Thursday, December 27, 2007

On 'doing God' or not

Should be writing essay(s) in this pause in the festivities, but I read an interesting article the other day. Matthew Parris talks a lot of sense sometimes. Here he is on how it matters whether or not our politicians believe in God:

We non-believers are always puzzled by protests that strong religious conviction could be without huge influence in the way a man lives his public as well as his private life. We read the Gospels (sometimes with more attention than believers seem to); we learn about Judaic beliefs in God's purpose for the Jews and for mankind; we hear and try to understand the claims of Islam; and it strikes us that these belief systems make enormous claims on their adherents, with the most profound practical consequences.

...We think it matters. It genuinely pains us to seem to insult nice Anglicans, decent Methodists, quiet Catholics, moderate Muslims and liberal Jews, but we don't think they're representative of their faiths militant.

The rest of the article is here. I totally disagree with his stance (he thinks it's a bad thing when politicians believe in God) but I couldn't agree more about the silly idea that it simply makes no difference.

Those Christians living in Nick Clegg's constituency should take note. It matters.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The government we deserve? (updated)

Matthew Mason's post here hits the spot in my opinion. If we have complaints about the government we might need to first ask questions about the Church.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Towards the redemption of television

Still not sure I know the answer to the question I posed in the previous post. But the points below seem like good things to be getting on with, some more long term than others, some more specific than others.

These points are part-stolen, part-adapted from Schultze's "Redeeming Television."

1. Christians should be discriminating viewers of TV.
Rather than start by blaming the television industry or some other institution, Schultze suggests getting our own TV habits in order first. Christians must be discerning, and Christian parents in particular must teach and train their families to make careful, considered viewing choices. Discernment means finding the good to enjoy. Discernment means balancing television appropriately with all the priorities and tasks we have in life.

2. Christians should push for televisual literacy in education.
The medium we choose shapes the message. Communication methods encourage certain patterns of thought, certain ways of learning, certain kinds of worldview. Television is biased in a certain way, just as print is. Television, as it currently stands, tends towards fragmentation/ incoherence, the valuing of entertainment as the way to communicate anything, and a bunch of other things. People more aware of these tendencies are in a better position to interpret these inherent (whether intended or accidental) messages.

3. Christians should be active in TV protest.

Whether writing in to the BBC, or filling in the market researcher’s form, or signing the appropriate petition, Christians should make known their views on television as it currently stands. These views, of course, should come from analysis of television from the perspective of a biblical worldview. It might be that some Christians should voice their ‘protest’ by exercising their consumer choice in not buying a TV license.

4. Christians should work to redeem television’s institutions.

TV belongs to God. The technology, but also the institutions, the personnel, the programmes. Christians who are talented and thus inclined should enter the industry and seek to change priorities, make Christ’s values known, bring others to Christ, and live out their Christian faith within the TV world. Living with integrity within any sphere dominated by more secular (or just confused in a sort of postmodern way) agendas will be extremely difficult, and Christians must be prepared to lose their jobs for the sake of doing so. But it might also turn out that some are able to change some things for the good. Christians in the media world need help, encouragement, challenge, not suspicion from well-meaning Pastors.

5. Christians should work to provide alternatives to secular television.
One of the problems with Christian television is that it is often an inferior version of the secular. Just like a lot of Christian pop music. Rather, Christian television should pursue aesthetic and artistic excellency. Christian TV programmes should be good, not cringeworthy. Christian TV should be innovative, creative, not merely a low budget version of Trisha with a sheen of ‘God-talk’. This is probably where we’re ‘furthest back.’ So much work needs to be done in the area of a Christian perspective on beauty/ aesthetics/ art/ story-telling before Christian cultural produce can be more like what it should be.

6. Christians should prioritise evangelism and holistic discipleship.

Ultimately, bringing TV to glorify God comes from the transformation of people into God-glorifiers in all areas of their lives. Preaching Christ (the whole Christ that is) will always be the first stone in the jar.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Redeeming Television?

“Redemptive cultural discourse seeks to redeem culture from a fallen world, to rehabilitate, to reconfigure, and to reorient culture to the glory and service of God, that is, to cause culture to affirm God as the awesome and beautiful Lord of creation.” (Here for full article)

Here's probably the biggest question I have coming away from my own seminar on television. What does the above look like in the case of television?

Some people might think television is simply irredeemable (others might get itchy at the use of the language of redemption for anything other than people, but I might blog on that another day).

And for sure, human technology is not neutral, nothing is.

And certainly there's a whole load of godless bilge out there on the box.

But then they're not necessarily evil in and of themselves either. Rather, they're biased (thanks to Doug Wilson, via David Batchelor for this) - prone to certain specific temptations and tendencies. Like money.

And that doesn't mean TV is irredeemable.


Television has come in for a lot of bad press. It is the drug of the nation, the tool for numbing us into mindless obedience to the status quo in the hands of the establishment. It causes obesity, family breakdown and postmodernism.

Or, on the other hand, it is the mechanism through which God speaks to us in the questions, struggles, doubts, hopes, dreams, confessions of the nation. It is the 'common grace donkey' through which we hear God's prophetic voice calling us into dealings with him.

These, and related matters, were discussed in a seminar I had to lead this past Wednesday on media. I chose to focus on television because it is really really popular, and really really easy to have a go at. I wanted to see what, positively and negatively, a Christian worldview could make of television. In the end I got far more questions than answers. Matters for further though/ action/ study include:
  • What is the proper relationship between words and images? I suspect the answer starts to be answered once we engage with the specifics of the relationship between God's general revelation and his special revelation, between the two halves of Psalm 19.
  • Relatedly, since God gave us a book not a video, are text-based cultures the bees knees? Are they better than image-based ones? Better than oral cultures? Are they the only sort of culture the gospel produces?
  • Relatedly again, should we be seeking to go backwards (to text) or forwards (from image). What would moving on from the negatives of a very visual culture mean?
  • How do we evangelise and disciple post-literates and illiterates? And people with very different learning styles?
  • How do we help people engage critically and christianly with television? How do we help them 'tame' it and use it with moderation?
  • How do we disciple those Christians already working within the media world and encourage them to have a transformative, provocative, positive Christian presence and witness in that sphere?
Answers on a postcard to the usual address please.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christianophobia in Public Life (updated)

Interesting BBC article here about a debate being held in Westminster today.

What's more, here is a BBC report on some of what was said at the debate and the website of the MP who called for it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gospel Optimism 9: Headlines and Eschatology

Simply put, one of the reasons optimistic eschatology fell from a place of dominance to occupy the sidelines of the evangelical world was that two world wars and the social-moral upheavals of the 20th century seemed to suggest things really could only get worse. But of course, it's bad news for theology to be based on the newspaper headlines rather than thoughtful, careful examination of the scriptures.

The Jollyblogger thinks postmillenialism might be making a comeback, and that this might be linked to brighter headlines in the US. He (not a post-mill) thinks it would be quite a good thing for postmillenialism to come back, but that any comeback shouldn't be based on the news headlines. I (a post-mill) agree with him on both counts.

Also of note, the article he links to includes an intriguing comment;
These days many evangelicals talk like premillennialists but act like postmillennialists. They expect the world to get worse and worse but preach the gospel, lobby politicians, and fight for social justice in order to make it a better place.

"Be still and know that I am God"

Really great stuff yesterday in chapel on Psalm 46 where (watery) chaos in creation and rebellious chaos among the nations are linked together. Psalm 46 shows that the God who can subdue creation with his word, will also subdue the nations, save his city, end war. And he'll do that by his word also - his command to be still and know that he is God. The echoes of Psalm 2 (the raging of the nations) lead us to expect that God to do it all through his anointed Son/King.

Of particular help on thursday, therefore, was the connection made between vs10 and Mark 4:36-41. Jesus calms the storm as the Son/King with God's authority to rule. The calming of the storm thus indicates not only (!) Jesus' power over the physical elements of creation as the one who can speak chaos into order, but, in the light of Psalm 46:10, we should link that same 'chaos into order' re-creational authority with his destiny to be exalted among the nations. The Lord Jesus is the master of all the chaos in his creation, whether that's human rebellion or natural disaster.

So it's not surprising that in Mark the calming of the storm comes straight after a section which emphasises the need to trust the word of the king to build the kingdom, despite apparent failure and the rejected/ hidden identity of the King himself. The Psalm 46-echoing events out at sea were a visible manifestation of the kingdom-establishing, creation-restoring, God's people-protecting authority and potency of Jesus' words. The waves were told to be still, and the disciples should've known that here in the boat was their God.

Psalm 46:10 continues to be the Lord Jesus' command to all that is chaotic in his creation.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Through New Eyes 4

James B Jordan is a transformationist. He thinks culture matters, and that Christians should develop Christian culture.

One of the arguments against Christian involvement in transforming culture is that cultural produce doesn't last, so is only good in the sense that it can help us to learn how to be more godly, or in as much as it might be useful somehow for evangelism. Jordan's view is different.

This second aspect also gives perspective to the transitory nature of human works. The great paintings of the Reformation era are darkening and cracking with age. Many have been destroyed in wars. Of Bach’s five great Passions, only two are extant. All our works are like castles of sand. Thus, it is sometimes argued that human work in the creation has meaning only in that it trains men: Adam himself is progressively transformed and glorified through the six-fold action. While this touches an important truth, the problem is with the word “only.” By itself, the notion that human labor exists only to train men reduces the value of work only to the subjective dimension. The objective foundation needed is the confession that human labor, if it is ultimately worthwhile, progressively reveals and glorifies God. Even if the artifact does not itself endure, like the crude sketches of a child, the revelation of God and glorification of the creation is cumulative (p124).

Our task is to 'do' the being human/ Genesis 1-2 thing called 'culture' in such a way that God's glory is reflected back to him. That can never be a worthless activity, or useful only in the sense that it morally has an impact on me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More on Jacob

Here's some stuff that didn't go into the chapel meditation on Genesis 29:21-30 (mostly inspired by or directly stolen from Wenham, Jordan and Cotter).
  • Rachel's name means (apparently) 'ewe' or 'lamb' or something like that. This makes an interesting parallel between her and the flock(s) Jacob gains from Laban, and of course the flock Jesus snatches from the clutches of the 'strong man.'
  • Rachel is therefore the bride of the heir, and as such is his flock/lamb, but also she is described as a Shepherdess (and is the only person thus designated in the scripture). Cue some thoughts on the church as the bride/flock/shepherdess of Christ the husband/shepherd. The Church both receives Christ's shepherdly care as well as partnering him in it.
  • This also sets up an interesting parallel with Leah, whose name means 'wild cow.' Not sure what to make of that.
  • The key to the whole Jacob narrative seems to be when the LORD wrestles with him and we find that all of Jacob's struggles have been divinely appointed as the means to his prevailing. Jacob's limp becomes a sign of victory-through-weakness.
  • Jacob's question in 29:25 resembles the LORD's (to Eve) in 3:13, Pharaoh's (to Abraham) in 12:18 and Abimelech's (to Isaac) in 26:10. They all refer to occasions of deception.
  • Also, there must be something in the fact that Jacob has to work seven years for each wife, and that the seven-day wedding feast is called a 'week' , especially given that this is Genesis - the book that begins with the first ever week. But what I'm not sure yet.
  • The positive portrayal of Jacob flows in some senses from the somewhat more negative portrayal of Isaac. Given how much of the Abraham narrative is about the birth of Isaac in some way or another, given that he's the child of promise, his whole part in the story is a bit of a let down to some extent. If anything, we might have expected him to be the one who had lots of sons and gave birth to a nation. But in some senses his part in the story doesn't move the promises on to fulfillment very much at all. That is left rather to Jacob who plays a far more significant role in the founding of the nation, and whose sojourner experiences mirror the future experiences of Israel. Could this relate to the way that Jacob talks about Isaac in 31:42 where he says the LORD is the God of Abraham but the 'fear' of Isaac?

Jacob, Leah and Rachel

I had the privilege of preaching on Genesis 29:21-30 this morning in chapel. Here's the gist of it.

The passage is not really about Jacob getting a taste of his own medicine, but comes as part of a wider narrative which emphasises the hardship the LORD puts him through en route to promised blessing. Genesis is more positive than negative about Jacob - every time the LORD speaks to or about him it is to promise blessing. He has, after all, chosen Jacob over Esau, and Jacob is described as a 'blameless' or 'complete' man back in 25:27 ('quiet' in the ESV seems an odd translation).

The route to blessing in the land is paved with hardship as a sojourner and a servant (32:4) in a foreign land. Jacob faces exclusion from his family (Laban treats him as a hired hand), deception and exploitation, and has his claims to being heir mocked by Laban (in 29:26 Laban echoes God's choice of Jacob over Esau and says 'that's not how we do it round here mate!'). The one whom the nations were supposed to serve (27:29) becomes a servant himself.

Yet, this is the LORD's doing. In fact, the LORD uses the hardship instrumentally in his fulfilling of the Abrahamic promise. All four women mentioned in the passage feature in the very next section as mothers to Jacob's children- the patriarchs of Israel. Whatever we may want to say in another context about polygamy, here the LORD turns Laban's deception into Jacob's blessing. A similar pattern follows, such that when Jacob leaves Laban Exodus-style to head to the promised land he has wives, servants, children and sheep all in tow.

As such, Jacob serves as an echo of Israel's own experience in Egypt and eventually in exile too. Moreover, the heir par excellence to the Abrahamic promises undergoes treatment like that Jacob faced. He is the heir who takes the place of a servant, who submits to his enemies deception and exploitation in order to win his bride, is excluded from his family and has his claims to sonship mocked. Yet, this is all used by God to fulfill the promise to Abraham. The Son will have his bride, his children and his land. The nations will bow down and serve him.

As God's heirs we too should expect to receive the blessings of the covenant via hardship. Whether it is blessings we experience now or the final blessing in the new creation-land, the route there is paved with hardship. We know that, whatever hard times we go through, God has designed them to be our necessary route to glory and blessing. So, we must learn to be like Jacob by grabbing a hold of Jesus' coat tails and following him.

Monday, November 19, 2007

O come all ye faithless...

There's something wrong with this promotion that bookshop Borders have notified me about: a special Christmas promotion of Dawkin's The God Delusion in which each copy comes with a 'come all ye faithless' Christmas card.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Postmillenialism and Suffering 3 (updated)

The Christian life is characterised by the cross. Does this refute postmillenialism - the idea that the gospel will triumph in history?

1. Of course, we must affirm that the Christian life is characterised by the cross. To say anything less is an over-realised eschatology. However, we can say more (and a-mill brothers and sisters would of course want to agree with this) – the Christian life is characterised by the cross because of union with Christ.

2. Union is with the whole of him, and therefore his resurrection as well as his cross.

3. In fact the two (cross and resurrection) cannot be separated. For the cross is the route to glory, the cross is (because of the resurrection) an example of victory through suffering. The Christian life is a life of cross and resurrection.

4. But what shape does this victory/resurrection aspect of the Christian life take in the present (i.e. before its ultimate in bodily resurrection at the 2nd coming)?

a. Patient endurance despite persecution and suffering.
b. Justification.
c. Regeneration.
d. Sanctification (progressive, though not perfect, victory over sin in the life of the believer, increasing moral conformity to Christ, etc.).

Few would disagree with a. through d. However, are there any other manifestations of resurrection-life/victory-through suffering spoken of in the scripture? I would say yes. Consider these verses from 1 Peter - an epistle in some ways majoring on the 'Christian life involves suffering and persecution' theme;

1 Peter 2:11-12. The suffering of the Christian under persecution results in the conversion of the persecutor.

1 Peter 2:15. The good living under fire of the Christian silences the ignorance of the persecutor.

1 Peter 5:10. God establishes and strengthens the church after she has suffered for a little while.

The poignant thing here is how these promises of victory are connected to persecution. Now, we could argue forever about ‘when’ 5:10 happens – is it within history or only at the 2nd coming? But, it is pretty hard to argue that 1 Peter 2:11-12 and 15 are only to be experienced at the 2nd coming. Even if ‘the day of visitation’ is ‘end of time judgment day’ (which I don’t think it is) then what is being predicted in that verse is still undoubtedly conversion – a within-history victory of the gospel over some of the church’s persecutors.

Also, just because Peter seems only to be putting forward 2:11-12 as a possibility doesn’t undermine the point. It’s clearly something that does happen (Saul of Tarsus anyone?) – I assume Peter’s uncertainty to be related to his not knowing the elect status of the specific persecutor’s in mind, rather than his doubting that this is a strategy for gospel growth that God uses! That he even puts it forward as a possibility shows that we have a further category to add to a. to d. with regard to the sort of victory that the Church can experience within history.

e. Gospel-conquest through the cross-living of the Church.

Peter doesn’t see this silencing and converting of former persecutors as being in conflict with the cross-shaped reality of the Christian life. Rather he sees the cross-living of Christians as instrumental in the whole thing.

The point is not that these verses somehow prove postmillenialism (there are many other passages and themes that we could turn to for mounting that argument) but rather that, even before considering 'proof-texts' for postmillenialism it can be demonstrated that e. is a part of the resurrection/victory side of union with Christ experienced by the Church prior to Christ's return. That the Christian life is cross-shaped does not mean the gospel won't win, or that persecution can't be reduced by that victory. Postmillennialism argues that what the apostle Peter is suggesting could happen on a local scale for the believers in Asia Minor, the bible elsewhere predicts will eventually and gradually happen on a massive scale before Jesus Christ returns. Cross-shaped living is instrumental in the victory of the gospel.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Typology and my 'never gonna do it' phd.

I sometimes wonder that if I had the inclination/ discipline/ ability/ time to do a phd, I would do it on something to do with typology (here for some stuff on someone else's thought on typology).

I'd want to investigate the possibility that typology (as a view of history) is the fundamental presupposition/ basis for the way the different phases of the bible relate to one another, in particular for the relationship between the new and the old testaments. I'd probably want to investigate in particular my hunch that typology undergirds the ways the apostles and other NT authors interpreted the OT, and that all the different ways of describing how we 'get to Christ' from the OT are bound together by typology in some way.

I think some of the cash-value would be;
  • Rescuing apostolic exegesis from those who want to say we can't imitate their methods.
  • Opening up a greater appreciation for some patristic exegesis (and providing a proper framework for assessing when analogical stuff goes too far).
  • Moving towards developing a philosophy of history that is biblical and Christological.
  • Increasing people's appreciation (including my own) for Hebrew narrative (which, it strikes me, has a fair bit of typology in it).
  • Thinking through issues of referent and fulfilment(s) of prophecy in all the bible.
  • Opening up levels of typological allusion that will enrich the church's understanding of scripture and combat exegetical minimalism.
  • Moving towards providing a framework for a balanced assessment of maximalism and its proper bounds.
  • Give some tools for genuine word ministry among not-so-wordy cultures (I suspect typology, with its associational way of thinking has lots to help 'less booky' people)..
In other words, it would help me (and hopefully others among God's people) gain a better grasp of the richness of history, Christ, the old testament, prophecy, and teaching ministry.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

God is Love

Today in Doctrine of God we had a disputation (a bit like a debate) on the following proposition;

'God is an eternal trinity of love. This means that it is unthinkable for him to act toward any creature in a way that does not pursue that creature’s highest good. We cannot, therefore, believe in the Calvinist doctrine of election, the limitation of the atonement to the elect, or the abhorrent idea that anyone might be abandoned to eternal punishment.'

How should such a statement be argued against? Some of the points emerging from class-time were;
  • All depends how you define 'good' and 'love'.
  • God is love, but he's also a lot of other things too. These attributes are not in competition - God is 'simple' in this sense.
  • A lot of biblical texts seem to talk about election/ particular redemption/ eternal punishment. How can we just write them off?
  • God is most concerned for his glory. That is, his trinitarian love commits him to seeking the good/ honour/glorification of himself. He is glorified when he punishes sinners as well as when he saves them.
  • The Father really really loves the Son and wants him to be firstborn of many brothers.
  • The Father really really loves the Son and that is bad news for those who disobey the Son.
What did emerge is that those arguing from a reformed perspective need to reckon with the fact that (in many communication situations in present-day UK) the truth of the proposition above carries a great deal of emotional weight. This is especially true when someone presses the question of just how God can be glorified/ find pleasure in the sending of many people to eternal punishment. "How can a loving God send people to hell?" is an instinctive question to ask, and people feel that the bible is on the back-foot on this one. If we want to win over hearts to God's word, we need to think about how to defend the truth emotionally as well as logically.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Ephesians and the Armour of God

We've just come back from a great weekend in the peak district with Christ Church Central. Humble, lucid, timely teaching from Ephesians was provided by Simon Austen from Carlisle.

Simon focussed on what we learn about the Church in Ephesians . We saw that the Church is the
  • apologetic for the power of the gospel
  • new humanity/temple/household built on Christ in the Spirit
  • outpost of the kingdom of Christ
  • plan of God for creation and history
  • product and agent of gospel progress
Particularly exciting were his insights into Ephesians 6:10-20 and the armour of God. Austen argued that the armour belongs to the conquering Messiah as described in Isaiah 11:1-5, 49:1-3 and 61:10 (also Psalm 18:35?), and is ours because we are united with him (hence, 'be strong in the Lord and in the might of his strength').

So, Christ sits victoriously enthroned above all powers (Eph 1:20-22), and through his church (which is dressed in his armour - no wonder since it's his body, 1:22-23) wages war on the very same powers and authorities (6:12). As the church stands against the schemes of the devil and pushes forward with the sword of the Spirit, Christ is bringing all things under himself in accordance with the Father's plan (1:10, 20-22).

I'll try and remember that the next time I feel disappointed with/ tired of or grumpy about [the] [C/]church.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Postmillenialism and Suffering 2

There's some helpful distinctions made here for anyone interested.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Postmillenialism and Suffering 1

One of the big big problems some people have with the idea that Jesus will return to a majority-Christian earth at his second coming is that such a situation would presumably require a very significant reduction in persecution. And, after all, doesn't the bible say that Christians should expect persecution?

The obvious thing to say upfront is that Christians will always suffer until the second coming (in their struggle against sin, in their coping with a dying and decaying body, in their having to set aside their own interests to serve and honour others etc.). But should all Christians at all times in history expect to experience suffering of the persecution variety? Here are my initial problems with such a view;

A. It hasn’t been true for all Christians throughout every period of history.

B. It isn’t true for all Christians throughout the world now.

C. A and B haven't always been because of unfaithfulness/compromise/laziness. Sometimes it has just been because of significant levels of gospel progress. (I wonder if one of the reasons white western middle class Christians might feel uncomfortable about postmill'ism is because we carry a lot of guilt about not being persecuted and fear, perhaps correctly, that this might be because we aren't being that faithful)

D. Once we’ve allowed for A-C, and if we think that the bible does predict a time when the gospel will have made such significant progress across the whole world that it can be said to have ‘conquered’, or the kingdom can be said to be the largest of all the kingdoms in the world, then it follows that persecution would be strikingly rare in some parts of the world at that time.

Or, put it another way. I imagine that after his conversion, there was a significant reduction in the persecution of Christians who (so to speak) lived on the same street as Saul of Tarsus. All postmillenialism is doing is saying that what God did to Saul of Tarsus' neighbourhood he is progressively doing (not necessarily in a linear fashion) throughout the world across history.

Sometime soon I'll blog some more about this, perhaps especially about the nature of the cross-shaped Christian life and how this is in no way incompatible with an optimistic eschatology.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation Day 2007

Happy Reformation Day!

490 years ago a monk named Luther sparked the protestant reformation by putting 95 points for public discussion up on the cathedral door in Wittenberg.

Luther and those who followed after him re-discovered that scripture is the sufficient and final authority in the Church, that God makes the ungodly righteous, that salvation is not earned, that God is free and sovereign, that all of life is Christ's, that the cross is able to fully save us and that the Church always needs reforming.

Here are all my posts with a 'reformation' tag. They're helpful mainly in the sense that they contain links to some good things said by other people about reformation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Action for the Unborn

Psalm 68:5
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows, is God in his holy habitation.

I've been thinking recently a lot about the abortion issue. I think there's a need for evangelicals to do two major things;

a. Speak out on this issue (hardly ever mentioned in the churches I've been a part of. Don't think I've ever mentioned it from the pulpit or in personal ministry either).

b. Provide positive care for women in difficult situations who are tempted to abort, or being pressured to, or likely to. We can't just say the negative, we should help provide alternatives.

I really admire what John Piper's church do. As well as preaching passionately, they actively encourage and facilitate adoption so as to help give women a real alternative to abortion.

I think we need evangelical adoption agencies (I'm sure there are some already out there? We should support them too). However, there are a number of problems with the state of play legally with regard to adoption, especially over the issue of homosexuality, making it difficult for evangelicals to be involved and remain within the bounds of both the law of the land and the law of Christ. This gives rise to another action point;

c. Work to change current UK adoption legislation and procedure.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Many years from now... Abortion and the long term perspective.

Charles Moore writes in the Telegraph on the occasion of 40 years since the abortion act was passed.

"I found myself wondering how abortion will be viewed by museum curators, teachers, historians and moralists 200 years from now."

"We reserve particular scorn for those who sought to justify slavery on moral grounds. We look at the moral blindness of the past, and tut-tut, rather complacently."

"It is not hard to imagine how a future Museum of London exhibition about abortion could go. It could buy up a 20th-century hospital building as its space, and take visitors round, showing them how, in one ward, staff were trying to save the lives of premature babies while, in the next, they were killing them."

He then warns about the danger of senationalising the past, and stresses the need to help mothers with unwanted children rather than jump to preachy condemnation. After that he continues

"But the reason I throw this argument into the future is that, with the passage of time, abortion, especially late abortion, is slowly coming to be seen as a "solution" dating from an era that is passing. It will therefore be discredited."

"If you want to do people wrong, you must first undermine the idea that they are people... One of the good moral trends of our time has been to reject this way of looking at things. Instead, we insist, in the great debate about what it means to be human, that weakness is not a disqualification, but, by a famous Christian paradox, a strength. Abortion runs against this trend, and so civilisation will eventually reject it, as once it rejected slavery."

I for one hope that future generations will look back at this period of our history in disbelief at the unwanted, defenceless, aborted unborn. And I hope that a significant part of the reason is that Christians have left the ghetto and reclaimed the public square for the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking bring his just, loving, serving, compassionate leadership to our society. (Here for more)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Limited Atonement in Hebrews 2:13-15

Limited atonement (which really should be renamed 'powerful atonement' or something like that) is often accused of being 'a doctrine without a text'. Whilst this is in many ways a non-argument (who seriously wants to limit 'what the bible teaches' to 'what can be proved from proof texts'?) and Romans 8:32 is a proof-text of sorts, there are also a number of texts that suggest that Jesus' cross-work was undertaken with the specific purpose of saving the elect.

I think Hebrews 2:13-15 is probably one of those sort of texts. It strongly implies the doctrine of limited atonement.

13 And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Behold, I and the children God has given me." 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

vs 13 envisages those who belong to Christ as family members as 'the children' given to him by God. Then vs 14 says that it was because of the humanity of specifically these children that the Son also adopted a human nature (flesh and blood) in order to die a death that rescued them from slavery.

In other words we have atonement explicitly linked with election. Christ's cross-work flowed out of the Father's giving to the Son. It was very definitely 'for us and for our salvation' that the Son was made incarnate and went to his Satan-whupping death.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Imposing faith

Of course the state can't impose faith on anyone, nor should it try to. But there's a difference between.

1. Making unbelief/heterodoxy/other faiths and worldviews a crime.


2. Making some public expressions of unbelief/heterodoxy/other faiths and worldviews a crime.

For example, if part of your worldview is a belief that people from Leicester are not really people at all and should be made into the slave-drones of the rest of us 'real humans', UK law (rightly) forbids you from practicising your belief in this country. It does not (at the moment, give it time) forbid you from holding that opinion, just from some public acts based on it.

Replace the 'people from Leicester...' bit with one of the below and you start to see how this distinction can be very important for anyone wanting government to be shaped by the bible.

Euthanasia should be legalised.

Abortion is every woman's right.

Homosexual couples should be able to adopt like any other couples.

There's nothing wrong with visiting a prostitute.

The minute anything is criminalised, someone is forbidden from living out all the implications of their worldview/faith on the basis of someone else's worldview/faith. The question for the Christian is whether they'd rather the law-shaping worldview come from the bible or not. Surely, to ask the question is to answer it.

Principled Pluralism

Yesterday in Public theology we had a christian brother come in from here to share with us his view on how Christians should relate to the public square. The model he goes for is called 'Principled Pluralism.' This position states that under every circumstance, the ideal is that states are 'confessionally silent'. This does not mean 'we don't do God' in the sense that christian politicians must leave their christianity at home when they head to westminster, but rather that the state must never officially enshrine one epistemology (faith, worldview, etc.) in its constitution as the basis for legal authority (why it has put in the statute book what it has). Christians can and should let their faith inform their political opinions and actions, but the state must never favour Christianity in its constitution.

PP advocates believe that this is the way that God wants the state to be, because it must represent and govern all of its people, and does not have the right to impose faith on anyone.

The problems with such a view are manifold;

1.Of course the state can't impose faith on anyone, and shouldn't try. But, this is not the same as the state overtly basing it's laws on a particular worldview or faith. The minute the state legislates anything, it is imposing values derived from a worldview.

2. There is no such thing as confessional silence. Unless you are going to have a completely blank constitution that is (see below). Once you have a constitution you have taken a side, even if that side is 'we think every/no religion is right' or 'we think the government should always do what the majority says' or 'we think the government should rule for the common good'.

3. A blank constitution is a bad idea, since it means having a government exercising power based on no authority at all. Naked power without a basis for authority is a very bad thing.

4. A constitution based on something other than Jesus being Lord is an idolatrous constitution - it says something/one is Lord other than Jesus Christ.

5. Saying that 'Jesus is Lord' can never be in the constitution amounts to 'we don't do God' in our constitutions. Since Jesus really is Lord of all things and everyone, this surely includes constitutions.

Paradoxically, PP adovocates affirm that God requires the state to rule justly as his servant. So, we are left with the following statements about what God wants of the state.

a. God requires the state to govern as his servant, ruling justly, punishing evil and commending good, within the jurisdiction given to it by God.

b. God requires the state to never ever own up in public or state in its constitution that a. is true.

You can look here for where I stole most of the thoughts above from.

Renewed Creation: Preterism and 2 Peter 3

'Preterism' is the view that many of the prophecies we find in the new testament are about the events of AD70 when God judged faithless, Messiah-crucifying, Roman-colluding, Church-persecuting Judaism, in effect 'divorcing' Old Israel to make ready for marrying New Israel. It therefore reads many of the 'Jesus is coming real soon' texts as being about his coming in judgment in AD70, without denying that he will come again to judge the living and the dead at the close of history.

So, what might a preterist reading of 2 Peter 3 look like?

1. The day of the Lord is the AD70 judgment on Jerusalem (3:10).

It will after all, come on the scoffers of Peter's generation (3:2-7), who're probably identified with the false prophets of chapter 2.

2.The burning of the heavenly bodies/ the destruction of the heavens and earth that now exist (3:7, 10) refers to the judgment fires on Jerusalem.

God often abolishes and re-makes the world/shakes the heavenly bodies and so on. See Haggai 2:6-7 and 20-23, and Isaiah 13. All these texts clearly refer to the political and covenantal re-alignment of the world. In AD70 the old covenant Jerusalem/temple-centred world was abolished. This is a part of very common bible symbolism in which the heavenly bodies (stars etc.) are used to represent powers and authorities, both on earth and in the heavenly realms.

3. The new creation refers to our post-AD70 world.

Old Israel-centric world gone, Christ and New Israel-centric world begun. We are living in the age of Christ's rule, through his new covenant people, the reign of righteousness which is progressively spreading throughout history as people come to bow the knee to the world's new King.

This seems perhaps the hardest bit to swallow, but, remember

a. The new creation began with Christ's resurrection. (Surely, everyone believes this).

b. The new creation has also begun in Christians who are raised with Christ in some sense now. (Surely everyone believes this).

c. The legal/covenantal precedes the cosmic. i.e. the new heavens and the new earth have legally begun, the big covenantal shift has occured, the world is a new world because it has new government - Christ, and in him, his people. The cosmic effects of this new government won't be physically experienced (i.e. no more crying/pain/death/curse/sinners) until Jesus returns to earth and consummates the new creation. But a consummation is a consummation of something which has already legally been established.

d. So, to speak of the new creation as having already arrived is not intrinsically an over-realised eschatology.

e. And, after all, unless the new creation in some sense is 'here' now in our world which still has sinful people and death, don't we have a massive problem with Isaiah 65 which says that it is.

Do I still have questions about such a reading? Yes. Do I think that AD70 looms very large in the New Testament, such that such a reading demands attention and careful thought? Yes. See Galatians 4:24-31 and Hebrews 8:13.

More can be found on preterism here, here and here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

2 Peter 3 and the renewed creation

I've been (not very systematically) compiling arguments, thoughts, and biblical texts in support of the view that this creation (renewed and transformed) will continue into eternity.

One of the texts considered to be a little bit problematic for this sort of view is 2 Peter 3:10-13 (bold bits my emphasis).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Thus it could be argued that language of dissolution, melting, passing away, burning up, suggests a reading of 'new' in v13 that means 'totally (or 'almost entirely') new'. But, there's more to be said on 2 Peter;

1. Just before these verses Peter has already spoken of a previous destruction of the world:

5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

It doesn't take a very imaginative reading of Genesis 6-9 to argue that the destruction (it 'perished' v6) of the world in Noah's day did not involve a complete annihilation of the whole cosmos. v7 explicitly parallels this event with the judgment stored up for the present 'heavens and earth' as described in 10-13. This alone suggests the judgment of the day of the Lord is one of transforming and purifying rather than annihilation.

2. In 3:7 Peter indicates that the day of the Lord means the 'destruction of the ungodly' and yet it has been well documented that this destruction (understood in the context of the whole bible) does not mean annihilation. The same can be said by analogy of the destruction-type language used of the creation.

3. And all of that's without going into a discussion of what the actual words for 'dissolution' or 'passing away' refer to, or how they are used elsewhere in the bible (which others have done). Even without those studies the context at the very least implies that we can (and of course we should) try to reconcile 2 Peter 3 with the continuation envisaged in passages like Romans 8:19-21.

All of the discussion above hinges on an understanding of 'the day of the Lord' in 2 Peter being about the end of history judgment rather than AD70 judgment. The New Testament talks of both these judgment days, so at the very least the possibility of an 'AD70 reading' needs to be considered. The next post will attempt (tentatively) to do that.

David Field on Matthew 24

Some interesting thoughts on Matthew 24 can be found here and here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

(Yet more) Renewed Creation Texts

Perhaps next week I'll discuss some of the more difficult texts for the 'continuationist' position - that God will renew and not replace this creation when he comes to settle the scores and set up home with his people forever.

For now, this post continues my efforts (in a rather ad-hoc fashion) to compile texts which may support such a position. The texts in this post are from the epistles.

By the way, some of the texts merely allow (with varying degrees of strength) for a 'continuationist' reading (by, for e.g., implying that Christ's reconciling work is cosmic in proportion). But in some others, it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable.

Rom. 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

1Cor. 7:31b For the present form of this world is passing away.

2Cor. 5:19
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Eph. 1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Col. 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

2Pet. 3:6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

Heb. 2:5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

Heb. 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

1John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Rev. 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and she shall reign forever and ever.”

Rev. 5:10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

(More) Renewed Creation Texts

This post continues my efforts (in a rather ad-hoc fashion) to compile texts which may support the case that God will renew and not replace this creation when he comes to settle the scores and set up home with his people forever. Here are some texts that come from the gospels.

By the way, some of the texts merely allow (with varying degrees of strength) for a 'continuationist' reading (by, for e.g., implying that judgment day will be the removal of wickedness/the wicked from the earth, not the removal of the earth, or of the righteous from the earth). But in some others, it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable.

Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matt. 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matt. 13:38-42 The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matt. 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Renewed Creation Texts

I'm starting (in a rather ad-hoc fashion) to compile texts which may support the case that God will renew and not replace this creation when he comes to settle the scores and set up home with his people forever. First, here's some verses from the psalms.

Some of the texts merely allow (with varying degrees of strength) for a continuationist reading (by, for e.g., implying that judgment day will be the removal of wickedness/the wicked from the earth, not the removal of the earth, or of the righteous from the earth).

In others, it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable.

Psa 34:16
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Psa 96:10-13
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psa 104:5
He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.

Psa 104:35
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!

Psa 119:90
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

Monday, October 01, 2007

World Without End

'Totally new or renewed creation?' is the question (see previous post). My money is on the eternal home of God's people being a renewed version of this creation.

Some have suggested that just as humanity has to die before resurrection can occur, so too there has to be a 'death' of creation before it is reborn. And (so the argument goes) just as a Christian's death (now through union with Christ in his death, physically in the death of the present body, then finally at judgment day) involves considerable destruction, we should expect a similar level of annihilation of the old in the production of the new heavens and earth. Man is so corrupted by the fall that a totally new man is needed - we should expect the same with the rest of creation.

There are several things that come to my mind in response to this.

1. When God made the world and declared it good, he meant it. But then of course the fall and the curse came. Humanity and the creation were both changed and marred by the events of Genesis 3 and following. This much is true.

2. However, there is (to my mind) a considerable asymmetry in the effects of the fall on humanity on the one hand and creation on the other. Humanity fell and became willfully ignorant of God and idolatrous, morally depraved, legally guilty and therefore deserving of death as a just and logical sentence. The creation was put under bondage to decay - a kind of 'death' perhaps corresponding to (and definitely related to) the death humanity faces. Yet Creation itself did not become sinful or evil in and of itself.

3. The good creation was subjected to frustration as a part of the judgment of humanity. Consequently it will be liberated when humanity is redeemed (Romans 8:19-21).

4. Even in the example of resurrected and restored humanity there is still considerable continuity between pre- and post-resurrection. It is still 'you' who will be raised (1 Corinthians 15 uses the analogy of a seed and its plant).

5. If all of this were not the case, then Satan would have succeeded in his war against God's good creation. God has to resort to annihilation and replacement for his plans for a created order (of some sort) to succeed. The good creation of Genesis 1-2 is resigned to the dustbin of eternity because of Satan's schemes. If the creation is renewed however, Satan ultimately fails.

No doubt there's more to be said. But, in conclusion, while there may be some sort of radical transformation of the present creation (depending on how you take 2 Peter 3:10 for example), there will be considerable and substantial continuity between it and the new creation.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A whole new world...

No, I haven't gone all Disney. This issue has come up again in some of my classes this week. Is the new creation a totally 'new' creation (i.e. God throws this one in the bin and gets a new one 'off the shelf' to take its place so to speak) or is it this creation but (perhaps radically) renewed?

I for one am convinced it's 'renewed' rather than totally discontinuous from this one. And the clincher passage is probably Romans 8: 19-21

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

This creation, the same creation that was put in bondage to decay when humanity fell, will be liberated from that bondage and enjoy all the glory of being governed, tended, inhabited by God's resurrected children. I don't know about you, but being annihilated and replaced doesn't sound too much like a liberation to me!

I'll maybe try and post some more on this over the next few days. It might not seem it at first, but I think this is quite an important thing to get clear on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Christians and Human Authorities

What is the proper Christian approach to non-Christian authorities? How should Christians relate to pagan governments? A key passage is found in Peter's first epistle.

1Pet. 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

The commentators disagree - is Peter advocating conformity (because he says to submit) or non-conformity (because he says Christians are to live as free men, with a primary identity as slaves and servants of God, not of Caesar).

For my part I think I'd want to talk about Peter proposing a policy of subversive conformity.

Christians are being told unambiguously that they must submit to the created authorities. To do less would be to do evil and to invite the negative sanctions at the disposal of the authorities – in other words, to suffer for doing evil. In this sense then, Christians are to conform, to obey the human authorities above them.

However, such conformity is subversive both in its basis and in its intent.

a. Christians must yield to the authorities in service to the Lord, as a part of their more basic submission to and service for God. They are in reality free, though free slaves of God, willing to serve him by living exemplary lives that serve his purposes in the world (of which more in b. below). The different levels of responsibility commanded in 2:17 suggest that where obeying the state conflicts with fearing God (or indeed loving the brotherhood) the Christian is under no obligation to comply.

b. Christians must yield to the authorities in order that the reign of God through the gospel might be furthered in the world. This is the inevitable conclusion from the hope of Gentiles converting in 2:12 as a result of the believer’s visible good works. It is also implicit in 2:15 where the criticisms against God’s people can be silenced by their civil obedience. Plug this into an eschatology of hope (e.g. Daniel 2:44-45) and you get the picture that as Christian's obey pagan authorities it contributes to their ultimate downfall (as pagan authorities anyway).

Christians submit to the authorities because Jesus, and not the authorities, is Lord. Civil obedience (i.e. conformity) functions within the more basic requirement to fear God and serve the Lord’s purposes, including the conversion of the nations – as part of ultimately bringing all authorities to find their rightful place under Christ’s overarching Lordship (i.e. it's subversive).

Of course, if we had time, we could discuss how 'subversive conformity' could be part of a wider picture we find in the new testament of power through weakness, victory through suffering, rule through service, resurrection via the cross, glory in jars of clay etc.

Some people did exegetical papers on this passage in my NT class, and I'm grateful for the way their careful work got me thinking. Any exegetical insights have probably come from them, any examples of bad thinking come from me.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gospel Optimism 8: The Covenant with Abraham

We read Genesis 22:15-24 in chapel today. Here's the first few verses (emphasis mine)

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."

And I thought of 1 Corinthians 15:22-25 (again, emphasis mine)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Christ, the offspring of Abraham, will possess the gate of his enemies - he will subdue them all, such that when he returns it will be to a conquered earth (with all the nations of the earth blessed under his rule) with only death left to deal with. This 'last enemy' is then swallowed up in victory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gospel Optimism 7: Kuyper and Creation

Gospel optimism is about the gospel being deep and wide. We should expect the gospel to penetrate and conquer with geographical breadth (to the ends of the earth) but also with personal and social depth. After all, the gospel says (among other things) that Jesus is Lord, the judge and saviour, the rightful king of our world, the one in whom humanity and in fact all of creation is reconciled and transformed.

A while ago I posted on this. Then yesterday I found a quote by Abraham Kuyper.

It is not that there are two worlds, a bad one and a good one, which are fitted into each other... it is one and the same world which once exhibited all the glory of Paradise, which was afterwards smitten with the curse, and which, since the Fall, is upheld by common grace; which has now been redeemed and saved by Christ, in its center, and which shall pass through the horror of the judgment into the state of glory.

Kuyper goes on to explain the 'cash value' for Christian living of viewing the new creation as a renewal of the present earth rather than an entirely new thing.

For this very reason the Calvinist cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world to its fate. He feels, rather, his high calling to push the development of this world to an even higher stage, and to do this in constant accordance with God’s ordinance, for the sake of God, upholding, in the midst of so much painful corruption, everything that is honourable, lovely, and of good report among men.

Thus gospel optimism means that none of our labours done in Christ's name (not just our evangelism) are in vain because of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What am I studying this semester?

For those interested, here is what I'll be doing for a lot of the time between now and sometime after Christmas. It's the big, bad, 3rd year so modules are big and bad (in a good way) too - consequently there's only room for three a semester.

Hebrews and the General Epistles in Greek: Final attempt to do serious CPR on my Greek, taking in the scenery in Hebrews and 1 Peter along the way.

The Doctrine of God: A whole module simply trying to read, understand, digest, compile and apply what the bible has to say about the One it's really all about in the first place. After all, the chief end (i.e. main goal) of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Evangelical Public Theology: So, what does believing 'Jesus Christ is Lord' mean for engagement with public life (politics, education, media, art etc.)?

Pretty good huh?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gospel Optimism 6: Vision of the UK from an American Pastor

Gospel optimism, precisely because it is gospel optimism (as opposed to e.g. humanistic optimism), doesn't mean burying your head in the sand and pretending things are better than they are. Rather, it means having a realistic hope for the long-term future based on faith in the promises and purposes of God revealed in the bible and the power of God in the gospel. It is entirely compatible with facing up to the (in many ways) dire situation Christians find themselves in much of western europe.

That sort of faith in the gospel's breadth and power (and eventual victory) can be found here (thanks to David Field) alongside critical engagement with the present state of affairs here in the UK.

Other posts on Gospel Optimism

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Summer Reading

September has arrived and the summer is drawing to a close (meteorologically it never arrived of course). As usual I have achieved a lot less than I hoped I would, though my 'to-do' list was particularly ambitious this year. I have read a few books though, which I list and describe briefly here for your delectation.

Against Christianity (sample online here): Peter Leithart thinks the Church is a new city. That means he's against 'Christianity' (a private/unsuccessful gospel and Church) and for 'Christendom' (a public/successful gospel and Church). And who wouldn't agree? Leithart also writes with considerable wit and style, which makes his book enjoyable as well as provocative.

Tested by Fire: Suffering in the lives of Bunyan, Cowper and Brainerd. John Piper has served us well with his brief (but not shallow) reflections on various Christian figures from history.

He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillenial Eschatology. Kenneth Gentry Jr.'s comprehensive and mostly persuasive book on the ultimate in gospel optimism. Seems to be the book that other-millenialists must contend with, both exegetically & theologically.

All Families are Psychotic. Hardly Douglas Coupland's finest moment. Some interesting commentary on consequences of actions, and of course on families and relationships. Less-than-believable ending doesn't really help things. Okay as beach reading.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Satisfactory and enjoyable conclusion to the series that has been disproportionately lauded (not J.K. rowling's fault I stress). Won't change your life, but then it isn't meant to.

Pierced for our Transgressions: Necessary, scholarly, readable. More (but brief) comments here.

By Faith, Not By Sight. Richard Gaffin helps us understand justification and sanctification, showing how the forensic and the renovative aspects of the salvation of individuals flow from the same basic reality - union with Christ.

The Radical Reformission. The unique Mark Driscoll on modern mission that doesn't sell out. All that needs to happen now is for someone to write the same kind of book for the UK but in a style that won't immediately offend and repel the conservative evangelical constituency here.

I've also started reading 'City of God' by St Augustine. Man, was that guy thorough (long-winded). I'm enjoying the ride but it might be some time before I blog on that one.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Reformation Alehouses

Whilst at the reformation museum in Geneva I discovered an ale of 'biblical' proportions (here is the website). But, the real question is, would John Calvin himself have approved? I'm not sure entirely, but here's what I discovered from Mark Driscoll's short section on 'the sin of light beer' in The Radical Reformission.

'Pastor John Calvin's annual salary package included upwards of 250 gallons of wine to be enjoyed by him and his guests.'

No surprise I guess, since the Overseer must be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2). Driscoll continues;

'Martin Luther once wrote of the Reformation, "While I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow."'

And apparently 'when the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock, the first permanent building they erected was a brewery.'

For his own part, Pastor Mark longs 'for the return to the glory days of Christian pubs where God's men gather to drink beer and talk theology.' Evidently such pubs would serve not the watery, mass-produced, 'feminine', light beer all too common today, but what Driscoll calls the 'rich, dark, heavy, more "biblical" European beers.'

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gospel Optimism 5: Syncretism and Sectarianism

I am currently enjoying reading Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle - a book about trying to engage with culture without losing the (gospel) plot. Driscoll's big passion for the world and for the Lord Jesus is on every page. Moreover, his chapter on the twin pitfalls of syncretism (when the Church becomes too much like the world) and sectarianism (when the Church hides away from the world) reveals strong convictions about the scope of the gospel's power.

The problem with both syncretism and sectarianism is that they deny the clear teaching of the Scriptures that the power of God unleashed through the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform anyone. Sectarians do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that evil hearts and sinful actions and worldly social structures are more powerful than God, unable to be redeemed, and therefore are a waste of our energies because they are destined to be meat on God's grill anyway, so why bother? Likewise, syncretists do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that the hearts of people aren't that bad, their actions aren't that sinful, and since people are doing the best they can, we can't expect any sort of radical transformation, and so we should simply bless them with a sentimental love.

What he says at the end of the chapter is pure gospel optimism rooted in a reformed model of culture.

Here's what I'd like you to remember from this chapter: reformission is not about abstention; it is about redemption. We must throw ourselves into the culture so that all that God made good is taken back and used in a way that glorifies him. Our goal is not to avoid drinking, singing, working, playing, eating, love-making, and the like. Instead, our goal must be to redeem those things through the power of the gospel so that they are used rightly according to Scripture, bringing God glory and his people a satisfied joy.

[Previous posts on Gospel Optimism HERE]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Are paedobaptists unrepentant?

Some words of sanity on a difficult issue where Christians often disagree can be found here. As an unrepentant paedobaptist I welcome the stance taken by John Piper and co., even if others think it fuzzy.

He was pierced for our transgressions

Things have been a little quiet here recently - apologies (holidays, camps, jury duty etc.). I aim to blog a little more over the next few weeks, at least until college gets into full swing.

One thing jury duty enabled me to do was finish reading Pierced for our transgressions (PFOT). Written in the wake of a fair bit of controversy about what Jesus' death achieved, PFOT aims to help the Church redisover 'the glory of penal substitution' - which is basically the teaching that

'Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory.' (Packer)

Evangelical Christians have pretty much always believed this, until recent years, when an increasing number from evangelical circles have questioned, attacked and even rejected the doctrine.

Others have reviewed PFOT properly elsewhere (just google it), so this is intended as an advert more than a review. If you don't own it (and you do read books), buy it. Then read it. Then buy it again and give it to others to read.

PFOT is in two parts. Part one kicks of with exegesis of the main relevant bible passages. The main strength here is that all the findings and arguments of others who've written defending penal substitution in the last fifty years are gathered in one place as a coherent whole. Also, the authors deal sensitively with the new perspective on Paul for those interested in those debates. From now on, anyone wishing to write against penal substitution must tackle this exegetical groundswell head on.

The section on theology (i.e. how penal substitution fits with other major themes and teachings in the bible) is marked by crisp logic built on sound exegesis. It is especially helpful to see how PS hooks into the bible's teaching on creation and the nature of God as Trinity - both areas where some evangelical thinking at a popular level can be a little weak.

The authors also show us that PS is pastorally necessary and historically well-attested. The historical section is especially eye-opening in the two main points is makes - PS is an old doctrine (whereas some critics argue it was invented in the C16th) and PS is an evangelical essential (whereas some critics have argued that one can be evangelical and reject it).

But it is in part two that this book really comes into its own. Part two consists of a step by step answer to just about every conceivable criticism of and objection to PS. Whilst many opponents of the doctrine have not listened accurately to the other side of the debate, the same cannot be said for the authors of PFOT. The authors present their opponent's views with calm precision, then politely, but firmly, show how each objection to the doctrine can be fully answered. This section alone (helpfully organised by the different types of objection) makes PFOT an invaluable resource for the Church.

PFOT can help God's people achieve a biblically balanced, nuanced, contextualised, practical and rich conviction about the glorious reality that 'Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.'

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Camp 07

Camp went extremely well last week. Here's some things I am really thankful for.

1. The weather was really good. We had about thirty minutes of rain the whole week (despite being forecast several days). This is not just good for the tan - entertaining 35 9-12 year olds in a week of rain is pretty hard.

2. The book of Exodus proclaimed the gospel loud and clear. We traveled from Egypt to Sinai, from light to darkness, from slavery to freedom, from Pharaoh to Yahweh, from de-creation to new creation.

3. The children listened incredibly well.

4. Two children professed Christ for the very first time.

5. The team was largely happy and unified.

Oh Mercy!

I don't usually whine about translations (and I like the ESV), but in sermon preparation for this sunday I find myself asking;

Why has the ESV chosen to translate /hanan/ as 'mercy' in Psalm 123?

It seems so obviously connected to other uses of the word (and related) i.e.

Ex. 33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Note here how it is related to but distinguished from 'mercy')

Num. 6:25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

Most of the time when translating the word the ESV goes for something to do with being gracious. Also, the few Hebrew wordy-books I've looked up always give a meaning more akin to being gracious than mercy. Mercy, certainly in our modern English usage, seems too narrow. It helpfully carries the idea of something being undeserved, but then so does 'graciousness'.

I suspect we usually associate mercy with 'not being punished even though you deserve it' rather than a broader concept of 'being shown undeserved compassion and favour' which is closer to /hanan/. Technically speaking 'mercy' can be used with this broader sense of an unmerited kindness (Sheila constantly performed small mercies for the poor in her neighbourhood) though I feel that's a little archaic and foreign to most people nowadays.

All of this makes the preacher's job harder.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In what sense?

The longer I am at Oak Hill the more I realise just how pants much of my state education was. I resent the fact that I was never really taught to think (any fool can regurgitate, and especially if you're blessed with a fairly good memory like this fool is).

In particular, I was never taught how to distinguish, i.e. to ask and answer the question 'in what sense?' about every statement. If our many chat shows, political discussion shows and radio phone-ins are representative, then it would seem that most of the country hasn't been taught to think in this way either. We are rapidly losing our ability to grasp or make coherent arguments.

Obviously this is bad news, since it means decisions will be made for the wrong reasons, theological positions will be held without being carefully worked through, and friendships broken unnecessarily.

Oak Hill graduate Neil Jeffers joined the world of blogs today, and his blog (Distinguo - you'll have to forgive the Latin) opens with a brief thought or two on the need to distinguish. Neil has a great mind and a gospel heart, so do check in at Distinguo every now and then

Friday, July 27, 2007

Exodus; Tabernacle & Creation

Peter Enns, in his helpful commentary on Exodus points out that the tabernacle is paralleled with creation.

1. There are seven 'The LORD said to Moses' instructions re. the building of the tabernacle and accompaniments (25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1; 31:12).

2. The seventh (31:12) is an instruction not so much about the tabernacle (on the face of it) but rather about the sabbath. The instruction here highlights the link to creation clearly (31:17).

3. Enns is unsure about the order of the other six and is reluctant to see them tied too directly to the days of creation, stating that the overall point is made clear simply by the structure of seven climaxing in sabbath rest. I haven't thought a lot further, but it is interesting that the sixth 'The LORD said' instruction is regarding Oholiab and Bezalel, two men filled with God's breath/Spirit/spirit and commissioned to build the tabernacle (cf. Genesis 1:26-30 = Day 6 and creation of humanity, commissioned to have dominion. cf. Genesis 2:7, 15 = Man created and filled with God's breath, commissioned to tend God's garden-sanctuary).

4. Following the Golden Calf incident and following (32-34), there is yet again mention of the sabbath (35:1-3) and then a narrative of the actual building of the temple, under Moses instructions, through the obedience of the Israelites, all according to the heavenly pattern.

5. When all the building is done we are told that 'Moses finished the work' (40:33) in a (surely) deliberate echo of Genesis 2:2.

So, the tabernacle was a model restoration of creation order, a microcosm (Enn's word) of creation, showing how things could and should be with Yahweh as King. How exciting that, by extension/fulfilment/typology/union with Christ, the Church is the tabernacle/temple.

Exodus: Talks and passages

Here is the rough breakdown of my series on 'Exodus - The Great Escape' for camp (starts saturday, 9-12 yr olds).

1. Exodus 1 (&2). God keeps his promises (intro to the series)

2. Exodus 3 (&4). Meet the LORD (i.e., what's he like? Holy/Saving/Reliable)

3. Exodus 7-11. The Big Fight - Pharaoh vs God (God is God of all the earth)

4. Exodus 12. Passover - Rescue through Blood (Mainly about PSA this talk)

5. Exodus 14. The Red Sea - Rescue through Victory (God beats his people's enemies)

6. Exodus 20:1-17. Living God's Way (How should rescued people live? Point of rescue was from slavery in egypt to Yahweh's kingship etc.)

7. Exodus 25, 29, 40:34ff. God with us (Tabernacle, God dwelling with his people as the goal of redemption, God guiding Israel all the way to the promised land etc. etc.)

It has really struck me in preparation just how much stuff there is in Exodus. Along the way we'll meet (at times only briefly, alas) with such themes and doctrines as;

- God's sovereignty and human responsibility (talks 3&4 mainly)

- Salvation as new creation (talks 5, 6, 7 mainly)

- Judgment (and in fact sin) as de-creation (mainly talk 3, but it could so easily be in 5 too)

- The Perseverence of the Saints (talk 7)

And of course, Covenant/Promise, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Death/Resurrection, Law/Grace, Lordship, Kingdom, Christus Victor, Revelation and so on...

Basically, there's quite a lot in Exodus, and I've only started to scratch the surface.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Exodus - The gospel according to Moses

This is the first of what I hope will turn into several posts on Exodus to help me get myself clear(er) in time for talks next week at camp. First up, some general points which will govern all my teaching from Exodus.

1. Exodus follows Genesis.
The book of Exodus is self-consciously a continuation of the story begun in the first book of the bible. The story of Creation-Fall-Abraham and ff. is always in the background either explicitly or implicitly. In short, I'll be aiming to teach Exodus as part of the story of God pursuing his original plans for his creation through the family line of Abraham.

2. Exodus is 'about' Jesus
This is because the story begun in Genesis and continued in Exodus reaches its climax in what God did/is doing through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is obvious and more familiar in some parts (Christ as the passover lamb of Exodus 12) but I'm guessing there will be less familiar discoveries along the way too.

3. Exodus is Gospel
In a very real and significant way, therefore, Exodus is a proclamation of the gospel, both in terms of types and shadows (the tabernacle, the passover) but also in terms of its exposition, expansion and exploration of the gospel promises already announced to Abraham and co. in the covenant(s) of Genesis 12, 15, 17 etc. and its further revelation of the gospel/covenant-proclaiming and fulfilling God. This assumption will prove especially important when teaching the 'law bits'. One of the things I hope to help the children see is that 'His commands are not burdensome' (1 John 5:3).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reformation in Geneva

Here are some pictures from our visit to Geneva on holiday. The first is Calvin's auditorium where he and John Knox lectured and where reformed refugees from across the whole world gathered to hear them, including many of the guys who would go back to Britain in Elizabeth's reign to get the reformation going again.

The second is the cover of the initial copy of Calvin's Institutes. This work helped clarify the teachings regained at the time of reformation
and spread them across the world.

This is the inscription from Calvin's grave.

There were many more delights, especially the city's newly-opened museum of the reformation. Claire and I bumped into Mark Dever there, which was slightly weird. Whilst he tried to buy a bust of Calvin for his office desk from the Museum gift-shop, I rather fancied the ale they were selling named after the great reformer.

Anyway, the point of it all? Just the kind of thing geeky Oak Hill students get up to on their hols? well, I was struck by one big thing:

The reformers achieved an awful lot and changed the world. Calvin was 55 when he died. Others died younger. Yet these guys left behind them an incredible body of work. In an age before the internet etc. they worked tirelessly to spread the gospel they'd re-discovered around Europe and lay foundations for the generations of Christians who followed them. Just in our one day in Geneva we saw and heard of schools, universities and churches set up, civil government reforms, church government reforms, missionaries trained and sent, books written and revised, and more. It kind of makes me wonder what I've been playing around at these last 28 years.