Saturday, 27 March 2010

Praying for your pastor

Time was when I rarely prayed for my pastors. After all, they were such learned, godly and experienced men they seemed to least need it! Ha ha.

Now, my (co-)pastor is the person I pray for in the church most (other than my own family). The spiritual life of the church depends more on him (and myself) more than anyone else, under God. If I want the church to be blessed, then the main means by which God brings a blessing to a church is through its pastors. If I want the church to go off the rails, drift along aimlessly, etc., then the number one way that can happen is through spiritual decline in the pastor's life. And when I became a pastor I learnt that what I might appear to be to the people who see me only on Sundays and other on-best-behaviour meetings and what I actually am before God are two things that can have a yawning chasm between them.

The Greatest Hoax On Earth

Thursday, 25 March 2010

How to revolutionise your Christian life...

How to revolutionise one's Christian life. It's easy. Really...

Easy to understand, that is.

It's not to get some great liberating experience at a special meeting. Not to be specially "anointed" by a specially blessed "man of God" as many think in Kenya. And so on and so forth. What is it?

It's to believe and apply the gospel to yourself, day in and day out.

You're a rotten sinner. Trust me, I know, because we all have the same fallen Adamic nature. Perverse, selfish, rebellious and revolting. But if you're a Christian, then that means you're a repenting rotten sinner. But did you know what the Bible says about repenting rotten sinners?

It says that God's mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

It says that if we claim to not be sinners, we're lying.... but if we confess our sins then God is both faithful and just to wash away all our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:8-10).

It says that as Christians, we can forget those things that are behind us, and press on towards the goal in Christ (Philippians 3:13-14).

This is the gospel, and it is tremendously liberating. It is grace - free and boundless. Hard to believe, because it is so counter-intuitive, and so unlike how we relate to others. But it is, feel it or not, the way that God actually does relate to us. As we believe this good news day after day, repent day after day and re-commit to pressing forwards day after day, God forgives us day after day and leads us on. This is a freedom from bondage that the world knows nothing about. The comfort of it comes only if we believe, repent and look anew towards Jesus Christ. Simple.... but wonderful. A revolution for every Christian life, and hiding in broad daylight under our very noses....

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Church planting

A church that has no plan to church-plant is a disobedient church - disobedient to Christ and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-21), that is.

This needs clarifying - what counts as a "plan"? I do not necessarily mean a formal, written plan, or even an unwritten one where that means we have already identified places and dates.

What I mean is that:
  • The clearly revealed will of Christ is for his gospel to spread through all nations, amongst every people, language and cultural group (Revelation 7:9-10, Genesis 12:1-3, Matthew 28:18-21).
  • It is also clearly revealed that wherever the gospel spreads, believers are intended (commanded) to gather together in churches for worship, encouragement, instruction and discipline (e.g. Acts 14:21-23, Matthew 16:18, Titus 1:4ff, Philippians 1:1).
Evangelism is not an end in itself. Those who are saved are then to be trained up, gathered together in churches and equipped to carry on that same work themselves. Each church is to aim to fulfil the "three selves" articulated and championed by Rufus Anderson (no relation that I know of!), Henry Venn, John Nevius and others in the 19th century:
  1. Self-governing: Every church should work towards managing its own affairs without being dependent on outside leadership.
  2. Self-supporting: Each church should be looking to finance its own activities without depending long-term on outside money.
  3. Self-propagating: Every church should itself be seeking to do what it can to fulfil the Great Commission in particular in its own region, not looking to outside agencies to do or even lead the work for it.
It is against this big-picture criteria that historical mission efforts, ventures and missionary newsletters today should be evaluated. But this is not just for "missionaries"; it is for every church. God never sub-divided his church into "ordinary" churches which don't do mission and "missionary" ones that do. Every church is intended to be somewhere along the line, and no matter what trials and disturbances may knock it off course, yet to know where the goal is and how they intend to head towards it. Converts should be being trained and evaluated. Those with particular gifts in the area of evangelism, of teaching others and of leadership should be being looked out for and given particular mentoring attention and training. A watch should be kept on whether the church is outward looking and the members are mission minded. Opportunities should be sought. The pastors should be asking, "are we in a position yet to send some out, and if not, what steps are the next ones to take to move us closer?". The road might be very long - training, testing, correcting, etcetera, is not the work of a day or a year. But are we actually travelling on it?

What we need to be at war against is the conservative mindset that is forever saying, "we can't spare anyone, we're busy here, there's a lot to do, we have many problems to attend to, planting would be problematic, we're not experienced in that, etcetera etcetera." No doubt there may be a seed of truth in all of these things. So what? The aim is to please Jesus, and he's made his will clear. The actual step of sending out some members with a commission to begin a new work is just one (final) step in the chain, and the question is not if we know which date that will take place on (in Eldoret, we have no idea!). The question is if we actually are heading towards the goal at all in a meaningful way, or just paying lip-service to it. Are we traversing the other links that come earlier on, or just treading water and enjoying the comfort? Every worthwhile new church in the world was the result of someone taking these costly, time-consuming and difficult steps. Without them, the church will eventually die; churches are closing all the time - there need to be more opening so that the advance continues. Whose work is this meant to be? Not ultimately the work of missionary agencies, whatever their place may be.... but the work of individual local churches, working alone or in partnership as the opportunity arises. A church that has no plan to church-plant is a disobedient church.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Public debates, when run properly, are a good way of really getting to grips with two different positions and the points on which the argument turns.

One church in America has just run its third "debate summit" between Christians and atheists, with these three debates, with each participant being highly experienced in their field:

Debate #001 : Dr. Ed Buckner vs. Jay Lucas
Topic: Moral Foundations: "Which makes more sense, Christianity or Atheism?"

Debate #002 : Dr. Will Provine vs. Dr. Andy McIntosh
Topic: "Flight in birds and bats: Is evolution or creation the best guide?"

Debate #003 : Dr. Dennis Sullivan vs. Dr. Will Provine
Topic: "Free Will: Does it exist? Does it matter?"

They're now selling the DVDs (all 3 debates for $10) and CDs ($5). Follow the links given and choose "Debate Series #3".

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Protecting your teenage daughter

Here's a news story suggesting that teenage daughters need protection. Ha! What kind of time warp is this? What chauvinistic woman-oppressors are saying that teenage girls need protection in this day and age?

Oh, it's the teenage daughters themselves....

The other way that the teenagers quoted in this news story failed to benefit from their parents was in receiving the instruction in discernment that would have given them the self-confidence to tell their boyfriends, in a godly way of course, that they're jerks who should take a hike...

Galatians, circumcision and infant baptism again

I want to further elaborate on what I said last week about Galatians, circumcision and infant baptism. Consider these near-closing verses of the book:
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (6:15-17, ESV)
The evangelical paedobaptist insists that the "sign and seal" of the New Covenant is baptism. As a Reformed Baptist, I assert to the contrary, that it is conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit - that circumcision has been fulfilled in heart circumcision and sealing with the Spirit not in another outward sign.

I judge that the whole tenor and direction of Galatians has been to make this insistence. I find it incomprehensible, from a paedobaptist assumption, that Paul could have omitted in the entire argument to explain the role that baptism allegedly has as the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision, when the whole problem in Galatia was Judaisers wrongly insisting that Christians need to be circumcised. But I think Paul actually spells out what he believes quite clearly. There are no outward marks that have significance for delimiting who is a true Christian or not (and here I'm particularly contradicting Douglas Wilson et al's "Federal Vision" theology which especially insists on Trinitarian baptism as the delimiter of those who should be considered Christians, in the same way that wedding rings mark those who are married). What counts, as the mark of the New Covenant, I read in verse 15, is the new creation - that you have become a new person. i.e. reality, fulfillment.

These people, Paul calls the "Israel of God" - i.e. the true Israel, the Israel that really counts. A paedobaptist can point out that Paul does not explicitly say, "of course, I am hereby excluding believers' infants, where they are not yet actually a new creation by conversion." But such a statement would be redundant - Paul has just said that being a new creation is what counts to get you into the authentic Israel. He no more needs to explain that this is also required of infants than he needs to explain that it is required of Gentiles, slaves or circus clowns.

I find verse 17 even more telling. In it Paul is saying, "Well, if you are going to absolutely insist on some outward mark to prove your Christianity - then I have it here: I am persecuted and beaten". (That Paul is speaking in context about marks of persecution, not about "stigmata" or some other mark is made clear by the context - see 5:11 and 6:12). The Judaisers gloried in their circumcision as the bodily mark showing their covenant status; Paul said that no outward mark mattered, only the cross of Christ (6:14) and we should glory only in that - but if you must have one, it is persecution for the gospel's sake which proves that we belong to Christ.

Again, Paul does not add "and of course, it is not baptism that is the covenant marker!" But why would he need to? Once he's told us what the marker is not, and what it is then what more explanation is needed? Why should he be forced to explicitly address debates that had not arisen in his day?

In my opinion, these kind of considerations are conclusive once you allow Paul to speak for himself, instead of trying to read him against the backdrop of paedobaptism as an assumed theological system.

Theology relies upon ontology

I've read a few works by Christian Darwinists lately in the past few years. One of the main points I want to make in response to their interpretations of Genesis 1-11 is that they fundamentally do not work.

Christian Darwinists generally when looking at these chapters argue:
  • From the narrative that the author of Genesis 1-11 wrote, we can learn theological truth X
  • Now that truth X is clear, it is unnecessarily literalistic to insist that we also believe that we also believe the historical details of that narrative to be literally/historically true.
For example, the Genesis 3 curse teaches us that sin brings misery and spiritual death - but not that the ground actually started producing thorns and weeds at the time Adam sinned. Or the account of Eve's creation from Adam's rib teaches us the intimate relationship between husband and wife, and their equality as divine image bearers - but not that Eve was actually made from Adam's rib. We take the theological fruit - but must not get too hung up about the tree itself.

This does not work, because once you cut down the tree there can be no fruit left growing. In the Biblical way of thinking, God is Lord of all - seen and unseen - and there is only one world, not two. The "theological" and "historical" truth is one: the strands are integrated and intertwined, depending on one another in a symbiotic relationship. There is not a "neutral" physical world that any old interpretation can be placed upon, and then a repository of "spiritual" truth in the Bible that we Christians prefer as the favoured explanation.

In authentic Christian thinking about the doctrines of creation and redemption, the "spiritual" truths only arise as a necessary consequence of the factuality of the history, and not any other way. The resurrection accounts imply a bright future, in a God who turns things around and brings blessing out of hopelessness. But why do they imply this? Because Jesus actually rose from the dead in space and time! These theological fruits are just one small part of the consequences of Christ's real-world act. If Christ did not in fact rise, then the resurrection story ceases to function as a source of hope in this present world - it just becomes a "convenient" fiction that people can choose to draw on or not, depending on whether they like to find support from pleasant (but non-real) stories or not.

Similarly with creation. God's pronouncements about the status of the world, the consequences of sin, unity of humanity, etcetera, have value because they are actually rooted in real events. The theology flows from the ontology. They are not simply arbitrary interpretative additions. The Christian doctrine of creation is the true one - not an optional add-on. We should live with confidence in this world because this world is actually God's - in every part. We should live in the light of the theological truths implied by the account of creation, because they really are implied - because things really did happen that way. This way we can live with confidence - in the light of the factual truths about created reality, not just because we are inspired by a well-crafted story.

To give another example, Genesis is often treated as a polemic against polytheism - and then the author goes on to say (explicitly or implicitly), "now that we see how effective a polemic it is against pagan myths, we no longer have to be wedded to believing in the historicity of the details". But why is it such an effective polemic? Because the details are actually true! The real account of the history shows paganism (and lots of other -isms) to be defective, because of their deviance from the real history. The dichotomy made is an unnecessary and false one

To try to make this false dichotomy throws doubt upon the power and wisdom of God. If God is reduced to hunting to put a "spin" upon stories of non-historical events when he tells us about creation or redemption, then it seems he has lost control of his own world, or somehow not remember (or know how) to make one in a manner that allowed him to not operate in a more straightforward way. But that is not so. The true God made things in precisely the manner he has told us, and all the fruits that grow up from those roots can be relied upon for that reason. This is essential to hold onto to avoid the secularist dichotomy of "real/public/weekday world" and "private/personal/Sunday/religious beliefs" that is crippling many Christians in their thinking and living today.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (Review)

Reading reviews of one's own work is a new experience for me. I came across this blogger's review of IVP's "Should Christians Embrace Evolution?" - a thoughtful review from a Christian blogger who said that creation and evolution were not subjects he often read on, though he had read a well-known theistic evolutionary book (Francis Collins) and was interested in reading a response. His blog shows that he reviews books fairly frequently.

Reviews of this kind are particularly interesting because they come from "neutral" territory - what impression did the book read on someone without an already entrenched position, someone who is a wide-ranging reader?

"Several contributors seek to demonstrate that the Bible not only presents them as historical characters, but relies on it to develop crucial doctrine. And this is probably the major achievement of the book. It demonstrates that a denial of the historicity of Adam and Eve (or at least a denial that they are the ancestors of all human beings) results in some grave theological difficulties further along the line. These include making a nonsense of much of Paul’s teaching about Adam, and coming dangerously close to Gnosticism and Deism."

Friday, 12 March 2010

Longing for the resurrection

Food for thought... during break-time at Bible college yesterday, there was some discussion of the future state and the resurrection.

One of the people there said that he was longing for the resurrection body.

One of my fellow-teachers remarked that that was the first time he had ever heard someone reasonably young voice that desire. Why do you think that is?

God has no favourites...?

"God has no favourites". So it is said. In the strict sense, this is nonsense...
  • God has in eternity chosen some of mankind to be his children, yet not others - but not for any reason in them; only for reasons in his own sovereign counsel. If this does not mean that some are "favourites", what would?
  • Amongst the disciples, Jesus had a favoured three - Peter, James, John (e.g. Mark 9:2, the Transfiguration). To them he disclosed what he did not to others. If anyone thinks that this is because Peter was especially spiritual and accomplished at this point - well, read just a few verses before where Jesus rebukes him for holding to the thoughts of Satan!
  • Some of God's servants in the world today are given a far larger dose of opportunities, graces and gifts than others. What does the word "favoured" mean if these things are not included? (They received a correspondingly larger responsibility before him too!).
  • It is explicitly taught in the parable of the talents that some receive more both in this life and the one to come - is not God free to dispense his own gifts as he likes? (I wrote more on the Biblical teaching on future rewards here).
The Biblical truths which can pass under the statement "God has no favourites" are that:
  • God favours no man's person. i.e. You can attain to no status or achievement, or receive any special favours from God, which allow you a license or leniency for particular conduct which someone else is not granted. (Actually the more you receive from him, the more accountability you then have: not less).
  • The gospel is offered freely to all without exception or distinction.
  • All of God's children have the same spiritual privileges granted: in justification, the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell us, access to God in prayer and communion, the mediation of Christ on our behalf, the promises of Scripture for us, the future inheritance of glorification. Nothing belonging to the world of the first birth - Jew/Gentile, male/female, slave/free etc. (Galatians 3:28) - makes any difference at all here.
  • All of us have access to more blessing, if we are faithful with what we have already been apportioned. There is a free and open invitation for all of God's children to know more of his blessing - we can never say that he put a road-block in our way to blessing that he did not for others.
"God has no favourites" could be said in the above senses. But as a catch-all slogan, it does not fit with reality.

"Some of you will not taste death"

Six days before his Transfiguration, and some months before his death, resurrection and Pentecost, Jesus said these words:
“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” (Mark 9:1)
There is some difficulty in these words - exactly which event (events?) was Jesus referring to? What does the seeming suggestion that some (many, most?) of the apostles could taste death in the meantime imply? What is implied by the immediate conjunction of the account of the Transfiguration in the accounts in each of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and their remarks on the time-scale intervening? (John does not report this saying or the Transfiguration)?

If I remember correctly, in his thought-provoking and very worthwhile book "The Last Days According To Jesus", R C Sproul argues that this reference must be ultimately to AD 70. That is the year when the old theocratic kingdom and the Old Covenant was finally abolished, leaving only the world-wide church of Jew and Gentile joined together in Christ. That, he argues, is when the kingdom had finally come with power - the old scaffolding of Judaism which had preceded and supported it for a time as it had grown and distinguished itself was now totally taken away.

This interpretation has some attractions, chiefly in the words that "some... will not taste death", which on the surface do seem to imply a time-gap to be measured in terms of years, not days or weeks - and a significant number of the apostles dying off in the meantime. My problem is whilst I do see the Biblical importance of AD 70, I do not see that importance explained in terms of the kingdom of God "coming with power" at that date. On the contrary, I do see the day of Pentecost as explicitly being marked out in terms of that significance (exemplified in many many texts, e.g. John 7:39, "But this he spoke about the Spirit, which those who believe on him would receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified" and the words spoken on the day itself, Acts 2:16ff). The pouring out of the Spirit and the formation of the church was when the kingdom came "with power". The kingdom was present when the king began his ministry (Mark 1:15) - but then hidden, and in apparent weakness, even seeming to die (at Calvary); but from Pentecost it was present "with power". Jesus the king was risen and ascended and had now climbed his throne from there to reign. He had then received and poured out the promised gift of the Spirit as the first and fundamantal act of his inaugurated kingship over the nations.

We can add to this the consideration that in fact one of the twelve, Judas, did in fact die before the day of Pentecost. It could be objected that "some will not die" suggests that several will - but there is plenty of Biblical precedent for Jesus speaking in a guarded and cryptic manner at this time when his disciples were still somewhat limited in their understanding (c.f. John 16:25, spoken in the very eve of Passover). Perhaps we can fold in the years after Pentecost into the fullness of what is meant by Jesus? i.e. He does not mean "you will not die until the day the Spirit has come", but he also includes the outworking of the Spirit's presence in the church as the church would grow, survive persecutions, envelop Samaritans and then Gentiles, etc. i.e. Not only Pentecost, seen as the seed, but also its inevitable fruit as it came to maturity. We know that James the son of Zebedee, for one (Acts 12), died before this power had gone forth in the first formal Gentile missions (Acts 13:1ff) - in the days when the promise of a multi-national church as still awaiting major chapters in its fulfilment.

The Transfiguration was witnessed only be "some", namely Peter, James and John - but in what sense did the kingdom come with power on that day? It was by its very nature a secret event - hidden except to a close inner-circle, and gone as soon as it was come. To be sure, those three witnessed Jesus in his glory, which was to see the power of the king himself. But how was the actual rule of the king established or advanced through that event? Furthermore, none at all of the twelve had died before that day - this seems to stretch the words to breaking point and beyond. It is true that the gospel writers draw our attention to the following of this event after the saying, which suggests a connection. But I do not think that the connection they are drawing is "this is the fulfilment"; the connection they are drawing is that the apostles were given an assurance and confirmation of what Jesus had promised, though it is not yet. What is now will still be weakness and death and the apparent annihilation of the kingdom - yet they may patiently wait, because Jesus has shown them the secret of how they will be fulfilled in due time.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Are you a Mary?

In John 12, we read of Mary anointing Jesus' feet - with perfume that cost a year's wages. This was after Jesus had raised Mary's brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

Mary, then, was not looking to give the minimum service to Jesus that would pass as good enough - not the minimum expression of gratitude, but an extravagant, lavish outpouring of all that she could find to give to him. So excessive, that it raised a protest from one who was not known as an enemy, but a disciple - who thought it had gone too far.

Which raises the question...

How about you and I?

Is your service to Jesus the minimum that passes muster given your present position? Something like the wedding gift that cost the minimum to not make you look mean and embarrass you? Or is it something that to many even "disciples" looks like it frankly went too far? If proof needed to be gathered that you loved him, could someone find the extravagant, outrageous and excessive acts of costly, self-giving devotion that have been done in serving him?


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Bible uses colourful language

Just a quick one here. Some Christians think that Christians should never use "colourful" language in debate, as it is unhelpful, or unnecessary or can cause offence etc.

Granted that:
  1. Christians should never use crude or filthy or foolish language, Ephesians 5:4
  2. We should use wisdom to judge our circumstances, consider weaker brethren, etc.
But yet, actually the Bible uses colourful rhetoric, especially in refuting false doctrine. Potent weapons must be wielded carefully - but forbidding use of them especially in such a good cause is definitely wrong. How can we fight without potent weapons?

Here's my example. What does Paul think about those who are so keen on circumcision? He wants them to go the whole way!
I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! - Galatians 5:12

New Testament Circumcision

It took me a while, compared to some other issues, to decide that the New Testament definitely takes a Baptist position (as opposed to a paedo-baptist position). This was because many/most of the old books (by the Reformers, Puritans and other historic Protestant Evangelicals) who had been my guides and teachers were written by paedobaptists. The other problem was that I did not know many convinced Baptists.

One of the major factors in convincing me was study of the New Testament passages which directly and intentionally address the relationship between Old and New covenants, and their ordinances. I came to believe that a good deal of the theology specifically supporting paedobaptism is constructed out of special pleading which read out of other passages on different issues. Why was the theology not being built out of these passages which are on the very relevant topic, I wondered?

Enough history. I'm teaching Galatians 5 this week at Bible college, God-willing, and it contains an example passage (verse 5-6). (There are several in Galatians):
5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
One question which I think every evangelical paedobaptist should be troubled by from Galatians is to Paul's complete silence on the belief that, supposedly, baptism is the New Covenant replacement for circumcision. Circumcision was the sign of being one of God's covenant people before Christ came, and baptism is afterwards, so they say. This has a kernel of truth in it, of course; nobody is denying that Jewish males were circumcised and that Christians are baptised. But when faced with the Judaising heresy in Galatia and the sight of many Christians at least considering being circumcised for their justification, would not the simple observation that circumcision is unnecessary because we are now baptised have gone a terribly long way? Seems like a killer argument to me - and yet Paul never seems to even approach it. The belief that "the sign was changed, the significance remained the same" I cannot recognise as one that Paul held. That's why he never thought of this argument; it was not actually consistent with his beliefs. Circumcision and baptism have overlapping, but essentially different - not the same - significance.

If you look at those verses above, then if you read them with paedobaptist glasses on you may see nothing to challenge you - we all agree that circumcision is not significant in Christ, and that we by the Spirit wait in faith. So what? But I believe that verses like this are very significant if you instead take of the glasses and try to read the verses from a more neutral point of view - not asking whether you can assimilate such words into your system, but which system of thought would be naturally more likely to produce such verses. Paul in these verses, I believe, is expressing consistently with a Baptist point of view that the Holy Spirit who works by faith, hope and love in an individual is the essential sign of the New Covenant. In other words, that the New Covenant is an era of fulfilment in reality - not just in the coming of Christ, but in the membership of God's people and in what fundamental, essential realities characterise them. We do not have to wait until heaven for the true people of God to be only those who love Jesus, even whilst fully conceding that "false brethren" will worm their way into churches. Today - not just in the future - all the merely outward (being a Jew, being circumcised, etc.) is of no value, because now that Christ, the reality has come, the external scaffolding that existed before his coming is taken down.

Again I concede that a convinced paedobaptist can give an explanation of these verses that does not imply any of this. But that's not my point or argument here. My point is to ask which reading of these verses is more consistent with the direction and contours of the letter as a whole, and all its various statements on the significance of circumcision and the relationships between the covenants. It was asking those questions about Galatians and the rest of the New Testament that were major factors in my becoming a convinced Baptist.

Here's a quote from the "Preacher's Study Papers" by Grace Baptist Mission (intended for preachers in the third world) making the same point:
In these verses Paul does not put baptism as the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament circumcision ceremony It is not biblically correct to say we must now baptise the babies of Christians because the Old Testament Jews circumcised their babies. According to Paul the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament sign of circumcision (to show a person to be one of God's people) is the possession of spiritual faith, hope and love. That is one reason why Baptists baptise only believers who by their faith show that they are God's New Testament people.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Blow me down....

Wife: Looks like a storm's coming.
Me: <Looks around, chewing lunch>. Looks OK.

... 5 seconds later ...

Me: <From floor, still attached to chair, pinned underneath giant parasol with hand bleeding and shoulder bruised> : What just happened?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

He came to do his Father's will

In teaching John's gospel at Bible college, one of the explicit ever-present themes is the unity of Father and Son. Jesus again and again insists that his words are those of the Father, that he perfectly does his Father's will, that he and the Father are one in their purpose, that to know him is to know the Father, etc., etc.

One thing I am more appreciating is how this theme is ever-present in the other gospels too. It may not always be explicit, but it is there. Consider the passage I am preaching on tomorrow (God-willing), Mark 8:31-38. In context, Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ - and now Jesus reveals just what his Messiahship will look like:
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (ESV)
Jesus is going to suffer and die - but why? Because, verse 33, he has set his mind on the things of God. He is doing his Father's will, not that of (carnal) man.

Jesus is also going to come in judgment, with the holy angels. But what glory will he come in? His Father's - having completed his Father's commission, he receives his Father's reward. And who can judge except God alone? Yet Jesus does it - not simply because he is God, but because he is the Son who is always sent by the Father's authority to do the work which the Father has to do; whether creation, redemption or final judgment. To love one is to love the other; to dishonour one reveals - whether a person admits it or not - the true thoughts of heart towards both.

Many a true word....

If you can rise above the jingoism and false bravado (are they really sure they'll pay those debts?) and take a joke, then there's a few true words in this amusing open letter from a German tabloid newspaper to the Greek prime minister....

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

If you read this in print, you’ve entered a country completely different from yours. You’re in Germany.

* Here, people work until they are 67. There is no longer a 14-month salary for civil servants.

* Here, nobody needs to pay a €1,000 bribe to get a hospital bed in time.

* And we don’t pay pensions for the General’s daughters who sadly can’t find husbands.

* In this country, the petrol stations have cash registers, the taxi drivers give receipts and farmers don’t swindle EU subsidies with millions of olive trees that don’t exist.

Germany also has high debts - but we can meet them.

* That’s because we get up reasonably early and work all day. Because in good times we always spare a thought for the bad times. Because we have good firms whose products are in demand around the world.

Dear Mr Prime Minister, today you are in the country that sends umpteen-thousand of tourists and money aplenty to Greece.

We want to be friends with the Greeks. That’s why since joining the euro, Germany has given your country €50bn.

For this reason, we are writing to you,


Bild Editorial

PS In case you want to write back, we have enclosed a stamped addressed envelope. Of course, we want to help you to save...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Nairobi conference 2010 - the gospel

Do you know anybody in Kenya who's hungry for a good conference? Solid Bible teaching, fellowship and food, at a subsidised price? Great! Send 'em here:

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Fits and spurts

When I first thought about the Bible's and in particular Jesus' use of illustrations from the natural world (e.g. sparrows, sowers sowing and seeds growing, the wind blowing, etc.) I assumed (I suppose because all my teachers seemed to) that Jesus was simply using the opportunities presented by nature.

Later on I came to realise that, consistent with the divine creation, it was more accurate to say that God had first placed those things there in nature in order to reflect spiritual realities. The spiritual is the original; the physical dovetails it.

Now I think I'd say that it's not even strictly a matter of one being used to illustrate the other - God simply made an integrated, harmonious creation. The tendency to dichotomise (as opposed to distinguish) comes from an insufficient appreciation of the unity of spiritual and physical in God's creation. Don't read that sentence in a pantheistic way (i.e. as if creation is itself somehow divine) - the distinction is real. But when God wove the rope, he wove the strands together in perfect harmony; there was never a question of one needing to have different principles from the other. They are perfectly complementary. If the seen world's workings beautifully symbolise the workings of the unseen world - then, well, of course! If the principles of spiritual reality are represented to us again and again in the world of sense, we ought to expect nothing else.

This morning I did some speed training - this is a rare event. (If possible - i.e. not constrained by some other factor as I mostly have been the last year - I more tend to do a normal run at a raised pace, rather than particularly some speed training). Today I ran a 4 mile circuit, alternating between fast, forced-pace quarter-miles and recovery quarter-miles in which I just ran however slowly I needed to recover my breathing. This was more and more slowly as it went on!

The average overall pace here does not matter - the aim is to train to build up some speed. But, at the end, I saw that the average overall pace was not quicker than a steady four mile run done the other week. Fits and spurts - where those spurts are deliberately fast, painfully fast - did not lead to a better finish than a steady effort. And the fits and spurts could not be maintained - by the end, I felt pretty finished; whereas the steady effort was just a jog to begin warming up again (after the marathon 5 weeks ago); I could have maintained it for much longer.

Or in other words - my run reflected a spiritual reality about running and serving the Lord in the Christian race ...

Monday, 1 March 2010

"Earth's Catastrophic Past"

John Whitcomb and Henry Morris's book "The Genesis Flood" was the epoch-making book that gave Biblical creationism a big leap forward in the late 20th century. (Don't believe the propaganda that says it "launched" Biblical creationism - it had no need of launching; the story by which Darwin swept all before him and creationism died until it came back from America in the late 20th century is evolutionary propaganda, nothing else. Anti-Darwin thinking was always near at hand, and Britain had its own anti-evolution society that pre-dates Whitcomb/Morris by decades).

The below came via e-mail. It's a podcast from "Answers in Genesis" UK about a new book. If this book is what it aims and promises to be, then everyone interested in these issues ought to be getting a copy. It comes from a writer who has the credentials and experience to write it:
The 19th episode of our main podcast, Answers UK Radio, is now available, presented by Paul Taylor, Senior Speaker with Answers in Genesis (UK/Europe)

In this episode, Paul interviews Answers in Genesis Director of Research, Dr Andrew Snelling. Dr Snelling has just published his important new book - Earth's Catastrophic Past. This is basically the replacement and update for the classic Genesis Flood, by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris. Andrew's book is destined to be an equally important classic, presenting, as it does, a thorough biblical Flood geology for the 21st Century.

You will not want to miss this important interview.
This is the link:

The advantages of home education

Educational choices are important and deeply personal - it concerns our children and their future.

When Christians speak to each other about them, it is helpful to distinguish between matters of principle and matters of preference.

One matter of principle is that God commands us to educate our children in a comprehensively Biblical understanding of life, which is taught in both Testaments:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:49, ESV)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)
But in how this principle is carried out, other principles apply. I am totally answerable to God for everything about my child's education: I have the responsibility to consider all the options and choose the best one, all things considered. But other Christians are also totally answerable to God, and not to me, and they also possess the liberty to weigh things before the Lord themselves. This does not mean that I think all ways are equally valid, or even don't think that some ways are not the New Covenant equivalent of burning your son as an offering to Moloch.... but there are many distinctions that need to be made before we go into all of that. And that is not my point today. This is just by way of introduction.

In this post I do not want to argue that home education is compulsory (I certainly do not believe that anyway), or that it is the most appropriate Christian option in every circumstance (I do not believe that either). I simply want to present a single point as to why it is often better, as a pedagogical choice. That is, that home education conducted by parents normally leads to a higher standard of learning. So this is not about the issues of distinctly Christian education, secularism, the dangers in state schools, etc. - it is simply about educational standards.

I want to say this because the meme "but I'll never be able to educate my child as well as a qualified teacher can!" is wide-spread. It seems to have seeped into the common currency. It is repeated often, but I don't think the people repeating it have thought it through or critically analysed it. Certainly if you get together a group of home educators you may find that several of them, especially at the beginning, have a fear that they will not be able to be "as good"; but the longer it goes on, the more that fear gets replaced with the reality - it is simply not true.

Why is it not true? Simple, really...
  • In home education, the child generally has the same teacher tracking him/her, year after year. The teacher is not having to acclimatise/adjust to your child for new each September.
  • And what is more, that teacher knows that child really really well anyway - because generally it's mum, and perhaps some of dad too.
  • This also has a bonus in the area of discipline. If mum/dad has laid the foundation before formal education begins, then by the time the child is starting on their A, B, C, then the spade-work of teaching respect to parents and good behaviour is mostly done. The issue of the child learning that "teacher" can be played up in ways that mum/dad never could never arises. Generally good discipline is an enormous advantage.
  • Add to that the huge bonus of class-size. At school, it's perhaps 25, 30, 35. At home it's never as high as that - begins with 1 and increases in 1s (or perhaps 2s!) from there. There is basically full time individual tuition. Or perhaps in a co-operative effort of several home-schoolers, maybe a group which is likely to be in the single digits, and 20 would be as high as you might see.
  • The advantage of this personal tuition can not be over-stated. You move at the pace of your child, not the class. The "problem kids" from the problem homes are not sucking up 50% (or more) of the class's time and the teacher's energy. The curriculum is not pitched at a medium or lowest common denominator level that your child is not at.
  • Not only the pace, but also the curriculum can and will be tailored to your child, instead of the one-size-fits-all national curriculum which is fixed like the law of the Medes and Persians before your child even enters the school gate.
This just the beginning, but these advantages are huge. Yes, perhaps mum is not a degreed physics teacher. But really, how does this fact affect the teaching of A, B, C to 5-year old Johnny or of long division to 8-year old Ursula? It's a red herring. For many of the earliest years, the issue is just that mum/dad is a few steps ahead, not that they've laid out the whole plan in stone for the next decade (which would be bad pedagogy in any case). There are all kinds of options available by the time you are getting to that kind of level, and this involves other issues. (For one thing, by that stage a properly trained home-school child will have acquired the necessary skills for self-learning, and will only need occasional access to an expert to clarify difficult issues - unlike in school where you still need to be led on a fairly short lead even to the age of 18. But I digress, and too much digression may obscure my basic point...).

No doubt education outside the home has its own advantages. Everything needs to be weighed. But quality of education, and whether the child will be held back, is in my mind a definite plus for home education, not a minus. I'd like to encourage Christians who are thinking through these issues to see through the simplistic assertion that because state-trained teachers have state-training, therefore they are going to be better than mum at it. It's simply not true. Mum does not need to live in fear that because she hasn't got the state's rubber stamp, therefore she will probably not be up to it educationally. In reality, all other things being equal or thereabouts, mum is the best qualified teacher there is. All other things being equal (so whatever families of freaks you have anecdotal knowledge of don't count!), on average a home-schooled child will not be behind, or even equal with, a mass-schooled one. They'll be leading the pack.

Good news for home educators?

It's only possible good news, and it's only one battle in the long war against the slow, gradual, creep-creep state take-over of parental rights in the UK, but this is encouraging: "Tories: we'll block home school plans". The providence here is that in the run-up to an election, the government does not have time to push through all its plans, and needs to do deals with the opposition. The two opposition parties are both strongly opposed on these proposals, and at least the Tories are promising to make preventing this one a priority at the present time. PTL!