Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Knols

A Knol is a 'unit of knowledge', apparently. Google's Knol feature is great for publishing articles that would be too lengthy for the average blog post. I've recently added a "My Knols" widget to my sidebar. You might like to check out these Knols:
Challenging biblical inerrancy - A response to A. T. B. McGowan
John Calvin: his relevance for today - An address for a local Calvin 500 meeting
Word and Spirit in preaching - A Ministers' Fraternal paper

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jeremy Brooks on why broken Britain needs Christian values

A brief interview with Jeremy Brooks, Director of Ministries at the Protestant Truth Society, where he explains why representatives of the PTS will be attending the Conservative Party conference in October. I ask him if this means that the Society is now taking sides in party politics. Read on to see his response.
GD: October's Evangelical Times carries a front page article entitled What price politics? In the piece the Protestant Truth Society together with some other Christian groups is criticized for planning to send delegates to the Conservative Party Conference. Is the Society becoming party political?

JB: In a word, no. The PTS, Church Society and Christian Watch are simply co-operating to run an exhibition stand at the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference in Manchester this October. None of these Christian groups are affiliated to any political party, nor do any of them have any intention of seeking such affiliation.

GD: Why is PTS only sending a delegation to the Conservative Party Conference?

JB: Between the three Christian groups involved, it's costing us approx. £8,000 to run this exhibition stand. We cannot afford to do this at all three of the major party conferences. Therefore, with the Conservatives being the favourites to win power at the forthcoming General Election, we have chosen to target them, desiring to reach those who'll have the most influence.

GD: What do you hope to achieve from attending the Conservative Party conference?

JB: The theme of our exhibition is Why broken Britain needs Christian values. The Tories have, rightly, made much of the idea of Britain being broken, but we're not convinced that they have any real understanding of why it is that Britain's broken. It's our conviction that Britain's greatness in the past was a direct result of it's being founded upon Christian values, and that it's present broken state is an equally direct result of that foundation of Christian values having been largely eroded over many decades, and particularly during recent years. Therefore, we have published a very attractive 32 page booklet with six keynote articles addressing the following subjects: Civil Liberty and Free Speech by Gordon Murray of the Protestant Truth Society; The British Constitution and the European Union by Duncan Boyd of All Souls, Langham Place, London; Marriage and the Family by Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust; Abortion and the Sanctity of Life by Steven Foster of SPUC Evangelicals; Islam and Britain today, also by Duncan Boyd; and Crime and the Community by Mark Mullins of the Christian Legal Centre. We'll be distributing this booklet freely at the Conference. We acknowledge, of course, that Christian values will only be strong in an atmosphere of meaningful Christian faith. But nonetheless we regard it as part of our Christian duty to speak to the political leaders of our nation about the importance of scriptural truth, biblical morality and Christian values. We covet the earnest prayers of the Lord's people for His blessing to rest upon our humble endeavours.

GD: Are you sensitive to the concerns expressed in the ET article that evangelical Christians can sometimes align themselves too closely with parties on either side of the political spectrum? The 'Christian Right' movement in America being a case in point.

JB: We are sensitive to those concerns, and in many ways share them. However, the idea that our presence at the Tory Conference is somehow akin to the relationship between many North American evangelicals and the Republican Party is, quite frankly, both misleading and unfair.

GD: Can you confirm that PTS is a non-party political organisation and that the Society will not endeavour to tell Christians which party to support or how to vote in the next General Election?

JB: The PTS has no allegiance to any political party, and has no intention of encouraging Christians to support any particular political party or vote in any particular way at the forthcoming General Election. We're not political activists, seeking to influence the Christian public on behalf of politicians, but rather we're lobbying, seeking to influence politicians on behalf of the Christian public.

GD: So, we are not becoming the Protestant Tory Society, then?

JB: Absolutely not!
GD: That's a relief!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tools for sermon preparation

Yesterday at our local Ministers' Fraternal that meets at The Old Baptist Chapel, Bradford on Avon, Phil Heaps, teaching elder at Grace Church, Westerleigh spoke on 'Tools for Preparation'. Here are some notes on his very helpful talk.

God has spoken in Scripture. It is the business of all Christians to seek to understand God's Word and put it into practice. If this is the case for every believer, then it is certainly true for pastors. Their key task is to teach and apply the message of the Bible for the salvation of the lost and the building up of the people of God. Acts 20:17-41.

1. The context of our ministry

In the passage just quoted, Paul sets out the context for the pastoral-preaching ministry. As shepherds pastors have been called to feed and protect the flock of God. The means by which this is done is prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). We must preach the whole word of God and nothing but the word of God, (Acts 20:20, 27). All biblical texts and truths must be applied to all the people of God. This involves declaring the word in public and in the setting of home visits (Acts 20:20). Feeding and guarding the flock involves exposing the dangers of false teaching (Acts 20:30-31, Titus 1:9). Like Ezra preachers must apply the word to their own lives before they can preach it to others, (Ezra 7:10, 1 Timothy 4:12-16). It is in this context that preachers rightly utilise tools for sermon preparation.

2. The need for preparation tools

1) God's word has come to us in languages of which none of us are native speakers.

We therefore need aids like introductions to biblical Hebrew and Greek, lexicons and commentaries to get to grips with the meaning of Scripture in the original languages.

2) God's word comes to us in literary forms and cultural contexts that are foreign to us.

With regard to literary genres for example, we need help with with Hebrew poetic forms in order to understand the Psalms and some of the prophetic literature. Knowledge of the historical background of biblical times throws helpful light on the text of Scripture. Joseph toyed with divorcing his fiance Mary when she fell pregnant with Jesus. That makes little sense to modern day people. It only makes sense when we understand first century Jewish customs on engagement and marriage. Knowing something about ANE treaties as reflected in the structure of Deuteronomy enables us to see that the Lord is unique in being a covenant keeping God.

3) God would have his people learn in community

We believe in one God in three Persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Community and fellowship are defining aspects of the life of God. In saving us, God has brought us into fellowship with himself and his people. We learn and grow in the context of the church community. God has gifted the church with pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:12). Through books we can sit at the feet of some of the greatest teachers that Christ has given the church. Consulting commentaries and other aids for preparation is an expression of the communion of the saints. Using helps saves us from an overly individualistic reading of the biblical text.

4) Commentaries can make us aware of blind spots or solutions that we have not seen before

We are finite beings and the Bible is a big book about an infinite God. No one knows it all and commentaries can open our eyes to readings of the text or solutions to problems that had not occurred to us. In that way commentaries can help stimulate creativity and freshness in biblical exposition.

5) Commentaries challenge wrongheaded interpretations

Our preconceived notion of what a text is saying should be tested against the findings of others. While the Lord may grant us special insight into his Word, we should be proceed with caution if no other sound and able interpreters agree with our conclusions. Commentaries can put a brake on idiosyncratic exegesis.

6) We need help!

The Bible is self-interpreting and is sufficient for our ministries (2 Timothy 3:16). But we need help in understanding the biblical languages and assistance with matters like getting to grips with complex arguments in the Epistles. Commentators can point to the way in which Scripture interprets Scripture eg. how Genesis 3:16 may be viewed in the light of Genesis 4:7. Paul's negative stance on the law in Galatians 3:12, quoting Leviticus 18:5 may puzzle us until we also bring Nehemiah 9:29 and Ezekiel 20:11 into the picture. A studious commentator may have spotted intertextual links that we never would have noticed. Similarly we may not have made a connection between the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Isaiah 61 - until Phil Heaps pointed it out!

3. The dangers of commentaries

1) Redundant material

Wordy commentaries waste time. Commentators sometimes go to great lengths on 'easy bits' of the Bible, while passing over more difficult passages where most help is needed.

2) Vain discussion

Some commentaries pay too much attention to scholarly fads. Lengthy discussion of Pauline authorship etc. Biblical scholars should write with pastors in mind and pay attention to 1 Timothy 1:4 & 1 Timothy 6:20.

3) Weak exegesis

Even the best commentators may be wrong. As a case in point Phil pointed to poor handling of Romans 2:17-24. Commentators struggle with how Paul could accuse his fellow countrymen of temple robbing etc, hardly the besetting sin of 1st century Judaism. The estimable Mr. Heaps suggested that Paul was thinking of Israel as a nation rather than just his contemporaries. David committed adultery, kings often plundered the temple to pay off aggressive foreign powers. Cue the sound of pennies dropping, "kerching"!

4) Weak in biblical integration

Little feel for redemptive-historical issues. No suggestions as to how OT texts speak to NT believers. Preachers are especially in need this kind of help.

5) Failure to point to Christ

A sad failing in some modern evangelical OT commentaries. Symptomatic of the influence of unbelieving scholarship. The Old Testament is about Christ (John 5:46). Evangelical commentators above all should attempt to show how the OT is fulfilled in Jesus (Luke 24:44).

6) Often weak in application

As John Frame says, 'meaning = application'. A commentary that fails to apply the text has not made the meaning clear. Another area where pastors look for help. That said, however applicatory a commentary may be, the preacher's job is to apply the text to the congregation before him in a discriminatory way.

7) Concessions to unbelieving theology

Historicity of OT events questioned. Pauline authorship denied.

8) Dull

Scholarly commentaries can sometimes be a little dull. Preachers must not be. Avoid the danger of 'the bland leading the bland'. Dale Ralph Davies' racy and gripping commentaries on the OT historical books are an exception!

9) Turn the handle mentality

Commentaries are no substitute for a prayerful and reflective engagement with Holy Scripture.

4. More tools

Greek NT (UBS) Index of Allusions and Verbal Parallels

Bible Works for Windows

Electronic Bible + word processor + printer.

These jottings only give a little flavour Phil's stimulating and thought provoking talk. What he had to say led to a helpful discussion on on the use of tools in sermon prep. It was good to go back to first principles and think though the use of commentaries and other aids to Bible study. We were invited to bring a couple of commentaries with us (one OT and one NT) and explain why we found them helpful. My OT work was The Book of Origins: Genesis Simply Explained, by Philip H. Eveson (interviewed here), Evangelical Press. Insightful exegesis, good redemptive-historical awareness, applicatory and full of Christ. Just what an OT evangelical commentary should be. NT: The Letters to the Thessalonians, by Gene L. Green, Eerdmans/Apollos. Excellent use of historical background to throw light on the text (see review). Very helpful exegesis of the 'man of sin' passage in 2 Thess 2 (see here).

* Augustine hard at work and looking for inspiration (pictured above). How did he manage sermon prep without the aid of Matthew Henry's Commentary? The poor chap didn't even have Bible Works, or is his left hand resting on a primitive laptop, holding what looks like a mouse?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The task of Ministers of the Word according to the Geneva Confession

The Geneva Confession (1536): XX. Ministers of the Word
We recognise no other pastors in the Church than faithful pastors of the Word of God, feeding the sheep of Jesus Christ on the one hand with instruction, admonition, consolation, exhortation, deprecation; and on the other resisting all false doctrines and deceptions of the devil, without mixing with the pure doctrines of the Scriptures their dreams or their foolish imaginings. To these we accord no other power or authority but to conduct, rule, and govern the people of God committed to them by the same Word, in which they have the power to command, defend, promise, and warn, and without which they neither can nor ought to attempt anything. As we receive the true ministers of the Word of God as messengers and ambassadors of God, it is necessary to listen to them as to him himself, and we hold their ministry to be a commission from God necessary in the Church. On the other hand we hold that all seductive and false prophets, who abandon the purity of the Gospel and deviate to their own inventions, ought not at all to be suffered or maintained, who are not the pastors they pretend, but rather, like ravening wolves, ought to be hunted and ejected from the people of God.

Monday, September 21, 2009

John Calvin: his relevance for today

Here is an excerpt from my paper on Calvin for the Bristol & Clifton Protestant League at Buckingham Chapel, Bristol on Saturday 26th September, 2.30pm.
I hope it will become more than evident in the couse of this address that John Calvin and what he stood for is relevant for us today. But there is always a danger in trying to make a figure in history ‘relevant’ to present day issues. After all Calvin was born half a millennium ago. His concerns as a man of the sixteenth century are not necessarily the pressing concerns of today’s church. We must be careful not to make Calvin an artificial debating partner in 21st century arguments. Would Calvin have had a telly? What might he have thought about the Credit Crunch? What may be Calvin’s take on the implications of Globalisation for the mission of the church? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But the great thing about Calvin is that he transcends his own time because his life and thought were radically shaped by the living and active Word of God. He was not often sidetracked from the big and central themes of biblical revelation. If Calvin has relevance for us today it is because his teaching brings us back to what the Holy Spirit is saying in Scripture.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paul Helm on dynamic equivalence (or not)

Over at Helm's Deep, Paul Helm has been ruminating on the question, Dynamic Equivalence - Is there such a thing? He makes some excellent points on the impossibility of dynamic equivalence in and argues in favour of an essentially literal approach to Bible translation such as is found in the KJV, NKJV and ESV. The prof also raises the matter of whether it is an "unquestionably good strategy for new translations to be parachuted into cultures that are totally lacking in churches or ministers of the gospel trained to ‘give the sense’ to the Bible." He suggests that important biblical terms like as 'righteousness' and 'atonement' should be retained even when a receiving language lacks the equivalent words. In that case the meaning may given in marginal notes.
The English language is blessed with a well established theological vocabulary. But some contemporary Bible translations avoid using words that may not be immediately intelligible to the modern day reader. Famously the NIV substitutes 'sacrifice of atonement' for 'propitiation' - eg. Romans 3:25, and something very important is lost in translation. The Bible is to be read in the context of church life. The task of preachers is to explain and apply the teaching of Scripture in culturally relevant language.
When it comes to personal Bible reading, Helm makes a good case for the use of Study Bibles that can help us get to grips with the meaning of the biblical text. A decent Study Bible can almost do for the reader what Philip the evangelist did forthe Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:30-35. I've been using the ESV Study Bible, for my own personal Bible reading for some months. While the notes are too brief for sermon prep, they give the basic sense of the passage in a clear and concise way. Anyway, have a look at Paul Helm's thought provoking article on this subject.

Monday, September 14, 2009

John Owen on controversy and communion with God

In order to preserve and defend the truth of the gospel, it is necessary to engage in theological controversy. But as John Newton wisely pointed out, "very few writers of controversy have not been manifestly hurt by it... if the service is honourable, it is dangerous." (Letters of John Newton, Letter XVII, Banner of Truth Trust). We can be so taken up in the battle of ideas that we forget that biblical truth was given to bring us into communion with God and enrich our fellowship with him. John Owen (1616-1683) was tasked with responding to the pernicious Socinian errors of the Racovian Catechism. He did so in his massive Vindicae Evangelicae (Works Volme 12 - see here). In section six of his Preface to the Reader Owen reflects on the whole matter of controversy and communion with God. Error berating bloggers and pathologically polemical preachers would do well to think on what Owen has to say. Indeed all who find themselves engaging in controversy should take on board the wise words of the great Puritan divine.
"That direction, in this kind, which with me is instar omnium [equivalent to all], is for a diligent endeavor to have the power of the truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but what we have a practical acquaintance with in our own souls. When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraces; when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us; when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the things abides in our hearts; when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for, — then shall we be garrisoned, by the grace of God, against all the assaults of men. And without this all our contending is, as to ourselves, of no value.
What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense or sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? What will it avail me to evince, by testimonies and arguments, that he hath made satisfaction for sin, if, through my unbelief, the wrath of God abides on me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him, — if I find not, in my standing before God, the excellency of having my sins imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to me? Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, which is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me?
It is the power of truth in the heart alone that will make us cleave unto it indeed in an hour of temptation. Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him."
H/T Risking the Truth, by Martin Downes, p. 246-247.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More than a TULIP

Should the Reformed faith be defined first and foremost in terms of the so-called "Five Points of Calvinism": Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints? I'm not so sure that it should, but it often is. I'm reading The Doctrines: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel by J. M. Boice & Philip Ryken. The book is an attempt to re-Calvinise evangelicalism. Calvinism is defined by reference to the "Five Points". Similarly, on my "to-read" shelf I have Joel Beeke's Living for God's Glory: An introduction to Calvinism. Once again doctrinal Calvinism is described in the language of the TULIP acronym. Now, I'm sure that the authors of these books would say that Calvinism is bigger and broader than the "Five Points". But they instinctively press TULIP into service when they want to define and defend the key teachings of the Reformed faith.
"What's the big deal?" you might ask. It's not that I have issues with any of the "Five Points". I hold unswervingly to the Canons of Dort. But the Synod of Dort was called to give the Reformed response to the Arminian five point Remonstrance. Defining Calvinism simply in terms of TULIP gives the impression that the Reformed faith is a reaction against Arminianism, "They say election is conditional and we say it isn't". This can make Calvinism seem touchy and rather negative. Besides, to say that Calvinism = TULIP is hopelessly reductionistic. Where does Calvin's teaching on the knowledge of God and ourselves come into it? Is justification by faith alone given sufficient emphasis in TULIP-based accounts of Calvinism? Eschatology barely gets a look-in.
Another problem is that some Christians (often with former Arminian leanings) grasp the "Five Points" in a rather simplistic way and can end up as hyper-Calvinists. They won't have got this from the carefully nuanced Canons of Dort, which insist on the free offer of the gospel, but I have known it to happen in several instances. For them Calvinism is anti-Arminianism and they devote themselves to sniffing out "free-willers" with the same zeal and attention to duty as the Child Catcher looking for kids in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. I commend a thoughtful study the Canons of Dort, which give the definitive response to Arminianism. But the Reformed faith is much more broad, rich and deep than can be summarised in any five points. It is nothing less that a commitment to the whole counsel of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.
*Having said all that, look out for my pieces in Evangelical Times on Jacob Arminius - it's the 400th anniversary of his death (October's ET) and the Synod of Dort (November's ET).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

PTS autumn events

You may be interested to hear of these Protestant Truth Society events for this autumn:
Saturday 26th September, 2.30pm: John Calvin and his relevance for today.
Speaker: Guy Davies.
Venue: Buckingham Baptist Chapel, Clifton, Bristol.
Saturday 17th October, 9.30am - 4.30pm: PTS Preacher's Conference.
For pastors, recognised preachers and men being considered for the preaching ministry.
Preaching and the 1859 Revival - Dafydd Morris
Called to preach: Getting going - Geariod Marley
Called to preach: Keeping going - Alun McNabb
Conference Sermon - Rowland Burrows

Cost: £20.00 (incl. Lunch)
Venue: Ebenezer, Station Road, Old Hill, B64 6PA
Monday 26th October, 7.30pm: John Calvin & The Reformation in England.
Speaker: Dr. R. W. Oliver, Bradford on Avon.
Venue: Penknap Providence Church, Westbury, Wilts.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

'For His Glory' The New Pastors Conference

The Evangeical Movement of Wales has organised a conference for men in the first five years of ministry (23-25 November 2009). If that's you, then take a look at this website for further details.

Speakers include: Art Azurdia III, Bill Dyer, Andrew Davies, Martin Downes, Phil Swann, Geoff Thomas & Gwynn Williams.
In this short film Phil (the marathon man) Swann tells us what it's all about:

Friday, September 04, 2009

Rabbi Duncan was a catholic and so am I

In our Wednesday night Bible Studies we've been looking at the famous statement in the Nicene Creed (325 AD) regarding the Church:

"And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church."

I've been taking each adjective in turn 'one', 'holy' and this week we came to 'catholic'. Do Evangelical Protestants habitually think of themselves as belonging to the catholic Church? The 19th century Scottish Minister, Rabbi Duncan certainly did, saying,
"I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order."
I'd want to change that somewhat and substitute 'Baptist' for 'paedobaptist', and 'Indepedent' for 'Presbyterian', but otherwise I could happily go along with Duncan's expression of his Christian identity. The Reformed churches, of whatever ecclesiological stamp are fully paid up members of the catholic or universal church - the people of God of all nations and times. We are catholics holding to the faith once delivered to the saints.
We explored the biblical basis for the catholicity of the church:
1) Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:3, 22:16-18)
2) Prophetic expectation (Isaiah 42:1, 6 & 49:6)
3) Messianic fulfilment (John 10:16, Matthew 28:18-20)
4) Church practice (1 Cor 1:2, Acts 15, Galatians 2:11-21 & 3:28-29)
5) Eschatological expectation (Rev. 7:9-10, 21:24)
And discussed how we might give expression to biblical catholicity:
1) We must welcome believers from all nations, ages and backgrounds and genders into the church.
2) We should not allow doctrinal distinctives that are not essential to the gospel to define who belongs to the catholic church. Sectarianism is the enemy of catholicity.
3) All believers with a credible profession of faith should be admitted to the Lord’s Table.
4) We should sing hymns composed by believers from all times and places.
5) We should engage in meaningful fellowship and co-operation with other gospel churches.
6) We should take an interest in the global church, and especially remember those who suffer for Jesus' sake. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.
7) We will not seek to target only one group or strata of society in our evangelism. The "homogeneous unit" principle of church growth is a denial of biblical catholicity.
Update: In the original version of this post I quoted Duncan as saying, "I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth an evangelical, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order." A comment pointed out that the fourth designation should be 'peadobaptist' not 'evangelical' - see the Free Church of Scotland website here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

John Calvin: His Life & Influence by Robert L. Reymond

John Calvin: His Life & Influence,
by Robert L. Reymond, Christain Focus, 2008 repr, 152pp
This book began life as a four-part lecture series on the life and influence of John Calvin. Reymond does not offer a full length biographical study here. You will have to look elsewhere for that kind of thing. But what you get is a first class introduction to the life and thought of the Genevan Reformer. Reymond writes as a self-confessed admirer of Calvin, but he is not afraid to be critical when he thinks that Calvin was in the wrong. The writer is especially dismissive of his ideas on the Lord's Supper (p. 71-72). I think this is misguided. In Calvin's treatment of Communion we see the Reformer at his insightful best. Better I would say to question Calvin's paedobaptist views, but Reymond, a staunch Presbyterian would certainly not agree with me there.
The book follows the basic plot line of Calvin's life, interweaving an analysis of the key aspects of his theology. The teaching of Calvin's famed Institutes of the Christian Religion is ably summarized. The seminal importance of the Institutes in Protestant thought is clearly demonstrated.
The great blot on Calvin's character, for which history has judged him rather harshly was the burning of the heretic Michel Servetus in Geneva. Reymond gives full attention to this matter in the final chapter. He does not exonerate Calvin for this role in the affair, but he rightly asks that we understand the Reformer's actions against the background of his times, where the burning of heretics was sadly commonplace on both sides of the Protestant and Roman Catholic divide.
What I especially liked about Reymond's treatment is that it is an unashamedly Christian work. Some contemporary Christian historiography makes too much of a concession to secular assumptions. The facts are narrated and interpreted, but God's providential action is virtually left out of the picture. Great periods of Reformation and Revival are described merely in terms of social trends and the work of human actors. Reymond's offers a theological reading of history that sets Calvin's life and work in the context of God's overruling providence. While basing his work on solid research and a careful examination of the historical evidence, Reymond does not set his theological assumptions aside. This can be seen right from the opening chapter, which is entitled, God's Preparation of the Future Reformer. In the final chapter he urges his readers to consider that it is in God's providence that he has arranged for them to take up this book and learn its lessons.
Reymond has written a gripping account of Calvin's life and achievements. This study is easy to read and accessible without dumbing down, and well researched without being unduly technical. The author invites us to join him in thanking God for the theological giants of the sixteenth century, especially for the towering figure of John Calvin. A brief bibliography gives hints for further reading. Still wondering what the fuss is about with all the talk of the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth? Then tolle lege - take up and read this book.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

In the city (there's a thousand things I want to say to you)

We spent the weekend in London, as I was booked to preach in Kensit Evangelical Church on the Sunday. We took the opportunity to pop into central London on the Saturday to see the sights. We had a nice picnic lunch in Westminster Square in the shadow of Lloyd-George's statue and then visited the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum. A fascinating attraction, which gives a real insight into the tense and cramped conditions in which our nation's leaders worked at the height of WWII. After that we headed for HMS Belfast, an old WWII battle cruiser, now moored near Tower Bridge. As an old Sea Scout I enjoyed looking round the ship from top to bottom.
On Sunday I preached on Jeremiah 2:13 in the morning and Revelation 3:14-22 in the evening. I took the view that the "lukewarmness" of which our Lord complained in the Laodicean church was a reference to the city's water supply. Laodicea was not blessed with therapeutic hot water like nearby Hierapolis or refreshing cool water like Colosse. Its waters were lukewarm; undrinkable and no good for bathing. The Lord wants his churches to be "hot" - offering the soothing message of forgiveness and peace with God to an aching world, or "cold" proclaiming the refreshing message of the gospel to a spiritually parched world. "Lukewarmness" suggests that the church was compromised and ineffective its mission. No wonder the church made Jesus want to spit.
It was good to catch up with family and old friends at Kensit and to have a little nose round the newly refurbished London Theological Seminary. The flooring is very orange, but the library looks impressive with its sliding shelves and up-to-date IT suite. A young man just about to start the two-year course mentioned that reading my interview with new Principal, Robert Strivens here on the blog was one of the reasons why he chose to study at LTS, which was encouraging. He's the son of German missionaries serving in Argentina. If you are considering training for the pastoral-preaching ministry, why not check out the LTS website and contact the college for more details.