Saturday, 31 January 2009

Mirror, Mirror

Graham Beynon's Mirror, Mirror (IVP, 2008) is excellent. Who are you? What do you think of yourself? You're a sinner and it's wrong to focus on yourself? You're in Christ so you must be worth a lot? The fact is, how you think of yourself will shape how you act. And often as Christians we can be confused about how we should think of ourselves. Good self-image? Or is self-image bad? As for the world around, it's a constant mirror giving us reflections by which to judge ourselves. Graham so helpfully navigates this by showing us through the one mirror of Truth - God's word. As the cover blurb says, "The world tells us that we need a good self-image. The Bible tells us that we need a right self-image."

Originally Graham prepared this material for Christian students in Midlands CUs, and he's continued to apply it pastorally in his church. The book bears these marks with its clarity of writing and practical help - including questions for reflection or discussion so it could be helpfully worked through with Christian friends or in church small groups. Not just for those who're confused or lacking confidence on the issue of self-image and identity - this book is an accessible guide for all Christians to know Biblically who we are and the practical implications.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Really, the Pope still isn't Protestant

A friend sent me the following:
"You will delighted to know that the pope now preaches justification by faith, ... [in] this sermon."

I'd seen about this a while ago, but thought it'd probably go unnoticed. However, given that it has been noticed, here's what I replied:

Thanks for sending on that link, it's certainly good to keep abreast of what's happening in Rome, though it must be said that the Pope's sermons have little effect to the System on the ground.

I must reply though, because although I know it's fuzzy in that sermon, and lines of it can be read in a Protestant way if we look with hope, Ratzinger does not teach the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone - in that sermon he uses those words in a context which redefines them to fit Roman doctrine. I don't want us to have a false hope [about Rome] when witnessing to Roman Catholics we meet or get to know - nor encourage them to get this truth from their Church, because it's not in the system, even if you think this sermon sounds like it in bits.

While Ratzinger is the most theologically astute Pope there's been in a long while, he has not departed from the Council of Trent where Rome anathematised Justification by grace alone through faith alone. He's a stalwart conservative in that field, but as a German theologian, he can say things subtley enough to sound [to so many evangelicals] like it fits Protestant doctrine, if you interpret one-off sentences in a Protestant way. After all, Rome has never been Pelagian in doctrine (only practice, as with many 'Protestant' churches!). Rome does not teach 'salvation by works'. (That's merely the impression you get in the System.) The actual difference is that Rome says that justification is a process of trust in Christ involving living as Christ did, whereas we protest that justification is an act of God's free grace, through trust in Christ alone, from which the life of the Spirit springs as fruit, after God's act of justification. But this is the difference between life & death, between joyful confidence in Christ & endless striving to fulfil it yourself.

In Ratzinger's words from that sermon:
"Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love."
R Scott Clark says:
"We agree that being just means being “with Christ” and “in Christ” by faith alone, i.e., by a “certain knowledge and a hearty trust,” by “resting and receiving” Christ and his perfect righteousness imputed by the unmerited favor of God alone. This is not what Benedict means.

We agree that “observances are no longer necessary.” We agree that faith is “looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ” but that’s not all Benedict says. He adds the qualifier, “conformed to Christ, to his life.” Oops. Justification by faith alone absolutely results in becoming gradually conformed to Christ, but the supreme pontiff has it that justification is predicated upon our being “conformed to Christ.” There’s more. “And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love.”
You could say that it's a bit confused, and could be read either way. I'd say that's the problem - Rome confuses justification and sanctification and so undermines hope and confidence in the cross (in fact, anathematises such confidence). If my justification is based, in any way, on my love - I have no hope. (If you want to make more sense of that specific sermon, read the rest of Scott Clark's article.)

I'm saying this with tears, because it's only through God's mercy that we see the light of the gospel at all; but the Pope has not gone Protestant. He's not Pelagian, either, but that doesn't do much good for those in the system on the ground. If I sound negative or nit-picking in this, no problem: I cry over this - Life hangs on this - that justification is an act of God's free grace whereby he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, received by faith alone. Otherwise you get what Ratzinger ended with:
"And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbour, we can truly be just in God’s eyes."
That is no hope to those who hang on his words, and no good news. It's no good news to all those RC friends I have and those students I meet.

Sorry. Still praying for reformation of grace in all churches, only hope is the active righteousness of Christ.

In Him,


Monday, 26 January 2009

On that day

This is a little delayed, but as we watched Obama's inauguration speech on Relay 2 conference in a very strange centre in Dorset, I was struck again by just how much he promises to be god to the people. Now he was less Messianic than in his campaign speeches - must now temper it with a little more realism lest everyone be disappointed too quickly. But as on Relay 2 we stood in the context of the prophecy of Zephaniah, it was scary what a different note Obama sounded.

Zephaniah prophesied to the people God had chosen, formed and redeemed out of weakness and idolatry, out of slavery and rebellion. The USA is not that people, as a nation: God graciously makes a people now of those who humbly find refuge in Him, in His Christ. But if that is the call, in which temporal judgement is a warning, it worries me how Obama's speech pointed rather to the power of the people to improve.

I thought of citing Zephaniah in contrast to Obama's speech point for point, but that would imply a one-one correspondance which isn't the case. The USA as a nation is not God's chosen people, called into covenant with Him. However, through Christ, it does contain some people who are in covenant with YHWH, and as one of the nations of God's earth, all its people are owned by Him. It's a God-centred universe. And while Presidents are always going to encourage the people to strive for glory, my concern is that Obama's speech described a man-centred, man-made nation which will be rescued by man's collective efforts. God has said that the whole earth, deserving to be wiped of rebellious humanity as we seek to establish autonomy from God as Ruler and Author of Life, will be redeemed and purified in the fire of God's jealousy, because all the earth is His.
"America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents." ... "We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense."
Now it's a good thing to call people to remember the founding ideals and documents of a nation - there's usually some good in them, healthy to preserve. But no people remain true even to our own ideals, never mind those of our forebears - and that's completely leaving aside God's ideals. We have much for which to apologise. In fact, in one big way we have remained true to our forebear's ideals - those of Adam, falling short of God's glory and seeking to establish our own!

Now true to life, Obama goes on to give a reckoning of the crisis facing the nation - and ours, across the Pond.

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights."
But I worry. In Zephaniah, the crisis of judgement on nations is described graphically. No one can ignore it. But whereas Zephaniah said to the people then,
"Gather together, yes, gather,
O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect
—before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
the burning anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
the day of the anger of the Lord.

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden
on the day of the anger of the Lord."
Obama says,
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture,
the time has come to set aside childish things.
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit;
to choose our better history;
to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea,
passed on from generation to generation:
the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free,
and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. ...

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. ...

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

"We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

"All this we can do. All this we will do."
I know that a nation state today must respond wisely to economic crisis. But a wise response does not start with boasting in the past and end with picking yourself up by the bootstraps. It starts with acknowledging we are God's and before Him, our way of life is shameful. It seeks the LORD who is Jesus, seeks righteousness and humility.

We have been given wisdom from God if we know the difference between what we may do as nation-states established by Him, and what He does in His Christ, Who must have all the glory.

Obama on the USA:

"We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

"And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

And YHWH, on what is His to do:
“Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD,
“for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
all the earth shall be consumed.

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
and serve him with one accord.
From beyond the rivers of Cush
my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
shall bring my offering."

I'm not seeking to disparage Obama himself as opposed to previous American presidents or indeed as opposed to other world leaders! I heard half the speech, read the whole speech, and found it very moving and inspiring. But I worry that this is because my heart responds well to the message that we have it in us. We can save the day. Or to downgrade from Presidential inauguration to saving the multiple and parallel universes in Dr Who, "You are the most important woman who has ever lived in all creation!"

None of our countries is the Israel of Josiah's reign. But we would do well to heed a prophet who called for a humble people, prepared to take refuge in the Lord who saves - in Jesus. We'd be wise to heed warnings of judgement, and know that this is God's universe. We'd be loving to proclaim that when the markets are in trouble, it is indeed because of the sin of a few - and the sin of many. But the solution is not to be better people and work harder, because the problem is greater than discomfort in lifestyle: it's the fire of a rightly jealous God.

Don't worry!

Again, [HT Mark Meynell], this time from Private Eye:

Saturday, 17 January 2009


Abusism. No, not a belief in encouraging abuse, but in light of the recent much-publicised bus ads (which at least get people discussing God and the consequences of His existence):[HT: Dan Hames]

Sunday, 11 January 2009


Which rules you more? a) Your head; b) Your heart.
My thoughts responded: Well, I'd naturally say my head - but the heart controls our desires really: the Scripture says that we follow the desires of the heart. But we are to counter by setting our minds on the things of Christ. Hm. Head or heart? Which rules you more? What a dreadful false dichotomy: this is one reason why I hate such personality type tests, although I was persuaded they may be useful in considering job suitability. However, then I realised that I'd just responded to the question itself with a line of reasoning, so in personality type terms, rather than Biblical terms, perhaps I'm more of a head person than a heart person. Eugh.
May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

Kate Barclay Wilkinson (1859-1928)

Friday, 9 January 2009

The News of the Cross

Christ on the cross - simply with us in our suffering, or achieving for us an eternal hope of new life? Art speaks powerfully - and in this instance, the old debate is reheated: to fix our eyes on Jesus, crucified perpetually, or the symbol of his death and resurrection? I tend to think that seeing the empty cross reminds us, as Krish says, of the reality that we worship a God who died, but who also was raised to life, reigns, gives eternal life knowing the Father, and will return to judge the living and dead.

The argument runs that it is with a crucifix that one comforts the one facing death - that they see Christ with them in their suffering, his arms outstretched in love. Now that is true. But it is not the whole truth. What point is there in a good man who suffered alongside: even a supremely loving, welcoming man who suffered alongside, if that was all he did - if he stayed there? No, he came and suffered for us and for our salvation, and to all of us facing death, he holds out life. The cross is empty - he announced his task accomplished, and gave up his spirit to the Father. His tomb is no memorial, but empty - never needed again. Our tombs, and our sufferings? Merely borrowed, merely granted for a little time. For he was delivered up for our trespasses, and raised for our justification. [Rom 4.25]

[HT: Krish, who participated in the debate]

Friday, 2 January 2009

Quote of the day: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

Dan has drawn our attention to the church calendar for a good reason - it's Gregory Nazianzus' day today! I've been enjoying a light reminder of the first 5 centuries in For Us and For Our Salvation by Nichols, so a timely quotation from good ol' Greg (329-390):
These words let everyone who threatens me today concede to me; the rest let whoever will claim. The Father will not endure to be deprived of the Son, nor the Son of the Holy Ghost. Yet that must happen if They are confined to time, and are created Beings ... for that which is created is not God.

Neither will I bear to be deprived of my consecration; One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. If this be cancelled, from whom shall I get a second? What say you, you who destroy Baptism or repeat it? Can a man be spiritual without the Spirit? Can he honour Him who is baptised into a creature and a fellow-servant? It is not so; it is not so; for all your talk.

I will not play Thee false, O Unoriginate Father, or Thee O Only-begotten Word, or Thee O Holy Ghost. I know Whom I have confessed, and Whom I have renounced, and to Whom I have joined myself. I will not allow myself, after having been taught the words of the faithful, to learn also those of the unfaithful; to confess the truth, and then range myself with falsehood; to come down for consecration and to go back even less hallowed; having been baptised that I might live, to be killed by the water, like infants who die in the very birth pangs, and receive death simultaneously with birth. Why make me at once blessed and wretched, newly enlightened and unenlightened, Divine and godless, that I may make shipwreck even of the hope of regeneration?

A few words will suffice. Remember your confession. Into what were you baptised? The Father? Good but Jewish still. The Son? ... good... but not yet perfect. The Holy Ghost? ... Very good ... this is perfect. Now was it into these simply, or some common name of Them? The latter. And what was the common Name? Why, God. In this common Name believe, and ride on prosperously and reign, and pass on from hence into the Bliss of Heaven. And that is, as I think, the more distinct apprehension of These; to which may we all come, in the same Christ our God, to Whom be the glory and the might, with the Unoriginate Father, and the Lifegiving Spirit, now and for ever and to ages of ages. Amen.
[Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 33, "Against the Arians," Paragraph 17; date: 380; source: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol.VII - cited by Nichols.]

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Gospel Music Revolution

Some have been amused by the Reformation Polka on YouTube (ok, so it is amusing). But much better, is Luther & the Reformation to the tune of Bach - a fascinating & melodious documentary in the BBC's Sacred Music series - Bach and the Lutheran Legacy. I remember when I first heard the St John's Passion live, in Warwick, back when I was a relay worker. Despite not buying a programme, with some small knowledge of German and more knowledge of John's gospel, it was a spine-tingling, heart-warming experience, lifting my eyes to Christ. And what struck me most was the brilliant protestantism of the libretto! Granted, Bach didn't write the words - but since then, it's been my personal opinion that Bach's St John's Passion is possibly the best worship music yet written. Have an listen / watch: the Reformation celebrated to the music of Bach (more Luther in the first part of the programme).

It is finished,
O rest for all afflicted souls!
This night of woe
makes me ponder my own my last hour.
Judah's hero triumphs now,
and ends the fight,
It is finished!

And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Beloved Saviour, wilt Thou answer,
as Thou has now the cross endured,
and Thyself hast said: It is finished!
Am I from death delivered?
Can I, through Thy pain and death,
the heavenly realm inherit?
Shall all the world redemption see?
Thou canst for anguish now saw nothing,
yet Thou dost bow Thy head
and say, in silence: yes!

Jesus, Thou who knowest death,
art alive for ever;
when I yield my dying breath,
I turn to no other
but to Thee, who hast redeemed me,
O Thou dearest master!
Give me what Thou hast won,
For more I cannot ask.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

My heart, behold how all the world
at Jesus' sufferings likewise suffers;
the sun his beams in sorrow shrouds,
the veil divides, rocks are rent,
the earth quakes, graves are opened,
while they behold the Creator die;
and for thy part, what wilt thou do?


O Lord, send Thy dear angels
at mine end, to gather my soul
to Abraham's bosom,
my body in his chamber
softly laid, without pain or sorrow,
until the last day.
Then wake me from death
that mine eyes may see Thee
in fullest joy, O Son of God,
my Saviour and my Throne of Grace!
Lord Jesus Christ, hear Thou me,
I will praise Thee eternally.

(Translation of selection of the St John's Passion libretto, my emphasis.)