Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ferguson's Decalogue

The second table of Ferguson's Decalogue for preachers. Points 8 and 9 particularly noteworthy.

Interestingly for me, Dr. F contradicts a comment I made on a similar topic in my previous post. He says this under point 6,
Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
So far so good. This makes sense. I take this to mean that the theatre must be prepared by laying out the grace in Christ before surgery can begin. But then in the next sentence he says,
Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace.
This seems to be the wrong way round. Surely, light drives out darkness, rather than darkness looking for and welcoming the light.

What say ye?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Preaching Grace?

The Reformation 21 blog has had a theme this week on preaching grace rather than denunciation. When coming to the application of the scriptures to life it is easy to become severe. After all, what does not need to be done? However the answer to these needs is to more clearly proclaim grace. Rick Phillips makes some good observations.

I suppose a preacher who resorts to denunciation (and I cringe when I think of some of the sermons I have preached) himself needs to see grace in Christ more clearly.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Quick Thought-Provokers from the Midlands Gospel Partnership Meeting

Random collection of things that struck me yesterday:

1. Peter Jensen quoted Henry Venn on the topic of Sending, "Everything under God depends on the quality of the men sent forth." We are not hyper-calvinists. God uses means, and in his time he raises up those with the necessary qualities. The church still needs to identify, nurture and send those of quality.

2. Mark Dever gave a list of 30 ideas for Reaching (i.e. evangelism). As the bloke next me said, we thought he might have meant things like "Have evangelistic pizza parties!" However, it was clear from the list that evangelism flows from a healthy church life. Most of the ideas were to do with this.

3. People in churches need tools not programmes. Training in basics essential.

4. Big churches don't find it any easier to send than small. Small churches must not entertain pipe dreams that the big church's cavalry will come and help.

5. Limitations of budget and manpower are for a reason. God, in his providence, wants us to prioritise in forming mission strategy.

6. Peter Jensen observed that those in a small church who have been the most faithful to God over the years are often the most obstructive in building a sending church when they reach the 50-70 year-old age range.

7. Churches often bewail lack of funds. However, Jensen believes there is plenty of money around. It is just that evangelical Christians are not stupid. If the mission strategy is good then the money will follow and people will give sacrificially. If it is bad they will be reluctant to give. Seems obvious now that he has mentioned it!

A round seven. That'll do for now.

Something to Make Us Preachers Cringe

Nathan has a good list of types of sermons to avoid preaching.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Kind of Jolly

I had the pleasure of attending the Midlands Gospel Partnership meeting in Birmingham today. I had been invited by the people at Solihull Presbyterian Church so I enjoyed meeting Al, David and Tim, all ministers with EPCEW, again. Also present were Ant and Mike from Woodlands, and Mark and Richard from Duffield Parish Church, with whom I worked on placement three years ago. In total, it looked like there were about 200-250 pastors and church leaders from the Midlands area.

Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and Peter Jensen, Archbish of Sydney spoke on the theme Building, Sending, Reaching in the local church. It was a very encouraging and enjoyable time and I'll say a bit more about why tomorrow, perhaps. I'm a bit whacked at the moment.

Of course I had to pick up a couple of books to add to the pile of unread books in my house, but they were cheap and I'm a Scotsman.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cool Theology

Anyone who knows me will know that I don't tend to like the faddiness of modern evangelicalism. It was not always so, but I think I have learned something from previous mistakes. Call it experience, call it age, whatever you like. I don't like fads.

For that reason I have been suspicious of the emergent thing. Yes, I like the community emphasis, all the relational, missional, U2, Starbucks feel about it all. Yet I find myself mostly going in the opposite direction. I don't like what they seem to see as optional and debatable, things which I now see as vital.

Last Thursday, while taking a break from my exam prep, I had a poke around the net and came across the website of Mars Hill Church. The last time I had come across it was while it was being flamed on the emergentno blog, so I have naturally classed it as "emergent". However, being a shallow sort on occasions, I lingered on the site because generally, to use the lingo, emergent sites rock (i.e lots of flash media stuff).

In turn this led me to the Acts 29 Network site, which rocks even harder. Acts 29 is a church planting network which was spawned out of the phenomenal growth of Mars Hill.

Now, look. I'm worried about myself already. Seduced by cool websites? That's something to worry about, is it not?

Then I discovered that Mark Driscoll, the pastor at Mars Hill, was formerly of the emergent church but had distanced himself from the movement after having become concerned about about the theological drift that was becoming apparent in the emerging leaders of the movement. As a result Acts 29 has developed a strong theological foundation. This becomes clear from Driscoll's talk on Theology at the 2005 Acts 29 Boot Camp for church planters.

I listened to a few of the presentations during my 6 hours travelling last Friday and was quietly impressed with Driscoll himself, though some of the others left a bit to be desired. (One of the other speakers spoke about the church as a "relational delivery system"!) He was strong scripture and christology, adopts a calvinist soteriology (i.e. accepts TULIP), in no doubt that preaching is "where it's at" (as opposed to e.g. drama), and clear on male headship in the home and church.

Having listened to some of his preaching I am impressed with the simplicity with which he preaches, without apparently watering anything down. On top of that he unashamedly preaches for an hour or more and still people come to the church!

There is an area of concern for me. Churches often seems to find difficulty working out the relationship between public worship and mission. Since Acts 29 and Mars Hill put mission as top priority I believe that public worship must inevitably suffer. It seems to me that worship is for believers but that non-believers get to look in on this new creation activity. So many churches that try to put mission as tops make worship services as for non-believers at which believers get to look in and have to make do. I have gained the impression that latter happens in Acts 29 services, though I am willing to be corrected.

However, with this reservation, I am reasonably impressed.

Now some of you are worried. I can tell. Don't. Just trying to play nice. ;-)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Divine Guidance

Wouldn't we all like to know what the future holds for us? How can we find out? Can't we get everyone some Urim and Thummim so that everyone knows what to do and plan for?

Well, centuries of testimony tells us that there are no quick fixes apart from Christ-centred spiritual maturity. John Newton, one-time slave trader but converted to Christ, wrote to a friend on the question of divine guidance, and after listing what not to do he said this:
But how then may the Lord's guidance be expected? After what has been premised negatively, the question may be answered in a few words. In general, he guides and directs his people, by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and to love the Scriptures. The word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgements and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct.

They who study the Scriptures, in an humble dependence upon divine teaching, are convinced of their own weakness, are taught to make a true estimate of everything around them, are gradually formed into a spirit of submission to the will of God, discover the nature and duties of their several situations and relations in life, and the snares and temptations to which they are exposed. The word of God dwells richly in them, is a preservative from error, a light to their feet, and a spring of strength and consolation. By treasuring up the doctrines, precepts, promises, examples, and exhortations of Scripture, in their minds, and daily comparing themselves with the rule by which they walk, they grow into an habitual frame of spiritual wisdom, and acquire a gracious taste, which enables them to judge of right and wrong with a degree of readiness and certainty, as a musical ear judges of sounds. And they are seldom mistaken, because they are influenced by the love of Christ, which rules in their hearts, and a regard to the glory of God, which is the great object they have in view.

The full letter is found here.

Imagine There's No Mac. It's Easy If You Try...

I guess this is the closest I'll get to experiencing what it's like having a Windows PC.

(HT Nat)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Freedom - for Now

Well, it was a bit of a marathon yesterday. I travelled down to ETCW in the morning, a 3-hour drive, sat my exam on Ruth in Hebrew in the afternoon and drove back in the evening. Got home about 9pm. I was pretty tired but didn't sleep well.

The exam was OK I think. I did not find it easy, but I felt my performance was 'adequate'.

Some people have left comments on previous posts which I will get back to, I promise. But I still have a busy few days ahead to get everything else back in order, so please be patient.

But hey! I'm free! Well, for a little while...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An Uncontrolled Rant on the Topic of Discussing the Atonement

I have been studying Ruth today followed by the DFC prayer meeting this evening. Later, while soaking in the bath I was having a few random non-Ruth cogitations. I thought I should write them down to help me process them. I have done no research or checking. These are just off the top of my head and probably need correction. But hey! This is a blog, right? Just a conversation between guys, OK?

To business. There is a big kerfuffle going on about the atonement stimulated, it seems, by Steve Chalke and his book The Lost Message of Jesus. I read it and wrote on it some time ago. Lots of people are still writing about it, not least because the emergent church cool guys have latched on to it, as have the NPP not-so-cool-but-influential guys since N. T. Wright wrote some blurb for it.

In the book Chalke has some trouble with the idea of penal subtitution theory of the atonement (i.e. that Christ was our substitute in taking the penalty that we deserved for our sin). This is of course a red rag to the evangelical bull. Penal substitution has long been held to define the essential character of the atonement. James Packer played a key role in nailing this with his seminal paper at the The Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture in 1973.

Now I have a problem to do with the way evangelicals are characterised in the debate. I want to come at it from a couple of angles. The first is this. I am an evangelical. I believe the Bible. Now, I have almost finished preaching through the second half of John's gospel. There, Christus Victor is a strong theme (e.g. key verse in 12:31). Substitutionary atonement is also there in the Passover lamb motif etc etc. Overall, when I look at Scripture, I have no problem as an evangelical affirming Christus Victor, ransom theory, even some kind of moral influence of the atonement. As someone said, these are all notes in the work of Christ. However, pen-sub is essential, because it has to do justice to God's holiness and our depravity.

Here's the second thing. I was converted when I was about 17 and have been in evangelical churches ever since. Yes, penal substitution has been taught. So has Christus Victor. So has Christ's death as ransom, sacrifice, redemption. Now the problem I have is one of personal orientation in the debate. Those who I have read on this debate (and by that I mean Chalke's views and the inferences drawn from NTW's blurb) in blogland (and I am primarily thinking of Al and John - there are others but these I know best) set up their arguments by characterising evangelicals as pen-subs-only, teeth-gnashing, gum-grinding anathematising banshees who will not countenance other threads of thought. This I do not recognise from where I come from. The problem with this for me is:

a) What do they mean by 'evangelical'? Nowadays it can mean almost anything! Who on earth are they talking about? Describe them. Name them! Finding out someone is an 'evangelical' these days is like asking the question, "What's for dinner tonight?" and getting the answer, "Food". Duh.

b) I have not met anyone who is like these funny 'evangelicals' that John and Al describe. It's just not my experience. So maybe I'm not one after all! But I thought I was one. I'm disorientated!! (NB: this is satire - I know what I mean by evangelical!)

Or maybe their characterisations, being so general, are just not adequate. I have a funny feeling there is a lot of straw man building going on, followed by steam-rollering. Yes, evangelicals have deep concerns about Chalke's writings. Yes, evangelicals (like me) want to defend penal-substitution. But no, evangelicals, as far as I can see (I admit there may be some out on the thin branches) do not deny other 'notes'. And they can be quite nice. Let's get things in perspective.

Let the counter-rants begin (but I'm off - exams).

UPDATE: I have amended the post a little from the original because I did not represent Al's views fairly, for which I apologise.

I have also added a link to the Packer paper for one's perusal.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Busy Today

I preached twice today. Firstly, this morning I was at Solihull Presbyterian Church, about 50miles south of where we live. There were 20 there, I think, similar to last week, but some different faces. One lady from the neighbourhood who had come for the first time last week had come back, so she was a great encouragement. Another man who has been along a few times and has many questions about the faith also came. He too was an encouragement. I preached on the rich young ruler of Matthew 19, issuing the call to follow Christ.

In the evening, I was at DFC. We have reached John 21:1-14 where we looked at how Jesus prepared Peter for his full restoration after his denial of Christ.

Naturally, I felt much more at home at DFC than Solihull. I know the people, their circumstances. I know when they are getting restless and when they are engaged. Solihull was a new ball-game - exciting, but tricky picking up the 'rules' and 'plays'!

Now I am shattered and probably will be tomorrow too.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hippo, Birdie, Two Ewes.

Just stopping by to say

Happy Birthday!

to my dear wife, Susan!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Don't Panic! DON'T PANIC!

I have an exam in a week so I need to get my nose down. Don't expect too much here over the next few days.

To keep you entertained, here's a site to kill some time on.

(HT John)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is S/He Really A Christian?

When I was a young lad and not long a Christian, I and my Christian friends would discuss the merits of the preachers we knew and heard in and around Glasgow. At uni there were many of us in the Navigators and the Christian Union so there were plenty preachers we knew of to talk about.

Perhaps it was arrogant of us to think we knew anything about what to look for in preaching and preachers. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, after all. Youth has a habit of not caring too much about such small but important details as experience and wisdom. But, undeterred, we pressed on with our discussions, often late into the night.

Not all the preachers were considered 'good'. In fact, based on the quality of the preaching, the things said, the views expressed, occasionally someone would say in hushed tones, "I don't think he is a Christian". Such conclusions seemed perfectly rational.

Much later, having moved abroad to England, I still maintained that kind of thinking. In any church there are Christians and not-really Christians.

Now, there are two ways that one can deal with this kind of thought. First, there is the recognition that not all of those who are members of a church today will be there at the Last Day. This is a fact which cannot be denied. Hypocrites are in the church and they will be found out by Christ (Mat. 7:21-23). But the second way of dealing with this is to adopt an attitude akin to the Inquisition. "Is that person really a Christian?" I may ask. The person is a member of the church I am a member of. He/she is not an "open and notorious evil liver". In other words, he/she could be living an ordered life, outwardly impeccable. Yet the Inquisitor in me says, "Is that person really a Christian?" This is the approach I used to take some years ago as I formed a mental list of those in my church who were "real Christians" and those who were not.

The difference between the two views is simple. Who decides? In the first case, Christ decides. He is the infallible judge. He always gets things right. This is a fearful fact that must be treated with some urgency and importance by each individual. He will not make a mistake and therefore there is no room for appeal, no matter how people will try. (Read Matt. 7:21-23 again to check that this is true.)

In the second case, I try to decide. Of course, open sin must be confronted - theft, adultery etc. Here, the process of pastoral discipline must be followed through by the church (Matt. 18:15-17), resulting in expulsion (1 Cor. 5:1-13) as the final step if necessary. But what of those who are not like that? They may be baptised, professors of the faith, but who at the same time don't seem very lively spiritually speaking, sometimes come out with whacky theological views, and lack an eagerness to serve that others may have. Yes, there is a case for me to encourage them in greater zeal for worship, prayer, meditation on the Word, acts of service. But is it legitimate for me to entertain that secret little thought, "He's not really a Christian"?

I can't justify a "yes" to that question. Can you?

ADDENDUM: Of course I should add for the sake of clarity that for anyone to stand in a pulpit and preach unbiblical nonsense is a great sin. Any afflicted church must deal with this cancer and do so crisply. Young men who do not know what they are saying should be counselled and trained. Older men who know exactly what they are saying should be told to "pick a windae" - as they say in Glasgow.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Real JM

Everyone knows that Jon Mackenzie is hiding something. He thinks he has fooled us with his arty foto. But there have long been rumours - he is hiding something.

Now, after much work and long hours, using only the finest digital enhancement software, I have manage to do something quite remarkable. We now know what Jon Mackenzie looks like....


Knox on Dawkins et al.

My absolutely ancient Christian friend Paul, who is a right proper scientist at Liverpool University has a few observations on Dawkins' and Starkey's recent televisual feasts.

Go and pester him. I'm sure has more to say than he's letting on!

We've Been Had!

You may remember the precautionary measures that I felt it necessary to take the other day. And, thanks the nudge from David, my family has been catechised for their own protection by learning a helpful song.

Cool Accessory

However, it is with great regret that I have discovered that there are double-agents afoot propogating even more pernicious falsehoods. It is necessary for all to be made aware of some secret research which has been done on the efficacy of tin-foil hats, which I have uncovered.

Here are the results: yes, it is true that at most radio frequencies mind-controling rays are attenuated by the hat. We are safe from, say, Radio 1. However, there is a band of frequencies for which this is not true. In fact, in this band the signal is ... stengthened!

And HORROR of HORRORS!?!? - it is the band reserved FOR U.S. GOVERNMENT USE!! It seems that the whole rush to get the population of the world to acquire such (admittedly, mmm, fetching) hats was an elaborate ruse to control us yet further!!!!!

Whatever shall we do?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Science, Politics and Homosexuality: A Book Review

I reproduce here a book review I wrote a while ago for my church magazine. Enjoy...

Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate
Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse
IVP: Downers Grove, Illinois, 2000. 183pp, pb.
ISBN: 0830815678

As a trained scientist I was drawn to this book by the words “scientific” and “research” in the title. This area of concern is heavily politicized within the wider Christian community and it is sometimes difficult to find solid ground for the assertions made. The authors of this book write from a conservative evangelical standpoint and adopt the traditional attitude to homosexual practice. However their primary concern is with explaining the relevance of research data to the moral debate, not with explaining biblical texts. With this in mind it is refreshing to read authors who want to look at some hard data gathered in the field, some of it eye-opening and challenging.

The basic structure of the book is to look at what research has to say about four questions: How prevalent is homosexuality? What causes homosexuality? Is homosexuality a psychopathology? (i.e. is it some kind of mental disorder?) Can homosexuality be changed? Each of these is covered in a chapter each of which adopts the same form: A review of the use of research in church debate so far; a review of the scientific findings; a discussion of the relevance of the research to the moral debate.

In my view Jones and Yarhouse make two particularly useful contributions. The first is that they simply clear up the numbers. For example, it is now commonly asserted by pro-gay advocates that 10% of people are gay. The source of this is two-fold: firstly, a study made in the 40s and 50s with methods that are now discredited. Secondly, there has been a reckless enhancement of the figures for political ends. To counter this Jones and Yarhouse simply present a full list of research results carried out more recently with more rigorous methods. The clear conclusion is that the figure is more like 1-2%.

The second useful contribution is to show how important caricaturing of conservative Christian arguments is in progressing the pro-gay viewpoint. For example, “Homosexuality is not very prevalent therefore it is abnormal and must be rejected”, is one such caricature that pro-gays have seized upon. The argument has the ring of scientific authority about it. To counter it, it is in the interests of the pro-gay lobby to show that the prevalence of homosexuality is significant. Having done so, so the pro-gay argument goes, homosexuality is not abnormal and therefore should be accepted. It is a successful approach since Christians often unthinkingly adopt the caricature (as I found I had done!) with the result that they are then portrayed as being against science. Jones and Yarhouse spend some time analyzing the caricatures and showing them for what they are. This was very thought-provoking.

The book closes with a chapter on Christian sexual ethics. This is particularly useful as it connects dealing with the moral choices concerning homosexuality with the broader issue of making moral choices as a fallen Christian. Christian living means hard decisions sometimes with hard consequences, and not just for those who struggle with homosexuality.

Though a short read, it is a book for the committed reader who really wants to get to the bottom of the underlying research. But for those with an interest in the topic it is well worth the effort and money spent on it.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Originally uploaded by Dancers.

Lunch in the Dancer household today.

Yes. All my own work and proud of it. Tasted good too.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

This Lord's Day

The family and I had the pleasure of attending Solihull Presbyterian Church near Birmingham. It was a very encouraging time. Albert and Julie Lutz are from the PCA in the US and are here for two years. They have been working there since the summer last year, meeting people, distributing literature, writing newspaper ads. They have developed many contacts. This morning's congregation was 20, I think, which included two new visitors.

After the service Al and Julie invited a load of people, and us, back for lunch. It was a delight. There is a warm spirit amongst this group which is a good sign for the future.

Next week I will be leading the service there, God willing. I go with fear and trepidation. It's not easy handling someone else's baby!

I preached at DFC this evening. We are blessed at the moment with some real encouragers in the congregation who speak to me afterwards. However, the numbers were depleted for various known reasons. I usually find this affects my spirit adversely. However, in our passage this evening, John 20:19-31, Jesus gives his peace, blesses with his Spirit for proclamation, and enables us to profess Christ, all as the fruit of his resurrection from the dead. Yes, it is good to remember that Jesus lives!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Preaching Workshops

Today is noteworthy because this morning marked the completion of a number of meetings of a preachers' group I have been coordinating. Eight months ago eight of us began meeting together to work through Haddon Robinson's Expository Preaching in a series of 2-hour workshops. We came from a variety of local churches: Ashbourne Baptist, Grace Church Belper, Derwent Free and Woodlands Evangelical. One of us was a minister of many years' experience (to keep us on track!), some of us were in training for the ministry, some had had no training whatsoever yet were occasional preachers, and one had no experience or training yet wanted to learn how to do it!

The format was straightforward:
  • I would set some homework for the next session, consisting of some reading from the book and some homework questions to think about.

  • One member of the group would be tasked with preparing to preach a 10-minute sermon. The most experienced preacher preached during the first session, the least experienced at the last session.

  • The session would begin with prayer and the 10-minute sermon, followed by a group critique of the sermon.

  • The remainder of the session was taken up with discussion of the issues that the homework raised.

  • Finally, open prayer for those who were preaching in the month ahead.

Though there are some oddities in Robinson's approach, we were able to discuss them and draw out the most useful lessons. As a result everyone seems to have benefitted from the fellowship and the commonality of purpose.

I would recommend this kind of approach as an introduction to preaching. As well as helping and refreshing existing preachers, it can also help identify future ones.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Uses of Ekklesia in the New Testament

My old friend Paul made a comment in an earlier post which has prompted this entry. There, speaking of Christian entities or institutions Paul said,
After all Scripture seems to recognise only two of importance - the universal Church and the local Church.
Paul rightly identifies that the only 'entity' that scripture recognises is the church. However, it seems to me there are at least four, possibly five, ways in which the New Testament uses the word ekklesia, translated as 'church', which I thought I would just list here:

  1. The majority of uses of ekklesia to describe an assembly at a particular location. For example Paul writes to "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1) and to "the church of the Thessalonians" (1 Th. 1:1, 2 Th. 1:1). In the book of Acts, Luke describes the particular churches in Jerusalem (Ac. 8:1, 11:22, 15:4, 22), Antioch (Ac. 11:26, 13:1, 15:3) and Ephesus (Ac. 20:17, 28). From these verses we see local congregations of the faithful.

  2. A second use of ekklesia is to describe the whole body of such faithful believers all over the world at a any point in history. In other words, this singular noun is used to describe the aggregate of all the individual churches. For example, Paul describes in 1 Co. 12:28 "the church" has been given gifts. By including the gift of apostleship, Paul is thinking more widely than the congregation at Corinth. Apostleship was a given to the church as a whole for that early period of history.

  3. A third use of ekklesia in the New Testament is to describe the whole body of the church, gathered from throughout all ages and places, which is spiritually united to Christ. For example, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus looks to the future of the church and its ultimate destiny as the body that will prevail over the gates of Hell. Paul, in Ephesians 5:25-27, also sees into the future where the church will be cleansed and purified in preparation for her presentation to Christ at the eschatological wedding. In these examples the church is contemplated in its final, completed state.

  4. A fourth and less certain use of ekklesia is found in Ac. 9:31. In some readings the word is singular (as rendered, for example, in the NIV) and on others plural (as rendered in the NKJV). If plural, then this use falls into the first category listed above. If the singular reading is correct, and it seems to be the most reliable, then this adds a new use, for clearly a collection of local churches can still be called a "church". So, for example, it would not be unscriptural to make reference to 'the church in Derby'.

  5. The final use is found in Mt. 18:17 where Jesus outlines the process of discipline for sin. Some have argued that 'church' here is a representative body of the elders. However, I personally am not convinced of this.

Any dissenters?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Trueman Article on Blogland

A few weeks ago I wrote on the fact that blogland enables many people to get things off their chest in the public arena. Nevertheless, I was concerned that opinions expressed still need to carry weight for them to be of value. I was very serious. >:-(

Along the same lines, yesterday I discovered an excellent article by Carl Trueman entitled The Theatre of the Absurd where he writes that the right to free speech, facilitated by the internet and an all-round Good Thing, does not, however, imply the right to be heard. That has to be earned.

An excellent analysis, and a cogent argument for not taking one's presence on the web too seriously.

(PS This is why everyone should read Jon Mackenzie. A clever bloke, yet on whom a furrowed brow of concern can rarely be seen, and from whom meaningful "mmmm"s can rarely be heard. His site is just a plain good interesting read.)

How to Read the Bible

Nathan distills some thoughts from a Puritan on reading the Bible. The points are ever relevant and helpful.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Few Minutes Spare...

Casting aside all hair-ism, here is an excellent blonde joke from Nat to pass away a few pleasant minutes...

The Last Book of 2005

The last book I read in 2005 was Ruth and Naomi by Ellen van Wolde (SCM, 1997). She takes the interesting approach of looking at the story of each chapter of Ruth through the eyes of the characters involved. She takes the texts and examines them from each perspective. The approach is quite enlightening and helpful.

However, at each point each perspective is summarised in their own (supposed) words. It is here that the perspective of the commentator comes through, for in these little passages of fiction late 20th century concerns are imported. For example, in chapter 2 where Ruth takes the initiative to glean in what turns out to be Boaz's field, van Wolde raises the issue of ethnic difference. This was a real issue. Moabites were to be excluded from the worship of God. Words like 'tolerance', 'integration' have modern currency. Concerns about those of different ethnic background moving into the house next to you are certainly 20th and 21st century issues. The plight of refugees is an evil of the modern day. But were these the most important issues readers are to take from the text?

Another example: Boaz is introduced in chapter 2. The words van Wolde gives hims are, again, late 20th/21st century words. Is it right to think of Boaz, who was older than Ruth, as 'wedded to his work', a 'workaholic', that he may have been 'unlucky in love', that he had to deal with 'rumours that he was a homosexual'?

And so it goes on. It seems to me that here van Wolde demonstrates her modern liberal concerns. She has defined what the issues are that the reader should be concerned about in reading the ancient text. This seems to be the way she uses to make the text live for the modern reader. However this rather misses the more basic question of what it meant for the people of the day. If we miss this we do not understand scripture at all and therefore have no hope of an appropriate modern understanding. It was irritating to have modern issues thrust into an ancient text in this way.

This rather leads me to my second gripe with this work. It seems that, like many modern biblical theologians (I mean this in the technical, academic sense), they lack of broader view of covenantal history i.e. God at work in history, gathering a people for himself, through the means of covenants. Yes, modern writers make some reference to the historical and religious environment in which the book in question is set, but only in the sense that this is just what happens to 'be'. There does not seem to be the sense that this book is part of a greater, purposeful story. For this one would need to hold to a robust doctrine of providence, election and the unity of scripture. These seem to be absent in van Wolde's work, and therefore her analysis of the text resembles the disection of a cadaver rather than the rounded study of human life.

I liked the novel approach of van Wolde, but there was not enough respect for the overarching purpose of God, and too much respect for modern day human problems.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Evangelicalism and Culture

Yesterday, I started reading Transforming Keswick: The Keswick Convention Past, Present and Future by Charles Price and Ian Randall. I was given the book about a year ago from someone who thought I would find it interesting. I wasn't sure what to make of this when it happened. Knowing the person involved and how I disagreed with him on some pretty fundamental issues, I rather suspected there was some 'agenda' behind the gift. Is that too cynical?! Nevertheless, the book has been quite interesting so far.

The Keswick Convention seems to have been spawned out of the 19th century holiness movement propogated by the Wesleyan Methodists, though Keswick's doctrine of sanctification differed from theirs. It tapped into a desire for a deeper spiritual experience and a 'higher life' of consecration to Christ.

In passing, Price and Randall make the following observation on the interaction of evangelicalism with the world:
The historian David Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain makes a case for evangelicalism being a branch of Christendom that is particularly susceptible to the influence of the culture of the day, being 'moulded and remoulded by its environment'. Writing of the inception of the Keswick Convention he states that the holiness movement was an expression of the permeation of evangelicalism by Romantic thought. The sensibility of the age, he argues, lay behind the new spiritual language.
Romanticism was a 19th century artistic and intellectual movement which was characterised by strong emotion and individual experience. One can see the parallel with the holiness movement of evangelicals!

As you might guess, Bebbington is an incompletely read book on my bookshelf, so I cannot yet check his reasoning, but it is quite a stark statement: evangelicalism is particularly susceptible to the influence of the culture of the day!

Is this true? If so, why is it true? What stops other 'branches of Christendom' from being so susceptible? What about the modern day? The consumerism of modernity leading to pick'n'mix, shopping-trolley Christianity? The nihilism of postmodernism leading to a loss of confidence in knowing where truth lies?

OK. Amateur cultural comment over.

Happy New Year!

Well, the year is a little more than 24 hours old, but a belated "Happy New Year" to all, nonetheless. As a family we sat down to read and pray before morning worship and read Psalm 23 together:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
(New International Version)

This may be a year of changes for us. I hope to complete my theological studies at ETCW. I will also finish working with Derwent Free Church around the same time. Thereafter I have no firm plans - only possibilities and hopes. There are a couple of things on the horizon, but nothing that will avoid major upheaval for the family.

Therefore, Psalm 23 seemed like an appropriate reading for the first day of the year. The LORD is indeed the Shepherd of our little family flock. He promises good things for us. He is with us.