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 -
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... 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.