Monday, 31 August 2009

Best Selling


They've just announced the top ten best selling Beatles albums:
10. Help!
9. Please, Please Me
8. Hard Day's Night
7. Beatles For Sale
6. Rubber Soul
5. The White Album
4. Revolver
3. With the Beatles
2. Abbey Road
(Did the picture give it away?)
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
It's not Abbey Road but is a still a great album.

Beatles Bank Holiday




It's not a bank holiday in Scotland (except for the banks!!), but Radio 2 are having a Beatles bank holiday and the music is all Beatles and all wonderful.

I think Abbey Road is my favourite Beatles Album.

'Something' and 'Here Comes the Sun' my favourite tracks.

I would pick Paul over John any day, but twist my arm and I think George made all the difference to the bank, such a great musician, song writer and guitarist.

Leave a comment and share what your favourite Beatles album, track is.

Just Generation


Is a one day conference for a generation passionate to see justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.
Saturday October 31st, Destiny Church, Gorgie Centre, Edinburgh.
You can book for the conference through the web site here.
Alistair Stevenson, EA Scotland, has done a power of work for this conference along with others from the Scottish Bible Society, tearfund, the Leprosy Mission, International Justice Mission UK and Care.
The key speakers are Ruth Valerio and Chuck Freeland.
The vision behind the conference is to bring together a young generation of Christians in Scotland who are deeply concerned about issues of justice and mercy.
If you can help make this known to young people please do that, and encourage them to come along.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The God of Miracles

I'm preaching on Gen 16 tomorrow at Portpatrick and read this in Derek Kidner's wonderful commentary (but aren't all Kidner's commentaries helpful in their brevity and clarity).

"This chapter marks another stage in eliminating every means but miracle towards the promised birth."

Yes, nothing but Yahweh's sovereign, powerful intervention, confounding every human expectation will bring the child of promise to birth. Give thanks and praise to the God of miracles.

One of the reasons this has struck me so powerfully is that two weeks ago I met with some friends and one, whom I respect very much, commenting on our present situation (in the Church of Scotland) said, 'Miracles happen, and we need one now.'

From your lips to God's ears. May God remove from us every hope and every human scheme that all the glory and praise may be his when he works in sovereign power.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Against the Corruption the Compounds Poverty

The following statement was published on the tearfund web site about a letter sent to the UN by tearfund and other relief agencies.

Give thanks to our God that Christian agencies are taking such a lead in identifying factors that create and maintain poverty and injustice in our world. Let's pray that our political leaders would take seriously the urgent need to MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY.

Faith leaders and relief agencies urge UN to fight corruption that compounds poverty
25 August 2009
Corruption and poverty mutually reinforce injustice whilst undermining equitable economic growth and sustainable development - according to faith based development agencies and faith leaders who have today written to the Secretary General of the UN.
The letter to Ban Ki-moon comes as a working group of signatory countries meets in Vienna ahead of the Conference of State Parties later this year.
The following is a statement from Cafod, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, Tearfund and the Australian Synod of Victoria and Tasmania:
'We are putting pressure on the UN and world leaders to step up the fight against corruption. The diversion of public funds, loss of investment and the reduction in tax revenues hits the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Put simply, corruption is at the heart of people’s experience of poverty.
Corrupt practices constitute an insurmountable barrier to high-quality education, affordable healthcare and decent livelihoods. The opportunity and hope for so many in society is stolen by corruption. It undermines the principles of justice and equality, eroding value systems, social cohesion and trust.
This is why we have joined over 50 faith leaders in writing to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Although we strongly support the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), urgent action is needed on the agreement of a review mechanism for the Convention. This must be adopted by State Parties at the Doha conference in November. The success of UNCAC in reducing corruption will hinge on the commitment of all nation states to fully implement its provisions and the establishment of an effective review mechanism to monitor progress.
Two elements essential for a robust and credible review mechanism are transparency and the participation of civil society. Firstly, transparency – via the publication of reports and recommendations – is vital to ensure a fair and effective process. Honesty and integrity are the moral values that underpin any attempts to tackle corrupt practices, and a commitment to a transparent review mechanism is testimony to political leadership that is mature and accountable.
Secondly, civil society can positively contribute to the implementation of the Convention and the review process. Civil society organisations, including faith groups, provide an important link to communities experiencing poverty.
The review mechanism must make room for the voices of men and women living in poverty. If those most affected by corruption are not accorded space to contribute to the review, it will be impossible to accurately measure UNCAC’s effectiveness.
The review mechanism – founded on the principles of transparency and civil society participation – will demonstrate to poor communities that those they have entrusted with power and leadership are willing to end the scourge of corruption.'
Commenting on the statement, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey said, ‘Religious teachings commit us to the pursuit of justice and to stand with those who are poor and vulnerable.
‘As corruption undermines the principles of justice and equality it erodes value systems, social cohesion and trust.’

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

More Total Church




Some final thoughts from this wonderful and highly commended book.

On discipleship and training:
Others should learn truth not only from preaching but from lives that display the truth that has been preached!
Keep saying the obvious or people will forget.

On spirituality:
"Biblical spirituality is not about contemplation; it is about reading and meditating on the word of God. It is not about detached silence; it is about passionate petition. It is not about solitude; it is about participation in community. ... It [biblical spirituality] is centred on the gospel and rooted in the context of the Christian community." (p. 137)
Yes, a necessary corrective to too many forms of spirituality which are self seeking and self serving. See also Peter Adam 'Hearing God's Words', Apollos (IVP) 2004.
Union with Christ is the beginning of Christian spirituality, not it's goal!

On prayer the suggestion is made that we should prioritise prayer with others over prayer alone. So long as we are not saying that one is better than the other, there is truth in our learning to pray together, and our times of prayer shared with others encouraging and strengthening our times of prayer alone.

On theology:
"Theology must be in the service of teh church and its mission. Authentic theology must be shaped by what we might call a missionary-hermeneutic. Theology divorced from this context is essentially barren, self-referential and indulgent." (p. 152)
There is no theology apart from or outside of the community of faith. This position, while true, needs to be rigorously defended today.

On apologetics: (I really like this comment)
"The rejection of revelation is only a symptom of an underlying problem. ... The underlying issue is not a rejection of the possibility of revelation, but a rejection of the actuality of revelation. In other words, the underlying problem is not revelation per se, but what is revealed - our need for a Saviour." (p. 161)

An accurate analysis of the malaise afflicting the church in our days. This surely is what Romans 1:18ff is about, the rejection of God, the rejection of the gospel because we don't like it.

On a theology of the cross:
"We begin to see the relevance of the theology of the cross when we start to consider what forms a theology of glory takes today. Liberalism can be labelled a theology of glory, for it argues that God is known through human reason. Sacramentalism claims we encounter God through the symbols and rituals of the church. Creation spiritualities can also take the form of theologies of glory whether it is the sentiment expressed in 'nearer to God in a garden' or the more developed theology of someone like Matthew Fox. Power evangelism, too, looks for the revelatino of God in acts of power, arguing that miracles are an essential part of effective mission. And mysticism says that God is known through spiritual experiences or contemplative exercises." (p. 167)
Against all this, we know God through the message of the cross. Human wisdom does not recognise divine wisdom.

I think it is good that my last word on this great book is on the cross of the Lord Jesus, which so powerfully and clearly shapes and influences the authors and their experience of church. If only the cross were more clearly at the centre of our church life.

The Fresh Word on Theology




You just knew theology was going to come into it somewhere.

There is a use of the term 'theology' which has to do with arranging and analysing themes and topics related to God, perhaps using Scripture as a proof text, but not being tied to the patterns of Scripture. This is not how Dale Ralph Davis uses the term in his third chapter. Theology can be a study of how to live together with God. In Scripture we see the great God of the Bible involving himself in the lives of his people. It is this 'practical' theology that we need to help our preaching and interpretation of all texts, including Old Testament texts.

Davis takes the example of the Abraham narratives, Gen 12 following and identifies the four-fold promise of Gen 12:1-3 as the theological centre of the complex of narratives.

Gen 12:10-20: Abram lies to Pharaoh about Sarai being his sister. This lie puts the covenant promise of descendants at risk. Abram's major defect here is not lying (this is not a Victorian morality tale), but a failure to trust Yahweh the promise making God. Protection should be entrusted to Yahweh and his promise.
Or what about Gen 23, a sad tale of death and burial arrangements. The point is not that we should all have pre-paid funeral plans and all the arrangments made in advance. No, the promise of the land, Gen 12:1-3, is beginning to be fulfilled - even if only in a cemetery! This small beginning can be over looked if we are not watching for the theology at work in the narratives.

What a contrast to a commentator like say Brueggemann, whose insights are often very helpful. However, a great weakness in Brueggemann is his insistence that each of the OT narratives is independant from every other OT narrative. Even to the point where Gen 12 does not relate to Gen 13 or Gen 14!

Although Davis ends his chapter with a comment on the OT scholars search for 'the centre' his use of theology as a category for studying OT narrative texts does not depend upon resolving this riddle. Rather theology provides a coherent, whole bible framework within which each text can be held together. We can't be simple bible readers if we want to be biblical preachers, we need a robust, whole bible theology.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Wallpaper


Time for a change on the old wallpaper. Stary Night by Vincent will do for a few weeks.
Those swirls are amazing, the luminence of the moon in the corner, the almost invisible church spire in the centre.

Hebrew - the language of heaven

I'm copying this post from Mike Bird's blog. Even an excellent NT scholar like Mike can recognise the truth when he reads it.

Hebrew: "The Language Pleasing to God"
In reading Pseudo-Clementine's Recognitions for my devotions . . . (just kidding!) I came across this rather amusing passage:


In the fifteenth generation, men first worshiped fire and constructed idols. Now, until that time one language prevailed, the language pleasing to God: Hebrew (1.30.5)

All my OT pals will love this quote!

If you haven't found Mike's blog try a look at Euangelion.

Justice and Compassion 2

My friend Albert, aka iTalker, has offered some thoughts on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi you can read them here.

See my earlier post on this theme.

Tyndale House Newsletter




There is a new edition of the Tyndale House newsletter for Summer 2009, you can read it here.

Bible & Church sounds an interesting initiative and the dates are available for the 2010 Study Group in July next year.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Good News

Good news, glad tidings of great joy. Let the shouting be unconfined, ring out those bells.

Today I got my new reading glasses!!

Once again I can read the diacritical marks in my NA 27. And as for the dagesh in BHS ...

Not to advertise, but if the folks who made my new glasses do as good a job on Scottish ref's there will be no questionable decisions this season.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Total Church - In Practice




After two opening chapters, principles on gospel and community, the second and final section of Total Church is on the practice of gospel and community.

On Evangelism.
p. 53 - Much evangelism is skewed towards me and my needs. But, the gospel is about God exercising his rule through his Messiah for his glory.

I've been preaching on Elijah in our evening services and meeting felt needs is a principle aspect of Baal worship, in deed all idol worship. You can here themes from NT Wright on the gospels in this comment on God's rule through his Messiah. I like Wright's work and it is good to see this kind of earthing of it in evangelism.

There is a great section on pp. 60-61 on the vital importance in evangelism of ordinary people doing ordinary things.

On Church Planting
p. 85 makes the claim that church planting is the best way to be missionary. This may be so, but surely the 'best way' is not the only way, and may not be appropriate for all Christian communities.
On the same page a brilliant section on Christian community being at the heart of mission. Mission is not about one, or a group within the community engaging in some 'mission' activity, but about the whole community living as disciples of Jesus.
It seems to me that the purpose of election is mission - on this see Gen 11-12, Chris Wright 'The Mission of God' and other places.

There is a challenge given to congregation who are celebrating anniversaries - 50th, 100th, 125th! What are they celebrating and do they become focused upon their past, their tradition and heritage rather than focusing on their mission in the present and the future?

I hope these short comments of mine are encouraging you to buy and read this book.

Meetings, meetings and friends

It's has been a busy start to the new session.
In August I've been in Edinburgh three times, Glasgow twice and had three weddings.

I've a meeting in Glasgow next week, then a week off with no meetings in 121. Of course now I've posted this, someone will notice and ...

Monday was a long day. Council of Assembly until about 3 pm and a meeting with friends in Glasgow on the way home, so didn't get home until about mid-night.

It was, however, very good to meet up with friends and talk together, especially good to pray together for one another and for our church in these days. A wonderful thought shared by one friend, we believe in miracles - nothing is impossible for our God!

Justice and Compassion

Earlier today the Scottish Government agreed to the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, previously convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. I thought I would post some brief thoughts on this.

1. Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. Jer 10:24.

I'm not sure that justice and anger go well together. We rejoice in this prayer of Jeremiah's, do we then choose to live in anger rather than justice?

2. Why is the statue of justice blindfolded? To be just, justice must be impartial. There is an element of penalty in all sentencing, but only an element. Is the principle purpose of sentencing punishment? Is there not another purpose served? I'm not comfortable with the wishes of victims of crime for retribution having a substantial claim over the course of justice.

3. Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is a strong, motivating emotion. We do well to heed the claims of compassion.

4. I really don't like being lectured by American politicians on justice. If they had captures Mr Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, no doubt he would have been detained without trial, incarcerated in a prison wearing an orange jump suit and being regularly tortured.

5. We can't only have compassion on high profile prisonners who are Lybian. The claims of compassion extend to all in our prisons where need arises.

6. No 2 above does not seek to diminish the pain experienced by victims of crime, rather we should live in a society where justice is prized and compassion for all is practiced.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Textual Quirks


I'm really enjoying this book. Chapter 2 is on Quirks, those aspects of narrative texts that crop up again and again and you need to watch out for them.
On the author, "We want, when reading narrative, to get into the narrator's own head, to know how he looks upon the matters he describes, or - what is the same for me, how God looks upon those matters." (p. 12)
I am grateful for this reminder of the overlap between the human author and the Divine author, when using the best tools we have to understand literature, we remember to submit to God the author.
Some quirks: reticence (a narrative author doesn't always tell us what the point is), eavesdropping (a narrative author will sometimes tell us information the characters in the events narrated don't know).
Selectivity (a narrative author doesn't always tell us everything we want to know). "You are dying of curiosity and the narrator answers none of your questions. Hence they must not be that important!" (p. 15) It is a sign of great pride to imagine that our concerns are greater in importance than those of the author of Scripture. I've heard too many good sermons go bad when a preacher begins to imagine (read - make up) details that are not given in the text. This is not a complaint about extra-biblical historical background, but about the imposition of psychological and/or emotional motives upon biblical characters where there is no evidence in the text for this. Since God is the author, his concerns should become our concerns, and if God doesn't tell us we don't need to know.
I like what Dale writes about surprise, "Sometimes we may be so familiar with the flow of a biblical story that we fail to be surprised when we should. We need to cultivate a 'first-time-reader' frame of mind." (p. 19)
In biblical narrative emphasis is achieved by repetition. Let me make the point this way:
"For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation of him; now shall I expect the discovery of truth from any one who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability." (from John Owen on p. 1 - see my earlier post!!)
There are other quirks in chapter 2, but buy the book - it's well worth it.
I can't finish without one final quote.
"But this tension (in Ex 2:1-10) is not some mere literary device; it is a theological primer. It tells us that sometimes Yahweh's providence is a heart-stoping providence. In fact, it tells us something important about God - he is not boring; he is able to keep you interested. He may perplex you; he may even drive you to despair; he may keep you on the edge of your seat far longer than you want - but no one who knows him will ever call the God of the Bible boring." (p. 28-29)
On a Friday morning, may those of us called to preach by this God on Sunday be excited by the great big God of the Bible.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Approaching Preaching


I found this book at Keswick, and already am glad that I did. Dale Ralph Davis was speaking on the first week, check out the programmes on clayton.tv
This is a book on preaching, or perphas a book on Old Testament narratives in preparation for preaching. In chapter 1 Dale writes on an approach to preaching.
Quoting John Owen, "For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation of him; now shall I expect the discovery of truth from any one who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability." (p. 1)
I found this a humbling reminder of my human weakness, a great challenge to any professional pride in handling Scripture. A call to prayer and dependance upon God is surely the only way to approach preaching.
Later on, "In facing Scripture one must take account of two realities: Spirit and text. This fact forces me to one of my operating presuppositions: God has given his word in the form of literature, part of which is narrative; I should therefore use all available tools for understanding literature. So I seek the Spirit's aid and use an approach suited to the form of his word." (p. 3)
What a great operating presupposition! Let's try to understand God's word starting from the form in which he has given us his word - literature, narrative. This leads to some obvious questions.
Why? What is the authors intention?
"Now all this concern with a writer's intention is terribly out of step. I call it 'dinosaur hermeneutics'. Reader-response criticism is more the current rage; it only wants to answer, 'How does this text affect me?' There is no precise or correct meaning but only meanings which arise from within the reader. I admit my preoccupatin with a writer's intention is dated. And I really don't care. It's hard to get away from the suspicion that someone meant to mean something with a text. Sooner or later folks will recognize that - again." (p. 4-5)
Yes, yes, yes! Words consciously and deliberately placed in sentences, in paragraphs, in narratives mean something. I do not construct a meaning by imposing my meaning upon a text - that is textual abuse. Submission to Scripture begins with a sustained seeking of the purpose of the text, the intention of the author.
Dale then comments on: (ii) How? What is the Structure of the text? (iii) What? What is the actual content of the text? Before coming to So what?
"We need to hear some loving mockery behind us, crying, 'So what? What difference does all this study make for anyone? Why should I want to pay any attention to this?' If we are constantly 'berated' that way, it will make us far better interpreters." (p. 7)
We have not preached, we have not studied a portion of Scripture until and unless we have answered this 'So what?' question. The authors intention must connect with my life. The structure and content of the passage must bear down upon me and land on Monday morning.
What a simple and straighforward approach to understanding Scripture in preparation for preaching. Pray as though everything depended upon the Spirit (which it does) and work hard at a few simple questions as though the whole thing is depending upon your study (which it does).
May God raise up such preachers and ministers of his word in our land.




Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Steve Brady at Keswick


Introducing the evening series on Faith At Work for the evening celebrations this year Steve Brady spoke on these three headings:
Faith leans upon a person
Faith lasts under pressure
Faith lives by the promise
It was a good talk and I'm sure you'll be able to catch it on clayton.tv
Steve shared a quote from Churchill, "The secret of success is going from failure to failure with no noticeable loss of enthusiasm."
When going from 'aparant' failure to 'aparant' failure it is good for those of us involved in Christian service to remember, we already know the end of the story - our God wins!

Total Church = Total Community


More from this excellent book.
Chester and Timmis are totally into community. This is the big challenge to church as we've always known it. It isn't enough to speak to new people who come on a Sunday, for Total Church community is much more than that.
On p. 48 we read of how identity as Christians is found in a Christian community, and this Christian community is Christ's new community.
For many of us experiences of church are different from what we hope Christ's new community will be like. We find the old ways of being in community - competition, aggression, fear, gossiping - all the old destructive patterns of life. It is not a new challenge that the church should be a new community, a new kind of community (perhaps for a new kind of Christian!). We have all felt the force of this challenge before. I think in this book it comes with a fresh power and import.
Where do we seek our identity? In Christ. Well Jesus is usually the answer. But, what does this mean? It cannot mean less than the church becoming a whole life community in which we find our new identity in Christ.
I really like the thought on p. 38. A weakness exists in building my own identity rather than receiving one constructed by God's grace.
What freedom there is in not having to find myself, in not needing to be affirmed by any other than God in his grace. This I think is one of the most frightening ideas in the book, I must almost give up my own identity to receive a new one in grace.
No doubt this is included in cross bearing self-denial, but does not demean self or diminsh the worth placed upon me by a God whose Son died for me.
If only church could be a place where genuine grace shaped identity is born and nurtured in a community of those growing in the new, grace-given identities.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Alpha, The Guardian, NT Wright and the Resurrection

I've copied below the post from Friday Night Theology from the Evangelical Alliance (7/8/09).

It appears that Adam Rutherford who writes for The Guardian is attending an Alpha course and writing of his thoughts on this. In his recent article he strongly questions the historicity of Christianity in general and the resurrection of the body of the Lord Jesus in particular. Bishop Wright offers a brief response to this and points to his two wonderful books - 'The Resurrection of the Son of God' and 'Surprised by Hope'.

I hope you find this helpful, and please do check out the EA site for Friday Night Theology.


Wright on the Resurrection

This week’s ‘special’ FNT first appeared on the Guardian's commentisfree site. It is reproduced here with the permission of Bishop Tom Wright.

Various things could be said of Adam Rutherford's take on the resurrection (apart from the fact that the criticism doesn't seem to be engaging with the central issues, so it's hard to tell whether he's really heard the point or not).
1. The historical basis of Christianity is vital precisely because Christianity isn't just a moral philosophy or a pathway of spirituality, however much many in late western culture (including in the church) have tried to belittle it by treating it as such. Of course sceptics want Christianity to be "simply a moral philosophy". That's not nearly so challenging as what it actually is.
2. The reason many of us refer to the New Testament in dealing with early Christianity is not just that it's "The Bible", but that it's the close-up, often first-hand evidence both for what happened and for what Jesus' first followers made of it all.
3. The historical evidence for Jesus himself is extraordinarily good. I have no idea whether the Alpha teachers have gone into the detail of how we know about things in Palestine in the first century, but the evidence dovetails together with remarkable consistency, as I and many others have shown in works of very detailed historical scholarship. From time to time people try to suggest that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, but virtually all historians of whatever background now agree that he did, and most agree that he did and said a significant amount at least of what the four gospels say he did and said.
4. Just as Christian faith is far more than a moral philosophy or spiritual pathway (though it includes both as it were en passant), so it is more than a "how to get saved" teaching backed up by a dodgy "miracle". Christian faith declares that, in and through Jesus, the creator of the world launched his plan to rescue the world from the decaying and corrupting force of evil itself. This was (if it was anything at all) an event which brought about a new state of affairs, albeit often in a hidden and paradoxical way (as Jesus kept on saying): the "kingdom of God", that is, the sovereign, rescuing rule of the creator, breaking in to creation. If this stuff didn't happen then Christianity is based on a mistake. You can't rescue it by turning it into a philosophy.
5. Of course, this was nonsense in the ancient pagan world, as it is nonsense in the modern pagan world. Nothing new there. The Jewish worldview (in which there is a creator God who has promised to rescue the world, and whose people are somehow a vehicle of this rescue operation) was and is always offensive to pagan worldviews of every sort. The sceptics of today add nothing to the sceptics of the first and second century AD.
6. And, of course, we all know that dead people don't rise. Actually, the early Christians knew that too; they didn't suppose that people did rise from the dead from time to time and that Jesus just happened to be one of them. (The other "raisings" in the NT are of course what we would call "near death experiences" – people who are clinically dead and then find themselves called back.*) Rather, they claimed that Jesus had as it were gone through death and out the other side into a new form of physicality for which there was no previous example and of which there remains no subsequent example. They knew as well as we do how outrageous that was, but they found themselves compelled to say it. As one of the more sceptical of today's scholars has put it, "It seems that they were doing their best to describe an event for which they didn't have the right language."
7. You can't explain how they came to say what they said unless there were both several "sightings" of and meetings with someone they took to be Jesus, alive again, and an empty tomb where he had been. Without the first, they would have said the grave had been robbed. Without the second, they would have known it was a hallucination (they knew as much about those as we do). But if both occurred, how do we explain them? All other explanations fail to account for the reality of what they said and the change in their lives and their sense of call. (Which can't, by the way, be rubbished by likening it to Jones or Koresh; read Acts and compare and contrast with that sort of stuff.)
8. Jesus' resurrection was not, for them, a kind of odd phenomenon which validated a particular atonement theology (though of course all these things are joined up). It isn't an extra thing, bolted on to the outside of a moral philosophy. It is the launching-pad for God's new creation. "Christian spirituality" is learning to live in that new creation. "Christian ethics" is learning to let the power of that new creation shape your life. A Christian political theology is discovering what it means that, through the resurrection, Jesus is the world's true Lord.
9. Ridiculous? Of course. It was in AD 35 and it is today. But actually it makes sense – historically, culturally, philosophically and even dare I say politically. We've tried all sorts of other stuff recently and got fairly stuck, haven't we? But actually that shoulder-shrugging pragmatism, though it might alert people to the fact that normal western scepticism may not have the last word, isn't enough. It is possible to argue historically for the truth of Jesus' resurrection. I and others have done so and the case is remarkably good. But I'm not sure, to be honest, that the writer attending the Alpha course is really interested in the historical argument. If he is, he might look at Surprised by Hope, especially chapters 3 and 4. And if he wants a fuller account, he could tackle The Resurrection of the Son of God.
Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham
*For more details on what Tom Wright means by this, please see his Surprised by Hope (Chapters 3,4) and The Resurrection of the Son of God (pp440ff).

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Total Church: Gospel and Theology


Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A radical reshaping around gospel and community. Pub IVP, 2007
This was one of my summer reading books. I can't commend it highly enough, if you've already got the book, read it, if not buy it and read it.
Written from the experience of church in The Crowded House the authors write from a conviction that community is at the heart of the gospel and should be at the heart of church.
In the first section of the book they write of gospel and theology in relation to church.
p. 16 - gospel-centred means two things: word-centred and mission-centred. The gospel is a word to proclaim.
What a challenge to much of our church life in CofS! So often God's word is marginalised by our fighting over it and whatever we mean by mission we can hardly be described as mission-centred. Do we agree that the church is to be gospel-centred, and if so, is this what we mean by gospel-centred?
p. 18 "The theology that matters is not the theology we profess, but the theology we practise."
We are so good, and quick, to argue for our own chosen theological position and to defend the purity of our profession. What would happen, what difference would it make if we promoted our theology by our living? When, for example, we claim to hold to the doctrines of grace, why do we so seldom practise grace? Here's a theological challenge, why not, everytime we state to ourselves or in public a theological position we commit to immediately identifying a practise, a way of life implied by that theological position - and then living this theology in our lives day by day.
p. 36 writing on the difference between full-time and part-time in ministry - we need to model whole-life gospel-centred missional living.
We really have lost the thread of the ministry of the people of God, we diminish all ministry by thinking and speaking about full-time, or paid-ministry. Each disciple of the Lord Jesus should be whole-life engaged in discipleship, whole-life engaged in gospel mission. How do we model this? What does it mean in Scotland in 2009? Is whole-life gospel-centred missional living the age old plan of God to save the world one life at a time?
As you can see, I have been greatly challenged by this book. More to follow.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Some Wonderful Calvin

I found this portion of John Calvin’s preface to Pierre Robert Oliv├ętan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534) on Mike Bird’s blog Euangelion, and thought it so good, I’ve copied it here.

Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel
we are not Christians;

without the gospel
all riches is poverty,all wisdom folly before God;strength is weakness,and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.
For, he was
sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was
made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life; so that by him
fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.
And we are
comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Selderhuis on Calvin


Being the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth on the 10th of July, and yes, we had a cake and some nice French wine, I had to read another book on Calvin.
Generally I don't think Selderhuis is a good a read as McGrath or Parker on Calvin, or of course Wendel. However, having said that, the running theme of the Pilgrim Life is a good one and is well integrated to Calvin's life and time.
A few interesting comments from the book.
Selderhuis writes that Calvin devoted his life to the defense of God, page 22. This may be true but I find it a rather negative aim in life. Does God need any human to defend him? Can we not better give our lives to celebrate God, to enjoy him, to know him, to live in his presence?
I really liked the note on page 63 that the faith, which Selderhuis sees in Calvin, which depends upon God's mercy produces humility in a believer, not a smug self assurance. May it be so in our lives.
On page 117-118 writing of how Calvin engaged with his enemies, Calvin sought to make his enemies his friends and sought to achieve this by self-restraint. I think there are too many who would rather see an enemy destroyed than have an enemy changed into a friend. It would be good to reflect upon this example of Calvin and seek to win more friends for ourselves, even from our 'enemies'.
One final point, on page 208 - Calvin wrote of "the right of excommunication conferred upon us", by the city council in Geneva. I found the notion of what was for Calvin a crucial element in church discipline being conferred upon the church by a civil authority interesting. All the more since I've recently read my friend Marjory MacLean's book 'The Crown Rights of the Redeemer' in which much is made of the granting of a status upon the church of Scotland. No doubt, I'll have more on this later.
If this doesn't encourage you to read Selderhuis, I hope it may encourage you to read another account of Calvin's life and work, or even better - read Calvin himself.


The theme for the Keswick Convention this year was 'Faith That Works', during week 3 when we were there this theme was opened up by Vaughan Roberts in morning bible readings from Proverbs and in the evening celeberations by studies in Hebrews 11.

Stephen Gaukroger, who is the founder-director of the Clarion Trust International, spoke very helpfully on three evenings.
On the Tuesday evening Stephen opened with a definition of faith that I want to share here. Faith is difficult to define, we can end up piling words upon words to try to explain what we mean by this small word. However, faith is seen by its effect, by its fruit. An action is needed to demonstrate, or give validity to, a statement of faith.
This is not the same as saying faith is a verb rather than a noun, faith can be both, and at times needs to be both. However, every time we profess our faith, or seek to describe our faith, we should give thought to the action or deed of faith that will demonstrate, give life to that profession.

Although coming in the middle of the week this definition of faith was well illustrated in Hebrews 11. Let us pray that it will be similarly displayed in our living by faith, the faith that works.

Phatfish

A great band we heard at Keswick, both this year and last year. Here is a you tube video which they made for one of their songs - Rise Up.

In The Thick Of It

During the summer tearfund published a report In The Thick Of It on the theme of local churches engaging in the fight against poverty and injustice.

This is a good report and well worth reading, you can find it here.

The following is from the tearfund web site introducing their report:

We've been working with local churches around the world for over 40 years. It's been an adventure, and we've seen some great things happen through local churches as well as helping churches out when they're trying to meet the scale of the need in their communities.
We're passionate about the role that local churches play in meeting practical and spiritual needs, and we believe that their role should be recognised and encouraged. That's why we've put together In the Thick of It, which is our position paper on the role of the local church in development.
It's full of stories about local churches in tough situations, reaching out to the people around them and offering hope and help in times of need. It also recognises that churches have limitations and weaknesses at the same time as masses of potential, which is why we at Tearfund are uniquely placed to mobilise churches to get even better at working effectively within their own communities.

Please do continue to support tearfund and pray for the poor.

Brenton Brown




We bought this cd last week at Keswick and I've been listening to it since coming home, in the car and on the train to 121 yesterday.

What a great set of songs. Just now a favourite is 'Come Let Us Return (Gloria)'. A song which begins as a praise song ends up in a prayer for mercy and for God to establish justice.

Let mercy rise like praise to your throne,
let mercy rise like praise to you throne
Father touch your church, 'til justice fills the earth
Let mercy rise like praise to your throne

Check out Brenton's web site here, and there is a my space page where you can hear this song.
I hope you like it. Thanks to Fred Drummond for recommending Brenton's music, good one Fred!





Back To blogging

Sorry I haven't been blogging for a while. June turned out very busy and July was holiday time.

But, here we are back again.

Came home from holiday on Saturday, had three services on Sunday and a whole day at the Finance Group in 121 yesterday! The road rises up to meet you.

Over the holidays I've been reading - see the holiday reading list at the side, and we were able to be at week 3 of the Keswick Convention. So I'll be blogging on books, Keswick and new music over the next while.