Monday, 28 January 2008

Week of Thankfulness

1. Romans 8.1-17 with Cakes CU, now Guild-affiliated, increased by 25% (1 new member!), planning evangelism, in Weatherspoon's. Indwelt by the Spirit, we please God, as his adopted Sons, having life now and being raised like Christ later. Rockin'.

2. Meeting various Christians who seek to witness to the glory of Jesus among Muslims in the city - working together in the gospel, a great encouragement.

3. Tea with my lovely brought-up-in-Belgium-as-a-missionary-kid neighbour and her 1 year old, who's starting to walk, wobbly. Lent her my perculator for Eternity. One might say that would be to give her my perculator, but Eternity was their church mission week, so I won't be doing without real coffee for that long.

4. Friends to dinner and Carcassonne. I happened to win, much to my surprise, and it was lovely to catch up with them.

5. Saturday in the middle of nowhere Suffolk to see a friend. White chocolate bread & butter pudding with coulis in the slow cooker, and an introduction to Jeeves & Wooster. 6 hours of driving there & back alievated by Piper, Phatfish, Proclaimers, Sons of Korah, Francis Cabrel and Lou Fellingham.

6. Sunday in Manchester to meet my sister, which was closer than Inverness, where she lives. Drive up in the morning in time for church was helped by Piper and the Sovereign Grace folk with cross-centred songs. Fellowship with folk in Union Hall Evangelical church, where it turns out that the minister & his wife know my old team leaders in Belgium. Small world. Ended the day with an exhilerating sprint back down the M6 to deliver my sister's friend to New Street in time for the last train to Oxford: success!

7. Final orchestra rehearsal, with children's choir, before our Friday concert. First time hearing the words of the commissioned piece including the choir: it's about a magic jigsaw in which a whale takes a boy into the jigsaw. I think he decides to stay there, but my part was too involved at that point to catch the lyrics.

Friday, 25 January 2008

What a beautiful day

...when IVP new books arrive. Look at these beauts:

The Future of Justification, Piper - really sounds like a worth-while read. It'd be easy to jump on the bandwagon and fire at the variety of NPP views on justification without due engagement, but by all accounts Piper hasn't done that: Wright saw drafts of this and commented on it, allowing Piper to strengthen the book. Peter Williams says, "Piper writes with the concern of a pastor, the passion of a preacher, the precision of a scholar, and the courtesy of a gentleman as he critiques N. T. Wright's grand scheme of justification. Piper both highlights exegetical weaknesses in Wright's system and demonstrates the success of reading Paul using traditional categories. All who read Wright should read Piper." I look forward to the read.

Adith Fernando explores the connection between rejoicing and suffering in A Call to Joy and Pain, which looks good - sounds like a different emphasis than Piper's Christian hedonism, but anyway to me that made most Biblical sense when he was preaching through Hebrews, rather than describing it in the abstract.

In Written For Us, Peter Adams gives us what he claims is a coherent biblical theology of the Bible, which looks valuable, and we have several new additions to IVP's ever increasing collection of reference works - the Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters and the Commentary on the NT use of the OT which I've been looking forward to for some time (since before it existed!) Ben Witherington adds to his commentaries with Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians on Hebrews, James and Jude.

Lastly, Henri Blocher, Oliver Crisp, David Gibson, Ryan Glomsrud, Paul Helm, Michael Horton, Donald Macleod, A. T. B. McGowan, Michael Ovey, Sebastian Rehnman, Mark Thompson and Garry Williams all gather together under the editing batons of Dave Gibson & Dan Strange to engage with Barth. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Barth among evangelicals, and he's certainly worth engaging with, so here's to a good read!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The market-place of ideas

The Birmingham university world is in turbulence. It's wild, I tell thee. Disturbing. The students are no longer apathetic: no! They're passionate. They're objecting. They may even be objectionable. They're certainly close to revolting. It's hard to place an exact timescale on it, but it's not a pretty picture:

Yes. Aston University got a new logo. The students rose up with one voice (well, one facebook group anyway) and said, "I strongly believe that the new Aston University logos are horrible." Revolutionary, but polite. It must be noted that a logo which can have a James Blunt song on Sesame Street is, well, of dubious quality. It has been likened to Doritos, or Napier Uni's triangle slightly tilted in EasyJet orange. So much for Aston.

Then the University of Central England. Now, perhaps some people wouldn't know where UCE is, not realising that Birmingham is the centre of England. After all, I think it's Coventry which takes the Awful Accolade of furthest from the sea. Either way, the University of Central England in Birmingham is now:
BCU students consoled themselves with the fact that their new logo couldn't be as bad as that of Aston.

And then the Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies joined in. Now, little BCFTCS is a marvellous half HE, half FE college in the centre of Birmingham, notable for its chefs. Only in BCFTCSCU could one have a Bible study in a room with a live lobster scuttling round the adjoining kitchen. The rather cumbersome name wasn't a problem for BCFTCS students: they merely nicknamed themselves Cakes College, or College of Cakes. The Student Guild is known as Cakes Guild. The CU, rather than being BCFTCSCU, are, thankfully, Cakes CU. Kudos. But that just wasn't good enough for the powers that be. Oh no. BCFTCS now rejoices in the name University College Birmingham. The students, once again, are revolting. (Cakes are not.) They have reclaimed it: it may be UCB, but UCB is the University of Cakes, Birmingham.

So, just in case you got lost, Birmingham now hosts Aston University (aka EasyJet Doritos), BU, BCU, UCB, BC (Bournville College), and others. Clear? Good. Brand apathy, anyone?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

One for the kids

Ever feel a bit embarrassed when you realise you've been a bit silly? Especially when you were being stubbornly silly, hm? It might happen like this:
Dad: Right everyone, leaving in 5 minutes!
[Ben continues playing with the sandpit.]
Mum: Ben, you'll need to come in and wash your hands: we've got to go.
[Ben continues playing with the sandpit. The bucket handle's broken.]
Ben: Mum, can you please fix the bucket handle?
Mum: Not now Ben: we've told you twice now; leave that and come!
Ben: But Mum, I want to play with the sandpit! I don't want to go!
Dad: We can't be late, Ben: everyone else is ready. Let's go.
Ben: I don't care! I want to play in the sandpit!
Mum: But Ben, when we get there you'll have the whole beach to play with, and our new sand toys!

How was Ben being silly? Why do you think he acted like that - what got in the way of him going to the beach?

You know what, we could call those things that got in the way idols. Ben just really wanted something. And he let that completely control him. I want to play with the sandpit! He forgot the big picture - what was really happening - they were going to the beach, which is TONNES better than a sandpit and a broken bucket!

We each do that. We have our little idols. You really want something, and you let that control you. You go for it: you forget what's really true about life and you forget God. Here's one: "My Way". You hear grownups worship this idol: "I did it myyyyyyyyyy way!" or "You've just gotta do what's right for you", and we hear kids say it: "But I want..." Then here's another: "My rights". You hear adults saying this, "I have a right to be treated well round here!" and you worship this idol every time you whine, "But that's not fair - he got more than me!" And when you obey those things you want, it's like making a little idol and putting it on a stand and bowing down to it. It's like clinging on to your broken sandpit bucket handle when God's way is going to be a beach holiday. Stupid, hm? You know the really big truth, the reality. God is God and you're not: he's worth worshipping. Nothing else is! He's worth obeying - nothing else is. He's worth loving, and following, and trusting in: nothing else is. But those little idols, those I want-s can get in the way of the far better thing: worshipping our amazing God!

The good news is, Jesus is an idol-smasher. So ask for his help. Ask for his Holy Spirit in you to set about knocking down and smashing up those idols in you! Reading God's word helps us be idol-smashers since it reminds us of God's big picture - and points us to worship Jesus, not some dumb idol!


Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

I'm pondering this for Children's Talk tomorrow... roughly. With credit to C.S.Lewis, Paul Tripp & Mike Reeves.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Hierarchy of beliefs

What's your hierarchy of beliefs?

In politics, what determines your party or politician support? Welfare for the born, or the pre-born? Standard provision of education for all or freedom from imposing the dominant worldview? What issue topples it for you? It used to be abortion - now it's largely forgotten. But perhaps the affirmation of homosexual practice. Why not education? Comprehensive or selective? What does your theology say? Parental care or provision of childcare? Did you know that nursery school (vouchers available for 3 year olds) celebrates every religious festival equally? Welfare state - care for the homeless, the orphan and the widow. Or should the family care for them without state interference? Integration in Europe - or the world generally - the ethics of trade with dictatorships - the unity (or devolving of power within) the UK - fair trade, free trade - greenhouse gases - air travel tax - divorce - fishing subsidies: what's your theology? What's your hierarchy? Why does one issue grab your vote and not another? Do you let the culture decide? The papers? The government? The opposition? Your own wallet? Your vote indicates that you have a hierarchy of beliefs and values. Does that hierarchy reflect God's truth?

And our Christian beliefs. We have a bundle of beliefs. Some are collected from our church culture. Some from our studies. As we grow and interact, they might shuffle around in priority. Some we'd live and die for. Some we treasure, celebrate and live by, but still manage to fellowship with others who don't. But does our hierarchy reflect the emphasis of God's revealed truth?

I know many students who struggle with this in 2 extreme ways.

The first group know they struggle with it. They have a certain bunch of true and precious beliefs and practices and are shocked to find other professing Christians thinking and behaving differently. How do they cope? They won't cope - that is, they won't fulfil their calling to build up other Christians in Christ and together hold out the word of truth if they don't develop a gospel-shaped hierarchy of beliefs. All they believe is true, of course. All is important: because it's to live to please God. But which will they live & die for? Which will run in their veins because it is their very life? Which will spill from their lips unceasing so that others may find life? Unless they work that out, they will impoverish other Christians by non-gospel separation, defame the gospel of reconciliation, and distract others from seeing how they love one another.

The second bunch don't know they struggle with this. They don't feel a problem with other Christians - we all love Jesus, don't we? But a Muslim might say they love Jesus. They just don't believe he is one with the Father, died and rose again for our sin and justification. A Mormon will say they love Jesus. They just believe that he didn't always exist one with the Father: he became a god, just as did the Father, and just as we can, to rule over other world in celestial marriage. Unitarians say they love Jesus. They just don't think that he or the Holy Spirit are divine; we should only worship the Father. Liberals say they love Jesus. It's not very sure whether we need to say he existed historically - if so he was a revered teacher anyway, but an admirable way of life and thought anyway. You do have a hierarchy of beliefs. It's not enough to claim to love Jesus. But what will it be? Will you try to make it up as you go along, or will you think it through? At every stage of history, there are people claiming to be Christian, claiming to be orthodox, claiming to be Biblical, to love God. And at every stage of history, the church has had to turn to the Scripture and together form some statement reflecting a hierarchy of beliefs - we disagree over many things, and we haven't even realised that some things are issues yet (save that for a future generation), but we do agree that these things are vitally important: We believe...

It's in this climate that some students have recently got the idea that I care very strongly about a certain view of baptism. I don't. To my mind, within my hierarchy of beliefs, I care surprisingly little about a certain view of baptism. But I do care strongly that students should care about baptism somewhat. They should study it. They should hold a view on it and know why they hold that view. They should know what the other views are, and be able to represent them from Scripture before they press home why they disagree. Because this is important: it is God's truth and the life of his people. I also care about church polity. I'm concerned that the death of the denomination in Britain is not all the wonderfully gospel-unity thing it might be, but a complete apathy about God's revealed truth: seeing much of it as completely unimportant (why on earth Paul was so bothered with how the church should behave in such things that he wrote a whole letter to Timothy on it when he was stuck in prison, who knows?).

The reason why I work for an evangelical organisation such as UCCF, spending all my energy in the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is not because I think these other things unimportant, but precisely because I think them important. But they are in my hierarchy of beliefs below more crucial things. Paul indicates as much to the Corinthian believers in the well-known 1 Cor 15 passage. He has dealt with baptism, spiritual gifts, favourite teachers, sexual practice, relationships, food offered to idols, government, head coverings, the Lord's supper,... he would not have them divide on any of these things: but they are to be taught and corrected in them, because they are important. Yet when it comes to some things, he is worried that they may have believed in vain if they abandon them:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Put another way, I am closest to being Presbyterian by confession. But I am not evangelical and then presbyterian: I am evangelical because I am by conviction presbyterian. And it is because I am presbyterian that I'm currently a member of an independent, baptistic local church with reformed teaching, not despite it. It is because I believe strongly in Church that I work with Christian Unions on university and college campuses. And it is because the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate and perfect man for ever, died, risen, ascended, reigning and coming again, is all in all at the top of my hierarchy of beliefs, that I will sound to some as if I care a curious amount about baptism.

For the sake of the Church and those who need us together to hold out the (what?) word of life, work out what your hierarchy of beliefs is. Oh, and then use it to love Jesus and show others why you love him - with the crucified and resurrected God incarnate at the top of a hierarchy, there's no place for pride.

For further thought from wiser people:
Carl Trueman writes Confessions of a Bog-standard Evangelical, and
Mike Reeves on expressions of holding some truths the dearest - creeds, confessions, and particularly, why UCCF have a doctrinal basis.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

The revolution of resolutions

My New Year's Resolutions
1) Make resolutions
2) Keep resolutions
3) ...Oh pants, never mind then.
4) Try again next year.

Ever felt like that? I've never gone in for new year's resolutions - doomed to failure, surely. Generally speaking, you try to tackle all the areas you want to alter, drastically, and at once. I won't eat chocolate ever again, I will exercise for an hour a day, practise the violin 6 hours a week, go to bed by 10pm, get up at 6am,... And thus daily haul myself up by my bootstraps [note to self: buy boots in sale], and turn my life around.

We laugh. We know better than that, as Christians. So, I will read the Institutes for 30min a day, learn 1 psalm a week, never miss a church prayer meeting, visit 1 elderly person a week, sign up for every rota in church, give more, pray for an hour each day from 6am and... thus haul myself up by my Bible's bookmark [note to self: buy nice new Bible in sale], and turn my life around spiritually.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. [Isaiah 50.11 & 10]
In resolutions we tend to look at ourselves with the eyes of the world and try to solve our problems in our own strength. If we do anything at this time of year, why not reflect on some of the prayers of Paul given to us in the epistles, and pray for grace, not to kindle our own fire by which to walk, but to trust in the name of the Lord and rely on our God.

If in our own power we could see what we really need to sort out, and then in our own power we wanted to resolve to do so, and in our own power do so, we wouldn't have needed Jesus. But the heart is deceitful and the eyes so easily blind: we fail to see what we really need to sort out before God - the depravity, idolatry and adultery of our hearts. We may catch glimpses of it ["Must be more patient with my housemate"] but don't really want to do it when push comes to shove ["But I have a right to comfort uninterrupted by any other being - I've had a hard day!"]. And even when we do want to do it, we lack the power to do so ["I'm sorry: I'm such a rubbish friend - I just..."]. But Jesus came, and said,

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,

but you have given me an open ear.

Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me:

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

We can't keep even our own resolutions, never mind the ones that matter. If we do keep them, they become idols, and we are proud of our own self-effort. But Jesus came delighting to do God's will. His heart beat was God's law. We resolve to go a certain way; we fail. He resolved to go to the cross: and he won - victory!

In Christ we can make huge, drastic, and humanly speaking unatainable aims for this new year, or each new day. In Christ we can make goals that certainly aren't SMART. With the same power working in us that worked in Christ when God raised him from the dead, we pray to grasp the ungraspable, understand the incomprehensible, and far more! We pray for power - His power, and so we may make godly resolutions knowing that we're not capable: but He's capable of doing far more than what we may dream of resolving, by his power working in us - so that He is seen to be glorious, not only in Jesus, but in Him, in the Church! [See Eph.3.14-21.]

So we pray with Paul [Colossians 1.9-14]
...that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
See excellent posts on new year's resolutions from David Powlison and Dave Bish.