Thursday, September 29, 2011

Herman Bavinck on Human Destiny

I'm steadily working my way though Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation by Herman Bavinck. I have to say that Bavink's is the most remarkable and satisfying work of systematic theology that I have yet to read. He really puts Berkhof and Reymond in the shade. 

I've just finished his treatment of the doctrine of man, which is divided into three chapters, Human Origins, Human Nature and Human Destiny. Briefly, in the first of the three chapters Bavinck interacts with Darwinism and sets out the biblical teaching on the origin of man and the unity of the human race. Then we come to his discussion of human nature. The theologian disputes the Roman Catholic view that man was made in a 'state of nature' with the capability of achieving the image of God and with it life everlasting by meritorious good works. Instead, Bavinck advocates the scriptural position advocated by the Reformers that man was originally created in the image and likeness of God. 

The image is not located in one aspect of human nature, such as the soul. Rather,  "the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God's image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and and constitutes our humanness." (p. 561). So much for the origins and nature of man, but what of his destiny? That's the bit I really want to concentrate on in this post.

Yes, God created human beings in his image. But that does not mean that in Adam and Eve humanity achieved its fullest potential. The goal of humanity was everlasting life in the presence of God. That destiny could not be achieved on the basis of merit or reward. God owed even unfallen humanity nothing. Eternal life is a gift freely bestowed by God upon his human image bearers, not a just desert awarded for effort. 

On what basis, then did God promise to grant humanity the rich blessing of eternal life?  According to Bavinck this is where the so-called "covenant of works" comes into its own. It is by means of a covenant that the transcendent and infinitely glorious Creator relates to his human creatures. He voluntarily bound himself to humanity by entering into this covenantal relationship with them. Bavinck finds direct biblical evidence for the 'Adamic covenant' in Hosea 6:7 (ESV). He argues cogently in favour of the translation, "like Adam they transgressed the covenant".  But he asserts that regarding the arrangement with Adam as a covenant is not solely dependent on the Hosea text. Even if the word "covenant" were not used, then "one may doubt the word provided the matter is safe" (p. 569). When God calls people into a relationship with himself, laying obligations upon them and obliging himself to them, then that is, in essence, a covenant. Followers of John Murray's view concerning the "Adamic administration"  would do well to consider Bavinck's arguments on this point.     

Accordingly, Bavinck sees Adam's life in the Garden of Eden as a probationary period. If for that period Adam had continued in obedience to the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then God would have bestowed upon Adam and all humanity in him the blessing of everlasting life. Adam stood in a federal or representative relation to the rest of humanity. His actions for good or ill would affect the destiny of the whole human race. Bavinck appeals to the broken symmetries between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 to justify his case. 

When it comes to the fulfilment of human destiny in Christ, the Saviour does not simply restore his own to the position of Adam before the fall. "He positions us not at the beginning, but at the end of the journey that Adam  had to complete." (p. 573). Adam was capable of choosing to sin. He was not immortal. Should he sin, he would die. In Christ believers will be raised immortal to sin no more, 1 Corinthians 15:45-49. As the theologian elaborates in a later volume of Reformed Dogmatics
Christ was the second Adam. He came not only to bear our punishment for us but also to obtain for us the righteousness and life that Adam had to secure by his obedience. He delivered us from guilt and punishment and placed us at the end of the road Adam had to walk, not at the beginning. He gives us much more than we lost in Adam, not only the forgiveness of sin and release from punishment but also and immediately - in faith - the not-being-able to sin and not-being-able to die. (Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Baker Academic, p. 395).
In him the tribes of Adam boast,
More blessings than their father lost
(Jesus Shall Reign, Isaac Watts) 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Discovering Jesus: Four Gospels One Person by T. Desmond Alexander

Discovering Jesus: Four Gospels One Person
by T. Desmond Alexander, IVP, 2010, 141pp. 

Many first time readers of the New Testament have asked, 'Why four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, wouldn't just one do?' If you have ever wondered about that, then this is the book for you. Alexander begins by giving a brief overview of the Gospels. He highlights some common themes in the Gospel accounts such as the fulfilment of Scripture, the kingdom of God and the centrality of Christ's passion. 

After that the scholar devotes two chapters to each the four Gospels. He skilfully teases out the special features their distinctive portraits of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus is the Son of God who gives his life as a ransom for many. In Matthew, Jesus is the Son of David who establishes the kingdom of heaven. In Luke, Jesus is the Saviour of the world who seeks the lost. In John, Jesus is the Lamb of God who brings eternal life through a new exodus. These portraits are not in conflict. Together they reveal something of the many splendored glory of Jesus' unique person and work. 

Alexander gives attention to the composition of the Gospels, delving into the issue of which Gospel was written first (probably Mark), and to what extent Matthew and Luke drew on on material from Mark. He touches on the 'hypothesis' that seeks to account for passages common to Matthew and Luke that are not  found in Mark. In a final chapter the writer reviews the key points of his book and offers some moving reflections on the wonder of Jesus.

Discovering Jesus is an accessible introduction to the Gospels that will help the reader of the New Testament  to appreciate afresh who Jesus is, what he came to do and what it means to follow him. 

* Reviewed for Protestant Truth Magazine. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies
by David Bentley Hart, Yale, 2009, 249pp. 

I took this one on holiday with me back in August and finished it a week or so after we got home. I usually read something by John Grisham when we go away. But after reading The Associate last year I began to grow a little tired of legal pot boilers and fancied a change. Not that reading theology is much of a change, but there we are. Then again, I don't often read  stuff by Eastern Orthodox theologians so it was kind of different. You can tell that Hart isn't an Evangelical because he says that he isn't out to convert anyone to anything. Can you imagine John Blanchard saying something like that? Probably not. 

What's Hart trying to do then? Well he's having a pop at the new atheists for rejecting the Christian faith, while at the same time piggy-backing on the remnants of Christian morality in Western society. You see, lots of the things that even atheists think are good, like holding to the unique value of every human life, are in fact the product of what Hart calls the "Christian Revolution". By the "Christian Revolution" the writer means the paradigm shift in values that superseded classical pagan thought and set the moral tone for the best part of two thousand years. New atheists such as Richard Dawkins "who - despite his embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning  - never fails to entrance his readers with his rhetorical recklessness" and Christopher Hitchens "whose talent for intellectual caricature somewhat exceeds his mastery of consecutive logic" often fail to face up to this inconvenient truth. Oh, and if you think Hart was being a little rude to Dawk and Hitch, then that was nothing compared to his withering scorn for Dan Brown author of The Da Vinci Code, which the writer describes as "the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate." Fun, eh? 

But it's not all jokes at the expense of vocal sceptics. In fact Hart keeps the knockabout to a minimum. This book isn't a specimen of Punch and Judy apologetics. The theologian offers a serious and telling critique of post-Christian society where human freedom has become the freedom of consumer choice with little regard for the morality of our choices. He faces head on some of the claims routinely made by the fashionable enemies of the Christian faith. It is often said that early Christians suppressed the intellectual achievements of Greek culture,  leading to the "night of reason" that was only dispelled by the Enlightenment. Further, many sceptics routinely insist that Christianity has stifled scientific progress. Hart details why these charges simply do not stick.

Hart is aware that especially since Church and State were aligned under Constantine that Christianity hasn't always lived up to  its highest standards. Christian civilisation has been guilty of intolerance and bloodshed. Given what the Bible says regarding human sinfulness, this isn't too surprising. But the record of Christendom on this score, shameful though it may be, is as nothing compared with the millions of lives lost in the secular conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Some atheists writers try and suggest that all was fine and dandy in the ancient pagan world before those pesky Christians came along with their hang ups over human physicality. Hart addresses this point, exposing the "glorious sadness" at the heart of pagan life and experience. Heretical Gnostics may have had hang ups over human physicality, but not the orthodox, who believed that the Word was made flesh. Christianity constituted a great rebellion against the false gods of paganism and the pitiless indifference to human suffering that often characterised pagan thought. The central tenet of the Christian faith, that he who was in the form of God took the form of a servant and died for sinners conferred a new dignity on each and every human being, slaves included.

The Christian message constituted a new vision of humanity, in which all human beings, regardless of wealth and status were viewed as persons. That is fully paid-up members of the human race. This was a truly revolutionary idea, for in pagan thought groups such as slaves and the disabled were regarded as faceless non-persons. Slaves could therefore be owned and  mistreated. Disabled infants could be left to die. The notion of human personhood and its concomitant, universal human rights, was a specifically Christian development. Against the Arians who denied the full deity of the Son, the orthodox Christian faith confesses that there is one God in three co-substantial persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the incarnation the person of the Son took human nature. God became man so that man might partake of the divine nature. Hart weakens the biblical evidence for orthodox Christology by translating John 1:1 as "the Logos was with God and the Logos was a god" (p. 204).  But his account shows that the very idea of human personhood was an offshoot of the theological reflection of the church. Given that this is the case, Hart worries that a post-Christian culture "will also, ultimately become post-human" (p. 215).

Perhaps Hart's scenario is closer than we might think. Atheist thinkers such as Peter Stringer have openly argued for infanticide in the case of severely disabled babies. The production and then destruction of human embryos for stem cell research purposes is another indication that the Christian view of human life is being abandoned. As is the widespread use of abortion as a means of birth control. Others go still further and advocate the use of genetic engineering that breaches the gap between humans and animals. A man with canine hearing, anyone? Welcome to the brave new post-Christian world.

Hart writes with great verve and panache. He has a deep knowledge the religion, thought and culture of the classical period. His learning is skilfully deployed to refute the sloppy arguments of the new atheists. Evangelical readers won't be able to go along with everything that he says. By "Christian" Hart basically means the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Protestants don't get much of all look in, although the abolitionist William Wilberforce is mentioned in passing. Readers will need to look elsewhere for a fuller presentation of the Christian gospel. However, Hart has ably demonstrated that the Christian Revolution transformed the moral outlook of the ancient world. To an extent that is not always recognised we have all been beneficiaries of this love-fuelled, wonderfully humanising revolution. We turn our backs upon Christian faith and values at our peril. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thanks for nothing!

Bart Simpson saying grace at the meal table, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” I suggest that the attitude of the brattish Bart Simpson is one that is widely shared. Why should we thank God for stuff that we paid for with our hard earned cash? Maybe that is one of the reasons why so few people (other than regular churchgoers) attend Harvest Services these days. The old harvest hymn exhorts us, “Come, ye thankful people, come,/join the song of harvest-home”. We reply, “What? Thanks for nothing.”

But Bart Simpson’s grace, if it can be called that, is rather short sighted. Who is it that gives us the health and strength we need to go out to work and earn our crust? Who is it that causes the sun to shine and rain to fall so that crops grow? Who is it that has blessed this planet with such a wonderful variety of tasty and nutritious foods?  That’s right, it’s God. He created this world and he continues to provide us with every good and perfect gift.

And God has given us much more than our daily bread. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). Jesus came into our world as Man. He died for our sins and rose again. Those who believe in him will live forever.

Such generous grace demands a grateful response, “God, our Creator and Saviour, thanks for everything!” 

See church website for details of our Harvest Services. 

* For October's News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Aber 2011 Evening Meetings 5

It fell to Gwyn Williams to send us on our way with the final conference sermon on Romans 16:25-27. 

The Aber Conference is like a spiritual glasshouse. Glasshouses promote rapid growth. But they are a protective environment. Before plants are planted outside they need to be toughened up. Beware of post Christian conference syndrome.

In this doxology Paul shows us how cope with reality.

Romans 16 shows us the human side of apostle. 27 Christians in Rome are mentioned in Romans 16:1-20. In Romans 16:21-24, Paul sends greetings from 8 companions. The doxology resonates with the opening verses of Romans.

1. The gospel is eternal
Romans 16:25. The mystery hidden from the foundation of the world is now revealed. Our culture does not value history. But the gospel has antique value due to its special provenance as the gospel of God. It is the gospel of salvation.

2. The gospel to all nations

Romans 16:26, Acts 1:8. God’s intention from the beginning was that Jew and Gentile would be saved. Yet, the world doesn’t want to know, 2 Corinthians 4:6.

The Great Commission must be number 1 on the agenda of the church.

3. The obedience of faith

The gospel demands a response, Romans 16:26. This is the challenge of the gospel.

Being obedient in the glasshouse easier, but outside it is more difficult. We are God’s new humanity, renewed and holy. Have you been changed by the conference? It is not about how the preachers got on. How did you get on in response to God’s word preached?

God is behind all this, Romans 16:27. This calls for humility that gives all glory to God.

4. God is able to establish you

Romans 16:25. Back home you will face tensions in churches over Bible versions, hymn books etc. Also problems at home, the difficult economic situation, challenges for students in Uni, and issues at work. The are family concerns. Some have unbelieving parents. We experience personal temptations, loneliness and ill health. Some may even face death in the coming year. But God will strengthen you. He will help you make the transition from glasshouse of the Aber Conference to the real world.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Michael Licona, the resurrection of Jesus and biblical inerrancy

Michael Licona's book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach is causing something of a stir due to his exegesis of Matthew 27:51-53. The scholar argues that these verses take the form of a "poetic device", rather than reportage of an historical event (p. 552-53). Some Evangelical scholars have accused Licona of compromising biblical inerrancy because of his handling of this text.  

Michel Bird gives us the low down, on the controversy, including links to Al Mohler and Norman Geisler's response to Licona and Licona's reply to Geisler. Bird backs up Licona on his understanding of this segment of Matthew's resurrection narrative. It comes down to the issue of the literary genre of the verses in question. It seems that some conservative scholars are using genre identification as a way of skirting round what they regard as historical difficulties in Scripture. This matter is ably addressed as far as the Old Testament is concerned in Lost in the Old Testament? Literary Genres and Evangelical Hermeneutics by Peter Naylor in Foundations

I posted a largely appreciative review of The Resurrection of Jesus back in March. But in my appraisal I flag up my concern regarding Licona's general approach to Scripture as he seeks to construct a persuasive argument for the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, see here

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Aber 2011 Evening Meetings 3 & 4

Hopefully with these reports it's a case of better late than never. Anyway, here's the next instalment: 

David Meredith spoke on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. On Wednesday he preached on Acts 1:1-11, especially Acts 1:6, which sets out the agenda for church.

Acts is Luke Volume 2. Luke wrote Acts for the same reason as he penned his Gospel, Luke 1:4 cf. Acts 1:1, 3. The kingdom of God, a key theme in Luke is also seen in Acts, Acts 28:31. With the coming of the Spirit the power of the last kingdom is experienced, Acts 1:5. We need to experience the Spirit revealing Christ to us.

The words and deeds Jesus began to do and speak while on earth are continued by the Spirit through the apostles. We cannot have power of Acts without the Jesus of Luke.

1. A stupid question

Acts 1: 6 “As many mistakes as words” – Calvin.  

The disciples made mistakes, holding to paradigms that were wrong. They expected a spatial not spiritual kingdom. The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom. We need of bigger vision of God's purpose. The hymn Jerusalem is far too parochial in vision. God does not do borders.

2. A firm answer

Acts 1:7. The apostle’s were not to speculate about times and seasons. What they needed was power, Acts 1:8.

The task of Acts 1:8 - what God is going to do. The gospel cannot be suppressed. Witness what he is doing in Iran and China. Join in great enterprise of the gospel. Begin where you are.

Continuing in Acts, on Thursday evening David Meredith spoke on Acts 2:2-4.

Revival is the intensification of the norm.

Was Pentecost the birthday of church? No. The church began with the Old Testament people of God. But at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church in full measure. Morticians can make corpses look good, but they are still dead. The church is dead without the presence of Spirit. When the Spirit is present, Christ is central and the fruit of the Spirit are evident. We need a holy dissatisfaction, a longing revival and for the salvation of the lost.

Luke 3:21-22/Acts 2:1-4. With Jesus and the church the pattern is baptism with the Spirit, mission and death. The church was united and expectant at Pentecost. What might happen if we were same?

1. The wind

Acts 2:2, wind/spirit the same word in Hebrew & Greek. A new creation, Genesis 2:7. The Spirit imparted a sense of newness, the new wine of the gospel. The church needs both archaeologists who look back and astronauts who look forward.

Pentecost was a supernatural event. God saves sinners. This is a more wonderful than the original creation. John 14:12 began to be fulfilled at Pentecost.

We cannot build the church by the law. We need the rushing mighty wind of the Spirit.

2. The fire

Acts 2:3. Fire signifies the presence of God; the fiery pillar, judgement, Luke 3:17. The tongues of fire were not the unquenchable flames of hell. The fire was on each of them, an inclusive gift.  

3. Tongues

Acts 2:6, the tongues were foreign languages. A reversal of Babel. This is unity without subjugation and obliteration of difference. Different accents and dialects, Acts 2:6. The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers. Cultural barriers are not destroyed but eroded to the point of irrelevance. One message. One redeemed people.


1. The translatability of god's word

We must no tie the gospel to WASP culture. The Antioch church reached out to gentiles. There was unity in diversity at Pentecost. The variegated grace of God. When God freezes water we have snow flakes, when man freezes water we get ice cubes. The symphony of grace. The gospel is for all.

We may not expect to see the phenomenon witnessed at Pentecost, but what was symbolised by the phenomenon still applies.

2. Come to Christ

3. Are you filled with the Spirit?

D. L. Moody replied, “Yes, but I leak.” Seek the Spirit’s fullness repeatedly.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Aber 2011 Evening Meetings 1 & 2

Traditionally the Aber Conference evening meetings have had an evangelistic flavour. On Monday evening, Geoff Thomas preached on Luke 13:23. His message was a passionate and sustained appeal to the unconverted to enter the narrow gate and be saved. Opinions differ as to whether many or few will ultimately be saved. But when asked whether few would be saved Jesus answered, Luke 13:24-30. The issue is not the number of the saved, but that we must be saved by passing through the narrow gate, Luke 13:24, Acts 16:31, Matthew 11:28. We need to be united to Christ by faith and receive in him grace sufficient for each day. The gate is narrow - not wide enough for sin. We must repent. Jesus calls us to “make every effort” to enter the narrow gate. Soon it will be too late to be saved, many, Luke 13:24-25, 27. The door is still ajar. Strive to enter now!

Paul Levy spoke on Tuesday evening, giving a lively and insightful message on blind Bartimaeus, Luke 18:35-43. He drew our attention to: 1. A blind man who can see. The crowds referred to “Jesus of Nazareth”, but the blind man called him, “Jesus, Son of David”. It is better to be blind and yet see than to see and be blind, John 9:39. The disciples don't get it, Luke 18:32-34, but the blind man does. We need to admit our spiritual blindness before can see. 2. A man without an opportunity makes use of an opportunity. He was a beggar with few opportunities in life. But Jesus is passing through Jericho and he as one opportunity to ask for healing, Luke 18:38-39, Isaiah 55:6. The rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) were not saved because they did not see themselves as helpless sinners.  But the beggar did. We must seek the Lord while may be found, lest we miss out on the opportunity to be saved – Esau, Hebrews 12:16-17. 3. A beggar who is undeserving. He was destitute and not deserving. He asked for mercy, Luke 18:38. No one is entitled to salvation.  4. A man who received more than he asked for. He asked for sight and he got Jesus, Luke 18:41-43. He was saved by faith in Christ, Mark 10:52. A nobody cried for mercy. Jesus stopped and spoke to him. Jesus opens blind eyes. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

Archbishop Cranmer on those pesky Evangelicals

Our favourite Tory blogger, the pretendy dead Archbishop Cranmer, recently commented on the Evangelical Alliance's report, 21st Century Evangelicals: Does belief touch society? He has some nice things to say about the document, but can't resist having a swipe at those pesky Evangelicals. His somewhat condescending tone is reminiscent of the words of the current real Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who opined,
It is something that I think became very important to me at one or two points when I needed it as a kind of corrective to what can be a slightly precious and elitist anglo-catholicism. Sometimes you just need to sing Blessed Assurance and hit a tambourine. You just need to know that there is something profoundly simple about what an evangelical would rightly call a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that nothing substitutes for that. (See here). 
That's it, you see. You don't look to Evangelicalism for theological depth.  It is all about banging tambourines and singing rousing old hymns. Here is Cranmer's own verdict, 
In His Grace’s experience, they [Evangelicals] are almost universally kind and hospitable; sing an awful lot of Shine, Jesus, Shine; believe the Canon of the Bible was handed down by God; praise the Lord when they find a lost saucepan; rejoice in Middle-East bloodshed and social breakdown, ‘for these things must be’; and their view of Church history begins with Acts and then jumps straight to Amazing Grace. Certainly, His Grace has never yet met an evangelical who grasps the Patristics, understands Chalcedon or appreciates the historical significance of any of the early Ecumenical Councils.
Looks like Cranmer's 'unworthy right hand' is at it again. The trouble is that there is more than an element of truth in what he says. There's no point in denying it. Evangelicals tend to be a bit patchy when it comes to church history and they often have little grasp of the nuances of the confessional heritage of the church. Evangelical preachers will say things like "Jesus became a human person", when, according to Chalcedon, what happened at the incarnation was that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity took a human nature. But such a theological misstep is usually due to carelessness rather than deliberate heresy. The Roman Catholic Church is wilfully sub-Chalcedonian when is teaches that the humanity of Jesus is present on every altar at the Mass. Chaldedon explicitly rules out the communication of divine properties such as omnipresence to the human nature of Christ.

But on the whole Evangelicals have held consistently to the biblical teaching reflected in the historic creeds and confessions of the church. We worship the Triune God of the gospel and proclaim that Jesus is fully God and fully man in accordance with the Nicea and Chalcedon. Our vision of salvation is thoroughly Augustinian. We declare that only the grace of God in Christ can rescue human beings from sin. A glance at Evangelical confessions of faith such as the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, and even the more succinct FIEC Basis of Faith will readily bear this out. 

In stead of taking his few happy clappy Evangelical chums as representative of the movement as a whole, perhaps the pseudo-Archbishop Cranmer should invest some time in reading up on some of the classic works of Evangelical and Reformed theology. I recommend The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Communion with God by John Owen and Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck. As far as contemporary Evangelical literature, is concerned, His Grace is already aware of the writings of John Stott. Perhaps he should also get acquainted with The Gagging of God by Don Carson and The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, by Robert Letham, to give a couple of examples. I think he'll find that the best representatives of Evangelical theology have a deeper understanding and respect for the theological heritage of the church than he might expect. 

Anyway, that's me done.

Right then, where did I leave my tambourine? Altogether now...

"Shine, Jesus, shine...." 

Calvin on the sum of our salvation in Christ

When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, 
and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, 
we must beware of deriving even the minutes portion 
of it from any other quarter.

If we seek salvation, 
  we are taught by the very name of Jesus that he possesses it;
if we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, we shall find them in his unction;
 strength in his government; 
 purity in his conception; 
 indulgence in his nativity,
in which he was made like us in all respects,
in order that he might learn to sympathise with us.

If we seek redemption, 
 we shall find it in his passion; 
acquittal in his condemnation;
 remission of the curse in his cross; 
satisfaction in his sacrifice; 
 purification in his blood; 
reconciliation in his descent to hell; 
 mortification of the flesh in his sepulchre. 

Newness of life in his resurrection;
 immortality also in his resurrection;
the inheritance of a celestial kingdom 
  in his entrance into heaven;
protection, security, and the abundant supply 
of all blessings, in his kingdom; 
secure anticipation of judgement
 in the power of judging committed to him. 

In fine, since in him all kinds of blessings are treasured up,
let us draw a full supply from him, and none from any other quarter. 

(From Institutes Book II:16:19. Versified by Guy Davies) 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

On not buying any more books...for a while

I have resolved not to buy any more books (apart from Bible commentaries when needed) until I have made more progress on my unread/unfinished books pile. When a book catches my eye, I can barely resist buying it, and if it looks especially good, reading it straight away. But then titles bought on earlier occasions end up further and further down the pile. So, no more new books at least until I've finished the ones featured in photo above. 

I've just completed Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. Look out for a review on the blog, probably sometime next week. Also, I'm making good progress on Eifion Evans' biog of William Williams, Bread of Heaven, which I need to finish soon so I can submit a review for Foundations by the middle of September. 

In the next day or so I'll be posting a report of the Aber 2011 evening meetings, which is where I bought the Tim Keller book at the top of the pile.  

Monday, September 05, 2011

Aber 2011 Prime Time - Responding to Tragedies

On the Monday of the Aber Conference I spoke on Responding to Tragedies at Prime Time, a meeting for over 45's. Here is a brief outline of my talk.

We live in a world of tragedies and disasters. 230,00 Were killed in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Thousands were swept into eternity by the Japanese Tsunami earlier this year. Many are suffering and dying due to the East Africa famine. 

This is a big subject. All I can hope to do in this meeting is try and place disasters and how we might respond to them in some kind of biblical perspective. This is not an exercise in apologetics – a reasoned defence of Christian belief. I'm assuming we agree that God is there and that he has revealed himself in the world that he made, in the Word that he has spoken and above all in the person and work of Christ.

The Christian response to disasters is that of faith seeking understanding, hope in the face of tragedy and love in action.

I. A Responding in Faith

1.         Theological Framework

1)         The Lord our God is good

God's goodness is revealed in creation Ps. 104, and redemption, 1 John 4:10. The one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our Creator and Redeemer is love and Lord. He is both compassionate and commanding.

2)         We live in a fallen world

Genesis 3, Romans 8:18ff

3)         God is still on the throne

Open theism is misguided. The Bible does not simply say that God "allows disasters", Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6.

2.         Towards an answer to the question “Why?”

1)         The fall

Suffering is part and parcel of life in a fallen world. We need to be realistic about this. "Life under the sun" throws up anomalies, Ecclesiastes 8:14.

2)         To punish people for their sins

Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19, the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, 2 Kings 24:1-4. 

3)         To discipline the saints

Hebrews 12:3-11, conformity to Christ, Philippians 3:10, the development of Christian character, Romans 5:1-5.

4)         To warn sinners to repent

Luke 13:1-5

5)         The need for caution

Job, John 9:1-3, Jesus, the ultimate example of innocent suffering. 

Theology does not eliminate the mystery of suffering, but erects a fence around the mystery to protect the church from error and misunderstanding. Having done all our theological reflection we still have questions for God, 'How long, O Lord?', Ps 13:1, 44:24

II. A Responding in Hope 

The gospel hold out hope for a disaster-struck world. Disasters signal the death throes of the present age and the birth pangs of the new creation, Matthew 8:23-27, Colossians 1:20, Romans 8:18ff,  Note the seven “no mores” in Revelation 21:1, 4, 22:3, 5. Earthquakes and wars don't necessarily signal the imminent "end of the world", Matthew 24:4-8.

III. Responding in Love

Matthew 5:16, 7:12.

1)         Pray.
2)         Get involved. Especially those with specialist medical and emergency rescue skills. 
3)         Minister to the disaster-struck with sympathy, love and biblical integrity. 
4)         Give wisely (DEC includes Islamic Relief and Cafod as well as Tear Fund).
5)         In our response is it right to prioritise helping fellow believers? Gal 6:10.