Saturday, 4 September 2010

Well done, Moderator

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has done a good job for us all today.

Responding to Stephen Hawkin's latest dismissal of God, John, our Moderator this year, has reaffirmed a Christian profession of God as Creator. You can read the Scotsman's report here. I read it in the Herald this morning, but their web site is so bad you can never find anything you want on it!

I notice the Scotsman have included some quotes from Scripture to end their piece, at least on line. There's one they missed out. The biblical definition of a fool is given in Ps 14:1
The fool says in his heart there is no God.

You can have as many degrees or professorships as you can bear, but if you deny the existence of God, you are a fool.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Another book on justification

Just finished another book from my 2010 target list. Mark A Seifrid Christ, our Righteousness: Paul's theology of justification, IVP, 2000.

Seifrid has obviously decided not to write an apologia, he is not in discussion with any of the new perspective school. Rather by setting forth plainly a reasonably traditional reformed view of justification in Paul he hopes to commend this to us.
He does a good job at this, certainly it is a better book than John Piper on Justification - see my earlier post here. In brief, Siefrid is at least concerned to be biblical, not just reformed.

I do think Seifrid's book fails in the lack of engagement with NT Wright. He is aware of Wright's work and seems at times to be kicking against Wright, without directly engaging him. Although Wright does merit 6 referneces in the index, these are all to minor comments or footnotes.

While helpful in its own way Seifrid's book does not advance the conversation on justification, and certainly will not draw it to any kind of conclusion.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Biblical Theology

Mike Bird has posted a link to what looks like a very good blog on Biblical Theology - it's called
Beginning with Moses.

A good understanding of biblical theology, and how the bible holds together, is I think essential for any understanding of any particular part of Scripture. And a blog like this one will be a great help to us all in that.

Right To Believe Campaign


Yesterday while at church I was made aware of the Open Doors Right To Believe campaign, a Global Petition for Religious Liberty. Please look at the web page here.

On the site you can read about this campaign, I've copied the following:

RIGHT TO BELIEVE



DEFAMATION OF RELIGIONS AT THE UNITED NATIONS: a threat to religious liberty

This year the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), linking 57 countries with majority or significant Muslim populations, will once again introduce the Defamation of Religions Resolution in the United Nations.

It allows governments the power to determine which religious views can and can't be expressed in their country, and it gives the state the right to punish those who express 'unacceptable' religious views as they see fit. So, in effect, it makes persecution legal.

It aims to criminalise words or actions deemed to be against a particular religion, especially Islam. It has the effect of providing international legitimacy for national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion. It is due to be voted on in the UN General Assembly at the end of this year.

Incredibly, many countries have backed this resolution in the past, but some are now changing their minds. This year, there is a real possibility it could be defeated. And you can help. It's time to draw a line in the sand. Add your signature to Open Doors' petition and join thousands of others across the world.

Please pray for our sisters and brothers in the persecuted church around the world. Please pray that the church will defend, and stand up, for our responsibility to declare the Lordship of King Jesus over all creation. Please sign the petition, share this with your church leader and get your congregation to join in.

An Idolatry of the Mind

I'm preparin for preaching on Isaiah 40:21-31.

Reading John D W Watts commentary in the Word Biblical Commentary series I came across this:

So the people are accused of a lack of trust [verses 28ff] which is akin to idolatry. It is an idolatry of the mind that demands that God and his word make sense to them. They want God to convince them, to listen to their plan which compares him to nations and to governments that they know or that they have known. They expect God to fit his plans to their specifications. (page 96)

Every now and then you read a paragraph written about Israel in the time of Isaiah and it could have been written about the Church of Scotland in 2010.
The idolatry of lack of trust is alive and well among us, too few trust God and his word.
The idolatry of the mind has taken deep root, too many seek to submit God and his word to their feeble understanding, as though our sin darkened minds, and depraved lifestyles, could ever sit in judgment over our eternal, all-powerful, sovereign God.

The promise of strength is for those who wait upon the Lord. Those who have a proper submission to God and his purposes and will depend upon God alone to be King and God.

80-20 or 90-10?

I was reading in the Sept/Oct 2010 Idea, the Evangelical Alliance bi-monthly magazine an article by Phil Green, 'Help people along their faith journey'.

Phil writes, quoting some statistics:
Christian faith is usually firmly established when young: a third of people claim they knew they were Christian before the age of 12; 40% knew somewhere between 12 and 19; 16% in their 20s; and just 9% aged 30 and above. The Faith Journeys project has revealed that the foundation built during childhoos and adolescence is highly significant. (page 22, idea sep/oct 2010)

This struck a chord. 91% of Christians have become Christian before the age of 30. How effectively do we disciple these Christians that they will remain Christian through out the rest of their lives?

We do not give up on the 9% but I think need to ask ourselves how much effort are we putting in to chasing this 9%? Is it too much or too little?

There is a business mantra: 20% of your working effort produces 80% of your results. I'm sure it is simply the similarity of the numbers but I found myself asking, if church engaged 20% of their efforts in work with people under 30 would this achieve a similar result to that recorded by the Faith Journeys project? If so, we should be engaging 80% of our working effort to pursue the 20% or the 9%.
What is the balance of our ministry and service between those under 30 and those over 30?

Thinking of our work with school children, we should definitely increase our expectation that children of school age are well able to make a meaningful commitment to Christian discipleship which will endure into adult life. This should become the express aim and goal of all our work with school age children.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Church in Europe, following or leading?

Another interesting post on the blogsphere from Krish Kandiah at What's Next.

Good question, Krish.

The state of the church in Europe is not encouraging. But, is this post-Christian situation one that all churches, whatever their present situation, will in time have to go through? Often we reflect on the growth of the church in Asia, South America and Africa and ask what lessons do we need to learn for ourselves in Europe. (Often, but not often enough or seriously enough I think!)

But what if this post-Christian cultural context is an natural cultural development flowing from a strong Christian church with deep roots in a culture?
If this is the case then we in Europe should not be seeking to 'return' to church situations we presently see modelled in other contexts, but we should follow Jesus and press through into the glorious future he has for his church.

Well Done The Real Reds

A great result last night!
I don't care if the goals come late, if they are own goals or dodgy off-side decisions, they all count! Let's hope for a successful campaign in the Europa League.

In passing, I'm beginning to think Neil Lennon will in time stand among all the truly great Celtic managers - Liam Brady, Lou Macari, John Barnes.

History and Theology and the New Testament

A very interesting post from Mike Bird at Euangelion - here.

Since I've told you I got it via Mike, I hope it is ok to copy the quote from CK Barrett here:

Some historical element is not only admissible but is in fact essential, without it New Testament Theology will hardly escape degeneration into a collection of texta probantia. And the historian must not scorn the contribution of philosophical questioning to supplement his historical criticism. He who is master of both history and theology will write the greatest New Testament theology’.


C.K. Barrett, ‘Historia Theologiae Genetrix,’ in Aufgabe und Durchführung einer Theologie des Neuen Testaments, eds. C. Breytenbach and J. Frey (WUNT 205; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2007), 205-6.
 
Yes. I wholly agree with this. Christianity is an historical faith, the elements of our faith as recorded in the Ecumenical Creeds are historical events. History alone, however, does not give us all we need, a robust theological approach to our faith, combined with rigorous historical study will furnish real insight into that revelation of God given through Jesus Christ his Son.
 
I note that Barrett does not mention a master of biblical critisicm. It is possible that this is subsumed within the heading 'theology', however, it need not be. An ability to read the bible well is an essential skill for all theologians, but as with history, it is not enough in itself.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Carson on Niebuhr and Liberal Christianity

One of the interesting points I noted in Carson's book, Christ and Culture Revisited, was his comments on liberal Christianity.

... for liberal theology, which is one form of what Niebuhr calls "culture Christianity": transparently, Niebuhr is not talking about what C. S. Lewis would call "mere Christians," some of whom happen to hold some more-or-less liberal positions on this detail or that economic policy. "Sociologically, Niebuhr says of them, "they may be interpreted as nonrevolutionaries who find no need for positing 'cracks in time' - fall and incarnation and judgment and resurrection." Indeed, they reject "the whole conception of a once-and-for-all act of redemption." This is pretty fundamental stuff. If that is what liberal Christianity is, then Machen, though he wrote three-quarters of a century ago, was surely right: liberalism is not another denomination or any other kind of legitimate option within Christianity. Rather, it is another religion. (pages 33-34)

For too long I and others in Scotland, and in the Church of Scotland, have tried to make common ground with those who deny that God is creator, that there was a fall into sin which has affected all of humanity, that the eternal Son of God became human, that there will be a final judgment by God upon all humanity, that the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are God's once for all act of salvation - there is no other salvation apart from that achieved by God in the cross of Christ.

It is time to say clearly, denying these high points of biblical revelation moves one outside of biblical, orthodox Christianity. Any liberty of opinion granted to ministers and elders of the Church of Scotland in relation to the Westminster Confession of Faith, does not and cannot extend to liberty of opinion on these fundamentals of the faith.

Liberal Christianity, so called, is neither liberal nor Christian. As Carson quotes Machen, 'it is another religion', and one which I don't want anything to do with.

The Prodigal Son


On the EA Scotland web site this month is the August 2gether cmail. Short reflections on the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-31 - well worth a read - here.

Those by Pete Anderson and Keith Short are really good, the third one is by me, so let me know what you think.

Christ and Culture

I picked this book up at Keswick last year and read it when I came home from Keswick this year! Whenever they get bought they all get read!

Carson's conclusion is a good place to start:
To pursue with a passion the robust and nourishing wholeness of biblical theology as the controlling matrix for our reflection on the relations between Christ and culture will, ironically, help us to be far more flexible than the inflexible grids that are often made to stand in the Bible's place. Scripture will mandate that we think holistically and subtyly, wisely and penetratingly, under the Lordship of Christ - utterly dissatisfied with the anesthetic of the culture. The complexity will mandate our service, without insisting that things turn out a certain way: we learn to trust and obey and leave the results to God, for we learn from both Scripture and history that sometimes faithfulness leads to awakening and reformation, sometimes to persecution and violence, and sometimes to both. Because creation gave us embodied existence, and beause our ultimate hope is the resurrection life in the new heaven and the new earth, we will understand that being reconciled to god and bowing to the Lordship of King Jesus cannot possibly be reduced to the privatized religion or a gorm of ostensibly spirituality abstracted from full-orbed bodily existence now. (pages 227-228)

Carson rejects the five options offered by Niebuhr, noting that in his opinion two of these fail the test of being adequately Christian! Carson offers throughout biblical theology as a way of reading the bible which engages us with the bible in our own culture(s) in the hope that this will offer us a Christian way to respond to the challenges of non-Christian and anti-Christian expressions of culture.

Carson at times approves of the definition of culture offered by Geertz:
[T]he culture concept ... denotes an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life. (page 2)
This is helpful, not least in its brevity, and may be useful to others when writing and talking about culture.

On the whole Carson's book is worth reading as it addresses issues of cultural engagement which rightly press in upon the church and our Christian living.

Glory or Gore in Europe

ok, it wasn't good on Monday evening, 3-0 against Man City is a bad defeat. But, 36 league games to go, if we win them all the championship trophy will be returning home.

I don't know what to think about tonights game in Turkey against Trabzonspor. We had enough chances last week to take a bigger lead into the game, let's hope Joe Cole doesn't try to take any more penalties!

Come on the real reds, time for a big result.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Keswick Evenings -2 Corinthians - 7

The final evening of Keswick week 2, 2010. Joe Stowell, from the USA spoke on 2 Cor 6:3-10.

The secret of contentment is to live no fault lives.
Joe took the expression 'no fault lives' from the analogy of car insurance where there are no fault claims.

We are to put no obstacle in the way of ministry, v. 3. Not material things, what we wear or the car we drive, nor the words we speak.

Our daily choices about how we live may facilitate or obstruct the gospel.

We are to live no fault lives as servants, v. 4.
The Lord Jesus chose to be a servant and he calls us to be servants in our following him.
This has proved to be a continual and on-going problem for the disciples, see Matthew 20.

We are to live no fault lives, as servants, with endurance - a comprehensive endurance, vv. 5-10.
The example of no fault, enduring lives is Jesus.

A good series of meetings on part of 2 Corinthians, I'm not sure I can figure out why knowing there were only to be seven meetings this series of passages were chosen and why we stopped here.

If you are wondering about morning bible readings at Keswick these were really good. The speak was Paul Mallard and he was speaking on Revelation 2 and 3, the Seven Letters. I've decided to post on Revelation in my other blog Reading Together and will comment on Paul's bible readings there.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tyndale ToolBar

I've found another great bible study resource from Tyndale House.

It's a tool bar which will install into your browser and gives access to a range of bible study resources at the top of your browser all the time. You can find it and install is from Tyndale House.

As with most Tyndale techy stuff there is lots on this, more than I have already discovered. But a great resource - thanks guys.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Keswick Evenings - 2 Corinthians - 6

I'm sorry I missed the Wed evening, playing games with Andrew, but Fiona went along.

So on Thursday evening Derek Tidball spoke on 2 Cor 5:11-6:2

The only sensible way to live is to live wholly for Christ.


1) Motivation - vv. 11-14
v. 11 - the knowledge of the fear of the Lord motivates us.
Derek refered to v. 10, the judgment throne of God, as the source of this fear. In the context that may be right, however, in a wider biblical context I tend to think that 'the fear of the Lord' functions like a kind of technical term meaning something like 'knowing how to live properly the life God has given us to life in his presence under the sun'. Let me know what you think?

Once we have been saved we are accountable for our works, our acts of service and love as Christians.
v. 14 - the love of Christ constrains us. So it is not only 'the fear of the Lord' but Christ's love which motivates our action.

2) Transformation - vv. 15-17.
A life is turned around, see Acts 9.
If only our desires and ambitions were changed like Paul's!
What does our church live for? - A good question we should answer.

v. 15 - a new direction.
v. 17 - if transformed then we should live 'new creation', into which Christ has made us.

3) Reconciliation - vv. 18-21
This is the great message.
"Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe - people and things, animals and atoms - get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross." [Colossians 1:20, The Message, E H Peterson]

God has taken the initiative in reconciliation. The appeal which is made by the ambassador is God's appeal.

4) Application - 6:1-2
is a challenge to us all.
This day needs to be seized.
Consider a packet of processed sugar, all the work that has gone into this product. If it sits on a cafe table and is played with but never used, that whole process is wasted.

What are we doing since God is achieving reconciliation for us in the death of Christ?

New Music

I'm listening to this cd Newworldson, by Newworldson. A friend, Paul, heard them at Frenzy in June and thought they were great - he was right!

A real lively sound which just doesn't sound like four white Canadians.

Check out their web site - newworldson

And watch this youtube clip below.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Charismatic Calvinists? - Convergence

In May/June I re-read Sam Storms 'Convergence: The Spiritual Journey of a Charismatic Calvinist'.

Storms has noticed, as we all have that a 'breach exists between Word-based evangelical cessationists and their more experintially oriented charismatic cousins.' (page 9). His aim in writing is to share his expriences and reflections upon them hoping to address the mistrust and caricature which passess between these two grous.

This is a good, readable book. Many, I think, will recognise some, perhaps most, of Storms life-story and so will be drawn into his reflections upon it.

I think Storms gives a good account of Charismatic theology and experience, sufficient to challenge any cessationist to re-think their position.
Storms describes as the primary point of contention between evangelical cessationists and evangelical charismatics the claim that God speaks prophetically and immediately into situations in our lives, yes in the words of Scripture but not only in the words of Scripture. I think Storms may be right here, but I'm not sure he has offered enough to persuade us of his conclusion in this matter.

I'm not sure that what Storms offers is convergence, so much as a plea to cessationists to recognise their error and engage in charismatic practice. I'm not complaining about him writing such a book, just that convergence doesn't seem to describe what he is pleading for.

Certainly in Scotland the suspicion and distrust which exists between some evangelicals and charismatics is bitter and harmful to the work of the gospel. It might be because of my story I'm more willing to consider charismatic theology and practice as being biblical and godly, but at the very least I think we cannot consider it any less than this.

The following quote gripped me as I share this frustration, after not three years but 17 years!
During these first three years I preached verse by verse through the Scriptures and did my best to honour God and serve his people. But I was growing increasingly frustrated by the problems people faced and my apparent inability and lack of wisdom to help them. (page 38)

So thanks Ian for recommending this book, which I commend to others.

Make Poverty History

My friend Albert has a very challenging post on his iTalker blog.

Encountering poverty whether in Peru or Malawi changes how you think about things. It isn't only retirement that is a luxury of the rich, our meaningless and pointless conversations, the way we get worked up about football or the sales at M&S - we just don't get it.

The great challenge of our generation is global poverty, we need to challenge the evil of economic systems that condemn too many to lives of poverty so that we might enjoy our levels of prosperity and wealth.

Don't retire - make poverty history!

Keswick Evenings - 2 Corinthians - 4

Tuesday eveing at Keswick 2010, week 2, Liam Goligher was preaching on 2 Cor 4:7-15.

A clay jar was a throw-away, disposable item.

1) A paradox at work here, v. 7.
Between a mighty God and a weak servant.
The treasure is as described in v. 6b, (i) the gospel, (ii) the content of the gospel.

Our culture is more interested in containers than contents.
Liam noted the contrast between the container and the contents.

2) A principle at work here, vv. 8-9.
Those called to follow Jesus are called to follow a crucified Jesus.
Endurance, not deliverance, is the work of the supernatural among us.
[I think this is hugely interesting, and probably correct. We may not know success in our ministry or service, but the Spirit will enable us to endure, that having done all we may continue to stand.]
vv. 10-11 - four times 'Jesus', unusual use of 'Jesus' without 'Lord' and/or 'Christ', emphasises the humanity of Jesus.
Jesus life is dying, in union with Christ this is reflected in our experience.
The repeated 'but not' in vv. 8-9 remind us of God's perseverence of his people.

3) A purpose at work here, vv. 13-15.
v. 13 - 'the same spirit of faith'.
We most often see the spirit of faith at work when under pressure or in pain.
v. 14 - what God has done for Jesus he will do, is doing, for me.
v. 15 - unbelievers are encouraged when the see you continue in your faith.

The glory of God is the great purpose.

Liam concluded that very often Christians have this great treasure but don't know it, and so the impact or effect of this great treasure is not seen or experienced in our lives.

Liverpool - Arsenal

This year, could it be this year the title returns home?

I watched the MOTD2 highlights of Liverpool v Arsenal with Andrew (2nd son who has turned out to be a Man Utd fan!!!)

Much better shape about Liverpool than last year, good going forward, although once or twice Arsenal got though the back four just a bit too easily.

Great goal from Ngog, wonderful goal keeping from Reina, which even his error for the Arsenal goal can't wipe out. From the highlights I didn't think the ref did very well. If Joe Cole was due being sent off so were another two or three from each side.

A draw is ok on the first day, let's hope for better in the weeks to come, away to Man City next Monday, so Andrew will be cheering for the real Reds that day!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Keswick Evennigs - 2 Corinthians - 3

I was really looking forward to hearing Derek Tidball preach on Monday evening, as I've read some of his work over a number of years. I wasn't disappointed as Derek was greatly used of the Lord to open his word.

Derek was speaking on 2 Cor 4:1-6, and the contrast between authentic and inauthentic ministries.

1) the contrast between mercy and merit, verse 1.
The mercy of God is the foundation for Paul's ministry, not his merit, and this needs to be true for all authentic Christian ministry.
2) the contrast between truth and spin, verse 2.
This is about the style of ministry. Spin breeds a mistrustful society - a hermeneutic of suspicion.
Authentic ministry is a setting forth of the truth plainly - and you need confidence in the gospel and in the word of God for that.
Truth may not be successful or popular, but our God is a God of truth.
3) the contrast between speaking of Christ and self, verses 5-6.
In the social network, facebook, twitter, blogging (!!) culture there is great self-confidence, we all imagine there are lots of people who want to read all our various thoughts.
The Jesus we are to speak of is Lord, he is a crucified Saviour, he is the creative Word, he is the glorious image of God.
4) the contrast between light and darkness, verses 4-6.
There are blind minds and darkened lives, and only a powerful work of God can bring the light of his glory.
Illuminated hearts will lead to transformed lives.

I found this helpful first time round, and once again preparing this post, and I hope you will find it helpful also.
Derek's address can be purchased either on cd or for download from Essential Christian. Other addresses from all three Keswick weeks are also available.

Tom Wright Virtue Reborn

Over the summer I read Tom Wright's Virtue Reborn.

Wright tells us that this book is a follow on to his Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope. I've read Surprised by Hope, before starting blogging, I thought it was a great book, a companion to The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Wright's contention in Virtue Reborn is that since the Christian's future hope 'is not simply "going to heaven," but resurrection into God's new creation, the "new heavens and new earth"' (page ix), this hope has 'radical implications for every aspect of how we think about Christian faith and life.' (page ix)

My sense is that the focus in this book is very much on how we live the life God has called us in Christ to live, until he comes again.

I like Tom Wright's books, and this one is no different. I think I want to re read Surprised by Hope and then Virtue Reborn to see if I've got the connections sorted before commiting myself to blogging about something that might not be right.

Whether we agree with Wright's view of the Christian hope or not, we cannot avoid thinking deeply about what kind of life we are called to live today and tomorrow. So at the very least this book is helpful in prompting us to this exercise.

If anyone else has read Wright here, let's hear what you think. And watch out for some more detailed posts in the next few months.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Keswick Evenings - 2 Corinthians - 2

Liam Goligher spoke on the Sunday evening we were at Keswick this year on 2 Cor 3.

Liam spoke of:
1) the terrible glory of the old covenant, verse 7
2) the surprising glory of the new covenant, verses 7-10
3) the transforming glory of the new covenant, verses 12-18.

I think Liam made too big a distinction between the old covenant and the new covenant. The major difference between the two is fulfilment. The new covenant is the old covenant fulfilled in Christ. If you make too much of the difference in other way you run the risk of separating the purposes of God in too dramatic a form, i.e. you end up with Christ being a wholly new and unexpected work of God.

Discipline and the Church Fathers

The final section in Hall's book is on Discipline, in these chapters Hall takes us to the biography of Antony by Athanasius as an example of the monastic, desert communities and spiritual life that grew up during this period.

One point of note, Antony was concerned about demonic admonition to an excessive, oppressive spirituality.

Hall writes, "At times it will be difficult to identifu this specific form of demonic temptation, precisely because it is attired in Christian clothing. While all Christians are called to prayer, study adn fasting, Antony warns that demonic temptations distorting these disciplines prod the monk toward an excessive, harsh, unreasonable asceticism. Indeed, Antony advises that it is better to get a good night's sleep than to attempt to remain awake, if such exaggerated vigilance leads to fatigue, discouragement or self-righteousness." (page 218)

I don't know many who face such temptations, but there are a few. Zeal for the Lord is good, a desire for prayer, bible reading and study, fasting and spiritual discipline is greatly to be prayed for in our lives. Yet, this is a wise warning about the dangers, especially of self-righteousness which attend our performance of such spiritual disciplines. If the demons of hell cannot prevent us praying and reading God's word, they will be happy enough to pervert our prayers and study in any way they can, excess as good as any other.

Just one example of the wisdom we can gain from the desert father's, and encouragement to a more serious engagement with the Lord in prayer, bible reading and fasting.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Keswick Evenings - 2 Corinthians - 1

This year, during week 2 of the Keswick Convention the evening celebrations included studies of 2 Corinthians, at least up to 6:11. The speakers were:
Jonathan Lamb - Sat
Liam Goligher - Sun and Tue
Derek Tidball - Mon and Thu
Joe Stowell - Wed and Fri

On Sat Jonathan Lamb opened this series with an address on 2 Cor 1:1-11 - Valuable Troubles

Many contemporary spiritualities can be characterised as "what's in it for me!"
On the contrary these verses display for us the value of trials and sufferings.
1) We share in Christ's life (verse 5)
Since we enter into union with Christ we cannot aviod the weakness of the crucified One.
2) We experience God's comfort (verses 3-4, 5b)
There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper.
3) We help God's people (verses 4-7, 11)
The church is not a community of the strong and powerful, but a community of the suffering.
4) We trust God's purpose (verses 8-11)
Note especially v. 9b, where we trust in the God who raises the dead.
We are to recognise our helplessness and God's powerful faithfulness. In this we can share in a present experience of resurrection, the new life of Jesus breaking out among us today.

A challenging start to the week and helpful perspective on the troubles we all face as something not to be avoided, but something we can know God in.

Prayer and the Church Fathers

The second part of Hall's book 'Worshipping with the Church Fathers' is on prayer. There is a lot of good and interesting material in these chapters, here are just a few of those I noted.

Many of the fathers at times imagined a likeness of God to which they prayed. When this practice was condemned many found it difficult to engage in prayer. An older monk wondered if God would only hear theologically well-informed and well-phrased prayers. Hall writes, 'We do not have to pass a theology exam before we dare to pray. God knows our hearts better than we and accepts teh offering of the heart, even when the mind's thoughts expressed in prayer are foggy. We are called to think ever more truly of God, but God accepts us where we are - delighting in our mumbles - and slowly teaches us the grammar and content of prayer.' (page 118)
And thank God for that!

I appreciate the comment on page 130 that the Lord Jesus, although perfect in every way, engaged in prayer, an activity necessary to maintain the health of his relationship with his Father and the Spirit. How much more then do we need to pray in a way that enlivens our relationship with our Father and the Spirit?

And finally, Hall quotes CS Lewis (not a church father, but used to illustrate a point)
'Every war, every famine or plague, almost every death-bed, is the monument to a petition that was not granted.' (page 159)
The challenge of unanswered prayer in not why didn't God make it sunny today, or find me a parking space, but 14 million affected by floods in Pakistan, 40 million victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa, more than 200,000 dead in an earthquake in Haiti. These are the monuments to petitions that were not granted before which we must bow in humility.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Reading Lists

I've managed to bomb through my reading list over the last few weeks and will be blogging about these books soon.

So I'll have to come up with some new targets for the remainder of this year! Suggestions for good reading are always welcome!

What is an intentionally missional church?

While at the Keswick Convention I picked up a magazine, ‘Mission Matters’, which is a free magazine, and so I hope it is ok for me to share with you part of one of the articles in this magazine.

Bryan Knell, Consultant with the Global Connections network, was writing on the theme, ‘What is an intentionally missional church?’

Missional has become something of a buzz word in recent years, with really being clearly defined. I think that it is one of those terms best defined in action, or perhaps in the six characteristics of a missional church that Bryan has identified.


Before getting to these six characteristics, Bryan writes, ‘changing the culture of a church from being pastorally centred to being missionally centred is almost impossible. Very few established churches have managed to make the change.’

I’m sure those of us in established churches (in this context not newly planted churches) will be well aware of the challenge and difficulties in making this change. However, I’m very grateful for Bryan’s qualifications, ‘almost’ and ‘very few’. I believe that congregation need to become missional. I believe in a God who works miracles, who sees an army in a valley of dry bones. My God can change the established church I serve into a missional church. And he can do it in your church also. This doesn’t remove the need to serve and work for this goal, but encourages us that with God nothing is impossible.

To Bryan’s six characteristics (and so added comments):
1. Vision – the dominant and priority vision of a missional church is to see the Kingdom of God expanded by gospel proclamation and social action. Mission is not limited by geography or method. How healthy a church is, how much it has achieved in the past year, its aim for the coming year and its 5/10 year goal will all be determined by mission.
It is good to see gospel proclamation linked with social action, for too long these have been held separately by too many in the church. There is no one method that fits all, or will achieve all the missional purposes of God – i.e. we need to do more that preaching! I’m challenged by how few of our plans are determined by mission, this needs to change.

2. Decisions – all decisions at every level will be made on the basis of mission opportunities and prospects. “If it does not involve mission, we will not do it.”

3. Equipping/Empowering – the church will make it a priority to train, equip and mentor its members for mission. This will involve helping Christians identify where they can naturally do mission and giving them confidence to make the most of these opportunities. Secondly, it will also involve identifying new circumstances where they can be involved in mission together and thirdly, decide which mission projects will be supported by the church.
It would be good to be part of a congregation where mentoring was seen as part of ‘the minister’s’ role.

4. Preaching/Teaching/Learning – the Bible will be taught through a mission hermeneutic. This means that it will be assumed that mission is the over-riding message, focus, fabric and structure of the whole Bible – Genesis to Revelation; that all the issues that the Bible covers have to be understood in terms of their affect on and contribution to mission. The Bible will be taught not just as valuable spiritual wisdom but to equip Christians to respond to the questions and issues that they face as they do mission.
This is very good, reflects Chris Wright’s work in his book ‘The Mission of God’. We do not have a biblical basis for mission, we have a missional basis for the bible. Let’s get that one the right way round!

5. Worship – worship will be inspired by missional concepts.
a) Firstly, the glory of God which is enhanced when people come to acknowledge him as Lord through mission.
b) Secondly, the prospect of worship in heaven when people from every tribe, language, people and nation will gather round the throne. (Rev 7)
c) Thirdly, worship will be enhanced and invigorated by the testimony of those coming to faith and being blessed by God through mission as it is in heaven. (Luke 15:7)
Some challenging idea here and in the final point.

6. Community – fellowship will be vital because of the challenges, pressures and attacks that Christians are facing as they reach out in mission. People are drawn together when they unitedly attempt a task or face a challenge.

I sense many congregation know they need to change, but aren’t sure what they need to change into. I hope these six characteristics may be helpful for some in find a way forward into mission as a congregation.

Gordon Fee Interview

I picked this up from Mike Bird at euangelion - a source of many great posts!

Gordon Fee is soon to have published his commentary on Revelation, which I'm sure will be worth adding to the shelf. (If only I had more shelves!!!)

There is a video interview with Gordon on line at Grace Communion International. It runs about 30 minutes and is better than minesweeper for a tea break!

Sacraments with the Fathers

I picked up this book while at the Assembly in May and read it while on holiday.

Christopher A Hall Worshipping with the Church Fathers, pub IVP.

I obviously didn't read the blurb on the back because when I started I found the book wasn't what I expected or had hoped for. Not that I was disappointed, just surprised.

I guess I had expected a study of worship, both public worship and private patterns of worship as practiced by the church fathers, and found something different. Hall offers three sections: the sacraments, prayer, discipline (by which he means the call to the desert).

In the first section on the sacraments I really struggled to get over the allegorical interpretations of many passages. Sometimes a loaf of bread is just a loaf of bread, not an allegorical reference to the eucharist!

For example, on p. 39 we read of Gregory of Nyssa teaching that "the method of our salvation became effectual not so much as a result of instruction ... as by means of the flesh which [Christ] assumed ... therefore it was necessary that a means shuold be devised by which there should be in what is done by the follower some kinship and likeness to the leader."
So since in human flesh Christ died and was raised, so in baptism our human flesh shares in his death and resurrection. Now, I think this is right, Rom 6:3-4, but the way of getting there feels a bit strange.

On infant baptism and whether an infant will grow into Christian initiation, we are not to withhold baptism but to trust in God - p. 47. Gregory of Nazianzus teaches that infant circumcision is a model for infant baptism, see Col 2.

I found it helpful to read such comments and notice that the father's were answering the same questions we face when engaging in sacramental ministry, either as those leading a congregation or those worshipping in a congregation.

In general a helpful section and good beginning to this book.

Back from holiday

After a break in July I'm back from holiday and hoping to get back into the blogging again!

While on holiday I finished the three books in Stieg Larsson's series. The third is the best of the three, a real page turner with so many twists you really couldn't figure it out.

Two general comments.
The under current, which sometimes isn't very under, in these books of abuse against women, mostly sexual but not only, is at times disturbing. We can't say that this would only be true in Sweden, because it isn't. I think it is designed to disturb and to remind us that any abuse of women is abuse - zero tolerance begins here.

Also, if these books do accurately reflect life in contemporary Sweden then I'm glad I don't live there. It isn't the violence or abuse that disturbs me here, it is the attitude of the characters to life and relationships. If this is what it means to live in a liberal democracy you can keep it!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Another one completed

This morning I've finished the second 'big' book of my 2010 reading list, Larry Hurtado's 'Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity'.

I've posted some comments on this book earlier - here.

This is a good book and well worth reading.

I think Hurtado is persuasive in showing that devotion to Jesus as God began early, in the first century certainly, most likely in the 30's and 40's, the very earliest period of the Christian church.
Hurtado's historical work is valuable not least because our Christian faith and hope depends upon the history of Jesus incarnate, crucified, buried, resurrected and ascended for us.

It is helpful that Hurtado illustrates the difficulty faced in second century Christianity was to articulate their faith in Jesus as Christ and God - within the framework of Jewish/OT monotheism. That there is only one God, and that he is only one, is the constraint placed upon expressions of devotion to Jesus. To deny the divinity of Jesus is easy, to collapse God into Jesus is also easy, to portray Jesus as one among many gods is easy. All these moves were made in the second century, but none of them were found to be adequate in describing this Jesus who is both human and divine, one person within one God.

In the final pages Hurtado offers, 'The devotional practice of earliest Christianity was particularly foundational for doctrinal developments.' (page 649) Today we often think of worship practices as culturally conditined, and I think that is right. However, there remains something about our worship and devotional practices that shapes and informs our doctrine. I think that for the earliest Christians, including the apostle Paul, it was the encounter with the risen Lord Jesus and their subsequent worship of him as God that largely shaped their expressions of the gospel. The question then is what do our current worship and devotional practices say about our understanding of the gospel and what are we communicating of the gospel through them to the world?

So, my list needs amended.
Gordon Fee's 'God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul' moves up to the top of the list. I'm really looking forward to this one. Hopefully I'll finish this in the third quarter of 2010.
For the final quarter then, an addition to the list:
Bernhard Lohse's 'Martin Luther's Theology: It's Historical and Systematic Development', T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1999. I've had this book for three years now, I bought it in the Free Church Bookroom while at a Rutherford House Dogmatics Conference. So I'm looking forward to spending some time with Luther and learning from him something of the gospel.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Comments Welcome

I do very much appreciate you taking time to read my blog, and especially those who leave comments.

However, recently, I've been getting a number of comments in a language I don't understand. It is some form of eastern character text which I don't recognise. I tried one of the translation sites but haven't been able to translate this text.
I'm not publishing such comments as I don't know what you are saying. I'm willing to publish comments that disagree with me, that's ok. But if I can't understand your comment I don't know if you are being rude, or unkind, or what.

So, comments are always welcome, but in English please.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

NT Wright on Evil and the Justice of God

This is a short book on a big topic, only 109 pages. NT Wright gives his usual and expectedly thorough treatment of an important theme, evil, and its relation to the justice of God.

Beginning as a set of five lectures and then finding their place in a tv programme, this extended examination of this subject is well worth reading.

The challenge of evil is to be faced by our Christian living, our prayer and holy living in a world troubled by evil. Wright challenges Christians to imagine the Kingdom in which evil is no more and then to live as though it were already so. This is a creative use of imagination which I think will stretch many, but is worth the effort.
The chapter on forgiveness is very challenging, forgiveness set us free to live without the burden of evil and removes the bitterness of evil from our communities. Wright expands forgiveness beyond the inter-personal to our forgiveness as a nation of the unpayable debts of other nations, or the forgiveness of terrorists.

Two interesting points in passing.
"Within the larger cannonical context it ought to be clear that re-emphasizing the doctrine of creation is indeed the foundation of all biblical answers to questions about who God is and what he is doing." (page 41)
Whether in response to the strident atheism of Dawkins and others, or for some other reason, I sense that there is a lack of confidence in our confession of God as Creator. We must stand firm here, not least for the reason given by Wright. The constant refernecing of God as Creator in Scripture is not insignificant. Having created and declared it to be good, God is now at work renewing and redeeming creation for his own glory. Our salvation in Christ is connected to God being creator in ways that those trying to be Christian but denying creation do not yet appreciate.

"Indeed, we might even say that the gospel writers were telling their whole story so as to explain why the resurrection happened to make it clear that this was not simply an odd, isolated bizarre miracle, but rather the proper and appropriate result of Jesus' entire, and successful, confrontation with evil." (pages 55-56)
If we read the gospels with the question, 'Why did the resurrection happen?' at the front of our thinking, what difference does this make to the story we read? Is this God ushering in new creation (2 Cor 5:17) after judgment had fallen upon the old creation and the evil that rampaged through it?

As I say, a really good book and well worth reading.

Phil Wickham

At the Frenzy festival on 12 June i was able to go and hear Phil Wickham - a really great set of worship songs.

What struck my was the content of Phil's songs so often dealt with themes of heaven and glory, and my high trained heresy radar didn't go off once, unlike spending a whole week at the General Assembly. In general I find it rare that Christians talk about heaven without falling into some error or other, but Phil has managed it.

More importantly the songs are really good, full of energy and life. I would highly commend Phil and his music if you get the change to hear him. I picked up two cds, Cannons and Heaven And Earth. At present my favourite songs are 'Beautiful' and 'True Love' from Cannons and 'In Your City' and  'Because of Your Love' from Heaven and Earth (although all of Heaven and Earth is just great).

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Vuvuzela

Sorry I've not been around much last week. Isn't the world cup great.

If you haven't heard this vuvuzela song take the time and have a listen, it will make you smile.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Music, Worship and Haiti

Tomorrow John and I are heading up to Edinburgh for two days of music and worship.

Tomorrow evening is the Heart for Haiti concert with Stuart Townend and Brenton Brown, and others. On Saturday we'll be at the final Frenzy festival.
The rest of our Ignite group at St Ninians are coming and I'm sure I'll meet up with lots of folks there.

I'm looking forward to spending some time with Ian and Jackie in Penicuik. A good time will be had by all.

Would the true God please stand up now!

The human imagination is a great thing. We are especially good at imagining god the way we want him/her/it/them (delete as appropriate) to be. This imaginative quality plays right into our present relativistic worldview, or perhaps that should be worldviews!

How do I know that the God/god I know is the true God? How can I ever say that what anyone else calls god is not the true God? Is it even possible to think of such a question?

The true God has made himself known. If he had not made himself known no human would ever be able to imagine him as he is.

While in Peru in 2004 I heard the story of an Inca chief just a few years before the Spanish arrived who went for three days alone to an island in the midst of a mountain lake. On his return he told his head men that he had watched the sun, whom they worshipped, rising and setting in the same places each day for three days. And he concluded that if the sun were the great god he would chose to exercise greater freedom, so there must be a greater God than the sun and he wanted to get to know him.
This, I think, is exactly what I mean by general revelation, or what is the main point of Romans 1. Into the fabric of creation the true God has built in evidence of his existence and his nature. Not a full revelation, but sufficient for us to know there is a God and something of his power and divinity.

To this God has added the special revelation which is Scripture, the 66 writings of the Old and New Testaments. In these writings, and in no others, had the true God specially made himself known. One of the best definitions of Scripture I know is, 'Scripture is the gracious self-revelation of God.'

In current debates, certianly within the Church of Scotland, there is much heat generated on the subject of the 'authority' of Scripture. It is, in my opinion, much more important to grasp what the nature of Scripture is. Once we see that Scripture is God making himself known, the 'authority' of Scripture becomes at the same time both clear and subordinate. Any authority Scripture has is a function of God who is revealing himself in Scripture.

I've also come to recognise that starting any kind of Christian theology with Scripture is unhelpful. We need to start with God and come to Scripture as a sub-set of our thinking about God. In this the Scots Confession of 1560 is to be prefered to the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The God I Don't Believe In

God has become difficult. When someone says 'God' to me I no longer have any confidence I know what or who they mean.

All our Christian confessions are that there is only one God. But, that does not mean everything, or everyone which goes by the name, or title God/god, is this one God.

Rather than a long negative list of elements of false gods, let me say something positive.

The one God is the Father of Jesus. This is how the one God has chosen to make himself known. I don't think any human could work out who God is by themself. God is known because he reveals himself, not because we discover him.

There are many things I want to say about God and who he is, God is love, God is just, God is true and good and right. But I find I need to say this first, God is the Father of Jesus. Saying this connects God to our humanity in the humanity of the incarnate Jesus. It opens for me and all others a way of knowing this otherwise unknowable God.
Anyone or anything named 'god' which is not the Father of Jesus is not God and is not worthy to be worshipped, served, adored, loved, depended upon.

A Good Book Finished

Yesterday, on the train to and from Edinburgh, I finished this excellent book by Eugene Peterson, 'The Word Made Flesh'.

I've posted on this book earlier - here - and don't want to over extend my comments here.

In the second major section of the book, Peterson writes about Jesus and his prayers. There is not so much on the language of Jesus in the section on his prayers, however, Peterson's insightful comments on prayer and Jesus as a teacher, example in prayer are so good you hardly notice.

Let me share one comment from this second part of the book, in the chapter on the Lord's Prayer on 'Thy will be done':
The mature, sane, enduring counsel of our best pastors and theologians is this: keep Jesus' prayer, 'Your will be done,' in the storied and praying context of the Holy Scriptures. Quit speculating about the 'will of God' and simply do it - as Mary did, as Jesus did. 'Will of God' is never a matter of conjecture. It directs a spotlight on believing obedience. (page 180)

Yes, obedience beats speculation any time. Just do it!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Invisible Man

Peterson's chapter on Lk 16:19-31, commonly known as the Rich Man and Lazarus, entitled by Peterson 'The Invisible Man' is really good.

Before he is seen at Abraham's side, Lazarus is invisible to the Rich Man. This parable, however, is not a story about what happens after death, it is very much a story about what happens before death.

It is in this life that the Rich Man seals his eternal fate. Once you notice the connection between Lk 16 and Jn 11 is becomes more clear. Lazarus did rise from the grave, but they did not believe him, they plotted to kill him all over again! Jn 12:10-11.

This story of the Invisible Man only functions are part of a larger story, a meta-story, in the context of which we can find ourselves included in this particular story. Story requires our involvement, a better word than response, we need to join in the story.
In this story, the invisible question - did the five brothers ever repent? Did they hear this account and change their ways? Are we among the five brothers?

We need to do something

On Wednesday this week Cumbria suffered the latest of the UKs gun sprees as one man drove round the county apparantly shooting people at random.

How many more such tragedies must occur before something is done about the large number of guns in our communities?

Some questions,
1. Why does anyone other than a farmer, game-keeper or vet need to own a gun?

2. Why do we continue to allow guns to be used for recreation or sport?

3. Have we really lost all sense of the common good? Must all things submit to the great god of personal freedom?

Apart from my categories in 1 above I think I would ban all gun ownership. That way, anyone else with a gun is a criminal and intent on criminal activity. But I doubt that any Government of the UK would have the courage or political will to enact such a law.

So then, all we have left is to pray for the victims of this horrible deed. To pray for communities torn apart by another gun crime. To pray that God would so work in our nation as to remove the need for guns and weapons and end all violence.

Q - you are making it up now, aren't you?

I've previously commended Larry Hurtado's book - here, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, and rightly so, it is a very good book.

However, when serious scholars start devoting whole chapters to Q I begin to think the world has tilted somewhat.

I don't have a problem with Q, I know what it is, and that's not a soft-porn mag trying to pass itself off as a music mag! Q is the hypothetical 'document' used to explain the agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark in solving the Synoptic Problem. (In passing, I don't think Matthew, Mark and Luke had a synoptic problem, it is all our own.)

The problem I have is when you publish a critical edition of Q and start giving chapter and verse numbers to passages in this edition of Q, see e.g. JS Kloppenborg eds. The Critical Edition of Q, pub 2000.
If Q existed as a 'document' the only evidence we have for it is in the text of Matthew and Luke, and it is beyond me how you can reconstruct a 'critical edition' of such a hypothetical document.

Hurtado wrties, 'The christological categories used in Q are somewhat like those of the Synoptic Gospels generally.' P. 250 (emphasis mine)
How can anthing of Q be only 'somewhat like' or 'generally' related to the Synoptics? The only access to Q we have is those same Synoptic Gospels, or more particularly, Matthew and Luke. If Q is not exactly like or specifically the same as the text of Matthew and Luke then we really are making it up!!!

I don't mind anyone using Q to resolve the relations between the Synoptics. I wouldn't mind if Hurtado had commented over 3 or 4 pages that nothing in the hypothetical Q document was distinctive in terms of evidence of Jesus devotion from what is known elsewhere in the first century. But I fear that Q scholarship has circled Pluto and is heading for deep space where any kind of control or restrain is not applied.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Who Grumbles?

The first main part of this Peterson book is to walk with Jesus through Luke's travel narrative - Luke 9:51-19:44. This section of Luke is mostly unique to Luke and is framed by references to leaving Galilee (9:51) and arriving in Jerusalem (19:11, 28, 41).

In these chapters Jesus travels through Samaria, non-Jewish territory. Peterson takes this as his starting point to look at the stories Jesus told and how they will help us live in the non-Kingdom of God territories we find ourselves in day by day.

On Luke 15, Peterson draws our attention to v. 2, that the Scribes and Pharisees were grumbling. Peterson notes that this word is only used by Luke and that it appears in the Greek OT at Exodus 16:2-3:
Exodus 16:2-3  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

Putting these two groups of grumblers together, Peterson writes,
The people of Israel murmered not because they were bad and evil but because they were good and scared. The Pharisees and Bible scholars [scribes] murmur not because they were bad and evil but because they were good and scared. The murmurers in both cases are reverent and devout worshipppers of God, delivered from pagan superstitions and following God's leader. Both sets of murmurers can be given the adjective eusebeia, godly, righteous. But now something is taking place that turns everything topsy-turvy. Their self-image, righteous, by which they define themselves, is suddenly erased. They are disorientated, lost. They don't like the feeling and so they murmur, diegongudzon. Understandably so. (page 93)

Self-righteousness is a sin unique to to godly. Only within the church do we find self-righteous people who look down on others. When this self-righteousness is challenged, in any way, grumbling results.
The people with Moses, the Pharisees and Bible scholars, are followers, they are on the journey towars God's promise. But they fall into this defensive grumbling.

The first three stories in Lk 15 take that which is lost, in the place where grumbling might begin, and show how grace finds what was lost. The fourth story - of the elder brother - is openended, he is grumbling but we are not told if he will leave his grumbling and come into the Father's welcome and party. This draws the hearer and reader in, how will we respond?

Continuity In Daily Living

This is another must buy, must read book by Eugene Peterson.

From p. 4
God does not compartmentalize our lives into religious and secular. Why do we? I want to insist on a continuity of language between the words we use in Bible studies and the words we use when we're out fishing for rainbow trout. I want to cultivate a sense of continuity between the prayers we offer to God and the conversations we have with the people we speak to and who speak to us. I want to nurture an awareness of the sanctity of words, the holy gift of language, regardless of whether it is directed vertically or horizontally. Just as Jesus did.

Yes, we should not have a special speech for God-talk and a different, 'ordinary' form of speaking for non-God-talk. Who are we dishonouring if we use words and language like this? So no more omnipotent, or hypostatic, or whatever the phrase we love to use that is our in language.
Yes, we should not only be careful about our words and mean what we say when we talk to or about God. Integrity of language is vital in all our use of language. We honour those we speak with when we speak with integrity.

Peterson is writing about words and language, but once you catch the idea it doesn't stop. There is no religious secular divide. God loves us and cares for all our lives. God is interested in how we drive, what we do in our bedrooms, what we eat, how we talk, what we look at ... there is no part of our life that is beyond the love and care of our God.

This is the kind of Christian living that will impact the world with the good news of Jesus in ways that we presently don't recognise as evangelism, but which are profoundly a sharing of the good news of Jesus, who is God with us.

New Books on Reading List

Sorry I haven't been around the Corner recently, the General Assembly not only takes up time but takes time to recover from.

I missed my 20 posts a month target for May - well let's say it was an asperation, like 5-a-day on fruit and veg. So I'll try to keep up this month.

I've made some changes to my 2010 reading targets. I've removed the three volumes of essays that were on the list. Not that these have disappeared but being essay can be read at a different speed. I've added two books I bought at the Assembly from the Free Church Bookroom, for many years the best Christian bookshop in Scotland.

The first one is called 'Worshipping with the Church Father's' by Christopher A Hall, pub IVP 2009. I've been wanting to read some of Hall's work on the Church Father's for some time now and this looks like a very helpful volume.

The blurb promises a survey of the spiritual life of worship which will inform and challenge Christians in faithful living today. I hope the book lives up to the back cover - I'll let you know.


The second one is Tom Wright's 'Virtue Reborn'. Anything by Tom Wright, or NT Wright is worth reading. So far the only point of Tom Wright that I'm tempted to disagree with is his reading of 2 Cor 5, especially v. 21. Our present Christian living seems to fall either into licence or legalism. I'm hoping that Tom Wright will find a new way, or perhaps an old way, which is neither licence nor legalism. We need an authentic Christian living that displays the life of God in our communities today.


Monday, 17 May 2010

Well Done Vine Trust

There is a wonderful post on my friend Albert's blog, celebrating 25 years of the Vine Trust. Read it here.

It is wonderful to think that the Lord has so powerfully used the energy and vision of Albert, the stick-at-it-ness and compassion of Willie and all the staff and volunteers to achieve so much in Peru over these years.

Give thanks for the Vine Trust and pray that God will lead this work into the next 25 years.

Email Those New MPs

I've just emailed my MP, Mr Russell Brown (Lab), Constituency of Dumfries and Galloway. This is part of an Open Doors Campaign to email MPs about religious liberty, human rights and the persecution of Christians around the world. You can find this on the Open Doors site here. Please join me in this campaign.

I've copied the email below. Let's stand together with our sisters and brothers who are suffering for their faith in the Lord Jesus.

Dear Mr Brown,

As one of your constituents I want to congratulate you on your election victory and appointment as member of Parliament for Dumfries and Galloway.

I recognise the importance of the task ahead of you and want to assure you of my prayers for you at this significant time and in a new political context.

I am deeply concerned about issues of religious liberty and human rights, and particularly the persecution of Christians around the world. I would be delighted to know if you will be able to take up specific issues of persecution in the coming months. I attach a short briefing paper on this topic which I hope will be of help and interest.

Mr Brown, I will look forward to contacting you in future as specific issues arise.
Once again please accept my warmest congratulations on your election as my MP.

Yours sincerely,
Rev Gordon Kennedy

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Recommended Books


Over at Euangelion Joel Willitts has an interesting post, with a lot of comments, on the theme of 'A book every university student should read'. Well worth a look here.

So I was thinking, for ministers/pastors and preachers, what two books would you recommend?
I've picked my two:

1. Peter White The Effective Pastor
This is a great book by an experienced pastor and church leader. In four sections, covering a range of ministry tasks, this would be a valuable book for a calls of student, or a ministers reading group to work through and learn from.

2. Eugene Peterson Five Smooth Stone For Pastoral Work
I'm sure that Peterson has written a poor book, or a chapter that is less good, it's just that I haven't found it yet! This was my first Peterson book and is a classic.
Peterson works though key issues of pastoral work using the five Megalith texts: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, using the themes of each of these books to guide his refelctions on an area of essential pastoral work. If you ever need a book to persuade you that you still have a lot to learn about pastoral work, this is it.

I've not offered any kind of review of these books as it's a while since I've read them. When I read them again I'll over more comments.

What books would you recommend to young minsiters, students or for a ministers reading group?

Friday, 14 May 2010

Robin Mark

A friend, Betty, has let me listen to her Robin Mark cds, and I've been enjoying them all week.

At the Kingdom Come Conference in Feb (see my posts here) Robin Mark was the main worship leader and that was the first time I'd heard Robin's music. Robin is a song writer and worship leader from Northern Ireland - visit his web site here.

Here is a youtube video presentation of one of Robin's songs Blessed Be Your Name. Enjoy.

Well Done World Mission

I've just finished the World Mission Council Report, well what do you read first in the morning?

I find it really encouraging to read such a strong call to the church to support and stand beside Christians in situations of persecution around the world, pages 7/2-7/16 in the volume of reports 2010.

Also good to see World Mission commending such agencies as:
Open Doors
Barnabas Fund
Release International
Interserve

All we need now is for Church and Society to join in and call the Church of Scotland to stand beside Christians being persecuted in the UK, for wearing a cross or preaching the gospel in public.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Biblefresh Scotland - Press Release

Here is the Biblefresh Scotland press release. Don't forget to come to one of the three launch events.

BIBLEFRESH LAUNCH IN SCOTLAND


Biblefresh is set to change the way people look at the bible. For many in our churches the Bible has become tedious and toxic, rather than treasured, trusted and true. Biblefresh will change this perception and is asking hundreds of churches, agencies, colleges, festivals and denominations to come on a one year journey in 2011 as together we seek to encourage, inspire and equip Christians across the UK to a greater confidence and appetite for the Word of God.

Biblefresh will be launched at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly where well known theologian and broadcaster, Elaine Storkey will join with Krish Kandiah at Carrubbers Christian Centre in Edinburgh at 7.30 on Monday May 24th to introduce the four strands of Biblefresh - Reading the Bible, Bible training, Bible translation and Bible experiences.

A book inspiring Christians to reconnect with the Bible will be launched during these events on May 24th and 25th. The Biblefresh book is a collection of essays written by Christians from a variety of churches and organisations and is the key resource of the Biblefresh movement. The contributors’ main objective is to share their wisdom in order to help Christians to re-engage with the Bible in a practical way.

Krish Kandiah, Director of Churches in Mission at the Evangelical Alliance said: “This book is the indispensable guide to making the most of 2011 for promoting Bible reading. Packed full of practical advice and inspiring stories, make sure everyone in your church has a copy. Let’s see what God will do through the Bible in 2011 and beyond.”

Biblefresh also addresses the main challenges which surround Bible reading and offers valuable advice on how to confidently connect scriptures with everyday living. There are also tips on how to share the message in a creative way and how to reach different audiences. The Leaders Guide section addresses church leaders directly and challenges them to pledge to provide the opportunity for people to experience the Bible.

Reverend Gordon Kennedy, Minister at St Ninians Stranraer said: “Our imaginations for who we are, are shaped by so many things in our increasingly complex world and culture. Biblefresh brings a host of stunningly supportive resources into contact with that world. This book is a must read for anyone wanting the Bible to shape their imagination and identity in today’s world.”

Launch events take place on
May 24th at 12.30p.m. in Glasgow at Renfield St Stephen’s 260 Bath Street Glasgow G2 4JP


May 24th at 7.00 p.m. for 7.30p.m. At Carrubbers Christian Centre, 65, High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR


May 25th at 12.30p.m. At St Peter’s Free Church, 4, St Peter’s street, Dundee DD1 4JJ

heART&soul

Fiona is involved in a new project, a creative ministry called heART&soul.

Read her post here, and find the heART&soul website here.

Art and craft work has long been recognised as a valuable way to engage more than our minds in the things of God. And that is the key aim of this website and forum.

I'm learning that what we have called virtual communities are every bit as real and effective in offering support, encouragement and communion as what we may call 'face to face' communities.

Whether you are into crafting or not the site and forum are worth a look, and if you are why not join in.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

We need to finish Church Without Walls

In an earlier post I made some general comments on the Report of the Special Commission on Article 3 – here.

In this post I want to engage with the critical comments about the Church Without Walls reports made by the Special Commission in section 8.2 of their report. (Reports to GA 2010 page 25/15)

The CWW report was received by the General Assembly in 2001, read the report here.

Deriving their criticism of CWW from the 2005 report of the Panel on Doctrine this year’s Special Commission challenges the value of CWW’s emphasis on the local congregation, suggesting that CWW presents a vision of the church which is more congregational in polity than Presbyterian.

This criticism of CWW was flawed in 2005 and remains flawed in 2010 and needs to be robustly challenged.

The key to understanding CWW is the call of Jesus, ‘Follow me’. This call is not issued to churches, but to individuals to follow Jesus in the specific, local footsteps of his journeys in Galilee and Judea and today in the journey of faith in Stranraer or Lewis, Drumchapel or Drummnadrochit. CWW tells us
That calling is local rather than general. (Reports to GA 2001, page 36/9)
Faithful discipleship requires the call of Jesus to touch ground in locations.

On the shape of the church CWW offers us this vision:
Local church is the focus of action
Regional church is the focus of support
Central church is the focus of essential servicing and national role (Reports to GA 2001, page 36/16)

This is not congregationalism (I’m shouting this as I type).
The place within our church of mission, of questions, of initiative, of vision is, or should be the local church. When we try to take this away from local church we deskill the local church which learns to expect an expert to come along with all they need. When we try to take initiative, or build vision nationally or regionally no one in any location recognises it or shares it or is enthused by it.

The regional church is the context in which support, fellowship, encouragement, sharing happens. Except it doesn’t at present, hence the great tragedy of the failure of our church to renew and reshape Presbyteries. If there is a growing congregationalism within the Church of Scotland blame should not be laid at the door of CWW, but at the broken Presbyteries which leave local congregations with little option but to ‘go it alone’.

The central church, I would now prefer the term national church, should be restricted to a limited national role, carrying out essential services to ensure equity within the church and being a point of contact for national and international partners. The bigger the national church the harder it becomes for regional or local church to function properly – we need to make the centre smaller (shouting again!) By this I don’t mean a smaller number of committees doing the same amount of work, but less work!!

This is no kind of congregationalism, this is no kind of denial of fellowship between congregations, this in no kind of denial of the catholicity of the church. If the need for change were not so urgent such naïve criticisms would not merit a response, but the need is urgent, if change does not come in a planned way it will fall upon us as a catastrophe when the black-hole-like national church becomes too dense for the rest of the church to support and it collapses in upon itself.

The CWW process is at a crucial junction here. CWW can become a resource for a limited number of congregation who find it helpful, but if that is all then CWW will have failed in it’s big, comprehensive vision for a renewed church. CWW needs to be fully implemented at the national and regional levels of the church, but this is what is being resisted.

It’s been nine years but there is still time, just a little time, for the vision of CWW to be released into the national and regional church. But if it doesn’t happen soon it will be too late.

Article 3, What's that about then?

I’ve been reading the report of the Special Commission on the Third Article Declaratory of the Church of Scotland in this year’s Blue Book. Just in case someone reading my blog doesn’t have the Articles Declaratory off by heart, here’s the text of Article 3:


This Church is in historical continuity with the Church of Scotland which was reformed in 1560, whose liberties were ratified in 1592, and for whose security provision was made in the Treaty of Union of 1707. The continuity and identity of the Church of Scotland are not prejudiced by the adoption of these Articles. As a national Church representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people it acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry.

And a link to the text of the full Articles here.

I’ve been a minister in rural parishes for 17 years now, so I have some commitment to the idea of the Church of Scotland being in all the parishes of Scotland. I know things need to change but I’m generally not unhappy with Article 3 as a ‘mission statement’ for the Church of Scotland. There are some phrases which do need changed to better reflect the cultural context within which we find ourselves and more clearly commit the church to a missional engagement with that culture.

I am amazed, however, that this Special Commission finds no need to change the text of the Article, but that it is recommending to the General Assembly an Act of the Church declaring the sense in which the church understands this Article. If the wording of the Article is sufficiently unclear as to require an Act to explain it, then it needs changed. Elements of our constitution, such as the Articles, should be clear in themselves. An example may serve, in the proposed Act, section (4) reads:

The Church of Scotland understands the words “a national church representative of the Christian faith of the Scottish people” as a recognition of both the Church’s distinctive place in Scottish history and culture and its continuing responsibility to engage the people of Scotland wherever they might be with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Reports to GA 2010 page 25/24)

But these two phrases don’t say anything like the same thing! The text of the Act is making an assumption about the Scottish people, namely, that the Scottish people have a Christian faith which is represented by the Church of Scotland. Now, this assumption in 2010 sounds plain daft, Scotland never was a Christian nation and there never was a time, except perhaps between 1560 and the 1620’s when the Church of Scotland could claim to be in a meaningful sense representative of any Christian faith held by a majority of the people of Scotland.

Section (5) of the proposed Act:
The Church of Scotland understands the phrase “bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry” to mean a commitment to maintain worshipping, witnessing and serving Christian congregations throughout Scotland. (Reports to GA 2010 page 25/24)

But this is a withdrawal from the terms of the Article, ‘throughout Scotland’ is nowhere near the same as ‘in every parish of Scotland’.

However, my main question about this is what is meant by ‘the ordinances of religion’? Traditional I was taught, and have taught others, that this phrase specifically refers to offering services of burial and marriage to the people of one’s parish, that is, every person in Scotland has a parish minister upon whom they may call to marry them or conduct a funeral for them, and that parish minister should respond to all such requests as a duty laid upon them by Article 3. In 31 pages of text of the report the Special Commission do not mention marriage or burial services once, except by way of the euphemism ‘matching, hatching and dispatching’ (page 25/23). Are we to understand from the proposed Declaratory Act that parish ministers are no longer under any duty or obligation in terms of Article 3 to conduct services of marriage or burial for those in their parish?

So, I find substantial differences between the text of the Article and the proposed Declaratory Act, of such a serious nature that if we adopt the sense given to the Article in the proposed Act we really do need to change the text of the Article to properly reflect what is a completely new understanding of this Article.