Friday, February 24, 2006

"Exiled" Preaching

As my blog is entitled "Exiled Preacher", I suppose it aught to include some preaching. Here is a message on 1 Kings 18. Choose this day whom you will serve (MP3)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Meaning of Vanity

I know what you are thinking, "A blogger posting on the meaning of vanity - has that man no self-awareness?" But I don't mean narcissistic vanity. It is the meaning of the Biblical word translated "vanity" in the book of Ecclesiastes that I wish to consider. At least it is translated "vanity" in the KJV, NKJV & ESV editions of the Bible. The NIV uniformly renders the Hebrew word ebl "meaningless". This is misleading. The baisc meaning of the word is "breath" or "vapour" suggesting something that is insubstantial or transitory. This is the clear meaning of the word in Psalm 39:5 & 11(KJV):
Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.
When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity
Sometimes context demands that "vanity" mean useless or futile. Idols are described as "useless vanities" (Psalm 31:6).

The NIV's translation of "vanity" as meaningless in Ecclesiastes distorts the message of the book. Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. (1:1 NIV) Life under the sun is certainly fleeting. We need to remember our Creator in the days of our youth before the difficult days come (12:1). Life is full of absurdities too:
I returned and saw under the sun that— The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them. (9:11 & 12)

The quest for fulfilment apart from knowing God and obeying him is pointless and futile,
Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. (2:10 & 11).

But the key idea of Ecclesiastes is not that all is meaningless. This insensitive translation makes a nonsence of some passages that deal with practical wisdom:
Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun— all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. (9:9)

What's the point in that? Much better is the NKJV:
Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. (9:9)
The latter translation suggests that we should enjoy married life while it lasts.

Redemption from the Vanity of Life

The New Testament provides the answer to the Preacher's Sermon on "vanity".

James writes of the fleeting nature of life,
whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (4:14)
Paul warns the Ephesian Christians that they should "no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind" (4:14). This suggests futile, empty thinking.
But we are encouraged that all is not vanity. In the light of the resurrection hope "our labours are not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Finally Peter wrote,
knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your vain lifestyles, received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)
The death and resurrection of Christ deliver us from the transient futility of life without God. We are free to live authentic lives for his glory, in the hope of eternal, resurrection life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

William Williams & Experimental Calvinism

William Williams (1717-91) is best known for his hymn "Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah". He was a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist. This movement was forged in the fires of the 18th Century Evangelical Revival. The Calvinistic Methodists were characterized by a blend of deep Reformed Theology and profound experience of God.

Here is one of Williams' wonderfully experimantal, Christ exalting hymns:
.
Dear Jesus, come, my soul doth groan
For nought but for Thyself alone,
Thou art the pearl of price;
For Thee I'd part with all below,
And every hardship undergo,
Beneath the vaulted skies.
.
Thy presence can without delay,
Drive all my numerous cares away,
As chaff before the wind;
Compose my thoughts to adore and love
Thee, as an object far above,
To Thee alone inclined.
.
Release me from the heavy chain,
Guilt, sin and shame, which still remain
To bind me hand and foot;
O, glorious Conqueror, enter in,
Cast out my foes, destroy my sin,
Both branch and spreading root.
.
Give me that knowledge pure, divine,
To know and feel that Thou art mine,
And Thee my portion call;
That doubts and fears may flee away,
And faith unfeigned win the day,
And triumph over all.
.
Williams' hymns help us to practice the supremacy of Christ in singing.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Suffering and the Will of God

Over at Faith and Theology, there is an ongoing discussion of a post on Cancer and the will of God. The article questions John Piper's claim that God had gifted him with cancer, see: Don't Waste Your Cancer. Neo-orthodox Barthians, olde-orthodox Calvinists (like me) and Catholics join the debate. It is interesting to read of the different approaches to God's sovereignty and the interpretation of Scripture. The Barthians content themselves with generalised Theological principles, while Evangelicals try to engage directly with the Scriptures. The discussion has now moved on to the question of whether Christ suffered in accordance with the will of God.

The Bigness of the Gospel

Chris Tilling, has created podcast on his blog, "The Gospel in Paul". In it he reflects on his rejection of an individualistic understanding of Paul's gospel. Chris suggests that Evangelicals have sometimes been guilty of thinking that the gospel is simply the means by which we go to heaven when we die. This is a fair cop. Tom Wright has challenged this reductionistic view in many of his books including his nost recent Paul: Fresh Perspectives (see my review). I left these words as a comment on Chris' blog. They were spoken by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the early 1960's long before the "New Perspective" on Paul.

Most people in the Christian Church today do not seem to believe truly in the resurrection of the body. All they believe is that we shall continue to live in some other realm. This is not the biblical teaching, which is, that we shall live in the body on this renewed, renovated, regenerated earth...We are not to look forward merely to a vague, indefinite, nebulous spiritual state. No, we shall be in a body, and we shall be on a new earth, under a new heavens wherein dwelleth righteousness. (Exposition of Romans Chapter 8:17-39, The Final Perseverance of the Saints, 1975, Banner of Truth Trust, p 89 & 90).

Lloyd-Jones has grasped something of the bigness of Paul's gospel - the good news that God has acted to redeem the whole of creation through his Son, the Lord Jesus.

Jesus, the Last Adam

In Romans 5:12-21 Paul contrasts the first Adam, through whom sin, death and condemnation came to all men with Jesus Christ through whom came righteousness and eternal life. This “Last Adam” theme also plays an important part in 1 Corinthians 15.

For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (15:20&21.)

Just as in Romans 5, in this text, Paul sees human history through two representative figures, two “men”. One man – Adam brought death, one man – Christ brings resurrection life. Jesus is the head of a new humanity, a humanity redeemed from sin and death .

And so it is written, “The first man became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However the spiritual is not the first but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second man is the Lord from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:45-47.)

In (44), Paul contrasts the present “natural body” that believers have by creation, a body that is subject to death with the “spiritual body” that they will possess when they are raised to life. “Natural body” however is not an accurate translation of Paul’s words. He meant something like “soulish body” or a body characterised by “soul”. Genesis 2:7 tells us that, “Adam became a living soul.” The life of this Adam was “of the earth”, belonging to this world. In contrast the Last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. He is the Lord from heaven.

The distinction between “natural body” and “spiritual” body is not that the one is physical or material and the other immaterial. Liberal scholars have latched on to Paul’s language of a “spiritual” body to justify their view that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical non-event. Borg suggests that, “Perhaps we should take seriously that Paul thought there are spiritual bodies that are not physical.” (The Meaning of Jesus, Wight & Borg, 1999: p. 133.) But Fee is closer to the mark when he says, “It is ‘spiritual’ not in the sense of ‘immaterial’ but of ‘supernatural’” (1 Corinthians NICNT, Fee, 1988: p. 788). Paul is not talking about the composition of Adam’s body - that it was composed of “soul” and that the believer’s new body will be composed of “spirit” and therefore, somehow immaterial. Rather, Adam was a man belonging to the realm of soul-animated, earthly humanity. Humanity that was created good, but then fell into sin. The Last Adam, at his resurrection, became a life-giving spirit. He is “from heaven” – belonging to that supernatural, spiritual realm. He gives “spiritual bodies” to those he raises to life, bodies energised and transformed by the power of the Spirit.

Why then does Paul insist that, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”? Surely that suggests that the future existence of believers will be non-physical or immaterial? Wright reminds us that for Paul, “flesh” often means fallen humanity.

It does not simply mean, as it has so often been taken to mean, ‘physical humanity’ in the normal modern sense, but the ‘present physical humanity (as opposed to the future one), which is subject to decay and death’. (The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright, 2003:p. 359.)

Such a fallen human existence needs to be transformed and renewed by the Lord from heaven. He, as the “life giving spirit” will transform fallen humanity into glorious, heavenly, spiritual humanity.

Jesus’ resurrection body is the prototype of the believer’s resurrection body. He was raised to life; his dead body was reanimated and his humanity was transformed into a new pneumatic or spiritual existence. The people who belong to the Last Adam will be made like him, “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man.” (1 Corinthians 15:49.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Carnation

Paul Weller will receive an Outstanding Contribution to Music award at Wednesday's Brit Awards. This song from The Jam's The Gift has always haunted me. It makes us face up to the reality of our own sin-hardened hearts.



If you gave me a fresh carnation
I would only crush it's tender petals
With me you'll have no escape
And at the same time there'll be nowhere to settle -
I trample down all life in my wake
I eat it up and take the cake
I just avert my eyes to the pain
Of someone's loss helping my gain
If you gave me a dream for my pocket
You'd be plugging in the wrong socket
With me there's no room for the future
With me there's no room with a view at all -
I am out of season all year 'round
Hear machinery roar to my empty sound
Touch my heart and feel winter
Hold my hand and be doomed forever -

If you gave me a fresh carnation
I would only crush it's tender petals
With me you'll have no escape
And at the same time there'll be nowhere to settle.
And if you're wondering by now who I am
Look no further than the mirror -
Because I am the greed and fear
And every ounce of hate in you.
Posted by Picasa

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

William Williams on Assurance

The Welsh Calvinistic Methodists of the 18th Century Evangelical Revival taught that Christians should know that they are saved. The leaders of this movement, Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris and William Williams drew on the rich, Bible-based Puritan theology of assurance. They taught that believers should dilligently seek the "witness of the Spirit" or full assurance of faith. Converts were gathered into Societies or Experience Meetings where they could share their experiences of the trials and joys of the Christian life. William Williams wrote a book on how these meeting were to be led and encouraged.
.
This question was to be put to those who wished to join an Experience Meeting:
.
Though you have not received the witness of the Spirit, yet are you seeking God with all your heart, and that with a constant disposition of the soul (not in fits of conviction), longing to lay hold on God, wanting nothing but Him alone, and counting all things loss that you may gain Him, not resting till you posess Him?

(The Experience Meeting by William Williams p. 35 Evangelical Press 1973.)

This hymn expresses an intense longing for full assurance of faith.

Speak, I pray Thee, gentle Jesus!
O, how passing sweet Thy words,
Breathing o’er my troubled spirit
Peace which never earth affords.
All the world’s distracting voices,
All the enticing tones of ill,
At Thy accents mild, melodious,
Are subdued, and all is still.

Tell my Thou art mine, O Saviour,
Grant me an assurance clear;
Banish all my dark misgivings,
Still my doubting, calm my fear.
O, my soul within me yearneth
Now to hear Thy voice divine;
So shall grief be gone for ever,
And despair no more be mine.

William Williams (1717-1791)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Fundamentalism

Fundamentalists are the bogeymen of the post-modern world. They challenge the easy-going relativism of our times by claiming to possess Truth. How outrageous! A Fundamentalist is at best a not very nice, opinionated bigot and at worst a murderous hate-preaching terrorist.

Liberal Theology
Bible believing Christians are often labelled Fundamentalists in the media. But are Evangelicals really Fundamentalists? In once sense we are because we believe in the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. But in another sense, Evangelicals are quite different from Fundamentalist Christians. Christian Fundamentalism was originally an American phenomenon with its roots in late 19th Century revivalism (See Revival & Revivalism by Iain H Murray Banner of Truth Trust). By the 1920's the Fundamentalist agenda was becoming increasingly clear. Fundamentalism was a reaction to the rationalism of Liberal Theology. Fundamentalists rightly saw that Liberal Theology was attempting to accommodate the Christian faith to the anti-supernaturalist assumptions of the Enlightenment. For Liberal Theologians, the Bible was not a God-inspired text, but a human document that was capable of inspiring us with thoughts of the divine. Jesus' virgin birth, miracles, atoning death and resurrection were dismissed by Liberals as inventions of the Early Church. For them the "Jesus of history" was very different from the New Testament "Christ of faith". The problem with Fundamentalism is not that the early leaders of the movement endeavoured to defend the historic Christian faith from the onslaught of Liberal Theology. The difficulty is one of spirit and method.
.
Anti-intellectualism
Fundamentalists tended to denounce Liberal Theology rather than engage with it in a responsible, scholarly way. The approach of Reformed Evangelicals such as Gresham Machen and B. B. Warfield was very different. These men produced well-argued, scholarly works in order to defend historic Christian doctrines. They gave thinking Christians a Biblically robust, intellectually coherent response to Theological liberalism. This was in the tradition of Calvin and the Reformers, who did not simply denounce and lambast Roman Catholic teaching. They understood it and were able to demonstrate clearly where Rome had departed from Scripture. Fundamentalists could warn of the dangers of Liberalism and tell their people to avoid it like the plague. But they lost the Theological argument by failing to engage in it. Fundamentalism tended to be anti-intellectual with little room for Theology or Biblical scholarship. The sad result of this was that intelligent conservative Christians became disillusioned with Fundamentalism and embraced Liberal thinking.
.
Quirks
The Fundamentalist movement was characterized by several doctrinal quirks. Dispensationalism. This view was popularised by the Scofield Bible, the official Fundamentalist text. Dispensationalism involves an extremely literalistic premillenial view of the last things. Christ will reign on earth for 1000 years, during which time the Temple will be rebuilt at Jerusalem etc. This view of the last things tends to lead to political Zionism. Premillenialism was often regarded as a test of orthodoxy by Fundamentalists.
The Holiness Movement. This view of the Christian life was popularised in the UK's Keswick Conference. They key idea is that Christians should stop struggling to mortify sin by the power of the Spirit and simply "Let go and let God". Sanctification could be achieved in one spectacular crisis experience. Fundamentalism could often be rather legalistic on issues such as alcohol consumption, cinema going and popular music. Fundamentalism was culturally disengaged.
Hyper-Separatism. As well as separating from those who deny basic Bible doctrines, Fundamentalists tended to fall out over secondary matters such as the precise details of premillenialism.
.
Fundamentalists & Evangelicals
Evangelicals may have some important things in common with Fundamentalists. But our Biblical, Reformation heritage helps to deliver us from the Theological shallowness that often characterised Fundamentalism. Engagement with Puritan spirituality keeps us from the aberrations of "Holiness Teaching". The Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God over the whole of life is a safeguard against cultural disengagement. Evangelicals (not to say Christian Fundamentalists) are certainly not to be compared with terrorists! The great fundamental of the Christian faith is "love one another."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Cartoon Vengeance

Once again the news is full of reports of widespread angry protest amongst Muslim communities worldwide BBC Online. UK Muslims too are outraged over the offending cartoon BBC Online. Meanwhile, Christians in Muslim countries are facing intensified persecution.

The Barnabas Fund website comments,

“Why should the hurting of Muslim feelings be equated with the injury and destruction of non-Muslim persons and property?” asks Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund. “This gross injustice has gone unremarked. Christian minorities in Muslim countries strive continually to demonstrate that they are loyal citizens of their homelands, yet over and over again they are punished for the deeds of people they do not know in “Christian” countries far away. They are desperately vulnerable, knowing that few would dare to come to their aid or to seek to bring their attackers to justice.”

As a Christian, I believe that God can look after his own glory. He does not want or need us to resort to violence to defend the honour of his name. Believers must be prepared to bear the reproach of Christ patiently and graciously.

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.... Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4:14 & 16).

But we should be prepared to speak up for persecuted Christians in Muslim countries where their liberties are denied and their faith is certainly not respected. I commend the excellent ministry of the Barnabas Fund to my readers.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Offence of Free Speech

Freedom of speech has reached the top of the news agenda twice this week. First, we have witnessed the defeat of the Government's religious hatred legislation. That is a good thing! Long live free speech and religious liberty. Second, we have the furore over the publication of satirical religious cartoons, depicting Mohamed with a bomb for a turban. This has led to widespread and sometimes violent unrest in the Muslim world BBC Online . A French newspaper editor has been sacked over the publication of the offending cartoons Independent Online . What are the limits of free speech from Christian point of view?

Freedom to offend?
If my free speech is likely to offend others, should I self-censor? What the of "the offence of the cross" (Galatians 5:11) ? What of the offence of the uniqueness of Christ (John 14:6) and the exclusivity of salvation in him (Acts 4:12) ? Free speech must mean freedom to offend the sensibilities and challenge the prejudices of others. What of satire and mockery? Is humour a legitimate Theological weapon? Elijah thought so (1 Kings 18:25-27), as did Isaiah(40:18-20). Paul denounced Zeus and Hermes, the gods revered by the people of Lystra as "useless things" (Acts 14:15). The New Testament does not adopt the anodyne "all religions are the essentially same" rhetoric of the inter-faith movement. To John the baptist, the Pharisees and Sadducees were a "brood of vipers" (Matthew 3:7). Paul warned the Corinthians that the gods they once worshipped were "demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20).

Now those who were the objects of Elijah's cutting sarcasm were no doubt deeply offended. Paul did not exactly further the cause of inter-faith relations in Corinth by rejecting pagan deities as demonic. The remarkable thing is that the apostle's forthright preaching of Jesus and denunciation of idolatry caused countless pagans "turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:9 & 10). We must preach the gospel in all its glorious and shocking offensiveness if we are to have a similar impact on our post-modern world. Does that mean that we have to be needlessly offensive? No! Do I approve of the controversial cartoons? No! But freedom of speech must entail freedom to offend or it is an empty, meaningless slogan.

Coping with being offended
How should Christian believers respond when our sensibilities are offended or our liberty threatened? When our God is blasphemed, we are wounded and hurt. But we must not resort to violence or threatening behaviour to protect our faith. Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. He forbids us to use force to further his cause (John 18:36.) We may peacefully protest. We may express our outrage that TV Licence fee payers money was used to broadcast the blasphemous "Jerry Spinger the Opera". But we must protest firmly, prayerfully and peacefully. It is interesting to contrast the Christians singing hymns outside Parliament on Tuesday with today's pictures of Muslims with Kalashnikovs, burning flags in Palestine.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Incitement to Religious Hatred Defeat

The Goverment has been defeated on its opposition to the Lords' Amendments to the Incitement to Religious Hatred Legislation. The Lords' Amendments narrow the scope of the law and safeguard free speech and evangelistic activities. The Lord has answered the prayers of his people. We should praise God for this and seek to use our freedom to testify to the unique saving power of Jesus Christ.

1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Timothy 2:1-6).