Monday, June 28, 2004

The Lord is One

Calvin's Institutes I.xii.1-3
Calvin is at pains to show how the fact that 'the Lord is one' (Mk 12:29) is more than just a matter of a name, but extends to his nature. In other words, there is to be no, however subtle, transferring of power or attributes to other beings in our minds. Clearly, Calvin had in his sights the way in which Roman Catholicism viewed Saints. It had got used to the idea that Saints had special powers and to whom application should be made for the benefits of those powers. However, the principle is seen in paganism too. While the concept of the supreme Being remains, effectively attributes of God are thought to be distributed amongst lesser gods.

(What’s the modern secularised equivalent?)

Calvin goes on to note that God as Lawgiver has also defined how right worship should be offered. This is to be expanded upon in later sections.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Good Reading

...I do believe that over the years of reading Owen I have probably read almost every word that he ever published, and for that reason it has been a delight to go back to read particularly his teaching on the Holy Spirit. But for the same reason I, more and more, have been deeply daunted, largely because as I have read parts of Owen's work I have discovered that he knew a great deal more about the Holy Spirit than I believed he knew the last time I read him.
Sinclair Ferguson, "John Owen on the Holy Spirit #1"
This quote underlines rather well the value of re-reading good books. More can be learned the second time round. I just need to get round to reading Owen for the first time...

Friday, June 25, 2004

More on The Imperative of Preaching

Some days ago I posted an entry on John Carrick's book The Imperative of Preaching. In my note I wrote that, "...the method seeks to draw people into the text where they see themselves." Carrick questions what this kind of 'quasi-applicatory' statement means. I confess this kind of statement baffles me too.

This stimulated a rather long comment (see the exchange here) from Al Roberts which, at the time, I was unable to respond to. In it, Al emphasised the role of the narrative of redemption for the believer. Doctrine must be seen in the context of this narrative in order that the believer may make sense of it.

I infer from the remainder of his comment that Al sees that the believer is drawn into the narrative by corporate participation in the liturgy of worship. Thus, he gave a lengthy description of the narrative nature of the complete liturgy of worship. Each element of the liturgy re-enacts the 'drama of redemption', of which preaching forms a part.

Though I may question some of the ways that Al describes the elements of liturgy (to do so in detail would be beyond the scope of this post!) I believe there is much value in what he says. If I remember correctly (I have lent the book to a friend!), Michael Horton makes a similar argument in his book A Better Way. Horton's targets are those who seek to subvert worship unwittingly by forgetting this drama and instead introducing other elements to a service in order to make the service 'relevant', 'seeker-friendly' etc. In forgetting God's drama one instantly loses the majesty and wonder of the mighty acts of God in redemption.

I heard Joey Pipa once say that the modern battle over forms of worship is not one between those who want liturgy and those who don't. In worship everyone has a liturgy. There is just good liturgy and bad liturgy. He was right. An integrated view of worship as a drama which reflects the mighty acts of God in redemption has has much to commend it, in my view.

Having said all this, these comments have a wider scope than the work of John Carrick in The Imperative of Preaching. Carrick's work is limited strictly to preaching, one element of liturgy. (Al admits to not having read the book and so took his lead from my earlier comments about it.) What drives Carrick is the growing influence of the redemptive-historical homiletic method of the likes of James T. Dennison. This method emphasises the indicatives of the faith to the exclusion of the imperatives, the typological over the exemplary, the descriptive over the prescriptive etc. Carrick notes that the absence an "ethical preaching thrust" in such preaching goes against the method of Scripture itself.

Richard Gaffin has said, "The exhortations of the New Testament are the clear indication that new obedience does not result automatically in the life of the justified." (See The Imperative, p. 144) In other words, the method of explicating Scripture without exhortation while believing that in doing so the Holy Spirit independently makes application in each believer, goes against the NT method.

Gaffin's comments are interesting, since he is a key proponent of the hermeneutical method of Biblical Theology, which the Redemptive-Historical preachers also espouse. However, Gaffin is able to make the distinction between particular hermeneutic of Biblical Theology and the particular homiletic of Redemptive-Historical preaching. In doing so he is faithful to the indicative/imperative dualism of Scripture.

Carrick in no way excludes the role of Biblical Theology in informing preaching. Indeed the developments over the last century in understanding, for example, the place of eschatology in relation to soteriology are welcomed. However, the Redemptive-Historical homiletic method has reshaped preaching in an unhealthy and unbiblical way. It is this that Carrick seeks to correct in The Imperative of Preaching.


Calvin's Institutes I.xi.1-16
Mr C. engages in a lengthy discussion on the use of images. I suppose it must be remembered that he is speaking from a context where the use of images in worship was a matter of great controversy. It is perhaps no less so in this visual age, and at a time where film-making can portray Christ in compelling ways. I have written about The Passion of the Christ here.

Calvin says a number of interesting things:
  • He sees the prohibition of Exodus 20:4 as absolute. There are to be not visual representations of God. While recognizing that God at times appeared in some physical form in the OT, nowhere were the Israelites given the go-ahead to depict such appearances in worship. More specifically, Calvin goes on to say,
    The fact that God from time to time appeared in the form of a man was the prelude to his future revelation in Christ. Therefore the Jews were absolutely forbidden so to abuse this pretext as to set up for themselves a symbol of deity in human form. (p.102, Battles)
    This is quite significant, I think, since his argument could conceivably be extended to the use of images of Christ himself. Some would argue that Christ, in whom all the fullness of God dwelt, who, as the perfect man, was the perfect image of the invisible God, can be legitimately be depicted in various ways. Yet, Calvin's observation could appear to apply here too. In other words, all temporary forms in which God appeared in history, even as Jesus himself, are not to be used as justification for representing God in human form. Some work would be required to make the argument watertight, though.

  • Calvin condemns the Gregorian doctrine that "images are the books of the uneducated". He simply counters with the observation that ordinary people should not be uneducated in spiritual matters. If there was true preaching of the word there would be no need for such arguments! In this modern age, this is a relevant observation. More and more, modern attempts to overcome the lack of knowledge of the unbeliever, and often now the believer, involve a turning to the use of visual methods. Calvin's argument could just as well be leveled now: we need better preaching not other methods.

  • His famous comment, "man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols" (p.108, Battles). In practice, this means that " tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived." Since man has this root problem, images are appealing, but tend to "bend the mind".

  • There is a right use of images and sculpture since art is a gift of God. However, since representations of God are excluded, we must represent only that which can be seen with the eyes. Some pictures and sculpture are used to depict history or past events, which have some use in education, while others only offer pleasure. Calvin notes that the churches of the time have almost exclusively the latter. (I'll have to take his word for it. The modern use of crucifixes immediately springs to mind, which was of course an historical event. Are crucifixes a relatively modern innovation?)

    Clearly he is speaking in the light of RC practice. Having dealt with images of God in human form, perhaps here he has in mind depictions of biblical characters in the historical scenes of Scripture. These may be useful. But this may be in contrast to the prevalent use of statues and pictures of apostles, prophets and other saints as part of worship.


Oh dear.

Honestly, I did cheer for England, as best I could. Paul, you'll back me up. Won't you?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Calvin Stating the Obvious?

Calvin's Institutes I.x.1-3
Calvin has already shown how creation witnesses to the attributes of God. He has also shown that the fact that sin goes unpunished points to a future day of vindication for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked. (See I.v.1-10)

Now he seeks to show that Scripture also attests to the same attributes.

I have to confess that I find his line of reasoning difficult here. Earlier, Calvin has made bold assertions about the way nature attests to the glory of God. Yet due to the corruption of man, the 'spectacles' of Scripture are required in order to see nature's proclamation. This perhaps explains why the Psalms are used extensively to demonstrate the witness of creation. Now, in this section, he says Scripture agrees with this testimony. Well, obviously! If Scripture is creation's interpreter to corrupted minds then what else should we expect?

Perhaps there is value in stating the obvious, though. Sometimes, having heard something explained, people do not take the next obvious step. We can be a bit dull at times.

Password. Password?

Does anyone know why Iconoblog is now asking me for a name and a password?

He'll be asking for cash next...

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Physicists on Voting

Physicists in Poland make themselves useful by coming up with a voting formula for the EU. Full paper here.

Reading Resumption

Stuart Olyott spoke last year at the EFCC Prayer conference on What books should I buy and read? The tape, which I listened to a few days ago, was very helpful for a number of reasons. In one particularly helpful anecdote, he told of how he only knew three people who had read all of the complete works of John Owen. (He knew lots who had read some.) For two of those three, their method was simple: to read some for 15 minutes a day. In doing so they managed to make their way through the complete works. It is amazing what progress can be made with such little steps!

Having 11 unread volumes of Owen on my shelves (and I don't have the other five), and many others too, Olyott's comments have spurred me on. Some time ago I began reading Calvin's Institutes. Part of the motivation for this was that I was finding that some of the people in church had begun labelling me as a 'calvinist'. I had never used this label of myself to anyone, yet some had picked up my theological biases. I was not offended, though I was somewhat embarrassed, since I had never actually read any Calvin! So I thought I had better find out what he actually said.

About four months ago I started commenting on it as I read through it. I was surprised at how warm-hearted Calvin is, which made it an enjoyable read (though the language is still rather old-fashioned). However, it was only a brief exercise as other things crowded out this reading. My last comment was in March.

But now the time is ripe to resume, and I do so below. I should note that this exercise is primarily for my own benefit. I would not be offended if some reading this who are well read in Calvin politely skip over these posts!

Calvin's Institutes i.ix.1-3

Calvin points out how there are some who will often appeal to the guidance of the Holy Spirit at the expense of the reading and understanding of Scripture. But he notes that the words given to the prophets are to be with us for ever (Isa 59.21). They are not abolished with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Thus reading it, listening to it being read, taught and preached remain vital to the the modern Christian.

The Spirit does not deviate from Scripture. But this does not mean that somehow He is bound by some dead letter. Rather, since he is the source of Scripture he cannot deviate since to do so would be for Him to contradict Himself. In consequence, Word and Spirit are inseparably bound.

This must be so in our experience, surely? To put a low value on personal interaction with the Bible is to implicitly reveal a low value placed on the Spirit of God. We may not admit to it, but isn't it true nonetheless?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Free at Last! Free at Last!

Exams are finished. I think they went OK. The pastoral exercise on Wednesday was not as difficult as it might have been. This consisted of a difficult marriage situation for a couple connected with a church, one a believer, one not, one having an affair the other not knowing about it at a very late stage. Biblical principles? How to untangle it? What practical steps would you take? etc

Greek Texts was OK, though only OK. This consisted of translation of set passages, parsing of words, writing exegetical notes. First two were straightforward. The last was a bit tricky since it was on a passage I had not revised well for. Muddled through, though.

The best part was catching up with some of the other students. Spent some time blethering to Al Roberts about blogging which was fun. May be it's just me but are students getting younger these days? You wouldn't think so from his blog! Here's a picture I took of Al just before the Greek exam:


It was good to catch up with Rob W and Jonathan B too. They are more my age!

Now I'm free...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

News and Help

In case you haven't noticed, posting has been a bit sporadic. This is because I have exams tomorrow (Christian Ministry) and Thursday (Greek). Travel down to ETCW this evening, back Thursday, late.

By the way, just to show practical care and concern, I really am sorry about this. If any English readers want get together and talk about it, I have a willing ear to listen to anyone grieving at this sad time.

I promise to try my best not to smirk or snort uncontrollably.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Some Snooping

During my recent sojourn to Messy Christian's blog a couple of weeks ago I got into a discussion over whether or not elders may 'rule' a church, and what the nature of that rule is. This person occasionally writes for this blog.

While perusing that blog, I noticed that under the "In my Library" section there was a recent one ('The Lost Message of Jesus') by Steve Chalke. This book has proved controversial, and a scathing review of it appeared in last month's Evangelicals Now.

Some will remember that Steve Chalke became a bit of a darling of the evangelical scene in the UK in the 90's. A Baptist pastor, engaging speaker, good looking he had quite an impact. He was even the main speaker at a mission in Derby in 1995. Susan and I took some neighbours to hear him.

Not only this, he had a growing interest in reaching inner cities - youth, addicts, homeless etc. His vehicle for this was the Oasis Trust which gained significant support from churches and evangelical organisations throughout the UK. Such was his impact that he began to appear regularly on GMTV. He had the kudos that other evangelicals did not have because he was helping to meet real physical needs.

My wife Susan wrote to him at the height of his popularity. She was concerned that once in the media spotlight he would lose his gospel focus. She received a very gracious reply from his office and thanked her for her concern.

However, his book shows that her and my fears have been realised. Amongst the several points made in the EN review was the denial of penal substitution (i.e. that Christ came and died as our perfect substitute to take the penalty of God's wrath that we deserved). Paraphrasing Packer in his lecture What did the Cross Achieve?, penal substitution is a distinguishing mark of evangelicalism. But for Chalke, the penal substitution theory presents us with
"a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed, morally dubious in total contradiction to the statement 'God is love'"p.182, according to EN.
Thus, Chalke has decisively moved away from an evengelical position.

Why am I telling you this? Well I was just surprised to see it listed on the !oxgen blog, that's all. Of course, I can't tell the reasons why the writer(s) may want to read the book - I may even read it myself in due time. Yet, most people have no problem advertising what they would also recommend.

But I went a little further. In discussing the issue of 'rule' mentioned above, my friend suggested I read an article on Rom 13:1,2 posted on the !oxegen website. What's interesting is that the author is the creator and a contributor to the website Jesus Radicals. What's this? It's a website for Christian Anarchists! I have not read very many of the articles here, but the underlying philosophy of this group is the anarchism of writers such as Noam Chomsky and others. In this mode of thinking there is an intense distrust of any heirarchical power structure. In it's Christian manifestation, there is an intense distrust of any form of power structure in the church. The site contains articles denying that any authority inside and outside the church, except that of Jesus, is biblically authorised and mandated. Hence I believe I have found the source of my opponents arguments - a political philosophy which serves as a filter by which Scripture is interpreted.

One last final point: on that same site, there are a couple of papers denying the penal substitution theory of the atonement!

Is there a connection between Christian anarchism and this denial of a vital doctrine? I'll let you know if I find out!

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Interesting Word

Tonight, during family devotions, we were reading Joshua 3 - you know, the part where Israel crosses the Jordan behind the ark of the covenant. When my daughter Katie (aged 10, soon to be 11) realised that God had made the waters pile up so that they could walk over on dry ground, she exclaimed, "Awe...Wicked!!"



Jon recently wrote on writer's block. I find this is more of a problem when I am deep in study.

Ironic, isn't it?

Blogroll Update

I have updated my blogroll to reflect what I am currently reading.

Of course I need to add a disclaimer, should there be any impressionable young souls out there who need a hand to hold, that I do not agree with everything out there. There are left-wing, right-wing, reformed, non-reformed, charismatic, conservative, New Perspective supporters, opponents of NPP etc etc on the roll. I agree with lots of things you will find there, but I have strong reservations about some of them. Whatever, I do find them interesting and that is why they are listed. So, if you want to find out what I believe, read this blog, not anyone else's!

Saturday, June 05, 2004

For Preachers

Here's an interesting little book: The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick (Banner of Truth, 2002). Carrick is a professor of theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and teaches on the topic of this book.

The target audience for the book is given away somewhat by the critique he offers of the preaching method of the Redemptive-Historical school within the Reformed/Presbyterian community. In a nutshell, this school sees a minimal role for imperative instruction from the pulpit. Its is not the function of the preacher, so they say, to make the Bible relevant to people. Rather the method seeks to draw people into the text where they see themselves. Carrick rightly asks what this means!

Carrick's purpose, then is to show what the essential elements of preaching are, and to show how they are used in Scripture. There are four:
  • The Indicative: stating the glorious truths of the gospel

  • The Exclamative: the use of exclamation to add 'heat' to the indicative statements

  • The Interrogative: the use of questions to analyse indicatives, or as rhetorical devices, or as a means of searching the hearts of hearers.

  • The Imperative: giving instruction to the hearers.

Many examples are given from Scripture of all these elements, as are many from the recorded sermons of well known preachers spanning the time from Jonathan Edwards down to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is a pretty thorough approach.

As such the book is a useful tool for analysing how one constructs and delivers a sermon. The danger, as with any book that deals with homiletics, is that one can become formulaic in one's preparation and delivery without possessing the heart and fire of the gospel. Without this the endeavour of preaching is pointless.

The niggling question I have, though, is one for Carrick's method. Is it valid to infer from the teaching methods in the writings of Scripture what the nature of the preaching should be? Written records of sermons often do not read very well as writing simply because they should be heard. Similarly, attempting to read a theological book as a sermon will be stilted because it is intended to be read not heard. So, is it possible that Carrick mis-states, possibly overstates, the case for the role imperative in preaching?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Yerp Again

I got my postal ballot papers for the Euro Parliament elections on the target date so I am happy. But I feel a rant coming on. Here goes...

Now, I am pro-European. I always have been. The original intent of the project, to bind warring countries together after the War and to make themselves self-sufficient in food, has been enormously successful. We as a country have benefitted from increased access to trading partners and from EU infrastructure projects. Well and good.

However there are two great scandals which have become clear to me in the last few years which must be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of genuine democratic accountability. Three years ago the whole Commission was obliged to resign because the accounts did not add up. The parliament had a role to play in this. This was good. Yet for the last nine years the accounts have not added up! Are the parliament consistently holding the Commission to account? Obviously not. The Commission has free reign. This offends me.

Secondly, the existence of the Common Agricultural Policy. As I said this has been a great success. It has helped Europe get on its feet. But now it exists to subsidise inefficient farms who shouldn't be in business. As a result we have mountains of food which we have to dump on world markets. The knock on effect is that the grinding poverty of underdeveloped countries is perpetuated. It seems to me that these beleaguered economies are not able to compete in the areas where they might have a chance, even an advantage. Instead, the industrial power of Europe, through the CAP subsidy, is now effectively directed against the agricultural economies of the 3rd world. (I believe American subsidies are just as damaging, though I am open to correction) This deeply offends me.

Can the votes of the ordinary people of Europe make a difference? I am pessimistic. For the EU parliament to call the Commission to account for its corruption is difficult. When MEPs point their fingers accusingly, the Commission will only point back at the MEPs, citing the huge expense accounts as evidence. The MEPs are essentially bribed into inaction.

On the CAP, well frankly national governments of Germany, France will simply not let go of their hold on this. MEPs are powerless.

So, what I want to know is: which party is prepared to tackle these two evils of our time? Unfortunately, the MEPs elected will be unable to do anything themselves. This power will rest with national governments, accountable to national parliaments. So the real Euro debate must be had during national elections. Nevertheless, the Euro elections can give the right signals to the parties and therefore affect policy. Therefore there is some reason, at least, to vote.

So this is what I want to find out: a) the attitude of the parties to the lack of democratic accountability b) their attitude to the CAP.

What think ye?

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A Sad Day

This is Mouse, another of our three cats. She is 15. I arrived back from Ayrshire on Tuesday at lunch time. She appeared later that evening. It was clear she was not well at all. She had been lively last week but now she was barely walking. I resolved to take her to the vet in the morning. Thinking she would bed down for the night and since she was in such a state it never occurred to me that she might go out again, so I didn't lock the cat flap.

In the morning she had gone. I looked for her in most of her usual haunts but she was not there. Finally today I posted notes through all the neighbours doors asking if she had been seen. It turned out this afternoon that a neighbour had found her and was feeding her but didn't know she was ours.

At the vet this evening I was told she had suffered kidney failure. There was nothing to be done. Tomorrow she will be put to sleep after Kate and Susan have said goodbye.

A sad day.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Useless Quiz

What kind of things do people say behind your back?


People tend to call you "odd" or "weird".

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Er...right. Based on four questions, it's obviously rubbish. Moving swiftly on...

Redwood (Tory) vs. Kilroy-Silk (UKIP)

I watched these two battle it out last night on Channel 4 News and then on BBC's Newsnight programmes. Kilroy-Silk the new slick front-man of UKIP, Redwood Howard's supposed Dobermann sent out to see off the intruder.

I have to say that in terms of passion, presentation skills etc. Kilroy-Silk won hands down. He has, after all, had a lengthy career as a TV presenter. Redwood was shown to be basically in agreement with UKIP. The only argument Redwood could put together was that the Tory party is the best vehicle to get what UKIP wants. Therefore vote Tory. But the official position of the Tories of "Live and let live" in Europe is radically different from the "Say NO to Europe" (i.e. full withdrawal from the EU) position of UKIP. It shows that the deep underlying problems that bedevilled the Tories in the 90's are still there.

For the Tories I think last night's exposure was disastrous.

Jollyblogger on the Trajectory of Ideas

Here's an excellent post from Jollyblogger on the trajectory of ideas. He shows the fundamental weakness of the seeker-sensitive and post-modern/emergent church movement.

Here's a key quote:
It seems to me that the old idea was that the church sets the agenda for the world and the church has centuries of Biblical exegesis and theology to build on as it faces the challenges of a new generation. The new idea which I am speaking of is the idea that the world sets the agenda for the church. This began in classical liberalism, and that set a trajectory which has carried the idea into the World Council of Churches, the seeker sensitive movement and now the postmodern/emergent movement. That which was rejected by the evangelical church when it came to them in the guise of liberalism and the WCC has now been accepted under the headings of the seeker sensitive movement and the postmodern/emergent movement.
In other words, an old idea in new clothes.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Theological Gurus

Now here is a speculative thought that has been bumping around my mind the last couple of days. I do not appeal to Scripture, nor to any studies on the matter - just my speculation.

I have been thinking about my bloggy excursion last week. One of the phenomena I noted was the tendency for a theological argument to fizzle out, not because one person had clearly won the argument, but because one side got cold feet, realising they were out of their depth. Such a person tries to end the discussion with "we'll just have to agree to differ". I have noticed this not only on blogs now but on email discussion groups.

What I think is at work here is the reaction of pride, when it is challenged, to retreat into tribalism. I know about this because I have noticed it in myself.

Here's how it works, I think:

1) I have a particular theological view point, formed by adopting the views of others I respect. It makes sense to me, though because of the immaturity of the thought, it is vulnerable in a way that I don't yet understand.

2) The view is challenged, perhaps in a way that I can handle and a riposte is given. However, it may be challenged in a way that is not easy to riposte. So there are two possible responses:

3a) I do some thinking and more research, this time at a deeper level which either solidifies my view, modifies it a little, or changes it completely. It is likely that this still rests upon the authority of others whom I respect. Nevertheless, the view is now more robust. Some learning has been achieved.

3b) I say, "we must agree to differ". Either I will not look into the issue any deeper, or am not able to. Besides it threatens the place that my guru has in my thinking, or that of the tribe that I belong to. I like the tribe, it gives me a sense of identity, so I will not probe the argument any deeper. Thus in the last resort, the appeal is made to the authority of the guru.

It is because of this tendency that I believe that one must go as far as one can in understanding the biblical languages. Arguments over exegesis sit right at the root of theological formulations. A facility with the languages leaves one less beholdent to gurus and more dependent on the Word of God Himself.

Am I on the right track?

Thumbs down for UKIP

Some sensible comments from Stephen Pollard on why voting for UKIP in the Euro elections is a waste of time, not that I ever would or was even tempted, you understand... don't you?

Back Blogging

Back from weekend with folks in Ayrshire. Weather was great. Here are some pics:

Mum & Dad's garden - lovely...

Messing about on Maybole beach, near Culzean Castle...

Climbing up to the Castle...

Ayrshire is nice this time of year.