Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Year Of Our Lord, 2010

Tomorrow is AD 2010 - Anno Domini 2010, the year of our Lord, 2010. Or for those who don't like Latin, CE 2010 - the year of Christ's Empire, 2010.

One of the great contributions of Christianity to the world has been the very idea of history. To the pagan mind, history is simply the endless repeating of cycles and has no inherent meaning or purpose in itself. We are born, we live, work, eat, sleep, reproduce and die. The sun rises and sets again, and goes round to the place it began.

The advent of the God-man at Bethlehem changed that forever. As Christianity has spread itself across the world, so has the idea of history as progress - an idea which is one of the bedrocks of post-Reformation Western civilisation. The words which Jesus spoke after his resurrection - "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." inevitably - to the believing mind - imply the meaningfulness of history, the reality of progress and the certainty of final victory however long it should be in coming. This is not unthinking triumphalism; it is reality. It does not minimise or ignore the setbacks, surprises and disappointments: it includes and transcends them.

Jesus has rightly reserved all the glory to himself and therefore no mortal is permitted to be more than - or should desire to be more than - the tiniest of cogs turning in the vast machine. Ours is not to redefine history around ourselves, but to rejoice every time that we remember that its who meaning, purpose and success is in him. Each time the calendar ticks round again we are one year's march nearer home and the final day when he shall be revealed and adored as the all in all. Let every knee bow. This is the year of our Lord and His Empire, 2010: all hail!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Theistic evolution - what's at stake

In some questions which concern Bible-believing Christians, it's often possible to get a big hint by noticing that opinions can often split up into three:
  • Those who assert that the Bible says X, and that we should believe and obey it
  • Those who assert that it doesn't say X, and therefore they don't
  • Those who point out that the Bible really does say X, but frankly they have no intention of believing or obeying it
This is often in discussions where X is something controversial and/or intolerable in a secularist society - something that will cause friction for a Christian when dealing with outsiders.

Theistic evolution is a classic case in point. The Bible actually really does teach that God made the world in six days through an immediate word - not through long ages of providential superintendence of natural processes. But most Christians who've considered the questions have felt the pressure at some time to accept an alternative explanation - one that won't mean they have to be at variance with the contemporary mainstream scientific consensus. One that means they can say "both are true; there's no problem; move along please!"

Those who come into the third category are normally the theological liberals. Cunning fudges to make the Bible both say X but also be compatible with something that is basically "not X" aren't something they need to bother with. They don't accept the premise that the Bible is God's word and needs to be believed as a matter of obedience to our Maker and Judge; they feel free to say "yes, of course the Bible says X - and it's not true, and we've moved on from it."

Which brings us to the infamous John Selby Spong, the American Episcopalian Bishop well-known for denying just about every article of Christian belief one way or the other - but normally simply by flat and frank contradiction. Here he is on the impact of Charles Darwin. As I am sure Darwin's theory is wrong, Spong's conclusion doesn't follow for me; but Spong's logic in following the implications if Darwin wasn't wrong are in my opinion unarguable:
“And Charles Darwin not only made us Christians face the fact that the literal creation story cannot be quite so literal, but he also destroyed the primary myth by which we had told the Jesus story for centuries. That myth suggested that there was a finished creation from which we human beings had fallen into sin, and therefore needed a rescuing divine presence to lift us back to what God had originally created us to be. … And so the story of Jesus who comes to rescue us from the Fall becomes a nonsensical story. So how can we tell the Jesus story with integrity and with power, against the background of a humanity that is not fallen but is simply unfinished?”
Notice that the cunning fudge, promoted by theistic evolutions such as Denis Alexander, is flatly exposed by the Bishop here. The historic Christian gospel only makes sense against the background of a space-time Fall that happened at the beginning of a pristine creation. Against any other backdrop it is simply incoherent and can't be rescued. The attempt to merge the Bible with Darwinism without butchering the latter inevitably means you have to butcher the former. Spong doesn't have any spiritual currency invested in the Bible's truthfulness as Alexander does, and makes no bones about simply declaring it false. And that lack of a cognitive bias forcing him - in this area - to argue that black is white enables him, even though an outright heretic, to state the reality of the issue with crisp clarity.

Scotland star Euan Murray explains why he won't play rugby for Scotland on Sunday

An encouraging testimony of faithfulness. Here's someone to pray for. Triple-jump legend Jonathan Edwards started out on this path but later left it, and his descent continued until he didn't believe in God at all.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Remember, remember

I was reading Deuteronomy in my Bible this morning. Amongst the various laws given to Israel in chapter 24 was the one I've picked out below:
8 Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that you observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so you shall observe to do.
9 Remember what the Lord your God did unto Miriam by the way, after you had come forth out of Egypt.
10 When you lend your brother any thing, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge.
"Remember" is a common Biblical commandment. J C Ryle famously wrote a chapter of his great work "Holiness" on the words spoken by Jesus, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).

The thing that struck me is that this is indeed a command. It's not a suggestion, or a piece of good "works for me" advice being passed on. God actually requires his people to remember. And what does he command them to remember? In this case, it's not the great act of the redemption out of Egypt - though that is often itself commanded. Rather, it was just a simple single event - not involving their leader, Moses or the High Priest, Aaron, but their sister Miriam. It was a rather shameful incident for her of pride and grumbling, recorded in Numbers 12. On that occasion God judged her with leprosy for a short time before restoring her.

God's acts in history and his various dealings with his people are intended to be remembered. By this time, Miriam was dead (Numbers 20:1), but her memory was intended to be maintained. Our God is the God who acts in history, and Christianity is not just a belief system whose historical content can be safely jettisonned without any serious loss. Whether in theological liberalism arising in the 19th century which attempted to do this across the board, or theistic evolutionary teaching within modern evangelicalism which attempts to do this with the foundational chapters of Genesis - the historical acts of God in history are not just pleasant and optional side events in the Bible. They are acts which reveal God, which reveal fundamental principles that we are to take note of, and which themselves as our history as God's covenant people have shaped the present that we find ourselves in. Remembering them - in the sense of taking note and adapting our own behaviour accordingly - is not just helpful; according to God, it's compulsory.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Report on the marginalisation of Christianity in the UK

The Christian Institute has produced a report on the ways in which a secularist government, not reflecting the wishes of the majority of voters, has moved to marginalise Christianity in the UK:

Select committee rejects Badman

Here and here.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Meet Michael Otieno

Michael Otieno, a Kenyan preacher who I am privileged to count as a good friend (and who I worked closely with in the same church for a time), has started a blog: Christ has given Michael gifts as a pastor and evangelist and Michael is endeavouring to use them to church-plant in Nairobi, Kenya: a city of three million people with only two churches which are Reformed and Baptist in their doctrine.

In his first post he tells us how a lecturer telling them not to be either too Arminian or too Calvinistic made him curious to find out what Calvinism was - which is how he became a Calvinist!

I suppose for my readers this will be of most interest to those who receive our own newsletters and have seen Michael in them - but perhaps also to those who take an interest in the gospel in East Africa and Kenya: or perhaps you have not before, but will now!

Monday, 14 December 2009

The hilarious Richard Dawkins needs your pennies....

Famous atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins (who doesn't actually exist) is a multi-millionaire who lives in a large house (itself worth at least a million pounds) in splendid North Oxford.

According to Wikipedia, his most successful book, "The God Delusion", had sold over 8.5 million copies in English alone by November 2009, having also been translated into 34 other languages. The follow-up debuted at number 1 on the Sunday Times bestseller list, having also hit number 1 in Ireland, Canada and Australia, and 3 months later remains high on the various Amazon country sales charts (90 in UK, 158 in US at time of checking - number 1 in the category " Books > Science > Evolution"), despite only being available so far in hardback. He has written nine other books, the first in 1976, all of which remain in print. He has produced 7 documentaries. His website (which, according to Alexa, ranks  in the top 3500 websites visited by UK Internet users and the top 11,000 for US users) has a store to sell you books, DVDs, audio books, t-shirts and other clothing, stickers, buttons, pins, tote bags and coffee mugs. A humble baseball cap will set you back $19.95 (about £13), and a coffee mug $9.95 (about £6.50).

Dr. Dawkins needs $100,000 (about £60,000) to fund his "Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reasons & Science". How do you think he might be able to do that? (This would equal 0.7 pence per copy from the sales of "The God Delusion" alone).

Yup.... by tapping up the users of his website for their spare cash! He's even launched (and presumably had to pay for) a new website with a promotional  video in order to promote it -

Wow! Here's the best bit - if you contribute $100, you'll get a "free" DVD! $200 gets you 2 DVDs and a book... all the way up to 10 books if you contribute $10,000. Oh - but not if you live outside the US, because apparently he can't afford the postage.

So - is RD broke, mean, or does he simply believe his audience of "rationalists" are credulous suckers? You decide... meanwhile, comment #2 on his website post introducing the fundraiser is an unemployed man who sent in his $5.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Permission to be a parent

Wow - just wow. A stunning new development in the UK government's progressively more Orwellian plans to take-over the rights of parents:

The government body OFSTED is now proposing that parents who wish to teach their own children must be cleared by the Criminal Records Bureau and obtain an appropriate document of clearance:
Parents face criminal checks before teaching own children

As Normal Wells, cited in that report states, the logical implication of this is that if parents require such permissions before being with their own children during the hours when state schools (which these children don't attend) are open, they should also require the same permission to be with the same children out of school hours, at weekends and during holidays. This issue is not a home-schooling issue; it's a parenting issue. The government is progressively taking to itself the right to be the parent, and to delegate permission to today's parents to be involved as and when it sees fit.

Love hurts

I love (amongst many other more important things!) running. Running hurts. Ergo, love hurts. You can stop rolling on the floor now, thanks.

Today I ran 20 miles for the first time in Kenya - aided a little by it being overcast and drizzly, which is a bit rare. I blogged two years ago that the way to really enjoy a bath is to run 20-odd miles before getting into it - it's still true!

When running such a long distance the temptation to give up comes most strongly when you've already gone a long way, and then you contemplate the whole way still to go. "There's that painful climb coming - and it's still 2 miles until I even get there - and it really hurts before I've even got to the bottom... then after that there's running into the wind... oh boy, oh boy."

And here cometh the application to the Christian life: don't do this. One day at a time, one challenge at a time, one bend at a time. God never promised to give us strength today for the rest of our lives. He promised to give us today's strength today (as long as we ask him for it!) - and then commanded us not to worry anxiously about tomorrow, because the problems of tomorrow can wait until they come.

If you ask, "have I strength for this" and look beyond today, the answer is "No", and unless you remember why the answer is "No", you might be tempted to give up. Even the biggest, most painful hills can be climbed as long as you just pick a point that's reasonably near and head towards that - and then rinse, lather, repeat. And somehow, rather surprisingly, eventually, you'll find yourself heading across the finish line - hopefully more comfortably than I did!

Wearing gradually out

Mark 6:30-31 - "And the apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, “Come apart into a desert place, and rest a while,” for there were many coming and going, and they had no freedom even to eat."

Some Christians rarely or never seem to do any kind of service for the Lord that is likely to put them in any danger of needing any period of rest and refreshment from it.

Others think that exhausting oneself beyond the point of usefulness and being able to operate properly is a work of special merit and that rest is only for the weak and lazy.

Jesus teaches us a happy medium between these two errors. Our commission is not to spare ourselves and bury our talent in the ground whilst doing nothing to advance the Lord's kingdom; neither is it to burn out in a flash like a firework. It is to gradually wear out, according to the years given to us, giving our strength for Christ and pacing ourselves to run the race with perseverance until we finish and receive the crown.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Forgot the link

Ooops. On that last story, I forgot to supply the link:

Government to parents: thanks, but we come first

The UK government has published its response to the petition on its website which protested against the new right it is seeking to award itself - namely the right to interview your children, without you present, and decide whether on that basis whether you should be allowed to choose how to educate your child or not or whether that choice should be taken out of your hands.

The government's reply is basically, "sorry, but government's opinions about a child's best interests must ultimately trump the parents'." Oh, and other countries do it this way, therefore it must be right.

The petition raised the legitimate question of who is the "parent of first resort". It's a zero sum game - either government has got to trump parents, or parents trump government. You can't have a tie. Either parents have the right to decide that they need to protect their children from the bad education being offered by the state; or governments have the right to decide that they need to protect children from the non-state-approved education that parents are giving them at home. One or the other must win. (This has nothing to do with the question of child abuse which is already a criminal offence).

Until now the status quo has been that parents trump government. The government is now attempting a legislative reversal. The difference is that before the disagreeing party just had to deal with it (if the LEA officer doesn't really like home-schooling, they'll just have to put up with it); but when governments trump parents, if you disagree they confiscate your child or cart you off to the slammer. Not really a level playing field, is it?

As for other countries doing it this way.... this response totally ignores the history of the countries at question, presuming we're talking about Europe. Home-schooling became illegal in Germany under the Nazis because the Nazis didn't wish children to learn any ideology from their parents that contradicted Nazism. It was outlawed in the 1930s by the National Socialist party, and its that same ban which has remained on the books. Likewise, home-schooling is illegal in Spain, which has only emerged from fascism in living memory. Home-schooling is suppressed in other countries because of those countries totalitarian histories, and has been a right of parents without the threat of government take-over in the UK because of the UK's heritage of freedom, based on its Christian past.

I find the rest of the government's response nauseating in the extreme. The home-ed community is up in arms about these appalling proposals; but the response keeps banging on about how helpful they're being by providing these new "services". The home-ed community doesn't want them; people choose to home-ed because they've looked at what happens when the government takes over education, and they'd rather not, thank you. It's no coincedence that this "review" with its proposals was cooked up by someone whom the government hand-picked from outside the home-ed community, who was a state education system insider. And lo and behold, his proposals were to make home-edders conform more to the state system - exactly what they're trying to avoid. To have these new "blessings" enforced by law unasked-for is one thing and bad enough; to be lectured about how wonderful the government is to condescend to grant you them when you suck so much at the same time is beyond the point of extreme nausea that my constitution can stand.

I have no idea what the government's timetable is, or what happens to such reviews if there's a change of government. Will it run out of parliamentary time and come to nothing? Here's praying!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Kenyan churches according to Kenyans

I've so far marked about 15 essays on 1 Corinthians. In these, I asked my 2nd year students to apply the teaching of chapters 1-5 to Kenyan churches. Very interesting, though not very encouraging. It ties in with the same story we hear from many others.

The following refrains were heard in their essays again and again:
  • That 1 Corinthians would fit pretty closely as an epistle to the Kenyan churches!

  • Pastors aim to gain followings for themselves, build personal empires and personality cults, demand personal loyalty, openly rubbish other pastors. They are insecure and authoritarian. In preaching, the aim is to impress with one's skills rather than to communicate truth. (The sign of being filled with the Spirit is that you work yourself up into a real lather).

  • Church discipline is a means exercised unilaterally by pastors to get rid of their enemies. The aim is not to lovingly restore with "tough love", but to punish and humiliate. The rich and influential are not disciplined because the pastor/church committee doesn't want to lose the income.

  • Sexual immorality is so rampant - including pastors preying on young girls - that it's thought nothing of, and laughed at.
I was chatting with a church member yesterday at his place of work. He told me that at a nearby "church" they collected (over a period of time) 3 million shillings from the congregation - about £27,000 - for the pastor to have a flash car. (In Kenya the average daily earnings are somewhere about 150 shillings, or £1.20; only the tiny middle class can afford to own any kind of banger, let alone such a vehicle). The pastor rejected it, demanding 6 million. For a new Mercedes Benz - which in Kenya is considered the ultimate status symbol; these are what cabinet ministers get allocated. The church then raised the rest. About 110 years of average earnings. Why do people give to such collections, I asked? It's because of the "miracles" - desperate and ignorant people believe these well-dressed charlatans' claims to be able to bring the Holy Spirit to heal, and hear them promise/threaten that God will honour their gift/curse their refusal.

Another day, the same member told me that a few years ago a friend had invited him to the weekly all-night prayer meeting at his church. At about midnight, various (including the friend who'd invited him) started "pairing up" with members of the opposite sex, heading off for a quiet spot and... you can work it out. Apparently this is one of the regular functions of all-night religious meetings; to provide such a meeting point.

Are those stories shocking? Here they're fairly run of the mill. Do pray for Christ's kingdom in Kenya!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A few good men/women/churches

Here's another observation from my short time as an overseas "missionary".

A few good people / good churches do a lot of work. Time and again, we'll see something worthwhile going on somewhere in the world - and later find out that it was being helped/supported by church X or had in the past been greatly influenced by preacher Y. The same Xs and Ys keep coming up again and again.

What has struck me is that often these people and churches are obscure - in the sense that the church is small and struggling, or the individual has no particular profile beyond his own backyard. And yet, their works are at the same time known and appreciated in far-away places.

God's work depends on no man - the graveyards are full of people who used to be linchpins. And yet God uses means, and on the last day God will reward his people according to their works. Our aim is not to become famous, an Internet celebrity or conference darling (we do thank God for those who have useful ministries in these areas), but to be useful. And when that's the aim, God always finds a way for us, a little at a time as our faithfulness is proved. It does seem to me that a few good people and churches do a great deal - but are there on the other hand large numbers of believers and churches, even larger ones, actually doing very little?