Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Novel noises

If you enjoy listening to novels, it's worth keeping an eye on BBC7. At the moment, Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey is playing at No Sign of Foul Play (first episode available for 2 more days), and her wonderful account of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Man Born to be King, also first episode available for 2 more days. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is sadly approaching its end, and of course Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet only recently played. As I say, worth keeping an eye on BBC7!

PS Milton's Paradise Lost is being read marvellously at the moment on BBC Radio3!

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Ordinary Hero

Tim Chester's latest book from IVP looks great as usual - The Ordinary Hero: Living the Cross and Resurrection

I look forward to getting it - [edit] summer '09.

[HT: Ant]

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Post-Christmas let-down?

I must admit, as a natural cynic, I'm rarely let down. Life is full of surprises of grace! But I must fight for hope, which does not disappoint. With church on Christmas day, Gareth Burke introduced the children to a wrapped present which looked awfully like a tin of Quality Street. Saying it looked like they'd all have chocolates, he unwrapped it and opened it... to find it was full of paper! But there was a present within, too... a pen. All were rather disappointed. But in contrast, we will never be disappointed with the present God gives us of Himself in Jesus!

We will never be disappointed post-Christmas, if we put our hope in Jesus, rather than in the Christmas wrapping. Now, it must be said that if we entertain or are taught false promises about Jesus, we may be disappointed in the real one - he grows up to be the Scandalon, the stone the builders reject. But he is the God-ordained Cornerstone, and whoever hopes in Him will never be put to shame. Never disappointed. Never let down. Jon Bloom posts more helpful thoughts on how to have a hopeful post-Christmas melancholy, over at desiringgod.org.
...as long as the beautiful gifts remain unopened around the tree and the events are still ahead of us, they can appear to be the hope we are waiting for. But when the tree is empty and events are past, we realize we are longing for a lasting hope. [Read more.]

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Quote of the day: The rebirth is real

Atheist Matthew Parris, in The Times:

...travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary.

... The Christians were always different.

[Read the whole article.]

Honest, even if it comes across as slightly patronising. He seems to be treating Christianity as a helpful metanarrative. That is, he recognises the grace and power in Christianity - contrary to popular propaganda, the true gospel is not a philosophical ideal used to oppress. He recognises something of the transforming power of grace. However, he refuses to recognise that Christianity is not just a healthy, helpful metanarrative, but the true grace-meganarrative in which he lives.

[HT: Stephen & Bish]

Mega grace-reality!

Chris gets so philosophical much goes over my head, but his latest post is fascinating - Christianity is not a meta-narrative. I always thought it was a problem that postmoderns are sceptical of metanarrative. I thought the gospel is a metanarrative: history is in fact a big story with a start and finish. But apparantly that's not what metanarrative is. I think that metanarrative is an abstracted story, an ideal designed to legitimise the practice of a person or group of people. So people are scared of ideals - Communism had a metanarrative, an ideal, and people lived for it, die for it, and control others by it. Fascism too. Christianity? Well, it seems like an ideal. It's got a big story for which people live and die. It can be used to control others. But the difference should be in the direction.

The story of Christianity is not an abstraction into a higher ideal, used to justify action. Rather, it's the original. It's the primary reality. We don't think up a metanarrative: we find ourselves in a meganarrative. We don't use abstractions to control the weak; we find ourselves caught up in Reality in our weakness, in what seems like a story of weakness, and may invite others to share it, knowing that in the end the slaughtered lamb will win the day. This is no dreamed up metanarrative to be scared of. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. This is no idealism. This is reality. Not meta-. Mega!

Would another way to say this be to say that Christianity is the grace-reality, not a meta-narrative?

Quote of the day: beware the gods

Carl Trueman explores the blindness of idolatry which means that financial crisis, credit crunch or no, we will keep spending:
Buying when I don't have the real power to buy makes me god, a creator and a transubstantiator, and fuels my worship of self, as I stand in awe of my god-like powers. Thus, even now, as the credit markets lie in ruins, we are so blinded by our idolatry (PS. 115!) that we cannot stop. [Read the whole post.]

Friday, 26 December 2008

Quote of the day: Christ for the humbug Christmasses

Christmas is for messy, bad times. For bad people, in fact. "It doesn't feel like Christmas..."? Well, maybe it didn't feel like a jolly winter festival for you this year. Or any year. Have Jesus Christ and enjoy God through Him, instead. Infinitely better. Derek Thomas passes on a "Christmas meditation" from Dr. Ray Van Neste, including the following:
Christmas is not the pretence that all is well now. Such pretence is a sham and people see through it as Scrooge did. No, Christmas is the blessed assurance that God is still at work redeeming His people. It is the reminder that God accomplishes salvation even when it looks bad. This gives us hope and points us forward to the coming day when God will make all things right. With this truth in mind we can celebrate in hope and declare our hope and joy as a statement of faith. [Read it all.]

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Quote of the year: no hope without it

This year has been one of increasing thankfulness for the active righteousness of Christ. My salvation lies outside of me. It is not in my faith, nor in my feelings, nor in my ability to look to Christ. It is in Christ alone. He is my justification, and Him my righteousness.

How are you righteous before God? Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such a benefit with a believing heart. [Heidelberg Catechism ans.60]

Thank God for the active obedience of Christ; no hope without it. [Machen]

Reading out the year

Bish has inspired me again - this time to review good books I've read over the past year. A selective list, chosen with difficulty - not necessarily the best I've read (you can see the full list always updating on the right, below, and ones I've posted about here).

1. Mark's gospel. It really is the best new(s) and exciting thing going, and it's been such a privilege to spend so much time in it in the course of my job. So a huge thank you to the Father for sending His Son Jesus as Messiah, to whom the Spirit testifies through Mark. Cheers to Mark for writing it, to the early church for preserving it so carefully and spreading it so zealously, to UCCF for forging ahead with projects to get it into students' hands and lives, and to my supporters for enabling me to be paid to be a part of it. Jesus is my only hope and joy!

2. Some skilful RC novelists. Reading Tolkein to my V.I. housemate is great fun in an evening hour, though as we've finished the Hobbit and a few chapters of LOTR, I now have greater sympathy for those who critique Tolkein's writing. Marvellous stories, but rather hefty sentences to read aloud! I much enjoyed Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet being on the radio, and earlier in the year got into Dorothy Sayers for the first time - appreciating her radio script The Man born to be King, her Letters to a Diminished Church and one of her many detective novels, which wasn't as good as a Chesterton. But while my Complete Father Brown is on loan to someone, I'm getting his Orthodoxy for Christmas.

3. Speaking of RC novelists, this has also been a year of growing convictions in the sweetness, truth and importance of Protestant doctrine! Which is slightly reflected in my reading - Faith Cook's biography of Lady Jane Gray being the latest, while I was also grateful that David Wells has condensed his volumous work into the less intimidating, The Courage to be Protestant. The biographies of Tom Carson (Memoirs of an ordinary pastor) and J.Gresham Machen (Defending the Faith) also contributed to this, though they also fit with thoughts I was having about...

4. The call to joy and pain: or the role of suffering in Christian life and witness. Including a book I didn't think was so true to Scripture, on eschatology, which didn't hold out much future hope in Christ's victory, and thus didn't address present pain very effectively.

5. I finally got round to Thomas Hardy, which my Mum has been recommending for years - starting with Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Marvellous holiday reading while on trains across Austria, and beside mountain lakes. Albeit a rather depressing view of the universe - it acted like some of Ecclesiastes: all is vapour under the sun - so look through the vapour and see God's work! On another recommendation, I enjoyed Le Grand Meaulnes by Fournier, and Captain Corelli's Mandolin was of course so much better than the film - but admittedly, that was enjoyable in its own way, though the replacing of De Bernières' ending with a Hollywoodisation was awful.

5. Speaking of joy and pain, this was the year of the New Word Alive book plug video, and continues to be the year in which I read of the country whose inhabitants love and hate it.

6. The gospel from start to finish - in a good few books! You Can Change by Tim Chester quite merits its own post. I've been wanting a more popular-level, personal application of the CCEF stuff (oh, and Calvin et al!) for a while, and Chester hits the spot. My students are still finding it not as accessible as some good IVP titles, but if you're prepared to meet up with someone to chat about it over coffee and Bible, it's well-worth it and gospelly helpful. I've also just read Crockett, I once was blind but now I squint, which, while shorter and with less working out of the gospel answer, does also seek to have us use the truth of the gospel to change our sinful perspectives, considering the eyes of our hearts. Goldsworthy's Prayer and the Knowledge of God was another I spent time in this year which started from the gospel (and didn't dispense with it either) in its consideration of a topic. As I prepared a seminar on prayer I set out to establish and apply gospel truths - trusting that knowing God's gospel better will encourage us in prayer more than techniques ever will. It was then rather reassuring to pick up Goldsworthy (long on my shelves!) and discover he's said all I was trying to, and that much better. The Warwick & Aston students seemed to enjoy it too, almost as much as I did preparing it. And further back, the UCCF study programme invited me to read Wenham's marvellous Christ and the Bible, which though out of print, is worth selling your Christmas ipod to get hold of. It addresses the doctrine of Scripture starting with Christ. (No, not Barthian.)

7. Lastly, this has been a year of music. A stalwart reference on the bookcase beside my armchair is the Rough Guide to Classical Music, which provides interesting and useful recommendations on recordings to buy, while I continue to read The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross - as I'm slow to appreciate some more modern classical music, I'm enjoying educating myself with this fascinating account of "listening to the 20th century".

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Pope's Catholic: shock & offence

I was about to break the startling news that the current Pope's a Catholic, when I ceded the computer to my mother. Returning to the world wide web of wonderment one book later, I see that I've been beaten to it by him who baptised me, over at Ref21. (Those canny men have already pointed out several times that the Pope's a Catholic. So perceptive, they're worth reading.) It seems that Ratzinger remarked that to save the rainforest from destruction is important, but as important is to save mankind from self-destruction, one example he gave as blurring gender distinctions, and homosexual practice. 'Twould be better still if he didn't blur distinctions in how we're right before God (interesting recent sermon - notes here and here. Now that would help save mankind from God-destruction.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Quote of the day: deafened by the love of music

As music keeps courting my heart, Richard Simpkin in EN reports on using music well to reach the musical with the gospel. This he commends, but notes from experience how some of those non-Christians who attend such things will not hear the good news as they're blinded by love of music. I think my Nigerian colleague might suggest music is more likely to deafen than blind, as my team went to a friend's gig last night (I rather enjoy the excellent musicianship of Mr Bones and the Dreamers; but admittedly in some PA set-ups it's harder to hear than others). Anyway, Richard quotes a composer J.A.C.Radford:
While music is a wonderful gift, it makes a very poor god. It can sing of redemption, but it can't provide it.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Quote of the day: eternal life

‘...to indicate in one word what only music has the power to express in full: the elemental Will of Life. Music is Life, and, like it, inextinguishable.’
So said the composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) of his fourth symphony, The Inextinguishable. How he could write that of a symphony written in 1914-1916 I'm not sure - life inextinguishable? But perhaps this is recognition of the eternity that God has placed in the hearts of men,
yet so that we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. So again, Music is made a poor idol, when she should witness to the Eternal One.
'And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.' - Jesus of Nazareth

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Quote of the Day: stating the obvious

Today's prize for stating the obvious goes to... "relationships experts" at Heriot Watt University, who have announced [cue drum roll, trumpet fanfare, and suspended expiration] that
"Rom-coms ... [promote] unrealistic expectations when it comes to love."
Well, knock me down with a feather. Humble freshers who've attended a Pure course, or for that matter, read Genesis 3, could've told them that much.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Just victory

Mike Reeves talks with Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach about the cross of Christ in the latest Theology Network tabletalk including how Christ is victor - justly.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Jesus paid it all

I hear the Saviour say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

And now complete in Him,
My robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.

- Elvina Hall, 1865. Free mp3 recording from Sovereign Grace Music.

[I'd rather she'd not written only, "Jesus died my soul to save," but more: "Jesus died my all to save," or something else which would fit - but as she lifts our eyes to when we stand before the throne complete in Christ, there's a resurrection body in there too, albeit vaguely!]

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The tyranny of choice

The criticism of my generation: we're kidults. We postpone responsibility indefinitely, and sit around playing games all day. I pondered this as I sat playing solitaire on the computer.

We* watched our parents' generation take the world seriously, and serve mammon so religiously that they lost their lives (in war or business: it made little difference, it seemed). Then we listened as they offered to us the world, with the commendation, "You can do whatever you want!" "You can be whoever you want to be!" "There are no limits - no class limits, no gender limitations, no job restrictions, no geographical ties: you choose!" Universal choice. Unlimited scope. It's crippling. Humans weren't designed each for universal choice, because with choice comes responsibility: being faced with unlimited freedom is being confronted with universal responsibility. And only One has born that: the Man Christ Jesus.

No wonder that at this time in which we may apparently do any career, and live however we like, the shelves are lined with self-help books, career advice books, 'turn your life around' book, 'making life-choices' books. No wonder we play games. In a game, there are rules to follow. It is a smaller universe, and we only have as many options as the makers of the game allowed. That we can cope with.

This doesn't excuse us as we 'play' away our lives. In Eden we only had one choice - and chose wrongly. But with family breakdown and the worship of independent autonomy giving a structureless, support-less society, it is no great thing to be told there are no, no limits.

This reflection doesn't come entirely from the fact I face decisions about the future in terms of work and situation, but that's the context in which I'm thinking. And other than knowing that God is sovereign (phew!), and that true freedom is found in serving the King, I'm still working on applying the gospel to this. It might come down to the cheesy but good saying of Elizabeth Elliot that my Mother taught me: Fear not tomorrows, child of the King: Trust them to Jesus, and do the next thing. (But what is that next thing when there's unlimited choice?) But in the meantime, how frightening is existentialism??

* I use 'we' generically. God blessed me with parents who rather than serving mammon religiously, have lost their lives for the sake of Jesus and his gospel, and thus found it.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Quote of the day: Pilgrimage at home

"We are overlapping: we live in the Kingdom, we live in this world.
We live in tension... Martin Luther was right to say we live in two Kingdoms: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," and if you think that's easy, you haven't lived!
We live in two worlds - the Kingdom has come, He's moving mightily through the world gathering a people for Himself, doing miracles, converting people, establishing the Lordship of Jesus in His people: sometimes transforming a culture, sometimes letting a culture slide into oblivion: it happened to Rome... But He reigns.

"So yes to confrontation, and yes to missionary adaptation.
Yes to separation, and yes to cultural participation.
Yes we are in the world; no we are not of the world.
Yes, become all things to all people that you may save some; no, do not be conformed to this world.
Yes, we are indigenous; no, we are pilgrims in every culture.

"Because "creation is the Lord's," and creation is fallen.
Christ is incarnate, and Christ was crucified.
Conversion is justification, and sanctification.
The Kingdom has already come! No, it has not fully come.
Those are the roots of the tension you live with every day.

"How are we going to navigate this balance? "Be transformed in the renewing of your mind.""
- Piper on Romans 12.1-2

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Quote of the day: myth become fact

'Myth in general is... a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination', he wrote in Miracles; it is in the incarnation that that 'truth... becomes incarnate as History'. Yet 'Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact', and must be responded to at both levels. His vision of the New Creation, therefore, is that the breakdown of the "ancient unities", a disease permeating the whole of modern culture so that 'a purely mathematical universe and a purely subjective mind confront one another across an unbridgeable chasm', will be healed: 'Those who attain the glorious resurrection will see the dry bones clothed again with flesh, the fact and the myth re-married, the literal and the metaphorical rushing together.' - Pete Lowman quoting C.S.Lewis, Miracles, p.165, from his bethinking article on Perelandra.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Music and Light

Somewhere in the "enlightenment" we lost the light. We lost the numinous. We lost beauty and have only the media used, we lost the music and have only notes and rhythms, our poetry the words and structure. Nothing more. We lost joy, and glory, and are left with only apetite. We fall short of the glory of God, and now we don't even bother to make an idol: we just celebrate the short-fall.

Yet there is something in us, some testimony that rebels. Eternity in our hearts. Denying the numinous doesn't remove its existence. Andris Nelsons, CBSO conductor, said, "All of us need music and culture - it's food to the soul." Some great composers, he said, address civilisations, but Tchaikovsky (of this evening's concert) speaks to each of us personally, to our hearts.
I believe we have a physical body and a soul. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, whether or not you believe in God, I think people believe that there is a soul and a body. You need food for your body, you need to eat and exercise to satisfy your physical body, but there is a soul that needs to be satisfied too, and it can be satisfied of course through love, but for me music is the most beautiful form of satisfaction. Even going to a rock concert can do this, I wish I had time to go, but classical music fills me up and makes me happy. [Nelsons in a BBC interview.]
Thus music could so easily become an idol for me - for joy, glory, beauty, harmony; it stirs the soul. But music is not the highest goal or satisfaction. It is but a pale whisper on the outer edges of the reflection of the outskirts of the glory of God's creation. And music is a punishing idol. Nelsons remarked that never very far from a musician is the question, "To be or not to be?" It is an unending, unquenchable search for joy if limited to music. Is this it?

So how do I avoid idolatry when I feel the pull of the numinous in God's creation? Perspective. Looking through the created to glory in the Creator, for one thing. For another, just as I went into this evening's concert, I heard news from one of my CUs who ran a lunchtime event today for non-Christians - far beyond anyone's expectations, two dozen non-Christians came, and engaged with good questions, and asked for more such events. As I left the concert hall, I heard further that several non-Christian friends then also came to the CU meeting later, and one of these students may yet read Mark's gospel with a CU member. Beauty, joy, and truth? The numinous? Light? "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." [John 17.3]

To see Jesus

My Pastor exhorted us on Sunday, when we have a problem and look in the Bible about it, don't look to find ourselves, or our problem: look to see Jesus (and in Him, we will indeed find all solutions). But look to see Jesus; not yourself or your issue. Mike Reeves' triad of talks from the UCCF South West's Transformission day are also helpful on God's Word and the Bible (thanks to Bish for posting them):
1 - The Most Valuable Word - Judges 3
2 - The Christian Word - John 5
3 - The External Word - Psalm 42
I rejoice that God's Word is external to me: that Truth and Salvation lies in Christ, not within.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Out of the Silent Planet

One of my favourite novels is being read on Radio 7 at the moment. C.S.Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet is the second in his space trilogy, and contains a devastating and penetrating apologetic against the fall, and understanding of sin. I wonder if the BBC reading will capture that?

Late correction - Out of the Silent Planet is the first in the trilogy, with Perelandra being the second (entitled 'Voyage to Venus' in America). So I'll have to wait to see if they'll broadcast Perelandra too. In the meantime, if you haven't read the trilogy, do get hold of them.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

'My' identity is Christ

I must 'choose an identity'? Fine then - I will choose the Identity in which I was chosen before the first keys were struck to write the script of blogger, and before the first words were spoken to create this world, or me. I will choose the Identity with which I was identified when He lived, died and rose again 2000 years ago. I will choose this identity because He first chose me. I will choose this Identity not just today, to put aside tomorrow: this Identity has consumed my past and replaced it with His own. How can a dead person blog? You ask me to choose an identity - but it is no longer I who blog: I have died with this Identity, and the blog I now blog I blog by trusting in Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Crass? But you asked me to choose an identity. God has identified me with Christ. Nothing more is needful.

For much more wonderful stuff on the reality of being identified with Christ, united with Him, found in Him, such that, "The determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ's past," see Union with Christ, by Michael Horton. I was in Philippians at the weekend with Aston CU, and this beat doesn't let up throughout the letter: in Christ, in the Lord, in Christ, in the Lord,... And thus such a key antidote to our natural inclination to look inside ourselves for salvation. Our passion, our worship, our evangelism, our ability, our Quiet Times, our church, our faith: worthless. Worthless for righteousness within ourselves. That I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness which comes by law but that which is by faith in Christ Jesus, the righteousness from God that depends on faith...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Choose an identity

On the back of this post, I couldn't help noticing that every time I go to comment on someone's blog, blogger tells me to "Choose an identity." Thus blogger, in one 3-word sentence, summarises our culture. There are many identities you may have: choose one for now. No wonder people take issue with the idea of one true God and one mediator between God and us - the one Man Jesus. Wake up, choose a shampoo from the shelf, choose an outfit from the wardrobe, choose an identity from the drawer, choose a god from the sky, and off we go.

Belief in an age of skepticism

Tim Keller in action addressing students in Berkeley, America, on responses to the religious problem, including Q&A:

[HT: Ant]

Friday, 14 November 2008

A Journey Worth Taking

If anyone's looking for a book that engages with our search for purpose, while being robustly God-centred, Christ-enjoying, and down-to-earth, Charles Drew has answered that search in A Journey Worth Taking - Finding Your Purpose in This World.

Drew first briefly and very helpfully addresses the questions of calling - what it is and Who is calling, before chapters in sections using Biblical Theology to guide the reader through the application of those great categories of Creation ("A Quest with a built-in purpose"), Fall ("Something wrong with every step"), Redemption ("Help along the way") and Consummation ("The View from the Top"). In every chapter within those sections he unpacks the Scriptural truth, helps us to identify with it with good interaction with literature, film and music, as well as life-stories from his church in Manhattan, and provides questions for reflection and discussion. Thoroughly in the reformed school, he doesn't shirk from a juicy Calvin quote when appropriate, but in his easy-to-read style of engagement this wouldn't cause anyone unfamiliar with such to stumble!

Now, the inevitable comparison with Purpose-driven (TM) Life, etc: where Warren sets his own agenda, filled with out-of-context one-line quotations from his many Bible translations of choice, each time chosen only to contain purpose, Drew's whole structure is driven by Biblical Theology, and each chapter unpacks the truth of a passage of Scripture quoted at the start of that chapter. This produces something much more Biblical than a badly-done word study will ever do, and something a lot more over-archingly God-centred than you do by starting a book which is all about you, by saying, "This is all about God." All the merits of Warren are to be found here in greater richness, with none of the demerits.
In brief, a very helpful book for what it says: finding your purpose in this world. Anyone could read it, especially as he takes a first short chapter to address what type of universe we live in - closed or open? - to introduce the idea of God as relates to purpose. From then on though, the hardened sceptic would be better to turn to Keller's A Reason For God before they'd be up for engaging with this. And after all, Keller then highly recommends Drew!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Quote of the day: to be or not to be

"A Baptist, two Reformed people and a Lutheran..." walk into the White Horse Inn.
"...and we're sitting here talking about what we hold in common. This represents a spectrum which you never would have seen represented in the same room 200-300 years ago. I think that's actually a really good thing, that we're able to talk about the gospel and what we hold in common, and not just talk about it but to share it with people so they can hear: at its best, Evangelicalism has been like that. The people at the table knew that they were Baptists or Presbyterians or Lutherans or Episcopalians. The problem as I see it today is, there are no confessional Presbyterians, confessional Lutherans, confessional Anglicans who either want to be at the table or who are invited to be at the table. Everything has become generic and Evangelicalism has become its own denomination."

"And it's been defined by something other than theology. That's at the heart of it and that's why it's fading. It's always been defined - there was a time when it was far more robust."
I thought I should be clearer on how I am and am not Evangelical, from the previous post - just as our churches and so on should be clearer. And the men at White Horse Inn happened to mention it in today's podcast - above. The Problem is not so much Evangelicalism - that is good. The problem is when evangelicalism becomes all, and not just a partnership between those who know what they and their churches hold to more than the minimal theological ties of Evangelicalism.

Friday, 7 November 2008

A cross-killed rant

I'm fed up with Evangelicalism. That's the cultural / theological trend sort.

The theologically light, pragmatism-driven, technique, programme and fad-obsessed.
The historically unaware, easy-breakaway / new vision! / church / group at the drop of a hat.
The experience-seeking when over and against faithfulness to the gospel entrusted.
The lack of ecclesiology, that celebrates a lack of demoninations with clear confessions of faith (as 'divisive'), and doesn't see a problem with having 5 different independent churches within a few streets of each other, each with a minimal basis of faith.
The celebration of doctrinal minimalism, as if God's truth is unimportant.

I love the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. I love partnership with those who hold to, believe, proclaim and live out that evangel. I am Evangelical in that sense. But in a cultural, theological and trend sense, I am foremost a Protestant. We may mourn the liberalism in some Protestant denominations, but the answer is not Evangelicalism. The answer is the truth of the Gospel, in all its richness proclaimed by the apostles and prophets, church fathers, reformers, puritans: throughout the ages and across the world. It could be called warm-blooded Protestantism - and much as that is ill-defined and open to interpretation, it is better off that way than Evangelicalism. It is better that the 16th century Reformers disagreed on some things, than that they thought theology of word, sacrament and church didn't matter.

Now I try not to rant on this blog, but to relate everything to the gospel. It does no good to simply sound off. So I confess at the cross that where frustration easily leads to self-righteousness, I am not the answer. I believe at the empty tomb that where sadness would lead to despair, I do not doubt that God will be glorified in making a spotless Bride for His Son, and he will not be thwarted either by my sin or our weakness. I proclaim as I look to Jesus' coming again, that by His grace I will not just rant or condemn, but lay down my life in service of all who love His appearing.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide! [Stone, 1866]

Monday, 3 November 2008

A coherent sense of self

On the way home from orchestra rehearsal (Brahms, albeit anachronistically, rocks) I heard on radio3, a recording from a Free Thinking festival in Liverpool. They were discussing privacy and the lack of it in society, and while discussing facebook, and the extent to which we invite 'invasion' of privacy, one panelist suggested that we delight in creating many different versions of ourselves for different contexts: to only have one 'self' would be boring. I thought this horrendous: I do want one self. But that is perhaps because I am happy with this one self.

Not that I have already attained it, but Christ Jesus has laid hold of me to transform me increasingly into His image, to be restored to the glory of God. I don't need to play-act. I don't need to experiment with 1000 faces: I want only one, which is centred on Jesus, growing into the shape of Jesus. When children play-act, it healthily engages their imagination, and helps them grow their own character. But the idea is that in growing maturity they grow increasingly confident in who they are - and grow in grace (albeit common), establishing themselves in honesty and integrity. Have we really so lost the grace of God that we are immaturing, making life a game, in which we play many roles?

The panelist said that we don't want "a coherent sense of self" - it's "an old idea". There used to be a name for people who didn't present 'a coherent sense of self' - at least, "two-faced". So now I am expected to be a different person in my work from at home, at home from in my orchestra, in my orchestra from with friends. People find it quite strange that I would wish these worlds to intrude on each another. But only with the knowledge of the Creator do you have a basis for consistency of self, and of external reality. We are not just compositions of the impressions we give others. There is an objective Observer, a greater Other than those who see but one of our faces, and He made us as coherent 'selves'. But as we have rejected knowing God in whose image we are made, it is no surprise that has given us over to incoherence even in knowing ourselves. As Calvin said, without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Where are you, God?

It seems that Minneapolis is currently experiencing better weather than Birmingham & Beeston, where I was today. But should we not always think as John Piper writes:

Thursday in Minneapolis it was so gorgeous walking home I thought: I should write a post on how astonishing it is that no earthquake swallowed up this city today.

Instead God sent warmth and crystal skies and cool breezes and golden leaves and hanging sea gulls over Elliot Park.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing!

We deserved the 52-story IDS tower to fall, and bridges to collapse, and poisonous gas to kill thousands. But instead God gave us over-the-top foretastes of heaven.

This is why everyone is crying out, Where was God on Thursday! Where were you God! How could you do this? Why did you let this happen?

Everybody is saying that, aren’t they?

As Mark quoted Malachi:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap."

Or as Amos said,
"Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him."

The answer, as always, is Jesus. How could God possibly have not struck us down in Beeston today? How was Birmingham still standing when I returned to it? How could I sit and read The Hobbit to my housemate without the breath choking in my throat under the judgement of God for the ways in which I have despised Him today? We see the answer in the cross of Jesus Christ:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. ...
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

I need an alien...

...righteousness. I've been looking with some student ladies at Mahaney's Living the Cross-centred life and today was on battling our inherent tendency to legalism. Is my faith enough? Am I disciplined enough? Is God pleased with me now? The answers are all in Christ. It's alien to me - because God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him I might become the righteousness of God. "Our righteousness consists in Christ's obedience imputed to me because I am unified with Him - I am in Him." (Piper, from Theology Network's latest tabletalk podcast.) Or Bunyan:
"One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today and, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God."
Jesus said to His Father, of those who would believe in Him through the word of the apostles: "...you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." You've failed today? Of course. But will the Father reject the sacrifice of His Son? Will he reject the perfect righteousness of the Son of Man? Will he not delight in Him eternally? Will he not fulfil every promise in Him? Do not be so arrogant as to think that your guilt can get in the way of what Christ has done.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The hand that draws the bow that fires the arrow that flies

As I've studied Mark's gospel over the past 2 months (I think ch.1.1-10 is at the top of the frequency league table, with 8 times studied / spoken on / prepared / taught), I've been very struck by just how much it relies on the Scriptures (or 'Old Testament'). I've known that all the Scriptures are about Christ, so you would expect (if you believe Jesus' word) that Mark relies on the Scriptures. But to quite what extent I'd never seen before.

The OT Scriptures frequently work to create tension like a bow being draw back and back still further, as the string gets increasingly taut. It is not always that X in the OT Scriptures is Y at the coming of Christ. Sometimes that is the case - Christ is the Emmanuel, the tabernacle, the dwelling of God with man while he also is the life-blood sacrifice of atonement which means God may dwell with man without us being eternally consumed by the fire of his holiness. But often it is not simply X is Y, but in the OT a tension is built up, a bow carved out of the wood of God's revealed truth, which as time goes on in the OT, is pulled further and further back. An arrow is formed on the string: a hint, a promise as to how it may be resolved. But it is still tense, taut, ready to fly. And when the time is fulfilled, the string sings as the arrow is released and flies with all the energy God has built up over 2000 years of covenant revelation history - flies true and straight, and where we saw only tension and a shadowy arrow, now we see it land [THUCK] in the target - the target revealed as Christ. And so it is in the very first 2 verses Mark records (after his 'title').
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,

the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
Now Mark hasn't just found a couple of phrases in the Scriptures which could fit the words he's about to introduce, like a bad word study. Not having chapter and verse numbers, he quotes these verses yes because they fit with what he's about to introduce, but also because the weight of the surrounding passages fits with what he's about to introduce.

He quotes Malachi first:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? [And the prophecy ends with:] Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The messenger who will prepare the way, Elijah-like: and, Mark writes, voilà John, wearing the right gear, calling for repentence! Who do we expect to come following the messenger? "Me." YHWH. And "The Lord whom you seek - the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight." Who is this but the Messiah? But who is 'Me,' speaking, but YHWH Himself? And this reinforced with the effect he is to produce - who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Then Mark quotes Isaiah (40), as promised:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is
like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades when the
breath of the Lord blows on it;

surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;

lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Again, we have the messenger Mark has spotted promised (X is Y): a voice crying in the wilderness prepare a highway... and again - who is coming? For whom is John preparing a way? "For our God"! God is coming. Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" And yet Isaiah declares it as good news - the 'gospel'.

Yet how great is the tension between those two prophecies Mark has so swiftly glued together! Malachi announces,
God's messenger is coming - and then God is coming - bad news: repent!
Isaiah announces,
God's messenger is coming - and then God is coming - good news: believe!

How can this be? A hint is given in Isaiah - the people's sin has been dealt with. But that was then, and the sin of the time: it doesn't explain how now God may come among his people and it is good news. Yet that is just what Mark has claimed too, in his headline: so as he expounds on these 2 prophecies in the rest of the chapter (and the book), we want to know - the bow has been drawn back, Mark - you claim the arrow has flown to its target, you claim the target is this man Jesus: we want you to show us, Mark, so we see the quiver of the arrow in the target, so we hear its [THUNK] as it hits home.

And so he starts in - God's messenger comes: John. He warns the people to repent. We expect God to come on scene. Jesus comes. Eh? How does that fit?! We expected YHWH, not a Man! And the voice speaks from heaven: "This is my beloved Son." And the Spirit descends on him like a dove. The Man Jesus is declared to be God, and he announces good news to believe. The arrow has flown from the string drawn taut by Malachi and Isaiah, and it flies to the Man Jesus, declared to be the Son of God.

When it comes to OT fulfilment in Jesus, so often we just squint at the arrow - a verse - and think, "Ok, so you've plucked out a verse which has a few matching words," and we fail to notice the weight of the passage, the book, the whole OT behind this arrow as a strong bow drawn back, strong and taut, projecting this arrow swift and true to Jesus. And it is when we take the time to familiarise ourselves with the OT bow, that we most clearly see that it is designed, drawn and fired by God, and the answer, indeed, is always Jesus. Beautiful!

Thursday, 16 October 2008


"I want to break free!"

"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Jesus [Mark 10.45]

"...whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." - Jesus [Mark 8.35]

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Casting Pods to the glory of God

Is evangelism the most important activity for Christians? What society should Christian students prioritise joining on starting at university? How do we engage with culture without assimilation or separation? Clive addresses these and more in the latest evangelism podcast from UCCF.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Wimpy Women

As a group of ladies from my church head to the Northern Women's Convention tomorrow, I spotted that Piper has recently been addressing 6,200 women at a similar (albeit larger) conference on The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood. The talk looks good. I like his premise - wimpy theology makes wimpy women. Two of the examples he gives of non-wimpy women:

The opposite of a wimpy woman is not a brash, pushy, loud, controlling, sassy, uppity, arrogant Amazon. The opposite of a wimpy woman is 14-year-old Marie Durant, a French Christian in the 17th century who was arrested for being a Protestant and told she could be released if she said one phrase: “I abjure.” Instead, wrote on the wall of her cell, “Resist,” and stayed there 38 years until she died, doing just that (Karl Olsson, Passion, [New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963], 116-117).

The opposite of a wimpy woman is Gladys Staines who in 1999, after serving with her husband Graham in India for three decades learned that he and their two sons, Phillip (10) and Timothy (6), had been set on fire and burned alive by the very people they had served for 34 years, said, “I have only one message for the people of India. I’m not bitter. Neither am I angry. Let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ’s love.” The opposite of a wimpy woman is her 13-year-old daughter Esther (rightly named!) who said, when asked how she felt about her father’s murder, “I praise the Lord that He found my father worthy to die for Him.”

I appreciate that within context of marriage displaying the glory of Christ and his church (which is primary), Dr Piper addressed how unmarried Christian ladies can display the glory of Christ also.

So as I drive one Brummie grandmother, one ex-schoolteacher widow, one German doctor and myself up to Manchester, despite a ridiculously early start, I'll be giving thanks to God for the glory of Christ displayed in all of them as through non-wimpy theology, looking into God's word, we behold the face of Christ and are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. Praise Him!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

You search the Scriptures

What is newsworthy? The press decides. I'm often struck that the subjects of items which appear in my email front page feed, from yahoo's francophone press, cannot be found on the BBC 'news' website. Today, it is the news that the Pope will preside over a synod to discuss the topic of Bible interpretation. On "The Word of God in the life and mission of the church," the general assembly will bring together 250 Roman bishops, to address - according to the yahoo article - both fundamentalism and secularisation with regard to interpretation. The Pope has circulated a paper in advance of the synod, and it is from this that the article draws. This in itself is interesting, but more so, that they have invited a Rabbi to address the synod on the subject of Hebrew interpretation of Scriptures. Now it would be interesting to hear a Rabbi speak on that. But disturbing are the words by the Vatican spokesperson: Le grand rabbin de Haïfa (Israël) Shear Yashyv Cohen exposera lundi soir
"la manière dont le peuple hébreu lit et interprète l'Ecriture sainte (...)
qu'il partage en grande partie avec les chrétiens."
While the contents of the synod place Christ and the church at the centre of the Word of God, you've got to wonder what kind of 'centre' that is, if the Scriptures Jesus claimed all pointed to him as Messiah are "for the most part" read and interpreted by Christians in the same manner as Jewish people who do not recognise Jesus as Messiah. The spokesperson for the Vatican is somewhat correct, but it's not something of which to boast. Then again, with the press determining the news, the ellipsis in the quotation above may well change the meaning entirely (I couldn't source the full quotation on the Vatican website). Interpretation, eh?

Monday, 29 September 2008

Quote of the Day: use your rear-view mirror

Sinclair Ferguson, from the end of a desiringgod panel discussion.
One of the things that just strikes me is how fragile contemporary Christians are because we think that the gospel came somewhere about 10 years ago. I was fascinated in 1999 there was a poll in the UK, as to the two greatest figures of the last millennium. And the Great British public decided the two most significant figures of the whole millennium (AD 1000-2000) - I mean you have some giant human beings there - the result of the poll was that the most significant man was Nelson Mandela, and the most significant woman was Princess Diana. And that really confirmed something that I suspected about the Great British public: that they know almost no history. And there's a parallel in the church. People who purvey an anti-penal substitution doctrine of Christ don't seem to realise that guys did that in the 19th Century, and destroyed the church. They did it in the 18th century and destroyed the church, they did it in the 17th century and destroyed the church, and they did it in the 16th century and destroyed the church. We've really seen it all before, and we know in advance what the fruits will be. It will be the destruction of radical Christianity, it will be the destruction of a radical sense of the forgiveness of sins, it'll be a commensurate destruction of - when you destroy the wrath of God, you destroy the absolute heights of joy and glory that a Christian may experience in this life. And just a little knowledge of the history of the Church would just be such a help to us.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

It all comes down

Matt has been studying eco-towns, since the UK government is planning(? pondering?) planting 10 such. As an engineer, he doesn't think it sound. And it got me thinking: what does the gospel say on this?

In brief, I think the gospel leads us not to abandon forlorn cities (whether to move to Cambridge, or to build new eco-towns, or to move to the nice suburbs!). From a gospel perspective, nothing is irredeemable. While ultimately we recognise that all human efforts at regeneration will be subject to frustration, it is in hope that the One who so punished us will one day set it free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8). God hasn't pulled out of this world. He hasn't carried out his sentence of condemnation on it completely, and whisked people off to live elsewhere. No - he sent his Son into the world to redeem it, and sends his people into it, cursed as it is. The devil won't have the final word on the world: the final word is Jesus. God will renew his world, uniting all things under Jesus as head. So as God works in grace in the world, even as many people continue hell-bent on destruction, so we must work in grace in the world, not abandoning what is rotten, but seeking to redeem. We must engage in the renewal of the messed-up rather than trying for the new and untainted.

Which brings me to this: in fact, to try to build perfect eco-towns suggests a rather-too-positive view of human nature and ability. "The old is a mess: but we'll try new and untainted." This neglects to address the main problem: we can't build a new and untainted system, because we ourselves are tainted with the problems of the old! At heart, we don't want to manage God's earth and society well under him, because we are selfish. Rather than using what we've got to serve other people to God's glory, we seek to use other people to get what we want, to our own glory. We're only interested in environmental issues when our own nest is snug. Trying to build new eco-towns is like trying to retreat away from sin to a monastery: it doesn't change our hearts. Building the right structures will not change our hearts to live in a non-selfish way to steward the earth, love other people and worship our Creator. It'll just make Pharisees: "Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men. I recycle every week, I use renewable power sources, and I'm certainly not like that inner-city yob over there!" To imagine that eco-cities are the answer is an unrealistically optimistic view of human nature.

So, it's the now & not yet of the gospel again. God is set on redemption, and works in grace in the world: so must we. Yet we live awaiting that final redemption of the earth so live in hope rather than thinking we can accomplish everything now.

An interesting conundrum is posed in Isaiah: how can the utterly faithless, condemned city become a glorious city of righteousness? There's no hope in her! But there is hope in the faithful servant, sent by God. And so at the end of the Day, the only perfect City is not built by human hands, but comes down out of heaven to earth, from God. A faithful city and a restored Eden, a people whose hearts have been changed. Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

"No mud, no glory."

I only commented briefly on Forum, UCCF's CU leaders' training conference. It's hard to encapsulate a whole conference in a few posts. But one must-read is from the Clarks in Athens: No mud, no glory. Dawn picks up on just why it was so moving to see so many students respond to the call to cross-cultural mission: they had been clearly told that suffering is not a possible by-product of involvement in mission, but is actually God's strategy for the spread of his gospel, the growing of his church and the glory of Christ. The Clarks know sacrifice - living in Athens for ministry there, having had to learn the language, raising a young family away from family and friends - it's not easy. But the glory of Christ is displayed in suffering, as we make up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ - making it known to the nations.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Quote of the day: personal relationship

R.C.Sproul, on White Horse Inn:

Atonement is a non-negotiable concept. What do you put in its place? What happens is that the gospel becomes, "I can have a personal relationship with Jesus." The devil has a personal relationship with Jesus. But what kind of personal relationship? And what is the ground of that personal relationship? Obviously, being a Christian involves having a personal relationship with Jesus, but there's content to that relationship that defines that relationship, and to just call it a "personal relationship" I don't think's very helpful.

And now for some hilarious illustration of what the good news most certainly isn't:

[Extra points for spotting full-blown Pelagianism and Holiness teaching. And it just gets creepier.] Ah, it'd even lead me to sign up to Blanchard & Lucarini, but not for their reasons...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Quote of the Day: the Redeemer's righteousness

I came across an address of my grandfather's, on Justification, wandering round the internet: How can man be just with God? His concern to combat the false teaching of the day, on which he had taken a stand from when he was a student, is shown clearly to be motivated by his love for the people to whom he ministers the gospel.

So then we are called upon in our day to do battle for this truth, to proclaim it and glory in it, as the Reformers did. It was for this very doctrine that the apostle Paul made such a stand in the Epistle to the Galatians. He “yielded by way of subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with us”. Yea, he pronounced the tremendous anathema of God upon those undermining it. He did this out of a passionate love for the truth and for the souls of men. May the same love mark us today!

If some reader is not yet arrayed in the spotless robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness, let him come, like Bunyan’s pilgrim to the cross, to receive pardon of all his sins and a wondrous “change of raiment”. Then he can go on his way with a song on his lips and in the strength of the Lord over hills of difficulty and through valleys of shadow till at last he passes triumphant into the city of God.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Look out!

Look out!

Don't look in.

You are a disgusting sinner. Don't look in: look to Jesus, your Saviour.
Look to Jesus, and you see that you're a sinner: but you also see your Saviour.
Look to Him: could you dare to say his life given isn't sufficient, or his atonement incomplete?

Have you faith enough in Jesus to be saved? Irrelevant. Jesus had faithfulness enough to save you.
Can you muster enough will-power to trust in Him? Irrelevant. He set his face steadfastly to go to the cross for you.
Not sure whether you have it in you to keep going as a Christian? Dead right. We have it in Jesus, and we are in Him, and he in us by his Spirit. Look to Jesus.

This is Christianity. We're not to search for the Disney hero within. We're not to embrace who we are. We're not to look for the silver lining. We're to look to Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, where he always lives to intercede for us. If that is not true, we are the most pitiful fools in the universe.

Don't look in.

Look out!

Bish helpfully concludes with where this ends up - as we look to Christ, we get on with loving others. False spirituality, sin, is man curved in on himself. True religion, looking to a righteousness foreign to us in Christ, turns man out to love God and others.

Over-boiling it down

For a while now I've been summarising our basis for evangelism as two points:

Jesus is Lord, so we must worship Him.
This is the Bible's teaching come to a point: it starts with Genesis 1.1 - there is one Creator-sustainer God, and Psalm 96 which most clearly links this with the call-command for all the earth to worship Him. It comes to the peak in Jesus, that he is announced as Lord in His gospel, and is due worship. See Psalm 2. Sometimes this has been forgotten - pietism tended away from it towards personal me & my relationship with God piety which possibly de-emphasised the global, communal and holistic nature of Jesus' Lordship. But that Jesus is Lord isn't good news to rebellious, ungrateful creatures seeking independence and autonomy, seeking to establish their own righteousness and be their own lords! Some people have made Jesus is Lord out to be the good news in its entirity, but this is not good news to us. Thus our second material foundation:

Jesus is Saviour, so we can worship Him.
This is crucial to the good news! Such creatures as are called to worship God, in Jesus are saved to do so! It starts in Genesis 3 (well, it's agree to to the glory of God's grace well before then - Eph.1.4) with God taking rebellious, autonomy-seeking people he created to love, and clothing them to cover their shame having shed the blood of an innocent animal in their place. He doesn't announce to them His Lordship: that is all too clear. In grace He announces to them a Saviour, a serpent-crusher. Thus there is the possibility in Psalm 2: "Kiss the Son (enthroned as Lord over all), lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."

Such good news I cannot possibly capture in a few paragraphs - and I was only seeking to sum up the foundation of the good news and our evangelism, not the whole thing. Yet easily we slip into reductionism. At the White Horse Inn they discussed N.T.Wright and "New Perspective on Paul" and this cropped up, in an enjoyable conversation.

We love old ladies

Ant is celebrating the value of the elderly in our churches. I'd just like to chime in: I'm so grateful for having been brought up in a church of mostly elderly ladies!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Get your own here

John Piper's talks from Forum are now available on desiringgod.org -
Ruth 1 - Sweet and bitter providence (My French relay worker asked what providence is: why did I not think to say, "God's providence is his completely holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing every creature and every action"? I'm out of practice...)
Ruth 2 - Under the Wings of God
Ruth 3 - Strategic Righteousness
Ruth 4 - May the Redeemer's name be renowned

From the World Service night,
As the Father has sent me...
...so send I you.

Pouring out your life in the mud

I sit in an old country house, the sun sinking over tree-fringed fields, with the buzz of students milling below around three large multicoloured marquees and a big top, and the strains of 'It is well with my soul' drifting up to the window in male four part harmony. I'm pretty sure the main voice is Welsh, and would hazard a guess at their being Relay workers. I'm not sure whether they're singing it referring to the weather we've been having, but it may well be significant that the previous song I heard coming from them so beautifully was of an anchor that keeps the soul safe and secure while the billows roll... The rain has been pouring down on the campsite since 750 student CU leaders arrived on Monday for their UCCF training conference, and some would say the defining feature of this year's Forum has been the general descent into mud (never seen the like) and the flooding of tents. But that has not been the defining feature of Forum. What I'll remember this Forum for, more than John Piper's Bible preaching, the big top worship, the workshop I led or the joys of going into it on the back of a week of Relay training conference; what I'll remember this Forum for is the joyful Spirit-ful gospel response of the students to their circumstances. Their neighbours' tent flooded: they serve them and clean up for them. They haven't grumbled or grown bitter. They've got on with joyfully receiving the word which is able to save their souls, and humbly serving each other. They may have bad nights of sleep but they refocus on their Saviour in the morning, praise Him, and love each other. Why? Do they not have rights? They've paid to come to this conference! The answer comes in the song that's now started to ascend from the impromptu Welsh-led quartet beneath my window, whose numbers seem to have swelled: "And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour's blood? ... 'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore!" We have nothing of which to complain.

Bish, of course, is liveblogging Forum - notes on the talks and other miscellanies.