Friday, April 30, 2010

2010 Banner Conference Report #1


What's the Banner conference all about? The clue is in the little logo of George Whitefield that adorns the cover of many Banner titles. The Banner Ministers' Conference is all about preaching Christ by the power of the Spirit to the glory of God. Preachers need to sit under preaching, preaching that will move us to worship out triune God and stir us to serve him with ever greater zeal and effectiveness. It is also good to have fellowship with men who are engaged in the great work of gospel ministry.

I travelled up with Paul Oliver and his father Robert. We chatted for most of the way, talking about music, books, putting the Evangelical world to rights and stuff. The Protestant Truth Society had a stand at the conference, which was manned by myself and fellow worker Stephen Holland. Jeremy Brooks, our Director of Ministries attended the conference on Tuesday. Here is the first part of my conference report:

The Gospel

In a succinct and engaging  message, Wyn Hughes drew our attention to Romans 1:16, encouraging us to be thrilled afresh with the Gospel because: 1) It is about salvation. 2) It is the power of God unto salvation. 3) It is for everyone who believes.

The Throne

Liam Goligher gave three addresses on Revelation 4 & 5. In the first he focused on the throne of God as depicted in Revelation 4. It was a powerful message, informed by insightful exegesis, and delivered with passion and authority. We were confronted with the sovereign majesty of the God whom we serve. Next Goligher considered the "book of destiny" of Revelation 5, which Jesus alone was worthy to open and so bring to pass God's purposes of judgement and salvation. Finally the preacher attempted to apply some of the teaching of these chapters in terms of "Knowing God as Creator and Redeemer", "Worshipping God as Creator and Redeemer" and "Serving God as Creator and Redeemer". It has to be said that Goligher was stronger on exegesis and theology than application, which tended to be rather generalised and lacked bite. Also some unwise unscripted remarks detracted from what he had to say. Preachers with an "unusual sense of humour" take note. His suggestion that Reformed Baptists ain't really Reformed didn't exactly endear Goligher to that fraternity. How to make friends and influence people? Not.  

The Mission

Veteran missionary and theological educator O Palmer-Robertson commended Matthew Henry's Method of Prayer. The famous Bible commentator devised a method of prayer using Scripture language, which OPR is in the process of updating. The avuncular and genial preacher led us in prayer after Henry's biblically enriched method. A booklet of updated excperts from Henry's work, prepared by OPR was made avaliable. I plan on using it in my own prayer times.

I had never heard of William Hoppe Murray (born 1866) and judging from the lack of response from the conference when OPR asked if anyone knew of the pioneer missionary, hardly anyone else has either. The missionary-theologian made good this lacuna with a stirring talk on Being a Missionary in Out Times: William Hoppe Murray's Tenfold Challenge. The Scotsman served in Malawi. He was:

1) A pioneer, spending 43 years in lion and leopard infested Malawi.
2) A preacher, who trained indigenous believers to preach to their own people.
3) An educator, teaching evangelism, nursing, preaching and founding schools for children.
4) An administrator. He led his missionary society for 38 years, he was a hospital director and founder of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. In 1912 there were only 4,000 believers in Malawi, by the time Hoppe Murray finished his work there were 60,000. The CCAP was a disciplined grouping, with 1/50 church members under discipline.
5) An author, writing five books and contributing to a magazine.
6) A farmer.
7) A diplomat, negotiating with the UK government. His diplomatic bent made him a little undiscerning on theological matters as with his involvement in the 1928 World Council of Churches Missionary Meeting.
8) A medical doctor.
9) An evangelist. Today there are 800,000 Malawian Christians.
10) A Bible translator, exclusively dedicating four years of his life to the task of making the Word of God available in the native language.

The "tenfold challenge" was can we be doing more for the Lord, engaging in multifaceted ministry at home or on the mission field?

OPR concluded with some remarks on Hoppe Murray's character. He showed perseverance in his 43 years as a missionary. He was brave, once confronting armed slave traders with a gun in order to recover the kidnapped daughter of Christian friends. The missionary had a keen sense of humour. A colleague fell off his donkey, ending up all covered with mud. Hoppe Murray quipped, "Tell us you're not hurt so we can laugh." He was a man of prayer who sought God's blessing on all his endeavors and stressed that prayer is the most important part of the work. The pioneer was a humble man who wanted no public recognition for all his labours, exemplifying John 12:24.

In his final address OPR preached on Matthew 24:14, "The Gospel for All Nations".

1) What is the mystery of the Gospel?

In biblical terms a "mystery" is a truth that was once concealed and is now revealed. At the heart of the mystery of the gospel is the message concerning Jesus the promised Messiah who redeemed Jew and Gentile who trust in him by his death and resurrection. Part of the mystery is how people from all round the world came to follow Jesus, the Jewish Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. In Jesus' parables the Kingdom of God is described as growing from small beginnings, eg. Matthew 13:13-32 cf. Daniel 4:20-22, Ezekiel 31:1-6, where Gentile kingdoms are depicted in similar language and Ezekiel 17:22-24 for Israel. Paul never got over the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God on equal terms as the Jews, Ephesians 3:1-6. Peter too came to see this, Acts 10 & 11.  In Christ salvation is by grace not race.

2) The gospel promises fulfilled

The gospel of Christ for all nations fulfils the promises made to Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3, 22:18. All of God's promised made to Abraham  belong to all of God's children whether Jew or Gentile. The blessing of land and seed are ours, Romans 4:11-12 & 13. But the "land" promise is now the new creation, not Canaan. All believers are Abraham's "seed" in Christ, Galatians 3:29. Note that in Galatians one is made a "seed" of Abraham through faith in Christ, so contrary to what OPR gently implied, proof for paedobaptism can't be found here. More helpfully the preacher took a forthright stand against premillennialist Zionism saying that if Romans 9-11 had been better understood, then 9/11 might not have happened. The preacher condemned the unjust treatment of Palestinians by the State of Israel, singling out the "security wall" for special criticism. The "middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile has been torn down in the gospel and they are putting it back up! Premil-inspired US foreign policy has been disastrous for the Middle East.

3) How shall the gospel spread?

The gospel shall be preached!

It was a real joy to sit under the challenging and invigorating ministry of OPR. I can't remember him being as good as he was this year when I last heard him preaching some time ago on Joel at Banner. Like a good wine he has improved with age. Living proof of Psalm 92:12-15.

I'll break off the report at this point. Watch this space for more thoughts on this year's Banner conference. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Themelios April 2010 out now


Check out the new edition of Themelios. Some very helpful articles on Colossians, which I'm currently preaching through on Sunday evenings. Typically thought provoking stuff from Don Carson on "Perfectionisms" and interestingly for a theological journal, Carl Trueman urges the "Importance of Not Studying Theology". With a generous crop of book reviews added to the mix, what more could you want? And all for free too, courtesy of The Gospel Coalition

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From the Resurrection to His Return by Don Carson


From the Resurrection to His Return: Living  Faithfully in the Last Days,
by Don Carson, Christian Focus, 2010, 48pp.

How should Christians live in the last days? As Carson points out by "last days" the Bible does not  simply mean the period immediately before the Second Coming, but the whole epoch between the resurrection of Christ and his return. In other words the question is, how should Christians live now in the time between the  accomplishment of salvation and its full consummation? Thankfully, the Bible does not keep us guessing on this point. The apostle Paul addresses it directly in 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8. And it is to this portion of Scripture that Carson directs our attention in this little book. 

In the "last days" Christians have to live in a world that has been corrupted by sin. We will face false teachers who will endeavour to dupe the faithful. Let us be under no illusions, believers can expect persecution and opposition from the world. In such an environment Christians need to choose good spiritual mentors who will model what it means to follow Jesus authentically and with godly integrity. We need to hold fast to the Scriptures that will point us to Jesus and show us how to live out the gospel. In addition we have been called to live contagious Christian lives, holding out the Bible's message of salvation to lost men and women, boys and girls. 

With great clarity and simplicity Carson explains, illustrates and applies the lessons of this key passage of Scripture on living faithfully in the last days. An ideal book for Christian young people as they seek to  live for Jesus in today's world. More mature believers will also find food for thought here. If young believers need mentors, it is for us to be able say,  "Imitate me as I also imitate Christ". (1 Corinthians 11:1). Now there's a challenge.

Special Offer

Our friends at 10ofthose.com  have a  great offer specially for Exiled Preacher readers. Quote "Exiled Carson" when emailing your order to sales@10ofthose.com and you can get this excellent little title for just £2.80 a copy (inc. p&p) or £20 for a pack of 10 (inc. p&p). Go on, you know it make sense. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Off to the Banner Conference

Later this morning I'll be heading to Leicester for this year's Banner Conference. I'm very much looking forward to the ministry and fellowship. I don't have a laptop, so I won't be live blogging the event. Even if I did, I probably wouldn't bother anyway. I shall leave the instant reporting to Gary Brady. Items that magically pop up here while I'm away were pre-scheduled for this week. I'll try and post some thoughts when I get back home to my wife, kids and trusty PC. I must try not to leave anything behind this time. Last year, feeling a little conference fatigued I forgot to pack up all my stuff. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Faith & Politics


I know that with a General Election campaign in full swing that you might well have had your fill of politics. But I'm not going to get into party political point scoring in this article. Neither do I propose to give you the benefit of my opinion on how we might reduce the national debt while continuing to fund essential public services or anything like that. Such matters are best left to the supposed experts.

However, this might be a good time to reflect on the role of faith-inspired values in public life. I sent a questionnaire to each of the main candidates for the South West Wiltshire constituency. The first question was, "Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?" With varying degrees of equivocation, the candidates agreed that Christian values still have a place our society.

But some would say that faith-based values should be excluded from the public square. They want Britain to be a more secular country where faith has little impact on the life of our nation. That would be a great shame as many of the great moral and social advances in our land were inspired by Christians who were active in the world of politics. Britain led the world in abolishing the slave trade largely due to the efforts of William Wilberforce. Lord Shafesbury worked tirelessly to improve the working conditions of the masses who toiled away in the "dark Satanic mills" of the Industrial Revolution. Today Christians speak in favour of marriage as the bedrock of society. We insist that human life should be valued and respected from womb to tomb. Believers have been vocal in support of a fair deal for the poor and underprivileged. Faith-based values still have an important role to play in public life.

Whoever wins the General Election will have a huge job on their hands in attempting to fix broken Britain. And let's be fair, politicians can only do so much. Politics is simply "the art of the possible". God alone can change the human heart so that we turn away from the selfishness destructiveness of sin and embrace the way of goodness and truth. As Jesus said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26).  

By the way, the Christian Institute's excellent Election briefing paper is now available for download here

* Written for News & Views, West Lavingon parish magazine. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freedom to Believe by Patrick Sookhdeo

Freedom to Believe: Challenging Islam’s Apostasy Law,
Patrick Sookhdeo, Isaac Publishing, 2009, 179pp. 

Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights commits subscribing nations to uphold freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion. While such a freedom is not recognised under the Old Testament, where apostasy attracts the death penalty, the Christian faith recognises that people should be free to choose their religion and even change their faith without compulsion or fear of intimidation.  The only weapon that the Church of Jesus Christ possesses to spread and maintain the Christian faith is the message of the gospel.

Having said that, the Church’s record on freedom of religion has been somewhat patchy. Augustine of Hippo misguidedly read Jesus’ words in the Parable of the Great Supper, “compel them to come in that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23) as a justification of the use of force in religion. Episodes such as the Spanish Inquisition and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre are a blot on the history of Christendom. While those events happened under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestantism is not altogether without blame. Infamously the heretic Michael Servetus was burnt at the stake in Calvin’s Geneva. However, nowadays it is almost universally recognised that the use of force to impose the Christian faith is totally incompatible with the teaching of the New Testament. Christians therefore have no problem at all with the concept of freedom of religion. The freedom we require to practice our own faith we gladly extend to others.

Such is not the case with Islam, where apostasy, blasphemy and heresy are often punishable by death in predominantly Islamic regimes. In this book Patrick Sookhdeo, himself a Muslim convert to Christianity examines the roots of Islam’s apostasy law and reflects on current practice in the Islamic world.  The Qur’an seems to sanction the killing of apostates. The hadith makes the position clearer sometimes suggesting that the apostate should be killed instantly without even being given an opportunity to repent. The five main schools of shari’a law differ on the details, but all are agreed that sane adult males should be put to death for apostasy.

The author documents alarming instances of how the apostasy law is applied in Muslim regimes today. People who turn from Islam to other faiths and those who embrace deviant versions of Islam are subject to the deprivation of their rights, harassment and persecution. Some are even put to death. A small number of Muslim voices have called for people to have the freedom to leave Islam, but they are in the minority. Patrick Sookhdeo rightly argues for reform, urging the abolition of all penalties for apostasy in the Islamic world. The Barnabas Fund of which Dr. Sookhdeo is International Director exists to give aid and support to the persecuted church. Order from PTS Christian Bookshop


* An edited version of this review will appear in a future edition of Protestant Truth

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wheaton's Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright now online


Lectures from the Wheaton Theology College Conference, 'Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright' are now online in MP3 & Flash video formats here. As yet I've only seen Kevin Vanhoozer's contribution, 'Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology', a spirited attempt to intergrate the classic Reformed teaching on justification with the 'new perspective' insights of N. T. Wright. Vanhoozer makes some telling critical points regarding Wright's reworking of justification. He proposes that a renewed focus on union with Christ and the doctrine of adoption might be the way forward in bringing old and new perspectives on Paul closer together. Interesting. HT Mike Bird of Euangelion.

Monday, April 19, 2010

And the mystery theologian is...


Yes,  as Tom Underhill was the first to point out, it was John Frame who said,

"To know God is to know him as Lord and therefore to pursue knowledge of him in a godly way. As we come to know God, we recognize that he initiates our knowledge, that his Word is the ultimate authority for our knowledge, and that in knowing God we come into a personal relationship with him. Theology is the application of Scripture to all areas of human life." (Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, P&R, 2006, p. 72).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Name that theologian #4

Who said this?

"To know God is to know him as Lord and therefore to pursue knowledge of him in a godly way. As we come to know God, we recognize that he initiates our knowledge, that his Word is the ultimate authority for our knowledge, and that in knowing God we come into a personal relationship with him. Theology is the application of Scripture to all areas of human life."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience

The Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience was issued on Easter Sunday, presciently anticipating Tuesday's announcement of the date of the General Election by Gordon Brown. The document sets out three areas of special concern for Christians, "protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience". Key declaration signatories include various prominent Evangelical Christians and a leading Roman Catholic Cardinal. The document commits signatories to a brief Trinitarian statement of faith and details the traditional Christian teaching on human life, marriage and freedom of conscience.

The Westminster 2010 Declaration is the UK counterpart of the Manhattan Declaration, issued in the United States in November 2009. Both declarations concentrate on the same three ethical and social issues. Also, signatories of the Manhattan Declaration include leaders from Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox groupings. The Manhattan Declaration caused some controversy amongst Evangelicals in the States as the document seemed to imply that Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox proclaim the same gospel, skating over important theological differences. See here for my thoughts on this. However, the UK's Westminster 2010 Declaration is less problematic in this respect. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics can happily agree on its simple confession of Trinitarian faith. But there is no suggestion that both groupings preach the same gospel, implying that doctrines such as justification by faith alone are of little consequence for the proclamation of saving truth. The statement's main focus  is an expression of shared concern on the unique value of human life, the sanctity of marriage and freedom of conscience.

I believe that more than the Manhattan Declaration, the Westminster 2010 Declaration is a clear cut case of Evangelicals acting as principled co-belligerents with Roman Catholics and others who hold to historic Christians beliefs.  In the light of the many gospel-denying errors of the Roman Catholic Church, one might question whether it is appropriate to designate all supporters as "Christians" in the full New Testament sense of the word. But in this declaration signatories from Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant traditions speak with one voice on some of the key issues of the day. This is the declaration in full:
Our beliefs and values

As Christians we reaffirm historic belief in God the Father (who created us and gave us the blueprint for our lives together); in God the Son Jesus Christ our Saviour (accepting his incarnation, teaching, claims, miracles, death, resurrection and return in judgment); and in God the Holy Spirit (who lives within us, guides us and gives us strength). We commit ourselves to worship, honour and obey God.

As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.

Human life
We believe that being made in the image of God, all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable. We will support, protect, and be advocates for such people – including children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies. We pledge to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end and we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life. We will support those who take the same stand.
Marriage
We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage. We commit ourselves to continue affirming what we believe as Christians about sexual morality, marriage, and the family.
Conscience
We count it a special privilege to live in a democratic society where all citizens have the right to participate in the political process. We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair, particularly in protecting vulnerable people. We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities. We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.

Commitment
We call upon all those in UK positions of leadership, responsibility and influence to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold these beliefs and to act according to Christian conscience.
Visit the Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience website.

Time for Action

Why not email the candidates from the main political parties in your constituency and ask them where they stand on areas of special Christian concern like human life, marriage and freedom of conscience? Make their responses publicly available to help other Christians make an informed choice at the ballot box. I did this before I became aware of the Westminster Declaration, but my questionnaires mainly reflect the issues highlighted in the document.

Candidate Questionnaire for South West Wiltshire Constituency: Rebecca Rennison, Labour here, Trevor Carbin, Liberal Democrat here, and Andrew Murrison, Conservative MP here

Friday, April 09, 2010

2010 General Election Questions for Rebecca Rennison



Introduction

With the General Election on 6th May looming I thought it would be good to quiz the candidates from the three main political parties standing in the South West Wiltshire Constituency; Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour. The idea is to enable Christians and others who might be interested in the matters discussed here to make an informed choice at the ballot box. As with the wider electorate Christian believers will want to engage with a broad range of political and social issues. I expect that in this General Election campaign certain areas will be given extensive media coverage: How the parties propose to cut the national debt without harming essential public services like health and education, law and order, the overly intrusive CCTV State, cleaning up politics in the wake of the expenses scandal, the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, and so on. No doubt all these matters and more will also be discussed in the televised Prime Ministerial Debates.

In this questionnaire I have chosen mainly to focus on issues that are of special concern to Christians. We believe that marriage is the bedrock of a strong society and that human life should be respected and valued from womb to tomb. Recent legislation has had an adverse effect on Christian believers in this country. Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close for refusing to offer children to homosexual couples. Christian registrars have lost their jobs for asking to be exempted from presiding at Civil Partnerships. See here for a recent BBC documentary by Nicky Campbell which asks, Are Christians Being Persecuted? (Available until Sunday 11th April). With these concerns in mind, I put the following questions to the Labour candidate for Westbury, Rebecca Rennison:

Q & A
 
1. Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?

A. Those values that underpin all major religions - love, kindness and support for others - certainly have a key role to play in society.

2. Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

A. I believe that marriage is between two loving individuals, regardless of gender.

3. Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or loosing their jobs?

A. I believe in freedom of speech but this needs to be balanced with protecting others from discrimination.

4. Do you believe that churches should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with Christian teaching?

A. Given that there are so many interpretations of Christian teaching I don't feel that I can answer this question.

5. Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

A. Every child needs to be empowered to make the right choices when it comes to sex and schools must balance the wishes of parents with the needs of the child.

6. Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

A. I feel that the current law is about right.

7. Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

A. Personally, I am undecided on this.

8. Given the closure of the Westbury Hospital and the mooted closure of the Westbury Swimming Pool, what more can be done to promote the health and wellbeing of the people of this town?

A. Put simply, we have to do everything we can to ensure Westbury Pool stays open - we have a page on our local Labour Party website about this (http://www.southwestwiltslabour.co.uk/)

9. How does your Party propose to protect the environment both at the local and international level?

A. Labour has put in place a new legal framework, the 2008 Climate Change Act, which puts into law our targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent (on 1990 levels) by 2020, and by 80 per cent by 2050. And we are greening our energy system, with new policies to incentivise clean technologies such as energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear, carbon capture and storage and electric vehicles.

I personally take tackling climate change extremely seriously - we can already see the tragic results of climate change and in my lifetime this is going to get significantly worse. I believe that more needs to be done to enforce international targets whilst being sympathetic to developing economies. I also feel that more needs to be done to enable people to make informed choices. Personally I avoid flying, try to buy local produce and cycle to work as simple steps I can take as an individual and we need to do more to empower people to make these choices - for example, I think those supermarkets who have voluntarily begun listing the shipping method of their produce should be commended.

10. Is British society broken, and if so how does your Party hope fix it?

A. I don't believe British Society is broken and I get frustrated at politicians who incite this negativity, personally I am very proud of Britain and the British people.

11. Why should the people of Westbury give you their votes at this General Election?

A. People in Wiltshire should vote for the politician who most closely represents their own views and values.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Rebecca.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

2010 General Election Questions for Andrew Murrison


Introduction

With the General Election on 6th May looming I thought it would be good to quiz the candidates from the three main political parties standing in the South West Wiltshire Constituency; Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour. The idea is to enable Christians and others who might be interested in the matters discussed here to make an informed choice at the ballot box. As with the wider electorate Christian believers will want to engage with a broad range of political and social issues. I expect that in this General Election campaign certain areas will be given extensive media coverage: How the parties propose to cut the national debt without harming essential public services like health and education, law and order, the overly intrusive CCTV State, cleaning up politics in the wake of the expenses scandal, the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, and so on. No doubt all these matters and more will also be discussed in the televised Prime Ministerial Debates.

In this questionnaire I have chosen mainly to focus on issues that are of special concern to Christians. We believe that marriage is the bedrock of a strong society and that human life should be respected and valued from womb to tomb. Recent legislation has had an adverse effect on Christian believers in this country. Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close for refusing to offer children to homosexual couples. Christian registrars have lost their jobs for asking to be exempted from presiding at Civil Partnerships. See here for a recent BBC documentary by Nicky Campbell which asks, Are Christians Being Persecuted? (Available until Sunday 11th April). With these concerns in mind, I put the following questions to the Conservative MP for Westbury, Dr. Andrew Murrison:

Q&A

1. Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?

A. I should firstly declare an interest as a practising Christian and as Patron of the West Wilts Interfaith Group. I do indeed think there is a beneficial role for Christian values  in contemporary society. I would add that the teachings of the main monotheistic faiths have more in common than many in the world today would admit. We should celebrate what binds us rather than what sets us apart.

2. Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

A. The questions you have put to me major on sex and marriage and on this my understanding of Scripture is that sex (hetero and homo) outside marriage is wrong. Whilst the Bible also tells us that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, I respect and acknowledge civil partnerships as a longstanding and legally binding compact between same sex couples.

Marriage for most means families and I am proud that my party has made clear its intention to support families through the fiscal system.

3. Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or loosing their jobs?
4. Do you believe that churches should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with Christian teaching?

A. We have previously corresponded on some of the issues you have raised around the time of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 which, if you recall, I voted against on a free vote because I had previously listened to the concerns of various faith groups locally, yours included, that they would not be able to express their beliefs or profess them without falling foul of the law.

I want to tackle discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation but equally desire freedom of conscience and speech to be upheld. I also want to ensure that faith based organisations are able to continue to operate and you will recall that this was especially relevant in 2007 when there was a challenge to the ethos of the Catholic Children's Society, an organisation credited with much good work among the most disadvantaged of children. It was this that led me to oppose the 2007 Regulations. However, I should make it plain since the matter has recently cropped up again that I do not think it is reasonable for people carrying out a B&B business from their home to discriminate on the grounds of what they presume might be happening behind closed doors. I would also point out that there is an inconsistency in refusing gay couples whilst accepting without question that a man and woman wishing to hire a room are married (to each other). The Regulations are now passed into law and I uphold the law.

5. Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?*

A. On sex education and I cannot be alone in being a bit surprised by some of the graphic material that my own children have been exposed to in primary school. I do respect the need to ensure that our young people are adequately prepared for adulthood but believe that the State is too often a poor parent and that actual parents should have the ultimate say in what their child should be taught in sensitive areas like this. As for content, we need to be careful about normalising promiscuity and, although it may be unfashionable, I would like to see more emphasis on abstinence.

6. Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?
7. Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

A. Turning to euthanasia and abortion, I again have to declare an interest as a licensed medical practitioner. I cannot accept that euthanasia is right if vulnerable people are to be safeguarded - the potential for abuse is significant. I would prefer to rely on high quality end-of-life care. That said, doctors have a duty to relieve suffering and I am quite sure that the medication used to do so can, as an undesirable side effect, shorten life in the terminally ill. Most doctors will have been involved in the administration of drugs which may have done just that but at no time did I or would I deliberately set out to terminate life. As for abortion, I was put off obstetrics having witnessed them and supported reducing the maximum gestational age for terminations to 20 weeks from the current 24 weeks during the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in May 2008. I believe that would have reconciled the rights of women with what we now know about the foetus.

8. Given the closure of the Westbury Hospital and the mooted closure of the Westbury Swimming Pool, what more can be done to promote the health and well-being of the people in this town?

A. Firstly on the subject of the pool, I can tell you that I was in it earlier this week and will be taking part in the Westbury Swimathon next week. I would advise people to use it or lose it. I strongly opposed the closure of Westbury hospital and have said consistently that the PCT's strategy on community hospitals is wrong and at odds with its neighbours.

9. How does your Party propose to protect the environment both at the local and international level?

A. The scientific consensus is that man is contributing to it and that reasonable action now will have an moderating effect. The Copenhagen conference on climate change was a disappointment. In contrast my party has signed up to the challenging target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020. We have every reason to develop alternative means of generating the energy we need - addressing climate change, ensuring Britain is in a good position to benefit from 'green jobs' and reducing the leverage energy rich, often unstable countries are able to exert on us. Individually we should what we can to save energy and reduce waste. My party is offering a 'green deal' which will allow energy efficiency improvements to domestic homes to be paid for from future energy savings.

10. Is British society broken, and if so how does your Party hope fix it?

A. Can I refer you to Iain Duncan-Smith's good work on social justice which I think will strike a chord with many of your readers (http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/). A large number of IDS's Centre for Social Justices' proposals have already been incorporated into conservative party policy.

11. Why should the people of Westbury give you their votes at this General Election?

A. The choice at this election is five more years of Gordon Brown or change under David Cameron. I live in the constituency with my wife and five children and for me being local and using services locally is important. I hope to be given the opportunity of continuing to serve the community.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Dr. Murrison.    

* Q. 5: It was announced yesterday that due to pressure from Opposition parties the Government has withdrawn its controversial sex and relationship education plans from the Children, Schools and Families Bill. The proposals would have involved children being taught that civil partnerships are equal in value to marriage - see here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

2010 General Election Questions for Trevor Carbin


Introduction

With the General Election on 6th May looming I thought it would be good to quiz the candidates from the three main political parties standing in the South West Wiltshire Constituency; Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour. The idea is to enable Christians and others who might be interested in the matters discussed here to make an informed choice at the ballot box. As with the wider electorate Christian believers will want to engage with a broad range of political and social issues. I expect that in this General Election campaign certain areas will be given extensive media coverage:  How the parties propose to cut the national debt without harming essential public services like health and education, law and order, the overly intrusive CCTV State, cleaning up politics in the wake of the expenses scandal, the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, and so on. No doubt all these matters and more will also be discussed in the televised Prime Ministerial Debates.

In this questionnaire I have chosen mainly to focus on issues that are of special concern to Christians. We believe that marriage is the bedrock of a strong society and that human life should be respected and valued from womb to tomb. Recent legislation has had an adverse effect on Christian believers in this country.  Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close for refusing to offer children to homosexual couples. Christian registrars have lost their jobs for asking to be exempted from presiding at Civil Partnerships. See here for a recent BBC documentary by Nicky Campbell which asks, Are Christians Being Persecuted? (Available until Sunday 11th April). With these concerns in mind, I put the following questions to Liberal Democrat candidate, Trevor Carbin:

Q&A

1. Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?

A. Yes

2. Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

A. No, I don't object to same sex marriage. I do though regard marriage as a good thing to be encouraged where possible, but I don't want the state to get too deeply involved in personal matters. The idea of tax breaks for married couples sounds nice in theory but is likely to be very difficult to administer in practice and would add yet more complexity to what is already an over-complex system.

3. Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

A. Free speech is important so yes, provided there was no incitement to hatred involved.

4. Do you believe that churches should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with Christian teaching?

A. Churches, like everyone else, must obey the law of the land. My understanding of the gospels is that discrimination is not a feature of Christianity.

5. Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

A. Yes, but sex education is generally beneficial and schools should seek to allay any concerns felt by parents or governors.

6. Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

A. About right.

7. Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

A. Yes, it should be made easier for those coming to the end of their lives to pass on with dignity and without suffering.

8. Given the closure of the Westbury Hospital and the mooted closure of the Westbury Swimming Pool, what more can be done to promote the health and wellbeing of the people of this town?

A. The closure of Westbury Pool would be an act of great foolishness and must be resisted. Closing facilities like local hospitals saves money for the authorities but harms the local population. We need a new way of thinking about facilities which takes into account the value to the community. To promote health and well-being we should encourage more use of leisure facilities and develop cycle tracks in and around the town.

9. How does your Party propose to protect the environment both at the local and international level?

A. At the international level it's necessary to work within the European Union to establish a programme to reduce emissions of CO2 and other pollutants, and to persuade other nations to do likewise. The comparative failure of the Copenhagen summit makes it more important to keep up the pressure. Within UK we have a policy to reduce energy consumption by insulating homes, schools and hospitals. We would vary aircraft taxation to reduce their emissions and would not build a third runway at Heathrow. Any new coal fired power stations would have to 'capture' their carbon dioxide. Small-scale renewable energy technology would be encouraged. Locally we would properly maintain the roads we have and not waste money developing large scale new road schemes.

10. Is British society broken, and if so how does your Party hope to fix it?

A. Of course it's not broken - this is still a great country and a fine place to live. There is a problem of the cycle of deprivation, where poverty is passed on through the generations. We would resolve this by a 'pupil premium' whereby poorer pupils attract extra funding for their schools which could be used for smaller class sizes or extra support. We would raise income tax thresholds to allow less well off families to keep more of their income, raising taxes on higher earners to compensate.

11. Why should the people of Westbury give you their votes at this General Election?

A. The British political system is institutionally corrupt and needs reform. The two-party system has allowed this to happen. We need enough Liberal Democrats in parliament to force revolutionary change and return power to the voters. We also need to take Britain out of the economic depression and into a recovery which doesn't just make the same mistakes happen again. We need to re-establish the values of honesty and integrity. We need to decentralise power and decision-making, and encourage community-based activity.

Thanks for stopping by to answer these questions, Trevor.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

By Faith, Not By Sight by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.

By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation,
 by Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Paternoster, 2006, 114pp.

When Adrian Sargent dropped me an e-mail and kindly asked if I would like to avail myself of his spare copy of this book, I didn't keep him waiting too long before saying, "Yes please". Richard Gaffin is one of my favourite Reformed systematic theologians. This is especially the case because he is a fine Bible exegete and his theological work is enriched by careful attention to the biblical text. The theologian is particularly insightful in his handling of the writings of the apostle Paul. Gaffin is no "machine Dogmatician" who is simply  content to churn out unreconstructed dollops of Reformed theology. Indeed he is willing to challenge and reform Reformed theology in the light of what he has discovered in God's Word.

This current work is concerned with Paul's ordo salutis, or the apostle's teaching on the order of salvation. Consideration of the ordo salutis is one of the staples of Reformed systematic theology. But what that usually means is discussion of the logical ordering of the different aspects of salvation. Salvation is like a "golden chain" with one link in the redemptive process leading inevitably to another. Thus it is held that regeneration logically precedes faith and it is on believing in Christ that the sinner lays hold in justifying grace and so on. This is all well and good, but the impression can be left that salvation is received in well ordered, yet discrete bits and pieces.

While Paul sketches out something like a traditional ordo salutis in Romans 8:30, the ordo in this sense is not the organising principle of his theology of salvation. The apostle is far more interested in the  historia salutis, that is in salvation accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ. On the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and other related texts, Gaffin agues that the central feature of Paul's theology is that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead. Salvation is received not in discrete bits and pieces, but whole and entire on the believer's union with Christ crucified and risen. This is the organising principle of Paul's concept of salvation,

"The central soteriological reality is union with the exalted Christ by Spirit-created faith. That is the nub, the essence of the way or order of salvation for Paul. The center of Paul's soteriology, at the center of his theology as a whole, then, is neither justification by faith nor sanctification, neither the imputation of Christ's righteousness nor the renewing work of the Spirit."  (P. 43).

The standard  ordo salutis approach as found in Reformed systematics can sometimes fail to give union with Christ central place in the application of salvation. While the importance of the union is not denied, it is often discussed simply as one feature of the salvation process alongside effectual calling, justification and sanctification. See Robert Reymond's treatment of the application of redemption, p. 703-801, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998 Thomas Nelson.  A glance at the contents page, noting the place of union with Christ in his discussion bears out my point. However, for Paul union with Christ is not simply an aspect of salvation, it is the determining factor.

Also it is perhaps the case that not enough attention is given to the eschatological structure of Paul's soteriology in traditional Reformed theology. Gaffin  offers a welcome corrective on this point, devoting chapters 3 and 4 of the book to a consideration of The Order of Salvation and Eschatology. Attention is given to being raised with Christ as the transformative factor in the Christian life. Drawing upon Paul's teaching in 2 Corinthians 4:16, Gaffin makes a distinction between the believer's present resurrection in the "inner man" and the future bodily resurrection of the "outer man" at the parousia. For now we "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). In the present we have been raised with Christ "by faith". Our being rasied with him will be made visible, "by sight" at the resurrection when the body will be raised incorruptible at the return of the Lord Jesus. Being raised with Christ is the great dynamic indicative that enables the Christian to enact the imperatives of the gospel. This is of the essence of the New Testament's teaching on the life of holiness. It is not about legalistically following a set of rules, but living obediently as whose who are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:12-13).

Gaffin also discusses eschatology and justification. Over and against N. T. Wright and other advocates of the "New Perspective on Paul", the theologian does not think that justification is primarily concerned with the issue of who is a member of the church. He insists that justification is a forensic declaration that the believer is righteous in Christ. Justification thus defined makes the gospel good news for guilty sinners. Paul emphasises that the Christian was justified on believing in Christ.  Justification is therefore an event in the believer's past. We have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). But the apostle also teaches that there will be a future justification for believers (Romans 2:13, Galatians 5:5). Future justification will be "according to works", but this does not compromise "justification by faith alone". The believer's past justification will not be imperilled by the future justification. N. T. Wright argues that future justification will be on the basis of a lifetime of faithfulness of God (see p. 98). But works will not be the basis of the believer's future justification. Paul does not teach a future justification "by works", but "according to works". The distinction is an important one. The Christian is both transformed and justified on his or her union with Christ. Those who are truly justified by faith alone have also died to sin and been raised to a new life of holiness in Christ. Works are therefore the evidence that a person has been justified on being united to Christ by faith. The faith that alone justified does not remain alone. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). Where love and good works are absent, there is no evidence that a person has been savingly united to Christ and justified by faith. The prospect of future justification "according to works" is thus an incentive to for believers to demonstrate the reality of their faith by their works. And so the apparent concflict between Paul and James  (Romans 4:5/James 2:24) is resolved.

Drawing once more on 2 Corinthians 5:7, Gaffin observes that in the present the believer has been justified by faith, but in the future our justification will be visible for all to see. As Christ's resurrection from the dead was his justification (1 Timothy 3:16), so our future justification will involve the resurrection of the body (Romans 4:25). Having been justified by faith in the "inner man" we shall be openly justified in resurrection glory.

I welcome Richard Gaffin's brief, yet immensely rewarding and insightful study of Pauline soteriology. His work provides something of a corrective to the standard works of Reformed theology. The theologian also makes some salient points on the New Perspective on Paul. Gaffin is surely right to identify union with Christ as the key to understanding Paul's order of salvation. Christ in us and Christ for us is the essence of the gospel. Thanks, Adrian for the free copy!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

John Calvin on the Lord's Supper


The first Communion meal was celebrated by Jesus and his disciples on the night in which our Lord was betrayed, or "Maundy Thursday". John Calvin wrote with great insight on the Lord's Supper. He viewed Communion in the light of the believer’s union with Christ. The risen Jesus is bodily in heaven, but we receive the saving benefits of his body and blood through the Holy Spirit. In the Lord’s Supper we have real communion with Christ by the presence of Spirit. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we feast upon the Saviour by faith.

The sacraments are defined by the Word and made meaningful in the light of the Bible’s teaching. The Lord’s Supper was given as a visible representation of the body and blood of Jesus. What is taught in Scripture concerning Christ is richly symbolised in the bread and the wine. As the people of God eat bread and drink wine together at he Commuion meal the Lord accommodates himself to our weakness to assure us of his love and increase our faith.

Calvin was concerned that Zwingli’s view of the Lord’s Supper focussed too much on the human side. Zwingli emphasised the importance of our faith, our remembering what Christ has done for us. For Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is much more about Christ communicating his life to us. He said, “the flesh of Christ is like a rich inexhaustible fountain, which transfuses into us the life flowing forth from the Godhead itself. (Institutes Book IV, XVII, 9). He reflects on the Lord’s Supper,

But though is seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Spirit passes all our conceptions and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive – namely that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. The sacred communion of the flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by here exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils the promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude beneficially receive it. For this reason the apostle said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (Book IV, XVII, 10).
In Calvin we have a rich and deeply biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26).