Thursday, July 31, 2008

Three Ways to Live

This post from my own blog, June 08

The story so often referred to as the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, isn't about the prodigal son at all. Its about the older brother. Jesus is telling it to Pharisees and scribes who pour scorn on his partying with tax collectors and sinners.

He tells them about a hedonistic rebel who is completely unworthy of the love of the father, but who gets it entirely by grace. The whole point is to set up the sting in the tail. The older brother is none of that. He is dutiful, obedient, not reckless. Surely deserving? But it's the older brother (ie, them!) who misses the love of the father because he refuses his grace. Talk about a shock. The ones they despise most get in on the love and celebration of God. While they, for all their religion, miss it.

Why does the obedient son miss out on what the disobedient one receives? Three reasons:

  • He has no real relationship with the father. He is a son but he talks in terms of servitude. Instead of enjoying the father as a son his relationship is reduced to "you command, I obey."
  • He thinks he is deserving of love because of what he has done (and his brother isn't because of what he has done). And because he doesn't enjoy the father's grace himself he is unhappy with it being lavished on anyone else. "Love me because I deserve it" is the opposite of the gospel
  • He hates the delight that's going on in the father's house. He sees the music, celebration and dancing and despises it. The heart that says "I don't like God being lavish towards others" typically won't like other people's worship and enjoyment of God either

The story of the prodigal son is one of two rebels, two kinds of sinners. There is the licentious, blatant rebel who throws it all in God's face and refuses his grace, and the religious, dutiful rebel who refuses his grace and justifies his own behaviour on the grounds of obedient service. The shock in Jesus' story is that the first comes back into the Father's love and the second doesn't.

There are those who live without God in blatant, licentious ways. And those who live without God in religious, churchy ways. By definition, almost every Christian is more likely to be the second than the first. The answer to both is a third way to live. To come to the father, to receive acceptance only on the basis of his loving kindness, and to come into the party. If you are tempted to dislike exuberant worship, then in the terms of Jesus story you need to examine yourself to see if you are either in the far country with the younger son, or in the dark with the older son. Either way you need to repent and come into the warmth.

The Great Fulfilment

Last week I spent a glorious few days teaching on how to develop and use Bible overviews to leaders from 14 countries. It was humbling and instructive to hear the difficulties of standing for Christ in the Ukraine, the difficulties of knowing so few other believers in Italy, the challenges in nominal orthodox environments. And as for praying in all those languages - wow!

The thing that hit me most was that even senior leaders sometimes struggled with principles for applying the Old Testament. I have seen it in the UK too. I discovered a temptation to circumvent the single biggest Old Testament application principle which is that Jesus Christ is the New Covenant between Humankind and God, and that Jesus Christ is the New Israel of God.

The temptation is to take the Old Testament text and say either that the New Testament equivalent of national Israel is the Church, or that it is the current nation state in Palestine. And therefore to take whatever is written in the Old Testament about the people of God and apply it directly to one or other of those. But Old Testament and New Testament alike are clear: the Israel of God is Jesus Christ, God's King, God's only true obedient person, the true worshipper. When Jesus is called "Son of God" that is a job title (quite different from "God the Son"). And the job title means "King of Israel", the new, sinless, eternal King on David's throne.

My favourite Old Testament place to see this is in the Servant Songs of Isaiah 40-55. The character of the Servant of the Lord is introduced, who is God's answer to the sin of His people, His rescuer from judgement and the person who will end the Exile. Of the Servant we learn:

  • He is the chosen one of God (42:1)
  • He becomes the New Covenant with God (42:6). Unlike Moses who merely relayed a covenant, this servant is the covenant in himself, which is whay Jesus proclaims a new covenant in his blood
  • He will finally bring in God's promise to Abraham that the nations will be blessed, not just Israel (426)
  • He will accomplish the job by his word (49:2)
  • MOST CRUCIALLY he is named Israel! (49:3) and this isn't the nation because this new Israel is given the task of rescuing the nation of Israel (49:6-7)
In Is. 42 we discover there are two Servants: an old servant who fail due to sin and is plundered and looted and under God's judgement (v18-25), and a new Servant who perfectly acts in righteousness to rescue them (v1-9). By the end of Is.49 the titles of "Israel" and "Servant of the Lord" are taken from the nation and given to this rescuer.

No wonder then that at the start of all four Gospels we have John the Baptist identifying Himself in words from Isaiah 40 as the one who will prepare the way for this rescuer and King. No wonder the gospel writers are at such pains to point out how Jesus fulfils all the expectations of the Old Covenant. Have you ever seen how many fulfilments there are in John's gospel? In the fist 7 chapters alone Jesus is the fulfilment of:
  • Creation (1:1)
  • The Old Testament presence of God (1:14)
  • The promise of a rescuer (1:23)
  • The passover lamb (1:29)
  • Heaven (Jacob's ladder 1:51)
  • Ceremonial covenant stipulations (2:1-11)
  • The temple (2:13f)
  • The OT promises of the new covenant in the Spirit (ch3)
  • The place where God is worshipped (4:23)
  • The Sabbath (ch5)
  • The one who speaks with true authority form God (5:19f)
  • God's wilderness provision and parting of the Red Sea (Ch6)
It all builds up to Chapter 7 when the nation gathered at the feast of booths. On the greatest day of the feast when the priests led the people in an act of worship looking forward to the New Covenant in the Spirit Jesus announced publicly "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. As the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him", meaning the Holy Spirit (7:39).

So the great principle for Old Testament application is always "how does this part of the Old Testament apply to Christ?" He said it all points to him. He is the end of the plotline (Luke 24). Why then do we struggle to avoid the merely moralistic "people behaved like this in the OT so we should" (or shouldn't, depending on the example) (PS we can do this on the basis of 1 Cor. 10, but it isn't the first application we should make). Or the overly-simplistic "God commanded Old Testament nation-state Israel to do this, so he is commanding us to do this".

Instead we have to ask "How does this or that stipulation or example under the Old Covenant, relate to our New Covenant, Jesus Christ. And subsequently to all those who are in him." If we don't we will always be tempted to teach law not grace, works not faith, behaviour rather than life in the Spirit, regulation rather than freedom. The antidote to all these is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bible Before Blog

Several people over the last few months have told me either that a post on my own blog is not theologically nuanced enough for them, or that I didn't include enough exegesis when making a provocative comment. I agree. The reason is not that I think theological nuance or good exegesis are unimportant - actually the exact opposite - but that they are impossible to deliver in a blog. Not if the blog is going to be readable, anyway.

For all its ability to communicate widely and brilliantly, the blog has some glaring inadequacies. For the serious communicator the worst is that blog posts will always struggle for detail and nuance. A blog is not a book. Nor a sermon. At its best it can be a conversation when comments are posted and responded to, but we should never assume that blogging can give us the kind of depth a book can.

It is, however, incredibly addictive and potentially time-consuming. I recently asked a pastor what he thought the big dangers of the internet are for himself and his flock. His answer surprised me: time wasting. We now have a medium in the home that takes an incredible amount of time to use well. And on which it is possible to spend an incredible amount of time for reasons that are merely trivial.

It is tempting to assume, when surfing and interacting with the best blogs (even this one!), that we are engaged in deeper theological reflection than we actually are. Therefore if we let our blog use take more time than we spend in God's Word or doing Christian reading there is every danger that we get shallower, even while we think we are receiving good stuff. It commits us to only ever expecting to receive at a certain level. Or, worse, it commits us to only hearing stuff we personally decide to surf because we already agree with it. There are far too many theologically duff conversations that happen in cyberspace where they can never mature through access to encouragement or correction from the outside.

The writer to the Hebrews told people in the churches that they should already have elementary teachings under their belt and now be pressing on to maturity. If we aren't careful the blog easily becomes a means of keeping us at the elementary level. It is a poor medium for taking us further.

If you more readily read a blog than a book - or the Bible - switch off the computer now and get your Bible off the shelf. Linger over it. Enjoy the presence of God. Turn your reading into worship. Write down what you discover and how God wants you to respond. Don't rush it. Then, if you have access to one, get a good Christian book off the shelf. Nothing simplistic, go for some deep stuff and linger in that too, letting wise people teach you.

And for those of us who write blogs, let's acknowledge their limitations as well as all the good things about them. And then do our utmost every time we write to do so with as sparkling a style AND as much depth and weight in the scriptures as we can.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This Week's Guest Presenter...

Every week the popular satirical news quiz "Have I Got News For You" features a guest presenter to add to the fun. Dave Bish is on his holidays and fancied using the same idea on the Blue Fish while he is away. So I will be filling in for a few days.

Dave asked me to use this first post to introduce myself. Which I reckon breaks the first rule of good Christian blogging - don't let it be about you, but about God and the greatness and glory of his grace. But it's Dave's blog, so here are a few details about me:

My name is Marcus Honeysett. I was a colleague of Dave's in the distant past when we worked in the UCCF together. I've written a couple of books, one on culture, one on grace and joy, but my passion is preaching the Bible and training others to do so.

Any preaching worthy of the name should be gospel-soaked, truth-soaked grace. Applied as powerfully as we are able to the heart so that we, and our hearers, not only understand the word but do as it commands. Good preaching should be as weighty as befits God's truth and as magnificent and heart-engaging as befits his worship. Only let our hearers leave feeling the glory of God, commicated through the Bible, bearing down on them, and any preacher will be content. The only reason preaching can be dismissed by so many today as an outmoded form of communication is that they haven't really heard any proper preaching. They may have heard blessed thoughts and pleasant homilies, they may have heard expository lectures. Preaching is neither of these. It is much more glorious than both.

My other passion is training and nurturing Christian leaders. I work for Living Leadership, a collaboration between church leaders dedicated to training and sustaining leaders. Check us out at Our three areas of work are:
  • Helping people into a first experience of Christian leadership with training schemes that are of the best quality but at affordable prices
  • Keeping Christian leaders alive and rejoicing in the Lord for the long term
  • Training lay leaders for the health of local churches
Everything we do has a core distinctive of building grace-filled servant character for leadership. Paul says repeatedly that leadership is about serving others in love in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, that's enough about me. I resisted blogging for years because it is a medium that so naturally tends towards narciscism. The blogosphere, with its seductive temptations to market ourselves for public appluase, is the zeitgeist. Every Christian blogger should do their utmost to resist by never talking about themselves.

Romans 15:13 says:
May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
I hope that I can bring a few posts in Dave's absence that come anywhere near making you want to pursue God for his joy and peace, in order that your hope in Jesus Christ might overflow by the Holy Spirit.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Without doctrinal clarity movements become bad institutions...

One of Mark Driscoll's penetrating observations of Newfrontiers is that as a movement it needs to nail it's doctrine. He observed that when something is small it can get away with verbal communication and unwritten assuptions of what the doctrine of the movement is, but that if it's to grow beyond 'the founder and his friends and family' then these things have to be written down. This danger lurks for newfrontiers a movement devoted to honouring Terry Virgo and those gathered around him - for the movement to really honour him it needs to grow well beyond those relationships and out live him.

Driscoll notes rightly identifies a suspicion in newfrontiers that if you write things down you become an institution - (I'm guessing grounded in the old Baptist roots of some of the founders?). Driscoll however says that if you don't write down tightly your doctrine it's not that you avoid becoming an instution, it's just that you become a bad institution. To stay as a movement and to grow doctrine has to be nailed down.

Personally, I think this is part of what has sustained UCCF for 80 years, that we've established from the outset our core doctrine. Since UCCF isn't doing church planting but rather acting as a partnership of churches it doesn't need to pin down any more than this core statement, and the theological foundations of its methodology (like CU & Church). Where Acts 29, SGM and Newfrontiers are Reformed-Charismatic, UCCF limits it's defining at Evangelical which is a wider subset into which Reformed-Charismatic sits, along with non-Reformed-Charismatics, non-Reformed-Cessationists, Reformed-Cessationists... and many more who wouldn't particularly define themselves by either of those distinctives.

Newfrontiers has begun the writing down with a responsive paper from John Hosier Mick Taylor on the atonement but clarity on doctrines of church, atonement, Bible, The Holy Spirit will be necessary.

Acts 29 has clearly done work on it's doctrinal position. It's doctrinal basis sits comfortably with the UCCF statement. Interestingly in addition to positively defining themselves they also give a negative definition of what they're not. Always necessary theologically to state the case both ways. The other Reformed Charismatic church planting movement Sovereign Grace Ministries also lays out its doctrine in more detail.

I'm keen to see where we in newfrontiers go with this particular challenge from Mark Driscoll. I'm excited to be joining the family at a time when this live issue has the opportunity to be hammered out. It's a weakness I've observed but I hope it can be addressed so that the doctrinal foundations of this movement can be set down deeply which will free it to grow beyond the founder and his friend to 1000 churches and beyond.

The Dark Knight

After all the hype the lights went down and the noise began. An audio visual assault that provides significantly more than most summer blockbusters. But then this is action film by Chris Nolan with Bale and Ledger.

Understandably all the talk has been about Heath Ledger's performance, and on this occasion the talk delivers. I imagine sentiment plus the performance may well equal an Oscar for him. It would be deserved. He's surrounded by a solid cast in Bale, Caine, Freeman, Oldman, Gyllenhaal and Eckhart.

The film continues with the good vs. evil theme of Nolan's reboot. This time things aren't as simple as good and bad, justice and revenge. The Joker arrives bringing devilish chaos: “Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Nolan's Gotham is outwardly worse than our world. It is a dark world that needs a white knight who will come and save it, not some superpowered superman but a man who will rise from among the people. Evil has been opposed and good is beginnning to triumph, but can all this spitting in the face of evil triumph? Can good overcome when it is so closely focussed on evil?

The issues become clear and more pressing as Nolan poses the questions. What will the people do when evil reigns, will they find good within themselves? Will heroes arise who can lead them? And what if those heroes aren't 100% heroic? Can we still believe? What will we do with them?

Enjoy the show. Enjoy the questions.

Mark Driscoll's Resources on Genesis

PDF booklet of all of Mark Driscoll's notes on Genesis, compiled for his church
See Mars Hill Church, Seattle for MP3s

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Emerging bridges over troubled Anglican waters?

Bishop Alan relays some of Brian McLaren's teaching from the Anglican Lambeth Conference (interesting in itself to have the king of emergent on stage with the liberal anglicans):
"Most postmodern people don’t relish being far from God, bereft of hope and roots, isolated from loving community, part of the problem rather than the solution. But neither do they want to be religious fanatics, cultists, Us and Them dualists, Church hobbyists, Judgmental fantasists. They need authentic, sane, vibrant faith. Angicanism at its best is well placed to provide safe space to grow this: A gospel which prioritizes Jesus and the kingdom more than institutional religion, with a servant concept of ministry. A safe platform from which to develop creative fresh expressions of Church. A multicultural family, with global flexibility. A liturgy that at its best exibits mystery, beauty, rootedness, intelligence and clarity, biblical coherence, as opposed either to absolutism or bigoted, mean spirited zealotry."
Alan is "impressed with the logic of Brian's argument" and his confident omniscient declaration: "This generation feels increasingly orphaned by the manifest failures of conventional religion, science, government, technology, consumerism." So he's saying:

1. He knows that most pomo's [if there are (m)any?] don't want distance from God which is equated to hope and roots and community. We'll ok people want hope and community but this doesn't deal with the issue of human rebellion.... this make sthe diagnosis messy at best.
2. The alternative to being a non-Christian is painted as 'fanatics, cultists, hobbyists, fanatasists'. No-one wants to be that, but does McLaren seriously think much of the church really is that? The Emergent alternative is to be 'authentic, sane and vibrant' - and who wouldn't want to be that!! Should the church have integrity and life - yes - and much of it already does!
The more emergent stuff I read the more I feel sorry for Brian McLaren & co. Being generous to them, they must have grown up in some awful and isolated church to think that everything is as bad as they think it is.

In my Christian life I've been part of four local churches - none of which were as he paints, and in my student work I've had substantial contact with dozens of other churches - and again I still don't see any of these fanatics, cultists, hobbyists, fanatasists. Add to that picture the liberal-anglo-catholic church I was part of before I was a Christian - that lacked a lot but still wasn't as bad as McLaren paints.

The story of the bridge is fascinating though, and maybe there is a good illustration in it somewhere... maybe about how people have moved away from the unchanging gospel and need to come back to it. For all the apparent changes in the expression of sin in the 21st Century, the gospel remains the only hope and Jesus is and will build his church around that gospel.

You can change (Tim Chester)

Tim Chester's You Can Change completes my holiday reading list... having greatly appreciated Tim's Good News for the Poor, The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness and Total Church, plus the works of these endorsers this looks like a key read.

“A book about Christian growth that is neither quietistic nor moralistic is rare. A book that is truly practical is even rarer. Tim Chester’s new volume falls into both categories and therefore fills a gap.” -- Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

"There are few books that are shockingly honest, carefully theological, and gloriously hopeful all at the same time. Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change, is all of these and more. He skilfully uses the deepest insights of the theology of the Word as a lens to help you understand yourself and the way of change, and, in so doing, helps you to experience practically what you thought you already knew. The carefully crafted personal ‘reflection’ and ‘change project’ sections are worth the price of the book by themselves. It is wonderful to be reminded that you and I are not stuck, and it’s comforting to be guided by someone who knows well the road from where we are to where we need to be.” -- Paul Tripp, President of Paul Tripp Ministries

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On my holidays I mostly like reading books on the beach

So I'm gathering the books I'm going to take on holiday with me.

Wesley Owen tells me that the one Christian book I should read this summer is The Shack (at least their Bristol shop is full of copies of it and big 'must read' signs). And Eugene Peterson says it's the new Pilgrems Progress... which is glorious praise if true. And yet Christian fiction usually smells like Contemporary Christian Music - often average, and in the Christian bookshop because it's not good or engaging enough to be sold in Zavvi. Mark Driscoll just says 'don't. Walter Hanegar says it's "spiritual comfort food loaded with theological trans fat". Challies on the Pilgrems Progress comparison: "neither as good nor as original a story and it lacks the theological precision of Bunyan’s work". I'm not opposed to reading it but if it's content is that messed up, and it's not actually all that well written there are plenty of good novels yet to be read!

So, instead I've got Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Colin Duriez' biography of Tom Price's hero Francis Schaeffer, Amy Orr-Ewing's But is it real?, Cormac McCarthy's The Road (though I might finish that before I go), Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and Dostoevsky's The Karamazov Brothers. Plus possibly Thomas Schreiner's New Testament Theology or something else. Should keep me going for a bit. Plus Bible, Chris Wright's BST on Ezekiel and my copy of The Valley of Vision.

I ♥ books. Some people take the kitchen sink on holiday with them. I just need my bookcase. Now bring on the beaches!

"This is British public transport - we don't even make eye contact, let alone speak!"

Out of curiosity I'm tempted to get hold of this...
How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends.

" Devon, ...a new welcome pack for Polish migrant workers advises them that a good way to start a conversation is to remark on the weather."
Don Gabor suggests...
  • Don't open with a complaint, it sets the tone
  • Avoid politics and religion, they are sensitive subjects
  • Keep strong opinions to yourself, you don't want to offend.
Would be a shame to avoid all the subjects that matter to people, but I guess we can start with the little things...

Don Gabor on 50 ways to improve your conversations

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

The Dark Knight is almost here after a record breaking opening weekend in the USA. Boxoffice isn't everything - the previous record was held by the woeful Spiderman 3 - but the trailers make this look really good. Refresh your memory of where things were up to with Tom Price's thought-provoking article on Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Nolan also directed Insomnia and Memento.

What if...

  • We, in Christian Unions, started to think of everything we do as missional?
(We do already think this way - but for all the positive signs and good outworkings of this I'm convinced that there is a need to go up a gear - Mark Driscoll gave this critique to Newfrontiers, and whilst in some ways I do think UCCF as a mission agency is ahead of Newfrontiers being intentially missional and engaging with culture there is no room for complacency and plenty of room for progress)
  • We abolished 'CU Evangelism Secretary' because the CU President is responsible for evangelism...
  • Everything we did was tailored towards intentionally driving us to mission?
  • Mission was the focus of our prayer?
  • Each week we could share the story of how people became Christians?
  • We understood that having the Bible taught was about transforming and equipping us for mission as lovers of Jesus?
  • We engaged with the false gospels preached on our campuses, of acceptance, shame, ambition, salvation by graduate job, security, money,...
  • We engaged with the fears and hopes that people have - which the gospel has better answers for...
  • We did mission weeks based on evangelistic preaching series on Job, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Song of Songs - done right, publicised right...

How to do unity in a Christian Union, in practice...

I want to address how this can be done. Our fellowship is based on matters in the closed hand. It is vital that members understand this. Inevitably this means that we need to live with differences on other matters. That’s easy to say when someone else has to live with things not being done the way they’d want, it’s harder when it means things aren’t done the way I want.

The turn over of people means that no local policy is set in stone, review will be necessary. The urgency of the mission means that taking lots of time every year to review this from scratch would be a waste of time and a distraction.

Here the overriding principle must be love. This would be to use 1 Corinthians 13 in context, not for marriage but for Christians relating to one another in the body. Primarily in the local church, but the principles extend to Christians Unions as a subset of the local churches. Here the principles are of trust and seeking to benefit others ahead of ourselves. This means I would rather be wronged that have someone else be wronged. I would rather go against my preference on the secondary matter than have someone else have to live with difference.

This can lead to the paralysis of two Christians saying ‘after you’ at a door way. Normally however in any group that unites from several backgrounds there will be a majority grouping and a minority. Democracy favours the majority, love would favour the minority to avoid power and numbers trampling over others. With love and a sufficient focus on the declared mission of the Christian Union we should be able to quickly put others ahead of ourselves.

Adopting a mindset of love for one another, based on our shared love of the gospel that unites us means we can also forgive and bear with one another when mistakes are made, actions are careless and hurt is felt. For Example, two real CUs though I'm not telling which ones they are but what follows is advice I would gladly give to them.

CU1. In this CU over 50% of the students attend a conservative evangelical Baptist church.
CU2. In this CU almost 100% of members attend the same egalitarian Pentecostal church.

How things get to this stage doesn't really matter. It may be due to past over-emphasis in one direction or another, or it may just be as a result of circumstance and the pack-mentality of students choosing a church, the demographic the University draws from or some other unintended neutral factor... Both CUs if they’re seeking to fulfil their founding purposes will want to develop unity around the closed-hand matters with as many people as they can. They’ll need to do something about charismatic gifts and women speaking... and they have liberty on this as they unite around the gospel.

By majority CU1 might move to no women speakers and no exercising of spiritual gifts. By majority CU2 would probably have charismatic speakers, women speakers and lots of exercising of spiritual gifts.

I’d suggest both could be wrong to do this... Instead, with careful explanation, CU1 would be wise to go against majority preference and be permissive about women speaking and the exercising of gifts. CU2 would be wise go out of it way to be more conservative in who it invites in to serve and in the way it runs its meetings in hope of lovingly making those students with whom it could unite feel welcome, rather than feeling excluded. In both cases this would also be a demonstration of humility to recognise that we have much to learn from those who are different to us. Neither action compromises the closed hand, both serve to keep the open hand open.

In all cases there will be those who feel wronged by the way things are done. The student who is convinced that women should not teach, but who in love for others sits under the teaching of a woman. The student who is convinced women can teach but doesn’t take offence when yet another man comes to teach. The student who longs for prophecy but bears with those who think that it doesn’t happen today. The student who doesn’t believe prophecy happens but seeks to learn from words that are shared.

Love believes the best of others motives. Love seeks the best for others. Love looks to unite rather than feel wronged, grumble or complain. Love looks to learn from others. Love loves the open hand and the opportunity to step out its own preferences and ways of looking at things. Love loves the closed hand that binds us together over the matters of most importance.

Finally some personal reflections, I need to maintain this humbly generous approach to others because I know how easily I can drift into arrogance and pride. I know that I’ve changed my convictions on all sort of things. At age 19 I could have been described as an evangelical-charismatic-egalitarian-arminian-baptist. At 29 you could call me an evangelical charismatic complementarian calvinist baptist. Naturally I think those changes are positives otherwise I wouldn’t have adopted them. One of the changes probably happened when I was about 22/23 and the other a couple of years later, and I was almost persuaded over to infant baptism a couple of years ago. My evangelical and charismatic convictions seem only to have deepened over the 11 years I’ve been a Christian. Along the way I’ve been part of a Pentecostal church, a Baptist church, an Anglican church and a Newfrontiers church. I have good friends with whom I’d agree on almost everything, and equally good Christian friends with whom I’d differ on many different matters.
I also know I’m still learning and growing. Surely at 29 years, and 11 as a Christian I’m not the finished article.

I’m a work in progress and I’d better stay that until I die.

There is a lot more to me than five theological labels. Furthermore, I was accepted, love and welcome in as a Christian Union leader at 19. Woe betide my 29 year old self if I would have excluded my younger self from that, likewise I hope I’ve not become anything I’d have been ashamed of back then.

Even on matters of the closed hand, but particularly on the open hand issues, I must remain convinceable of different positions if they can be Biblically demonstrated. That’s not to say proof-texted – I’d want to consider historical perspective on both my current and the proposed view. Even where I’ve not really changed my views on certain things I’d hope that they’ve been carefully examined and re-examined and retained with greater conviction, warmth and humility.

It’s easy for us to abuse one another. Take it from one who has abused other Christians more often than I care to remember. Through that I do love that the gospel of Jesus is one of bringing people to unity in Jesus, to uniting us as his people in him. The gospel creates the church, one that even has room for me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"What is at stake is... the justification of God's claim to reveal himself to the world as its God"

John Piper probably sowed the seeds of Calvinism for me when I read Let the nations be glad(in 2001) . Probably Christ Wright (whose position on sovereignty I'm not entirely sure of) sealed it with his 'The Message of Ezekiel' (published later that year - and imho one of the best of the BSTs). The helpful thing here is that both of them are into missions. The stereotype persists that Calvinism is anti-missions. You'd think Andrew Fuller & William Carey had done away with that lie 200 years ago, but there you go.... 'my' calvinism has always been missional.

In Ezekiel, God's intention that 'They will know that I am the LORD' is a recurring phrase in Ezekiel. It occurs 54 times. If anything won me to Calvinism this was it. God's overarching concern for his own glory, and for his name to be known blew away my assumption that I was the chief beneficiary of the gospel. This re-wrote the boundaries I'd thought of and made everything substantially bigger.

Words like 36v22 "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name" resonated in my heart. Chris Wright notes that this is a "relative negative" indicating the relative priority of one thing over another. So it's not to say that restoration isn't for Israel's sake and benefit but that the sake of Yahweh's name is a greater purpose [BST, footnote 54, page 291]. When it comes to me or God. God wins. That's how I see it. You don't have to call yourself a calvinist - that's up to you. But whatever your label the spreading of God's fame has got to be uttermost. I ♥ Ezekiel.

How to do unity in a Christian Union, in principle...

What kind of unity are we talking about? Not the kind of unity that creates a local church, but rather a student-led partnership of students who belong to local churches who form a mission team for the collective benefit of the local church. This being the case there is probably some difference in the kind of unity required. A local church by necessity probably has to tie down fairly closely what it means and thinks about certain things so that it doesn’t spend all its time caught up in debates and controversy.

A Christian Union has a clear purpose of doing mission together. Historically what unites such a group has been divided between Primary and Secondary beliefs. The Primary beliefs being those listed in the UCCF Doctrinal Basis of Fellowship, a document that describes itself as detailing fundamentals that form the basis of fellowship. This is akin to Peter and Paul sharing the right hand of fellowship in Galatians 2. This list of convictions is supplemented by various statements about vision and purpose which shape the focus of this fellowship. Other matters are then classed as Secondary.

The danger here is that we start to think the Secondary things are unimportant, and it’s possible that practice has often reflected this. In fact that is not what’s being said. Secondary matters far from being trivial are rather those things where we can have room to disagree yet still retain fellowship for the stated purposes. In no way should this trivialise those secondary things, yet difference on them wont lead to a breaking of fellowship. In fact there will, if the fellowship is truly around the primary matters, routinely be difference on the secondary matters in one direction or the other.

Mark Driscoll uses slightly different language here. Driscoll speaks of things that are in a closed hand, and other things that are in an open hand. Matters where there is not room to differ, and matters where there is. What’s in each hand depends on the purpose of the fellowship being formed. If the goal is to unite the entire universal church then those things in a closed hand is probably quite small, recognising that required belief for salvation can be stated quite simply. That said, as soon as you start wanting to do anything together more details needs to be added to avoid spending all of our time in controversy, and to ensure that the fellowship will be moving in a clear direction and be able to achieve anything. Driscoll notes, after John Piper, that within a local church you want as small a closed hand as you can for membership, but by the time you move to consider elders the closed hand contains quite a lot of non-negotiables – so that the church can remain clearly on vision without confusion.

In a Christian Union, working for the purpose of mission, the contents of the closed hand are summarised in a public document known as the UCCF Doctrinal Basis. This is a list of 11 statements about the Christian faith. It’s brief compared to many creedal statements and confessions. It doesn’t list every conviction I hold, nor everything I consider important, but it does list everything I’d consider necessary to agree with someone about such that we could do evangelism together. It’s breadth as a document is illustrated in practice when I consider the varying convictions of student, staff and supporters within the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. It is unashamedly evangelical in character but that remains, rightly, a broad way. It’s not vague but it’s not overly specific.

For example, point b. speaks of the sovereignty of God without going into details, such that both a Calvinist and an Arminian can (and do) happily stand within the fellowship. The statement makes no mention of the specific continuing gifts of the Spirit but does speak of the ongoing presence and empowering of the Spirit such that both the Pentecostal, the Charismatic and the Cessationist can happily stand within the fellowship. No mention is made of church initiation, membership or leadership so that the Baptist and the Anglican, the Congregationalist and the Episcopalian can all happily stand within the fellowship. Likewise no mention is made on the rising issues of Complementarian and Egalatarian roles of men and women in the church – partly because they’re quite recent developments and the document isn’t all that new, and because there is no desire to divide on this issue either.

The fellowship is intentionally narrow in places and broad in others. The local churches that the members of the fellowship belong to will necessarily have to pin down most of the above issues in order to have any kind of functioning care and unity, but for the purpose of evangelism this isn’t the case.

What I see on the ground is a great range and tendency to vary in how this unity plays out. In the CU's bread & butter of personal witness by living and speaking for Jesus it makes almost no difference where anyone stands on most of these issues. Challenges come through the necessarily events in which evangelism occurs and the equally necessarily training meetings it will hold.

Inevitably the make-up of any particular Christian Union shifts by a third every year due to graduation and the arrival of new freshers. Those new students usually arrive with some convictions on certain matters and then join local churches which develop those convictions on secondary matters in existing or new directions. This inevitably gives Christian Unions slightly different flavours from place to place and from year to year. This is fine.

But how are we to work that out in practice? There has been a tendency at times to suggest that there are neutral positions on open hand / secondary matters. In some cases this is true. On baptism this is true. Anyone who becomes a Christian through the Christian Union will be directed to join a local church. The issue of baptism normally remains unaddressed until then. The Christian Union need not adopt any position on this. But take the issue of the exercising of spiritual gifts or the ministry women. In both cases since the Christian Union will, for the sake of mission, need to both run some events where the gospel will be preached and gather Christians to equip them it will need to adopt a position on these matters....

In the next part of this I want to address how this can be done.
May not be the next post on the blog.

Too Many Hours

The band Em used to be in have just released their first album. You can hear an excerpt from the one song I wrote that's on the album: Too Many Hours

If I'm honest I don't like the way they've arranged what is meant to be a lonely, dark and depressing song. The arrangement is bright and full of sounds... A bit like preaching Ecclesiastes with a grin. But there you go!! Respect to them for the hours they put in - and the other tracks are probably fine.

FYI these are the lyrics:
Always soul-searching when I am all alone, Head full of questions and nobody to answer them. Spent too many hours staring into space, Met too many people who don't know the way. When you're watching the clock, time never passes. When you've got nothing left to do, feels like freeze frame. Spent too many hours... Are there too many hours alone? Are there too many nights gazing at the sky? I need the answer, give me the answer, I need the answer! Always soul-searching, when I am all alone...

Not quite the same

So, Radovan Karadzic has been impersonating the Archbishop of Canterbury...

Karadzic 'worked in Serb clinic'

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mark Driscoll @ Newfrontiers (MP3s now available)

Together on a Mission 2008

Main Sessions by Mark Driscoll
Session 1 - on Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the Church and the Holy Spirit.

Session 2 - on making everything missional, enagaging with culture.

Session 3 - on movements and how to avoid becoming an institution or a museum.

Training Tracks by Mark Driscoll - for elders on church planting, ministry, family etc.
Training Track 1

Training Track 2

Training Track 3

"The Christian life must be lived through the local church"

Jonathan Leeman writes provocatively on Individualism and Community. Leeman says that todays problem isn't individualism but rejection of authority, repentance of which means real belonging to the church:

"The Christian life must be lived through the local church because that's what Christ has made us-members of his body. To claim that I belong to the church without belonging to a church is equivalent to claiming that I have been granted Christ's righteousness without seeking to put on that righteousness in ethical living. The imperative necessarily follows the indicative. We're called to submit to the authority and discipline of a local church because we have submitted to the authority and discipline of Christ. Indeed, to say that Christians should belong to a local church merely because it's advantageous to living the Christian life misses the point that the church body is now part and parcel of a Christian's very identity. An adopted son attends the family dinner table with his new brothers and sisters not just because it's good for him, but because that's what he is-a member of the family... Submitting to a local church on earth, in the language of Christian ethics, is a becoming of what we are in heaven."

This is helpful to remember that we need to have both our out-of-relationshipness dealt with, and the rebellion that brought about that broken relationship dealt with. The gospel does both! This is the fruit of the mercy of God to people! This is the grace of God at work to gather a people in Christ from all nations.

Leeman: "To claim that I belong to the church without belonging to a church is equivalent to claiming that I have been granted Christ's righteousness without seeking to put on that righteousness in ethical living" - absolutely!
  • That's why for any student arriving at University their first priority is to quickly join a local church when they're at University. Belonging works out in the relationships that the gospel creates between the most different of peoples. The grace shines!
  • Likewise - if Christian Union is about partnership of students from local churches in mission that'll not just happen by default but be manifest through the corporate praying, training, and witness of students together. Then grace shines!
More articles on the church at Modern Reformation

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer 2008 @

Summer update at is now live... information on new resources from John Frame, A.T.B. McGowan, the Preach the Word series and Carson & Beale's Commentary of the New Testament use of the Old...

Scrivener on Two Ways to Preach

I think this question, asked in reference to David & Goliath illustrates well what a preacher should be aimimg towards...

"Are we battle weary
drill sergeants briefing the troops
from the King's manual,
or are we joyful heralds
of the King's victory?"

The former comes naturally, the latter is much harder work - but is surely what the church needs to be hearing week on week.

Review: Worship Matters (Bob Kauflin)

A guest post by Derek Bish:

The controversy over how Christians should or can worship an awesome and glorious God continues and the place of music in all that is still core to what some would describe as "worship wars". Indeed Kauflin does use that phrase in this excellent and inspiring book based on some 30 years experience as both songwriter and worship leader.

Bob Kauflin opens his heart and his Bible to share what he has found to be the important things that he has learned and puts it in the context of an intensely practical and thoroughly well thought out analysis of the role of the worship leader in today's Church.

  • Recognising the tensions that exist in individual and church responses to style, content, context and delivery he takes an even handed approach throughout but ultimately comes down firmly in favour of the view that music-based worship, in whatever form that takes, must be from the heart or it is meaningless.
  • Of interest to all who lead worship, play or sing in worship teams or just have a heart to worship this book represents, probably, the clearest and yet most readable book on the subject to be published in recent years.
  • Unafraid to tell it as it is he even has a whole chapter written directly and frankly for church pastors and leaders which pulls no punches when it comes to their responsibilities.

For any church or worship leader that truly believes that "worship matters" this is a must read book.

Five @

Adrian Warnock posts his top referrers every so often, once more is number 5 on that list. Fascinating...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pullman, Rowling & Lewis...

Over recent years I've read the Chronicles of Narnia books, His Dark Materials and most of the Harry Potter books... (I gave up after five because of the apparently exponential growth in book length).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Teach The Bible, or Preach The Christ?

This captures a challenge I'm currently facing...
Michael Jensen: "I was speaking with a prominent English conservative evangelical not so long ago, and we were talking about preaching. He had a gripe: the phrase 'bible teaching' has crept into the evangelical vocabulary to describe what used to be called 'preaching'. A church is great, we will say, because 'the bible teaching is excellent'. But, he said, the vocab change is significant: it represents a shift to a more cognitive, flat and explanatory style of discourse. The hearers will not be exhorted or edified so much as 'taught'. What's more, and perhaps more seriously, we talk less of preaching Christ, but of teaching the Bible. A subtle but significant difference perhaps?" (ht: Stephen Murray)
I'm looking for someone to come and speak at a student leaders weekend in Spring 2009. What I want is someone who will thrill us and engage our hearts by preaching Christ from the scriptures. What I fear is only being able to get someone who will teach the Bible.

Seeing & Savoring Jesus Christ DVD

There is no more important issue in life than seeing Jesus. Seeing Christ’s self-authenticating glory saves and transforms us. When we see Jesus as he really is, we savor him above all other things as one in whom a diversity of excellencies comes together in beautiful, glorious harmony.
This series of six 30-minute messages proclaims the biblical portrait of Jesus Christ, the glorious Lion and Lamb, in the hope that all might see and savor his glory.

Loving my wife

When I got married if you'd asked me how I would best love my wife I would probably have said 'by telling her the gospel' - telling her everything I learn at conferences, loading the house up with books...

Six years later I'm inclined to think that at least 99% of the way I'll love my wife is by living sacrificially, listening, being patient, being kind, not speaking on so many of those occasions where I might be tempted to correct, challenge, critique etc, doing the washing up, being generous to her...

Back then I would probably have looked at my 29 year old self as having gone liberal (further evidence being that I don't think the Christian life consists entirely of 'doing evangelism' but that's for another post). From here it feels like I've gone a bit more human.

Sure I still share some of the conference stuff, and we have (a lot more) books in the house. Now though I view a conference as a service to help me grow in love and the test of any conference's benefit to me is how I relate to my wife when I get home. Still learning, hopefully still growing.

A mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam

At Homegroup this week we watched Louie Giglio's preach 'Indescribable' which looks at the way the universe tells of the glory of God, climaxing with the Cross. During it he displays this 1990 picture from Voyager.

Carl Sagan: "We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam. The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena... Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light."

Sagan doesn't join up the dots to see how our smallness in the whole picture is because we need a vast universe to show us even a fraction of God's glory, humbling us to worship God - though he does challenge our self-importance.

Psalm 19 tells us that that is exactly what the universe is singing about. God's canvas is bigger than anything we've imagined. We're very small. Our God is a great big God, and he stepped into his universe to gather a people for himself.

This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry – that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts.

"What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love ...take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone." Ray Ortlund, Reformed Sociology ht: JT
This is the mentality of the gospel. An attitude of trust toward others. An attitude of generosity and warmth. Ortlund finds himself being read by me, a fellow 'Reformed' blogger, but imagine if we all took on this humble gracious approach to one another. Trusting other Christians instead of suspecting them. Seeking what was best for them. UCCF South West is a partnership of churches through which students reach students - how deeply and desperately we need this kind of warmth for one another. And, Praise God, we often have it! Come with us, we'll do you good.

Thursday, July 17, 2008 - Table Talk with Terry Virgo

Download Terry Virgo on Grace

Preach the word. Save the world.

I've spent about 12 hours on the train in the last two days. Not overly exciting but a real joy to be meditating on Mark's gospel as I've travelled. I've been going over some material I'd put together for new Christians and beginning to develop that into a series of talks that I'll be using in the autumn.

It strikes me that Jesus is much loved. Understatement. Wherever you go, however unpopular his church sadly is, people love Jesus. But which Jesus? What looks like it's genuine love is often just echo-chamber devotion to Jesus - a Jesus that suits us, a Jesus that fits our aspirations. This is often a far cry from the one who is the image of God. Often the Jesus people love is made in the image of our sinfully marred selves.

Coming to Mark's gospel we find Jesus on his own terms, stating 3.5 times the purpose of his coming (three times is first coming, and a bit about his second coming). The first centres on Jesus who came to preach. He also came for sinners and came to die. Each of these has profound implications for us and our living in his world.

From Jesus the Preacher introduced in Mark 1 with stunning authority, announcing the kingdom and the fulfilment of the prophets it's a small step to come and listen to Jesus in to Mark 4. Mark 4 is one of those places where having an American Red Letter Bible is superficially useful - a glance at the page shows me that Jesus is the one speaking, a lot. Looking at words themselves we find again and again 'And he said'. Jesus stated purpose and what he does clash hard against those who today would say no to preaching. All the more when we see the effect of the word to produce a great harvest, something observable when we read Acts too - the word is preached, disciples are added.

In the way of hearing are satan, suffering and the siren songs of the world's pleasures. Enemies and obstacles that impede my listening yet which cannot be used by me as excuses. Demonic doctrine comes along to deceive us and pander to our sinful desires. We need some healthy self-suspicion to ward of these lies and feed on the genuine word of God. Surrounding pressures (suffering) threaten to draw us away from God. The guys from CCEF call this Heat. Sin seizes on heat as an excuse for self-defence but it is no excuse at all - only let us listen. And siren songs attempt to lure us after other 'pleasures' into abuse of God's good gifts for false purposes. The sirens tell us we're entitled to much, fueling our pride, rather than humbling us at the sound of Jesus words.

The word of God isn't just for comprehension. It strikes at the human heart and must be engaged with at that level. Giving us a new heart. Renewing our heart. Cutting away at our false motives and idols, leading us to new tastes and to great awe as we see Jesus revealed. Let my heart be inclined to his word, let me have ears and eyes and heart to listen. When the ruling-life-giving word of Jesus penetrates my heart there is vast harvest. Jesus give me a repentant heart that loves your rule, that loves the kingdom you bring, that loves your coming to your people. No wonder Spurgeon would say of choosing a church, don't go where the architecture and music (and food) are, go where the word of God is taught. That's where the life will be found. Lloyd-Jones adds, 'Come to the word of God'.

Driscoll on 1 Timothy

I had Mark Driscoll for company on my train journeys this week... On 1 Timothy 2v1-10, which he summarises as being about Jesus and people, and two problems for the church namely men and women. And Sound and demonic teaching in 1 Timothy 4. Clear, creative exposition and a little edgy in places. Reminded me to love Jesus more, to love doctrine and made me think I want to spend some more time in 1 Timothy soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"The church is the cosmic showcase of God's mercy"

Jesus is head over the church (1v22+5v23). Through the church the wisdom of God is manifest (3v10) and God is glorified unimaginably through in the church (3v21). The church submits to Christ (5v24) and Christ loves the church (5v25). Christ so loved the church that he gave himself up for her (5v25). And Jesus will present the church spotless (5v27) as a bride on her wedding day. Christ (5v29) nourishes and cherishes the church. And marriage is given to teach us about Christ and the church (5v32).

And we see: God has blessed the church in Christ with every blessing (1v3). He chose the church before the foundation of the world to be blameless (1v4). He lovingly predestined the church (1v5). The church has redemption by Christ's lood and the forgiveness of sin (1v7). God revealed his will to the church in Christ (1v8). In Christ the church obtains her inheritance (1v11). In Christ the church is sealed with the promised Spirit (1v13).

The church was dead in sin and under wrath (2v1) but God in reich mercy and great love, loved the church, saved and raised the church and seated the church with Christ (2v6). God's rich grace and kindness toward the church in Christ will be made known to her in the coming ages (2v7).

The church was previously separated from Christ (2v12) and from one another but are now one new people (2v14). Through Christ the church has access in one Spirit to the Father (2v18). And the church is built together to be a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2v22).

God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (4v11) to equip the church for ministry as Christ's body until we attain maturity. He does not want the church to be childishly tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about every win of doctrine but rather to grow up into the head - Christ. So the church is to put away falsehood and speak truth to one another (4v25). The church should then imitate God has beloved children (5v1). The church is to put on the full armour of God (6v11), as Christ's body with him as the head, to stand against the devil, wielding her sword (6v17) praying in the Spirit (6v18) and remaining alert and persevering (6v18). Persevering until, we, the church, come into our inheritance with Christ.

Title, Piper. Post, me reading Ephesians.

Love the Church (John Piper)

The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world: "The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year's in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ. Take heed how you judge. Things are not what they seem."

Download mp3: John Piper, The Cosmic Church, Ephesians 3v10, March 1981

Greatly encouraging me this afternoon as I work on my seminar on 'love the church' for Forum 2008.

Bible study that goes (just a little) beyond good grammar

When studying the Bible obviously understanding the grammar is necessary to understand the words God has spoken. But if that's as far as we get something is missing. The Bible is a book about Jesus. In it we see Jesus. When people see Jesus this is what happens...

- "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined!"
- When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

And need to be reminded that the one they see can provide atonement, has risen from the dead and holds the keys to death itself. That's how it went for Isaiah and for John.

The alternative is for me to be hard-hearted. That happens too. That would be Bible study that leaves ambivalent, or offended, or unaffected.

I want to read the Bible with an Incline-my-heart, savour-the-taste, fall-down-dead kind of attitude that encounters Jesus, worships him, delights in the atonement he provides and is transformed to live.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Driscoll at Jubilee Church Enfield + CCK Brighton

Basically the same message for two different contexts...

Download Mark Driscoll on 'A City in a City' at Jubilee Church Enfield

Download Mark Driscoll 'Cities - Babylon & Brighton' at CCK Brighton

And then Pastor Mark went back to Seattle...

Vintage Church

I have the impression that much of the raw content of Mark Driscoll's three talks this week at Together on a Mission are taken from one of his forthcoming books, Vintage Church (January 2009).

In addition to showing the connection between Jesus & The Spirit and The Church & The Spirit in Luke-Acts, and the marks of churches and movements he challenged approaches to church & culture.... four angles.
  • First, church as a bomb-shelter. Lots of we/them language. Preaching against culture and not engaging with it. No evangelism. Hiding from the dangerous world. It's pharisaic. Culture as enemy. E.g. classic fundamentalism.
  • Second, church as mirror. Imitating culture. Culture as master. E.g. Classic liberalism.
  • Third, church as parasite. Entering culture to take from it without giving anything. Church seen as a nuisance and drain on the community.
  • Fourth, church as city within a city. The City of God within the city of the world. Bible believing, grace-practicing and revealing God's power. Living differently in the culture. Not antagonistic or negative to culture. Culture is engaged, understood, investigated... and people are invited into the church. Church at the heart of community and culture. Where we're aiming to be.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Christianity & Liberalism

This wont be very popular but sometimes things need to be said. These are observations made with sadness.

[It seems that Dave Warnock, who didn't really appreciate my employers stance on penal substitution last year, doesn't like the network my church is part of either (newfrontiers and women). Mark Driscoll would observe that the Church of England is doing 'church as mirror', reflecting culture rather than being defined Biblically. Warnock is offended and exaggerates. Yes, newfrontiers (who just spent the last week on the end of Mark Driscoll's critiquing hand) says no to women elders, but it also says a massive yes to empowering women to do all kinds ofher ministries from the high callings of being a wife and mother to the equally beneficial ministries of prayer, prophecy and many other things in the life of a local church. The women I meet in our church are lovers of God's word who live brilliant lives for his glory. I can resonate with John Piper's observation of women in his church that, if he were not already married, he'd want to marry many of them himself. We're not being dinosaurs, we're genuinely seeking to be Biblical - as no doubt are some of those who dispute with us, though no doubt not all. ]

  • Thirdly, I've also found myself talking with various people about Rob Bell's take on Christianity, where truth is relative and doctrine is optional... Bell and those in his shack dominate the Wesley Owen Top 10 sales and recommendations...
Three issues: Gay Bishops, Women Bishops & the Emerging Church seem to be in essence the same thing, albeit in different clothing. In all of them the issue is: do we let Scripture speak for itself or do we read it through the changing tides of our culture.

(Not to say any of us approaches with neutrality, but to observe that sudden innovations in convictions that just *happen* to match the changing tides of general opinion and lack warrant in church history should be treated with at least *a little suspicion* before being embraced).

What we can observe is two different religions. One called Liberalism (that isn't half as new as it's proponents suggest) which is really humanity ruled by humanity, dressed up in 'christian' clothing... when it undressed it's just Modernism. The other is Christianity. J.Gresham Machen definitively identified these as two utterly different religions and he takes them down in his book Christianity & Liberalism:

"It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men."

The ministry of the Holy Spirit divides. Over the past 40 years that has been perceived as a division within evangelicalism between those who believe in certain ongoing work of the Spirit and those who don't. That division was unfortunate, messy and based in part on charismatic error and in part on non-charismatic reaction.

In the days ahead surely we're seeing a different divide - between those who are founded on the Bible (whether charismatic or not), and those founded on shifting sands. Then we find, as has been observed, a new uniting around core doctrines of the cross and scripture to which many are happy to sign up - as noted by the breadth of those charismatic and otherwise who endorsed Pierced for our Transgressions and New Word Alive over recent years.

That is sign for encouragment, but not presumption or arrogance or complacency. The direction of the Christian is a default to drifting away from the gospel, only the Holy Spirit's gracious ministry gets any of us moving in the direction of Christlikeness. Robinson, Bell & co provide a helpful challenge to examine my thinking afresh, to check my foundations, assumptions and opinions. I need to keep learning and growing. If I don't watch myself, and receive the support of my local church and remain open to critique I could find myself sliding into liberalism myself.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On Mark Driscoll at Brighton

I have never heard someone speak so carefully and prophetically as Mark Driscoll has this week. He's laid out a Biblical approach to mission and then provided a sharp analysis of both the strengths and weaknesses of newfrontiers. The positives are good encouragements and the critiques have been extremely penetrating. Here is a man who has come in, studied us, understood us and not been afraid to address our blindspots and pressing issues.

Mark Driscoll's 3rd session in which he speaks into where newfrontiers needs to go to avoid turning into a museum/institution and rather to stay as an on-mission movement. This challenges my part within my local church but also my role as leader of the movement that is UCCF South West. I feel my lifestyle, my work-rate, my pace, my preaching all challenged by Mark Driscoll. Not to imitate him - I am me not him, but with an urgent mission to be getting on with this charismatic calvinist is feeling the call to make the most of these days. DWYL.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Others at Together on a Mission

Hugh Bourne takes a more critical approach to newfrontiers, and a more positive one. I'm due to meet with Hugh in the coffee break tomorrow which will be good. Adrian Warnock continues to report including this from last night's talk by Terry Virgo. Also looking forward to seeing my friends from Sovereign Grace Ministries who'll be popping in for the day.

Mark Driscoll - we blog him, he blogs us

Mark Driscoll posts his reflection on spending time with newfrontiers. Glad he's enjoying it to. And he notes that much of this afternoons material can be found in his forthcoming 'Vintage Church'.

He highlights:
"Yesterday, for example, a pastor from Africa shared a prophetic word about the Father’s love for Jesus his Son and it was incredibly biblically rooted and emotionally moving."
Spot on. It was incredible!

Mark Driscoll: "Not my sexiest preaching"

Because Mark Driscoll is totally on fire when preaching about Jesus in the Book of Revelation, and all we've had is the Spirit and being intentionally missional. I skipped the evening session today to sit around a dinner table with six other members of our local church to try and begin to talk through what Mark Driscoll's afternoon message means for us.

The (sinful) instinctive is to think about teaching it to others, but the real deal is to go and live it ourselves. That's going to mean breaking through being British (which Driscoll exposed us for - as in, one of the reasons Britain is non-Christian is that you're British and so you don't talk to people) and starting to be more human, to engage with culture and genuinely contextualise - showing that the gospel is relevant. We don't need to make it relevant - it is. We need to show it. This was Driscoll as heard before but you could tell he had studied us to know where to aim his message.

So far Mark Driscoll has given us a Luke-Acts theology of the Spirit and the Church. And then given us 8 marks of a Biblical Church. And this afternoon he got from marks 2 to 8.3.viii (of 27 subpoints, and there was apparently a point 8.4). Driscoll preaches off an A4 sheet of notes with a Bible for an hour a time - he lives and breathes this stuff. I couldn't care less about the structure I just wish there was time for even more of what he's bringing us.

UCCF lives and breathes this stuff, but I turned to our director Richard Cunningham after the session and said we have to up our game on this. We need to give more training and get living it more if we're going to see CUs take the Universities for Jesus and so see the local church grow. I enjoyed the banter with Richard and Nigel and also good times today with lots of the guys from Frontiers Church Exeter.

Interview with Scott Taylor at Together on a Mission

After breakfast I ran into my good friend Scott Taylor, blogger, elder, football pundit. Captured some reflections on yesterday with him.

Download the interview, or listen online:

Reflections on Day 1 at Together on a Mission

I've just had breakfast at the start of Day 2 at TOAM. What a first day! I'm not going to write up all the sessions because you can get that from the UK's answer to Tim Challies. It's been great to hang out with the family, to worship (led by Simon Brading with a great combination of brand new and 'classic' songs that focussed us very clearly on Jesus) and to hear three outstanding preaches.

Stephen Van Rhyn and Terry Virgo were excellent with their preaching from Daniel 1 (particularly God-centred) and Acts 6-7, but the stand out was what everyone had been waiting for, Mark Driscoll's afternoon session.

He began with a little autobiography and thanked us for what he was learning from being with us. And then gave one of the boldest openings "There are five problems charismatics fall into. You have avoided four of them". What followed demonstrated great gospel-confidence, great desire to serve, great testimony of a man who had researched those he'd been invited to address. He addressed us as a charismatic and then proceeded to preach through Luke and into Acts on the work of the Spirit. He spoke without notes and the vast majority of his words were simply scripture with minor explanatory notes. This was Bible saturated stuff that demonstrated the gospel-centred nature of the Spirit's work, and how what happens with Jesus is imitated by the church. This, and the other preaches, will be available for free download here in due course.

My hope today is to capture some brief audio comments and reflections from people who are here. Hopefully I'll be able to post them tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart

The key to 'understanding' the Bible isn't IQ it's the heart. The key issue when it comes to man and God is the human heart. Those who can't understand it fail because of unbelief in their hearts. Those who are blind are ‘unbelievers’ – 2 Cor 4. Those alienated from God have darkened understanding because of ignorance caused by hard heartedness – Ephesians 4v18. (Just pause for a moment and shudder at the prospect of having a hard heart... how awful that would be, how terrifying to be ignorant and therefore to be alienated from God.)

Like Marcus writes: Knowledge, for Christians, is not an academic category, it's a moral category.. The Pharisees (John 5) had an abundance of information and expert education but no eternal life. Conversely those who do understand do so only because the Holy Spirit shines light into our hearts to see clearly God's self-revelation of his glory in the gospel of Christ.

It’s not that Christians are cleverer, it’s that God is gracious to illuminate our hearts, giving us new hearts that can hear what God says. It is never the application of God's word for us to merely understand new information about something, or to be able to summarise the message of a particular passage. Scripture's intended effects are to bring us to God. The word of God revives the soul, gives light to our paths, makes the heart burn within us and brings transformation one glory-degree at a time to make us more like Jesus.

The word is soul-satisfying, it tastes better than even the choicest foods God has made, more precious than the rarest metals whose molecules he composed. And the word gets to the centre of us with re-creative power because change has to happen from there. It's no use re-arranging the externals (Luke 6) because the heart is naturally, rebelliously rotten to the core. Rules and regulations can't change the heart - only the gospel word of God can remake us. Other medicines don't cure sin they only disguise it with self-righteousness.

But when we come and we meditate on the word, worshipping Jesus, we can rightly expect our hearts to be changed. In your Small Group expect that. View it as a Mission Team who gathers together once a week to share stories from your mission, to pray for it and to have your hearts fueled with the fires of the gospel to mobilize you afresh for mission. Let it drive you beyond yourselves in faith to reach those on your corridors, course and in the clubs that you’re part of.

You don’t need to exhaust a passage of everything it says, scripture is rich in depth beyond your comphrension. The right words for study of God's word are words like medidate, taste, see, behold, gaze, believe as well as learn and understand. The impact of a generation who learn to read God's word this way is beyond our imagination. This is the root of what I call transformission - hearts transformed by the Spirit, through the word, for missions. Transformed to make Jesus famous. That's not a call to do less than to engage issues, think hard and understand - it's a call to do that and more. Comprehension wont change the world. We need to be aprehended by God in his word, then and only then might we see substantial and significant impact made for the gospel.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Punditry and Preaching

I'm staying with these lovely people tonight on my way to Brighton... Since I'm using their wifi tonight why not go visit Scott's blog. Scott has about 15 readers and you could do worse than increase that for him! His punditry and preaching blog is worth a read

Revive your soul, Bible study that thrills

Draft notes for a student seminar on Bible study, for Bath CU in October 2008.

God gave us a book. A library of narratives and letters, poems and proverbs. Words matter. Form matters. The way words fit together, the pictures they paint and the propositions they state. Christianly speaking, reading matters. And if you've gotten a few lines into this blogpost then you probably can read.

Problem is that being able to read isn't enough when it comes to The Bible. Mere GCSE-style English comprehension is not even close to being enough nor is it a remotely appropriate way to treat the very words of the Sovereign Saving Creator.

Basic handling of grammar is helpful as far as it goes - the ability to understand words is going to be useful. Take the two books I'm reading now, Martyn Lloyd-Jones 'Preachers & Preaching' and Dostoyevsky's 'The Karamazov Brothers'. Basic literacy wont be enough to read either but should be enough to guess the subjects of both. The hint is in the titles. The Word of God, is about God.

Basic grammar will help get the words right. So for example – in the Bible you’ll find the words ‘there is no god’ which might make you think it’s advocating atheism. Except, when you apply the simplest of grammar it actually says “The fool says in his heart ‘there is no god’”. Not because the atheist has a low IQ, the problem is that he’s foolish.

Wisdom comes from fearing God and fools don’t fear God – so much so that despite the vast evidence in the world and in scripture for his existence they boldly say ‘there is no god’. By usual definitions, definitions of our society, Richard Dawkins is no dimwit. But the Bible says he is a fool.

There is a good reason why Universities started out as colleges of theology, because real understanding only comes in the context of seeing the world through the spectacle of scripture. Richard Baxter notes that the world is like uncomposed syllables until we see it Christianly. And let me urge you to be thinking theologically about everything - art and science, food and work... everything.

Framing the issue this way we’re getting to the heart of the issue of understanding. And starts to show that it's insufficent when thinking about 'how to handle the Bible' to just give lessons in grammar. Sadly, I've done that and I've sat through that. There is more at stake. It’s about wisdom and foolishness.... [to be continued]