Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Review

Recently, I conducted a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. If you caught the series, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I appreciated taking part in the conversations. The participants were a mixture of people I know from "real life" like John, Gary and Geoff, also Martin and Jonathan, who I've only met once or twice and "e-friends" such as Byron and Michael who I've never met. Only one person refused to sit in the hot seat, but he shall remain nameless.
I wanted to know why Christians blog and what they get out of it. A pretty common response was that blogging helps Christians to have fellowship with other believers in new ways. By visiting other believer's blogs and leaving comments were are able to have e-fellowship. This is no substitute for personal relationships, but it enables members of the worldwide family of faith to get to know each other in ways that were not possible even ten years ago. My faith has been fed by reading blogs. New books have been bought because of blog reviews My thinking has been challenged and I hope sharpened in discussion and debate. Jonathan Edwards prophesied,
"The invention of the mariner’s compass is a thing discovered by God to the world to that end. And how exceedingly has that one thing enlarged and facilitated communication. And who can doubt but that yet God will make it more perfect, so that there need not be such a tedious voyage in order to hear from the other hemisphere? And so the country about the poles need no longer be hid to us, but the whole earth may be as one community, one body in Christ". (here)
But blogging has a downside. It can become an obsession with hits and stats. We must beware of the stat-nut syndrome that worries far too much about how many people are reading our little journals. Blogging can also engender a false sense of self-importance. But we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously. We only blog because no-one will pay us for our thoughts! Someone criticised the interviews for being too humorous. But blogging is what we do for pleasure and enjoyment. We should not get too pompous about it all. Another reader called Blogging in the name of the Lord "a Chalceldonian moment in blogging" because it showed that that Christian bloggers have a human as well as an "electronic" nature. Well, I don't know. The series will be back with another set of interviews sometime later this year. I'm conscious that the conversations were a bit blokey this time. Maybe I'll try to get a woman or two to sit in the hot seat. Any volunteers?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Christ in the heart

Love
in all your
string-theoried
dimensions,
Come
take your place
in my heart.
Make it new.

Wisdom
in all your
treasure-rich
understanding,
Come
take your place
in my mind.
Make it true.

Christ
in whom dwells
love and wisdom
infinitely,
Come
take your place
in my soul.
Make me whole.

Preacher blues

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
I preached a sermon to empty pews.
Hope thou in God!
I will, but not yet, not yet.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
I delivered a thousand tracts,
But no-one came.
None saved, not yet, not yet.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Are labours vain in the Lord?
No, there is hope.
But not yet, not yet.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Did the Lord promise ease?
Now to rest?
Soon, but not yet, not yet.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Sow in tears
Reap in joy.
Harvest, but not yet, not yet.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Go, preach Christ.
Behold! He comes,
Now, but not yet, not yet.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Be lifted up!
Hope in God,
Praise him yet.

I will.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: The Box Set

Series 1 has ended and is now available in a special presentation style box set for you to treasure, here.

Some people have been begging to be interviewed. You may feel that you have missed out on this great blogging event. But be not despairing, there is still hope. Blogging in the name of the Lord will return for Series 2 sometime later this year. The host can be easily influenced if you send him something from his Amazon wishlist. He has especially got his eye on the massive widescreen TV. If you can't afford that, a book will do, if you can't afford that, then you aren't important enough to be interviewed. A sycophantic comment below might help, but don't bank on it.
I'll post my reflections on what I've learned from these conversations in a few days time.
In the hot seat this series:

The Blogging in the name of the Lord interviews will be back....

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Geoff Thomas

This is the last in a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: Hello Geoff and welcome. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
GT: I was born in Merthyr Tydfil 24 miles north of Cardiff in 1938. A wonderful town in those days. An only child; my parents were Christians reflecting non-conformist life of that period. My father's twin brother was a Congregationalist preacher and his sister married a Congregationalist preacher. My mother was evangelical and Baptist and we went to church together. She sang hymns hour after hour as she did all her household chores. I was converted in a little chapel in Hengoed, now closed in the year 1954 but the preacher quickly left the gospel faith through the influence of the modernism he heard in the South Wales Baptist College. I studied in Cardiff University, 1958 through 1961 taking Biblical Studies, Greek and Philosophy. I proceeded to Westminster Seminary for three years and sat at the feet of John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, Edward J. Young, John Skilton, John Sanderson, Norman Shepherd, Meredith Kline, Edmund Clowney and Ned Stonehouse. What a privilege. Thank God for each one of them. Kline is one of the few alive, and he was the best lecturer I ever had. What skills and knowledge, but I loved the safe conservatism of Edward Young, though unscintillating as a lecturer. So America for three years and then back home the day after graduation and I married Iola in that year of 1964 and was called to Aberystwyth - the cultural capital of Wales in 1965 and here I have stayed.
GD: Why do you blog?
GT: I don't know if mine is a blog. I give a description of the ethos of the people I meet, the places and meetings I visit. I would send them to friends in my letters. I have many in the USA. Then I decided to put them on my website. Few write to me in response to the letters, and there is no place for interaction on this blog, so it is not a proper blog is it?. Blogs are a bit of an ego trip and that gets into mine too no doubt, but I try to make them an encouragement and educational and not about my 'fascinating life.'
GD: Well, the Alfred Place website calls your journal a "blog". And it is called "Glog", presumably an amalgam of Geoff and Blog. In my opinion, if it's called a blog and looks like a blog, then it's a Glog, er... blog. Whether you allow feedback or not doesn't really matter. But you not only have a blog (or whatever), your sermons are published on the Alfred Place website and you look after the articles page on the Banner of Truth site. Are you Wales' first cyber-pastor?
GT: The church website is important. Begun eight years ago I put my evening sermons on the web, and then after a few years I put the morning sermons there too. I haven't come across any other preacher in the world who does this. There are thousands of hits each week, and I continually get letters about the sermons. The challenge is not to read or lecture those sermons (which I have written out in full and which I give out to all the deaf and also to the people who have English as a second language before the service begins). I print my own copies of the pulpit sermons at an 18 type-size and use Book Antigua as the font. I then personalise the MS and correct it and try to improve it, finally sending the sermon much as I preached it to a former student in Cardiff who is my webmaster. I always prepare more than I preach, but like an ill-disciplined writer can't bear to cut out anything
Iain Murray asked me to take charge of the Banner of Truth articles page on its new website. I considered that at the time and still today an extraordinary honour, that he should entrust me with that. The Banner of Truth is God's unique gift to the church in the past fifty years. It is truly of him. Iain has been my wisest and most consistent counsellor. I am privileged to have him as my friend. The website has grown, and there are no restrictions of length to the articles. They are read all over the world. There are themes which the Banner commends which are dear to me. The need of a true awakening; church reformation and the battle with liberalism and sacerdotalism; the truth of the doctrines of grace; prayer and the paramountcy of preaching; godly living and the manifestation of true piety as the mark of regeneration; the importance of learning from the past; orthodoxy as found in confessional Christianity, the Westminster standards, the 1689 and Savoy Confessions, Dort also, and the Triple Knowledge, and the importance of a redemptive historical or biblical theological approach to Scripture. I think that those are the cluster of themes which are what the Banner of Truth stands for in my mind and what I have sought to foster on the web. I comb the best magazines from all over the world and put the articles that touch my heart and enlighten my mind onto the web. But there is rarely any response. I take the silence and the figure of the growing number of those who visit the site as a mark of the churches' approval.
GD: What do you think of so-called "cyber churches" where people log on rather than turn up?
GT: I have not come across such people.
GD: Of course you haven't they never go anywhere. Your son-in-law Gary Brady has a blog. Have you ever taken a look, if so what did you think?
GT: I think that that is a true blog and so characteristic of him. What a wonderful work he has done in Child's Hill. His two books on the Song and Proverbs are quite outstanding. I stand in awe of him. His home is loving and happy. The first of his five sons has come to faith in the Saviour. I would love him to study here in Abersystwyth in 2008. Gary is a people person, meeting naturally with all kinds of men and women. The morning congregation has had a growth spurt this year. He works hard and there can be no growth without that. I believe he is a man of God. We have different tastes in music.
GD: Gary's taste in music is quite unique! Which Christian book, published in the last twelve months, should all thinking believers read?
GT: The one about religion (but not written by a Christian nor about an evangelical man) which I enjoyed the most is the biography of the poet R.S. Thomas, "The Man Who Went into the West" by Byron Rogers. He was the most famous "Reverend Thomas" in the world, and of the three famous Thomas poets, Edward (my grandfather's cousin), Dylan and R.S. the latter wins by the sheer bulk of his output, but what a poser. If anything can persuade you of the bankruptcy of modernism and its fatal alignment with moral decrepitude it is this book. His life is quite shocking; he is a phoney, but the book is also hilarious, but maybe you have to be Welsh to appreciate it. I have had a stab at writing biography in my life of Ernest Reisinger but this book of Byron Rogers sets a standard for that genre. How not to be a pastor is the theme of this book. (Once I completed writing all the previous paragraph I thought of others I would have done better to commend). But I read and enjoyed for macabre reasons this book. It gave me a taste for the delights of reading once again.
GD: I enjoyed the RST biog too. (See my review here). Name your top three songs/pieces of music.
GT: Mahler's Fifth, the fourth movement, the Adagietto. Borodin's Second String Quartet. Bach's Goldberg Variation played by Glenn Gould
GD: What has been the most useful piece of advice that anyone has ever given you as a preacher?
GT: Do everything for double usefulness. For example, if you can type your sermons rather than write them, you should, and also put them on a website. There are so few of us and the challenge is huge. The night comes so soon. Do everything for double usefulness.
GD: I think that blogs can fulfil the "double usefulness" principle too. Previously prepared talks or articles can easily be turned into blog posts and made available to the wider world. What do you see as the greatest challenge that is facing Reformed Christianity in the UK at this point in time?
GT: The trivialisation of Sunday services, as though we are ashamed of taking them with reverence, godly fear and seriousness.
GD: The Disneyfication of worship is definitely one of the key issues of our time. Geoff Thomas, it has been a privilege to talk to you here at Exiled Preacher. Thank you very much for dropping by.

This brings to an end our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. Click on the "interviews" label below for the whole set.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: John Kilpatrick

This is the part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello John and welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
JK: Hi, Guy, I'm an awkward Scot, living in London, married to Gill, father of two grown up children, and minister of High Road Baptist Church in North Finchley.
GD: Why blog?
JK: To encourage the others to do better. When Abraham Kuyper's newspaper, 'De Standaard', was launched in the Netherlands, it propelled a confessedly Reformed movement (which included the delightfully named Anti-Revolutionary Party) into existence. It survived various disasters (like the PM not understanding Hitler until it was too late) to produce seven prime ministers of the Netherlands and a model for how to do theology in the public arena. I don't think that anything other than web journalism has the potential to have such an impact today. I don't aspire to reproduce Kuyper's we-are-everlastingly-right, De Standaard editorials but I'd like to be part of the movement that does. Keeping a journal myself gives me the right to comment on others which I ought to do more than I do, I think.
GD: Your blog is called the "Hired Shepherd", why?
JK: We had a spot of bother at the High Road with a friend who didn't want to leave the building, in which he was squatting. I wasn't there when he was persuaded to go and he kept asking where I was, depreciatingly as: 'Where's the hireling?' (Alluding to the AV of John 10.) I thought that the description was fairly accurate since none of us can know if we are any more than just hired shepherds until tested unto blood. I don't claim that it's actually a title of honour but I'm not sure that using it is just inverse pride either.
GD: You seemed to start blogging with some enthusiasm and then stopped, only to pick it up again recently. Why the hiatus?
JK: I got terribly frustrated with myself. I tried to mix it with the big boys on the cessationism issue and produced one post (When Perfection Comes) that was far too long for anyone to have to plow through and got sidetracked. When I lost the ability to comment on other people's posts and couldn't work out how to paste text into Hired Shepherd any more I got too embarrassed to try to post the text of the Scottish 'Negative Confession' for a third time and gave up. This year I was so gripped with disbelief that Gary Brady in particular could be so much smarter than I am to produce a journal with so many bells and whistles (I like the content as well but it's the seemingly effortless production of things like embedded photographs that make me jealous.) I was advised to upgrade my blogger and goaded into reappearing.
GD: Gary recently revealed that he pinched his best ideas from me. He's the blogging equivalent of a magpie with chronic cleptomania. You published some useful stuff on Thomas Boston, was that part of a research project?
JK: Yes, as it happens. I'm doing a thesis with the John Owen Centre on 'The Doctrine of Adoption in the Writings of Thomas Boston' and so I occasionally had pages of stuff that I thought could be presented to literally scores of people through Hired Shepherd.
GD: How are your studies going?
JK: Don't ask! I'm not going to finish by mid-March which I think I would need to to meet my absolutely final deadline. I want to finish the book but I don't think that I'll be able to present it for my degree now.
GD: Oh, I wish I hadn't asked! What are some of the difficulties of pastoring "an incredibly small" church?
JK: Basically, there is such a thing as the too-small church and pastoring it properly is either a gift that I don't have or it can't be really pastored at all because of its size. Our friend Hugh Hill did a seminar once years ago about the differences between having less than thirty members and more and all my observations would say that he was right. I never heard of John Lanferman until the other day but Andrew Fountain reports him as saying that before a church plant "goes public", there are five areas that need to be covered:
1. Preaching
2. Worship Leader
3. Someone to head up children's ministries
4. An "integrations person" to make sure newcomers get integrated into the life of the church
5. Cell-group leader/organizer
It is very difficult to all of these things properly as a one-man-ministry but I agree that the dysfunctionally small church tends to fall down on at least one of these areas. I fear that I might have found a way of nurturing the root of bitterness by making excuses where I should have been forgiving and seeking forgiveness. I also fear that I'm institutionalized to being an agent for preventing the renewal that we are supposedly looking for.
GD: We're quite small too. But our people have been willing to get involved in all sorts of things. There has been a willingness to take risks and start new ventures for the gospel in the area. What are the joys of being part of a small church, there must be some?
JK: I don't want to be cynical but that question sounds like 'what are the joys of having two broken legs.' I am thankful for what God gives and my life is not without joy but linking joy with the church stubbornly remaining too small for ~ a century? — sorry, can't do it. We should be glad that so many people say that they are praying for us but when we are used to being told this to sweeten the pill as people are giving us their reasons for not staying with us we could surely be forgiven for wishing that people would stop praying and start staying instead.
GD: We studied at the London Theological Seminary together (1988-1990), what is the most helpful thing that you learned while at the Seminary.
JK: 'Life is hard and then you die?' well maybe. In reality what I needed to learn was that becoming narrow is no solution to facing shallowness. I learned that it takes a deepening of experience to bring it home to us that 'Salvation is of the Lord.'
GD: I used to say, "Life's had and then you die" rather a lot didn't I? It sometimes made an appearance in my sermons. But I've had to drop it because it wouldn't go down too well in pastoral visits. The most important lesson I learned was from Hywel Jones, the then Principal (latterly of WTS). He took me aside for a little chat after I has "preached" at morning devotions. He asked me how I would have felt if my Mum had served me with some unmixed, uncooked cake ingredients, instead of baking a proper cake. I think the he was trying to tell me that my message had all the ingredients of a sermon without being a sermon. It had no form or shape. It was too raw. At least I think that's what he meant. Maybe he just wondered if my mum had sent me any cakes in a food parcel? Anyway, for as long as I have known you, you have had serious reservations about the value of Systematic Theology. Why is that?
JK: I think it started with ignorance and frustration because the so-called Systematic Theologies that are most surely possessed among us are introductions to Systematic Theology or lectures on Systematic Theology instead of being Systematic Theologies in their own right and nobody points out the difference. I got terribly frustrated with Berkof for example because the Banner of Truth doesn't tell us that it is an introduction or that Berkof wrote an introduction to that introduction which is needed to explain what Berkof thinks Systematic Theology is, for example. Now that I've learned from Carl Trueman about the importance of prefaces and things like that, my dislike of Systematic Theology is more of a grumpy old man posture but I want to use that to get students to understand the difference between an introductory textbook and the real thing. The real thing is Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics and, if they don't write them like that any more at least they've translated this one. I'm eagerly awaiting vol. four.
GD: Tell us your top three songs/pieces of music.
JK: The Cathedrals, 'We shall see Jesus'; Runrig, 'An Ubhal As Airde'; Deacon Blue, 'Bethlehem's Gate'.
GD: Interesting choices! Name the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
JK: Paradigm Shift in the Church Christian A. Schwarz is a must read because Natural Church Development is the baby in the Church Growth Movement's bilgewater.
GD: Do you visit other blogs, if so which ones have you found helpful and why?
JK: I've enjoyed this series of yours especially since a couple of the fellows you've interviewed are new to me.
GD: Thanks, I've enjoyed chatting to people too.
JK: I don't want to point to anyone in the big league to give them particular praise though I think I go where everybody goes and there seems to be a general rule of thumb, the largest numbers go to the most generally useful blogs. I've followed Stephen Dancer's lead in listing GenevaNetters as a separate commodity and inordinately proud I am to have understood the instructions enough to have produced the list. I like the community feel of reading stuff written by people I've corresponded with, liking it when people post frequently as they see fit and not liking it when they don't post for months on end. You know who you are! I'm not sure whether I've found inspiring or just downright terrifying the engaging in polemics that some GenevaNetters have done with the emerging church for example or with anti-creationists but I love to see a good argument being built and presented well.
GD: John, its been good to catch up with you. Thanks for dropping by for this conversation.
This series of interviews will end tomorrow with a very special guest....

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Byron Smith

This is the part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

Byron Smith

GD: Hello Byron and welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
BS: God made me about 28 years ago and gave me new life in Christ (at least as I experienced it) about 16 years ago. Jessica married me about six and a half years ago. Tim gave me a job as a ministry assistant at All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt (Sydney, Australia) about a month ago. You granted me an interview about six hours ago.
GD: Yes, people often regard an Exiled Preacher interview as one of life's little milestones, like being born and stuff. Now, why blog?
BS: Because there's not enough material on the internet. Someone's got to fill in the blanks.
GD: I loose sleep over those blanks. They must be filled. Your blog is called "Nothing New Under the Sun", please explain.
BS: The title is obviously taken from a refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes, which is an extended reflection upon the futility of life in the face of death. This is an important biblical perspective that Christians can be too quick to dismiss from our experience: the world groans under the futility of its bondage to decay (Romans 8.19-23). However, "Nothing New Under the Sun..." is only the first half of my blog title; the rest is found down the bottom of the page: "...of course, under the Son, everything will be made new". Futility is not denied, but it has a used-by date in the light of God's promised future, anticipated in Jesus' resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. God is the one who does a new thing, and that is our hope. It is this eschatological perspective that I hope to bring to various topics on my blog.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
BS: The delightful people I've met.
GD: Kind of you to say so. What would you say are some of the dangers of blogging?
BS: The terrible people I've met.
GD: Oh.
BS: More seriously, the general danger of the internet: the ability to be anonymous and so avoid responsibility for your actions.
GD: You list "escapist eschatologies" as one of your pet hates. What's that supposed to mean?
BS: Those ways of thinking about the future which purport to be Christian, but which end up being an excuse to write off creation, the body and/or our present life as irrelevant. This might be because of a view that God will destroy the world in the end and so it doesn't matter if we trash it in the meantime, or based on a Platonic dualism in which the soul is waiting to escape the prison of the body at death, or through thinking that the goal of the Christian life is getting to heaven and so nothing here and now matters but for that.
GD: Is that why you did your series "Heaven is not the end of the world?"
BS: Yes. It is something of a hobby horse and I thought I'd start putting some thoughts down. It took sixteen posts before I stopped, which was a little longer than the four or five I'd first conceived...
GD: This subject is close to my heart too and I enjoyed your series very much. But when Christians die, they do go to be with the Lord don't they?
BS: I hope so (and believe this is what the Bible teaches), but I don't think this is the focus of Christian hope. I think we have taken a minor New Testament idea and turned it into the main game. Instead of going to heaven, our hope is for God to make all things new, things in heaven and on earth, for Christ to return to his creation in his human resurrection body and to raise us to live here in transformed bodies, powered by God's Spirit.
GD: The doctrinal significance of the resurrection of Christ is often neglected in evangelical systematic theology. Do you think that this is partly to blame for "escapist eschatologies"?
BS: Yes, though the blame doesn't fall simply on a theological oversight; there are broader social and intellectual movements at play. In particular, individualism means that we think only of our own destiny, neglecting that of humanity and creation as a whole; consumerism makes us think of faith as providing for our needs, rather than realising that we are being called into God's story; and a lingering dualism makes us think that what happens to our mind/soul is more important than what happens to our body.
GD: What was the most important lesson that you learned at Moore College?
BS: Don't be late for lunch.
GD: At the end of last year you informed your readers that you have been diagnosed with throat cancer. How is your treatment progressing?
BS: First, a clarification: although the cancer has affected my voice, it is located in my chest, having begun in either my oesophagus or trachea. I finished my final radiotherapy today and had my last chemotherapy on Wednesday. For a fuller update, see here.
GD: What effect has having cancer had on your Christian life?
BS: It has turned up the volume. My groaning for new creation is louder and more fervent. My trust in God is more urgent. My thanksgiving is more regular.
GD: Personally, I don't think that I really appreciated the glory of the resurrection hope until I was seriously ill some years ago. Have you been able to continue with your preaching ministry?
BS: Preaching has only been a small part of my ministry for the last few years and it continues (with a good microphone and less vocal expression) as such. Evangelism and discipleship in small groups have been more my focus and while I have had less energy and concentration recently, having cancer certainly brings lots of opportunities to talk about what really matters!
GD: How have other Christian bloggers responded to the news of your cancer diagnosis and treatment?
BS: I have been overwhelmed by the support and prayer from so many total strangers (or rather, brothers and sisters I haven't yet met outside comment threads and emails). One particularly touching gesture was that Ben Myers (of Faith and Theology) set up an account to which many contributed so that I could purchase books from my Amazon Wish List.
GD: How has your theology helped you during your period of ill health?
BS: By reminding me that it's God, not theology, who is my help. Of course, the two are not so easily opposed, but it is important to keep this priority.
GD: Yes, "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 124:8). I'm sure that many people will have been encouraged by the way in which you have responded to your cancer diagnosis and treatment with such faith and hope. Please be assured of our prayers for you and Jessica at this time. Name the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
BS: City of God by Augustine. It is a must read because for sixteen hundred years it has fed and stimulated the greatest minds of the church.
GD: I haven't read enough Augustine. But I'm enjoying his Confessions at the moment. Name your top three songs/pieces of music.
BS: U2: Wake Up Dead Man, Mozart: Requiem (esp Lacrimosa), Tom Waits: Jockey Full of Bourbon
GD: What makes you laugh?
BS: My own failures. And cry.
GD: Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
BS: Faith and Theology - Ben sets the benchmark for theological blogging. His was the first blog I regularly read and remains an outstanding source of discussion, reviews, links and scholarship. His generosity and gentleness both on and off the blog are an encouragement and an inspiration. The Blogging Parson - Michael is in Oxford writing a PhD on martyrdom and Christian identity. He has been a colleague, lecturer, reading partner and remains a friend. We agree on so much, which makes our disagreements much more interesting. Chrisendom by Chris Tilling - no other blog makes me laugh as regularly or as hard. With some excellent NT scholarship thrown in.
GD: Ben's blog is always theologically stimulating. Even when I have disagreed with him, he has been courteous and friendly. Michael was sitting in the hot seat yesterday. That Chris Tilling is a very naughty boy and I sometimes have to tell him off. Anyway, thanks very much for stopping by for this conversation. It's been great to have you here at Exiled Preacher.

Blogging in the name of the Lord will be back soon...

Bridport

We had a lovely time in the Bridport area yesterday. Our hosts live near the beach at Burton Bradstock (Dorset). Before the evening meeting, we went for a walk by the sea with Helen and her scatty but loveable dog called (I kid you not) Taffy. It was good to renew fellowship with old friends at Chardsmead Baptist Church and to be able to speak to them about the work of the Protestant Truth Society, with special emphasis on the Solas of the Reformation.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Michael Jensen

This is the part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
Blog Warning:
This interview contains examples of a contextualising Welshman in conversation with an Australian. Those involved in cross-cultural mission, take note, you might learn something. (Or not).
GD: G'day mate, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MJ: OK - I am an Aussie studying here in England, at Oxford, with my wife and four children. The topic of my doctoral thesis is a theological investigation of martyrdom. I am an Anglican by background, but from Sydney, which means that I am a peculiar type of Anglican! I was ordained in 2000 and I have worked as a School Chaplain, a church planter/pastor and I have lectured in theology at Moore College in Sydney.
GD: Why did you enter blog-land?
MJ: When I was coming the UK I wanted to have a way in which my friends back home shared in my work. Partly, I saw blogging as a real way in which I could be accountable to those who were sending me and praying for me, but also as a way in which I could get feedback on my work.
GD: Your blog is called "Blogging Parson". Please explain.
MJ: Oh, yes. In the first years of the colony of Sydney town, the Chaplain was a man named Samuel Marsden, an evangelical. He had to perform duties as a magistrate, and legend has it that he was particularly cruel to the convicts who misbehaved: so he became known as the "flogging parson". This is most certainly an unfair evaluation of the man who subsequently took the gospel to New Zealand where he is revered. The title ain't perfect, but since he is one of my spiritual forebears...
GD: Now I get it. When I first saw your blog, I thought you were the Blogging Parsnip. Then, being observant n'all I realised that it was Parson. Anyway, I like the story behind your blog name. I remember reading about Marsden in Iain Murray's Australian Christian Life From 1788 (Banner of Truth Tust). By the way, you have another blog called "You" too don't you?
MJ: Yes: while I was a school chaplain I realised I was continually addressing a different way of being human. I decided to put some of these things together into book form. Then someone suggested that a blogged book could make for an interesting and engaging format. It is still an experiment, but some of the discussions I think have been excellent.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
MJ: I love to write. I love to try out ideas and have them discussed and exposed. I think as preachers/teachers we are always struggling to find ways to put things and blogging gives you a way to do that. I really love 'meeting' people from all over the world.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
MJ: It's all the Welshmen...;-) Well, it is addictive and distracting. I get kinda obsessed about how many hits I have scored. Blogging invites polemic and controversy, because you get debate going that way. And so I think I have come across as more polemical than I am at times, more of a curmudgeon than I am. Also, because blog entries are short and instant, they can be a substitute for the real business of thinking hard, which takes enormous effort and sustained concentration. It is easy to be sloppy in your thinking on a blog.
GD: What do you mean "All the Welshmen?" Cheek! You once did a very prescriptive post on blogging. Are you trying to impose some kind of Act of Uniformity on Christian bloggers worldwide?
MJ: Naturally! Of course! What a good idea. It would prevent a lot of blogging guff and mindless typing, that's for sure!
GD: So, you admit it, then! I suppose I'd better ask you this next one: You studied to Moore College, Sydney, did you learn anything useful?
MJ: Sure did. Moore is very strong on OT and NT, and on integrating them with Biblical Theology. These are indispensable roots for a theologian to have. I do feel weaker on philosophy than my counterparts in Ethics and Systematics here at Oxford, but often I think that is a small loss! [Aside to readers: Click here and scroll down to the comments to see the Exiled Preacher and Blogging Parson cross swords over "Moore Theology" - ed].
GD: Name your top Archbishop of Canterbury ever, is it a) Thomas A' Becket or b) William Laud?
MJ: Thomas Cranmer of course! Becket was an interesting fellow, and he features in my thinking about martyrdom, BUT: he was perhaps more politician than holy man. Actually, come to think of it, Cranmer was no mean politician either!
GD: Cramner wasn't in the question, silly. But spookily, the answer was right anyway. Your profile mentions some daggy music that you are into, would that be Neighbours title song, special remix edition?
MJ: Down Under, by Men At Work. Anything by Rolf Harris. Kylie Minogue. Germaine Greer's Greatest Hits. etc. (you know, whenever I say something about 'Australain Culture' here, I get looks which tell me people are thinking of bread mould...) I prefer Home and Away to Neighbours: Neighbours is too Melbourne.
GD: What, no Waltzing Matilda? Don't you like classical music? Moving on, Do you agree that Kim Fabricus is really Ben Myres' blogging alter ego with a funny name, if you had a blog alter ego, what would you call him?
MJ: Benedict the Seventeenth: God's Dachshund.
GD: That sounds barking mad! I'd call mine Jake Coolikus and get him to write hymns with lots of dodgy doctrine and downright doggrell. That way, no one would know that it was me! More seriously, you are doing doctoral research on the subject of martyrdom. Why?
MJ: Well it all came out of a desire to think through what the humanity of Jesus means for our humanity. It evolved from there ... martyrdom is a flash-point for the theological themes at work in that discussion I think. I also think in the west we have lost the sense of what discipleship of Jesus may cost.
GD: Now that sounds like a worthwhile subject to research. I wish you well with your studies. Next question, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing Evangelicalism today?
MJ: Hmmm, only one? I think funnily enough it is to retain and renew our confidence in Scripture and not to prioritise our spiritual experience or pragmatism or even our dearly held traditions (for which the Reformers themselves would castigate us!). This means hard work, hard thinking, as always. I would also add, evangelicals risk becoming a victim of our own success, especially in the US: there is already evidence of a backlash.
GD: Name the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
MJ: Can I say Calvin's Institutes? (it is re-read). I just think as a Biblical Protestant you have to start here. He is so sensible most of the time. And rigorous without being tedious or scholastic or speculative. The chapter on prayer is terrific! And he is less 'Calvinist' than you think! More Calvinists should be more like Calvin, I reckon.
GD: You certainly can say the Institutes. I'm reading the chapter on prayer at the moment. It is very moving and helpful. A must read indeed. Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
MJ: Well, Faith & Theology with Ben is the pinnacle of Theoblogs, partly because of the diversity of people who respond to the discussions. And it is consistently interesting and suggestive of books to read and so on. I always read my mate Byron Smith's Nothing new under the sun - he writes beautifully, and has mastered the art of the blog series. His series on eschatology was outstanding, and a great corrective to some dearly held (but non-biblical!) evangelical nostrums.
GD: I sometimes don't agree with Ben the Barthian, but I can't diss him too much because he once allowed me to do a post on Lloyd-Jones in his For the love of God series (here). Your mate Byron is due to appear in the hot seat soon. Anyway, time to bring this little chat to a close. Fair dinkum, Michael, it was bonza talking to you. Thanks.
The Blogging Parson has left the building....

Coming soon, the Byron Smith interview.

The Protestant Truth Society

0 My profile mentions that I work part-time for the Protestant Truth Society. Later today we'll be heading off to Bridport in Dorset to take a PTS meeting at Chardsmead Baptist Church. We know the people there well as I used to preach in the Church regularly before we moved to Wiltshire. Bridport is a lovely little seaside town. With the children being off school for half term, we hope to go for a wander along the seafront before the evening's meeting. I hope to speak on the subject, "What is an Evangelical Protestant?"
Bridport

But, you might be wondering, what is the Protestant Truth Society? Here's a potted history and a statement of our aims:
The Protestant Truth Society was founded by John Kensit (1853-1902). He was concerned about the Catholicising tendencies of the Oxford Movement. This movement was dedicated to taking the Church of England back to its pre-Reformation state. Its leaders like Pusey and the later Cardinal Newman advocated the use of Rome-like rituals in Anglican services.
To counter this, in 1889, the PTS was founded. In 1898 the first Wickliffe Preachers were sent out to warn of the dangers of Catholicism and preach the simple Gospel of the grace of God. In August 1902, John Alfred Kensit, the son of John Kensit was arrested and imprisoned for three months for leading an anti-ritualist meeting in Liverpool.
On September 25th 1902, John Kensit led a peaceful protest meting at Claughton Music Hall in Birkenhead. As the Kensit party endeavoured to board the Ferry to take them home, they were met by an angry mob. A heavy industrial file was thrown at John Kensit. It struck him on the forehead. By 8th October John Kensit lay dead.
Opinions differ as to the work and ministry of John Kensit, founder of the PTS. To some he was little more than a rabble-rouser and “an unpleasant nuisance”. But to others John Kensit was a courageous defender of the Evangelical Protestant Gospel and a brave exponent of free speech. The lasting legacy of John Kensit is the continuing work of the PTS.
The Society has one full-time itinerate Wickliffe Preacher, Dafydd Morris (Wales). There are also a number of honorary Wickliffe Preachers. Under the leadership of Gordon Murray, it was decided that the society would appoint part-time ministers as Wickliffe Preachers. These men would then be free from the constraints of secular work to concentrate of the ministry of the Gospel. Three part-time pastors/Wickliffe Preachers have been appointed over recent months (including me!). Bill Cairns, (East Anglia) Stephen Holland (North West England). Update: PTS has recently appointed a Jeremy Brooks as our new Director of Ministries. See here for an interview with Jeremy.
We are still dedicated to exposing the errors of Roman Catholicism. But we recognise that Rome is not the only threat that to the gospel in the 21st Century. At a recent staff meeting, our Chairman Gordon Murray set out our Mission Statement:
* To help churches and individual Christians to fulfil their calling to uphold and spread the truth revealed in Scripture and so to glorify God.
We endeavour to further this mission:
* By Preaching the Word of God
* By application to relevant issues
* By the use of suitable literature
* By dealing with the media. Writing to Newspapers, BBC, Internet ministries
* By countering errors that are held today that affect the fundamentals of the gospel
We are an interdenominational Evangelical Protestant Society that is committed to contending for and positively preaching the faith once delivered to the saints. It is not our purpose as a para-Church organisation to tell Churches which Bible translation or Hymn Book to use. What we want to do is hold before the churches the rich heritage of Reformation history and Theology. In these days of compromise and drift we need the robust, Bible-based doctrines of the Reformation more than ever.
If you live in the South West of England and would like to hear more about our work and vision, please drop me an e-mail.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Martin Downes

This is the part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

Martin Downes

GD: Hi Martin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

MD: I'm a Christian, a Welshman, I'm 31, I'm married to Debbie, I have two daughters, and I'm the pastor of Christ Church, Deeside, in North East Wales.
GD: Why did you get into blogging?
MD: I wanted to get some comments and feedback on my area of specialist interest, which rather strangely is the intellectual and moral sin of heresy.
GD: Your blog is entitled "Against Heresies" - does this make you a modern-day heresy hunter?
MD: Not really. As a minister of the gospel the focus of my ministry is preaching good news. But when heresy and false teaching are a "clear and present danger" to the church then they must be dealt with. It is important that the negative never outweighs or controls the positive. James Buchanan once wrote that "truth is one, error is multiform." If people can be well established in the truth then they will be safeguarded against a multitude of errors. Likewise the Westminster Directory of Public Worship cautions ministers not to mention blasphemous opinions unnecessarily, nor to raise old heresies from the grave.
GD: So, you've never used a thumb screw to make a suspected heretic 'fess up?
MD: The trouble with heretics is that they think that they are orthodox. Thumb screws are of limited use, better exegesis is to be preferred in most cases.
GD: "In most cases"? Hmmm. Define heresy and tell us why dodgy doctrine is so dangerous.
MD: I like Mike Horton's definition of it as "any teaching that directly contradicts the clear and direct witness of the Scriptures on a point of salvific importance." Heresy is the kind of doctrinal error that is so serious that it redefines the gospel. And you can't be saved by a false gospel.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
MD: It has helped me to clarify and develop my thinking on heresy in new ways. I have also enjoyed interacting with Christians in the US.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
MD: Reading blogs is time consuming and addictive. Whilst they can be informative they ought not to take time away from proper theological reading.
GD: I notice that Pyromaniacs link to your blog. Do they really like your stuff, or was there a fee?
MD: When my blog was still in nappies Phil Johnson kindly added me to their blog roll. He liked a comment that I made about Western Evangelicalism being infected with Socinianism. Their blog is stimulating, clear, and helpful. A large section of my readers come via Pyromaniacs.
GD: Could you get Pyromaniacs to link to my blog too?
MD: I live in North Wales, I just don't have that kind of influence.
GD: Oh well, nothing ventured.... Next question is: What does your family think of your blog?
MD: The girls like the graphics (done with the invaluable help of Dave Bish). We find it fascinating that the blog receives visits from all over the world.
GD: I read somewhere that you like the Manic Street Preachers. Name your top three tracks.
MD: I do like the Manics...but let me choose my top three U2 tracks in honour of your recent post on them. 1. Stuck in a moment 2. Angel of Harlem 3. So cruel
GD: You just can't go changing the questions! Please try to answer this next one properly: Name the most helpful theology book that you've read in the last 12 months. It's a must read because...?
MD: Just one? I'm working through Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1 Prolegomena. As well as being a substantial theological work Bavinck deals with unhelpful trends and methodologies that are still around, albeit in differing forms.
GD: Sounds interesting. Which blogs do you enjoy most and why?
MD: Alan Davey's blog. Every missionary should have a blog. The bonus with Alan is hide dry humour. Scott Clark's The Heidelblog, very helpful on confessionalism. I like Pyromaniacs (see above for reasons) and The Bluefish (Dave has thoughtful posts and it keeps me informed on the student world). Finally, I do enjoy reading blogs from a different perspective that I am unlikely to find agreement with on some important issues, like Blog and Mablog (Doug Wilson), Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight), the BHT (Michael Spencer) and Reformed Catholicism. [Really] Finally a mention should go to Justin Taylor, Ron Gleason and Ref 21.
GD: Isn't there another blog you'd like to mention? No? Really? OK, be like that! ;-) Martin Downes it has been a pleasure to speak to you here at Exiled Preacher.

Who will be next to face my Paxmanesque interrogation? Keep visiting Exiled Preacher and you will find out. It could be you! But it might not be.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Coming soon: The Heresy Hunter Interview

Be afraid, be very afraid, he's got a thumb screw and he's not afraid to use it. Or is he? Watch this blog for another exclusive Exiled Preacher interview.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Induction of Ben Midgley at North Bradley

Ben Midgley (second from right)
This afternoon we attended an ordination and induction service at nearby North Bradley Baptist Church, Wiltshire. Ben Midgley, who trained at the London Theological Seminary was set apart to pastor that local church. A service of ordination and induction should be an event. This one certainly was, with a large congregation and an appropriate mixture of joy and seriousness. Ben made a clear profession of faith and solemnly promised to faithfully pastor the flock of God. What a responsibility! What a privilege! Who is sufficient for such things?
The service was ably chaired by Rev. Peter Culver, who was the Church's moderator. Peter also gave the "charge to the church", preaching from Ephesians 4. Pastor Dan Owen from Ben's sending church gave the "charge to the minister", preaching from 1 Thessalonians 2. The preaching was Biblical, alliterative, clear and pointed. Deacons from North Bradley also took part in the service, warmly welcoming their new pastor and telling the story of his call to the church.
Services of ordination and induction take me back to those key events in my life. I was ordained to the Ministry of the Gospel in 1990 at Kensit Evangelical Church, London. The then Principal of London Theological Seminary preached on John 3:16. I still have the tape somewhere. That day was the fulfilment of many years of prayer and preparation for the preaching ministry. What promises I made, what hopes I had.
I also reflected on my induction to the churches I now serve back in November 2003. Andrew Davies preached on Colossians 1:28. I can still recall his booming Welsh voice "HIM [Christ] we preach"! I promised to pray, to care, to evangelise, to study, to be an example of holiness. Who is sufficient for these things?
My fist sermon as Pastor at Penknap was on 1 Samuel 14:6, "Nothing restrains the Lord from saving, by many or be few". In the evening I preached at Ebenezer on Zechariah 4:6 "Not my might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord." We are still few, but there has been one conversion, a few baptisms and several new members. I sense a growth in grace in the congregation. The people love the Word and have a real practical, compassionate concern for one another. There is an increasing desire to reach the lost with the gospel. I must be thankful. But please, Lord save the people, whether by many or by few, not by power or might, but by your Spirit, to the glory of your name.
Pray for Ben and all Ministers of the Gospel.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ten essential books on Wales and the Welsh

You may have noticed that I'm a Welshman. Wales has a fascinating history from both a secular and spiritual point of view. Here is a select list of Welsh history and biography. All are recent works, published from the 1980's to the present. One of the authors is not Welsh, but his subject is one of the towering figures of recent Welsh history. The bibliography is a mixture or spiritual and secular writing. All the books are in English. Listed alphabetically by author's surname. (OUP = Oxford University Press)

1. Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Awakening in Wales (Banner of Truth Trust, 1985)
2. R. R. Davies, The Age of Conquest, Wales 1063-1415 (OUP paperback, 1991)
3. R. R. Davies, The Revolt of Glyn Dwr (OUP paperback, 1997)
4. Noel Gibbard, Fire on the Altar, A history and evaluation of the 1904-05 Welsh Revival Bryntirion Press, 2005)
5. Geraint H. Jenkins, The Foundations of Modern Wales 1642-1780 (OUP paperback, 1993)
6. Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1982) & D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1990
7. Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation, The History of Modern Wales, (OUP paperback, 1998)
8. Byron Rogers, The Man Who Went into the West, The Life of R. S. Thomas (Aurum, 2006)
9. Geraint Tudur, Howell Harris, From Conversion to Separation 1735-1750 (University Press of Wales, 2000)
10. Glanmor Williams, Renewal and Reformation, Wales c.1415-1642 (OUP Paperback, 1993)

Just for fun, which book did I recently review?

Brecon Beacons, South Wales

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Gary Brady

This is the first of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hi, Gary could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
GB: Born in Wales I've lived most of my life here in London where I am pastor of a small Baptist Church. I hated London when I first got here to study but I've slowly come round and now love the place (mostly). I'm married to the wonderful Eleri and we have five boys. Lots of Welsh spoken here. Oh yes, I have a degree in English and love popular music.
GD: You are quite new to blogging, what made you start?
GB: There was some chat about it from enthusiasts like yourself on a discussion group I belong to (Genevanet) and so I went to look on blogger and hey presto - I couldn't believe how easy it was (and free!). For many years I'd fancied having a website but lacked the knowledge (I didn't have the Latin see).
GD: Why did you entitle your blog "Heavenly Worldliness?"
GB: When you go to blogger, they ask for a title. I already had the title in mind for another purpose but as I intended a multi-purpose site I thought it summed it up well (although it is open to misunderstanding).
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
GB: Getting the ideas out there and sometimes getting some feed back.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
GB: Obsession with getting it to look right, living a surrogate life - I'm sure you know.
GD: Who me? Moving swiftly on, you have three blogs. Why?
GB: Well, part of my aim is to put out things that I've already prepared. The two puritan fellows (Richard Bernard and Thomas Adams) I discovered doing some studying recently. They are projects in themselves and so I thought it wiser to give them their own space. The Adams site is almost complete as far as I'm concerned, though there might be occasional additions to make. The Bernard site is the real project. I want to get all his works online eventually (don't hold your breath).
GD: Where did you get the inspiration for the Bloggy Man?
GB: I was thinking after I started the blog needs some humour. I've always loved puns and so I got thinking one night and came up with 8 or 9 cartoons and a few ideas. I was going to try and get a proper cartoonist but I couldn't wait to launch him. The Bloggy Man, sadly, is just one long series of bad puns. I think he does reflect the blogosphere well at times, however.
GD: What does your family think of your blog?
GB: A certain amount of ridicule is endured (and that is reflected in Bloggy Man who is not me - though we share certain character traits and looks). 'On the blog again are we?' Eleri actually looked at it the other night to see what I was doing. Oh dear.
GD: You often post about music, name your top three songs.
GB: Of all time? 1. My Brother Jake by Free 2. Sylvia by Focus 3. Quiet Storm by Jan Akkerman.
GD: Now, which blogs do you enjoy most and why?
GB: Now here's the truth and it's slightly embarrassing, I'm not a great blog reader myself. Why? Well, I'm rather self-centred. I also tend to use the net to find out what I want to know rather than having it thrust upon me. However, it's not hard for me to commend your blog Guy. I've nicked most of my ideas there. I like The Conventicle too somehow. My main reason for looking at the 5 or 6 I subscribe to is for ideas for my own blog. I'm also always meaning to look at the specialist ones eg. Andrew Fuller.
GD: You are too kind. I hadn't come across the other two blogs you mentioned. Thanks for the heads up. And cheers, Gary for being the first blogger to sit in the hot seat!
GD: Right, who's next?

My top ten Jam/Style Council/Paul Weller songs


10. From the floorboards up, Paul Weller
9. Strange town, The Jam
8. You're the best thing, The Style Council
7. Porcelain gods, Paul Weller
6. Long hot summer, The Style Council
5. Down in the tube station at midnight, The Jam
4. Changing man, Paul Weller
3. English rose, The Jam
2. Going underground, The Jam
1. You do something to me, Paul Weller

Coming soon: Blogging in the name of the Lord

I plan to do a series of interviews with some top Christian bloggers. Who are they? Why do they blog? You will find out as soon as they return my questionnaires!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fencing

Wind blows
Wood cracks
Fence breaks
Falls.

Help needed
Deacons come
Work shared
Friends.

Hole dug
Ground cursed
Brow sweats
Aches.

New post
Man made
Concrete cold
Sets.

Fence up
Tea drunk
Soil turned
Ends.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My top ten Coldplay songs

10. Twisted logic (X&Y)
9. In my place (Rush of blood to the head)
8. Politik (Rush of blood to the head)
7. God put a smile upon your face (Rush of blood to the head)
6. Trouble (Parachutes)
5. Clocks (Rush of blood to the head)
4. Speed of sound (X&Y)
3. Yellow (Parachutes)
2. The scientist (Rush of blood to the head)
1. Fix you (X&Y)

Bad language disdain

Shun evil companions; bad language disdain;
God's Name hold in reverence, nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest, kind-hearted and true;
Look ever to Jesus and He will carry you through.
(Horatio Richmond Palmer, 1834-1907)
This verse from the hymn Yield not to temptation, seems positively quaint and old fashioned. This is especially the case with the admonitions of the first line. Surely evangelicalism has outgrown such simple pieties! I propose that we rewrite the opening line so that we can sing it in all good conscience today,
Hang out with the worldly; bad language proclaim;
God's Name hold in reverence, nor take it in vain;
I left the second line unaltered becasue I suppose that most Christians still think blasphemy is wrong. But it is difficult to get away from swearing these days. You will hear it on the streets and in films and TV dramas. You will read it in serious newspapers and contemporary novels. You may also find it on the lips of Christians and read it in their blogs. It seems to me (I say this to their shame) that some "liberated" ex-fundie believers glory in using swear words. However, the Bible seems to forbid the use of such language. I know that I will have damaged my cyber cred by quoting Scripture, but I just can't help myself,
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks (Ephesians 5:4)
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth (Colossians 3:8)
Call me a proof- texter, I don't care. These verses have something to say on Christians using swear words - that we must not! This is F. F. Bruce's comment on the first verse I cited, "foul language of any kind is inappropriate on the lips of those who confess Christ as Lord." Bruce was hardly a fundie firebrand now was he?
For Paul, swearing belonged to the old, pre-Christian life of believers. The old man must be put off and the new man put on. I can identify with this because I used to swear a lot before I became a Christian. I could have made even the most "liberated" believer blush. But the Lord put a new song in my mouth and I learned not to swear.
If you think about it, most swear words fall into a couple of categories, they demean body parts (you know which ones) or they refer to the sex-act. Why should believers mock God-given, but "unrepresentable" parts of the body? Has not God given greater honour to these parts? (1 Corinthians 12:23 & 24). Such swearing is tantamount to a Docetic loathing of the flesh. Sex is one of God's good gifts, designed to be enjoyed in the purity of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Why, then do Christians casually use the "F" word? How can that be squared with the intimate language of the Song of Solomon? What are we thinking? As for rude words about bodily waste, just grow up! Is it not the case that in using bad language, Christians are being conformed to the world rather than transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2)?
Now I know that there are worse sins than swearing and that a Christian may never swear, but be a hypocrite in other areas of his life. It is also the case that language can be used abusively without resorting to swear words. But is this really an excuse for swearing? Our speech is meant to impart grace to the hearers, not to needlessly offend. This appplies to our blogging too. Horatio Richmond Palmer was right, bad language disdain!
Comments that include swear words will be deleted, so don't even think about it!

Monday, February 12, 2007

My top ten U2 songs

10. Beautiful day
9. Vertigo
8. New year's day
7. Bad
6. Micracle drug
5. I still haven't found what I'm looking for
4. Walk on
3. Sometimes you can't make it on your own
2. Pride, in the name of love
1. One

John Calvin on the Trinity

John Calvin
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote with deep insight into the doctrine of the Trinity. He dismissed as "an absurd fiction" (I:XIII:29) the scholastic teaching on the eternal generation of the Son. To him, the idea that the Father eternally generated the Son's divine essence was the wost kind of theological speculation. Instead, he proposed that "the Godhead is absolutely of itself [autotheos]. And hence also we hold that the Son, regarded as God, without reference to his person, is also of himself [autotheos]; though we also say that, regarded as Son, he is of the Father. Thus his essence is without beginning, while his person has its beginning in God". (I:XIII:25). The Son, in his divine essence is I AM, the self-existing God. He does not derive his deity from the Father. He is Son because he has a Father, but he is God because he is God.
B. B. Warfield spelt out the value of Calvin's contribution to our understanding of the Trinity in a remarkable and influential essay. Much recent evangelical work on the Trinity owes a debt to Warefield's exposition of Calvin's teaching.
"In his assertion of the autotheos of the Son Calvin, then, was so far from supposing that he was enunciating a novelty that he was able to quote the Nicene Fathers themselves as asserting it "in so many words". And yet in his assertion of it he marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Not that men had not before believed in the self-existence of the Son as He is God: but that the current modes of stating the doctrine of the Trinity left a door for the entrance of defective modes of conceiving the deity of the Son, to close which there was needed some such sharp assertion of His absolute deity as was supplied by the assertion of His autotheos. If we will glance over the history of the efforts of the Church to work out for itself an acceptable statement of the great mystery of the Trinity, we shall perceive that is is dominated from the beginning to the end by a single motive - to do full justice to the absolute deity of Christ. And we shall perceive that among the multitudes of great thinkers who under the pressure of this motive have laboured upon the problem, and to whom the Church looks back with gratitude for great services, in better formulation of the doctrine or better commendation of it to the people, three names stand out in high relief, as marking epochs in the advance towards the end in view. These three names are those of Tertullian, Augustine and Calvin. It is into this narrow circle of elect spirits that Calvin enters by the contribution he made to the right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. That contribution is summed up in his clear, firm and unwavering assertion of the autotheos on the Son. By this assertion the homoousios of the Nicene Fathers at last came into its full right, and became in its fullest sense the hinge of the doctrine".

B. B. Warfield

From Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity, in Calvin and Augustine. p. 283 & 284, (P&R, 1980).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Extemporary preaching

George Whitefield

Here are some thoughts on preaching without notes. I started to preach in this way many years ago for a number of reasons. First, I tend to gesticulate a bit while preaching. Once I knocked my notes out of the pulpit and had to retrieve them mid-sermon, which was a bit embarrassing. Second, I sometimes used to find a new vein of thought opening up while preaching. I would go with this, but run ahead of my notes. When the moment of inspiration dried up, I would have to pause for what seemed to me like an eternity, to find my place in the sermon.
So, one day I tried preaching without notes. I did my usual preparation, prayed hard and decided to give it a go. As an insurance policy, I brought my sermon with me into the pulpit, just in case it all went horribly wrong. I felt liberated and didn't need to glance at my notes once. Next time, I prayed even harder and left the notes at home. I found that I was able to keep to my prepared sermon outline, but be more spontaneous in my preaching. This was about 18 years ago, when I was in my 20's.
Extemporary preaching does not mean speaking without diligent sermon preparation. This kind of speaking must not be at the expense of considered Biblical exegesis, clear and logical ordering of the material and thought given to matters of illustration and application. Preaching without notes demands a clear, straightforward sermon structure, because the preacher himself will not be able to remember an overly elaborate address. Three or four main points with their attendant sub-points will be the preacher's guide as he delivers his message. The preaching may develop in unexpected ways, but any improvisation will generally take place within the basic framework of the sermon.
An extemporary preacher should not seek to commit his whole sermon to memory. A prayerful and meditative reading of notes prior to preaching should be enough to impress the burden of the message on the mind and heart of the speaker. To be tied to a memorised recitation of a message is as restrictive as preaching from notes.
The big advantage of preaching without notes is increased interaction with the congregation. Eye contact can be maintained so that the preacher may react to the response of the people to his message. If someone looks a bit confused, the preacher can clarify his point. If some seem to be really helped by something, the preacher can elaborate on his exposition and seek apply the truth for the good of the people. If he is loosing the congregation, an illustration or maybe a provocative statement will regain their attention. Hopefully, the people will feel that the preacher is speaking to them rather than at them as this rapport develops during the message.
Extemporary preaching is not without its difficulties. It can leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable. There is nowhere to hide. You cannot bury your head in your notes and steam on ahead when things aren't going well. It is a risky business that demands faith in God. Because you will not have prepared the exact words you are going to say beforehand, care must be taken not to slip into the same old stock phrases and cliches. Those who do not use notes in preaching should not draw attention to the fact before the congregation like a child saying "look no hands" when letting go of the handlebars of his bike. Kids who do that often fall off! The Bible-centred content, not the style of preaching is what matters.
Not all preachers are able to speak in this way. We should work with the gifts that God has given us. Jonathan Edwards famously read his sermons with great effect. But I believe that he determined to be less dependent on his notes after hearing George Whitefield's extemporary preaching. Whether we use no notes, few notes or lots of notes, Christ-exalting, Spirit enpowered preaching must be our aim, even if we often (or always) fall short of that goal.
Sometimes it may be necessary for mainly extemporary preachers to use some notes. When I was preaching on Daniel a few years ago, I had to use some notes for chapter 11. I couldn't get through all those verses about the northern and southern kings and queens of Greece without something on paper. I often use some notes for our discussional Bible studies too, as Bible study is different to preaching. Theological or historical lectures demand pretty full notes, but again, lecturing should be different to preaching.
Nothing is more exhilarating than preaching the gospel with freedom and spontaneity. Preaching without notes does not guarantee this sense of liberty, but perhaps, in the goodness of God, it may help.
See here and here for Martyn Lloyd-Jones on preaching.