Saturday, April 29, 2006

Reflections on the Banner Minister's Conference

Speakers (left to right): Ted Donnelley, Mark Johnston, Al Martin, Graham Heaps,

Iain Murray & Maurice Roberts

(Garry Williams must be a little camera-shy as he didn't turn up for the photo-call)

I last attended the Leicester Minister's Conference over a decade ago, so it was good to return to the f0ld this year. It was a time of excellent ministry and good fellowship.

Maurice Roberts of Inverness opened the conference with a sermon on Jude. We were urged to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints over and against the false teachings of our age.

Ted Donnelley of Northern Ireland gave three addresses on Preaching in Pagan Times - The Ministry of Jeremiah. Donnolley urged us to preach the judgement of God just as Jeremiah preached God's judgement in his own day. This message will cut through the corrupt relativism of our times and confront people with their need to repent and believe the gospel. But preaching judgement will have a cost. Jeremiah suffered for his message as this sensitive poet was shunned, schemed against and persecuted because of his faithfulness to the truth. The prophet did not labour in vain. His message gave hope to the people of God at the time of the Babylonian captivity. Donnelley's final address pointed us to the new covenant hope of Jeremiah that finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. These messages were heart warming, challenging and uplifting. Ted Donnelley has an exceptional gift of being able to get into the text of Scripture and into the hearts of his hearers. I have never failed to listen to him without being deeply affected.

I was present when Al Martin last spoke at the conference on conversion back in 1989. This time, he preached on Keep a Close Watch on Yourself and on the Teaching, based on 1 Timothy 4:16. With his rich baritone voice, aged features and close-cropped hair the veteran preacher resembled a Word War II General. Time (and grace) has mellowed Al Martin somewhat. Gone (mostly) was the shouty preaching style of old as Al gave us a good mixture of Biblical exposition and practical application. In the last address Martin powerfully warned us against Ministry-destroying and God-dishonouring sin. Only by taking heed to ourselves and pursuing holiness can we avoid becoming part of the ministerial wreckage that the preacher had witnessed during his long years in the pastorate.

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Garry Williams of Oakhill Theological College gave two addresses on Jonathan Edwards and the Atoning Work of Christ. Here was historical theology at its best. Williams began by reflecting on the way in which Edwards divides opinion. Some hate him others lionise the great American theologian. The speaker suggested that this is because Edwards was preeminently a Christian man. The world hates Edwards just as the world hated his Master. These addresses reflected on Edwards' emphasis on the infinite excellency of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus stooped from the infinite heights of glory when he became Man demands infinite love from believers. Gary Williams sketched out Edwards' insight into what was happening in the mind of Jesus during his suffering on the cross. There, as He bore the sin of the world, Jesus' mind was dominated by a sense of the loathsomeness of sin and the holy wrath of God against the sin He bore. That is why the Saviour cried out, "Why have you forsaken me?". Williams' exposition of Edwards' teaching that Christ made satisfaction for sins not only on the cross but throughout the time of his humiliation, caused some controversy during the discussion time. But the speaker's great burden was to impress upon us the infinite excellence of Christ and the debt of love we owe to Him.
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Iain Murray gave a brief word on John Knox and his message for us today. Graham Heaps spoke briefly, but thoughtfully on Becoming a Better Pastor. The conference was brought to a fitting conclusion by Mark Johnston, who spoke of the danger of ministers loosing the plot. Our Biblical plot is set out in Ephesians 4:11-13. Pastor-teachers have been gifted by the risen Christ to bring his body to unity and maturity. We need to keep our eyes on that goal in these difficult times.
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It was good to renew fellowship with some old friends and to meet brethren from different parts of the world. I managed to get myself invited to an unofficial (mostly) Welsh Minister's fellowship. A small room was packed with Pastors, the air reeked of Diet Coke and Pringles and Geoff Thomas held court. We discussed our favourite books and "Where have the giant preachers like Lloyd-Jones gone?" Earlier that evening, Geoff Thomas had packed the "Five Points of Calvinism" into his vote of thanks to the University catering staff. "We are not YUPPY or DINKY Ministers" he said, "but TULIP's - Totally Unappreciated Low Income Pastors!" Geoff went on to speak about the meaning of the real "Five Points" to the most helpful staff.
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In all, this was a most enjoyable, stimulating and profitable conference.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Leicester Minister's Conference

I'll be away at the Banner of Truth Trust's Minister's Conference in Leicester, England until the end of week, so I won't be posting for the next few days. I'll write up my impressions of the Conference when I get back home.
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Discounted Banner books will be available for purchase at Conference so, my luggage will probably be a bit heavier when I return to Wiltshire. I would especially like to buy History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1791-1892 by Dr. Robert Oliver (see here). Dr. Oliver is a neighbouring Grace Baptist Minister. He was my Church History lecturer back in the late 1980's / early 90's at the London Theological Seminary . He continues to teach Church History at the Seminary on a part-time basis.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus - a Mark of Genuine Christianity?

N. T. Wright's comment that he regards Marcus Borg as a Christian, although he denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus have been the cause of some controversy. In an interview in The Australian Wright said,

Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection.
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I actually think that's a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher, but I don't want to say he isn't a Christian. I do think, however, that churches that lose their grip on the bodily resurrection are in deep trouble and that for healthy Christian life individually and corporately, belief in the bodily resurrection is foundational.

I have profited from Wright's work on the resurrection of Christ. But I am not surprised by his comments re Borg. The introduction to The Meaning of Jesus (1999, SPCK) claims that Wright and Borg, "both acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as Lord". The intro explains that the authors engaged in prayer and took the Lord's Supper together in preparation for writing the book. (p. viii). In the book, Wright ably defends an orthodox view of Jesus' virgin birth, resurrection and divinity and so on. Borg denies each of these essential truths (and more).

Paul clearly taught the Corinthians only maintained their identity as "saved" people if they held fast to the gospel of a resurrected Christ,
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Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
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To deny the bodily resurrection of Christ is to opt out of Christian salvation. If the Corinthians had finally rejected Paul's teaching on the resurrection of the body, the apostle would have concluded that they "believed in vain". The genuineness of their profession of faith would have been called into question.
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Borg is not a muddle-headed new believer like some of the Corinthians. It is no the case that he simply needs some extra teaching to straighten his doctrine out. As a professional Theologian, Borg is aware of what the New Testament says about the resurrection of Christ. But he rejects the Biblical teaching. In denying the bodily resurrection of Christ, Borg is undermining an essential gospel truth. He is a false teacher. The New Testament has some serious things to say about such. Paul wrote,
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I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9.)
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Paul was commissioned to be an apostle and preacher of the gospel, "(not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)" (Galatians 1:1). If Christ did not rise from the dead, there would have been no gospel for Paul to proclaim. According to the New Testament, a Christian by definition believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
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if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.(Romans 10:9 & 10)
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This is Borg's view of the resurrection of Jesus: "Thus, as a Christian, I am very comfortable not knowing whether or not the tomb [of Jesus] was empty. Indeed, the discovery of Jesus’ skeletal remains would not be a problem". By his own admission, Borg does not believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. How, then can he be saved?
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See here, and here for further discussion of Borg's views on the resurrection of Christ.
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For full interview in The Australian: here .
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Follow discussion of Dan Phillips' post on this subject at Pyromaniacs: here

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Theology on Holy Ground

The revelation of God's glory, and the whole theological process which legitimately follows from it, is holy ground. We cannot stand as superiors over God or his Word. We may not coldly or detachedly analyse and collate the great self-revealing deeds and utterances of Jehovah. We may not theologise without emotion and commitment. The doctrine must thrill and exhilarate. It must be humble and cast down. Our researches must be punctuated with frequent cries of, 'Oh! the depth!' and even periodically abandoned so that the pent-up emotions of our hearts may find relief in expressions of wonder, love and praise. Theology has lost its way, and indeed its very soul if it cannot say with John, 'I fell at his feet as dead' (Rev 1:17).
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From Behold Your God by Donald Macleod, Christian Focus, 1995, p. 52.

Augustine of Hippo and the Reformation

It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the Church. The doctrine of grace came from Augustine's hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends for his recovery to good and to God entirely on the free grace of God...
Therefore, when the great revival of religion that we call the Reformation came, seeing that it was, on the theological side, a revival of "Augustinianism"... there was nothing for it but the rending of the Church.
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BB Warfield in Calvin and Augustine p. 322 & 323 P&R.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thatcherite Spirituality vs Church Going

Mrs Thatcher (in)famously said, “There is no such thing as society”. The Thatcherite 1980’s gave birth to a consumerist society where the wants of the individual are prized above the needs of the community. I would like to reflect on “Thatcherite spirituality”. This is not an attempt to assess the personal spirituality of Baroness Thatcher. What I would like to discuss is the privatisation of religion in terms of “spirituality”. For many people, this has replaced the more community-based approach to the spiritual life that involves belonging to a Church.

People often claim, “I don’t go to Church or anything, but I’m really quite a spiritual person.” What lies behind such a statement is what I call “Thatcherite spirituality”. This is spirituality viewed as a personal quest. The great aim is self-improvement. What matters in the pursuit of spiritual fulfilment is not truth, but whatever makes you feel OK. “If it looks like it works, and feels like it works, then it works!” People take a fragment of Christian morality, mix it with New Age mysticism, light up the joss-sticks and lo and behold, they have got “spirituality”. How cool is that?

Christian spirituality is different from “Thatcherite spirituality. The Christian knows that we were made by and for the true God. Any attempt to find spiritual satisfaction apart from enjoying and glorifying him are bound to end in empty disappointment.

Christian spirituality is about God reaching down to us, revealing himself to us in the Bible and reconciling us to himself through Jesus Christ. We only seek God because he first seeks us and awakens us to seek him with all our hearts. This is God-centred, not “my need centred” spirituality.

Christian spirituality is focussed on Jesus Christ. He is the only mediator between God and human beings. He has entered our world as a human being. Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead. He lives as the only true Lord and Saviour of needy human beings. By believing in Jesus, we are put right with God. In him we are given the hope of eternal life. God is revealed to us truly, fully and finally in Jesus Christ. God has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Christian spirituality leads to involvement in a Christian community. In the New Testament, “Church” does not mean the building in which people meet, but the people themselves. Christians are called to spiritual growth by being involved in Church life. We are called to “love one another”, “forgive one another” and “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.” The Church is not a perfect society; it is a community of ordinary, flawed people who have experienced the transforming power of Jesus. By worshipping together, learning together and caring for each other, Christians grow into spiritual maturity. This is different from self-absorbed “Thatcherite spirituality”. There is such a thing a society. God’s society is the Bible believing and practicing Church. The Church in turn, reaches out to the wider society in word and deed with the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

So, see you in Church?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Resurrection defined

One of the best works on the resurrection is Tom Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK, 2003). N.T. Wright has surveyed the Classical views of life after death and resurrection, and found that:
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The great majority of the ancients believed in life after death…but, other than within Judaism and Christianity, they did not believe in resurrection. ‘Resurrection’ denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever ‘life after death’ might be. (Wright, Resurrection p. 82-83.)

Wright quotes Aeschylus to the effect that, “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” (Wright, Resurrection p. 32.)
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Judaism understood ‘resurrection’ not as a synonym for spiritual life after death, but following the Old Testament held that God would finally raise up the bodies of the dead. A particularly literalistic understanding of this view is exemplified by the actions of Razis as described in 2 Maccabees. Rather than succumb to the threats of his Greek persecutors in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, Razis disembowelled himself. He flung his bowels at the watching crowds and died “calling upon Him who is the lord of life and spirit to restore them to him again” (2 Macabees 14:46.)
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According to Wright, it was only toward the end of the second century AD that resurrection is given a generalised meaning of “life after death”. In Gnostic writings Wright detects a radical shift in meaning of resurrection language (see Wright Resurrection p. 534-552 for full survey). The Gnostics denied the value of the physical world and from very early on in their thinking had problems with the incarnation let alone the resurrection of Christ. Modern-day Liberals have more in common with 2nd Century Gnostics that 1st Century New Testament Christianity. Wright concludes that:
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It is impossible to conceive that talk about a ‘resurrection’, in the sense used by Rheginos [a Nag Hammadi text] and the others, should be anything other than a late and drastic modification of Christian language. (Wright Resurrection p. 550.)
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Yet this is exactly what Marcus Borg does when he says,
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Thus, as a Christian, I am very comfortable not knowing whether or not the tomb [of Jesus] was empty. Indeed, the discovery of Jesus’ skeletal remains would not be a problem.
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According to Borg, .
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resurrection could involve something happening to a corpse, namely the transformation of a corpse; but it need not. (Wright & Borg, The Meaning of Jesus, SPCK 1999, p.131)

On this Basis, borg writes,

For me, the historical ground of Easter is very simple: the followers of Jesus, both then and now, continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after death. In the early Christian community, these experiences included visions or apparitions of Jesus. (Wright & Borg, Meaning , p. 135.)

Borg's notion that resurrection need not mean the raising to life of a body does not appear until after the New Testament era in 2nd Century Gnostic texts. Even then it was a decidedly minority view. Speaking of Paul, Wright sums up the point well when he says that:
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It is vital to grasp that for a Pharisee of Paul’s background and training resurrection meant, inalienably, and incontestably, the bodily resurrection…If you had suggested to him that ‘the resurrection’ might have occurred while the tomb of Jesus was still occupied, he wouldn’t just have disagreed; he would have suggested you didn’t understand what the relevant words meant. (Wright, What St. Paul Really Said, Lion 1977, p. 50.)
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Resurrection in the New Testament means the raising of the body to new life and the transformation of bodily existence. To suggest otherwise is to resort to an irresponsible anachronism in order to justify modern-day scepticism.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kevin Vanhoozer on Biblical Inerrancy

See here for Vanhoozer on inerrancy. He roots inerrancy in the Bible's own self witness,

The basis for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is located both in the nature of God and in the Bible's teaching about itself. First, if God is perfect – all knowing, all wise, all-good – it follows that God speaks the truth. God does not tell lies; God is not ignorant. God's Word is thus free from all error arising either from conscious deceit or unconscious ignorance. Such is the unanimous confession of the Psalmist, the prophets, the Lord Jesus and the apostles. Second, the Bible presents itself as the Word of God written. Thus, in addition to its humanity (which is never denied), the Bible also enjoys the privileges and prerogatives of its status as God's Word. God's Word is thus wholly reliable, a trustworthy guide to reality, a light unto our path.

Vanhoozer deals with the oft repeated claim that BB Warfield virtually invented the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, by demonstrating that the Church in all ages has accepted the total reliability of the Bible. He charges those who find errors in the Bible with exegetical insensitivity. It is often the case that those who argue for an errant Bible interpret texts in a hopelessly wooden way without regard for the context, intention or literary genre of the passage.
All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.
(Psalm 119:60)

Monday, April 03, 2006

He made the stars also

Dr. Stuart Burgess, Professor of Design & Nature at Bristol University will be speaking on
He made the stars also at West Lavington Village Hall on Saturday 8th April, 6pm.

If you are in the area, why not come along?

For details visit our Church Website here .

Click on events and scroll down the page to the Ebenezer Baptist section.