Tuesday, 29 November 2005

universal destruction

The trivialisation of the horrible and the holy destroys the universe.

I have been contemplating this quote for a while. It struck me when listening to a recorded sermon no doubt, quite a while ago, and unfortunately I can't remember whose it was* or on what passage - shameful. Still, I can't help but think that he is right. Which is quite a challenge to me, especially regarding my humour.

* I suspect Ravi Zacharias.

keeping quiet

I've been quiet for a while, because I haven't had much to say (which is always a good reason to be quiet).

God's been challenging me that although I want to change the world - or at least, I'd settle for having the Belgian church transformed, revived and permeating society with the gospel of our Lord - he's got a lot to change in me. (Luke 6:37-42). Funny how I can easily see and analyse the state of a movement, or church, or group, and be passionate about their transformation according to the gospel, yet frequently fail to see my own state and be passionate about my transformation according to the gospel.

Also, no matter what I'm learning and how much I'm interested in theology and all, I'm unlikely to be changing the Belgian church any time soon; but I am to get on with being faithful in what he's called me to do. I haven't a clue what I'm going to use it all for in any role that I might have, but I do know that I'm to use it now in what he has given me to do now.

Hardly profound or innovative, but what's being going on when I haven't been posting.

enslaving thought to Christ

J. Gresham Machen, 1881-1937. My Dad almost got called Machen, since my Grandfather had studied under him and held him in high regard (thankfully, my Granny stepped in so that my Dad avoided the name, and probable bullying at school). I knew that he had fought liberalism tooth and nail and done much to prevent its advance. I own one book of his but to my shame have not yet read it. I am now determined to read all I can find of his, having come across this lecture online: Christianity and Culture. I quoted extensively from it in a seminar I gave the other day on the philosophy of the Belgian 'Free' universities:

We are all agreed that at least one great function of the Church is the conversion of individual men. The missionary movement is the great religious movement of our day. Now it is perfectly true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no labour-saving devices in evangelism. It is all hand-work.

And yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel.

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.

...What is to-day matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassioned debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.

And that is a bit out of context - not so as to destroy its sense, but do read the whole lecture! While noting that, speaking at the start of the last century, Machen speaks of modern culture, I think what he says is just as true of the church and the thin veneer of 'post-modern' over modern culture.

Or as Paul said,
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ...
(2 Cor. 10:4-5, ESV).

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Maths: beauty, truth and freedom

I was researching the philosophy of 'libre examen' (free enquiry?) which is fallacious but pervasive in the 'free' universities here, and in society to an extent influenced by them. I discovered that the description of 'libre examen' is summarised in a quote from Henri Poincaré, the 19th (&20th) century mathematician. This I found sad, because the man was a genius, and as far as I can see shares my view of maths to an extent:
What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.
I've often compared maths to music - seeing the theory come together to produce harmony, symmetry, order, unity, that we can at once hear the ensemble and the parts - to which some are 'tone deaf' (though in different proportions to those who appreciate this in music and those who are tone deaf to it).
A scientist worthy of his name, above all a mathematician, experiences in his work the same impression as an artist; his pleasure is as great and of the same nature.
And on the usefulness of maths:
The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living. Of course I do not here speak of that beauty that strikes the senses, the beauty of qualities and appearances; not that I undervalue such beauty, far from it, but it has nothing to do with science; I mean that more profound beauty which comes from the harmonious order of the parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
Now take that thought and instead of ending with the knowledge of the beauty of nature, which is pointless by itself, look along that to see the glory of God. And think of that when you're slogging away on trying to get your epsilons and deltas to befriend each other this side of infinity, and you find joy in appreciating God's glory using the maths he has given us. :D

These views, if I interpret them correctly, are what I have long thought of maths. Even Warwick didn't kill that. Here is the quote that has been used (a little unjustly I think) to embody the anti-religious philosophy which is propagated in some of the universities here:
La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni un dogme, ni un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un intérêt, ni à une idée préconçue, ni à quoi que ce soit, si ce n'est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que, pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d'être.
A clumsy translation (no time for better!): "Thought must never submit itself: not to dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to a (vested) interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to whatever it may be, if it is not to facts themselves, because for thought to submit itself, would be to cease to be."

This is in spirit a rally-cry of modernism, for objective science. But all our science is 'ours', so submits to our individual or collective commitments and preconceptions. It may sometimes suceed in challenging them, but it will never escape them. The only chance we have at 'thought' not submitted to our preconceived ideas is if someone outside of the universe of those preconceived ideas were to directly reveal something.

How would this revelation not be forced into our preconceived ideas and systems as soon as revealed to us? Only by it transforming us internally as well as revealing externally.

"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." [John 8.31-32]

Sunday, 13 November 2005

Content to survive

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" - Heb 2.1-3a]

How shall we escape? There is no way of escape if we neglect this salvation, because the salvation is the escape. Millions around the world have never heard of this great salvation; millions in this country think that they have heard and rejected it when all they have heard is a false pretender to it; we Christians think we are in the great salvation, and content to survive, do we drift away from it?

Piper pointed out (here) that so many alternative but suicidal competitors of salvation offer themselves, and we turn to them.

I consider one which so easily troubles the GBU. Going out with someone - which particularly effects drift when that person is a non-Christian. HOW can a Christian, beloved and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be one of his people, no longer rebellious but washed, sanctified, to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, to become like him that God's praises might be declared by all for his wisdom in glorifying himself in the church and in his beloved Son - HOW can a Christian devote him/herself to someone who is outside of Christ, a stranger to his love, rebelling still against him, unclean in his sight, knowing not Christ nor his resurrection nor his fellowship, not like him but distorting his image, not praising God but seeing only foolishness in his church, not loving the precious Son of God?

Ah, is not my theology of man, of creation low? Fallen man still in God's preserving and restraining grace retains something of his image - he is still lovable, with the love that God gives which loves even the rebel. And is not human love a good thing? And didn't God create sexuality? And who are we to judge? It is God who sees the heart of our friend. True. So we love other fallen human beings and leave God to judge the heart.

But we are not our own; we've been brought with the price of the blood of the Son of Man and Son of God. We died and are risen in Christ - the life I now live I live to the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me! How then can that life be bound up together with, be devoted to, be inseparably covenantedly shared with one who is still dead and living not to the Son of God but to himself? How can we think of that with one who will not covenant to spur us on and encourage us to pursue Christ with every fibre of our being?

  • Do you think so highly of yourself and your commitment to pursue Christ that you imagine you do not need the other member of this two-into-one covenantal life-long partnership which you are considering to be one who will spur you on constantly to not neglect such a great salvation?

  • Or do you think so low of Christ that to make every provision to love him with every fibre of your being is not your sights compared with your vision to love a man?

    What is the situation? A Christian girl goes out with a non-Christian guy. She's not treating it lightly: this is a long-term relationship - presumably with marriage in mind. She knows it's not ideal: she's aware that she could be 'dragged down'. But there aren't many Christian guys around - for example, the national GBU has around 50 members.

    And that is it: the suicidal competitor of salvation. She is so scared of not being married that she forgets the marriage supper of the lamb. She so believes the lie of significance and security found in a boyfriend, that she forgets that significance and security are found in Christ alone. She so believes the 'Christian' lie of the idol of family that she forgets that in Christ God has adopted her into a family - his own. She so pursues this competitor to salvation that relative to that, she forgets to pursue Christ.

    So this is a SUICIDAL competitor of salvation. There is no other way if we neglect such a great salvation. She is content to survive (as she imagines). But she forgets to pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest she DRIFT away from it.

    "Come back from the suicidal competitors of salvation!" Piper cries in his sermon on this text. How I would cry this to the girls in GBU. Love Christ more. He is worthy. He is everything. What good is it to gain a loving, caring, devoted husband and happy family life and lose the Lord Jesus Christ? What good is it? There is NO survival outside of Christ.

    "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declaredby angels proved to be reliable and every transgressionor disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"

    The spirit of 'content to survive' ('persuing survival' if you will) pervades Christians, student groups and churches. Yet those content to survive will not survive. We need contentment in God, not in survival - contentment in pursuing enjoyment of him to his glory with every fibre of our being, and calling others to do it with every breath and every ounce of love.

    Lord give me grace to do so, and to call others to do so. Because Jesus is everything.
  • Encouraged by the good; longing for the best.

    At our GBU national camp, praise God, those prayer requests I posted below were fulfilled. Students were challenged about acting as salt in society, and felt challenged about speaking of God's truth in love with their friends in the first place, as well as taking responsibility to be active in society at large, rather than withdrawing into churches recluse-like. It got them thinking about being a Christian in various kinds of work and work environments. They were encouraged by being together - the 30 inc IFES Team - from different groups, getting to know each other and discuss together. The speaker pointed out what a diversity of cultural backgrounds we were from (only a few from the same country), and how well we got on and fellowshipped together. People seemed fairly sensible about sleep, and about enjoying the countryside we were in, and so had energy for all this. It was a good time for getting to know the students and supporting them. The speaker was good on his topics, and really spoke in truth and grace, and so modeled how to address these topics. He guided us through them well. And provided a large book stall of what seemed like great books on ethics from a Christian perspective (and you know I'll always give God thanks for the provision of a good book stall!) We also had a good time, with plenty of laughter and fun. There are students who are keen, who love praising God, who are thirsty to hear from his Word and be changed, and who fellowship together. There are students who testify to God at work in their lives before in remarkable ways through harrowing times. And so for all of that, join with me in giving God thanks.

    At the same time, I long for what might happen in the lives of these students if they had 4 sessions of Christ-exalting expository Bible teaching well applied to them rather than 4 sessions on the topic of ethics (however well done it was). I long to open the word with them in a seminar and look at the mission which God has called us to join in - that of calling those of all nations to join us in praising the excellencies of him who called us from darkness into his glorious light, by his unsurpassable Son. I long to open the word with a small group of them and look at Romans, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, Colossians,... or any epistle for that matter, that they might grasp the glory of the gospel, the power of the gospel, the truth of the gospel, the finality of the gospel, the hope of the gospel. That they might see Jesus. I long for a boldness in evangelism - I long for them to do evangelism. I long for them to take interest and rejoice with the IFES Team that international students are studying the Bible with us. I long for them to discover the word of God: to love it, to be excited about it. I long to be unhindered by language in my already limited service of them, and to be unhindered by my own lack of pursuit of these things.

    I cling to the God who has chosen the weak things of this world to shame the strong. I know nothing else in which to hope but in that his plan for his glory, through his power which raised Christ from the dead. May they know nothing of me but Christ in me, crucified and resurrected, the hope of glory.

    Please join with me in giving thanks for the good. Please ask me regularly what the good is which I'm to encourage and for which I'm to give thanks. And please join with me in praying for the best.

    Thursday, 10 November 2005


    I'll be away at a GBU national camp until late Sunday, and as Belgian 'camp' centres such as we can afford aren't equipped with internet connections, I won't be blogging live from the conference.

    However, please interpret my silence as a call to pray for us, as we hear talks on a Biblical ethic (or the Christian and ethics in society - not sure of the title but it's something along those lines). Pray that the students would be challenged about living the whole of their lives (attitudes, relationships, friendships, etc) under the Lordship of Christ. Pray that they'd be bound together in the love of Christ as they encourage one another and share with each other, especially between the different groups. Pray that we'd get enough sleep to have enough energy for the above, and to enjoy the time away together. Pray that in all of this, the IFES team would also be getting to know the students, support them, and encourage them especially regarding group evangelism.

    Update to follow on Monday!

    Friday, 4 November 2005

    bacon and eggs

    A Chinese student said to me that many Chinese are now interested in Christianity. Knowing this full well, I asked her why she thought this was, and in our ensuing conversation, she showed a perception of the difference between culturally being 'christian' and actually being a Christian. Following my mention of real Christians in China, in contrast with many 'cultural christians' in the UK, she gave the following analogy:

    Suppose I were British, and I eat bacon and eggs for breakfast every day. All my life I eat bacon and eggs for breakfast; I don't know any breakfast but bacon and eggs. I eat it because I have always eaten it. But suppose I were not British, and I come to this country and I have tried many different breakfasts - and I discover bacon and eggs, and I love it! I now have it every day! But there is every difference between discovering bacon and eggs for yourself, and just eating it because you didn't know anything else.*

    A second analogy (the Chinese are good at communicating in stories parables!):
    I am from China, but I have only been to the Great Wall once. But if a friend were to come to China, I would take them to see the Great Wall, and they would be very interested in it. But to me, I am used to it, so I take it forgranted. I don't think about it, I don't notice it.*
    (So those brought up in 'christian culture' take it forgranted, they don't think about it, and they don't appreciate it.)

    "Historically, every culture and country in the world has some religion, some god, except China. [Here she agreed with me that they still have a philosophy on life, a 'religion'.] But we have no god - no High thing, no creator, no 'One'. We are lost in this, so we seek a meaning in life: to make sense of life, and feel satisfied. And Christianity is the biggest religion in the world, so we want to find out more."*

    [*paraphrased because I've tried to remember it.]

    "sometimes things happen in music"

    'I try not to believe in God but sometimes things happen in music, in songs, that bring me up short, make me do a double-take... I'm not sure what difference it makes to me, this occasional vision of the Divine in the music I love... I'm not going to listen to stuff like this too often though, just in case.'
    - novelist Nick Hornby in 31 Songs, Penguin.

    Music heard calls forth feeling of depth beyond words; appeals for sight beyond understanding; creates thought beyond knowledge; instills hope beyond longing. It passes through our feeble thoughts and words and translates them into a breath to dance round our heads; on the way, it snatches at our longing and carries it to the heart. God has given us a capacity for music to worship him, and we find it impels our being to acknowledge the truth to which our minds along so easily rest inert: that we are called to purer and higher worship than our capacity. We ache in recognition of the beauty, of the 'more' that we miss, and long for its consummation. Such is the gift; such is the grace of God. For God to give gifts in which we can be content would be a condemnation; rather he gives that which tears into our contentment with the longing for the substance of what we sense in the gift. Such is also the travesty of worshipping music as an satisfying end. In its most sublime in this creation it calls us to look along it to the Lord, the giver, the creator, the source, the sustainer of all things. Yet how can we? It was given by a God purer and higher than we can naturally face. When in Jesus we see him face to face we will be like him. And then our music will be able to flow, along with every form of art and science, no longer with tears of longing but then purified, set apart to him; and it will be perfect. The longing will be over, and the beauty remain. Is longing intrinsic to beauty? Only in this fallen world, for it gives us a glimpse of what should be, to the glory of God. Will not perfection finish it? Ah but in the new creation, each day of eternity will be a new horizon calling forth deeper and purer and higher notes, to resonate to the glory of God and to the Lamb.