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.