Thursday, 27 December 2012

Lidija's hope

Father hunger

Following the appalling massacre in Conneticut, there's a debate in the media about the issues of gun ownership. And that's right. The murderer had a gun; a powerful one; should he? Should anyone? Discuss.

But I notice pretty much zero comment and debate on the fact that the murderer had no father in his life. That's the elephant in the room for the culture's gatekeepers.

Read this article and weep; it's full of staggering and shocking facts; here's just one - the majority of black children in America grow up with only one parent. Where's the shock and outrage from politicians, newspaper columnists, chat-show hosts etc. over that fact?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Fake news

The top story on the Independent's website right now is a classic example of "fake news": Gay marriage: public say Church is wrong

The point of fake news is for campaigners masquerading as journalists to forward their campaigns.

Consider this alternative head-line: "Public is wrong, says church". That would be a bad of a "man bits dog" head-line, wouldn't it? A story not worth reading. But, of course, the two are entirely equivalent.

The Independent doesn't believe that the public is automatically right, of course; because it didn't bother writing "public say Stonewall is wrong" head-lines a few years ago, using such stories to try to ratchet up the pressure against the gay super-rights lobby. The Independent only selectively reports on who's not in the majority, when it suits their own preferences. That's why I call it "fake news". All newspapers do it; but do you spot when they're doing it to you?

Monday, 24 December 2012

O Holy Night

Somehow I remained entirely ignorant of this beautiful carol for at least the first 20 years of my life. Is my memory faulty, or was it Classic FM that popularised it?

It's a song that belongs with "Handel's Messiah"; it's part of the musical demonstration of the reality of God's being and glory. Last year I downloaded the rendition by "Il Divo". It's no coincedence that I just looked up the carol on YouTube and the first comment was "I don't believe in God. This video makes me reconsider."

There is no real beauty in the universe? Just nature red in tooth and claw, struggling to exist? Just illusions, tricks played on us by genes trying to perpetuate their existence? Nothing more, nothing to wonder at? If you can listen to this sung well and doubt the reality, then the location of the problem is not out there in the universe. The fact that the lyrics were written by a wine-seller, and that the version I brought was produced by a godless man as a money-making venture only goes to prove the truth of what is sung. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, His power and glory ever more proclaim!
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Friday, 21 December 2012

The masters of nature

A very perceptive line by Theodore Dalrymple here:
We live in an age avid for scapegoats, perhaps because we want to believe that we have so mastered nature that we can control everything, and that therefore someone must be to blame if something goes wrong.
When man ceases to worship God, he starts to believe that he himself must be God.

That never turns out well, because man isn't God; he's not even man, in the fullest sense of what man was created to be.

The good news we remember and especially emphasise at Christmas is that God became man, in order to redeem man to the uttermost. There will come a time when we don't need to look for scapegoats; because behold, Jesus will have made all things new. He's the true master of nature, because he made it. Only the creator can redeem his creation; and he has, and will.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Evangelical blindness

The Bible clearly commands Christians to separate from the immoral and heretical.

That separation must take place in a proper manner, of course - which the Bible regulates. It's not the work of ten minutes, or based on the arbitrary declarations of private Christians. Sin must be brought to the church, and dealt with patiently and prayerfully there.

Sometimes the church refuses to deal with it, and then Christians must separate from the church. Or churches within a fellowship (denomination, organisation, etc.) must separate from that fellowship, if it refuses to deal seriously with sin.

For many years now it has been clear that certain denominations, including the Church of England and Church of Scotland, as a whole not only refuse to deal with certain obvious sins and false doctrines (such as sodomy and feminism), but that they actively promote them. The main ruling bodies of those denominations not only won't discipline anyone for promoting them; they actually approve of them. They have a few dissenters, but that's their settled position in the main, as shown by the decisions they hand down.

It's sad when evangelicals remain, to this day, so blind to this reality and manufacture endless excuses as to why their Biblical duty does not apply, or can be infinitely postponed. When they come out with preposterous nonsense about how the CoS or CoE each remain a "Reformed evangelical church", because there's some centuries-old paperwork that says so (or at least, it said so centuries ago). (Just like the Pharisees were all faithful Israelites because they sat in the seat of Moses... that's not how Paul or Jesus assessed them, is it? Is the Reformation Roman Catholic Church to be judged as basically Reformed or evangelical based upon the writings of Augustine etc.? Totally absurd, isn't it?). They come up with unending reasons why a body, such as the CoS, should still be considered a "faithful church" which they can remain joined with in good conscience, despite its refusal for generations to take a clear stand on that which actually defines a church - namely the gospel. Then they are surprised and wounded when the non-church actually behaves like one...

It's embarrassing when you end up with the unfaithful forcefully evicting the gospel believers who refused to face up to these unpalatable, awkward truths. When the non-church which took over the organisational structure so many moons ago finally evicts the remnants of the church who refused to face up to what was happening, the church acts as surprised, and cries foul. Oh dear! The "Tron" is full of people much better and much more fruitful than I. But if they invested millions of pounds in the CoS's building, whilst perpetually ignoring the Scriptural warnings, refusing to read the signs of the times and paying no attention to the implications of the red skies in the morning. At last the inevitable is arriving. Now that it is doing so, are they actually suffering for the faith, or just facing the very predictable consequences of their own refusal to practice Biblical separation and lack of wisdom? Should we honour their courageous stand, or shake our heads at their lack of Scriptural discernment and folly in investing so much time and effort in improving the facilities of a ship which was long holed below the water line and already tilted towards the ocean's bottom?

I note from that above link that the minister now fears being evicted from "their" manse. My dear brother, whose ministry has blessed thousands for every one that mine has blessed, wake up!

Monday, 10 December 2012

The right time

We heard some helpful words in the preaching yesterday. God is sovereign and does what he does always at the right time.

The preacher put us in the mind of Mary. Was it a good time to give birth?

Surely not, because she was not yet fully married. It would cause a scandal. She had not had the time to get to know her husband and settle down in a marriage. Moreover, she was far from home, in an unfamiliar town with a long journey to make to get there. She had just completed that journey when the time came. There was no room in the inn, and no kind person who would open their own to a heavily pregnant woman. There were no community mid-wives on hand or other friendly faces around to assist.

But it was the right time; the time that God had planned from ages past to bring his purposes to pass. Unexpected; troublesome for a godly labour; but part of the salvation of the world. Human wisdom will always get it wrong because it measures with human scales. God never does.

Fairness and greed

We hear a lot about "fairness" from politicians these days.

Often this seems to boil down to something not much more sophisticated than what parents often hear from their infants. "He's got more than me - not fair! Not fair!".

In other words, in these situations, what the world calls "fair" is what the Bible calls "selfishness", "greed" or "covetousness".

If someone has more than me, is that fair? If they or their ancestors earned it through legal enterprises then yes, perfectly. And it's none of my business. All the best to them. As Paul wrote, love wishes no ill to its neighbour.

If they gained it through illegal enterprises then the remedy is not for politicians to redistribute their wealth to me. I still haven't earned it, and it's still not mine. It's for policemen and judges to prosecute and confiscate and return to those who did earn it (still not me!) as the law demands.

But where the law contains no such demands, then all your or my whining about "fairness" is nothing more than an infant tantrum. In such cases, we need to grow up and mind our own business, as our mummies and daddies hopefully informed us.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Saving souls or redeeming society? Is this meant to be a choice?

I read this sentence on a mailing list I'm on:
I would argue that there is a case for accepting that western civilisation is post Christian and in terminal decline, and that rather than try
to redeem society we should instead concentrate on preaching the Gospel of repentance
That sentence seems to encapsulate a basic confusion amongst many believers today.

According to Jesus' plan and program, announced in the Great Commission, the nations are to become his disciples - through the preaching of the gospel and then the teaching of all things which he commanded. There will be much suffering and discouragement and disappointment; but fear not, because Jesus himself has promised to be with his people until the task is done.

Thus, the teaching of the gospel - the good news that Jesus himself is the living Lord who died on the cross and rose again to receive all authority in heaven and earth, the one who graciously offers us life in his new creation - is the basic tool for bringing about his purposes on earth. Not the labours of a sinless man; not the obedience of a hard-hearted people; but a Spirit-filled community who continually die and rise in union with Christ. As believers unpack the implications of the gospel, learning to obey all that Jesus taught, the world changes. That's actually what's been happening the last 2000 years. Through their faithful and patient sufferings as they take up the way of the cross, they (or rather Jesus in and through them) achieve what the first Adam never could, and which Israel under the law never could. They bring light to the nations, and bring the earth once again under the good rule of God, bringing joyful, heartfelt obedience to every place where they are led.

The above sentence which I've quoted seems to envisage something else. It seems to see the preaching of the gospel as a tool for something other than the putting-right-again of God's creation. Perhaps just the filling of the life-boats until something better comes along. Not creation renewed, but creation replaced. We give up on God's creation, and plan instead just to squirrel a remnant out of it before it is destroyed. Conversely, the quote seems to imply that "we" have been trying to redeem society, using some other tool other than the gospel preached and obeyed. I'm not sure what tool that is in the writer's mind, but it seems to be some kind of political action... but not a political action based firstly and foremostly upon the proclaimed fact that Jesus died and rose and now reigns from the throne-room of the universe. Politics played not according to Jesus' rules (patient, obedient suffering and proclamation of his Lordship), but according to the world's rules (the way of Machiavelli).

Too many believers have a basically Gnostic view of creation. Creation (in this view) is something lesser, something evil, something that we hope to escape from. It's just a waiting area until something other arrives. The second coming does not mean creation restored and renewed, but creation replaced. This leads to the above radical dichotomy between political action and gospel preaching. Two different things for different ends. But once you've grasped the Biblical view, the above phrase will strike you the same as if a man said "let's give up on trying to grow healthy fruit, and just concentrate instead on planting seeds". Huh?

The gospel does not dichotomise in this way. It is holistic. The lines of debate about the relationship between gospel preaching and social action often rather confuses me - not because I'm a liberal who thinks that the two are the same, but because I'm a Biblical Christian who thinks that Jesus owns everything, now, and that the saints are taking the rule through praying, obeying and suffering together with him.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Get with the program, fools!

Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron urged the church to resolve the schism and swiftly approve female bishops. "I'm very clear the time is right for women bishops, it was right many years ago," Cameron said.
"They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the program. But you do have to respect the individual institutions and the way they work, while giving them a sharp prod."
In case you needed use of the not-so-secret decoder ring...

Get with the program = follow the dictates of secular humanism.

Modernise / it was right years ago = we require you to agree with secular humanism; no other view-points are acceptable to us.

Giving them a sharp prod = face the wrath of our secular deity, i.e. co-ercive central government.

We know that David Cameron professes to be a Christian. Of how is heart is before God, I have little knowledge. But if you analyse his speeches and proclamations like this one, you'll see that his ruling paradigm, his basic understanding of the world and how it should go, is framed at every important point by the secular humanist narrative. Functionality, he's a classic post-sexual-revolution secularist. Did you think his job was to manage the civil government? That's not what he thinks. His job includes to prod churches which aren't yet in line with the doctrines of feminism and humanism in the right direction. Did you think he should spend his time on improving his government's economic management etc.? He thinks it's his job to bring social revolution in the very definition of marriage, etc.

To secularists, state trumps everything. The prime minister feels no embarrassment, no need to hide the fact that he thinks it's his job to tell churches what they ought to believe and practice. That's what all secularists think; it's part of their idolatrous Jesus-rejecting religion.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Thankful always

We should always give thanks to God, says the Bible. And we should - because it's right to do so. Every pleasure is from him. Failing to give thanks causes us to lose sight of this. Thankfulness is an indispensable part of the road to spiritual strength and being a useful disciple in the world.

Lots of bloggers post about the deep and meaningful conversations they've had with their very small sprogs. That's great, and we should do more to listen and interact with even the smallest children as thinking beings, made in the image of God.

But on the other hand, we should worship God no less in our hearts when they think what they just learnt to do with a computer is absolutely hilarious...

10 INPUT "What is your name?" NAME$
20 PRINT NAME$ ;" is a fat hairy monster!"

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

She expects me to do whaattt??

This week's "Money Saving Expert" email poses this "dilemma"...
This week's MoneySaver asks... My girlfriend's recently moved away to study. Though I want to see her on weekends, it's not cheap to travel. I've suggested we go halves, since I normally pay the fare to go to her, but she thinks she shouldn't contribute as I'm earning and she's not. However, I don't earn much and while I know she's worse off than me, I think it's a little unfair I should effectively pay to see her.
Imagine that... having to deal with expenses that arise when courting a lady! This woman apparently is reluctant to pay to be courted. The cheek of it! If things develop then she'll probably expect you to provide a loving, safe home environment too one day, and other stuff which no real man should get involved in.

We advise the fellow that he'd best dump the scrounger whilst there's still time. He should hunt around to find someone who expects nothing. Such a lady will surely not end up disappointed...

As we keep saying, modern secular freedom is simply re-packaged, cunningly marketed, slow-burn slavery. In the above "dilemma", the issue arises because there's no remaining cultural expectation that developing a relationship with a potential life-partner is a privilege to be earned and which a man should show himself worthy for, rather than an equal right to be demanded. Supposedly the sexual revolution liberated women... but the end results inevitably included "liberating" men from their responsibilities to be men. The result is that both men and women lose.

I will take them!

Great reminder of the gospel from Guy Davies -

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The agents of death and their attempts to silence the truth

I note that the agents of death, as is their usual tactic, are using the US election result to proclaim that everybody who does not agree with them must leave the debate now.

When the agents of death have an electoral setback, their friends in the press say "it's time to re-group and try again". But when they have an electoral advance, they say "now it's time for those who disagree with us to shut up and never utter their view-point again; it's permanently out-of-date, abolished, and you must never again let it echo in the halls of the sensible and wise". That seems to have worked, sadly, on the UK electoral scene - there's now a pro-abortion consensus across the political spectrum because, you know, not being in favour of the death of innocents is, well, swivel-eyed; or so we are told. And we're told it so often - it must be true...?

Time to re-publish a blog post from just over four years ago:
Two of the US presidential candidates were recently asked if life begins at conception or not. In case you just arrived from another planet, the significance of this question is that if life does begin at conception, then abortion can only be classified as murder. Here are their answers:
Barack Obama: This is something that I have not come to a firm resolution on. I think it’s very hard to know what that means — when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don’t presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I’ve said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we’re having these debates.

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

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

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

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

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

Discipleship is cross-shaped

We must remember this: discipleship is cross-shaped.

If you're experiencing the cross, then it's not because of where you are. It's not because of the people around you. It's not because of some particular circumstance.

It's because discipleship is cross-shaped. If you were in a different place, with different people at a different time and being a faithful disciple there, then you'd find the cross there too.

So don't wish to be elsewhere, with others, etc. Submit to the cross, and believe in the Lord who is nailed there with you - and in his resurrection also.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Those won't be needed any more

I was singing "Thine be the glory" yesterday, which includes these lines:

Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.

The gospels of Luke and John record that when Peter and the beloved disciple came to see the tomb, they saw the grave clothes lying there.

Jesus hadn't taken them with him. He wouldn't be needing them again. Left behind; all the vestments of death, left behind. The burden of sin; the wrath of the Father; the sorrows, the woe - left behind. He lives!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

About ME!

Normally I browse the Internet in a text-only web browser. I began that after first moving to Kenya - the Internet was chronically slow where I lived, and that was the only way to load a web page and read it in a sensible amount of time.

The Internet has got faster since then, but I've not felt any need to change. It had advantages - you got to see the text, only the text, and that helped me to focus on what the writer was actually saying. And these days, even the Telegraph seems to believe that its readers can't survive unless there's lots of lovelies to gawp at whilst reading the rest of the news.

Well, right now I'm somewhere with very fast Internet, and I turned images on. I turn to a few evangelical Christian bloggers...

I won't name names; that would be unhelpful and detract from the generality of the point. But I do wonder just why I need to be assaulted with the offer of reading so many pages titled "About Me", or be confronted by such prominent, highly stylised pictures of the preacher, projecting to us just the same kind of images as we see in the self-help books - you know, the "I'm great, I'm competent, trust me, I can really lift you up" type. Is that really the image we're wanting to project as preachers? Are we not meant to be saying "Here's Jesus" - and getting ourselves out of the picture as much as possible?

I think that when you browse without the images for long periods of time at once, you get a fresh appreciation for how much far developed the modern quasi-cult of imagery has advanced. It seems to have advanced by degrees, but now reached quite a level. Even evangelicals apparently feel the need to invest time and effort in image-projection. I thought we were heralds and spokesmen? What herald or spokesman needs to - or should? - invest in image projection? I'm not making an argument for being scruffy - that also detracts from the message. But, but, but...

If you're a Christian blogger, then blog something worth saying. And don't then distract from that with stylised, slick images of yourself, trying to project your competence, coolness or whatever through your sharp suit, nice smile, good teeth, etcetera. You're not personally as interesting as you think you are. I came to hear about Jesus. Stuff a normal photo on a side-page if you must. But otherwise...

Have something worth saying that's a word from the Almighty God, and then you won't need to spend time on projecting your image.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Two more "Reformation in Kenya" papers

Sadly, we can have true experience of Christ, and yet it can decline. We can feed on him, a good, satisfying meal – a feast! – and yet then live off the memory of that feast, instead of coming to dine again. Through the difficulty of the spiritual warfare, through the deceitfulness of sin, and through the dullness of our own hearts, we can confuse our own outward activity, and perhaps success, in ministry, with inward Christian experience and progress. Terrifyingly, God can actually “bless” us with outward success to test if that was actually the thing our hearts desired. Or was it rather the case that we have the Spirit that amidst the ruins of outward disaster is content to sit, wait, rejoice in him and say, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

I've just uploaded another couple of papers (this is taking rather too long) from my series on Reformation in Kenya - The above quote is from the opening paper.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Is refining coming?

I am neither a prophet nor the son of one.

However, we can all know from Scripture that at times, God refines his churches when they become lazy, backsliding, worldly, proud, etc.

Such times are clearly coming in the West, as Christianity moves from being a comfortable social choice to a troublesome one.

What about Kenya? The outward "church" is corrupt to the core; a den of greedy, grasping leeches masquerading as pastors whose main job is to suck money from gullible people and/or gullible foreign donors. The people are promised miracles and a life of ease. The donors are told about wonderful church growth, and if they visit they get shown hordes of smiling people filling the benches or expressing gratitude for aid hand-outs.

I've said to people here often that God will not allow his name to be blasphemed like that forever. Times of refining will come. Are we sitting back and enjoying the view - ready to fall when times of testing come? Or are we seeking and serving fervently, and being the kind of believers who will be ready to survive such refining?

A new feature on the scene in recent months has been militant Muslims, throwing grenades into churches near the border with Somalia.

Such now seems to have progressed to particular areas (where Somalians live) in the capital, Nairobi. There's been another one this weekend:

People are now beginning to think that *(in some places) it might actually be dangerous, rather than an automatic ticket to the blessing of an easy life, to go to a church. Is refining coming in the near future, or are they just isolated incidents to warn the true church, so that there's more time to be ready? The vast bulk are not ready, but those who have enough spiritual heart and head to read the signs of the times have enough to know what to do. Please do pray for the Kenyan church.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Dawkins: Exactly what creationists would expect...

When Richard Dawkins could still make the argument that most of the genome was junk, he told us that this was exactly what evolution predicted... and that it showed how silly creationists were for saying that it wasn't junk.

Now that we know that "Junk DNA" is basically a myth, he tells us that... this was exactly what evolutionists expect - oh, and creationists are silly.

Here's the link:

Well, what did you expect? Dawkins' belief in evolution is not scientific, it's religious. He needs evolution to be true, to sustain his rejection of his Creator. His world-view is not formed by evidence or truth, but upon his personal desires of what he wishes were true.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The divine secular state and the erosion of parental authority

If you've been following the story of the Megan Stammers, the 15-year-old school-girl who has absconded, location still unknown, with her 30-year old married maths teacher, then did you pick up this detail?
But despite the school, the County Council and the police all being aware of concerns over the relationship prior to their disappearance, Megan’s parents were not informed of the situation.
The school knew, the police knew - and as the article says, they knew for 7 months. And they chose to not inform the parents.

They considered that their sovereign right - to decide what was in the girl's best interests, and they exercised that (supposed) right by deciding not to inform her parents.

When the secular state, as it inevitably must, awards itself god-like powers, then that equally inevitably means the erosion of parental powers.

Only a Christian world-view can with logical consistency allow for a separation of powers on earth and family sovereignty. Because the ultimate ruler is in heaven, he can apportion out powers to different actors underneath him as he sees fit. The Bible reveals that he has delegated certain powers to the family, certain to church, and certain to the state. Neither is free to encroach on the other's territory. The question of "should we tell the parents that she's in a relationship with the maths teacher?" cannot arise. There is no right for the state to withhold such information. Jesus has not permitted it. The ultimate rule of daughters belongs to parents, not to the state.

But when the heavenly power is subjected to (would-be) abolishment, divine power passes inevitably (however slow the process) to the state. The state then, as the all-sovereign supreme being, decides who to delegate its unlimited powers to. If it decides to not allows the parents to know what the daughter is doing with one of the state's employees, then that is that. There's no final court of appeal, since we're such an enlightened people as to have religion out of politics and left no higher powers or divinely bestowed rights from our creator to invoke.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The early Christians and pacficism

An interesting report here from Matthew Tuinginga on a lecture on this topic. I was left, as the report indicates Matthew was too, wishing that the speaker had gone further to give some hints on how we apply his views in a context outside of the Roman Empire situation.

The "Kingdom" Series

A brief book review.

I believe in reading stories to my children. Lots of stories; big, meaty stories.

Why? For one thing, because I want them to imagine. The world should be different to how it is. We all agree on that. Christians have been given a task of transformation - the Great Commission. Without imagination, transformation is not possible.

Christians are people who are meant to be asking "what's behind the curtain, here"? They are meant to think more deeply. They are meant to understand the story. There's an evil dragon on the loose, and an appointed dragon-slayer who's going to redeem the creation. It's an adventure story. Your godly attitude when you do your chores each day and witness to your neighbours is part of that.

Recently we finished reading the "Kingdom" series by Chuck Black -

It's an allegory of redemptive history, compressed into a lifetime in a fantasy land. It's not hugely imaginative or deep in the plot, though it has some nice touches and I thought it generally improved as it went on, so is better suited for reading to younger children, perhaps 7 to 9, or slightly older if they are reading to themselves. They will enjoy spotting the parallels and decoding the symbols. The page linked to above says "for ages 8 to 12". Your mileage may vary!

The writer is pre-millennial and dispensational. The world is ultimately not so much redeemed as replaced. The cameo role played by the allegorised USA came over as rather crass to this non-American reader, but that's just an insertion near the end, and it's the author's sincere belief about eschatology so we won't whinge too much.

Still, not bad. Not epic (looking for an epic? You should have bought the "Binding of the Blade" series already!), but a good tool to stimulate those little minds to thinking a bit more. Likely it'll be read again at some stage.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

And canine cats, for that matter...

Here's a letter in The Independent:
The Church should stand with Maria Miller in championing gay marriage. Why? Because Jesus proclaimed that God's love is for all, especially for the excluded, and furthermore, that even God-given institutions like the Sabbath should be refashioned in the light of that. So I'm not alone as a Church of England bishop in championing women bishops and the refashioning of our God-given institution of marriage to include and support gay couples.

Within a few years of Jesus' death, the Church tried to exclude non-Jews from membership, but the Bible records their final decision – to judge questions of exclusion by primary reference to God's overwhelming love. That's why the Church can now accept me, a non-Jew, and even ordain me bishop. Church leaders should therefore proclaim what many in the pews already know for themselves, that if God is prepared to accept "me", then God is certainly prepared to accept "them".

The Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green
What do you notice about the argument presented for "gay marriage" in that letter?

I notice that it has no reference to the nature of marriage, and no discussion of the nature of homosexuality. According the author, who has an awful lot of titles, the whole matter is resolved by God's love. That consideration over-rules all to such an extent that nothing more needs discussing. Inclusion!

The argument made means that either God's love makes everything, no matter how illogical or perverse possible - even desirable and inevitable - or it means that the author is at least a bit confused. If you can argue for "gay marriage" without needing to discuss either marriage or gayness, then what else? If God has some absolute attribute of "inclusivity" (and that term is to be interpreted just like a modern Western liberal, how convenient!), then why are we arguing about "gay marriage"? Why stop there? Why not take the matter to its logical conclusions?

(P.S. Note that the sentence "Within a few years of Jesus' death, the Church tried to exclude non-Jews from membership, but the Bible records their final decision – to judge questions of exclusion by primary reference to God's overwhelming love" is simply false. Acts 15, where the record is found, shows firstly that one faction in the church took this position but that the official leadership disagreed, and that they judged the question by examining God's actions of which they as apostles were eyewitnesses, and the teaching of Scripture. The word "love" does not even appear in the discussion. Love in Scripture is not an vague absolute which is used to close down discussions, but is revealed in its practical outworkings in God's enscripturated commandments).

When I studied mathematics, the kind of reasoning in this letter was known as "proof by hand-waving". You didn't need to show that the premises and the conclusions lined up in consecutive stages. You just said agreaable things, jumped up and down, and then pulled the rabbit out of the hat at the end. We can all do that...

The Church should stand with Denzil Drogbert in championing the existence of feline dogs. Why? Because Jesus proclaimed that God's love is for all, especially for the excluded, and few beings are more excluded from existing than feline dogs. Furthermore, even God-given institutions like marriage should be refashioned in the light of that. So I'm not alone as a Church of England bishop in gifting the pass to anything that secular liberalism demands, and the refashioning of our God-given institution of marriage to include and support invisible visibility, living dead people, black whiteness and LOOK! A SQUIRREL!

Many years after Jesus' death, his followers were still discussing matters primarily in terms of revealed truth. But history records how things have gone in the "mainline" churches in recent times – to judge questions by primary reference to prevailing societal whim. That still leaves the question of how the Church can now ordain me, though I care little for what the Bible, Jesus and the apostles actually taught about marriage, and even make me bishop. Church leaders should therefore proclaim what many in the pews already know for themselves, that if my denomination is full of people like me, running amok with no reasonable prospect of any church discipline being exercised, then it's time for you to exercise some godly wisdom and find a different church where godly Biblical discipline has a practical possibility of being enforced.

Doctor Who?
The Rt Revd Dr Dr Revd Wright.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Dress and cultural de-sensitising

Here, a secular (as far as I know) writer in the Telegraph points out what I was saying a few weeks ago - something that all people ought to know: pornography is pornography, in whatever context it is presented. Naked or semi-naked people who you are not married to are not for ogling. The context does not make a difference except in the twisted reasoning of people who want to justify what cannot be justified.

Pornography is inherently degrading, and also de-sensitising. My wife and I have realised this in a more personal way since coming to Kenya. Here in Eldoret, we just don't see badly dressed ladies, unless they are prostitutes or Western visitors - and there's not huge numbers of the latter (or the former if you aren't looking for them!). Increasingly though the middle class are aping the West. When we spent some time in Nairobi a couple of years ago, it was a real revelatory experience. We went out to the shops, and were amazed by how many ladies were badly dressed. So, we realised... this is how the non-Western world feels. "Reverse culture-shock", it's called - you suddenly get a personal, non-theoretical insight into how cultural outsiders had been seeing yours.

When female visitors come to see us, we give them a visitors' guide of helpful things to know. One of the matters mentioned is dress. We found that we have to make it fairly explicit in its descriptions, because when we just talked in vague terms, many folk from the West didn't get it. These were godly, serious Christian ladies we are talking about. I wonder why? Likely I think it's that the debased standards of the West have desensitised. What is "normal" has shifted so far, that people still showing far more flesh than other cultures would ever do actually think they're now being conservative.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

God turns out to be wiser than the world's wise men thought

My mother is not an economist. However, she is from Yorkshire. Moreover, she reads her Bible.

One thing I was regularly taught whilst growing up is, that it is wrong to live off debt. If you want something, then work and save. Do not live off money you do not have. It's foolish in itself, and a recipe for disaster in the future.

The people running the world's economies are very clever people, with lots of letters after their names. They went to big universities. They can juggle all kinds of big words and concepts. However, they appear to have neither come from Yorkshire, nor read their Bibles. As a result of one or t'other, they seem to have missed this vital lesson. Hence the Great Debt Crisis, which after 5 years still has no end in sight.

But of course, someone says, the Bible is just religion. And running economies is the real world. Aah...

Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Pray in faith

From Calvin's commentary:
Matthew 7:7. Ask, and it shall be given you It is an exhortation to prayer: and as in this exercise of religion, which ought to be our first concern, we are so careless and sluggish, Christ presses the same thing upon us under three forms of expression. There is no superfluity of language, when he says, Ask, seek, knock: but lest the simple doctrine should be unimpressive, he perseveres in order to rouse us from our inactivity. Such is also the design of the promises that are added, Ye shall find, it shall be given to you, and it shall be opened Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard. Those who doubt can only pray in an indifferent manner; and prayer, unaccompanied by faith, is an idle and unmeaning ceremony. Accordingly, Christ, in order to excite us powerfully to this part of our duty, not only enjoins what we ought to do, but promises that our prayers shall not be fruitless.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Atheists, make up your minds!

On the one hand, Richard Dawkins wants school children to read the Bible, so that they will be turned against Christianity.

On the other, a Canadian humanist has won a hearing to ban the Gideons from giving Bibles to schools, on the grounds that it is not fair for Christian literature to be given out, but not atheist literature.

So which is it? The Bible promotes atheism? Or does the opposite?

The enemy has many strategies. Since he's the father of lies and confusion, you can't expect them to cohere.

Reading isn't cool?

The news story here - - frames the problem as being that children think that "reading isn't cool".

But that's not the underlying issue. The solution isn't to try to make reading cool. The underlying issue is that "cool" is the barometer being measured with. Unless you ultimately aim to change that, you're re-arranging deck-chairs.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Christian rap

Tim Challies posts to promote "Christian rapper", Lecrae, who I heard about for the first time in his post.

Let me direct you to Google Image search.

Where I've come across it, one invariant of rap music culture has been "look at me, look at me - I'm the big guy. I'm hard, moody, and you mess at your peril."

Now, look again at those images. Did they make you say "ah, the culture of Christian rap is so refreshingly different! Go, Lacrae - you'll show people a different way!".

'Nuff said. Now get off my turf before I blow your brains out. Apologies if my lingo reminds me of your grandad's attempts to be cool.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A stream of nonsense

I'm presently preparing a course on the "Wisdom Books" (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs).

True wisdom humbles us. And the Wisdom Books humble Bible college teachers with a sequence of apparently impenetrable mysteries!

Here's one thought from Job. The structure of Job is crucial. We are let in on the secret at the beginning. Job suffers because he is to be a test case for the power of true faith and true religion. There is a contest in the heavenly courts. Job, on earth, is the focus to prove who is right - are Satan's accusations true? Or will God's people love him regardless of what it costs them?

When we read Job, we know that that is the true meaning of Job's sufferings. But Job and his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, have no idea. They had no such revelation before they entered it all.

There then ensues page after page of back-and-forth philosophical discussion between those four on the meaning and reason for Job's sufferings. And none of them even gets close. It's a stream of nonsense. A lot of talk which gets quite heated - accusations fly back and forth. But all, as the reader who began at chapters one knows, garbage.

And therein lies today's lesson. There's a lot of talk in the world. We get quite worked up as we pursue the arguments. But when we talk about matters that we do not know about, especially unseen spiritual matters, the likelihood is that it's absolute nonsense from start to finish. The truth, were it known, would expose our bold exclamations as laughable folly.

The Bible gives us light, and on matters where it reveals truth, we should hold it fast and not let a single letter fall. But otherwise, it's quite wise to just shut up (Proverbs 17:28).

God's answer to Job's questions is also enlightening in this regard. Neither does God tell Job why he is suffering. Rather, he shows him that he is not only ignorant of this, but very many other things too. Man thinks he's cornered almost all knowledge now. God, rather than explaining to him the supposed last piece of the jigsaw, instead shows him that he's missing virtually all the other pieces too. I personally find that quite refreshing as I read. Why, God? Why is it like this? Why can't I understand any of it? Well will I understand? Answer: that's not the only thing you can't understand, my son - there's a million other things besides, and then some. So in this, as in every other thing, just trust me, because I know it best.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Is government God? (Part 5331...)

I notice in the UK press discussion of the idea of a "wealth tax".

The idea is that the rich should have their assets raided, to help the country out of an emergency.

This idea calls for theological and moral analysis. People who have earnt money paid tax on it when they earnt it. The government took what was supposed to be its portion at that point. It will also take a further portion when that money is spent, e.g. in sales taxes.

But government reaching into your pocket and deciding to take money, simply on the grounds that you own it, is a far-reaching idea. It means ultimately that you own nothing, and the state owns everything. If a "wealth tax" is even on the table for discussion, then it means that nothing is your own. Its all only on loan. You are a steward, but the state is the possessor. At any time the all powerful state can claim back exactly as much as it pleases, and re-assign it to other uses as it sees best.

That means that the state is God. Traditionally in British thinking, only God has those kind of rights. The earth is his (Psalm 24:1), and he lends it out to us, as stewards. He can claim it all back, through his providential interventions, or through withdrawing us from the earth, when he pleases. Governments had much more limited rights. They can levy taxes for their legitimate functions; but they do not have an absolutely ownership that allows them to treat what has already been taxed as up-for-grabs again, to take or allow you to continue with as they please, as and when the political winds change.

Secularism pushes out God from the public square. That's its goal. But it's not possible for man to be god-less. Something else has to take God's place. The counterfeit God is the state. The state owns everything. If you own too much land or money, it simply decrees by fiat that it is taking it back from you again. Thought you earned it? Wrong - it was only on loan. If a people won't let God rule it, then they can't escape being ruled; hat's not possible. They will be ruled - but by someone or something far worse. Your judgment is to be ruled, not
mercifully, but by arbitrary despots who do not recognise your ultimate right to possess anything at all. A politician may wake up tomorrow and decide that all you has is now the state's again. When God is no longer God, the result is man's tyranny.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

First things first

The first petition of the Lord's Prayer : hallowed be your name.

First things first. The world - and our lives - would and can be quite different if we get that bit right.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Male and female

Carl Trueman asks why some evangelicals make a fuss about the Bible's teaching on role relationships between man and woman... and Douglas Wilson answers. I agree with Wilson. A few of Wilson's recent posts have been making the point that we need to discern where we are in the story. Sexual rebellion is one of the primary characteristics of our age. You can't be faithful to the gospel today - the gospel which calls us to repentance - and yet agree to put aside one of today's primary rebellions for some greater purpose.

Online gospel presentation

This is well done. HT: Gervase Markham.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Christ first, Christ always

I am preaching on Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 this weekend, God-willing.

Such a simple message, but so easy to lose track of.

Christ is the foundation. Christ's service to us is needful - our service to him is derivative from that. Christ must be all, otherwise we'll go astray. You can serve Christ and get exhausted, and have made the wrong choice in doing it, unless you prioritise sitting at his feet and letting him minister to you. It's not what we do for Christ - it's what Christ has done and is doing in us.

Changing the label makes no difference

I saw a question asked in a Christian magazine, which began with this line:
My wife and I don’t watch porn, but do sometimes get turned on by sex scenes in mainstream films and TV programmes.
What is the questioner's definition of "porn" ? Apparently it's something different from "displays of other people having sexual relations".

If you watch other people in sexual intimacy, whether they are on "mainstream" media or sold to you by filthy Mick down the market, then by definition, you watch porn. Porn is porn, regardless of whether those purveying it to you wear suits and sit behind desks in White City, or whether they climb out of sewers with filthy leers on their faces.

"Mainstream" just means "what's in our current cultural setting". Your current cultural setting might be jammed full of porn. It doesn't become not-porn just because there's more of it around.

The question finished off with "is this OK?", to which the magazine replied "Yes, I think that's great!". Oh, wow. With Christian magazines like this one, who needs worldly ones?

Watching other people have intercourse is watching people have intercourse. If the question had begun...
My wife and I don't watch porn, but sometimes the neighbours invite us around to watch them making love. Is there a problem with that?
... then I hope most Christians would have been able to answer "Yes, that would be a problem."

And it would be no less of a problem if your neighbour "merely" filmed their escapades and then shared the video with you later.

And it would be no less of a problem if they were not your next door neighbour, but living across the other side of town and employed by the BBC to do the very same thing. The people we see on television are people, and according to Scripture, the people you come across are your neighbours (Luke 10:25-37). If you can perceive a moral problem with your neighbour knocking on your door and asking you "fancy seeing some videos of me and the wife at it?" then you ought to be able to see no less a problem with the BBC piping the same question at you through the TV listings.

Recent content

I recently added various bits of new writings and sermons at my website; do take a look... - there's a new "recent updates" widget down the right hand side.

Plus a few posts in recent days at, largely at Richard Dawkins' expense.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Good Samaritan, again

It is traditional amongst commentators of recent centuries and the present day, to pooh-pooh the idea that the Good Samaritan was ever intended to be read allegorically.

(Under the allegorical interpretation, the wounded man is the needy sinner; the priest and Levite represent the inability of the law and sacrificial system to save; the good Samaritan is Christ. This can be fleshed out beyond this, with increasing doubtfulness the further we go, but those are the essential points).

I'm not convinced by the pooh-poohing. I think it's a valid reading, by which I mean that Jesus may have intended his hearers to hear it that way. (This in no way undermines the literal reading as a simple illustrative story and the points taught by Jesus through it).

The lawyer's question, "who is my neighbour?", we are told, was an attempt at self-justification. His answer, as a good Pharisee, would have been "my fellow Jews, or perhaps just those faithful to the law (my fellow Pharisees), are my neighbours".

We know that this was a hot point of controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus fellowshipped with tax collectors and sinners - unclean people. Jesus made a deliberate point of doing so. He came and fraternised with them to rescue them. The Pharisees did not.

This was well known to everyone by the time we get to Luke 10. The question "who is my neighbour?", when asked by a lawyer to Jesus, has big undertones. "Jesus - you treat these dogs as your neighbours; you must be unclean like them! Why don't you justify what you're doing?" That's a question that's being asked, and is expecting an answer.

If I'm on the right track with that, then you have to then read Jesus' reply in that light. I outlined that answer in my previous post, as amounting to "go and sacrificially serve first, using acts of self-giving love to make people to be your neighbours - that's the way of my kingdom".

That being so, then it follows pretty much as night follows day, that Jesus was casting himself in the role of the Good Samaritan. (We remember too that his opponents insulted him at times by calling him a Samaritan - and he deliberately passed through Samaritan country at one time in John 4 in order to preach the kingdom to them). Jesus is the one who crosses the boundaries erected by religious self-righteousness in order to save the needy. That's not an illustrative analogy; it's part of what Jesus was telling the lawyer. Thus, the story is indeed meant to also be read allegorically.

The good Samaritan

This Sunday, God-willing, I'll be preaching on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

The structure of the story is interesting and puzzling. I've learnt that one basic matter in Bible interpretation is that when you see a puzzle, you're getting closer to the answer. Puzzles are not to be defined away; they are to challenge our approach. The problem is not in the puzzle's existence so that the solution is to get rid of it - the problem is in the way we approach the issue - the puzzle is placed there as a bump for us to stop, consider our direction and then climb higher upon.

The question from the self-righteous lawyer was: who is my neighbour? Jesus' answer is in terms of "who was a neighbour in the story which I told?" That actually reverses the issue. It's not "who is my neighbour, so I know who to serve?", as the lawyer wanted - it's "who can become your neighbour, when you go and serve him?"

Some traditional expositions - I just read Calvin's - do appear to quickly move past the puzzle. Calvin answers "my neighbour is every human being". True enough - but is that actually what the story says? It certainly implies that every human being can be my neighbour; but it does not straightforwardly say he is - it says something more complex. It shows us someone treating his fellow man as a neighbour - and that came first. Is that reversal of the question actually the question's answer? Calvin does not consider that possibility. It puzzled me and I was looking for answers - and a quick note in the .Net Bible was where I first saw the suggestion that this anomaly is in fact actually the key.

The priest and the Levite looked at the injured man, and defined him to be outside of the category of "neighbour". So with their consciences intact, they walked by without concern of having broken God's law.

The Samaritan took a different approach. He saw the man and served him. Thus he became his neighbour.

And that's what the kingdom is like. (The lawyer's question "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" is essentially asking that question - what does the life in the Messiah's kingdom look like, and how can I obtain it?). In the Pharasaical approach, the "holy huddle" defined others to be outsiders, and then felt content to ignore their needs. In the approach of Jesus, the outsiders were embraced in love, whoever they were - and welcomed to then become insiders. The parable is not a moralistic answer to the question "please accurately define my neighbour for me?" (though that's what the questionner wanted), but an invitation to love first and ask questions later - when the love will have actually changed the situation.

That's what Jesus did for us. He didn't say "these aren't my neighbours - they're hell-deserving sinners", and then pass by, safe in the knowledge that he could do that and not be accused of any omission. He said "I'm going to make them my neighbours, however much it costs me". He came and died to welcome us in. And we should go and do likewise.

A few thoughts from "Jesus and the Victory of God"

I've been reading N T Wright's "Jesus and the Victory of God". I've not got all the way through yet, though it's fairly repetitive and there's plenty of sign-posting of what's coming later, at greater length.

Amongst other things, it is interesting, insightful and irritating. It illustrates Wright's strengths and weaknesses quite well.

Chief among those weaknesses is his downgrading of the Bible's words, so that they are no longer the words of God. Again and again we read things of the like of "and Jesus probably really did say this" or "and it is not unlikely that Luke was telling the truth". (Those aren't particular quotes - I'm summarising). Yea, did God really say? Wright answers, "there's a reasonably good historical probability in its favour". That's not a passing answer for a teacher of the church.

Another weakness is his inexcusable and incessant caricaturing of conservative evangelicals - especially inexcusable as that's his background, so he ought to know better. Convert syndrome? Trying-to-hard-to-distance-myself-so-that-my-friends-in-the-liberal-academy-like-me-better? Does he so routinely push conservative evangelical exegesis out of the picture with a dismissive wave because it better helps him present old, familiar insights from the conservative tradition as if they were a brilliant and original discovery and he wants to appear brilliant and original? A combination of the above? Something else? Who knows? It's sad to see such a clever and accomplished man doing it, whatever the cause is.

Another big weakness is that once Wright picks up his hammer, everything is a nail.

The exile/exodus theme is a critical one for Biblical theology. Wright sees that and appreciates it (though again, he should no better than to present it as a new insight; it's only a new insight for those in the liberal academic guild who've spent decades and even centuries (I prepare my sermons each week using Calvin and Matthew Henry, and it's always surprising how much is "old hat") deliberately ignoring conservative scholarship - see above...).

So, he sees the importance of the exile/New Exodus themes. But he proceeds from there to not just see its explicit invocations, and then to see its relevance, and parallels, and the like at other points. He can see nothing else. Forgiveness of sins? That's a code phrase which basically means return from exile. Repentance? That's a code phrase which at the root means the return from exile. Jesus' forming a new community? That's a way of indicating that the exile is over. The kingdom coming? At heart, that means the return from exile. The parable of the sower? That's a discussion of the return from exile (I kid you not). Etcetera, etcetera... and I really mean, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (etcetera...).

I believe that D A Carson once very insightfully remarked something to the effect that Wright has a great gift for bringing out what is in the background, and placing it in the foreground - together with an infuriating knack for booting what was in the foreground into the background; or even out of the picture altogether. This could be expanded on; but it's enough for now.

Monday, 13 August 2012


One of the unfortunate fruits of the rise of the charismatic movement has been the wholesale devaluing of religious vocabulary. (Yes, I know that the phenomena is now widespread. But if you want to trace back to where it came from and where it is most marked, honesty would require you to say what I just did). Where once believers valued care and precision, now it is a rare thing. Case in point: an email arrived from a UK Christian radio station.

Opening line:
We thank God for the performance of Team GB at the Olympics, believing the medals are a prophetic sign that this is the time for Britain to arise and shine.
Now tell me - what does that mean? They believe it is a prophetic sign... why do they believe that? Is there a reason to do so? Did God reveal that to you, or to someone else? Is this a nice platitude on a level with "have a nice day, I hope everything is great" or are we meant to take it seriously? "Arise and shine" - pardon? Again, what does that mean? This is the time to do so - why is that? What particular planets have been aligning that lead to this conclusion? Who knows? The medals are a prophetic sign... so, are our athletes now prophets? Of which religion? The same as ours or a different one? Who can say?
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax; Of cabbages and kings; And why the sea is boiling hot; And whether pigs have wings."
When religious proclamations are becoming difficult to distinguish from the rantings of the walrus, it's not a great sign of spiritual health.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Discipling the nations

Justin Taylor provides a lengthy quote from George Eldon Ladd, under the heading "When will Christ return?"

Eldon Ladd's answer is summarised in two basic points:
  1. It will be when the nations have had the gospel preached to them (been evangelised)
  2. Nobody except God knows when that has been done - all we know is that we have not preached it enough yet

This answer is reached by Ladd by:

  1. interpreting Matthew 24:14 ("And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.") to refer to the end of the space-time cosmos, and
  2. using it as an interpretive guide to the Great Commission

It stands out to me that when Eldon Ladd quotes the Great Commission (towards the end of the quote), he omits the crucial words: make disciples and teaching them to obey all things that I commanded you. Ladd's commission is "make sure the world hears the gospel"; but Jesus' actual commission was "make sure the world believes and obeys the gospel" - a rather striking difference.

To be sure, it would be hard to know if the nations have been evangelised enough, or not. But it's rather less hard to look at the nations and then answer the question: "So, has the church discipled these nations such that they submit to the will of the almighty Lord Jesus? Do they now obey the things which Jesus gave the original twelve to pass on to them?" Obviously, the answer to that question is not hard at all: it is "no, no, they don't, not yet". Again, there is some validity in Ladd's point - who can say precisely at what point such obedience has reached the mark Jesus had in mind? There is no tension here, in the same way that a man commissioned to "build a really high sky scraper" may not know just how many floors the owner had in mind, whilst also being sure that since so far he's only paved the parking lot and dug the foundations, he's certainly not got there yet.

Ladd's error is in conflating the end of the Jewish age with the end of the world. Yet, Matthew 24 does not make it difficult to discern which age Matthew 24:14 was referring to (the one that the disciples were then living in!):

  • Here is Matthew 24:1-3, which sets the context for Jesus' speech: "1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”" The disciples asked Jesus about the destruction of the temple - an event that history records happened in AD70 - and the end of the age. There is no evidence in the Bible (or outside, that I know of) that contemporary Jews thought that the destruction of the temple necessarily meant the end of the space-time cosmos. To imagine this concept in the disciples' minds is anachronistic. Rather, the destruction of the temple would signify the end of the then-existing dispensation of Judaism as then configured, ruled by corrupt Sadducees and Pharisees, and presided over by the semi-pagan Herod. That "coming" that the disciples, as all the gospel evidence shows as they puzzled and questioned, looked for was Jesus' ascension to kingship over Israel and over the nations. They were not thinking of the end of the cosmos, but of the Messiah taking his rule.
  • In Matthew 24:34, Jesus said "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." In Matthew, "generation" always refers to those Jews then living (Matthew 11:16, 12:39-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:36). And as a matter of historical fact, the temple was destroyed during that generation's life time, approximately 40 years later. Ladd's point of view was that "generation" meant "the Jewish race", which would make for an absurd statement. Are we supposed to imagine that Jesus answered the question "please, just when will the temple be destroyed?" with the utterly redundant and vacuous non-answer, "it will be whilst there are still Jews in existence" ? Not much of an answer, is it?

In context, in Matthew 24:14, Jesus was explaining the "mini-apocalypse": the destruction of the theocracy and the end of the then-existing world order. To be sure, it is an anticipation of the mega-pocalypse - the end of all things - and its shape foreshadows it. And it would not happen until the gospel had been declared throughout the nations (those that were accessible from Judea in those times). And indeed, it did not, as Paul later declared (Colossians 1:6). But to simply bear a testimony was not the Great Commission. Our task as Christians is not just to shout out the words so that the world has opportunity to hear them. Our duty is to disciple them, so that they learn to obey. Our duty is to see the world brought under the fruitful dominion of the Last Adam, through his cross and resurrection.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The life cycle of heresy and error

I've come to notice a common pattern in church history, in the teaching of error.

In the initial stage, when the teaching is introduced, it is taught as an improvement open the traditional, orthodox view. The traditional and orthodox openly reject is as erroneous.

But later on, it is introduced as if it were the traditional, orthodox view - or equivalent to it. Instead of contrasting it with the truth, it pretends to be the same thing, more or less. It re-appropriates orthodox terminology, with a heretical meaning. It uses the old words, but gives them a new, altered, reduced meaning.

For example, the heart of the Christian gospel is that Christ died for our sins - which means that his sacrificial offering was penal (his death was on account of an offence, that of sin) substitutionary (it was not a penalty for his own sins - but for ours). Liberalism, however, re-appropriated the language. Re-appropriating language so that it is being used ambiguously by different speakers tends to empty it of meaning. So now "Christ died for our sins" simply means that his death benefits us in some, as-yet-to-be-defined way. When liberals define it, the words "Christ died for our sins" means the same as a view which one of the orthodox could quite happily mean by the phrase "Christ did not die for our sins".

Similarly with the deity of Christ. To make ourselves precise and clear when choosing terms, we can no longer say "the divinity of Christ", because liberalism - whilst pretending to be orthodox, or orthodox enough to avoid being excommunicated before it had got sufficient power within the institutions - reduced the meaning of "divinity" to mean just "like God in some as-yet-to-be-defined way". After defining it, you knew that when a liberal said "Christ is divine" the actual content could be reduced to "Christ is not divine".

But what about closer to home? Liberals threw off their pretences of taking the Bible seriously generations ago. Now that they have got their power bases, they no longer hide what they mean. Where's the real action today amongst those seeking to subvert the historic teaching of evangelical churches?

Within the camp, one major battle is that for the Biblical doctrine of creation. Historically, the Christian church has confessed that God made the world out of nothing in the space of six days, as an immediate act of his power through his spoken word. The world was very good, but the sin of the first man Adam brought about a cosmic fall. But in the hands of many evangelical leaders today, the doctrine of creation is simply that God is the one who made creation, without specifying anything more.

And as they describe their doctrine of creation, its content turns out to be the same as what the orthodox meant if they were to describe one of the main options previously available under the heading "God did not create the world", namely, evolution. When the new evangelical leaders say "I believe in a historic Adam", then once you unpack what he means, you find that it was previously listed by historic Christianity under the possible meanings of "I do not believe in a historic Adam". "I believe in the Fall" means the same as "I do not believe in the Fall" and "Genesis is a historical record" can be further explained as "Genesis is not a historical record".

We've seen how well this worked out with liberalism. It destroyed churches from within, just as Peter said it would: "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies" (2 Peter 1:1). Evolutionary teaching is destructive of the foundation of the Christian doctrine of creation, which is in turn the foundation of the coherence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's no use pointing out that some of these teachers are nice people, and that their creeds are otherwise orthodox enough. Once you allow termites to start chewing up the basement whilst you avoid going down there to do battle with them, you have in principle accepted the destruction of your house. That is so whether you or they rejoice in that outcome or not.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Roman Catholicism and authority

There has been a great deal of discussion at CTC about the rational superiority of the Catholic interpretive paradigm over the Protestant interpretive paradigm. As Michael Liccione, and others, have pointed out, Protestantism has no principled way to differentiate dogma from theological opinion – no coherent way even to identify the contours of Christian doctrine – that does not reduce to question begging or subjectivism. Catholicism, by contrast, posits an objective way to draw such distinctions.

Protestants, such as myself, claim that the Bible is the final authority for faith and practice - which sits over and judges all the fallible opinions of men.

With the the above paragraph, the Roman Catholics give their typical claim - that the Protestant standard is no standard at all. For, how can we know what the Bible says? One group says this; another group says that. How do you know whose is the true interpretation? Result: confusion.

And their solution, is the Pope and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which they claim has been gifted by God to give an infallible interpretation of the Bible to us, so that we can have the longed-for certainty.

What a totally pathetic argument.

Even Roman Catholic theology teaches that the Bible is the word of God. So, are we really supposed to believe that:
  • The word of God (as its status is agreed by both sides) given in the Bible is unclear, and we cannot know how to interpret it rightly.
  • The word of God, according to Roman Catholics, given through the mouth of the Roman hierarchy, is clear, and needs no interpretation.

It's rather ironic for the Roman writer above to complain of Protestant "question begging". How is it that the Bible needs interpreters, yet the Roman pronouncements apparently need none? How is it that God, apparently, can explain himself so clearly and straightforwardly when he speaks (allegedly) through the Papacy, but did not manage to do so when he spoke through the Bible? When we read the Bible and try to understand it, it is doomed to inevitably be an unanchored, subjective pursuit - whilst when we try to make out what the Pope was talking about, its a task of a different order?

Jesus once said, "But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God", Matthew 22:29. The teaching that nobody could know what the Scriptures were saying until a few centuries later when the Roman hierarchy arose was apparently unknown to him.

Gay super-rights

Apologist James White has pointed out from time to time the true agenda of the "gay rights" lobby.

It's not "gay rights". It's gay super-rights. Rights which trump everybody else's rights. The first stage of their operation, when they pretended to be in favour of tolerance, was a deceitful sham. It was simply a step-up to the present stage: where they behave with radical intolerance to anyone who dares to speak (just speak) with views that disagree with theirs. In the present stage, they seek to police everybody else's speech and thoughts, and to ostracise anyone who is not in precise lock-step with their own opinions.

Case in point: the Chick-fil-A "gay kiss-in".

In case you've not seen the story so far, Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain in the US.

As the company said in a statement, "The Chick-fil-A culture and 66-year-old service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect - regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender". Anyone can be served, equally, in their restaurant, without any harassment or even reference to what other activities they might get up to or prefer in other settings.

However, the owner of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, also claims the right to hold to his own, Christian, principles as he runs his organisation. He feels free to donates his own, earned profits from the business he has built up to causes he chooses, not ones that the "gay rights" movement dictates to him.

For that crime, of not agreeing with them, the gay rights movement is protesting loudly and aggressively. Why is that? Because it's not really about the right to indulge in homosexual activity. It's about the supposed "right" to do so and to censor anyone who dares to believe or (horrors) say that such activity is immoral. Not just the right to do as you please; but the right to silence anyone who holds a different opinion. Gay super-rights - the right to have the "values" of homosexual intercourse trump every other value in a society.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Family membership and infant baptism

Steve Hays posts what he calls a "modest little argument for infant baptism".

Infant baptism, he says, is justified by the recognition that you are born into a church community. But infant communion is not thereby justified.

  1. The division is arbitrary. What kind of community calls you a member but does not allow you to take part in the community meals?
  2. Baptism means what Jesus says it means, and that is that is that it is a sign of discipleship/New Covenant membership. We're not free to play around with the definition, and make it a social ordinance as Hays proposes.
  3. The Bible teaches that initiation into the New Covenant is via the new birth. Hays, as all covenantal paedobaptists, is right to say that it's about family membership, and that it should be for all those born into the family. But the question is, which family - and how are we born into it? Hays and those like-minded, in this issue, are still camped out with Nicodemus.

"The Bible says it, therefore I believe it"

(Cross-posted at

Sal wonders why someone might say "the Bible said it, therefore I believe it", unless they are "supremely gullible".
This is an epistemological question. I approve of the formula, so I'll try and answer why.
Firstly, let's clear away some possible misunderstandings. The formula presupposes that the Bible really does say whatever the "it" is. Someone might choose to apply the formula to something the Bible doesn't say. The Bible teaches the world ended last Tuesday, therefore I believe it - except that, it doesn't. Those reading the Bible can be caught up in misunderstanding, misinterpreting, twisting, mistranslating, and the like. Such cases are not in view in this discussion.
Secondly, the formula presupposes that there really are things that the Bible does say, and which we should know it says. Some things are not a matter of personal interpretation, or so doubtful that we cannot say anything, whatever the canons of literary deconstruction say. The mother of Jesus was, according to the Bible, called Mary. Regardless of how much pomo-relativo juice you drink, you cannot validly read it to say that she was called Jezebel Mehetabel Bob Smith. Should the reader prefer to interpret the text that way, the reader is a loon.
Thirdly, we're not here discussing how someone personally moves to this position. Someone might not be sure why they might find the Bible reliable, or how to end up in such a position if you start from a position of skepticism. A Christian answer to that would bring in many further issues. The scope here though is how someone who does hold that position - whatever their journey was - could reasonably justify it, having arrived there.
OK, got that. We're thinking of something that we are supposing the Bible really did say. Why might someone - as I do - then proceed to say "therefore, I believe it?" and not need to add the corollary "coz I is supremely gullible, you know?"
Sal himself quoted Jesus two sentences later. The quote was out of context; Jesus was talking about miracles his hearers had personally witnessed, not about scientific experiments. But anyway, Sal seems to think that Jesus is someone we might take seriously. I'm not sure how far he'd go with that. But if you think that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his claims about himself, that he had come from the Father and his words were totally reliable because he had descended from heaven, then that's one place to begin. Jesus took the words of Scripture as totally reliable. Jesus himself took the position "the Bible said it, therefore I believe it." "The Scripture cannot be broken", John 10:35. "You are wrong, because you do not know the Scriptures" (Matthew 22:29).
He who says "A" and "B" must then say "C". Once someone takes the presupposition that the words of Jesus are supremely reliable, it follows that the Scriptures then have to be taken as supremely reliable. To be consistent, if you believe that Jesus' attitude to Scripture is reliably recorded in the gospel records, and if you believe that Jesus had a correct attitude to Scripture, then this becomes your position. The alternative is to be incoherent. If God is orderly and coherent, then his image-bearers should seek to be so too. QED.
Sal posits that we might take the Bible's statements as tentative, then test them out. How do you test them out?
Remember that the Bible itself claims to be the revelation of the mind of God. It is claiming to be a *final* authority. Where do you go after you have taken your case to the Supreme Court? Either the court really was supreme, or it wasn't. If there is another bench that sits afterwards, then it wasn't the Supreme Court after all.
If the Bible's statements can be taken to a higher authority to test - such as Sal's laboratory, or mine - then ipso facto, the Bible is already assumed to /not/ be what it claims to be. My or Sal's reasoning processes are being set up as a more reliable authority, and can be used to test it.
Either the Bible can sit in judgment on my reasoning processes and verify their veracity, or my reasoning processes can sit in judgment on the Bible and verify its veracity. But not both.
My position as a Christian is not that I can prove every statement in the Bible, or even most of them, to be true. Such a claim would actually be inconsistent with the view that the Bible is the final authority. By definition, your foundational presuppositions or (those things directly deducible from them) are not subject to further verification - or they would not in fact be foundational presuppositions. Rather, my position is that only taking the Bible as foundational can consistently make sense of everything else. C S Lewis asked why we believe that our night-time dreams are not the true world, rather than the one we spend the day in. How do we know that day-time is not the dream? How do we decide for sure which is the real world? He answered, because the real world makes sense of our dreams; whereas our dreams make sense of nothing. One gives a coherent account of the other. That's as far as you go in such questions, and normally it satisfies us. Christians believe in the triune God and in the Bible, not because we have a scientific proof of them; but because they make sense of the world, science and everything else whereas the alternative choices fall far short. Science makes sense within a Biblical world-view. There are coherent reasons for doing science and expecting sound results. But when I make myself the centre of my existence and epistemology, I end up being able to make sense of nothing. How do I know that the world is not just an illusion? Why expect the future to be in accordance with the past? There are reasons why science flourished within the soil of a Christian culture, when it had failed to do so amongst other those of world-views.
This is not special pleading. Sal appears to believe that his own reasonings and perhaps empirical tests can prove or disprove statements in the Bible. This means that Sal believes in the reliability of his own reasonings and tests, above that of the Bible. But why does he believe in them? What makes him think they are reliable? Has he verified them some other way? If so, then how was that "other way" itself verified?
If you keep pressing that process back, then eventually you have to come back to some foundation beyond which you cannot go. Unless you presuppose *something*, you cannot deduce *anything*. There must be a "this is where we start, and which we assume is true". The child's questions "why, why, why?" must eventually end with an answer "because it is so". The issue is not "why take the Bible as your foundation - doesn't this decide the issue in advance?" It's not a matter of taking a foundation or not. Our epistemology has to have *some* foundation. The only question is, "which one?". A man with zero prior assumptions can only end up with zero conclusions. If you have some conclusions, you must have had some foundational assumptions. So why not the Bible? Why believe in your own ultimate, final reliability above that of the Bible?
So, the only question to be decided is where we stop, not whether to stop. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is that ultimately reliable stopping place. I myself am a fallen creature, and my reasoning processes are corrupt and not ultimately and finally reliable. They are biased, by my own ignorance and selfishness. I cannot make them the ultimate foundation of my thinking and living.
I hope this at least answers the question, why someone might use the formula "the Bible says it, therefore I believe it". I approve of that formula, not because I think of myself as supremely gullible, but because my aim is to bring my thoughts into submission to God's - rather than the other way around.
Nobody is claiming that agreeing with this assessment is an essential of Intelligent Design theory. But it surely helps conversation if we each understand why we are each saying the things we do. If we're convinced that scientism is a bogus epistemology, then what does a true one look like? "The Bible says it, therefore I believe it" gives me a basis for doing science personally; made in the image of God, in a logical and orderly creation, I can put some level of basic trust in my thought processes and observations - whilst maintaining a healthy skepticism, knowing my own fallibility. Where does Sal get such a belief from? Does he just hope that this is the way it is? (Don't tell me he's done some tests/had some past experience - that's viciously circular). I get what Sal assumes, for free, as a consequence of my foundational assumptions. "The Bible says it, therefore I believe it" is a sound epistemology, not a mark of being gullible.