Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I have just discovered some comments that some people had put on my blog ages ago! I sincerely apologise to etrangere, thebluefish and fretboarder for allowing comments to be published MONTHS after you wrote them.

How on earth did they get missed?

Friday, November 10, 2006

What would you do if someone knocked over the a pyramid of tins in the supermarket?

Denis Lane's booklet One World - Two Minds (OMF) is a great little book exploring eastern and western ways of thinking, and critiquing both from a Christian point of view. Here's one intriguing snippet:

"if a Westerner is in a market [in an Eastern country] and drops a basket of fruit and the fruit scatters over the floor, he may find people standing around grinning at him. But to the observers, to run and help him pick up the fruit would only underline the shame he has experienced in dropping the basket in the first place. By smiling at him, his Eastern friends are saying, 'Never mind, it is nothing; you have done nothing of which to be ashamed.' On the other hand, a Westerner standing by might be feeling guilt because he did not go to help his fellow human being gather up the fruit." (p.62)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Members of 'the thing'

The quote I posted last week intrigued me for its reference to 'the thing'. It just sounds so cool; kind of sci-fi. But the actual explanation is also fascinating:

The quote is from A History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neill (2nd ed. 1986; Penguin). It comes in the context of the spread of Christianity to Norway in the late 10th century, and the explanation of 'the thing' is as follows:

A thing referred at that time to a local assembly. Neill adds this footnote:

"This sense of the word is also found in Anglo-Saxon. The Oxford Dictionary gives as the meaning in Old Saxon 'assembly for judicial or deliberative purposes, conference, transaction, manner, affair, thing, object', a definition which is in itself a brief history of the process of development in language." (p.89)


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A mysterious quote

"In most cases, when the members of the thing saw that the king was prepared, if necessary to thrust his religion down their throats at the point of the sword, they saw reason;..."

Source and context to be revealed...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My brother hasn't died

In case anyone missed it, Fretboarder has started posting after a nearly five-month absence. For thoughtful Christian discussion of music and creativity follow this link.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Books that have influenced me: Part 1

Please see my introductory remarks here.

NB This initial list is of books that I actually own. They have been significant in one way or another over the years. I have not read all of them from cover to cover! And the fact that a books is on this list doesn't mean I necessarily endorse everything in it now (although I generally do!)

Aay, Henk & Griffioen, Sander Geography and Worldview
Barnett, Paul Jesus and the Logic of History
Blocher, Henri Evil and the Cross
Brown, E. Stuart Why Spain?
Carson, Don A Call to Spiritual Reformation
Carson, Don Basics for Believers
Carson, Don Exegetical Fallacies
Carson, Don The Cross and Christian Ministry
Carson, Don The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Carson, Don The Gagging of God
Clements, Roy Practising Faith in a Pagan World
Dever, Mark The Deliberate Church
Fee, Gordon & Stuart, Douglas How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
Frame, John Evangelical Reunion
Frame, John The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God
Goldingay, John God’s Prophet, God’s Servant
Goldsworthy, Graeme Gospel and Kingdom
Goldsworthy, Graeme The Gospel in Revelation
Grogan, Geoffrey 2 Corinthians
Grudem, Wayne Business for the Glory of God
Grudem, Wayne Systematic Theology
Guiness, Os The Gravedigger File
Hendriksen, William More than Conquerors
Jones, Merv The Universe Upstairs
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia
Livingstone, David Putting Science in its Place
Livingstone, David The Geographical Tradition
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn Preachers and Preaching
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn Spiritual Depression
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn The Sermon on the Mount
Lyon, David Karl Marx: A Christian Appreciation of His Life and Thought
Machen, Gresham God Transcendent
Murray, Iain Pentecost Today
Murray, Iain Revival and Revivalism
Packer, J.I. A Quest for Godliness
Piper, John Brothers, We are not Professionals
Piper, John Contending for our All
Piper, John Desiring God
Piper, John Tested by Fire
Piper, John The Godward Life
Piper, John The Nations be Glad
Piper, John The Supremacy of God in Preaching
Reymond, Robert Paul: Missionary Theologian
Ridderbos, Herman Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures
Schreiner and Caneday The Race Set Before Us
Scripture Union and C.S.S.M. Hymns of Faith (specifically, John Newton’s hymns)
Sire, James Discipleship of the Mind
Spurgeon, C.H. Un Ministerio Ideal: El Pastor – Su Mensaje (not sure what the original is)
Stott, John Segunda Epistola a Timoteo (commentary on 2 Timothy)
Stott, John The Cross of Christ
Stott, John The Message of Galatians
Van Til, Cornelius The Defence of the Faith
Wells, David God in the Wasteland
White, John Excellence in Leadership
Wolters, Al Creation Regained

Book Influences

I recently reorganised our bookshelves. I have two shelves directly above the PC, and 4 more on the opposite wall behind me. The rest are then relegated upstairs. I have tried various systems for organising my books in the past, and none has particularly been helpful. This time, I decided to use one of my key shelves for biblical commentaries, and the second for my "favourite books", those books which have been of particular influence for one reason or another over the years, and to which I return from time to time.

That prompted me to consider what books (and other writings) have been influential in my thinking and life. What I propose to do in some forthcoming posts is list those books, and hopefully make some brief comments on how they have influenced me. As well as being an interesting exercise, the main purpose is rather to think through what I have learned from them, to test those lessons in the light of God's Word, and to strive to continue to apply in my life those lessons that are of true value.

I welcome comments. Perhaps I list books that have influenced you too. Perhaps you are surprised by some of the entries. Perhaps you notice gaps in my reading (I certainly do!) and can suggest areas I need to look at more carefully.

This exercise assumes the following:
(a) that the reading of books is healthy and important for Christians
(b) that while (a) is true, the reading of books must remain subordinate to the reading of the Bible
(c) that reading Christian books must not be an end in itself; it must be pursued for the sake of love not knowledge, for "knowledge puffs up but love builds up"

For some extremely helpful posts on reading, see the dozen or so posts on the Together 4 the Gospel blog, during January and February 2006.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A house sparrow in our garden (2)

Back in January I wrote about the scarcity of birds
in our garden. (here) We've added a few more birds to our garden list since then - blackbird, starlings, greenfinch, and have had house sparrows passing through on several occasions. This house sparrow visited our garden today. (BTW, now you can see the industrial state our garden backs on to)

Happy birthday, Timothy

Timothy was 1 today. The photo of him is from a few days ago, though, as today's photos weren't very nice!

The moral goodness of business 2

On my previous post on Grudem's book Business for the Glory of God, étrangère asked...

"Would it be good also for someone convinced that business is glorifying to God and whose church is pushing that God's inheritance for us includes material blessing to be pursued through business? Does it address or would it inadvertently confound that false teaching?"

Here's my reply:

Hi Rosemary,

I find that question quite difficult to answer, which is why it's taken me a couple of weeks! Grudem does not address that particular brand of teaching. His aim is quite modest. It is not, for example, “a book on ‘how to decide the hard ethical questions in business.’” – although incidentally he is working on such a book. The aim is to affirm the moral goodness of various aspects of business activity. I suppose then that it is written to persuade Christians who either think that business is morally dubious or who are not sure, uncertain whether Christians can engage in business with a clean conscience or not. In addition, it has probably been written to encourage Christians involved in business that their activities can be used to glorify God, and to encourage them to do so.

I think that the book does present an alternative (and better!) Christian vision of business than the view that teaches that God wants to bless our wallets etc. For one thing, the emphases are God-centred and other-centred.

But whether this would be a good book for someone in the situation to describe to read, well, I think that depends. Books can be misread, can’t they? Iain Murray, for example, has expressed dismay that his book The Puritan Hope has, in his view, been misused by certain people to back up a certain kind of postmillenialism related to theonomy.1 Business for the Glory of God could be read without due care and used to bolster one’s own ‘health and wealth gospel’. As I say, Grudem is not aiming to correct that particular error. However, read thoughtfully and with help from someone else, the book could be profitable for a person in your scenario. It may help destroy false dichotomies. If the person is (a) convinced that business can be used to glorify God, (b) hears the goodness of business affirmed by those teaching a ‘wealth gospel’ (c) has heard others say that the ‘health and wealth gospel’ is unbiblical and (d) therefore associates (c) with saying that business is bad, then to hear an alternative, positive vision of business that is biblical and not about ‘material blessings are our inheritance’ could begin to drive a wedge between the conviction that business can be used to glorify God and the material wealth teaching. But this is not necessarily evident from reading Business to the Glory of God since Grudem is not addressing that issue and there would therefore probably be a need for a helpful Christian friend (you?) to help him/her think through it.

So I think Grudem here does “inadvertedly confound that false teaching”, but subtly.

Dunno if that helps; I certainly welcome further comments!

1. Listen to Murray discussing the book with Mark Dever here, from approximately the 20th minute to the 25th.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Arenaria interpres

Why have I renamed my blog "arenaria interpres"?

1. I wanted a name that more accurately reflects what this blog is about.
2. I wanted a name that would reflect my interest in birds. Arenaria interpres is the latin name for the turnstone, the bird that appears in the two photos here and here.
3. Mark suggested something in Latin!
4. I like the connotations suggested by the word "turnstone". Something about leaving no stone unturned.
5. I like the connotations suggested by the latin name, especially "interpres" (although the precise sense intended in the bird's name escapes me for the moment).

Arenaria: from the Latin arena, "sand," referring to the sandy habitats of many species (source)
interpres: [derived from inter, meaning between, and pres, a form of prehendo, prendo, meaning to catch, lay hold of, grasp, take. Literally: Caught in between]
A middle man, mediator, broker, negotiator, Interpres divum, messenger, Mercury, Explainer, expounder, translator, interpreter (

I hope, though, that this blog would be of one who builds his house on the rock rather than on the sand. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Turnstones on shore

Turnstone feeding on fiddler crab

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The moral goodness of business

I have just read Business for the Glory of God by Wayne Grudem. It is short and packs a single, simple punch. Business is a dirty word, associated with all kinds of greed and corruption. Yet, Grudem argues, as Christians we can, and must, affirm that business activities are neither inherently evil not merely morally neutral, but morally good. Good not just for the opportunities that are provided for advancing the gospel, but good in themselves, for through them we can glorify God.

Grudem’s simple thesis is that business activities are fundamentally good and provide many opportunities for glorifying God, although they also provide many opportunities to sin. Of course there are many sinful distortions, but activities such as buying and selling, employing others, competition and making are profit are good.

I found this book very helpful, and would like to respond with two thoughts: firstly, Grudem has encouraged me to view those business-type activities that I am involved with as opportunities to glorify God and love my neighbour. Secondly, Grudem has persuaded me to encourage Christians who work in business or who are thinking of going into business.

In my own attitudes, I want to do what Grudem suggests is rarely done:

“when people ask how their lives can ‘glorify God’ they aren’t usually told ‘go into business’”
“When someone explains to a new acquaintance, ‘I work in such-and-such a business” he doesn’t usually hear the response, ‘what a great way to glorify God!’”

If you’re not convinced by my “review” then perhaps you need to read the book!

Unanswered Questions

One of my big answered questions, is “what is the significance of the black-tailed godwit?” This may sound rather bizarre, but stay with me. The black-tailed godwit is a wading bird that I find particularly fascinating, but any natural phenomenon could be inserted in the question. It is my way of asking ‘why do all the wonders of the natural world exist?’ Why so much variety? Such abundance? There is a character in C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength whose ideal utopia is a moonscape: away with the clutter and irregularities of nature! Poirot has these tendencies too (see the dramatised version of the Mysterious Affair at Styles). But we don’t live in a cuboid purged of ‘dirty nature’. We live in a world of such wonder, such diversity, such drama. Why? Why has God made all this? I know the answer at a simple level – it is to bring glory to God. And such a world should elicit our wonder and thanks to Him who made it all. Yet I am sure that there are depths to that answer that will take eternity to explore.

Two things I find beautiful

I was thrilled to see arctic terns in Helsinki – not the mere fact of seeing them and hence being added to my lifelist (I once read of a serial birdwatcher who watched his first azure tits (bird no. 5000-and-something on his life list) for barely 10 seconds, so eager was he to get onto the next ‘tick’) – but the delightful watching of them, the oh-so-subtle differences that distinguish it from the common tern, the way one twice dived into the water barely yards away as we were praying on the beach, the way they flew – especially the way they flew, so elegant, so graceful. What a delight! What a thrill! Praise God for the arctic tern!

Yet I experienced something even more beautiful in Helsinki, the beauty of Christian fellowship, generosity, kindness and joy. We stayed with my sister-in-law’s family for a week before and after their wedding. It was a wonderful time, an experience of the most beautiful hospitality and generosity. And the wedding too was truly Christian, saturated with joy and thankfulness. Of course, not everyone there was a Christian, but the two families were, and there was a tone to the proceedings of purity, reverence and rejoicing in the goodness of God. I am grateful for this experience.

My prayers for my brother and his wife are that God would fill their lives and their home with joy, beauty and the love of God, and that through them people may be attracted to the Lord Jesus, as their lives adorn the gospel. And I pray that for ourselves too.

Creating the beautiful. The above thoughts made me think the following, first of all in the context of our own family, but then too for the church. We have an opportunity to build something beautiful, an opportunity, through the grace of God, to build something full of joy, goodness and love, something that will bring great glory to God. Is this not, in part, what we should be seeking to do in our churches? God’s purpose is to create something beautiful – a community of people, washed from their sins, reconciled to Him, knit into deep relationships with each other, a people amongst whom love and joy and goodness flourish, a people who are – to use Mark Dever’s phrase – to be “a display of God’s glory amongst a world of human sin and suffering.”1 What an amazing project to be involved with! What a privilege to be signed up by God for it through his gracious salvation! And how great it is that God is the one who is at work and who guarantees the project’s success!

PS If anyone is reading who knows us and wants to see some photos of my bro's wedding, send me an e-mail.

1 This phrase is part of the end-script found on the 9 marks interviews series

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Arctic terns in Helsinki

We have just been away for a week for my brother's wedding in Finland. Before posting anything else about the wedding, I must put up a couple of photos of an absolutely stunning bird I saw: an arctic tern sitting on a rock barely metres away from the shore round the back of the hotel where the wedding reception was held.

Arctic terns are beautiful. In flight they are deliciously elegant, even more so than the common tern which in turn (forgive the pun) is vastly more graceful than any gull.

We do get arctic terns in the UK, but they are rather elusive (I've never seen one). Common terns are much commoner!

Arctic terns are difficult to distinguish from common terns, but the following features are indicative:

1. arctic terns have very short legs

2. the arctic tern's tail streamers extend beyond the wings when standing

3. the arctic tern's bill is a deeper shade of red while the common's also usually has a black tip

4. the arctic tern's underparts are slightly greyer

5. the arctic tern's head is slightly rounder

Most of these features, but especially 1 and 2, are just about evident from the closeup photo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Never too early...

Timothy loves theological books too!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A note from Iain Murray on recommended reading

Ever been highly recommended a book and been rather disappointed on reading it yourself? Perhaps Iain Murray's advice may be helpful. Dr. Murray suggests that if you are recommended a book but don't get on with it, put it aside for five years. We're at different stages of learning and only God knows what book we need at this moment in time. We may appreciate it at a later stage.

Source: from 9marks interview with Mark Dever, I can't remember if it was this one or this one. Listen to both!!

Monday, June 12, 2006

A new name?

I'm trying to come up with a new name for my blog. I know I may have a few readers out there, so... any suggestions?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Current Crisis of Knowledge in Western Academia

The following quote presents something of the contemporary challenge facing Christians in the academic world. Its depiction of the current “intellectual and cultural contest” in academic resonates with my own relatively recent experience (2003-4) of studying an M.A. in cultural and historical geography at the University of Nottingham. In particular, I found describing it in terms of scientific naturalism and postmodern anti-realism to be more helpful than the usual modernism-postmodernism dichotomy.

There is a great intellectual and cultural contest going on today, what some might call a crisis of knowledge. Scientific naturalism – which for so many generations has ruled the academy and which proclaims the certainty and bias-free nature of scientific study and its promise to order and liberate all of life – is under severe attack. Most prominent of the assailants are the postmodern anti-realists, who claim that there is no fundamental structure to be found in the universe itself. Rather, humans create all of the categories; they construe knowledge. In either case, both parties seek a way of living without reference to a divine Creator and Lawgiver – the naturalists by saying that nature is self-creating and self-regulating, and the anti-realists by saying that humanly created order is the only order there is.

According to Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, both parties misplace the role of
humanity. Scientific naturalism reduces human beings to the status of complicated machines, with no real creativity. The postmodern anti-realists, by contrast, substitute human beings for God by making human consciousness the source of all reality. Christian scholars may be tempted to cheer for one side or the other – for the naturalists for defending the existence of a real world that exists outside of ourselves, or for the anti-realists, who point out the failures of science to bring a consensus about how to order our lives. Christian thought, however, points to a third way. With the naturalists, it points to a real world that exists independently of our ordering of it. With the anti-realists, it has long insisted that there are no such things as purely objective facts and theories. But against both, Christian thought insists that our world only makes sense when we acknowledge the Almighty, the God of the Bible.
From Carpenter, Joel “The Mission of Christian Scholarship in the New Millennium” in Henry, Douglas & Agee, Bob (2003) Faithful Learning and the Christian Scholarly Vocation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), pp.62-74; quote from pp.64-65

Friday, June 09, 2006

Embrace hardship

Two helpful quotes on the place of weakness and hardship in the Christian life:

I’ve learned to embrace the suffering, the criticism, the failure and the pain as probably the most productive work of God in my life… What I can’t do is refine myself, I can’t break myself, I can’t crush my own pride, I can’t bring failure into my life… In a sense, the best things that have ever happened to me are the mutinies that have occurred in my church, the disappointments, the misrepresentations.
(John MacArthur, in an interview with Mark Dever here)

Do not fear weakness, illness, or a sense of being overwhelmed. The truth of the matter is that such experiences are often the occasions when God most greatly displays his power. As long as people are impressed by your powerful personality and impressive gifts, there is very little room for you to impress them with a crucified Saviour. ‘I came to you,’ Paul confesses, ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling’ (1 Cor 2:3) – so much so that he needed special encouragement from God Himself (Acts 18:9-10). But Paul knew that God’s strength is mostly greatly displayed in connection with our weakness (2 Cor 12.1-10). Although he suffered fears, illness, weakness and a tremendous sense of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, he did not fear the fear; his weakness was not compounded by focusing on his weakness. Far from it! He could write, ‘That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Cor 12.10). That is the testimony of a man who has learned to minister under the cross.

(Carson, D.A. on 1 Corinthians 2:3, in (1993) The Cross and Christian Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker), p.39)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I have been reminded recently of the awful extent of pride in my heart; how easily I gravitate towards thinking of myself more highly than I ought (Rom 12.3). And in this regard, I was deeply struck by the following thoughts:

When Solomon utters his prayer of dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6.12-42), there is a notable absence of pride. How easy it might have been to take pride in the construction of such a magnificent building; how easy to glory in what he and the people had done for their God, what a wonderful example of devotion to the Lord! But Solomon’s prayer does not glory in their work, but recognises their utter sinfulness before the God of heaven and their need for His forgiveness.

Carson writes:
The principal burden of what Solomon asks may be summarized quite simply. In the future, when either individual Israelites sin or the entire nation sinks into one sin or another, if they then turn away from their sin and pray toward the temple, Solomon asks that God himself will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin (6:21-39). There are [several] remarkable elements to these petitions.

First, there is an astonishingly realistic assessment of the propensity of the people to sin…

Second, however central the temple is to be as a focus for the prayers of the people (not least when they sin), God will hear their prayers not from the temple but from heaven, his dwelling-place…

Third, insofar as the temple is critical, it is seen as the center of religion and worship that deals with the forgiveness of sin and thus restores sinners to God. The heart of the temple is not the choirs and the ceremonies, but the forgiveness of sin. In this day of ill-defined spirituality, it is vital that we remember this point.

How easy it is to take pride in one’s abilities, one’s achievements, one’s knowledge. Yet at the heart of true religion – of Christianity – is the stark reality of our shameful naked sinfulness before a holy God, and our sheer need of his pardon. That third point made by Carson above is thus translated into the centrality of the cross of Jesus Christ in our Christian lives. All my human pride, my pretensions, my thinking highly of myself, is stripped bare and shown to be utter filth by the cross.

[1] Carson, D.A. (1998) For the Love of God (Volume One) (Leicester: IVP), meditation for December 6th

Monday, June 05, 2006

Was Evangelicalism created by the Enlightenment?

In his 2002 article of this name[1], Garry Williams offers a critique of historian David Bebbington’s thesis that evangelicalism is essentially a product of the Enlightenment. As I have read little of Bebbington’s work, I am not in a position to evaluate the debate, or indeed to present the counter-arguments from Bebbington’s side. I will therefore limit myself to summarising Williams’ argument and (in a second piece) offering a few meagre comments.

Bebbington’s definition of evangelicalism, as a historical movement, focuses on four key characteristics, a “quadrilateral of priorities”:

  • “conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed;
  • activism, the expression of the gospel in effort;
  • biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be called
  • crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross”[2]

Bebbington’s thesis is that evangelicalism thus defined was born in the early 18th century and was chiefly distinguished from what went before by the second characteristic, activism. The earlier Reformers and Puritans also placed great emphasis on conversion, the Bible and the Cross but lacked that activism that has been a hallmark of evangelicalism. That is, evangelicalism is a continuation of the Reformation and the Puritan movement, with a new intensification of activity in missions, evangelism and social action.

What caused this change is, according to Bebbington, a change in the theology of assurance which in turn was created by the absorption of certain aspects of Enlightenment philosophy into the thinking of the likes of John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. According to Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, certainty could be obtained empirically, through the senses. This was, according to Bebbington, translated into Evangelicalism by the positing of a special ‘spiritual sense’ by which one could gain certain, early knowledge – assurance – of one’s salvation. While previous generations had expended much energy on ascertaining whether one was truly saved or not, now the question of the evangelical’s assurance could be quickly settled, and he was thus freed from self-examination to spend himself in godly activity.

This is the heart of Bebbington’s thesis and Williams critiques it in two ways. Firstly, he questions whether there was a new doctrine of assurance by examining the thought of Edwards, Wesley and John Newton; secondly, he briefly questions whether there was indeed a new activism.

In response, Williams argues:

(1) John Wesley does argue that the Holy Spirit gives an immediate sense of assurance upon conversion. However, post-conversion, Wesley urges the believer to examine himself for evidence of the Spirit’s work in his life to provide a second witness in addition to the immediate sense.[3]

(2) Wesley speaks of a ‘spiritual sense’ in language somewhat similar to that used by Enlightenment philosophers to speak of the physical senses. However,
a. The spiritual sense is only similar to the physical senses in the degree of certainty given by it
b. The spiritual sense is fundamentally different because the certainty obtained through the spiritual sense is given by the Spirit of God, not obtained through human reflection as with the physical senses.
c. Wesley draws his idea of a spiritual sense from pre-Enlightenment sources, while using language amenable to the times. “A shared vocabulary is not sufficient to demonstrate an intellectual origin.”[4]

(3) When Jonathan Edwards speaks of a spiritual sense, an immediate sense of assurance,
a. he is speaking about being certain of the objective truth of the gospel, not the certainty that the individual is saved.
b. although the language Edwards employs sounds Lockean, his conception of spiritual sense was not borrowed from Locke but was firmly rooted in the Augustinian-Reformed theological heritage. Many of the Puritans (Williams cites John Owen, Thomas Goodwin and John Flavel) spoke of spiritual sense in ways similar to Edwards. Williams suggests that Edwards “was engaged in an apologetic project in which he used the language and concepts of his opponents to his own theological ends.”[5]

(4) As regards assurance of salvation, Edwards in fact consistently and strongly rejected any kind of assurance based on a special, immediate ‘spiritual sense’ (contra Wesley).

(5) For Edwards, the route to assurance lies through the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in the believer’s life. He therefore called for the same rigorous self-examination as the Puritans.
a. Furthermore, “where we would expect from Bebbington to find the earlier, possibly more confident theology fuelling evangelical activism, we find that Edwards’s activism [namely his mission work among the Indians in Stockbridge] followed his attack on the idea of a direct witness.”[6]

(6) John Newton also does not fit Bebbington’s description, as he held, for example, that assurance was rare and difficult to obtain.

(7) Finally, leaving aside assurance, Williams disputes Bebbington’s claim that Evangelicalism was characterised by a new activism. “The dating of Evangelicalism to the 1730s will only work if we say that preaching, pastoring, evangelism and social concern do not count as examples of Evangelical activism”[7], for all those activities were practised by both the Reformers and the Puritans. Only in the case of foreign missions could such a case possibly be made, but then ‘activism’ would have by far too narrow a definition.

On the basis of these arguments, Williams disputes Bebbington’s dating of the origins of evangelicalism and seeks to reopen for consideration “the case for the Reformation and Puritanism being authentically Evangelical movements.”[8]

Williams concludes by suggesting that one implication of renewing the stress on the continuity of Evangelicalism with the Reformation and the Puritans rather than its (supposed) newness is to do with the doctrine of election. On the view that evangelicalism originated in the early 18th century, both Edwards and Wesley are seen as foundational figures, and hence the divide between Arminian and Reformed theology is present from the beginning. On the other hand, tracing evangelicalism’s roots back through the Puritans to the Reformers is to show that the Reformed doctrine of election is original, and the Arminian version an aberration. “With such an historical perspective, Reformed theology becomes the authentic Evangelical mainstream of three centuries, and the historical case for the foundational status of Arminianism is undermined.”[9]

This is post is quite long enough, so my own comments will wait until the next post.

[1] Williams, Garry (2002) "Was Evangelicalism Created by the Enlightenment?", Tyndale Bulletin 53, 2, 283-312
[2] Bebbington, David (1992) Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Grand Rapids: Baker), 2-3, quoted in Carson, D.A. (1996) The Gagging of God (Leicester: Apollos), 449
[3] “This is not to deny that assurance was more widely experienced among Wesleyans, but it is to counter Bebbington’s argument that the Methodists were freed for activism by leaving the self-examination of the Puritans behind them.” Williams p.291
[4] Williams p.293
[5] Williams p.298
[6] Williams p.306, emphasis added
[7] Williams p.311
[8] Williams p.311
[9] Williams p.312

Monday, May 22, 2006

A fearless nuthatch

There is a patch of ground under some trees on a small island in the middle of a lake on the grounds of Nottingham University where the animals are fearless. My wife calls it the magical forest. Squirrels, mallards and pigeons rush to meet you; stock doves linger just a little further back; smaller birds such as great tits, chaffinches and blue tits also come remarkably close. We visited the lake last week and were delighted to find a nuthatch with equal boldness. It is a beautiful bird. I was able to get within 1 or 2 metres to take this photo with our digital camera. Remarkable!

Monday, March 27, 2006

random quote

"On sober reflection, I find few reasons for publishing my Italian version of an obscure, neo-Gothic French version of a seventeenth-century Latin edition of a work written in Latin by a German monk toward the end of the fourteenth century."

Loved this quote (from Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

Still struggling to keep this blog updated. Sorry for the random obscurity and brevity of this offering, but at least it shows I'm still alive.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Garry Williams on hostile history

I am inspired by Rosemary's post God loves maths. And arts. And science... to post some notes from a seminar given by Garry Williams on a Christian view of history or, more precisely on historiography, the writing of history. Williams argues that we are intrinsically historical as human beings. History is not a peripheral subject of interest to a few (out-of-date?) people, but something that shapes our understanding of the world we live in and our own identity. Consciously or not, we are all historians - we all have a view on/ an understanding of the past - and if we're not conscious of it, that probably indicates that we have by default adopted the version presented to us by our culture. As Christians, therefore, we must work to develop a Christian interpretation of history; if not we will unwittingly imbibe a non-Christian version, a version which will operate by principles that are profoundly hostile to the Lordship of Christ.

I hope to write more on history in future posts, but for now here are the said notes:

Hostile History
Garry Williams

22nd Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2005. Faith Facing Hostility.

Hostility towards Christ in the telling of history.

How we tell history is not neutral, but an arena of conflict

1) because of the extent of human depravity into all areas of human activity

history cannot properly be understood without the context of the progress of the gospel.

Pascal: “how fine it is to see with the eyes of faith, Darius and Cyrus, Alexander, the Romans, Pompei and Herod, working without knowing it for the glory of the gospel.”

history is Christian or anti-Christian history.
no facts outside of an interpretative framework
Van Til: “it is a Satanic falsehood to say that a fact is a fact to everybody alike.”

2) everybody is a historian

Despite anti-historical tendencies, “no culture can possibly continue for a moment without an articulated history.”
By telling history we define our world, and our place within the world. History is fundamental to our identity; telling history is an inalienable human activity.

all people are historians because all people are religious.
innate desire to worship, but channelled into history.

Responding to hostile history, engaging in Christian counter-history.

1) The Bible commits us to being historical creatures.
The Bible gives us an authoritative interpretation of history.

What about history beyond Acts, post-biblical history?
But the Bible embraces all of history – not in an ‘detailed end-times map’/rapture-index sense

“There is plenty of more mainstream evidence, is there not, for the reach of Scripture beyond the Acts of the Apostles in its discussion of human history. Think of the visions of Daniel, of that rock growing into a great mountain. Think of the mustard seed growing into a tree that shelters the birds, the nations, that come to nest in its branches. Think of the lump being leavened as the yeast leavens the whole. Think even of the Great Commission – making disciples of all nations. All of these are Biblical pictures of post-biblical history.”

“How we view the last 2000 years is determined by the teaching of Scripture.”

2) The Lord Jesus Christ claims total Lorship over all the earth

“The Christian religion must become the universal religion because Jesus is the universal Lord.”

3) If we don’t, we will by default pick up a non-Christian history of the world

In practice

1) self-scrutiny. What kind of history have we imbibed?
2) forming our own historical understanding. Take small steps.
3) teach historically

The full seminar can be bought from the Proclamation trust here.
You can read about Garry Williams, a lecturer at Oak Hill theological college, here.

PS. I also found the following article by Garry Williams very helpful:
Cross Purpose: replying to Steve Chalke on penal substitution.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus) in our garden

I love birds and watching them, but sadly we have probably the worst garden in Britain for birds. It is small and backs onto a small industrial estate in which there is often an ice cream warehouse and, sometimes, invisibly, a Ferrari. A reasonable species total for a typical suburban garden may range, I would say, between 20 and 30, but in 2.5 years, I have seen a mere 6 kinds of birds in our garden: a few house sparrows, a robin (maybe a couple of times), a wren (once), a pair of great tits (once), some long-tailed tits (once) and (very incredibly) a grey wagtail!!! - the latter when we had no grass on our lawn. We could have joined in the RSPB's Garden Birdwatch but I haven't seen a single bird in the back garden for months (since October 28th to be precise!)

The front garden is even smaller, and has only recently had a few birds when we have put some seed balls out. The photo shows a brave house sparrow in our bush (the house that is visible is a neighbour's) . And to our great joy, two blue tits joined in for a few minutes about a week ago!!

"Birds in our street" would probably be up around the 25-30 mark. There have been mistle thrushes occasionally, and even a linnet and a willow tit have made appearances! Slightly further afield, sparrowhawks can be seen every now and then zooming across the estate and, most special of all, I found a solitary waxwing last winter in a small tree within shouting distance of our house. Only the fourth time I've ever seen a waxwing.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I haven't died yet.

I am discovering that having a full-time job which involves staring at a computer screen all day, plus a baby and plenty of other responsibilities is not conducive to keeping a regular blog. If I knew that no-one read my blog then I wouldn't feel so bad, but now that my friends Mark and Dan have publicised its existence to the world, I suddenly feel a huge sense of responsibility!

Anyway, warm greetings to the both of you. And thanks for your comments! I have seriously loved reading both your blogs and I may post some comments about them on another occasion...

For now, my not-too-serious post title (intended to convey the continuing survival of this blog) reminds me that death is, in fact, an extremely serious matter. Let me briefly quote from John Piper some words that first impacted me deeply about 4 years ago:

Urging that preaching should be characterised by great seriousness and great joy, he writes,

"Direct your mind often to the contemplation of death. It is absolutely inevitable if the Lord tarries, and it is utterly momentous. Not to think on its implications for life and preaching is incredibly naive. [Jonathan] Edwards was the man he was - with depth and power (and eleven believing children!) - because of resolutions like these that he made as a young man:

"9. Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

"55. Resolved, To endeavor to my utmost, so to act, as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and torments of hell.

"Every funeral I preach is a deeply sobering experience for me because I sit there before my message and imagine myself or my wife or sons or daughters in that coffin. Death and sickness have an amazing way of blowing the haze of triviality out of life and replacing it with the wisdom of gravity and gladness in the hope of resurrection joy."

[Piper, J. (2004, rev. ed.) The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books) pp.64-65

Or compare these words of Matthew Henry (in his Commentary), on Zechariah 1:5

"Ministers are dying men, and live not for ever in this world. They are to look upon themselves as such, and to preach accordingly, as those that must be silenced shortly, and know not which sermon may be the last... Oh that this weighty consideration had its due weight given it, that we are dying ministers dealing with dying people about the concerns of immortal souls and an awful eternity, which both they and we are standing upon the brink of!"

And these words are not just for preachers. If the trivialities of life have dulled your mind and blinded your eyes, wake up and remember that one day you will die and stand before God. If Christ does not return first "at an hour when you do not expect him." "Therefore keep watch" (Mat 24:44, 42)