Friday, 17 December 2010

'You will love this.' (Classical music and preaching.)

Conductor Ben Zander is convinced that everyone likes classical music - they just don't know it yet. And he's looking for shining eyes. I recognised it as soon as he said: I get the shining eyes thing in a good CBSO concert. 

The video presents some challenges and inspiration to preachers of the Word of God, too, who have not only all Zander mentions, but also the promises of God! A comment on Thabiti's blog when he posted this, from Timothy Reynalds: 
(1) Do I preach the gospel in confident belief that in God’s hands this message is able to awaken any soul to its truth and beauty? Don’t preach to move from 3-4%, but for 100%! What difference will that make to the way I preach to unbelievers?
(2) Do I preach to believers in full confidence that this word and this message should grip them all? What difference will that make to the way I preach?
(3) Do I have too many “impulses”: too much emphasis on lesser points or details, to the detriment of the overarching flow of God’s truth?
Now those are things I need to pray about – and pray for more shining eyes!
 Watch the video: I assure you, it's worth 20 minutes. 

[And yes, I've been around here before, as has Leithart.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Facebook is the bottle

That TIME has named Mark Zuckerberg its 'person of the year' is really immaterial - but after the first couple of pages about him, its article about Facebook is really rather insightful. This man aimed to create an experience of the internet which related to, well, relationships - because he recognised that as humans, who we are is not flexibly recreated at will (e.g. myspace), but connected and relating to others. He is interested in, 'Eliminating desire for all that doesn't really matter.'
Zuckerberg just wanted people to be themselves. On earlier social networks like Friendster and Myspace, identity was malleable and playful, but Facebook was and is different. "We're trying to map out what exists in the world," he says. "In the world, there's trust. I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us. So at its core, what we're trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships, which you can call, colloquially, most of the time, friendships."
Facebook sprang from the insight that 'people yearned not to be liberated from their daily lives but to be more deeply embedded in them'. So while google tells us what the best result is to our search based on what most people in the world look at, Zuckerberg suggests we move from the wisdom of many to the wisdom of friends. (I wonder if, as a Jew, he's been reading Proverbs on that one?)
Zuckerberg's vision is that after the Facebookization of the Web, ... wherever you go online, you'll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends' reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context. Not that long ago, a post-Google Web was unimaginable, but if there is one, this is what it will look like: a Web reorganized around people. "It's a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends," say Sandberg. "It doesn't matter if 100,000 people like x. If the three people closest to you like y, you want to see y."
Yet, there's valid critique of this kind of oneness in friendship - not that we want to be a different person to different people, but that naturally we do flex between different relationships. It is right that I relate to my boss in a different way from that in which I relate to my friends. We wouldn't want the flattening of all hierarchy, structure and order - there is a rightness and beauty in everything being in its proper place. So facebook, for all its connectivity and openess, still becomes just one sphere in life. I decide what to post on facebook: being completely real with my friends, family and colleagues, I'll share x with specific friends by email (or facebook message!) which I won't share in my newsfeed, because it may be misunderstood by some.

Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody — friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade — into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You're friends with your spouse, and you're friends with your plumber.
And of course, we move from the realm of 1984 (about which people are so sensitive, when it comes to privacy and information) into a Brave New World:
But there is another danger, which is that instead of feeling forced to share, we won't be able to stop ourselves from sharing — that we will willingly, compulsively violate our own privacy. Relationships on Facebook have a seductive, addictive quality that can erode and even replace real-world relationships. Friendships multiply with gratifying speed, and the emotional stakes stay soothingly low; where there isn't much privacy, there can't be much intimacy either.
So it comes down to one of those standard aspects of maturity - knowing what to say to whom, when. There is a time to share, and a time to be private. A thing you can share with a friend, and thing to share with a colleague. They're not all the same, and that's not necessarily deception: it's a kind of wisdom.
However much more authentic the selves we present on Facebook are than they were in the anonymous Internet wilderness that came before it, they still fall far short of our true selves, and confusing our Facebook profiles with who we really are would be a terrible mistake. We are running our social lives over the Internet, an infrastructure that was not designed for that purpose, and we must be aware of the distortions it creates or we will be distorted by them. The standard cliché for describing viral technology like Facebook has always been, "The genie is out of the bottle." But Facebook inverts that. Now Facebook is the bottle, and we're the genie. How small are we willing to make ourselves to fit inside?
As with any tool, don't reduce life to it, or your life will be reduced to fit. [Read the whole article in TIME.]

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Prefer to hear him roar!

One of the delights of a good novel is that you are welcomed in to a different world: for that short time, to breathe its air, to swim in its sea, and know its people. It is why I always suffered from an inclination to speak like Shakespeare's, Austen's, or (Pope's translation of) Homer's characters, when emerging from their books. The author invites you to see the world through different eyes: such is the power of words well set. 

Some books permeate so deeply that the effect is longer term. I revisited Narnia so much as a child (and teenager, and adult!), and then Malacandra and Perelandra, that our own Silent Planet took different meaning. It is as if a character from those worlds lent me their glasses, and now I see our own in fresh and sometimes strange hues. It is not simply that I love that world, but that I know this world, better. Having breathed that air, I can survive more ably here where the air is thinner.

Which is why I was so sad to read this article, which describes, with evident pity rather than trigger-happiness, how the creators of the recent Narnia films seem to have failed to taste Narnia's air, so found it strange, and have inadvertently replaced it with filtered air pumped in from our silent, twisted world. I'm sure they found it unrealistic - Miraz, Weston, are more like us, so we find the children stay like them rather than being transformed to be like the great Lion, the Son of the Emperor, who is not safe, but is good. 

Of course, Lewis was merely writing under the influence, himself. The influence of the Bible, which paints us into the ultimate reality, and gives us eyes to see and know its Painter. The loss of Narnia's oxygen in the films merely goes to illustrate that we need to draw on what is outside of ourselves to understand this world - not just revert to being true to ourselves. This world, and our hearts, does not have within it what we need to get through it alive. We need to breathe Narnian air*, and then we will find ourselves transformed by it.

Read Narnia Invaded, by Steven Bower.

* I mean, of course, its greater and perfect Idea and source. 

Friday, 10 December 2010

Quote of the day: taking issue with not having an issue

I noticed rather belatedly that the November issue of Themelios is out. It's like an early Christmas present! I used to subscribe, and I confess I like paper copies, but now they've ceased hard copy publication, it's free online here. I usually turn first to Carl Trueman's Minority Report, which in this instance gives us food for thought about polemics: terrible beauty, beauty, and the plain terrible. He points out just how polemical the first Q&A of the Heidelberg catechism was at the time; I've been learning it, meditating on it, and teaching it to our teens in church for a while now, for its pastoral richness, but its polemical nature hadn't occurred to me. Anyway, now pondering our quote of the day, from Trueman: 
If assurance is not an issue, it is likely because you have a sub-biblical view of God’s holiness and a sub-Pauline view of human sin...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bring him home

Art is always transgressive. What I always say is, we need to transgress in love. We today have a language to celebrate waywardness. But we do not have a language, a cultural language, to bring people back home.
- Ty Fujimura, of International Arts Movement

[HT: JB]

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Belonging and significance

'Citizenship in the Roman empire, as in others of the sort, depends on lineage, power and financial means, and it classes people into first, second, third categories. Belonging, in Jewish cultural religion, also rested on family line and social status. In contrast, membership in the household of God is a gift: gentile and Jew, slave and free, women and men, old and young, people from South and North, East and West, people without all their limbs and wits and people with them, all belong, thanks to God's reconciling work in Christ.

'This new household, the Church, is built not on money, or power, charismatic leaders or individual saints, but on the foundation of the apostles and prophets: on the whole recorded history of God's work in God's world through God's people. When Rome claims that it's imperial power that holds everything together, and temples become symbols of dominion; and when today we are tempted to place our confidence in nations' military or economic power, big church budgets, or successive business ventures, and when denominational and institutional preoccupations easily become more important than people, then, with Paul, we must counter-culturally claim that Christ is the peace without which the entire construction would crumble apart. He is the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

'Where, we asked at the beginning, does God live? Paul closes with this amazing and humbling affirmation: in Christ, you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. We, the Church, with all our imperfections, petty concerns, pride and prejudice, are God's holy temple, God's earthly home. Yes, by God's grace it is here: in the immensely diverse, transnational, transethnic, transcultural community, that God chooses to live. God lives in the new humanity, created by God, reconciled by Christ and indwelled and gifted by the Holy Spirit.'
- Ruth Padilla De Borst, at Cape Town 2010. Hear more here.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Does Reformation doctrine really matter now?

So there was a rumpus and split in the church some hundreds of years ago, and people believe different things. Surely it's not important: we've learned to see past these petty differences, hm? In a wide-ranging conversation, Mike Reeves interviews Mark Dever on the personal and practical implications and value of the Biblical truths mostly rediscovered at the time now known as 'the Reformation', showing just how vital and pastoral these things are. 

The latest UCCF Table Talk, here - as usual, an excellent use of your listening time: easy listening with an edifying twist, an informative skip and a good shake of heart-warming.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Leading in mission

'Let me say without any fear or favour, that any church leader who is not leading in mission loses his apostolicity - simple. The apostles were church leaders because they were leaders in mission. Anytime you get to the point where you’re a church leader and you’re not leading your people in mission, you’ve lost the leadership. You can own the title, drive the cars, own the houses, but you’ve lost it - as far as heaven is concerned.
And I think church leaders need to know that so that they can really be the leaders in mission and create the enthusiasm. Let me tell you: if you are a church leader and you got out on witnessing, and the bank manager sees you and the people see you, it will not be long before your diocese or your circuit or your presbytery begins to say, 'Hey guys, we’d better join this man.' That’s why you’re put there in leadership!'
- Archbishop Ben Kwashi, of Jos, Nigeria

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

'Don't preach at me'

We know the power of words. The ability to manipulate. To skip around your logic, whirling you around with beauty, form, time, until you succumb and join the dance. To reason and persuade, to change your mind against your will, with all the cost to your life. To speak a fan of words to blow away the mist and expose that you stand on a rickety, rotting rope bridge over a chasm. Words are powerful, and scary. 

So out of respect for fear, and for fear of abuse or imposition, should we shut up?

Ruth Padilla De Borst, on 'he came and preached peace...' from Ephesians 2, at Cape Town 2010:
Now rhetoric, preaching, speaking: all these are skills practised and esteemed in Greco-Roman society, to which the recipients of Paul's letter belonged. They're highly aware of the power of the spoken word in building personal prestige and swaying public opinion. But Jesus' peace-preaching had a far more significant impact. It was grounded in his peace-being and his peace-making as expressions of the ongoing reconciling work of God who declares things into being. In the beginning, God, the creative community of love, spoke the world into existence out of chaos. In Jesus, the Word made flesh, God spoke redemption and new life into history. And through the Spirit's breath, God speaks community out of distanced individuals. God speaks and it comes to pass.

Paul had begun his letter by portraying the grand cosmic scheme of things: everything brought under Christ's lordship. He now zooms in on a visible, historical expression of that unity and authority. He leads us not to some ancient temples or some opulent modern church building. No! Instead, he lands squarely on his listeners - on the local community of Christ's followers, v19: 'So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God...'

What God in Christ has spoken into being is nothing more and nothing less than the Church, the body of Jesus' followers, the new humanity, woven together out of people from different ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious strands.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Decide this doubt

Oh make this heart rejoice or ache;
Decide this doubt for me;
And if it be not broken, break,
And heal it, if it be.

- William Cowper, from a longer poem/hymn, here

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Who's out & who's in?

How much change are we willing to make as different people come in to our churches? Do we really want them to grow, as it means change? Ruth Padilla DeBorst, evidently shaped by a strong sense of cultural and linguistic justice, spoke of this in relation to the Ephesian church. It's not directly in the passage (Eph 2), but came across as she 'set the scene'. I wonder if she doesn't read back today's experience into the first century a bit, but it's helpful to hear her perspective and consider its application to our churches and plants.

So, an imagined description of what might have been the reaction of 1st century Jewish believers in Christ, hearing Ephesians 2: [NB there's a certain poignancy about this, that she was having to address the Congress in English in order to be translated into the other Congress languages - rather than Spanish]
'And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience' Ah, this is about them: the Jewish Christians might have sighed in relief. ... They might have rested assured of their belonging, and believed they owned the right to determine who was in and who was out of the new community being forged by the apostles' teaching. Become like us - the true believers: look at the world through our lenses, and organise your experience into our categories; otherwise, you will only ever be second class. We can tolerate a little colour here and there, a token representative of minority groups, but they must be willing to blend in, to accommodate to our standards and expectations, our jargon, our styles. Yet Paul leaves no room for such smug self-righteousness. He continues: 'We ALL once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of humankind.'
Everyone likes to control who's out and who's in - it's scarily uncomfortable otherwise. So how will we set about obeying: 'Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God', with all the discomfort, culture shock, and change involved?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Quote of the day: extrinsic value

'Value and beauty are granted by our Creator to the Christian community: not fabricated by the symbols of status, prestige, or prosperity of our contemporary pagan consumer society.' 
- Ruth Padilla De Borst on Eph 2.10. To what extent to we live in line with this truth?

God set us to be shining like stars in the universe, and we tend to run after lightbulbs of status, and gold star stickers of success.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Quote of the day: labour to describe

'This truth is something that is culturally distant to most people. It's difficult for them to understand: how they can be redeemed from sin, how Jesus could turn God's wrath, and how the blood could cleanse them, how they are justified because he bore their guilt. So it's a difficult thing for our people to understand that. But it was difficult for the first century Jew. Paul says in 1 Cor 1.23 that the gospel is foolishness: 'We preach Christ crucified, which is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jew.' But, what did he do? Did he not preach this message? In 1 Cor 2.2 he says, 'I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.' He laboured to get this message across. And so in the epistles he used different pictures and all sorts of things to remind us of the fullness of our salvation.

'I fear that today many of us have surrendered to the culture and focussed on what is easy to understand, rather than labouring to describe what the work of Christ really did. We must be using our greatest creative energies to get through the Biblical concept of the work of Christ to the people that we minister to. That's the challenge that we have. Not to present God just as one who meets needs, but the One who has a plan for the whole universe.'
- Ajith Fernando, on Ephesians 1, from Cape Town 2010 [more expositions and talks here]

For more, watch the exposition below, in which Ajith Fernando advises that while many people come to Christ to fulfil a felt need, to keep going they must be taught the difficult truths, to recognise that Christ is Truth, and that they have been welcomed into something a lot bigger than a solution their initial felt need. 

Bible Exposition:Ajith Fernando (Ephesians 1)
from Lausanne Movement on Vimeo.

Over the next while, I hope to highlight some quotes and teaching from The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, from those of various cultures and countries. This is partly because I didn't get to attend the sessions, so am catching up now; partly because I tend to hear only the negative crit so want to acknowledge the work of the Spirit during the Congress; and mostly because I do believe that for the health and growth of the Church, it is vital to listen to perspectives that Christ has given his people in different parts of the world.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Music as text (or vice versa)

A while ago I considered music as preaching (or vice versa). Peter Leithart has a clear, succinct post considering written or spoken text musically: Hermeneutics: Melody of the Text.

Each word must die for the sentence to live, yet each word must live in memory for the sake of the whole. For a melody, each note must die for the melody to live, yet each remain in memory for a melodic line to form. And so with a whole text, or book: hear the text, and don't miss out the bass drone, repeated rythms, or recurring motifs! 
But read it here in Dr Leithart's own words.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Grasping for the wind, or beyond

Many people have commented on this BBC interview - Jeremy Paxman in an unusual interview with comedian Russell Brand. Unlike his public persona (of which, to be honest, I know very little, as his speech seemed vulgar enough to put me off listening to him ages ago), Brand shows has real insight into culture and human nature. I often think that comedians are left to be the only ones in our age and culture who are permitted insight and understanding of human nature and society. They are the court jesters, who are allowed to preach unpleasant truths to the powerful and comfortable, in the name of entertainment.
Brand - I don't want to dwell here with such trivial things for very much longer.
Paxo - You mean you seek death?
Brand - Not death. But between now and death, it would be ever so nice I think, if I were able to achieve something that is truly valuable, some evocation of beauty, togetherness, an exposure of the illusion of separation, and some connection between people; perhaps use this energy for something better than leaving voicemail...'

Brand - Now I am famous and what does it mean: ashes in my mouth. ... Someone told me once that all desire is the desire to be at one with God in substitute form. So perhaps we can draw attention not to the shadow on the wall, but the source of light itself.
The substance of the interview is worth hearing (if you can ignore the few profanities).
I want to send Brand a copy of C.S.Lewis' Surprised by Joy. He seems to have 'got' that celebrity, or mundane non-celebrity, are all vanity and grasping for the wind. He wants to get through it and find something genuinely weighty, which will transform him. But would he cope with the weight of glory, if he held it in his hand? It might pierce him right through, unless he has been transformed to bear the image of the Man from glory.

[Aside: Paxman finds it unusual that Brand's so intense or in earnest about what he's saying. One of the aspects of British culture which I really don't like is how being in earnest or passionate about serious things is found somewhat Odd, and Not To Be Encouraged.]

Friday, 24 September 2010

Looking back - Lausanne II

In the final weeks of preparation for The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, I came across this: John Piper's reflections of 20 years ago, of attending Lausanne II, in Manila. They moved me to tears and reminded me of the impact that congress had on churches, pastors and missions across the world. 

This is not just another evangelical meeting. The impact of Christians from 200 nations sharing the gifts of experience, wisdom, insight and theological understanding Christ has given them, with those from other nations, is weighty.  

We pray it will resound in inspiration and shaping of ministries such as DesiringGod, and thousands lesser known, to the ends of the globe. Not just that more would be busy for Jesus, but that our Lord would use it to hasten his return in glory.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Music as preaching (or vice versa)

As I listened to Christian Tetzlaff's playful and lyrical account of Brahms' violin concerto in the Symphony Hall this evening, I reminisced on the first time I remember hearing it live - Tasmin Little, with the Ulster Orchestra, in the Ulster Hall, Belfast. I recall drifting off in young sleepiness in the over-warm hall during the second movement, and being thrown awake, embarassed, by the launch into the third. I was sitting with my Dad in the balcony stage left, for a good view of the soloist. I enjoyed it then; I enjoyed the performance this evening. Then, in awe of Tasmin Little and the virtuosic beauty of the music, particularly the double-stopping; now, amused by Tetzlaff's youthful quirky treatment of some of the piece, and struck by the musical similarity between the soloist and the conductor, the electrifying Andris Nelsons.

Music, it seems to me, is like a sermon in some respects. I wouldn't say that my recording of the Brahms (Anne Sophie Mutter, I think) is not the Brahms, but it is certainly less than the live performance. There's something about music, and a sermon, which should be embodied. The recording may be perfect - perfect balance, no distance through a concert hall, no coughs or dropped programmes at inappropriate moments, no distraction of an overactively bobbing soprano clarinetist. But it is precisely all those things which are cut out which make it so touchingly human. The music enacted in a different context every time, unique despite being written. So it is with a sermon: the word addressed to a particular time and people, in a context. (και ο λογος σαρξ εγενετο, one might ponder.)

So, also, I appreciated Shostakovich's earthy, jarring and tense search for resolution and hope, post-Nazi invasion of St Petersburg, more than the ethereal disembodied floating of souls through layers of supposed paradise, in part II of Mahler's 8th on Saturday. (Not that this fully characterises either piece - just some parts of each.)

Perhaps a feel for music gives some theological insight - the truth bubbling up to the surface, however hard repressed. The conductor turned before the Shostokovich and gave us a little exposition: the original author's meaning, its application to our day, the eternal truth behind both. 'There is always hope!' he concluded, as we were launched into Shostokovich's Eighth Symphony.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Beatified saints!

Happy Sunday, beatified ones and saints!
'By God's will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.' [Heb.10]
Blessed are all who take refuge in the Son. [Ps.2]

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Dear Benedict

I would not be unecessarily contentious, nor do I dislike you personally, not knowing you personally. A public figure comes in for criticism, and it seems that most of the criticism of your office pertains to your 'presumption' as a celibate man, to speak on matters of sex - especially since you lead an organisation full of sinful people, and impose strictures on them which God's word expressly forbids. It would be better if you were to stay confident only in Christ, fully aware of sin, and offer others Christ alone - no extra rules, no special priesthood, no holy 'father' but the one in heaven.

Indeed, as one wrote to one of your predecessors:
'How much better it would be, [Benedict], if you would abandon the splendour and glory that your enemies claim belongs to your office! ... Do not listen to those sirens that pretend you are not a mere human but some sort of divine being who can command and decide whatever you wish. Things cannot be done this way; you do not have such power. For you are the servant of servants and more than all others you are in a most miserable and dangerous position. Do not be deceived by those who pretend you are lord of the world or who claim that no one can be a Christian unless he or she accepts your authority. Do not listen to those who claim you have power over heaven, hell, and purgatory. ... They are mistaken when they place you above a council and the universal church. They are also mistaken when they give you alone the right to interpret Scripture. Under the protection of your name, they desire only to promote their unchristian teaching in the church. And unfortunately, through them Satan has made much progress, just as he did under those who preceded you in the papacy.

'In summary, do not believe those who exalt you; rather you should believe those who humble you. This is the judgement of God who 'has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly' (Luke 1.52). Observe the great difference between Christ and his 'successors', though they all wish to be regarded as his substitute here on earth. I fear that most of them have viewed themselves as Christ's substitute in an all too real a sense! A person is a substitute only when the superior is absent. If the pope rules and at the same time Christ is not present or is not ruling in his heart, then what else is he but a substitute for Christ? Wha tis the church other than an assembly of people without Christ? And it follows - what is such a substitute other than an antechrist or an idol? Were not the apostles much more right in calling themselves the servants of the present Christ rather than the substitutes of an absent Christ?'
As for a state visit, dear Ratzinger, I am astonished that you let a quirk of history lead you to deny our Master, who said clearly to Rome's representative: 'My Kingdom is not of this world.' So it is not for the sake of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, nor her namesake, that we say with all due respect, 'The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England'; but for the sake of Christ, who is present to rule his Church.

Some complain that we take our current situation and read it back into the gospel accounts. But we cannot duck from their clear application to our day.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." [Matt 23]
As you yourself said, in your opening speech in 2005, 'May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!' I am concerned that those critiquing your visit, and those who will go to 'see the Pope' tomorrow down the road in Longbridge, will not be encouraged to have Christ take first place in their thoughts and actions. Rather, as a money-grabbing flash televangelist denies any grace in his message by his wealth, and as a rock star's words of charity and peace are drowned out by his image and noise, is not anything of Christ replaced by your office, and his finished work substitued by your performance of sacrifice? You have the theological acuity to explain at length why this may not be so - but the crowds will not read your theology: they know what they see.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. ...

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. [Heb 9]
There is more at stake here than contraception, or even grave sin, or the cost of a visit by a State which should not be. For the glory of Christ - 

Yours sincerely,
Rosemary Grier

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Grand Design

The Grand Design - New answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life
[Or 'Old non-answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life']

It hit the headlines with, "'GOD IS DEAD,' says Prof. Hawkins." So is philosophy, apparently: Hawkins wants science to take over. Except that science deals with observation and experimentation, and he's talking about the beginning of the universe, which no scientist observed, and which cannot be repeated in a controlled experiment. So he does do philosophy after all, but badly. 
A: All swans I have seen are white
Therefore (by induction) all swans are white
= the law of this universe is such that swans are white 
The law of this universe makes swans white
Scientific 'laws' are simply induction from observation. In other words, a 'law'of science merely describes what we see. It doesn't do anything, any more than the law of the jungle makes a snake eat a monkey. It describes the usual state of affairs. 

So for Hawkins and Mlodinow to imply that the law of gravity produced the big bang, is a severe category and logical error.

As for the ultimate questions of life... well, you don't get the right answers if you can't think of better questions: 42, anyone? 

For a more informed and detailed review, see Alexander Waugh in The Spectator, or The Economist's review.

A while ago, an Aussie paper reported:
"...not only are other planets likely to exist, but whole other universes, known collectively as the multiverse, are too, says Professor Hawking. If God's intention was to create mankind, then these many untouchable worlds would surely be redundant, he suggests."
Amen - God was not creating the universe just for the sake of man, with a gazillion redundant side projects that didn't quite work out, and one functional planet!
No, the God who communicated himself in Christ in all the Bible made the universe for himself, in an outward explosion of inter-trinitarian love. 'by [Christ]... through him, and for him.' The humanistic god-of-the-gaps we invent to be as man-centred as we are, is dead. Long live Christ, who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

What's so good about the gospel?

When the sun rises and warms the birds, they sing. And so, when our hearts are warmed by being reminded of the love of God, we cannot but speak of Him. The gospel - God giving himself in Christ - really is stupendously good news. 

Mike Reeves on John 20.19-23 (and assorted other passages), from UCCF's Forum conference: download here.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Quote of the Day: Talk to the Fool

'Are you in shadow? Are you in pain? Next to you, is Hamlet a happy man? ...

'Do not cry to me. I can only cry with you. I will not die for you. I am still too young in the meaning of love. Talk to the Fool, to the one who left a throne to enter an anthill. He will enter your shadow. It cannot taint Him. He has done it before. His holiness is not fragile. It burns like a father to the sun. Touch His skin, put your hand in His side. He has kept His scars when He did not have to. Give Him your pain and watch it overwhelmed, burned away by the joy He takes in loving. In stooping.'
- N.D.Wilson, from Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Everything, and more

by Steve Turner

Looks aren’t everything.
Luxury’s not everything.
Money’s not everything.
Health is not everything.
Success is not everything.
Happiness is not everything.
Even everything is not everything.
There’s more to life than everything.
from Up To Date (1993), p137 [HT: Mark Meynell]

Getting something of Ecclesiastes?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Clark Pinnock (1937-2010)

Theologian known most recently for his 'open theism', I wasn't aware of his much more helpful and orthodox contributions in the past. Justin Taylor brings a brief bio, with the news that Dr Pinnock died on Sunday. Read it here.

STEP and laugh!

A not-so-new, but recommended health regime: STEP and laugh. That's Stop Taking Everything Personally, and laugh! As in a Shakespearean comedy, we know the end, so it's ok to laugh in the middle. (Especially, to laugh at ourselves.) For more, see Ed Welch's post: Reasons to Laugh, Each Day.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Polemic against anti-polemic polemicists

It's in vogue to decry polemics. 'We don't like arguments: they're divisive.' We're all Trinitarian / we all believe in Jesus / we all believe we're saved by grace: why do we have to dredge up other details over which to argue? And somehow, everyone has a mental image of a man who'd hear of a tribe repenting and believing in Christ, and immediately ask questions until he found out that their missionaries were from the X Church of Y in Country Z, then issue youtube videos, podcasts and blog posts about how wrong they are on their interpretation of Revelation 20. I've never quite met such a man, but I'm sure if you spend enough time online reading comments in popular blogs, or message boards, you'll come across him before long - or someone who reminds you of him. No-one likes those who'll argue over the details.

It's not merely a contemporary feeling. My great-uncle, a missionary in China, objected to the presence of another missionary who didn't believe (or teach) that Jesus was God, nor that we have need of atonement for reconciliation with God. The missionary boards considered this nit-picking - who would be so un-Christian as to object to a brother who was so committed to a hard ministry in China? And of course, those in the 3rd Century who considered that the Son was less than eternally God, complained that the young hothead Athanasius and co. were nit-picking and even using non-Biblical words, in proposing that the Word was eternally God. When we now say, 'They're Trinitarian - stop fighting over the rest!', we're resting in the safe space provided by polemicists in the first place!

Yet, it still doesn't seem very British to fight over details. Surely we can accept differences? Surely unity is more important? How can we not be bullish and know what nits need picking? Carl Trueman writes a helpful article suggesting that the more Reformed or conservative evangelicals need not have so much self-loathing over a measure of polemics, for the health of the Church.
We must repent where necessary, where we have crossed the line; but, just as necessary, we must fight where we see the truth is at stake. We should be grateful for the truth that polemics have preserved so that we have a gospel to proclaim; and we should not allow a misguided commitment to being nice to allow us, in effect, to dump huge problems on the next generation by running up a massive theological and moral deficit in the church of the present. [Read more.]

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Puritans & prigs - reversed

Many people have read the best-seller novel Gilead. But author Marilynne Robinson is much more than a prize-winning novelist. With insight and a novelist's perception, she gives a fascinating interview with Michael Horton on Western culture and perspective, with topics ranging from Calvin as the best humanist, how Puritans weren't prigs, homelessness as a human condition, 'people struggle with forgiveness but God is capable of grace', and an author's definition of a good book. Worth hearing!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Batter my heart, three person'd God

John Donne (1572-1631) -

Spit in my face you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinn'd, and sinn'd, and only he
Who could do no iniquity, hath died:
But by my death can not be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews' impiety:
They kill'd once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
Oh let me then, his strange love still admire:
Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire
But to supplant, and with gainful intent:
God clothed himself in vile man's flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Frustrating, inefficient & ... fulfilling?

Encouraging, polished & fulfilling?
Frustrating, inefficient & messy?

Uses your gifts? 
Wears you out?

This is the way the Master went; should not his servants tread it still?

Ajith Fernando, of Sri Lanka, has a marvellous article in the Lausanne Global Conversation - short form in Evangelicals Now: Suffering Service
The cross must be an essential element in our definition of vocational fulfilment.
Young Christian workers who return to Sri Lanka after studying in the West struggle with this. They cannot use their qualifications fully because we cannot afford pure specialists. Some leave the country after a few years. Some start their own organisations so that they can fulfil their ‘vision’. Others pay the price of identifying with our people and ultimately have a deep impact on the nation.
Paul placed importance on the need to endure frustration patiently, groaning with creation as we await its redemption (Romans 8.18-25). Not including this in our understanding of vocational fulfilment today leads to a shallow church, failing to challenge the world’s standards of success and fulfilment. 
I have a great fear for the church. The West is fast becoming an unreached region. The Bible and history show that suffering is an essential ingredient in reaching unreached people. As the church in the West has lost a theology of suffering, will it be ineffective in its evangelism? [Read more.]

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

To all music-lovers

To all lovers of the liberal art of music Dr.Martin Luther wishes grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

With all my heart I would extol the precious gift of God in the noble art of music, but I scarcely know where to begin or end. There is nothing on earth which has not its tone. Even the air invisible sings when smitten with a staff. Among the beasts and the birds, song is still more marvelous. David, himself a musician, testified with amazement and joy to the song of the birds. What then shall I say of the voice of man, to which nothing else may be compared? The heathen philosophers have strived in vain to explain how the tongue of man can express the thoughts of the heart in speech and song, through laughter and lamentation. 

Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed. Nothing on earth is more mighty to make the sad happy and the happy sad, to hearten the downcast, mellow the overweening, temper the exuberant, or mollify the vengeful. The Holy Spirit himself pays tribute to music when he records that the evil spirit of Saul was exorcised as David played upon his harp. 

The fathers desired that music should always abide in the Church. That is why there are so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been bestowed on mankind alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord. 

But when natural music is sharpened and polished  by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four, or five other voices, leaping, springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracings and hearty swinging of the partners. He who does not find this an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod and is not worthy to be considered a man.

Martin Luther, 1538, trans. in 'Here I stand', Bainton, paragraphs mine.

[Listening to: J.S.Bach, of course - Itzhak Perlman playing the unaccompanied partitas & sonatas (Here if you have Spotify). 'A German historian has said that in the course of 300 years, only one German ever really understood Luther, and that one was Johann Sebastian Bach.']

Monday, 2 August 2010

Don't look inside!

Amazon advises that we may 'look inside' a book before purchase. Wise advice, in the case of a book. But if you seek good news, or to see something of worth, don't 'look inside' yourself. Doctor Martin (no, not the clumpy shoes one) inspired a little ditty on the subject, a while ago:
Luther teaches that we all
Are involved in Adam's fall.
If we look ourselves within,
Feel the bite and curse of sin.
When dread, despair and terror seize, 
Contrite we fall upon our knees.
Then breaks for us the light of day;
Then the gospel may have sway. 

Then we see Christ: of God, the Son,
Who for us all things has done:
The law fulfilled, the debt is paid,
Death overcome, the curse allayed,
Hell destroyed, the devil bound,
Grace for us with God has found.
Christ, the Lamb, removes all sin:
By faith alone in Christ we win.

Translation of 'The Wittenberg Nightingale', by Hans Sachs, Nurnberg. From Here I Stand, Bainton, modernised slightly.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Slow reading

I sometimes used to say that my work with university students (with UCCF) involved teaching them to read. I was only partly joking. It came under the moniker of Bible study, but so much of that was actually slowing students down to read what was there. In the common three-part summary, observation, interpretation, application, we naturally jump straight to interpretation (if not application). I want to use the text for meaning in my life. I do not want to live in the text for its meaning. 

So we had techniques and encouragement to help us to see what was there rather than what we assumed was there. To see what was there to appreciate the style and language of the delivery (the medium certainly shaping the message, if not having one-to-one correspondence). To see what was there and the shape of its structure. To see what was there in the choice of its words. To see what was there so to live in it, breathe its air, feel its distinctiveness. To see what was there so as to sit under - even in - the text; not to master it, to sit over it and analyse it. 

I did not want the students merely to spot pegs on which to hang a reader's own ideas, or trampolines from which to bounce to the group's application. I worked to help them to learn to slow down and truly read a passage as if the author had something of definite worth from which to learn, truly wanted to communicate and actually found that words, phrases, paragraphs, books, genre, et al., were adequate tools to use to do so.

I have been concerned as I've noticed that my reading of pieces on the internet has corrupted my reading ability and style. My eyes now slip into skimming text, not merely jumping words, but sometimes paragraphs. I must consciously control my eyes, hold them back, force them to notice the words on the page. So I read with a pencil in hand - my notes and underlinings are frequently not of significance, but marking them has kept my reading slow, intent on listening to the author. We consider one vain and arrogant who, rather than listening to a friend speak, is busy thinking of his next witty/powerful/intelligent contribution.

Admittedly, I have fewer problems reading slowly when the author is a wordsmith. With one who enjoys words, one can easily spend a while, savouring a delicious turn of phrase, or breathing the air of words well chosen. Then it is a joy to read aloud. And reading aloud slows us down to hear the author. 

I've just today discovered a lovely piece by Lancelot R. Fletcher (what a name!) on Slow Reading - the affirmation of authorial intent - introduced by an article on the topic in the Guardian. Fletcher's piece draws out some of the cultural and logical connections: he tells his students to treat the text as if written by God. He's not actually speaking of the Bible - but makes fascinating connections. He does start by quoting Nietzsche, who possibly came closest as an author to thinking that he was to act as a god, but that aside - read the article. Slowly.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The weather

I doubt you'll ever get a more British post topic than this one. How do you tell if it's great weather in the UK? Because you'll hear a deafening silence on the topic.
This morning I cycled past a dog-walker who hailed another lady, in a broad Brummie accent: 'Innit a crackin summer?' My initial thought was slight shock: How un-British!

Not that she spoke to a relative stranger - somehow, dog-walkers are one of the rare groups of people who get away with that, and a local Brummie would be more likely to speak to a neighbour. Nor did I disagree with her assessment of the weather: I have been praising God each morning as I cycle in to the office, through beautiful weather - temperatures just right even when cloudy, and a lovely warm breeze.

My surprise was that this lady had made an appreciative comment about the weather! As a good English lady, she should have complained. Ignoring the fact that God has given us one of the most temperate climates in the world, she should have complained that it was too hot, or the wind too strong, or that the sky wasn't clear of clouds. She should have said that it would never last and was bound to rain later, just when she would have her washing out. English social convention dictates it!
1) Never speak to a stranger;
2) If you break rule 1, you must make a general complaint with which the person addressed may agree. Traditionally, you will find the weather a useful topic. Failing this, see rule 1.

I swung my bike into the park with a grin, and in my frequent un-English way, broke into song, praising God. I was thankful that there is still some thankfulness left in England, enough to burst out of convention. For a while now, I have made it something of a personal campaign to undermine the social acceptability of the national spirit of thanklessness. I consider it the joyful duty of the Christian, since we have had our eyes opened to see that the universe is playing out in divine comedy - despite the very reality of sin and death distorting and maiming God's good world, we are living between two resurrections - Christ's, and therefore ours.

Therefore we wage war on this attitude, in the ways in which it appears in each of our cultures and worldviews:
For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
[Rom 1] And if I'm honest, part of the reason I wage war on the attitude outside me, is that I need to constantly remind my own heart that I don't believe that all is futile and dark. If you train yourself in thankfulness, you will find trust a lot more natural through the dark times. 

PS Thankfulness in mind and all, since I mention the weather, if you're in the UK, please do pray that God would have mercy by sending rain for our farming community. If they don't have rain soon, they'll have no hay for the animals over the winter.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Babel's burning

  • Genesis 1 - "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." 
  • Babel - Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. ... Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." ...its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
  • Pentecost - "Stay in the city until you're clothed with power from on high, and you will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth." 
    • When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
Communication into many languages is key in the evangelization of the world. So I'm rather excited that the Lausanne Global Conversation website, designed to facilitate evangelicals globally in discussing topics related to evangelisation... now has multilingual features. Read someone's post in Spanish, find a comment in Norwegian, another in Kiswahili... and translate all into English if it's your preferred reading language. Take part in a truly global conversation! 

100 Days until Third Lausanne Congress

Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, is now only 100 days away. Marking this milestone is the launch of The Lausanne Global Conversation in eight languages. This enables evangelicals from all continents to prepare for the Congress, which will be streamed online. The Congress will be held 16-25 October in Cape Town, South Africa, with 4,000 selected participants. Advance papers are already available at

Lindsay Brown, International Director of The Lausanne Movement, said, ‘We will gather in Cape Town from 200 nations, a truly global Congress to strengthen the cause of the gospel worldwide. Please add your voice to the Lausanne Global Conversation. Let it be iron sharpening iron, as we share the insights Christ has given us, and listen to those he has given to his Church around the world.’

Naomi Frizzell, Director of Digital Media for Cape Town 2010, commented, ‘Multi-lingual features enable the whole church to dialogue on a common platform. We look forward to evangelicals world-wide bringing their unique experiences, insights and perspectives.’

During the Congress, evangelicals may also gather at official GlobaLink sites, across 68 nations, to watch broadcasts of key addresses and share their reflections with others around the world. To host a site, go to

Cape Town 2010 is the third major Lausanne Congress and the first since 1989. It is to be held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance. Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, the WEA’s International Director, said, ‘As the 100-day countdown to the Congress approaches, I sense there is growing excitement and anticipation around the world. This Congress has the potential for shaping and impacting a whole new generation of leaders.’

Lindsay Brown urged churches around the world: ‘Please help us by your prayers. Our goal in every aspect of the Congress is to strengthen the Church in fulfilling Christ’s final command on earth, which has never been rescinded - to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all nations.’