Avocado Toast, the Members of the Body, and How Avocado is Not Bacon

JST had been nagging me to stop being such a fruitist and to give the avocado another chance. As a child, I’d detested the texture of the thing – tasteless, fatty, mashable. When compared with the exciting crisp sweet tartness of the apples that I adored or the rich umami sunshine of the tomatoes I ate by the basketful, the avo was a dud.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) - avocado and Meredith feta mash, with mint and lemon on rye toast, with a poached eggMy first taste of the thing again in adulthood was in Melbourne just last month, where avocado toast was a hipster cafe menu staple. At the Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda, Melbourne) with HM, I tried their rendition – an avocado and Meredith feta mash, with mint and lemon on rye toast, with a poached egg. Delicious.

avocado toast with bacon
Regent's CanalThen in London, LH kindly had me round for breakfast, and there, gloriously, was avocado toast with crisp bacon. Arguably, anything tastes better with bacon, but this demonstrated an important fact of life that fools like me keep forgetting: we measure everyone by some arbitrary standard (eg. must have tartness) and dismiss those who don’t conform as failures. But it would be silly of us not to consider how to use the unique characteristics of different things to fulfil other purposes (eg. avocado as foil to dry toast, as a neutral base for other flavours).

avocado toast with cherry tomatoes and prosciuttoI guess that’s very useful wisdom for all of life: when managing colleagues at work, when bringing up the children, when comparing ourselves to others, etc.

Of course, in last decade, the world has tried to correct this by damning any sort of standard as hegemonic and as causing the victimisation of anyone who doesn’t/can’t conform. But the worldview that undergirds this is fundamentally rusty – a sort of postmodernism that insists (when convenient) that every view is right, every trait is good, and that the self-affirmative happiness of the individual is paramount.

avocado toast with salamiIn many evangelical circles, perhaps in a wholesale stand against postmodernity, the opposite is the norm. Not only do we concern ourselves with a ranking of churches with good doctrine and teachers with good Bible handling skills, we categorise the rest of the congregation too so that on the top-most layer are the people we consider “sorted”, or “blokes/birds worth watching”.

Certain Standard, Erroneous Observation/Communication

Certainly godliness and Christ-likeness is the standard we must, as God’s saved people and adopted children, all conform to. But we will all fail at this time and again, either publicly or in the privacy of our hearts.

Further, how godliness is expressed in the minutiae in everyday life might differ. In this fallen world, there is probably wisdom in allowing for the misinterpretation of the speech and actions because of our own fallenness and/or the inadvertent miscommunication by others.

Erroneous Standard/Attribution

Evangelical circles also highly prize those with teaching and preaching gifts. Those gifts are certainly very important for the life of the church and individual Christians, because we grow by feeding on the word of God  teaching.

Perhaps our first error is to conflate godliness with good Bible-handling skills. Ability to teach is merely one of the many characteristics required of an overseer in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and is not expected of all Christians.

Perhaps our second error is to assume that only one sort of gift is valuable. What about the almost enviable gifts of encouragement or administration?

And perhaps our third error is to esteem the gift and the gifted, rather than the gifter.

And perhaps our fourth error is to forget that the gift is not for the individual (and his/her ego) but for the good of the church.

1 Corinthians 12:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”, nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. (and on to 1 Corinthians 13…)

Loads of wisdom needed. One thing is sure: avocado is not bacon.

Royal York Crescent, Clifton, Bristol

Anyway, just a mind-dump before heading out into the Bristol sunshine. JB suspects my week of working inside on Proverbs at his dining table (while the beautiful symmetry of the Royal York Crescent beckoned outside) means I don’t like Bristol much!

Bread and Cheese, and D.A. Carson on Biblical Theology

Je manger du fromage avec du pain” (“I eat cheese with bread”) was the first French phrase I learned, even before the usual “je m’appelle” (“I am called”), reflecting the central importance of those foods in my life and even, identity.

The brie de meaux is a lovely and melty (in Singapore weather) cheese with a sweet, creamy, slightly truffley, complex taste that totally cuddles up to your tastebuds. The morbier I am less effusive about – it is stronger tasting (good) but the saltiness trumps any nuance in flavour. There is a bitter aftertaste (interesting), and an almost agar-agar texture (not keen).

Accompanying the cheese, baguette au levain (sourdough baguette) from The Bread Table was a decent loaf. Its lack of an assertive depth of flavour (cf, say, Poilâne) commended it as a good base for any cheese.

There was no reason why a finicky child born and bred in Singapore, where lactose-intolerance prevailed on a sizeable chunk of the population, would take to bread and cheese so readily. It was too specific a liking and too early a proclivity to be any sort of pretension.

Photograph Wine and Cheese and Bread by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

On the subject of non-pretentiousness, we were discussing theology and the ordinary Christian, and how all Christians engage in theology, not just pouncy academics. Of course, the term could be used to mean generic academic study (in the U.K.) and systematic theology (in the U.S.), but at its heart, all these merely amount to serious discourse, reflection about God, based on the Bible.

Some points from D.A. Carson’s Introduction to Biblical Theology at The Gospel Coalition’s 2014 National Women’s Conference:

Biblical theology is interested in the temporal development themes across redemptive history. It is normally concerned with the following:

  1. What is the particularly set of theological emphases in particular book or corpus? What is contribution of Gospel of John? What is role of Moses in redemptive history? So as we study Nehemiah, we want to outline the biblical theology of Nehemiah – thinking through themes, argument, priority of Nehemiah.
  2. The examination of certain themes that run through the entire canon, where you’re keeping an eye on temporal development. What does the bible say about the temple – where is the temple first introduced? storyline? Some themes that run through the whole Bible: temple. covenant, priesthood, sacrifice, exile, creation-new creation etc.
  3. A combination of the first two: theology of a particular book, but looks backward to see what biblical themes it is taking up and looks forward to see how later books use this particular book. Carson recommended James M. Hamilton Jr’s With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology as a good example of this.

What are the ways that a good grasp of biblical theology help us to understand the Bible better, lead better Bible studies, and preach better?

    1. biblical theology directly addresses the massive biblical illiteracy prevalent in our age. If you have preaching and teaching that thinks only in terms of systematic theology, you just pull in all sort of biblical texts that seem to apply to your theme. It does not help you understand the Bible. You need to examine the flow, immediate context – what comes before and later. For example, the “fear of the Lord” is a theme in Nehemiah, but how does it work out in Nehemiah, how does it contribute in understanding Nehemiah? Look at the flowline, textline.This is also one of the aims of expository preaching. The truthfulness of what is being taught in systematic preaching is based largely on proof-texts. Rather, with expository preaching we take readers to the text and say “follow with me”. What we want to hear after the sermon is not “boy, i could not have seen it in the text” but “it is so obvious, it’s in the text”.Look at the Bible storyline – how the story of redemption is unpacked. It works with biblical categories: fear of lord, tabernacle, faith, kingship that are there in the Bible. Pointing out biblical categories is desperately important because these usual themes are incoherent to current biblically-illiterate generation. Systematic theology generally uses synthetic categories – categories that are not found in Bible, eg. trinity or cessationist. These might reflect truths but they don’t help readers understand the Bible, because when they turn to their Bibles, they don’t find these words there.
    2. biblical theology draws attention to the turning points in biblical history. If we only use bible as source book for pious thought for the day, it may be of some help, but reading like that won’t tell you how all the bits fit together.

      Turning points: creation – fall – choice of abe – beginning of covenant people of God – story of Abraham and patriarchs – Jacob and sons to Egypt – slavery – exodus – law at Sinai – tabernacle and priestly system – entrance to land – judges – united monarchy – David and davidic dynasty – splitting of kingdom – northern tribes go to captivity – southern tribes go to captivity – return and rebuilding – silence – coming of Jesus (sacrifice, temple, high priest, covenant – all categories in the new testament) – descent of Spirit in Pentecost – new heaven and new earth.

      If you know the Bible storyline well, you know how the different books fit in it. The Bible is not primarily organised on chronological grounds. For example, in the New Testament, the letters to churches come before letters to individuals. And long letters come before short ones.

    3. biblical theology enriches systematic bible reading and vice versa. This prepares the way for mature preaching. A biblically-informed parishoner is the best hearer.

    4. biblical theology encourages various kinds of integration and diversity in preaching. We can see that biblical books are of many sorts: letters, poetry, songs, narrative, discourse, curses, maledictions, oracles, apocalyptic, wisdom. Every genre of literature has its own way of making an appeal. What would be lost from the book of Genesis if i lost this chapter? What is this chapter doing in this book?
    5. biblical theology fosters inductive rigour. If we what bring to bear on the Bible first from systematic theology, then comes out of our pre-existing framework. This blinds you to what can be inductively perceived from Bible. BT therefore makes you a better interpreter of Bible.
    6. biblical theology helps you to avoid anachronism in preaching and teaching. It enables biblically-warranted connections and avoids imposing something from the big picture on the local text – this may be doctrinally right in general but anachronistically wrong in chapter.
    7. biblical theology is also fundamental for detecting one of many penetrating biblical arguments for connecting Old Testament and New Testament, and the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. See Edmund P. Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery.