Friday, December 21, 2012

Ernest Kevan Leader in twentieth century British Evangelicalism, by Paul E. Brown

Ernest Kevan: Leader in twentieth century British Evangelicalism,
 Paul E. Brown, Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, 294pp

Ernest Kevan is best known as the founding principal of London Bible College, or London School of Theology as it is now called. He was also the author of a significant work on the Puritan theology of the law, entitled, The Grace of Law. Beyond those two facts, I don’t suppose many readers will know much about the subject of this first-rate biography. I certainly didn’t. Paul Brown has done the Christian world a service in rescuing Ernest Kevan from a measure of undeserved obscurity. The author studied at the London Bible College under Kevan.

Brown delves into his family history and charts the spiritual influences that by God’s grace helped to make him the man he was. Before becoming principal of London Bible College, Kevan was a Strict Baptist pastor. The Lord’s blessing was evident in the churches where he preached. Kevan was keen to engage the communities that surrounded the churches he served, offering practical help to those in need as well as proclaiming the gospel. Although he and his wife, Jennie were not blessed with children, Ernest head a great heart for little ones and his children’s talks were legendary for their clarity and winsomeness.

Kevan was an important figure in the resurgence of Evangelical and Reformed Christianity in the post-war period. What Martyn Lloyd-Jones was doing in his Westminster Chapel pulpit, Kevan was doing from his London Bible College lectern. Both men exposed a new generation to the riches of Puritan and Reformed theology. That’s not to say that Kevan and Lloyd-Jones always agreed. The former was more comfortable working with the theologically mixed denominations that the latter. Lloyd-Jones was critical of London Bible College offering the London University approved BD degree. The Westminster Chapel preacher would have nothing to do with the Billy Graham Crusades of the 1950’s. Despite Kevan’s misgivings concerning the Evangelist’s appeals for people to come forward and make a profession of faith, he penned some useful booklets that helped to ground new converts in the faith. While the ‘Doctor’ declined invitations to speak at the Keswick Conference due to its adherence to a faulty doctrine of sanctification, Kevan spoke there on a number of occasions. His addresses on Romans encouraged the conference to move away from its traditional ‘Higher Life’ teachings. It is interesting to ponder whether Kevan's "in it to win it" or Lloyd-Jones' "They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them." approach proved more effective. 

At Kevan’s memorial service John Stott remarked on his ‘strength and gentleness’, two qualities that are not always found in the same person. Kevan was a scholar with a pastor’s heart, the best kind of man to lead a Bible College. At a time when Evangelical scholarship was virtually regarded as a contradiction in terms he showed that it is possible to be theologically conservative and intellectually rigorous. He was indeed a key leader in twentieth century British Evangelicalism. He bold, yet gracious witness to the truth should not be forgotten.

Reviewed for Protestant Truth

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Affinity Theological Studies Conference 2013: Handling the Bible Ethically

Affinity logo

The Affinity Theological Studies Conference is due to take place on 16-18 January 2013. I attended the last one on 'The Doctrine and Function of Scripture in the 21st Century' back in 2011 (see here). During our discussions it emerged that more work needed to be done on biblical ethics in the contemporary context, hence the theme of next year's event. It is a proper conference, rather than a preaching-fest. Papers are circulated beforehand (I've already received my copies) and there are opportunities for discussion in small groups, plus plenary sessions. Here's the low-down:   
Paper 1: Natural Law in Scripture
Exploring multi-faceted aspects of natural law in the Bible
Stephen Clark
Director of EMW Theological Training Course and part time Lecturer at London Theological Seminary.

Paper 2: The teaching of Jesus & the NT
Exploring themes of continuity and discontinuity between aspects of ethical teaching in the ancient world and NT
Joshua Hordern
University Lecturer in Christian Ethics, University of Oxford

Paper 3: Psalms as Torah
Exploring the Bible’s ethical teaching in the Psalms
Gordon Wenham
Old Testament Tutor, Trinity College, Bristol
Paper 4: It’s A Rich Man's World? 
Exploring the biblical material on money, wealth and economic justice
Andrew Hartropp
Church minister, economist & Research Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies
Paper 5: War and Peace
Exploring the ethics of war, 'undercover' operations, torture etc.
Paul Helm
Theologian, philosopher & Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Canada
Paper 6: Bioethics
Exploring issues at the beginning and ending of life
Leonardo De Chirico
Church planter, theologian & ethicist in Rome, Italy

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What love is this?

Swaddling band, Italy 1590-1600 Museum no. B.878-1993

O Father, what love is this?
You sent your only Son,
forever wrapped in love,
to take our bone and flesh,
born of woman by the Spirit's power,
and wrapped in swaddling bands,
to suffer and die for us,
the just for the unjust,
that we might be wrapped
in his righteousness.
O Father, what love is this? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas and the Trinity

If it is true that all three divine persons are involved any act of God, then the incarnation of the Son involved the whole Trinity. That does not mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as the Son became incarnate. It was fitting that the Son as the image of the invisible God became man, created in the image of God according to his human nature. 

But the Son did not become incarnate apart from the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son into the world as man and sustained, taught, guided and empowered him by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the incarnation was that Christ might redeem us from sin by offering himself without blemish to God through the eternal Spirit. The Father raised his Son from the dead by the Spirit of holiness and by that same Spirit exalted Christ to his right hand in glory. The glorified Jesus poured out the Spirit from the Father upon the church on  the Day of Pentecost. 

Through the Son the godhead bears the impress of Jesus' human experience of humiliation, sorrow and death. Our triune Lord remembers our frame, knowing that we are dust. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, who groaned under the burden of our fallen world, makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.  The Father of the suffering Son's ear is ever attentive to the cries of his children. His tender hand will wipe all tears from their eyes.

Believers will share in the glory and exaltation of the incarnate Son. He, as the life-giving Spirit will raise them from the dead, transform them into his image and welcome them into his Father's house. There they will dwell with the Triune God for ever. Christmas is the gift of the Trinity. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

A brace of theological journals

You wait for ages for a decent online theological journal and then two turn up. The Gospel Coalition's  excellent Themelios and Affinity's baptism-themed Foundations are out now. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

You are worthy - verse 3.

We sang the hymn "Thou art worthy" the other week. The first verse is by Pauline Michael Mills, with a second verse added by Tom Smail. I was thinking that with a third verse on the Holy Spirit, it would make a good Trinitarian piece. Here's my attempt in modernised English. 

You are worthy, You are worthy,
You are worthy, O Dove,
You are worthy to receive glory,
the Spirit of Christ and of God.
For You have renewed us, have        
sanctified and sealed us,
by Your power making us whole.
And You will raise us
as You raised Jesus
to sit at the Father’s right hand. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Christmas is coming. Oh joy!

I know, the very title of my article might be enough to make you groan. What’s joyful about Christmas shopping on a busy Saturday afternoon, or writing a seemingly endless pile of Christmas cards? Even the grand switch on of Westbury’s Christmas Lights had to be postponed due to bad weather. Grim.

‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’ hollers the familiar seasonal song. Er, no thanks. Yes, there are good things too, like spending time with friends and family, giving and receiving gifts and a slap-up Christmas dinner. But the ‘season to be jolly’ soon passes.

We can recover the joy of Christmas when we remember the One who’s birth is celebrated on 25th December. The birth of Jesus Christ was a joyful event. The angel of the Lord told those old shepherds who watched their flocks by night,
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11-12).
Jesus came to banish the misery of sin and death and give us the joy of salvation. This joy is not seasonal, or based on a passing mood. It is the lasting joy of sins forgiven through faith in Christ the Lord and the glad hope of everlasting life. You will be familiar with the car window sticker saying, ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. Well, with Jesus, joy is for life, because of Christmas. We have ‘good tidings of great joy for all people’ - including you. 

* From an article in White Horse News

Monday, December 03, 2012

Unexpected Jesus: The Gospel as Surprise, by Craig Hovey

Unexpected Jesus: The Gospel as Surprise,
Craig Hovey, Cascade Books, 2012, 162pp.

There is surprise which is nice, there is shock, which is not and then there is a bit baffled, which is neither one thing or the other. I was prepared to give this book a fair reading. The title has a nice ring to it and the author has some thought provoking things to say, but in the end I was left a feeling bit baffled. 

On the plus side Hovey emphasises that because Jesus is the risen and living Lord, we can never wholly  posses him or think that we have come to know all that there is to know all about him. The living Jesus always has the capacity to surprise and amaze his followers. 

The writer makes a valid point that the  evangelical tendency to focus on the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact to be proven almost beyond all reasonable doubt can rob the resurrection of its theological significance. Yes, the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but we don't stop there. The fact that Jesus is risen means that he is a living presence to and in the church. 

Now for the baffled bit. For starters, the death of Hovey's 'Unexpected Jesus' was not an act of penal substitutionary atonement. His love for his enemies who crucified him exceeded their hatred for him. Only in that sense says the author, was the Cross good news. It is not that Christ saved us from our sins by dying in our place. Hovey cites Robert Jenson, "The Crucifixion is God's salvific action just in that God overcomes it by Resurrection." While it is true that we are saved by the living Jesus, it was by his death that he paid the price of sin so that we might be forgiven and put right with God. The lack of a rigorous theology of the Cross is a serious shortcoming in this work.

Hovey has a highly sacramental vision of the church, where he speaks not only of Christ in the church through the Eucharist, but Christ as the church (p. 45). He acknowledges that Christ cannot be wholly contained in the church and that there is always more of Jesus than is present in the church, but in speaking of Christ as the church he is in danger of collapsing the head into the body. 

The writer's construal of the day of judgement is not what might be expected if we take the witness of Scripture seriously. Hovey points out that the Father has committed all judgement to the Son (John 5:22). He reasons that "God's word of judgement is none other than Christ." (p. 117). He asks, "Can the lover of enemies be the same who oversees their final destruction?" (p. 116). Yes, because judgement on Christ's part is not an act of hatred, but justice, Matthew 25:46, John 5:28-29, 2 Corinthians 5:10.  Hovey holds out the hope that Jesus will judge in favour of those who have expressed antipathy to the Christian faith, on account of their concern for the poor and needy of the world. But while caring for the downtrodden is commendable, it is by faith we are saved, by grace and not by our works, Ephesians 2:8-9. 

As I say, there are some good things here, but Hovey's attempt at sketching out a 'theology of surprise' doesn't altogether stand up to serious biblical scrutiny. Sad to say that the issues mentioned above explain why bafflement rather than surprise was the overriding emotion evoked by my reading of Unexpected Jesus: The Gospel as Surprise.

* Thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy of this book. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Procrastination without hurrying for any

I realise that the women bishops thing was last week's news and that a week is quite a long time in the fast moving world of blog-land. But it's taken until today for me to muster the motivation to write something about the affair. Even now I can hardly be bothered. I mean, I'm not an Anglican and I don't believe in diocesan bishops, whether male or female. Bishops or overseers are simply elders of local congregations. They are not mitre wearing, crook wielding princes of the church. And according to the Bible, elders are male and that's that. It's not really my concern as a Reformed Baptist that the ordination of women bishops failed to attract enough support in each of the Church of England's electoral collages. 

So, why am I writing about this now? It's because this issue has highlighted the anomaly of us having an Established Church. In the wake of the no vote, or at least the not enough yeses vote, outraged MPs have weighed in, demanding that the CofE gets its house in order and fast track the ordination of women bishops. Some mutter darkly that the State Church should not be exempt from equality legislation. David Cameron has demanded that the Church of England, "get with the programme", whatever that means. The fact that half of the opponents to women bishops were women rather than crusty old male chauvinists (see here) doesn't seem to figure. 

The trouble is that as the Established Church, with bishops in the House of Lords, the Church of England is vulnerable to such Erastian pressure. Erastianism is the view that the Church is in effect the religious arm of the State and should jolly well do what it's told by its political masters. Henry VIII was an Erastian. So, it seems is David Cameron, although in a much nicer way. After all, not even the Tories are the 'nasty party' any more. 

I'm a Free Church man. I don't believe in the establishment principle. Church and State are distinct institutions, with very different roles and functions. What God hath separated man shall not join together. Robert Browneseceded from the Church of England in the 1580's over just this point. The Separatist wrote an influential book Reformation Without Tarrying for Any, arguing that the church should not wait for permission from the State to instigate reformation according to the Word of God. The treatise, which outraged the authorities, was in effect his death warrant. But by the same token, the church should not give in to pressure from the State to make changes to its biblically grounded teaching and practice. 

The fact that the Church of England is the Established Church complicates matters. If the Church has a say in the State, then the State will demand a say on what happens in the Church. But when it comes to making a decision on women bishops, I suggest that Anglican leaders man-up and resist the pressure from politicos rush things through. Procrastination without hurrying for any, if you like. That should give some time for an accommodation to be reached with opponents of the measure. However, there is one thing that cannot be delayed and that is the disestablishment of the Church of England that will free it from from political interference in the first place.

What Evangelicals are doing in the middle of this unholy muddle, though I can't quite understand. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chippenham FIEC 90

John Stevens preaching

Last Thursday half a dozen of our people crammed into a people carrier. For some strange reason I ended up in the boot. We braved a wet and windy night in order to attend our region's FIEC 90th anniversary meeting, held at Ladyfield Evangelical Church, Chippenham. Considering the weather conditions, a good number turned up for the event. The start time was delayed by fifteen minutes to give time for FIEC head honcho, John Stevens to turn up. Traffic problems, exacerbated by the heavy rain, apparently. 

We were treated to a potted history of the FIEC  by Andy Patterson, and saw a video on the FIEC's vision for Pastoral Support, Mission, Training and Practical Services. News was given of initiatives in our area, including the formation of clusters of churches.

John Stevens preached on Philippians 1:1-18. His focus was on 'gospel partnership', which tied in nicely with the FIEC's aim of enabling churches to work together for the sake of the gospel. 

It was good to get a sense of where the FIEC is heading over the next few years. The emphasis on the FIEC as a movement for the re-evangelisation of the UK was welcome. I listened to a recording of a talk given by Robert Letham the other day on Building Christ's Church. He suggested that while Independents might plant new churches in their locality, only Presbyterians were capable of a strategically planting churches right across the nation. Well, the FIEC is now considering planting churches in areas of the country where there is currently no evangelical witness. Indys can and do collaborate. That is what the 'F' in FIEC stands for. 

After the meeting it was a whirl of networking and snatched conversations before braving the rain for the journey home. Apparently John Stevens is now quite famous after being interviewed on my blog. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

EMW Church Officers' Training Days

Check out the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Church Officers' Training Days, 2013. Speakers include Stephen Clark, Stuart Olyott and Peter Milsom. It's for pastors, elders and deacons. Myself and some of our deacons attended last year's event, which was very helpful - see my report.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Serving Today with Grace Baptist Mission

Had an enjoyable day at GBM HQ in Abindgon, recording a series of talks on Jesus "I am" sayings in The Gospel According to John. I've done a bit of radio work before, mainly 'morning thought' type things for BBC Radio Wiltshire and occasionally offering my opinion on topical news items. But the idea with GBM's 'Serving Today' programme is to help African pastors develop their expository preaching skills. The talks took the form of a dialogue between presenter, Andrew Cook and myself on how to preach on the different "I am" sayings. We recorded eight conversations in all, four before and four after lunch. 

The talks were mostly reworked sermons from a series I did on John a while back. The trouble was that when I agreed to do the talks for GBM, I  had forgotten I had handwritten the earlier sermons in the series. It wasn't until John 12 that I switched from handwriting my notes to using Microsoft Word. The effort of trying to decipher my messy handwriting to write up the scripts was a good reminder of why I laid aside my trusty fountain pen in favour of a keyboard. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


This week I've been hammering away at my keyboard, bashing out scripts for Grace Baptist Mission's radio programme, Serving Today. Next Tuesday I'll be heading to GBM's Abingdon HQ to record eight talks on Jesus' "I am" sayings in the Gospel According to John with Andrew Cook. I know there are only seven of them, but the first talk is introductory. 

Also I've been in and out of schools quite a bit. On Tuesday I led a primary school assembly. I'm a parent governor at the local secondary school and we had a committee meeting Tuesday evening. Then it was back to school yesterday for my daughter's Sixth Form Evening. I have another governors' meeting this afternoon. 

What with pastoral visits, Bible Study/Sermon prep and all, I haven't had too much time for reading, but I've got through a few more chapters of Paul Brown's biog of Earnest Kevan and have nearly finished The Unexpected Jesus, by Craig Hovey. His portrait of Jesus certainly isn't one I expected, that's for sure. Look out for a review next week.

I'll be preaching away on Sunday at Gillingham Baptist Church, Dorset, where we used to be members before moving to Westbury. That's Gillingam with the 'Gill' bit pronounced like a fish's gill rather than the girl's name, Gill as in Gillingham, Kent. Although for a Welshman like me, the 'll' in Gillingham should really be spoken with a 'chl' sound like Llanelli. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sinners for sale, gifts to share

I have often watched auctions taking place on TV, but I have never attended one in the flesh until now*. I cannot think about auctions without being reminded of an incident in the life of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher, John Elias (1774-1841).

Surprising at it may seem, the 1824 Holyhead Association of the Calvinistic Methodists was disturbed by bouts of drunkenness. John Elias took it upon himself to urge the people to behave soberly and decently. He began with general words of exhortation and then he started to preach....

'I feel within myself this minute,' he cried, 'to offer them [the drunkards] for sale, by auction, to whomsoever will take them, that they might not disturb us any more,' Then at the top of his voice, with his arm outstretched, as if he held them in the palm of his hand, he shouted, 'Who will take them? Who will take them? Churchmen will you take them?' 'We? We in our baptism have professed to renounce the devil and all his works. No; we cannot take them.' Then, after a moments silence, 'Independents, will you take them?' 'What? We? We, ages ago left the Church of England because of her corruption. No; we cannot take them.' Another inerval of silence. 'Baptists, will you take them?' 'We? Certainly not! We dip all our people in water as a sign that we take those who have been cleansed. No; we will not have them.' Silence again. 'Wesleyans, will you take them?' 'What? we? Good works is a matter of life for with us. We do not want them.'

Then he stretched forth his arm once again, as if holding the poor drunkards in his hand; and once again at the top of his voice he shouted. 'Who will take them? Who will take them?' Then suddenly, his whole nature became agitated, His eyes flashed as he turned his head aside, and in a low tone which could be heard by all, he said, 'Methinks I can hear the devil at my elbow saying, "Knock them down to me! I will take them."'

Then, after thirty seconds of dead silence, he cried, 'I was going to say, Satan, that you could have them, but' - looking upwards, he said in a loud, clear, yet gentle voice, 'I can hear Jesus saying, "I will take them! I will take them! Unclean to be washed; drunkards to be sobered; in all their filth and degradation, I will take them, and cleanse them in mine own blood."' The effect of this can be better imagined than described. The ministers, preachers and elders were stunned; and the huge congregation was stirred with a spirit of tumultuous joy and exultation.

John Elias saw clearly that it is not moralising, but the gospel that changes lives: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The gospel also motivates us to give, 2 Corinthians 8:9. The fact that Christ has “auctioned us” by his own blood liberates us from selfishness and greed and makes us the kind of cheerful givers that God loves. Good giving is grace-enabled giving. As children of the giving God we give not grudgingly, but gladly. We give for the good of his people and the glory of his name,
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Cor 9:12-13).
*From a talk given at Leonora Home's 'Gift Day' and 'Auction of Promises'.