Friday, July 29, 2005

Islam and Peace

Like many people I suspect, I am bewildered by, on the one hand, acts of terror by Islamist radicals, and on the other, claims that 'Islam is a religion of peace'. Islam can mean 'peace' - it seems that the words that convey the concepts of 'peace' and 'submission' are closely related - but as I understand it, peace pertains only if you are a Muslim who is submissive to the teachings of the Koran. In some readings of the Koran there is no peace for those who do not submit.

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo is an Anglican clergyman who works for Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity. He has recently published an article in the current issue of the Spectator which examines the claims of those who propagate the 'Islam means peace' line. This is a thoughtful piece which takes seriously what Muslims say themselves. I find these paragraphs most interesting:
It is probably true that in every faith ordinary people will pick the parts they like best and practise those, while the scholars will work out an official version. In Islam the scholars had a particularly challenging task, given the mass of contradictory texts within the Koran. To meet this challenge they developed the rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions are found, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier one. To elucidate further the original intention of Mohammed, they referred to traditions (hadith) recording what he himself had said and done. Sadly for the rest of the world, both these methods led Islam away from peace and towards war. For the peaceable verses of the Koran are almost all earlier, dating from Mohammed’s time in Mecca, while those which advocate war and violence are almost all later, dating from after his flight to Medina. Though jihad has a variety of meanings, including a spiritual struggle against sin, Mohammed’s own example shows clearly that he frequently interpreted jihad as literal warfare and himself ordered massacre, assassination and torture. From these sources the Islamic scholars developed a detailed theology dividing the world into two parts, Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam, with Muslims required to change Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam either through warfare or da’wa (mission).

So the mantra ‘Islam is peace’ is almost 1,400 years out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was peace and nothing but peace. From 622 onwards it became increasingly aggressive, albeit with periods of peaceful co-existence, particularly in the colonial period, when the theology of war was not dominant. For today’s radical Muslims — just as for the mediaeval jurists who developed classical Islam — it would be truer to say ‘Islam is war’. One of the most radical Islamic groups in Britain, al-Ghurabaa, stated in the wake of the two London bombings, ‘Any Muslim that denies that terror is a part of Islam is kafir.’ A kafir is an unbeliever (i.e., a non-Muslim), a term of gross insult.

In the words of Mundir Badr Haloum, a liberal Muslim who lectures at a Syrian university, ‘Ignominious terrorism exists, and one cannot but acknowledge its being Islamic.’ While many individual Muslims choose to live their personal lives only by the (now abrogated) peaceable verses of the Koran, it is vain to deny the pro-war and pro-terrorism doctrines within their religion.
Read the whole article (you have to register, but it is free, and well worth it just for this article). He goes on to examine the state of the Muslim community in Britain.

Calvin and Severity

In my recent post on Calvin's call to Geneva I identified with his feelings about the prospect. He was timid, bashful, full of feelings of inadequacy.

It is clear, however, that having accepted the call he developed a reputation for severity in his ministry in Geneva and later in Strasbourg. It is interesting that such a thing seemed to be the case. Fighting spiritual battles may seem to come easy to certain kinds of people. We can often believe that the severest people are somehow like that because of a personality that revels in controversy. However, this example highlights what may be a more widespread truth: often the spiritual battles begin within the individual and stepping into the public fray is not without an initial cost. The call of God may require a certain course of action which cannot be pursued without first summoning considerable courage to face down inner fears before carrying it out. This internal battle may take its own toll on the individual. I believe Calvin was such a man of inner sensitivity yet was courageous when God's honour was at stake.

Nevertheless, severity was a problem as the following passage shows. Calvin returned to Geneva for a second time in 1541 with a resolution in mind:
Over one person Calvin determined that he would exercise control. This was himself. He had been blamed for being too severe, too unaccomodating. He acknowledged the reproof and set himself to correct the fault. So well did he think that he had learnt, that for the same fault he could even in his turn reprove Farel, who had got on the wrong side of his congregation at Neuchatel. To Oswald Myconius at Basel he was able to report that his gentleness was winning him friends.
Calvin went on to say to Myconius,
I value the public peace and hearty concord among ourselves so highly that I restrain myself.
(Both quotes from John Calvin, by T. H. L. Parker, p. 101.)

Clearly, Calvin had overshot in his earlier ministry and subsequently learned how to handle people better. Though still driven by a desire for reform of the church and its worship, he remembered that he was dealing with real people whom he must win over to his side rather than face them down.

Calvin appears to have been a better man than I have previously given credit!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Jump the High Bar

Jesus said in Matthew 5:20,
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

As a young Christian I would read that verse with a degree of fear and trepidation. The Pharisees were pretty righteous, weren't they? Who could jump this bar of righteousness better than they? Were they not professional models of righteousness, the top athletes of the Righteousness Games? Until I remembered (ah, of course!) Jesus was perfect - 10s across the board. What's more, by his death, his righteousness is imputed to me! Now I have 10s across the board too. Thus fear dissolved away. I could, and still can, rest content in the gracious saving act of the Saviour on the cross.

One nagging doubt, though. Is that what Jesus really meant me to infer from Matthew 5:20? I thought that then, but not now. The trouble is it does not seem to fit with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. For example, what did Jesus mean by verse 17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them"? I can understand this within the classical confessional view of the law as ceremonial, civil and moral. Ceremonially, Christ was the fulfilment of the OT sacrifices. He was the was the true sacrifice of which the OT was but a shadow. Civilly, the nationhood of Israel pointed to a future kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, about which Jesus preached in his earthly ministry. Jesus is the king of the new kingdom.

What of the moral law? We could argue that Jesus fulfilled that too. He lived a pure life after all. Doesn't it avail for us? And therefore does that not mean that for us the law is abolished in the sense that there is no need to keep it any more? But if true the question would remain: why did Jesus teach about moral requirements in the Sermon on the Mount, commanding his disciples to live this way?

First of all, some background. I think the key to understanding Jesus teaching is the New Covenant promise of Jer 31:31-34. There, God says he will write the law in the hearts of his people. It will be no longer be an external code. There would be no point to this work of God if He did not require us to be conscious of the law in our lives day by day. Indeed, the fact that it is in our hearts makes it a motivating principle, a desire. Why would God do such a thing if the law were abolished? Rather, in the New Covenant, the moral requirements of the law are fulfilled in the believer in a new way. The believer sees the moral law as a delight, a joy. He or she wants to do it.

I believe this is consistent with Paul's teaching in Romans 8:3,4 where he says "He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit". Note the preposition: "fulfilled in us". Paul is not talking about imputed righteousness, but about the grace of righteousness expressed in the believer - a righteousness worked out.

Now, this line of thinking brings us back to the original problem. OK I, as a Christian, need to live a holy life which conforms to the law. Doesn't Matthew 5:20 show that, in the face of such excellence in righteousness from the Pharisees, it is impossible?

Here I think I have misunderstood the the true extent of the righteousness of the Pharisees. Yes, Jesus words sound daunting. Yet his subsequent exposition of the law showed that more was required than simply outward conformity. The law is deeply spiritual and applies to the parts people cannot see. It is inner, too. I believe that by this exposition Jesus showed that the righteousness of the Pharisees was no righteousness at all. At best it is an outward formalism which hides a deep hypocrisy in them. As a result, when Jesus is saying that the righteousness of the believer must exceed it, he is not presenting to them a hypothetical option which is impossible to achieve, and so implies the need for imputation. But he is saying that the keeping of the law is deeply spiritual for which the New Covenant arrangement is essential. It is no surprise then that at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount it is those who are poor in spirit who are identified as blessed, who will cry out to God for the help they need to keep the law. We knew from Paul in Romans that the power for this is given by His Spirit.

This raises the inevitable thought that Jesus is requiring a certain level of obedience in order to qualify for entry into the kingdom. However I believe this also to be a misreading of the text. Jesus is not saying "If you do this then you will get in. " He is saying "If you don't do this you won't get in". As you can see these are not saying the same thing. A simple illustration of the logic is: "If something is a square then it is a rectangle" is not the same as "If something is not a square it is not a rectangle". (Pause for a moment to think about that!) What this means is that works cannot get you entry, but the absence of them will exclude you. Why? Because it is necessary that a believer's life is transformed if he/she has been regenerated. The absence of works, therefore is evidence of the absence of regeneration, or to put it another way, evidence that that which was promised in the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 has not been applied.

So, is righteousness that is greater than the Pharisees possible? When we remember, first, that the standard was actually lower than we thought, and, second, that God makes it possible for us in Christ by his Spirit. I think the answer is yes.

What do you think?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Call of Calvin

I have just finished reading Boettner's The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination and I have enjoyed it immensely. As usual, a rapid read needs to be followed up with a more considered read at a later stage.

At the end of the book Boettner presents a short biography of Calvin. (This has been useful since it may come as a surprise that this Calvinist should know so little about the man! I suspect I am not alone.) One cannot but be amazed and stirred by the portrayal of a man who was converted to evangelicalism and pursued the reformation of the Church single-mindedly to the point of risking his life.

I was particularly struck by Boettner's account of how he came to be the pastor of the evangelical Church of Geneva. Calvin had always seen himself as a theologian not as a pastor. As a fugitive, he was only passing through Geneva, planning only to spend one night there. Yet Farel, the Genevan reformer, saw him as God's man to save the reformation in that city. A quotation from Schaff's account of the meeting between the two men:
Farel at once called on Calvin and held him fast, as by divine command. Calvn protested, pleading his youth, his inexperience, his need of further study, his natural timidity and bashfulness, which unfitted him for public action. But all in vain. Farel, 'who burned with a marvellous zeal to advance the Gospel,' threatened him with the curse of Almighty God if he preferred his studies to the work of the Lord, and his own interest to the cause of Christ. Calvin was terrified and shaken by these words of the fearless evangelist, and felt 'as if God from on high had stretched out His hand.' He submitted, and accepted the call to the ministry, as teacher and pastor of the evangelical Church of Geneva (Boettner, pp. 401-2)
Like many others, I can relate to the feelings of Calvin at being presented with this daunting task. But what about Farel threatening '...him with the curse of Almighty God'? Now, that's what I call a 'call' to the ministry!

And, of course, the rest is history...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Evening

Last night, a woman phoned Bryn, the elder at Derwent Free Church, about a problem she had. She was worried because she and her family had been experiencing some strange happenings in her house - seeing figures, faces, lights, feeling things on their skin. These had mostly happened to the teenage children. She said she had taken a video on her phone of one of the phenomena. Could he come round and help? Bryn phoned me and we went together.

What would you do in a situation like that?

When we arrived there was nothing odd or spooky about the situation. A single parent family, a nice working mum, well ordered home.

There was a lot of superstition, though. Part of the reason for phoning a church leader was I think she was hoping we could perform some kind of blessing that would give protection. It turned out that some years before a similar thing had happened and that a vicar or priest had come with holy water, he had blessed the house and copies of the New Testament. There were other things which she thought might have been helpful in the past: a necklace with a cross, a video tape of the 'blessing' of one of the children after birth, where the vicar says, " the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".

After a while she showed me the phone-video. To my eye it looked unconvincing, though the woman was sure it was clear evidence of some supernatural event. But we did not dismiss her testimony, since she was there at the time.

Our response? We said that we did not believe that there was protective power in things or mere forms of words. But we said that there was one who had all power, and that he asked his people to pray for what they needed. We had no power other than this. All we could offer to do was pray for them. So we did there and then, for the situation, and that God would give them grace to trust in Christ.

Some brief reflections. When Jesus was in the world, there was an upsurge in demonic activity. The redemptive-historical significance of the coming of Jesus was not lost on the devil. The beginning of Jesus' ministry was marked by an onslaught on the Son of God. See, for example, the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4 straight after his baptism in the Holy Spirit. The ministry of Jesus is marked by confrontation with demons and the evil one.

We must remember that victory has been won on the cross (John 12:31). This does not mean that there is no demonic activity. Acts records several incidents. But there is much less than in the gospels. I expect therefore that in the modern day there is much less to be expected. We must not be quick to accept such claims, though we should not doubt strange experiences. The experiences may be real, though the explanation may not be valid.

This brings me to the next thing. For all the apparent rationalism and modernity of the day, this case adds to my belief that there is a great deal of superstition around. People do have a sense of powers greater than themselves and this is to be expected. It is part of the way we are 'wired' to have a sense of the presence of God from creation and conscience (Rom 1:19,20; 2:14,15). The truth may be suppressed, even repressed (Rom 1:18) but people cannot deny the sense of 'something out there'. Our corrupt nature distorts what we may perceive it to be, and it is not helped by uncritical consumption of fantasy TV, movies and games. Nor is it helped by quack religion that believes that things can be blessed and provide protection from spirits. There is plenty to feed the mind and imagination to create superstition.

The last reflection is a practical one. It did not go unnoticed that most of the happenings occurred at around the same time: 11pm to midnight. Also, this was a house where the teenage children have TV in their rooms and are allowed to watch it as late as they like. As the father of a 12-year old, I know how grouchy and irrational such charges can become if allowed to stay up as late as they want and get tired. Left to herself, my daughter would stay up too if there was something worth watching. She would be willing to wobble along the line between consciousness and unconsciousness in order to keep watching. What tricks does the mind play when one is in that state?

I was reminded that it is hard for a lone mum to have the will to guide teenagers, especially in a society that places a higher value on individual freedom over true parenting. It reminds me how blessed Christians are to live together in unity and to be a source of love, care and encouragement in all things, including parenting. Of course, the church doesn't get it all right, doesn't always know what the answers are. But with Christ in our midst, there is no better place to be.

I hope our contact with this woman conveyed something of that.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Drink Deep, Or Not At All

The doctrine of predestination appears to to be foolishness to someone who has only studied it a little. Of such a person Boettner gives gives this advice from experience:
...we can most fittingly say of this subject: "A little Predestination is a dangerous thing; Then drink deep, or else touch not the sacred spring." Here, as in some other instances, first draughts confuse and unsettle the mind, but deeper draughts overcome the intoxicating effects and bring us back to our right senses.
(Predestination, p.341)

Weekend Report

It has been a busy weekend. I had one of those weeks last week where I thought I had plenty of time, then suddenly it all disappeared. By Friday afternoon I had barely started sermon prep for Sunday evening. Major disaster looming! I am still at the stage where it takes nearer 15 hours to prepare the 30-minute sermon rather than the target 8 hours which I think I need to have a fighting chance of surviving full-time ministry. Otherwise, when you fit in other distractions and necessary things, time pretty soon disappears.

E.g. Last week Daughter was in the end-of-year school show for three nights, finishing Friday around 9:30pm. She also wanted to go to the Woodlands "Yoof" Weekend at Quinta in Shropshire. In a fit of enthusiasm over a week before, I said I would drive her there immediately after the show. Nutcase! So, at 10pm Friday we set off on the 2 hour drive. I got back at 2am. Oh, the things we Dads do for our children! So, much of Saturday and a chunk of Sunday was spent preparing John 15:1-8, while in a tired state. It was a wrestle, I tell you.

However, I am encouraged! We had one new visitor on Sunday evening, who normally attends another church. As he left he said to me, "That was brilliant!", and went on to explain why. He made my weekend. It is good when God sends encouragement when we need it.

And finally:

Daughter survived "Yoof".

Wife survived a tense me.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Jelly Blog Ramble

Evangelical Outpost has an interesting post called Lessons of a Recovering Statistics-Addicted Influence Seeker.

Statistics-addicted? this seems to be a feature of the generation of self-publicising bloggers. And, yes, I know, I am one of them. I have a Sitemeter link which means I have an account which means that I can see how many people look at my site, when they look, what they look with (op. sys., browser, screen size, shoe size), where they come from, who they had dinner with etc. It's all logged. Wu-hu-ha-ha-ha-Ha-HA! Graphs, pie-charts, bank accounts - I can see it all. All the time. Whenever I like.

Influence Seeker? What? Like ... power? Bring it on! I want to change things, make a splash! Double Wu-hu-ha-ha-ha-Ha-HA!

Here are some things I have learned:

  • The less I write, the fewer the number of people who read. Temptation: write more. Influence! Influence!

  • Blogosphere activity is growing at about 10% a month. How do I know? When I hit a certain level of traffic per day according to TLB (I have passed through the same point several times over the last year) I find my traffic ranking drops. Either there are more blogs or people clicking more. But not many extra clicks at Doggie's. And yes, it's sad that I know this.

  • Registering with the League of Reformed Bloggers is a complete waste of time. Showing the list on your blog gets you lots of links out and in, but not much extra traffic my way. Is every Reformed blogger sitting patiently waiting for everyone else to read their great stuff, just like me? Hate aggregators. Huff.

  • I like interaction. I like seeing what happens. OK, most of the time nothing happens. But sometimes it does. So that's really why I do it. If people comment that's good. It makes me think. Perhaps I get some people to think too. All-round benefit.

Bored now. I wouldn't read my blog.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


My surname is pretty rare. Except for my immediate family, I have never met anyone else called "Dancer". When I lived in Scotland (until 16 years ago), my family were the only Dancers in any of the Scottish phone books I could find. Yes, I checked. Sad - I know. I even checked when we went on holiday to angle-land. There were a few in the south-west, if I remember correctly.

Not long after Susan and I moved to Little Eaton there was a local TV news report which featured an elderly lady who was a Dancer. It spooked me. But since then? Nothing.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this evening, after the news on a BBC Panorama Special on hospital cleanliness (7pm for those keenies), the expert microbiologist was Dr. Stephanie Dancer.

Made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Too close for comfort.

New Blogger

I have just discovered that Graham Weeks (of GenevaNet fame and glory) has a blog. Hello Graham!

I Passed My Exams!

Yes! It's true!

The big surprise was that my best mark was in Hebrew - just crept into the '1st class' category. I just scraped a pass with Job. Pastoral Principles was a little better. In both of these I did not do enough reading to justify better.

However, I can breathe a big sigh of relief.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Church of England Nonsense

As a non-CofE Christian, I would be the first to admit that I do not really understand the CofE. The heirarchical structure seems to bear a striking resemblance to Saturn's rings: the closer you look the more levels of complexity there seem to be. Why?

It seems to me that the battle over women in the clergy was lost in 1994. Why there should now be a particular fight over the women as bishops without bringing into question women priests is unclear to me. Perhaps someone could enlighten me?

It seems simple: women are excluded on the grounds of 1 Tim 2:11-15. This trumps any appeal to 'tradition', which appears to be the main argument against.

There is much made of the fact that many women 'feel called' to the priesthood. This raises the interesting question of what constitutes a 'call'. The women in question seem to have wholly subjectivised the whole thing. Because of an inner feeling, they demand the right to be made priests/bishops etc. I listened to The Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, on Channel Four News last night (who, on the whole, made a pretty ham-fisted job of opposing the motions, IMHO) argue that it was not for individuals to claim a calling but for the church to call. I agree with this. There needs to be both subjective and objective elements. Subjectively, a man (!!) must have a sense of call and purpose about what he is contemplating. But objectively, the broader church must check that he is gifted and qualified (though the guide for this is not tradition, but Scripture). For this reason, a woman can never be called to the ministry, no matter what feelings dwell within.

But this argument will never win the day amongst the liberals. They are only interested in the politics. So looking at it politically, as I see it, there will come a crisis. But it will happen when the liberals realise that the only reason the CofE is viable is because the conservatives financially shore it up. Then the liberals will come back from the brink. They will schmooze with the conservatives in order to preserve themselves. The question then is whether the conservative evangelicals will have the courage of their convictions to once and for all deal with the theological gangrene that they live with every day.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Our Limited Capacity to Understand

Loraine Boettner, in his The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, deals with the problem of evil, a problem with which all theists must come to terms with at some point. Calvinism gives the most adequate explanation, yet even the Calvinist must always bear in mind the following comment:
Our mental vision can no more comprehend His deep mysteries than our unaided physical eyes can endure the light of the sun. (p.251)


Originally uploaded by Dancers.

This is where it all happens - the study. Complete chaos. Not quite recovered from frantic exam work. In fact, not recovered at all. Believe me, you can't see the full glory. Needs to be fixed, but WHEN?

Fan is highly necessary - it's due to hit 28C this afternoon.

Keyboard looks crooked - poor photostitch software.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


We had an unusual Sunday today. I had been asked to lead both services at Little Hill Church down in Leicester. So it was an early start for the family to get there on-time.

I had been before back in March to take some mid-week Bible Studies in Haggai, but this was the first time I had preached on a Sunday. It is a lovely fellowship - very warm and friendly, full of godly people who care about the gospel and the glory of Christ. I preached in Matthew 7:21-23 in the morning, warning against vacuous profession of faith and that giftedness was no ticket to entry to the kingdom, but that doing the work of believing in the One sent was.

The service was followed by a fellowship lunch - yum.

In the afternoon we were looked after by Faqir and Margaret. We had a good time of fellowship.

In the evening I preached on John 12:1-8. I blogged on this a couple of days ago, so you know the thrust of my thinking. I had the rather strange event of coming to the end of my notes rather abruptly and not really finishing very clearly. Though in my prep it was clear enough, something strange happened in the delivery. This has happened before. Though there are practical lessons to learn from this, I was immediately reminded that preaching is a spiritual activity, an act of trust, where God chooses to use weak earthen vessels for His glory alone. Sometimes the preacher needs to be humbled because he relies upon his methods.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Ps. 133:1, NIV)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Get Together

Originally uploaded by Dancers.

My mate Paul tells me this is his good side.

Anyway, we had a good time today. Ashbourne Baptist, Grace Church Belper and Derwent Free Church got together for a picnic at Carsington Water.

Weather good. Friends good. Food good. Games and fun good.

Paul's good side not so good.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Two Models of Discipleship

John 12:8 has come up in discussion in previous posts. Jesus almost seems to be uncaring in his comment that
You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. (NIV)
I am preaching through the gospel of John at the moment. I have found it a tricky book. Jesus' words often go in directions I do not expect. I find myself asking why he said that in this place!

Recently I preached on 12:1-11. I confess, I did not major on verse 8. There was too much of the context to be able to give it much time. But the context is illuminating.

It is a warm setting. Friends are gathered together enjoying one another's company. Perhaps they were telling stories, laughing together. In the midst of this, as events unfold, we find a contrast between two kinds of discipleship.

Firstly, we have Mary. She had been close to Jesus. She saw how much Jesus was affected by the plight of humanity. After all, Jesus wept in the face of the death of Lazarus. But she realised that Jesus was the only true hope for men and women. He was the resurrection and the life and she now knew it. She could have been like her sister and served at the table. What greater privilege could there be than to serve her Lord? Yet her desire was to do more for him.

Imagine being one of the disciples enjoying the social occasion. As you do so you become aware of a fragrance filling your nostrils. An exotic, expensive fragrance. Others notice it too, and a hush descends on the gathering. You become aware of something almost unseemly going on at Jesus' feet. Mary has cracked open a jar of expensive perfume and is washing them in it with her hair. Wow! Shouldn't someone say something?

Nard was used sparingly, in times of death in the family. It was probably an heirloom, handed down from parents. It was expensive, brought from the Himalayas. Now Mary had blown it all.

Mary only had eyes for Jesus. Her devotion was absolute. She would do anything for him as long as it was for him.

Such devotion can appear reckless and wasteful. This was true of Judas Iscariot. In him we see a second kind of discipleship. On the face of it we see someone concerned about others. He was concerned about the waste. Why not sell it and give the proceeds to the poor? He may even have got angry about it. After all, people die for lack of food. Don't you get angry?

None of the disciples at the time gainsayed Judas. He had a point, didn't he? The poor are hungry and we could have helped, they think. But later, as the disciples and the gospel writers reflected on these things they realised that in Judas other motives were in play. He wanted some of the money for himself.

The interesting thing about Judas is that he was so close to Jesus. He could not be distinguished from the others by outward appearance (except by Jesus himself, of course). But eventually the state of his heart was revealed in his actions. He had no true devotion to Jesus. Only an outward appearance of it.

The significance of all this for us? There is of course a simple answer: have a heart like Mary, not Judas. But this would be mere moralising.

There is a more difficult answer, the implications of which are more radical. You see, though the poor exist, and they must be attended to in a godly society (Jesus does not deny this need), there is one thing that is most important which takes precedence over every other concern - that of absolute and utter, selfless and sacrificial devotion to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. The balm applied to Jesus' feet heralds his imminent death, a death necessary for the overcoming of the power of Satan and death itself in order that men and women may be drawn to to him. Jesus Christ solves the ultimate problem, the last and greatest enemy - death. He reverses the curse on Adam's race and inaugurates a new kingdom, a new creation. In his resurrection he was the first fruits of that full harvest of which his people are part. It was into this that Mary was drawn. To call others to this reality is the desire of all true disciples. It takes precedence over all else.

In Judas we see that this concern was absent, for all his outward appearances. Though his outward concern for the poor is laudable, in one sense, we see the tragedy of his life and it fills us with great sadness. Likewise, when we see men and women today seeking to put concern for the poor as a top priority we warm to it - to a degree. Yet without seeing a concern to submit to Jesus' lordship, there is greater sadness. When there is concern for the poor without submission to the Lord we naturally remember tragic Judas.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Rumble over Live8 and the Bible

...And in the red corner we have ... Phil Johnson ... who was singularly unimpressed with the weekend's Live8 events.

In the blue corner ... Sven ... who is singularly unimpressed with Phil's unimpressedness with the Live8 events.

Phil doubts the credibility of vacuous celebrities in their campaigning. In fact they are more than doubts - he likens them to Judas who gave the impression of caring for the poor but in reality was only concerned to get his hands on the cash.

Strong stuff, and it would not surprise me to find it is a valid comparison on the Last Day. But it remains for the Last Day, not for now. Let the Lord sort that out.

For me, I fully support the Blair and Brown initiative, and if the Live8 events help then good on them. One big issue is trade. It must be dealt with. For years now I have felt that the CAP and trade tariffs against African nations are abominations that must be ended. The US and Europe are guilty of using the strengths of their economies to subsidies the weaknesses and thereby penalise the Africans for whom our weaknesses are their strengths. Perhaps this is simplistic, but this seems to me to be what is going on.

The other is getting good governance in Africa, but frankly I have no idea how to get this. Sin runs deep in all of us.

In the other corner, Sven vents his spleen over Phil's commens he really does not engage with him. You see Phil argued that since Jesus said that the poor will always be with us (John 12:8) then "Make Poverty History" is a vacuous slogan. Sven, on the other hand, says there are hundreds of other verses and stories in the Bible where we clearly see that overturning injustice and unfairness towards to poor is one of the central issues. Well, frankly this is a daft way to approach the Bible. He seems to think that if you snip out all the verses that agree with you and then snip out all the ones that don't, then put them on a set of scales then whichever has the most verse-votes wins! He makes no attempt to account for Jesus' words, which we must.

So here's my take. Yes, there are plenty of verses that speak of justice and getting rid of oppression of the poor and defenceless in the Prophets. This is simply to be a characteristic of God's holy people. Israel was to be marked by it. Unfortunately it wasn't. Now the reason was simple. The covanantal arrangement which God established with the nation of Israel was never intended to be the God's final word. You see, though God's promises to Abraham seemed to have been fulfilled - they had reached the promised land, right? - things just did not go well. There was decline into sin and disobedience. The corruption had not been dealt with. The sins were flagged up (as Sven rightly notes) but also, more covenantal promises are given, pointing to a future day of blessing. There is to be a New Covenant (Jer. 31:33,34) and a new heavens and earth (Isa. 66:22). The New Covenant brought in with Christ. The new heavens and the new earth are yet to be fully realised.

The implications of this are that though the ethic of justice is commanded in the prophets, and should be increasingly a feature of inwardly-renewed yet outwardly-decaying Christians (2 Cor 4:16), it will not fully be seen until return of Christ, when all things will be consummated and the new heavens and earth realised. In this way we see that the words of Jesus are true - there will always be the poor, because the world is yet riddled with sin and corruption and ever will be in this age - but that the ethic of justice remains true for his people nonetheless.

Sven has a seconder, the ever-controversial John. He says that we are to see the Bible's "real values, not the ones we are told that it teaches". He thinks that Sven has shown us the real values. But how can he have if he has made such an inadequate 'argument'? He has just picked out a few verses he likes better than others.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Jon's Blues

Sorry. I don't believe him. Jon claims this is all his own work (except for the drums).

Sorry, mate. I don't believe you. It's just too good.

It's OK. You can tell me. No one is reading. They've all gone to bed...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Job's Friends

It is striking how Job's friends were right yet wrong.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Patrick Ramsey on why Sunday is the Christian Sabbath.

This Is The Week That Is

It has been an unusual week this week. There have been a number of things going on which have been claiming my attention.

Firstly, I am treasurer for a committee which organises an event called Bible Week in Derby. This is a shame for the rest of the committee since I am not the person most interested in keeping track of details like money. BWD is a regional event affiliated with the Keswick Convention, which has been running for several years. This year we have had the Rev. Edward Lobb, an Anglican, speak at the event on the topic of Christ the Fulfilment, looking at how many various threads of OT themes converge in Christ. Before this week I knew nothing about Mr. Lobb, but his teaching has been excellent, and look forward to listening to the sermons again. I may have time to say more about it later.

Secondly, it has been Carnival Week in Little Eaton. The evenings have been taken up with various daft family activities which are great fun. Tonight was Wild, Wet & Whacky where 36 teams of 10 each play all kinds of silly, wet team games and get points. And points mean ... yes ...prizes! Girl's team missed out, finishing 4th. But that's still pretty good! Here's a pic:

Originally uploaded by Dancers.

You may well be wondering what is going on here. "Why four wellies?" I hear you ask. "Aren't two enough?" Ah but, dear reader, if only you knew! You see, this is not confusion over the correct use of limbs. This is, in fact, an ingenious method of transporting water! Once the wellies are on, they are filled with water and must be kept upright, and on the ground - they are wellies, after all - right to the end of the course so that as much water as possible is preserved. More water means more points means more ... yes ... prizes.

Thirdly, I am preaching on Sunday in John 14:15ff (I haven't decided how much yet).

Fourthly, I organise a preachers' group which meets once a month and next meets on Saturday. This time it is my turn to prepare and deliver a 10-minute sermon which will then be critiqued by the group afterwards. Talk about daunting!

Anyway, there you have it. I think it was easier studying for exams!