Friday, December 14, 2007
In The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin addresses the question of how Christianity can survive in a culture that is radically pluralistic, (contemporary Britain is particularly in view) a society in which religion is relegated to the sphere of opinion or value (as opposed to ‘facts’), claims to ultimate truth or that one religion is true where others are false are treated with suspicion and hostility and doubt is lauded as far superior to belief.
The first move is to undermine several ‘myths’ of contemporary secular society which are deeply ingrained but decidedly shaky. For example, the fact-value dichotomy is false, since ‘facts’ are always interpreted. What is treated as fact is only known because of its embeddedness in a way of seeing – a plausibility structure. The modern mindset asserts the superiority of its scientific methods because it appeals to reason over and against revelation or tradition. But this, too, is a wrong move. The Christian and the modern pluralist both use reason in interpreting the data of experience, but the former’s framework of thought includes certain things (such as that God has made himself known in Christ) that the latter denies. Moreover, reason always operates out of a tradition – the modern scientific method being no exception – such that we should talk about competing traditions of rationality rather than reason vs tradition.
Newbigin argues that Christianity provides an alternative plausibility structure to pluralism (or indeed to any other dominant worldview), it does not sit comfortably with the way modern society thinks, but that is not something to be ashamed or nervous about since the modern way of thinking has cracks in its roots. The Christian worldview is rooted in the conviction that God has acted decisively in human history (“it is the story of actions by which the human situation is irreversibly changed”) and chosen a community to bear witness to those decisive events. History has a meaning, and the clue is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Christian congregation is the means by which the gospel impacts society; the living out of the Christian faith – as a ‘hermeneutic of the gospel’ – will demonstrate the truth of the Christian message.
Evaluation and Questions
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is a powerful apologetic for the Christian gospel. Its dissection of the pluralist worldview is brilliant, and its presentation of the Christian alternative of gospel-lived-out communities attractive. I like the emphasis on the events of the gospel giving us the meaning of history and therefore that our own lives in our day fit into an overarching story. There is a strong emphasis on community and on Christians living out the gospel in their secular places of work. Particularly helpful is the confidence that Newbigin gives the Church to be what we are meant to be and to not be intimidated by a hostile pluralistic culture.
However, there are also questions that arise. For example, it is not clear to me precisely how Newbigin is defining either ‘Church’ or ‘gospel’. There are many versions of Christianity: can they all be described as true manifestations of the Church, or are there limits? Given that a true church must embody and teach the gospel, the question then becomes whether there are ‘false gospels’ which in essence disqualify a group from being a true Church. Newbigin’s definition of ‘Church’ would seem to be pretty broad and ecumenical, which perhaps raises the question of how the gospel is being defined. It is something to do with the incarnation, cross, resurrection and return of Christ, but these can be understood in different ways.
A second question is whether Newbigin’s argument actually succeeds in answering the problem of choosing between alternative worldviews (plausibility structures). If the Christian and the modern pluralist worldviews provide competing visions, how is one to adjudicate between them? There is no neutral point of view from which they can be compared. Commitment to one plausibility structure, which, in turn, provides the framework for interpreting the world (and, therefore, evaluating other plausibility structures), is inevitable. How can one know which plausibility structure is true? Newbigin’s answer takes a number of angles. Firstly, we will only know the answer at the end of history. Secondly, it is possible (and, indeed vital for the Christian) to live in two worldviews. That is, it is possible to some extent to enter into the thought patterns of another worldview and hence to be able to critique it from within. Thirdly, Newbigin appeals several times to an argument from Polanyi, namely that subjectivism is avoided when we hold our beliefs (as personally committed subjects) with “universal intent” and “we express that intent by publishing them and inviting all people to consider and accept them” (126) Fourthly, the radical gospel life of the Christian congregation authenticates the message proclaimed. There are knotty epistemological and apologetical issues here, and I don’t know the answers! I wonder whether this view would be sufficient, say, to argue against the Mormon view of the world on this basis.
Thirdly, Newbigin’s views on certain issues are very different to views I have long-thought to be biblical. In particular, I have in mind election (the emphasis on the purpose of election being for mission is superb, but the polemic against the view that God chooses some and not others, I’m not sure that (a) he deals with the biblical evidence sufficiently or (b) that this point is strictly necessary for his main argument anyway) and the status of people of other faiths (basically, the Christian gospel is unique but we cannot say who will be saved in the end). It is beyond the scope of this review to explore these areas any further.
The importance of analysing and deconstructing our society’s plausibility structures. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society provides a useful starting point. As does Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands in its getting its hands dirty in the dredging up the idolatries and evil desires of the human heart. Perhaps the former helps on the corporate, social level, and the latter on the individual, heart level. The two books therefore complement each other brilliantly.
The importance of understanding the overarching story of the Bible, and one’s place in it. In other words, having a Christian interpretation of history and the world. This understanding is rooted in the gospel. This story (in the words of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands) gives us our identity, purpose and sense of direction.
The importance of living out the gospel in the world. The following quotes are brilliant, in relation to the Christian in his day-to-day and the role of the Christian minister: “the major impact of such congregations on the life of society as a whole is through the daily work of the members in their secular vocations…” (234-5) “The priestly people [in secular vocations] needs a ministering priesthood to sustain and nourish it… we set apart a man or woman to a ministerial priesthood not in order to take away the priesthood of the whole body but to enable it.” (235)
The need for courage in the Christian minister. There is a particularly powerful picture painted at the end of chapter 19 (in relation to Christian teaching) of Jesus “going ahead of his disciples, like a commander leading troops into battle. The words he speaks are thrown back over his shoulder at fearful and faltering followers. He is not like a general who sits at headquarters and sends his troops into battle. He goes at their head and takes the brunt of the enemy attack. He enables and encourages them by leading them, not just by telling them. In this picture, the words of Jesus have a quite different force. They all find their meaning in their central keyword, ‘Follow me’.” (240)
Thursday, December 06, 2007
In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (IRH), Paul David Tripp seeks to set forth a biblical model for pastoral counselling. According to Tripp, the task of helping Christians to change is not to be left to trained professionals, but is something to which all Christians are called.
The book can be neatly divided into two. Chapters 1-6 lay down foundations and principles and chapters 7-14 expound Tripp’s model for “serving as an instrument of change.”
- The gospel teaches us that change is possible – it really is good news! – and that change comes through a person not a system. (chapter 1)
- God changes people as people bring His Word to others, which means not dipping into the Bible randomly, but seeing how our lives fit into the overarching story of redemption. “Lasting change begins when our identity, purpose, and sense of direction are defined by God’s story.” (chapter 2)
- Our status as people in need of help is established by both creation and fall. (chapter 3)
- The central focus is the heart. Not addressing the heart will lead to only superficial change, and indeed can serve to fuel heart-idolatry. (chapters 4-5)
- Christ is our model for being instruments of change. We are called to be ambassadors for God in serving each other in the process of change (chapter 6)
Don Carson commends Mark Dever’s The Deliberate Church for giving an ecclesiology that is both thoroughly biblical and practical.
And on those key foundations, IRH builds a model of personal relationship ministry that is detailed in its practicality. It is one thing to emphasise the gospel, the right use of Scriptures and the importance of the heart, but another thing to apply those truths in ways that will actually practically help people to change! And the second half of IRH achieves that by (a) setting out a biblical approach to particular issues (such as confrontation, the importance of knowing people well) (b) suggesting practical ways to do it (e.g. example questions that could be used to get to know somebody) (c) giving real-life examples of counselling situations that help to see how the principles work out in practice.
[NB. I will address possible weaknesses in the next section, questions]
IRH emphasises that pastoral counselling is something for all Christians to be involved in. The focus of the book is very much on one-to-one relationships, which leaves me with questions regarding the role of the church in helping each other to grow and change. Is it in the one-to-one relationships that real change takes place? What then of the small group or large congregation gathering, the sermon or bible study? How do these different aspects complement each other? If the focus is on individual change, what about corporate change? Is there a place for an individual’s struggles to be shared in a group wider than a one-to-one relationship (e.g. a homegroup)?
Some points that have impressed me:
- “Sinners tend to respond sinfully to being sinned against” (11) People on the receiving end of terrible acts also need to be helped to repent. This can be hard when someone has suffered unjustly, but must be sensitively done. First, though, what is my own response to ‘unfair treatment’ – do I take advantage of the idea of being a victim?
- “Why do we spend hours preparing to teach while we offer important personal direction without a second thought?” (22) People need God’s Word not off-the-cuff personal advice. Will I love others enough to think through prayerfully and biblically what best to say?
 Carson, Don “Foreword” in Dever, Mark & Alexander, Paul (2005) The Deliberate Church: Building your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway) p.p.13-14
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
The gospel is not the assertion that in Jesus certain qualities such as love and justice were present in an exemplary manner. If this were so, we could of course dispense with the example once we had learned the lesson which the example teaches. The gospel is not just the illustration (even the best illustration) of an idea. It is the story of actions by which the human situation is irreversibly changed.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society p.166
Sunday, December 02, 2007
The Church is not the source of the witness; rather, it is the locus of the witness. The light cast by the first rays of the morning sun shining on the face of a company of travellers will be evidence that a new day is coming. The travelers are not the source of that witness but only the locus of it. To see for oneself that it is true, that a new day is really coming, one must turn around, face the opposite way, be converted. And then one’s own face will share the same brightness and become part of the evidence.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society p.120
Saturday, December 01, 2007
On new DVD releases [see 35th over], Ben Dirs (during the India s Pkn ODIs) revealed exclusively that Tendulkar had been carefully ammassing scores of 99 as pre-release publicity for a re-recording of Nena's 99 Red Balloons (as in 'I get to 99, then balloon a gentle catch'). Strangely, I've not seen it in the shops yet - maybe just in India. (My own theory was ice-cream-based.)"(on bbc text commentary on England v Sri Lanka test)
Thursday, November 29, 2007
There is a profound confusion of thought when it is suggested that reason and revelation are two parallel paths to truth, or when, in a further development in this line of thinking, it is said that alleged revelation has to be tested at the bar of reason. All this kind of language involves a confusion about the terms we are using. The faculty which we call reason, the power of the human mind to think coherently and to organize the data of experience in such a way that it can be grasped in meaningful patterns, is necessarily involved in knowing of any kind. The question at issue, for example, in the debates about the respective roles of reason and revelation is really about how the data of experience are to be understood. They are - to be more specific - debates about whether the events which are narrated in the Bible are to be understood entirely in terms of political, social, economic, and psychological categories such as are used in a secular writing of history, or whether, without denying the usefulness and relevance of these categories, we recognize this story as communicating the personal will of God in acting in and through all the events recounted. Reason is not an independent source of information about what is the case. It is one aspect of the human activity by which we seek to understand the world and ourselves. The difference involved in the long-running debates about reason and revelation is not a difference between two sources of information: it is a difference between two ways of interpreting the data which are (potentially) available to all. The Christian believer is using the same faculty of reason as his unbelieving neighbour and he is using it in dealing with the same realities, which are those with which every human being has to deal. But he is seeing them in a new light, a new perspective.
Lesslie Newbigin (1989) The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The stated purpose of MPAT is “to set forth a responsible, contemporary method of biblical interpretation and preaching.” (xii) Greidanus’ method is to interact heavily with recent biblical scholarship with the aim of drawing out that which is useful for preaching; in other words, he seeks to bridge the gap between hermeneutics and homiletics. (xi) This method is, in turn, rooted in the author’s convictions about what preaching is. (chapter 1) Preaching itself bridges a gap: “the preacher stands at the intersection of the ancient Scriptures and the contemporary congregation and has a responsibility to both.” (341) Preaching is God speaking and acting: it is through preaching that God’s Word in the past (the Scriptures) becomes God’s Word in the present and is applied to church and world. But “since the Bible is the normative source of revelation for contemporary preachers, they must bind themselves to the Scriptures if they would preach the word of God.” (9) And in order to do that, it is essential that the Bible be interpreted responsibly. MPAT therefore is something of a detailed handbook of hermeneutical and homiletical principles that sets out to help the preacher apply the Word of God properly to his congregation.
This approach is developed through the following stages:
- the construction of a “holistic historical-critical method” against a “naturalistic historical-critical method” which destroys confidence in the historical reliability of the Bible, with devastating effects on preaching (chapter 2)
- the development of a holistic framework for interpretation, drawing together literary, historical and theological aspects (chapters 3-5)
- a definition of good preaching as “textual-thematic preaching”, that is, preaching that “is based on a biblical text and expounds the message of that text”, doing so by focussing on the theme of that text. (chapter 6)
- discussion of the relative merits of the narrative and didactic sermon forms and how the gap between form ancient text and modern congregation can successfully be bridged (chapters 7-8)
- focussing all the preceding discussion onto preaching from four specific biblical genres, namely Hebrew narrative, prophecy, gospel and epistle. (chapters 9-12)
The main strength of MPAT is in its strong commitment to preaching as the proper goal of biblical study. Of course preaching merely in itself is not the ultimate goal, but given that it is a, if not the, principle means for God’s work in church and world, it is vital that that means be constructed soundly. And good preaching – preaching that does responsibly bridge the gap between ancient text and modern world – is constantly in view for Greidanus. Thus he not only argues that good preaching is an exposition of a text, and is based on the theme of that text, but he also shows how that can be done. He shows, using a range of hermeneutical tools, how an appropriate text can be selected, how the text’s theme can be discerned, and how a sermon that is both responsible and relevant can be shaped.
A second significant feature of MPAT is Greidanus’ substantial engagement with recent biblical scholarship (although not so recent now, given it was published nearly 20 years ago), while retaining a high view of Scripture. Two of the potential dangers of biblical scholarship are those of (a) creating a chasm between academy and church and (b) allowing the academy to dictate to the church. I think that through his commitment to preaching, Greidanus helpfully brings some of the fruits of biblical scholarship in service to the preacher. A book on preaching or hermeneutics by no means needs to engage all the scholarly issues Greidanus does but it is useful to have at least one book that does.
One set of questions related to the status of other forms of communicating or ministering God’s Word besides preaching, which are not discussed at all in MPAT. How do the hermeneutical & homilitical principles elucidated in MPAT apply in small group Bible study, one-to-one discipleship, personal witness, personal bible study etc.? Does God speak today through preaching in ways in which he doesn’t through these other forms?
It is also suggestive to set MPAT alongside a book such as Dig Deeper (Beynon & Sach) whose aim is to make available for the ordinary Christian a range of tools for interpreting the Bible, many of which are simplified versions of those found in MPAT. But if the aim of a book like Dig Deeper is to demistify interpretation and enable the ordinary Christian to do what the preacher can do, what is the role of a book like MPAT which seeks to provide a preacher with a deeper, more technical set of tools, beyond the reach of the average Christian? What is the value of the expertise of the preacher?
These issues lead to questions about spiritual gifts, the priesthood of all believers and the role of pastor in the church etc. which are beyond the scope of this review, other than to comment that both the responsibility of each believer to understand and obey the Scriptures and the higher responsibility of the pastor/preacher to teach the church must be affirmed.
Here are a few points that have impressed me as being important in my own preaching:
- the huge responsibility that comes from the conviction that “God speaks through contemporary preachers” with the concomitant responsibility to work extremely hard to interpret and apply the Bible rightly
- the importance of working hard at the form of the sermon, not just the content. The form can vary, and should be an appropriate vehicle, rather than a hindrance, to the effective communication of the message of the text.
- that it is crucial to discover the theme of the text, but the theme of the sermon is not always identical to the theme of the text, although it is derived from it. E.g. “When the preaching text is from the Old Testament, the theme of the text must be traced through God’s progressive revelation from the Old Testament to the New Testament.” (138)
- The importance of being responsible in deriving application from a text. Greidanus critiques “improper ways of bridging the gap” (159), namely allegorising, spiritualising, moralising and imitating Bible characters, and helpfully shows how application can properly be made. So, for instance, the hermeneutical principle of authorial intent can be used to discern when we are meant to identify ourselves with certain biblical characters. Likewise, rather than comparing Bible characters with people today, we should be asking “how did the original recipients understand this passage?” (171) We can then draw lines to ourselves because of the continuity of God’s covenant people (recognising discontinuity too)
In conclusion, MPAT is a helpful resource for aspiring preachers. Its principles are to be appropriated and worked into one’s preaching over a period of time. As a book on preaching it is valuable, but also as limited as any other book on preaching, because one can only truly learn to preach through practice.
 NB I had not read these chapters at the time of writing this assignment.
 Apart from this brief comment: “Although the Spirit’s speaking is by no means limited to preachers (think of parents, teachers, friends, and neighbours through whom the Spirit speaks today), contemporary preachers have a special responsibility to proclaim the word of the Lord.” (8)
 This point seems to be a little different from Mark Dever’s definition of expositional preaching: “taking as the point of the message the point of the passage”
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This quote develops this thought and asks "what happens to the Gospel?"
What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? "God loves you" typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - "grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against" - is down-played or even twisted into "unconditional acceptance for the victims of others' lack of acceptance." When "the Gospel" is shared, it comes across something like this: "God accepts you just as you are. God has unconditional love for you." That is not the biblical Gospel, however. God's love is not Rogerian unconditional positive regard writ large. A need theory of motivation - rather than an idolatry theory - bends the Gospel solution into "another gospel" which is essentially false.Powlinson, David "Idols of the Heart and "Vanity Fair"', Journal of Biblical Counselling, Volume 13, Number 2 (Winter 1995) pp.35-50. Quote from p.49
The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, "God accepts you just s Christ is. God has 'contraconditional' love for you." Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you his own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father's child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me "as I am." He accepts me "as I am in Jesus Christ." The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God's love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul's lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically decenters people
- what the Bible calls "fear of the Lord" and "faith" - to look outside themselves.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I enjoyed this quote, read today:
Modern church music is so constructed that the congregation cannot hear one distinct word.... A set of creatures who ought to be lamenting their sins, fancy they can please God by gurgling in their throats.
Attributed to Erasmus. Source: Broadbent, E.H. (1931) The Pilgrim Church (London: Marshall Pickering)
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Analogies for the Trinity are usually problematic. However, I think it is possible to distinguish two kinds of analogies. The first kind seek to help us to understand the three and the one by comparison with other examples of ‘three-in-oneness’. Examples may be water/ice/gas or mind as composing memory/understanding/well (Augustine). These analogies are usually problematic, because they tend to make us think of the Trinity heretically (e.g. modalistically). I am not going to discuss them any further here. However, there is a second kind of analogy which does not seek to illustrate or explain ‘three-in-oneness’ but seeks to illustrate or explain that it makes sense for the Trinity to escape our full understanding. The doctrine of the Trinity is hard to understand. The first kind of analogy seeks to help us make sense of the doctrine. The second kind seeks to make sense of our lack of understanding. In my view, the second kind is preferable to the first, because the first tends to reduce the Trinity down to our understanding.
What we are talking about here is the limitations of logic. And on this, Robert Letham has some stimulating ideas, using analogies that are more of the second kind than the first. The context is a discussion about the understanding of the Trinity in Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Christianities of Western Europe (Roman Catholicism & Reformed). I have quoted Letham at length, as what he has written speaks for itself. On the basis of his brief discussion in this book, his much lengthier treatment of the Trinity in [source] looks well worth reading.
Towards a resolution of the problems of East and West
Where do we go from here? It is clear that we need simultaneously to preserve both the unity and identity of the one indivisible being of God and, at the same time, the irreducible differences between the three persons. Here Gregory of Nazianzen is brilliantly helpful. In the passage in which Calvin found vast delight he says:
This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unity, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.
Gregory oscillates back and forth from the one to the three. When he considers the one he is illumined by the splendor of the three. When he distinguishes them he is carried back to the one. Gregory points to the danger of building our doctrine of the trinity on either the one being God in isolation, or on the three persons (or any one of them) in isolation. These dangers are demonstrated thoroughly in the subsequent history of the church.
Gregory’s hermeneutic, as he expresses it in this passage, is strikingly modern. Physicists working at the atomic level oscillate in thought between waves and particles… A parallel to this is the field of gestalt psychology, from which we learn that as we gain a grasp of the whole we tend to lose connection with the parts, while if we focus on the parts we lose our grasp on the whole.
Another way of putting it is to think of what happens when you focus your gaze on a particular object. Try doing it. Notice that when you look intently at this or that, the rest of your field of vision becomes blurred and indistinct. Then if you look away from the object of your former gaze and attend to the background, which now comes into clear focus, your former object of attention becomes a blur.
In this connection, the limitations of logic are apparent. James Loder and the late W. Jim Niedhardt have pointed out…that, while logic is of value in everyday life or in ‘trivialities’ as the call them, when we approach the boundaries of the universe it breaks down. They point to a wide range of areas where creation is not reducible to neat laws of thought. Among other things, physics, mathematics, psychology, and human development all yield this feature… If a reductionist elevation of logic is impermissible in dealing with matters of creation, how much less is it to be followed in relation to the holy trinity? T.F.Torrance insists that the proper course in seeking to know is to submit our minds to the object of knowledge so as to allow it to disclose itself on its own terms. It follows that in science knowledge is to be based on the reality of what is. Logical deductions from premises are good within certain parameters but, if absolutized, can prevent us knowing. In theology, this means we must faithfully submit ourselves to God’s revelation and allow our thoughts to proceed from the basis of who he discloses himself to be, recognizing at the same time that he infinitely transcends the capacities of our minds.
 Letham, Robert (2007) Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: a Reformed Perspective (Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor). Quotes from pp.239-242
 Of course, as Mark Heath ably demonstrates, some analogies of the Trinity do not seek to help us understand anything but make us wallow in our incomprehension!!
 Letham has argued previously in the chapter that the West has historically begun with the oneness of God, and the East with the Father.
 I have omitted Letham’s development of this point, where he gives the example of the double slit experiment.
 Letham then gives the example of the Mobius strip
 in the foreword to Loder, James E. & Neidhart, W. Jim (1992) The Knight’s Move: The Relational Logic of the Spirit in Theology and Science (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Those of us who love reading, who love thinking and ideas, who love knowledge – both the learning and teaching of it – constantly struggle with temptations; temptations to intellectual pride, temptation to accumulate knowledge for its own sake, rather than for the sake of loving serving God and others. Here is how this book addresses the issue, in chapter 1:
“I like to teach a subject more than I like to teach people.”
“We love the subject more than our people.”
And then the remedy:
“The first act of love in preaching is an act of self-denial – to become more interested in people than in the subject. That means giving up the love of knowledge and replacing it with a love for people.
“We need to learn to put our knowledge in the service of the people, in terms and ways they can appreciate, not because we have to oversimplify the message, but because we love the people so much that we’ll do whatever it takes to communicate it with them.”
Friday, June 08, 2007
"Ancient writers sometimes meant what they said, and occasionally even knew what they were talking about."
Quote attributed to George Kennedy, classical scholar of late antiquity. (source)
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Friday, June 01, 2007
The concentrated activity, which had begun at the Emperor's headquarters in the morning and had started the whole movement that followed, was like the first movement of the main wheel of a large tower-clock. One wheel slowly moved, another was set in motion, and a third, and wheels began to revolve faster and faster, levers and cogwheels to work, chimes to play, figures to pop out, and the hands to advance with regular motion as a result of all that activity.
Just as in the mechanism of a clock, so in the mechanism of the military machine, an impulse once given leads to the final result; and just as indifferently quiescent till the moment when motion is transmitted to them are the parts of the mechanism which the impulse has not yet reached. Wheels creak on their axles as the cogs engage one another and the revolving pulleys whirr with the rapidity of their movement, but a neighbouring wheel is as quiet and motionless as though it were prepared to remain so for a hundred years; but the moment comes when the lever catches it, and obeying the impulse that wheel begins to creak, and joins in the common motion the result and aim of which are beyond its ken.
Just as in a clock the results of the complicated motion of innumerable wheels and pulleys is merely a slow and regular movement of the hands which show the time, so the result of all the complicated human activities of 160,000 Russians and French - all their passions, desires, remorse, humiliations, sufferings, outbursts of pride, fear, and enthusiasm - was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the so-called battle of the three Emperors - that is to say, a slow movement of the hand on the dial of human history.
from Tolstoy, War and Peace, book 3 chapter 11 (my version is here)
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Pierced for our Transgressions (Ovey, Jeffrey & Sach)
Shepherding a Child's Heart (Tripp)
War and Peace (vol. 1) (Tolstoy)
Charity and Its Fruits (Edwards) (which I haven't read for a long time)
Peter O'Brien's commentary on Ephesians (as we are studying Ephesians in homegroups at the moment)
(links in reading list on left)
I trust that it will not be reading merely for the sake of knowledge but for the sake of love - to God and to others. 1 Corinthians 8.1b
I am also hoping to see a few interesting birds, given that "Norfolk is the single best stretch of coastline in the UK from a birdwatcher's point of view" (BBC) Crossbills, Sandwich terns, Little terns and waders are top of the list and who knows what else? I have seen 94 species so far this year, so should push past 100, possibly up to 110-115?
The steadfastness of the minds abiding in their duty is the cause of all our unmovableness and fruitfulness in obedience;... For if the soul be safe, unless the mind be drawn off from its duty, the soundness and steadfastness of the mind is its great preservative. And there are three parts of this steadfastness of the mind: - First, a full purpose of cleaving to God in all things; secondly, A daily renovation and quickening of the heart unto a discharge of this purpose; thirdly, Resolutions against all the dalliances or parleys about negligences in that discharge.
there are some duties which, in their own nature and by God's appointment, have a peculiar influence into the weakening and subduing the whole law of sin in its very principles and chiefest strengths; and these the mind of a believer ought principally in his whole course to attend unto; and these doth sin in its deceit endeavor principally to draw off the mind from... Now, these duties are - first, Prayer, especially private prayer; and, secondly, Meditation.
For a brilliant book about fighting against sin that is much simpler than Owen, I highly recommend Kris Lungaard: The Enemy Within.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
I am currently working on a series of Bible studies for international students. The series is entitled "Knowing God" and is based on a selection of Psalms. The course begins tomorrow, so if you're reading this and know God, please pray that some internationals would come. I may put the studies on my website eventually, but this is the outline of the course:
- Psalm 19 - Knowing God
- Psalm 139 - What is God Like? (1)
- Psalms 23 and 13 - The Happiness of Knowing God
- Psalm 33 - What is God Like? (2)
- Psalm 49 - Money, Life and Death
- Psalms 14 and 32 - Knowing God and Not Knowing God
Some interesting birdwatching recently: wheatears, yellow wagtail and redstart one day at Attenborough Nature Reserve. I saw/heard 8 different warblers on another day, including a grasshopper warbler, with its bizarre "muffled alarm clock" song. I also missed (according to the Nottinghamshire birdwatchers website) some bar-tailed godwits, a black-tailed godwit, a green sandpiper, arctic terns, an osprey, a crane, a spotted crake!!
I was given Pierced For Our Transgressions for Easter. I'm looking forward to reading it, although haven't had a chance to yet. I have noted, however, that there has been considerable debate about it, including a contribution from N.T.Wright: see also here and here.
Timothy (21 months) can now hiss like a snake and roar like a lion!!
Monday, April 02, 2007
I saw some unusual ducks at Colwick Country Park last saturday. Here are some photos of them. At the bottom, a Mandarin duck is to the right of a female mallard. Mandarin ducks are not native to Britain, but have established a "wild" breeding population in parts of the country. I had never seen one in the "wild" before. Several ducks can be seen in the top photo. The unusual ducks are sat next to each other to the right of the centre of the photo, underneath a large branch. Guesses as to their identification in the comments, please!! Or click here. There was a male and a female; it was the first time I had seen a male, which is particularly attractive.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
That injuries be borne without losing the quietness and repose of our own minds and hearts. - They should not only be borne without a rough behaviour, but with a continuance of inward calmness and repose of spirit. When the injuries we suffer are allowed to disturb our calmness of mind, and put us into an excitement and tumult, then we cease to bear them in the true spirit of long-suffering. If the injury is permitted to discompose and disquiet us, and to break up our inward rest, we cannot enjoy ourselves, and are not in a state to engage properly in our various duties; and especially we are not in a state for religious duties - for prayer and meditation. And such a state of mind is the contrary of the spirit of long-suffering and meekly bearing of injuries that is spoken of in the text. Christians ought still to keep the calmness and serenity of their minds undisturbed, whatever injuries they may suffer. Their souls should be serene, and not like the unstable surface of the water, disturbed by every wind that blows.
Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits pp.73-74
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
If the ethical imperative is dependent upon human reason alone, that reason is no match for rampant self-interest. In fact, self-interest will press reason into service to justify its own behaviour. Only a prior commitment to the revealed wisdom of God... and a commitment to call good good, despite the reasonings of the wise of this world, can make possible genuine long-lasting righteousness both in individuals and in society. The path of those who chart their own course leads inexorably from self-aggrandizement to the ultimate reversal of moral values.
The attitude we take toward God will determine what aspect of him we will experience. To those who sanctify him, who give him a place of importance in their lives, who seek to allow his character to be duplicated in them, he becomes a sanctuary, a place of refuge and peace. But to those who will not give him such a place in their lives, he becomes a stone to trip over. He does not change; only our attitude determines how we experience him. Those who make a place for him discover that he has in fact made a place for them. They know that what happens to them comes from One who is both all-powerful and good. In that certainty they can accept and apply whatever comes to them with equanimity and confidence. Those who will not make a place for him will keep colliding with him and tripping over him, for he is there, whether they acknowledge him or not. Because he is a fact of which their hypothesis does not take account, their experiment will keep failing and he will be the cause of it, not because of some vindictive streak in him, but simply because he is and they are trying to live as if he were not. As the New Testament makes plain, it is in Jesus that the double-edged nature of God's self-revelation because most pointed: to those who accept him as God's sufficient sacrifice, he is life and peace; to those who refuse to do so, he becomes a fact over which to stumble again and again (Matt. 21.44; Luke 2:34; Rom 9:33)
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Hence, then, what a watch and guard should Christians keep against envy, and malice, and every kind of bitterness of spirit towards their neighbours! For these things are the very reverse of the real essence of Christianity. And it behoves Christians, as they would not, by their practice, directly contradict their profession, to take heed to themselves in this matter. They should suppress the first beginnings of ill-will and bitterness and envy; watch strictly against all occasions of such a spirit; strive and fight to the utmost against such a temper as tends that way; and avoid, as much as possible, all temptations that may lead to it. A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love...Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits p.23
Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence by David Benatar
And this is the synopsis:
Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence-rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should-they presume that they do them no harm. "Better Never to Have Been" challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view-that it is always wrong to have children-and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a 'pro-death' view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity
became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.
I am currently reading Rivers of Gold by Hugh Thomas. It describes the first two generations of the Spanish encounter with the New World. Here are a couple of fascinating snippets:
This is the first European description of the potato, recently brought back to Spain from the New World. By Peter Martyr, c.1513 quoted in Rivers of Gold p.373/702
There are certain roots which the natives call batatas and grow
spontaneously. The first time I saw them I took them for Milanese turnips or huge mushrooms. No matter how they are cooked, roasted or boiled, they are equal to any delicacy or indeed to any other food. Their skins are tougher than
mushrooms or turnips, and are earth-coloured while the inside is quite white.
When raw, they taste like green chestnuts, only sweeter.
Cavan tambien de la tierra unas raices que nacen naturalmente y los indígenas las llaman batatas; cuando yo las vi, las juzgué nabos de Lombardia o gruesas criadillas de la tierra. De cualquier modo que se aderecen asadas o cocidas no hay pasteles ni nigun otro manjar de mas suavidad y dulzura. La piel es algo mas fuerte que en las patatas y los nabos y tienen color de tierra, pero la carne es muy blanca.
1499. During the exploration and discovery of the New World:
Alonso de Hojeda, Juan de la Cosa & Amerigo Vespucci "landed too on the islands of Curaçao (where they found some exceptionally tall people) and Aruba, where there were numerous natives living in houses standing in the sea 'like Venice'. Hence they spoke of the mainland there as 'little Venice', 'Venezuela'. The name remained.Rivers of Gold p.216
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Several readings from John Piper's meditations in A Godward Life have been a great encouragement recently. Here are some quotes and reflections from one.
Talking to Your Tears (on Psalm 126:5-6)
"May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." (RSV)
There is nothing inherently sorrowful about sowing seed, says Piper. The point is rather that sowing is a task that must be performed whatever the circumstances or ones spiritual and emotional state. No sowing - no harvest, it's as simple as that.
This, then, is an encouraging to keep going, to persevere, to keep working even when it's the last thing we feel like doing.
The crops won't wait while we finish our grief or solve our problems. If we
are going to eat next winter, we must get out in the field and sow the seed
whether we are crying or not.
This psalm teaches the tough truth that there is work to be done whether I am emotionally up for it or not, and it is
good for me to do it.
So here's the lesson: When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done,
and you are full of sadness and the tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do
the jobs with tears. Be realistic. Say to your tears: "Tears, I feel you. You
make me want to quit life, but there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed,
a car to be fixed, a sermon to be written). I know you will wet my face several
times today, but I have work to do and you will just have to go with me. I
intend to take the bag of seeds and sow. If you come along, then you will just
have to wet the rows."
[And] if you do that, the promise of this psalm is that you will "reap with
shouts of joy"... not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping,
but because the sheer sowing produces the reaping. We need to remember this even
when our tears tempt us to give up sowing.
Source: John Piper (1998) A Godward Life: Meditations on the supremacy of God in all of life (Eastbourne: Kingsway), pp.89-90
PS thanks to J-D & Kellee who gave us this book as a wedding present 6+ years ago
Monday, February 19, 2007
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I've already added this quote to Underlined Bits, but thought it was worth putting here too.
Jesus Christ is refreshing, but flight from him into Christless leisure
makes the soul parched. At first it may feel like freedom and fun to skimp on
prayer and neglect the Word, but then we pay: shallowness, prayerlessness,
vulnerability to sin, preoccupation with trifles, superficial relationships, and
a frightening loss of interest in worship and the things of the Spirit.
John Piper (1997) A Godward Life, in ch.34 "Setting Our Minds on Things Above in Summer"
Friday, February 16, 2007
- This week is China week at the Times (here). You can download lesson podcasts in basic conversational Mandarin. Very exciting!
- Mark has begun a new blog. Underlined bits is simply a space where contributors can share "thought-provoking and inspiring quotations from evangelical writings"
- Oak Hill Theological College has just appointed a new principal, to start when David Peterson returns to Australia in the summer. If you want to know who he is, click here.
- I couldn't resist adding in an old favourite. At Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers, you can see what birds have been seen around Notts recently. See similar sites for Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire.
- I also recommend The Pension Service and HM Revenue and Customs. Helpful information about pensions, taxes etc.
Monday, January 29, 2007
I know that this is a rubbish photo. But there is a blue tit in it, and it is IN OUR GARDEN. Can you spot it? As we very rarely have birds in our garden (see here and here), this is quite an event. In fact, my entry for the RSPB Great Garden Birdwatch comprised 4 house sparrows and two blue tits; not impressive.
Actually, we have had blue tits quite regularly recently - probably because of the food we have put up. We also had a grey wagtail in our back garden a week ago, and before that a female blackcap, and to be honest, they are rather impressive - at least for our garden! I have never seen a blackcap in January before; it's mostly a summer migrant, but "increasingly spending the winter in the UK." (source)
Sunday, January 28, 2007
I have been struck by how vital it is that we know God, that we approach in some measure the depth of Isaiah’s own vision. Only a deep knowledge of God will sustain us in whatever trials may lie ahead of us in our lives (as individuals, families and churches). Only a deep knowledge of God will empower us for persevering obedience and service. Only a deep knowledge of God will lift our eyes from ourselves, and give us the desire to see His glory.
This morning our assistant pastor preached on Isaiah 6. Here are some further reflections on knowing God, drawn from Craig’s sermon:
- We need the right kind of knowledge of God; not the kind of me-centred knowledge that superficially acknowledges God but in reality treats Him as someone who can meet our needs, help fulfil our aspirations; someone who can be manipulated. True knowledge of God makes us realise how radically God-centred the universe is, and how radically God-centred we need to be.
- Nor is true knowledge of God a mere knowing about, an intellectualism that finds God a fascinating object of study but is not moved to obedience and godly fear and love.
- But true knowledge of God leads us to recognition of the huge distance between ourselves and Him – not merely the sheer ontological distance between the finite and the infinite, but primarily the moral distance between a pure, holy God and me – polluted, corrupted, disfigured by sin. The six woes of Isaiah 5, denouncing the utter corruption of the people of Judah, are followed by a seventh in Isaiah 6:5. “Woe is me”, declares Isaiah, “for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips”
- But that vision of God’s holiness and recognition of our sinfulness then leads in Isaiah’s case to the reality of forgiveness. To know God is to know oneself sinful but forgiven, polluted but cleansed, alienated but reconciled. A knowledge of God without the experience of personal forgiveness is not a true knowledge of God. So whereas the six woes of chapter 5 are interspersed with warnings of God’s certain judgment on their unrepentance, Isaiah’s confession is followed by cleansing: “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” There is no true knowledge of God that has not come to the Cross.
- Finally, to know God is to be ready to serve Him. To know God in his holiness, and experience his cleansing of our sin-stained lives, is to then be commissioned to live for His glory. A knowledge of God that does not issue in obedience and service is not true knowledge.
Reader! – these things may or may not be familiar to you, but if they are, be refreshed in your desire to know God better; persevere in pursuing God Himself. For we can drift, we can lose our focus; we can become consumed by fears and insecurities. At least I know I can, and have. I have needed a reminder of these vital truths. And perhaps you do too.
Note: Craig’s sermons on Isaiah can be found here. Please note, this is the temporary download page for Beeston Free Church. The sermons on Isaiah are the following files:
20070114am.mp3 (Isaiah 1)
20070121am.mp3 (Isaiah 2)
20070128am.mp3 (Isaiah 6)
Monday, January 15, 2007
Evangelical Public Theology: What on Earth? Why on Earth? How on Earth? – Dan Strange
Rutherford's Case for Christendom – David Field
New Living in an Old Creation – Kirsten Birkett
Gabbatha and Golgotha: Punishment by God and His Servant the State – Garry Williams
Full details can be found here