Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas and New Year in Exile

Here's wishing all my readers (the statcounter assures me that there is at least one) a very happy and blessed Christmas and New Year! Thanks for dropping by during the last twelve months and for all your comments and e-mails.
After a break for the Christmas period, I'll be back with Series 3 of the Blogging in the name of the Lord interviews (Series 1 & 2). I'm inviting another seven top blogging theologians and preachers to grace the hot seat. Also, on Monday 7th January, I hope to publish an interview with David Gibson, co-editor with Daniel Strange of the forthcoming book, Engaging with Barth. So, make a new year's resolution to join me in Exile for some blog chat with the customary mix of theology, ministry and banter.
Coming soon....Blogging in the name of the Lord Series 3

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My 2007 Top Ten

2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade

Here's a list of stuff that I've especially enjoyed over the last twelve months:
1. Album: In Rainbows by Radiohead here
2. Biblical Doctrine: The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, An Assessment of the Reformation and the New Perspective on Paul, by Cornelis P. Venema, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006 here
3. Biography: The Man Who Went Into the West, The Life of R. S. Thomas, by Byron Rogers, Aurum, 2006 here
4. Christian Life: Free of Charge, giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace, by Miroslav Volf, Zondervan, 2005 here
5. Church History: 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers, by N. R. Needham, Grace Publications, 2002 revised edition here
6. Film: Amazing Grace here
7. Historical Theology: John Calvin's Ideas, by Paul Helm, Oxford, 2006 here
8. Popular Theology: The Hand of God, The Comfort of Having a Sovereign God, by Frederick S. Leahy, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006 here
9. Systematic Theology: Always Reforming, Explorations in Systematic Theology, edited by A. T. B. McGowan, IVP, 2006 here
10. TV: Spooks, Series 6, BBC here

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A David Sky Christmas Story

"Oi, oi you!" The Exiled Preacher looked up from the book that had absorbed his attention for the last three and a half hours and wondered at the strange voice. It seemed vaguely familiar, yet at the same time deeply unsettling, like the sound of haunted dreams. The preacher scanned the assorted bookshelves in his study, trying to find out where the sound was coming from. Suddenly a terrifying sight appeared before him. It was David Sky, Exiled's old pet monkey. The monkey had been banished to a dark corner of the room where only books by Karl Barth and Tom Wright are stored. But now, there was David Sky, bold as a brass monkey, sitting before Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermons on Romans.

"Oi, you" repeated Sky, "haven't I been punished enough? After all it's Christmas time, a season of love and forgiveness. In that book you were reading by Miroslav Volf, it said that it's your Christian duty to offer people unconditional forgiveness whether they repent or not. Well, I haven't repented, so you have to forgive me!" Exiled Preacher sighed a very deep sigh. "But you are not a person, you are a stuffed monkey that came free with a box of tea bags. You have ruined my credibility as a serious blogger with your silly Sky's the Limit antics. Some people think that I'm really behind all that nonsense. I let you go to school with my daughter and you go and bite some kid. You are a wild animal and you don't deserve to be forgiven." David Sky thought long and hard before replying, "Look, so what. I'm fed up being consigned to the naughty corner. I need light and air. Just cut me a deal and and forgive me. It'll give you a warm spiritual glow. The experience could even make a good sermon illustration or at lest a half-decent children's talk. C'mon, you know it makes sense."

Exiled Preacher sighed again. Forgiving the creature would not be easy, but as Volf said.... "OK then, I'll forgive you. But to receive my forgiveness, you'll have to repent." David Sky shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, I repent. Sorry, whatever. From now on I'll be a proper little angel." This got the preacher's mind working. "He wants light and air and he 's promised to be a little angel. I've got just the job for him this Christmas time....."

"Hey get me down!" Shouted David Sky. "I thought that monkeys liked climbing trees." Exiled quipped. Sky replied, "Yes, but I don't like heights - I'm a stuffed monkey." "You are now." Said the preacher gleefully, "Happy Christmas my little friend. Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Foundations Autumn 2007

Foundations: a journal of evangelical theology, 58, Autumn 2007, Affinity
In his editorial note, Kenneth Brownell tells us that this is his last issue as editor. I don't know at this stage who will be taking over the role. But thanks is due to Ken Brownell for his labours in editing Foundations over the years. I always look forward to receiving the journal every spring and autumn and this issue does not disappoint. It's a shame, as the outgoing editor reveals, that he has sometimes struggled to find articles of sufficient quality for this, the foremost theological journal for independent evangelical churches. Brownell contributes a useful Church History Literature Survey to this edition.
Robert Strivens, Principal elect of the London Theological Seminary has an article on The Evangelistic Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He comments that for "the Doctor", preaching was the primary means of evangelism. Many people tend to think that Lloyd-Jones was mainly a Bible teacher, with his famous expositions of Romans and Ephesians. But while at Westminster Chapel, he invariably preached evangelistically on Sunday evenings. These meetings were Lloyd-Jones' equivalent of a weekly evangelistic campaign. Church members brought their non-believing friends along to hear the gospel preached and many were converted. Lloyd-Jones worked hard to engage non-believers in his sermons, but not at the expense of gospel truth. He believed than the non-Christian must be brought to a sense of their sin in the presence of a holy God before he or she will cry out to the Lord for salvation. Strivens recognises the value of personal witness and Christianity Explored courses, but he argues passionately for a return to evangelistic preaching as the New Testament sanctioned method of outreach. This may not mean preaching evangelistically every Sunday evening as "the Doctor" did, but we need to remember that it is through the foolishness of preaching that God is pleased to save those who believe. We may no doubt feel totally inadequate for such a task. But this in itself should drive us to our knees to seek the blessing of the Spirit on the preaching of the gospel so that sinners are brought to salvation in Christ.
Dr Anthony McRoy is a lecturer on Islamic Studies at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, he writes on Faith of Constantine - Pagan Conspirator or Christian Emperor. His main goal is to refute a conspiracy theory perpetrated by Dan Brown in The Da vinci Code and Islamic apologists. It is suggested that Constantine was in point of fact a pagan who affected Christianity in order to corrupt the faith with pagan influences. The Council of Nicea, where the doctrine of the Trinity was defended and clarified is often cited as an example of Constantine's paganising policy. McRoy responds by setting out the evidence that Constantine was regarded as a Christian by other believers, by pagans and that he thought of himself as a follower of Jesus. When Constantine relocated from Rome to Constantinople, the city bore a distinctly Christian flavour in its architecture and public policy. All this is not to say that Constantine's conduct would be entirely acceptable to contemporary evangelical churches. But the evidence from all sides shows that he was far from being a underhanded pagan conspirator. As McRoy points out, whether it was right for the Church to get so close to the State under Constantine is a different matter altogether.
Evangelicals are often guilty of neglecting the riches of church history in the name of holding to the Bible alone. But Dr Nick Needham regards this as a serious failing. In his piece on Learning From Tradition, he argues that we need church historical consciousness to deliver us from narrow provincialism. Engaging with Christian tradition will broaden our perspective on the whole counsel of God. Evangelicals often tend to overlook the history of the early church and the middle ages. That is to our detriment, because the early church was especially preoccupied with the central question of Jesus' identity as God and man. In today's world, we cannot simply tell people to "come to Jesus", unless we explain to them who Jesus is. It is here that the great creeds and confessions of the early church can be of such help to us in our present situation. The Reformers did not reject church tradition altogether. They valued the Ecumenical Councils and the teaching of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux and others. These men did not accept tradition uncritically as was the tendency in the Roman Catholic church. But neither did they adopt the position of the Anabaptists who renounced tradition to read the Bible without the guidance of the church. One such Radical Reformer wrote scathingly of Ambrose and Augustine as "apostles of Antichrist". Sadly, Sebastian Frank developed a Modalist view of the Trinity and a Gnostic understanding of the incarnation. Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I wonder whether the contemporary evangelical attitude towards tradition is more Anabaptist than Reformed. Today's evangelicals need to learn to value the wisdom of the past. As we do, we will be saved from many errors and have our theology enriched by engaging in the historical expression of the communion of the saints. Nick Needham has done some stirling work in making church history accessible with his ongoing series, 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers (2002 revised edition), Part Two: The Middle Ages (2000), Part Three Renaissance and Reformation (2004), Grace Publications.
The prodigious Dr Needham also contributes an in-depth review of Robert Letham's Though Western Eyes- Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective, Mentor Books, 2007. Letham has written appreciatively, yet not uncritically of Orthodox theology and spirituality. This book is certainly on my 2008 reading list.
I really enjoyed reading these stimulating articles and reviews. See here for subscription details.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The incarnate Christ and the identity of God

When God became man in Jesus Christ, he did not become other than himself. The incarnation was an act of self-expression not self-abnegation. The humiliation of the Son was not an artifice for the sake of the economy of redemption. The Son as man discloses the God, who by his very nature stoops to bear the sins of his enemies. We worship no other God than the Father whose Son was born of woman by the Holy Spirit.
"The point is that when we have to do with Jesus Christ we have to do with God. His presence in the world is identical with the existence of the humiliated, obedient, and lowly man, Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, the humiliation, lowliness, and obedience of Christ are essential in our conception of God." (Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, P&R, 2004, p. 397).

Friday, December 14, 2007

A proposal on Spirit empowered preaching

I've been giving this matter a fair bit of thought of late and here is my basic proposal:
The Spirit's empowering presence enables preachers to proclaim the Lord Jesus with boldness, liberty and life-transforming effectiveness. His presence makes preaching an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in all the fullness of his grace and power.
"I am certain, as I have said several times before, that nothing but a return to this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. This makes true preaching, and it is the greatest need of all today - never more so." (D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985, p. 325). I for one long to know more of what it means to preach with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reading list for 2008

Here are some of the books that I'd like to read in the coming year. Several I've already started, some are sitting on my shelves demanding to be read, others are but a distant dream.
A Theology of Lordship: The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God & The Doctrine of God, by John Frame, P&R, 1987 & 2002, here, (got).
The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained, by Philip Eveson, Evangelical Press, 2007, here, (started).
Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protetstant Revoluion, a history from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first, by Alister McGrath, SPCK, 2007, here, (got).
Dogmatics in Outline, by Karl Barth, SCM Press, 2001 edition, here.
Engaging with Barth, edited by David Gibson and Daniel Strange, IVP, January 2008, here.
Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam, by Patrick Sookhdeo, Isaac Publishing, 2007, here, (got).
Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, by John Webster, Cambridge University Press, 2003, here.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, Eerdmans, 1983, here, (ongoing).
John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, by Carl Trueman, Ashgate, 2007, here.
Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution, by Steve Jeffry, Mike Ovey & Andrew Sach, IVP, 2007, here, (started).
Princeton Seminary vol 2 & 2, by David B. Calhoun, Banner of Truth, 1994 & 1996, here, (started).
Reformed Dogmatics volumes 1-3, by Herman Bavinck, Baker Academic, 2003, 2004, 2006, (here).
Spirit Empowered Preaching, by Arturo Azurdia III, Mentor, 2007, here.
Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy, a Reformed Perspective, by Robert Letham, Mentor, 2007 (here).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

John Calvin on pastor power

"Here is the supreme power with which pastors of the Church, by whatever name they are called, should be invested— namely, to dare all boldly for the word of God, compelling all the virtue, glory, wisdom, and rank of the world to yield and obey its majesty; to command all from the highest to the lowest, trusting to its power to build up the house of Christ and overthrow the house of Satan; to feed the sheep and chase away the wolves; to instruct and exhort the docile, to accuse, rebuke, and subdue the rebellious and petulant, to bind and loose; in fine, if need be, to fire and fulminate, but all in the word of God".
(Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 4:8:9 - here).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Some bad Christmas theology

There seems to be some misunderstanding in evangelical circles as to what happened when the Son of God became man at the birth of Jesus Christ. Often these misconceptions can be blamed on poor theology in some of our most cherished Christmas carols.
1) "He laid his glory by"
This line appears in carol after carol. But really? Certainly, Jesus came in appearance as a man. His glory was veiled as he came in the likeness of sinful flesh. But his glory as the Son shone as brightly as ever. What could it conceivably mean that Jesus as the Son of God "laid his glory by"? His glory is the full expression of his godhead. He could not abandon one iota of his glory without ceasing to be God. If he stopped being God at the incarnation, how could be be Immanuel, God with us? Besides, even as the incarnate Word, his glory was not exactly "laid by". Doesn't Scripture say that "the Word became flesh and we beheld his glory" (John 1:14)? If we sing carols that say, "He laid his glory by" let us think in terms of glory veiled, not abandoned.
2) "He left his throne and his kingly crown"
No he didn't. As the Son of God he continued to rule over creation and direct providence. He did not abdicate his role in the Lordship of the Trinity. On the other hand, Scripture tells us that he was born, "the king of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2). Jesus came to take a new, additional crown, rather than abandon one. Because of his enfleshment, holy life and sacrificial death, Jesus has been crowned King of kings and Lord of lords, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" [emphasis added] (Phil 2:8-9). Jesus now exercises the crown rights of the Redeemer as well as Creator. As the world's true Lord and King, he will rescue the creation from the disastrous effects of sin and bring the created order back into subjection to God.
3) "Jesus became a human person"
You won't find that in any carols (thankfully!), but I have sometimes heard it said by well-meaning Christians. But Jesus didn't become a human person. What happened at the incarnation was that the person of the Son took human nature. If we say that the Son (as second person of the Trinity) became a human person, then Jesus is a combination of two persons. In that case, he has two identities and two centres of self-consciousness. But the Jesus revealed in the Gospels is one person; the Son, with a human nature. He may have two levels of consciousness - as the divine Son he knows all things, in his humanity he only knows some things. But in both his divine and human natures, he was conscious of only one personal identity - that of God's well beloved Son.
That's enough bad Christmas theology for now. Here is some good Christmas theology,
Behold the great Creator makes
himself a house of clay,
a robe of virgin flesh he takes
which he will wear for ay.

Hark, hark, the wise eternal Word,
like a weak infant cries!
In form of servant is the Lord,
and God in cradle lies.

This wonder struck the world amazed,
it shook the starry frame;
squadrons of spirits stood and gazed,
then down in troops they came.

Glad shepherds ran to view this sight;
a choir of angels sings,
and eastern sages with delight
adore this King of kings.

Join then all hearts that are not stone,
and all our voices prove,
to celebrate this holy One,
the God of peace and love.
Thomas Pestel (ca. 1586-1660)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Charles Hodge on Word and Spirit

I'm presently working on a paper on Word and Spirit in Preaching. I've been asked to address this subject at a minister's fraternal in the new year. One of my aims will be to show that we need to seek the Spirit's empowering presence in the proclamation of the gospel. I'll be drawing on Vanhoozer's emphasis on the Spirit's role in giving perlocutionary effect to the Word. In my research, I also looked up what Charles Hodge had to say. His treatment of this theme was outstanding.
In his Systematic Theology, Hodge devotes attention to the Word of God as a means of grace. He considers the question, “To what is the Power of the Word to be attributed?” Hodge first discusses the “rationalist” view that the Word is effective because of its own inherent moral power. This is dismissed because,

"The minds of men since the fall are not in a condition to receive the transforming and saving power of the truths of the Bible and therefore it is necessary, in order to render the Word of God an effectual means of salvation, that it should be attended by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit." (ST Vol. III p. 473)

Then Hodge engages with the Lutheran account of the relationship between Word and Spirit. Lutheran theologians taught that the Spirit is indissolubly united to the Word. He gives the Word its divine power and sends it forth among men. The is no variation of the Spirit’s operation in this respect, just as there is no variation of the Spirit’s work in providentially upholding and guiding secondary causes in providence. But the theologian objects,

"This doctrine is inconsistent with the constant representations of the Scriptures, which set forth the Spirit as attending the Word and giving it effect, sometimes more and sometimes less; working with and by the truth as He sees fit. It is inconsistent with the command to pray for the Spirit. Men are not accustomed to pray that God would give fire the power to burn or ice to cool. If the Spirit were always in mystical, indissoluble union with the Word, giving it inherent divine power, there would be no propriety in praying for his influence as the Apostles did, and as the Church in all ages has ever done, and continues to do.

This theory cuts us off from all intercourse with the Spirit and all dependence upon Him as a personal voluntary agent. He never comes; He never goes; He does not act at one time more than at another. He has imbued the Word with divine power, and sent it forth into the world. There his agency ends." (ST Vol. III, p. 482).

Charles Hodge asks,

"What according to the Lutheran theory is meant by being full of the Holy Ghost? or, by the indwelling of the Spirit? or, by the testimony of the Spirit? or, by the demonstration of the Spirit? or, by the unction of the Holy One which teaches all things? or, by the outpouring of the Spirit? In short, the whole Bible, and especially the evangelical history and the epistles of the New Testament, represents the Holy Spirit not as a power imprisoned in the truth, but as a personal, voluntary agent acting with the truth or without it, as He pleases. As such He has ever been regarded by the Church, and has ever exhibited himself in his dealings with the children of God." (ST Vol. III, p. 484).
I wonder if it's the case that many evangelicals, dare I say it particularly evangelical Anglicans, hold to a Lutheran rather than Reformed view of the relationship between Word and Spirit?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A comment on commentaries

Of making many commentaries there is no end
Evangelical publishers seem to be falling over themselves to publish Bible commentaries these days. All kinds of works are available from the scholarly New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Eerdmans) to the mid-range Welwyn Commentaries (Evangelical Press). IVP has at least four series on the go, the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, the Pillar Commentary Series and The Bible Speaks Today. The Banner of Truth Trust has reprinted some classic older works under the imprint, The Geneva Series of Commentaries and also has a popular level Let's Study range. When I was a lad, almost the only commentaries readily available were liberal scholar William Barclay's Daily Study Bible. So, in many ways, it is good that we have a variety of evangelical commentaries on the market. Preachers are often spoilt for choice when it comes to buying two or three commentaries for a series of sermons. (Reading more than two or three for sermon prep just gets confusing, for me anyway). The "ordinary Christian" will find a plethora non-technical studies that will help them get to grips with Scripture. No doubt each commentary has something distinctive to contribute to our understanding of the Bible. But there does seem to be a fair bit of duplication going on. Do we really need so many of the things? On the other hand, a blogger complaining about too much stuff being published -

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Opening up Jonah by Paul Mackrell

Opening up Jonah by Paul Mackrell, Day One Publications, 2007, 103 pp.
Jonah is one of those books of the Bible that we all know from childhood. The main thing that we remember is that the grumpy prophet was swallowed by a big fish. But as Paul Mackrell shows, the book is all about God’s big heart for the lost rather than a ginormous sea creature.

The writer has succeeded in opening up the essential message of this portion of the Word of God. His comments unpack the text with brevity and accuracy. He applies the lessons of the prophecy in a thoughtful and apt way. Mackrell does not hesitate to show us how the book points to “one greater than Jonah” – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Each chapter ends with points for further study and some questions for discussion, making this book ideal for group Bible studies. A brief list of additional resources suggests some other helpful materials on Jonah. If you thought that this “Minor Prophet” was just kid’s stuff, then read this refreshing, popular level commentary.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Evangelicalism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

1. Gospel centred
2. Bible based
3. Historic orthodoxy
4. Mission minded
5. Practical Christianity

The Bad

1. Fragmented
2. Legalistic
3. Faddish
4. Traditionalist
5. Church lite

The Ugly

1. Censorious
2. Hyper-critical
3. Anti-intellectual
4. Culturally disengaged
5. Divisive