Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Lovers of the truth must also challenge heresy

T D Jakes is big in East Africa. His mean, moody and magnificent mug beams out at us in many bookshops (not just "Christian" ones) and even from the back of buses.

In accordance with that, there are lots of churches which deny the revealed truth about the Trinity, and they teach health/wealth/prosperity theology.

And many lives are accordingly ruined on the rocks of error that Jakes points them to. It's not just a theory. We meet those people.

Thus, it's good to read what James White has written here in response to those who seem to have taken it to themselves to declare that Jakes is acceptably orthodox: "The Discernment Gap: Showing a Lack of Passion for God's Honor and Glory"

Reforming in Kenya

I've begun to publish online some papers related to our situations in Kenya; the needs, opportunities, challenges and ways forward to bring the kingdom forward and the practices of those of us trying to outreach, especially to the urban poor, more closely into line with Scripture:


I believe and pray these will be useful for all kinds of people; those who are interested in mission, the third-world, self-sustaining church-planting, East Africa, etc. They can be read online or freely downloaded.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The church and the middle class

In passing, blogger "Archbishop Cranmer" says:
One of the Church of England’s fundamental weaknesses, in common with many churches in Europe, is its tendency to demand that people do not merely acknowledge the Lordship of Christ but also abandon their former way of life in favour of that of a peculiar middle-class sub-culture.
That's actually largely my experience of a lot of town churches in Kenya too.

I suspect that's not entirely an independent event, given that the missionary task force that has been seeking to teach Kenya what Christianity is, appears to be almost entirely Western.

Except we don't merely imply to them that they must adopt a peculiar middle-class sub-culture; we require them to adopt a peculiar middle-class and foreign sub-culture!

You probably don't need telling that that's a really bad idea.

A further unfortunate experience is that short-term Western visitors to Africa seem rarely to perceive how bad an idea this is. They visit, find that they can quickly associate with the churches they're visiting (because of the above), and then they return to the West and say how wonderful it was. How encouraging to see "our" kind of Christianity (which is probably the one true one) flourishing in a foreign land! And thus the money supply, to keep funding these enterprises, ensures their growth.

I'm not sure what a long-term route to solving this problem might look like, but maybe this short post will raise a little awareness.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Bible is not simply a bolted-on explanation

Someone forwarded to me a couple of extracts of two interviews with Dr Mike Taylor, "a computer programmer by day, and a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in his spare time." Here and the January 2012 issue of Christianity magazine (not sure if that's online).

According to Dr. Taylor, people who don't see issues of religion and science just the same way as he does are loonies who are wasting their time; they (I mean to say, we) give the impression that Christianity is an entirely unthinking religion - and the reason why we don't see things the way he does, is because we're not listening to him carefully enough.

I do like people who don't hide what they think from you. It saves a lot of time. But, from that I suppose he won't be interested in anything I have to say. Perhaps you will!

Here are a few points of unthinking lunatic non-interaction from me in response to quotes from him:
We'd probably all agree that science is the best available tool for figuring out what happens in the universe and how it happens. Religion, properly understood, doesn't really involve itself with those questions at all,
According to Christianity, the most important thing that ever happened in the universe is that the Son of God rose from the dead on the third day. How would Dr. Taylor verify that, since his position is that "religion" is unable to make claims about actual historical events? There was a physical resurrection, because physical death - one of the results of the curse - was defeated. Dr. Taylor seems to believe that the material world and the spiritual world are two distinct things; but the heart of the Christian faith says "not so"; we look for a new resurrection body, and believe that Jesus has gone ahead of us. As Paul says (1 Corinthians 15), if this is not so, then Christianity collapses. That's very far away from saying that Christianity doesn't care about such questions at all. Once you shunt the physical world outside of the concerns of "Religion, properly understood", you destroy the foundations of the faith.
Religion, properly understood, doesn't really involve itself with those questions at all, but with why things are as they are, and with who is ultimately responsible for it all. This distinction is of course is what Gould (1997) was referring to in his concept of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). Gould himself was an atheist, or at least agnostic; but he understood what kind of a thing religion is, and respected it on its own terms rather than holding it in contempt because it's not science.
First, it's clear that Taylor here is basing his views upon philosophical assumptions, not upon scientific ones. How did he learn that "religion" and "science" exist in hermetically sealed domains? That's not itself a finding of science, either actually or even potentially - it's a philosophical/religious dogma. Our views of to what extent "religion" and "science" overlap ought to be formed by the Bible (if we are Christians). And the Bible makes a huge number of assertions about what happened and when - creation, miracles, Jesus' death and resurrection being the major ones.

Secondly, Taylor should have taken more notice of Gould's atheism. Gould shoves religion out of the realm of the world as we touch and experience it, because that's where he wants God to be - out of the realm of relevance. He felt more comfortable with the religious implications of that view.

Gould's concept was atheistic to the core. According to Christianity, the Bible is God's word with authority over all things; seen, unseen, spiritual, physical. It does not simply have "magisteria" in a privatised, unseen (read: irrelevant!) "religious" world. The Bible begins by teaching us that God made the heavens and the earth; he rules over all domains, including over science.

The separation between "what happens" and "why it happens and who does it" is a profoundly anti-Biblical separation. God's word and his actions are inseparable; God acts in history and explains the meaning of his actions to us. Christianity is not simply a bolted-on explanation of the meaning of history; it is also a set of distinct assertions about the content of history itself. If Dr. Taylor wanted to know the route that Moses took out of Egypt, or what miracles were performed through him there, or what happened at the Red Sea, then how would he derive the answer? According to him, religion has no interest in such questions. The God who really is, on the other hand, seems to be very interested in them, and decided through those very things to reveal himself to us.

Once you cut God's actions in history out of the picture as irrelevant issues, then you ultimately cut God himself out - because it is through those actions that God has made himself known.

from any Christians who hang around this blog supporting creationism: guys, give it a rest. Religion is not science
The first chapters of Genesis are about who caused the universe to exist, and why he did it. They are simply not interested in the mechanisms he used, any more than the John chapter 2 account of Jesus turning water into wine is concerned with the chemical reactions.
That's a straw man; the question is not "does Genesis explain scientific mechanisms?" but is the book of Genesis history? Is it intended to be an accurate account of God's actions, and in what duration of time it asserts he carried them out? No creationist thinks that Genesis is intended to give detailed scientific mechanisms. Creationists have been pointing out and correcting this straw-man from ever since this debate began; it would do Dr. Taylor's side of the argument well to either stop raising it, or to cease saying that the problem is that we're not listening to what he's saying carefully enough.

Dr. Taylor appears to allow that Jesus did turn water into wine. Suppose that in 1859 Charles Darwin had published a book demonstrating that water and wine are really the same thing, and that if left in a pot long enough, one will become the other without any intervention; that the action was simply nature taking its ordinary course - and that in fact the feast at which it took place was extended over several decades, and not a few days as John says? What would Dr. Taylor say to that? The point is that Dr. Taylor's neat "what/why/who" trichotomy, though simple to grasp and making for good sound bites, does not actually work when applied to the case in point. The questions are tied up closely together, and Genesis also makes assertions about "when" and "how long". To disagree with those assertions is one thing; but to simply rule them out-of-court because you arbitrarily assert that "religion" never makes such assertions is something else.

Christians who should be spreading the love of Christ are distracted into a fruitless argument that has nothing to do with the gospel

This is severe question-begging. We've seen that Taylor's view of Christianity is of a privatised spiritual religion that is hermetically sealed off from the real flesh-and-blood world - rather than of one in which the living God acts and has acted in our world in space and time to redeem. Where do we find the love of Christ? In dying for us in the 1st century under Pontius Pilate, as the early Christians were careful to remind us through their creeds. In his rising again, bodily, in a new glorious resurrection life. This was a foretaste of his coming again to remake this flesh-and-blood world - not to whisk us of to stay eternally into a privatised floaty ethereal spiritual realm. Why did he need to die? The Bible's answer is, it is because Adam sinned and Creation fell. This creation. The one in which we draw breath and in which he drew breath. Personally, I go out into the flesh-and-blood world to preach the love of Christ because I believe it's the same world that God created in six days, which fell when Adam sinned, the world which is populated with Adam's children who are under God's righteous wrath because of Adam's sin as their head and representative, and the world which is redeemed through Jesus' death. Taylor's theology redefines the root meanings of most or all of the terms and concepts in those sentences; it's hardly an irrelevant issue.

Principled disagreement is one thing. But to say that all these points are irrelevant, and that those who make them should be written off as thick loonies is another. It's sad that Dr. Taylor, who's evidently a clever man, has taken a leaf out of the "New Atheists"' book and decided that name-calling is the way forward, rather than honest and serious Christian debate.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Britain's moral free-fall

Here, Peter Oborne in the Telegraph laments Britain's moral free-fall in recent years.

He does not, however, go back beyond the 1990s. He laments the generation that took power there, but does not join up the dots and note that these are the children of the 1960s sexual revolution.

Nor does he go back further and note that it is specifically a rejection of Christianity that took place and that we are now enjoying the fruits of.

We live in Kenya, which is a pre-Christian society. We're seeing the West's future, and it's not pretty. Oborne laments the growing culture of systematic dishonesty and impunity. Believe us, you won't like it when you experience the full flowering of what is now well underway in Britain. What the West is discovering is that only two choices exist, not three. You can either submit to the joyful rule of Jesus and deny yourself the so-called pleasures of sin, or you can refuse and taste the consequences. There is no way to enjoy the fruits of a good tree, whilst cutting off the roots. What is done to the roots will work its way up; and when the roots are rotten, the tree is ripe only to be cut down.

But Christians must not despair. It is still evident that vestigial Christianity, through the salt-and-light witness of believers, continues to do tremendous good in the UK. And that same witness, when Jesus makes it powerful, will bring much better things, so long as the church remains faithful to him and is willing to undergo the trials of fire that must come.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Actually, we make the KGB look like schoolboys

I hope what is reported here is true; Joe Carter passes on a report that in Iran, Biblical Christianity is spreading "like never before".

I couldn't help noticing how it was introduced by Carter:
The Story: Step aside CIA, KGB, MI6. The most powerful intelligence agencies in the world today---at least according to some Iranian leaders---are groups like TGC, SBC, PCA. . .
The title Carter gives his post is, "Is Evangelical Christianity the New KGB?"

From that wording, Carter, an evangelical Christian writing for the Gospel Coalition, obviously thinks it's a bit of a joke.

I'm with the Iranians on this one. Because when the leaven leavens the lump, the lump is indeed fully leavened. The mustard seed might look pathetically small, but it will ultimately dwarf the rest of the garden. A tyrannical Islamic theocracy is indeed threatened by the willingness of Christians to first obey Christ, and suffer for it. To bow to the heavenly ruler and not the earthly tyrant. Because as they take up the cross to die daily, the mighty power of Jesus' resurrection is at work. Christianity does actually ultimately mean the death-blow for alternative civilisations; not by military might or political power, but by something much greater: the Spirit of the risen Christ working in peoples' hearts so that such might nor power are completely transcended and outmoded.

Anyone spotted the Roman Empire lately? Nope? Is the power of the corrupt medieval papacy still stifling Europe? Going further back, how about the Babylonian or Assyrian or Medo-Persian empires? Gone too!

But it seems that the gospel is still going forward amongst the nations - which it will indeed do so when the present Iranian regime, which is a mere 30 years old, and indeed the modern secular west which looks like it'll hardly make it into three figures, crumbles. The KGB has got nothing on the Christian church... what happened to the Soviet Empire by the way? Isn't it the new KGB now, since the old communist empire with its threats to displace Christianity is now a relic of history, having crumbled under the weight of its own internal contradictions? Forward, comrades, to victory - forward into the sufferings and cross-carrying which are the mark that the victory is indeed ours. A good first step would be for Christian leaders to stop laughing at the idea that the risen Christ is actually a wee bit mightier than the KGB....

Friday, 13 January 2012

God's Big Picture

Here's a brilliant paragraph to open a book with. Here's a man who really gets the "big picture" of the Bible. This is an introduction to a theological survey of the Old Testament by William J Dumbrell ("The Faith of Israel"):
"Israel presented her revelation in terms of Law, Prophets, and Writings, the order in which her faith was informed. The Pentateuch - the Law - embraces the first five books of the Old Testament and contains the substance of Israel's gospel. God, who created the world with a New Creation in ultimate view, to be achieved ideally by human cooperation, had given Israel a model in the Eden narrative of what the world was to be. Dominion, in terms of service to God's creation, needed to be exercised over the world outside the garden. Within this dominion, the model of Genesis 2 was extended over all creation. The failure of representative humanity to rise to this task in Genesis 3 meant the call of Israel as the world's evangelist; Israel would be the nation calling the world to the new model of God's government.. This was to happen as Israel endorsed kingdom-of-God values in her Promised Land, the new Eden." (p9)
It's hard for modern Westerners to think in terms of God's story. It's hard for modern Africans too. Each has their own narrative. It's so much easier just to bolt "Jesus gets us into heaven after this is all over" onto our present narrative, rather than to let the Bible totally re-write our story.

But that's what the Bible does. The Bible begins to tell us a story. We need the Bible's story to progressively displace our own faulty stories with its infinitely more glorious one. What Adam and Israel did not do, Christ is doing and shall do. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Giving to African churches

A question about Western giving to African churches...

Suppose that the amount of giving by kind, generous mission-supporting churches in the West dwarfs the amount that is or can be given locally. Let's suppose too that the locals are the majority poor; they live hand-to-mouth (they're not the middle-class elite).

Suppose that the locals have noticed this. They realise that their contribution is minor, proportionally. If they don't give, then it will not change the big picture into a different level - the church income will remain in the same ball-park.

Remember, these people are living hand-to-mouth. In the towns, they live under great pressure for food, rent, medicines when sick, relatives needing loans from crises, etcetera.

What do you think their response will be, once they've added up the sums, looked at their own situations and the demands upon them, and looked at how easily the foreigner is apparently able to send more cash?

And why do you think that? Is it based on personal knowledge of the maturity of the churches? Or wishful thinking?

Moving on from there, what do you think the long-term effect of this kind, generous mission-supporting church giving on the African church will be?

There came a point in our own missionary adventure when we realised that the weakness of the African churches, at least those we are familiar with, is not a sad,regrettable and surprising outcome despite all the help that the West has been giving them. It's something else.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Year Of Christ's Victory, 2012

Happy New Year!

I read in the news headlines that the wealthy (i.e., who can afford to do so) world has been celebrating the New Year.

Being someone whose brain starts analysing everything, I wondered why. To most of them, it's an arbitrary event. We circled the sun one more time since last time that we celebrated doing so. Hurrah!

As often observed though, creatures are created; even when they don't really know why they're doing what they're doing, they do it.

For the Christian, the marking of time is meaningful. We believe in progress and success. We believe in the meaning and purpose and goal of history. Jesus has ascended his throne. His kingdom goes forwards. He exerts and makes known his dominion. In his all-wise way, he progressively brings the universe to rights through the suffering and obedience of his people. As the new and final Adam, each year he unfolds what he has purposed, especially through the lives of his covenant children, and brings the day when he shall be revealed in power and glory one revolution closer.

And 2012 will bring more of the same. Praise his name.

To know him

"Christ-centred, gospel-focussed"