Friday, July 28, 2006

Holiday Time!

Tenby Harbour , Pembrokeshire, West Wales (last year's holiday)

We're off to North Devon for our holidays on Saturday. After that, we'll be going to the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aberystwyth Conference. I won't be blogging for a bit. But when we're back I'll post a report of the Conference. Joel Beeke will be the main Conference speaker.

Holiday soundtrack:

Under the Iron Sea, Keane; Eyes Open, Snow Patrol; How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2 & various other sounds.


Do remember to cast your vote in the hymnwriter poll and leave a comment in the related post.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

David Wells on the Holiness of God (2)

Until we recognise afresh the centrality of God's holiness, until it once again enters into the innermost fibres of evangelical faith, our virtue will lack seriousness, our belief will lack poignancy, our practice will lack moral pungency, our worship will lack joyful seriousness, our preaching will lack the mordancy of grace, and the church will be just one more special interest pleading for a hearing in a world of competing enterprises. Until we acknowledge God's holiness, we will not be able to deny the authority of modernity. What has most been lost needs most to be recovered - namely, the unsettling, disconcerting fact that God is holy and we place ourselves in great peril if we seek to render him a plaything of our piety, an ornamental decoration on the religious life, a product to answer our inward dissatisfactions. God offers himself on his own terms or not at all. The deity who now appears to lie so limply upon the church is, in fact the living and glorious God. His hand may be stayed by patience and grace, but it is certain that he will eventually pass judgement on the world. It is this holy God, glorious in his being, doing wonders, who beckons his people to a deeper working knowledge of himself, and it is he who breaks the power of modernity.
From God in the Wasteland p. 145
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
“ Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.So I said:
“ Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”
(Isaiah 6:1-5)
In Above All Earthly Powers David Wells promises to discuss the challenge of Christ in a postmodern world. But my copy hasn't turned up from Amazon yet!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The one book meme

A mysterious meme has spread to my blog from Faith and Theology

My responses are:

1. One book that changed your life:
Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (1746)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (1972)

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (1630)

4. One book that made you laugh:
Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857)

5. One book that made you cry [or feel really sad]:
Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Martin Luther, Why John Calvin was right about the Lord’s Supper (1529)

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus (2003)

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine (2005)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity (2004)

10. Now tag five people:
Charles Collins Stephen Dancer Jonathan Hunt Michael Iliff Graham Weeks

Monday, July 24, 2006

New Poll: Favourite Hymn Writer

Who is your favourite hymn writer and why? Who moves most when you sing God's praises? I have selected a mixture of contemporary and historical hymn writers. Click on the writer's names for Wikipedia links. >Wha

>> >> >> ? ? .>

Timothy Dudley-Smith >Stuart TownendK...... Isaac Watts;;;. ..; Charles Wesley?.. William Williams

What combination of factors make a great hymn? What is your all time favourite?

Vote in the Poll [top left] and leave a comment to let us know what you think.

David Wells on the Holiness of God (1)

In his God in the Wasteland (1994, IVP) David Wells argues that, "The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgement is too benign, his gospel too easy and his grace too common." In this, the first of two posts, Wells challenges us with a Biblical vision of the majestic holiness of God:
The Holy, by its very nature is in a realm we cannot enter as consumers but only as sinners, in sackcloth and ashes. Indeed we cannot approach the Holy at all; we must wait for the Holy to approach and and reconcile us to itself in Christ. The revelation of the Holy would be unbearable if we saw it in any other way than from within the redemption it grants us. The knowledge of God as holy, though taught throughout the Old Testament, must in the end be taught supremely by the Son, by his death in our place, before we can see all that God would have us see. The cross, writes P. T. Forsyth, "is the creative revelation of the holy and the holy is above all revealed in the Cross, going out as love and going down as grace."
Without this holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace and grace has no point, for it is God's holiness that gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness. Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure but not failure before God, in relation to God. It is failure without the presumption of guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning. And without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgement that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place. Furthermore, without holiness, grace looses its meaning as grace, the free gift of God who, despite his holiness and because of his holiness, has reconciled sinners to himself in the death of his Son. And without holiness, faith is but a confidence in the benevolence of life, or perhaps merely confidence in ourselves. Sin, grace and faith are emptied of any but a passing meaning if they are severed from their roots in the holiness of God. "Love" says Forsyth, "is but its outgoing; sin is but its defiance; grace is but its action on sin; the Cross is but its victory; faith is but its worship."
From God in the Wasteland p. 144-145.
The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of widsom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One
is understanding.
(Proverbs 9:10)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Winner of the Best Recent Evangelical Book Poll

Poll Winner, N. T. Wright for his The Resurrection of the Son of God
6% The Drama of Doctrine (WJK 2005) by Kevin Vanhoozer
24% The Gagging of God (Zonervan/Apollos 1996) by D A Carson
18% God in the Wasteland (IVP 1994) by David Wells
12% The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth Trust 2005) by Iain Murray
41% The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK 2003) by N. T. Wright
Even if (like me) you are not convinced by Wright's espousal of the 'New Perspective on Paul', you will be impressed by his book on the resurrection of Christ. It is a masterly defence of the bodily resurrection of Christ as an historical event. This work is packed full of historical scholarship, detailed Scriptural exegesis and deeply Biblical theology.
The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world's true sovereign, the 'son of god' who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator's new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot. (p. 731)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The defence of Hodge at Helm's Deep

Helm's Deep

The 19th Century Princeton Theologian, Charles Hodge, has come in for a fair amount of criticism of late. He has become something of a theological whipping boy for fashionable post-conservative types. Kevin Vanhoozer takes issue with his theological method in The Drama of Doctrine. He labels Hodge's approach as "Cognitive-Propositional Theology". Vanhoozer has some rather harsh words to say about Hodge's Systematic Theology:
"Cognitive-propositionalist theology risks deflecting doctrine from the proper role of drawing us into the drama by turning it into an ossified, formulaic knowledge that will either wilt on the vine or, on another plausible scenario, be used as a shibbolethic instrument of power". (p. 88)
Over at Reformation 21, in his delightfully named column Helm's Deep, Paul Helm leaps to Hodge's defence. He manfully engages with Vanhoozer's criticisms of the great Princetonian HERE

Contours of Pauline Theology by Tom Holland

Mentor, 2004

The main thesis of this book is that we cannot understand the apostle Paul unless we grasp that his thought was fundamentally rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures. Holland wants to refute once and for all the idea that Paul jettisoned the Jewish roots of Christianity in order to make the fledgling faith acceptable to a Gentile audience. The author argues that Paul did not Hellenise Christianity. The apostle remained faithful to his Old Testament heritage as he preached Jesus the Messiah to the peoples of the ancient world.
In a chapter Paul and the Prophets, Holland seeks to demonstrate that Paul's Epistle to the Romans is structured around quotations and allusions to Isaiah and other key Old Testament texts. Paul not only cited Isaiah, he drew his theological categories from the Prophet. In Isaiah and the Servant the writer develops a case for understanding Paul's use of the word "servant" against the background of Isaiah's Servant Songs rather than the Greek notion of bondservant. Paul saw himself as a servant of the Lord in the Isaianic sense. His task was to proclaim the light of the gospel to the Gentiles in continuation of the ministry of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord. There is helpful material in this chapter, but Holland takes his case too far by arguing that the great Servant Song in Isaiah 53 was not used by the apostles to interpret the death of Christ. Matthew 20:28, Philippians 2:7&8 and Acts 8:32-35 would suggest otherwise.
Holland's key idea is that Paul's thinking was radically shaped by Old Testament teaching on new exodus and the passover. Accordingly, Christ's work on the cross is understood as a passover sacrifice that accomplishes the "new exodus"; the redemption of the world from the power of sin, death and Satan. The writer detects the influence of Ezekiel's vision of the new temple on Paul's view of the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice. Ezekiel's apparent conflation of the Passover with the Day of Atonement is claimed to be the source of Paul's teaching in Romans 3:25&26. .
A recurring theme in this book is that interpreters have tended to view Paul through the lenses of Western individualism. Holland tries to redress the balance by insisting that the 'body of sin' in Romans 6:6 should be understood corporately as humanity under the power of sin and the Devil. He also tries to argue that baptism in Romans 6 and the 'harlot' of 1 Corinthians 6:15ff are corporate categories. I did not find Holland's exegesis altogether convincing. There is certainly a corporate dimension to Paul's thought (Romans 5:12ff, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 etc). It would have been better if the author had spend more time unpacking these passages rather than trying to establish a corporate meaning of texts that are better understood on an individual or personal level.
One can hardly write a book about Paul's theology without interacting with the so-called 'New Perspective on Paul'. Holland devotes a chapter to Justification and the New Perspective. He criticizes E.P. Saunders for misreading the intertestamental literature. Saunders quotes the literature too selectively to prove his case that the Jews did not rely on their works for acceptance with God. Holland suggests that N.T. Wright has misunderstood both Paul and the teaching of the Protestant Reformers. Wright holds that faith in Jesus as Lord is the 'boundary marker' that shows that the believer is in the covenant. Faith has replaced 'works of the law' such as circumcision, which were the boundary markers of the Old Testament. For Wright, justification concerns the question: "Who are the people of God?" rather than, "How can a sinner be right with God?". It is primarily about ecclesiology not soteriology.
Holland sees justification as God's declaration that he has taken his people into a covenant relationship with himself. Contrary to Wright, justification does not simply act as a boundary marker, denoting those who are in covenant. Justification brings the people of God into the covenant. Justification is a corporate category. God justifies his covenant people rather than individuals. Christians appropriate this justification personally when they believe in Christ. Holland maintains the Reformer's insight into justification as a forensic declaration that sinners have been put right with God apart from their works. But he insists that justification is also relational - because it refers to the creation of a covenant between the Lord and his people. An appendix on The Reformed Faith and Justification discusses this matter further. The downplaying of the individual aspect of justification by faith in Holland's treatment is to be regretted. Paul is capable of describing justification in deeply personal language (Galatians 2:16 & 20).
In chapters on The Firstborn and the Jewish Cult and The Firstborn and the Colossians Hymn, Holland makes a case for setting the description of Christ as the 'firstborn over all creation' against the background of the Passover. He shows that the firstborn child was a representative figure in the Old Testament. The firstborn Israelite children were spared at the original Passover. The Levites were offered to God as a substitute for the firstborn. The firstborn son was given a double inheritance, so he could act as redeemer, should other members of his family need to be freed from debt or slavery. As 'firstborn of creation', Christ acts as the representative and redeemer of the people of God. These chapters make an original and helpful contribution to our understanding of Christ's role as redeemer of the cosmos.
The Contours of Pauline Theology is a helpful exploration of the Old Testament roots of the apostle's theology. Holland succeeds in demonstrating that Paul was a true Hebrew Christian and no Hellenist. He exposes some of the flaws in 'New Perspective' thinking. His own proposals on justification demand careful thought and attention, but many will find his emphasis on corporate justification hard to swallow. As has been suggested, the author sometimes over-eggs his pudding by taking his arguments too far. Holland does not have the literary flair of Tom Wright (few do!) and the book sometimes lacks verve and clarity. But this work is the fruit of much study and reflection. It should be read by all who wish to keep abreast of the ever challenging and stimulating field of Pauline Theology.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Twisted Logic

An advert was placed in The Independent (UK) newspaper on Thursday 29 June by the Gay Police Association. It features a picture of a Bible, a pool of blood and the caption "In the name of the father" here . It seems to blame Bible-believing Christians for a supposed increase in homophobic incidents. True Bible-centred Christians believe in loving their neighbours, whatever their sexual orientation, not attacking them.

The advert urges members of the public to report hate-related crimes and incidents to the Police. Some of us felt that the advert itself could be construed as a religious hate incident. I reported the advert to the Police using an internet service here. A Police Officer called to to let me know that a complaint had been made to the relevant authorities on my behalf. The Officer was most sympathetic and helpful.
A friend of mine had a very different experience. Here is his account of what happened:
I was phoned after my complaint on Monday and a message left for me to contact a phone number. The lady I spoke to very politely asked me to go into a police station and make a complaint;she took my details and promised she'd let the station know I was coming. They knew...
I spoke to one man at the desk when a colleague then appeared. Said colleague was very opposed and did, at one point, tell me he was a member of the Metropolitan Community church - a gay church here in B....... It seemed to me that he was insisting that no action was going to be taken, until I asked for the name of the senior officer at the station. From then on he was adamant that the 'crime' would be logged, for it had to be, he said, since I'd complained. His logic was interesting:
Policeman: The advert wasn't a crime and I didn't know enough law to say it was.
GB: Does Anne Widdecombe, MP, know enough law I asked?.
Policeman: I don't know.
GB: Well she worked at the Home Office, didn't she?'
Policeman: I don't know. Policeman: The advert wasn't a crime it was just a statement of fact.
GB's aside: (I'd be really glad to know, wouldn't you, that no 'statement of facts' can ever be a crime?)
Policeman: You're entitled to believe homosexuality is wrong, but if you say it is wrong, and a homosexual is attacked as a result, the attack is your fault.
GB: What, even if I say that attacking people is wrong too?
Policeman: yes.
GB: So if - to take a ridiculous example - I said that wearing beards was wrong and somebody attacked you because you were bearded, that would be my fault, would it?
Policeman: No.
GB: Why not?
Policeman: Because a beard isn't a life-style issue.
GB: OK. So let's say the advert persuades somebody to attack a Christian, having implied that we're bloodthirsty thugs. Is that the advert's fault?
Policeman: No.
GB: Why not?
Policeman: Because it's not going to happen.
GB: And if it did?
Policeman: It won't.
GB: But if it did?
Policeman: It won't; and the advert's not a hate crime because it's just relaying facts.
Policeman: The advert's not a crime because if it was The Independent wouldn't have published it.
GB: So - no advert is ever wrong, then?
Policeman: No.
Policeman: The advert's not a crime because the Gay Police Association is a reputable and highly respected police body.
Policeman: Large numbers of people are leaving the churches because of our attitude to homosexuality.
GB: Well, actually conservative churches are larger than the liberal churches.
Policeman: Yes, but a lot of people in your churches aren't Christians. (I do hope that's true!)
Well [says GB], I'm a reasonably confident, articulate, law-abiding citizen; I felt ridiculed and intimidated. I really don't want to be doing this - but if we don't protest and end up jailed, whose fault will that be?
UPDATE: Scotland Yard investigates the Gay Police Association over their advert after "faith crime" concerns were raised by a member of the public here .

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Universalism is the teaching that every human being will be saved. Christian universalism holds that because God is love and Christ has died for all people, hell will be empty and all will go to heaven. But is universalism Biblical? Universalists will point to Scriptures such as Romans 5:12-21. Here, Paul teaches that Jesus has dealt with the sin of the first Adam that brought death to all. Jesus, the Last Adam brings salvation to all.
Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (Romans 5:18)
Is Paul teaching universalism in this passage? Not if we bear the context in mind. The free gift of justification referred to in Romans 5:18 is appropriated by faith in Christ:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1 & 2)
Those who do not believe in Christ remain under God's wrath and judgement,
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:5)
In another passage oft quoted by universalists Paul writes,
For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22)
But does this mean that Paul thinks that every single person is going to to made alive in Christ and enter the glories of God's kingdom? Not according to Paul's teaching earlier in the epistle:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Once again, only those who have experienced salvation in Christ will inherit the kingdom of God.
Universalism is based on a deeply flawed theological method. Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 21 are taken as "proof texts" for universalism without regard for their context within Paul's letters. These texts are then allowed to screen out all the Biblical teaching about hell, the wrath of God and the resurrection of condemnation and judgement. But we must never allow one aspect of Biblical teaching to obliterate another.
If the same method was applied to the doctrine of the Trinity, the result would be disastrous. Either we would end up with Unitarianism, where the Bible's teaching of the oneness of God is made to obliterate the material that reveals him as three Persons. Or we would be left with Tritheism, where the three divine Persons are emphasised at the expense of the oneness of God. In Orthodox theology the Bible's witness to the oneness of God is qualified by the complementary witness to the three Persons, in terms of the historic doctrine of the Trinity.
Paul's teaching that faith in Christ appropriates justification must qualify his statement that "the free gift came to all men". Paul does not envisage that those who have never believed will be justified and enjoy eternal life. That is why his preaching was so urgent and passionate. He knew that apart from Christ, human beings are heading for a lost eternity.
For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9 & 10).
To obtain salvation through the Jesus Christ, we must believe in him and confess that he is the risen Lord,
if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9)
Universalism robs the Christian hope of its epistemological basis in the saving knowlege of Christ. There will be atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in heaven. Former atheists etc who came to believe in Jesus Christ in this life before it was too late. I, for one thank God for that!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Poll: Best Recent Evangelical Book

The Contenders

The Drama of Doctrine (WJK 2005) by Kevin Vanhoozer, winner of our Favourite Evangelical Theologian poll. Vanhoozer's dramatic attempt to rethink doctrine in a way that is faithful to Scripture and engaged with the postmodern world.

The Gagging of God (Zonervan/Apollos 1996) by D A Carson. The Don helps us to get to grips with postmodern pluralism.

God in the Wasteland (IVP 1994) by David Wells. Wells confronts decaying Western evangelicalism with the weightiness of a holy God.

The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth Trust 2005) by Iain Murray. Murray draws our attention to some old truths for a new awakening.

The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK 2003) by N. T. Wright. In this masterly volume, Wright defends the historicity of Christ's physical resurrection. Packed full of biblical exegesis and historical scholarship.
The books selected aren't necessarily my "top five", but they hopefully represent an interesting range of recent evangelical literature.
Cast your vote in the poll on the left and leave a comment to say which book you voted for and why.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

John Calvin on Suffering

John Calvin: Suffering, Understanding the Love of God Commentary by Joseph Hill (Evangelical Press 2005, 360pp)

Calvin has an unfair reputation of being an aloof, cerebral Theologian. The idea of looking to him for a sympathetic, pastoral treatment of suffering may seem strange to some. However, as Joseph Hill’s selection of his writings shows, the great Reformer was above all else a lucid Bible teacher and loving pastor.

The book is comprised mainly of quotes from Calvin’s commentaries and his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The quotes are given in clear, modern English, interspersed with Hill’s own comments. Calvin’s timeless teaching is applied to our present situation, with references to recent devastating earthquakes, the Tsunami disaster and the AIDS epidemic. Apposite quotations from the likes of Joni Eareckson Tada, Augustine of Hippo and John Donne help to throw light on the problem of suffering. Illustrations of patient endurance are drawn from the life of Calvin himself and other figures as diverse as Nelson Mandela and the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

The question, “If God is good and all powerful, why do his people suffer?” is given careful consideration. Hill wisely points out that it is more important that God has acted in Christ to justify the ungodly, than that we are able to justify his mysterious ways to men. The compiler draws out Calvin’s deeply Biblical teaching that God ordains the suffering of his people for our good. As we pour out our hearts to the Lord, he purifies us and gives us grace to persevere to the end.

The anthology is well set out with each chapter devoted to a theme such as Living under the Cross and Standing on the Promises. Sub-headings help to guide the reader though the text. This work needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully as meaty chunk after chunk of Calvin's writing is introduced. I'm not really that keen on anthologies. But as the Reformer's teaching on suffering is scattered throughout his Commentaries and the Institutes, Hill has done us a service in making Calvin's reflections on this subject accessible in one volume.

The book can sometimes be a little repetitive and on one occasion two very similar Calvin quotes are given within the same chapter (pages 54 and 72). Philippians 6:12 on page 26 should be 4:12. The endnotes in chapter 6 do not tally with the references in the text, so a Calvin quote is attributed to John Milton (note 10).

Ministers who teach and care for God’s suffering people will find this book helpful. Serious minded believers who wrestle with the problem of suffering will find much profit in this compilation of Calvin’s writings.
Calvin on Job 8:13-22
So then, let us learn not to put our trust in this world, or in any of the inferior means below. But let us lean upon God, seeing that he has given us our Lord Jesus Christ, to the end that being grafted into him we may drain such strength and sap from him that, although our life is hidden so that we are even as it were in death, we may not cease to continue still. And we may be maintained in a good and sure state, waiting till this good God has delivered us out of all worldly miseries and out of all the troubles we are obliged to suffer here, until he calls us and brings us into the kingdom of heaven and into the glory which he has purchased by the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (p. 342)
A version of this review appeared in the July-August 2006 edition of Protestant Truth

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Favourite Evangelical Theologian Poll Result:

Kevin Vanhoozer46%
Don Carson 23%
Sinclair Ferguson 17%
Wayne Grudem 8%
Donald Macleod 6%
Some readers may be wondering just who is Poll topping theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer? He is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
In the Preface to The Drama of Doctrine, he writes,
"At the heart of Christianity lies a series of vividly striking events that together make up the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel - God's gracious self-communication is intrinsically dramatic. Why is in, then, that Christian doctrine so often appears strikingly dull by way of contrast? And not only dull but weak. " (p. ix)
To remedy this problem, Vanhoozer proposes to use the metaphor of drama to bring theology to life and demonstrate its importance to the Church:
"This book sets forth new metaphors for theology (dramaturgy), Scripture (the script), theological understanding (the performance), the church (the company), and the pastor (director). It argues that doctrine, far from being unrelated to life, serves the church by directing its members in the project of wise living, to the glory of God. It sets out to convince ministers and laypeople alike not to dismiss doctrine as irrelevant, and to encourage theologians not to neglect the needs of the church. It aims to make the pastoral lamb lie down with the theological lion. Its goal is to refute, once for all, the all too common dichotomy between doctrine and real life. Christian doctrine directs us in the way of truth and life and is therefore no less than a prescription for reality". (p. xii)
Profile / bibliography here .
An appreciative, yet not uncritical review of The Drama of Doctrine (WJK 2005) here .
Vanhoozer on inerrancy here .

Monday, July 03, 2006

Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2006

EMA, St Helen's Bishposgate

I had heard a lot about the annual Evangelical Ministry Assembly, organised by the Proclamation Trust. But I had not attended the assembly until last Friday. The conference venue is St Helen's Bishopsgate in the heart of the City of London. Although the event is organised by Evangelical Anglicans, the conference attracts support from many Evangelical Nonconformists. I spotted various Free Church luminaries, leading lights from the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, the great and the good of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and various other Nonconformist apparatchiks.

What, I wondered is the force that unites this pan-Evangelical jamboree? The conference is well organised and efficiently run and there is a plentiful supply of tea and coffee. The City of London location makes for an excellent location, where the ancient grandeur of St Helen's Bishopsgate bumps up against the the shiny postmodernism of Lord Rogers' London Gherkin.

The "London Gherkin"

But what unites this meeting of Pastors, Rectors and Curates is the EMA's emphasis on the exposition of the Word of God. The first morning session was entitled Exposing half hearted religion. Peter Adam, the Principal of Ridley College, Melboure spoke on Malachi 3:6-15. He gave a lively, challenging and at times humorous exposition of the passage. He urged preachers to speak to the "corporate culture" of their churches, just as Malachi confronted the corporate culture of post-exilic Judah. If the corporate culture is "touchy feely" emotionalism, then we must preach the importance of doctrine. If a church is too preoccupied with its own needs, then we must highlight the importance of evangelism and mission. A doctrinally correct, yet loveless church needs to be exhorted to live out the Word in practical obedience to God. Adams testified that in his own experience, tackling the corporate culture of a church is a challenging and difficult business. But, we must be faithful to our calling and trust in the transforming power of God's Word.

John Piper spoke next on Will we last? Enduring in ministry. I have read several of Piper's books, but this is the first time that I have heard him preach. I was not disappointed. In a sense, he was the only speaker who really preached to us. After a number of stories that told of perseverance in disaster, Piper spoke on Jeremiah 31:38-41 . With great passion he urged us to pray that God will keep us in the ministry and not give up. He repeated again and again that God does not keep us from troubling times, but he gives us grace to keep on keeping on. From the text, the preacher showed us that God will guarantee the perseverance of the saints, "I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me". Piper emphasised that God delights in enabling us to persevere with all the infinite joy and determination of his Being, "I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul". It was worth the 5.30am alarm call and the motorway / tube journey just to hear Piper preach this message to us with power and boldness. I felt stirred, moved, challenged and encouraged.

The first afternoon session was Exposition for Expositors Psalm 119, The logic and dynamics of Bible delight. Christopher Ash gave a workmanlike study of the final few sections of the Psalm. Finally, Simon Manchester spoke on Preaching the Christian life Expositions from 1 Peter. Manchester gave us an overview of 1 Peter 4 & 5. He majored on the challenges and encouragements to Christian service in these chapters.

My overall impression from Friday's assembly is that the accent was more on exposition than proclamation. Some years ago I heard a former FIEC president say that, "The problem with the Proclamation Trust is that they do not proclaim!" Preachers are more than expositors. We are heralds who are called to Preach the Word! (2 Timothy 4:2). The EMA is focussed on equipping men to handle the Bible effectively and be good expositors. That is good and essential. But we don't just need expositors, we need expository preachers.