Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Get Married

Carl Trueman writes in The Wages of Spin (see blog for Saturday 11 June: Singing the sorrow) about the divorce that has occurred between the church and the academy (theology). It's basically about how the church needs to be more theologically informed and the academy more church oriented.

I think Trueman is right that there is a breach. It is so common for the pew punter to separate knowledge and experience ('Professors at universities and seminaries may have lots of fancy words, but I just have simple faith in Jesus'), while it is just as common for academic theologians to relegate gospel experience and prioritise competence and respectability.

Trueman's book is a great read. The first part is called 'Evangelical Essays' with chapters including:

- Reckoning with the Past in an Anti-Historical Age
- The Undoing of the Reformation?
- The Princeton Trajectory on Scripture
- Warfield on the Glory of Christ.

Part Two is called 'Short, Sharp Shocks' with chapters including:

- The Importance of Evangelical Beliefs
- What can miserable Christians sing?
- The Marcions Have Landed!
- Boring Ourselves to Life
- Why you shouldn't buy the big issue
- Evangelicalism through the looking Glass

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Paul muses about Christian Bookshops. Where do you get your books? What future for Christian bookshops?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Daniel Strange

Daniel Strange, now pictured in full colour. See his article The Theology of the End and the End of Theology. Dan is the RTSF Co-ordinator, soon to join the staff at Oak Hill College.

Paul at My Fallible Thoughts attended Dan's recent lecture: 'Creation, Conquest and the Cross: the doctrine of the atonement for today'

The Loveliness of Orthodoxy

alternative text to appear
Sheeesh! That's big

One outstanding book on Open Theism that isn't particularly well known on this side of the pond is the Canon Press volume Bound Only Once: The Failure of Open Theism. It includes a great essay by Phil Johnson of Pyromaniac fame and one not to be missed by Douglas Jones called 'Metaphor in Exile'.

Doug Wilson also has a superb essay in here the title of which is the title of this blog, and which, characteristically, plows an interesting and amusing furrow on the whole topic of language and imagination: 'The inability of those in the Openness of God camp to see how their portrayal of God clanks, is, at bottom a failure of the imagination'.

He provides an insightful consideration of Isaiah 40:
'Only the most profound kind of spiritual blindness can keep a man from seeing what Isaiah is doing here. "To whom then will ye liken God?" Isaiah has been comparing God to all kinds of things throughout this chapter, and therefore the point of every comparison must be to show that all of them collapse under the weight of eternal glory. They are holy metaphors that make us look up to that which transcends them all. And, as we are glorying in this scriptural language, along come some very pedestrian exegetes, with a poetic ear comparable to about three feet of tin foil, who want us to acknowledge that the text compares God here to a shepherd and every shepherd they have ever met didn't know the future ...'
'To what may we liken God? The answer, friends, is nothing. And we show that we may compare Him to nothing by comparing Him to everything that is worthy of Him, and, of course, nothing completely is. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. This is not zen Christianity; it is the recognition that the Bible does not give us a tiny schematic version of the attributes of God, carefully drawn to scale. Rather, the Bible points, sings, shouts, eats, alliterates, teaches, glorifies, compares, and exults. Do you not see? Lift your eyes on high, Isaiah says'.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Down and out

Paul Hayward writes in today's Daily Telegraph about the sorry demise of former world heavyweight boxing champion 'Iron' Mike Tyson, which culminated in his defeat at the weekend to journeyman Kevin McBride.

It's a sad tale. Hayward provides some very quotable material in the saga of power, wealth and fame, all gone very wrong:
"Boxing's cool, but I've got some serious, serious demons I'm fighting," Tyson said, when asked whether he would be chasing Lewis for revenge. "I don't know if I can love anyone. And I definitely don't believe anyone can love me. I've been doing this for probably 23 or 25 years. I haven't received any dignity from it. I've received a lot of pain from it. It's made me not like Mike Tyson very much."
"Who am I? What am I? I don't even know. I'm just a dumb child who's been abused and robbed by lawyers. I'm just a fool who thinks he's someone."

However, Hayward comments at the end:
"With his many outrages, Tyson forced on us an important distinction: between that which is barbaric, and he who is a barbarian. There is a difference. Much of his life has been a losing struggle to escape what the poet Philip Larkin called, in another context, "a wrong beginning" '.
This is the sad verdict of comparative moralism. In reality, we're all with Tyson on the ropes from the start, all born with a 'wrong beginning', and it really is a losing struggle to escape - on our own. 'For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous' (Romans 5:19).

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dominic Smart

Just updated our picture of Dominic Smart, seems like an opportune moment to flag up his article: Legalism & its antidotes. Dominic is pastor of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen and author of Grace, Faith & Glory

Look at Jesus before you choose

We began a series in Hebrews at church this morning and got off to a wonderful start.

Hebrews is a letter written to arrest drift. There are plenty of warnings and reminders throughout that Jesus is better - so don't drift off to embrace alternatives. But we saw this morning how the letter does not open with a warning (that waits until 2:1), but rather opens with showing us Jesus first - hence the sermon title. We had three great teaching points that showed us Jesus as prophet, priest and king in the flow of the text.

1. 'In the past' ... Jesus the final prophet

2. 'He sat down' ... Jesus the perfect priest

3. 'He also says' ... Jesus the reigning King

If Jesus is God's final word, if he carried out his work perfectly and if he executes God's rule supremely, why look elsewhere?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Singing the sorrow

What can miserable Christians sing?

This was the title of a Themelios editorial by Carl R. Trueman and the article is now part of a superb collection of his essays: The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus, 2004). Carl teaches Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. One cover blurb says that Carl writes with the wit of an evangelical Chesteron, the prophetic insight of a Francis Schaeffer and the accessibility of a John Stott. Highly recommended for a great summer read!

This particular piece laments the absence of the Psalter from most of contemporary evangelicalism's song sheets and comments on the one-dimensional emotional immaturity this leaves us with in worship. A large amount of Psalms are taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented and broken, so is there not a place for this kind of language in corporate worship?

Trueman writes:
'Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmist's cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament - but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps - and this is more likely - it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one - and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this. A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one triumphalist street party - a theologically incorrect and pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is - or at least should be - all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship?' (Spin, 159).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Paul Helm on Openness

Paul Helm, formerly Professor of Philosophy of Religion at King's College London, has a helpful article here responding to Greg Boyd on Open Theism.

This paper is a longer version of Helm's response to Boyd. Both Professor Boyd's paper and the shorter response are to be found in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (eds) James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press 2001. )

Helm's paper is housed on The Evangelical Library website which also contains some other good articles and lectures (see for instance Carl Trueman on B. B. Warfield and Garry Williams on Jonathan Edwards).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tobacco Touché

Adrian Warnock has blogged about Christians and tobacco. Wilbur posted in a famous (apocryphal?) story about C. H. Spurgeon.

On one occasion Spurgeon was standing outside his church, The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, happily smoking his pipe.

"Sir", a concerned passer-by remarked, "don't you know that's the devil's weed?'

"Sir", replied Spurgeon, "don't you know that's why I'm burning it?"

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Singing the Judgment

When was the last time you sang about hell?

One area where I think evangelical theology will increasingly sell the shop in the coming years is the concept of God’s judgment and the corresponding doctrine of hell. Already there are signs that the important exegetical and theological discussions about eternal punishment vs conditional immortality/annihilation have moved towards a status quo of general evangelical uncertainty about what to think in these areas. In some places the postmodern fog has descended to such an extent that what generations ago would have been classed as theological liberalism now count as ‘honest’, ‘thoughtful’ and ‘courageous’ expositions within evangelical theology.

It seems too that a certain emotiveness about the horrors of hell now govern the conversation, so that how we feel about judgment slips in as an implicit hermeneutical lens through which the biblical material is filtered. An oft repeated maxim here is that ‘No-one should ever talk about judgment or hell without tears in their eyes’. I think this rightly captures a strand of the biblical material: witness Jesus mourning for Jerusalem or listen as Paul agonizes in Rom 9 about those of his people who are cut off from Christ. Judgment cannot but generate the strongest of emotions and where we speak about hell easily or without broken compassion we do not understand what we are talking about, and it would probably be best all round if we kept quiet. But there is a danger here in absolutising maxims like this, so that instead of expressing one aspect of the emotional truth about hell it becomes instead an emotive argument against the traditional conceptuality of God’s judgment. Absolutise a slogan like this across one generation’s lifetime and the next generation will not easily stomach a God who engenders emotions like this in the first place.

The fact is that the Bible has a place for shouting with joy at the judgments of God. The range of emotional responses to judgment are multi-faceted and startling. The Scripture sets judgment to music.

Take Exodus 15 and the song of Moses which follows after ‘Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore’:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has
triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into
the sea …

In the greatness of your majesty you
overthrew your adversaries;
you sent out your fury, it consumed
them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters

piled up

Psalm 98 or Psalm 96 (also sung in 1 Chronicles 16 after David has defeated his enemies and entered Jerusalem as God’s victorious King):

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 is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with
and the peoples with his truth.

Revelation 19

After this, I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:

Salvation and glory and power
to our God,
for his judgments are true
and just;
He has judged the great whore
who corrupted the earth with her
and he has avenged on her the blood
of his servants.

And again they shouted:

The smoke goes up from her for ever
and ever.

This is shocking. Oceans, alpine meadows and Amazon forests bursting with delight as the LORD executes his righteous judgment on the earth. Songs of triumph in the enemy's graveyard? What tune goes with wrath? Hallelujahs for vengeance? Would we know how or why to sing like this, and would we even want to?

Part of our discomfort is due to our historical and geographical location. In terms of history, we live in the age of absolute tolerance coupled with immense biblical illiteracy so that we are prone to think about God sentimentally and appropriate Scripture selectively. In terms of geography, we observe how most of the evangelical boundary-broadening on this topic is occurring in the rarefied atmosphere of white, affluent, western academia where our comforts are so numbing that it is hard to see what there is for God to judge. In some corners of this ivory tower there are flirtations with universalism; in others explicit endorsements of it; in others, cautious claims about God’s freedom so that eventually percolated down to popular theologians is a kind of cherished vagueness about the future and about what God has promised he will do. And it is all expertly packaged in the form of shiny ‘fresh’ arguments. This kind of thinking is, theologically, a million miles away from the searing traumas facing the persecuted people of God in some corners of the globe and where passages like 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 are a God-given means of sustaining faith under fire.

Where the church seeks to evaluate its location in time and space from the viewpoint of Scripture, and where congregations are lovingly taught to meditate on the whole of Scripture, then what we sing on Sundays will perhaps sound a little different. Believers who gladly sing God’s judgments grasp that God’s love is always displayed in perfect harmony with his glory and his holiness and all his other perfections, they hold tear-stained compassion for the lost together with joy-filled hope at future vindication and, above all, they treasure Calvary not as a sign of divine sympathy but as the pledge of eternal immunity.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Singing the Story

Dave Bish has been blogging some helpful thoughts recently about theology in our songs. It reminded me of one good biblical theology song I came across by Graham Kendrick called O What a Mystery I See. Kendrick has penned some shockers over the years as well as some really excellent songs like Come and See. I think this one goes in the latter category and captures some of the Bible’s great story lines.

What are the great biblical theology hymns and songs?

O What A Mystery I See

O what a mystery I see
What marvellous design
That God should come as one of us
A Son in David's line.
Flesh of our flesh, of woman born
Our human-ness he owns
And for a world of wickedness
His guiltless blood atones

This perfect Man, incarnate God
By selfless sacrifice
Destroys our sinful history
All fallen Adam's curse.
In him the curse to blessing turns
My barren spirit flowers
As o'er the shattered power of sin
The cross of Jesus towers

By faith a child of his I stand
An heir in David's line
Royal descendant by his blood
Destined by Love's design
Fathers of faith, my fathers now!
Because in Christ I am
And all God's promises in Him
To me are 'Yes, Amen'!

No more then as a child of earth
Must I my lifetime spend -
His history, His destiny
are mine to apprehend.
Oh what a Saviour, what a Lord
O Master, Brother, Friend!
What miracle has joined me to
This life that never ends!

(1988 Makeway music, Graham Kendrick)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Linking to us!

Rob Wilkerson says we're his 7th most favourite blog.
Tim Caird is linking to us as is Dave at Rawson Street... are you?

On the grammatical realities of marriage

Doug Wilson's excellent book Reforming Marriage (the one with Jan Steen's 1658 painting 'The Sleeping Couple' on the cover) has some strong things to say about husbands needing to know their imperatives from their indicatives. Indicatives are statements of fact ('This is a blog'; 'You are reading it') and imperatives are commands ('Read the book instead!').

Wilson points out that headship is not an imperative in the Bible, it is an indicative: 'For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church' (Eph. 5:23). Paul is not commanding husbands to be the head of their wives or stating how marriages ought to function - he is stating what husbands are and what the relationship between husband and wife is. It is not something for egalitarians and complementarians to debate. It's a statement of fact.

This has massive implications for the Christian husband. The issue facing him is not whether to be the head, but what kind of head he will be. Wilson writes:

'Meditating on this is a very valuable thing for husbands to do. Because the husband is the head of the wife, he finds himself in a position of inescapable leadership. He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly. But no matter what he does, or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife. This is how God designed marriage. He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord - Dominus - at the cross. If a husband tries to run away from his headship, that abdication will dominate the home. If he catches a plane to the other side of the country, and stays there, he will dominate in and by his absence. How many children have grown up in a home dominated by the empty chair at the table?' (p.24).

Friday, June 03, 2005

Response to Critics of Emergent

Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones and Chris Seay have co-authored a response to recent criticisms of the emerging church.

The Purpose-Driven® Cheese

If you've got a strong enough stomach for some sharp satirical shards, then head over to Brendan O'Donnell's review of Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life. This featured in the previous issue of Credenda Agenda which, by the way, was devoted entirely to cheese (yes, real cheese, not metaphorical cheese). Credenda Agenda is a religiously and philosophically Trinitarian cultural journal and tests show that it puts hairs on your chest.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Simple Sarcasm

Armando Iannucci writes in today's Daily Telegraph:

'... an eminent philologist was giving a seminar to some linguistics graduates outlining the results of his last five years' research. After an exhaustive examination of all the major world languages, he could find many instances of double negatives producing the same effect as a positive (as in "I found the lecture not uninteresting") but that amazingly, after years of searching, he was unable to come up with an example in any language of two positives meaning a negative. At the end, he asked the students if there were any questions and there was silence apart from one person at the back who just went: "Yeah, yeah." I don't know if the philologist is in work. I hope the student is.'

The World We All Want

I'm sure we'll include this within properly soon, but I just got my copy of Steve Timmis' & Tim Chester's The World We All Want a seven part introduction to Christianity - marked by telling the Bible story, looking at Community, and connecting with people. Look excellent.

More from The Crowded House
Get it from Amazon UK

Storms on Carson

Sam Storms begins his series of reviews on Don Carson, on Emerging Church. Watch for the rest of the series and many other great articles at Enjoying God Ministries... Storms is, as you'll see, very influenced by John Piper, but writing from a more charismatic perspective.

Strange Happenings

What evangelicals do but shouldn't and don't but should believe about the atonement has been the topic of quite a bit of debate within British evangelicalism recently.

If you live in and around the London area then on Monday 6th June 2005 you might want to get yourself to The Evangelical Library Annual Lecture where Dr Daniel Strange will speak on: Creation, Conquest and the Cross: the doctrine of the atonement for today. Dan's lecture will deal with issues like the relationship between penal substitution and the Christus Victor model of the atonement, one of the questions that has been on the table in the recent debates. Dan's a great speaker so this is sure to be a very worthwhile evening.

It's at 6.30pm and will be held at the Swiss Church, 79 Endell Street, London WC2H 9DY (nearest tube is Covent Garden).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Wilson on Chalke

Doug Wilson has posted a (brief) 'review' of Steve Chalke's book The Lost Message of Jesus.

By your pastor's bed

What's your pastor reading at the minute? And what difference does it make on a Sunday morning? George Barna has surveyed the reading habits of 614 pastors. We are a UK based site and this survey was done in the USA so perhaps it's not too relevant to us ... yet. Rather than wade through all the details I recommend Tim Challies' recap.

The Institutes, chicken-houses and the soul

John Calvin became a theologian in order to be a better pastor. So says Jean-Daniel Benoit in Calvin in His Letters. It's a study of Calvin's pastoral counselling and Benoit's method is interesting: he seeks to explain Calvin's letters in the light of his Institutes, regarding these as the doctrinal foundation for care of souls. This might surprise some.

"Is it not presumptuous to open the Institutes in order to see the portrait of Calvin as director of souls? ... what does the Institutes have to do with the heart, with the needs of the soul, and with that sacred science of tact and solicitude which spiritual counselling demands? And yet, perhaps even more than a doctrinal treatise, the Institutes is a religious book and in certain respects a book of piety. It gave nourishment to the spiritual life of many generations whose taste had not been corrupted by heretical delicacy and who had no fear of solid food. The Bible, the Psalter, the Institutes and the book of martyrs ... these were the great books of the French Reformation, the hearths in men's inner beings where the flames of the spiritual life were fed. This is why in times of persecution people hid the Institutes just as they hid their bibles. Copies were found in stables and chicken-houses, where they had been concealed to avoid the inquisitions."