Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bible in a Year

Reading books is a Good Thing. But, much more important...

Ant is inviting us to read the Bible in a year using the Don Carson daily email. You can get to the details of how to get the email through this post of Ant's. Carson basically follows a modified version of the M'Cheyne reading plan, but with his own notes appended.

I'm in. Any one else up for this?

Go on. You know you should!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Reading in 2005

Some of you who read this blog will snigger up your sleaves, barely suppressing a hearty laugh, at what I am about to reveal. Nevertheless, I achieved something significant for me today: I competed reading my 40th book of this year, 2005.

Target reached.

Now, I know some of you write more than this on your blogs. For you, the merest glance a book is to simultaneously read and digest. Analysis and commentary are burning the ends of your fingertips. Such fire can only be salved by typing and publishing.

For me my target was important. I have written before about how my reading rate has been poor all my life. I have been too dithery and ill-disciplined in my thoughts and so wasted a lot of time. I have been working hard to rectify this in 2005 so that I can make much more progress. This has resulted in several obvious practical steps:
  1. I switch off my computer

  2. When t'computer is on I read less blogs. Sorry to those of you who write long entries, but as I have also written, if the blog entry I am reading is long, I seriously question whether or not there is not more value spending the time in a chapter of a book. Then I switch the computer off.

  3. I get in a good chair. Not the sofa. Too comfy. Too many zeds get logged.

  4. I use my lap timer on my moby phone to crack down on dastardly daydreaming. This lets me set targets. Targets achieved get rewards - like coffee.
In spite of all this it still remains that the majority of the books on my shelves are completely or partially unread. So, next year's target? Let's try 60!

For exhaustive completeness, here is the breakdown under various categories (I don't know how to format the table properly):

  • Theology: 14
  • Commentaries and biblical studies: 8
  • Christian Ministry: 6
  • Biography: 2
  • Devotional: 2
  • Christian Living: 2
  • Church History: 1
  • Apologetics: 1
  • Other Non-Fiction: 3
  • Fiction: 1
As you can probably see, it is not very well balanced. I need to read more history and apologetics. And I want to read more fiction - I want to know how people think. Roll on 2006!

An Essential Defensive Shield

We need to worry about mind control. There are sinister forces afoot. Neighbours, colleagues, government, aliens. You know the kind of 'people'. Ready to sap every living sensible thought out of your brain and fill it full instead with their nefarious schemes. So, last night I discovered the perfect answer - a tin foil hat. Yes. And it looks cool.

So cool, in fact, dear daughter made me one...

Tin foil Head Gear

Nice. By the way, that shiny bit on top is foil, not my usual head, stupid.

Now I can read those liberal, feminist authors on Ruth and remain completely immune from their pernicious propoganda. Ha.

You should make one too. But if you are not confident, don't worry. You could buy one.

Oh, and just one other thing. Please, keep this hush-hush. I don't want to get thrown off the Warfield List.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

God, Feminists and Ruth

Ruth is one of two books which have a female name as the title. Not only that, unlike the other, Esther, the women dominate the story. The plot is driven by dialogue, predominantly through women's voices.

When one is studying the book of Ruth one does not seem to be able to avoid reading the work of feminists. As though it were some orphaned child, feminists take up the book of Ruth as their own and look at it from many feminist angles. There is much that has been written. With trepidation, therefore, I have begun to look at these texts.

I have just finished A Feminist Companion to Ruth edited by Athalya Brenner (Sheffield Academic Press, 1993). It is a collection of essays by women. I have to admit that I was expecting to read eisegesis of 20th century sexual politics into the text. If it was there I missed it. I was pleasantly surprised by its absence. Yes, there is a focus on the characters and how they used the "androcentric" environment to get what they wanted. There is the question of whether the author is female (if a man had written this plot it would have taken three or four bald sentences, rather than intriguing dialogue). There is the issue of how later Jewish Rabbis idealised Ruth as the perfect woman. And so on. All very interesting, I suppose.

The thing that always stands out to me in these kinds of writing, is the lack of interest in God. God is conspicuous by his absence in the thinking of these feminist commentators. Perhaps they have fallen into a trap. God does no miracles in the text of Ruth. When Yahweh is mentioned, with one exception (4:13) he is on the lips of the characters themselves, not in the commentary of the narrator. Is the concept of Yahweh a product of the culture? Feminists seem to subconsciously take this idea up. God is not really the mover and shaker in this story. God is on holiday or something, if he exists. Though in some ways it was interesting to see things from their perspective (and it was, believe me) it is nevertheless deeply disturbing to view scripture without reference the source of all providence.

The one exception to this was an essay by Cynthia Ozick (simply entitled, "Ruth"). It was a delight - a well written, exciting essay that moved with pace. She had noticed the implication of Ruth's insistence on accompanying Naomi back from Moab to Bethlehem. It was not simply pragmatics ("it would be better for me if I stuck with you, Naomi"), nor was it altruism ("I am concerned for you, Naomi, and I want to help you"). No, something amazing had happened to Ruth - Naomi's God had become her God and she wished it to remain so. Unlike Orpah, who could take or leave God according to her circumstances, Ruth could not be unfaithful to God. So she remained faithful to Naomi. Ms. Ozick's observations were a nice close to the book.

Many writers who have an interest in the biblical text do not seem to be interested in the God of the bible. (This is incomprehensible to me, I'm afraid.) So it is no surprise that God does not appear in their writings. But God is at the core of Ruth's story. He is both the God of providence and the one who draws his people to himself so that they know him and are faithful to him.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mixed Feelings over Christmas

This is a strange time of the year. A weird hiatus in the normal run of things where strange things happen and are made to happen. Maybe it is an age thing, but at this time I begin to want to get back to the normal routine of life.

I can take a pragmatic view of Christmas from a Christian point of view. There is nothing to stop Christians getting together to worship together whenever they want. Given that there is still a cultural memory where the world still likes carols and singing to get into the "Christmas spirit", there is evangelistic opportunity which we can make use of. This we did with a widely advertised Christmas services.

However, I am no great lover of Christmas as a Christian event. I feel that there is no point of principle involved in its observance. It is another 'sabbath' which is optional. On Christmas day I would just as happily not go to church, but give gifts and eat a nice meal with the family as a nice cultural festival. I find it strange that some groups of Christians want to go to the barricades to defend its observance with nativity scenes, special services and "Merry Christmas"-ing. Yet those same groups of people feel little concern to care about the weekly observance of the resurrection on the Lord's Day and of the new creation of which they are part.

This year is complicated by the fact that Christmas day was on Sunday. For me there was a clash of interests. There was the clash of the desire to worship as normal. And there was the expectation of gift-giving, food prep etc. I'm sure we could do all this better, in a more integrated fashion, but for the time being it is a point of tension and I am glad it is over.

I love the incarnation of the Son. It says God has taken the initiative in salvation to deal with the plight of man. I love that fact that the event is trinitarian - Father, Son and Spirit are revealed. I love the fact that many, many majestic lines of Old Testament thought converge on the womb of an innocent young girl. I love the fact that the story does not stop in the manger but goes on to Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension and that his resurrection life is the life given to the church by the Holy Spirit. The story is not finished and I am privileged to be part of it.

But, strangely, Christmas as we (or I) have it just does not do it for me. There has got to be a better way.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Biblical Training

This website, Biblical Training, set up by Piper et al. looks like a useful resource for churches. Looks like it is free!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


...with a cold. Bleh. Sore head.

...with Ruth in Hebrew. Funny script. Sore head.

...with various Reformed views of baptism. Can't understand. Sore head.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Weekend Report

Susan, Kate and I survived a shopping trip on Saturday. Yes, we finally took the plunge and did some Christmas shopping. Our carefully planned strategy took us into Derby early-ish before the crowds.

In the shops, we were subjected to Slade and "So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun". Didn't feel like it. We had fun in spite of the Christmas shopping.

Or we were subjected to John Lennon's conscience-striking, guilt-inducing, finger-pointing "So this is Christmas, and what have you done?" I thought, "We haven't bought our Christmas presents, that's what we haven't done!!"

Stopped for lunch in Subway...

Us having Fun

As you can see everybody's having fun...

...'specially me...

King of Fun

Well, Susan tried...


I just like that picture!

Well, we survived, made it home, had a nice cup of tea.


Yesterday morning, we were at Woodlands for a baptismal service. Two teenage girls were baptised. They are both from Christian homes so have been well taught. They gave good testimonies, the best I have heard at Woodlands, I think. Every blessing on you, girls!


On Sunday afternoon we had a visit from the Heron family. I forgot to take a picture before they left this morning, so here is one from the web:

David and Helen are old friends of ours from university days. They have been missionaries in Peru for a number of years now and currently based in Lima. They are back in the UK for their summer break. Read about them here. Their three girls are wonderful and Kate had a great time with them. It was good to catch up, but all too short - they had to go to Scotland this morning. Good for them, bad for us.


Derwent had a Carol Service last night. I led, though readings were done by others, and I preached on John 1:1-14, with the main focus on 1:12.

Though there was a congregation of 30+, and a couple of new people one of the members had brought, I was disappointed at the response. The church had distributed 1500 copies of the December edition of Evangelical Times, which is deliberately evangelistic, with an invitation to the Carol Service, around the area. But it looks like not a single person had responded to it. We can only hope that a secret work of grace is being done somewhere.


That's it! New week ahead...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sven on Commentaries

Steven Harris has written a useful review of various commentary series' (is there an apostrophe there?). I tend to use the BST, NICOT and WBC commentaries. How do other people read commentaries? My usual practice when studying a book is to start with the BST and read it right through. I don't tend to read the more in-depth ones like that. I fear I would find it too draining. They are not exactly easy. I tend to use them for reference, or work through them as I am preaching through a book. What about you?

EdCompBlog: You know you are a teacher when...

For any teachers or wannabes out there...

...take David's quiz.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is There a Difference?

Come to think of it,
getting [congregation] assembled in one place, preaching so that they can hear ..., keeping it short enough so that I get to the conclusion before some start to drop off(!)
Maybe there isn't that much difference from a normal church service after all!

Study Update

By the way, I should mention I have completed all my essays for this semester. Not very happy with the last one on infant baptism - I kind of ran out of time - so it is a bit pedestrian and predictable. David said he wouldn't be happy with my essay either. I wonder why?

Anyway, there remains my exam on Ruth in Hebrew on Jan 20, 2006.

Must get on...

Preaching to the Elderly

As far as church is concerned, the Christmas season has really begun! Last night I conducted a service at a residential care home a stone's throw from DFC (and believe me, stones get thrown around there!) DFC usually takes a service there once a month, but last night was the Carol Service.

Quite a gang from the church appeared and quite a number of residents turned up in the lounge. So, some carols, readings and then a 15min preach on Matt. 1:21 "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

Preaching to the elderly presents a different challenge to preaching in the church. There are practical problems: getting residents assembled in one place, preaching so that they can hear (I am usually a bit loud anyway, but I have to turn it up even more!), keeping it short enough so that I get to the conclusion before some start to drop off(!), leading the singing without instruments (getting the pitch and pace right). Interesting.

Well, I enjoyed it. Everyone else seemed to as well, though it was difficult to tell how the message itself is received. The staff provided a cup of tea afterwards - can't be bad!

The elderly are often treated as less important, both in society and in the church. I say this because ten years ago, when I was into the seeker-sensitive thing, we were often urged to 'target' evangelism and worship services mostly to the thirty-somethings. At the time I could see the cold logic of it from a demographics point of view. However, I was always a little uncomfortable with it. Now I am deeply so. I met too many aging refugees from churches which had implemented seeker-sensitive services aimed at a particular niche market. People are people, made in the image of God, no matter how old. No one is too old to hear and receive the gospel. No one is a lost cause by virtue of age. A leopard can change its spots. An old dog can learn new tricks. An old person can be born again.

We must trust that God will bless the preaching of his word wherever the opportunity arises.

PS. Sorry to miss Ant's Woodlands housegroup Christmas bash as a result. (Techically, I'm still on your list, am I, Ant? Please?) I gather it was a blast...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Freedom and Opinions

Well, yes. I'm all for free speech. And blogging is good for it. People can express their opinions, get things off their chests blah blah blah.

Trouble is, I'm getting the impression that some people believe their opinion is sacrosanct. To challenge it is to violate some holy law which must be punished.

The reason I have a problem here is that I happen to believe that all opinions have weight, and that weight is determined by the veracity of the information it is based upon. Needless to say, some opinions can be found to be very light indeed upon inspection. Consequently, it is my opinion that all opinions should be subject to fires of enquiry. What is left standing is then worth something of value. Unfortunately not everyone agrees. Some believe that the quantity and volume of opinion is what matters.

As I have mentioned before, Jesus did not come full of grace and opinions. He did not tell the pharisees in John 8 that they will have an opinion, and this opinion will set them free. He spoke of truth.

There is a story behind this little comment, but we need not go there. Just to say, for what it is worth, that truth matters above all opinions.

That's my opinion.

Going Hyper

Just in case you thought my refererence to Purgatorio and things emergent a few days ago was one-sided and maybe even deeply offensive, read this. It's even funnier.

Corollary: I'm not a true calvinist. I'm not called John.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Are You

It has been around for a few days now, but just in case you missed and you are wondering whether or not you fit into the emergent thing, why not take this test.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Seven Things

John has tagged me with this a few days ago,

1. Seven things to do before I die
2. Seven things I cannot do
3. Seven things that attract me to my spouse
4. Seven things I say most often
5. Seven books (or series) I love
6. Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)
7. Seven people I want to join in, too

Hmmm. Oh, alright then. Here goes...

Seven things to do before I die:

1. Visit Australia
2. Understand the Apostle John's Revelation
3. Write a book of some sort
4. Bag all the Munros
5. Read the Works of John Owen
6. Go to the North Pole
7. Visit Nepal

Seven things I cannot do:

1. Play football
2. Avoid detail
3. Hit a golf ball straight
4. Dance
5. Comb my fringe
6. Lick my own nose
7. At the moment, undertand Hebrew!!!!

Seven things that attract me to Susan:

1. Smile
2. Daft, at suitable moments, of course.
3. Spiritually minded
4. Tres clever
5. Strength & determination
6. Skin
7. Something I won't put here!

Seven things I say most often:

1. Um
2. Hmmm...
3. Good grief!
4. It's after 8 o'clock! (getting my daughter to move in the morning)
5. It's time for bed!
6. Coffee?
7. Sorry?

Seven books (or series) I love:

1. Tolkien's LOTR
2. Asimov's Foundation series
3. Bonar's Diary and Life
4. Murray's biography of MLJ
5. Knowing God by Packer
6. Resurrection and Redemption by Gaffin
7. The Christian's Great Interest by Guthrie

Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would if I had the time):

1. Matrix
2. Minority Report
3. Lord of the Rings
4. Lost in Translation
5. Bourne Identity
6. The Talented Mr. Ripley
7. Chocolat

Seven people I want to join in:
1. Jon
2. Alistair
3. Steve
4. James
5. Ant
6. Rob
7. David

Go on! You know you want to!


...flattered! Compared with a bloke with more hair than me? Made my day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More on Crucifixes

I have been following yesterday's story of the girl and the crucifix with some interest over the last 24 hours. I has been an eye opener. It made its way from the local press to the national press, TV, radio (go to 1hour 40mins in to get the discussion) and from their across the pond to news sites. Of course from there it has found it's way on to american blogs. You can find an ever growing list of them here.

It's pretty amazing. The writers range from "concerned culture watchers" to proud white supremacist racists. On another front, Susan tells me that the school has been getting hate mail from these and other sites.

Of course this is a story which has taken on a life of its own. The facts of the matter have largely become irrelevant. Instead readers and "commentators" simply reveal their own agendas for debate.

Easily the most worrying thing has been the tendency of commentators to claim Christianity as their own in their battle against other ethnic groups and cultures. There is shocking racism. More importantly, they display a complete ignorance of Christ, of what Christianity is, and what the weapons of warfare are. In one discussion I got into, it was said
Christendom has been under attack for decades and since people have lost their faith due to this relentless attack, the west is buckling.
But of course, people don't lose their faith because of 'relentless attack'. People lose faith because they love the world and lusts of the flesh too much. (One thing I have noticed on some of these sites that claim to be defending Christianity is the number of links to pornographic girly websites!) In contrast, trials prove faith. And so, the quote goes, "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church".

The real power of Christianity is not found in defending pointless meaningless, symbols. In making stands on this the enemy simply laughs, gives Christians a kicking, and then marches on. The stand is made by faith in Christ, proclamation of his word, faithful obedience to him while living lightly to the world.

I don't care about culture and ethnicity because the Bible tells us there are only two kinds of people in the world: those in the church, the kingdom of God, and those in the world. The latter is doomed to judgement. If there is a reason that "Christian culture" (and frankly I don't care for that term - it is an abuse) is buckling it is because it is rooted in the world. I want no part of it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What Makes Good Preaching?

J. C. Ryle, writing of Hugh Latimer, says:
[W]e are poor judges in these days of what a sermon ought to be. A modern sermon is too often a dull, tame, pointless, religious essay, full of measured, round sentences, Johnsonian English, bald platitudes, timid statements, and elaborately concocted milk and water. It is a leaden sword without point or edge: a heavy weapon, and little likely to do much execution. But if a combination of sound Gospel doctrine, plain Saxon language, boldness, liveliness, directness, and simplicity, can make a preacher, few, I suspect, have ever equalled old Latimer.
(Five English Reformers, p. 110)

Vindictiveness and Religion

This story, concerning my wife's school, hit the local press today. Such is its vital importance to the nation that it is even on the front page of that bastion of Truth, the Daily Express (there is no link to the story, just a picture at the top right of the front page of the publication). A child at Sinfin Community School was told not to wear a crucifix while at school.

As I understand it, the cold facts are that the school has a strict no-jewelry policy for safety reasons. However, if a religion requires a particular piece to be worn then it can be worn, provided the parent signs a disclaimer that the school is not responsible for an injuries than may occur to the wearer as a direct result. So, for example, Sikhs can wear their wristbands.

The parent who is the source of this bit of 'news' was offered the chance to get her priest to write a letter stating that the crucifix was essential to the child's religion. Then she would have been allowed to wear it. Of course, such a thing is impossible since no Christian leader (in its broadest definition) believes any bit of jewelry is essential to the faith. So, still believing this was discrimination, she went to the press.

Of course it is a story blown up out of all proportion, and rather than revealing an important issue, merely shows the vindictiveness, indeed racism, hiding under the cloak of nominal christianity in the post-christian UK. There is a great deal to be concerned about in this country regarding the freedom to articulate the content of the Christian faith. There are clouds on the horizon. But this is not one of them.

If anything, thinking tangentially, this case highlights the need to strongly oppose any attempt to create laws such as the religious hatred bill currently going through parliament. Why? Because there are always those of a vindictive nature who will seek to abuse such laws to their own personal ends, no matter how well-meaning the government sounds.

UPDATE: This story has also made its way on to the pages of the national Daily Telegraph

FURTHER UPDATE: And on Sky News!