Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Christian nation?

Conrad Mbewe does not want Zambia to describe itself, in its constitution, as a Christian nation.

Jeremy Walker disagrees with David Cameron, for saying that he wants Britain to be a Christian country.

I used to agree with those two brethren, but now disagree with my older self.

There's much that they say that is good, and many dangers to avoid.

Good: Brother Mbewe doesn't want Zambia to be a secular nation, though this does beg the question of what he does want (he wants to just leave it be - which seems to mean, he wants the answer to the question left undefined; unsatisfactory). Good: he does not want us to confuse the state with the church. Good: he is not in favour of superstition, formalism or hypocrisy. He does not want us to confuse our nations with Old Testament Israel. He wants us to realise that the church is God's agent of regeneration and change, to not confuse the gospel with morality, etcetera, the first birth with the second, the nation from above with those below, the limited role of the state in regulating evil with the gospel's work in redeeming society, etcetera. He wants us to learn the historical lessons of the Constantinian settlement. Mere words in constitutions cannot replace, or supplement, or aid, the work of bringing in spiritual reality. Good, good, excellent, and so on!

And yet, and yet... I think I can agree with basically all of brother Mbewe's arguments, and brother Walker's commendations of them, and yet think that they've fallen short of supporting their conclusions. And I can do all this, as a Baptist, believing in a proper separation of church and state.

There's a fault-line that we can expose with the right questions:

1) Is Christ Lord of everything - including of the state?

2) Since the answer to that question is "of course he is", we then ask: "and should the state actually do anything in particular to acknowledge that Lordship, or does it have no practical effect?" Is the state meant to submit to Christ's Lordship, yet without admitting that it is doing so? Is it meant to be a secret?

Is the state meant to self-consciously reform itself in line with God's will, or not? If it is, then where does it get guidance concerning God's will from? There have been attempts in Christian history to derive a set of principles from nature/general revelation alone. The results have not been promising. The spectacle of a Christian theologian, self-consciously attempting to derive from the Bible principles about general revelation that will then allow the state to operate without the Bible, is absurd and should make us ask "how did we get here?"

Mbewe is exposing the fault-line when he realises but then tip-toes around the question: "so, what kind of state should it be?" It's all very well to say "not a secular one"; but the final answer "please, just leave us room to be Christians in our churches!" is unsatisfactory. The state is ordained by God, and under Christ's redemptive Lordship. His death and resurrection should have an impact on the state, as on everything else. Should that impact be an unspoken secret? Are hypocrisy/superstition etc. and "just leave us alone" the only two possible answers available to us?

I suspect that eschatology comes in here. If we expect Christ to bring all things into visible submission to himself and to complete the Adamic mandate before his final revealing, then you can believe as I do, that present and former incarnations of the "Christian state" leave much to be desired - and yet also believe that Caesar is intended to say "Christ is Lord" and not simply leave it as an open question. The question will be resolved as Christ exerts his all-authority more and more; the Christian state will in fact be a Christian state: in word and deed. Just because there are false starts and faulty settlements along the way is not a reason to abandon the whole idea, any more than the present faultiness of the church means that we need to throw our lot in with Harold Camping.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

This is what incoherence looks like

In a Guardian CIF article, Denis Alexander, as part of his hopeless quest to synthesise Darwinism with the Bible, asks the question, why did Jesus die? Good question; but he does not answer it in a coherent way. He gives no more of an answer than he did when he published "Creation or Evolution - Do we have to choose?".

Read it yourself and see if you can figure out the answer. Alexander himself during the article asserts that the Bible nowhere teaches that physical death is the penalty of sin (Alexander holds that death was always man's intended lot, a necessary part of the evolutionary process); yet also on the other hand asserts that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins.

Each time I come across something new from Dr. Alexander, I try to hunt for his explanation of how these two assertions harmonise. I'm not the only reviewer who's raised this issue and tried to get an answer; I'm not aware of anyone who's succeeded yet. Death is not the penalty for sin; Jesus experienced death as the penalty for our sins. I've read this latest one through three times, trying to spot the clue. I don't think there is one.

There's quite a few other give-aways about Dr. Alexander's departure from orthodoxy in the article; I've just chosen to highlight this big one in this blog.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Literal interpretation and asking the wrong questions

I had a discussion with a couple of good friends the other day about millennialism. One friend held to a pre-millennial position, the other a-millennial.

An issue that often comes up in such discussions is, the question of "literal" versus "spiritual/metaphorical" interpretation.

I hold that this is a false question. It tends to skew the outcome from the beginning. It plays into a modern, false dichotomy. (Ironically, when faced with a false "physical/spiritual" choice, modern believers have tended to retreat from the physical realm into the spiritual one; but in the question of eschatology, have felt it is the "spiritual" choice to take the most "literal" possibly interpretation of prophecy. Perhaps this is a compensation - the devil largely gets the material world now, but Jesus claims it back in the millennium? One of the points I raised with my pre-millennial friend is that I dispute that pre-millennialism is the "literal" option. Revelation chapter 20 taken "literally" does not mention Jerusalem, or a bodily resurrection of all believers, but takes place in the heavenly realm, where John says that he saw "souls". But I digress).

This literal-versus-spiritual view of the question tends to view prophetic interpretation as a matter of a sliding scale. A line is drawn, from "purely spiritual" at the left end, and "completely literal" at the right end. Then we have to decide where to land on that line. Those of the pre-millennial school tend to say, we should go as far to the right as possible. This sometimes leads to unwarranted chest-thumping and drawing connections that don't exist - if you go further to the left, you are a secret liberal! Taking the Bible seriously involves "literally-as-possible", otherwise you don't really believe (my friend did not take this line)!

Where "possible" is involves a number of subtleties. My friends was dispensational pre-millennial, and in my view the particular subtleties of that school are indistinguishable from arbitrary special pleading. A time reference of one thousand years in Revelation must mean exactly one thousand years otherwise we have mangled the plain word of God; but to take a "generation" in Matthew 24 as a literal generation is "wooden literalism" which we must avoid - hmmm!

This whole idea of a sliding scale is wrong. We need to get past the idea that it is the right interpretative grid to bring to prophetic understanding. Much better is to let the Bible interpret itself. This is actually to take the Bible more seriously, not less.

There is plenty of examples of already-fulfilled prophecy in the Bible. There is a large cupboard of prophetic imagery - stock usages of the prophets, which we can see the meaning of. The LORD coming on the clouds. Multi-coloured horses travelling through the earth. Jehovah coming down from Mount Zion, etcetera. Prophetic imagery is interpreted for us in the Scriptures already. Our job is not to set up our own rules and a zero-to-one-hunderd spiritual-literal scale with its ensuing set of mistaken questions. Our job is to understand the Bible's own rules to interpreting the range of prophetic images, and apply those. We are not given Daniel and Revelation in a vacuum; they cycled and recycled imagery that was part of the prophet's stock-in-trade, rather than inventing something entirely new and leaving us to figure it out for ourselves.

At times this more Biblical approach will bring issues which intersect with the literal/spiritual question; for example, when Jeremiah said that the exile in Babylon would be 70 years long, he really did mean 70 years as in 840 months as in 70 trips around the calendar, and not something else. But a study of prophetic usage emphatically does not lead to the sliding scale as the basic tool of interpretation. If we start there, we will not end up with authentically Biblical answers.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Bible, right and wrong

The notion that the Bible was “at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women” would have raised the Hitch-hackles. As he put it in his debate on religion with Tony Blair in Toronto in November 2010: “We don’t require divine permission to know right from wrong.”

  1. The Bible itself tells us that those without the Bible know right from wrong - that's how those without the Bible can still be justly judged on the day of judgment. God has placed a knowledge of right and wrong in our hearts - a knowledge that will show we are right to be condemned, because we have not lived up to what we know (Romans chapter 2:14-16).

  2. The historical examples chosen make the (controverted) point very well, that the answer given is irrelevant. We may not need the Bible to know that right exists and is better than wrong. Even so, we do very much did need the Bible and its influence on our culture to have the power to put that knowledge into practice. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is one thing; but having the will to respond to that knowledge is another. That's what the Bible teaches too; the law may be written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, but until it is written upon our hearts by the power of the risen Christ we won't be able to keep it as we ought.

    Thus we have the irony that it's the Christian West where talented bon vivantes like Christopher Hitchens could spend and mis-spend the cultural capital of freedom and prosperity that centuries of Christianity had bequeathed to them; an irony that sadly Hitchens never properly appreciated.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Prosperity and envy

Douglas Wilson here has a useful test to do with social justice, progressive politics and envy.

Misotheism masquerading as science and reason

Misotheism, aka atheism, claims for itself the mantle of science and reason.

Like small children sometimes claim to be super-heroes. Then it's time for tea and bed.

Consider some of the claims of misotheism:
  • Everything came out of nothing, unaided by anything (because there was nothing to aid it). (Not out of a vacuum; out of nothing).
  • Complex order came, by itself, out of disorder, guided by nothing and with no external input; though science has never yet observed such a thing happening.
  • Complex codes, e.g. in the genome, produce themselves without intelligent input; which science has never observed.
  • Self-consciousness (the "I" which is the essential fact of our existence as personal individuals) is basically an illusion (in which case we ask, exactly who is the being experiencing that illusion?)
  • Life can spontaneously generate itself out of non-life, guided by nothing - despite the fact that millions of man-hours of intelligent human research have not yet been able to produce such an outcome, and science has never observed it.
  • Natural selection, filtering the species based upon survival possibilities, produced every face of human life - including those which have no plausible known value for survival (like genuine talent in art, music, chess, higher mathematics, etc.). All the evidence is that humankind of vastly over-endowed for mere survival - the offered explanation does not meet the facts.
  • Many of the universe's physical attributes exist within a very small band which is fine-tuned for existence and life, despite no known material explanation why that should be. (Note that the misotheist's observation "but if it weren't so, we wouldn't be here to observe it" no more explains this fact than the survivor of the firing squad's observation "of course I survived, otherwise we wouldn't be able to have this chat" explains why the crack shooters all missed).

In the face of this vast "reality gap" between observed scientific facts and misotheistic explanations, the best that the Internet misotheists have been able to come up with is empty rhetoric - not science but childish attempts at philosophy. "Science is still working on that", "You're just preaching God-of-the-gaps", "Physics hasn't yet had its Darwin", etc.

Little Johnny says, "and after tea, I'm going to fly to the moon!" Of course you are, little chap - but don't forget it'll soon be bed-time!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Original sin, again

Child psychologist Margit Ekenberg told Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper: 'Children can be cruel to each other, but not evil.

'Children who commit acts like this have probably not received the care and assistance they needed from adults in setting limits to their actions.'

Those are the words of a supposed expert, responding to the case of a ten-year-old boy who strangled a four-year-old to death and dumped his body in the bushes.

Perhaps something got lost in translation? Hmmm....

Apparently, "cruelty" is not itself evil. How did she conclude that?

How would Ms Ekenberg know what evil is? What standard is she measuring it by?

Since strangling someone to death is, in fact, evil (the standard we measure that by is God's law), obviously ten-year-olds can commit evil. You only need one instance of a ten-year-old committing evil to prove that yes, ten-year-olds can commit evil.

As indeed can four-year-olds.

"'Children who commit acts like this have probably not received the care and assistance they needed from adults in setting limits to their actions.'" - since children of age ten can't (allegedly) commit evil, then why do adults need to set limits to their actions? If evil is actually impossible for them, then what is it we're meant to be stopping them from doing?

Apparently, we're meant to be stopping them from committing "cruelty". But since cruelty isn't evil, what's the problem, again?

Ms Ekenberg apparently subscribes to a situational view of the cause of (non-)evil. She believes that it's because adults haven't applied appropriate "limits".

What are those limits? Again, as ten year-olds are apparently beings who exist outside of the sphere where categories of "good" or "evil" apply, we must be meant to educate them on some other basis. It's apparently not "appropriate" to tell them that throttling the weak is wrong, as ten-year-olds can't commit wrong. Is the idea just that we educate them about what would be evil if they were older, so that when they're older they won't commit evil after it becomes possible for them to do so? "Don't throttle the weak now, because if you do it when you're older, it'd be evil" "What - it's not evil now?" "Nope, just cruelty." "Is cruelty evil?" "Not for you, no". "Thanks. Can I throttle you now?"

What age does evil begin to exist as a possibility for a child to commit, by the way, Ms Ekenberg? How did you determine that answer? It's apparently many years after the child can self-consciously assert its own will in ways that are contrary to God's revealed will for mankind to live. Presumably the ten-year-old wanted to inflict pain and suffering upon the four-year-old; that was his desire, and it carried over into action.

Ten-year-olds seem blissfully unaware that they are living in a universe in which (according to Ms Ekenberg) moral categories do not exist for them. They are continually debating about what is right or wrong, completely uninformed about the apparent reality that there is no such thing. They get cross if you, or one of their companions, commits an evil against them. They seem to intuitively all believe in this so-called impossibility.

What is the difference between a ten-year-old desiring to inflict pain on a four-year-old and then carrying it out, and a twenty-year-old doing the same thing? What if the twenty-year-old didn't receive sufficient "care" and "assistance" before he/she reached the magical age at which such actions become evil? Why has that now become the twenty-year-old's fault?

What's the point of all this? It's to point out the hopeless moral confusion that results when you reject the Bible's clear revelation of the reality of original sin. Original sin is also the explanation for how an adult with a brain can be accepted by a society as a supposed "expert" whilst coming out with such spewings of ignorance and darkness as Ms Ekenberg. The true path is not to be found in child psychologists of such an ilk, but in receiving a new heart from Jesus - which is a glorious possibility when you are an adult, or ten or four. Without it though, we're condemned to societies in which four-year-olds can be executed and the favoured ones in society, far from doing anything about it, actually make the evil-doers' excuses for them. The world's wisdom makes excuses for evil and tells you it's not really there; but Jesus defeats it.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Richard Dawkins doesn't really get it?

Prof Dawkins asked the Prime Minister: “Why do you support faith schools for children who are too young to have chosen their faith, thereby implicitly labelling them with the faith of their parents, whereas you wouldn’t dream of so labelling a ‘Keynesian child’ or a ‘Conservative child’?”.

Mr Cameron responded: “Comparing John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows, in my view, why Richard Dawkins just doesn’t really get it.

That was a good start from the Prime Minister, I thought. Dawkins really does not get it. Views of economics or politics may play quite a large role in a person's life. But they cannot be the foundation. They cannot constitute the basis of a world-view, as Christainity, atheism, Islam, Rastafarianism etc. do. Keynesianism may be right or wrong, but there is no pathway towards seeing a failure to honour JMK's teachings as an intrinsic moral failure, or a basic constituent of someone's personal identity.

“I think faith schools are very often good schools. Why? Because the organisation that’s backing the school – the church or the mosque or the synagogue – is part of the community.


“And it brings a sense of community and a sense of responsibility and the backing of an institution to a school.

“The church was providing good schools long before the state ever got involved, and we should respect the fact that it’s not just the state that can provide education – other bodies, too.

“So I support faith schools on the basis of the proof that over the years they’ve been good schools.”
Here I was left wondering if Mr. Cameron really "got it".

From Dawkins' point of view, a Christian education cannot, be definition, be a "good school" precisely because it is Christian and Christianity is an outmoded and potentially dangerous superstition. The issue at hand is the definition of "good" in the context of education.

Cameron does go on to explain what he means by "good", though it's not fully clear to me without more of his thinking how to interpret him. He speaks of belonging to the community, and a sense of responsibility and the backing of an institution. I'm not sure if those things themselves are the "good" of which he speaks (which seems rather weak to me - a brainwashing camp run by a suicide cult could also theoretically fulfil that criteria), or if they are simply supportive of an other, undefined (here) good - perhaps the technical excellency of the education. But if the latter, then we're still begging Dawkins' original question - what, really, makes a school good? Is a school good because it teaches people lots of information? Helps them to think critically? Helps them pass GCSEs? Or what? Dawkins would argue that Christian assertions about reality are false; hence a Christian school can only be a "good school" despite Christianity, not because of it. He thinks that thinking critically leads to the conclusion that Christianity is false. And I think only the Department of Education would be tempted to make passing state exams the objective measure of "good" - other folk might be more likely to collapse their value into one of the other two (they help us learn information, or to think critically in general).

My children's education is "good", I believe, because we are helping them to understand God's world, how it works and how to live in it, from God's point of view. We are helping them to think critically, but within a context of Christian love and care. We believe they have their own minds which are to be developed, and thinking critically, when guided by a good heart which ultimately only conversion brings, will be very "good".

Dawkins, on the other hand, uses the word "good" as if it were an objective reality; yet he can only tell us his subjective preferences. In his world-view, he's simply an inevitable result of millions of years of natural processes, processes with no transcendental meaning, purpose or intelligence behind them, and no ultimate end except extinction. He may have his own quasi-transcendental purposes and goals; those that he sees as bigger than his own existence (e.g. his anti-God crusades), but there's no binding reason why anyone else should care about them. "Good" on his lips has no solid meaning that you can pin down beyond "Dawkins likes it that way". So whilst I might dispute with Mr. Cameron, who professes to believe Christianity is true yet seems quite confused about a number of Christian teachings, yet with Dawkins we can't even get the debate underway because there's no common ground to even start the discussion from. Dawkins, if you take his world-view back to basics, is simply one lump of animated meat trying to campaign about the education of the offspring-meat of another lump of animated meat. Why does he bother? He believes that we are nothing but matter, controlled by physical laws; in his view it's his physiology forcing him to do what he does, and mine forcing me to disagree with him. He bothers only because he's inconsistent. The atheistic world-view can't be consistently lived out. Dawkins behaves as if other people's children's education is important because the "we're just the happy results of meaningless physical processes" thesis is not possible for divine image bearers in a created universe to live out consistently.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Calvin on human and divine emotions

So much wisdom and discernment here from Calvin in a single paragraph:
Mark 3:5. "And when he had looked around upon them with indignation" - To convince us that this was a just and holy anger, Mark explains the reason of it to be, that he was grieved on account of the blindness of their hearts. First, then, Christ is grieved, because men who have been instructed in the Law of God are so grossly blind; but as it was malice that blinded them, his grief is accompanied by indignation. This is the true moderation of zeal, to be distressed about the destruction of wicked men, and, at the same time, to be filled with wrath at their ungodliness. Again, as this passage assures us, that Christ was not free from human passions, we infer from it, that the passions themselves are not sinful, provided there be no excess. In consequence of the corruption of our nature, we do not preserve moderation; and our anger, even when it rests on proper grounds, is never free from sin. With Christ the case was different; for not only did his nature retain its original purity, but he was a perfect pattern of righteousness. We ought therefore to implore from heaven the Spirit of God to correct our excesses.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Starlight and creation week

Many people find the following objection amongst the hardest to overcome in accepting the Bible's chronology:
"If we can see starlight from millions of light years away, then how can the universe not be millions of years old?"
The question needs sharpening. Written as above, it begs the question; i.e., it asserts the conclusion that is under dispute. Whether starlight has been travelling for millions of years or not, and whether there is an alternative possibility, is the issue at hand. The question should be re-phrased something like so:
"Given the speed that we measure light travelling at, and our calculations of the distances of stars from us, and extrapolating the calculations, it would appear that some starlight has been travelling for millions of years - how can that be so if the universe is not millions of years old?"
Re-writing it more accurately like so points towards possible resolutions. The Bible's teaching on creation is that creation was a miraculous event, accomplished without mediation by the word of God. To what extent the same processes as are observed today were operative during creatin week, and to what extent extrapolations can be made on measurements taken today and extended back into creation week, is an open question. The Bible is indeed not a science text book. It tells us that God created and formed in those six days in a supernatural manner. What the precise physical events that were correlated with his actions were, and what other miraculous processes might have been at work during those six days, we are not told.

Creationist scientists can and do spend time trying to consider these issues and propose models to satisfy the requiremenst of the data we observe today. Yet since these models are dealing with unobservable and unrepeatable events, they cannot be empirically verified. It remains an open question and also incapable of verification given our limited data as to whether any model is possible, and creationists recognise this too. That is, it is not clear if the miraculous events of creation week are even open to this kind of analysis. By definition, supernatural interventions do not follow descriptive models which are based upon the expectation of uniform behaviour.

But what is clear from this analysis is that the question, when phrased as an objection to creationism, does not carry the weight it needs to. It is only when you assume that the physical universe operated according to the same regular principles during creation week as subsequently, that it has force. And that is the very assumption which Biblical creationism denies. To hold that the Bible's teaching is uncertain, whilst believing that our extrapolations back into creation week are solid facts, is to make ourselves wiser than God and is not a valid Christian option.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Not surprising, but wonderful

Apparently, ravens gesture to each other with their beaks:

The commentary in the above article says "Surprisingly, observations of comparable gestures in our closest living relatives, the great apes, are relatively rare."

Where does the "surprise" come from? Why does surprise often feature in such articles? It comes because the author is working within an evolutionary paradigm; he believes that all living creatures evolved out of one-celled organisms, and that human beings developed from ape-like ancestors. Thus the writer expects only to find signs like this one amongst the alleged near relatives of humans. The frequent surprise you encounter with that paradigm should bring you to question the paradigm itself.

Within a theistic and creationist framework, there is no surprise if the Creator chooses to endow any one of his creatures with these kinds of abilities. The Bible tells us that he reveals his glory in Creation, and part of that is through the wonderful variety and complexity of what he has made. So, not surprising - but wonderful, and a cause for praise.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The masters of the universe!

Man in sin tries to be God. He waves his hands; he speaks; new realities
leap into being!

The secular West has been trying this in the last generation. Political
Messiahs have been offered to us as never before. Our new economic
masters wave their hands; prosperity results! They give speeches - a
just and equal society springs into being! They parade their faces on TV
and billboards - and a new glory arises!

What seems to be dawning more upon thinking people in 2011 with all of
its difficult realities is just how hollow this all has turned out to
be. The new masters of the economic universe have waved their hands
and... economies collapse. The lords of politics give speeches and...
people merrily riot quite oblivious to anything they said. The providers
of a fair education for all send forth new politices and... standards
continue to plummet as if they'd done nothing.

The promise of a being led to a new utopia without submission to Jesus
Christ, being led there science, technology, democracy, the UN/EU, human
rights, etcetera, etcetera, turns out to be a hollow one. Secularism is
proving itself to be bankrupt. It's quite remarkable how short a time
the present crises have taken to fall down upon us, if you take a longer
view of history. We now have in the UK a political class who have spun
their images as the bestowers of unimaginable and unending benefits for
all almost to perfection; but how impotent they have revealed themselves
to be. Their policies defied basic laws of creation - of righteousness,
truth and mathematics; and now they are beginning to reap the whirlwind.

That's not a reason for Christians to be depressed. It's one for us to
knuckle down and get on with the way that will actually work - not
spinning ourselves out to be "Masters of the Universe!", but faithfully
serving the one who is, and who will in due time reveal who truly is
Lord of Lords and King of Kings. The false mirages of secular utopia
will fade away; but the kingdom of God will grow forever and ever; the
stone cut out without hands will continue to expand until the mountain
covers the earth.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The "prosperity theology" versus the apostle Paul

A friend's ring-tone sounded... it went like this: "You are blessed in your family... blessed in your body... blessed in your finances... blessed in your business... no weapon forged against you can prosper... this is yours in the mighty name of Jesus!"

That's a typical traditional African religion, with the imported name of Jesus playing the role of the powerful incantation that brings you the blessings and wards off the curses.

Me: "I wonder what the apostle Paul would have made of that. How about this one: 'You are ship-wrecked on your journeys... your body beaten with the 39 lashes 5 times... you will face death daily and be naked, hungry, full of pain... in danger always from false brethren... this is yours in the mighty name of Jesus!"

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Revealing quote from the governor of the bank of England:
11.25 King: "Central banks don't have real resources, they create money. People who put pressure on the ECB misunderstand the problem, this is an issue for governments."

Note what he's saying there - when the Bank of England prints money, it's not backed by real resources.

Rather, money-printing is a way of devaluing the real savings which people out in the country at large own. It's a way of appropriating savers' savings. It doesn't create - it simply appropriates.

We seem to have a paucity of Christian thinkers who are applying Biblical teaching to many areas of life at the moment, and the principles of an economy is one of them. It seems to be an area that's just been wholesale handed-over to the secularists to say and do whatever they please. Is that right, when the earth is the Lord's and everything in it?

What are the ethics of the Bank of England deciding to appropriate peoples' savings in this fashion? At what point does "thou shalt not steal" apply to such activities? Is it right for the Bank of England to issue banknotes but effectively have a "carte blanche" to reduce their value as and when it pleases, after the fact? The evangelical church in the West seems sadly mute in untangling such questions today - where have the theologians gone?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What population/food crisis are you referring to?

Facts are stubborn things. Therefore they are often ignored.

One contemporary meme circulating the Western world is that the world cannot produce enough food to support its growing population.

The facts are that the UK throws out uneaten food in the year to the value of approximately double the entire government expenditure of the government of Kenya; or two-thirds of the entire Kenyan economy. On a ball-park estimation of how much money the average Kenyan spends on food, the money spent on thrown-away food in the UK in one year would feed the entire Kenyan population for nearly two. Note that I'm not proposing that the money is simply over to the African. Money without work except where work is impossible (e.g. elderly widows, the disabled, orphans) robs men of their dignity and responsibility, and sows the seed of long-term weakness - that's a lesson you can learn from many giving situations in Kenya too. I'm using the figures by way of comparison, not to promote a policy. But back to the West.

Those figures are just from the UK; population about 60 million. What about the USA, population about 250 million, where (as I understand) they eat and throw away far more? And what about the food that people don't throw away, but eat simply in making themselves fat and unhealthy and for no good reason?

The real facts of the matter are that it's not lack of land or excess of reproduction that's the problem. It's a deficit of the fear of God and of our accountability to him for what we do with our lives and resources. When the West solves that root problem, the others and the quality of the fruit will begin to take care of themselves.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Preaching to "normal people"

Here is a three-part series (one, two, three) on "How Seminarians Can Learn to Preach to Normal People".

The questions arise...

... why in the West does the default method for training preachers require additional layers of instruction from bloggers in ... (drum-roll) ... how to preach?

And... what side of "normal" are seminarians? Why does the default mode of theological training for future pastors apparently lead them into becoming "non-normal", such that they require special instruction in how to deal with the ranks of the "normal"?

Good questions, are they not?

As well as learning from the helpful advice in that series, we should also take a step back and ask - why is this advice necessary at all? What are we doing wrong that has led us into this position? And, what do we intend to do about it?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The church is defined by the gospel

In this series of posts, James White interacts with a group of evangelical infant baptists who apparently believe that unless you believe in infant baptism, you should not be fellowshiped with, and your church should not be recognised as a legitimate church. White graciously and clearly makes the unanswerable point that it is a serious mistake to define the church in terms of anything except the gospel. Part one, two, three.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Explain this if you can....

After his team, Queens Park Rangers, drew 2-2 with Cardiff City on 23rd April, manager Neil Warnock said this:
"We defended like fairies in the first half but the first two goals could have come straight out of the Premier League."
Are you shocked? According to our politically correct overlords, you should have been.

Apparently this comment is "homophobic", i.e. encourages you to hate men with perverse sexual tendencies.

Thus, the BBC, via its "editorial complaints unit", has come up with this:
The remark was unacceptable, and it was a matter of regret that it had gone unnoticed by the programme-makers, and therefore without comment or apology, at the time.
I am quite content to remain completely in the dark as to how describing defenders as having played like fairies encourages you to hate the sexually-perverse. Or as to what the sexual practices of fairies are. Or how that affects their defence when playing football. Etcetera.

Meanwhile, the front page of the BBC news website carries this headline: "Sir Alex Ferguson reflects on 'fairytale' Manchester United reign"

When morality becomes an arbitrary matter dictated by the whims of our secularist overlords, it's hard to be consistent.

Let's hope that the BBC will apologise to all concerned for this latest outrage. But not for "Jerry Springer the Opera", of course, as that was a tasteful and thought-provoking investigation into serious cultural issues, which nobody should be offended by. Ha!

Monday, 31 October 2011

"Biblical theology" and "systematic theology"

A section from a handout about Joshua's conquest for my Bible college students:

* * *

Biblical theology and systematic theology

What we will discuss in this handout is the meaning of the conquest. When I say meaning, I mean in terms of “Biblical theology”. What is “Biblical theology?”

Biblical theology” is when we try to understand each part of the Bible in its historical setting (historical context). “Biblical theology” is often compared with “systematic theology”. “Systematic theology” tries to look at the whole of the Bible and answer the question “what does the Bible teach?” Biblical theology, on the other hand, tries to understand how the Bible's story develops over time; how God's revelation came and grew. Biblical theology helps us to preach rightly from different parts of the Bible. Noah was not Moses. Moses was not Abraham. Abraham was not David. David was not the apostle Paul. They all had one faith – they loved God and trusted in the promised Messiah. But what they knew and could respond to, and how that love and trust were expressed in their lives, differed very much. So:

Systematic theology tries to “systematise” the Bible's teaching – i.e. organise them. It answers questions like: “How are we saved?”, “What is the Trinity?”, “What happens at the end of the world?”, “What is the church?” and so on. When we write our confessions of faith or doctrinal statements in our churches (“We believe in one God who exists in three eternal, distinct persons...”) we are doing systematic theology. But...

Biblical theology tries to deal with each part of the Bible in its own setting. It answers questions like “how did God reveal Christ before he came?”, “what did Abraham know about salvation?”, “if David had many wives, then does that mean I can too?”, “should we hope to be rich like Solomon was?”, “how are we related to Israel?” and “how should I preach from the book of Judges?” When we try to understand our place in the world, and the place of other people from the Bible in the world, and how we relate to “old” parts of the Bible, then “Biblical theology” is the tool we use.

Systematic theology” and “Biblical theology” are not contradictory to each other. They are not competing; we do not choose one or the other. Rather they are complementary; we need to do both. Both together help us to get a good understanding of the Bible. Do not misunderstand the words, but note the way they are being used - “systematic” theology should of course also be “biblical” in that it comes out of the Bible; Biblical theology should also be “systematic” in that it is not chaotic or contradictory, but it is also consistent and organised.

It is true to say that many Westerners have been strong in systematic theology, but weak in Biblical theology. Western churches have often tended to treat the Bible as if it were “timeless” - as if it just gave us simply a list of eternal truths about God, sin, salvation and so on. A list of things to believe or to not believe. They have often overlooked the Biblical story and its progress and development. Westerners do not always see the need to see their story. Westerners often do not think so much in terms of stories; they just want a list of doctrines to accept or reject. Often people outside the West are much more sensitive to the story. They want to know who their people are, what their history is, and where we are all going. Westerners are often much more focussed on the individual person and their salvation, and they forget about God's big plans for his creation and for history as a whole. If we can get better at “Biblical theology”, then we will often be more useful preachers and teachers in Africa and other non-Western countries. It will also help us to become better at “Systematic theology”.

Humanistic freedom is bondage by another name

Atheist Jeremy Paxman, writing in the Daily Mail, has the honesty to confess that selfishness has been the basic policy of his generation.

He doesn't admit the next bit quite so clearly, but it still comes across: his generation fought for so-called "freedom" in the moral revolution of the 1960s... and it turns out that the results of "freedom" for the following generations will be increasing bondage.

Since Paxman hasn't apparently abandoned any of his humanistic assumptions, it is appropriate that the article only describes the way down, with no suggestions of what a way back up would look like. Being an atheist, Paxman isn't yet ready to concede that the real problem is in the human heart, and that true freedom consists in what he today would still consider bondage: submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Man's "freedom" brings bondage; God's "bondage" brings true freedom. That freedom is much deeper and solves more problems than simply the economic and social ones which Paxman discusses.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Overpopulation - a point I've not yet read

Here's a piece, by a Telegraph blogger, discussing the alleged problem of over-population.

Since I live in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is where most of the population growth in the world is happening, I've read several such pieces with interest.

Much could be said, but one point that I've never yet read is one that is very obvious and ought to be. If not for the losses due to corruption, tribalism, dishonesty, political infighting, cartels and laziness, Sub-Saharan Africa could easily support many more people at a higher level than it does today. Poor morals are a, and quite likely the, major cause of suffering amongst the peoples of East Africa.

I'm not yet sure if Westerners who write about the over-population "problem" (yes, those are "scare quotes"!), either are not aware of it, or whether it's politically correct to ignore it. A writer in a Kenyan newspaper I read this week did point out the same thing in reverse, and various writers do this: that if Westerners didn't throw out a third of their food (Europe), or half of their food (USA), then that would support quite a lot more people than they do (and that could be extended to the other parts of life - technology etc; does it need to be the case that the average smartphone user replaces his gadget every 18 months?). Why all this talk of education and birth control when you could just not chuck your resources in the bin? Again, fixing poor morals would lead to a quick solution that would make others redundant pretty quickly. But, fixing morals needs a change of heart because of original sin, but that's a hard matter for today's secularists to face up to.

But the truth is, that if and when the gospel takes root more firmly amongst these peoples and begins to change their culture, a lot of other supposed problems largely deal with themselves. The West's best gift to improve standards of living in Africa would be the same divine gift which laid the foundation of the West's progress: sincere and joyful servants of Jesus Christ.

Friday, 28 October 2011


One great challenge in teaching the gospels in Kenya is that people have been taught to think of Jesus' miracles in quite a wrong way. Many preachers and crusades have banded together to do this.

They see the signs of power and are led to desire similar demonstrations in their own lives - healing diseases, taking away misery and pain. They think that was the main point; which it was not.

Jesus' miracles were signs - that pointed to himself. As I teach through the gospels, one of my aims is to change peoples' responses to the miracle passages, so that they no longer first ask "Is it possible to see the same miracles today?" but instead ask "What is this revealing about the glory of God's Son?"

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The church and culture

First, read this blog post by Justin Taylor. The gist of it is - the church is meant to be in the world, but shouldn't have any hopes of radically changing it; we "engage" culture, but don't "transform" it.

I could weep. Did someone shove Christ back into his tomb again? Thankfully there are some clarifications in the comments that seem to show Taylor's quotes aren't giving the full picture of the views of at least one of those he quotes from.

What I find puzzling about that kind of analysis is its anachronistic nature. Were our forefathers, who did transform culture in the name of Christ, not meant to do that? Would it have been more Biblical if they'd just handed over the culture to the rebels against Christ's Lordship, and said "actually, this is all yours; sorry for taking it from you and your evil master; we were only meant to 'engage' with you and we've been overstepping."

Then read this by Douglas Wilson, in which he points out that whilst believers can have fellowship in the gospel whilst disagreeing on these issues, yet we can't actually perform our Christ-given mission together effectively whilst in that state.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Newsflash: buildings without foundations collapse!

Here's a sad entry from Peter Hitchens' blog:
I don't normally think of Dame Joan Bakewell as an ally in my campaign to re-moralise Britain. I tend to feel she did her bit to
de-moralise it in the Sixties. But I think she should be praised for pointing out what is missing in our country.

She said: ‘Religious commitment to charity and kindness has declined. Nobody learns that. They don’t learn it in their homes, they don’t learn it in their school, it’s seen as soft. It’s not what you’re about.

'You’re meant to stand up for your own individual personality, make your way in the world and good luck to you. Kindness, empathy,
generosity are all in short supply and people used to learn it from the churches – I learnt it at Sunday school. Where do you learn it now? I don’t know.’

Nor do I.
People who campaigned vigorously to remove Britain's moral foundations in the Christian faith, are now beginning to realise that buildings without foundations can't stand. If you cut the tree's roots off, then that works its way up to the fruits too. This isn't the first such confession from Dame Bakewell - see also, "As Joan Bakewell now admits, Mary Whitehouse was right about a lot of things".

It was easy for secularist revolutionaries to point out that pre-sexual-revolution Britain had a lot of moral hypocrisies. But replacing one set of moral hypocrisies with open moral decadence and rebellion plus a different set of moral hypocrisies was never going to be a solution - as people such as Mary Whitehouse pointed out and were widely ridiculed for doing. Modern secularism has no moral foundations, and cannot stand. Dame Bakewell learnt a lot of things from Sunday School, but played her part in engineering a society where, as she says now "nobody" learns those things. She enjoyed the privilege of living in a society where a lot of Christian assumptions still existed and the rebellion was still a "Christian" rebellion - that is, people still expected Christian standards to be observed in many areas. They relied on vestigial Christianity for many things. But though those fruits of Christianity may persist in vestigial form for a generation or a few generations, they can't last forever. In the end, the secularist assumptions have to drive everything else out. And then what are you left with? What solutions do you then have, in Dame Bakewell's case, the answer is "I don't know". Tragic.

In the Christian's case, we are left with a lot. Christians have shaped societies before, and can do so again. That a secularist settlement in the West is quickly falling down is no cause for dismay. When, under God's providence, one settlement falls down, it is so that in due time another may rise. Christians need to get down to the daily graft of teaching their children to walk in God's ways, and school them in Christ-centred, not secularist, ways of thinking. The end of the West is not the end of the world. The West as it has been is just one of many stages in the advance of Christ's purposes. It has been 2000 years since he ascended to receive all power and authority. Many settlements have risen and fallen since then, and will continue to do so, as he "puts every enemy under his feet". But a first part of our task is to actually understand our task and place in history, and many Christians in the West still need to understand this. Now is not the time to start embracing "the end is nigh!" visions of history as if the modern West were the be-all-and-end-all of existence; such leads to despair and inaction. Rather, now is the time to press forward with confidence. The question is not "should we fear secularism?" - the writing is clearly on the wall for secularism; it is an unstable and declining settlement. The question is how to build a God-glorifying future in post-secularism, whether it takes 10 years or 100 years to arrive. We don't know God's timetable, but we do have the instructions on daily living in the Bible to prepare our children and children's children for it.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Genetics and a historical Adam and Eve

Several Christian supporters of Darwinism, e.g. Denis Alexander, state with great confidence that genetics proves Darwinism. Others go further and state that it rules out any kind of historic Adam and Eve (even the kind that Alexander prefers, which isn't itself compatible with the teachings of Scripture). Usually - and this is said especially for Christians trying to address other Christians - this is stated without any examination of contrary evidence. Many Christian Darwinists seem to have adopted the campaigning tactics of the new atheists: state your conclusions with great confidence and bombast, skip the critical step of careful and responsible presentation of counter-arguments, and simply employ scoffing and scorn to dismiss any objection. Do this in the name of science, and claim that nobody sane disagrees with you. This approach intimidates many people into piping down or following suit (lest they become objects of scorn too), but this is not the way that servants of truth should behave.

Here is one good article giving some of the other side of the case: The Non-Mythical Adam and Eve! - Refuting errors by Francis Collins and BioLogos.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Over at Uncommon Descent, Gil Dodgen points out another of Dawkins' errors.

You should download Gil's free piano albums, they are here.

Dawkins is one exponent of what we should call the "atheism-of-the-gaps" argument.

When theists point out something that materialism (which Dawkins often mis-labels as "science") can't explain, the atheist often replies, "Ah, that's just a God-of-the-gaps argument - one day, science will explain that - and then your God will no longer be needed to explain it!"

This is a circular argument. It assumes, in advance and without proof, that materialism is true and can somehow account for everything. It assumes that the gaps can actually be closed.

If materialism isn't true, then there will be things that materialism can't explain. "Gaps", if you like, in materialism's explanatory capabilities. The village atheist's error when he makes this cheap rejoinder, is in failing to distinguish between "gaps" which are of the "I don't understand X, and therefore X cannot be understood" type, and gaps which are of the "we understand X very well, and there is a demonstrable disconnect between X and the explanatory possibilities of the model we're discussing" type. The former do not necessarily prove anything; the latter are significant.

Materialism cannot explain the origin of matter or of life or of the coded information in the genome. That's not just because we don't know how these things can happen. It's because all the scientific knowledge we have positively accumulated testifies that these things do not "just happen". The village atheist crowd are guilty of using "atheism-of-the-gaps" arguments when they say, as Dawkins in the above article, that "science is working on it". "Science" has been working on it, and the work done shows that materialism doesn't cut it as an explanation. The evidence points to intelligent intervention, a.k.a. supernaturalism.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The greatest news in one sentence

On his excellent blog "Between Two Worlds", Justin Taylor offers us these two attempts at "The Greatest News in One Sentence":
“That the greatest good (God) offers the greatest action (love) to the greatest need (wrath-owed sinners) by sending the greatest treasure (Jesus) in the greatest invitation (to everyone) into the greatest life (everlasting).”

—Jared Wilson

“The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, all the while upholding and
demonstrating the righteousness of God in Christ.”

—John Piper, Desiring God, pp. 61-62.
That's certainly great news. If we even got he smallest extra grip upon those things, then it would be wonderful.

But as I'm presently teaching a course in Biblical Theology at a nearby Bible college, I can't help noticing what's missing. The vision in these two quotes - even though a glorious one - is not the full vision.

Both of those quotes present a vision which stops with the individual's salvation and the glory of God in that. They both jump from that individual salvation to the eternal outcome (eternal life, safety from final wrath).

Is that the fulness of the Biblical vision? No. God's vision when he made man was a beautified, subdued, fruitful and flourishing Creation, through which he would reveal his glory. The gospel is not simply a scheme for individual salvation, but for God to reveal the fulness of his wonderful image through man and his work in creation.

Adam aborted that task, through sin. After God "remade the world" through the Flood, Noah was recommissioned; but the watching angels learnt the lesson that it was not a washed world, but washed hearts that were needed - because there was a new "Fall" at the Babel and the darkness afterwards seemed worse than before.

God's plan, which he announced to Abraham, was that through his seed - the same seed as promised to Eve - the effects of the curse would be overcome. The gospel is not "mission aborted" (Jesus saves us and gets us to heaven); the gospel is going to be "mission completed": the last Adam by the power of his Spirit complete the task that the first Adam abandonned. The gospel is cosmic, and is about Jesus overcoming, not just working around, the forces of evil.

Therefore, I much prefer the one-liner given by Doug Wilson that Taylor linked to on another occasion:
"Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation of the wilderness into the Garden City."
Or, if you prefer something more systematic, just borrow from Isaac Watts: "In Christ the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost". Or, borrowing from Watts again and from 1 Corinthians 15 but giving a fuller answer:
"Because of his obedience even up to the dreadful, wrath-enduring death of the cross, Jesus as our 'last Adam' has atoned for the sins of his people and risen from the dead and thus been appointed to reign and to reveal the glory of God wherever the sun does shine; his kingdom shall grow until he has put down all opposition and he delivers all things up to the Father, ushering in the final glory which our first father lost the opportunity of."

Friday, 7 October 2011

Will Richard Dawkins be honest?

Here's some blurb for the latest attempts of the non-existent one to explain how you can be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist":
The Magic of Reality - Richard Dawkins - Royal Albert Hall

Wednesday 19 October 2011, 8.30pm

Chaired by James Harding, editor, The Times.


The Magic of Reality - An Evening with Richard Dawkins will see him discussing his new book, The Magic of Reality, which uses stunning words and pictures to present the real story of the world around us, taking us on an enthralling journey through scientific reality. Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean have created a dazzling celebration of our planet that will entertain and inform for years to come.
The question I'm interested in, is whether whilst trying to persuade everyone that being an atheist is just as "magical" and "dazzling" and "enthralling" as loving the Creator, he'll be honest about the implications of his beliefs. Will he be at any pains to explain this:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no
good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
-- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995)
There's quite a difference in tone between those two quotes, isn't there? The first is atheist PR... the second is atheist honesty. When on his magical atheism tour, will he be bringing the honesty out on display or keeping it hidden?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Christ's Empire

A very pithy quote from the Vatican on the BBC's using of "BCE" and "CE" instead of "BC" and "AD":
“The BBC has limited itself to changing only the description, rather than the computation of time, but in doing so, it cannot be denied that it has made a hypocritical gesture: the hypocrisy of those who pretend not to know why years began to be counted precisely from that moment. (Link)
Indeed so. When someone says "BCE" and "CE", they may as well mean "Before Christ's Empire" and "Christ's Empire", because we all know which event marks the beginning of the so-called "common era". You can't erase history, even if you don't like it. Even when trying to wipe out mention of Christianity, the BBC is forced to keep the obvious reference to it.

If the BBC really believed that "Before Christ" was somehow offensive to non-Christians, then surely they should change the "computation of time" and not merely the "description"?

That'd be a bit tricky, though. Secularism, being such a boring, empty, sterile affair, doesn't really have any great dates to mark, or notable figures worth celebrating. Shall we date it from the founding date of the National Secular Society? When was that - anyone know without looking it up? Thought not!

Since secularism is so sterile, secularists as a result tend to being pursue tedious and empty causes. Religious people always reflect their religion, whether their religion is called "Christianity" or "secularism". Thus secularists, instead of carrying out something of cultural significance, are left to spend their time getting professionally offending on behalf of people who weren't actually offended, and arguing that in order to avoid offence we should testify to Christ's conquest without mentioning his name. Is that what victory is meant to look like? If that's victory, one wonders what a secularist admission of defeat would be...

As the Vatican point out, even if you hate Christ, it's a simple matter of honesty to state that his coming has been the most revolutionary event of human history. Like it or not, Christ is the Lord of history; he will reign and the nations shall submit to his sway - sometimes, whether they can bring themselves to name him, or not.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Friday, 30 September 2011

On ducking challenges to naturalism

Some good interaction, here.

The Western Missionary Machine - A Western Missionary Weeps For Africa

Who is to blame for the ungodliness and corruption of Kenyan society and church?

Ultimately Kenyans are, of course - the Bible teaches us that personal responsibility is always ultimate and non-transferable. Nevertheless, the Bible also teaches us that secondary causes exist, and secondary responsibility exists.

My journey has led me to become convinced that the sad shape of the Kenyan church is the predictable outcome of Western missionary policies. I'm not just talking here about rampant heresy and the health-wealth-prosperity "gospel". I don't just mean the bad eggs.

I'm talking about the fact that few Kenyan churches have believers who know how to deal with their ordinary challenges, to take responsibility, to grow to maturity and lead others along that path. The number of leaders who know how to live lives of godly self-sacrifice in order to build the church is vanishingly small.

How could they know that? The missionaries didn't teach them to. The missionaries didn't set them that example.

I'm painting with broad-brush strokes here, of course. Each missionary is different. Each enterprise has its own flavour. There are many good men trapped in misconceived enterprises. Everyone has their own calling, etc. But the number of misconceived enterprises is way too high.

The pattern of Pauline, Biblical, Christian missions, is that missionaries are servants and that the nationals are the served. The way up is down: true leadership means radical servanthood. "Radical servanthood" means more than simply condescending to exist in the so-called "Dark Continent".

The pattern of Western missions has been too much that the missionaries are the controllers, and the nationals are the controlled. A reversal. All of this can be defended quite plausibly of course, and sometimes with a seed of truth. The nationals are not yet mature; they need help to get up and going; the missionary has all the experience/education/funds/etc.

But how can those reasons still hold true in Kenya after 150 years of Protestant missions? How long is the stage of infancy meant to last? Isn't it time to ask if it's only the nationals who are responsible for still being in infancy? Doesn't the parent have to wonder if he's done all that he should? Doesn't he have some responsibility for a failure to raise the infant into manhood?

The big man from the West thinks he has the answers. These answers are quite often institutions, constitutions, programmes, procedures, rules, programmes, boards, institutions, directors and more formal programmes. These normally need large amounts of funding - and thus the oversight of the white man (money has to be carefully stewarded... or, "he who pays the piper calls the tune" - or put another way, nobody hands their wallets over to the infants). It's unfortunate, and we don't mean it to continue too long in the long term, of course...

Institutions, constitutions, programmes, procedures, rules, programmes, boards, institutions, directors and more formal programmes played a remarkably small part in Jesus' training of his disciples, or Paul's missionary activity. Jesus' training of his disciples and Paul's missionary activities were astonishingly successful, despite being apparently radically under-funded. Western missionary activity in Africa, on the other hand, has been astonishing unsuccessful, given how many years, workers and dollars have been involved, when measured in terms of Biblical fruitfulness and maturity.

The reasons for doing it this way are explained, of course: the modern world demands all the institutions, constitutions (etc.). We have to adapt to today's realities. And yet, for all this adapting (or rather, non-adapting - for the Westerner is simply doing what the Westerner does)... the fruit is rotten. The fruit is rotten! The populations of the African nations have not been discipled according to the Great Commission. They have not been trained to themselves disciple other nations - or even their own backyards. There are churches on every street corner in many countries; but those churches are very largely full of spiritual infants (leaving aside the downright heresy - again, I'm not talking about the followers of T D Jakes, Benny Hinn, etcetera). If the Western Missionary Machine's methods have been adapted to today's realities, then why didn't it work out better?

It's time to dismantle the Western Missionary Machine. The parts of it need to be repurposed in a new body. We need to return to the roots. Jesus walked with his disciples, prayed with them, suffered their ignorance from day to day, rebuked, corrected, trained, enabled, empowered, oversaw as a painful day to day task of bringing them to maturity. Then he sent them out, and they changed the world.

Jesus wouldn't have had much to write on his missionary newsletters. Not much that is, of what the Machine grinds out. There were no buildings, programmes, directors or programmes of our sort. The sort that we measure with numbers, year after year, to demonstrate our astonishing progress (but which perpetually needs us to remain in charge to prevent the house falling down). Likewise Paul; the society would have raised a few eyebrows at him (perhaps you've come across this well-known skit). Where's your denomination, Paul? Where are the programmes? What, you meant you just spent your time in a hired room talking to people who came in, and worked with your hands to show them an example of how to serve poor people? How do you expect anything substantial to come out of that? Where's the seminary, the conferences, the buildings, the organisation? You mean you're trying to teach them how to love Jesus and serve the poor in their everyday lives? That's nice of course, but when are you going to get onto the real meat of the work? (Poor naive fellow!).

The Machine is too professional, too impersonal. And sadly, the fuel in the engine is too much man, man's wisdom and man's effort, instead of that of the Spirit of God. Jesus and Paul were neither professional nor impersonal; and yet they changed the world. Their principles were folly in the eyes of the world and of The Machine. They believed in simple preaching in the power of the Spirit backed up by a life of radical self-giving. Their kingdom was not of this world; and because it wasn't of this world, it had the power of the other world which made it destined to be the kingdom over all in this world. We praise the Lord that there's still enough of their kingdom and principles in the machine to have done much good. But if our goal is actually to see the African church come to maturity, we need to take it apart and rebuild it. It needs reconstructing with the living, breathing sacrifices of lives laid down for Jesus in a far more radical way.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The gospel according to John the Baptist

In Luke 3:18, we read that John preached the gospel to the people. The word is euangelizeto, which means that he declared good news. Hence the ESV and NIV translations, "he preached good news" and "proclaimed the good news".

In the immediate context, John had just preached the fiery judgment of the wicked; that the wheat would be brought into the barn, and the wicked burnt up with unquenchable fire. The Messiah was coming, to refine his people - to purify out the dross from the silver.

Under the canons of secularist "niceness", that's not good news. Good news is when everyone receives pleasant things, a smooth and enjoyable time, regardless of how much wickedness overflows their lives and floods the earth. The ultimate bad news is pain and suffering; and even the grossly immoral should not have to endure that.

But under the canons of God's truth, it's very good news. Wickedness is dealt with, there is a clear and decisive separation between good and evil. Faith in God is rewarded, and disobedience of his word receives its right recompense. The earth again becomes a place where the Creator God can be known, enjoyed and glorified in purity, as it was meant to be.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Calvin on public confrontation of false religion

Great words here from Calvin (commenting on John the Baptist's preaching) on how faithful gospel ministers should confront false religion:

As to the loud and open rebuke, which was administered to them in presence of all, it was for
the sake of others; and that is the reason why Luke mentions, that it was addressed to multitudes,
(Luke 3:7.) Though the persons whom John reproved were few in number, his design was to strike
terror on all; as Paul enjoins us to regard it as the advantage of public rebukes, “that others also
may fear,” (1 Timothy 5:20.) He addresses directly the Pharisees and Sadducees, and at the same
time, addresses, through them, a warning to all, not to hold out a hypocritical appearance of
repentance, instead of a true affection of the heart. Besides, it was of great importance to the whole
nation to know what sort of people the Pharisees and Sadducees were, who had miserably corrupted
the worship of God, wasted the church, and overturned the whole of religion; — in a word, who
had extinguished the light of God by their corruptions, and infected every thing by their crimes.

It is probable, therefore, that John publicly attacked the Pharisees, for the benefit of the whole
church of God, that they might no longer dazzle the eyes of simple men by empty show, or hold
the body of the people under oppression by wicked tyranny. In this respect, it was a remarkable
display of his firmness, that those, who were highly esteemed by others, were not spared on account
of their reputation, but sternly reduced, as they deserved, to their proper rank. And thus ought all
godly instructors to be zealous, not to dread any power of man, but boldly strive to “cast down
every high thing that exalteth itself” against Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5.)

If John, the organ of the Holy Spirit, employed such severity of language in his opening address
to those who voluntarily came to be baptized, and to make a public profession of the gospel; how
ought we now to act towards the avowed enemies of Christ, who not only reject obstinately all that
belongs to sound doctrine, but whose efforts to extinguish the name of Christ are violently maintained
by fire and sword? Most certainly, if you compare the Pope, and his abominable clergy, with the
Pharisees and Sadducees, the mildest possible way of dealing with them will be, to throw them all
into one bundle. Those, whose ears are so delicate, that they cannot endure to have any bitter thing
said against the Pope, must argue, not with us, but with the Spirit of God. Yet let godly teachers
beware, lest, while they are influenced by holy zeal against the tyrants of the Church, they mingle
with it the affections of the flesh. And as no vehemence, which is not regulated by the wisdom of
the Spirit, can obtain the divine approbation, let them not only restrain their feelings, but surrender
themselves to the Holy Spirit, and implore his guidance, that nothing may escape them through

Thursday, 15 September 2011

When sin is abolished

When society abolishes the theological idea of "sin" from its thinking, two things can happen to actual sins.

On the one hand we can deny they are a real problem at all, and then reap the consequences of letting the elephant in the room run amok. For example trying to fund the government from money that belongs to our children precipitates huge financial crises. Well, blow me down, you say! Failing to stigmatise unmarried sexual relationships leads to a generation of the inner-city fatherless.... who'd have thought?

On the other hand, we can admit that sins are real problems, but medicalise them; they are some kind of illness. They're not moral offences; they're unfortunate diseases the victim is suffering from. The solution is then not punishment, restitution, forgiveness and restoration, but medical treatment. Repentance is not the answer: psychiatry and the drug companies are.

"Unfortunately", ideas have consequences. Since original sin exists even when we pretend it doesn't, we have end up defining every child as ill. Sadly they all behave badly more or less (and more if it's not dealt with properly). So it seems we have to end up agreeing that they're all ill. Instead of a kindly rebuke and perhaps (horrors!) a smack and a cuddle, we set off down the road to medicalising every boy and girl born into the world. Been spiteful more than once in the last half-year? That'll be "oppositional defiant disorder"; here are some sedatives. Once the medicalisation juggernaut gets going, it knows no bounds - even things which are hardly issues at all get caught in the net. Is your child shy? That must be "social anxiety disorder"; have some Prozac.

When you don't know what the problem is, you can't know the solution. These are symptoms of a society in deep decline; the West doesn't even know how to respond to childishness. The day-to-day behaviour of children stumps it.

This is why the Bible says that Christians are the light of the world. Whilst the world fumbles around in darkness because it doesn't even know the basic categories of our existence (God, creation, sin, judgment, redemption, forgiveness, etc.), Christians, living by the book, can shine all the brighter. We can point the way. We can have "ordinary" families, where ordinary means that when kids do wrong or haven't yet learnt how to handle a situation maturely, it's dealt with and we then move forward. We don't have a crisis and call in the Psychiatric Association because it completely stumped us. Non-Christians will tell us that we were "lucky" to have such good kids born to us; we'll be able to tell them it was because we followed God's Word, trusted Jesus and with his grace they can get the same results too.

Sexual immorality and the evolutionary fallacy

Here's a supposed investigative piece by John Preston in the Telegraph, presenting the case that monogamy (one man, one woman for life), is unrealistic. Much of it reads like the author had a bet with a colleague as to how many different logical fallacies he could wedge into a fixed number of words.

The main one invoked as the premise of the article is the "evolutionary fallacy", which runs like this:
  • Lots of people do X
  • Therefore, X is natural
  • Therefore, X is right
In this case, "X" is sexual immorality. Lots of people do it, so, perhaps as a species it's what we're meant to do... right? Evolution guided us into it, didn't it?

Perhaps the author should have ventured beyond just adultery and fornication; how about paedophilia? It's been around for thousands of years, so perhaps as a species we're just not meant to not molest children? Perhaps evolution never intended us to avoid burglary, rape, pillage and sticking needles in the eyes of investigative journalists?

Preston never discusses how we can know if something is moral or not. When he uses the word "moral" and purports to discuss morality, he simply discusses the results. He appears to know no difference between ethics and pragmatics or hedonism: what is good to Preston is what makes people feel good. The underlying assumption just appears to be, that if men are unfaithful, then unfaithfulness is good. Behold the cultural fruits of Darwinism!

The main character in Preston's article is a promiscuous homosexual called Dan Savage, who is presented to us as "America's leading relationships journalist" (as appointed by people who agree with him, presumably). The reality of Savage's life is clear from his words: he's doing wrong, he knows he's doing wrong, but he enjoys the wrong... and so he has come up with a "clever"-sounding theory to justify it. i.e. like every other fallen human being, he's been working hard to come up with reasons for why his wrong behaviour is OK. The upshot is that he believes everyone ought to behave like a promiscuous homosexual or at least be relaxed about it; that would (he thinks) make Savage feel a lot better about his life. That's the predictable way of sin too; we try to surround ourselves with people who've plunged into the same sins, and that assuages our guilt by deadening our consciences to it. Their comradeship in iniquity helps us feel less bad about our personal iniquity.

So, John Preston responds by writing a long-winded article toying with Savage's self-justifications as if they were very clever. It would have been wiser and more to the point to just ask, "Dan, why not repent?"

When Savage tells people his ideas, he recounts, they respond with disgust and horror. Instead of asking himself it there's something horrifically disgusting about his lifestyle, Savage assumes that people must feel very insecure about the rightfulness of faithfulness in marriage. They protest too much, he intones! I wonder why he thinks people are revolted by paedophilia or rape? Is that also the response of people who are not yet morally grown up and who still believe in Santa Claus? Is all moral disgust a sign of insecurity? Is there nothing in the world that is actually morally revolting?

See again the ways of sin: people keep telling Savage that his life is morally disgusting, but this persuades Savage to see himself as a moral superior. He's been able to rise above that "childish" sense of horror at a vile lifestyle.

Preston attempts some discussion of the origins of the idea of monogamy. He says that history is not on monogamy's side. In the Preston universe, history apparently begins somewhere in the 18th century, and all before that is the swirling mists of the beginning of time. Apparently monogamy only originated in the 1700s, and before that everybody thought it a completely stupid idea. The Preston education appears to have lacked some key points about the philosophical origins and development of European civilisations. Christianity, Judaism and the Bible do not appear once during this discussion; in the Preston investigation of why people believe in monogamy, they are not worth a mention. But the Inuit people do appear, and they're promoted as potential guides for us. Why? Who knows? Are they divine, or the gold standard of right living? How would we know?

Preston does interview a few people on the other side of the discussion, who point out that outside of the make-believe world of the rest of the article, infidelity brings ruin and misery to people's lives, and it was at least a good thing that the article finished with a man's confession that ending his first marriage was the worst mistake he ever made.

How does a promiscuous homosexual get to be presented as an authority on the subject of the goodness of life-long monogamy? How would he know? We might as well ask him if it's fun being an owl's left foot, what it's like to run marathons inside 5 minutes, or what Esther Rantzen had for breakfast this morning. He has no way of knowing what he's talking about.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Steve Saint on poverty

Steve Saint is the son of the famous martyr missionary to Ecuador, Nate Saint.

He knows what he's talking about when he talks about missions, poverty and handouts, because he's been there. Read him here.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Church membership

Here's the text of a leaflet we've been using at our church to help people understand about church membership:

Feel free to adapt and use it for the same purpose if you find it helpful.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Where God dwells

It's interesting to think of Jesus and the temple in the timeline of the gospels...

  • At the beginning, the temple was the centre of Israel's worship. The angel Gabriel came to the priest serving in the temple, to announce the coming of the Messiah's forerunner.
  • Jesus' parents bring him to the temple to present him, in obedience to the law.
  • At age 12, Jesus is found in the temple, feeding on God's word being taught there.
  • At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came to the temple to purge it of uncleanness. As a baby he was brought because of the Old Testament laws of uncleanness - and he had come vicariously to take that uncleanness on himself - as a man, he came to purge the temple. Roles were reversed.
  • He repeated this cleansing again at the final week of his ministry; which was in itself an anticipation of its final destruction.
  • In that week too (and earlier, with the Samaritan woman), he announced plainly the end of the temple - the true worshippers in the coming age would worship in every place, by the Spirit and Truth - which ultimately means (John 14:6), by himself.
  • On the cross, as Jesus' body was put to death, the curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom.
  • After his resurrection, the temple was a place where Christ was preached, and the end of the old Jewish order announced.
  • In AD70, as Jesus had said, the final destruction came upon the Jewish theocracy, and the temple was destroyed.
What is the overall pattern here? It's clearly a transfer. The temple, so central to Israel's life,faded in glory as the Morning Star rose to utterly eclipse it - not to "replace" it, but to fulfil the promise it had always contained of his coming. The anticipation moves off the stage, forever, when the ultimate reality has come.

I was talking with a friend last week who believes that the temple is to be rebuilt - so that it can be destroyed again. As a matter of fact, the prophecies which such friends point to were written before the temple was rebuilt before the coming of Christ, and hence are already fulfilled. The New Testament writers never prophesied a further rebuilding, and that idea is an arbitrary use of Scripture. But from a theological point of view, this whole idea is missing the point. The temple is, in terms of redemption, old hat; eclipsed, out-moded, superceded. There can no more be another temple of any theological interest than there can be another ark or captivity in Babylon. The true temple is the body of Christ, which was destroyed on the cross and resurrected - and the body of Christ on earth now is his people, who take up the cross to follow him, in anticipation of rising with him after they have died with him. We do not look today for politics and buildings, but for the indwelling glory of Christ amongst us.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A pastor speaks out against dependency

I was really encouraged today with something I saw for the first time - a prominent evangelical pastor blogger in the West speaking plainly on the problem of dependency in missions. It's Doug Wilson, here.

It can be hard to do this, because one prevailing Western political current is the need to appear "nice". Speaking plainly about this problem appears on the superficial level to be not "nice". But contemporary standards of niceness are not the same as Biblical teaching. The former leads to a pile of useless goo that someone else has to clean up. The latter is realistic, manly and leads to solid growth.

By way of analogy, Wilson points out that a £10,000 tax upon those who are successful and a £10,000 fine against being succesful will affect behaviour the same way the long term. The label has limited importance, whether we wish it to be so or not. Just so, after you hand over cash to the developing world without meaningful, culturally appropriate strings attached to those who could never dream of earning so much, it will make little difference whether you attach a label that says "this is some well-meant help" or say "Hey! We planned, self-disciplined and worked hard, so that you don't have to!" The economic and behavioural realities will work themselves through just the same either way: that's human nature in our fallen world, however "nice" we are with it, and however "nice" the grateful recipient is. As Doug Wilson says, "So God calls us to be involved in missions as though we were parents, called to raise our children up to maturity and independence. But what we have actually given way to is the temptation of being silly grandparents, who think that our job is to spoil everybody rotten. But we need to be fathers, not sugar daddies."