Tuesday, 30 May 2006


On 11th May, 18 year old Hans, from a family with 'extreme right-wing' politics (Vlaams Belang) shaved his head, bought a gun, went to Anvers Grand-Place where a lady was sitting on a bench, and shot her (a Belgian mother of Turkish origin) in the back. Several streets later, he came across a young Malian man playing with his (white) 2 year old daughter, and shot them both. He was only stopped from continuing by a policeman shooting and wounding him.

The discussion in Belgium is about whether the Vlaams Block-Belang should be outlawed as a political party or whether that would create more problems. Of course, the same discussion goes on in Britain about the BNP. But what about that 18 year old? The Vif made a comment which I found interesting:
De leur côté, les magistrats de la jeunesse observent une banalisation de la violence chez les jeunes qui comparaissent dans leur bureau. Est-ce que à cause des médias, comme on l'entend régulièrement après ce genre de drame ? En partie. ... Mais, plus que la violence à la télévision ou dans les jeux vidéo, ce qui a surtout changé par rapport aux générations précédentes d'adolescents, c'est l'absence d'espoir. « Je rencontre des jeunes sans rêves, qui ne croient plus en rien », nous disait un juge bruxellois après le meurtre de X. ... « Le paradis n'existe pas », avait écrit Hans juste avant son équipée barbare.

From their perspective, youth magistrates observe that the young people who they see in their offices have an increasingly banal attitude towards violence. Is that because of the media, like we hear regularly after this type of drama? In part. ... But, more than violence on television or in video games, what has changed above all in contrast with previous generations of adolescents, is the absence of hope. "I meet young people without dreams, who don't believe in anything," a Brussellois judge said to us after X's murder. ... "Heaven doesn't exist," wrote Hans, just before his barbarous undertaking.
The Death of God leads to the death of man.

Monday, 29 May 2006


The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.[Mt 13.44]
And behold, a man came up to him saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. [Mt 19.16-22]
He had found treasure worth more than all he possessed, but rather than joyfully giving up all to gain it, he sadly stayed too attached to the paltry things he already had.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.[Mt 13.45-46]
It is with great joy that we possess the Kingdom - with great joy that we give everything necessary, everything which would hinder our possession of the Kingdom! And are we not more rich at the end of the Day?

Live & do

All other religions say: 'Do and live.' Christianity says: 'Live and do.' - R.B.Kuiper, God-centred Evangelism

One fine day

When your church doesn't have a Sunday evening service (and neither does any church in the city)... well it doesn't replace it, but it's rather nice to wait until around 7.30 when everyone else is having dinner and go for a walk around the local lake/park , from which you can't see the city, notice the , , (and some colourful goose I can't find a picture of!), pray and settle on a bench with a Bible to listen to a good sermon on mp3.

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Piping Wells

"We think the post-propositional, post-dogmatic, post-authoritative “conversation” is post-relevant and post-saving." - John Piper

And I really want to read David Well's Above all earthly pow'rs

[HT: Ref21 blog]

Saturday, 20 May 2006


Thou shalt not play Bruch when feeling mopey. Bad idea.

A micro-example of the theory that when we feel sad, or in pain, etc., we have a tendancy to turn to things which exacerbate rather than cure. So the drunk turns to drink, the debt-ridden to shopping, the fat to eating, the lonely to romantic flicks, the guilt-ridden to more sin...

A therapeutic culture. And then we think it odd that for our problem of guilt before God, he doesn't throw us a party so we forget our sinfulness, or for our problem of separation from him that he doesn't sit us down with a nice book about how great we are and a mug of hot chocolate, or for our problem of addiction to sin that he doesn't drive us to a sin off-license and give us a twenty to satisfy ourselves. We think it odd! While our finite man-made therapies don't even work for our man-made finite problems!

Our solutions are to nurture our selfish desires - merely exacerbating the problems.
God's solution is to kill our selfish desires in Christ - rooting out the problem.
In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ [his death]. (Col 2.11) If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh [ie we don't owe the flesh anything: don't nurture it therapeutically!] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8.11-13)
Even those cosy pet little desires, mopes, emotions, self-pities,... if they aren't of the Spirit of life, KILL THEM!

Friday, 19 May 2006

Reading Braveheart

A tyrant arises, several coups d'état later he's deposed: the people have liberated themselves from the domination of the other - they have freedom?

The dominant interpretation of a text is judged tyranical, several deconstructions later its deposed: the reader has liberated himself from the domination of the other - he has freedom?

The Creator defines good, one rebellion later he's rejected: the creature has liberated himself from the domination of the other - he has freedom?

The basic problem with the postmodern liberation of the reader from dominant interpretations is that it fails to free readers from themselves. The irony of this liberation from fixed orders is that the postmodern self becomes free and responsible only by emptying out everything that opposes it. That meaning is not "really" there, but only an impostition of institutional idealogies and practices, is a liberating insight for the postmodernist; for if nothing is really there, then nothing can make a claim on my life. Must we say, amending Derrida, that there is nothing outside oneself? This does seem to be the logic behind much postmodern thought. An independent reality with its own intrinsic order would limit my creativity and call my freedom into question. [Vanhoozer, p.394]
One may reject that there is an Other, but that doesn't help with the problem of Self. The problem of Self is not the ultimate problem: the ultimate problem is that of God's wrath on the selfishness of the Self. But rejecting that there is a God, an ultimate Other, doesn't get rid of the problem. The world continues to have otherness to it, and selfishness continues to be a problem - none of the little others made in God's image appreciate it, even if you imagine that God himself isn't there in judgement of it. And so the problem with our preoccupation with freedom - freedom from political tyranny, from textual/authorial dictatorship, from patristic culture, or what you will - is that we fail to free ourselves.

To be truly free, we need set free by that Other we have denied, to live freely in his dominion as designed. Otherwise, we're trying to be fish out of water. Again.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Thanksgiving for Nigel Lee

My friend's future father-in-law recently died, and her fiancé has put together a website about his father here. God used him mightily in many ways as Ant, Andy, Dave and Nigel Pollock have all posted. I benefitted from his Bible teaching too, but that he was my friend's fiancé's Dad somehow seemed more important, so I've waited and there's the link to his website. Continue to pray for the family.

Sunday, 14 May 2006

The Mathematics of Literature

I'd always been very slightly disturbed that I didn't really care that maths has applications; I just enjoyed doing it. I settled it with the thought that I was glad that it is applicable, and that somewhere down the line someone (probably an electrical engineer) would apply it usefully. Therefore working on pure maths is part of the creation mandate for the world.

Yet I felt slightly guilty every time I tried to explain to a person that studying maths meant that I would not become an accountant because mathematics is not really about calculations with numbers at all, but concepts. Mathematics is a glorious ensemble of concepts with which the mathematician plays. Oh, it's work alright, but it's beautiful, much like composing music. What made me feel slightly guilty was the lingering idea that it's all made up (although this doesn't bother students of music too much, somehow it plagues a mathematician a little more, because one is supposed to be, after all, in the science 'half' of the university). Is maths true, in the real world? Or is it merely internally consistent? The mathematical existence of both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry really didn't help (it makes maths somewhat relativistic as regards corresponding to the world).

Well, passing from my favourite analogy of music, I propose that maths is like a literary genre. It makes reference to the world, but not necessarily in a one-to-one correspondance. Literature cannot be reduced to propositional facts - that is if one does so, it ceases to be literature and loses much of its value. Each literary genre constrains the presentation of the truth and furthers it - "...every genre works out its own ad hoc arrangement with regard to the word-world relation... Some genres (e.g., history, reporting) add to our stock of propositional knowledge [savoir]; other genres (e.e., poetry, novel) increase our knowledge by deepening or intensifying our awareness of what we already know. [connaître] ... Neither genre is "truer" than the other, each aims for its own kind of engagement with reality and its own kind of precision." (Vanhoozer).

I submit that in this way, the various disciplines are like literary genres. Each genre offers its own language, its own culture, and both author and reader recogise and agree to this. Literature is no less true than mathematics, nor the abstractions of mathematics more or less true than their applications in engineering or chemistry. So what Vanhoozer at one point concludes about literary genre, I propose we may conclude about the various disciplines themselves, insofar as the various academic disciplines act as descriptive frameworks:
In conclusion, genres engage the reader and render reality in different ways. The presence of rules and conventions does not preclude real reference, though the way in which a text 'maps' the world varies from genre to genre. Texts have many kinds of objects and can render them in many different ways. The diversity of genres is yet another confirmation of critical realism. No one form of discourse, no one descriptive framework, exhausts all that can be said about the world, humanity, or God. ...

(See also the post God loves maths. And arts. And science.)

[Quotations of Vanhoozer are from Is there meaning in this text?, IVP 1998]

Monday, 8 May 2006

Universal slavery

Scraps of conversation:
They are all corrupt, and everyone knows it. But you are appointed by the person above you to a good position, but the person above you is cheating, so you must cheat because he expects to receive some extra money from you, so it is a whole chain of corruption.

Before, everyone respected Chairman Mao: everyone loved him. Everyone read his book: you saw everyone with his book - even if you went to be married, you had to read his speech from the red book before you were married.

- Like a religion.

Yes, like a religion. Before, we worshipped Chairman Mao. Now we worship money.

We are only not free to disagree with the government - we are free to do anything else, and that is enough freedom. We are free to become rich.

- That isn't freedom: you worship money, but you have described it like a trap you can't escape from.


2 Peter 2:19 - '...whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved'.

I think he's desparately trying to convince himself that 'we are free to do whatever we like (apart from disagree with the government), and that is enough freedom'. The deeper problem and unease that surfaces is that although they are free to follow their desires, their desires have sold them into slavery to money, which is just as tyranical as any political regime. This is only more obvious in ex-Communist countries than in the West (in relation to slavery to money) because they do not have the benefits of the remnants of Christian social conscience to fill the moral void while they take in Western materialism.

Ultimately, everyone in the world is a slave, but it boils down to 2 masters: "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?"

But how do we escape from the slavery of sin to which we've sold ourselves?
How does this liberation happen?
"For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." [Rom 8]
"But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." [Rom 6]
Praying for this for the author of these snippets of conversation.

Monday, 1 May 2006

Pointed beliefs

In the early 20th century plenty of Christians came together forming interdenominational evangelical organisations. Instead of one of the thorough confessions of faith issuing from the Reformation, such as the Westminster, its derivatives (Baptist 1689, Congregational Savoy), Augsburg, Helvetic, Scots, Belgic, the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles, or the catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster, Luther's Short, Genevan, etc.), they formed statements of faith of 10-12 sentence-long points.

This was against a background where elders of the confessional Protestant churches were being allowed to deny their denomination's Confession - Modernism was rife in the mainstream churches on both sides of the Atlantic. Some fought it with much effort and sacrifice within their denomination, frequently being effectively forced to secede from the denomination to ensure the continuation of the Confessional church. Others sought refuge in uniting with others of similar conservative beliefs and to this end formulated brief 10-12 point statements of faith, to be a list of 'fundamentals' of the faith. These were not to say that the fuller Confessions (and confessional differences) were unimportant, but in the face of modernist liberalism within the main denominations and the free churches, the fundamentals acted as rallying points and tests of doctrinal purity.

That was exactly the historic role of the Confessions (from the time of creeds and councils onwards) - forming expressions of the faith in response to division for the sake of unity in truth, defining heresy and being necessarily selective about truth included. Frequently ignored by critics of formulations of confessions is that no Confession, creed or definition (e.g. the Chalcedonian) claimed to be a comprehensive expression of the gospel or the truth in general, recognising that while they summarised eternal truth, they did so in a manner limited to response to their historical context: to be used as a tool subservient to teaching the whole counsel of God.

Yet in Boice's great last appeal, Whatever happened to the gospel of grace? and in Carl Trueman's latest Ref21 May Wages of Spin column, to name but two, evangelicalism's <20 point statements of faith are criticised in contrast to the confessions and catechisms from the Reform period, for example, Trueman commenting on the situation at Wheaton college wrote:
...the failure of Wheaton's founders to set the statement about scripture in a sufficiently elaborate doctrinal matrix rendered it ultimately more adequate as a psychological description of attitude towards scripture than as a doctrinal statement of what scripture is and how it should function. To the extent that this is true, to that extent evangelicalism is vulnerable of becoming more of a psychological attitude than a true confession of belief in God; and that renders such a forms of Christianity extremely unstable and vulnerable to attack. Indeed, when it comes to Christianity, the Devil is not in the details; on the contrary, I suspect he tends to live in the rather large gaps that mere Christianity's fear of detail tends to leave behind.
[Read the whole thing] This is a charge which deserves to be given more careful consideration than our off-the-cuff reaction generally accords. Indeed, a liberal minister once pointed out to a member of my Christian Union committee that she could quite happily sign the CU Doctrinal Basis, but that in signing it she would mean by it quite a different thing than what an evangelical might mean by it: her point being that the DB was quite pointless as a test of doctrine (and therefore also as an expression of unity). While there are those who have tried to argue similarly about assent to the WCF, they have found themselves much more hard pressed to do so given its detail. So we find Carl Trueman commenting
...it is only in theology's elaborated, particular manifestations that we can give even the individual doctrines any meaningful and stable content.

Yet this statement of the problem of evangelical bases in contrast to the Reformation confessions surely also indicates the answer to the problem, and an answer broader than that of returning to the detailed confessions of the 16th & 17th centuries. The brief, <20 point evangelical bases do not provide a thorough statement of faith out of context, and the problem only comes when they are implied to do so by their usage. That is to say, whereas a statement of faith is in some sort definitive, it only operates effectively as such when expounded in context. So we may say that the early Christian creed, "Jesus is Lord and Saviour" was definitive of a Christian - given the context that the universally accepted and proclaimed credo of the day was "Caesar is Lord and Saviour" and the Jewish context of ascribing to YHWH sole Lordship and salvation: the statement spoke theological, social and political volumes in context. If we take it out of context however, we can make it say little if we so require. Yet we do not see the apostles drawing up analytically logical Confessions of Faith to deal with this potential problem, but rather, in every situation they expound the whole counsel of God, and noticeably in a framework centred on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for our sins, according to the Scriptures. Drawing up such Confessions, systematic theologies etc. is of course far from wrong, but I highlight that contextualising the brief creed by faithfully expounding Scripture means that such are not necessary.

And so the main problem does not lie intrinsically in our evangelical bases in contrast to the Reformation Confessions of Faith, even if the former are recognisably weaker to some ends; the problem occurs if either of these becomes divorced from or a substitute to expounding and living the whole counsel of God. For example, the CU Doctrinal Basis refered to earlier serves as a reminder, commitment and guide to preaching and living the whole counsel of God in the gospel-centred framework as I said above. It serves this role for the community of believers who find themselves living and working together in the (artificially mono-generational) context of university life, and so is a basis for their unity for growth and outreach together in that sitation. It serves as a commitment and reminder that this unity for growth and outreach is gospel birthed, gospel focussed and gospel shaped. However its definitive value assumes a context of those (student) believers studying, growing in and declaring the whole counsel of God as part of the church (locally expressed in various all-age, all background congregations). Its effectiveness is in a mission context, not divorced from the church whole. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that he had determined to know nothing among them but Christ and him crucified in his 'mission' there, evidently, he did not mean that other things were unimportant or that he hadn't mentioned them: but his preaching had been defined by this gospel summary in as far as it had been birthed, focused and shaped by this gospel summary.

By all means, let us have pointed beliefs. But let those points serve as a reminder, committment and guide to preaching and living the whole counsel of God in the gospel-centred framework.