is all about, knowing that His love is the greatest love of all, the love that changes everything, the love that changes us. Help us to share His love with others. This is wisdom – knowing Jesus, knowing that He loves us, being changed by His love. Christ is “our Wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Help us to rejoice in Him – and to share His love with the people that we meet.
1 Kings 5:1-6:13
Lord, You want to “establish Your Word” among us (1 Kings 6:120. Do we “rejoice greatly” when we hear Your Word (1 Kings 5:7)? Help us to welcome Jesus Christ, “the Word made flesh”, the living Word who “dwells among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Help us to welcome Him as “Emmanuel – God with us” (Matthew 1:23). May we rejoice greatly when Jesus stands among us as our loving Saviour, when He comes to us as the risen Lord, when He speaks to us as Your living Word.
1 Kings 6:14-7:12
We read about Solomon – he built “his own house”, and he built “the House of the Lord” (1 Kings 6:37-7:1). Which was the most important to him? Which is most important to us – pleasing ourselves or serving You? Help us, Lord, not to be “lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure”. “Lovers of God” – this is what You call us to be (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Help us, Lord, to keep on making our choice – to become the kind of people that You want us to be.
1 Kings 7:13-8:13
Lord, You’re calling us to choose the life of fruitful service – “gold, silver, precious stones”. You’re calling us to leave behind the unfruitful life – “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Help us to hear and answer Your call: “Rise up, O Church of God. Have done with lesser things. Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings”.
1 Kings 8:14-53
What, Lord, is most important to us – the person who leads us in worship, the place where we worship, or the God whom we worship? We know what our answer should be – but, often, our lives tell a very different story. Help us, when we worship, to learn that nothing and no-one can ever be more important than You. May our lives start catching up with the lessons that we learn when we are reading Your Word.
1 Kings 8:54-9:28
What is happening, Lord, when we are gathered together for worship? Is this merely a human thing, something that we do? – No! there is something more than this. Before we even thought of coming to Your House, You were there waiting for us. You welcome us. You speak Your Word to us: “Let your heart be wholly true to the Lord your God” (1 Kings 8:61). You’re calling us into a life of “joy and gladness” – a life of “walking before You with integrity of heart” (1 Kings 8:66; 1 Kings 9:4). This is true worship. It’s not just something that we do on a Sunday morning. It’s learning to walk with You all the days of our life. Lord, help us to worship You today – and every day.
1 Kings 10:1-11:13
We look, Lord, at “King Solomon” – and we see ourselves! “He was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:23). We like to think that we’re ‘getting on in the world.’ There was something seriously wrong with Solomon – “His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God …he did not follow the Lord completely” (1 Kings 11:4,6). This is our problem. There’s too much of the world in our way of life – and not enough of You, Lord! How much do the things of this world really matter – if we don’t have Jesus as our Saviour (Mark 8:36)?
1 Kings 11:14-12:24
“Do not go up to fight against your brothers” (1 Kings 12:24). Lord, Your Word seems so simple – but we don’t always listen to what You’re saying to us! Less ‘This is what I think’ and more ‘What is the Lord saying to me?” – that’s what we need. Help us, Lord, to listen to You – and to be changed by Your Word.
1 Kings 12:25-13:34
“A son shall be born” (1 Kings 13:2). There would be a new king and a better future. Where, Lord, does our hope for the future come from? Does it come from earthly kings? No! It comes from Jesus, our Saviour. He’s the “King of kings.” He’s the “Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). We read the words of prophecy: “to us a child is born … a son.” We read what Your Word says about Him. He is “Wonderful.” From Him, we receive wonderful blessings (Isaiah 9:6-7). Thank You, Lord, for Your Son, Jesus.
1 Kings 14:1-15:8
What are we to do when everything seems to be hopeless? – We turn to You, Lord. You are the God of hope. Our hope is in You. You can turn things around. Your love changes everything. Your love changes us. Thank You, Lord, for Your love. It’s Your love that gives us hope for the future. We look to the future – and we look to You. We say, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
1 Kings 15:9-16:28
“Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord … The heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days” (1 Kings 15:11,14). Lord, help us to be more like Asa – to put You first in our lives. You want to take control of our attitudes and our actions. Change us, Lord. Change the way we think. Change the way we live. May pleasing You be our top priority – the thing that matters most to us.
1 Kings 16:29-18:16
We read about Elijah: “The Word of the Lord came to Elijah”; “You are a man of God and the Word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 18:1; 1 Kings 17:24). You’re challenging us to be all that You’re calling us to be – people who love You, people who are listening to You and speaking for You, people who are living for You. Lord, help us to rise to the challenge: to live as Your people, people who know You, love You and serve You.
1 Kings 18:17-19:21
Life is full of ups and downs. There are high-points – “The fire of the Lord fell” and “all the people said, ‘The Lord, He is God’” ( 1 Kings 18:37-39), and there are low-points – ”O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4). Lord, we are so changeable. Sometimes, we’re full of joy. At other times, we’re at the point of despair. We find ourselves in a turmoil of confused and confusing emotions. What are we to do? What can we do? Can we pull ourselves together? We try – but we fail. Lord, help us to look beyond our own efforts. Help us to look to You, to believe that You can change us, You can come to us in our weakness, You can give us Your strength – the strength that we need to love You more and bring more glory to Your Name, the Name of our salvation.
1 Kings 20:1-43
Sometimes, Lord, we say, “I can’t” when we really mean, “I won’t.” We decide what’s important to us. You look at our chosen way of life, and You say, “You yourself have decided it.” You see our self-centred life, and You say, “So shall your judgment be” (1 Kings 20:40). Can we change? Yes! You say to us, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what You have to do” (1 Kings 20:12). You say to us, “Be strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:10). Help us to “wait on You and renew our strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
1 Kings 21:1-22:14
We rejoice in Your Word of forgiveness and eternal life (1 John 1:9; 1 John 5:11-12). When our hearts grow cold and we start taking Your love and Your blessing for granted, help us to pay careful attention to the Gospel warning: “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3). Help us, Lord, when we hear Your Word, not to keep it to ourselves: “What the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14).
1 Kings 22:15-53
We read, Lord, about Ahaziah – “He …provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father (Ahab) had done” (1 Kings 22:51-53). We read about Jesus– “I do as the Father commanded Me” (John 14:31). Help us, Lord, not to be like Ahaziah – he walked in the ways of his father … the ways of sin” (1 Kings 22:52). Help us to be like Jesus – walking in the ways of our Heavenly Father.