Monday, June 30, 2008

An interview with Philip Eveson

Philip Eveson is Principal Emeritus
of the London Theological Seminary
GD: Hello Philip Henry Eveson, please tell us a little about yourself.
PHE: Hello Guy. It was good to meet up with you, Sarah and the children last Saturday at the LTS End of Year Service [report] and the special service for my retirement as Principal [report].
I was born and brought up in a Welsh village outside Wrexham. My father was a blacksmith and my Welsh-speaking mother had been in domestic service before marriage. They both had become committed Christians and brought me up to attend church 3 times each Sunday and they also prayed with me at home. I was encouraged to learn key verses and chapters from the Bible and to know the essence of the Faith from parts of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. When I was 12 I confessed my need of Jesus Christ and found assurance of salvation. This was a year before my mother died of cancer. What a comfort it was to know that she was safe in Jesus and to find help in my God and Saviour.
Among the subjects studied at school and university I enjoyed History and Music, Classical and New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Philosophy, Biblical Studies and Theology. While at Cambridge the call to be a gospel minister grew stronger and I was ordained 40 years ago after attending the Pastoralia year at the Presbyterian Church of Wales Theological College, Aberystwyth.
My first churches were in Newport (Mon.) and St Mellons, Cardiff. I seceded from the denomination for its departure from the Faith and soon found myself in Margaret Thatcher’s constituency first as vice-principal then principal of the Kensit Memorial College. In 1977 I was made Resident Tutor of the new London Theological Seminary that uses the Kensit premises, becoming its principal in 1997. For 25 years I pastored the church that meets on site and have continued as an elder.
I am married to Jennifer and we have one daughter, Ruth who is married to Andrew. They live in Wrexham the capital of North Wales (!) where we hope to retire. We have three grand-children: Joshua Dafydd (5), Nia Ruth (3) and Hannah Grace (2).

GD: Robert Strivens has been named as your successor as Principal. The plan is that you will work alongside him for a year and then retire from LTS. What are your hopes for the future of the Seminary?
PHE: That it will remain true to its foundations, and that more UK churches, particularly Free Church/Nonconformist gospel churches and prospective students, will appreciate what an excellent course is on offer.

GD: What have you enjoyed most about your work at LTS?
PHE: It has been a privilege living among and interacting with men and their families from all parts of the world. I have enjoyed having my mind sharpened as iron sharpens iron as well as being present in the morning times of worship when I have sometimes been deeply moved by the preaching and prayers of the students. It has also been a joy to visit the churches where former students are now ministering whether in the UK or overseas.

GD: Why should men who aspire to the pastoral ministry consider studying at LTS?
PHE: Because the LTS course is dedicated to this one aim of preparing gospel preachers and pastors. The classroom consists only of men having this desire and the lecturers are all gospel preachers with experience in pastoral situations. All the lecturers are men of ability, experts in their subjects but with pastoral hearts and who have particular experience with the British Evangelical Nonconformist Church scene as well as wider mission interests both at home and overseas.
What better place to study Bible background with the British Museum down the road displaying almost more of the biblical environment than in the Middle East itself and with Clive Anderson as your guide what more could you desire! What better centre for the study of English Reformation history and theology, the Puritans and the 18th century Evangelical Awakening than the historic sites of London and the Nonconformist cemetery at Bunhill Fields where John Owen and other famous men are buried just opposite Wesley Memorial Chapel and Museum!

GD: OK, you don't have to convince me, I've already studied at LTS [1988-90]. Now, why doesn't the Seminary award degrees?
PHE: It is true that evangelical colleges have enormous latitude these days in the content of their courses leading to degrees in biblical studies and theology that are recognised by the State. This was not the case when the LTS started. However, with the best will in the world it is not always possible to fit into the curriculum all that is essential for gospel ministry.

Not being bound by a pre-arranged timetable and syllabus enables the LTS to engage with contemporary issues as they appear as well as enabling each student to possess a good grounding in all the theological disciplines. Degree courses normally involve students picking and choosing modules according to their likes and dislikes. Not so at LTS, the bitter and the sweet must be tasted, chewed and digested!

GD: But you would not be against Ministers studying for theology degrees per se? After all, you have three yourself. You were also involved in setting up the John Owen Centre, which awards the ThM from Westminster Theological Seminary. What is the vision behind the John Owen Centre?
PHE: No, we are not against theological degrees. Lloyd-Jones made that clear in his inaugural address. With regard to the LTS course he said that we were not out to produce experts or specialists but to prepare men who will be preaching to ordinary people Sunday by Sunday. He went on to say this however: ‘Should a student appear who has a greater aptitude for study than the average, and who feels that he would like to go on to obtain further knowledge…and to become a specialist in some branch or other, he will be of course, at full liberty to do so.’ To use his medical illustration, the LTS course was set up to prepare general practitioners not specialists.
The John Owen Centre, on the other hand, was set up by the LTS Board as a separate institution to promote theological thinking that is biblically faithful, spiritual vital, intellectually robust and practically relevant. It seeks to promote evangelical scholarship of excellence for the good of the church in the 21st century. One of the chief aims of the Centre is to provide and encourage the specialists and teachers of theology, particularly for the evangelical nonconformist churches of the future.
The new principal of LTS, Robert Strivens, is a product of this vision. He is not only a graduate of LTS but was awarded the Westminster ThM through his studies at the John Owen Centre.

GD: I interviewed Robert Strivens earlier this year. It's good that an LTS trained man will be leading the Seminary. Right, who had the greatest influence on your theological development?
PHE: First my Dad for laying good foundations, then John Calvin (I was given his Institutes for my 21st birthday by the young people of the church I attended) and finally Gresham Machen (I found his works in the theological library at Aberystwyth and wished I had seen them earlier).

GD: From whom have you learned most of what it means to preach the Word of God?
PHE: Again three men have greatly influenced me in this area. First, Rev. D.O. Calvin Thomas the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Wrexham, under whose ministry my father and mother were converted. I grew up under this man’s powerful preaching. Second, the godly and convicting preaching of Rev J. Glyn Owen who succeeded him (He was greatly used in the early days of the Evangelical Movement of Wales. He later went to Belfast then Westminster Chapel after Lloyd-Jones and finally Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto. He and his wife still live in Canada. He was for many years President of the European Missionary Fellowship). Third, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose ‘logic on fire’ preaching gripped me as a youngster when he came on his biennial visits to Wrexham.

GD: No doubt due to the influence of Lloyd-Jones, the Seminary has always emphasised the need for preachers to seek the empowering presence of the Spirit. How would you describe the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to preaching?
PHE: From the ministry of Jesus and the apostles we notice how important the Holy Spirit was both in relation to themselves as preachers and among those who heard. After his baptism Jesus was full of the Spirit and began preaching and teaching in the power of the Spirit. He quoted Is.61:1 and applied it to himself (see Lk.4:1,14-21). The Spirit anointed him to preach the gospel and masses of people were impressed by the gracious words that fell from his lips. They were amazed at his teaching for he spoke with authority. Others were filled with rage and hated him and his message (Lk.4:22-32).
What was true of Jesus was true also of the early gospel preachers. The apostles as a result of Pentecost received a supernatural anointing to be Christ’s witnesses. They were given heaven-sent boldness and preached with unusual power and authority (Acts 1:8;4:8,31,33). Again there were negative and positive responses from those who listened. But now the power of the Spirit so acted upon the preaching in those who heard that thousands were not only impressed but also converted.
The gospel preached is very important but we also need to pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the preacher and the hearers. If Paul asked for prayer to speak the gospel boldly how much more do we need to pray for preachers today to know a similar anointing (Eph.6:19-20). Paul knew what he needed for he could testify how he preached the gospel with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Cor.2:4-4; 1 Thess.1:5). We are also encouraged by Jesus to pray for this heavenly gift (Lk.11:13).

GD: How would you define the biblical concept of revival, and what can we do to promote such a work?
PHE: The Holy Spirit came ‘in state’ at Pentecost (to use the Puritan Thomas Goodwin’s expression) so that we now live in the era of the Spirit. That unrepeatable event does have elements in it that are repeatable as we see from Acts 4:31. These include the four ‘greats’ that Luke gives us: ‘great power’ in preaching, ‘great grace’ in that God’s gracious activity was powerfully at work in the church, ‘great fear’ both within and outside the church at God’s awesome judgements and ‘great joy’ experienced at the blessings received through God’s servants (see Acts 4:33;5:11;8:8).
Iain Murray, in his book Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, helpfully draws a distinction between the Spirit’s more ‘normal’ work since Pentecost and the ‘extraordinary’. He defines revival as a heightening of the normal. Revival is a ‘larger giving of the Spirit’ and it results in a greater degree of life in the churches and many unbelievers are converted and added to the churches.
We can ask God to burden our hearts that we might have that spirit of supplication. Revival has more often than not come about through the earnest prayers of God’s people. We have biblical support for this. The unique coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was in the context of a people united in communal prayer (Acts 1:14;2:1). That was special in that they were specifically commanded to wait for the promise. But later in Acts 4 we are told that after they had prayed they were all again filled with the Holy Spirit. Such praying is by Christians who have an on-going ever deepening relationship with the Lord, are actively living the life of faith, obediently serving the Lord day by day, and concerned for God’s kingdom and honour in a community that hates the gospel of God.

GD: You recently published a friendly, but critical analysis of Moore Theology in Affinity's theological journal, Foundations. What, in a nutshell is your problem with "Moore theology"?
PHE: May I say, first of all, that I admire the work and witness of the people at Moore Anglican College, Sydney and I have benefited enormously from the writings of such men as T.C. Hammond, Broughton Knox, Graeme Goldsworthy and Peter O’Brien. Peter Jenson, when he was principal, was also kind enough to let me loose on his third year theology class.
There are a number of concerns I have and they relate to their particular biblical theology approach and their strong reaction both to Anglo-Catholicism and to the Charismatic Movement that was very noticeable at one time. a) They have this view that because every Christian is in ministry, it is wrong to speak of the gospel minister as having a special call to a special ministry. Because we are all called to be Christians and to be holy there is no such thing as a divine call to be a minister of the word. b) They have also taught that the Spirit and the Word are so wedded that there is no need to pray for the Spirit. c) Because worship is what Christians are to be engaged in everywhere and at all times, they believe that coming together on Sundays is for building one another up in the Faith and not for some special act of worship. Asking for or expecting God’s special presence in such gatherings is not considered necessary and is often seen as a throwback to Old Testament times.

Unless steps are taken to counteract what has been forcefully propagated in articles and books written by people emanating from Moore, it could lead the next generation of evangelicals to possess a very low view of the ministry of the word, which at present they are most keen to support. It could also lead to a very cerebral Christianity. All that we have been saying about revival and of the presence of the Spirit in our preaching, items that men like John Knox, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Simeon both taught and experienced, will be lost leading to spiritual poverty and death.

GD: You wrote an early critique of the so- called "new perspective on Paul", The Great Exchange [available online here]. Many others, such as Cornelis Venema [The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ- see review here] and John Piper [The Future of Justification - available online here] have recently joined the fray. Why should we be so concerned about the new perspective?
PHE: The most eloquent exponent of the new perspective is the bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. Piper’s new book is a particularly helpful response to all that the bishop has written on the subject in the last ten years.
There is much that is commendable in Wright’s works but it is his particular view of what the gospel is and what justification means that is unacceptable. This is why in some respects he is more dangerous than those who clearly deny the Biblical gospel.
If Wright’s gospel is only about the proclamation of Christ’s lordship then how is this message a help to those who by nature are in rebellion against Christ’s rule?
If justification according to Wright is not one of the most important parts of the gospel but about who is a member of God’s covenant community then how is a person put right with God?
If Wright’s view of justification – as a doctrine relating to the church and having nothing to do either with the Protestant emphasis on the imputed righteousness of Christ or the Roman Catholic one which includes imparted righteousness – were to be accepted then the centuries old divide would be over and the Pope would be happy. The implication of Wright’s teaching would make a person’s standing in the church more important than his or her standing before God. The assurance that Christians enjoy in Christ would vanish as their concern would be about their own righteousness at the last judgement rather than trust in Christ’s blood and righteousness alone.

GD: You have written well received commentaries on Genesis and Leviticus (Evangelical Press) and a Lloyd-Jones travel guide (Day One). Are you hoping to write more in the future and if so what might we expect from you pen (or keyboard!)?
PHE: I hope you will see a small booklet out soon on the remarkable revival that took place at the beginning of the last century in a large village near where I was born. I have also been asked to write the Welwyn commentary on the book of Psalms. There are other topics I would like to tackle if I have the time.

GD: Writing a commentary on Psalms will keep you busy! What (aside from writing) do you plan to do in your "retirement"?
PHE: When I came to London I ceased practising the piano and pipe organ. I hope to restart these hobbies along with some gardening. If preaching opportunities come my way I shall count it a privilege to take the gospel to needy parts of North Wales.

GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?
PHE: Bach, Beethoven and Bruch are among my favourite composers. So my top pieces of music would be a Bach choral, a Beethoven symphony and Bruch’s violin concerto.

GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
PHE: Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics recently translated from the Dutch is readable, informative and one of the most superbly rich presentations of the Reformed Faith available today.

GD: I've just taken delivery of the complete set. Great stuff. Now, what in your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
PHE: There is too much emphasis on worldly means to further God’s kingdom. As a result there is little interest in Christian doctrine, an appalling ignorance of the Bible and personal daily communion with God has all but ceased. This may seem very pietistic and old-fashioned. We should respond in the way the New Testament directs, which means back to basics and to the points that we have made earlier. We must earnestly contend for the Faith for we have an enemy who wishes to spoil, twist and destroy. We cannot take anything for granted and old battles have to be re-fought. We need to urge Christians to be alert and prayerful and to be light and salt in their communities. Above all, we must proclaim boldly the whole purpose of God in dependence on God’s Spirit, calling on young and old to repent of their sins and to turn in self-despairing trust to Jesus Christ the only Saviour from the divine wrath that we all deserve.
GD: Well Philip, thanks for dropping by for this conversation. May you and Jenny know the Lord's richest blessing as you continue to serve him.
If you are interested in finding out more about the work of the London Theological Seminary, see here for contact details.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 7

Saturday is my day off. Today we went on a mystery trip to Minehead, Somerset. Had a good time wandering on the beach, clambering on rocks, eating ice cream etc. Read some more of Paul Davies' The Goldilocks Enigma when on coach & train. The chapter on multiverse theory made my head spin. Part of the return journey was by steam train. The pics below were taken on the trip. Yesterday night I received Philip Eveson's interview answers. Hope to edit and post the interview on Monday. You won't want to miss it. This is the last in the current series of blog diary entries.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 6

Do some sermon prep for preaching at Chardsmead Baptist Church, Bridport, Dorset. Old sermons need to be taken out of the freezer and warmed up a bit before being preached again. I plan to speak on John 10 and 1 Peter 1. Finally finished John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, reading the last few appendices. The one on The New Reformed Epistemology especially interesting. Don't know if it's worth doing a review on the blog after all I've said about the book in the Diary. I'll have to see. Read some more of The Divine Spiration of Scripture by McGowan. From some reviews I got the impression that there was nothing good about this book, but the author has some worthwhile things to say in the first three chapters. From what he's said so far, I don't agree with his position in inerrancy. But I hope to do a review when I'm done, so I won't comment any further. Received a phone call from someone who enjoyed my article in Evangelical Times, which was encouraging (see Day 4's entry for details).

After lunch, visit elderly and virtually housebound church member. Soon after I arrive another friend from church pops in, so we have a good time of fellowship, putting the world to rights. I read Psalm 34 and we all prayed around.
I've been doing these posts as I go along rather than write up the diary at the end of the day. Recently, a pastor friend (who spends far too much time on committees!) asked me how I find the time to blog. I posted something on this a while back here. Abraham Piper (son of John "the happy hedonist" Piper) recently argued that all pastors should have a blog here. That's a frightening thought. When I attended the LTS end of years service I was surprised by the number of people who said that they read this stuff. I don't know if it's doing any good, but I enjoy writing and blogging helps me to think things though.
About now (3.50pm) I would usually be preparing for our "Penknap Kid's Club" for approx 5-11 year-olds. The meeting is from 6.00-7.15pm. On average around 14 children attend on a regular basis. I lead the singing (including doing the actions "Wide, wide is the ocean...."). Another member of the team organises various games. We give the children a drink and biscuit and then I do the story (we're doing the life of David at the moment). Following a quiz based on the story we have a craft session led by another member of the team. The children seem to enjoy coming and it is good to have to opportunity to share Bible stories with them. But tonight child evangelists Richard and Joy Blunt & family will be running the club for us, so all we'll have to do is turn up and help out as needed.
Kid's Club went well. A few of our regulars were away, but those who turned up enjoyed themselves. The Blunts are a great team. Very lively and gospel centred. They kept the children engaged from beginning to end. We'll have to use them again. Afterwards I drop Sarah, Jonathan & Rebecca at North Bradley Baptist Chapel for an older children's meeting (11+). It's a joint affair and Sarah is one of the leaders. Every now and again the 'Good New Club' comes over to us at Penknap, which is nice. Last time we had a 'High School Musical' evening. Ben Midgely the NBBC pastor and I had a karaoke sing off and I let him win.
With everybody out apart from Oliver the hamster (who is feeling a lot better, thanks for your concern), I have a quite hour to myself. I this write up and then listen to Viva La Vida, Coldplay's new album, which is really great. I hope to post a review on the blog soon, so watch this space. Well, that's enough jottings for today. Saturday is my day off and we're going on a mystery trip organised by the church sec at Ebenezer Baptist. Should be fun.
* The picture accompanying each diary entry is usually relevant to the day's activities. But I haven't been to outer space today, I just like the image used above. Just in case you were wondering...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 5

Alarm goes off at 6.30. Shower then time of personal prayer and meditation before breakfast. Family worship before children go off to school. Read Psalm 140 and prayed. Start work in the study. After prayer read begin to prepare for Sunday's ministry. I'll be preaching at Chardsmead Baptist Church, Bridport, Dorset. I've known the church for years and I'm looking forward to renewing fellowship. When preaching away I tend to use some golden oldies from the "Exiled Preacher Global Ministries Archive".

I used to hand write my sermons with a fountain pen, but my handwriting would become illegible as I rushed to get my ideas on paper. This caused a bit of a problem when looking over my notes prior to preaching. I often found myself wondering, 'What was I trying to say?' It isn't so bad now as I type my sermons on the PC. My first attempts at sermonising in Word were none too successful. I couldn't type very fast and found myself getting overly interested in how the text looked on the screen - fonts, bold, italics etc. I don't know how I did it, but once I managed to get the text into one long vertical line down the page. I hadn't discovered the joys of edit/undo = "ctrl + z", and had to redo the lot. So, I gave up on word processing my sermons and returned to my trusty fountain pen and A4 ruled paper. Until that is I ran out of ruled A4 and was too indolent to walk up the shop and buy some. I thought this might be a good time to have another go at doing sermons in Word. I'm a little more proficient at word processing these days, so the transition wasn't too bad. It's easier to do re-writes and now I can read my without the "illegibility issue" causing problems.
Having prayerfully decided which sermons to use, I e-mail my Bible readings and hymns to the church sec at Chardsmead and then read a little more of The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame. I'm on to the appendices now. The one on Maxims for Theologians and Apologists gives a helpful summary of the contents of the book and is full of nuggets of good advice like:
13. Do think of theology as "the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life"
27. Do seek holiness as a means to theological maturity. Realise that some theological disputes cannot be resolved until one or all parties achieves greater spiritual maturity.
40. Do not regard your theological system as superior in any way (materially or formally) to Scripture itself. make your emotional attachments and attitudes consistent with this resolution.
54. Do not demand that theology be impersonal or academic.
63. Do not make long lists of maxims because it is difficult for intellectually challenged readers to take them all in. [I made that one up].
I like to have more than one book on the go. I finished Spurgeon's Lectures to my students the other day and I've nearly finished Frame. So, I take The Divine Spiration of Scripture by A. T. B. McGowan (Apollos, 2007) from my "to read" shelf. There has been a lot of controversy over this book, largely because McGowan takes issue with biblical inerrancy. In his introduction, McGrath writes, "one might reasonably expect something of a firestorm directed against any challenge to its [inerrancy] continued usage" (p. 14). He was right. The book has provoked a slew of hostile reviews. I suspect that I'll disagree with what he says. But I want to give him a fair hearing, and I'm only two chapters in. I'll resist the urge to comment until I've read the whole thing.
I was supposed to be attending a lunchtime meeting of local ministers to arrange school assemblies in the area. I arrived at the venue, but no one else was there and I couldn't get hold of anyone to find out what's going on. Strange. I'm the only one not in the ecumenical grouping, Churches Together and begin to think that's it's all a grand conspiracy to freeze me out. But there's probably a better explanation. Have lunch at home and then visit a church member who has been unwell for some weeks. Good time of fellowship and nice cup of tea! Thursday is shopping day in our family, not my favourite pastime, but its got to be done. If "Exiled Preacher Global Ministries" really takes off I'll be able to get someone to do that kind of thing for me so I can concentrate on important things like blogging and mowing the lawn. But I doubt that will ever happen and I would look silly with a permatan, shiny suit and hair transplant. I'll just have to settle for being what Geoff Thomas defined as a "TULIP" = Totally Unappreciated Low Income Pastor.
I'm reading Tolkein's The Hobbit to the children as a bed time story. We've just finished chapter 10. Watch Question Time, a BBC political discussion programme. Evening devotions. Bed

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 4

We have our Prayer Meeting/Bible Study on a Wednesday evening. Tonight we'll be looking at 3 John, which completes a trilogy of studies on John's three letters. The format is discussional, but I still do some prep, studying the letter with the aid of commentaries by John Stott (Tyndale IVP) and David Jackman (Bible Speaks Today IVP). Stott is really outstanding, giving concise and accurate and thought-provoking comment. But before I get down to business, my wife and I have to give Rebecca's hamster, Oliver its daily dose of antibiotics. The poor thing seemed like it was at death's door last Wednesday so we took it to the vet. He has a "wet tail" infection that is potentially fatal. But he has been responding well to treatment. Trying to get him to take his medicine is a bit tricky. We have to feed it to him through a plastic syringe and he wriggles and squirms like crazy while we are trying to dose him up. Ah well, "a righteous man careth for his beast."

That done I work on an outline for the Bible Study, structured around the three people John mentions in his letter, Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. Jot down a series of questions that will hopefully help us engage with the text and its message for us. This takes me more or less until 12.30. This morning an Ebenezer deacon has been doing door-to-door work with evangelist Tim Serjeant. I phoned to see how they got on and was encouraged that they had some promising conversations with people in the West Lavington area. Door-to-door evangelism is a long-term venture and we've been at it for over a year now. One or two people we've contacted have just started to attended services. After phone call, I do some paperwork before lunch.
It's my daughter's school sport's day today so I head off to watch her compete in various events. Running, skipping, discus, javelin, ball dribbling, long jump etc. She did pretty well, coming first or second several times. She may well have won in her group. Get home at 3.30pm. More paper work and some preparation for this evening. Pick up my son from an after-school cricket match. Rush evening meal - fish and chips, and then attend a briefing at Beccy's school regarding a residential school trip in July. Get back and do a bit more prep for Bible study and then head off at just gone 7pm.
Some helpful discussion in the Bible study with an emphasis on supporting mission and avoiding "Diotrephes syndrome" by cultivating the mind of Christ (Philippians 2). Good time of prayer. Home at 9.45pm. July's Evangelical Times has arrived including my article on The Spirit and the Word in preaching. If you don't get ET and would like to see it (as a Word doc.), drop me an e-mail.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 3

We have two children, Jonathan & Rebecca. Jonathan is coming toward the end of his second year of Secondary School. Rebecca is in her last year of Primary School. Today she went to Secondary School for an "Induction Day" where she met her form tutor and attended some lessons. Before the kids set off at 8.00am, we had a time of family worship. I read Psalms 132 & 133 and prayed.
I start my working day with a time of prayer. The longer I go on in ministry the more I realise how entirely dependent we are upon the Lord. "Facing a task unfinished that drives us to our knees." Read another chapter of John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. He adopts a perspectival approach to theology, looking at things from a normative, situational and existential perspective. The norm for theology is Scripture. We do theology in a given situation, using the tools of language and logic. Today's chapter was on The Existential Perspective - The Qualifications of the Theologian. Very thought provoking. Theologians must be personally engaged in their work. Detachment is both impossible and undesirable because all we know we know as individual persons. Theology is personal because it is an attempt to apply the truth of God's self-revelation to people. The knowledge of God is not merely cerebral, it is heart-knowledge. Frame makes the important point that the theologian's character will have an impact on his work. Love, honesty and humility will ensure that the theologian will deal fairly with those with whom he disagrees. Then comes an extended discussion of the place of reason, experience, emotion, the will, skills and intuition in the work of the theologian. Good stuff.
Then I wrote up a report of the London Theological Seminary End of Year Service. I've already done a couple of blog posts on this here and here. But I was asked to produce a 400 word account for the Protestant Truth Magazine. I work part-time for the Protestant Truth Society, which mostly involves taking meetings, preaching and writing.
After lunch visit a church member who has been unwell. She is suffering from bad arthritis and is getting over a bout of bronchitis. She is in a lot of pain. But I find her refusing to complain and rejoicing in God's goodness to her. I has the privilege of baptising this lady a few years ago. This afternoon she spoke of how the Lord have her remarkable freedom from pain on the day of her baptism. I read Psalm 90 and prayed before leaving. I felt humbled and challenged by the grace of God at work in the life of this elderly sister in Christ.
Back home in time for the children to get home from school. Beccy enjoyed her day at "Big School". Read another chapter of Frame. He applies his three perspectives to Method in Apologetics. Phone rings. A consignment of chairs is about to be delivered to the chapel. Can I be there by 4pm? I grab a book and go. As I leave my son asks why do I have a book in my hand. I explain that with a book waiting time is not wasted time. The lorry arrives at 4.30! But in that half hour I was able to get through some of The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies (Penguin, 2007). It's a fascinating book which asks, "Why is the universe just right for life?" The section I read while waiting for the lorry suggested that the chances of the universe being right for life is the statistical equivalent of tossing a coin and getting heads 400 times in a row. Does Davies therefore postulate the existence of a Creator God? I'll have to wait for the chapter on "Intelligent and not so Intelligent Design". Judging from his earlier work, God and the New Physics, Davies does believe in some kind of deity, but his god is not the Lord God of the Bible.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 2

I can't stand admin stuff, but paperwork has been mounting up in the study so I had a good sort out this morning. Also rearranged library to make shelf space Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. The four volumes look so cool and alluring sandwiched between the works of Richard Sibbes and Jonathan Edwards. Read a chapter of John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 'The Situational Perspective - History, Science and Philosophy as Tools of Theology'. I'm enjoying the book, although some of the more philosophical stuff has been a bit of a challenge. Frame always bends over backwards to be fair minded, which is nice. But his arguments sometimes lack clarity and bite.
After lunch, led Christianity Explored at Ebenezer, West Lavington. We're using the DVD version and we've got to Week 5. Short discussional Bible study on Mark 10:17-22, the rich young ruler. Then watched the film in which Rico Tice explained that salvation is by grace alone. A very clear presentation, which led to some more discussion. I pray that every member of the group is beginning to understand that Christianity is about grace, what God has done for us in Christ, not works.
Read some of Spurgeon's Commenting and Commentaries, published with his Lectures to my students by the Banner of Truth Trust. It is well known that Spurgeon did not engage in systematic expository preaching. He preferred to preach one off textual sermons rather than give a series on a Bible book or theme. He gives his reasons for this in the lecture, On the Choice of a Text.
"I have a lively, or rather deadly, recollection of a certain series of discourses on the Hebrews, which made a deep impression on my mind of the most undesirable kind. I wised frequently that the Hebrews had kept the epistle to themselves, for it sadly bored one poor Gentile lad." (p. 106).
He also cites the example of Joseph Caryl, who commenced a gargantuan series on Job with eight hundred hearers and ended up with only eight. Having devoured Lloyd-Jones on Romans and Ephesians in my formative years as a Christian, I disagree with the Spurgeon's estimate of expository preaching. God has given us a Bible comprised of Books, not odd texts. Preaching should reflect the form as well as the content of biblical revelation. But few preachers possess the gifts of "the Doctor". He might have been able to keep thousands enthralled for the thirteen years he spent on Romans (he retired before concluding the series). That does not mean that we could get away with preaching verse by verse through Bible books. At the moment I'm preaching on John on Sunday mornings and 1 Peter in the evenings at Penknap Providence Church.
But Spurgeon's ministry was not altogether devoid of consecutive biblical ministry. As well as his sermon, he would read through Bible Books and then comment on the reading during the service. He commends this practice of "commenting" on Scripture in the second chapter of Commenting and Commentaries, saying,
"Nowadays since expository preaching is not so common as it ought to be, there is the more necessity for our commenting during the time of our reading of the Scriptures. Since topical preaching, hortatory preaching, experimental preaching an d so on - all exceedingly useful in their own way - have almost pushed proper expository preaching out of place, there is the more need that we should, when we read passages of Holy Writ, habitually give running comments upon them." (p. 681).
So, the great textual preacher was a systematic expositor after all. He just separated preaching from expository commenting. Why not join the two and have expository preaching in the mold of the Reformers, Puritans and (bearing in mind our limitations) Lloyd-Jones?
In the evening I attended the local Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Church prayer meeting at Atworth Chapel, Wiltshire. Most FIEC churches in our area were represented. Reports were given detailing encouragements and challenges faced by fellowships large and small, followed by prayer. Got home at 10.30pm.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another week in my life: Day 1

Last year, I turned the blog into a kind of online diary. Some readers, (well at least two) said that they found the exercise helpful, so I thought that I might have another stab at it. Here goes.

After breakfast, prayer and meditation on sermon notes for an hour. Then family worship (I read Psalms 124-127 and prayed). Put Sunday roast (pork) in the oven and leave for church. This morning I preached to Ebenezer Baptist Church on John 7:53-8:11. I didn't really want to say too much on matters of textual criticism, as it was more of an evangelistic message. But felt I had to mention something. We use the New King James version, but if people were following in the NIV, the verses would have been missing or bracketed off as disputed. Pretending that these issues do not exist plays into the hands of conspiracy theorists who claim that the church is not open about textual differences. Leon Morris and Don Carson argue pretty strongly that the verses do not belong in John's Gospel. William Hendricksen suggests that on balance they are authentic, but he is not dogmatic. I'm not entirely sure about the passage. The case against its inclusion seems pretty strong. But all seem to agree that the incident really happened and that we can learn something from it. Anyway, my main points were: 1. A dilemma for Jesus - should the woman taken in adultery be stoned? 2. How Jesus resolved the dilemma - 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone'. 3. Jesus' words to the woman, 'Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more'. I emphasised that we should be careful about judging others - Matthew 7:1ff. Jesus had the right to condemn the adulterous woman but he did not because he came to save not condemn sinners (John 3:17). Although there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1), those who are forgiven are told to go and sin no more.
Paul Oliver, pastor of Bradford-on-Avon Baptist Church and I did a pulpit swap this evening, with him preaching at Ebenezer. Pulpit swaps are a good way of encouraging fellowship between churches. They also give you a sense of the challenges and encouragements that fellow pastors are facing in the congregations they serve. I spoke on Luke 7:36-50. 1. The parable of the two debtors. 2. The principle: those who have been forgiven much will love much. 3 The practice: love for Christ means costly self-giving service 4. The promise: your sins are forgiven, go in peace. Should you wish, you can listen here or download here.
On getting home we had a time of family worship before putting the children to bed. On Sunday evenings we are using Take Care in the Bath by Jim Cromarty, an excellent series of thought provoking stories. Today's installment led to a discussion of how we know that Christianity is the true faith. I read Psalms 127 & 128 and we prayed around.
Read a bit of William Hague's enjoyable William Wilberforce biog. Only two chapters to go. Not too heavy, good for Sunday night reading. Anything more substantial at the end of a Lord's Day would break my brain. Off to bed after own devotions feeling pleasantly tired.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lectures to my Students by C. H. Spurgeon

Lectures to my Students, by C. H. Spurgeon,
Banner of Truth Trust, 2008, 911pp.
All three volumes of Spurgeon’s famous lectures plus Commenting and Commentaries have been included in this book. The preacher originally gave these talks to his students on Friday afternoons at the end of a full week of studies. He deliberately adopted a lively and humorous style to maintain their attention. The lectures are shot through with the ready wit and wisdom of the C. H. Spurgeon. One can imagine his students chuckling as he ridiculed the preacher who proclaimed of the love of God with clenched fists or poked fun at men who spoke in an unnatural “parsonic” voice. But there is also a high seriousness in these addresses. Spurgeon’s aim was to train men to be earnest, soul-winning preachers of the Gospel. He is deeply searching in his treatment of subjects like the minister’s self watch, the call to the ministry, the life of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit in connection with our ministry.

The lectures are packed with good advice on gaining the attention of a congregation, extemporary speech and open air preaching. Spurgeon also devotes a talk to need for ministers to have a ‘blind eye and deaf ear’ so they don’t succumb to pastoral paranoia. His insistence that pastors must strive to become pastor-theologians and that sermons should be packed with sound doctrine is most welcome.
The best material is found in the first two series of lectures, prepared for the press by the man himself. The posthumously published third series is entirely devoted to ‘The Art of Illustration’. The preacher makes some telling points on the need for good sermon illustrations. But on the whole, this series does not match the vitality and vigour of the earlier talks. Several lectures consist of Spurgeon providing example after example of illustrative matter. He quotes older writers, lengthy pieces of doggerel, Aesop’s Fables, and chunks from various ‘Cyclopedias of Illustrations and Anecdotes’. Some of these illustrations may be of use to the contemporary preacher, but many are slightly quaint and old fashioned.

Men thinking about entering the ministry and theological students should read this book. Lay preachers would also benefit from Spurgeon’s counsels. More experienced ministers will find help here too. The chapter on The Minister’s Fainting Fits will be a tonic to many a weary pastor. Those feeling a little stagnant and jaded will be roused to fresh growth and development by The Necessity of Ministerial Progress.

In reviewing what Spurgeon had to say on preaching and the ministry, I feel a bit like a painter and decorator being asked to pass comment on a Rembrandt masterpiece. It has been a tough job, but someone had to do it. The Banner of Truth Trust is to be congratulated on the publication of this handsome reprint. [Reviewed for Protestant Truth magazine].

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

LTS Thanksgiving Service for Philip and Jennifer Eveson

Philip Eveson has now stepped down from the role of Principal of the London Theological Seminary. A special Thanksgiving Service was held to recognise the work of Philip and Jennifer Eveson. Our chairman Irving Steggles emphasised that this was a service of worship. The aim was that God should be glorified in everything that was said and done.

Graham Harrison of Newport spoke on behalf of the faculty with warmth and his customary dry wit. He pointed out that Philip had worked at the Seminary since its inception in 1977, when LTS began to meet in the premises of the Kensit Memorial College. Before that, Mr. Eveson was Principal at Kensit Memorial College, a post he applied for at Mr. Harrison's suggestion. It was Philip Eveson who first spoke to Lloyd-Jones of the possibility of a new seminary being sited at Kensit Memorial College. Graham Harrison cheekily remarked that if Philip had been been a crusty old bachelor, he would of lurched from crisis to crisis. But in God's goodness, he was able to exercise such a long and fruitful ministry at the college due to the constant support of his wife, Jennifer.

David Earl spoke on behalf of the students. He said that with their openness and accessibility, Philip and Jenny had given LTS, a place of learning, a family atmosphere. For years it was the Evesons' custom to have lunch with the students. I often used to sit near them at lunchtime. I well remember the theological discussions and friendly banter at the meal table. A specially produced book, containing remarks by students past and present was presented to Mr. Eveson.

Philip Eveson seemed deeply touched by all this, and in response spoke gratefully of God's kindness to him during his years at the seminary. He expressed satisfaction that in the Lord's providence, an LTS trained man would be suceeding him as Principal. He also paid fitting tribute to his wife for all her help and support.
Geoff Thomas preached on Psalm 92:13-15. The tree pictured in the Psalm is an image of the child of God, who has been...

I. Planted in the house of the Lord

Philip, like Geoff was the child of a christian family. They were prayed for boys who were taught the truths of the gospel from a young age.

II. Flourishes in the courts of our God

Philip was nurtured in the piety of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. He was one of "The Doctor's boys", a generation of men who were steeped in biblical emphases of Calvinistic Methodism. Geoff listed the key characteristics, 1. Christ centeredness. 2. A sense of the seriousness of sin. 3. The importance of holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 4. The inseparability of faith and repentance. Those who believe in Christ also turn from sin. 5. The whole Christ applied to the whole man. Christ the prophet instructs us, Christ the priest saves us by his sacrificial death, Christ the King rules over us. 6. Tensions and struggles with sin in the Christian life. 7. Every Christian should seek full assurance of faith. 8. Those whom God preserves also persevere in godliness.

III. Bears fruit in old age

Geoff spoke of Philip's fruitful ministry at LTS, which would continue through the students he had trained and through his books and writings. The Great Exchange (Day One Publications) had alerted many to the dangers of the new perspective. He had also written with discernment on trends in Evangelical Anglicanism that tend to downplay the work of the Spirit in preaching. Mr. Eveson's commentaries on Genesis and Leviticus (Evangelical Press) will be of lasting value to the church. Philip will serve as Principal Emeritus for one year alongside new Principal Robert Srtivens, before retiring to his beloved Wrexham in North Wales. Geoff promised there would be many opportunities for Philip to preach God's Word in the Principality.

IV. What the tree declares

Geoff brought his message to a close by reflecting on Psalm 92:15

1. The Lord is upright. 2. The Lord is my rock. 3. There is no unrighteousness in the Lord.

The Service closed with the singing of O Spirit of the living God. This was a fittingly God-centred conclusion to our thanksgiving service, that expressed Philip Eveson's loging for an outpouring of the Spirit upon those who preach the gospel.

Monday, June 16, 2008

LTS End of Year Service Report

The London Theological Seminary End of Year Service was a grand occasion. Kensit Memorial Chapel was packed to capacity. The great congregation comprised of members of the faculty, students past and present, members of churches with students at the Seminary, friends from Kensit Evangelical Church and supporters from other local fellowships. The service was ably chaired by the affable chairman of the board, Irving Steggles. We began by singing The God of Abraham praise. The congregation certainly had a lot to thank God for. Nine students graduated this year, some from the UK others from as far afield as Madagascar and the Philippines. Each spoke warmly of the the Lord's help in their studies. Clearly, time spent at the Seminary will have a lasting impact of the lives and ministries of these men. That has been the case for this LTS alumni anyway.
Outgoing Principal, Philip Eveson gave his final end of year report. He emphasised that LTS is a theological seminary not a Bible college. The aim of the Seminary is to train men for the Ministry by grounding them in the various theological disciplines; exegetical, biblical, systematic and pastoral. He welcomed the appointment of his successor, Robert Strivens and expressed the hope that under his leadership LTS would continue to grow and develop.
The preacher was Michael Haykin. In his opening remarks, he testified to the help that he had received from the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, founder of the London Theological Seminary. Like me, Haykin had never heard "the Doctor" in person, but the writings and example of Lloyd-Jones had a huge influence on his life. In beginning his message Haykin quoted the words of Martin Luther,
"I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all."
The preacher argued that the main theme of the Acts of the Apostles is the onward advance of the Word of God. He drew attention to some of Luke's summary statements that bear this out, Acts 6:7. 12:24, 19:20, 28:30-31. Haykin then focused on the example of Apollos in Acts 18:24ff. Apollos was: I. Instructed in the Way of the Lord. II. Taught accurately concerning Jesus. III. Fervent in Spirit. In many ways he was a model gospel preacher. Through the preaching of such men, the Christian message rapidly spread throughout the Roman Empire. Rather than being swayed by the latest trends like the Charismatic movement, or Toronto Blessing, or the Emerging Church, Haykin urged the leaving students to preach the Word. Fads and fashions come and go, but "the word of the Lord endures forever." (1 Peter 1:25).
Appropriately enough, the service closed with the rousing hymn 'We rest on Thee', our Shield and our Defender!, sung as it should be to the tune Finlandia.
After the service we enjoyed a buffet tea on the college lawn. It was good to meet up with some LTS old boys who I had not seen for almost 20 years (I was there from 1988-1990). But the day was not over. Next up came a Thanksgiving Service for the work of Principal, Philip Eveson and his wife Jeniffer. Watch this blog for a report of proceedings.

Friday, June 13, 2008

London Theological Seminary End of Year Service

Later today we'll be off to to London to spend the night at Sarah's parents in Harrow so we can attend the LTS End of Year Service at 2.00pm on Saturday. The speaker will be Michael Haykin. I've really enjoyed some of his books, notably The God Who Draws Near, which is an excellent introduction to biblical spirituality. Michael also graced the "hot seat" for Blogging in the Name of the Lord: Series 2 (see here). So I'm looking forward to hearing him preach God's Word.

One of the highlights of the End of Year Service is listening to the testimonies of the leaving students. That part of the meeting will no doubt take me back to my end of year event in October 1990. Don Carson was the main preacher, speaking on John 1:1-18. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at LTS and found the course hugely profitable in many ways. But at the time, my future was a little uncertain. I was engaged to be married, yet I had no prospect of a call to a church. On top of that, my health was failing due to undiagnosed Addison's Disease. By the time the Doctors found out what was wrong with me later that summer, I was deteriorating rapidly and had to spend some weeks recovering in the Royal Free Hospital. But it wasn't all bad. The Banner of Truth had just published the second volume of Iain Murray's biography of D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Fight of Faith. I was able to read huge chunks of the mammoth 831 page book while languishing on the hospital ward. I may have been unwell, but I was not so poorly as to put me off reading Murray on the Doctor. I was sick, not dead.

We haven't attended the End of Year Service for some time. But we are making the effort this year because Philip Eveson will be retiring as Principal. A special Thanksgiving Service will be held to mark his retirement at 4.30pm. Geoff Thomas will be the speaker. I hope that a good number of LTS old boys will be in attendance. Mr. Eveson has worked at the Seminary since its inception in 1977. Originally he was Resident Tutor, which was the post he held in my day. He was appointed Principal after Hywel Jones left the college in the early 90's. Philip will act as Principal Emeritus for a further academic year, working alongside his successor Robert Strivens. Mr. Eveson was not only my lecturer but also my pastor, as when living in London I joined the membership of Kensit Evangelical Church. He has a rather mischievous sense of humour. He used to tease Sarah and I something rotten when we were courting. Philip preached at my first induction service in Stalbridge, Dorset. He married Sarah and I at Kensit in July 1991. In addition, he conducted the thanksgiving service for our son Jonathan. When I did a theology degree a few years back, he kindly acted as my tutor. Philip Eveson has the mind of a biblical scholar and the heart of Gospel preacher. Thanks, Philip for all your help and encouragement over the years and for being a model pastor-theologian. May the Lord bless you in the next phase of your Christian service.

I'll post a report of the End of Year Service sometime next week. Mr. Eveson has agreed to a blog interview, which I'm hoping to publish soon (well, when he gets round to responding anyway!).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

John Frame on why proof-texting isn't necessarily a bad thing

If there's one thing that most people seem to agree on it's that proof-texting is a bad thing. There must be more to theology than writing up a dollop of Reformed doctrine followed by a long list of "proof texts". Even in systematics, theological proposals should arise from direct engagement with the text of Scripture, not simply be "proven" by a string of references. At its worst proof-texting rides roughshod over the contextual meaning of Scripture. How many times have you laboriously read through a theologian's "proof-texts" only to find yourself asking, "What's that got to do with it?" Frame is not unaware of the downside of proof texting. But he makes the point that,
'after all has been said, theology really cannot do without proof-texts. Any theology that seeks accord with Scripture... has an obligation to show where it gets its scriptural warrant. It may not simply claim to be based on "general scriptural principles", it must show where Scripture teaches the doctrine in question.'
That's true enough. But is proof-texting the best way to go about it? Frame suggests that proof-texting has value as a "useful form of theological shorthand". Theologians should engage in thorough and responsible exegesis of Scripture. But this is not always required. Merely to cite Genesis 1:1 is enough to show that God created the heavens and the earth. As Frame points out, 'Scripture can, and often does speak without the help of the exegete.' He adds the rider that verses should not be quoted out of context. Theologians should have an accurate grasp of the meaning of the texts they cite. So, proof texting in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Frame argues that the Bible itself uses proof-texts, although he does not give any proof-texts to prove his point!
I suppose proof-texting has its uses as a form of theological shorthand. But there can be no substitute for theology that has been enriched by the sustained exegesis of the biblical text. John Murray, Frame's old Professor shows us a more excellent way here.
(Quotes from The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame, P&R, 1987, p. 197).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

22 Dreams by Paul Weller

I have followed Paul Weller's career since I was in my teens. The Jam were my favorite band at that time in my life. Going Underground and Town Called Malice epitomised my sense of disillusionment with Thatcher's Britain. But there was always more to The Jam than agitpop. There was a tender romanticism too, expressed in songs like English Rose and Dreaming of Monday. When The Jam split up, I stuck around for Weller's next phase as leader of the Style Council. Although the band was slated by many Jam fans, some really good songs were produced in that period, such as Long hot summer, Speak like a child and Shout to the top. But for one reason or another I lost interest in what Weller was doing at the end of the Style Council years, as it seems did almost everybody else. Until that is the launch of his solo career, which coincided with the advent of Britopop in the 1990's. The man who inspired the likes of Blur and Oasis was back on form. His third solo album Stanley Road is full of classic Weller songs notably, Changing Man, Porcelain gods, and You do something to me. Thereafter the "modfather" has produced a series of so-so albums with some good songs, but nothing much to write home about.
So, what of 22 Dreams, a double album that takes listeners on a musical journey through the seasons? With 21 tracks and a deluxe edition that comes with a hardback book and an extra CD of "Demos & the Like", it certainly bucks the trend of throwaway downloadable pop. Musically, this is an ambitious piece of work. The thought of hitting 50 must have rejuvenated Weller's longsuffering muse. Each song is quite different. Styles vary from the folk influenced opener Light Nights to the impressionistic piano-led instrumental, Lullaby Fur Kinder. Weller returns to his soul roots in Have you made up your mind? The more rocked-up numbers buzz with energy and life, notably title track, 22 Dreams, Push it along and Noel Gallagher collaboration, Echoes round the sun. The famously grumpy Weller even manages to sound rather joyous when leading the chorus of "Ba da ba da bampa" on The dark pages of September lead.
Weller has been derided as a purveyor of "dad rock" for sad old 30 and 40 somethings (what's wrong with that exactly?). Invisible, one of the slower songs, sees him reflecting on the ageing process. With greying hair, he senses the colour draining from him, making him feel increasingly invisible. At least you've kept your hair, mate! Why walk when you can run? is a touching piece, inspired by the singer seeing his son run along the beach towards the sea while on holiday. As far as this dad is concerned, it is one of the best songs on the album. But not all tracks are to my taste. The foray into electronica on the instrumental 111 does not really work. Weller is no Thom Yorke. Where're Ye Go has a nice interplay of piano and violin but the vocal melody is repetitive and underdeveloped. The spoken word poem, God makes some good points about people only calling on the Almighty when they need him. But Weller's attempt to bargain with God belies the fact that his "God" is not the gracious and loving God of the Gospel. The Christian God freely offers us salvation and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to give us new life and hope. Interestingly, God gets the final credit for "rain, thunder and elements" on the atmospheric closing track Night Lights. This is appropriate enough, given the CD's fixation with the rhythm of the seasons (Genesis 8:22). In all this is an intriguing and enjoyable album from Paul Weller, a mature but still restless changing man. 22 Dreams deserves its current place at the top of the UK album charts.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Commentary on The Letters to the Thessalonians by Gene L. Green

The Pillar New Testament Commentary,
The Letters to the Thessalonians,
by Gene L. Greene, Eerdmans/Apollos, 2002, 400pp.
I've just finished a series of discussional Bible studies on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and this was the most helpful commentary by far. In a masterly introduction, Green brings the political, social and religious history of ancient Thessalonica to life. By Paul's day Thessalonica, a thriving port on the Via Egnatia trade route was doing very well out of the Roman Empire. But in the past, Macedonian kings had a habit of rebelling against Rome. This helps us to see why the city authorities were so alarmed at Paul apparently defying the decree of Cesar by preaching "another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:6-8). The social structure of the city, with its system of patronage is also important for understanding some of the issues that Paul addressed in his letters. Wealthy patrons would support a network of clients in exchange for their political loyalty. Rather than working for a living, clients would simply sponge off their well heeled patrons. The apostle challenged this practice both in his teaching and by reminding the church of his example in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, (1 Thess. 2:1-12, 4:9-12, 2 Thess 3:6-14).
Green has a high respect for the authority of Scripture. He treats Paul's letters to the Thessalonians as the very Word of God. He gives a crisp and clear exposition of the text, making the meaning plain. The commentator is alive to the theological dimensions of Paul's letters. Without being unduly sermonic, he suggests ways in which the text applies to the church today. Interpretive difficulties are faced honestly and fairly with due consideration given to the views of other scholars. Green proposes fresh and to my mind convincing reading reading of the "man of sin" passage in 2 Thessalonians 2. (See an earlier post on this here). Leon Morris' Tyndale New Testament Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (IVP) is succinct and helpful, but slightly dated. John Stott's Bible Speaks Today study on these letters (IVP) is typically well written and applicatory. I've been known to complain about the glut of commentaries on the market but Green makes a real contribution to our understanding of Paul's Thessalonian correspondence. If you are considering a series on the Thessalonian Epistles, get hold of this excellent commentary. You will find it an invaluable aid to accurate and telling exposition of this portion of God's living and enduring Word.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Between Scylla and Charybdis (Part 1)

In Homer's The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus is forced to choose between two monsters poised on opposite sides of the narrow Strait of Messina. Scylla dwelt on a rock. She had six heads and would gobble up any sailors within range. The sea monster Charybdis had a single gaping mouth that sucked in huge quantities of water and belched them out, creating deadly whirlpools. Odysseus had a terrible choice to make. To avoid Charybdis he would have to confront Scylla, knowing that some of his crew would certainly be eaten alive. But to avoid Scylla would mean sailing too close to Charybdis's swirling whirlpool and possibly lose his entire ship. He opted for the lesser of two evils, faced Scylla and only lost a few men. So the saying "Between Scylla and Charybdis" means to face two extreme dangers. Here are some extreme dangers in theology. Unlike Odysseus, we don't have to choose between them, as God has provided a safe passage for us in his Word.
1. Legalism and antinomianism. Strong legalism teaches that salvation is by works or that works make a contribution to our salvation in some way. A weaker form of legalism tends to see the Christian life in terms of keeping a set of rules that are not necessarily biblical. Antinomianism holds that as we are saved by grace, God's commands are irrelevant to Christian believers. Antinominanism is therefore detrimental to the life of holiness. We are saved by grace alone apart from the works of the law. But Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15).
2. Intellectualism and emotionalism. Intellectualism stresses that faith is mainly assent to biblical propositions. But this can lead to a cold, unfeeling approach to the Christian life. "True religion is more than a notion, something must be known and felt." True faith is exercised when the whole person; mind, heart and will trusts in God. Emotionalism virtually disregards biblical truth for the sake of exciting experiences. This can leave the believer at the mercy of fleeting moods and feelings. Christian emotions should arise in response to the truth of God applied to our lives by the Spirit. We must rejoice in the Lord rather than rejoice in the feeling of joy as an end in itself.
3. Pseudo-scholarship and anti-intellectualism. By pseudo-scholarship I mean scholarship that is not subject to the authority of Scripture. The task of Christian scholarship is to engage in serious biblical and theological study. The aim must be to help the church confess the biblical gospel more clearly, not to undermine the teaching of the Bible. Men who claim to acknowledge the authority of Scripture also become pseudo-scholars when their work ceases to be of any real use to the people of God. Anti-intellectualism has little time for biblical scholarship and theological study. But the Bible demands in-depth study if we are to understand and apply its message properly. The work of theologians and biblical scholars is to be treasured by the Church. God uses people with great intellectual ability like the apostle Paul, Augustine and Calvin for the building up of the body of Christ. The hand that works must not despise the eye that sees.
4. Ecumenism and isolationism. The aim of the ecumenical movement is to create one worldwide institutional church. In practice this means that the Protestant and Orthodox Churches would have to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church under the authority of the pope. Ecumenism minimises doctrinal differences for the sake of institutional unity. But the historic disagreements between Evangelical Protestants and the Roman Catholic church concern matters that are essential to the gospel such as justification by faith alone and that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and men, not to mention the supreme authority of Scripture. In the ecumenical movement, serious theological differences are often relativised and regarded as mere matters of emphasis. Consistent Evangelicals cannot allow the biblical gospel to be treated as an "insight" that is no more or less valid than Liberalism or Roman Catholicism. The integrity of the gospel demands that Evangelicals separate themselves from the Ecumenical Movement. But some Evangelicals have gone to the opposite extreme. They become isolationists, moving in ever decreasing circles. Secondary issues like Bible versions or premillenial eschatology are made the basis for fellowship between churches. But the basis for fellowship is the gospel and it is scismatic to separate from other believers over secondary matters. Isolationists show scant regard for the true unity of the visible church for which Christ prayed, John 17:20 & 21.
5. Traditionalism and trendiness. Traditionalists tend to elevate their traditions to the level of Scripture. This is certainly the case with the Roman Catholic Church, but Protestants too can become traditionalists. Some churches demand that preachers pray to God in "Thees and Thous". But such a requirement cannot be justified from Scripture, where human beings and the devil as well as God are addressed (at least in the AV) as "thee" or "thou". Traditionalists almost invariably think that old is better than new. But Scripture, not time is test of truth. A tradition may simply be an old error, while new insights into the meaning of the Bible may be perfectly valid. Traditionalists risk consigning themselves to a cultural black hole by failing to relate the everlasting gospel to the contemporary world. On the other hand, trendies don't have a lot of time for tradition. They appreciate what is new and fresh. But Christians are part of the historic Church and we should value what the Spirit has taught believers in the past. We are not the first generation of Christians to interpret Scripture. The ancient creeds and confessions help us to read the Bible faithfully, avoiding blind alleys. Familiarity with church history helps us to identify when a "new insight" is really no more than a recycled heresy. Trendies can be so obsessed with "relevance" that they may be tempted to downplay aspects of the gospel that are especially problematic in the postmodern world. The exclusive claims of Christ do not seem too appealing to easy going relativists, so we had better not mention John 14:6 or Acts 4:12. The Emerging Church is an example of the triumph of trendiness over faithfulness. Christians are called to be faithful to the historic gospel and meaningfully engaged in the contemporary world.
More extreme dangers coming soon...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Rebellious Praise

"Praise is the great act of rebellion against sin, the great repudiation of our wicked refusal to acknowledge God to be the Lord. In sum, therefore the Church is holy as, day by day, it magnifies God and worships his name, ever world without end." (John Webster, Holiness)