Saturday, 28 March 2009

Christian Atheists

Have you ever noticed, that most of the atheists you run into are... Christian atheists?

By that, I mean that somehow, for some illogical reason, despite holding that:
  • The universe is the product of chance, not necessity or a divine plan
  • There is no ultimate meaning behind existence
  • Our lives, once we die, are over for ever
  • There is no essential difference between man and any other living species whether ape, goat or cabbage - time and undirected genetic mutations link us all together
  • Etcetera etcetera...
Yet, then still try to argue that, whilst being an atheist, they can or should...
  • Believe it's better to live a "moral" life than an "immoral" one (whatever those terms mean)
  • Live a "meaningful" and "purposeful" existence (whatever those terms mean)
  • Contribute something "positive" to existence (whatever... you get the idea)
  • Live as if man is somehow a "superior" or more "significant" life form (whatever...)
Where did they get those ideas from? Not from atheism, that's for sure. Nobody starts with the first set of premises above, and logically progresses to the second. Those ideas come from Christianity. The modern Western atheist feels a very strong need to somehow argue that he can hold to that second set of premises, and comes up with the most interesting set of arguments to justify it.

Of course many atheists have been more consistent, and admitted that, starting from the presuppositions of atheism, you can't arrive at a basically Christian view of the world. Some of these atheists have been profoundly depressed by that conclusion; others have argued that we ought to face the facts and ditch the idea that Christianity is a "superior" world-view (such terms having no essential meaning), and instead start building a society based squarely on atheistic ideas.

Very few can go that far though. Most have to try to be content with the inconsistent stopping place of being Christian atheists - and thus continuing to testify to what they know is true, even though they wished it wasn't so.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Will there be a future restoration of Israel?

Will there be a future restoration of national Israel, according to the Bible? That is, does the Bible teach that at some point before the second coming, there will be a national revival of the Jews, bringing them into the church?

My answer is no. I don't believe that Romans 11 and/or Zechariah 14 teach this. Rather I believe that Romans 9, coming as part of the argument leading up to Romans 11, lays down teachings which make this understanding of Romans 11 impossible and contradictory to what has gone before.

In Romans 9, Paul explains a crucial part of the accurate hermeneutic for interpreting God's dealings with Israel in the Old Testament. That is, he tells us that there has always been two Israels - even from the days of Abraham. Even from the birth of Isaac, God always distinguished between this Israel and that Israel. There has always been an Israel after the flesh (Esau, Ishmael) who were only ever a temporary part of God's plan - and there has always been an inner Israel - an Israel within Israel. That Israel is the true Israel, to whom the promises were made. This is not a new teaching or method of God's dealings that comes in with the church - it's what God was always doing.

Miss that, and you'll miss a lot. For one thing, miss that, and you'll miss Romans chapter 11. The teaching that goes to Romans 11 and starts saying, "but of course, national Israel remains special to God, and he will in future bring them back into the fulness of his promises" is one that misses the point that Paul's just been spelling out. Paul's just told us that when he speaks of Israel according to the promises, he doesn't mean national Israel - he means the elect "Israel within Israel" - these are the ones to whom the promises are truly made. He means the believing remnant - to them God will be faithful. There is and always will be such a remnant; Paul himself was one of them. The engrafting of "Israel" back into the olive tree is what happens as this elect remnant come to faith - a process going on in Paul's day (which is why he speaks about his day) and continuing down through history. It is not an "end time event", but an ongoing process.

Paul gives us the key to interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures. When we read in Zechariah 14 of the Jews looking on the one whom they have pierced, and mourning in repentance, we should use Romans 9 to tell us what that means. It is not a prophecy of a future event before the second coming. It is a prophecy of those elect Jews, beginning with the thousands converted on the day of Pentecost, who have and continue to embrace their true Messiah. When prophecy speaks of Israel, we must let the apostles tell us who is meant, and not impose another meaning.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A study on the "Federal Vision"

From Stephen Dancer, highly recommended:
In May 2006 I wrote a dissertation for a final year Independent Study module at WEST. The title was rather lengthy and perhaps a bit grand: A Critical Evaluation of “Federal Vision Theology” Arising in North American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in the Last 30 Years.

The reason for choosing this subject was that when I was studying the whole Federal Vision thing blew up in the US in 2002 and I wanted to study it a bit more. Unfortunately, because of my coursework, I could never seem to get to it. So when the opportunity came up to have pretty much a free choice of subject in the IS module, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone.

Now, I find I get a regular trickle of requests for the document so I have decided to post it here. Feel free to download it.

You get what you pay for! It is a student assignment, so it has stylistic quirks, and some limitations. I have learned a great deal since and would want to develop some areas. It was written before various important denominational study reports were published and some book-length treatments so I am not claiming anything great. So, it is what it is.

I would welcome feedback, of course.

The New Creationism

This looks interesting. Paul Garner would be a very well placed person to write such a book.

The New Creationism – Building scientific theories on a biblical foundation – Paul Garner
ISBN: 9780852346921  £8.95/$15.99

The Evolution/Creation book to read in Darwin year 2009.  Showing the most up to date creation research at a readable level.
Foreword written by Dr. Andrew Snelling.
Supported, commended and recommended by multiple PhD holders and multiple creation organisations.

‘Paul Garner powerfully demonstrates that when starting with the foundational truths of Genesis (six day creation, an historical fall, global flood, real tower of Babel, etc.), creationists can build scientific models that are far superior in their explanatory power than the evolutionary ones. This book is greatly needed in helping to popularise creation model-building as it introduces the reader to the best contemporary creationist models in astronomy, geology, biology, and so on -- and at a level the layperson can understand.’ /

Friday, 20 March 2009

Secularism and Idolatry

Independent faith schools to face Ofsted inspections
The Government is to send Ofsted inspectors into independent faith schools to make sure they are preparing pupils for life in modern Britain.

  • "Modern Britain" is thinly disguised code for "secular Britain, as politicians would like it to be". Whenever you read that politicians are applying some "modern Britain" test, you're reading about politicians' social engineering efforts.
  • Religious teaching that politicians don't like, and homes that implement that teaching, are a de facto part of modern Britain just as much as teaching they do  approve of. So what they really mean is "the bits of modern Britain I personally prefer."

  • Decisions about how children should be prepared for life in modern Britain are the right and responsibility of parents, not government. The real issue isn't so much that the government's sending inspectors here or there - it's that it dares to think this is part of what parents want it to do in the first place.

  • Obviously if some parents decide to send their children to an off-beat, particularly whacky (according to the inspectors' tastes) school, they presumably had a reason. Is it now the government's job to over-ride such wishes and tell us it knows best? This bit never gets put into the manifestos, but we keep getting it...

Quoth the article:
"Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has asked Ofsted to carry out a survey to ensure these schools are meeting regulation standards for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils."
  • That job title never fails to send a severe chill running up and down my spine. Orwell eat your heart out!

  • Note: the government has no embarrassment about determining what it thinks the "spiritual, moral, social and cultural" standards it wants your children to adhere too.

  • Are there many people in the country who actually believe that the government is the standard-setting exemplar of moral, spiritual, etc., excellence?

  • And in particular, just when was it determined that Ed Balls was the absolute epitome of these things such that he should be enforcing these things upon us?

  • So, presumably Mr. Balls is launching out into looking at independent schools because the state schools under his direct control have achieved so highly in producing children of moral, spiritual, social and cultural excellence? He's done so well that he had a bit of spare time on his hands and thought he should spread the brilliance around a bit?
The relevant laws at present express a fairly vague and lightweight specification of just what these standards mean. The vagueness might be good, or on the other hand might present a golden opportunity for social engineers to argue that they're being broken. e.g. the requirement that pupils are to be given an "appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony" might, in the eyes of the social engineer, require that pupils are taught that all cultures are equally valid. Actually wife-beating is acceptable in many parts of British Muslim sub-culture. Are we really meant to respect that? The standard itself seems to assumes the secular position that all religions and cultures are equally valid. Not likely the framers were thinking of that - more likely it's meant to be a wedge for forbidding the teaching of doctrines which secularism regards as heresy, e.g. that homosexual indulgence is a definitely inferior and positively sinful way of life, etc.

Q. What are the standards of moral and spiritual excellence we should be aiming for our children?
A. That they should learn to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love their neighbour as themselves; to exercise repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, expressed in a life of heartfelt and joyful obedience to the Saviour's revealed will.

Q. Judged by the standards of Christianity (as expressed in the question above), what should we make of Mr. Balls' schools, given that they a) do not promote the God-given standard and b) promote a different standard in its place?
A. They're full of idolatry.

I hope my point is clear. Secularism is not a "neutral" middle ground. It's a replacement for Christianity, and Christians need to start looking at it as such.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Darwin Film Trailer

My Internet's not really very happy about streaming video, so I haven't actually watched this, but in my opinion CMI who are behind it are a very reliable creationist ministry. They've put a lot of money and time into this film, so it ought to be very useful:
Darwin Film sneak peek
On March 1 also be one of the first to view a trailer from CMI’s much awaited Darwin Film on our new website. The title will remain under wraps for just a few more days but we think you’ll get the feel of some of the stunning locations, scenery and overall quality of this exciting production.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Tomorrow's Bible study (GW)

The aim of this series is for a couple of new converts to start the Christian life with a Christ-centred focus. Kenya's "Christianity" is all about me getting saved, and then on to other things (signs and wonders, health, wealth and prosperity, etcetera). With a proper view of the glory of Christ, counterfeits lose their sparkle.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

What were the two ways by which Paul knew that the Ephesians were true Christians? (v15)

What had Paul been doing ever since hearing about the Ephesians' Christianity?

What did Paul pray for for them, and why?

    a. (verse 17)

    b. (verse 18-19)

A good thing to ask yourself is this. As a young Christian, what do I think I need? What would I pray that God would give me? Is it the same things that Paul prayed for, and that he says I need?

Where have we seen God's “incomparably great power for us who believe”?

After raising Christ from the dead, where did God then raise him to?

How does Paul describe Christ's present authority?

How long will it continue?

Why did God give Christ this authority? That is, does Christ use it for?

According to Ephesians 2:6-7, what is God's plan for the future for us?

Being a Christian must change how we think about the world and about the future. The most important fact in the world is that Jesus Christ is Lord of Lord and King of Kings – not only now, but to all eternity. Our great need is to know him in that way. With that knowledge we are to rely on him, to serve him, to love him and to wait for his glorious coming. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just “something extra” to believe. It is the most important fact in the world today and forever.

Drum roll please...

Having few others round here to share my interest in running with, dear blog readers, I dump it on you. If I could run a bit lot faster, I could catch up with some of the world-class athletes pounding the Rift Valley roads and chat with them... but pending those miracles, you it is.

Having got my 10 mile time down under 80 minutes (to 79:55), the attempt to then get it under 79 minutes was proving harder than I'd hoped - 79:38 and then 79:25. But, this morning, drum roll please, I charged down a time of ... ... ... 76:29 ! Not a misprint, seventy-six twenty-nine! It might have been faster if my guts had not been in revolt most of the way. On the other hand, perhaps the brake they applied helped me to pace the run better. I think the main cause of improvement must be the 15, 16 and even (once) 17-mile runs of the last few weeks, building up my stamina. Those hurt. Did I mention we're up at 7,000 feet?

Next goals for the next few weeks: 12 miles and then 15 miles at an 8-minute/mile average, and 10 miles in 75. Goal is to get it down to 70 by six months' time - I was beginning to think that was out of the question but it's back on now.

A good run like that leads me feel invigorated for the rest of the day. Apart from the bits where I fall asleep. The application of all of this is that progress in most things is gradual and the result of continual practice... I find that lesson easier to get in running than other things. If we can make 6-month plans to run up and down hills, why not in something of more eternal importance?

Secularism - here's how it goes

"Parents face prosecution over gay lessons protest"
Christian and Muslim parents in London who kept their primary school children away from controversial lessons promoting homosexuality could now face legal action by the local council.
I spot a pattern that's played out again and again by the UK's secular government:
  • Stage one: government comes in to help - give a little expertise, lay down a few "best practice" guidelines, etcetera.
  • Stage two: government starts providing funding - and gets more say.
  • Stage three: government is now in control, whilst still allowing other approaches.
  • Stage four: the government's provision is now standard, and other approaches are only tolerated, whilst being subjected to increasing amounts of regulation and inconvenience and semi-official disapproval.
  • Stage five: either you do it the government's way, or they start prosecuting you.
The above story is an example of how that's happened in the world of education in the UK. Widespread education began as a church and charity venture, led by those with a heart for it and for the children. Then government crept in little by little... until we arrive at today where government-directed education is standard... and if you don't agree to swallow whatever controversial approach their so-called "experts" insist on, they'll threaten you with punishment. Your preferences for educating your children in some highly controversial area doesn't agree with theirs? Sorry.

Thankfully there's still freedom in the UK for parents to choose another approach, and it's time -whether independent schooling, co-operatives between like-minded parents, or mum home-schooling. We're past the days of the pioneers now, and nobody choosing any of these approaches will be going it alone. The days are increasingly passing in many areas when Christians can credibly say, "oh, the state schools are not that bad - they just teach them bare facts and we teach them the missing parts about God's world at home." State education's (with a very few notable exceptions) anti-Christian nature is not subtle any more and Christians need to know what they're doing with their children before it's too late.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Not every student cheers the cockles of my heart...

End of term exam (missions course)...

Q. Give as many reasons as you can why the gospel spread in the Roman Empire in the early centuries after Pentecost.
A. World peace, development of the steam engine, publication of David Livingstone, commitment and zeal of the believers, uprightness of believers.

Q. List as many places as you can where Paul and Barnabas were persecuted, and what persecutions they faced in those places.
A. Thessalonica: they were blamed to have burnt the city.

Q. Give as many reasons as you can why the Reformers were involved in few missionary efforts outside of Europe.
A. The outbreak of World War I and II

Q. Which year did William Carey travel to India in?
A1. 1419
A2. 1973

Q. Who was the Portuguese explorer who found the route to India?
A1. William Carey
A.2 Jonathan Edwards

Q. What was the name of Carey's first convert?
A. Ethiopian eunuch

Q. Name a New Testament letter that Paul wrote to a church that he did not plant or visit.
A. Jude

Q. How was Paul supported financially as a missionary?
A. He had his own tent.

After noting those ones down, few answers seemed surprising any more. Only 5 of 27 students scored higher than my wife, who had not been on the course. Reassuringly for me, in every question but one, (there were about 30 questions in all), at least someone got the right answer. (Nobody could recall that the first place Paul went to on the first missionary journey after leaving Syria was Cyprus). Interestingly, three of the students who claimed in the initial questionnaire to have read the Bible twice or more (and thus were a small minority of the class), were amongst the weakest - were they telling the truth?

These students are at the end of their 4 years of training and most will now be the teachers of others. By my reckoning, 3 or perhaps 4 showed a minimum standard of attainment, and this is my assessment after adjusting for the generally lower standards here. Is there a work needing to be done in Africa to equip church leaders? Yes there is... do pray!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Another Bible study

Kenya is infested with a terrible counterfeit Christianity which would better be called God-anity, or perhaps God-inanity. It uses lots of the words and concepts of Christianity - God, forgiveness, repentance, sin, blessing, etcetera. But it has the not particularly minor defect of having little to say about Christ, the only one through whom we can have or know these things. This disease has affected many true believers, and if you ask them a direct question about what they believe about Christ you'll get a good answer - but if you just ask them about their spiritual experience or understanding in general terms, you'll be quite unlikely to meet Him in their reply. Hence today's Bible study...

1 John 1v1-2v2 – Salvation in Christ

Who is John talking about in verse 1? How do we know that this is who he is talking about?

What are the different ways in which John describes Jesus in verses 1-4? (There are at least four!)


Why is the apostle John telling us these things? (Two main reasons)


What does John say about God in verse 5? What does this really mean? (Notice that John says that this is part of “the message” he had been commanded to pass on).

What does this tell us about how to spot a true Christian?

If God is pure light, then how can we walk with him, according to John? What are the steps that he tells us we must take?

How, according to 2:1-2, is it possible for Jesus to be able to take away our sins? There are two things to notice, one in each verse:


In 2:1 our translation says we have “one who speaks ... in our defence”. In fact in the original the phrase is just one word, and says “we have an advocate”. In other places the Bible uses the word “mediator” (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:5-6). We need to understand this idea. We need to understand how important Jesus is to true Christianity. Christianity is not just about “me and God”. We have no access to God or knowledge of or fellowship with God, apart from in and through Christ.

Rainbow Books

A friend runs this Christian book-store, with both general interest titles and material suitable for Christian educators and home-schoolers: Rainbow Books

Friday, 6 March 2009

Federal Vision Essay Re-Plugged

As a few people have dropped by who are interested in thinking about the Federal Vision, here's a plug for a short essay I wrote touching on the FV's take on the issue of apostacy:

It's not an academic essay, but was the result of stitching together some blog posts, intended for general consumption! Whatever the lack of rigour, I have at least re-read it and corrected some of the more egregious typos.

It's essential for FV advocates to establish that New Covenant members, professing faith in Christ and united to him in that covenant, can later fall away and be lost - and not because there was some difference in their covenant membership compared with those who are at last saved. This is connected logically with other FV beliefs:
  1. The New Covenant is entered by baptism.
  2. Therefore all those who are baptised are Christians, united to Jesus Christ in covenantal union.
  3. Thus, if we want assurance of our standing in Christ, we can look to our baptism (just as a married man can look at his wedding ring for assurance of his marital status).
Real life shows that many baptised people apostatise. But doesn't the Bible teach that those who are truly saints can never be lost? So what gives? Traditionally the Reformed have distinguished between saving faith and temporary faith, and taught that it is by saving faith (not baptism) that we enter the New Covenant. (Reformed paedobaptists would also add, or by being born as the child of a true believer). Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, the sign of faith; it is not the entry marker itself. This, though, clashes with the FV's insistence that we can look to our baptism for assurance: i.e. that we look at the objective ordinance, not the qualities of our subjective faith. Hence FV advocates have had to look to a different answer. This answer has been to deny the premise that the Bible teaches that those who are truly saints cannot be lost. Yes, the elect can never be lost - but that's a different kettle of fish, it's argued. Election is hidden and secret; baptism is visible and objective, and it's only the latter that we can address in our present state. In the essay I look at some of these issues.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

End of term essay

It seemed a good idea to set an essay for my Bible college students. When I then realised I had to read and mark the 40,000 words handed in, I wasn't so sure...

It's quite humbling to read a whole essay that didn't refer in any significant way to a single concept you taught in class throughout the term. Hmmm! On the other hand, it's encouraging to read an essay where the student clearly has internalised the points you were trying to get across.

Being cross-cultural and with some of the students having limited English, some things don't come across quite right. Or at least, I'm really not sure what they mean. The most interesting section was where one student explains that it is not only the missionary's job to preach the good news to lost people, but also he must take action to "eradicate evildoers". Unfortunately he didn't explain what he had in mind...


A week or two ago I published a post about a new magazine, noting that its stated aim and its actual contents and other features of it were at variance. This generated a variety of responses, by comments (some of which were published, some not) and e-mail.

Having considered them, I think it's fair to say that the tone of my post was unnecessarily and unhelpfully aggressive. For that I apologise. It is in part my fault that it provoked at least one aggressive reaction I've seen in the blogosphere (which went beyond what I had actually said). It was not needed and I should not have done it. I could have written the post in a more objective manner that would have been more edifying.

I unrepentantly stand by in full the substance of the post; it is still clear to me (from such things as the magazine's leadership, its contents, its choice of books to be reviewed, its choice of authors, from those who have promoted it on the web (even before the first issue's publication date!)) that this new magazine is going to be, intentionally, a medium for channeling in some of (inter-related) sub-cultures of American Presbyterianism (Federal Vision theology, James Jordan, "Reformed Catholicism") which are at present overwhelmingly not accepted by the actual British Reformed movement. These are trends I shall by God's grace remain an unrepentant and staunch critic of! But, also by God's grace I shall try to be more constructive in how I go about it. My thanks to AR for calling me to account, I appreciate it.

Godly repentance

Here's a great article in the Telegraph from Christopher Howse on the theme (though he doesn't use the word) of repentance; witty as well as insightful.

Howse, not a Christian to my knowledge (though I don't know much of him), nails the aspects of true repentance:
  • You state clearly what the crime is (not just, "Err, well, I made mistakes, though can't actually name any of them in particular...")
  • You state clearly, without hedging or excuse-making, your personal accountability for it, and your regret over that (not just, "well, it's a sorry situation, which I regret...")
  • You ask for forgiveness from those you've wronged (recognising that you are now their debtor - not giving them the impression that you've condescended quite far enough from your lofty perch just by achieving the two points above!)
  • Then, you face the consequences (resigning, repaying, whatever). Here's the proof in the pudding (see 2 Corinthians 7).
Why is this so hard? Because we're sinners. I catch myself at it all the time... apologies are loaded with "probably", "but", "though at the time, it was tricky because...", blah blah blah. It's a truly pathetic sight to witness someone who's lived for 30, 40 or 50 years unable to say such simple words as "I was wrong; I am sorry - please forgive me". But then, when it's my turn, out come the weasel words, if I manage to get that far at all.

But in fact, godly repentance is wonderfully refreshing. The offence of some wrongdoing is like a bad smell that lingers. It's there, people know it, it needs to be dealt with. Godly repentance is the thing that actually deals with it, instead of shoving its foul odour under the carpet, from where it will eventually seep through in an even worse way. With godly repentance, the past becomes the past and the future is a new start. Truly God's way is much higher and better than man's.

Now, there's nothing uniquely Christian as such in the above; whatever stripe you are, you can agree. The point, though, is that Christianity actually provides a real basis for giving and receiving genuine apologies - and the spiritual resources to do it. Our offences against God are huge, infinite - yet God forgave us freely and paid the price himself. Christ has washed away all his peoples' sins freely, and given them his Spirit. If we know the enormity of what God's forgiven us, then can we still rage and boil inside and say "No, I won't admit it until he/she does first"?

Christianity is ultimately God's original creation, restored (and glorified). There's nothing particularly superhuman about the words "sorry - this was my fault; I should never have done that regardless of whatever else was going on". Yet there is something very superhuman about them, because as Howse notes, they don't happen very often. Any old atheist can say, "why do I need to believe in Jesus to live this kind of life?" The answer's in the reality as it exists in 21st century Britain. It's one thing to theorise about how you don't need Jesus; it's another thing to actually face up to what's really the case on the ground.

For those of you who know me, feel free now to wonder amongst yourselves now how I can't see how what I've articulated obviously applies to what I did here, or there, etcetera...


In another news... 79:25. Missed it again, even with the help of a cooler morning. I can't have been fully recovered from a best-yet (in Kenya) 8 miler 2 days ago, as I only needed to equal the last 3 miles from last time (when I had a stitch) to get under the 79.... this may be gibberish except to the elite group of regular readers of this blog...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A short Bible study

Today I was quite excited. I simply opened the Bible with a recent convert (I think - we are having the study to clarify his status) and we simply asked and answered some simple questions. He was hungry, and the truths were meaty ones, and it was encouragnig to see him taking it in.

(English note on the last question: "What can we say about..." is a bit of a Kenyanism!)

Colossians 1:15-22
First look at what is said about the Lord Jesus in verses 15-19.
a. What is said about Jesus' relationship to God?
b. What is said about Jesus' relationship to creation? (What did he create? Why? Anything else?)
c. What is said about Jesus' relationship to the church?
d. Why was Jesus the first to be raised from the dead, according to verse 18?
If you think about all these things, then what can we say in summary about the Lord Jesus?
Now look at verse 20. How did Jesus make peace (that is, "reconcile"?)
Where did Jesus bring peace?
Think about all that we have looked at. What can we say about Jesus? How can we think about him rightly?