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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

To find our way around God's city


 

“Of course, you will have to forget everything you have learned so far!”

 

It’s October, 1967 and I am having my first supervision with our Director of Studies in economics, the redoubtable Dorothy Hahn, who scared the pants off me. 

 

She brusquely declared that Alan and I would have to unlearn almost everything we had learned in A-level economics.  It was not necessarily wrong as such (although sometimes it was) but often so truncated as to be misleading.  You need to understand – she patiently explained - how the whole economy works, how all the parts fit together.  That’s the challenge.

 

It’s been a similar journey with my life as a Christian, a disciple of Jesus.  So much of what I learned fifty years ago, I now realise, was if not actually wrong, then simplistic, even flawed. .And much of my experience since then has been trying to unlearn what I once thought as foundational.

 

Over the years some bible teachers have been hugely instrumental.  George Ladd, as explained by John Wimber, opened my eyes to the centrality of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching.  Up to then I don’t think I had ever heard the Kingdom of God as such included in any sermon.

 

And another key person in my unlearning/learning journey has been Tom Wright, aka N T Wright.  I well remember being bowled over by his book The challenge of Jesus which I read in one go while stuck on a train between Penkridge and Stafford in 2002.

 

Sadly, I think a lot of Christians get stuck in their thinking on a train between Penkridge and Stafford. 

 

So my latest station is Tom Wright’s new book Into the heart of Romans, subtitled “a deep dive into Paul’s greatest letter." The cover notes explain, helpfully expanding my metaphor: “With a special focus on Romans 8, Wright leads you on an eye-opening journey, clearly explaining the many ways in which Paul throws light on so much else that God reveals in Scripture.”

 

It’s hard work, even though Wright is a clear writer, frequently repeating himself on the key points.  I need to go slowly and often reread the more important sections, as he painstakingly explains this most important chapter in Paul’s most important letter. 

 

And he is aware that much of what he is teaching is undoing what many of us learned as new Christians and what many disciples continue to believe today.  For example, the so-called Roman road, which goes – as he recounts – like this:

1.     I’m a sinner, deserving God's wrath

2.    Jesus died for my sins

3.    I believe in Jesus

4.    I will go to heaven.

 

The journey – as Wright explains – is far more exciting and rewarding than this.  Not least that “going to heaven” is the wrong destination, derived not from the Bible but from classical Greece.  Instead our destinations is a “new heaven and new earth,” 

 

The reality is that God's purpose is to reclaim his entire creation, to be “liberated from its bondage to decay”. (Romans 8:21). And more, we as those who bear God’s very image are to have a key role.  “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10).

 

All very exciting, but why bother?  Reading theology, even by Tom Wright, can be  hard work. Why not just live for Jesus and not get bogged down in doctrine?  After all there’s some nice countryside between Penkridge and Stafford.  Just enjoy the view.

 

Surprisingly there’s a very apt quote from the most famous of all economists,  John Maynard Keynes (although not one best suited for today, International Women’s’ Day): “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

 

Or we could say, some defunct theologian. 

 

In the introduction to his book, Wright talks about the “knowledge” acquired by London taxi drivers.  You may know that this may take up to two years, not just by driving but walking around the capital, memorizing, taking notes, figuring out one-way systems and learning rat runs.  So much so that their hippocampus enlarges as their spatial awareness is enhanced. 

 

Essentially they understand how London fits together, how the city works, invaluable for their craft.  In fact, that’s why I prefer to walk.  And if it’s too far, to take the bus rather than the tube. 

 

Going to see Mike and Betty last month (“Good morning, Mike”), for example, we took the 155 and after all these years I finally discovered Clapham, of “the man on the omnibus” fame.  So that’s where it is! And I never realised Clapham Common was so big – and there’s a ParkRun there. 

 

Similarly our key task has to understand how God works, how the Kingdom of God fits together, not least because his modus operandi is usually diametrically opposed to what so-called common sense would suggest.

 

So the apostle Paul writes: “‘Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ Incredible as it may sound, we who are spiritual have the very thoughts of Christ!” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

 

Such is the gift of the Holy Spirit that we may enter the very mind of God, an investment we all need to make if we are to enjoy the journey of following Jesus.

 

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