At our last Foundations session, we finished our two-part series on 'Pneumatology' - i.e. our theology of the Holy Spirit. Our focus this time was on the Word / Spirit balance. How has that balance been struck throughout Church histories? What about those who believe the spiritual gifts have ceased, and the Word must remain the focal point? What about those who believe the Spirit must be given free reign in the Church?
We addressed each of these questions and more in this session. It's a complex subject, one that requires us to be attentive to the details. On the one hand, the New Testament does describe spiritual gifts, and much of the modern Church takes it for granted that these are still operative today. On the other hand, the New Testament also emphasises the centrality and sufficiency of the Word - it must be given the supremacy, as it is itself a gift of the Spirit.
Find a full set of notes below!
I. The Awesome Sound
Imagine waking up in a great concert hall amongst a vast congregation of singers. The first thing you hear is a wondrous song, a musical masterpiece, proceeding from the stage at the centre of a circular arena. The sound, though not particularly loud at first, is filled with a thousand perfect harmonies. The intertwined music and lyrics seem more ancient than you can possibly imagine, but at the same time refreshing and relevant. The song never seems to end, and yet it somehow stays entirely captivating, telling a great tale of many movements. It is easily the most beautiful music you have ever heard.
Your heart is gripped in awe, and you are drawn to the source to which all the audience direct their voices. You gaze in the same direction, for on the stage is an awesome scene: a throne, overarched by a rainbow. The One sitting on it has the appearance of precious gems, and next to the throne there is an empty bloodstained cross. All around the throne is a host of musicians and vocalists, young and old, addressing their various sounds to the One in echo of His song. In front of them stands the Conductor, and you realise that you somehow know Him; He has the appearance of the Son of Man. You notice a large songbook in front of you. You pick it up in the hope of confirming what your memory is telling you. The title reads: “The Holy Word of God and The Gospel of Grace: The Wisdom by which the Earth was founded and the Heavens Established”, followed by the conductor’s name, “The Word who was with God in the beginning and is God, Who dwelt amongst humanity for their redemption”.
Now you remember. He is the One who saved you from the state you used to be in; the One who rescued you from the sea of destruction.
After twenty-five sessions, spanning almost a year and a half, the Foundations course has finally come to a close! (Well, for the first years at least...!)
In this last session, our focus turned to Christ's triumphant return. We started by establishing the Resurrection as the start of God's 'eschatological stopwatch' - to paraphrase Chesterton, we in its wake live in a different world. We are in the end times, and have been since Jesus rose from the dead.
We then saw how the NT was written in an atmosphere of 'apocalyptic expectation' - in keeping with OT books such as Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, as well as some non-canonical texts such as the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Wisdom.
Right in the middle of all this, we get the Book of Revelation. Dionysius of Alexandria said of it that there is a "concealed and more wonderful meaning in every part". Indeed, we saw how the first three chapters establish the theme of 'Church as Israel', and then how the rest is like a pastiche of apocalyptic expectation - referencing Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc. We then looked at Jesus' own eschatology in the Gospels, as well as the significance of the millennium described in Rev 20.
Finally, at the very end of all things (literally and figuratively), we described God's great plan to sum all things up in Christ.
For in the heavenly city of God, God is a bridegroom for a bride.
In this city - God is God, and we will be satisfied in him as God.
In this city - God is God, and God is Christlike.
In this city - Kings and nations will cast their glory at Jesus' feet.
In this city - the rebellion has been quashed.
In this city - the Kingdom is no longer 'at hand', it is come.
In this city - there is a new humanity, reigning with Christ.
So we see the fulfilment of the Father's exaltation of the Son, by the Spirit. In the heavenly city, sat with Christ on the riverside, he will look at us and say, "See, now I am exalted - and with me you are highly lifted up!"
God is God. God is Christlike. God Wins.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Second year TTS students - click here for the S25 notes! If you can't remember your password, please do get in touch.
Following our last Foundations session, in which we examined our theology of Scripture, we last night paused our study of 2 Timothy to pick up some left-over threads.
In particular, we asked two questions:
First, how ought we to receive Scripture? Answer: by the Spirit, through the Church. God's people are shaped by the Gospel Word, and are indeed a people of the Word. The Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth [1 Tim 3:15]. It's no surprise, then, that through the Spirit we have received the Canon of Scripture. This is a complex topic, with a complex history, but last night we looked at why we have 66 books, and why we in the Protestant tradition believe these (and only these) to be God-breathed.
Second, how ought we to use Scripture? Answer: prayerfully, with God's people, and with care for the primary sense. We started to explore some of this in practice, but we'll no doubt unpack this more in future weeks.
Find full notes below!
(NOTE: we weren't able to discuss even half of what I had prepared last night, which is obviously fine - but there are plenty of other subjects covered in the notes, if you're interested. E.g. how would we respond to the Roman Catholic charge that the canon presents a challenge to Sola Scriptura? What's the relationship between Scripture and the Church? Can we disagree with the creeds, for example? All this and more.)
Last night we met for our seventeenth Foundations session, completing our two-part study of Pneumatology. (Our theology of the Holy Spirit.)
In view was a subject of great importance to the modern Evangelical - how exactly do we hold the Word / Spirit balance? In what way does the Spirit serve the Word? How do spiritual gifts function, why do some believe the gifts have ceased entirely, and at what point does a person's spiritual illumination become authoritative for others?
We learned that these are age-old questions. The Church has been here before, and it's God's kindness that we can learn from historical examples.
Second year TTS students - click here for the S17 notes!
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