Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pierced for our Transgressions, Special Offer

The Biblical Theology Briefings at Beginning with Moses have alerted me that they are able to offer the new IVP title, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Recovering the glory of penal substitution (here) at a special offer price to UK and overseas customers.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Resurrection sovereignty

The other morning, a couple of our neighbourhood "Jehovah's Witnesses" came knocking at my door. We discussed the resurrection of Jesus. The man explained that at his resurrection, the Lord divested himself of his body and became a "spirit person". I pointed out that in Luke's resurrection narrative, Jesus explicitly denies this saying, 'a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.' (Luke 24:39.) The man responded that Jesus seemed to have had a body, but that was just for appearance's sake. So, we can add post-resurrection Doceticism to the list of JW heresies.
It is highly important to realise that Jesus retained his full humanity when he was raised from the dead. Granted, his body was transformed and ultimately glorified, but it was the same body that was nailed to the cross and buried in a tomb. Jesus' resurrection was the pledge of a new creation. The JW's are supposed to be strong on the eschatological future of the earth. But it seems to have escaped them that if Jesus abandoned his body to become 'spirit', then the value of physical creation is undermined. God said of the original creation with Adam at it's head, "It is very good!" Of the renewed creation, headed up by the Last Adam, God might say, "It is very glorious!"
In addition, Christ's Lordship is conditioned by his humanity. As 'Rabbi' Duncan put it, 'The dust of the earth is an integral part of us. The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on High.' Donald Macleod's reflects further,
'The Lord's post-resurrection sovereignty is modified and enriched by all the experiences of his incarnate life. In its pre-resurrection phase the sovereignty had all the advantages of his love, pity and omniscience. It still retains these but now it is enhanced by his involvement in the common lot of men during his earthly ministry. Even for God, the only way to learn compassion is by experience. Today, the memories of Nazareth and Cana, of poverty and pain, of temptation and suffering, of Gethsemane and Calvary, are imprinted indelibly on the Lord's memory and profoundly influence the way he runs his administration. It is as the Lamb who bore the sin of the world that he now sits on the throne (Rev. 5:6). He remembers that we are dust and knows our humanness from the inside. He can say, as he observes us, 'I know exactly how that woman feels!' And because he himself lived on the outer limits of human endurance he can ensure that we shall not be tested above what we are able to bear.'
(From Glory to Golgotha, Christian Focus, 2002, p. 129 for Duncan quote and p. 137-138 for the rest)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The True Image

God's image true, his very form,
took servant's shape, of woman born.
He stooped so low, nailed to a cross,
His visage marred, his beauty lost,
For our transgressions peirced.

As by man came sin and grief,
so by Man came our relief.
Adam's lost and hopeless race
saved by free and priceless grace,
Last Adam cursed for us.

The Son of God in weakness came,
took our flesh, bore our shame.
But by the Holy Spirit's breath
he rose again, defeating death,
the Son of God with power.

Lord of the living and the dead
crowned on high the Church's head.
Rule the world with iron rod
till all that breathe submit to God,
And praise your highest name.

Ten things for Minister's Fraternals

1. Fellowship, a time of communion with God and men.
2. Friendship, pastors sometimes feel isolated, fraternals help us to make friends.
3. Study, we need the stimulus of study to keep us sharp and up-to-date.
4. Discussion, an interchange of views enables us to gird our minds for action.
5. Support for pastors feeling overwhelmed with the problems of ministry.
6. Advice, when faced with tricky situations, it is good to seek the counsel of others.
7. Training, for the practicalities of pastoring like counselling, visiting, exegesis etc.
8. Prayer, if the needs of ministry do not drive us to our knees, nothing will.
9. Worship of the Triune God who called us to be Ministers of the gospel.
10. Food, this is important. Eat, chat and laugh together.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The use and abuse of traditon

Robert W. Oliver
Earlier today I attended a Minister's Fraternal at the Old Baptist Chapel, Bradford on Avon. Robert Oliver spoke to us about The use and abuse of tradition.
He began by reminding us that the Bible itself contains traditions. The Old Testament prophets based their teaching on the traditions of Moses as found in the Pentateuch. A man whose teaching did not match the Mosaic traditions was to be regarded as a false prophet. The apostle Paul urged the Church at Thessalonica to keep the traditions that they had received from him (2 Thess 3:6). The message that Paul preached to the Corinthians was the gospel tradition that they had received from the apostle (1 Cor 15:1ff).
Tradition in this sense is good and Biblical. We must hand down the teaching of the Bible from generation to generation. But there are also unscriptural traditions. Jesus attacked the scribesand Pharisees because they made the word of God of no effect through their traditions (Mk 7:6-13). Paul warned the Clossians to beware of the traditions of men (Col 2:8).
Tradition is abused when traditions contradict or undermine Biblical teaching. The Roman Catholic Church abuses tradition when she makes ancient oral tradition, the teaching of the Fathers and the decrees of the Pope equal to Scripture. Roman doctrines like transubstantiation, the immaculate conception and the infallibility of the Pope are traditional rather than Biblical. Such are "the traditions of men". They are without divine authority.
Does this mean that Evangelicals have no use for tradition? Certainly not. We hold to the inscripturated traditions of the Bible and we recognise that we have a lot to learn from the history of the Church. We are not the first generation of believers to read the Bible. We benefit from learning from the great teachers of the past.
The early Church gave special attention to the question, "Who is Jesus Christ?" After much deliberation and discussion the Nicene creed and definition of Chalcedon were drawn up to set forth the Church's understanding of the Person of Christ. The creeds embody healthy traditions of theological teaching. They set forth an accurate exposition of the Bible's teaching. We do not need to reinvent the Christological wheel in every generation of Church history. As part of the communion of the saints, we may learn from the wisdom of the past.
In the middle ages, theologians like Anselm faced the question, "How does Christ save us?" He developed the view the Christ died to satisfy God's offended honour and justice. More work needed to be done on the atonement, but Anselm can point us in the right direction.
The Reformation gave particular attention to the matter of "How can we be right with God?" The doctrine of justification by faith alone was rediscovered. The Reformers were not right on everything. But we can benefit from their insights into the Biblical doctrine of justification.
Creeds and confessions are helpful because they save us from being individualistic and theologically naive. They must not be placed alongside Scripture, but they are a good guide to accurate Bible teaching. We must not succumb to chronological snobbery that assumes that Evangelicals today do not need to learn from the great teachers of the past. It takes all the saints, including those of the past to enable us to grasp something of the multi-dimensioned love of Christ. In theo-dramatic terms, tradition helps the Church to understand the Biblical script with greater depth and accuracy. It is only as we grasp the script that we can perform it authentically in our day.
The address was followed by a time of discussion where we considered how we may best give our people a right sense of history and tradition. This was a fruitful exchange of views that led to some practical suggestions. We thought about the pros and cons of using Church history to illustrate sermons. Robert Oliver said that he had done some potted church history talks during Sunday evening services. We considered the vale of older commentaries and the writings of past theologians. No one said, "I remember Lloyd-Jones going on about...". But, one frat member confessed that he had come across my blog earlier in the week. Must have done some good.
Robert Oliver was the pastor at The Old Baptist Church. He currently lectures in Church History at the London Theological Seminary and the John Owen Centre. His book on the History of the English Calvinistic Baptists was recently published by the Banner of Truth Trust (review).
The theodramatic bit was my Vanhoozerism, RWO didn't actually say that.

Monday, March 26, 2007

What's the problem with Reformed Christianity in the UK?

In comments on a recent post, Martin Downes raised an important issue. We seem to be pretty adept at exposing the theological errors of others. But we are correspondingly inept at facing our own weaknesses.
I know that some, even many Reformed churches are vibrant and growing. But my impression is that the movement as a whole is inert and moribund. There are a number of matters that we need to face. I don't have all the answers, I'm not necessarily asking all the right questions. I would especially welcome your feedback on this post.
1) Lack of conversions
This is very basic. If people aren't being saved, are we doing the Great Commission? Why is it that we are failing to reach people around us? Are we failing to communicate the gospel in a contemporary way? Why do people find the thought of entering our buildings for services so off putting?
2) Fragmented and fractious
Reformed Christianity had been weakened by unnecessary controversy and strife. Is it not a crying shame that people will go to the barricades over Bible versions and hymn books? This state of affairs does not suggest that we are focused on the main task of proclaiming and embodying the gospel in our day. When believers will leave churches over such matters, is that a sign of principled spiritual maturity?
3) Traditionalism
Have we sometimes failed to distinguish between peripheral traditions and Biblical Christianity? Are we so afraid of innovation and improvisation that we risk being stuck in some kind of time warp?
4) Faddishness
Is it right to go for change for change's sake, however divisive may be the outcome? Are we sometimes too quick to try the latest quick n' easy church growth fad? When that doesn't work we just get disillusioned and give up.
5) Strategic self denial
How many gifted people in their 20's to 50's would be willing to get involved in a small church to help turn things around? I know that there is safety in numbers etc. But small churches often need outside help to get off the ground. Are larger churches thinking strategically in this respect? Are smaller works willing to be helped to grow by believers with fresh ideas?
6) Lack of prayer
Why is it that people do not make the Prayer Meeting a priority, or when they turn up, they don't pray? Have we been driven to our knees by a concern for the glory of God in our age?
7) Powerless preaching
Every Sunday 100's of doctrinally accurate, well structured, interestingly illustrated and well applied sermons are preached. But where is the fruit in terms of the transforming power of the gospel?
8) Revival
I know that some might say that revival would be a panacea. We certainly need one. We should pray urgently and persistently for a powerful outpouring of the Spirit. But we might be surprised at the shape a fresh revival may take. Would we really welcome it? Anyway, evangelism, discipleship and innovation are not the enemies of revival. They are the things that we should be doing now in anticipation of a time of awakening.
Am I asking the right questions? What answers would you give?

Ten things for a wannabe Lloyd-Jones

1. Begin your sermons with "Now, I would like to draw your attention...".
2. Listen to lots of his tapes so you can impersonate his voice accurately.
3. Preach a series on Romans that lasts for 13 years.
4. Fantasize about wearing a Geneva gown in the pulpit.
5. Wear a Geneva gown in the pulipt.
6. Believe that you know what he would have thought about stuff if he were alive today.
7. Always preach for at least 45 minutes to an hour.
8. If you are not Welsh, give up.
9. Let go of your delusions of grandeur.
10. Work through the wannabe Lloyd-Jones phase and just be yourself (whoever that is).

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Lloyd-Jones problem

I'd better say this first: I'm a great admirer of "the Doctor". As a young Christian I read his sermons on Romans with great relish. My theological outlook has been influenced by the ministry and writings of the great preacher. I think that he was right to force Evangelicals to face up to the challenge of the ecumenical movement in 1966. His call for church-based evangelical unity was admirable and prophetic. I share something of his burden for revival.
However, there is a problem. Not perhaps with the man himself, but with the way in which his name and views are used to stifle debate in some circles. Am I the only Reformed minister who feels a little frustrated at conferences and fraternals when the following happens? A man gives an excellent paper. The subject is opened up for discussion. Views fly back and forth and an interesting exhange of views develops. Suddenly someone stands up and says, "I remember that we talked about this at the Westminster Fellowship and the Doctor said...." And that's virtually it. Once the name of Lloyd-Jones has been invoked, debate grinds to a standstill.
Now, I know that Lloyd-Jones was a very wise and gifted minister. We can learn a lot from him. But I think that he would be horrified were he to turn up at some of our meetings. He was a provocative, original and independent thinker, not a man who parroted the view of others. In his sermons on Romans he often disagreed with Calvin, Hodge and Haldene. He refused to hide behind names. We should not be hiding behind his. Today's ministers face new challenges that demand fresh, Biblical thinking. Trotting out "the Doctor said...." just isn't good enough. We need to learn what we can from him and then move on to serve God faithfully in our generation.

Resurrection 20

Jesus dead
hope gone
all lost,
Spice brought
body wrapped
cold tomb,
Sabbath long
feel numb
Jesus gone,
Next day
early morn
heavy stone,
Tomb empty
angels speak
"not here,
Mary cries
man seen
through tears,
Man speaks
voice known
he says,
Don't cling
tell friends
I will,
All afraid
doors locked
Master comes,
Come see
hands, side
people glad,
Man doubts
wants proof
Jesus says,
Man sees
faith kindled
worship offered,
Jesus risen
My Lord
my God,

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ten strange Google referrals

Google referred these searches to Exiled Preacher:

1. awful preacher
2. most sensible preacher in our times
3. preachers that destroy
4. new zealand surfing
5. enterprise abundant blog
6. "thou shalt not listen"
7. has any leader ever been exiled from the US
8. preacher in love with a married woman
9. ways a preacher can fall from God
10. gary brady

Strange eh?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ten books I'd like to read soon

These (mostly theological) books are listed in no particular order, with a little explanatory comment.
1. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology John Frame (here).
Frame is an important Evangelical theologian with whom I'm not really that familiar . This book seems like a good place to start.
2. Collected Later Poems 1988-2000 R. S. Thomas (here).
This will fill a gap in my RST (review of biog) poetry books.
3. God Crucified: Monotheism & New Testament Christology Richard Bauckham (here).
This book takes a fresh at Jesus and the identity of God.
4. T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography Alister McGrath (here).
Torrance is a leading Scottish theologian with Barthian influences. This biog by McGrath, an Evangelical Anglican scholar sounds fascinating.
5. Evangelical Theology Karl Barth (here).
I'm never going to get round to reading his massive Church Dogmatics, but as Barth's theology is commanding fresh attention at the moment, I suppose I'd better get acquainted. I will no doubt find a lot to disagree with, but that experience can be stimulating in itself.
6. Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology ed A.T.B McGowan (here).
I have blogged about my misgivings with the Berkhof/Reymond school of dogmatics. This collection of articles discusses some of the problems and possibilities of Evangelical Systematic Theology. Seems like a timely book.
7. A Faith to Live by Donald Macleod (here).
Macleod is one of my favourite theological writers. He is always fresh, deep and thought-provoking. This book deserves a place on my crowded shelves.
8. First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics Kevin Vanhoozer (here).
Vanhoozer is one of the most exciting of contemporary evangelical theologians. He has done especially fruitful work in the field of Biblical hermeneutics in the postmodern context.
9. The Glory of the Atonement eds Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James III (here).
The cross is currently at the centre of theological controversy. Penal substitution is especially under attack. Here, top evangelical scholars such as D. A. Carson, J. I. Packer and Kevin Vanhoozer survey the cross from Biblical, Theological and Practical perspectives. Another timely and important book.
10. Joshua: No Falling Words Dale Ralph Davies (here)
I started DRD's series of commentaries at the end with the excellent 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury (review). Now I really want to get back to the beginning and catch up with the set.
What titles are on your shopping list?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


If you are in the area.....
Saturday 24th March 6pm
West Lavington Village Hall
"Does alien life exist? - A Christian perspective"
A presentation by top space scientist:
Professor Stuart Burgess of Bristol University
Followed by light refreshments
Free Admission
All Welcome!!!
(Alien sightings not guaranteed)
Getting there: Heading down A360 through West Lavington towards Salisbury, turn left after "Costcutters" into Sandfield. Follow the road into the housing estate. The Hall is to your right.
Event organiser:
Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Contact: See website or "My Profile" on this blog for contact details.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ten things on lists

Papyrus 46 early document with details of NT Canon.
1. Lists are Biblical (Prov 30:15-31) "There are three things and four....".
2. Lists help us to remember stuff - shopping lists and spiritual truths.
3. Liszt is the name of a composer.
4. Lists can be thought provoking , "These six things the Lord hates" (Prov 6:16ff).
5. Lists can save lives as in Schindler's list.
6. The Canon of Scripture is a list of authentic Bible books.
7. Postconservative lists consist of more than dedramatised propositions.
8. Chronicles contains lots of lists of names.
9. CD sleeves contain a list of tracks.
10. The fact that you've read this far down the list proves my point. You love lists.

As the actor said to the preacher

Lawrence Oliver's Hamlet
At our Reformed Minister's Fraternal in Honiton Devon, Fred Serjeant drew our attention to what we can learn from the preaching ministries of G. Calmpbell Morgan (Lloyd-Jones predecessor at Westminster Chapel) and A. W. Tozer. Cambell Morgan said that true preaching has three basic elements - truth, clarity and passion. To illustrate the point about passion in preaching, Campbell Morgan told the story of a conversation between a preacher and a famous actor. The unsuccessful preacher wondered why people thronged to see the actor and hung on his every word. The actor replied that it was because he proclaimed fiction as if it were the truth while the preacher proclaimed the truth as if it was fiction.
Do we believe what we preach? Do we feel and perform the truth in our preaching?
John Bunyan who preached what he "smartingly did feel".
"List, list, O list." Said the ghost of Hamlet's father. For once, this is a proper post rather than a list. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ten things for the Lord's Day

1. Remember - this is the Lord's Day, not yours.
2. Call the Sabbath a delight, not a chore.
3. Have a day off from your regular work and switch off the TV.
4. Go to Church - don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together.
5. Read a good Christian book or magazine.
6. Visit a sick or housebound believer.
7. Invite Christian friends round for tea and fellowship.
8. Spend time relaxing with your family.
9. Reflect that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week.
10. Make the Lord's Day an anticipation of the rest that is laid up for the people of God.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wales 27 England 18

As long as we beat the English we don't care! (With Kelly Jones of Stereophonics)

See BBC Sport for match reports and highlights here. Yessss!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Resurrection history

I'm over half way though Nick Needham's 2000 Years of Christ's Power Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers, Grace Publications, 2002 Revised Edition. Perversely, I started this projected five volume set at Part Two: The Middle Ages, 2000, followed by Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation, 2004 before reading Part One. Needham's aim is to provide an accessible history of the Church that is based on solid and accurate scholarship. Part Four will cover the period from the 17th century to the Enlightenment and and Part Five will bring the story up to date.
The whole series is a delight to read. The great characters of Church history are introduced, their views discussed and samples of their writing given. Needham is a convinced Reformed Baptist who writes with a rare generosity of spirit and fine historical sympathy. All Christians would benefit from reading this wonderful account of the history of the Church.
In Chapter 2 of Part One, we are introduced to "The Jesus Movement". It is here that Needham gives us the theological rationale behind his project:
'So, whichever period of Church history we are studying, it is always worth pausing and reminding ourselves of this: the entire history of the Christian Church is rooted in one central reality - the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If Jesus of Nazareth had not risen, there would be no Church history. The rest of the story told in these pages flows out of the resurrection'. (p. 45) [Author's emphasis].
Indeed, Church history is resurrection history.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ten things for a Christian blogger

This is my 250th post (cue astonished cries of "Wow!" and "Whatever!"). I thought I'd offer you the benefit of my extreme wisdom and experience as a seasoned blog-head. Aren't you just so glad that you dropped by today?
1. Write about stuff that interests you.
2. Be random. Keep things varied.
3. Be regular. Try to do a post a day.
4. If you can't think of anything new to say, just type a quote.
5. Do lists. People like lists.
6. Get out there and comment on other people's blogs.
7. Don't be a stat nut. Of course you want more readers, but try to affect indifference.
8. Recycle. Post some old material; articles, talks etc.
9. Share your reading with book reviews.
10. Do occasional series like interviews or themed items.

Ten things for a Christian mum

A previous "Ten things" focussed on Christian dads. A reader asked for a list for Christian mums. Why John wanted this, I'm not sure. Anyway, I pursuaded my wife, Sarah to enter the stange world of blogdom for a guest post.

1. A passion for the glory of God in family life.
2. A desire to communicate God's word to children.
3. A loving, caring and supportive attitude.
4. Pray with and for the chilren.
5. Be there for the children.
6. Guide the home.
7. Treat the children as individuals.
8. Be firm but fair.
9. Laugh and play with the children.
10. Try to be a role model as a Christian wife and mother.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dedramatising omnipresence?

Earlier this week, I was preparing for a Bible study on Psalm 139. I reflected on God's inescapable presence in vs. 7-10:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
In Leopold, the commentator's opinion, “Never has the pen of man more effectively described the omnipresence of God”. I don't think that many people would argue with that assessment. Our imaginations soar to the heights and plunge to the depths with the psalmist. We find that there is nowhere we can go in all the heights, depths and darkness of creation that is beyond God. The grand and moving poetry of these verses leads us to this assurance: Wherever we are, God is holding us in his hand.
I thought that I would take a peek at what good old Louis Berkhof had to say about God's omnipresence. First, he categorises this as an "incommunicable attribute". Next he places God's immensity under the sub-heading of "The infinity of God". After categorisation, we come to definition:
That perfection of the Divine Being by which he transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with his whole Being.
After some discussion of the relationship between the transcendence and imminence of God in relation to creation, a string of proof texts is given, including Psalm 139:7-10. There are a number of problems with this approach to theology.
1) The classification of attributes.
Is not Berkhof's approach too scholastic? Should we be classifying God's attributes in this way? The distinction between the so-called incommunicable attributes and the communicable is especially problematic. God's mercy is supposed to be a communicable attribute, because it is found in human beings. But his omnipresence is apparently incommunicable, because we are space-bound creatures. But as Donald Macleod points out, if God's mercy is 'infinite, eternal and unchangeable' - this makes mercy an incommunicable attribute. If we remove the omni from omnipresence, then we have "presence" - God is present, we are present. The "incommunibility"of the attribute cannot really be sustained. (Behold your God, Donald Macleod Christian Focus, 1995, p. 239). To his credit, Reymond takes on board Macleod's strictures in his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. This Bible does not resort to the scholastic classification of God's attributes. God is revealed in all the wonderful richness of his Being that we might adore and trust him. I am not saying that Theology must only use the language of Scripture and that technical terms are out of place. But what have "incommunicable attributes" to do with the God who holds us in his hand?
2) Detramatised propositions
Look again at Berkhof's definition of God's omnipresence and then glance at Psalm 139. Maybe the comparison is unfair as we are contrasting prose with poetry. But does any of the meaning and purpose of the Psalm flow into the theologian's definition? All we have is what Kevin Vanhoozer would call a "dedramatised proposition" - a proposition that has been divorced from the drama of Biblical revelation. Theology should not be reduced to "dedramatised propositions" (p. 269). Such a method is reductionistic, failing to recognise that God has spoken in various ways by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). "God communicates to his people, both directly and indirectly, in and through Scripture, but it need not follow from this that communication consists of revealed propositions only." (p. 278). Postconservative theology takes into account the rich unity in diversity of God's communicative action in Scripture. This in no way implies that Biblical propositions are redundant. But propositions should not be privileged over other forms of communication in Scripture. "A 'biblical' theology, therefore, involves more than summarising the propositional content of the Scriptures. It involves acquiring cognitive skills and sensibilities, and hence the ability to see, feel, and taste the world as disclosed in the diverse biblical texts." (p. 285.) A theological discussion of God's omnipresence, then should enable us to see, feel and taste the world of Psalm 139. (Page refs to The Drama of Doctrine see here for review posts).
3) The Psalms are fulfilled in Christ
The omnipresent God of this Psalm is revealed most fully in Christ. God's omnipresence is his Christ-shaped presence. As Man, Christ was subject to the limitations of time and space. He had to walk from Judea to Galilee via Samaria (John 4:1ff). But, he could also heal a nobleman's son from a distance (John 4:46-54). Space was no barrier to the healing power of the Word made flesh. Christ, who departed from his Church at the ascension, nevertheless promised, "Behold! I am with you, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20). He is with us and in us by his Spirit, the other "Helper" who acts as and for Christ in his people. With the Father, Christ makes his home in the life of believers everywhere (John 14:23). This brings a whole new Trinitarian dimension to the omnipresence of God expressed in Psalm 139. He who holds us in his hand also makes us his home.
4) Conclusion
The task of theology is to describe God's omnipresence in a way that captures something of the Bible's wonderful revelation of our ever accessible and always inescapable Triune Lord. We must resist the temptation to dedramatise reductionistically. An account of God's immensity must include the ringing affirmation, "Lo! I am with you always" and lead to us saying, "How precious are your thoughts to me O God!" (Psalm 139:17)

An end to all imperialism

This quote from Donald Macleod ties in very nicely with a couple of earlier posts on imperialism and martyrdom:

Christ went further than merely foregoing recognition and acclaim, however. He became in the fullest and most public sense a servant. He did not sit in the place of honour with those who were being waited on but chose, instead, to stand with those who were doing the waiting (Mark 10:45) and whose service was totally unappreciated. Indeed, men were scandalised both at the kind of service he rendered and at the way he rendered it. He could not even vindicate himself. He was in the right and knew that he was in the right. But he allowed himself to be put in the wrong, to be seen only as condemned, outcast, despised and defeated. Not all suffering involves rejection. Very often the sufferer is upheld by the knowledge that his suffering is acclaimed and appreciated and that although he is hated by his persecutors he is lauded by his peers. For Christ, it was far different. He suffered without admiration and without compassion.
For the church, this means an end to all imperialism. The moments when the word shouts Hosannas and scatters palm-branches in the path of the people of God (John 12:13) are to be rare and exceptional: and dubious. The normal attitude will be hatred, contempt and persecution. When the church finds herself sitting at the top table with the politicians, the academics, the sportsmen and the pop-stars, it is virtually certain that she has abandoned the way of the cross.
From Glory to Golgotha, Christian Focus, 2002, p. 98-99.

Ten things for a Christian dad

1. Make the glory of God the chief end of family life.
2. Pray for your children.
3. Read the Bible to them and help them understand it.
4. Point your children to Christ.
5. Love your children and be patient with them.
6. Be firm when necessary.
7. Be fair always.
8. Be fun quite frequently.
9. Make time to talk and play.
10. By God's grace, try to be a good example as a Christian, husband & father.

Also, see here for some helpful hints on how to raise a Pharisee.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

To die for? Martyrdom and the Christian life

This is a guest post by Michael Jensen. It originally appeared here. Michael, an Australian, is currently working on a D Phil in Oxford on Martyrdom and its meaning for the Self. See his Blogging in the name of the Lord interview here. It strikes me that the development of a theology of martyrdom is an urgent task for the Church in the West.
1. Martyrdom is the external representation of the inner reality of the Christian life. Every Christian is always already a martyr, because every Christian has already died. The life of the follower of Jesus is thus always already a life lived in preparation of the possibility of such a trial. The hatred of the world for Jesus is shared by his followers. They already lay down their lives, and take up their crosses and follow him. They die to the world... Baptism is a symbol of this offering of the old self over to death which is what every Christian does as a testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ. Every Christian, we might say, is already a martyr. That there are some who suffer to the point of pain and death is a glorious sign for us of the reality of this. If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)
2. To be a martyr is to be a witness. Martyrdom can be a powerful form of truth-disclosing action. Christian martyrs bear witness to the love of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Those who stake theological truth claims, then, should not oppress but rather suffer oppression. The witness to the truth is one whose life displays the rightness of the believing, and thus the rightness of the belief. The Christian martyr not only declares but displays what it means to say “Jesus is Lord” or “God is Love”. Indeed, one might go further and say that without martyrs we simply would no longer have the meaning of these propositions.
3. Martyrdom is an imitation of Jesus in his passion and death. The Christian martyr 'performs' Christ's death, as an echo of it. Martyrdom does not of course repeat his work of dying for the world: it takes the form of it so as to point to it. So, the martyr must suffer innocently and willingly.
4. Martyrdom is not a cult of death, for the Christian martyr loves life. The death of the martyr is not a resignation to fate, but truly has a tragic, mournful aspect: for it points to the value of life. You cannot consider laying down one’s life for your friends a sacrifice of any significance if you hold life cheap. There is a “powerful sense of loss” at the heart of Christian martyrdom, because life is hallowed by it in its fullness. Jesus came to give abundant life (John 10:10), after all – an intensification of life. This is important – the structure of resurrection belief is an affirmation of the goodness of the created order, pointing not to its eradication by the coming new order but its transformation.
5. Martyrdom affirms life by renouncing it. The disciple gives up her life and her pleasures and her security to let God do with them what he may... because she sees these things as they truly are...'giving up' something, even your own life, means renouncing your claim to be a master over it.
6. Martyrdom is a sign for us of the ongoing power and effectiveness of the gospel of Jesus in the world. For Luther it is a sign of the presence of the true church! That people are willing to die shows that the gospel really does work to change the lives of people.
7. As Augustine says: 'it is the not the punishment but the cause that makes a martyr'. Dying for a heresy is not martyrdom: it is just stupid. And also, the call of a Christian is not to seek bloody martyrdom, but to witness to Christ whatever the risk. The rest is in God's hands...And so:
8. Martyrdom is an act of God, not of human beings. You can't self-designate as a martyr, or pursue martyrdom for its own sake. No persecution complexes please!
9. Martyrdom is a sign of the distinctively Christian way in which we (ought to) speak. Christians must offer a suffering witness, not a speech of power. We do not pursue a discourse of rights, unless it is on behalf of others.
10. Martyrdom is a sign of the impermanence of earthly power: and it WORKS!It is loyally resistant... because it says 'Nebuchadnezzar, you are validly at rule, but not permanently, and only because you have been established by a higher ruler.' It exposes the folly of human imperialism. It is a great comfort to the oppressed!
11. Martyrdom is not merely a stand of eternal dissidence; it is a witness to the rule of God in Christ. So, it CAN accept peace terms when they come. We don't need to return to the catacombs to be truly Christian, but we must always be at the ready for the time when the tide turns and martyrdom becomes a possibility again. A careful collaboration with the power of the state is possible, but the church must always remember what its particular task is and not betray its nature by getting involved in the business of government.
12. Martyrdom is a sign that the Christian way of being a self is completely at odds with secular way of being a self. Life for the Christian is not about pleasure and security. We renounce both - by which I mean we hand them over to God. We order them according to his designations.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ten things for a new Systematic Theology

1. Thoroughly Trinitarian.
2. Recognises the revelatory authority of Scripture.
3. Arises from Biblical Theology and exegesis of Scripture.
4. Gives due emphasis to important Biblical themes.
5. Shaped by Reformed Confessional Theology
6. Informed by past dogmatic discussion.
7. Contemporary and up-to-date.
8. Articulates the gospel to equip the Church for mission and discipleship.
9. Scholarly yet readable.
10. Doxological - Soli Deo gloria.

Spurgeon on imperialism and the gospel

Following a friendly exchange with Michael Westmorland White in the comments on this post, here is an extract from one of Spurgeon's sermons on Zechariah 4:6. The great Victorian preacher argues that imperialism is no friend of the gospel.
First, let us consider that collected might to represent human armies. The church, we affirm, can neither be preserved nor can its interests be promoted by human armies. We have all thought otherwise in our time, and have foolishly said when a fresh territory was annexed to our empire, "Ah! what a providence that England has annexed Oude,"—or taken to itself some other territory—"Now a door is opened for the Gospel. A Christian power will necessarily encourage Christianity, and seeing that a Christian power is at the head of the Government, it will be likely that the natives will be induced to search into the authenticity of our revelation, and so great results will follow. Who can tell but that, at the point of the British bayonet, the Gospel will be carried, and that, by the edge of the true sword of valiant men, Christ's Gospel will be proclaimed?" I have said so myself; and now I know I am a fool for my pains, and that Christ's church hath been also miserably befooled; for this I will assert, and prove too, that the progress of the arms of a Christian nation is not the progress of Christianity, and that the spread of our empire, so far from being advantageous to the Gospel, I will hold, and this day proclaim, hath been hostile to it.
We will just confine our attention for a moment or two to India. I believe that British rule there, has been useful in many ways. I shall not deny the civilizing influence of European society; or that great things have been done for humanity; but I do assert, and can prove it, that there would have been greater probability of the Gospel spreading in India if it had been let alone, than there has been ever since the domination of Great Britain. Ye thought that when Christians, as ye called them, had the land, they would favor religion. Now I will state a fact which ought to go through the length and breadth of the land; it does not rest on hearsay, I was informed of it a little while ago by a clergyman, upon whose memory the fact is vividly impressed. A Sepoy in a certain regiment was converted to God by a missionary. He proposed to be baptized, and become a Christian. Mark, not a Christian after our way and fashion, as a Baptist, or an Independent or a Methodist; but a Christian according to the fashion of the Episcopalian church established in this realm. He was seen by the chaplain, and was received as a Christian. What think you became of that Sepoy? Let the East India Company blush for ever, he was stripped of his regimentals, dismissed the service and sent home, because he had become a Christian! Ah! we dreamed that if the; had the power they would help us. Alas! the policy of greed cannot easily be made to assist the Kingdom of Christ.
But I have another string to my bow, I believe that the help of Government would have been far worse than its opposition, I do regret that the Company sometimes discourages missionary enterprise; but I believe that, had they encouraged it, it would have been far worse still, for their encouragement would have been the greatest hindrance we could receive. If I had to-morrow to go to India to preach the Gospel, I should pray to God, if such a thing could be, that he would give me a black face and make me like a Hindoo; for otherwise I should feel that when I preached I should be regarded as one of the lords—one of the oppressors it may sometime be added—and I should not expect my congregation to listen to me as a man speaking to men, a brother to brother, a Christian full of love, but they would hear me, and only cavil at me, because even my white face would give me some appearance of superiority. Why in England, our missionaries and our clergymen have assumed a kind of superiority and dignity over the people; they have called themselves clergy, and the people laity; and the result has been that they have weakened their influence. I have thought it right to come amongst my fellow men, and be a man amongst men, just one of themselves, their equal and their friend; and they have rallied around me, and not refused to love me. And I should not expect to be successful in preaching the gospel, unless I might stand and feel that I am a brother, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh. If I cannot stand before them thus, I cannot get at their hearts. Send me, then, to India as one of the dominant ruling race, and you give me a work I cannot accomplish when you tell me to evangelise its inhabitants.
In that day when John Williams fell in Erromanga, ye wept, but it was a more hopeful day for Erromanga than the day when our missionaries in India first landed there. I had rather go to preach to the greatest savages that live, than I would go to preach in the place that is under British rule. Not for the fault of Britain, but simply because I, as a Briton, would be looked upon as one of the superiors, one of the lords, and that would take away much of my power to do good. Now, will you just cast your eye upon the wide world? Did you ever hear of a nation under British rule being converted to God? Mr. Moffat and our great friend Dr. Livingstone have been laboring in Africa with great success, and many have been converted. Did you ever hear of Kaffir tribes protected by England, ever being converted? It is only a people that have been left to themselves, and preached to by men as men, that have been brought to God. For my part, I conceive, that when an enterprise begins in martyrdom, it is none the less likely to succeed, but when conquerors begin to preach the gospel to those they have conquered, it will not succeed, God will teach us that it is not by might. All swords that have ever flashed from scabbards have not aided Christ a single grain. Mahommedans' religion might be sustained by scimitars, but Christians' religion must be sustained by love.
The great crime of war can never promote the religion of peace. The battle, and the garment rolled in blood, are not a fitting prelude to "peace on earth, goodwill to men." And I do firmly hold, that the slaughter of men, that bayonets, and swords, and guns, have never yet been, and never can be, promoters of the gospel. The gospel will proceed without them, but never through them. "Not by might." Now don't be be fooled again, if you hear of the English conquering in China, don't go down on your knees and thank God for it, and say it's such a heavenly thing for the spread of the gospel—it just is not. Experience teaches you that, and if you look upon the map you will find I have stated only the truth, that where our arms have been victorious, the gospel has been hindered rather than not; so that where South Sea Islanders have bowed their knees and cast their idols to the bats, British Hindoos have kept their idols, and where Bechuanas and Bushmen have turned unto the Lord, British Affairs have not been converted, not perhaps because they were British, but because the very fact of the missionary being a Briton, put him above them, and weakened their influence.
Hush thy trump, O war; put away thy gaudy trappings and thy bloodstained drapery, if thou thinkest that the cannon with the cross upon it is really sanctified, and if thou imaginest that thy banner hath become holy, thou dreamest of a lie. God wanteth not thee to help his cause. "It is not by armies, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord."
Preached on Sunday 31st August 1857, Sermon no. 149 (here)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ten things a Pastor needs to be

1. Christian
2. Man of prayer
3. Man of the Word
4. Preacher
5. Evangelist
6. Reader of Theology, Biblical Studies and lots of other stuff
7. Reader of people & good listener
8. Understands the times
9. Self discplined
10. Servant leader

Call to worship

Ben Myres at Faith & Theology recently posted this thought provoking quote:
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ten things to do while singing hymns and Psalms

1. Sing to God, for his glory.
2. Don't sing so loudly that you dominate the congregation.
3. Don't sing so quietly that you can't even hear yourself. Sing, not whisper!
4. Sing the words thoughtfully.
5. Sing triumphant hymns boldly.
6. Sing meditative hymns appropriately, don't sing gleefully about the cross.
7. Be willing to learn new hymns "Sing to the Lord a new song"!
8. Try not be too put off by any modernisations or archaisms in the words.
9. Don't get so carried away with the tune that the words become meaningless.
10. Allow the hymn to stir your mind and fire your heart in worship.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Jam to reform (minus Paul Weller)

After splitting in 1982, original Jam members Rick Buckler (drums) and Bruce Foxton (bass guitar) are to reform for a series of "intimate" gigs followed by the release of a new album. Paul Weller (lead singer, guitarist & song writer), who has had a successful post-Jam career with The Style Council and as a solo artist won't be joining them.
This is a bit like restaging Hamlet without the prince. Weller was the driving force of the band, without him The Jam isn't really The Jam. I believe that Weller regards such reunions as a "sad" exercise in nostalgia and I think he's right. See here for a news report. Do you welcome this reunion? Who would you like to see reform, or not?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ten things to do while preaching

C. H. Spurgeon
1. Announce your text clearly at the beginning of the message so they know what you are talking about.
2. Maintain eye-contact. Look at the congregation, not above, or beyond them, or at the lectern, but at the people.
3. Raise the volume by deepening your pitch. If you raise your pitch to increase volume, you will sound shrill and screamy, which isn't good.
4. Do not drop your voice too much if you want people to hear what you are saying.
5. If you find a new aspect of the message opening up while preaching, take a risk and go with it.
6. Be sensitive to the congregation's reaction to the message and respond appropriately.
7. Don't impose your feelings on the people. Move them with you, but don't dump your emotions on the congregation - it will only alienate them.
8. Don't be stiff and formal - you're a human being - communicate.
9. Stop! You are probably not the next Spurgeon/Lloyd-Jones, so half an hour will usually be enough. You won't get paid overtime, so why go on?
10. Don't take too seriously the comment at the door, "Why did you stop? I could have listened for longer." It really means you finished at exactly the right time!

Some issues in Reformed Dogmatics

I'm not a systematic theologian, you might have noticed. But I would hazard a guess that works of Systematic Theology are often bought by pastors. We need a deep grasp of the 'whole counsel of God' if we are to be effective ministers of the Word. We also need the stimulus of reading the big, wide-ranging Systematic Theologies. So, I am a stakeholder in the world of Reformed Dogmatics and I think that some issues need to be addresses by the theologians.
1) Reformed Dogmatics must be contemporary
Was Robert Reymond's New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nelson, 1998) really that 'New'? He spent pages refuting old-style dispensationalism, but said nothing at all about the New Perspective on Paul. Some of the leading lights in modern Systematic Theology like Robert Jensen, Colin Gunton and T. F. Torrance do not even merit a mention in the index. Pastors need to be kept up-to-date with what is going on in the field of systematic theology and we expect to some help in this area when we invest in a large and expensive volume of Reformed Theology. Robert Letham shows how this can be done in his The Holy Trinity (P&R, 2004), where he discusses the views of Barth, Moltmann and Pannenberg amongst others. Letham also takes on the challenges of postmodernism and Islam as they impact on the doctrine of the Trinity. IVP's multi-volume, multi-author Contours of Christian Theology series is also excellent in this respect, with outstanding contributions from Gerlad Bray on The Doctrine of God (1993), Robert Letham on The Work of Christ (1993), Paul Helm's The Providence of God (1994), Edmund Clowney on The Church (1995), Sinclar Ferguson on The Holy Spirit (1996), Charles Sherlock on The Doctrine of Humanity (1996), Donald Macleod The Person of Christ (1988) and Peter Jensen on The Revelation of God (2002).
Reymond cannot be blamed for not interacting with Vanhoozer as his book was published before the latter published some of his major work. But Reformed Dogmatics must take account of Vanhoozer's critique of some of the traditional methods of doing Systematic Theology. Reformed Theology cannot be reduced to a set of "dedramatised propositions" that do not help the people of God to participate fittingly in the drama of redemption. In his The Drama of Doctrine, (WJK, 2005) Vanhoozer argues that the theologian is to act as a 'dramaturge', whose task is to assist pastor-directors understand the Biblical script. With this deepened understanding pastors can help the people of God to play their roles in a way that is faithful both to the ancient Scriptures and the contemporary setting.
There is no point in Reformed Dogmatics just regurgitating the same old themes in the same old way. Systematic theologians must help pastors to grapple with the challenges of the contemporary world. Reformed theologians have eminently fulfilled this mandate in some of their single-subject works. But its seems to me that we still await a full Systematic Theology that is truly contemporary.
2) Reformed Dogmatics must give due place to the resurrection of Christ
In the traditional schema, attention moves from the cross of Christ straight to the application of redemption as if we could be saved by a dead Jesus. Christ's resurrection hardly gets a mention, let alone the prolonged theological reflection it deserves. Yet it has been exactly 30 years since Richard Gaffin challenged the status quo in his Resurrection and Redemption (P&R, 1977, second edition 1987). Gaffin builds on the insights of Vos and Ridderbos to argue that the resurrection of Christ takes centre stage in Paul's theology. Reformed theology claims to be Pauline theology. This claim cannot be substantiated unless the dogmatic signifigance of Christ's resurrection is given due recognition. Reymond has certainly failed us in this regard.
3) A truly contemporary Systematic Theology please!
Who will rise the to daunting task of producing such a work? Gaffin, Ferguson, Letham, Macleod and Vanhoozer amongst others have the requisite gifts and erudition. Be bold, you men and publish!
Unless a new Reformed Systematic Theology takes the above considerations into account, I'm going on strike. I won't buy it, no way. Do you agree with my strictures, dear reader? And who would you like to see writing a full, up-to-date Reformed Dogmatics?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

2 Kings, The Power and the Fury

2 Kings, The Power and the Fury, Focus on the Bible,
by Dale Ralph Davis, Christian Focus, 2005, 344pp.
I had heard about the commentaries of Dale Ralph Davis on the historical books of the Old Testament from Joshua to 2 Kings and read some appreciative reviews. But it was only recently that I bought and read one of these books. Here is a commentary with a difference. It is written by a scholar who is abreast of all the critical and interpretive problems of the Old Testament historical texts. But unlike many modern commentaries, this work is a joy to read, shot through as it is with deep theological insight, shafts of quirky humour, lively illustrations and timely application. Davis treats 2 Kings as the Word of God where we can expect to encounter the Lord in all his holiness and grace. His comments on 2 Kings 1 leave us with this thought,
"Of course, you can do what you want with this strange story. You can call it a legend; you can aver that it deals with a primitive level of religion; you can claim that it is morally offensive; or you can face the God of whom it speaks."
You can tell that the commentator is a preacher, not simply an academic! We are taken though 2 Kings in all its power and fury. The Prophets and kings, the heartening reformations and the tragic apostasy are all there as Davis brings the narrative to life. He is sensitive to the thread of Messianic promise that runs though the book and that is visible even at some of the bleakest points of Israel and Judah's checkered history. We are left contemplating God's stubborn determination to redeem his people through "Great David's greater Son". This is no "quiet time" devotional study. This is a commentary that provokes, surprises and challenges us with the uncomfortable truth that the living God cannot be tamed or domesticated. We must meet him on his own terms whether in grace or judgement.
I'll certainly be catching up with the earlier volumes in the series.

Ten things to do in a prayer meeting

1. Be there. Make prayer a priority.
2. Pray, out loud or silently.
3. Remember, a brief vocal prayer is better than none at all.
4. Don't hog the meeting with lengthy prayers.
5. Consider a gap in the prayer time a invitation to pray.
6. Pray thankfully.
7. Pray Scripturally.
8. Plead the promises and be expectant.
9. Be Trinitarian - pray to the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
10. Pray for the glory of God.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

William Wilberforce "In our Time"

BBC Radio 4's In our Time with Melvin Bragg devotes a moving and appreciative broadcast to William Wilberforce here.

Letter to Diognetus on the sweet exchange of justification

Here is another example of Patristic teaching on justification by faith alone. We don't know the author, but the letter was written circa 100-150AD (see here).
As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.
From The Letter to Diognetus, chapter 9.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ten ways to encourage a preacher

John Knox

1. Be there! Preachers need congregations.
2. Be an alert and attentive listener.
3. Follow the message in your Bible.
4. Pray for your preacher.
5. Tell him that you are praying for him.
6. Never say, "That was a nice sermon."
7. Say why you were helped or challenged by the message.
8. Make friendly and constructive criticism when necessary.
9. Don't just listen, do it!
10. Never fall asleep.


Here's 5 things I love and 5 things I hate:


1. Company
2. Reading
3. Solitude
4. Music
5. Cycling


1. Lateness
2. Gardening
3. 4 x 4's
4. Custard
5. Car cleaning

What do you love/hate?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Clement of Rome on justification by faith alone

Just to show that the Reformers did not invent justification by faith alone, here is a very old (and perceptive) perspective on Paul (AD 96):
Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognise the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, "Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven." All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Anglo Welsh?

What is Welsh?
The place where I am not?
The land where the womb
emptied me of its contents?
Or is it a feeling, an impulse?

Would Glyn Dwr recognise
me as his own?
Or would defiant souls emerge
from mountain mists,
to kill or capture at the enemies' sound?

The ancient tongue
lies silent in my
recalcitrant mouth
but for cwtch, nos da and
other childhood simplicities.

I could learn Cymraeg,
but it's too late now to
educate thought and voice.
Anyway, who in Wiltshire would listen
or understand my strange new words?

Even RS knew Welsh too late
to turn its syntax, consonants
and vowels into poetry.
But he did try to be as Welsh
as his cut glass English would allow.

Welsh is home, but
home is not where I was,
neither where I am.
My home? One eschatological
day I will know, but not yet.

But Wales is in my double helix.
Its history floods my mind
with sad hope. Its people are
mine as other are not.
Welsh is not a place or
language but the heart's cry.

I am Anglo in speech
but Welsh in heart.

Friday, March 02, 2007

My top ten recent British songs (1990's-now)

I've limited myself to one song per band and exluded bands who've already had their own top 10 ie Coldplay & Paul Weller (here).

10. Monster, Automatic
9. Take me out, Franz Ferdinand
8. North hanging rock, British Sea Power
7. Tumble and fall, Feeder
6. Local boy in a photograph, Stereophonics
5. Let there be love, Oasis
4. Bad dream, Keane
3. Sweet song, Blur
2. Run, Snow Patrol
1. Design for life, The Manic Street Preachers

Is the Reformation Over?

Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Catholicism,
by Mark A. Noll & Carolyn Nystrom, Baker Academic, 2005.

In the last decade, Evangelicals have engaged in unprecedented ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics. They have studied together, discussed their differences and sought to find new avenues of cooperation. The focus of this rapprochement has been the Evangelicals and Catholics Together dialogues, which began in America in 1994. A number of well-respected Evangelicals have been involved in ECT, including Charles Colson, J. I. Packer and Mark Noll.
In this book, Noll and Nystrom seek to trace the developments in both Evangelicalism and Catholicism that made ECT possible. Evangelicals and Catholics once viewed each other with mutual hostility and suspicion. Evangelicals viewed Catholicism as a tyrannical sub-Christian religion headed by the Pope as the great Anti-Christ. Meanwhile, Catholics denounced Evangelicals as uppity, individualistic heretics. But, the last few decades, things have begun to change. Vatican II instigated reforms in Catholicism that led to a renewed interest in Bible reading and lay ministry. The Council also encouraged Roman Catholics to enter into respectful dialogue with people from other Christian traditions. At the same time, Evangelical attitudes were softening. Billy Graham, once a staunch anti-Catholic began to involve Catholics in his evangelistic crusades. Charles Colson and others recognised that Evangelicals and Catholics share common concerns over issues like abortion, euthanasia and the secularisation of American Society.
But has official Catholic doctrine changed enough to make mutual recognition and cooperation possible between Evangelicals and Catholics? Is the Reformation really over? The authors chart the course of high profile ecumenical dialogues between Catholics and Anglicans, the Reformed, Lutherans and others. Some agreements have been reached and misunderstandings have been cleared up. But serious differences remain over the relationship between Scripture and tradition, the meaning of justification by faith alone and the doctrine of the Church. The book examines the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church and finds many things that would delight the heart of Evangelicals such as clear teaching on the Trinity, an orthodox doctrine of Christ and an emphasis on grace as "free and undeserved help". But, this official document leaves unaltered distinctive Catholic doctrines such as apostolic succession, the role of Mary as co-mediatrix, the intercession of the saints and baptismal regeneration. According to the Catechism, justification is received in baptism and is transformatory as well as a forensic declaration. The Pope remains head of the visible Church with the ability of make infallible rulings on Church doctrine and practice.
Although these serious differences remain, ECT I entailed a commitment to joint evangelistic and social mission. It seems that the Catholic representatives were most concerned with Evangelicals stealing their "sheep", especially in South America where tensions between Evangelicals and Catholics run high. Evangelicals are often subjected to persecution in some Catholic dominated South American countries. But is joint evangelistic mission really an option? No doubt there are true believers in the Roman Catholic Church, but much of her official teaching is palpably unscriptural. Is it right for Evangelicals to commit themselves to joint evangelistic mission when there is no real agreement on what constitutes the evangel?
ECT II to IV considered "The Gift of Salvation", "Your Word Is Truth", and "The Communion of the Saints". Common ground was discovered, but real differences remain over justification by faith alone as an exclusively forensic declaration, Scripture and tradition and the doctrine of the Church. The book examines the findings of these various ECT dialogues in some detail. Reactions to ECT from other Evangelicals from hostile to welcoming are treated fairly and objectively.
Is the Reformation over, then? Noll and Nystrom think not. For them, the big dividing issue is the doctrine of the Church. In a way, that is right. Evangelicals cannot accept the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Magisterium or agree that the Church dispenses grace through the sacraments ex opere operato. The Catholic doctrine of the Church affects not only ecclesiology, but the authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone. So long as Evangelicalism is committed to the gospel encapsulating Solas of the Protestant Reformation, we cannot engage in evangelistic cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church. Neither can we stand side by side with Rome in the ecumenical movement, the aim of which is to reunite Christendom with the Catholic Church. As it stands, ECT is in danger of further fragmenting Evangelicalism as leaders openly clash over the venture. Many feel that ECT has conceded far too much ground to Rome. Where should our loyalties lie, with people committed to the Biblical evangel of the Reformation, or with Roman Catholic Church?
It is right to engage in respectful dialogue with Roman Catholics. Where we agree on social issues we should act together as co-belligerents. But we must be clear that some aspects of official Roman Catholic teaching are tantamount to another gospel, which is no gospel at all. The Reformation is not over yet!

Wilberforce the movie - "Amazing Grace"

Starring Welsh actor, Ioan Gruffudd, UK release Friday 23 March 2007.

Richard Bauckham on the "Jesus family tomb"

See here for a scholarly response to the recent claim of the discovery of Jesus' family tomb.