Thursday, August 30, 2007

Special John Newton edition of Banner magazine

To mark the 200th anniversary of his death, the August/September double issue of the Banner of Truth magazine has been devoted to John Newton. It carries an excellent biographical sketch by Iain Murray. Michael Haykin considers Newton's contribution to the Olney Hymns. William Jay's personal memories of the old preacher are reprinted. The magazine has some valuable excerpts from Newton's writings. As this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, William Wilberforce's recollections of his friend and counselor are detailed.
On reading these articles and excerpts, I was astounded afresh by God's amazing grace in the life of John Newton. How the Lord transformed this man! He was once a blasphemous, almost inhuman wretch. But God made him into a wise, gracious and talented preacher of the gospel. This is his fitting, self-penned epitaph,
JOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an Infidel and Libertine,
A Servant of Slaves in Africa, Was
By the Rich Mercy of our Lords and Saviour,
JESUS CHRIST,
Preserved, Restored, Pardoned,
And Appointed to Preach the Faith
He Had Long Tried to Destroy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Best contemporary Reformed systematic theologian?

I've just created a new poll (right-hand side bar, below my profile). Who is your favourite contemporary Reformed systematic theologian? Is it....
Cast your vote in the poll and explain your decision in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology

Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences,
Sung Wook Chung (Editor), Paternoster & Baker Academic, 2006
This is the second of the two Barth books that I read while on holiday. (See here for my thoughts on his Evangelical Theology: An Introduction). This title is a compilation of essays on key ideas in Barth's theology by leading evangelical scholars. All are agreed that Barth is worth studying and that evangelicals have something to learn from him. Most of the essays are appreciative and yet critical of his theological proposals.
The book has twelve chapters, each by a different scholar. The contributions vary in quality and tone. One problem with the work is that it lacks a coherent understanding as to what constitutes authentic evangelical theology. While several writers are Reformed in outlook, others are from a variety of camps including Pentecostal and Postevangelical. So, the book lacks an agreed starting point for assessing Barth's theology. That said, several of the essays are really outstanding. The opening chapter on Revelation by Gabriel Fackre helpfully introduces and critiques Barth's understanding of this important subject. In his A Person of the Book? Barth on Biblical Authority and Interpretation, Kevin Vanhoozer reflects on the hostile reaction to Barth's doctrine of Scripture amongst evangelicals. Cornelius Van Til and Carl Henry were especially critical of Barth in this respect. But as Vanhoozer points out, while Barth taught that the Bible is the authoritative witness to the Word of God rather than the Word of God written, he nevertheless had a high view of Scripture. His Church Dogmatics is full of careful and detailed scriptural exegesis. But Barth disagreed with the traditional evangelical teaching on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. For him, this "materialised" revelation and made it subject to human control. The Bible only becomes the Word of God in an event of divine self-revelation. Vanhoozer attempts to resolve differences between Barth and evangelicals by appealing to speech-act theory,
"The Bible is the word of God insofar as its witnesses - which is to say the inspired locutions, illocutions - really do present Jesus Christ. Yet the Bible also becomes the word of God when its illuminated readers receive and grasp the subject matter by grace through faith, which is to say, when the Spirit enables what we might call the illocutionary uptake and perlocutionary effect. The full measure of Scripture as a communicative act of God, then, involves the-Spirit-testifying-about-Jesus-through-Scripture-to-the-church". (p. 57)
Will this proposal effect a reconciliation between Barthians and evangelicals on Scripture? It is difficult to say. But it has the merit of insisting on both the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture and recognising the importance of the Spirit's witness to the word of God.
Oliver Crisp's Barth on creation discusses agreements and differences between the theologian and traditional reformed teaching. He deals with Barth's attempt to "christologise" creation, his rejection of natural theology and his unusual ideas on God's relationship to time. Henri Blocher on Barth's anthropology untangles his fusing of anthropology and Christology. For Barth, Jesus was the first man, not Adam. This seems to suggest that Christ was eternally incarnate. But this undermines the event character of the incarnation, whereby the Word who was God became flesh. Barth's denial of a historical fall and his insistence that human beings were created fallen are also subjected to rigorous analysis. Blocher gets the prize for the best Barth joke by way of a footnoted Balthasar quote, "in this theology of event and history, nothing seems to happen, perhaps because everything happened in eternity." (p. 110).
Alister McGrath's chapter on Karl Barth's Doctrine of Justification from an Evangelical Perspective is full of useful insights. He proposes that for Barth with his background in Liberal theology, the big issue was not primarily, "How can a sinner be right with God?" What he wanted to know was whether God has revealed himself to human beings. Revelation, not justification is what lies at the heart of Barth's theology. In the light of Barth's teaching, McGrath calls upon evangelicals to reflect afresh on whether justification should be regarded as a centrally important doctrine. The editor, Sung Wook Chung's contribution on A Bold Innovator: Barth on God and Election, is helpful on Barth's actualistic theology. But the discussion of his views on election is a little confused. He accuses the theologian of being both a Calvinist and an Arminian. I'm not sure how that can be the case. For a Calvinist, God in Christ has chosen his people (not all humanity) for salvation despite their sin and unbelief. For an Arminian, God chose those whom he foresaw would believe in Christ. Barth's teaching that Christ is elect and reprobate for humanity is quite different from both Calvinist and Arminian constructions. The universalistic overtones of Barth's views on election are discussed here and elsewhere in the book.
John Bolt in Exploring Karl Barth's Eschatology: A Salutary Exercise for Evangelicals, related his distinctive form of amillenialism to the concerns of Americal dispensationalist teaching. The conjunction of Barth's Christ-centred vision and the unaccountably popular Left Behind novels made this an intriguing chapter. The book also features essays on other aspects of Barth's thought: Kurt Anders Richardson on realist christology, Frank D. Macchia on pneumatology, Timothy George on church and sacraments, Veli-Matti Karkkainen on theology of religions and John R. Franke on the postmodern turn and evangelical theology.
Each contributor seems to have thought long and hard about Barth's theology in relation to evangelical teaching. They show familiarity both with Barth's own writings and the secondary literature. Convergences are noted, but points of real difference are not ignored. The book has one or two little typos and would have benefited from at least a subject index. Full and detailed footnotes are provided.
There has been a resurgence of interest in Barth's theology in the last twenty years or so. It is good that evangelical theologians are getting to grips with his teaching in a serious way. Many pastors like myself do not have the time to pursue Barth's mighty Church Dogmatics. But this book is a helpful introduction to his thinking from an evangelical point of view.
[Update: See the newly published Engaging with Barth edited by David Gibson and Daniel Strange. Contributors include, Henri Blocher, Paul Helm, Donald Macleod and Garry Williams. This work critiques Barth from a definite Reformed perspective].

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stephen Clark responds to critique of new Christian Hymns

Published by the Evangelical Movement of Wales, 2007, 32pp, price 50p (here)
One of the sad features of the Reformed scene in the UK is the outbreak of 'hymn book wars'. A new, revised edition of Christian Hymns (NCH) was published in 2004 by the Evangelical Movement of Wales. It was given a hostile review by John Thackway, editor of the Bible League Quarterly. Thackway's critique is now available online as a pdf document - here. In this booklet, Stephen Clark, pastor of Freeschool Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend attempts to respond to some aspects of Thackway's review. He pleads for greater consistency, honesty and charity in the debate over the inclusion of some contemporary hymns in NCH. I commend this well-argued booklet.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction by Karl Barth

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction by Karl Barth, 1979, Eerdmans

This post is not intended to be a review of Barth's book, originally published in English translation in 1963. Here, I simply want to reflect on my initial encounter with the Swiss theologian's writings.

I suppose that I first became aware of Barth's theology when I read through much of The Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer in my early 20's. Schaeffer was critical of Barth's doctrine of Scripture. He also accused Barth of having a scant regard for the historical basis of the Christian faith. These negative early impressions did not exactly inspire me to invest much time studying the theologian. But Karl Barth's thinking has been attracting renewed attention of late. Many theology bloggers cite Barth as an influential figure in their theological development. Ben Myers' Faith & Theology is probably the foremost Barth-inspired blog. See here for my interview with Ben where, amongst other things, we discuss the resurgence of interest in Barth's theology. All this helped to persuade me that I aught to at lest try to read something by the man. I'm certainly not going to devote my life to reading his voluminous Church Dogmatics, but I thought that I'd have a look at this Evangelical Theology.

I'm not altogether sure that I bought the right book, as this is not really an introduction to Barth's teaching on evangelical doctrine. The first section contains some theological discussion. But in the rest of the work, Barth reflects on the challenges of theological existence. When reading the book I tried to keep my mind as unclouded by prejudice as possible. I wanted to give Barth a fair hearing. What I have to say in this post is based simply on my reading of this book.

Studying Evangelical Theology was a rewarding experience. I enjoyed Barth's pacey style and found his arguments stimulating. He defines evangelical theology not in terms of the sixteenth century Confessions but "as that theology which treats the God of the Gospel." (p. 5). In thinking of the place of theology, Barth focuses first of all on the Word of God. This is God's redemptive historical action by which he reveals himself to us in word and deed. In this context Barth discusses God's covenant with Israel, which culminates in the coming of Christ whereby the Word became flesh. Barth's evangelical theology is admirably Christ centered. "This whole Word of God in Christ is the word to which theology must listen and reply." (p. 23).

Although Barth sees Scripture as a witness to the Word of God rather than the Word of God written, he has a high view of the authority of the biblical witnesses. The theologian must not exalt himself above the Bible,
"He cannot grant of refuse them a hearing as though they were colleagues on the faculty. Still less is he a high-school teacher authorised to look over their shoulder benevolently or crossly, to correct their notebooks, or to give them good, average, or bad marks. Even the smallest, strangest, simplest, or obscurest among the biblical witnesses has an incomparable advantage over even the most pious, scholarly and sagacious latter-day theologian". (p. 31-32).
This is hardly a commitment to biblical inerrancy on Barth's part, but contemporary Barth scholars who snigger at the traditional evangelical attitude to the Bible would do well to heed these words. For Barth, the theologian's main work is to prayerfully study and set forth the teaching of Scripture. The theologian is also part of the Christian community. Barth was a pastor before he became a professional theologian. His magnum opus is his Church Dogmatics. Theology has a responsibility to the Church, especially her pastors,
"Theology is committed directly to the community and especially to those members who are responsible for preaching, teaching, and counseling. The task theology has to fulfill is continually to stimulate and lead them to face squarely the question of the proper relation of their human speech to the Word of God, which is the origin, object, and content of this speech." (p. 41).
This emphasis on the relationship between theology and ministry is welcome. Barth's reflections on theological existence are thought provoking. The God of the Gospel demands wonder, concern, commitment and faith. Theology cannot be studied with an air of impersonal detachment. "The living object of theology concerns the whole man. It concerns even what is most private in the private life of the theologian." (p. 84). While the theologian may have doubts, he must be a person of faith, hope and love.
Despite Schaeffer's misgivings, I found Barth to be pretty firm on historical basis of the faith in the face of rationalistic scepticism. He distances himself from those who would demythologise, "Jesus' birth from a virgin and his descent into hell, or the resurrection of the flesh and the report of the empty tomb, or the trinitarian dogma of Nicaea and the Christological dogma of Chalcedon" (p. 103). Such theologians should ponder whether they believe in quite another God than the God of the Gospel.
But, and there must be a "but", there are problems with some features of Barth's theology. He takes an actualistic view of the being of God so that, "God's being, or truth is the event of his self-disclosure, his radiance as the Lord of all lords" (p. 9). This sounds very impressive. But Barth has collapsed God's being into his acts. He is the event of his self-disclosure. I also disagree with Barth's insistence that the Bible is simply a witness to the Word of God. As John Murray writes, "Scripture is God's own witness to us, borne through the instrumentality of men but borne by such a unique mode that the witness of men is God's own witness." (See here). The Bible is the inscripturated Word of God.
Unfortunately, Barth teaches that "the Word became flesh, miserable and sinful, flesh of sin like our own (p. 70). But Christ did not have a fallen human nature. How could the holy Son of God take sinful flesh into union with himself? There are hints of Barth's universalism here too. For him, God's Yes to man always takes precedence over his No (p. 93-94). Certainly, God says Yes to all who trust in Christ. In the Gospel, his Yes triumphs over his No. But God utters a condemnatory No to all who remain in sin and unbelief. Sometimes Barth is downright idiosyncratic. He treats the theologian's accountability to God as a Temptation (p. 133ff). Barth has some salutary things to say about theology being judged by the Lord, but is this God tempting theology? Strange.
So, my initial impression of Barth at first hand is that he was a stunningly creative and original theological thinker. That cannot be denied. But his theology is not sufficiently rooted in the Scriptural revelation of the gospel. I can see why people find his writings attractive. Theology should be original and fresh. However, Christian theology must also be faithful to God's written Word. Barth himself said, "the hearing, understanding, and application of the biblical message... is the fundamental task of all theological study." (p. 175). But some aspects of Barth's teaching in Evangelical Theology fall seriously short of biblical teaching. The main problem area is his weak doctrine of Scripture. This enables him to ignore what the Bible actually says if it contradicts what he considers to be the message of the Word of God. We may no doubt find much that is stimulating and helpful in Barth. But his theology should be given a suitably dialectical "Yes" and "No" from discerning evangelicals.
To further get to grips with some of Barth's key ideas, I recently read Karl Barth And Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences, edited by Sung Wook Chung. I hope to post a review of this book in the next week or so. [Update: see also my review of Engaging with Barth, edited by David Gibson & Daniel Strange].

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

God's ID

In a couple of recent posts on creation (here & here), I touched on the argument from design. This is an old and often used apologetic strategy. Thomas Aquinas the medieval theologian made use of the appearance of design in nature as one of the five "proofs" of God's existence. William Payley the 18th century apologist popularised the argument from design with his famous illustration of a watch that just could not have been created by random forces. The modern Intelligent Design movement represents an attempt to use design arguments to refute atheistic Darwinism and prove the existence of a great Designer. Evangelical Christians have been quick to welcome "ID". But the Bible does not use arguments from design to prove or infer God's existence. It simply states, "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1). We accept this by faith. This is not a blind or irrational belief. Every human being has an inbuilt sense of God that is reinforced by what God has revealed of himself in creation. In the face of such internal and external revelation, it is unbelief that is blind and irrational.
But as I suggested in my earlier posts, the design argument needs to be carefully qualified. ID apologetics often fails to take into account the disastrous effects of the fall upon the natural environment. Arguing from this present creation to prove the existence of God has the potential to cause all kinds of problems.
ID spokesmen argue that a design demands a designer therefore a designing god must exist. But even Christian proponents of intelligent design admit that ID cannot disclose much about the nature of this god beyond the notion that he designed the universe. Some non-Christian ID theorists have speculated about what a designer god may be like. This is cosmologist Paul Davies' vision of god,
"...it is possible to imagine a supermind existing since the creation, encompassing all the fundamental fields of nature, and taking upon itself the task of converting an incoherent big bang into the complex and orderly cosmos we now observe; all accomplished entirely within a framework of the laws of physics. This would not be a God who created everything by supernatural means, but a directing, controlling, universal mind pervading the cosmos and operating the laws of nature to achieve some specific purpose". (God and the New Physics by Paul Davies, Penguin, 1990, p. 210).
Davies hopes that, "Such a picture of God might well be enough to satisfy most believers." (p. 211). It certainly does not satisfy me! Could Psalm 104 be addressed to such a god? Could it save me from sin? Could I make it my chief end to glorify this "supermind" and enjoy it forever? Davies' god falls far short of the God of the Gospel. A distinctly Christian apologetic cannot be content with simply arguing for some kind of designer god.
Does the argument from design, then have any role in Christian theology and apologetics? In my opinion, ID may not legitimately be used to argue from design to a designer god. But ID may be used to demonstrate that the fundamental Christian presupposition regarding God's existence and creative power is borne out by reality. Stuart Burgess does this successfully in his book He made the stars also (Day One Publications, 2001 - here). Burgess begins by setting out the biblical account of creation, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6). He then goes on to show that the cosmos with its order, design and beauty reflects the power and wisdom of the Creator. Observed reality is consistent with underlying biblical presuppositions. The book succeeds in giving the reader a real sense of wonder at God's amazing universe. Burgess also reminds us that our Maker has acted to save us from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Geoff Thomas, wrote in the foreword , "Both our world and the heavens seem to sparkle with a new identity as a consequence of this book." That is exactly what creation apologetics should do.
God's ID as in his identity as the Triune Lord of covenant love is only disclosed in the fullness of biblical revelation. Speculation regarding his identity on the basis of intelligent design is a contradiction of the most basic principles of Christian theology. We cannot truly know God by our own powers of reasoning. He must disclose himself to us. God has done this above all through his Son, Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in Christ is received by the Spirit's witness in and through the Scriptures. Christians are not theists in the general sense of the word meaning that we believe that there is a god. We believe in the mighty God of the Gospel. As our Creator and Redeemer, he alone is worthy of our adoration and praise. It is him that we proclaim to a world of lost sinners,
Look to me and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there
is no other.
(Isaiah 45:22)

Monday, August 20, 2007

2007 Aberystwyth Conference Report

The Evangelical Movement of Wales has been hosting English medium Aber Conferences for 50 years. The first one was held in Aberavon and the main preacher was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Over the years, the conference has grown, necessitating changes in location and venue. The growth has not been due to aggressive advertising or slick marketing. News of the conference has spread almost entirely by word of mouth testimony. This year around 1,200 people attended the event. The conference offered a varied programme of meetings for children, young people and adults. There were seminars, fellowship meetings, Q&A panels, historical trips and the annual sports tournament. But the focus of the Aber Conference is the preaching of the Word of God in the University Great Hall.
Main Addresses
This year, the main speaker was Ted Donnelly of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Northern Ireland (here). He gave four addresses on Tuesday to Friday mornings on 1 Corinthians 1:1-2:5 under the heading The Church at the Crossroads. The messages were fine examples of Donnelly's preaching. They were characterised by considered exegesis, theological depth, telling illustration and apt contemporary application.
I. The Identity of the Church : 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (Tuesday)
At the beginning of the 21st century, the evangelical church finds itself at the crossroads. A choice has to be made: Will be choose the hard road of gospel faithfulness, or the easy road that tries to win the world by becoming more like the world? The situation in cosmopolitan, sophisticated, immoral Corinth is very much like the one we face today. How did Paul deal with this extravagantly gifted, yet wayward church? He brought them back on track using a mixture of encouraging affirmation and tactful correction. We need to be reminded of our status and identity in Christ. Individualistic believers should recognise the importance of church life. Isolationist churches need to remeber that they are part of the word-wide body of Christ. Self-reliant Christians must foster God-dependant holiness.
II. The Message of the Cross: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (Wednesday)
This is not the message that the world wants to hear. The cross smacks of folly to clever intellectuals and is a stumblingblock to pragmatists for whom seeing is believing. The message of the cross is meant to humble proud human beings and reveal their inability to save themselves. But there is power and wisdom in the preaching of the cross for those who are called to salvation by God's grace. We cannot afford to water down the offensiveness of the message of the cross. To change the gospel is to destroy it. We must preach the unadulterated gospel, trusting in God's saving power.
III: The Nature of our Calling: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (Thursday)
Ted Donnelly began this message by reflecting on celebrity-based evangelism and the "marketing" of the gospel. This kind of approach is subverted by Paul in the passage under consideration. Ancient Corinth was as obsessed by celebrity and prestige as we are today, but its celebrities were orators, not footballers. Paul points out that not many of the Corinthian Christians belonged to the powerful and glamorous set. They were saved by God's election and call, not because of their celebrity status. The early Christians were sometimes ridiculed for their lack of social "clout". But God deliberately chose to save "ordinary" sinners so that no one could boast in his presence. According to 1:30, in Christ life's "nobodies" are given true wisdom: a new status (righteousness), beauty (sanctification) and true freedom (redemption). The preacher reminded us of how the gospel transformed the despised coal miners in Kingswood, Bristol through the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley. He urged us to focus our attention on reaching the masses with the gospel.
IV: The Preaching of Christ: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Friday)
In this final address, Ted Donnelly drew our attention to: 1) Paul's Reminder. He preached the "testimony of God" to the Corinthians, which led to their conversion. 2) Paul's Resolve. He preached the cross and resurrection of Jesus. This massage was not only at the heart of his evangelistic preaching. Paul related all the doctrinal and practical problems in the church at Corinth to the gospel. 3) Paul's Renunciation. He refused to use the style of the acclaimed orators. The gospel of a crucified Christ had to be preached in a crucified style. 4) Paul's Reliance. The apostle did not rely on oratorical gimmickry. He trusted in the power of the Spirit. In this context, the preacher warned of the dangers of using PowerPoint in preaching. People can be so impressed with the medium that the message is forgotten. We were urged to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit upon the preaching of the word in these days. Drawing on Psalm 126, Ted Donnelly concluded his series of messages by calling us to sow the word of the cross with tears in these barren days, that we might rejoice to see a harvest in due time.
This is just the kind of Christ-centred ministry that we need at the moment. The addresses were Bible-based, deeply relevant and movingly passionate.
Evening Meetings
A number of different men preached in the evening meeting, beginning with Derrick Adams on Monday evening. His text was Romans 1:14, which the preacher acknowledged that he was using out of context. Such an admission always gets me a bit worried. A text used out of context is a pretext. Anyway, his theme was our indebtedness to the grace of God. Why not base such a message on Luke 7:40ff or some other appropriate passage? Having said all that, the message was thought-provoking and the preacher made some good practical points. How indebted we are to God's amazing grace! But it would have been better if the sermon has flowed naturally from a text.
Andy Christofides preached on Tuesday on Luke 6:46-49, the wise and foolish builders. His style was imaginative and dramatic with not a little humour. He challenged us to build our lives upon Christ they we may be prepared for the coming storm of judgement.
On Wednesday night, the evangelist Roger Carswell proposed to preach on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:2, part of which was going to form the basis of Ted Donnelly's remaining addresses. He admitted that he had neglected to look at the conference programme when he prepared the message. But Ted needn't have worried too much, as Carswell's message bore only a passing relationship to that passage. His main points seemed to have been derived from Romans 1:14-17, Paul's determination to preach the gospel in Rome. Carswell is a practiced conference speaker. His style is lively and packed with stories and illustrations. The focus of the sermon was "Four things that God wants us to know", 1) Who God is, 2) What he has done, 3) Who Jesus is, and 4) What we must do. He concluded his message with a heartfelt evangelistic appeal.
James Muldoon was the preacher on Thursday. His style was markedly different from the men of the two previous evenings. He gave us none of the homiletical fireworks of Christofides and Carswell. But his sermon, which was based on Hosea 5 & 6 had real substance. He warned us against Pathetic Penitence, Pitiful Passion and Paltry Praise. In a searching message we were urged to be real with God and passionate about serving and worshipping him. The remedy for a passionless Christian life is reflection upon Christ and his work for us. How can we offer thoughtless worship in the light of Calvary?
The conference was brought to a fitting conclusion by Philip Swann on Friday evening. In the original conference brochure, his father Derek was named as the preacher. Derek Swann preached on the Friday of the first Aber conference 50 years ago. But he was unable to preach this time due to ill health. A moving interview in which Derek reflected on God's blessing upon the original Aber was broadcast during the meeting. Phil preached on John 11:25-26, Jesus as the resurrection and the life. His main points from text and its context were: 1) Who Jesus really is, 2) How Jesus feels about sin, and 3) The revealation of Jesus' glory. The message was a good example of passionate, expositional gospel preaching. The congregation was faced with the challenge contained in the text, "Do you believe this?"
The evening meetings were meant to be evangelistic in orientation. Many of the messages were. But on a couple of occasions, whatever good the preacher may have done in terms of lively gospel preaching may have been undermined by the length of their messages. I will not name and shame. But I have to say that to my mind, 60 minutes or more is too long for an evangelistic sermon. One one occasion, my 10 year old daughter whispered to me, "The preacher said that it was his last point an hour ago". She may have exaggerated a somewhat, but we preachers do need to be a bit more self-disciplined when it comes to the length of our sermons.
Seminar
I only attended one seminar. This was on the question, What on earth is spirituality? by Stuart Olyott on Wednesday afternoon. He began by reflecting on the confusion that sorrounds the word and then attempted to construct a Bible-based spirituality. He focused on the work of the Spirit in relation to the unbeliever. The Spirit may be resisted, grieved and blasphemed. He convicts the world of sin. Next, Olyott looked at Spirit's work in the life of the Christian, drawing particular attention to Ephesians 5:18. True spirituality means being filled with the Spirit by drinking of Christ. As a result of being filled with the Spirit, the believer will live an increasingly godly life. Biblical spirituality is not mysticism, but Spirit-filled holiness. In the Q&A session that followed this address, questions were raised about revival, assurance of salvation and some other issues. Olyott brought a much-needed biblical clarity to a subject that is often frought with unclear and fuzzy thinking.
Aber 2007 was a feast of good preaching and teaching. The morning addresses especially were outstanding. It was great to renew fellowship with so many old friends, including some fellow-bloggers. The smooth running of the conference was assisted by a hard working and friendly team of Stewards, of whom I am chief. I left the conference encouraged and energised to carry on with the work of preaching the gospel. Our kids enjoyed the children's meetings very much. My son scored a hatrick in the football and my daughter won a prize in an art competition. (They made me put that bit in).
The dates for Aber 2008 will be 9th-16th August with Art Azurdia III (here) as the main speaker. CD's and DVD's of the ministry are available from the Evangelical Movement of Wales (here). I don't think that you can order them online, but you will find phone and e-mail details on the site. I especially recommend the recordings of Ted Donnelly's messages.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Home

We got back from our hols on Saturday. We had an enjoyable family holiday with mostly good weather. We did stuff like kayaking and go-carting and had some beachy days. Our time away culminated in the Aber Conference. I hope to do a report of the conference in the next day or so. While away, I managed to snatch some reading time and finished Grisham's The King of Torts, Barth's Evangelical Theology and a book on Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology. I plan to post some reflections on Barth during the coming week.
It was good to get back home yesterday and to be reunited with our people at Penknap today. I preached on John 9:1-12 in the morning and started a new series on Jonah, preaching on 1:1-3 this evening. After the morning meeting, I was able to announce to the church members that one of our young people has applied for baptism and church membership. The Lord is good.