Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Not fun

1. Ill. Ug. Nasty fever.

2. No electricity for two days.

3. Bureaucratic nightmares getting seemingly endless official documents.

Must remember Romans 8:28! Come back tomorrow!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Courtship, dating, marriage

The young people here in Nairobi held a conference on courtship, dating and marriage today.

I was very encouraged by their seriousness, and that they could all see that the present contemporary way, where everyone goes on a series of "marriage-lite" dating adventures, and tries a little here and a little there could not be right. Marriage is intended to be a complete and exclusive union of one man and one woman for life. There is not meant to be a prior series of others who in your past you gave a little bit of yourself too before finally settling down. The guarding of the purity of marriage should also mean a jealous guarding of the purity of before marriage - and that purity can be compromised in multitudes of ways other than just fornication.

In England, I was accustomed to young Christians, even seriously godly ones, having little idea about what would be a God-honouring way to go about seeking a spouse. Mostly, they were just assuming that you should do what everyone else does, except not have full intercourse until the wedding day. Can that be the only real difference between godly people and the ungodly in a radically anti-Christian society? Shouldn't there be something more? Can it really be that the UK's turning from God has made no real changes to how we go about one of the most important decisions of all - seeking a spouse?

A trio of recommended books. Go search for them on Amazon if you want to think and be challenged further: 1) Josh Harris, "I kissed dating goodbye" 2) Josh Harris, Boy Meets Girl, 3) Douglas Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage.

Encouraging words

“The resurrection . . . sharply defines what it must mean to have faith in Christ. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we are not putting our faith in merely a historical event but in a living, death conquering, and reigning Savior. Our faith is based on something in the past, but it is placed in One who is very much alive today. Notice how the apostle Paul speaks of faith in terms of a living Christ: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). Paul is living by faith in the living Christ. And he prays that this would be our normative Christian experience: ‘that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (Ephesians 3:16-17).”
- John Ensor, The Great Work of the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 102.

“He laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and look! I am alive forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17-18).
Literally, Jesus says, ‘Stop being afraid..’ Why? Because Jesus Christ has walked into the gaping jaws of the greatest enemy there is. On the cross he let all the powers that threaten to undo us have their unrestrained way with him. He let death take him captive. And then he burst out of the prison and carried away the prison keys!”
- Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2004), 47-48.

“Though he be the great God, yet he has, as it were, brought himself down to be upon a level with you, so as to become man as you are that he might not only be your Lord, but your brother, and that he might be the more fit to be a companion for such a worm of the dust.
This is one end of Christ’s taking upon him man’s nature, that his people might be under advantages for a more familiar converse with him than the infinite distance of the divine nature would allow of.”
- Jonathan Edwards, “The Excellency of Christ”

All gleaned from "Of First Importance".

Friday, 25 April 2008

Must science stick to methodological materialism?

Today's campaigning atheists are revisionists when it comes to explaining what science is, and how science works. That is, their theories and confident exclamations bear no real resemblance to the beliefs and practices of the fathers of modern science. They are instead after-the-fact just-so stories made up to support the atheist case.

One area in which this is particularly true is when atheists proclaim that "the scientific method is methodological naturalism". By that, they mean that science must always assume in advance that all causes and effects in the world that can be investigated are material causes and effects. Science must assume at the outset that the world is a closed system, entirely physical in its make-up - no supernatural, no divine design, intervention or intention in nature, no body-soul duality, etcetera. At the very least, it must say that these very ideas lie outside the realm of science and science cannot legitimately discuss them.

The fathers of modern science, and very many actual scientists as opposed to campaigning atheists-cum-scientists, believed quite the opposite. They assumed at the outset that the physical universe was the product of an orderly mind and designed with a deliberate purpose. This is what makes the idea of scientific investigation rational - we believe that there's something there to investigate, not just random chaos. It was in Christian Europe that modern science arose, amongst European Christians and those retaining the Christian assumptions. The universe was believed to be comprehensible by human minds, because human minds were thought to be made in the image of the divine mind responsible for the universe.

There is some overlap between saying "we expect an orderly world" and the concept of "methodological naturalism", because the latter expects things to work in a cause-and-effect way. Nevertheless, the only reason to adopt the concept of methodological naturalism is because we already hold to a concept of philosophical naturalism - i.e. because of our religious position. Otherwise, it is simply an unprovable philosophical bias that has no more right than any other to dictate what science can and can't do. To exclude certain concepts and explanations in advance is not science at all, much less the essential essence of science - it is religion.

I think it's enough for now to point out that certain sciences would be entirely ruined were they to actually stick to this rule. When an archaeologist digs up some pots and necklaces, what does he deduce? Should he be forbidden, in advance, from even considering that this might have something to do with intelligent human activity? Must he be forced to either choose the option of coming up with an entirely natural explanation for their formation, or being left to say  "as of yet we don't know, and must be humble until we get more data"? Unless we've lost our minds, it's obvious that this rule if applied at all would be the very death of archaeology. Archaeology begins with the assumption that such artefacts are prima facie evidence of human activity, until proved otherwise. In other words, it assumes the very opposite of what the atheists say is the very essence of science. That tells you all you need to know.

The Bible And Democracy (Part 4)

Previous posts: one, two, three

What does the Bible have to say about the merits of different systems of government? This, after all, is the key question. The way I hear democracy being spoken about in our society, we would think that it had been handed down from heaven on a plate. Should Christians agree with this way of thinking? Is it indeed endorsed by God in this way?

God's word is a fully sufficient revelation of the mind of God, for all that we need to know to please him in all things and avoid sin. It doesn't tell us which brand of toothpaste to buy, because that in itself is a question of no moral significance. It does, though, contain sufficient information for us to know what kind of service God requires in every legitimate area of human life. "All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for rebuke, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Government is very definitely a legitimate area of human life. "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God ... Render to all therefore what is due to them: taxes to whom taxes are due, custom to whom custom ..." (Romans 13:1-8). Who was Paul thinking of in particular in that passage? The government, of course - to which other "higher power" do we pay taxes? God's spokesmen, then, asserted that governments derive their authority from God.

Human government is part of God's order for the world. Anarchy is utterly contrary to God's being and will. God is a God of order and a God of authority. There is authority within the Godhead; the Son, though co-equal with the Father, willingly and joyfully submits to his will. God's being is in perfectly harmony throughout. Authority was part of the order God created from the beginning; there was a difference between the unfallen man and the unfallen woman. Both were equal in bearing the image of God, but as there has always been authority within the Godhead, so God made the man responsible for the woman and gave him authority to bear the duties accompanying that responsibility (1 Corinthians 11:7-8, 1 Timothy 2:12). More than that, Adam was made responsible as a head for the entire human race. It was not because Eve sinned that the world was cursed - it was because he was (Romans 5:12-21). God has ordained that different individuals will hold different levels of authority in his world.

A small aside: If government flows from God, and is essential to the created world, then some popular theories of government cannot be true. Government cannot be by the necessary consent of the people. Eve did not vote for Adam, and you did not choose your father - God placed you under their authority. Government is not a social contract; it is a divine imposition.

Having established that government is a topic which the Bible is concerned with - it is not an arbitrary human invention and that we are justified in asking the question "what does the Bible say about democracy?" - we can now start looking more into the details.

To be continued...

Thursday, 24 April 2008

The I-word

You surely worked out that the answer to Monday's question was...

Amongst all the blaming of "male relatives", "the Saudi establishment", "the government", etcetera, the BBC report in question (whether following the lead of the organisation "Human Rights Watch" or not, I don't know) somehow, somehow, somehow managed to not even question as to whether Saudi women being denied their human dignity and treated by as children might be something to do with their Islamic beliefs. Inexplicably, the BBC managed to not even mention Islam at all in the article.

On the same day the BBC also ran a story about how Islamic scholars were proclaiming Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, was rightly proclaimed by the Koran as the centre of the world. Yet the Koran didn't even get a footnote in the explanation of why Saudi women are treated as second class citizens. Go figure...

Patrick Sookhdeo on Islam in Britain

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo is a leading authority on Islam and movements within present day Islam.
Christian TV internet provider Premier TV features an interview with Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, in "Off the Shelf" with Victoria Laurence. The interview discusses Patrick Sookhdeo's new book "Faith, Power and Territory" and focuses on the issue of Islam in Britain today and how it will impact British society now and in the future.
Link here.

To God Be The Glory!

The above picture is of 39 MP3 players. A few more were missing from the picture. Each was loaded with 160 sermons preached by English Baptist preacher Dr. Stuart Olyott - some of whose work you can find at Dr. Olyott kindly gave permission to copy these - around 7000 sermons in total!

An MP3 player was given to around 40 pastors. Many of these men live in remote areas, and rarely get the chance to hear anybody else's preaching than their own. They generally have good books, because they've been given those in past years. But it's one thing to have Calvin's Institutes on your shelf - it's another to actually translate that solid theology into something digestible by your fellow mud-hut dwellers. Stuart Olyott can help them here, because his sermons are models of presentational clarity in preaching the Reformed faith clearly, fully and directly. He doesn't have many applications suitable for people who look after goats all day, but you can't have everything. The truth is preached in these sermons with passion and power, and I've already received back many comments on their helpfulness.

One pastor with his MP3 player

Many of these pastors live without electricity, and we were able to give many of them a solar-powered charger too to keep the players running. I hope they'll be able to work out all the various leads and connectors!

We have wonderful opportunities now because of modern technology. The money for the players resulted from an informal e-mail appeal sent across the oceans. The players are Chinese and very cheap. Solar panel technology has also come down in price a lot in recent years. Pastors in the remotest places can now listen to dozens of sermons by a man they've never met - and their churches can be helped. Living today, we have an immense opportunity to do good in the furthest-flung places. One session this morning was on the importance of local churches helping each other. The MP3 players were an example of that - churches in foreign countries gave the money, and the Nairobi church was then able to help the rural churches in Kenya. Praise God for what he has made possible to bless his people today! We have an immense opportunity: which means an immense responsibility. The master who gave his servants the talents required something back from the; God who has given modern Christians such immense opportunities will also ask us what we did with them.

The pastors were here in Nairobi for an annual conference. Our preacher was Conrad Mbewe of Zambia - a very gifted preacher known in the UK because of conferences taken there. We were very blessed as he (and others) preached various messages concerning the local church.

The question for you, dear readers, to try and answer is: Why does this renowned Reformed Baptist preacher have 3 lit candles at the front of his pulpit, whilst the listening pastors look benignly on? Answers in the comments!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Ignorance is a virtue...

... at least it is if you're Professor Richard Dawkins or one of his disciples.

Maybe you're familiar with Dawkins' standard response to the argument that "design is evidence of a designer". (The point being that the immense and omnipresent design in the cosmos speaks of a designer with a mind immense beyond our conceptions). Dawkins' response is to say that identifying God as the designer doesn't "solve" anything - because then we'd have to ask who designed God. God, says Dawkins, must be more "complex" than what he designed, so he would in turn call for another designer responsible for him.

Maybe you find the above argument interesting or difficult to answer. That won't be the case, though, if you've done the tiniest bit of reading in the area of philosophical theology. The "simplicity" of God is a very basic issue, and Christian theologians have argued for many, many centuries that God must be ontologically "simple" - i.e. that in his being, his various attributes (holiness, knowledge, power, etc.) are not discrete add-ons to what he is, but that they actually identical with what he is, essentially present throughout his entire being.

Professor Dawkins, though, continues to trot out the argument described above as if nobody had ever heard of it, thought of it or given an answer to it. He betrays no evidence whatsoever that he's even aware that his clever argument hasn't been answered for many centuries - and hence he nowhere even comes near thinking about how to answer it. It's for reasons like this that many Dawkins observers such as myself conclude that Dawkins' main aim is to "preach to the choir" - to build a personal empire of uncritical followers, sell them books and T-Shirts, and encourage those who want to be convinced of atheism whether the evidence supports it or not.

In this link from the Independent newspaper, we have Dawkins' answer to such criticisms. He asks, "Would you need to read learned volumes on Leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?" Well, Richard, if you'd written a book called "The Leprechaun Delusion" in which you argued that there was no such thing as those pink, ten-foot tall man-eating spiders which the world calls leprechauns, then yes, we would indeed think that maybe your leprechology needed a bit of a brush up. The amazing thing about Dawkins' Independent piece (whose original version is produced in full at Dawkins' own website here) is that Dawkins doesn't actually even try to argue that yes, he does understand what real theists actually claim about God and can still explain why they're wrong. He just boldly argues that his ignorance is a virtue, and that it would actually be a personal fault if he were so stupid as to waste his time in finding out - something akin to reading several volumes of stories about little green Irishmen.

Professor Dawkins' website runs under the slogan "A clear-thinking oasis". Ho hum!

Internet anonymity (part 6)

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five.

Following on from part five, where I showed that the Bible teaches that we ought to fear God and his judgment and correspondingly lose our fear of man (which I suggest is behind a good deal of Internet anonymity), here now are some verses showing that the Bible encourages courage. Courage is not just a noble virtue to be admired in other people. It is also a Christian virtue which the Holy Spirit works in those who he is making more like the Lord Jesus Christ - who gave all his teaching openly despite being hated for it (John 18:20). It is something to pray for and strive for. God actually wants us to speak the truth openly and without shame amongst our fellow men. There are many people in the world who are wicked and unashamed. Why should they speak openly whilst others are afraid to let their names be known?
Proverbs 28:1 - "The wicked flee when no man pursues: but the righteous are bold as a lion."
That's how it should be, and often is: with a good conscience, you can act boldly and openly; with a bad conscience, you're afraid even when nobody else is around. Which of these two is the anonymous Internet poster behaving most like?
Philemon 1:14 - "And many of the brethren in the Lord, growing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
Paul was in prison - but spoke boldly. This encouraged others in Rome who had previously been silent to do the same. What are you going to encourage other Christians to do by your example?
1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 - "For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: but even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as you know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tries our hearts."
Paul commended the gospel, and his own sincerity, by being bold even in the face of real persecution. At Philippi he was flogged and put in jail with open sores. That's a little bit worse than some angry ranter sending you a rude e-mail - or even five rude emails! Paul testified that the words he were speaking were sufficiently important and true that he was willing to publicly own them, whatever bad consequences came his way. Therefore, I find it hard to buy into the argument that by hiding our identities, we can commend our witness by drawing attention away from anything else. To Paul, his straightforward boldness was an important part of his witness that he appealed to - he had nothing to hide.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Reformation needed!

Today contained a first (look away now if squeamish) - I killed a chicken!

It wasn't personal, though it has been waking us up the last couple of weeks at 4 a.m. or so...

The two cockerels had grown to full size, so it was time to put them in the pot. The place that sold them to us falsely told us they were layers - of course you can't tell until they grow! I was shown how to do it with the first one, and did the second myself.

As I watched the "poor old" thing wriggling a bit (without its head!) whilst the life went from it, I confess I felt a bit guilty. Was that right? I don't think so. We're brought up in the West almost from birth to think of animals as if they were just like us. Darwinism tells us that they're our cousins, on the same tree of life, from whom we differ just by some lucky mutations. Cartoons and children's toys impress on us the ideas of cute talking creatures with emotions and feelings. The devotees of the Mother Nature goddess, in their guise of the animal rights lobby, are always in the media, encouraging us to sympathise for the poor wee things in their pains and sorrows in the same way as we do for humans.

Biblically, though, there's nothing to encourage this way of thinking. To be sure, wanton cruelty is the sign of a twisted mind that is far from pleasing God. But the Bible never betrays the slightest bit of sentimentality for cute little bunnies in the way that we do. There's a talking donkey in the Bible, but it was a real one and not a story-telling device. It's interesting to me that the Bible uses talking plants in a story, but not as far as I can remember any talking animals (can you remember any?). Is it the Lord's wisdom to avoid the kind of thing used by Aesop in the world? Sure, bunnies are cute - but they're not human, being separated from us as divine image bearers by an unbridgeable gulf. Their lives have no ultimate meaning or significance; Fido will not be appearing before the judgment seat as you and I will. It seems to me that in order to help my tiddlers think biblically, I should make sure they're around next time the cockerel's head gets sliced off, lest the twee little story books they read lead them astray!

Monday, 21 April 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

Read this article:

What's the elephant in the room that the BBC and/or Human Rights Watch somehow, somehow, somehow, didn't notice?

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Internet Anonymity: Just Say No! (Part 5)

In this series I'm seeking to argue to Christians that in general, they should not post on the Internet anonymously. Part one, part two, part three, part four. Rather than building a single, integrated case, I'm arguing in a somewhat ad-hoc fashion - aiming in different directions, seeking to take out a few targets with each shot.

In this post I want to draw our attention to the ultimate fact: the judgment of God. One day, we will all appear, completely exposed, to the all-seeing judgment of God. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). "[God] has appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has appointed" (Acts 17:30). "For as the Father has life in himself; so he has given to the Son to have life in himself; and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man." (John 5:26-27).

In that day, there will be no secrets. "For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any hing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad."  (Luke 8:17) "For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." (Luke 12:2-3)

The context of the verses quoted above from Luke 12 is that Jesus went on to encourage his disciples to not be afraid of men. Why should we not be afraid of men? Because we should be afraid of God! "And I say unto you my friends, 'Do not be afraid of those that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him, which after he has killed has power to cast into hell; yes, I say unto you, Fear him." (Luke 12:4-5). The fear of man and the fear of God are mutually exclusive alternatives. Fearing man and trusting God likewise: "The fear of man brings a snare: but whoso puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe." (Proverbs 29:25).

I believe that a considerably amount of Internet anonymity is due to old-fashioned fear of man. Effective hate-mail, slander and abuse can only be directed towards known persons. It's hard to diss "Mr. Anonymous", as no-one really knows who you mean. Pseudonyms function as a shield - the abuse is only personal to a certain degree; the identity can always be dumped, exchanged or rotated if the heat gets too much: a retreat option is always there, whether taken or not. Nobody enjoys personal abuse, and I've had plenty. It's also a surprising truth that those who are personally abused for Christ's sake enjoy blessings that the anonymous don't: "Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12).

If we really understood and meditated upon the fact that everything we do is completely open to God, and will be judged by him, then surely this goes a long way to reducing our anxiety over what our peers think about us. Our peers will not pass the final verdict on our lives - and God absolutely will. There is going to be a verdict, and nothing will be left out of the reckoning. All will be exposed. If that's true, then what is the point in trying to escape below the radar of our fellow men? Ultimately, they don't matter! If we really understand that all is done in the presence of God, then should we not stop caring about how others evaluate us because we're increasingly consumed with wanting to please him?

"But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: indeed, I do not judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this: rather, he that judges me is the Lord." (1 Corinthians 4:3-4).

  • Should it not be a "very small thing" for all Christians as to what verdicts others pass on us? Surely that is not something unique, just for the apostle Paul?
  • If this is so, then why seek to be anonymous before your fellow men?

US Culture Wars: Expelled!

This week, the new documentary film "Expelled!" was released. This is the film that has establishment atheists and materialists everywhere writhing in pain.

The material in the film is priceless, as several well known media scientists spell out with great clarity their loathing for particularly Christianity, and their ideological agenda to squish it and any other questioning of materialism whether the evidence supports them or not. Richard Dawkins has a cameo role, explaining that life may indeed after all have features which are the evidence of intelligent design - as long as we agree in advance to rule out the possibility of God being the intelligent designer! Several academics who had their careers subjected to neo-Stalinist purges after they evidenced doubt in materialism tell their stories, and a controversial 10-minute segment documents the influence that Darwinist thought had on the architects of the Holocaust.

The reaction of establishment materialists in academia and the media has been equally priceless, as they've fallen other themselves to demonstrate the truth of the main thesis of the film,  namely that academic freedom and evidence-based debate must always come second to the sacred cow of not questioning materialism. The sweet smell of secularist outrage is in the air everywhere - enjoy it whilst you can!

If "Expelled!" is all news to you, the best thing to do is to pop over to the popular blogs Uncommon Descent and Evolution News, where there are plenty of recent stories in the film's release week.

How to worship the Lord unacceptably

How to worship the Lord unacceptably: four examples of falling short.

1. The sacrifice of Cain (Genesis 4:1-16) : God looks at the heart

I have heard many sermons in which it has been said that Cain's sacrifice was unacceptable because he should have offered a blood sacrifice – Abel offered a lamb, which was a “more excellent” sacrifice (c.f. Hebrews 11:4). I may be wrong, but whilst the overall teaching is good, I cannot see this in the text itself. The text emphasises that Cain himself was unacceptable to God (v4-5, 7). God looks first at the offerer, and then at the offering (Haggai 2:10-14). Cain's received his rejection not with godly repentance, but with anger (v5), showing that his worship had always been for his own, not for the Lord's, benefit and that God had been right to reject him. The great lesson from Cain's sacrifice is that “the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

2. The strange fire of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) : Worship is for the glory of God

Nadab and Abihu the sons of Aaron were very greatly privileged. They had been included with the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:1-11), and appointed as the first priests of the Old Covenant. They (Leviticus 9) had assisted at the sacrifices offered at the inauguration of the covenant, and seen fire come out from the Lord to consume those sacrifices. Leviticus 10:1 gives the stark statement that they brought an offering “which [the LORD] commanded them not”, and in verse 3 Moses gives the hard-hitting explanation: “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” Worship is primarily for the glory and honour of God, who is a sovereign and awesomely holy God. Worship of such a glorious being can only be acceptable when offered according to his prescription. The second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) forbids us to innovate in worship, according to our own ideas of God and what we find pleasing to think of in relation to him. God is honoured when we draw near when we come in the way that he has commanded, and no other.

3. Worship according to the doctrines of men: The pharisees (Mark 7:1-23)

The Pharisees were offended, because Jesus' disciples broke the traditions of the elders because they failed to wash their hands before eating after being in public. In their minds, this tradition was equivalent to God's word: it came from the elders, and was necessary (they thought) to guard against the danger of unknowingly becoming unclean through contact with an unclean person in public. This tradition had the appearance of honouring God, but did not. Firstly, it was not performed from a heart-felt desire for God's glory – it was outward only. Secondly, the commandment was ultimately man-made: God had not given it, and so slavishly obeying it honoured man, not God. The Pharisees dishonoured God by finding clever ways to subvert the obvious meaning of the commands which he had given, such as to honour one's parents (v9-13). God's laws about cleanness were not given to glorify man and dishonour God in this way; they were given to remind people of the true uncleanness which comes continually out of our hearts.

4. Wrong all the way down: The woman of Samaria (John 4:1-26): New Covenant worship

In this passage the Lord Jesus corrected many fundamental errors in the woman's thinking. One is that, when she thought of worship, she thought the main issue was over the correct place. It was true that there was a right and wrong place under the Old Covenant; and in fact she had the wrong one – as a Samaritan, her worship was ignorant (verse 22). However, a more fundamental error was that she had not understood the nature of the New Covenant that the Messiah was now bringing in, where worship would not be tied to a place at all. The defining characteristics of acceptable New Covenant worship are that it is offered through the Holy Spirit and it is according to truth: which means that it is offered by converted people who believe the gospel about Jesus and are obedient to his commands. In the three examples above, the result was death: jealous Cain killed Abel, a righteously jealous God killed Nadab and Abihu, the Pharisees killed the Lord Jesus. In this example, the Lord graciously opened the eyes of the woman, and the result was life to her and to her village (v39-42).

Friday, 18 April 2008

The state knows better than you do

The state knows better than you do. It knows better than all of you do. It knows better about everything than all of you do. Such as how best to raise your own children, for example.

You may remember a post a month-and-a-bit ago about the unrelenting persecution by the Orwellianly-named "Department for Children, Schools and Families" against Tyndale Academy, a tiny (8 children) private tuition group in East London (see here).

There was a news story on the BBC today, here, in which the Schools Minister, Jim Knight, tells some outrageous porkies - as the documents obtained by Tyndale Academy under the Freedom of Information Act show. Those documents show that the Department deliberately ran two expensive consultations with the sole aim of bringing this tiny private tuition group under its direct control. Jim Knight, though, has the gall to tell the BBC "It is ridiculous to claim that we have singled out Tyndale Academy. We do not make legislation on the basis of one school."

Certainly at least one of us is ridiculous, but my money's on Mr. Knight. Tyndale gives tuition to children whose parents have decided that they don't like what's on offer in the state system. They've decided that they'd like them to receive a handful of hours of tuition from Ferris Lindsay's group. Big government, though, thinks that there should be no education at all, anywhere in the UK, that falls outside of its regulations that govern state and/or private schools. Even home tuition groups must give the state-approved education. Mr. Knight says, "This is about making sure that parents can be sure their children are getting a safe and secure education wherever they go." What Mr. Knight carelessly omitted to add was, "Where the definition of 'safe and secure' extends into the tiniest and most surprising details, and the know-it-all gurus of my department are the final arbiters of all of them." He continues, "It is common sense that schools where children receive the majority of their education, unsupervised by parents, should meet minimum standards and be properly registered and inspected", as if Mr. Lindsay's group were like a zoo where the children run amok whilst their parents haven't got the foggiest what's going on. This statement is like a catalogue of logical fallacies and critical omissions:
  • "Common sense"... to "we know best" statists like Mr. Knight

  • "Schools" - except that, according to the law, a private tuition group such as Mr. Lindsay's which operates for only a few hours a week, is not a school. That's the whole point of the legislation Mr. Knight's bringing in. Hence his words here are assuming the whole thing he wants to establish at the outset.

  • "Unsupervised by parents", except that Mr. Lindsay is in fact a parent of his own children, who attend the group.

  • "Unsupervised by parents", as if the parents who want Mr. Lindsay to teach their children didn't bother to check out what kind of standard of education he gave before they decided to send them to him instead of the local state school.

  • "Should meet minimum standards", except that Mr. Knight forgot to mention that Mr. Lindsay's tuition group, having submitted to outside inspections that there he had no legal need to allow, has been consistently described as providing excellent education.

  • "Should meet minimum standards", as if all the state schools under Mr. Knight's control were providing such great education that he should now start considering enlarging his territory a bit because there was nothing needing doing! Say what, let's have a contest. Let's take the average standard of attainment of the pupils in Mr. Knight's territory, and compare them to his choice of those in Mr. Lindsay's school, or those educated in private tuition groups in general. Whoever meets the highest standard gets to take over the other's territory. I don't think that contest would go well for Mr. Knight.

  • "Properly registered and inspected", i.e. by me! The only authority competent to inspect if children are getting a good education is, after all, the state. Their own parents can't possibly be expected to do a good job of it. Even if they're parents who are so concerned about a good education that they left the state system.
Mr. Knight is a classic secularist. He has unlimited confidence in his own competence, knows what's best for everyone, and is by force of law going to make sure that you agree with him.

Abortion and the beginning of life

Two of the US presidential candidates were recently asked if life begins at conception or not. In case you just arrived from another planet, the significance of this question is that if life does begin at conception, then abortion can only be classified as murder. Here are their answers:

Barack Obama: This is something that I have not come to a firm resolution on. I think it’s very hard to know what that means — when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don’t presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I’ve said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we’re having these debates.

Hillary Clinton: Potential for life begins at conception. . . I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out. But for me, it is also not only about a potential life — it is about the other lives involved. And, therefore, I have concluded, after great concern and searching my own mind and heart over many years, that our task should be in this pluralistic, diverse life of ours in this nation that individuals must be entrusted to make this profound decision, because the alternative would be such an intrusion of government authority that it would be very difficult to sustain in our kind of open society.
Both candidates are, their voting records show, strong supporters of a right to abortion. Senator Obama has even put on record, in the Illinois  Senate, his support for the right to kill disabled babies even immediately after birth, as well as before it.

There are many things that we could say about the above two answers. There's one point I wanted to make though. It's to take a step back and point out that the answers both show that pro-abortionists are badly losing the intellectual debate. Both candidates, when all is trimmed away, say "I don't know" in answer to the question "does life begin at conception?" That means, they also don't know if abortion is immoral and if modern states are turning a blind eye to the murdering of millions of the most vulnerable every year. It means they don't know if abortion is on the one hand an important human right, or on the other hand the greatest moral atrocity of modern times. They're both campaigning to become the most powerful person in the world, but this fundamental question... well, they're not decided. Hmmm.

Why does this mean that pro-abortionists are losing the debate? Because, a generation ago, they confidently exclaimed that life did not begin at conception; at that point we were just dealing with a blob of cells. This was the whole basis for legitimising abortion - at that point, we were told, there was nothing more than an unwanted growth in the womb, which could be dealt with however we pleased - even up to 18, 22 or 26 weeks, depending on what figure you felt like plucking out of the air when you got out of bed this morning.

That position is now untenable. Babies have been born, and survived, at less than 22 weeks. Babies have been born, and died, younger than that - and nobody dares say they weren't real babies whilst they were struggling for their little lives. Modern technology has allowed the most amazing insights into the baby's life within the womb, showing their highly developed existence even at half the number of weeks mentioned above. Through modern scientific answers, we know that once a baby has been conceived, all it needs is protection and nourishment to make it into the outside world: there are no fundamental subsequent stages in its existence that can be pinpointed as "the beginning of life" rather than at conception. That's leaving aside the moral and philosophical arguments.

In the light of these answers, pro-abortionists have it tough. It's become increasingly untenable to say "that thing's not alive, so it's OK to hack it to pieces - it's not a moral issue!" They're now reduced to saying we don't know. If at this stage you can't work out which side of the debate is in the right, you're in real trouble...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Unbelief: Must try harder

Unbelief is hard work. You see, it's God's world. Unbelief keeps having to collide with reality.

If the world were purely an intellectual exercise, then unbelief might just work out. Clever unbelievers can construct their own "mental universe" - their own version of reality, where fabric of existence is stitched together in a way they much prefer. The unbeliever is always trying to live in a fantasy world - which exists independently of the authority of God - but the real world has a bad habit of getting in the way.

Five favourite refuges of contemporary unbelief are postmodernism, relativism, agnosticism, positivism/scientism and determinism. They all have something in common. They refute themselves. It's hard to believe any of these "isms", because they all fail the test of self-consistency. That doesn't stop many from trying!

Post-modernism: All claims about absolute truth are attempts to grab power. They are stories told by people who want to control your life. They should not be accepted; having come of age intellectually we must rise above them and break free from them. So, let's see how that theory plays out. If all claims about truth are attempts to grab power and to be resisted, then post-modernism must itself be a power-grab, and you'll have to excuse me for resisting it.

Relativism: All truth claims are relative - there is no absolute truth. There are no statements that we can say, without qualification, are always true. Which means that if relativism is true, then relativism cannot be truly true, but only relatively.

Agnosticism: We can't know what absolute truth is - it is beyond our grasp. How exactly did you come to know that? Why are you not agnostic about agnosticism?

Positivism / Scientism: I refuse to believe anything which cannot be demonstrated experimentally in an empirical manner. This is the only sound way to arrive at certain truth. Which experiments did you do to verify that this was the only way of arriving at certain truth? Are the results published in a scientific journal somewhere? Applying scientism's test to scientism, I end up not having grounds to believe it, so please forgive me for not doing so!

Determinism: We live in a universe of fixed and immovable laws. Everything is ultimately determined by these laws. You are just the result of the chemicals in your brain. The universe is the result of a big bang and millions of years of nature's laws working themselves out. Everything can be explained by science; no need for anything else. Sadly we can never verify this theory, because if it's true then our brains are pre-programmed to come up with either the right or wrong answer. Unfortunately determinism prevents us from escaping the pre-determined result and coming to an objective conclusion about it.

Many many -isms are needed in an unbelieving world, because not one of them is stable. Many of the popular ones even topple under their own weight, let alone if you should try to build anything else on top of them. It's hard to be an unbeliever.

Simply to glorify his name

"God never punishes his people. That is, their sufferings are never designed to satisfy justice; nor are they always even chastisements in the proper sense of the word. They are not in all cases sent to correct evils, to repress pride, or to wean from the world. God often afflicts his people and his church simply to enable them the better to glorify his name. It is an unchristian disposition, therefore, which leads us always to ask, 'when afflictions are sent upon ourselves or others, 'Why is this? What have we or they done to call forth this expression of parental displeasure or solicitude? What does God mean to rebuke?' It may be that our sufferings are chastisements, that is, that they are designed to correct some evil of the heart or life, but this is not to be inferred from the simple fact that they are sufferings. The greater part of Paul's sufferings were not chastisements. They were designed simply to show to all ages the power of the grace of God; to let men see what a man could cheerfully endure, and rejoice that he was called upon to endure, for the sake of the Lord Jesus."

Charles Hodge, 2 Corinthians, Banner of Truth Trust, 1959, p163

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Seek first God's kingdom (Haggai chapter 1)

This ad-hoc series of posts on Haggai is out of order! (Previous posts: one, two, three).

The small band of people in Judah had returned from exile around 16 years earlier. They were a faithful band, having made the 700 mile journey from Babylon, leaving behind their homes and their livelihoods and contacts there. They had come back to Jerusalem, where God had chosen his name to be. They had come to the place where he had appointed worship for his glorious honour - worship that had not been given for nearly 70 years since the temple had been destroyed.

The altar of God had been put up, and a start had been made on the foundations. However, discouragement had set in. Sixteen years later, the discouragement was endemic, and the excuses had become institutionalised. "It is not the right time" - in the absence of better excuses, blame providence and make unverifiable claims based on your reading of what's (not) in between the lines.

If it was not time to rebuild God's house, though, how had it been a time to build their own houses - and not just to a tolerable standard, but to the level of luxury? The people had poured their efforts into sowing, eating, drinking, clothing themselves and earning money, whilst continuing to hold that the signs were not yet aligned for them to work on the temple. All this activity, though, had not prospered them. God was not pleased, and he had refused to allow them to prosper. Praise God for his mercies when he foils all our plans and so at last gets our attention!

God did not agree with the peoples' verdict. If it was time for their houses to be nicely decorated, how could it be time for his house to still be in ruins? People always find time for what they really desire - where there's a will, there's a way. You don't have time for church prayer meetings; you're too busy to read and pray with your children; it's not the right time to start a neighbourhood meeting to share the gospel. What is it time for? Ah, there's plenty of scope for sport, for leisure, for eating out, for putting in some extra hours at work. Now therefore, says the Lord of hosts, consider your ways.

"But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." - Matthew 6:33

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The cause of inadequate understandings of the death of Jesus

“All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners’, then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.” - John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 109.

HT: Of First Importance

The idol of democracy

Previous posts: one, two

Two quotes from Winston Churchill (courtesy of Google and
"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
In contemporary political discourse, democracy is a sacred cow. It's not enough to believe that, on the whole, generally, it's better than the other options. We are also required to believe, on pain of being suspected of being an insane fascist, that democracy is a panacea to usher in the next golden age. If we can bring about more choice, bring power closer to the people, and so on, then all our problems will be solved.

I've been arguing that such uncritical enthusiasm is unbiblical. There's no reason why a large number of sinners will make a wiser choice than a small number of elite sinners. Democracy seems to have a unique ability to bring the unqualified to power. At least the leader of a military coup has shown some ability to be in charge of something. On the other hand, consider the two main contenders for the Democratic Party (!) nomination for the US presidency. You don't have to be be particularly pro- or anti-Democrat to notice that there's no way these two people can be the two most qualified Democrats to become US president. The Democratic party is able to command the support of approximately half of the US electorate. Getting the Democratic ticket is like getting half-way to the White House - the most powerful job in the world. Democracy, though has given us as the two remaining contenders a remarkably inexperienced pair.

Surely, there are some Democrats who have the kind of multi-decade track record in running large enterprises of some kind that you might think should be an essential qualification before even being even considered as slightly suitable to head up the most powerful nation on earth. What happened to those talented "Democrats"? "Democracy" happened to them. Quite ironic!

Now, what does the Bible say?

To be continued...

The nations will be shaken; God's kingdom shall remain

The final prophecy of Haggai, in 2:20-23, peers ahead into the future. (Previous Haggai posts: one, two).

God had already explained that he would "shake the nations" (2:6). There would be political upheavals, and through them God would achieve his purposes. What, though, would become of little Judah during all this shaking? Their religion had survived in Babylon. Was this all they could hope for? What about the nation itself?

This prophecy was addressed to Zerubbabel the civil ruler alone - previous ones had been addressed to Joshua the High Priest too. Zerubbabel was addressed as the civil governor - the outward sign of the theocracy. God thus assured his people that the nation would remain. Amongst all the shakings of the nations, God's people would not be crushed or disintegrate amidst the chaos. On the contrary, the powers of the nations would be removed, whilst God's people would be drawn to him very closely, as a signet ring. No King takes liberties with his signet ring - it is the sign of his authority, and if it fell into bad hands disaster could result.

Zerubbabel was a chosen vessel. The wording of this prophecy is much more ambiguous than the other three, and leaves room open for exactly how it was to be interpreted. In the event, Zerubbabel never became a powerful ruler - indeed, that would have contradicted the prophecies God had already given through Daniel, in which he had explained the courses which the nations would take. Zerubbabel was chosen, as the New Testament shows us (Matthew 1), to be an ancestor of the Son of God in his human nature. The covenant made with David would succeed through Zerubbabel's line. The nations of the world would be shaken; God's Messiah would come and his kingdom will remain when all others are taken away.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Internet Anonymity - The Wrong Choice For Christians (part 3)

My aim in this little series is to give the reasons why I think that Christians should very rarely use the facility for anonymity which the Internet gives. Part one, part two, part three.

The Internet makes routine and wide-scale anonymity possible in a way that has not been seen before in human history. It has always been possible to be anonymous. The visiting preacher next week in your church could, if he chose, decide to style himself using the handle "Lord Vortelius Poppledanger", and expound the word of God whilst wearing a Darth Vader suit. There's no physical or other necessary impediment that prevents us being anonymous in lots of the things we do. The Internet isn't a new situation at all in terms of anonymity being possible - what's new is the ease with which the option can be taken up. The question is, just because it's easy, does it make it any more right?

Let's face it: if you'd moved into a new area and were looking for a new church, you wouldn't attend Lord Poppledanger's place a second time, unless you were wanting to gather evidence for posterity.

A couple of responders to my series so far (whose responses I was both very grateful for, despite the day in acknowledging them), suggested that by concealing his/her identity, someone can make their arguments more convincing. The idea is that when the identity of the person speaking is unknown, it's only possible to concentrate on their arguments, and nothing else. Well, that's kind-of true, but not totally - the fact that the person talking to you has deliberately withheld their identity isn't one that's likely to escape your consciousness. Even "no identity" is a kind of identity - you register the fact that the person talking to you has some reason or other (even if you don't know what it is) for you not wanting them to know who you are.

In the context of my purpose to persuade Christians that making a point of not being anonymous is a more God-glorifying path, I think it's very relevant to show that the original Gentile evangelist thought that it was a virtue to be more known rather than less known. Whilst he made it his aim to hide himself in one very important sense whilst preaching, so that people could see Christ, he also made it his aim to be completely revealed in another very important sense, so that people could see Christ. I think that Christians seeking to be anonymous on the Internet are mixing these two things up. It's good to parade Christ rather than ourselves so that people might depend on him; it's also, according to the Bible, an enhancement to our witness if are transparent in our dealings:
2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Paul said that he commended himself to his hearers' consciences - not just his message. Is it possible to do that anonymously?
2 Corinthians 9 And he said unto me, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
God works through weakness. He rejoiced that people could see him in all his puniness (in worldly terms), because then God was glorified by showing his power through him. The message and the messenger were part of a God-ordained partnership - they were not intended by God to be separated. This is a major plank of my objection to Internet anonymity amongst Christians, along with the cutting of the accountability chain. Anonymity removes the messenger from the message, which is a move without any Biblical approval.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 ... you know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
6 And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit

Acts 20:18  And when they were come to him, he said unto them, "You know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,"
Paul made a deliberate effort to set an example that could be followed - an example he could appeal to, so that nobody could say that he preached differently from what he practiced.
1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Paul saw a divine purpose in the things which he, as an apostle, had been made to endure. God did not only intend for him, Paul, to declare a message - he also intended him to be a living theatre in whose experience certain spiritual truths would be displayed. Anonymity thwarts this divine purpose - that God's workings in our lives should accentuate the message that we speak.

In the above verses I've focussed mainly upon anonymity from the point of view of evangelism - but I think that the points apply generally. Internet anonymity is an attempt at de-personalised conversation. My two respondents have both suggested that this can be a virtue. I think it cuts profoundly across God's purposes. Personality is good, and indeed essential. Thus amongst those who want to speak continuously, over time, on the Internet it becomes necessary to invent a new persona. You can do drive-by anonymous commenting a little bit, but if you're going to say more than the odd line here and there, you eventually find it's essential to become a person, and not just "anonymous". The only people who seem to be able to be "Anonymous" long term are those with a serious problem - such as ranters, stalkers and the terminally fearful. This is the way God made us.

This being so, i.e. if we must have a persona, surely we should have the one that God made us with, rather than inventing a new one?

Eat this

At the University of Chicago Divinity School there has been an annual "Baptist Day" for many years, when leaders of that denomination in Illinois are invited to the School. Their supports is encouraged, and those who go bring their packed lunches and sit and eat together on a grassy knoll in between listening to theologians. One year the Divinity School invited the late Dr Paul Tillich to speak. Tillich was born in Germany in 1886, and in 1933 he went to Union Seminary, New York. On that "Baptist Day", Tillich lectured on the resurrection of Jesus, giving his restitution theory: that the resurrection took place in the "ecstatic" experience of the disciples, and that it restored Jesus to the dignity of the Christ in their own minds; that it probably belonged to the time prior to Peter's confession, but it was not an event belonging to the time after the death of Jesus. Tillich told them that the resurrection of the body was a symbol expressing the truth of "essentialism", and that heaven and hell were to be taken seriously, but not literally.

The lecture was long, almost two hours, and given with a strong German accent. Then there was a question time. An old minister rose to his feet: "Docta Tilick, I got a question." The congregation turned round and looked at him. He slowly lifted an apple out of his lunch bag and took a bite. There was an embarrassing pause. "Docta Tilick .... my question is very simple (munch, munch) ... I don't know much about essentialism, nor about this restitution theory (crunch, crunch) ... and I don't speak a word of German ... All I wanna know is this ... This apple I'm eating (chew, chew) ... is it bitter or is it sweet?" The plain white-haired man was old, and from a minority race, and so he could not be belittled. In exemplary scholarly fashion Dr. Tillich replied courteously, "I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven't tasted your apple." The white-haired preacher dropped the remains of the apple into his lunch bag, looked at Dr. Paul Tillich and said calmly, "Neither have you tasted my Jesus." There was a smattering of applause in the room.

Daniel: Servant of God under four kings, Geoff Thomas, Bryntirion Press, 1998, p25-26

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Internet Anonymity (part 3)

My aim in this little series is to give the reasons why I think that Christians should very rarely use the facility for anonymity which the Internet gives. Part one, part two.

The major Biblical issue that I see for Christians in writing anonymously is that of accountability. When you write anonymously, where is the accountability?

The world's fundamental problem, the one underlying all the others, is that of rebellion. In the garden, God gave one command: "don't eat"; and Adam ate. We've been walking in his footsteps ever since. The good news is that an obedient man came - a second Adam, who perfectly fulfilled his Father's will. The whole load of his people's rebellion was placed on his shoulders and he died - and rose again. Christians, who share in this resurrection life in union with Jesus, must then be obedient people; a people who don't just tolerate, but rejoice in being accountable for their words and ways. We give thanks that the universe was not constituted to be anarchic, but orderly - ruled. So Christian children should rejoice in being answerable to their parents, Christian wives in being accountable to their husbands, and every individual believer to their local church. God has given us people who have a responsibility to lovingly give themselves in caring for us - and we have a corresponding accountability.

Where do we see any of this, though, in the practice of writing and debating anonymously? When we refuse to allow our words to be attached to our names, we sever the link which allows us to be called to account. We once again become autonomous, and lose all the controls and helps that God has instituted to keep us from going astray. When the anonymous (or pseudonymous) Christian blogger starts straying into ungodly speech, gossip, ad hominem, etcetera, how will those who have the responsibility to watch out for him and exhort him help him? If I could make a law of Christian blogging, it would be this: we should all have links up so that people can contact our elders if they need to. If I mouth off in a sinful way, you should be able to know who it is who keeps a watch for my soul and which church has an issue on its hands with a blogger who's lost self-control. There are many spiritual lone-rangers in the world, running one-man ministries accountable to no-one. Who's going to show a better way?

You'll have noticed that I've hedged my thesis with words like "almost always" and "rarely". In theory, the anonymous blogger might give his elders a list of places he posts, and the usernames he posts under, so that even if the people he's talking to don't know who he's answerable to, at least they know what he's up to. (Did you ever meet a real live case of that? Theoretical exceptions are nice, but "almost always" nothing more than theoretical.) But should not Christians not only be accountable, but seen to be accountable? Shouldn't the new attitude to accountability which Christ has brought to us not only be seen by the angels and a tiny elect remnant, but seen by the world?


Christian Institute / Google links

I missed the links for more information off the last post:

The secular mind at work

This week, national headlines were made in the UK when the Christian Institute announced that it was going to take legal proceedings against the Internet giant, Google, unless Google changed its policies on selling advertising.

Google has confirmed that it has an explicit ban on accepting advertised links to websites that are both a) religious in nature and b) address the topic of abortion. Links to religious websites are fine; links to websites that address the topic of abortion from a secularist perspective are fine; but the twain must under no circumstances meet.

The Christian Institute believes that this policy is illegal, as the UK has a law (with various exemptions) which explicitly forbids the denial of provision of goods and services on religious (and various other) grounds. This is quite ironic, as the law itself was the work of secularists looking to advance a multi-cultural agenda; the kind of thing they wanted to see it used for was exemplified by a recent example where a homosexual practitioner sued the Church of England because one of its congregations wouldn't employ him.

Google released a statement to explain the reason for its discriminatory policy. (On this blog, "discriminatory" isn't a swear word meant to automatically imply that something's automatically bad. Discriminating between truth and tripe is good!). Apparently, it's because religious sites which address the topic of abortion are "not factual".

What a hoot. Google has some "big book of facts" locked up in its headquarters that it checks all the pro- and anti- arguments used in the abortion debate up against, and its determined that all of those used on websites of a religious nature aren't in it? Are we now meant to believe that all the advertising links that Google does accept on its website are factual? Researchers from the Christian Institute quickly turned up that Google is willing to accept adverts for websites selling pornography, ouija boards, occult horoscopes and websites to help you cheat on your husband or wife. These sites are all good and wholesome, unlike the pesky nonsense peddled by the religionists who tell you that your unborn baby is a precious gift from God, not an arbitrary ball of flesh to be excised like a cancer if you don't want it.

Well, we could poke fun at the nonsensical contradictions in Google's position and practice for hours. But what I think would be more useful is to point out some of the absurd beliefs and contradictions of the secular mind itself, which Google has given us a classic exemplification of here. Actually I'd guess that this policy is probably the work of a lone campaigning secularist, misusing his influence in Google to promote his own religious agenda and that the policy will be scrapped once it comes under scrutiny. That's just a guess though. Christians need to understand how secularist thinking works, so that they can identify, combat and refute it. Here it is:
  • Religion deals with the unverifiable. It is to do with values and beliefs which are personal and private. They should not be allowed to intrude into public life, because public life is the realm of shared facts. Religion isn't to do with facts. (Don't ask us how we know this).

  • Obvious unspoken but unavoidable implication: religion deals with things that are either false or irrelevant. Hence, secularism is just the cowardly face of atheism. Because secularism is the cowardly face of atheism, it dishonestly exempts atheistic claims from its ban on the application of religious principles to public life; these are allowed to spread unhindered, and this is called "neutrality".

  • Even if some religious claims are possibly true, they still aren't allowed to be mentioned or used in the public sphere. If values cannot be supplied from religion, then the values of the public sphere must come from secular humanism, which is the only shared basis on which we can operate together. Again, this relies upon dishonestly pretending that secular humanism is religiously neutral.

  • In the realm of medical ethics, we must abolish all of those personal and private values. Everything must be decided by science. (However, science can't actually deal with values - you can't look down a microscope and work out whether humans have God-given dignity or not.) Therefore, the public sphere must effectively become value-less. The only value is that everyone's values are as good as everyone else's. (Except secularists' values, which are sacred and must never be questioned.)

  • The ultimate authority in the secular mind is not that of any transcendent or supernatural being, but that of the force of law. If you don't like something, then don't bother arguing against it; simply ban it and declare it out of bounds by fiat.

  • Because secularism is public truth and the only way to build a modern society, anything opposing it must be censored. We believe in free speech, as long as you don't express any opinions which contradict secularism. Any questioning of secular assumptions is bad and dangerous and it is legitimate to censor it wherever it appears; hence a search engine believes it has a legitimate role to determine whether or not religions have anything valid to say about abortion, or whether their websites should be actively suppressed to stop people being corrupted by them. Freedom in a secular society means the freedom to agree with secularism, not to contradict it. Don't agree that men brutalising other men for twisted sexual pleasure is not morally neutral? Here's a hate-speech law to shut you up.
The logic of the Google thinking here is classic secularism:
  1. Religious values are private, personal and subjective; even if possibly related to truth, they can play no part in science or public debate.

  2. Abortion is a down to earth, real-life matter, and involves the science of the developing baby blob.

  3. As such, religion can have nothing to say about abortion.

  4. If the religious are trying to say something about abortion, then they are making a mistaken and potentially dangerous incursion into the public sphere. This may threaten the basis of our stable secular society.

  5. The right to free speech ends once the basis of secularism itself is called into question. Therefore, for our own good, we must censor them.

  6. On the other hand, sites promoting husbands and wives cheating on each other are all fine and dandy. Remember: we can't impose any values in the public square other than the value of enforcing secularism, so if that's your cup of tea, then great. Even if you don't like it, then remember that it's a free country, each to his own: who are we to play the censor? We're just a search engine!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Democracy: not all it's cracked up to be (part two)

Part one.

In this series of posts, I'm trying to explain why it's a huge error to make an idol out of democracy. It may normally be better than the alternatives; but if we make it an absolute principle, that'll be a huge blunder.

What is democracy? In theory, it's krasis by the demos - i.e., rule by the people - self-governance. In practice, what people normally mean by it is that rulers are chosen by periodic free elections. In practice, it doesn't mean that the people get to vote on every law that comes into parliament, or even on any of them. There's not been a single actual referendum in my lifetime. In fact, "democracy" as normally understood is perfectly compatible with every law that gets passed being one that you hate. It means we chose the rulers, and then they chose whatever they please, subject to maybe they want us to chose them again in five years time.

I think it's interesting to think about how "democracy" actually works, because a lot of the time it's flatly contradictory to the arguments used to advance it. In theory, in a democracy we speak through our elected representatives. In practice, our representatives are under the party whip. In theory, democracy ensures that the people's will is heard. In practice, the political class consider being deliberately "populist" in one's policies to be a mortal sin. In theory, democracy will lead to the ideas battling it out in the public sphere and the best ones winning out. In practice, democracy gave us the world of Blairism and hyper-spin. The theory of democracy implies either that the majority are always right or on the other hand that the majority will should be followed even if wrong. Does anybody actually believe either of those propositions? I suppose the answer is "No, but it's better than fascism".

I think I'm OK with that answer, though I'm pretty sure that if I asked you to name some actual fascist governments, they'd probably turn out to be ones that were democratically elected. Whether that's true or not, I think the point is being made: When our politicians (I'm thinking of president Bush here) preach that the exporting of democracy to the world will usher in a new golden age of freedom and progress, they're promoting an idol that cannot save us. And Christians out to call it out for what it is. Salvation from the mess the world's in will not come through replacing the arbitrary will of a single sinner with the arbitrary wills of crowds of sinners. That's not the real gospel, is it?

Fundamental complexity: Darwinists shocked!

I'm one of the (minor members of) the team of bloggers at the ID blog, "Intelligently Sequenced".

Here's a new post, discussing the top headline on Yahoo News as I write: "Shock: First Animal on Earth Was Surprisingly Complex":

This follows on nicely from the series of posts last week on the issue of "Fundamental Complexity":

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Ten years today

Ten years ago today, the "Good Friday" peace agreement was signed in Northern Ireland. The politicians had been up all night.

I was more preoccupied by the 125 mile non-stop Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race which we began that morning, at 8:22 a.m., which would keep me up all the next night!

Today I casually said to my father, "it's the 10th of April". He replied, saying that that must mean it was ten years since "the DW", in which he led one of our support crews. He hadn't forgotten! (Support crews meet us at locks to cram bananas and drinks down our throats, change our water bottles, speak encouraging things and even serve up a gobbled meal and quick change of clothes at the half-way point - there's no timing concession for it, but we decided a bowl of
pasta and some dry canoeing gear would be beneficial).

A lot has happened in ten years. I finished my degree, did another one, met and married my wife, we had children, I entered the Christian ministry, I've lived in 11 different houses, we emigrated, etcetera.

What about you? There's one thing we, if we're Christians, surely have to come back to. How many sins, how many falls, how many wasted opportunities, how much time frittered away, how many blind alleys have we gone down? How many times have we stumbled? How much confusion and worldly-mindedness led us astray?

Yet at the end of it all, we can still say "I was repenting of my sins and trusting in Jesus Christ then - and I am today too. I have disgraced my Saviour many times; he has been so gracious to me and because of his love I'm still here through it all."

I remember being conscious whilst paddling in the dead still of night on the deserted Thames, that God was always present. He is still present. Ten years is a record of ten years in which the Lord has been so patient with a continually stumbling sinner.

It's good to look back on special days in our lives - it's even better to look back on the perseverance of our Saviour in his ministry towards us, despite our poor return of gratitude to him.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Lessons from a subdural haematoma

My online friend, Ferris Lindsay, has continued to blog about his experiences of a clot in his brain, earlier this year:
"The stay in the Royal London was for emergency treatment on a subdural haematoma (blood clot on the brain). The seven days I spent there were precious days in which I believe the Lord, through his word, taught me several important lessons. See what you think. Better still - let me know what you think."

Why anonymity in the Internet is (almost) always wrong

I get a few anonymous comments submitted to this blog. Almost all the anonymous ones are from atheists, interestingly. There's only one basic reason for not giving your name: you don't want either someone in particular or everyone in general to know that you said what you said.

That's by definition, really. If you don't give your name, it's because you didn't want to, unless you did it because you make all your decisions by rolling dice. For now we'll presume it's a rational thing and leave the dice-players alone.

What are the motives someone could have for not wanting to associate their name with their words? Your name is your identity or reputation; I take it then that when someone says something anonymously, it's because they want to protect their reputation from the potentially damaging effects of their words. (The atheist comments that didn't make it through moderation on this blog were certainly cases in point!)

Think about that for a moment. What we are saying is that anonymous writers normally want a reputation that isn't earned from what they say and do, but from somewhere else. Or alternatively, their real-life reputation is so bad, that it might discredit their comments; or at least, might give a different spin on them.

At the moment I'm just motive-mongering, which has limited value. The limit in this case, though, is quite high - I put it to you, readers for evaluation from your own experience, before pressing on. There is Biblical precedent for hilighting this aspect of human behaviour. When Adam sinned in the garden, he tried to hide himself, and cover his nakedness. He didn't want to be seen. He instinctively felt over-exposed, and wanted his identity to be hidden. His deed was obvious - there was a piece of fruit missing from the tree. But, as a sinner, he instinctively sought to separate himself from his action, and when questionned he drew attention to his wife, who shifted focus to the serpent. The innate sense of shame and wishing to be hidden is still present in mankind.


The wrong way round

A man today was telling me, as one reason why he wasn't a Christian, that some Christians owned slaves even as recently as the 15th century.

Hmmm. (Actually it's more recent than that, though I didn't ask where in the world he was referring to, so he may have meant his own home country).

He wanted to look at Christians as an infallible guide to Jesus Christ. He rejected Christianity because he saw something offensive in one group of Christians in history. That's the wrong way round. We should look at Jesus Christ as the infallible guide to what Christians are becoming. The historical example of Christ is normative; the copies are all imperfect.

Sure, if every Christian in the world owned slaves, or if at least many more of them did than non-Christians, you'd start to think that the two might be linked. There's got to be a reason why whenever you hear on the news of a terrorist outrage you think "Ah, that'll be something to do with Muslims." The two aren't completely independent; ever heard of Quaker terrorists? Cause and effect can be complex, but the Christian claim isn't that no Christian can ever make a moral
mistake. It's that after making a barrel-load of them every day, Jesus Christ who died for us forgives us as we repent, and that by his Spirit he is working holiness in his people so that that repentance is not just a sham.

Some who name the name of Christ may indeed be shams; but if Jesus wasn't gold, he wouldn't be worth counterfeiting as well as faithfully imitating.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Bible And Democracy

I'd like to write a few posts on the question of the Bible, politics and democracy.

Here's an illustration. When I came to Kenya, in some kind of context, I happened to mention that democracy isn't all that it's cracked up to me. The person I was speaking to shrunk back in mock horror. He agreed - but had never ever heard anyone else say so! Anyone who questions the sacred cow of democracy, surely must be a fascist...? Well, no. It's possible to point out that football is not the entire meaning of life, without it implying that you hate it and wish to shoot anyone who plays it.

I fear that many Christians in the UK have done precious little thinking about what the Bible has to say about modern politics. This is probably because of one of three factors. Firstly, it has been taught for a long time that the Bible does not really have anything to say about politics; the Bible is religious and politics is well, political - and never the twain shall meet! I trust that by now we've all spotted that this is bunk. Nobody, apart from some evangelical Christians, appears to believe this. Certainly the secularists who pass laws to enshrine their own beliefs on marriage, human life, abortion, hate speech, homosexuality, etcetera, in law, don't appear to believe that their own creed has nothing to say about national life. Alongside this, it has often been preached
that a Christian could (and it is implied, equally), be found in any political party - without any qualification being added to the statement. Again, this fails the real world test. Could a Christian support the New White Supremacist Party? Secondly, there is a wise reserve which Christians want to keep when talking about politics. Politics often involves many uncertainties; we don't want to confuse our hearers, as if the things we say about Jesus Christ, judgment and salvation are in the same class as our thoughts on the way forward in difficult political situations. Thirdly, I think that for many of us our vision of the gospel and the future is far too small. We think that the idea of the gospel is that we get saved, tell other people how to get saved, and that's about it until the end finally arrives whilst the world collapses around us. Actually, though, the Bible has instructed us to bring every possible thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) - in other words, to bring God's will and the gospel to bear upon all of human life. When Jesus rose again, there were at that point at least 2000 years remaining before his second return. Christians obviously weren't intended just to huddle together, leaving sin unchallenged in society, believing that their efforts outside of evangelism were worthless because the end was nigh; it wasn't. There were whole civilisations yet to be built. The writers of the letters in the Bible apply the gospel to family, to work and to government - e.g. Romans 12-14.

"Democracy" is a modern Shibboleth. The present US president often speaks as if the bringing of democracy to the world will solve many of the world's problems. I think he's wrong - in some countries I believe democracy has actually made problems worse. How did the militant Islamic Hamas come to government in Palestine, in the place of the more moderate Fatah? Because they were democratically elected. President Musharraf of Pakistan might not be your cup of tea - but would you prefer a democratically-elected Muslim fundamentalist to sit in his place?

Hopefully now I've given the reasons why we should think about this subject, and in that last paragraph given you some food for thought. To be continued...

Shall we write anonymously? (Introduction)

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" - so goes the saying. It's not completely true; there are ways and means; but there's a good core of truth in it. On the Internet, anyone can stick up a website just like anyone else can. You can go online and give yourself whatever nickname (or "handle", in techie-speak) you please, release whatever selection of information about yourself you please, use whatever graphic to represent your image you please - you can control your own image pretty tightly.

One thing that many, many chose to do is to be anonymous. I think I once read that 57% of those who post online in some form, do so anonymously.

The question I want to ask as a Christian is, what principles does the word of God contain relating to this? Is it right? Is it wrong? What are the factors involved? I'm sure that we agree that there are times when anonymity is not at all appropriate. If the man given the seat next to you on the airplane covered his face with a balaclava, refused to uncover his face at security and carried a passport in the name of "Groove Man", I think you might start wondering when the next flight was. We wouldn't vote for a politician who concealed everything about his real identity, or send our children to a school where the teachers all dressed up in masks and spoke in pretend voices. We'd say that these are situations where it's important to know the real identities of the people involved, and where anonymity would be either foolish or irresponsible.

In this series of posts, I'd like to present a strong argument that Internet anonymity is, in general - in fact in almost all cases - ungodly and displeasing to our Saviour. I want to argue that the godly options almost all the time are only two: make yourself identifiable, or if you've not yet grown thick enough skin, stay quiet. That is, I want to make the argument, but also to show from the Bible that it's not just my opinion, but based on the principles which God has revealed to us. Stay tuned!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Pastor caught kissing giraffe shock!

Allegedly a video exists, but sadly Blogger Video didn't like the format and wouldn't accept it. Hence we must make do with the above grainy photo.

Giraffes have very long necks. This means that when they raise and lower those necks, there are dramatic changes in the pressure in their necks and head. That pressure would be fatal for them without special mechanisms in place. Happily, though, they possess a number of special valves to control that pressure - without them they'd die every time they raised or lowered their necks.

The blurb on the wall said that the giraffe's neck was a "classic" case of the results of selective pressure (i.e. natural selection). The idea is that giraffes developed long necks, because it gave them a survival advantage: they could now reach food that other animals couldn't.

The fossil record, though, shows no evidence of giraffes with anything other than lock necks: the gradual elongation of their necks just isn't there. More than that, without the valves they possess, they wouldn't be able to survive with the length of neck that the have. No long necks means no need for valves; no valves means that the longer necks would be fatal.

That's a real chicken-and-egg problem for the idea that giraffes could have evolved by natural selection. The valves could not be selected for without the increased neck-length, because they would give no advantage without it. On the other hand, the increased neck-length without the valves would be fatal - they would be wiped out. The two features are inter-dependent, so the whole system could not have arisen in a piece-by-piece fashion: both have to come at once. The idea of a longer neck being advantageous is a nice story, even a "classic"; but it provides no explanation of how such a mechanism could develop by a natural process. The fact that the essential features had to come at the same time, and the lack of any evidence for a lengthening neck in the fossil record, is a clear testimony to a supernatural creation.

For the record, a giraffe kiss is a rather slobbery affair.

Thou Shalt Not Steal

"You shall not steal" is part of the law of God; a revelation of the perfection of his moral character, as a God who always gives what is right and just, and who sovereignly apportions to each person what he sees is right for them.

The Adam Smith Institute reports as follows:
The UK's Tax Freedom Day will fall on June 2 in 2008. That means that average Brits are spending more than five months of the year working for the Chancellor, rather than working for themselves. Government spending is set to reach £600 billion – £10,000 for person in the UK, and twice as much as in 1997. If public spending had only grown in line with inflation since then, we could have abolished income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax by now, leaving the taxpayer £200 billion better off. When you factor in government borrowing the picture is even worse – Tax Freedom Day does not come until June 14.
The Bible teaches (Romans 13:1ff) that civil government is instituted by God, that we ought to obey it as such, and part of that duty is that we should pay taxes. Work can't be done and servants can't work using only thin air. The governors have a God-given commission to reward good and to punish the evil-doer, promoting peace and punishing wrong-doing in the public square. That means they have a right to be supplied with the necessary funds to do so, and eat and drink at the same time.

At some point in the last century, though, the UK government decided that it had a right to far more than this. In fact, it decided it had an absolute right to pursue whatever arbitrary programs it pleased. During the last decade, this belief has been put into practice with a vengeance that would have been hard to imagine before; an astonishing range of programs has been launched, at every level and in every nook and cranny of human life. Depressingly, most of the mass media restricts itself to a little criticism of this program here, or that program there - but very rarely does anyone ask any bigger questions. Such as, "Since when was this kind of thing even remotely within the remit of government?"

This is part and parcel of the process of secularisation. Secularists, having erased the ideas of God, eternal moral law, moral progress through divine grace and godly persuasion, and all such like, from their thinking, can often only see one way to (their kind of) progress: the big man in government enforces it by law. Society needs to be changed and shaped - and seeing as we're godless, that means a never-ending flood of programs, initiatives and laws to make sure that "progress" comes to pass. Having marginalised the church so effectively from its role in the public square, these programs are necessary because nobody else is going to do it.

Who gets to pay for this arbitrary selection of programs that whoever-is-running-whichever-ministry-today deems is right? The taxpayer does, of course. It doesn't matter if the taxpayer agrees with whatever moral agenda or view of society the minister has - the law says that you'll pay for it, or else. Maybe you didn't like the programs that aimed to produce social change that church X or charity Y was running. That's fine - you don't have to give them your money. You don't like the social-change programs that the government's running? Sorry - you either pay for them, or go to jail. As Christians, Romans 13:1ff applies here; Paul wrote in the days of a godless Roman government when he gave the command. It is a lesser evil that we bear all this, than that we should promote anarchy. It's still a bitter pill to swallow, though.

There is only one word for what the secularists are doing as they dream up their own visions of society, and then force the rest of the country to pay for it upon threat of imprisonment. That word is "theft". The law "you shall not steal" is not one that magically ceases to exist once you enter the Houses of Parliament. God cannot be ultimately banished from public life; his law still stands. One day, politicans of all stripes will be called to account for whether they fulfilled their God-given role as servants, or whether they arrogated much more to themselves and stole their fellow-citizens' money in order to bring it around. God is not mocked.

HT: David Field