Friday, June 29, 2007

Confessions meme

Here's my contribution to the theological confessions "meme":

I confess that I have not yet read Calvin's Institutes all the way though. But I'm making a concerted effort to read a bit most days and I'm just about to start Book IV. I've really enjoyed the exercise. The final chapter in Book III on the resurrection was outstanding.
I confess that Reformed systematic theology is in vital need of reformation. Systematics should arise from exegesis, be informed by biblical theology and be able to face the challenges of the contemporary world. Both Berkhof and Reymond fail in this regard.
I confess that Kevin Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine is the most captivating and stimulating work of theology that I have read in ages.
I confess that Donald Macleod's books on the person and work of Christ have moved me very deeply. (The Person of Christ, IVP & From Glory to Golgotha, Christian Focus).
I confess that I enjoy reading N.T. Wright. His The Resurrection of the Son of God is just brilliant. But I do not agree with the new perspective on Paul.
I confess that when it comes to Karl Barth, I can't see what all the fuss is about. He had a defective view of biblical revelation, Christ's human nature, election etc. etc. His Church Dogmatics is mind-numbingly long. I find interacting with Barth-influenced bloggers a bit frustrating because they tend to dismiss all appeals to Scripture as "proof texting".
I confess that I am more and more convinced that Reformed theology is faithful to Scripture.
I confess that penal substitution is the key to understanding the cross of Christ.
I confess that I find it a bit embarrassing when I meet people in real life who have read my blog.

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Alan Davey

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

Alan Davey

GD: Hello and welcome, Alan. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

AD: Wotcher Guy. I'm a Rhondda boy, Rhondda born and Rhondda bred. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Studied Biology at Aberystwyth, where I became a Christian and first became aware of a call to Christian ministry. I am married to Pat and we have two children; Gwilym and Catrin.

GD: Your blog is called "Les Daveys de France". Please explain.

AD: We are the Daveys and we have been in France since Autumn 2005. There are other Daveys in France but we have had no complaints so far.

GD: So, why do you blog?

AD: Really the blog aims to reach the parts a prayer letter cannot reach - so it talks about the everyday little challenges and encouragements, and gives people an insight into what it means to us to come and serve in France.

GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?

AD: Being contacted by new people, some of whom sense a call to Christian work in France, too. That's by far the best thing. And when people have visited our church because of the blog I dance for joy.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?

AD: Woah! Loads! I think there's a danger of moaning, of ranting, of the blog being your outlet for all that. Again the potential for gossip is enormous. And time wasting. (Have you seen Facebook? It's like a hoover for time.) But I think the worst thing is the temptation to try to appear clever or funny. Pride and egoism and all that.
GD: Yes, we need to blog as Christians in the name of the Lord. But I'm not into the Facebook thing. I don't really get it. Now, where did you train for the Christian Ministry?

AD: I did the Evangelical Movement of Wales Theological Training Course (The Bryntirion Course). It was taught by the LTS men, but part time over four years. It suited me because it enabled me to continue being a deacon in the church I belonged to at the time.

GD: What is the most important lesson that you learned from your studies?

AD: That God is good and works out his great and glorious plan in the short lives of little people who love him.
GD: What does your family think of your blogging habit?

AD: The best thing is to ask them. Pat's blog is called pat-in-france.blogspot.com, and Gwilym has france.blogspot.com. I think they're OK with it, and Pat soon tells me if I spend too much time on the computer.
GD: Wow, a regular little family of bloggers aren't you? Right, you were the pastor at Deeside Evangelical Church in North Wales and then you felt called to serve the Lord as a missionary in France. Tell us how you became convinced that the Lord was leading you in that direction.
AD: There were two threads to it: On the one hand, in the church and in my life I was praying that God would send labourers into the harvest field, and especially Europe.
Then when we went on honeymoon to Spain (my first time ever on the continent) we saw how needy the country really is. We also found that it is possible to learn a language and speak to people and be understood.
Over time these two threads (praying for God to send, and being personally aware of the need) grew to the point where I became convinced that God wanted us to go and work in France. We had lost all our parents. Nobody was any more free to go and serve overseas than we were. Our kids were still at the right age.
The elders of the church were supportive and not surprised, though one had thought we would head for Spain. The church took a little more time to think it through. We came in 2005 and left the church in the loving and capable hands of Martin Downes. (Thank you heavenly Father!)

GD: We Brits are notoriously bad at learning foreign tongues. Why should we bother when English is the nearest thing to a world language? Had you long forgotten your schoolboy French, so that you had to more or less learn the language from scratch? If so, do you now feel comfortable ministering in the language?

AD: I didn't do a language in school to O level. We had to choose between Latin and Physics. I was good at Latin but I needed Physics to be a doctor (don't ask!). We had to choose between Welsh and French. Welsh was taught quite well at my school, but French was a disaster - nevertheless I chose French then dropped it one year later. Nobody passed their O level French first time. Then just before coming here I did A level French in our Deeside Consortium sixth form college. I feel OK ministering in the language, though it's more like walking in wellies than in slippers...

GD: Say something in French.

AD: Quelque chose.

GD: Meaning?

AD: Something. (Have I missed the point here?)

GD: Er, yes! Now, what is your biggest pulpit faux pas while ministering in French?

AD: Well I had a nice one this Sunday. I was preaching about Rahab and imagining what the people of Jericho might have said. My notes said "J'ai un bon verrou" (I have a good lock). My lips said " J'ai un bon verrue" (I have a good wart). I have since smacked them thoroughly and they promise to try harder in future.

GD: I hope you mean your notes rather than your congregation! How have your family coped with the move?

AD: Great. It has been really hard. REALLY HARD. But recently Gwilym said that he'd be sad if he had to go back to Britain now. And when things are hard you are more aware of God's help.

GD: Apart from language, what is the biggest cultural difference between the French and the Brits?

AD: Oh boy! I could write a book. [A short answer will do - GD] The biggest difference... I think it is almost a kind of epicurean/stoic thing. In France what matters is to have a personal project, to enjoy your food and your family and friends. In Britain it's more about your career and your home. That's very broad brush, but I think it's more or less the case. That and kissing the blokes at church, of course.

GD: Do you get the hiraeth (Welsh homesickness)? If so, what do you miss most about Wales?

AD: Yes. I miss the hymns, the roadsigns, the accents, the humour, the hills, the church, the North Wales churches, the ministers fellowship, the AECW, Banner of Truth Trust, my friends, Evangelical Times and Evangelicals Now, Christian bookshops, Chester Road West, BBC Radio 4, Borders bookshop.
GD: Tell us your top three songs or pieces of music.

AD: Bach: St Matthew Passion, Stravinsky: Dumbarton Oaks, Red Mountain Church: Streams of living water flow
GD: Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?

AD: Geoff Thomas. First pastor. What can you say?

GD: Nothing, I am awestruck. Who has taught you most about preaching?

AD: Geoff Thomas. And Stuart Olyott. A heady mix ! If only I lived up to that...
GD: Some role models. Now, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?

AD: The unbelief and utter incomprehension of the masses in our countries. That feeds so many other things: our need for Christlikeness, our pressure to compromise, our need for revival, our call to evangelise, our need for clarity, the call for unity in truth, etc. etc.
GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....

AD: I have really enjoyed (re-)reading John Piper's Let the nations rejoice. Re-reading because I have read it before but in brackets because I read an old smaller edition. I am reading this with a student who hopes to devote his life to mission and it's been very helpful for me. It's a must read because it will help you put the evangelisation of the world at the center of your Christian life. I was enjoying Peter Leithart's A house for my name till we moved house and I haven't found it since.
GD: Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?

AD: I enjoy Darby Gray because there's almost always something new to read. I enjoy Tim Challies because he gives a window on the Christian world in Canadia and the USA. I enjoy Barnsie Myerscough, the metrocalvinist, Jon Mackenzie and the Exiled Preacher because you get good-humoured theological reflection. I enjoy Downsie because he is so against heresy and he interviews the people that matter. And I enjoy Reformation 21 because they are all nuts. However, I am aware that most of these people are "Alan's mates"... what does that say, eh?
GD: It says that you have lots of mates who blog, which is nice. Well, it's time to bring our little chat to a close. Good to catch up with you Alan. Diolch yn fawr!
That was interview no. 5. Tune in next week for the two final installments in this series.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame

Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame, P&R, 2006, 383pp.
If you are looking for a one volume introduction to systematic theology, then this is it. The book is aimed at those who wish to dip their toes into systematics for the first time rather than the seasoned student of theology. The aim of systematic theology is to give us a disciplined knowledge of the God who has revealed himself in Scripture. Systematics works through the whole gamut of biblical revelation in a logical and orderly way beginning with God himself and ending with eschatology, the last things. Frame leads us gently through his systematic theology, with a fatherly, conversational tone. He explains technical terminology and seeks to root his teaching in the Scriptures.
Frame discusses systematic theology under the rubric of God's lordship. This entails a triad of divine control, authority and presence. Three basic perspectives flow from this triad, the situational - how God controls all things, the normative - how God exercises authority over all things and and the existential, how God presences himself with his people. These "lordship triads" form the framework upon which the writer constructs his theological system.
John Frame writes with insight and clarity on all the major biblical doctrines. More experienced students will sometimes wish that he had devoted more attention to a subject, but they are directed to his more substantial Theology of Lordship series (here & here). His discussion of the Trinity, while helpful and sound, leaves several questions hanging in the air. Unlike some works of Reformed theology, Frame gives due emphasis to the resurrection of Christ. He makes the resurrection of the believer and the renewal of creation, rather than dying and going to heaven the focus of the Christian hope.
The work is written from the standpoint of the Reformed faith. Frame is strong on controversial issues such as inerrancy and eternal punishment. But here is a truly generous orthodoxy. The theologian refuses to be dogmatic or sectarian where the Scriptures are not clear. The old argument over infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism is a case in point. Robert Reymond spent pages arguing in favour of supralapsarianism in his New Systematic Theology, but Frame simply admits, "I don't think that Scripture really addresses the order of God's decrees." (p. 182). While the writer is a convinced Presbyterian and an infant-baptist, he writes respectfully of other views of church government and baptism. He deals even-handedly with the diffferent millenial views. Frame does not blindly follow the dictates of Reformed tradition. He makes some fresh proposals on the marks of the church and argues that the churches should be contemporary in their approach to worship.
According to Frame, "Theology is the application of the Word by persons to the world and all areas of human life." A chapter is devoted to reflecting on how doctrine should affect the Christian life, How Then Shall We Live? The writer's tradic perspectives are brought to bear on Christian ethics. We are to live under God's lordship. This means that the commands given by his authority are our ethical norm. We are subject to his control in everyday situations as those who have been redeemed by his grace. The believer lives in God's presence; his indwelling Spirit directs how we live personally and existentially. Some helpful examples are given of how this approach may play out in practice. A final, somewhat repetitive chapter summarises the book and shows how every doctrine is illuminated by the lordship triad.
This is the first book that I have read by John Frame. Reading his enjoyable introduction to systematic theology has whetted my appetite for his works on the Theology of Lordship. Earlier, I devoted a post to Frame's theological method. His admiration for John Murray's approach to systematics prompted me to do this series.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Guy Prentiss Waters "A debtor to mercy alone"

Martin Downes in conversation with the New Testament scholar on truth, error and the new perspective on Paul.
Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Ben Myers

This is part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today we have...
GD: G'day and welcome, Ben. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
BM: I’m an Aussie, 29 years old, brought up on the sunny coast of North Queensland. I’m married to the girl who lived next door when I was a boy (I was 7 years old when I first fell in love with her), and we’ve got two little daughters, aged 5 and 2. About a month from now, we’re expecting our third baby to arrive — so my home office has been turned into a baby’s room, and the pictures of Barth and Bultmann on the wall have been replaced with bright butterflies and elephants (a big improvement). On weekends I worship in an Anglican church, and on weekdays I work as a research fellow in a delightful university. And in my spare time, I like to drink coffee, read novels, eat Italian food, and watch episodes of The West Wing, Murphy’s Law and The Chaser’s War on Everything
GD: Your blog is called "Faith & Theology". What made you start blogging?
BM: Well, my good friend Mike Bird started a New Testament blog, and he suggested that I should start one for theology. At the time, I’d never even heard of a “blog” — but I started reading Mike’s, and I noticed that there were hardly any theology blogs around. So I thought I’d start one up and run it for just a few months — but it was so much fun that I never quite got around to quitting!
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
BM: The most enjoyable thing has been the remarkable group of friends and scholars whom I’ve gotten to know. It’s great to be in touch with so many theologians, pastors and doctoral students from around the world. I especially love talking with doctoral students about their research — it’s a great way of getting a sense of where the field is heading in the future. Above all, though, I’d say the biggest highlight has been getting to know Kim Fabricius. Over the past couple of years, Kim has become a valued friend and conversation-partner — even though he’s on the other side of the globe.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
BM: Well, there can be a danger that we forget, in our discussions, that we’re talking to real people — it’s amazing how nasty some people can be online, even though they’d be polite and friendly if you met them face-to-face. So I guess the important thing is to remember that an online conversation is still a conversation — it’s a discussion between friends. I’m really grateful that Faith & Theology (usually!) attracts this kind of friendly discussion. Perhaps another danger for me personally is that I could start to take my own opinions too seriously, just because I happen to have a few hundred people reading my blog. Fortunately, one of my wife’s hobbies is disagreeing with me about theology, art, politics, and other things — so that helps me (sometimes) not to take my opinions too seriously!
GD: There's no danger of you being taken too seriously here, mate. Right, tell us how you became interested in theology.
BM: When I was growing up, I always dreamed of becoming a novelist. When I got to university, I realised I wasn’t good enough to be a novelist, so I decided (like all failed artists) to become an academic instead. And I never really decided to get into theology. It just sort of grabbed me — I found it irresistibly charming and fascinating.
GD: Faith & Theology is probably the biggest theology blog in terms of hits. Have you any idea why?
BM: Nope, no idea. Perhaps I’ve tricked people into thinking that I know what I’m talking about. On the other hand, the blog started getting a lot more visitors when Kim Fabricius started writing for me. So he’s probably the main reason!
GD: The world of theoblogs seems to be dominated by Aussies. In my opinion the Welsh should be top blogs. Any hints for Welsh wannabe's?
BM: To start with, you should learn to say “G’day” with a thick Aussie accent. You should also eat toast with Vegemite for breakfast, and you should say “crikey” and “strewth” more often. Whenever possible, you should also complain about the weather, the government, and the price of real estate. Soon enough, people will think you’re a true-blue Aussie — and everything else will follow!
GD: So, our only hope is to become hats-with-corks-on wearing, Fosters swilling, croc wresting, Aussie stereotypes? That's too high a price to pay for theoblogger domination. I guess that we'll just have to learn to be content with a hit rate of 3.5 page views a month. Ah well. Next question: You said that you felt a bit lazy because other bloggers have published reviews of Kevin Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine and you hadn't. To make up for it, you posted Byron Smith's review on your blog. And like, that's not lazy?
BM: What can I say? I’ve always been fairly lazy, so I guess it’s too late to start apologising now.... The only thing I can say in my defence is that at least I wasn’t too lazy to read the book!
GD: How do we know that if you won't publish a review? Right, I'm not a great fan of Karl Barth, in fact I once unleashed my attack monkey to give him a good mauling. But he is such an influential figure at Faith & Theology, that I'd better ask you some Barth-related questions. Karl Barth seems to be the man of the moment for many theobloggers. Why do you think that his theology is so influential right now?
BM: Well, I think one of the most appealing things about Barth is that he can teach us how to think theologically for ourselves. It’s no coincidence that so many leading theologians have started out as students writing dissertations on Barth: just think of Hans Küng, Robert Jenson, Colin Gunton, Gerhard Sauter, G. C. Berkouwer, James Cone, David Ford, Hans Frei. Or think of others who devoted some of their earliest scholarly efforts to engaging with Barth: Eberhard Jüngel, T. F. Torrance, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Donald Bloesch, John Howard Yoder. It’s not as if all these people went on to become “Barthians” — boring disciples who merely repeat the master’s teaching. On the contrary, they went on to become theologians! Through engagement with Barth, they gained resources that enabled them to think theologically in their own contexts. I think this illustrates why Barth remains attractive to so many students and younger scholars — by reading Barth and by learning to think with him and through him, we can also learn what it means to practise theology here and now in our own situations. In other words, the important thing about Barth isn’t that he tells you what to think, but that he shows you how to think.
GD: Have you really read all of Church Dogmatics in every available translation?
BM: Ah, if only I were clever enough, and if only life were long enough.... Speaking of translations, though, the most impressive one I’ve seen is the Italian edition: it’s beautifully bound and lavishly illustrated (rather like one of those big Catholic Bibles), and, best of all, the translators have added regular sub-headings to make the text more accessible. Anyone who has read the Church Dogmatics will understand the value of those additional sub-headings — Barth used very few headings, and it’s sometimes hard to follow his argument when the next heading is 400 pages away!
GD: Pages and pages without a heading! That's cruelty to readers. But I'm surprised that you haven't read CD in all the available translations. I thought that you were supposed to be the expert. Now, in your opinion, what is the single most important aspect of Barth's theology?
BM: Without a doubt, it’s his doctrine of election. Barth’s whole massive theological project crystallises at that one point. His doctrine of election is absolutely revolutionary. It revolutionises the whole doctrine of God. It revolutionises all christology. It revolutionises the doctrine of creation, and the whole way of thinking about God’s relationship to humanity. I reckon very few theologians have really grasped the momentous power of Barth’s doctrine of election — and for good reason, since grasping this doctrine is like trying to grasp a cyclone! Personally, I have a suspicion that theologians will still be struggling to come to terms with this doctrine a hundred years from now.
GD: Well, I'm certainly struggling. I appreciate the Christocentricity of Barth's doctrine of election. The Reformed tradition has not always given due recognition to the fact that we are chosen in Christ (see here). But to me, the universalistic overtones of Barth's teaching are problematic. I found Paul Helm's recent discussion of Barth's doctrine of election in relation to the teaching of Calvin very helpful (here). Now, what was Barth's biggest theological mistake?
BM: Well, I think Barth tended to be too strict about policing the boundary between theology and other disciplines. This can give the impression that theology is sealed off from disciplines (e.g. biblical studies, philosophy, hermeneutics, and the natural sciences). I think that was a significant mistake — and theologians have been trying ever since to re-open those disciplinary boundaries. But perhaps Barth’s biggest mistake was that he so often found it necessary to express his own ideas by sharply distancing himself from others. I feel sad when I think of the very personal way that he denounced his close friend Emil Brunner, or the abrupt way he dismissed younger scholars like Ebeling and Pannenberg, or the way he persistently ridiculed Bultmann instead of really listening to him. I guess if you want to be understood, you’ll always have to distance yourself from other people to some extent — but what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his friends?
GD: Quite! Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?
BM: Pete Townshend of The Who was once asked to describe how Bob Dylan had influenced him. He replied with amazement: “That’s like asking how I was influenced by being born!” I feel exactly the same way about Karl Barth!
GD: Name your top three songs or pieces of music. No Dylan because he can't sing.
BM: Well, my wife would agree with you about Dylan — but you’re both wrong, of course! Really, the list should be all Dylan, since he’s the only person who can really sing.... Still, if I try really hard to come up with a list that’s not exclusively Dylan, I guess I’d have to choose: Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21; Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”; and Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row.”
GD: Oi, that's cheating. I said NO Dylan, not two out of three Dylan! But I'll let you off. Anyway, some idiot started a rumour that you and Kim Fabricius are one and the same person. Care to comment?
BM: Hey, I’ll be the last person to dispel that rumour. Nothing could be more flattering than to be mistaken for Kim Fabricius! Seriously, though, if you want definite proof that we’re different people, just ask me any question about baseball....
GD: But you don't emphatically deny that Kim Fabricius is really a figment of your imagination (who just happens to like baseball). What do you find most attractive and engaging about the historic evangelical faith?
BM: Well, I don’t really engage much with conservative North American forms of evangelicalism. But for me, being “evangelical” means being committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection should be the guide and basis of all our faith, life, and theology. For me, then, the most attractive thing about “evangelical” faith is that it’s liberating — the gospel empowers us to live and believe and think with joyful freedom. So an “evangelical” theology shouldn’t encroach on our humanness or impose restrictions on our scholarship. On the contrary, the gospel sets us free to engage fruitfully and constructively with our world — and that means (in my view) that “evangelical” theology has nothing to fear from things like historical criticism, natural science, contemporary philosophy, progressive politics, and so on. Or to put it another way, I suspect the gospel itself is a good deal more “liberal” than some evangelicals would like to admit!
GD: If by that you mean that evangelicals should not invariably align themselves with "right-wing" politics, I agree. We seem to have forgotten that Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, who championed the poor and the enslaved were evangelicals. Now, what is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....
BM: The best new theological work I’ve read recently is Paul DeHart’s The Trial of the Witnesses (Blackwell, 2006) — a brilliant study of postliberal theology, and a very creative proposal for integrating the theological approaches of Barth and Schleiermacher. But if you’ll also allow me to include older books that I’ve read only recently, then I’d have to say that the best thing I’ve read in the past year is Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.; Baker, 2003-2006). The fourth volume hasn’t been published yet — but I’ve been slowly working my way through each volume as the translations appear. It’s really a magnificent work. Although it was written a century ago, it’s still fresh and vital and challenging. The first volume in particular (on scripture, revelation and theological method), is simply stunning. Bavinck really represents the classical Reformed tradition at its best.
GD: Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
BM: Well, I subscribe to about 40 blogs via Google Reader. But depending on how busy I am, I’m not always able to follow them very closely. Lately, though, I’ve especially been enjoying The Fire and the Rose (for energetic theological reflection and brilliant film reviews), Nothing New under the Sun (for insights on eschatology and the environment), Euangelion (for info about current New Testament scholarship), Chrisendom (always outrageous, delightful and clever), Aaron Ghiloni (for excellent stuff on practical theology), Insight Scoop (for an intelligent conservative Catholic perspective), and Andygoodliff (for insight into British systematic theology); as well as Levellers and The Blogging Parson (for very different ethical perspectives). But I’d have to say my favourite blogs at the moment are Inhabitatio Dei (which has just kicked off an excellent new series on trinitarianism) and the new Swords to Plowshares (what could be better than a blogger who likes Barth, J. H. Yoder and Rowan Williams?) I also have a great deal of respect for all Welsh tea-drinking monkey-bloggers like David Sky, although there aren’t as many of these around as there used to be....
GD: Mr Sky recently returned to the blogosphere for one last post. But the fewer people who know about that the better. Well, fair dinkum mate. It's been bonza talking to you. (Wow, I just talked Aussie. The Welsh will soon be top blogs!)
Next up will be one of my Welsh Bible-blog mates. Stay tuned for some more stuff....

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Peet Botha at the South West Minister's Fraternal

Yesterday I attended a Minister's Fraternal in Devon. The guest speaker was Peet Botha, a South African New Testament scholar. He addressed us on the controversial subject of homosexuality. Botha has devoted scholarly attention to the issue because the Dutch Reformed Church is South Africa has been trying to adopt a more accommodating view of homosexual relationships. The controversy led Dr Botha to examine homosexuality from biblical, theological and biological perspectives.
Botha's essential proposal is that biblical sexuality is rooted in the creation of human beings as male and female in God's image. The foundational texts are Genesis 1:26-28 & 2:18-25. The male/female marriage relationship is an expression of unity in diversity as each embraces the otherness of the opposite sex in a union of love. As the Bible's plot-line unfolds, all deviations from this basic model of human sexuality are condemned. This includes pre-marital heretosexual sex, adultery and homosexual acts. It is in this context that we are to read the Old Testament ban on same-sex intimacy in Leviticus 18 & 20.
Jesus reinforced the Old Testament's teaching on the uniqueness and sanctity of marriage in Matthew 19, when he dealt with the issue of divorce by taking his interlocutors back to the Genesis teaching. He did not specifically address the matter of homosexuality because it was not a live issue in the religious and cultural context of Palestinian Judaism. All regarded such sexual expression as forbidden by the law of God. When the apostles of Christ took his message to the Gentile world, they were faced with a culture that tolerated homosexuality. The apostles regarded same sex intimacy as contrary to God's pattern for sexual expression and therefore sinful. Paul, "the apostle to the Gentiles" was especially vocal on this, Romans 1:18ff, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 etc.
It cannot be objected that Paul knew nothing of long-term homosexual relationships such as we see in the modern world with "Civil Partnerships". Nero, the Cesar of Paul's day "married" two men. When Paul denounced homosexual acts in Romans 1, he was confronting head-on the immorality than characterized Roman society from the top down.
The churches need to hold fast to the Bible's teaching on sexual purity within marriage. We must resist pressures from the world and from within the church that would undermine the clear teaching of Scripture. People struggling with homosexual tendencies must be treated respectfully and with pastoral care. However, their sin cannot be condoned any more than that of an adulterer. But there is hope. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. In Christ, there is forgiveness and new life for all sinners. As Jesus said, "If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:32).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Sky's the Limit interview

David Sky has decided to come out of retirement for "one last post". He wanted to get in on this interviewing thing and have a blog chat with me. Against my better judgement, I agreed to take part. He's a very cheeky monkey and the conversation sometimes became a bit heated, but I think that I got the better of him. Check it out here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Andrew Roycroft

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

GD: Hello and welcome, Andrew. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
AR: My name is Andrew Roycroft, I’m 29 years old, and am a native of Northern Ireland. My wife Carolyn and I have been married for four years, and we live and serve the Lord in Co. Armagh. For the past five years I have been serving as Pastor in Armagh Baptist Church.
GD: Your blog is called "Double Usefulness". Please explain.
AR: One servant of God who has really blessed me through his ministry is Geoff Thomas. His preaching and writing are warm, intelligent, and deeply devotional. One of the most helpful insights Geoff has shared in writing is this principle of 'double usefulness'. To me it basically means maximising your activities so that the greatest number of people can benefit from what you are doing. Thus if I read a book which really blesses me, then I can review it online for the encouragement of others; if I go to a good conference I can share some insights that have encouraged or challenged me etc. The great thing about this is that it saves me having to do any original thinking, but still makes it look like I have something to say!!
GD: It's certainly better to be doubly useful than doubly useless! What made you start blogging?
AR: I’ve always enjoyed expressing myself in writing, and so the discovery of blogging has given me a forum to do just that. My first blog was a travel journal of a sabbatical trip to Peru which our friends and families used as a prayer resource while we were away. This gave me the bug for blogging and thus I set up ‘Double Usefulness’. Primarily I wanted to create an easily updatable resource that the members of Armagh Baptist could access for articles etc, but have found that the benefits go far beyond even that.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
AR: I love the interactivity of blogging, as well as the way in which it establishes contact with a community of people who share the same interests, priorities and concerns. It has become an arena of fellowship for me, as well as giving me a place to share my thoughts (for what they’re worth). Now when I read the paper or go through different experiences I don’t simply think of how these things could be used to illustrate sermons, but also what I could write about them on the blog.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
AR: I think the time investment is the greatest danger. As you know only too well pastoral ministry is exceptionally busy, and it would be so easy to pour the rest of my free time into writing my own blog or reading those of others. That time is crucial for reading, and for relaxation with my wife. I have to constantly keep a tight rein on how much ‘blogging time’ I put in – and I don’t always succeed in that! I think another danger is the temptation to take things too seriously – a blog is a blog, nothing more, nothing less. I think some folks forget the hobby or amateur element to blogging and begin to believe that they are writing a serious online theological journal! There are a few blogs which could claim that, but I think that most (and certainly my own) need to be approached with a sense of humour and perspective.
GD: Wise words! You trained for the ministry at the Irish Baptist College in Moira. Did you enjoy your time there?
AR: Immensely. My one regret is that my studies have been conducted part time in conjunction with full time pastoral ministry, and so I perhaps haven’t experienced the community element of theological education as much as I would have liked. Both Carolyn and I, however, are going back to Bible college next year and will be studying full time – Carolyn on a missions course, and me on an MTh – and so we should get that more rounded experience then.
GD: What is the most important lesson that you learned from your studies?
AR: Undoubtedly how little I know. Theological education thus far has given me a key to the library, but I feel that I’ve barely reached the shelves yet.
GD: What does your wife, Carolyn think of your blogging habit?
AR: Because she’s kept busy in her teaching post as well as church ministry, she doesn’t get much time to read what I write. But I think she enjoys the fulfilment I get from it, even though it means I can be a little distracted at times!!
GD: Er...yes. Describe your call to the pastoral ministry.
AR: As I was studying English at university I began to sense an overwhelming call to serve God with my life in a full time capacity. As time passed my conviction of heart was that this would be in the ministry of God’s Word, but I wasn’t sure in what context. I prayed about the issue a lot privately during my postgraduate year, and asked the Lord to guide me. Completely independently of my heart convictions, the elders in the Church of which I was a member (Newtownards Baptist) approached me and asked me to consider becoming their Assistant Pastor. It was an issue which they had been praying over for some time. After a few weeks of sustained prayer on the issue it became clear that it was most certainly God’s will, and I took up the role of Assistant in September 2000, moving on to a full pastorate in Armagh in September 2002.
GD: Interesting to hear of the way that the Lord was working in you and the elders of your church. A call to ministry should usually be recognised and affirmed by the local church. In your experience, what are the most enjoyable and the most difficult aspects of being a pastor?
AR: Undoubtedly the most enjoyable aspect is the exposure to, and proclamation of, the majesty of our God. I’m continually confounded by the marvel of God at work by His Spirit through His Word, whether from the pulpit or in the privacy of members’ homes or hospital wards. The privilege of handling Scripture and applying it closely to my own life and to those of others is unspeakable. The most difficult aspect for me is finding a balance in the various aspects of the work: i.e. getting enough time for sermon preparation/hospital and home visitation/administration as well as having personal moments simply to repent, rest or rejoice in the presence of God.
GD: The balance thing is difficult. Making time for personal communion with God is so important. We are Christians before we are Ministers. You recently announced that you and your wife hope to become missionaries in Peru. Tell us how you became convinced that the Lord was leading you in that direction.
AR: This has been an incredible journey for us. We have sensed God speaking to us in His word for over two years on this issue. My father passed into the presence of the Lord in October 2004, and this forced us to rethink a lot of things in our life and ministry, not least of which was the direction God would have us take for the future. As we have read and prayed together we have become convinced that the Lord wants us to serve Him in Peru. The sense of call which we have experienced has been so clear and compelling that for us to have waited any longer in taking this step would have equalled disobedience. It has been a painful decision as I am leaving the pastoral ministry of a church which we both love, not mention our families – but we are so encouraged and blessed to have heard God’s voice so clearly. When we approached Baptist Missions and described what God had been saying and doing in our lives they were able to share that they have been praying for workers to minister in the specific areas of service in Peru that we have been burdened for. Our God truly is the Lord of the harvest!!
GD: Exciting times! May the Lord continue to guide you as you seek to do his will. What are your top three songs or pieces of music?
AR: Working Man’s Blues Pt.2 by Bob Dylan, Queen of the Slipstream by Van Morrison and When Love Came Down to Earth by Stuart Townend.
GD: Interesting choices! Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?
AR: Without doubt John Brew, a missionary with Baptist Missions in Peru. I first met John in July 2000 and he introduced me to Reformed literature. His book recommendations, wise counsel, and humble scholarship have moved and inspired me since.
GD: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?
AR: In Western Evangelicalism, an acceptance of the mediocrity of our experience of God. I know that there are manifold theological trends threatening to undermine issues as crucial as the atonement and the nature of evangelical identity - but at the grass roots level apathy seems to be the big killer. I think that most individual believers, and many churches, have a very poor sense of Christian history and revival, and perhaps have come to believe that the insipid, second-priority Christianity of our generation is the norm. We need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a fresh fear of God, a heart stopping encounter with His majesty, glory and grace. I think we have made the seed-choking deceitfulness of riches, which Jesus described, into a lifestyle choice - and that is a tragedy.
GD: Very thought provoking and challenging answer. We certainly need a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon the evangelical churches of our day. Now, what is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....
AR: O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants. While his style and content are fairly elementary, this book has clarified and illuminated so many issues for me. I was brought up in a dispensationalist background, and this book has helped me to articulate in theological language the Reformed convictions that I came to independently through my reading of Scripture. Mind you, Christopher J. Wright’s The Mission of God is currently proving a serious contender for that crown, but then again it would probably be cheating to mention two books!!
GD: Yes it would! Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
AR: My first ports of call when I go online are normally: Gary Brady’s ‘Heavenly Worldliness’ (interview Series 1 here) for its brilliant mixture of serious biographical/theological reflection and whimsical projects like the ‘Bloggy Man’ and ‘Favourite Puns’. Michael Jensen’s ‘Blogging Parson’ (interview Series 1 here) is also a challenging and intellectually stretching read. Geoff Thomas’ ‘Glog’ (interview Series 1 here) has been a firm favourite, although I wish he’d update a little more regularly. Your own ‘Exiled Preacher’ (trying to avoid any flattery) is superb. I enjoy your engagement with theological issues, as well as your sense of humour. Finally, I had developed a penchant for the musings of a certain theological monkey – David Sky (interview here) – but he was the victim of a horrific crushing incident (here) and hasn’t blogged in a while. I’m sure many other bloggers also mourn his demise.
GD: You are too kind. As you mentioned him, David Sky is slowly recovering from his dramatic accident. He's asked if I will do an interview for his blog, but I'm not sure, he can be a very cheeky monkey! Anyway, thanks for dropping by for this chat. It's been great talking to you.
Who will be next man to sit in the coveted "hot seat"? Has it always got to be a bloke? There are some female theobloggers out there, you know.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ten things on Biblical inerrancy

With Chris Tilling at it again (here) and the issue coming up in the Mike Bird interview (below), I thought I'd devote a "ten things" to Biblical inerrancy.
1. The Bible is inerrant because it is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit enabled the authors of Scripture to so write that their words were both fully human and the Word of the Lord. For example, what David said in Psalm 16 is also what God said. Compare Acts 2:25ff with Acts 13:34-35. What David wrote with his poetic skill and spiritual insight, is also the revelation of God.
2. Inerrancy means that the Scriptures as originally given were totally without error. The Bible is true and reliable in whatever if affirms.

3. Inerrancy does not mean that the Bible uses the language of scientific precision and we should not expect it to. Generalisations and approximations are not mistakes.

4. The Bible contains many different types of literature: poetry, proverbs, history, prophecy, letter and apocalypse. Inerrancy will function in different ways according to the literary genre of Scripture. Richly metaphorical poetry speaks of truth in a different way from sober history.

5. A commitment to inerrancy means that the Bible should be interpreted as a coherent whole that does not contradict itself. There is a rich diversity in Scripture, but it is a diversity in unity.

6. The term "inerrancy" was coined in the heat of controversy between evangelicals and liberals in the early 20th century. But the idea that the Bible is without error has been the default position of the church throughout history. The liberal attack on the Bible lead evangelicals to develop a clearer doctrine of Scripture as God's inerrant Word. It is often the case that the church has come to a deeper and more accurate understanding of doctrine in response to error and heresy.

7. Those, like Warfield who defended the inerrancy of Scripture, did not do so primarily because of their commitment to rationalistic "common sense" philosophy. It has been pointed out that liberals who opposed inerrancy also shared that basic philosophical outlook. It was not rationalistic on the part of Warfiled and others to insist that the Bible is true in whatever it affirms. Historically, the church has held that the Bible is without error independently of philosophical undercurrents.

8. Psalm 19:7-11 describes the Word of God in all its diverse forms as, "perfect", "sure", "right", "pure", "true and righteous altogether" etc. The Psalm also insists that God's speech has perlocutionary effects - it "coverts", "enlightens" etc. The Bible is the theodramatic script that the people of God are to perform. If inerrancy is affirmed, but Scripture is not performed, then God is dishonoured. Indeed a commitment to Biblical inerrancy should make believers approach the Word of God with special reverence with a view to living out its teaching.

9. It is not necessary to have resolved all the problems and supposed errors in Scripture to believe in inerrancy. Christ taught that the "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). He is the truth (John 14:6). His testimony to the veracity of the Bible together with the witness of the Spirit are sufficient to convince the believer that God's Word is without error.

10. The most important thing that may be said about Scripture is not that the Bible is inerrant. The primary task of Scripture is not to witness to its own veracity, but to testify of Christ. But we do need a reliable witness to the person and work of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Michael Bird

This is the first in a new series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: G'day and welcome, Michael. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MB: Guy, basically I am an expat Australian who teaches New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. I was born in Germany, moved to Australia from the UK when I was two, grew up in a non-Christian home, and spent 13 years in the Australian Army as a paratrooper/intelligence operator. I did my theological studies at the Queensland Baptist College of Ministries and my doctoral work at the University of Queensland. I am a Baptist by orientation, Reformed by conviction, and Evangelical in passion.
GD: Your blog is called "Euangelion", what made you start blogging?
MB: I saw the success of Mark Goodacre's blog "NT Gateway" and thought it would be nice to have a voice in the continuing conversation. It is also a great way to think out aloud, disseminate your ideas, share your findings day-to-day, publicise what you're writing, and keep abreast of what is going on, almost like a real-time link to what is happening in biblical studies.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
MB: Making friends across the world, the encouragement I receive from people who resonate with what I'm writing about, and the critical interaction with others who are interested in biblical studies.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
MB: It can be a time waster, you need to be sensitive when you talk about denominational politics or critique the work of other scholars. When I write critiques or offer comments on something/someone, I write as if I'm writing it to the person/institution I'm talking about.
GD: Christian blogging can sometimes be a bit bad tempered. We do need to show a bit of love and consideration in cyberspace. Now, why does world of theoblogs seem to be dominated by Aussies?
MB: Because we are just so damned good! It's like cricket - we are the best - and that is that. Honestly, I think it is coincidental. It just so happens that there are a number of fine theo/biblio bloggers around. My claim to fame will probably be that I was the guy who asked Ben Myers, "You ever considered starting a blog?"
GD: So, we have you to thank for that! You recently published a book entitled, The Saving Righteousness of God. One of your aims is to synthesise the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification with the new perspective on Paul. What does Reformed theology have to learn from the NPP?
MB: Paul's doctrine of righteousness actually has a lot to do with the unity of Jews and Gentiles in one body. While "righteousness" is often relational, vertical, and forensic; it is also sociological and ecclesiological. Sadly, those of us in the Reformed camp have over emphasized the ordo salutis at the expense of a historia salutis. It was in reading Gal. 3.11-14 that made this a reality for me and I had to say that, "Those NPP guys, might actually be onto something". Although, for many other reasons, I cannot buy into the whole package of Wright, Dunn, and Sanders.
GD: You also devote a chapter to the relationship between the resurrection of Christ and justification, drawing on the insights of Richard Gaffin and Mark Seifrid. I welcome that because the theological significance resurrection of Christ is often neglected in Reformed theology. Doesn't it just bug you that in the standard Dogmatics, discussion shifts from the cross directly to consideration of the application of redemption as if we could be saved by a dead Jesus?
MB: You hit the nail on the head! This is exactly what Gaffin was talking about in the late 70s and I only wish that more had followed him. If you start making the resurrection and union with Christ more central to your story of salvation (as Paul, John, and Luke do) then some of the standard conceptions of salvation break down. For instance, do we think of justification as the imputation of Christ's active obedience from the cross to us, or do we see ourselves as participating in his vindication by being united to him in his resurrection? This is what I'm wrestling with. I don't want to repudiate the Reformed heritage (I cherish it deeply), but I want a soteriology that is robustly biblical. In fact, in the Australian Evangelical Anglican tradition, the works of D.B. Knox and Leon Morris have asked very similar questions to the one's I'm asking!
GD: Have you seen Cornelis Venema's The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (here)? If so, what did you think?
MB: No I haven't. Venema mentions my work in an essay elsewhere that I've seen by him and I don't think he quite understood what I was doing. What I will also say, is that if you're going to anathematize Wright (as some Reformed folk in America have a propensity to do), then you better be willing to do the same to Zwingli, Bucer, and Bullinger as well, because I can plot similarities between them and Wright on many points (not that I'm saying that they are strictly identical or anything).
GD: Venema certainly doesn't anathematise Wright, or anyone else for that matter. He acknowledges that Reformed theology has something to learn from NPP thinking. Maybe you should give his book a read, I'm sure you'll find it helpful. Moving on, do you think that Kevin Vanhoozer's theodramatic proposals have the potential to refresh systematic theology?
MB: I do. I think Vanhoozer is the hootinest evangelical theologian in town at the moment. Everyone doing a Ph.D in a postmodern religious studies department MUST read his book: Is there a meaning in this text?
GD: "Hootinest"? Why is it that the mere mention of Vanhoozer makes people use freaky words? Right, you are a hydro-immersionist Baptist, yes? Why is it that so many top evangelical theologians have been Presbyterians? Are Baptist theologians inept, indolent or just unfairly overlooked?
MB: What the firecracker ...? You looking for a fight boy? Well, I think Millard Erickson, Stan Grenz, and Henri Blocher are fairly decent Baptist Theologians even if they do not command large schools of followers. A generation of Baptists used Erickson's textbook and Grenz was one of the first guys to really have a crack at doing theology in dialogue with postmodernism. Presbyterian theologians, as far as I can tell, have nothing else to say other than offering a commentary on Barth! I think the biggest problem is that American and British Baptists tend to be very introspective (i.e. focus on Baptist issues) and sometimes want to spend more effort fighting the cultural wars than doing theology per se. I think European Baptist Theologians (Miroslav Volf ???) and others are astute and it would be good to hear more from them.
GD: I'm a Baptist myself and I certainly wouldn't want to pick a fight with an ex-para! But now I've got you in combative mode, Biblical inerrancy was recently voted the worst ever theological invention (here). Do you agree with that estimation?
MB: No. I think the doctrine of Mary as co-redemptrix is my pet dislike, that and the pre-tribulation rapture (apologies to my Catholic and Dispensational friends). If I have to choose between inerrancy and errancy, I will always choose inerrancy. Otherwise you are faced with the problem of why should I believe anything the Bible says about, for instance, homosexuality. But the problem with inerrancy is that it tries to repel the modernist attack on supernatural religion by using the weapons of philosophical rationalism. If you pursue the inerrancy of the autographa to its logical conclusion, I think you will either end up going down the route of Bart Ehrman (errant manuscripts = errant originals) or Textus Receptus route (there has always been one line of truly inspired texts). What is more, neither Warfield nor Henry would make inerrancy the centre of the theological galaxy as many of their progeny do. To use the phrase of my boss, Andrew McGowan, there is a European alternative to inerrancy that is contained in the writings of Orr, Bavinck, and Kuyper.
GD: Thanks for that. There aren't that many theo/biblio-bloggers who will speak up for inerrancy. Now, I read on your blog profile that you like the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber. That's Aussie irony, right? Tell us your real top three songs or pieces of music.
MB: No, I really like Andrew Lloyd Weber! I'll go for my top three musicals: Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and A Little Night Music
GD: You really like Lloyd Weber? That's very sad. Moving swiftly on, who was the most influential figure in your theological development?
MB: Probably my theology professor Rev. Jim Gibson now Pastor at Salisbury Baptist Church in Brisbane, but also (in NT studies) Rev. Dr. Jeff Pugh now of the Bible College of Victoria
GD: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?
MB: That is hard. The challenges facing evangelicals in Hong Kong are different from those in Atlanta or Birmingham. I think affluence and middle-classness is killing evangelicalism in the West. Syncretism is a real problem in Africa in some places. Prosperity doctrine is problematic in Asia. But, to be brief, the challenge is as it always will be: to be in the world but not of the world, to contextualize the gospel without compromising the content of what is preached.
GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....
MB: Theology? I'm sorry, I don't understand. You mean, me, read something besides biblical studies. I'm not with you? (I had a break and emailed Ben Myers and he's explained your question to me!). In terms of theological books, the best thing I've read in the last couple of years was Barth's introduction to Evangelical Theology. I also enjoyed (but did not like) Kevin Giles' book, "Jesus and the Father".
GD: If you have to ask Ben Myres for advice on theology, it's no wonder that you picked something by Barth! Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
MB: I read a lot of blogs. The main one's are NT Gateway, Jim West, Jesus Creed, Faith and Theology, Blogging Parson, April DeConick, Chrisendom, Stuff of the Earth and others as I get time.
GD: Well, thanks for that mate, fair dinkum, it's been nice talking to you.
Who will be next to grace the hot seat? Your guess is (almost) as good as mine.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Preaching and the power of the Spirit (2)

In the first post on this subject (the series will be linked through the Word and Spirit label below), I sought to set out a Biblical framework for understanding the relationship between preaching and the power of the Spirit. Now, my intention is to look at this matter from an historical point of view. Of course, the Biblical teaching is what matters most, but it may be helpful to reflect on how past generations have viewed these things. Sometimes we may be reluctant to receive what the Bible says because we have been over-influenced by contemporary issues and concerns. For some, the idea that preachers need to be filled with the Spirit as set out in Acts and the New Testament Epistles is suggestive of Charismatic thinking. This perhaps leads them to so emphasise the value and importance of the Word that the Spirit's role in preaching is downplayed. If we look at what pre-Charismatic movement Reformed writers had to say about preaching in the Spirit, we may be given a different perspective on the New Testament's teaching.
Last year I listened to an Australian evangelical Anglican speak on the power of God's Word. He had many excellent things to say about the subject, concluding with Luther's comment on the Reformation, "The Word of God did it." In the Q&A session that followed his address, I asked him to comment on the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching. The speaker didn't really know how to respond. He spoke in general terms of the need to rely upon God in all things, including preaching, but that was about it. Earlier Reformed writers had quite a bit to say on this subject.
Calvin had a balanced view of the relationship between Word and Spirit in gospel proclamation, saying that preaching is 'dead and powerless, if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit'. (From Pentecost Today, by Iain Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, p. 81). William Perkins, the early English Puritan also reflected on this,
'The demonstration of the Spirit is, when as the minister of the word both in time of preaching so behave himself that all, even ignorant persons and unbelievers, may judge that it is not so much he that speaketh, as the Spirit of God in him and by him...This makes the ministry lively and powerful.' (PT p. 82)
John Owen, the great seventeenth century Puritan divine believed that revival in the church is invariably linked to Spirit empowered preaching.
'When God shall be pleased to give unto the people who are called by his name, in a more abundant manner, 'pastors after his own heart, to feed them with knowledge and understanding'; when he shall revive and increase a holy, humble, zealous, self-denying, powerful ministry, by a more plentiful effusion of the Spirit from above; then, and not until then, may we hope to see the pristine glory and beauty of our religion restored to its primitive state and condition.' (PT p. 84)
In his An Earnest Ministry, The Want of the Times, John Angell James (1785-1859) gave a chapter to the work of the Spirit in preaching.
'Without the truth, there is nothing to engage the attention and employ the intellect of man as a rational being; without the Spirit there is no right disposition of the heart, when the truth is presented...Consequently, however earnest the preacher's manner, and however scriptural his matter, no saving result will follow, unless the Spirit gives his blessing.' (1993 Banner of Truth Trust reprint, p. 285).
He went on to write that,
'The ministry of reconciliation is the ministry of the Spirit.' This should make us expectant that the Spirit will own and use our preaching, 'This idea, that we are under the Spirit's economy, should enlarge our expectation of rich communications of this invaluable and essential blessing.' (p. 287).
Charles Haddon Spurgeon regularly preached to thousands at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Victorian London. But he did not trust in his oratorical gifts, or even in his prepared sermon as he ascended the great pulpit to preach the Word of God. As he climbed the pulpit steps, he could be heard saying, "I believe in the Holy Ghost". That was more than a creedal confession for Spurgeon. He knew that he could not preach the gospel effectively unless he was endued with the power of the Spirit. Spurgeon devoted a talk to this subject in one of his Lectures to my Students Second Series (Passmore and Alabaster, 1881). In The Holy Spirit in connection with our Ministry, he drew attention to the words of the creed I have just quoted,
'Having pronounced that sentence as a matter of creed, I hope we can also repeat is as a devout soliloquy forced to our lips by experience. To us the presence and work of the Holy Spirit are the ground of our confidence as to the wisdom and hopefulness of our life work. If we had not believed in the Holy Ghost we should have lain down our ministry long ere this, for "who is sufficient for these things?" Our hope of success, and our strength for continuing the service lie in our belief that the Spirit of the Lord resteth upon us.' (p. 2).
That preachers should seek the power of the Spirit in the proclamation of the gospel, is not the rather idiosyncratic teaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (here). As I tried to show in the first post in this series, the New Testament teaches that the empowering work Spirit is indispensable for bold, passionate, effective preaching. This emphasis on the Spirit's work in preaching was recognised and embraced by earlier generations of Reformed writers. We should not allow Charismatic excesses to blind us to the need for preachers to be filled with the Spirit as they declare the Word of God. Of course, the Spirit may use a preacher who does not agree with the view that I am arguing for. He is sovereign and gracious. But neglect of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching may have the effect on turning preaching into little more than a well-delivered exposition of the Bible rather than an event where God himself is encountered by his Word.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Foundations Spring 2007

The latest edition of Foundations, features a number of stimulating articles and reviews. In my opinion, if pastors only subscribe to one theological journal, it should this journal of evangelical theology.
Mission in Europe: Biblical Basis and Cultural Context by Daniel Webber

This article discuses the Biblical basis for mission in the Old and New Testaments before probing the cultural context for mission in Europe. In conclusion, three main concerns are highlighted. First, we need to engage in a battle for truth in the mind of man. Second, in mission, our priority must be the proclamation of the gospel. Third, the church must think afresh about her role in the world as an authentic missionary community. Daniel Webber is Director of the European Missionary Fellowship. He writes with deep insight into the contemporary situation in the world and the church.
Roman Catholicism and the Evangelical Alternative by Leonardo De Chirico
De Chirico, an Italian pastor argues that Roman Catholic teaching says "Yes and no" to the gospel. "For example, Christ is told 'yes' but also 'no' because, in the Catholic view the prerogatives of the church end up by arrogating what belongs exclusively to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour." (p. 17). We do not simply disagree with isolated Roman dogmas, our problem is with the Catholic system that both affirms and denies the gospel of Christ. The evangelical alternative is an unhesitating "yes" to the Biblical gospel. Evangelicals must resist being absorbed by the ever expanding Catholic ecumenical project. The Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative is a case in point. This important and timely article sets contemporary ecumenical rapprochement in the light of the gospel.
Why Study Biblical Hebrew? by David M. Green

Dr. Green, who teaches Hebrew at the London Theological Seminary explores some of the reasons why Hebrew is often neglected by pastors. He urges us to give fresh attention to this key Old Testament language. I must confess that my Hebrew has grown a little rusty over the years. But reading this challenging article had me reaching for my Hebrew textbooks for the first time in a while.

Man of Prayer by Keith Ives

Alexander Moody Stewart (1809-1898) was a Scottish minister who was mightily used of God during seasons of revival blessing in the Victorian period. Part of the secret of his success was that Moody Stewart was a man of prayer. This article is a great reminder that theological study and reflection should led us to the throne of grace. We cannot engage in mission, have the wisdom that we need in the face of ecumenical challenges or study the Bible in any language apart from humble reliance upon God. Moody Stewart often gave three directions to encourage reality in praying,

1. Pray till you pray.
2. Pray till you are conscious of being heard.
3. Pray until you have received an answer.

The old preacher was deeply versed in experimental Calvinism and was aware of his "absolute need of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to make the word of God, whether read or preached effectual...In every service he prayed for the breathings of God's Spirit." (p. 33-34).

The God Delusion or the Dawkins Delusion? (Review Article) by Stephen Clark

Clark reviews Dawkins' infamous book The God Delusion. He points out the Dawkins' angry style of writing has even alienated atheists. Some of the book's factual errors are highlighted and a number of Dawkins' logical fallacies are challenged. Clark also considers The Dawkins Delusion by Alister and Joanna McGrath. The reviewer is appreciative of the work of this husband and wife team. They easily demonstrate the weakness of some of Dawkins' key arguments. The McGraths write from a theistic evolutionary perspective. Clark admires their sophisticated understanding of the history of the relationship between science and the Christian faith. He points out that creationist literature, often displays "a woeful ignorance of the history of Christian thinking on creation, and a lack of sensitivity the to the diverse literary genres found in Scripture." (p. 42.) This means that creationism is often dismissed as anti-intellectual fundamentalism. But, the reviewer wonders if the authors' theistic evolutionary approach is a 'Trojan Horse' in the evangelical camp. This accommodation to evolutionary theory may well have catastrophic consequences for our witness to the truth. We need an account creation and the fall that takes Genesis 1-3 seriously as historical narrative. But we also need to interact with the challenges raised by scientific ideas with intelligence and understanding. It has to be said that creationists have not always succeeded on this score. Stephen Clark is Minister of Free School Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend.
The Mission of God (Review Article) by Bill Nikides
This is an appreciative, but not uncritical review of Christopher Wright's book The Mission of God: Unlocking the Grand Narrative.
Foundations: a journal of evangelical theology, Spring 2007, no. 57, 47 pp, is published twice-yearly at £4.00 per issue by Affinity.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Series 2

Yes, the moment you've all been waiting for will soon be arriving. Stay posted for Series 2: Seven interviews with top Christian bloggers. Who will be sitting in the hot seat? What will they have to say? Watch this space....
Blogging in the name of the Lord Series 1 is here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Joel Beeke interview

Martin Downes speaks to Joel Beeke on Christ's servant among sheep and wolves. He says,

"Love your sheep. Love has a way of balancing out our often imbalanced personalities. Those in error can receive much more from a minister who obviously loves them than from one who comes across as combative."

Part 1 (here)
Part 2 (here)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Don Carson on "What is Evangelicalism?" (2)

Carson divided his exposition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 into eight defining words and five clarifying sentences. This gospel, he argued forms the material principle of evangelicalism. See part 1 (in the post below) for introductory matters and the "eight defining words". Now my report continues with the "five clarifying sentences" and some comments on the rest of the day's proceedings.
1. This gospel is normally disseminated through proclamation.
This is the message that Paul preached to the Corinthians (15:1). Preaching is the most appropriate way of disseminating the truth because the gospel is an announcement of good news. The message of the King is to be heralded by his servants.
2. This gospel is fruitfully received in authentic persevering faith.
The Corinthians received the gospel and were saved so long as they continued in it (15:1 & 2). Paul was concerned that they did not move from the gospel that he had proclaimed to them. This is why he gave serious attention to their problems with the resurrection in this chapter (vs. 11 & 12).
3. This gospel is properly disclosed in personal self-humiliation.
The gospel humbles sinners to the dust and makes us honest and repentant about our sin. Paul saw himself as the least of the apostles because he was the last eyewitness to Jesus' resurrection and because he had persecuted the church. He was what he was as a believer and apostle by the grace of God (15:8-10). The gospel subverts human pride and self-reliance. We are saved by Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone - glory to God alone.
4. This gospel is asserted to be the central confession of the whole church.
Time and time again in this epistle, Paul appealed to the fact that this gospel was believed in all the churches (4:17, 7:17, 11:16, 14:34). Also, this is what was preached everywhere by all the apostles (vs. 11). We should hold to true gospel ecuminicity and catholicity. Beware of the lust for endless doctrinal innovation.
5. This gospel is boldly announcing the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the King.
All of God's sovereignty is mediated through Christ. All power in heaven and earth is given to him (Matt 28). He is the world's true Lord (Philippians 2). His reign is contested. He has enemies - (1 Corinthians 15:25). But his triumph is certain (15:28).
In the light of this gospel we are to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (15:58). The gospel is cognitive and propositional, but it works itself out in the moral and spiritual life of the believer. The gospel determines everything in the life of the church. In terms of 1 Corinthians, it is the announcement of God's wisdom - chapters 1 & 2. It unites divided churches, 3 & 4. It demands holiness and church discipline, 5 & 6. The gospel speaks to marriage and singleness, 7. It resolves disputes about adiaphora like food, 8-10. This message defines male-female relations, 11. The Lord's Supper is focuses on the gospel of a crucified Christ, 11. The gospel is the context in which the church exercises the gifts of the Spirit in Christian love, 12-14.
Nothing should be allowed to displace the gospel. This is what makes us evangelicals - people of the evangel. Social reformers like Wilberforce were "prophetic from the centre" because their social activism was the outworking of their passion for the gospel. We must hold to the formal principle of Scriptural authority and the material principle of gospel truth.
This presentation of the theological basis of evangelicalism spanned two one hour morning sessions. Me and a few of my friends headed to Carson's table to eat our buffet lunch. We plied him with questions about the doctrine of the church and the importance of systematic theology. I asked him what he made of Vanhoozer's theodramatic proposals. He was aware of the discussions between Vanhoozer and Paul Helm over this matter and answered very diplomatically! After lunch, Carson changed his style. He was more conversational and anecdotal. He discussed several issues that arose from his earlier presentation.
Liberation Theology
Carson chose Liberation Theology as an example of what happens when the norm is shifted from the Biblical gospel. In LT, the norm is not the Scripture as a whole, but the exodus event understood as liberation from political oppression. The exodus is chosen as the theological norm because of the present-day social context where the poor are oppressed. But in Scripture, the exodus event is interpreted in the light of the gospel - Christ's exodus (Luke 9:31). In Christ we are liberated from sin, death and hell. Not that we are to be unconcerned about poverty and oppression, but we are to be prophetic from the centre.
World vision
Carson drew on anecdotes from his global ministry to urge us to be world-Christians. We need to be aware of global trends. Christianity is growing in every continent apart from Europe. The birth rate among indigenous Europeans is falling, while the birth rate among immigrant Islamic communities is increasing. This will present challenges in the future.
How evangelicals relate to other church traditions
He explored ways in which evangelicals can work together in ventures that transcend ecclesiastical differences. The gospel is what counts. Deviation from the gospel brings the apostolic anathema (Galatians 1). The gospel is our final authority. Even the apostles were subject to the gospel - Peter was rebuked by Paul because he did not walk according to the truth (Galatians 2). But truly evangelical Christians can and should work together for the good of the gospel.
Is the Reformation Over?
Carson asked if anyone in the congregation had read Mark Noll's book. Only yours truly raised his hand (see my review here). He was critical of Noll's proposal that the major differences between evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism have been resolved. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church still differs radically from the Biblical gospel of the Reformers on matters like justification by faith alone. Carson promised that an in-depth review of this book would be published soon on thegospelcoalition.org. I've just checked the site and it is still a work in progress. Should be a useful resource when it gets going.
The last afternoon session was a Q&A. It was not taped so the Don could be a bit more unguarded in what he said. Maybe he didn't count on the Exiled Preacher being present to spill the beans in cyberspace! But I'll limit myself mainly to the questions that were raised because it would be a shame if men like Carson had to watch every word for fear of their comments being reported on the net.
Questions were asked on Is the Reformation Over?, the gospel and the church, Tom Wright and the new perspective on Paul, the Anglican doctrine of the church, Emerging Church (DAC confessed that his book on that subject was now out of date, prompting some wag to ask for his money back), homosexuality (he said that while we may not want to pick a fight over this issue, homosexuality may become a test-case for faithfulness to Scripture as indulgence sales were the tipping point at the Reformation) and gospel ecumenism.
In all, yesterday was a wonderfully stimulating and encouraging time of ministry and fellowship. Carson should some to the south west of England more often!
Contact St. Bartholomew's Church (here) for info on CD's.