Thursday, 24 May 2007

Quote of the day: hard belief

Martin Downes has finished his interview with Carl Trueman. In part 2, Carl comments on the desire to be a teacher vs. the desire to teach, and on the helpfulness of Presbyterian governance. He also speaks most pointedly of how our evangelical culture can present a false view of belief:
Belief in the truth is always difficult – doctrinally and morally. We believe not because we find it easy or straightforward but because we are commanded so to do. Yet evangelical culture often fails to acknowledge the level of struggle involved in being orthodox and thus creates unrealistic expectations for the Christian life.

Berkouwer says of Herman Bavinck (perhaps the outstanding Reformed theologian of the last two-hundred years) that the people who most angered him were those who believed exactly what he did himself, but who failed to see the problems and difficulties, the sheer struggle, involved in so doing. I carried a copy of that anecdote in my wallet for many years as I worked in university departments where my faith was constantly under challenge from friends and colleagues as a reminder that the intellectual struggles I felt were precisely to be expected in the normal Christian life; but that I had to continue to believe not because it was easy or pain-free but because of God’s revealed command so to do.

The pastoral significance of this is that too often we fail to present orthodoxy as such a struggle, giving people unrealistic expectations and the false alternatives of believing easily or believing nothing at all. That is a cruel dilemma to place before people, and one that must in practice ultimately favour the `believe nothing’ option for as soon as a struggle arises, the believer has nowhere to go.
. In part 3, Trueman treats us to a sentence on the emerging phenomenon which made me chuckle & remember that he is, after all, a seminar professor:
...the pop-appropriation of some of the sillier excesses of postmodernism by numerous writers seem to be little more than the old liberalism redivivus: God is silenced, his demands on human beings are rendered equivocal, theology becomes the solipsistic musings of human beings, albeit refracted through communitarian views of language as opposed to the Kantian categories of the individual self-consciousness of the old-style liberalism.
Quite. More clearly, he holds forth on the dangers (and blessings) of evangelical fellowship and confessionalism, and remarks on indifference: "At the ecclesiastical level, I would rather do business with a convinced Arminian or Baptist who knows that the Bible’s teaching on the pertinent issues are important, than with someone who thinks it is all a bit unclear and not that vital anyway." I agree with what he says on this question in the interview.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Word Alive – the past and the future

A press statement from UCCF, entitled, Word Alive - the past and the future.

Since the recent Word Alive event in partnership with Spring Harvest, there has been much print given to the reasons for the split and these have unfortunately led to a range of complexities, distortions and disputes about the issues. In the meantime, UCCF, Keswick Ministries and Spring Harvest were approached with an offer of independent, formal mediation with a view to producing a joint, clarifying statement. UCCF and Keswick both accepted this offer but Spring Harvest unfortunately declined.

Since there is now no prospect of a formal objective procedure to clear up some of the details, we see no point in perpetuating this dispute any further. We admit that we have unwittingly contributed to it by giving the impression that the Word Alive committee rejected a specific request to allow Steve Chalke on the Word Alive platform in 2007. A request for Steve Chalke to be acceptable to Word Alive (following his signing of the updated EA Doctrinal Basis) actually had been made in general but not in specific terms to the Word Alive committee on 17th May 2006. We apologise for unintentionally being misleading about this.

While there had been niggles with Spring Harvest on other matters over the years, all parties had managed to live with them. It was made quite clear to us by Spring Harvest that the decisive issue, which caused them to end the partnership now, was our refusal to allow Steve Chalke to share our platform because of his unorthodox views on the atonement and the way he expresses them.

statements, which we previously made, have been disputed but on reviewing those matters, we see no good reason to change them, but we will not rehearse them again here. Others are responsible for their own statements, and although they may have emerged out of genuine misunderstandings, we feel they have not helped. (We note that not everyone was in attendance at every relevant meeting.) Since we cannot achieve the all round clarity we desire, we do not want to look backwards any longer on this unhappy episode but press on towards the future, which is a new Word Alive event in partnership between UCCF and Keswick. Furthermore, we want to wish Spring Harvest well and thank them for all they have done to make Word Alive the great success it has been.

new Word Alive event will take place at Phwhelli in North Wales (it is pronounced something like “Porth – helly”) from 7-11 April 2008. Confirmed speakers include Don Carson, John Piper and Terry Virgo. A full programme for all the family, including crèche facilities, children and teens groups as well as our vibrant student track, is currently being arranged. We are greatly looking forward to the new event and the opportunity it gives us to develop the Word Alive conference.

Quote of the day: take your pick!

Martin Downes over at Against Heresies has been posting some great interviews with men well worth listening to. So far we have...

  • Geoff Thomas - whom we had to speak in WarwickCU in my 1st year on exec; I seem to recall our secretary inadvertently sending him a letter requesting a talk of 25min (we'd had too many overlong talks), and some of us collapsing in laughter at the thought when our minister pointed it out. (Thankfully he spoke for 40, and you wouldn't have noticed it.) Amongst other things, he advises: "For every single word addressed to the wolf give ten words to the sheep." On Christian Ministry and Dealing with Error: Part 1 and Part 2 - interesting.

  • Sticking with Welsh Thomases, we have Derek. Who baptised me during his sojourn in Norn Iron in Stranmillis EPC, and now lectures at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. He describes himself as a lifelong "vanilla Calvinist of the experiential variety", and answers questions on handling truth & error in pastoral ministry: part 1 and part 2 (even changing mugshot inbetween).

  • Next up Martin gave us R. Scott Clark, part 1 & part 2, whom I don't know, but seemed to attract many Americans in the post comments. He was interviewed under the heading, "Defence against the Dark Arts", and is worth a read if only for the sake of reading a post in Against Heresies which is introduced by a quote from Severus Snape (not to be confused with the monophysite Severus of Antioch). Clark's been denominated one of "Machen's Warrior Children", for which I'd be inclined to like him, and he intrigues me by shooting at Social Trinitarianism as running afoul of the Athanasian Creed.

  • Most lately we're treated to Carl Trueman, of Ref21 blogging London cab-driver interview infamy, on Sin in High Places. So far, part 1, including Zen-Calvinism, Barthianism, and the absence of a magic bullet. I await the next installment!

Thanks, Martin! [Including for notifying me by facebook since blogRolling is down!]

Monday, 14 May 2007

Quote of the day: specto diem

That day lies hid, that every day we maybe on the watch. ... He who
loves the coming of the Lord is not he who affirms that it is far off, nor is it
he who says that it is near; but rather he who, whether it be far off or near,
awaits it with sincere faith, steadfast hope, and fervent love.
- Augustine. Seems to me to ring true with 1 Thessalonians, see esp. 1:2-10.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Harbouring the Unreal

I was walking along to orchestra rehearsal on Monday evening, day-dreaming. A still, small voice broke into my daydream, "Excuse me!" In the doorway of the house I was passing, stood an elderly lady. "Excuse me, dear..."
"Yes?" I replied, as smiling, I walked down the driveway towards her.
"What day is it, please?" she asked.
"Wednesday?" I mustn't have spoken loudly & clearly enough.
"No, sorry, it's Monday."
"Ah. I didn't know. I wasn't sure. And it seemed more like a Sunday..."
"Ah," I smiled at her, "that's because it's a bank holiday today. It's bank holiday Monday - some services aren't on as usual."
"Oh." She seemed to relax a little. "Bank holiday Monday. Thank you. Thank you, dear."

Returning to my path, someone else's struggle with unreality had broken in and exposed my daydreaming for the degenerate, dangerous thing it was: a struggle with unreality. To be fought, not fostered. While I was harbouring unreality in my mind, that dear lady was fighting to have her mind correspond to reality. I know which
the gospel would have us do...

Thursday, 3 May 2007

The day of new things

Today for the first time I...

- voted in an English election. I've always voted by post in Northern Irish ones before. It concerned me slightly that I didn't need ID - just verbally give a name & address that's on their register, and off you go... is that not slightly open to (/ inviting with a big banner strung from an aeroplane and a loudhailer in the streets below) fraud?

- sat in a hall with almost 2261 retirees. Who else can attend weekday matinée concerts, but retirees and people who work in Christian jobs where they work strange hours and can take a few off in the middle of the day for a concert? (The lady beside me - the only other non-retiree I could see - turned out to be a vicar. Yup.) This was CBSO to a packed Symphony Hall. Elgar violin concerto, with Daniel Hope, Brahms Symphony No.2 and Wagner Tannhäuser Overture. The Elgar was strong, engagingly and brilliantly played without being over the top - with a gorgeous tone. The Brahms is a great piece and rather fun - don't think I've particularly 'noticed' it before. And from where I was a got a clear view of Sakari Oramo, the CBSO's conductor (took over from Sir Simon Rattle in '98): I'd rather like to play in an orchestra under his baton!

- paid £4 for a seat worth £30 in aforementioned concert. Not only did I get to enjoy the concert from a fantastic postition, but got to enjoy the knowledge that I had paid only £4 for doing so. You've got to love standby tickets for under-26s.

- appreciated just what a difference a coffee can make. Sadly and very frustratingly I was battling drooping eyelids throughout the wonderful Elgar performance. I rushed for a coffee in the interval, and was perfectly alert to enjoy the Brahms. I've never experienced it quite so dramatically.

- decided that to clap at the wrong point is ignorance; but to get up and hurry out at the drop of the baton on the last piece, more keen to get to your car than to applaud the orchestra, is disgracefully rude.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007


I'm always interested in hearing from Christians of other countries - both about the Church and gospel witness in their own country, encouragements and challenges, and on their perspective on the blessings & challenges for us here. We have personal blind spots, which is why we're in local communities of believers to minister the word to one another. We have generational blind spots, which is also why we're in local church AND why we read books written by saints of times past. And we have geographical-cultural-political blind spots, which is why we need to minister to each other in the worldwide Church, listening very carefully to our brothers & sisters in Christ from other cultures.

So I asked my usual questions of a Nigerian student in a CU, who's already studied in Nigeria, been involved in CU there, and done national service. We discussed the challenge of witness in Nigeria where Christianity is culturally assumed amongst the 'Christian' culture, and where there's temptation to retaliate to Muslim attacks, if the Christians aren't rooted enough in the gospel to be confident in it and not retaliate. And I asked him of what he saw as our challenges here. He's been encouraged by the evangelism going on in CU - same as in the (huuuuuge) CUs in NIFES, students taking all sorts of opportunities to share the gospel in ways appropriate to our culture (I'm not sure what English students would think of CU drama & song troupes touring halls of residence as his CU found was effective in Nigeria!). But he says he sees our challenge as one of the mind. The culture tells us to be PC. To be quiet. To not say anything contraversial. I think he sees us tempted to go with that flow, to believe the lie, to be conformed by the non-resistance of our minds.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.- Rom 12.1-2
I've just bought Sire's Discipleship of the Mind: "Learning to love God in the ways we think" - looks useful!

Quote of the day: Bible-wielding assassins

This by Bish almost bumped my Grandfather's quote... so I'm cheating, and pretending Dave wrote his tomorrow:
As I train students in mission I'm aware that their ability to handle the Bible is a very high priority. It's not everything - nothing is gained by having an army of highly-trained Bible-wielding assassins on the loose... but an army of big-hearted Spirit-filled risk-taking sovereign-God-loving servants who can give the sense and explain the meaning of God's word to themselves and others is nigh on unstoppable. They'll hold firmly to God's promises in his trustworthy message, they'll be able to speak God's words into human objections, arguments as well as using it to bring help to those in pain and heartbreak.
- the rest here.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Quote of the day: literally

Quote of the day today goes to my late Grandfather, on reading prophecy / apocalyptic "literally", and the sitting capacity of women. What he writes is true and (towards the end) made me chuckle out loud on the train back from Wolverhampton:

Revelation... is by and large a book of symbols. There is indeed what one may call didactic writing in it. For example, there are plain statements about the second advent. But the attempts to carry through a literal interpretation founder on the rock of the patently symbolic character of much of it. It is written in sign language for the most part. The bulk of it was communicated by visions. John was (literally 'became') in the Spirit on the Lord's day and the unseen world was opened to him and, as in a great drama, successive visions passed before his view.

Think of Peter's vision in Acts 10. Being in a trance, Peter saw a great sheet let down by the four corners, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things and birds. Peter, though slow at first, came to see that this vision was full of significance - preparing him to recognise that God was no respecter of persons and that He would freely receive Gentiles who believed, as well as believing Jews. So it is with the visions seen by John. If we take them literally, we are in grave danger of getting only the husk, while missing the kernel - the true meaning.

There are those who insist on taking a grossly literal view. The book bears on the very face of it a warning against such treatment. It speaks, for example, of "a woman sitting on seven mountains", but no female ever had such sitting capacity!

- W J Grier, The Momentous Event