Thursday, 19 June 2008

Kill & escape or fix & abide?

We're too attached to transient, corruptible things, and therefore are not happy.
a) kill these desires and escape the material things which enslave us to unhappiness;
b) fix these desires on an intransient, incorruptible object, to be happy.

Buddhism or Christianity? Read more from Jon Bloom.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Finding Christianity

Piggy-backing on the previous post, I came across this Holy Cows: Isn't it time the Church found God? (Pertinent, and quite appropriately, linked to by the closest Evangelical Presbyterian minister to where I live.)

Defending the Faith

John Gresham Machen. My Dad was almost named for Machen... until my grandmother overruled - he ended up with only the John part. Having studied under Machen in Princeton, before Westminster was founded, my Grandfather returned to Northern Ireland and found himself, as a final year student at seminary, fighting liberalism in his own denomination as Machen had been fighting it in the USA as a college professor. So Hart's account of J. Gresham Machen and his role in the "crisis of conservative protestantism in modern America was of particular interest to me - but more generally, it's a fascinating history for anyone who has an interest in Protestantism, fundamentalism, Presbyterianism, dispensationalism or politics - in America and anywhere else we may, puzzled, feel its influence! Machen was thoroughly orthodox, not fundamentalist, yet often prized by the fundamentalists for his scholarship and commitment to orthodoxy. (I still recommend that all undergraduate theology students read his Christanity and Liberalism.) He fought liberalism with the truth, but tried foremost to have a proper Presbyterian denomination and missions, confessionally committed to the truth as expressed in the Presbyterian standards, rather than giving up hope on the denomination and gathering with other evangelicals primarily. He baffled and annoyed fundamentalists by being liberal in practice where he wasn't in doctrine: unlike much of America, he wasn't for banning alcohol and smoking, and didn't mind a trip to the cinema. This liberal stance was political: being a convinced Presbyterian, whereas he believed in strict discipline in church rule, he opposed government control, not agreeing with the idea of a Christian America and seeking autonomy to preserve Christian faith and practice. Leaving the last word to Hart:
In the end, Machen's thought and career is a reminder that the relationship between religion and modern culture is not as clear-cut or unambiguous as commonly thought. In the sense that he defended historic Christianity at a time when much of the intellectual world was turning secular, Machen by all means displayed "anti-modern" views. But according to a definition that makes modernity inherently antithetical to religious faith, any belief, no matter how well adapted to the modern world, is "anti-modern." The larger sense of modernity, the assumed bête noire of Protestant conservatives, entails tolerance of cultural and religious diversity. Here Machen showed a remarkable willingness to defend religious freedom and cultural pluralism while fundamentalist and modernist Protestants continued to cling, though differing over specifics, to the idea of a Christian America. Indeed, at the same time that secular intellectuals attacked the Protestant ethos of American culture, Machen argued that the churches' involvement in cultural and social life was harmful because it undermined faithful witnessing to Christian truth. Unfortunately for Machen, that twin commitment - to Presbyterian orthodoxy and religious pluralism - went largely unheeded in fundamentalist and evangelical circles. Yet his outlook may still prove instructive to believers and secularists... today who through a series of culture wars struggle to reconcile the demands of faith with the realities of modernity.

Quote of the day: fly!

Run, John, run. The law commands
But gives neither feet nor hands.
Better news the gospel brings;
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
- John Bunyan, quoted in The Discipline of Grace
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law of righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
- Romans 9.30-33
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. - Titus 2.11-14

Monday, 16 June 2008

Table Talk

The first of Theology Network's Table Talks has appeared:

In the mid-1500’s the Reformer Martin Luther and his wife Katie became famous for their hospitality. In their home, a big old ex-monastery called “The Black Cloister”, they hosted students, colleagues and friends for meals. With good company, good food, and Katie’s home-brewed beer (and their children tearing about after the dog), Luther and his friends discussed theology, life, and everything - a regular gathering which was recorded as his “Table Talk”.

In the spirit of such refined pursuits, Theology Network is proud to present our very own Table Talk. We’re taking time to settle down by the fire with key evangelical leaders and chat about issues that matter - and we’re releasing it as a podcast so you can download our conversations direct to your ipod. So come and join us at the table - there’s plenty of room!

This one gives us Mike Reeves and Andy Banister on Islam. It brings together a number of things I've gathered over the years as I've looked at Islam, chatted with Muslims and tried to help Christian students know better how to engage with their Muslim friends. In fact just the other night after Birmingham CU's meeting we were chatting about such things. Well worth a listen - because 1) it's good stuff, 2) it brings together many things you'd only get by reading several books and 3) it's easy to listen to even if you'd never think of reading those books!

Friday, 13 June 2008

The Call to Joy and Pain

I've thought a lot recently about the call to suffer. Pondering treasuring Christ in the call to suffer. Chewing over the fact that it is in sharing in Christ's sufferings that Paul expects to know God's resurrection power at work in him - not in his times of exciting ministry (though they're not mutually exclusive).

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [Philippians 3.8-11]
Ajith Fernando teaches very helpfully on the call to joy and pain in the book of that title by IVP. It confirmed for me much of what I've been chewing over, especially in combining those calls: it seems paradoxical! A while ago Mo raised a query with Piper's "Christian hedonism", with which I sympathised:

"Experientially there is sometimes joy in obeying God. But sometimes not. Jesus
expressed loud groans to God when facing death. Particularly, I don’t know how
the command often expressed by Christian Hedonists to pursue one’s own joy as
hard as you can fits in with the command to deny yourself, which is key to
repentance. Denying yourself is sometimes not joyful, and surely actually means
that the heart of Christian discipleship is NOT doing what will bring you most
joy but denying yourself that."
And Fernando speaks of dying - how often graduates look for ministry in which to be successful, as they're not prepared to die. Not that we're not prepared to be martyred: but are we prepared to die to self, to comfort, to security, to affirmation, to appreciation, to fruit in service, to... take up our cross and follow Christ? This reminded me of a biography of Amy Carmichael, by Elizabeth Elliot: A Chance to Die (very much worth reading). Ajith helpfully speaks of this call to pain together with the call to joy, in a way which reminded me not of Piper's books so much as his sermons on Hebrews, to which I listened while in Belgium, which kept reminding me to keep with Christ and die to self. I'm not entirely sure that we should pursue joy any more than we should pursue pain, yet in pursuing Christ both are inevitable gifts and not to be resented, as we treasure Christ.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. [Heb. 10.32-39]

I recommend both books.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Quote of the Day: Fonts reveal you

My colleague JB would love this - the Saturday Times claims that what sort of person you really are is revealed by your favourite computer typeface. Here is what your typeface says about you:
  • The person who prefers Times New Roman is a default person who can’t be bothered to explore life’s drop-down options;
  • The elegant Bodoni font is for wanabee Italians whose life goal is to own a Vespa and live in Islington;
  • Comic Sans reveals that you desperately want to be loved and considered nice but you cry a lot at home on your own;
  • The tasteful and design conscious use Gill Sans and have too much brushed aluminium in their kitchen;
  • Verdana is used by people who design web-sites, never see the sun, spend lots of time blogging and don’t knowingly read books;
  • Rockwell Stencil Extra Extra Bold is for people who speak in wild west accents, drive 4x4s, wear Stetsons and live in Essex. They may be dangerous.
The fact that I use Verdana for publicity (the best to read at a distance), Arial usually (nice and clear), and Trebuchet on the blog... just doesn't fit. But they are rather amusing stereotypes!

HT: Marcus Honeysett