Sunday, November 29, 2020
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Friday, November 20, 2020
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
· The Samaritans 116 123 (24hrs).
· Shout is a 24/7 text service if that feels easier. Text 85258.
· If you are a young person (or you're concerned about a young person) you can call Papyrus Hopeline on 0800 068 4141 9am-midnight. Or text on 07860 039967
· Book an emergency appointment with your GP or ring 999 or go to A&E even in lockdown.
There is no shame, there is help available, your life matters, there is hope, you are not alone.
Monday, November 16, 2020
This lockdown feels a lot different to the last one. That's because it is. Restrictions aren't so tight as in the Spring. Back then people were massively spooked into slavish compliance with the rules. The occasional Coviditiot aside.
This time people are more questioning of the need for lockdown, although, so far as I can see most are still doing the 'Hands, Face, Space' thing. But this is Wiltshire, hardly Covid-central.
Last time round the abrupt closure of places of worship felt to many preachers like they were a bird flying into a window. Fly, fly, fly, bump. This time it was more like a duck making a smooth landing on the village millpond. A rather grumpy duck, admittedly. But at least now we've mastered online services, taking to Zoom like a duck to... You know the rest.
We had a Zoom service on Sunday 8 November in the morning, where I spoke on Jeremiah 10:1-16. In the evening I did a 'service' on Facebook Live, with a message on Acts 2:33-36. Our Zoomers are pretty straightforward affairs. I open in prayer, read the Bible, give a kids' talk and then a message. That segment is also livestreamed to Facebook. After that we have a song video, open prayer time, another song video, closing with the benediction. After the service has finished I leave the meeting open for people to grab a coffee and have a chat. Much like we used to in the old days before Covid struck.
I don't agree that places of worship should have been forced to close during lockdown. There is little evidence that churches have been Covid hotspots. For many older believers church meetings are their main form of social contact. Above all, gathered worship is not a 'non-essential hobby', but an important component of the Christian life.
But I don't believe churches should defy the lockdown law that was passed by parliament. We are not yet being forced to deny that Jesus is Lord and instead burn incense on Caesar's altar. Few would deny that under at least some circumstances the state may order the closure of places of worship and other venues in the name of public safety. That said, it is perfectly fair for Christians to challenge the ruling via judicial review, which I hope is successful.
On Friday evenings I do a story video for our Virtually One Way Club, mainly for primary school aged children. We've been looking at the story of Moses and last Friday it was the Ten Commandments. Again, it's via Zoom (with only me in the meeting), streamed to FB Live.
I read Catherine Haddow's book, Jars of Clay: Peace for the Anxious Soul in preparation for an online interview with the author on Sunday 15th in the evening. Very helpful it was too. I hope to post a review on the blog sometime this week and also share the interview video here.
On Saturday Sarah and I visited Westonbirt Arboretum. Last time we visited in October 2018 the acer trees were decked in their autumnal splendour. The glory had faded somewhat by mid-November but it was still an enjoyable day out. We managed to dodge the heavy showers. Finding the Gruffalo in the woods gave me inspiration for Sunday morning's children's talk.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
Founders Press, 2019, 217pp
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
I enjoyed Glen Scrivener's interview with Tom Holland when we saw it on Sunday evening, although much of the ground they covered was familiar to anyone who had read Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, or watched other conversations with the author.
Holland's rehearsal of the argument advanced in Dominion was interesting enough. His thesis being that enlightened liberalism owes more to its Christian heritage than is often admitted. Ideas of equality, universal human rights and secularism didn't just spring from nowhere. They are rooted in the Bible and Christian theology.
It was also fascinating to hear Holland commenting on how his book on the origins of Islam, In the Shadow of the Sword was received rather differently in the Muslim world to Christian reaction to Dominion. The author received death threats for subjecting origin myths of Islam to historical scrutiny. Christians have by and large welcomed Dominion, giving it warm reviews. Certainly no death threats. Tellingly, secular humanists have been most critical of this work because it shatters their origin myth that the Enlightenment rejected everything based on Christian superstition in order to usher in a new age of reason. Not quite.
One of the key features of Dominion is Holland's ability to spot where a moral position that is so common in the West that it might seem like part of the natural order of things, is in fact rooted in Christianity. Take a concern for the poor and disadvantaged, for example. That concern lies at the heart of Black Lives Matter, however much the movement might disavow the Bible in favour of Marxism. As Holland points out, however, BLM and other identitarian causes have failed to take on board the Christian doctrine of original sin that chastens our claim to moral superiority. Hence the shrill denunciation of anyone who has the temerity not to 'take the knee', even if they are black. Go woke, go Pelagian.
Towards the end of the interview Scrivener asked Holland where he was when it came to a personal commitment to faith in Christ. He acknowledged that he had lost his faith in liberalism as a system of universal values supposedly derived from pure reason. But his comments on believing in and following Jesus were rather opaque. Holland spoke of 'surrendering to the story' of the Bible, irrespective of whether that story is grounded in history. He was willing to take that existential leap of faith because the Christian story offers him a compelling moral and spiritual vision.
Scrivener doesn't press Holland on this, even though the Christian faith is based on the great historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead. If that isn't true, 'we are of all men to be pitied', as Paul put it. Reflecting further on why he has not yet made a personal commitment to Christ, the historian commented that he was not impressed by the pronouncements of church leaders during the pandemic. To him their message was one of health and safety, not heaven and hell. Disappointingly, they seemed to make little attempt to draw upon centuries of theological reflection on plagues and pestilence to help us discern what God might be saying to us in these Covid-stricken days.
He may have a point, although at least some of us have been trying to apply the message of God's Word to men and women living in darkness and the shadow of death. It turns out that Holland has been playing cricket over the summer, rather than attending church, where he might have heard the urgent call to repent and believe the gospel.
In Dominion Holland demonstrated that the 'Christian Revolution' transformed Western society in ways that we do not always appreciate. But Christianity is not primarily an agent of cultural change. It proclaims the way of salvation through faith in Jesus who died for our sins that we might be put right with God and rose from the dead to give us the hope of everlasting life. 'Cultural Christianity' wants some of the societal and existential benefits of the faith, but resists Jesus' costly call to 'follow me'. It's just not cricket.
Here's the interview:
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Monday, November 09, 2020
For many years Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof was the standard text in the field of Reformed systematics. More recent publications were conspicuous by their absence. That is no longer the case. A welcome fruit of the resurgence of the Reformed faith in the mid 20th century has been the production of a number of fresh works of systematic theology in recent years. Among them are Robert L. Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith and Michael Horton's The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Herman Bavinck's magisterial four volume Reformed Dogmatics has also been published in English translation, but, as the title suggests they are works of dogmatic, rather than systematic theology.
The traditional approach of systematic theology as exemplified by Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof has been called into question by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. In his The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, Vanhoozer argued that doctrine should be reconfigured in terms of the great drama of redeeming grace. The purpose of doctrine is to enable the people of God to play their roles in the theodrama. Michael Horton takes this into account in his The Christian Faith, but Letham adopts a more traditional approach to systematic theology. While he acknowledges the insights to be had from speech-act theory 'theodrama' isn't the organising principle here.
Systematic theology is an attempt at setting out the key doctrines of the Christian faith in logical order as an interconnected whole. Logically speaking the doctrine of God is the most important of all, which is where Letham beings, rather than with the doctrine of Scripture. After discussing the Revelation of God, Letham devotes three chapters to the Trinity before giving attention to the divine attributes. The work as a whole is thoroughgoingly trinitarian. It is the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit whose sovereign will is done in creation, providence and redemption.
Perhaps surprisingly the writer does not engage at length with the controversy over the eternal submission of the Son to the Father. He none the less makes it clear that while there is an order of persons in the Trinity, the divine will is a property of God’s being shared equally by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Talk of the Son eternally submitting his own will to the Father’s is therefore misplaced. Letham takes issue with the ‘Covenant of Redemption’ which he sees as having subordinationist overtones, preferring to speak of the Divine Counsel of the Trinity.
In line with his sovereign plan God created the material world and declared it very good. Letham helpfully underlines the value of value of the material realm throughout his work. This is affirmed in that the Son of God took human nature into union with his divine person at the incarnation. As the God-Man, Jesus came not just to save our souls, but to rescue the created order from sin and its effects. The believer looks forward to partaking of the divine nature at resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. The chapters on the incarnation are models of biblical insight, compressed historical study and critical interaction with contemporary trends in Christology.
This is a work of covenant theology. The writer points out that God has always and under every covenant administration dealt with human beings in the basis of grace regulated by law. The Adamic covenant did not offer life on the basis of strict merit, but a 'voluntary condescension on God's part in terms of a covenant'. The Mosiac covenant was not a republication of the Adamic covenant of works, but a further continuation of the Abrahamic covenant. The author sees the Abrahamic/Moasic/Davidic covenants as administrations of the overarching covenant of grace. Reformed Baptists would counter that the old covenant dispensations were not in fact administrations of the covenant of grace, but gracious anticipations of the covenant of grace what was enacted by Jesus, the Mediator of a new and better covenant. A distinction needs to be maintained between covenant of grace promised in the Old Testament period and promulgated in the New, Ephesians 2:12, Hebrews 9:15-22.
The work of Christ is discussed under the headings of his ministry as prophet, priest and king, although his prophetic work receives scant attention. The theologian gives full coverage to the different aspects of Christ's atoning work as our great high priest. Penal substitution and definite atonement are defended ably and biblically. Jesus' ascension into heaven and reign are discussed as attention is given to our Lord's kingly role. In common with many systematic theologies the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not given the place it deserves in treating the saving work of Christ. As Richard B. Gaffin Jr argues in his Resurrection and Redemption: A Sudy in Paul's Soteriology, P&R, the resurrection of Jesus is central to the basic structure of Pau's doctrine of salvation. Although. to be fair, Letham's chapters on eschatology towards the end of the book make up for the lacuna here.
Over and against the individualistic tendencies of the West, the author discusses the application of salvation and the Christian life under the heading, ‘The Spirit of God and the People of God’, with a strong emphasis on the church. The various features of salvation are rooted in the believer’s union with Christ. The value of the Lord's Supper and Baptism are underlined. Having said that, Reformed Baptists will not find themselves in agreement with some aspects of the theologian’s treatment of baptism and church membership. Baptist understandings are sometimes airily dismissed rather given due consideration as a legitimate line of thought within the Reformed tradition.
The chapters in Part 8, 'The Ultimate Purposes of God' offer a magnificent vision of the Christian hope. Letham understands Romans 9-11 to teach that there will be a widespread turning to Christ on the part of Jewish people before the Lord returns. That will give a massive stimulus to world mission. A great multitude that no man can number will be saved from every tribe, tongue and nation. There is a sobering chapter Hell as a Place of Eternal Conscious Punishment, but the hope of the believer in terms of resurrection of the body and everlasting life in the new creation are to the fore.
Letham writes with clarity, precision and occasionally, humour. His handling of biblical materials is insightful. He traces the historical development of key doctrines in such a way as to cast fresh light on the Word of God. While irenic in tone and catholic spirited, Letham does not shy away from controversy, engaging amongst others with Karl Barth, proponents of feminist thought, and New Covenant Theologians.
The work is shot through with a spirit of devotion and doxology as the author directs the thoughts of his readers to our glorious triune God, his sovereign decrees and mighty acts. His Systematic Theology deserves to be the 'new Berkhof', but better. All we need now is a full work of contemporary systematic theology written from a Reformed Baptist standpoint. 'Who will go for us?'
* Reviewed for the Banner of Truth Magazine. A shorter version of this review can be found in the November edition.
Friday, November 06, 2020
|Westbury before lockdown|
|Westbury during lockdown|
Dear Dr Murrison,
Although I note you did not abstain or vote against the government's lockdown legislation, as did some Conservative MPs, I am grateful to you for raising your concerns about the closure of places of worship. You are quoted as having said,
"I am concerned about places of collective worship... I understand the logic behind proscribing those activities, but we have to treat the British public as adults and individuals with autonomy and agency. I respectfully disagree with the decisions that have been made on those fronts, and I hope very much, particularly if this sadly has to be continued beyond the beginning of December, that they are looked at again."
I hope indeed that the government will look again at this matter, which is currently subject to legal challenge.
It seems passing strange that Matt Hancock confirmed to the House that a person may travel overseas to end their life by assisted suicide (here), but people are forbidden to gather in a Covid secure church building for the worship of Almighty God.
Had I seen the BBC report before I sent the email I would also have mentioned that according to the UK Statistics Authority, lockdown was based on dodgy data. It's disgraceful that businesses have been and places of worship have been forced to close and people deprived of their basic freedoms when the data presented painted an overly alarmist picture.
Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Dear Dr. Murrison,
Thanks for taking the time to interact with Westbury church leaders the other week. You may recall that I asked for your views on the possibility of another national lockdown and whether it was the government’s intention for churches to stay open over the autumn and winter period.
You said that you supported the three tier regional approach, where restrictions were commensurate with infection rates. We agreed that as Covid cases in the South West of England and elsewhere in the country were relatively low, a complete national lockdown was not merited and would have significant negative effects. Until Saturday evening that was also the policy advocated by government ministers.
The slides shown in Saturday evening’s press conference only served to confirm the regional disparity of Covid infection rates. According to figures quoted on the BBC News website Wiltshire had 98 cases per 100,000 in 21-27 October, compared with Manchester with 483 per 100,000. An England-wide lockdown from 5 November to 2 December will have a dire effect on the UK’s faltering economy, people’s mental health and non-Covid health needs.
In my opinion government should have persevered with a proportionate regional approach to combatting coronavirus. Additional measures could have been imposed in areas where Tier 3 restrictions had not succeeded in bringing infections down, with extra financial support being given to affected areas.
Will you therefore consider voting against a second national lockdown when measures are discussed in Parliament this week?
The vast majority of places of worship have complied with the government’s Covid secure guidance since reopening in the summer. As far as I am aware no church in the UK has been identified as the source of a coronavirus outbreak. It makes little sense that the government has ordered the closure of places of worship for all but private prayer for the duration of the second lockdown period should one be imposed.
Gathering for worship is an important aspect of the Christian faith. Online meetings are no substitute for in person meetings. At a time when many are anxious and fearful people the church has a message of comfort and hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not everyone has access to the internet, so it is vital to the church’s mission that the doors of our places of worship remain open.
Will you consider supporting any move to amend the government’s lockdown legislation that will prevent the forced closure of church gatherings and other religious meetings?
Young people are least at risk from Covid-19, yet their life prospects have been disproportionately damaged by the pandemic, with school closures, lockdowns in University halls of residence and high rates of unemployment. Will you please seek to ensure that the government makes good on its promise to keep schools and universities open, and that more is done to improve the job prospects of the up and coming generation.
Thanks for all you do on behalf of your constituents. May the Lord guide the government and MPs as these matters are debated and voted upon in Parliament this week.