Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Session 1: Phil Pringle

The first session was a welcome and tone-setting by Phil Pringle. He said it was going to be a ramble, not a precise sermon with clear points so that's how I listened to it. I'm going to summarise his points as concisely and accurately as I can. No straw men here.

1. Christians need the Holy Spirit to be able to live the Christian life. You have to live through Acts before you can live through the epistles.

2. We must pray for God's kingdom to come. We have to pray and then be the fulfilment of that prayer. When the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the prisoners set free, that's when the kingdom has come.

3. We can't turn disasters or sicknesses into objects of theological discussion. We should be weeping about it. Problems exist to be solved. They are opportunities for God to be seen. God's power is breakthrough in your life for you to have massive breakthrough. Power is to open the eyes of the blind, raise the dead, set the prisoner free.

Overall I think there's some good and bad in this one. Top of the pile goes to the comment about being the solution to our prayers. The kingdom comes when people take action to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is not just about bumper stickers or going to church on Sundays, it's about the lives we live. 

Right next to it comes the comment about evil in the world. Jesus told his disciples that evil is not necessarily anyone's fault, it's just there and God wants us to be part of the solution, regardless of whether the evil is man-made or natural. This taps into the larger theological debates on theodicy.

Where we disagree is in definition of power. Pringle interprets power as signs and wonders, and uses biblical texts out of context to support this. His use of 1 Cor 1&2 misses the sense in which Christ is power as social and community power. Christ is power to be indifferent to social hierarchies, to act beyond them with impunity.

I also think there's something deficient in the, almost narcissistic, notion that God's power is for your own personal breakthrough. I think this is half the story. God's power is for the transformation of the individual and the transformation of the world. Framing it as breakthrough or conquest gives it a spirit that doesn't come from the New Testament. Also (and this is anecdotal only) most stories I hear about people praying for breakthrough are first world problems. Most of the audience were first worlders, already with enough provision in our lives, but needing modesty in our consumption.

He made a couple of historical errors along the way but they didn't detract from his message.

That'll do for now. I really hope this is taken in the spirit it was intended: a genuine representation of what was said, an engagement with those ideas, and not a personal attack on anyone.

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