Friday, April 30, 2004

Love and the Unitarian God.

For those who have trouble tackling those nice JW people who come round, here's a useful approach. One occasion where good theology is important...

Home of Farming and Sharia

Sharia law enters 'phase two' in north-west Nigeria.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Picture Alive

I read the May issue of Evangelicals Now last night. On the back page, in a report on the Word Alive Conference, it says,
Since the Proclamation Trust has withdrawn from Word Alive, some things have changed. The celebrations have become much more 'Spring Harvest' in their style. And some people were concerned about the weird practice of providing artists to sketch any vision or picture they received during the service. Word alive has become somewhat of a mixed bag...

I wouldn't like anyone to draw what I'm thinking about this...

Monday, April 26, 2004

Half-wit for Christ

I understand that for a regular preacher there is a temptation to become frustrated at the lack of change observed in the congregation following his preaching. A fruit of this frustration is a tendency to begin to moralize. He begins to preach sermons heavy in application.

I found a copy of The Craft of Sermon Illustration by W. E. Sangster in the secondhand box at St. John’s College library this morning. It only cost 30p. "Worth a punt.", I thought.

I have had a quick skim through. On page 88, he says,
We have laid it down as a rule that an illustration cannot be a good illustration if it needs to have its point laboured. Even children have long since rebelled against sententious moralizing. They become restless the moment the unskilful speaker begins 'applying' his tale.

We have pointed out that with the exceptions of the Parable of the Sower, and the wheat and the tares, Jesus never applied his parables – and even then he did so only at the disciples’ request.

He said, 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.'

That was all! It was all there, if you had a modicum of spiritual discernment to take it: tale and truth together.

That is not to say that a man may not give the point of his illustration a couple of hammer strokes when he has made it. Indeed, he would be wise to do so. But only a half-wit would confuse that with moralizing and it should be done with clean chiselled phrases which can be driven swiftly and sharply in.

Good stuff. Chiselled phrases. Interesting image.

Nor does he mince his words. Half-wit indeed.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Ron the Racist?

The has been a lot of talk about Ron Atkinson’s outburst against Marcel Desailly a couple of days ago. Was he racist? After all, he has done so much for black footballers in the UK. Does one slip of the tongue nullify all that?

A couple of years ago I came read an email on a Christian email discussion group which had a big impact on me, so I kept it. The writer is a US lawyer with a teaching ministry in his Reformed Baptist church. I quote parts of it below. (I have kept it anonymous, and edited it slightly for clarity.) As you will see, he has had to think deeply about the nature of racism:

I was raised in the segregated American South. I grew up in a completely racist culture (as the term is defined). I was taught from birth to believe that the mere fact of being white made me superior to blacks. Much of my family still believes this. So, for me, racism is not an academic question, but an issue of life, that I have had to address in some detail. In this respect, I would also say that racism is a much more complex matter than is normally believed.

In our times, "racism" is almost always (and carelessly) identified as "hatred", but it is not. A man may believe himself to be superior to another man because of his race, and yet not hate the other man. I know this because it was true in the world I grew up in. I was never taught to hate blacks. Never did my family say "hateful" things about blacks. I was never taught to be cruel to them or to desire that bad things happen to them. I never hated blacks. In fact, there was no emotion involved in the racism around me at all (that I knew of).

Now, hatred often coexists with racism, but it is not necessarily the same. Many missionaries in the 1800's had concepts that we would consider racist, yet they worked diligently to help and serve the people whom they considered inferior. Many Southern churches that were segregated by race in the US spent huge amounts of money supporting hospitals and missionaries in Africa. They did not "hate" blacks, they simply held racist thoughts about them. Abraham Lincoln believed blacks were inferior, but he cared a great deal about them.

I like to draw a distinction between the two because racism can exist without hatred, and hatred without racism. For example, I was taught to hate the Soviet Union, but I was never taught that the Soviet people were inferior by race. I was taught to think blacks were inferior by race, but never held any hatred for them.

So, back to Ron Atkinson. Does saying "nigger" make him a racist? Perhaps not. Does doing much for black players make him a non-racist? Not necessarily. As the above quote shows, racism is more complex, deeper and more pervasive than we probably realise. Ron may deserve a metaphorical stoning, but who is going to chuck the first rock?

New vs. Old

Some time ago I changed my gas supplier. New company, new contract, new price, new direct debit, new statements, new helpline number etc.

But, same underlying trust, same underlying integrity, same underlying governing laws, (i.e. same principles of conduct in supply and payment), same commodity supplied.

The current arrangement is new, and yet old. The old contract is obsolete. The new is in place. But, both were founded on lasting principles which are neither new nor obsolete.

So, how 'new' is the New Covenant?

Entertainment Centre

Iconoblog reminds me of an occasion in Germany 19 years ago. I was a PhD student staying in Mainz, Germany for a few months, working at Johannes-Guttenburg University in their elektronen-beschleuniger (electron accelerator).

One lunchtime, while walking through the campus, I came across a crowd gathered and some loud music playing. I realized that there was some mime artists working to the music. This was not the Marcel Marceu kind – you know - black cat suit, white face, pretending to be stuck behind glass. This was quite serious stuff. In fact, it didn’t take long before I realized that this was a Christian student group acting out the crucifixion story.

I found it quite powerful. I have seen lots of Christian drama since, but nothing has stuck in my mind quite so much as this. The combination of atmospheric music, slow motion skillful mime, portraying physical suffering was particularly gripping. The large crowd was gripped too. You could see them hooked.

Then it finished, the artists moved to one side and a guy got up and started speaking, obviously a student. He didn’t have a great voice or charismatic personality. But as far as I could tell from my pidjin-German he was attempting to preach the gospel.

The crowd scattered, almost instantly. They had enjoyed the drama, but come to the presentation of the truths the drama introduced and the people would not have it.

We can’t get past this kind of problem. No matter how we try and make the gospel attractive, hearers at some point must come face to face with straight, challenging, threatening, life changing, sharp, pointy, uncomfortable gospel truth. No one is in the kingdom because they found it was an entertainment centre.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Piccy Post

Another piccy from last week's trip to Islay for your edification:

This one at Port Askaig waiting for the CalMac ferry (in the background) to come and take us back to the mainland, a 2-hour trip. Look at that pond-like sea!

Grace and Works

"I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. 15:10, NKJV)

Quite striking the relationship between the provision of grace and the extent to which Paul labours. Grace is seen to be effective not in the giving of experiences, or of knowledge, but in willing, committed, work.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Right. Two things:

Firstly, change of decor. It's not right yet but it will do for now.

Secondly, Jon has prodded me (ouch) to put on a list of blogs I read. So look right... ta-ra! There are some others, but these are the main ones.

Everybody happy?


Night, night.

Family Note

Before I forget I need to mention this. Kate went back to school this morning after two and a bit weeks on holiday. It is noticeable how effective and valuable recreation is, and it shows in Kate. Towards the end of last term she was getting tired, grumpy and ‘floppy’. However, in the last few days she has been bright as a button. Lots of sleep, interesting things to do, time out with family and some friends all make a big difference.

Last Sunday afternoon she and I decided to go for a walk. Susan decided to stay at home. It was slightly drizzly, so I was surprised Kate wanted to come. But, we had great fun. There are some fields on a hill behind us. So we said 'hello' to some horses, played some silly guessing games, chatted about all sorts of things (friends, family, The Passion) as we tramped over the wet grass.

I’m increasingly impressed at Kate’s ability to think things through for herself on issues, especially faith and relationships. I enjoy listening to her opinions. But then she is growing up. This is her final term at primary school. Secondary next year – a new era!

I thank God for my family, who I love and enjoy so much. He is good.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Quick, Grab The Nearest Book

"The great instance of that, perhaps, is the Apostle Paul - you remember how he puts it - 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me' - that is Paul's way of saying that he does not understand himself any longer, he is surprised at himself, he looks at himself in amazement - Am I really this man, have I come to this, has this happened to me?"
from Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons by D.M. Lloyd-Jones (Banner of Truth 1995)


1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

(Via Semper Ubi Sub Ubi )


I have to confess to being rather pleased that Mr Blair is to call a referendum on the future European Constitution. For a long time I was strongly in favour of our involvement in the European project. But over the last few years I have become increasingly unsettled by the whole thing.

My big problem is to do with the lack of democracy. The whole structure is run by unelected officials who seem unaccountable to anyone. The hiatus of two or three years ago, where the whole commission resigned over corruption allegations, brought the position into sharp relief. Apparently nothing much has changed – only the faces. We elect Euro-MPs but they seem to have little power. No wonder so few people turn out (20-30%?) for the Euro-elections.

Therefore, to hand over more powers to the EU under a new constitution seems to be a bad idea without first dealing with the democracy deficit that exists. We need clear accountability to the people.

I have always been against referendums. It seems to me that it is often proposed as a device to sidestep parliament. We must recognise that our elected representatives are just that – representatives of the people. In electing them, we trust them to act on our behalf. If we don’t like what they do we get rid of them. Simple, huh?

However, Tony Benn made what I thought was a good point yesterday on morning TV news. (I don't appreciate his very left-wing politics, but I respect him as an advocate of democracy for the British people.) He noted that MPs are also guardians of our (i.e. British) constitution. They have no right to change it, only defend it. To change it requires consent. Therefore a referendum is necessary. This to me is a compelling argument.

The flaw I can see, however, is that we have no written constitution in this country. We have constitution by tradition and precedent. It is obscure and unclear in many areas. So to defend it is rather like trying to hold water in a basket!

Anyway, I think a referendum is a ‘good thing’.


(You can find it here.)

Yup. We had a great time. The family and I have been there several times now, but this was the first time at Easter. Some years ago we found a little house that we like so we have kept going back. It had never occurred to me before then how much difference the right place to stay can make to a holiday. It is more than simply a base from which to explore. Comfort counts! Perhaps this is just an age thing…

The journey was good (400 miles from the Midlands to the Mull of Kintyre via Glasgow to pick up Susan’s Mum) and the weather was reasonable: 2 days of rain, 2 of dry-but overcast, 2 of glorious sunshine.

We did a bit of walking and exploring the towns. They are very small in comparison to the mainland. The main industries are farming/crafting and the whisky industry. Islay is a famous for its peaty whisky. It has eight distilleries and a ninth coming soon. Bunnahabhain (pronounced boona-haavin, emphasis on the first and third syllables) is my favourite: peaty, yet a rich honey smoothness. Mmm.

On Easter Sunday, we went to the local Church of Scotland in Port Ellen. It was a communion Sunday so I think that is why it was pretty full, maybe 100 people. The hymns were great (good singing). Communion was well led.

Shame about the preaching. In the Easter sermon, the preacher denied the importance of the bodily resurrection of Christ. Rather the experience of the resurrected Christ is the most important thing. The influence of 20th century liberal writers was clear. There was a distinct note of the Christ-of-faith vs. the Jesus-of-history distinction made by these writers. As ever, truth is mixed with error. Experience is important, but history is vital. Otherwise there is no gospel, and we would be in no better position than buddists and others.

From experience this is par for the course in Islay. There is no gospel witness in the CoS. There is a small conservative Baptist church in Port Ellen, but it is very weak. Spiritually the picture is grim.

But overall, we had a good time. It all ended too soon. I had to be back home for Sunday, so we came home a day early.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Back from Hols

Well, we're back. I might post some reflections later, but for now here is a view from one of those 'big sky' days on Islay last Friday...

The mountains under the clouds are the Paps of Jura. They are quite an imposing feature normally, but on this day...

Friday, April 09, 2004

Bye, Bye.

We are off to Islay for a week, the island of 'big sky' and malt whisky (note the true spelling). So needless to say I will not be blogging...

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Tactical Withdrawal

I have been revising some of my study plans over the last day or two. I have rapidly come to the conclusion that I am in real trouble with Hebrew Grammar. There are a number of factors:

1) I didn't make the progress through the material I wanted to last semester. I only covered 75% of the work. And you could tell from the result of the exam - a measley 45%. Probably one of the worst results I have ever had.

2) Though I am learning I don't believe I am doing so fast enough. I am not sure, given a fair wind, that I would be able to catch up enough to get through the final exam.

3) The wind is not fair! After Easter I have a number of deadlines over the six weeks after Easter which, on reflection will make it difficult not to lose significantly more ground in Hebrew before the exam.

As a result I have real doubts that I will perform sufficiently well in the exam to pass the double module.

Therefore I am faced with making a strategic decision not to continue with Hebrew this semester in order to make sure of passing other subjects. I think this is the wise choice. Perhaps I can come back to it at some later stage.

I am very disappointed about this. I believe that a grasp of the biblical languages makes one a better expositor. It's not that I think I can't do it, it's just that I can't do it fast enough!

Monday, April 05, 2004

Getting Passionate

The presence of The Passion is beginning to be felt. Church friends are seeing it. Family members are seeing it. Preachers are mentioning it in sermons. It's bothering me.

This comparison may seem a little crude but it has been flitting through my mind over the last few days. Imagine this: a Christian friend says, "I think I'll take a trip down to the local lapdancing club tonight."


"Well, you know, these girls who dance are really quite artistic. They really are good at what they do, and I think their art should be appreciated."

"What about the effect they have on your mind and your relationship with your wife?"

"No problem. I really don't think it's an issue. Come on. It's only art!"

But we all know there is an issue with the 7th commandment ('You shall not commit adultery'), don't we? If you want to obey it, you don't go putting yourself in places where it is difficult, if not impossible, to obey forever after. Not even for the sake of art. It makes sense.

So what about the 2nd commandment? Are we to place ourselves in a situation in which this commandment will be difficult to obey, too?

But then, as sophisticated 21st century Christians we don't believe that idolatry is an issue, do we? Sex? Yes. Idolatry? No.

Martha, the Cows Are in the Corn

Excellent post on Iconoblog on the differnce between hymns and choruses. LOL at both examples!

Friday, April 02, 2004

Mobile phones - Aaahhh!

Katie's friends have all been getting moby phones as christmas/birthday/early birthday presents. The pressure is beginning to be felt. Here are the symptoms.

Katie's friends who come round, eyes glued to the little screen, at most monosyllabic, usually downright rude.

Then they want to tell you the contents of their vacuous yet copious text messages. Yawn.

Kate is beginning to ask, "When can I have one?"

"When you can pay for it", I say.

"Where can I get a job?"

"You're not old enough." (she's 10)

"When can I have one?"

Ever feel you are going round in circles? How did we cope before the advent of this essential technology, I ask you?

But then, I am now an ancient, boring Dad after all...

Paul's Method

Prompted by Roy Joslin's Urban Harvest I have been considering Acts 14:8-20. Joslin uses it to illustrate preaching to the 'working man'.

But here's a conundrum I can't resolve yet. Following the healing of a man, the people want to worship Paul and Barnabas. In horror, they address the crowd. And here's the problem: Christ is not preached. Perhaps the preaching of Christ is implicit in v15: "...we are bringing you good news...". But the fact that it is not explicit suggests to me that Paul's evangelistic method is not the main emphasis here, but something else.

Am I off track here?

I think I need to raid more of my bookshelves...