Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tenet film review

What seems like ages ago in the future we went to see Tenet the first Saturday in September.  Time flies when you're having fun. 

There's this thing, right, that weaponises time so that bullets reverse fire and bombs unexplode. Cars go backwards too. Mostly stuff goes forwards, though, but sometimes in the past the future happens at the same time. And if you're from the future you'll need to wear an oxygen mask now. 

Got to be careful not to bump into your past self when you drop in from the future, as you may end up having a scrap with him [you]. And be sure not to kill your grandparents, as then you may not get born in the future to kill them and that will change the past. They do things differently there.


There was an explainer in The Times the other Saturday. Explained that the science behind the film wasn't too facty. With my grade 5 CSE Physics, I think I got that.

Kenneth Branagh is a Russian baddie, Andrei Sator. Bit of a megalomaniac. Dying. No going gentle into that good night for him. Going to take the world with him by nuking the time travelling widget. This is a cause of some domestic tensions with his wife, Kat, a willowy blonde played by Elizabeth Debicki. Basically reprising her role in Night Watchman. Sator probably should have discussed it with her first. Would have been OK, then. 

Anyway, good job The Protagonist (John David Washington) is on hand to save the day and set things up for a sequel. Spoiler, the world doesn't really end, yet. 

If you find criss-crossing, time-shifting narrative arcs confusing, this one's going to do your head in. Like Inception, but not as much as Little Women

Now for the hidden theological message bit. The future invades the present, now and not yet. 

All clear now? 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

An interview with Professor Stuart Burgess: 'Science & Faith: Harmony or Conflict'

Earlier this evening I interviewed Stuart Burgess, professor of Engineering Design at Bristol University. Among other things we discussed whether the Christian faith is compatible with science and whether it is possible for human beings to have personal knowledge of their Creator. I enjoyed our consersation. Hopefully you will too. 


Thursday, September 24, 2020

'Faith and Science: Harmony or Conflict?' An interview with Stuart Burgess

On Sunday 27 September at 6.00pm I will be interviewing Professor Stuart Burgess on 'Faith and Science: Harmony or Conflict?'. The interview will be livestreamed here on our Church Facebook page.

Stuart Burgess is a professor of Engineering Design at Bristol University. He has worked for the European Space Agency on spacecraft design and also worked for the British Olympic Cycling Team, designing the chain transmission for the Rio and Tokyo Olympics. He has published over 170 scientific papers on the science of design in engineering and nature and received several national awards including the 2019 IMechE Clayton Prize for the biggest contribution to mechanical engineering science in the UK.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Objection to Westbury Incinerator Plans

I emailed this letter to Wiltshire Council. The deadline for responses is 22 September. Send yours to: or see here for the Wiltshire Council planning application page. 

Dear Sir/Madam,

Westbury Incinerator planning number 20/06775/WCM

We are writing to object to the planned Westbury Incinerator at Northacre Industrial Estate.

Many people living in the town already suffer with chronic health problems. Cancer and lung condition deaths are higher here than across Wiltshire. 

Poor air quality has been exacerbated by HGVs being diverted from Bath onto the A350 through Westbury. The Incinerator would mean an additional 20,000 truck journeys a year around the town. 

Smoke billowing from the Incinerator chimney would make the situation even worse, further damaging the health of Westbury residents.

The children and young people of the town deserve better than to have their lives blighted by growing up in the shadow of this environmentally disastrous development. 

We would urge that Wiltshire Council oppose the Incinerator plans submitted by Northacre Renewable Energy Ltd.

Yours sincerely....

See the Westbury Gasification Action Group for more information. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom by Samuel Renihan (review part 1)

Founders Press, 2019, 217pp

In his earlier title, From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704), Samuel Renihan set out to demonstrate that the federal theology of the seventeenth English Particular Baptists was a legitimate strain within Reformed covenant theology. A work of historical theology, in it the author compared and contrasted the views of Nehemiah Coxe and others with mainline Orthodox Reformed thought. The Mystery of Christ: His Kingdom & His Covenant is a fresh and original study in its own right. The focus here is on how the twin themes of covenant and kingdom disclose the 'mystery of Christ' as they unfold in biblical revelation. 


Renihan begins by clearing the ground, dealing with matters of methodology and defining key terms. He makes an important distinction between our obligation to God by virtue of creation and covenant-based relationships. As God's creatures, human beings are subject to 'natural law'. Keeping the law in that sense would not merit a reward, for God is due our entire obedience. In a covenant relationship, however, God may be pleased of his own free goodness to reward obedience with the promise of life. Covenants often involve 'positive laws' that go beyond the universal moral standards of natural law. The command that Adam should not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is an example of positive law, as is the command that the descendants of Abraham should be circumcised. Positive laws are contingent on specific covenant relationships. They cannot of necessity be carried forward into different covenant dispensations. The positive rules and regulations of the old covenant no longer apply in new covenant era, as in Christ we have the substance to which they pointed. 

Another important distinction is made between the law and the gospel. In a stark sense law and gospel are polar opposites. The former demands perfect obedience to God's commands, the latter offers Christ's perfect imputed righteousness to the believing sinner. But in terms of the historic biblical covenants, law and gospel are both present. While the old covenant is often described as 'the law', it also held out the promise of life in Christ. While the new covenant underscores that salvation is by faith alone, the law is written on the hearts of believers and its righteous requirements are fulfilled in those who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. As Robert Letham points out, all the biblical covenants are based on grace, yet regulated by law. (Systematic Theology, Robert Letham, Crossway, 2019, p. 364-365). 

The old covenant bore witness to Christ though it's types and shadows, but the full revelation of Messiah and his work was not yet made known. That is why Paul refers to the 'mystery of Christ' (Ephesians 3:4, Colossians 4:3). Biblical revelation is progressive. Covenant theology should be sensitive to history and mystery and not try to flatten the upward curve of God's self-disclosure in Christ. 

Renihan sees an intimate connection between the themes of covenant and kingdom. A covenant is a guaranteed commitment between two parties. Promises are attached to the fulfilment of covenant obligations. Sanctions or threats give the covenant arrangement legal sanction. In terms of the biblical covenants God promises blessing to those who are faithful to his covenant and threatens judgement upon those who break its terms. Remarkably, the Lord took the sanctions upon himself when formalising his covenant with Abraham, Genesis 15:9-10, 17-20. 

Three Kingdoms 

God contracts his covenants with federal heads, or representative figures. That was certainly the case with the covenants associated with Adam, Noah, David and Christ. Blessings or sanctions flow from the federal heads to those who belong to them. "Covenants function as the legal basis upon which God interacts with man in a given kingdom." (p. 54). This applies to the three kingdoms God established, each governed by their own specific covenants. The Lord governs the Kingdom of Creation by means of the Covenant of Works and the Noahic Covenant. The Kingdom of Israel is constituted by the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic Covenants. Finally the Kingdom of Christ is the realisation of the Covenant of Redemption and Covenant of Grace. 

The Kingdom of Creation 
Although the word 'covenant' may not be used of God's relationship with humanity in Adam (but see Hosea 6:7), all the essential elements of a biblical covenant are present. By virtue of his creation, Adam was obligated to obey God, both in terms of 'natural law' and also his God-given task of exercising dominion over the creation. But beyond that, Adam was the recipient of covenantal promises and sanctions. He was promised access to the tree of life and the reward of entering God's rest once his work of subduing creation had been completed. He was threatened with the sanction of death and expulsion from the garden sanctuary of Eden if he disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

Adam did not deserve the blessings of life and rest. In his goodness God condescended to bestow these rewards upon him on the condition of obedience, This was a covenant of works. That Adam was the federal head of the covenant of works is evident from the fact that all humanity fell with him into sin and death according to the Genesis account. This is further spelt out in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

The covenant of works has now been abrogated. There is no way back to Eden, no second chance to keep its command to refrain from eating of the forbidden tree. Humanity remains under the curse of this broken covenant, however. Sin reigns in death over all people in Adam. The moral law continues to demand obedience to God, but sinners cannot live up to its requirements and so attract God's condemnation and wrath for their transgressions. 

The promise of salvation through a deliverer immediately after the fall was the first revelation of the covenant of grace, Genesis 3:15. It was only by means of this covenant that the protology of the covenant of works would be brought to its eschatological fulfilment in Christ. As Isaac Watts sang, 'In him the tribes of Adam boast/more blessings than their father lost." 

Under the Noahic covenant, after the judgement of the flood the Lord promised to preserve the 'common kingdom' of sin-ruined creation until Christ came to make all things new. "The mystery of Christ will unfold in this theatre of preservation." (p. 82).

The Kingdom of Israel 
In common with the Particular Baptist tradition Renihan links the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants as variegated expressions of the old covenant. These covenants flowed from God's grace towards Israel, but they are not in themselves administrations of the covenant of grace. They were intended to serve as 'covenants of promise' through which Messiah would be born into the world and bring blessing to Israel and all peoples. While the promise of Messiah though the seed of Abraham entailed a further revelation of the covenant of grace, life in the Promised Land was conditional upon Israel fulfilling her covenant obligations. In that sense the old covenant was a covenant of works, but that does not mean it was a republication of the Adamic covenant. 

The laws associated with the Mosaic covenant elaborated upon the covenant obligations that the Lord imposed upon Abraham, Genesis 17:1, 9-11. But the people of Israel were not saved by keeping those laws. Rather, like Abraham, salvation was for those who believed the promise of blessing through Messiah, Genesis 15:6 cf. Romans 4. Not all of Abraham's descendants believed the promise that was revealed to them through the types and shadows of the old covenant, Romans 9. The law had no power to compel obedience. Israel was often wayward and rebellious. Their covenant breaking led to Israel being expelled from the Promised Land. 

The kings in the line of David acted as federal heads of the whole nation. The kingdom of Israel rose or fell according to the faithfulness of their earthly rulers, 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 89. 

The people of Israel were in a highly privileged position. From the descendants of Abraham and David would come the longed for Christ. But Israel broke the terms of the old covenant. Her kingdom lay in ruins. A new covenant and kingdom was therefore needed, Jeremiah 31:31-34. 

I think I'll leave it there for now. In part 2 of the review we will look at what Renihan has to say about the Kingdom of Christ and then move from an attempt to summarise his thesis to constructive appraisal. One critical point that I would make is that The Mystery of Christ isn't available in the UK, or can only be ordered if you are willing to pay a handsome price for p&p. Mine is a review copy courtesy  of Founders Press. I hope they soon are able to sort out a UK distribution deal. 

See here for part 2 and part 3 of this review series. 

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Life: It's a risky business

 ᐈ Lighting stock pics, Royalty Free lightning bolt pictures | download on  Depositphotos®
For months the government’s message to its citizens was, ‘Stay At Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS’. Now that lockdown measures are easing ministers would like us to venture out a bit more. Workers should leave the comforts of home and get back to the office, otherwise sandwich shops will go bust. Then there was the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative, counterbalanced by a campaign to encourage people to take more exercise. Air corridors were opened to favourite holiday spots, only for them to close again, forcing Brits returning from Spain and France to quarantine for two weeks.

After months of being told what to do during lockdown we are now being asked to weigh up the risks for ourselves and get on with life as best we can. Of course, it would be wrong to be foolhardy. Social distancing and good hand hygiene should be maintained, but living life to the full involves taking risks. Sadly, we know that not everyone who gets married ‘lives happily ever after’, yet many of us nevertheless risked all for love, pledging to stick by our wife or husband, ‘for better for worse, for richer, for poorer’. And we’re glad we did.

A playing it safe, risk-free life would be rather dull. One thing that enables us to take risks is hope. Holiday makers hoped their trip to the south of France would be worth the inconvenience of possibly having to quarantine. The Christian faith is big on risk-defying hope in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first Christian missionaries to the New Hebrides were killed and eaten by cannibals only minutes after they reached land. That was in 1839. Almost ten years later John G. Paton and his wife set sail for the same islands with the intention of sharing the good news of Jesus with the inhabitants.

A friend tried to warn Paton against such a risky undertaking, “You will be eaten by cannibals!” The missionary would not be put off, replying, Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms.”

Paton wasn’t eaten by cannibals. His mission was a success and he lived to a good old age. The preacher’s unwavering hope in Jesus enabled him to take a huge risk that paid off. We may not be called to such a dangerous mission, but with hope in our hearts we can defy fear and face the risky business that is life in a world stricken by coronavirus.

*For News & Views, West Lavington parish magazine 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

How to pray with help from Martin Luther

I started reading this during our summer hols and am still working my way through. The author, Harold Senkbeil is a Lutheran pastor and that Reformation tradition enriches the classic model of pastoral care he commends in these pages. Although some aspects of Lutheran pastoral practice freak me out a bit.

In chapter 4 the writer has section on 'How to Pray'. He uses Martin Luther's model of prayer as a means of equipping pastors to help their people in the practice of prayerful meditation on God's word. 

Luther would use a "prayer wreath" approach to praying through a biblical text. I'd not come across this before and found it helpful. The "wreath" has four basic strands, (1) precept; (2) thanksgiving; (3) confession; (4) supplication. See p. 106-107 (Kindle edition). 

Senkbeil uses the opening petition of the Lord's prayer as a worked example, "Hallowed be thy name.". I summarise in my own words: 

1, Father you teach me that your name is holy. Your name is to be revered above all things. In the waters of baptism I was baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and now I belong to you. 

2. I thank you Father that you have set me apart as holy to yourself by the blood of your Son and presence of your Spirit. I gladly offer my life to you as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to you, which is my reasonable service. 

3. I confess that by life and lip I have profaned your holy name. Forgive my sin for Jesus' sake.

4. Help me, Father to be holy as you are holy in thought, word and deed, that my life may reflect your character to the glory of your name.

The same basic approach can be applied to most any portion of the word of God. With a sprinkling of homiletical pixie dust the four strands can be relabelled: (1) precept; (2) praise; (3) penitence; (4) prayer. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Awaiting Moderation

How to Add a Widget to Blogger in 10 Steps
When I first started blogging people used to comment on my posts on a pretty regular basis. Occasionally you might get a good discussion going and a longish thread of comments would ensue. I was only thinking recently that those days seem to have gone. 

Now comment on or discussion of blog content tends to take place on Facebook or Twitter, rather than in the comments field of a post. 

Comments on my blog have to be moderated by me before publication. That helps to avoid posts being cluttered up with stupid, irrelevant and spammy comments, which I would then have to delete.

But it's been ages since I checked to see whether any comments were awaiting moderation. When I did think to check the other day there were quite a few for me to look at. There were a several in Arabic. Seemed to my untrained eye like exactly the same comment on several different posts. Exotic spam, probably.

Then there were the typo/error alert comments. A number of those, oddly enough. John Blanchard's Gathered Gold had become Gathered God. Not a Freudian slip, I hope. Embarrassingly, in one post I missed the 'l' from public. I do read through the stuff I write here before posting, honest. This blog has always been plagued by typos. And readers have always enjoyed pointing them out. Glad to be of service. Pedants.

Much to my surprise Robert Letham left a few comments. Evidently he had been reading my Plague Journals, which featured updates on my progress in reading his Systematic Theology. As well as 'I read from page ? to page ?? in the last week' kind of thing, I would also do a bit of a running review. You will find his comments at the foot of Plague Journal: Weeks 11-13.

I've now finished Letham's ST, and very good it is too. A review has been submitted to the Banner of Truth Magazine. You'll have to wait until its published there until I post my impressions on the blog. All I'll say for now is that it was one of the best STs I've read. Although, as a Reformed Baptist I didn't always agree with his stance on covenant theology, baptism and the church.

Sorry if I've neglected you if you've been kind enough to comment. The typos/errors highlighted have now been duly corrected.

Maybe the golden age of blog comments isn't quite over yet. I just need to remember to check to see if there's anything awaiting moderation more frequently.