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