Monday, 24 December 2007

Peace with God in Christ(mas)

May you all have a Christmas celebrating the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. I pray that we'd all worship and enjoy our Father through him this Christmas, whether it's a time we find happy or tinged with sadness. Grace and peace.

Quote of the Day: brother vs. psychiatrist


The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Wordly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiastrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God's forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Confession and Communion," in Life Together, 1954, quoted in Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes

One touch from the King

I recently posted about several books, including One Touch From the King by Mark Stibbe. I said it takes a position on miraculous healing which is more balanced and pastorally helpful than most charismatics I've read. Pondering this more, I thought I'd have another flick through it and point out more pros & cons - comparing him relative to others I've read isn't a very helpful indicator! So here are some points, in no particular order:

Stibbe differentiates between gifts of healing (which he describes as gradual and/or partial) and miraculous healing (instananeous, total). He claims this distinction is implied from the fact these are listed separately, and the book is written about miracles, not gifts of healing. I'm not sure how much this is merited, but it makes the book's focus more clear.

The author's aim was to encourage us to seek God in faith. The book does this, and avoids the pitfall of making people feel guilty for lack of faith if they don't see healing, by emphasising that God is King - King of kings & Lord of lords - and is therefore sovereign over whether or not someone is healed, and over the timing. He has a chapter encouraging perseverence and patience with hope, which is helpful pastorally. This whole emphasis is often lacking in books which seek to encourage faith in God to heal - as if mentioning God's sovereignty or the need for endurance will decrease faith.

Another potential pitfall is that we can get so caught up in pursuit of the blatantly miraculous that we miss the more 'mundane' - and difficult! - ministry with which God calls us to serve the sick and hurting: ministries of mercy and compassion. Mark Stibbe has a chapter encouraging us to reach out to the sick in their pain and minister with compassion: commendable. My Mother visits the many elderly ladies of my parent's church in a nursing home (and hospitals) several times every week, checks their houses are ok, does their laundry, and sits chatting or in silence with them. I must say that I believe that the evidence of the power of the Spirit at work in his people is far clearer in this, with the community of God's people caring for one another, than in most healing meetings I've heard of or been in. So, commendable to encourage serving one another in compassion, in the long haul, and not only seeking miraculous 'fixes'.

Stibbe also notes that it is not always right to pray for healing: better sometimes to pray that God will enable his people to die well. This certainly rings true as I think of friends whose only desire was to depart and be with Christ. This present world had become too much for their bodies. So the author points out that Jesus left plenty of people dead, as well as raising the son of the widow from Nain. He also notes that miracles don't bring a pleasant life: that if we seek to see the Spirit's power, we may also expect to "experience a new appreciation of the Cross - both the message of the Cross and the marks of the Cross".

Having said that, I think some of his use of Scripture isn't good. He misunderstands the double healing in Mark 8, and takes it as a case of perseverence needed. Our Lord did not have God refuse his prayer! No, the context in which Luke places it show us that Jesus used this miracle to illustrate to his disciples (and Peter particularly) their need to see fully, as they grasp that he is Messiah, yet refuse him on what kind of Messiah he must be.

He rather abuses Elisha, by suggesting that unlike our Lord, Elisha didn't take the risk to have physical contact in compassion for Naaman, the gentile leper. It doesn't seem to occur to him that Elisha might have had good reason to humble Naaman before the Lord rather than meeting his expectations in the manner of healing! The record does not encourage us to criticise Elisha for a lack of compassion, but to rejoice in Naaman being humbled before God, and healed by His mercy.

There's at best a large hole in his use of Acts 4 & 5 - the church meet to pray for the Lord (vv.29-30):

"And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
And Stibbe says this was answered in ch.5: "Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles." But what do we see inbetween? Immediately after they pray, we're told,

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."
Is this not the answer? And if we're looking for miracles, then the answer in ch.5 doesn't actually give Stibbe what he claims: the miracles in ch.5 are done by the apostles - not by all the church who'd been praying. This is not a large point, but Mark generalises to encourage us all to seek miracles, like the NT church: yet if the answer to the NT church was found in the miracles of the apostles, then the answers we expect may be different from what Stibbe describes.

That leads into my next query. Stibbe doesn't show that the "signs of the apostles" are to apply to the whole church today. Now, I can't see any indication in the NT that certain signs are expected to cease at any time before the parousia. But it does seem that there were signs of the apostles - given to confirm their word as God's word - e.g. 2 Cor 12.12, Heb 2.1-4 - which are referred to in the past tense in Hebrews. It seems that these gifts focussed round the ministry of the apostles to bear witness to apostolic preaching. This is not to say that God does not chose to do these things otherwise: merely that this seems to be the focus. So when Stibbe encourages us to an 'apostolic Christianity', I think he needs to do more work to show why we should expect to each be like an apostle! Perhaps he attempts this in his book Healing Today.

Stibbe says of his summary aim, at the beginning:

God can radically transform your situation with just one royal touch. A
moment of divine contact can bring an invasion of heaven into your world.

Of course I am aware that there are many who are still waiting and we will not evade the tough questions on the way, questions like, 'What happens when the King's touch is not experienced?' 'What happens when people are not healed and transformed instantly?' But my overriding desire is to encourage you to a new level of faith in the King's life-changing touch. My aim is to help raise your level of faith in the ability of the King of kings to touch your life.

In this aim, he succeeds to a certain extent. He would do better if he addressed those concerns I raised above. But if I were to pick on one thing to summarise, that would improve this book on healing and miracles, it is an explanation of the incoming of the Kingdom in the now, while pointing to the hope of the not yet. It is Romans 8. It would answer the question left begging by Stibbe's book: If God is sovereign, and can intervene so powerfully to transform the lives of his children, to bring 'an invasion of heaven into your world', then why does he not always do so? The answer of Romans 8 would seem to be that the indwelling presence and work of the Holy Spirit does indeed bring an invasion of heaven into us, and in us, into the world. This is experienced partially now, and completely later - the King would have us not only seeking his 'touch' now, but moreover, longing for his return. Now we see in a dark reflection, and we groan in these mortal bodies; then we will be like him, for we shall see him face to face, receive the final redemption of our bodies and be clothed in immortality. We witness to the world of the King and his Kingdom now by the Spirit who dwells in us, transforming us to be like Him, but all the more we long for his appearing. Come, Lord Jesus!

I much appreciated Sam Storm's succinct statement:
I believe healing is in the atonement in the same way I believe all spiritual and physical blessings are in the atonement. Were it not for the death and resurrection of Christ we would have nothing but the eternal damnation that we deserve. But not all such blessings are experienced in their fullness until the consummation of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth. This would certainly be true of the healing of the body.

Out of the mouths of babes & infants

A man drinking in the pub in Belfast on Christmas Eve, with his partner, was watching two little girls as they ran around away from their parents. They came up to where the couple were sitting and the seven-year-old spoke to the man's girlfriend: "What's your name?" "I'm Mary," she joked. The child turned to him: "So you must be Joseph!" she said.

The man laughed. "Do you know who Mary and Joseph were?" he asked in reply.
"Sure I do. Mary was Jesus' Mummy and Joseph was his step-dad."

The man was thrown by this. He'd never thought of it before. Joseph, not Jesus' father, but his step-father? Who did that make Jesus? Why was that the case?

He got up from his pint, and with 'Mary' (who had no idea what had made her say that was her name), walked out of the pub... Round the corner, to the Evangelical Bookshop. There he told this story to the manager and asked whether the little girl had got it right. The manager talked with him about Jesus, his birth, and who he was, for a good few minutes. He gave him a gift of Lee Strobel's A Case for Christmas. "I can't take this!" the man said. "It's Christmas - gift from us!" the manager insisted. The man departed, leaving £5 'to charity' (the charity box beside the till comes into its own here) - and promising to read the book.

Praise God for the words of a child to a stranger in a Belfast pub, and for the witness of the Evangelical Bookshop, and pray that God would give the man faith to believe in the Son of God, whose mother was Mary, and step-father, Joseph.


When I visit my parents for Christmas, I read. Clearly I also catch up with them, see relatives, help with the Christmas prep, meet with church, visit friends in nursing homes, and visit the home of the heart, but it's also a wonderful chance for reading. My parents' minister was rather concerned that I rest my brain from reading theology, but it is resting - especially like this:

I arrive back and first thing, I investigate what books are lying around. My Dad's reading Wright's
Surprised by Hope which looks interestingly non-novel, but I'd not get away with trying to read it at the same time as him. There were a couple of novels lying around - review copies my Dad had been sent to persuade him to stock them in the bookshop. Ha! I read one in an hour or so, which wasn't worth it. I think the lift repair man was supposed to be like Christ, but you'd be better reading a 'secular' novel that was actually well-written (Christians should lead with creativity, in the image of God, surely?) and discuss that with a friend, rather than reading a poor 'Christian' novel which isn't sure whether a lift repair man is a type of Christ or is pointing the characters to him.

Then it was a new biography of Frances Ridley Havergal, which needed to be reviewed for shop stock. It was ok, but I'd recommend Sharon James' biography of four women including Havergal,
In Trouble And In Joy which is more readily available.

The next book lying on the coffee table was
One touch from the King by Mark Stibbe. He advocates a position on miraculous healing which is more balanced and pastorally helpful than most charismatics I've read.

Atop the next pile on the coffee table (misnomer here: 'coffee' table should read 'table buried under piles of books') is Carolyn Mahaney's
Feminine Appeal, which I was interested to see. It's primarily for wives & mothers, but was of value to me nevertheless. I wonder whether the view of women remaining at home owed slightly more (ironically) to culture than to Scripture, as before the industrial revolution both husband and wife would work in the husband's trade from the home, or in the fields together, with the children around them both - or so claimed Pearcey's Total Truth. However, with slight feelings of middle class American culture, the book's good overall.

Having refrained from picking up my Dad's current read, I did snatch my Mum's -
Seasons of womanhood by Jean Gibson - and read it while she was off doing something else. Her only objection was that I couldn't possibly have read it properly to finish it that quickly. The book itself was mostly fine - short biographies of ordinary Christian women at various stages of life, their challenges and how they serve the Lord in them. One chapter seemed to say more about the Myers-Briggs(TM) personality test than about Jesus, but thankfully that chapter was out of place among the rest, and the book is a 'nice', short book, which will encourage some to be faithful to the Lord in all circumstances.

Deciding I'd exhasted the recent additions to the piles of books lying round the house (or the others being commentaries), I headed in to The Bookshop, and although I've asked for a list for Christmas, I browsed the second hand - and the rest of the shop which is mostly reduced. Picked up Josh Harris'
Stop Dating the Church, which has been variously recommended, and read it before I went to sleep - it is good. Just a pity it's not IVP so I can't as easily sell it to students.

Yesterday was Sunday, which is marvellous, and I also managed to finish Frame,
Apologetics to the Glory of God, which is good but hard going at times, and leaves me mostly agreeing but still feeling I'm not great at apologetics. Talks and written word, yes, but interaction with a buddhist-sounding nonrealist after a God is a Delusion debate, when he wouldn't admit he didn't live consistent with his nonrealism? Hmmm.

To top off Sunday, I read Krish Kandiah's
Twenty-Four before I slept, and thoroughly recommend it. Finally someone else who is prepared to advocate godliness while driving - he has a whole chapter on commuting! I find it rather worrying in the inherintly selfish activity of driving, when each is focussed on his own agenda, how easily frustration and irritation arise in my heart. Commuting is a hard test arena for grace.

Now I await my Christmas books...

Friday, 21 December 2007


Belgium finally has a government after 6 months of crisis (that's crisis à la Belgique, note: solid, not-very-bothered crisis, slightly moving into impatience at the politicians, of late).

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Exeter students vote in CU

The student body at Exeter University have voted to reinstate the CU to the Guild of Students, with the right that all officers and voting members of the society agree to its aims and values, expressed in a statement of belief. (The Guild now should ratify the vote of the student body.) The press release is here.

Also related are Julian Rivers on the legal rights of CUs and joint NUS - UCCF guidelines for faith societies on campus.

Pray that the Guild of Students at Birmingham University would soon follow suit, facilitating student faith societies existing and serving the student body with integrity of belief and action.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Quote of the day: being Church

CUs uphold the tradition that Christianity in essence rises above any denominational church. We see the spiritual significance of membership in a local church ... but do we see the spiritual significance of meeting with other believers as part of the universal church?

By identifying ourselves as interdenominational we are practising our belief in the community and fellowship of all true believers in Christ ... As student Christian Fellowships meet togehter week after week on campus, they are affirming and acknowledging the reality of this spiritual body - the church.

Angela Teo, for the Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Singapore, quoted in NB News.