Saturday, 31 May 2008

Millstones and theology for kids

Just finished Thielicke's "A Little Exercise for Young Theologians", which is aptly named, and very helpful. As with most translations from German, it's not the snappiest read, but it is short, and should be read by every student of theology, whether one enrolled in a university degree, or simply discovering the wonders of theology in books.

It also made me smile as I thought of one tonic to take against the side-effects of studying theology as sinners: teach Sunday School. Give children's talks. Pride just doesn't have a place when you're trying to communicate eternal divinely-revealed truths to children in such a way that they'll see Jesus and know what it means to trust Him. These small people make you very aware of the short-comings of the technical vocabularly with which you could make grown people feel small. They make you very aware of the joy of the Father sending the Holy Spirit to open blind eyes to see the light of knowing God's glory in seeing Jesus. They make you humbled before Him as you plead for wisdom to answer huge theological questions from a 4 year old: wisdom from the Father who delights to hide these things from the wise and reveal them to children. Ah, theology is in the service of the church and Thielicke says the theologian should be pastored by the church. I'm inclined to think that being 'pastored' by the children is a good start...

Monday, 26 May 2008

Ambiguous noise

I was so puzzled by the rumbling loud noises in the middle of this wildly windy night, following a day when it poured non-stop, that I actually went to the internet to see whether it's thunder or fireworks. I checked first for flashes of light against the night sky, of course, but I don't know why: unless I'd spotted a particularly colourful one, it would not have determined which phenomenon I was witnessing. I think it must be fireworks. Cannon Hill Park is close enough to where I am in Birmingham for me to hear them, and too far away to see them. I'm just amused that I actually looked it up and found it, online. Ah, modern life.

Quote of the day: tornado preaching

From T4G panel discussion:
You (John Piper) are a theological tornado in my soul... gracious devastation.
The Puritans were sometimes told in their preaching that they ripped up
consciences. ... Good preaching does the counselling for you... but sometimes
good preaching starts the counselling. It raises problems of conscience
that you haven't had before, but you should've. (Ligon Duncan)

The Sunday School Answer

I know what the answer is, but I'm not quite sure of the question. Seriously. The answer's 'Jesus'. (Surprise!) The broadest question might be, "Who fulfils this psalm?" Answer: Jesus. "Whom does this psalm foreshadow?" works too - answer, Jesus. Then, 'About whom was this psalm written?' I think I'd have to say 'The King / the Righteous man / Israel (etc.) in the first instance, with an awareness that there was a greater ideal, that the King / The Righteous / true Israel wasn't actually fulfilling those things, so with a trust in God that he would one day provide so as to fulfil the psalm.' Dave posted some (very good) talks from Mike Reeves on psalms 1 & 15 and a debate kicked off about interpretation (again), because I said foreshadow rather than predict. Although I'm still thinking through this so I don't think I'd phrase some of this how I did then, here's what I meant, from some notes I wrote for small group leaders when we studied the psalms in the West Midlands CUs last year:
Psalms are not so much direct predictions of the future, but they contain promises which are not entirely fulfilled in the present so look forward to the future. (Sometimes these are refered to as types, and the fulfilments as antitypes.) The OT type promises more than the present, and the NT antitype fulfills the divine purpose implicit in the earlier event. Often Jesus is taken as being the antitype of descriptions in the psalms. That is, he fulfils the description of a psalm even though it was a personal testimony, not a ‘Thus says the Lord: in the latter days…’ prophecy. [The most obvious one is Ps.22.] So Jesus is the perfect man linking Eden to Hebrews in Psalm 8, he’s the perfect priest linking Genesis 14 to Hebrews (5 & 6) in Psalm 110, he’s the perfect King beyond David’s experience, the perfect Worshipper beyond the faithful Israelite and the perfect Object of worship, etc. This isn’t usually a straight ‘fit the peg in the hole’ fulfilment: the antitype is usually greater than the type. Jesus more than fulfils the psalms in every way. E.g. He suffers for righteousness’ sake, as the king over God’s people, like David, but he has no need for confession, unlike David: David is a shadow of the King to come. So we’re not looking just for sentences-which-only-Jesus-fulfils sprinkled randomly through the psalms. We’ll be thinking, What did this mean at the time – in what way was it the psalmist’s experience / hope / lament / prayer / praise? And how does Jesus fulfil this even more?

You are not the hero

The hero of the psalm, the more-than-fulfilment, the antitype, is Jesus – not us! Now, once the NT applies it to Jesus, then because we are in Him, and co-heirs of his righteousness, then some of it applies to us too (E.g. Ps.2, Rev.12, Rev.2.26-27). But it doesn’t apply directly to us without going through Jesus – in fact, it didn’t even apply to the psalmist without going through Jesus, the Messiah, but they didn’t say that so explicitly. (There are some hints of awareness e.g. in Ps.40.)

I'm not entirely happy with how I phrased everything then, and I'm still thinking through links between Christology and the doctrine of revelation as it applies to the psalms. Comments on that specifically very welcome.

But I sometimes think that we're so caught up with what the question is that we forget we're all agreeing on the beautiful answer that every child in Sunday School can give us: Jesus!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Quote of the day: doing the impossible

"This train has 6 coaches: please board using all doors." Taken in normal English usage, this is a physical impossibility. We assume an announcement addresses each individual unless otherwise stated - and I cannot use more than one door at once. Ah, the limitations of English: we need a way of addressing a collective! Note too for Scriptural imperatives, which are more often plural than particular.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Christ and the Bible

Just finished Christ and the Bible, by John Wenham (it's out of print - try ABE books). I confess I've rarely found so much helpful in such a little book on the Bible - he deals with technical detail with a fluidity and clarity of style which makes for a very readable little volume. It was the first in a tetralogy on Scripture (if indeed he finished it), and I'm rather inclined to get hold of the others - certainly I'll get a copy of this one, having borrowed it initially. He approaches Scripture claiming not to assume infallability, but to see Jesus' and the NT writers' view of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, to establish its testimony. He also considers Canon, which section I found most confused in argumentation. I agree with Frame's constructive criticism of the original 1972 edition (I read the 1993 revision), though still Mark Dever puts it as the must-read of his bibliography on Biblical inerrancy.
[Wenham's argument] starts by accepting as valid the characteristic Christian experience of conversion. A convert from a non-Christian religion or from modern secular society seldom arrives at the decisive moment of faith with a view of biblical inspiration already formulated in his mind. His quest is a wrestling with the Christ portrayed in the New Testament and witnessed to by Christians. As he progresses in his search the Gospels seem to him more and more to have the ring of truth. At last he comes to the moment when he says, ‘Lord, I believe.’ He has arrived at faith with a conviction about the basic truth of the New Testament witness to Christ, but without necessarily any clear beliefs about the truth or falsity of many of the details or about the status of the Bible as a whole. God has become real to him in Christ through the external witness of the gospel and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. In conversion he has made the discovery that God, made known in Jesus Christ, is the centre and starting-point of all true knowledge. Growth in the knowledge of things of God (which includes progress in theological understanding) comes by holding fast to the centre and by working outwards from there. There is a progression: God; God revealing himself; God revealing himself supremely in Christ; Christ teaching the truth of Scripture; finally, with Scripture as a guide, the Christian exploring the apparently limitless jungle which makes up the world of phenomena.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Quote of the day: Preaching as Worship

Marcus Honeysett is blogging at Digital H2O, and has posted his talks from the Biblical Evangelism Conference 2003. I heard these given, and recommend reading them!

Preaching as Worship - Preaching (or, as he said, any Bible handling in whatever situation - think evangelistic Bible study, small group talk, CU meeting,...) is, in the words of Cotton Mather, "restoring the throne and dominion of God in the hearts of men."

Preaching that Speaks to Suffering and Evil - let "our preaching combine heart-wrenching weeping with unbreakable confidence in the sovereignty of God" (Piper)

Preaching the Cross -

"Lots of people would like you to not preach the cross. Non-Christians find it offensive. Some Christians think it is dull, or the basics that they have gone on from and grown out of. Some think that its just an old message with little contemporary excitement because they’ve heard it all before.

But I tell you that there is no glory in Christianity without the cross. There is no glorious message for us to proclaim without the cross. There is no power to save those who believe, no grace, no work of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3 says that you grow as a Christian having the Holy Spirit and knowing him working miracles among you because you believe the message of Christ crucified. And without the message of the cross the gentiles are nor brought as a fragrant offering to God for his praise."

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Design and develop

Web Designer and Web Developer
2 posts
£15K - £18K pa each.

Check out our fabulous websites at, and – could you be the next Designer or Developer working on these sites?

UCCF: The Christian Unions is a vibrant charity which works with students. We are seeking two key individuals to provide design and development of UCCF’s websites. Our websites play a major part in our ministry enabling students to live and speak for Jesus by providing them with opportunities to connect with the different aspects of our ministry, to engage with apologetics and to think theologically, in order to reach their friends and their university and college campuses for Christ.

In the Designer we are looking for someone with an abundance of creativity. In the Developer we are looking for someone with analysis design and project management skills. Both need to be clear communicators with experience of XHTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, and Dreamweaver and Fireworks or similar. The successful candidates will need to be Christians, as these roles have a Genuine Occupational Requirement.

For an application pack contact Cally Scholes, Recruitment Manager by phone 0116 2551700 or email. Closing date for applications is 5pm Thursday 17 July 2008.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Grace and faithfulness in the ordinary

Most of us are familiar with Don Carson as Bible expositor, seminary professor, prolific writer, user of words with Latin roots which require a dictionary to fathom, bilingual preacher, Canadian lover of Europe living in America, and quoter of the limerick on C.H.Dodd.

His father was none of those things, except a bilingual preacher. And yet Don's reflections on his life of ministry in Québec are so suffused with grace that it is impossible not to learn from and be moved by Don's account of the life and reflections of Tom Carson. Read it in Memoirs of an ordinary pastor.

I also found it of interest with the context of French-speaking / bilingual culture(s) transitioning from great RC control, practice and belief to more secularism, and ministry, church life and evangelism within that. It felt quite European, and made me reflect frequently on church history and culture in Ireland and Belgium. It also made me very glad to have been taught in UCCF something of what it means to live and minister in God's grace, and the importance of rest. The challenge to faithfulness in the long haul is clear.

The review by Tim Challies in Discerning Reader, and other mentions, caused me to buy it for my Dad, who enjoyed it and is getting a copy for his minister, and for myself - and I'll pass it on to my minister, and missionary friends. I recommend the same pattern!

Some words of Don on his father close the book:

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people … testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side, all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne-room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

To be or to do, that is the question

In discussions of systematic and biblical theology, of justification, covenant and N.T.Wright, Helm highlights Piper:

The first is to draw attention to what I believe is one of the most significant methodological points that Piper makes, but one which may, in the flurry of interest about justification, and the dust raised by it, get overlooked. The second thing is to underline what Piper says about the ambiguity of some of Bishop Wright’s language about imputation and justification. What both of these have in common is that Piper shows us the need to observe theological distinctions.

Piper claims that 'Wright’s definition of righteousness does not go deep enough' (62) What he means is that Wright’s account of divine righteousness starts and stops with his account of divine actions.(62-4) He treats righteousness in terms of actions. Piper asks, 'What is it abut God’s righteousness that inclines him to act in these ways? Behind each of those actions is the assumption that there is something about God’s righteousness that explains why he acts as he dos. What is that? That is the question, so far as I can see, that Wright does not ask.'
Read the rest of Helm's analysis.

Friday, 9 May 2008


Quietly, in shades of grey, the park lives deserted. I intrude, slipping into its pace, its time: in the steady calm of the evening-scape, the tunes rehearsed fade into the melody of my violin case bumping on my back. Ahead along the path, grey flows strangely into living green, as warm yellow slips down from an old-fashioned lantern. My footsteps wade lightly through its puddle. On this night I could pluck an arm from the lantern and cast it into the soft grassy earth: on this night it would spring and bud and grow - so the still air whispers. The warm night air is sweet; sweet as leafy lungs breathe. On this night, if you listen, listen below the shallow, distant hum of city, you may almost catch a murmur of a Lion, singing low a deep sustaining song, holding together the grassy atoms, the towering trees, the human city lights, the haze above; giving this sweet air, breathing a song to which the silver sliver above smiles a faint reply in keeping with her orbit.


I read Bish's thankful post about supervisions on the beach, and it got me thinking about contentment. You see, my first reaction was gladness that Dave and Kenny could have supervisions on the beach. My secondary reaction was, 'I wish I could be beside the sea!' Landlocked Birmingham. Big smelly city Birmingham. No mountains, no sea Birmingham.

But yesterday, even this morning, I was very happy in Birmingham. It was beautiful weather, I've been cycling everywhere (OK; I get the train to Wolverhampton), meeting students for frescatos and enjoying the gospel together, and even if I get tired and headachey in the heat, cycling gives a lovely breeze and I'd taken the evening off. I do miss the sea and the hills, but I was content and thankful to God.

I'd even noted, as I walked down to the corner shop on Wednesday morning, how much nicer Birmingham is on a hot day than Brussels, and expressed gratitude in my heart to God! You may be in a city in Birmingham, but the front gardens on my street are nice, trees line the street, and as I headed down the hill I noticed how fresh and clean the air was. In Brussels, being a compact city, I would walk between tall apartment blocks with no greenery, along the flat, with no sight of anything but the next street, and breathing in a permanent smoggy haze in hot weather. I was thankful to God for his kindness to me in placing me even in Birmingham.

But then I was wishing I could be by the sea, very close to coveting the coast that is my neighbour's.

What had changed?

Nothing had changed. Nothing had changed in my situation. God is still over abundantly, exorbitantly and lavishly kind to me in his grace toward me in his precious Son, and even in his present, passing gifts to me, of where I live, and the job I do, and so much more. Even if something in my situation had changed, it wouldn't change that fact.

So while I may plead with my sister in Inverness to spare me a little mountain (not even a Munroe - just a little one would do), or see whether the Welsh team could send us a bit of coastline (not nice beach - just waves crashing in on rocks would do), I'll not let my evil heart use God's gifts to others as an excuse for discontent.

Apart from anything else, I recalled the one time as a student when on a gorgeous sunny day I met my CU staffworker down by the lake on campus (who needs a beach?). I got horrendously sunburned.

God is so immensely kind toward us. Go and celebrate it with Bish :)

Sunday, 4 May 2008


I'm rather excited to have started on the catechism with the 11-15 year olds in church. In Bournville we try to have a programme that helps this age-group get used to listening well to a sermon, knowing how to follow it, understand the Bible, and apply it. It works like this for them on a Sunday morning, over 4 weeks (not necessarily in this order!):
Week 1 - Sermon Search: they stay in for the sermon, and fill in a sheet prepared by the preacher with questions on the sermon.
Week 2 - Senior Bible Class: they go out during the sermon and look at the Sermon Search from the previous week, being helped to further understand and apply it.
Week 3 - Family service, they stay in for the sermon which is integrated into the service.
Week 4 - Senior Bible Class - they go out during the sermon and are helped to consider some other aspect of Christian doctrine and life.

If a church has a Sunday Club type thing for the children to go to during the sermon, I think this is a good transition for them. Of course, it's quite do-able not to have kids going out during the sermon, but that's another thing.

And I'm quite excited that in the 'week 4' session, above, I've just started on a catechism with the children. It sounds like an old, sterile thing, and I can hear some alarm bells start to ring!

- What's the value of learning off words by rote when you don't know what they mean?
Aha, but in the Senior Bible Class, we have whole sessions chatting about what they mean, giving illustrations, etc.

- So children learn off doctrines? What use is that in life?!
Much in every way. Doctrine forms life: right doctrine forms right practice. See Titus. But for example, much of the Christian life involves knowing the difference between justification and sanctification. Not that it's often said like that, but many issues of Christian living, attitude and worship are solved by a proper understanding of justification and not confusing it with sanctification! Now, when I was a teen I was given a wonderful foundation by learning that justification and adoption are acts of God's grace, whereas sanctification is the work of God's free grace. Difference? Once you've learned that:

Justification is the act of God's free grace by which He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight. He does so only because He counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. Justification is received by faith alone.

Adoption is the act of God's free grace by which we become His sons with all the rights and privileges of being His.

Sanctification is the work of God's free grace by which our whole person is made new in the image of God, and we are made more and more able to become dead to sin and alive to righteousness.

...then you spot the difference between an act of God's grace and a work of God's grace! You know that you are justified for ever no matter what - and that God continues to work in you by his grace (not just by your own efforts).

- Children shouldn't be learning off non-Biblical things: they should learn Bible verses.
Either or? They do learn Bible verses. Indeed, in the Sermon Searches, they learn how to study a passage of the Bible, understand it, and apply it. But then a friend in school asks (in a fit of existential despair or teenage angst?!), "What's the point to life?" And as soon as they start to answer that question, they're doing systematic theology. They're giving their friend a summary of what the Bible says, from what they can remember. Will it be accurate? Will it reflect the whole teaching of Scripture? Now, we could give them a series of 20 verses and passages to learn for each question. Or we could give them a Systematic Theology, tell them to look up the appropriate chapter, and they read 20 pages. Or, we could equip them with easy-to-learn summaries of the Bible's teaching, to have to mind.

Today, we looked at man's primary purpose (which is, by the way, to glorify God and enjoy him forever). We thought about the various different purposes other people might say we have (selfish gene, anyone?) We saw where we see in Scripture that our ultimate purpose is to glorify and enjoy God. We saw a few things in Scripture which help us see why glorifying and enjoying God is the wise and right ultimate goal for humans! We thought about what it means to magnify (or glorify) God - expressing how glorious He is (not adding to His glory!) We thought about how we could glorify and enjoy God in daily life. One of the boys said, "That's good - I'd wondered what the point is, to human beings!" And I pondered - his wondering was probably influenced by the recent unexpected death of their foster baby.

What's the point to life? To a human being? A pointless question? Unpractical catechising? Not a bit of it. In fact, learning and studying through the catechism will help these young people to glorify and enjoy God in the ups & downs of life.

See also John Piper's reasons for catechising, and Bish's celebration of a 16 year old's clear testimony to justification, in the 16th century.

[If you're interested, I'm using the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English, which I learned, but for the paedobaptistic bits will probably adapt using the 1689 / Piper's adaptation, put into modern English... I'll get the other Senior Bible Class leader to do those, if we reach those questions - in several years' time possibly!]


It's amazing how easily we entertain inconsistent beliefs. I thought that I strive for consistency of belief, knowing that there is an ultimate reality, there is the God who created and sustains the universe by His powerful word, and although we don't know all of reality, we do know some that He, by His grace, has revealed.

Often when someone is claiming that morality is a human invention, or that everything is relative, it is helpful to ask them questions about how they live, because it will be, in some areas, inconsistent with this pretended belief.

But on a more trivial level, I only realised part-way into the church meeting this morning that my commitment to take the 11-15 year olds out before the sermon for 'Senior Bible Class' was inconsistent with my commitment to accompany the final hymn, teaching it to the congregation as a new song. And I only realised at 12.30pm that my intention to bring the keyboard to our afternoon outreach service as usual, was inconsistent with my plan to cycle to said meeting, due to the in-the-post status of my car tax disk. It's amazing how easily one can hold several contradictory notions or plans in one's head without realising!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

On being torn

From the New Word Alive student track, courtesy of some UCCF office bods (time well spent...) come some Top 10 Books as you've never seen them before (unless you were in the New Word Alive student celebration, clearly):

[HT: Bish]

I'm torn. They're absolutely excellent spoofs. And they may get people reading those good books. But how could you do that to a book? I can't help feeling that somewhere out there, an invertebrate creature of the literary variety is silently screaming to death.