Monday, September 23, 2013

The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981 by Iain H. Murray

The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981
The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981Iain H. Murray,
 The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013, 476pp

Although I never heard Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach, his ministry had a huge effect on my early Christian life as I hungrily devoured his sermons on Romans and Ephesians and other published addresses besides. Wanting to know more about the man behind the messages I read and very much enjoyed Iain Murray’s two volume biography of the preacher, also published by the Banner of Truth. This edition of Murray’s life of Lloyd-Jones is a condensed and updated version of the larger works, which between them add up to over 1200 pages.

Lloyd-Jones’ story makes for a gripping read. He turned his back on an eminent medical career in order to become a preacher in Mission Hall in depression era Port Talbot. The Lord blessed his work there and many were converted under his earnest and passionate evangelical preaching. He was then called to Westminster Chapel in London, where he served for thirty years. There he regularly preached to thousands who were captivated by his powerful expository ministry.

Lloyd-Jones helped to spearhead the recovery of Reformed teaching in the United Kingdom, both through his preaching and by his involvement in organisations and initiatives such as IVF (now UCCF), the Evangelical Library and the Westminster Conference. He helped to found the London Theological Seminary.

His ministry was not without controversy. In 1966 he urged evangelicals to come together rather than be subsumed in the Ecumenical Movement. While many heeded his call and left the mixed denominations, other evangelicals such as John Stott and J. I. Packer followed a policy of integration rather than separation. Ironically the preacher’s call for Evangelical Unity left evangelicals badly divided and much ink has been spilt in trying to determine exactly what ‘the Doctor’ hoped to achieve. Murray interacts with some of Lloyd-Jones’ critics in an attempt to set the record straight.

This is not a critical biography that aims at presenting a coolly detached view of is subject. Lloyd-Jones and Murray were great friends and it shows. The author’s evident sympathy for the physician-cum-minister shines through on every page and enables him to present a convincing psychological and spiritual portrait of ‘the Doctor’. Murray’s treatment of Lloyd-Jones’ boyhood years and the account he gives of his death in the final chapter are especially moving.

Mrs Lloyd-Jones said that her husband was ‘first of all a man of prayer and then an evangelist’. In our era of media courting celebrity pastors, it is refreshing to read of an evangelical leader who refused to stand for a press photographer. He preached not himself, but Christ Jesus the Lord and did so in demonstration of the Spirit and power. Through his books and recordings of his preaching being dead, Lloyd-Jones still speaks to today, urging us to hold fast to the gospel that he lived to proclaim and died believing. This condensed biography serves as a welcome reminder of the man and his message. 

* Reviewed for Evangelical Times

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Advice for rookie pastors: On blogging

'Should I start a blog?' is probably a question that has been spinning in the head of lots of newbie Ministers. After all, many 'big name' preachers like Al Mohler, Gary Benfold and Gary Brady have one, so why shouldn't you? You may even have come across some rather earnest posts explaining Why Every Pastor Should Have a Blog. So, you want my advice? Here goes:

1. You probably won't get many readers, so it's not worth the effort

Don't give me that, 'I only want to blog to improve my writing skills and it doesn't matter who reads the stuff' malarkey. If that was the case, why not simply write Word documents that only your hard drive will get to see? But the fact is that while keeping a blog may give your thoughts an airing, don't expect your stat count to hit the blogging stratosphere. Megabloggers are few and far between. Most just get a handful of hits a day, so what's the point? 

2. Choose the name of your blog carefully

OK. You're still determined to get blogging, even though hardly anyone is going to read your stuff. Fair enough, but now you need to come up with a name for your blog. Don't bother with a title that requires even a modicum of thought to work out, as it will confuse your American readers. Even though I explain I'm an 'Exiled Preacher' because I'm a 'Welsh preacher living in voluntary exile in the South West of England', I still get concerned emails from across the Pond asking why I've been banished to what they must think is the UK's equivalent of Soviet Siberia. 

3. Don't take blogging too seriously 

Having an online journal devoted to theology and ministry doesn't make you a one-man Themelios. Mix up your theological musings, book reviews, reports etc. with a bit of random stuff like spoof advice for rookie pastors and that. It's only blogging. If you were a half-decent writer you'd be properly published in book form. 

4. Lengthy posts are pointless

Hardly anyone will do anything more than skim read your carefully crafted posts and they won't even do that if they have to scroll down more than one or two mouse clicks to get to the end. 

5. Remember that while spotting other people's blog typos may make you feel rather clever, that when people spot yours they will just think you're a bit dim

That's right, typos bring out the hypocrite in us all. We all make mistakes and you are likely to be your blog's only proof reader. Try and deprive pedants of their cruel pleasure by previewing your post before you publish. Even then, many of your posts are probably going to be error strewn and spell-checker won't sort our all your problems. As I compose this post, my Google spell-checker has a red squiggly line under each occurrence of the word blogger, which is a perfectly good word. Ironically Google actually hosts the Blogger service. But if I'd typed 'each occurrence of the worm blogger' by accident, fickle old spell-checker wouldn't have warned me, 'word, silly'. And so you'd have thought that I don't know the difference between 'word' and 'worm'. You may even have left a snarky comment to that effect. As sometimes happens. 

6. Given what I said in #4, that's it, really. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Engaging with Keller edited by Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer


Engaging with Keller: Thinking through the theology of an influential evangelical,

I wouldn't lay claim to being a great Keller aficionado, having only read a few of his books, but what I've read so far has both captured my interest and set theological alarm bells ringing in my head. That somewhat conflicted response to the Minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York's writings is reflected in my review of his A Reason for God. I admired Keller's attempt at engaging the culture with the gospel, but wondered whether he had given too much away in his eagerness to please trendy postmodern types. 

More specifically I had concerns with Keller's approach to the creation/evolution debate, his teaching on the judgement of God and his handling of Christ's atoning work. In the latter two cases I felt his treatment of those doctrines was more psychological than theological in tenor. With that in mind I was interested to get hold of Engaging with Keller and see what the authors had to say. Although necessarily polemical, the work is on the whole irenic in tone, but maybe one or two writers don't altogether avoid a little carping criticism. The authors share some of my own misgivings with Keller's teaching. Areas of concern of which I was not so aware are also highlighted. 

I question the 'batting order' of the chapters, which begins with Iain D. Campbell on 'Rebranding' the Doctrine of Sin' and ends with Keller and the doctrine of the church by D. G. Hart. I know that the title does not purport to be a work of systematic theology, but this critique of Keller's thought would have been more orderly and logical had it started with Bidwell's analysis of Keller on the Trinity and ended with Schweitzer on 'Brimstone Free Hell'. I'm at a loss to know why chapters 4 & 7, on the mission and doctrine of the church are separated by pieces on hermeneutics and creation and evolution. As it is the random chapter ordering gives the book a rather haphazard feel, which detracts from the coherence of its overall message.

Having said that, some of the contributions are really outstanding, subjecting Keller's views to fair but firm theological scrutiny. Iain D. Campbell's essay exposes the writer's tendency to make idolatry the pre-eminent feature of sin over and against the more salient biblical category of lawbreaking. Keller's skewing of the plight of man in sin has a distorting effect on his understanding of the gospel as God's solution to human rebellion against himself.

In a chapter that might have been entitled, Strictly Come Doctrine [of the Trinity]*, Bidwell highlights some real weaknesses in the Manhattan preacher's teaching on the Trinity.  Keller's 'divine dance' model of the intertrinitatian relations is shown to be etymologically suspect and theologically misleading. His contention that the patristic doctrine of the coinherence of the persons of the Trinity in the being of God, or perichoresis involves some kind of divine choreography is shown to be baseless. The link between perichoresis and choreography is about as tenuous as the link between the words 'soul' and 'soldier' in The Killers' lyric, 'I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier', which as one rock critic pointed out is about as meaningless as, 'I've got ham, but I'm not a hamster'. More seriously, Keller tends to so emphasise the co-equality of the persons of the Trinity that the the ordered relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not given sufficient weight. I didn't cotton on to these shortcomings with sufficient clarity on reading A Reason for God. I now stand corrected. 

Holst critiques Keller's hermeneutical approach. Schweitzer on creation and evolution exposes Keller's weakness on historicity of Adam. Peter Naylor's chapter on whether the church is sent to do justice in the world is excellent, making a clear distinction between what is appropriate for individual members of the church and the mission of the gathered church per se. He rightly argues that the mission of the church is to preach the gospel, not 'transform the culture'. While making some good points on Keller's ecclesiological pragmatism D. G. Hart's contribution on doctrine of the church had a tendency to carp on a bit, moaning about Redeemer's collaboration with Baptists and harping on about the 'divine right' of Presbyterianism. Schweitzer's 'Brimstone Free Hell' makes for a sobering read. The author rightly insists that hell is most accurately explained theologically as God's everlasting punishment of the wicked, rather than psychologically, as a self-inflicted wound.

As the book's subtitle suggests, Keller is an influential evangelical leader and his influence is certainly felt on this side of the Pond. While the quality of the contributions is a little uneven, this book none the less succeeds in engaging with problematic areas of Keller's teaching and subjecting them to thorough biblical and theological scrutiny. Whether the preacher himself, or his loyal fan base will take any notice remains to be seen. We can admire Keller's commendable concern to make the gospel appealing to 'the culture'. But we need to be ever watchful that we don't allow the culture to so set the agenda that culturally problematic aspects of our message are played down. Missional effectiveness cannot be allowed to override gospel faithfulness.

* Footnote for non-UK readers: this is a reference to the BBC TV programme Strictly Come Dancing

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pause

Rush halted by rest,
but not for the mind's
endless cacophony of thought.

Pixels form into text
which the eye scans,
never tired of seeing
to satisfy the mind's hunger.

Rest halted by rush,
as the patient returns and
life's rich detail is reduced
to a smudge by
the machine's motion.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Advice for rookie pastors: On being a Welsh Minister serving in England


It is said that the entry for Wales in an early edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was, 'For Wales see England'. However, the two nations are really quite different. So much so that any Welshman called to minister in England should regard himself as a cross-cultural missionary. If you were aspiring to minister in France, would you simply turn up in Paris and say to a Frenchman, "Hiya butt, wannoo be saved, like?' Of course not. You'd buy a beret, a bike, some onions and try to speak a bit of the lingo, 'Je m'appelle Guido' and all that. I've spent all my ministerial life serving in the South West of England so I can learn you a thing or two about ministering to the English with cultural sensitivity. So here goes:

1) The English spoken by the English isn't quite the same as you might be used to in Wales

They say, 'over there' rather than, 'over by there' and 'see you in a minute' not, 'see you now in a minute'. Even if you are a South Walian with not much Welsh, you'll still know that 'achavi' means, 'disgusting' and 'cwtch' means, 'cuddle'. But your people won't, unless you have some fellow Welsh exiles in the congregation. The other day I got a bit carried away when preaching on Matthew 5:40 and said that under the laws of the OT the poor were entitled to have their cloak given in pledge for a debt returned to them at night so they could, 'cwtch up warm'. The Welshies smiled knowingly, but everyone else looked rather baffled. So, if you want to preach to the English you'll have to talk tidy. Right?

2) Your English congregants will notice if you only used rugby-related sermon illustrations when Wales win

If, as often happens these days, Wales win the Six Nations Championship and you make reference to that fact in your preaching, but never say a word when Wales lose, your people will soon suss you out. I've never tried this, but you could always allay their suspicions of sporting bias by saying something nice when England beat France. You never know, might work.

3) English Christians will happily sing appropriately translated Welsh hymns, but that's not all they'll want to sing

Everybody with any sense knows that William Williams was the best hymn writer ever in the history of the church, bar none. That's beyond discussion. But if you only ever pick hymns by Williams or John Elias or Vernon Higham, that might be a bit much for your average English fellowship. Don't be too depressed at that thought though, as the natives have quite a strong indigenous hymn writing tradition of their own. What's more, many of their hymns go well with Welsh tunes. Charles Wesley's Jesu, lover of my soul shouldn't really be sung to anything other than Aberystwyth, Tis finished, the Messiah dies is inseparable from Merthyr Tydfil, Augustus Todplady's A debtor to mercy alone, is unsingable to  any other tune than Trewen, and you can even get away with matching Isaac Watts' When I survey with Llef.  If picking so many English authored hymns seems like cultural sensitivity gone mad, then just remember Paul's great missional imperative, 'to those who are without law [I became] as without law...that I might win those who are without law'. Just do it. 

4) True cross-cultural mission will mean eating the same food as the English

This might come as a shock to you, but there are certain foodstuffs that you won't be able to get in England. I still remember the crushing sense of disappointment I felt on shopping in Finchley Central Tesco when a student at the London Theological Seminary. They didn't sock Glengettie Tea. Like, what is this place? It was a sharp reminder that if the Severn Bidges collapsed into the muddy depths that England would be totally cut off from civilisation. Thayers ice cream is a bit scarce too. No kidding. It's not all bad, though. Some disceringly high class stores like Westbury's Aldi do sell genuine Welsh Cakes, so you needn't starve. Speaking personally, my cultural identification with the people of our area is complete when I eat Wiltshire ham sandwiches. Could be a lot worse. Missionaries to Bedouin tribesmen have to eat sheep's eyes, but you'll be relieved to hear that the English, on the whole, don't go in for that. At least not in the South. 

I know all this might sound a bit daunting if you're a wet behind the ears Welsh preacher to the English. But at least you will now be able to minister in a culturally appropriate manner. Glad to be of service. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Advice for rookie pastors: Handling Directory Enquiries


Do I look like the bloke(s) from the 118-118 advert to you? No? That's a relief. Maybe you don't either, newbie pastor. But that won't save you from being used as the church Directory Enquiries Service. Do I hear you say that they didn't tell you that at Seminary? Well that's the problem with such institutions; it's all  biblical exegesis, theology, church history, homiletics lessons and stuff, while little attention is given to the everyday practicalities of pastoral life. However, there's no need to fret, tyro preacher man, my 'Advice for rookie pastors' posts will tell you all need to know about the mundanities of of Ministry. 

When it comes to Directory Enquiries you'll encounter a number of types of call:

1) Your own people who can't find their list of Church Members' phone no's and so ring you

Always best to handle this kind of call with patience and friendliness, even though it might have interrupted a crucial point in your sermon prep, lest you find yourself preaching on 'love one another' or the like the following Sunday. 

2) Members of another church who for some reason ring you by mistake

It doesn't help if your name is similar to the pastor to whom they really want to speak. In Westbury there is a Dai Davies as well as yours truly. Confusing, eh? Best to disabuse the caller before they start telling you all their problems.

3) Members of the general public who ring you when they really wanted to speak to another Minister

'No, I'm not Dai Davies, he's the other one.'

4) Family historians

Be brisk and tell them to ring the Country Records Office before they start telling you the long and detailed story of how they are descended from one of Charles II's illegitimate sons and are therefore by rights next in line to the throne. 

So, now you know. Watch this blog for more valuable advice on things they never told you at Seminary.  

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Long time no see, Herman

You know what it's like. You've got an old friend. You keep meaning to meet up with them, but life and stuff keeps getting in the way. Maybe you glance at their Facebook status every now and again. You reminisce about the good old days. Occasionally you almost remember to send them an email, but that's about it. You kind of miss them, but the thought of doing something about it doesn't lodge for long enough in the brain for you to take action. 

I think you know what I mean. Well it's been a bit like that with me and Herman Bavinck of late. At least with me and his Reformed Dogmatics. I've been making good progress and have advanced to the final volume in the set. The bookmark is currently resting at the beginning of chapter 3 Justification, and it hasn't moved from there for months, probably. I've read stuff in the meantime, but RD has been sadly neglected. 

The frivolity of summer is not conducive to reading Bavinck. You can't take a weighty volume of  RD to the beach. The dogmatician doesn't do small, bitesize chapters you can read in chunks here and there. You have to make time to for some deep, prayerful and meditative study if you are going to get the best out of Bavinck's work.

And that's what I'm going to try and do. It's about time I was reacquainted with the Dutch divine.

 "Hey, Herman you were saying about justification....".
"Oh yes..." '...justification...that gracious judicial act of God by which he acquits humans of all the guilt and punishment of sin and confers on them the right to eternal life... But this benefit - the complete forgiveness of sin - is so immense that the natural human intellect cannot grasp and believe it.'
"It's been too long, old friend, too long."

Monday, September 02, 2013

Back to Reality

Well, that’s it. The balmy days of summer are well and truly over. You can pack away the deck chairs, buckets and spades for another year. You won’t be needed that suntan lotion for a while either. Soon those times spent lazing on the beach under the scorching gaze of the sun will be nothing but a hazy memory. With the summer holiday season gone, it’s back to reality.

For some that will mean back to school, for others back to work, for others still back to the routine of life in retirement. But the reality of our everyday lives beacons and there’s no getting away from it. For some, perhaps many, reality is exciting and fulfilling, but for others real life is often a bit of a drudge.

But as the old song tells us, “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. The most mundane things in life, like preparing a meal or fixing a dripping tap become a joy when we do them for someone we love. Love elevates the everyday beyond dutiful drudgery and gives our lives meaning and purpose.

The Christian life is motivated by love. God the Father loved the world so much that he gave his Son to die on the cross for our sins. That great love is poured out into the hearts of his people by the Holy Spirit. Believers are called to respond to that love by devoting the whole of their lives to God as an act of loving service. It’s good to get away from it all every now and again, but back to reality holds no fear when shaped in every part by the love of God. 

* For September's News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine.