Friday, 29 December 2006

Fueling mission's flame

Matt Redman has something right!

"Let worship be the fuel for mission's flame
We're going with a passion for Your name
We're going for we care about Your praise
Send us out

Let worship be the heart of mission's aim
To see the nations recognize Your fame
'Til every tribe and tongue voices Your praise
Send us out

You should be the praise of every tongue, Jesus
You should be the joy of every heart
But until the fullness of Your kingdom comes
Until the final revelation dawns
Send us out

Every tribe, every tongue
Every creature in the heavens and the earth
Every heart, every soul
Will sing Your praise, will sing Your praise
Every note, every strain
Every melody will be for You alone
Every harmony that flows from every tongue
We'll sing Your praise, we'll sing Your praise
We'll sing Your praise, we'll sing Your praise."

Not saying it's congregationally sing-able or anything, but not bad lyrics.

Shopping in UCCF style

My housemate's moving out so I'm shopping for much house stuff. And behold! IKEA is producing coasters in UCCF colours -

No, I'm not buying them. Unlike Pod, I'm not out to paint the world in the brand design colours of the Christian Unions!

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Sunday, 24 December 2006


Today started with taking a Christmas service at an old folks' home near church - for which we've taken the service once a month since I was a toddler. I started singing solos there each month as a cute-'un, an elderly lady from church accompanied the hymns on the battered old piano and my Dad preached; in more recent years my singing solos is not so cute but excellent to remind them of the gospel (and they love joining in), and I accompany the hymns on the nice electric piano with weighted keys and a lovely organ sound (my Dad still preaches, though I think he wants my brother to try it sometime). I miss it for most of the year when I'm not there any more!

Today ended with a family carol-sing at home. There is something wonderful about singing praise to God and encouragement of God's word to each other.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [Col 3.16]

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Grace through the fog

I do like Norn Irish culture after all. Some of it anyway - I can see the grace. On Thursday afternoon because of the fog, my 18:45 flight from Birmingham was delayed and we ended up at 20:30 (having been in the airport 3 hours) being checked onto coaches to Manchester where our plane was waiting to take us to Belfast International from whence we'd have a coach to Belfast City - our destination! (In the end I got to my parents' at 02:00.) Fun. But all the while the bunch of us was laughing and joking about it. Which is a refreshing perspective that I do my best to cultivate - I mean, in the grand scale of things, what's a few hours in an airport or coach? But I don't usually suceed at getting the English on board with this! Whereas it only took one joking comment and we were all away among the Norn Irish returnees. I do like this Norn Irish attitude: the laid-backness, the making a joke of everything, the not taking ourselves too seriously. In some areas anyway...

And I was very glad that I'd thought at the last minute to pop my mp3 player in my handbag - if one has to travel for 2 hours up the M6 after 3 hours in an airport, doing so to the sound of Lou Fellingham's Treasure album and Piper on Sustaining Grace has got to rock.

So, from the ridiculous to the sublime there is grace: from a measure of grace in each culture to sovereign sustaining grace in Christ. Piper's quatrian on sustaining grace is worth learning:
Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain
and then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Understanding dispensationalists

For a while I've been reading Poythress' Understanding Dispensationalists, because I didn't understand how an evangelical could have a dispensationalist hermeneutic given the gospel insistance on the eternal unity of Jews and Gentiles achieved in Christ outlined in Paul's letters. So, I thought, if I don't understand how a Christian can be dispensational, I clearly don't understand dispensationalism well enough. And Poythress' book is marvellous.

Clear and gracious, Poythress helped me understand dispensationalists (does what it says on the tin and all that). He thinks dispies and covenant theologians aren't as far off now as we think, and picks out a few key issues which challenge dispensational theology or call for more study.

At the risk of giving the impression that Poythress' study is as narrow as the following, I was then interested to be reminded of Stephen Sizer's IVP book Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? by a friend who's going to be in the church Sizer pastors. I think I have it somewhere, but haven't read it yet. But I found he's got a few lectures of the same title summarising it here. Interesting stuff. I'm becoming increasingly convicted of the importance of historic theology, or studying theology in its chronological context, or knowing some of the history of the development of doctrine, hermeneutics, epistomology and so on. Sin so easily blinds us not only to certain areas in which we are currently wrong, or certain ways in which we each tend to sin according to a sinful personality, but also certain areas chronologically in which we are prone to error or sin different from those before and after us. We do well to read dead Christians and know the history of church & doctrine so to be corrected.

Which leads me nicely into what I'll study next, having dispensed with dispensationalism: Athanasius. I'm very excited.

In Christ

"The Christian faith has no geographical centre.
There is no one race that dominates it.
There is no preferred language for its expression.
There is no privileged culture for its home.

"There's no place, no race, no tongue or culture which is the centre that holds it all together.

"No, it is a person. And not just the founder of a religion. The incarnate, resurrected and reigning Christ whose death is the only ground for our forgiveness and whose resurrection inaurgurated that reign that is going to cleanse the entire universe of evil. ... Jesus Christ is not great. He is incomparable. He is in a category all of his own. He is unique."

[David Wells, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern world]

We are a displaced, dispersed, disparate people, only defined and placed and gathered in Christ. We pray towards no city or temple but Jesus Christ, we are pilgrims to no place but that which will come down from heaven with Christ's coming, we insist on no one language for worship but anticipate the full healing of Babel's curse, we recognise no one human culture as Christian but recognise sin and grace in each and look to all things being united in Christ.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Avoiding confusion

A wee bit of advice Mo passed on when taking the Midlands team through Jonah:

God is God; you are you: try not to get the two confused.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

I will not sing of shepherds

It's Aston, Cakes & UCE CUs' joint Carol Service this evening (w00t!) and I hope we'll sing some of the great carols which speak so clearly & well of what was actually going on at Christmas: Hark the herald, Joy to the world, Once in royal, O little town (after you've got over singing to a town, v1!)...

I admit I get bored halfway through While shepherds watched and start trying to not laugh at the apalling poetry which neither reads nor rhymes well, and the extremely snowy palestine of In the bleak midwinter cracks me up (quite apart from trying to make snow last over several notes) - and as for Away in a manger, it's sentimental drivel with a not-so-completely-human Jesus who doesn't cry.

How about this poem? [ht Phil Ryken]

Praise God for Christmas
Praise Him for the Incarnation
for Word made flesh.
I will not sing
of shepherds watching flocks
on frosty night
or angel choristers.
I will not sing
of stable bare in Bethlehem
or lowing oxen
wise men
trailing distant star
with gold and frankincense
and myrrh.
Tonight I will sing
praise to the Father
who stood on heaven's threshold
and said farewell to His Son
as He stepped across the stars
to Bethlehem
and Jerusalem.
And I will sing
praise to the infinite eternal Son
who became most finite
a Baby
who would one day
be executed
for my crimes.
Praise Him in the heavens.
Praise Him in the stable.
Praise Him in my heart.

(Joe Bayly)

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Is the Bible sexist? 3

Part 1: In the beginning, they were equal in dignity in God's image.
Part 2: Perverted rebels - why we are sexist & object to sexism.
The Bible gives the only explanation for sexism and reason for our objecting to it - we're both from God, but we're perverted rebels. But

The Bible not only explains out sexism, it judges our sexism.
The trouble with trying to claim that the Bible’s sexist is that it turns the accusation back on us. You who claim that we’re equal in dignity – yes, we are – but you say that while cleverly manipulating the men in your project group so you can get one up on them. You say male chauvinism is wrong and that the Bible’s sexist; while you pressure your girlfriend into having sex. You say the Bible is anti-women while you spend between lectures with your girlfriends alternately slagging off men or ogling male stars like they’re meat rather than people. You claim to judge sexism but you do exactly the same thing!

You may not like what the Bible says, because it says we owe God honour and thanks, and points out how perverted we are; but it’s laughable to try to take the moral high ground and say the Bible’s sexist. The Bible judges our sexism – because God cares about his image, about us who bear it, and he takes our distortion, power abuse, manipulation, sexist jokes – he takes it all very seriously. God’s word explains and judges our sexism and God will judge sexism when Jesus comes back to make a new creation in which we’ll have perfect dignity restored in perfectly harmonious relationships, respecting each others roles and goodness from God.

Now all I’ve said from the Bible has been quite negative of us.
We thought we’d take the Bible to court and instead we find it’s the court order
of the judge, declaring us guilty of sexual perversion in our very core
attitudes and thoughts, and pronouncing the judgement.
So now let me tell you of the only non-sexist, unperverted person who ever lived: Jesus. As we all do, the leaders in his culture had a distorted view of the dignity and roles of men & women – they even said that a leader or teacher shouldn’t speak to a woman in the street: even his wife! Jesus rejected that distortion.
  • He initiated conversation with a woman and proceeded to tell her that he is the Messiah – something the Bible records that his male disciples didn’t understand till later!
  • He’s financially supported by some prominent female followers
  • He welcomes women to listen to his teaching like a disciple – when it was assumed that only men could understand God-stuff
  • When he rises from the dead, he arranges for women to be the first witnesses, the ones who tell the (still rather confused) male disciples
Jesus didn’t treat women in the perverted sexist way of his culture or of ours – he treated them as equal in dignity and different in role, as his Father had designed.

So how is that good news? Great, so maybe one man wasn’t sexist. But that one man, not declared guilty by God’s word, was judged anyway. Not for his perverted attitudes, his sexism because he had none, but for our perversion, our sexism. And to anyone who asks to be counted in him, he gives new life – life to be transformed from our sexism, selfishness, greed, shame, corruption, rebellion, to be like Jesus: loving and respecting God and each other.

The Bible is not sexist: rather, it explains our sexism, judges our sexism, and reveals the only answer to our sexism.

Now, I haven’t covered the particulars – I’ve given us the broad sweeps so that now you’ll know a bit more of the context in which to ask questions! But before I take questions [leave a blog comment if you want], I’d like to challenge you – don’t drink in assumptions about the Bible and dismiss it: read it and see. Because sexism, perverting God’s design in us, and judgement, is much too serious to dismiss on the basis of prejudice!

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Is the Bible sexist? 2

Part 1. They were equal in dignity and personhood, because they’d been made in God’s image. They were together with no shame, and God had said it was really good. So what happened?

We’re now in a world of sexist jokes, of slagging off the other sex, of power play, of manipulation... We’re in a world where, according to a Warwick report just out, 5 year olds give teachers sexist abuse! And the Bible’s real to this too: it goes on to describe not this good harmony of equality in complementarity but men abusing women, women manipulating men... You see, we got our dignity and equality from the creator: he was the source, and it derived from him. They enjoyed each other under his rule. They fitted together under his rule, as equals. But rather than enjoying that dignity and equality they got from God, they rebelled against him. And we rebel against him.

There was no sexism, no male chauvinism under God’s good creator-rule. But we decide that we want to rule; we want to decide what’s good. But you can’t rebel against the source of goodness and remain completely good!
You decide that your tutor doesn’t really want you to understand his subject better; he’s just being mean. Who’s he to say what’s good and what’s not? So you and a couple of friends depose your tutor, take over his office, and now you decide what makes the grade. You award A’s to yourselves, of course, and... pretty much everyone else. Well, that's all nice to start with, but are you actually good academically? Not without teachers you aren’t... and not if everyone else is getting A’s either!

If you rebel against the tutor, who declares what’s good and what isn’t, then goodness actually goes out the window. You get discrimination, or falling standards, bribery, and general corruption right until some other student deposes you in a military coup.
The man and woman rebelled against the one who makes good, gives good and declares good – enter corruption, power-play and sexism, stage left.

Same now: we don’t want our own roles; we want to usurp God’s role. And in doing so, we pervert God’s design. You’re worried about sexists? I tell you it’s worse: we’re all sexual perverts!

God said the gender war would start: they’d rejected dignity as God’s creatures so the man would be abusing his power trying to rule harshly over the woman; and they’d rejected harmony like God so the woman would be trying to manipulate the man for power. They’d rejected the giver of harmonious dignity so they’d attack each other’s dignity.

The Bible, far from being sexist, describes life as it is. It doesn’t cause our sexism, it explains the cause of our sexism. We know we’re equal. We know we’re different to animals: how many animals have seminars on sexism in society, or counselling sessions on relationships?! We know we’re different. We know at best it can be beautiful. And we know that at heart we’re pretty perverted.
Just look at the number of books in Smiths (probably even in the uni bookshop) trying to sort us out on sex, gender & relationships. For goodness sake, we even nod sagely when someone says, "It’s like... men are from Mars, and women are from Venus!" We don’t have to go so far to find why we’re like we are: we’re both from God, but we’re perverted rebels.
And we recognise the perversion only because there was a good plan to start with: the Bible gives the only explanation for sexism and reason for our objecting to it - we're both from God, but we're perverted rebels.

But the Bible not only explains out sexism, it judges our sexism.
The trouble with trying to claim that the Bible’s sexist is that it turns the accusation back on us.
But that's for the next post.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Is the Bible sexist?

Lunchbar at the wonderful Warwick CU (I did go all nostalgic, yes) on Is the Bible sexist? Now, as well as being my alma mater, Warwick's the uni with Germaine Greer on the teaching staff. Here's what I said (in installments!)

When I was asked to speak on ‘Is the Bible sexist?’, I was rather surprised. I thought, 'Sexist? But I think it’s actually quite positive about men!' Oh ok, I’m not going to get away with that. I guess you’re here because you think the Bible is sexist in being down on women in some way rather than men. You probably have questions about roles, and if you’re in the arts or social sciences your lecturer or seminar tutor has probably at some point voiced the assumption that the Bible’s sexist when you’ve been discussing a text, film or aspect of political history. Well, at university we don’t want to swallow assumptions unquestioningly, so if we’re going to make claims about the Bible, let’s look at the Bible to examine them.

I won’t deal with specific examples in the Bible because we need to get its big picture first – so I expect that you'll have questions about particular things in the Bible, to ask in the question time after I’ve spoken. In fact, I’m going to propose that the Bible doesn’t cause sexism but explains our sexism and judges our sexism.

First of all: the Bible explains our sexism.
Let’s go to the very beginning of humankind: Genesis (beginnings) ch1. The opening has a rhythm to it:
God spoke, 'Let there be...', it was, it was good, that was day 1;
God spoke, 'Let there be...', it was, it was good, that was day 2;
and so on, right up to halfway through day 6.
On day 6, God spoke, 'Let there be living creatures, according to their kinds,' it was so, & it was good. But that wasn’t the end.
God speaks again – and he doesn’t just say, 'Let there be...' but he converses,
"Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground."
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
So right at the beginning, God decided to make creatures unlike all the others, to reflect him, able to know him, to relate, to communicate with him and each other. He made them male and female, reflecting him in relationship, equal in dignity and honour because unlike the animals, they were created in God’s image, to rule over the rest of creation. They together were given this rule, together were given creation to enjoy, together were commissioned to work – 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.' They obviously had different roles in that filling the earth bit at least: but they were given the work together. Together they were made to know and honour their glorious creator. They weren’t identical: God had his plan of beauty in diversity and made not just a tribe of men with asexual reproduction or a tribe of females but a man and woman to complement each other. (Not 'You’re lovely Adam' 'So are you, Eve!' but they fit together.)

They were equal in dignity and personhood, because they’d been made in God’s image. They were together with no shame, and God had said it was really good.

So what happens? That'd be for the next post.

Williams weighs in

The BBC reports on Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams' Times Higher Education supplement (not online) article on suppression of CUs in universities. His article was called, in a rather Anglican reserved but fair way, "It is not a crime to hold traditional values." In it he said, "The danger in issuing sanctions against a body whose views you disapprove of is that it looks like a fear of open argument." Richard Cunningham had made much the same point in his article in the Guardian, but sadly more people listen to Rowan Williams - well, when he says something understandable by non PhDs anyway. Of course, Mr Williams does not say he agrees with or supports the CUs' beliefs, but he at least has spoken out that they have a right to express 'traditional values'. Read the rest of the BBC report here

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Machines and miscellany

My 2 hour driving lesson this morning was relaxing. Relaxing?!? Well, I had come straight from battling my printer for an hour to no avail, so relatively, it was quite fun... but I do think I'm ready for my test!

Once upon a CU meeting... the music sec and I decided that our end of year prayer & praise meeting should include a brief word from the Bible - we'd not got a speaker for a talk, but we decided we wanted to hear from God and respond in our prayer & praise meeting: rather a waste of a meeting otherwise! So, not having a speaker, we asked Rich Fairbairn, then CU pres, to give a few words of exhortation. Now, we should have known really... Rich Fairbairn was not just going to give a 'few words' once we'd given him the chance to expound God's word to CU. He preached on Hebrews 13. Now, a good few years on, he's been preaching around Reading and Guildford CUs, and RUCU helpfully recorded him on Mark 14 [HT: Bish] Good stuff. I'd like to take credit for sparking off his preaching ministry, but it was going to happen sometime, and God blatantly gets all the credit anyway.