Monday, February 28, 2011

The incarnation and the glory of God

I'm currently working on three talks for this Saturday's "Growing to Serve" meeting at Grace Church, Westerleigh. Here's an excerpt from the middle talk on The Incarnation:

The ultimate purpose of the incarnation was to magnify the glory of God. Some have objected that God having his own glory as the great object of all his works makes him a monstrous egotist. Jonathan Edwards would respond by saying that because God is the greatest of all beings, his glory must be the greatest of all ends. In addition, when bear in mind the doctrine of the Trinity we are reminded that God’s glory-seeking is not selfish narcissism, as each person of the Trinity seeks the glory of the other, John 17:1, 16:13-14. Philippians 2:11. Moreover, as Miroslav Volf has said, God has tied his glory to the good of his human creatures,
God’s glory, which is God’s very being is God’s love, the creative love that confers good upon the beloved. Now the problem of the self-seeking God has disappeared, and the divinity of God’s love is vindicated. In seeking God’s own glory, God merely insists on being towards human beings the God who gives. (Free of Charge, Zondervan, p. 39).
In Christ, God not only gives, he gives himself. The self-emptying of he who was in the form of God in the incarnation of Christ is the supreme disclosure of the heart of God. Here we have God with us as one of us. Bob Letham writes,

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. (The Holy Trinity, P&R, p. 397).
Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, for the mind of Christ is the mind of the stooping and saving God.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fixed and flexibe

The other day I attended the Evangelical Ministers' Fellowship at Bradley Stoke. The speaker was Stephen Clark, Minister of Freeschool Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend and lecturer in Systematic Theology at the London Theological Seminary. His theme was the need to be fixed and flexible. Here are some notes.

When Stephen Green appeared on BBC’s Question Time in 2005 and persisted in answering questions with reference to the Bible, the audience became increasingly hostile. What happened was an indication of a turning against the Christian faith in UK society. How are we to carry out evangelism in this post Christian world?

When Christian guesthouse owners were found guilty of breaking the law for refusing to give a homosexual couple a double room, the judge said that these days, the law will not necessarily reflect Judeo-Christian standards. Times they are a changing. How can we best connect with people for the gospel in this context? Is it via political and social campaigning such as with Christian Voice and the Christian Institute?

What was the approach of the church in the New Testament? In Acts 1:6, Jesus' disciples asked if the kingdom would be restored to Israel in the sense of the theocracy under king David, cf Luke 1:68, 74. Note the disappointed hopes of Jesus’ followers after his death, Luke 24:17, 21. They had expected a political redemption.

Jesus answered the question concerning the restoration of the kingdom in his programmatic statement in Acts 1:8 – the church will be empowered by the Spirit to bear witnesses to Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The narrative structure of Acts is determined by Acts 1:8, concluding with Paul in Rome “preaching the kingdom of God”, Acts 28:30-31. In Acts the kingdom is restored via gathering of the church, the Israel of God. It is a distraction for the church to get hung up on social and politic issues. As citizens Christians may and should get involved in politics and campaign on social issues, but that is not the task of the church per se.

Like the old motto of Youth for Christ we need to be “Anchored to the rock geared to the times.” In other words, we need to be fixed and flexible. But what is flexible and what is fixed? The Emerging Church is flexible where it needs to be fixed. Traditionalists are fixed where they need to be flexible.

1. Fixed: the gospel message never changes

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is a succinct, yet full statement of Paul’s gospel.

A big and glorious gospel. As 2 Corinthians 3 demonstrates, authentic new covenant ministry is more effective than Sinai. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Christ – his person and natures. He is God, but not all of God, 1 Corinthians 12:3-6, the Trinity. Christ died for our sins. The more secular our society, the more superstitious it becomes. Mystical spirituality has little interest in facts. Experience is what matters, but the gospel based on events. Christ died for our sins. What is sin? Relativism speaks of values, not absolutes, but most people believe that paedophilia is absolutely wrong. Some who profess relativism will hold that their favoured cause, such as women’s rights is inviolable. Romans 1 & 2 tells us that man, made in the image of God has an inbuilt sense of right and wrong. Even Hitler raged against those who betrayed him. The transcendent God of biblical revelation guarantees the existence of moral absolutes. Sin is lawlessness, but Christ died for our sins to bring us back to God. His death was an act of penal, substitutionary atonement. The Evangelical Alliance held a debate on Steve Chalke's charge that PSA was tantamount to "cosmic child abuse", but PSA should not be a matter for debate amongst Evangelicals. It is fixed gospel truth. Would we discuss whether murder is right or wrong? According to scriptures. Peter Enns and Andrew McGowan are wrong to question biblical inerrancy and so undermine biblical authority. Raised the third day. The resurrection of Christ changes everything. The risen Jesus is Lord. The gospel demands a believing response, 1 Corinthians 15:1. We must preach with a verdict.

Fixed points:

a) God doesn’t change

God is the Rock, Deuteronomy 32:3-4, he does not change, Malachi 3:6 neither does Jesus, Hebrews 13:8, or the Spirit, Hebrews 9:14.

b) The Word doesn't change

We hold to the faith once delivered to the saints, Jude 3.

c) Human need doesn't change

Romans 5:12ff. The problem of sin and death. Rich and poor, educated and uneducated may catch swine flu. People are different, but are afflicted by the same ailment that needs urgent treatment.

It is not the job of churches to conduct surveys to see what the world wants, but to make disciples. The church must set the agenda, not the world, 1 Corinthians 1:22-23.

d) The gospel method doesn't change

i. Proclamation

The 1st century was a highly visual age – temples, idols etc, but the apostles preached the gospel, Acts 13, 17. Even with modern day technology TV, internet etc. people can still listen. The Reformers preached in a context where people were used to religious imagery. The Puritans preached in the theatre-going age of Shakespeare. Likewise Whitefield preached when stage actors like Garrick were hugely popular.

ii. Practice.

We must practice what we proclaim, Matthew 5:13-16, Colossians 4:5.

iii. Prayer.

Even in churches with large Sunday congregations, relatively few turn up for the midweek Prayer Meeting. Why is this? Are we building work that will last the testing fires of judgement, or will our efforts go up in smoke, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15?

The gospel message that sets the church’s agenda is fixed.

2. The need to be flexible

David “served God in his generation”, Acts 13:36. The context in which we serve is changing. The task of preaching is to build a bridge between the world of the biblical text and the twenty first century.

Knowing the times. These days many are ignorant of the Bible and suspicious of the gospel. We seem like fundamentalists in a relativistic world. Following the utilitarian philosophy of J.S. Mill, the law only forbids what compromises liberty of others. Relativism absolutizes freedom. The rise of Islam in the UK. Immigration has made the Britain a multicultural society. Aggressive atheism – Dawkins and Hawkins. The trivialisation of society - X-Factor etc.

All this presents us with an opportunity to serve god in our time.

The natural man always will reject the gospel, but 1 Corinthians 1:22, there are cultural differences. Presenting symptoms are different, but the disease is the same. Jesus dealt differently with Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria in John 3 and 4. We need to be “all things to all men” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Gospel flexibility. Paul became a Jew to reach the Jews and was "as without law” to the Gentiles. Is our chief concern for British values or the gospel? Our primary identity is in Christ. This gives us the freedom to be flexible in reaching different cultures and people with the gospel. The church is a multi-ethnic community. It may be right to target specific groups in evangelism, but all converts need to be integrated in the church.

Paul preached in a synagogue, lecture hall and at Mars Hill. We also need to be flexible on where we hold our evangelistic meetings. In Acts 13 & 17 we see that Paul was willing to adapt his approach for different audiences.

The apostle had a good look around Athens and noticed the people's religious practices, Acts 17:23. We need to be familiar with the contemporary culture in order to connect with people for the gospel. But we must not be unnecessarily coarse in order to win a hearing. (Mark Driscoll's mistake). We want “stuffy” as well as “cool” people to be saved.

Paul quoted pagan poets as a point of contact, Acts 17:28. Van Til was wrong to suggest that there is no point of contact with the non-Christian.

Let us be fixed in our message – the gospel, and flexible in serving God in our generation, so that by all means we may save some.

Friday, February 18, 2011

AV 400

Earlier today I recorded a reading of the King James Bible's translation of 1 Kings 18:17-39, to be broadcast on BBC Radio Wiltshire on Sunday morning. It is that magnificent passage where Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. Mine was part of a series of Bible readings that will continue through the rest of the year.

Why are BBC Radio Wiltshire doing this? Well, this year marks the 400th anniversary “Authorised” or “King James” version of the Bible, first published in 1611. This certainly wasn’t the first translation of the Bible into English, but it has been one of the most influential. Prior to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, church services were held in Latin and the Bible was only available in a Latin translation. This meant that the Bible was a closed book for ordinary people. However, Reformers such as Martin Luther in Germany and William Tyndale in England wanted to make the treasures of the Bible available to everybody to read. They carefully translated the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into the language of the people.

The “King James” translation of the Bible was very much based on the earlier efforts of William Tyndale. It is called the “King James Version” because King James I of England commissioned this edition of the Bible. The work took around fifty scholars seven years to complete the task of producing a fresh English translation of the Holy Scriptures. Their efforts were worth it. The King James Version soon became the Bible of the English speaking peoples. It opened up the wonders of God’s Word for all to read with its much admired combination of accuracy in translation, clarity of style and literary beauty.

The King James Bible helped make modern English the language that it is today. Boyd Tonkin, The Independent’s literary editor called the King James version of the Bible, “a masterpiece of English prose” and so it is. If you have a long neglected copy of the King James Bible lying around the house, perhaps this might be a good time to dust it off and give it a read. But remember, the Bible is more than a literary classic. It is the best of books with the best of messages, “the holy scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15 KJV).

Written for News & Views, West Lavington parish magazine.

Other resorces:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Joint Statement on civil partnerships in churches

With proposed Government legislation in mind, the following joint statement was recently released. Read it and then write to your MP to express your concerns.

Homosexual marriage and the registration of civil partnerships in churches

Joint Statement by Affinity, The Christian Institute, Christian Concern, Reform and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches

There has been speculation in the press about the Government's proposals for civil partnerships to be registered in places of worship. There has also been speculation, and indeed confusion, over the separate issue of scrapping the definition of marriage in order to allow two people of the same sex to hold a marriage certificate.

Government proposals to allow civil partnerships in churches implement changes made in the 2010 Equality Act. However, there has been no announcement from the Government that it has any plans to introduce full same-sex marriage.

The definition of marriage

The thousands of churches that our organizations represent hold firmly to the clear teaching of the Bible that marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. This is the definition that has long been recognized in English law and, indeed, by almost all cultures for all of human history.

Marriage was ordained by God for the good of all people and is a holy institution. It was also designed to represent something of the relationship between Christ and his church. There are two partners to a marriage because there are two sexes. Marriage is a complementary covenant involving the bringing together of the two sexes not only for the purposes of procreation but also to reflect more fully the image of God.

We are also concerned about the effect of declaring that the institution in which children are raised does not require both a mother and a father.

For all these reasons we, and many others, would firmly oppose any efforts to eradicate the definition of marriage and impose a new definition on everyone in order to satisfy the demands of gay rights groups.

Civil partnerships in churches

We reiterate our long-held opposition to allowing civil partnerships to be registered in churches. It is a breach of undertakings made by Government ministers during debates on the Civil Partnership Bill. Parliament was persuaded to pass that Bill, in part, because it was made clear that civil partnership was a civil rather than a religious institution and would not take place in religious premises.

However, there are a small number of religious groups who are not content with being able to carry out civil partnership blessing ceremonies, as they currently do, but who want the legal registration itself to take place in their premises. In response to the demands of these groups, the Government is embarking on a course of action that is bringing it into conflict with thousands of evangelical churches and the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

In any legislation, churches must be protected against the possibility, now and in the future, of any kind of legal action being brought against churches which conscientiously disagree with civil partnerships.

When it comes to equality legislation, permission often turns rapidly into coercion. In a country where faith-based adoption agencies have been forced to close or cut their religious ties by equality law, where Christian marriage registrars can be dismissed for their religious views on marriage and where Christian B & B owners are forced to pay compensation to same-sex couples, Christians will need a great deal of reassurance that the Government is not about to do something that will make their situation even worse.

Issued on behalf of:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Banner of Truth Leicester Ministers' Conference 2011

Some conferences I attend every now and again, but I always try and make the Banner Ministers' Conference if I can. There is nothing quite like it for preaching that is at its best insightfully expositional, solidly doctrinal and searchingly applicatory. Some of the most powerful preaching I've ever heard has been at Banner; Sinclair Ferguson on Sanctification, Genesis 3:15 and Colossians 3, Ted Donnelly on the Temptation of Christ and Jeremiah. Theology on fire. Historical and biographical subjects are usually done well. Garry Williams' addresses on Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin were outstanding and unforgettable.  I'm looking forward to Phil Arthur's talk on William Tyndale at this year's event. Beyond the excellent teaching it's also good to have fellowship with friends in the ministry and to sample the delights of the discounted Banner bookshop. Scroll down this page for programme details. Note that Iain Murray will be speaking in place of Ted Donnelly, who is still unwell.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Affinity discussions

As I was saying, the Affinity Theological Studies Conference is a proper confer-ence. Meaning that those who attend get to confer together and discuss papers presented in small break-out  groups and in plenary sessions. Cool, eh? The break-out groups comprised of around twelve people.

I once attended a Ministers' conference in the UK where the big shot American speaker did not deign take his meals with the rest of us. Did he think we Brits have disgusting eating habits or something? No such aloofness was allowed at this event. Speakers duly ate with the rest of us and took their place in discussion groups along with everybody else, which is as it should be.

Philip Eveson, retired Principal of the London Theological Seminary chaired our group. Hywel Jones, who gave the final paper on preaching in the power of the Spirit, another former LTS Principal was also a member of "Group 4". But neither man attempted to hog the discussions, which gave mouthy delegates like me a chance to contribute.  We talked about the pros and cons of the papers delivered and tried to work out how to apply what we had learned in church life. For some reason, Philip Eveson got rather fixated on John Frame's point, cited in Dan Strange's paper about the Bible being sufficient for a Christian plumber. Did he mean that there is a distinctly Christian approach to welding pipes and changing washers, or that a Christian plumber will do an honest job? We thought that it was probably the latter.

It was nice to be able to put Hywel Jones on the spot when it came to discussing his paper. What are we seeking when we pray for the power of the Spirit in preaching? Boldness, liberty, life-transforming power. Can we discern the Spirit at work when we feel that we have failed in preaching, but our people are helped? Yes, God is sovereign, but we should nevertheless seek more of the empowering presence of the Spirit in our preaching.

I don't know why, but I felt OK saying my piece in the small group sessions, but didn't feel like piping up in the plenaries. Maybe something to do with my Welsh inferiority complex. Then again, 50% of the speakers and Affinity's new Director, Peter Milsom were Welsh, as were a good number of some of the most vocal contributors at the plenaries. In fact, most of the people I spoke to at the conference were either Welsh, had trained/taught at LTS, or, like me were both Welsh and LTS'ers. 

The plenary sessions were good though, especially the panel discussion when all the speakers took to the stage and fielded questions from the floor. Questions ranged around the application of biblical principles in the contemporary situation, where our people are often confronted with tricky ethical dilemmas. Should a Christian in the military use torture to obtain potentially life saving intelligence? Is there such a thing as "the lesser of two evils" - i.e. telling a lie to prevent someone being murdered? Or will the Lord not put his people in a position where the only option is to sin? What of the Christian guesthouse owners who were found guilty of breaking the law in refusing a bed to a homosexual couple? Were they right to do so? (On this, take a look at Mostyn Roberts' thought provoking post, Changing Times: the Christian in a secular society). Conference chairman Stephen Clark suggested that we need to give fresh attention to biblical ethics, an area where we are weak in comparison to our forebears. It was suggested that the next Affinity Theological Studies Conference (2013) might be given over to this issue.

Theological discussion laced with friendly banter continued at meal times and in coffee fuelled late night conversations. On Wednesday night I was chatting to Mostyn Roberts about the theology of Kevin Vanhoozer, when a chap from a neighbouring table asked if he could join us. It turns out that the brother from Romania is currently engaged in doctoral studies on Vanhoozer's theological method. We had an stimulating conversation on KJV's theodramatic proposals. It was also nice to bump into several people who I've not met before who are regular readers of this blog.

This was my first Affinity Theological Studies Conference and I really enjoyed it. The papers were very helpful and the discussion orientated format worked well. Oh, and unlike one of the speakers, Carl Trueman (where did they get him from?), the lady at the Affinity desk did know my name.

But before wrapping up my reflections on the conference, I feel I should share with readers a couple of important truths that were impressed upon me at the event. 1) Allusions to pop music are likely to be lost on many pastors and  theologians. I found myself having to explain Trueman's mealtime reference to Mark Knopfler. And I can't stand Dire Straits. It was demeaning. For me the 80's were all about Going Underground by The Jam and U2's Joshua Tree, not dire yuppie music. Also, Eminem (whose music I loath even more than Dire Straits) is a rap singer, not a packet of sweets. 2) Wearing chunky-knit jumpers with jeans and brown brogues isn't a good look.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Remember the prisoners

Last Sunday evening we came to the end of a series of sermons on Paul's letter to the Colossians. The imprisoned apostle's concluding greetings to the church included this request, "Remember my chains" (Colossians 4:18). The Epistle to the Hebrews similarly urges us to be mindful of those who have been imprisoned for their faith, Hebrews 13:3. With that in mind I emailed my Member of Parliament to highlight the plight of two Afghani converts from Islam to Christianity, who are currently in jail, facing the death penalty for apostasy.

Here is the letter,
Dear Dr. Murrison

I am writing to ask that you raise with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary the urgent matter of a Christian convert from Islam in Afganistian, Said Musa (45), a father of six. He has been charged with apostasy for converting from Islam and is currently facing the death penalty. Said was imprisoned in May 2010 and has been tortured in an attempt to force him to renounce his Christian faith.

Similarly Shoaib Assadullah (25) has been charged with apostasy and was imprisoned in October last year. His life is at risk if he does not return to Islam.

Afghanistan is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, but in practice its Islamic apostasy laws make it illegal for Afghanis to convert from Islam to other faiths.

Many British troops have lost their lives fighting the Taliban insurgency in support of Mohammed Karzai’s Government. But the current regime has done little to uphold freedom of religion. Please will you ask the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to put pressure on the Afghani authorities to intervene in the cases I have mentioned and to ensure that in the future the people of Afghanistan will be guaranteed the right to follow whichever faith they choose.

Best wishes,

Guy Davies
See the Barnabas Fund website for more information.

My MP replied that he will raise the matter with the Foreign Secretary. Remember the prisoners.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

To Affinity and back again

Dan Strange, Peter Naylor and Hywel Jones
Following on from Part 1 of this report, on the Affinity Theological Studies Conference on, "The Truth Will Set You Free: The Doctrine and Function of Scripture in the 21st Century":

Stephen Clark got down to brass tacks with a paper on The Use of the Bible in the Church. Our authority is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. The Bible is God's clear and present word to the world and the church. Scripture was given for this purpose, "that people may come to know the Living God, who has been revealed supremely in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and then grow in their knowledge of him and their likeness and conformity to him: in Paul’s memorable words, that everyone may be presented mature in Christ (Col. 1:28)." The reading of Holy Scripture is an essential component of the public worship of God. The Bible should ordinarily be read in this context by Ministers of the Word. What the church sings and the language of her prayers should be informed by the Bible. In preaching, Scripture should be expounded accurately and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Preachers should not offer distorted readings of the Bible for the sake of practical application. The case was given of Joel Beeke's commendation of Jephthah's daughter as an example of "contagious submission" (see here). The Bible should be brought to bear on the ethical dilemmas faced by the people of God in the 21st century such as embryo research, civil partnerships etc. Pastors should help believers to feed themselves on the riches of God's Word so that the church is nourished on a rich diet of biblical truth.

The paper that generated the most discussion and debate was Dan Strange's piece, Not Ashamed! The Sufficiency of Scripture for Public Theology. Strange reminded us of Stephen Green's appearance on BBC's Question Time back in 2005. The Director of Christian Voice met with howls of derision from the audience when he persisted in answering questions from the Bible. The debacle was an indication of what can happen when the Bible comes into contact with the public square. This raises the question of how we might best speak Christianly in the public arena at a time when the Bible is no longer held in high regard. Strange set out two alternative proposals for "public theology" from within the world of Reformed theology. First, the "two kingdoms view", that emphasises the distinction between the temporary kingdom of this world and the eternal kingdom of God. The civil realm is subject to the "light of nature" or "natural law" that is common to all humanity (Romans 1:18-32, 2:14-15), while the church, belonging to the eternal kingdom is subject to Scripture. The Bible is not sufficient for the public arena, "We will not cure cancer …by reading Scripture, we will cure it by investigating molecular biology, organic chemistry and other related disciplines" (citing T. David Gordon). Second, Strange drew our attention to the "transformationist" model that seeks to bring biblical truth to bear upon the public square. In this view, the Bible must be allowed to supplement and inform the light of nature. Scripture is sufficient for public theology. So says John Frame,
When people are converted to believe in Christ, they bring their new faith and love into their daily work. They ask how Christ bears upon their work as historians, scientists, musicians, how this new passion of theirs affects art, entertainment, medicine, the care of the poor and sick, the justice of courts, the punishment of convicts, relations between nations.
Strange commended the second view, arguing that much of what passes for "the light of nature" is in fact the legacy of the impact of Christian moral teaching in the United Kingdom. The more post-Christian our country becomes, the more we will need to make the source of our values in the Bible explicit. We cannot have biblical ethics apart from the gospel revealed in Holy Scripture. Society is transformed as more and more people become Christians and then act as salt and light in their daily lives,
And when we are anxious that speaking ‘Christianly’ will threaten our place in the public square and our contribution to social transformation, we need to remember that real social transformation will only come about through conversion through encountering Jesus in the Word of God and by the regenerating and illuminating power of the Spirit. In summary, given our current context, our public theology is public apologetics.
The "transformationist" model is big enough to include a role for "the light of nature" in public theology, but it rightly insists that the Bible must be allowed to speak in the public arena. The relative value of the "two kingdoms" and "transformationist" visions and the practicalities of speaking Christianly in the public square stimulated a lot of discussion and debate in the break-out groups and plenary discussion session.

The final paper was given by Hywel Jones, entitled, Preaching the Word in the Power of the Holy Spirit. Jones  challenged the view that the Holy Spirit works invariably whenever the Word is preached. In keeping with the teaching of Scripture itself (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:5 etc) the speaker gave due emphasis to the importance of the preaching of the Word while also highlighting the need of the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit in preaching. This was his key proposal,
The Spirit and the Word are therefore not on the same plane of reality. The former is God; the latter is not seeing as it is the product of the Spirit (2 Tim. 3: 16 – 17). This means that the Spirit is as free and sovereign in his activity as is both the Father and the Son and that the Word that is his product is also his instrument. He remains the agent.
This needs to be said, as some, most notably John Woodhouse of Moore College, Sydney have been teaching a Lutheran conception of the relationship between Word and Spirit that virtually imprisons the Spirit in the Word. His views are influential among Evangelical Anglicans in the UK. Where such teaching holds sway, preachers will not be encouraged to seek the empowering presence of the Spirit in their ministries. All they need to do is preach and the Spirit can be relied upon do his work. The Reformed view is that the Holy Spirit works with his Word as he pleases. Jones quoted the words of John Stott's statement that Word and Spirit should never be divorced, and that the Spirit is needed to make the Word effective,
We must never divorce what God has married, namely his Word and his Spirit. The Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. The Spirit without the Word is weaponless; the Word without the Spirit is powerless . . . The truth of the Word, the conviction with which we speak it, and the power of its impact on others all come from the Holy Spirit. It is he who illumines our minds, so that we formulate our message with integrity and clarity. It is he whose inward witness assures us of its truth, so that we preach it with conviction. And it is he who carries it home with power, so that the hearers respond to it in penitence, faith and obedience.
Also note the words of John Owen,
When God shall be pleased to give unto the people who are called by his name, in a more abundant manner, “pastors after his own heart, to feed them with knowledge and understanding”, when he shall revive and increase a holy. humble, zealous, self-denying, powerful ministry, by a more plentiful effusion of his Spirit from above: then, and not until then, may we hope to see the pristine glory and beauty of our restored unto its primitive state and condition.
Hywel Jones' important paper was an attempt at sketching out a theology of Word and Spirit in preaching. But it was more than that. It was a passionate plea for preachers to seek a greater measure of the power of the Holy Spirit as they proclaim the Word of God. Such preaching is the crying need of the world and the church. The trouble with the Moore view is that it does not encourage preachers to seek more of the empowering presence of the Spirit so that they may preach the gospel "not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Monday, February 07, 2011

To Affinity and back

Greg Beale, Stephen Clark, Carl Trueman, Peter Milsom
The Affinity Theological Studies Conference does exactly what it says on the tin. It is given to theological study and it is a proper confer-ence. Papers are circulated beforehand for attendees to study. At the event the papers are introduced by their authors prior to small group and plenary discussion sessions. The theme this year was,  "The Truth Will Set You Free: The Doctrine and Function of Scripture in the 21st Century."

Ever since the Garden of Eden, one of the devil's master strategies has been to cast doubt on the word of God. Once we begin to wonder, "Has God said?", we are on the high road to ruin.  This has especially been borne out during the last 150 years or so, where the doctrine of Scripture has been a storm centre of controversy. There is no sign of the storm dying out, with various cross winds threatening to blow the church off course.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that Princeton theologians A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield had offered the definitive defence of the Bible as God's inspired and inerrant Word in their various writings on the subject, most notably their jointly-authored article Inspiration, published in The Presbyterian Review 6 (April 1881). But things ain't that simple. It is often claimed, even by some in the Evangelical camp that the Princeton view of the Bible was based on wrongheaded Enlightenment assumptions. Furthermore, it is argued  that the teaching set forth by Hodge and Warfield was out of kilter with the way the church had regarded the Scriptures over the centuries. Carl Trueman attempted to respond to these points in his paper, Is the Princeton View of Scripture an Enlightenment Innovation? Looking at the issue from a strictly historical point of view, Trueman set out the essential elements of the Princeton position on the Bible and demonstrated that there were precedents for this view in the history of the church, most notably in the writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, the Reformers and Reformed Orthodox scholars. He concluded his survey,

As a result, if the Princetonians are to be seen as innovators, it cannot be in terms of their articulation of the concept of inerrant autographs or in their concern for verbal inspiration and the connection of this to notions of truth. On these points, they stand within an established tradition of Christian discourse which goes back beyond the Reformation to the early church.
Next up for consideration was Peter Naylor's paper on Lost in the Old Testament? Literary Genres and Evangelical Hermeneutics. Naylor's brief was to respond to some of the challenges to the traditional Evangelical doctrine of Scripture from the world of Biblical Studies. He gave special attention to the issue of identifying literary genres found in the Bible. Should we regard Genesis 1-3 as mythological depiction of creation? Is the Book of Jonah to be read as historical narrative, or is it in fact an extended parable? Is Peter Enns right to say that the discovery of Ancient Near Eastern texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which often depict events found on the Bible, compromise the uniqueness of Scripture? Naylor argued that both Genesis 1-3 and Jonah should be read as historical narrative and gave some clear criterion for identifying biblical literary genres. Believing in the supernatural God of the Bible we should have no problem in regarding portions of Scripture that depict the miraculous as historical. While the Old Testament might overlap with Ancient Near Eastern documents, the differences between these texts and the Bible are highly signifigant. The Bible is monotheistic rather than polytheistic. There is no notion of creation ex nihilio in Babylonian literature and no account of the fall of man into sin. Naylor warned against Evangelicals embracing a demythologizing approach to the Bible,
The assured results of liberal criticism have been empty pews, closed churches, loss of confidence, inability to stand against the tide of moral corruption that has been sweeping aside all the waymarks that once guarded the British people.
Peter Enns was under fire once more in Greg Beale's paper on The Right Doctrine, Wrong Texts: Can We Follow the Apostles’ Doctrine But Not Their Hermeneutics? Enns has argued that the apostles employed a typical Jewish non-contexual approach to Old Testament exegesis. In effect they obtained the right doctrine concerning Christ from the wrong Old Testament  texts. Beale set out to challenge this view. He reflected on the relationship between ancient Jewish and apostolic exegesis and set out five presuppositions of the apostle's exegetical method,
1. the assumption of corporate solidarity or representation ;
2. that Christ is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and true Israel, the church, in the NT;
3. that History is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the latter parts (cf. Matt. 11:13f);
4. that the age of eschatological fulfilment has come in Christ;
5. as a consequence of (4), it may be deduced that the latter parts of biblical history function as the broader context to interpret earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors, and one deduction from this premise is that Christ as the centre of history is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises .
The paper then considered a case study, the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15. By giving careful attention to Hosea, Beale showed that the prophet himself held the expectation of  a new, eschatological exodus, inaugurated by Israel's lion king (Hosea 11:10-11 cf. Numbers 23:24 & 24:9). Matthew was not being non-contextual in saying that this event was fulfilled in Christ. Beale assured us that "there is good reason and evidence that supports the notion that Jesus and the Apostles did interpret the Old Testament in line with the originally intended meaning of the Old Testament writers themselves."

Papers were followed my stimulating times of small group and plenary discussion. Watch this space for more reports.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

To Affinity and beyond!

Shortly I'll be off to the Affinity Theological Studies Conference (see here). This year's theme is "The Truth Will Set You Free: The Doctrine and Function of Scripture in the 21st Century." The speakers are Carl Trueman, Peter Naylor, Greg Beale, Stephen Clark, Dan Strange and Hywel Jones. I hope to post a report when I get back. As Buzz Lightyear might say, "To Affinity and beyond!"