Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Mathematician is not a Brain in a Vacuum

"It is essential to ask whether thr eading of modern fiction or the appraising of modern drama is proper study for any student unless they form part of the course which he is taking. Why should the geologist or chemist, the geograhper, musician or physicist concern himself with such matters? This is an urgent contemporary question, for much of the current debate about the role of a university or of higher education generally is directly related to it. As students we use our minds to grapple with the intellectual challenges of our particular academic discipline. But recent upheavals would underline that we do not properly stop there, that our task involves more than using our brain only on our own subject.

There are still many who would argue that this is not so. Their reason for being members of a college or university is solely to become linguists or chemists, more knowledgeable classicists or engineers. They have neither time nor inclination for studying anything which does not bear on this. But there is a serious danger in such an attitude which may not lightly be disregarded. C.P. Snow clarified it some years ago in his concern that scientists should not live islanded, since they are essentially part of the community and cannot therefore opt out of the responsiblity for their effect upon it. His point is valid for all specialist groups who by training or choice are cut off from, or are ignorant of, the needs and tensions and pressures of the society in which they live. To be so is to disregard a fundamentla aspect of human nature; membership of the corporate human race is inescapable, and therefore, however desirable it may seem to pursue one's study in isolation, it cannot be done.

If we cannot escape our corporateness and its implication for our studies, neither can we escape the complexity of our indiviual personalities. No human being is reduciable to a single aspect. George is not just a mathematician; George is also a man. As a man he is linked with other people and varied interests- parents, girlfriend, football team, newsagent, local MP, and even, perhaps, the local parson. All these add something to George the mathematician to make George the man. And if he is full to be a man, he must learn to apply the same cogency he uses in his specialist academic studies to the culture of this age, and to the many physical, emotional, rational and spiritual problems, both individual and social, which that culture reflects.

A student or scholar who rejects this may well suffer from the insidious disease of perpetually 'narrow-fronted' maturity. Unless he is prepared to use his mind on matters outside his particular subject with the energy and integrity he applies to that subject, he denies himself the possibility of multi-directional growth, because he is denying the relevance of his study to himself as a whole person, to the age in which he lives, and to mankind generally. For the mathematician, for instance, is not a brain in a vacuum: he is a being whose delicate awareness of himself and other beings demands the same sensitivity, accuracy and probity as his nicest mathematical calculations."

Ruth Etchells. p12-13, Unafraid to Be: A Christian Study of Contemporary English Literature. (IVP, 1969).

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Song of Songs: "The most beautiful place in the world is the church of Christ"

Daniel Newman preaching on Song 4:1-5:1
"Christ feasts with his bride in the garden. This is not about me and my personal, private relationship with Christ. This is about the relationship between Christ and the church corporately. We drank wine with Christ and feasted with him at the Lord’s Supper. In the gathering of the church, we hear him speaking words of love to us as his word is read and preached and as we sing. Luther: ‘God meets us at trysting places’ We must take the church seriously"
MP3: Daniel Newman on Song of Songs 4:1-5:1
MP3: Daniel Newman on Song of Songs 5:2-6:3

There might be some obvious problem I'm missing here, but this sermon by Newman is yet another reason why I think you have to read it as a book on Christ and his bride.

My colleague Zac Wyse is rightly writing about the importance of local church membership - I can't help but think that Song of Songs holds a key to growing our affections for Christ's bride, and for wanting to be found in her, and an antitode to a Christianity that is just "me and Jesus" (which makes for an odd reading of The Song) to instead view ourselves as part of the bride loved by the Christ, and to love the Christ who the bride so adores.

See also the wise words of Adrian Reynolds on The Primacy of the Local Church

Chronological snobbery and that train journey in September

Michael Ots reflects on CS Lewis and some shared ignorance
"All the time we thought we had been making progress but actually we were getting further away."

Kandiah on Steven Gerrard and Phil Collins

Without wanting to trivialise a bad situation.... Krish Kandiah has some fun investigating the fall of Steven Gerrard - still, keeps Liverpool fans feet on the ground while they lead the Premier League and they should. remember that Arsenal were top this time last year... (ht: BBC News Archive)

Grace: the warmth of the life-giving sun; like the sparkling exhilaration of the vast ocean, wave-breaking its delight over the laughing child.

Grace, Glory and Galatians 6 - Dominic Smart (mp3)

ht: Creed or Chaos

Dominic Smart is the author of Legalism and it's Antidotes:

Legalism is primarily a God-ward thing. It’s a way of making and keeping yourself acceptable to God. From this flows the legalism that is directed towards one another It’s a way of scoring sanctity points in our fellowships, and exerting what one postmodernist called a “truth regime” - it’s about pride, power and control. It simultaneously glorifies man and “unsecures” man. Thus its true opposites are grace and faith. Yet it is so plausible. The need for order, structures and boundaries feeds our quest for control. Our very ability to keep some rules feeds our pride and gives us the impression that our relationship with God is somehow founded upon this ability. But in the same day, our inability to keep others feeds our despair, which in turn generates more rules and a more strenuous effort to keep them. Since laws and rules can be helpful, legalism seems to be on to a winner. It often arises out of a good motive: to be holy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What does Zosima say to the Grand Inquisitor and to the child who was pulled apart by his master’s dogs?

As I reach the end of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky I'm trying to work out what on earth it's all been about. This comment from Agnology is a helpful observation I think on the problem of suffering that he raises:
"Dostoevsky and Zosima in some ways give no answer. With his account of the sufferings of children, Ivan breaks your heart.
[in his story 'The Grand Inquistor']

And Zosima [in the following book] says, let it stay broken. 
Your heart must stay broken. 
Look at the suffering children. 
Observe them. Listen to them cry. 
Then do something. Love them. Embrace them. 
Bow before them and ask their forgiveness even when you have done nothing to offend them—for you are as guilty of their suffering as the one who actually hurt them. There is evil in the world, Zosima says. And God allows it. But why? The answer, besides being contained in all of Zosima’s teaching, is given away before you even read the authorial preface: it’s epitaph: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24)."
Entering into suffering, loving, forgiving and death and resurrection are then right at the heart of how we might respond to suffering.

The Gospel is for Losers

Dan Edelen posts on the search "for a gospel that speak to failure" reminding me that the credit crunch may not have gotten near my door but it has to many - and we need a gospel that can speak to that. We have it, if we'll unleash it. And this is going to stick with me...

"If a man makes a bad career decision at age 18, it will more than likely haunt him for the rest of his life.In the same way, if a man feels a call to ministry in his young adulthood, he will be hard pressed later in life if he fails in that ministry and must find his way in the regular work world... This is not to say that God can’t do miracles. But the simple fact is that you don’t go to bed a video store clerk and wake up the next day as the lead on the Large Hadron Collider. And the even simpler fact is sometimes all the hard work in the world will not get you there, either."

I made a very bad decision at 16 regarding what subjects to study which has had a knock on effect on my life - I dropped the arts subjects I was good at to do all science which it turns out I'm not as a good at. Two years later I became a Christian and remain thankful for the gospel that is enough for whose who screw-up.

Amazingly I graduated (I'm still not sure, and 43% really is only just there...). I've spent the vast majority of my graduate life in "full-time ministry" and I joke occasionally that I'm not really qualified to do anything else... but it is true (though some of the 'skill's I've picked up probably are somewhat transferable... Who knows what the future holds financially or in any other terms.... My God hasn't promised all will be well (by human definitions) but he does provide a gospel that means it will be well with my soul. In moments of unbelief that doesn't seem enough, but really it is.

Scrivener picks up on the trail of the gospel that is for losers like us... as Ted Haggard puts in: "At this stage in my life, I am a loser," - forget "your best life" now, the gospel is for religious losers and irreligious losers. The gospel takes people like that who need saving and calls us Christians.

Preach GRACE till humility just starts to grow

"Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is “blessed self-forgetfulness.”

...I do hope to clarify, or I wouldn’t have written on the topic at all. But there is no way to begin telling people how to become humble without destroying what fragments of humility they may already possess… 
So let us preach grace till humility just starts to grow in us."

-- Tim Keller in Christianity Today.
ht: Mark Meynell

I guess this amounts to saying, that humility will follow when we start putting the emphasis on God rather than on us. Grace is about salvation, and salvation is from the Lord and not from us.

Credit Crunch: Hype? Apocalypse? Opportunity?

Confused ramblings on a year ending in recession.

The media constantly tell us about the credit crunch and it's effects. But when I stop and think about it how has it effected my family this year? The big one is house prices - though there is some evidence that ours may have retained its price. Either way, we're not planning on moving house for several years. Demand for housing remains in a nation that continues to grow and where families continue to break down. The "need" has not gone away and so there's every reason to think prices will rise again. For now, confidence is lacking.

Our mortgage is on a fixed rate which means we've not benefitted from the change in interest rates - but many people will have. Food is cheaper than it was six months ago, as is petrol. VAT is also a bit lower though 2.5% is only worth a few pence here and there. In addition to which suddenly we're all thinking more carefully about our spending, and so probably spending less - which is bad for the economy but good for your bank account. We have more money but less confidence.

Clearly some people have lost their jobs but businesses do fail and the fall of Woolworths and Zavvi is hardly a shock to the system. Sentimental as the testimonies about Woolworths were on the BBC last month we all stopped shopping there a long time ago and started buying from the ever-widening range at the Supermarket, and the CD/DVD Shop model looks deeply outdated in the age of Amazon and downloads. I don't want to trivialise that and unemployment is devastating whatever the cause. If we needed to sell our house tomorrow we'd have a problem but most people probably weren't planning to do that anyway - and if we did sell for less we'd also buy for less. For the sensible with some savings there hasn't been a better time to be a first-time buyer in a while... yet who has the confidence to do it?

I'm thankful for the biblical and common sense approaches to money I was raised with, though I make no claims to have always lived prudently. I'm thankful for the two years of earning nothing post-Uni and seeing God's provision which remind me that my salary comes the same way. I'm thankful for having only taken a fraction of the mortgage we were offered 18 months ago. I worked in a high street bank a while back, an industry that has breathed on the basis of crazy credit and is now suffocating. God could take my current job away - either by Christians stopping being generous or just because he has the right to decide! You'd expect that my wife's job as a teacher is fairly secure but no grounds for complacency.

Something has gone badly wrong as we've turned to worship money, the bottom has fallen out of that market - but the problem of enslavement to idols is that when one fails we merely generate another... exposure of folly, failure of what we once thought was unstoppable is rarely enough to prompt a change of heart. Short-lived doubtless, for investments go up as well as down...

In the mean time I hope the last six months is a reminder to me that what we have comes from God and is not to be presumed upon nor handled recklessly... Bishops can cry: “It is unfair and irresponsible of the Government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy" but where was that prophetic voice ten years ago? Where was The Money Course? Could it be that we rode the wave too and silently enjoyed the prosperity... Hopefully, better late than never, the church can be a prophetic voice to welcome and help the financially afflicted. If the church will not be a community where people sacrificially meet one anothers needs then the world is truly without hope.

Looking into 2009, the single biggest factor for our household is the impending arrival of maternity pay and the extra mouth (and associated costs) of a baby - but the credit crunch didn't really play any part in that change in circumstances. If I'd not read a paper, news website or watched 24 rolling news in the last six months I'm not sure I'd either think we were in recession or that it's that great a disaster. Maybe the thing that's actually happened is a slight shake in our confidence in self and money. Could the Credit Crunch amount to an exposure of human idolatry, that needs to now be met with a flood of grace.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Book Design Review

The Book Design Review

...what would you say is the best book design of the year? 
 Pictured two options among many.

ht: The Whole Garden Will Bow

Whatever you think BDR is seriously cool and the kind of blog I love to read. It's about books. It's about design. Brilliant!

Film (2008)

1. The Dark Knight - brilliant, not perfect but had to be the film of the year really. Another great Christopher Nolan film, great fx, great performances. Where next though?
2. Charlie Wilson's War - challenging the war on terror: we'll see whether we're making progress - point being we're not. The West Wing with Tom Hanks. Best film of the first half of the year.
3. In the Valley of Elah - same point as CWW but made the opposite way: we can see now, and it's bad. Paul Haggis probably does better here than he did with Bond, but not as good as Crash.
4. Burn After Reading - pure idiotic Coen Brothers fun.
5. Juno - sweet and quirky, wants to be smarter than it is, but is still pretty smart.
6. There will be Blood - The Daniel Day Lewis show and a very fine one at that - not a light one to watch but outstanding. I think if I watched it again it'd be much higher up the list... P.T.Anderson is a film-making genius.
7. Quantum of Solace - actually much better than most people said it was, a bit uneven but appropriately detached for a man coping with character-defining grief.
8. Leatherheads - more mindless Clooney fun - been there done that but still entertaining.
9. Wanted - horrendously poor.
10. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - basically disappointing but I liked the beginning bit with the nuke and the fridge.

// note - there are always some great films that get missed, and we've not been to the cinema since QoS, nor hired or bought a DVD in about 2 months so that explains some of what's missed and the embarrassing presence of Wanted and Indy on this list.

Film 2007: Top film - Hot Fuzz
Film 2006: Top film - Stranger than Fiction & Little Miss Sunshine
Matt Adcock's top 10 films of 2008

The Church Planter's Logic: Faith-filled Gospel-Optimism

Paul Huxley want's to be a history maker. And so did my generation at University - at least we sang of it a lot (partly my fault for picking it often when leading worship). With some caveats and care surely we have to be those who believe in the possiblity of progress and change, people who have an inherent optimism that is in our hearts because of the gospel promises of God...  the cross cries out for optimism and the certainty of change. It beckons me to live near the railway. I hope that at twenty-nine the 'student' passion birthed a decade ago to live significantly hasn't waned but rather increased as I've walked longer with The History Maker. The gospel feeds and fuels it.

My wife and I were continuing to read Genesis yesterday. Having just seen God's word and God's covenant promise in blood the hopes are high. There will be delay but there will be delivery on God's promises to Abram and his Offspring (Christ!).

And then comes Genesis 16 which is a mess of human effort to bring about the senario God has promised. Yet Isaiah will cry that the barren woman will have more children... and Galatians 4 resounds the same notes. I'm still not all that sure what a Christian is to take from Genesis 16 (... the folly of man trying to "get back into the garden" himself... the grace of God even in man's dark hours - as previously seen with Cain etc... thoughts welcome!) but Genesis 15 stands high and ask us to believe that Abram is wise to look to the better city as he stands childless among the dust and the stars. And now we stand "in" Abraham's Offspring how great our optimism should be.

Cranmer watches Bishops unite to condemned our leaders.... and asks where have they been for the last decade... while a commenter adds "The decline of our nation began a century ago when the Bishops applied a liberal interpretation to the truth of scripture." - our nation, our city: a mess. Financially. Environmentally. And still we think we might save ourselves. The gospel doesn't call for the rise of optimists and pelagians, but rather for any who will believe that the Lord saves, and He alone.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Garden City: Looking for a better city

"After the flood, Noah planted a vineyard. That is, he doesn’t do what Cain did, immediately establishing a city. He starts over again with a garden. Abram does the same: After Babel collapses, he doesn’t immediately found a city, but moves from place to place, worshiping in garden-groves. This might provide a way of making room for a form of strategic agrarianism. After an urban civilization collapses, a return to the garden is the beginning of a new cycle of garden-to-city..."

More at

Matthew Parris: "It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God" but...

Matthew Parris is always fascinating to read on any subject - all the more when he strays near to Christianity:
"It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa....
Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith. But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary...
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates... Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete." -- Matthew Parris in The Times
Question is, would anyone say the same about what Christian Unions do on campus or about our church?
"In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…"
ht: Pete Dray and Michael Ots.

UPDATE: Glen Scrivener adds some insightful perspective: Parris’s fearless individualism based on unmediated access to God isn’t the Christian gospel. What’s it missing? Well, notably - the Mediator and the community - Christ and His church.

What will your marriage be like?

Barnabas Piper guestblogged 22 things and 22 words about forty years of Noel & John Piper's marriage. Without an ounce of hero worship those are some seriously cool things to aspire to in marriage. I imagine similar perspectives are evident in Don Carson's 'An Ordinary Pastor' about his father. Barnabas Piper: 22 things I admire about my parents on their 40th anniversary

My parents have been married for 33.5 years and frankly that is very cool in and of itself.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Saint Stephen - A Genuine Hero: "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands"

Yesterday we watched the latest episode of Heroes on iPlayer - glorious as always. In which Ando becomes a hero who can supercharge other heroes. But thanks to the internet I'm reminded that today is St Stephen's day, for those who celebrate Saints Days (which I don't...) - but hey good excuse to remember the Spirit-filled preacher who gave one of the all time best sermons (Acts 7) and became the first martyr for doing so.  A great biblical-theologial sermon about where the works of God happen.
Might just flick that open and have a read before bed tonight.

Teaching: not only be informative but, whenever possible, also inpirational

On teaching, by Rick Garlikov:

"Teachable moments arise at all kinds of times, sometimes induced by a teacher.

One common trick among those philosophy teachers who really want students to learn, is to give an "F" to students who turn in papers which argue that relativism is right or that everything is subjective, or mere opinion, etc. The students invariably come in to argue the unreasonableness and unfairness of the grade and show why they deserve not only to pass but to get an "A". The teacher will let them give all the arguments they want, and then will say something like "You realize, don't you, that you are totally contradicting the point you make in your paper, because you are offering me all kinds of objective and factual evidence for what you really believe is an objective truth -- that your paper deserves better than an "F". If you really believed the point of your paper, you would have to say that my giving you an "F" is as valid as your thinking it deserves and "A", and you would not be here arguing for the truth of your claim about the grade. Now I actually gave you a much higher grade than what I put on your paper because it is well-written, and well-argued, but it is simply wrong for reasons you did not consider, but which I hope you consider now, since you obviously do not really believe the conclusion you tried to establish. I only pretended to give you the "F" so that you would come in and argue exactly as you have."

These last two examples also relate to the issue of knowing what is interesting or significant or meaningful to students. My view of teaching is that it should not only be informative but, whenever possible, also inpirational so that students want to learn even more. When you have a "live" moment as in the above two cases, you already have the students' interest and attention and do not need to fish for something interesting to them to relate your material. In most cases, though, you need to spark some interest first, perhaps by stoking a debate among students over some issue they cannot resolve themselves or to present material in a way that students will likely find interesting, challenging, puzzling or somehow otherwise stimulating, perhaps even humorous. This again requires you to know both your material and students' likely interests."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brad Pitt: Is God egotastic?

"I didn't understand this idea of a God who says, 'You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I'm the best, and then I'll give you eternal happiness. If you won't, then you don't get it!' It seemed to be about ego. I can't see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me" - Brad Pitt

ht: Coffee Cup Apoloetics by iMonk

What would you say?

So this is Christmas...

With thanks to St Helens Bishopsgate. ht: Mark Crossley amongst others.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top Christian Books (2008)

1. You can change - Tim Chester. Everything you could ask for in a popular book on discipleship. Influenced by the puritans and by CCEF and everyone else I love. Tim is full of wise pastoral insight and keeps churning out outstanding books like Total Church and his forthcoming Ordinary Hero. His blog should be on your blogroll.Book Review

2. Worship Matters - Bob Kauflin. This is and will long be the book on worship which I expect to receive widespread acceptance. Bob writes from years and years of experience and it shows. The only T4G book on this list, strangely - though to be fair I'd got several of them before and gave a lot of them to others. Meeting Bob Kauflin was one of the many highlights of the trip to the USA. Another unmissable blogger.Book Review

3. Alarm to the Unconverted Sinner - Joseph Alleine. Puritan read of the year. Outstanding and bold in the face of sin - plus a 1000 word 'sinners prayer'.

4. Miracles - C.S. Lewis.
The best apologetics book I read this year. He starts a long way back, engages with peoples arguments and ideas and wins you heart. Catch a glimpse.

5. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life - Colin Duriez.
I didn't know enough about Schaeffer before this year - Duriez biography filled up the first day of my summer holiday and led me to buy his books on Genesis and Joshua. Tom Price endorses this simply: Schaeffer is my hero. I agree. Reflections

6. The Reason for God - Tim Keller.
Anyone could read this - a training resource for Christians but really a reasonable accessible defence of Christian thinking that someone who isn't a Christian would feel is written for them. This is the book Richard Dawkins needs to answer to. Book Review. Not many Keller mp3s online but get any you can from, or iTunes or Oak Hill. Keller's The Prodigal God is top of the pile to read in 2009. Thanks Larry.

7. The Kingdom and The Power - Peter Leithart. 
I bought this a couple of years ago and only started to see it's value this year. Very helpful on Genesis following the details and themes of what God is doing. I also enjoyed his Solomon among the Postmoderns. is always full of sparkly insights

8. Dominion and Dynasty - Stephen Dempster.
This has also been on my shelf for a while and has come into usefulness this year - also for the material on Genesis, particularly the twin themes of genealogy and geography. I imagine the material on the rest of the OT is outstanding too.

9. Death by Love - Mark Driscoll.
Driscoll's best yet, though I wait expectantly for Vintage Church. Bold, pastoral, engaging, weighty and cross-saturated. Get mp3s from Mars Hill Church

=10.  Lectures to my students - CH Spurgeon.
Classic book for anyone in 'ministry' and big thanks to CCN for the gift of it.

=10. But is it real? - Amy Orr-Ewing.
Short practical book on engaging with popular apologetics arguments. Amy & Frog Orr-Ewing blog.

Special mentions - Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament edited by D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale -  the resource book of the year. On the Incarnation by Athanasisus - the oldest (non-Bible) book I've read this year and brilliant. 
Top 10 from 2007 and Top books from 2006

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Listen to: Sam Storms

Sam Storms is the author of Convergence, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts, One Thing and many others. He's a Christian Hedonist who writes at a more popular level than John Piper. And he's a great example of what Reformed-Charismatic theology can look like in practice. I almost met him in a lift (or should I call it an elevator) in the hotel at Together for the Gospel... he was in the lift when it opened at my floor but it was too full for me to get in... Shame, cos I'd have loved to thank him in person for his ministry.
Download free mp3's of Sam Storms from Bridgeway Church

Top Fiction Books (2008)

1. The Irrestistable Inheritance of Wilberforce - Paul Torday. Engaging and fun, his previous book was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Review at SMH

2. Perelandra / Voyage to Venus - C.S. Lewis. Middle part of his Space Trilogy - outstanding - even the opening chapters as we find 'Lewis' drawn into Ransom's house are brilliant before the rest of the story kicks in. Helpfully aided by Pete Lowman's PhD at
3. On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan. Strangely moving novel about the pressures of social norms, about expectations and the pain of a relationship without any real intimacy and honesty. I also read his Amsterdam this year. Review. 
4. Frankenstein - Mary Shelleystill reading this but it's great. Figured I should get round to reading this - the author being a relative n'all. Having been studying Genesis all term I'm fascinated by the way this explores the themes of creator/created, the need for a bride, what happens whenman tries to become God, and how his own creation turns on him...
5. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky. Classic and very hard work. I'm only halfway through and I guess I move from thinking this isn't worth the effort to moments of awe at it's brilliance.
6. Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre. An unpleasant read but a good story well told, another that'd sat on my shelf for a while. Review
7. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote. Beautiful, unlike my copy of the book which drowned whilst camping in May.
8. The Road - Cormac McCarthy. A bleak novel that you just have to keep reading - i imagine the forthcoming film will be worth watching.
9. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne. A moving story.

I've still not finished reading The Brothers Karamazov and it is my excuse for not having read 10 novels this year. Though it's ten if I count: Peter Morris by Daniel Szabo. I've been proof reading this first novel by a dear friend and former housemate over the last month or so. It's brilliant.

My 2007 Top Books. Timmy Brister collates lists by others.

Dostoevsky and the Resurrection (Jurgen Spiess)

In September I had the pleasure of meeting Jurgen Spiess at Mittersill at the IFES European Evangelists conference. He gave one of four sample evangelistic talks (the others being by Richard Cunningham, Michael Green and Charlie Hadjiev) on evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, this was the most deductive of the talks and seems a helpful handling of evidence, further enhanced by his training as a historian. I'm challenged by the German approach to apologetics - many of the IFES staff are pursuing high level studies to engage with the academy. I don't think everyone needs to do this but it 's a good approach for some. 

Even better than that I was able to sit down with him over lunch and talking about Fyodor Dostoevsky and his writings as I plodded through The Brothers Karamazov. Spiess is something of an expert on Dostoevsky and inspired me to press on, though he did tell me I'd not picked the easiest book to start with! His helpful hint was that Dostoevsky hides the resurrection from view in the book knowing that that's where the answers to his questions are found. Some have read Karamazov without catching the answer and been inspired to atheism... but perhaps that's not the only conclusion we have to draw.
Further reading: Alex Abecina on De Lubac on Dostoevsky and Atheism and Avey on Rowan Williams and Dostoevsky.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Piper3:Trinitarian Hedonism

Paul Huxley walks in the footsteps of Glen Scrivener and Dan Hames to think about John Piper's theology and the Trinity...

Piper himself notes: "Why did God create the world? Surely not, as some popular theology has it, because he was lonely and frustrated and needed man to make him happy. Before creation, God was, in a profound sense, content in the fellowship of the Trinity. What moved him, then, to create the world? The closest I can come to an answer is this: God was profoundly happy and joyful. But there is in joy an inevitable compulsion or pressure to expand, to extend itself by involving others in it. And this is no deficiency in God, for, as Jonathan Edwards says, "It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that is inclined to overflow."1 This tendency of joy to expand itself moved God to create beings to share in his joy. Thus creation was a supreme act of love because it aimed at the joy of the creature. But God was not indifferent to his act of creation as if it meant nothing to him. It was his joy in his own perfections that overflowed in the creation of beings to share that joy."

And  onwards (ht: Huxley) Douglas Jones offers Trinitarian catechism... some of which is:

Why do they love the dark and not the party?
The dark helps them pretend they are alone,
where they can play the king of all,
where no one pushes back against their face.

C. And why does God offer a feast?
God is a feast: come taste and see; sweeter
than honey. He is a party, a dance
named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

D. But what sort of dance is the Lord?
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dance
like heroes after triumph, King David,
and those women whirling at God's wedding.

E. Wait, why does God have a wedding?
His joy bursts out, spilling; He wants to share
the pleasure of this dance. The Spirit woos;
the Father calls; the Son seeks out His bride.

What should we be teaching our children in Sunday School? (Marcus Honeysett)

Marcus: "I saw a Sunday school sheet. The sheet said this: In one of the four pictures below the people are obeying all the rules that God gave to Moses, colour in the picture where the people are obeying all the rules and do your very best to obey them too. What's wrong with that?

Response: "It's a false gospel... 
Response: "We're in the new covenant..." 
Response: "You could have had that in the Synagogue...."

Listen into Marcus Honeysett in a very necessary 10 minute tangent about teaching the gospel to children:

Extracted from Grace and Glory, Romans 9-11, session 3

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marcus Honeysett: Grace and Glory: Romans 9-11

Last week I was co-hosting a gathering of UCCF's South West and South East teams. We invited Marcus Honeysett to teach Romans 9-11 to us, partly because we're studying Romans this month (along with Athanasisus & Augustine), partly because I'll take any excuse to have Marcus come and delight in grace and glory with us formally and informally - and why not do it from chapters like Romans 9-11!

Marcus is a former UCCF relay, staffworker and team leader, director of Living Leadership, author of the IVP books, Meltdown, and Finding Joy, and an elder at Croften Baptist Church.

The aim was explicitly not to master Romans 9-11 but rather to engage our hearts with the gospel and enjoy Jesus together - which is frankly far more important. Understanding is never ultimate - Jesus is. You can download the Romans sessions for your progress and joy in the Lord here, each about 50mins long here.
  1. Session 1, on Romans 9 and the big questions that threaten to undermine the glory of the gospel - addressing the great insecurity of the gospel promises of Romans 8, the answer to which is found in the sovereign grace of God.
  2. Session 2, continuing Romans 9 and 10 and the paradox of God's sovereignty and human responsiblity.
  3. Session 3, on Romans 11 and the place of law and grace for Christians, what should we be teaching children in Sunday School and a detour into Galatians 3-4.
  4. Session 4, continuing on grace and affections with Piper, Edwards and Thomas Chalmers and Romans 11 and the immense mercy of God.
Marcus is hosting the Living Leadership: Pastoral Refreshment Conference in February 2009

A Time to Sleep

The Merrie Theologiane is thinking about sleeping:

...Clearly, a breakfast (or lunch) in bed now and then is the mark of a man or woman of fine moral character.  Let’s not forget that Moses enjoyed lying in bed and thinking about theology often (Deuteronomy 6:7), Adam and Boaz both got their wives by enjoying a good sleep, and of course the promise of the new creation is finally to enjoy the Sabbath rest of God’s 7th Day (Hebrews 8).  Until that great day, we are to rest- with theological appreciation- on the promise of Psalm 127:2, ‘the Lord gives sleep to those he loves.’

And don't miss a Merrie Theologiane that got away: 'The Directors Cut'

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Of Streams and Stopping Points

Chris Brogan thinks about where you should put your information online.. Twitter is a stream. Facebook is both a stream and a stopping point (but mostly a stream). Your blog is a stopping point pretending to be a stream.

Music, when soft voices die (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Shelley fascinates me. I love his Ozymandias and this too is brilliant... though quite a contrast to it. In Ozymandias we see the death of human achievement - nothing lasts. Here there is some echo, there are fingerprints...

MUSIC, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap'd for the belov├Ęd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

Blog review of 2008

This has been a year of increased readership on the blog, just short of 100,000 visits in the year. I'll highlight some of the posts that drew most comments - not necessarily the most significant things I wrote but ones that got you interacting...

The big deal on the blog in January was Three ways to live (22 comments) a reflection on Tim Keller's observations on the prodigal son - which would end up published in his The Prodigal God later in 2008. In February I introduced the world to the karaoke winning Go Wayne Grudem video (20 comments) which drew in Challies! Odds are you have already seen it but if not, go have a watch. Wayne Grudem has seen it and appreciated it. You will too. This was the month we finally arrived in the newfrontiers church family, one of the many sources of joy in 2008.

In March 16 people commented on my posts about the odds of a 'young reformed and restless' movement in the UK, on the eve of the first 'New Word Alive'. I spent half of April at conferences, liveblogging from New Word Alive in north Wales, and Together for the Gospel in the USA. This included catching up again with my friend Adrian Warnock who had the official guestblogging role. A brief post on Lindsay Brown working with UCCF drew most comments drew 15 comments, news that directly effected me when I was invited to be one of the 'current and future evangelists' at a conference hosted by Lindsay in Austria in September.

In May there was much interaction about a post on Mike Reeves on Psalms and another on evangelism and the uniqueness of Christ in the Church of England. But top of the pile (25 comments) was one on Micah and how to preach the Old Testament Christianly. In June I highlighted a new song, The Grace of My God by Matt Giles, worship leader at our church. You want to sing this in your church - not the most comments but this has driven a lot of traffic this year. I moved the blog to during June. At the end of June we discovered that we were expecting our first child - though naturally enough I didn't post about this on the blog at the time.

Phil Whittall launched Newfrontiers Bloggers which I've since got involved in and we now have over 70 blogs from our family of churches listed there.

In July I went again to the newfrontiers leaders conference in Brighton. Mark Driscoll was the main speaker and I commented on his provocation for newfrontiers to get more doctrinally clear (22 comments) just ahead of a post on preaching Christ or teaching (18 comments) though the top comments were on Christianity and liberalism (32 comments). In July I wrote two posts that are amongst the ones I consider most important this year: The Ideal CU member and 'Parachurch' that loves the local church, deeply applicable to my work with UCCF. Marcus Honeysett guest blogged for me for some of July and August a favour I subsequently returned in August and September. In August I continued the church theme with thoughts on Tim Chester and Jonathan Leeman on community and authority (14 comments) and started to rank Christian blogs on Technorati (17 comments), I shared from Amy Orr-Ewings latest book about The Myth of Secular Neutrality (23 comments)

I spent half of September at the Forum conference and at the IFES European Evangelists Conference from which I blogged, and it was my disagreement with Mark Driscoll on Song of Songs that got you commenting (25 comments). I blogged from Galatians and began to blog through Genesis. In October I caught your attention by suggesting that ability to teach is about character more than about skill (20 comments). I also told the story of The one about the three evangelists on a train

Inspired by the nf bloggers I kicked off UCCF Bloggers which now has over 40 blogs from the ministry of student Christian Unions in Great Britain.

In November Mike Reeves' Fear and Loathing in Las Vagueness drew 24 comments as did Adrian Warnock on The Resurrection Empowered Life. December isn't done yet so let me just highlight Mike Reeves on The Word of God at the Transformission conference and what C.S. Lewis has to say about miracles and living near a railway. 2008 has been a year of change, though there should be much more to come, with BabyBish due in late February, my 30th birthday to come later in the year, and a summer than includes a sabbatical after six years work with UCCF, which might kill the blog for a while unless I find some guestbloggers.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Story of Seeing

The capstone of all biblical theology is summed
up in the words “they will see his face” (Rev. 22:4).
Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Introduction)

The Bible uses sensory language to help us glimpse the slightest taste of what awaits us in the new creation. Isaiah and Luke direct us to see (...Lift up your eyes on high and see - Isaiah 40v26 ...all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Luke 3v6). Elsewhere we're invited to taste, to hear...

The unfolding story of God begins with The Man and The LORD together in Eden... hits the tragedy of exile and then begins the worship of God once more... the walking of Enoch... the tabernacle... the temple... the incarnation... the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and finally entry into the renewed creation where the dwelling of God is with man. A Jehovah's Witness tried to persuade me that this was just symbolic but everything in scripture cries out for something a whole lot more than symbolism.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is this the language of your soul?

You begin at the wrong end if you first dispute about your election. Prove your conversion, and then never doubt your election. If you cannot yet prove it, set upon a present and thorough turning. Whatever God's purposes be, which are secret, I am sure His promises are plain. How desperately do rebels argue! 'If I am elected I shall be saved, do what I will. If not, I shall be damned, do what I can.' Perverse sinner, will you begin where you should end? Is not the word before you? What says it? 'Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.' 'If you mortify the deeds of the body you shall live.' 'Believe and be saved' (Acts 3:19; Rom 8:13; Acts 16:31).
What can be plainer? Do not stand still disputing about your election—but set to repenting and believing. Cry to God for converting grace. Revealed things belong to you; in these busy yourself. It is just, as one well said, that they who will not feed on the plain food of the Word should be choked with the bones. Whatever God's purposes may be, I am sure His promises are true. Whatever the decrees of heaven may be, I am sure that if I repent and believe, I shall be saved; and that if I do not repent, I shall be damned. Is not this plain ground for you; and will you yet run upon the rocks?
Alleine (in Alarm to the Unconverted) goes on to note that being 'converted' effects the whole of a person... their mind: will, choice, affections, joys, cares, sorrows, hatred, members: eye, ear, head, heart, mouth, tongue, lips, throat, life and pratice. Of the affections he says:
The first of his desires is not after gold—but grace. He hungers for it, he seeks it as silver, he digs for it as for hidden treasure. He had rather be gracious than great. He had rather be the holiest man on earth than the most learned, the most famous, the most prosperous.

While carnal, he said, 'O if I were but in great esteem, rolling in wealth, and swimming in pleasure; if my debts were paid, and I and mine provided for, then I would be a happy man.' But now the tune is changed. 'Oh!' says the convert, 'if I had but my corruptions subdued, if I had such a measure of grace, and fellowship with God, though I were poor and despised—I would not care, I would account myself a blessed man.'

Reader, is this the language of your soul?
One of the many things I love about the puritans is that they go to the Bible and they dig out language for my soul, deep words that invigorate and give voice to God's work in me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Perils of Circumstance: Good news for Leonard Cohen, not so good for Paul Ince.

So, apparently Leonard Cohen was in a financial mess until recently because his former manager ripped him off (or something like that) but I guess it's going to be a great Christmas for him - who knows what the royalties are but if a song he wrote is in the top 40 three times over then he'll get something for that. Almost tempted to buy the Jeff Buckley version - and join the 70,000 strong facebook group supporting that campaign - seems somethings can overcome apathy. I'd vote for the school choir version I heard tonight as arranged by my wife, something she's been working on with the kids for a month. Genius really.

Meanwhile Paul Ince loses his job. Not because of the credit crunch and I guess unemployment for a former Premiership footballer isn't so bad as it would be for most of us. Sad though that he's not got received the patience that his former manager Alex Ferguson received - from which a world-beating club has been built.

How can a few months in a job is never enough - anyone can see that it takes time to get settled and develop something. Not everyone can do well in a league - and when you get a Hull City overperforming and the top 4 losing and drawing games they should have won everything evens out a bit. Ince's former employers said that it was the same squad who finished well up the table last year but that's not entirely true - you've got to think that losing Brad Friedel and David Bentley has hurt Blackburn and they've not massively replaced them. Besides the guy who got them up there (Mark Hughes) is also languishing in reach of relegaton with a mega-budget and a band of galacticos.

Alex Ferguson's protege's may have dwindled in number recently (Ince, Keane) but Hughes and Bruce remain. Surely managers need to be given time - but they probably also need to learn their trade in the lower leagues, which Ince was doing before he overstretched himself... wouldn't have hurt to spend a couple more years learning with a smaller club. The Biblical principle of being entrusted with little before you get entrusted with much is true wisdom for a reason - it works. You'd hope Ince will drop a level and persevere but he can probably afford not to bother...

How people react to circumstances seems to count for a lot. Circumstances will change the life of Alexandra Burke and Leonard Cohen this week as they have for Paul Ince. Mostly circumstances are well out of our control  - what can any of us do about the global financial situation really? - and if decisions are always made by the changing tides of circumstances then we'll try and re-invent and re-work things moment by moment. Something fueled by rolling news that expects there to be a story every hour...  We have to have something more solid to hold onto. Something that allows us to perservere for a while. Something steady. Something better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An X-Factor Christmas: What are we to make of "Hallelujah"?

Anyone who listens to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah needs to bear in mind what he said about it himself: I filled two notebooks and I remember being in the Royalton Hotel [in New York], on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, 'I can't finish this song.' and you get the impression he's not entirely sure what it's about. Nonetheless thanks to the Simon Cowell everyone will be singing it this Christmas with over 100,000 copies sold in the first day that Alexandra Burke's cover of it was available.

Cohen picks up on the stories of David and his adultery with Bathsheba and Samsons fall that cost him his hair. Stories worth re-reading. Hallelujah is a song of for the baffled and the broken. That's a bit odd since Alexandra sings it like some kind of power ballad - I can't help but think that the faltering Diana Vickers version possibly fits a bit better (though it wouldn't sell so well).

The music is sweet while the words are bitter, captures much of our experience. An experience that isn't just for Christmas but is for life. An experience we find articulated by Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. Something akin perhaps to the experience of an X-Factor winner who just had "the best moment of her life". That might just be as good as it gets long-term...

The song taps into something that most of us feel - the sense of bitterness, loss, bafflement, emptiness that life throws at us, that we just drift into - and the desire for some kind of transcendence, something more, something that can lift us. Few can embrace an entirely bitter reflection, most of us hope for something that cal extract a 'hallelujah'. The question for most of us, is what reason have we to think that there is any such distinction as bitter and sweet? We feel bitter and we want the sweet but in a meaningless world don't we just have to be indifferent? Indifferent unless we find good reason for more.

And it's not that being a Christian dissolves the bittersweet sense of life yet. Life is still vapour. It's still Abel. The creation still groans. Life still breaks. We need a story like the story of Mara who is redeemed to be Naomi in the book of Ruth... a story of a woman and a son. The coming of a son who redeems what was lost and gives good reason to sing Hallelujah.

Zoomtard: The Scriptures tell the compelling story of a man who let’s his lust serve his insecurities and he loses a son, a soldier and almost loses his Kingdom. Alexandra Burke sings it as a hymn of thanksgiving to a plastic god that made her famous. And people buy this s****?

You are nothing. Jesus is everything (Sinning really isn't the worst thing)

Thing with the internet is that it's a scan reading medium. Problem with Glen Scrivener's blog is it doesn't lend itself to a quick skim read - cuts too deep for that. In summary his latest post says: You are nothing. Jesus is everything. which ought to be enough to make you go and read the rest of it asap.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tim Keller says "God is a quaker"

An outstanding preach from Tim Keller on Isaiah 6 - The Gospel and Your Self. Listened to this mp3 today on the way home from an encouraging meeting with my boss.

Comes with wit, with penetrating insight, with application and stuffed full of gospel. This'll feed your soul but it might just be uncomfortable listening.

The road to fatherhood...

Gradually the prospect of being a father is becoming very real to me. My wife is very obviously pregnant now (though the kids at school have been pretty slow on the uptake) and babybish kicks very strongly.

Two weeks ago we went to the breastfeeding seminar, last week we repainted our spareroom and on Saturday we went and acquired our travel system (I'm learning new jargon daily at the moment). We're told it's all about the wheels, and ours has fine wheels. It some ways for us it was all about the boot - since our car has a fairly small one. But this one fits and is what we wanted. Big thanks to Scott and Barbie who expertly introduced us to their travel system a couple of weeks ago (due a couple of weeks before us).

Much more to learn along the way no doubt. It's a whole new world.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Alexandra Burke wins X-Factor: So, if this is going to be the Christmas number one, what do you do with it...

Probably, sing along the Hallelujah's with Alexandra Burke (ours is an X-factor house). It's interesting though to think that this Christmas people will have this Bible language and story going through their heads without any real sense of their meaning. How would you go about unpicking and explaining what's going on?
i heard there was a secret chord
that david played and it pleased the lord
but you don't really care for music, do you
well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall and the major lift
the baffled king composing hallelujah


well your faith was strong but you needed proof
you saw her bathing on the roof
her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
she tied you to her kitchen chair
she broke your throne and she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah


well, maybe there's a god above
but all i've ever learned from love
was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
it's not a cry that you hear at night
it's not somebody who's seen the light
it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Order Hallelujah from Amazon if you want to

Erik Mongrain

ht: Matt Giles

Functional Atheists in your Christian Union

Marcus observes that many Christian students are really relativists or atheists in practice:

"I had a very interesting meeting with some university students at a good-ranking institution little while ago. We talked about whether they approach their study with Christian assumptions. I wanted to know whether they often considered what God thinks about what they were studying. 

What came out (student workers take note) was that most of them clearly believed core Christian truths and approached life with a Christian worldview but couldn't explain why they believed what they believed. In fact they didn't come close to being able to do so. And hence they had no sense that what they believed was true for all. It was in the realm of personal private opinion or preference. Most couldn't see that believing in salvation in Jesus alone implicitly means that the worldview of their non-Christian friends is incorrect.

They too were functional atheists. In this case they enjoyed worship meetings and all the paraphernalia that goes with having a close Christian community. But they were resting very lightly upon the world around them because they simply couldn't see that what they believed was any more pertinent to life or their study than what anyone else believed. They were Christian relativists. Their Christianity amounted to having a comfortable club that insulated them from the world."

Probably not just students with this problem...

The Greatest Day. The Greatest Story

This is the greatest story that I've every heard
Of hope, of love and glory
Happy endings come forever more
Life doesn't have to be wasted
Not wastin' every day.

Kinda Mika-inverted. What if Christian Evangelism wasn't just about an engaging reasonable persuasion (which it needs and don't anybody say it doesn't!) but also painting a bit story that lifts us out of the small crisis and small scale of our lives into something big and meaningful and purposeful. What if we could invite people into the greatest story. A story greater and truer than Lord of the Rings and all the other great epic stories. A story where bad things can be put right and where hope and life can be found. Surely that's the story of the Bible - a story where the hero is Jesus and where death is beaten.

On stories, I added this to the blogroll recently: One Sentence - telling your story, briefly. Insignificant stories, everyday stories, or turning-point-in-your-life stories, boiled down to their bare essentials. which is a bit like Abraham Piper's Twenty Two Words, though each post is a story. On the one hand boiling down stories and blog posts to their bare essentials is tragic, but it's also great for sparking the imagination...  an imagination that loves stories and dreams of the greatest story of all, where we can watch as the world comes alive.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Everything from Edwards

Outstanding resource: Jonathan Edwards Online

"Even the video-hardened youth of today blanche at the graphic language and exquisite imagery Edwards employed to vivify the horrors of hell.... But Edwards the preacher was about far more than fire and brimstone. Yes, hell was a real place in Edwards’s mind, and therefore worthy of continual warning to avoid it at all costs. But this was emphatically not the subject that preoccupied his thoughts and visions. "Heaven" and "love" were the two most important words in Edwards’s sermons and he struggled weekly to bring those realities into the consciousness of his hearers. Edwards was far more concerned that his congregation come to a saving knowledge of God through an awareness of the beauty of God’s great and powerful redemptive love for them."

ht: Adrian Warnock

Gervais and Marchant with Mayo on Life's big questions

Of forbidden fruit and Christmas shopping.... and the way that advertisers rule the world

Krusty Sage: "Oh, but it's Christmas! It's a special time of the year! I know, we're in debt, overall, but it's Christmas, and that's only once a year, and -- "And..." you're an idiot. Seriously. The Sage says it in love. The Sage also says, in love, that if you spend $150 on your kid for Christmas when you don't have $150, you're not only giving your kid a neat-o Nano, you're giving your kid a gift that keeps on giving: The gift of foolishness, surrounded by beautiful lights, the scent of pine, and fudge. The gift of foolishness, on display, etched in memory. Ah.... If you don't have the money for it, you don't buy it.... "But didn't the 'wise men' bring GOLD to baby Jesus? And fancy myrrh and stuff?  That was extravagant, and -- "  They were royalty.  You think they used a Discover Card? "But isn't 'Christmas' in the Bible, and -- " No.  
ht: Milton Stanley

Dan Hames: One of the strangest phenomena at the moment is the ubiquitous ‘five-a-day’ rule for the consumption of fruit and vegetables. The Experts tell us that we all need to eat at least five portions of these things every day otherwise we are more likely to catch cancer or diabetes. The Experts also like tell us that pesto is a carcinogenic, chocolate rots the face, and they can’t seem to make up their minds about how much red wine women should drink.... Today, however, I ate an orange in a style befitting a lion with a fresh antelope.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One way, Jesus, you're the only one....

Claim: Jesus the only way. Consistent claim – of Jesus, of the Bible, of the church. Think, Jesus in John 3: 'you must be born again'. Famously in John 14, Jesus says "I am the way, the truth and the life..." - and to be fair pluralism might not have been his target audience that night, but the wider context of the Bible claims Jesus to be the one way to God.

Problem: Exclusive. Destructive. Offensive. Exclusive claims are not universally detested – many would see it as entirely reasonable to say that what you believe is true. Secularists are the ones offended by it – why? Exclusive claims are absolute claims and they wont retreat from the public square – they impinge upon everyone. Ashamed of our exclusive claims the Christian can be tempted to pull back, claim less or simply make no claim at all.

The Surprising Answer: In John 14, this is offered as comfort not arrogance. Comfort to those who think that having Jesus leave them is bad. Why couldn’t he just stay with them?

We presume to be able to come to God, he says – you can’t, you need a way.

The storyline of the Bible is one that seeks to get Humanity and God walking together again. It was that way in Eden… and then ‘Man is shut out. Then begins the way back: Tabernacle and then Temple and then Incarnation. Ever increasingly... We might think that’s the climax but then he says he has to leave them to prepare room for them. Then he rises, gives the Holy Spirit to live in his people… and finally humanity will live in a re-made world where God will come to dwell with his people forever.

While we stand back offended, the good news is that though there ought to be no way for man to come to God, there is a way for men and women and God to live together again. And that this is the least exclusive of ways – accessible by any not limited by intellect, race, gender, finance, class, culture, language. Universities are far more excluding discrimating by performace and access to funding amongst other things. The name of 'the way' is Jesus, who offers definite reconciliation to God for any who will come. But the path goes via him leaving his disciples, dying, rising and returning. It is only by going by death that he prepares a way.

We find that what could paralyse our evangelism, turns out to enable it.

Re-painting the spare room and related thoughts

This week we've been mostly repainting our spare room (when I've not been catching the 6.24am train to go and do interviews or yesterdays massively encouraging team leader meeting in London) with about 11 weeks left til babybish is due. When I say been I mean, 'and still are'. I don't feel like we're all that prepared yet - we have loads of little bits and pieces but the big stuff like a cot and 'travel system' aren't chosen let along acquired yet and that's before all the important stuff about how to actually raise a child. That said, this is totally amazing.

Looking ahead to the Spring is strange though. My work year naturally enough operates on the academic calender but with paternity leave due for a couple of weeks in early March and a sabbatical next summer I have only a few weeks of the student year left before I'm out of the action I've been used to and otherwise occupied as father and student. Alongside which it's December and I'm thinking it's not long til I need to be ready for the Forum conference (August 30-September 4th 2009). I suppose that disorientation is helpful preparation for the exhaustion that I awaits me!

Enjoying living in the small things of painting and the big things that the arrival of baby is going to mean - and knowing that my help comes not from the baby books and my own resources but only from the one who gives all life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Buy your pastor a Christmas present (that he can open in February)

Living Leadership's Pastoral Refreshment Conference

"The conference provides a setting for leaders, pastors and partners to seek God together for the on-going refreshment of life and ministry. There is a lot of prayer and worship , inspiring preaching and a safe environment in which to be yourself. Seminar subjects in recent years have included: Grace, Marriage and Ministry; Looking after your Spiritual Life; How to Love Your Church and Leading with a Forgiving Heart. All with a strong ethos of experiencing the grace of God together."

Hosted by Marcus Honeysett and his friends at Hothorpe Hall, 4-6 February 2009.