Tuesday, December 29, 2009


James Anderson's answer for those who are troubled by whether they are among God's children:
All those, and only those, who come to saving faith have been redeemed by Christ. So the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ reduces (like the question of whether I am elect) to the question of whether I have saving faith.
If I recognize that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and I am looking to him alone for salvation, then I have every reason to believe that Christ died for me.

Grammar lesson

The teacher said:

A noun is a naming word.

What is the naming word in the sentence:

‘He named the ship LUSITANIA’?

‘Named’, said George.

Wrong, it’s ‘ship’.

Oh, said George.

The teacher said:

A verb is a doing word.

What is the doing word in the sentence:

‘I like doing homework’?

‘Doing’, said George.

Wrong, it’s ‘like’.

Oh, said George.

The teacher said:

An adjective is a describing word.

What is the describing word in the sentence

‘Describing sunsets is boring’?

‘Describing’, said George.

Wrong, it’s ‘boring’.

I know it is, said George.

Michael Rosen

Three religious truths

There are three religious truths:
1) Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
2) Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
3) Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters. ~Author Unknown

The Quote Garden

I certainly don't approve of, or agree with all of the quotes at this site, but I do like many of them and am grateful for the work that Terri Guillemets has done over the past twenty years collecting, and eleven years publishing such a great array of tidbits from thousands of sources.

The quotes are organised into more than 400 overlapping categories.

I enjoyed this quote today:
He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away. ~Raymond Hull

Monday, December 28, 2009

Slight hyperbole

Waxing enthusiastic about the new Logos 4 software, Marcus exclaimed:
There is no other way to study God's word than to use Logos Bible Software

A tad overstated, Marcus?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are you a twit?

You don't have to be a twit to tweet.

I don't tweet, but I subscribe to John Piper's tweets via rss.

He writes pithy tweets which express the gospel succinctly, or which point to sites that will inform, challenge or encourage you. It is worth subscribing to read his terrific messages.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


As I walked through a Bathurst shopping centre yesterday, two things struck me:
A woman was saying to a little boy
He does see everything you do. If you don't behave you won't get that toy on Christmas Day.
Then, I heard two teenagers laughing rather loudly and then saw that they were amused by the things parents do to their children. A little girl was screaming her lungs out, as they tried to coerce her to have her photo taken with Santa.

How different is our gracious God from this myth that we foist on children! We try to manipulate them into being good by threats, then, on Christmas morning, they get the presents anyway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home school, state school or Christian school?

... or church school or Roman Catholic school or posh school or ...?

I like this post by Nicole Starling, in which she writes positively about sending your children to a public school, without rubbishing those who do otherwise.

We sent all four of our children to the local state school, but our second son went on to the Conservatorium high school, which is still a state school, but special for Music.

I like these excerpts, but the whole article is worth your time:
We've decided to send our children to the local public school because:

1. Our kids don't have any special needs that would require otherwise at the moment.
2. Our local state school is a good school and the kids will be taught well there.
3. There are a few other Christian families who also send their children to the school.
4. We want our kids to learn how to be followers of Jesus in the midst of the world, and learn to love their non-Christian neighbours. We want them to desire the salvation of their friends - to pray for them, to talk to them about Jesus. We believe that this is at the heart of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, and essential to what we need to teach them as parents.

We don't do this naively. A local public school will have its own secularism that is anti-Christian. The teachers usually don't (explicitly, systematically) share their religious views at primary school, but everything they do will still be informed in some way by their own personal beliefs. And on a larger scale, the curriculum and structures of the school will be intentionally (and appropriately!) secular, and frequently (and inappropriately!) informed by the secularism of the majority of the politicians and bureaucrats who oversee them.

There will be all sorts of things that their teachers will say, out loud, about religion, sex, the environment, success, and so on, that are inconsistent with what the Bible says. And in addition, of course, there will be all the things they don't say; the six-hour-long silence, every day, in which they don't say anything about the God who made the world - all the things they think they can teach as if He was irrelevant. All of that is part of the deal, and we know that's the case!

So Dave and I don't just wave goodbye to our kids at the school gate and wish them luck! We pray with them, we talk about how they are to behave when they're there, we debrief in the afternoon when they get home and in the evening, when the stories finally come out. We try to get to know our kids' friends, to invite them round to our home to play, and to get to know their families. We aim to get involved in the life of the school - in the P & C, on the School council, in the classroom helping with reading - one day, maybe even Canteen duty! And we try to be vigilant with what happens at school, so that we don't just shrug our shoulders in resignation when things happen that are inconsistent with (good) policy.

There are still days when I do long to homeschool - but on days like that I try to remind myself that I am a homeschooler - just one who happens to send her kids out on a six-hour excursion to the local primary school for 200 or so days of the year. When they're off at school, we don't stop being responsible for them, and there are some vital things we need to teach them that would be very hard for them to learn without going there. (I don't mean maths and science and so on - I mean how to stand against the crowd, how to respect and obey non-Christian authorities, how to be overtly Christian in a non-Christian environment, and how to give an answer when they're asked about the reason for their hope.)

Our strategy is not to send them out into the minefields as child-soldiers, untrained and unarmed and unprepared. Our strategy is to send them out day by day, for part of the day, for part of the year, so that they will learn to be soldiers, both now and when they're grown up, and to do all we can to train and equip them along the way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Many other 'saints' go unrecognised

I like this letter for many reasons.
My wife is a saint. And I don't need the Pope to confirm it.

For nearly 40 years she worked as a nurse in many parts of Australia easing the sufferings of the sick and helping to cure many. She is idolised by her three children and is a special nana to two adoring little girls.

Aged 74, she works in a charity shop, gives part of her age pension to Medecins Sans Frontieres and to World Vision to help a child struggling to survive in Gaza.

The Vatican has never heard of her. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, never calls on a Sunday for a media photo opportunity. Yet she has performed scores of miracles in the 50 years I have lived with her. So why the fuss about Mary MacKillop?

Vincent Matthews Forestville

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Many Ways to Destroy a Church

Tim Challies cites this powerful passage from Don Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry:
The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful.
Raw factionalism will do it.
Rank heresy will do it.
Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it-admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul.
Building the church with superficial 'conversions' and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it.
Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God.
sustained biblical illiteracy,
-all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church.
And to do so is dangerous:
If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Functional Saviours

More thought-provoking stuff from Erik, the Irish Calvinist.
Erik cites this list from Mark Driscoll, which he says can help to reveal what we are really putting our trust in. We say Jesus is our Saviour, but what other saviours do we really run to. We might find out by asking these questions:
1. What am I most afraid of?

2. What do I long for most passionately?

3. Where do I run for comfort?

4. What do I complain about the most?

5. What angers me most?

6. What makes me happiest?

7. How do I explain myself to other people?

8. What has caused me to be angry with God?

9. What do I brag about?

10. What do I want to have more than anything else?

11. What do I sacrifice the most for in my life?

12. If I could change one thing in my life what would that be?

13. Whose approval am I seeking?

14. What do I want to control/master?

15. What comfort do I treasure the most?


Halfway down the stairs

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair where I sit:
There isn't any other stair quite like it.
I'm not at the bottom,
I'm not at the top:
So this is the stair where I always stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up, and isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery, it isn't in the town:
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
"It isn't really anywhere! It's somewhere else instead!"
(A A Milne)

And I'm halfway through reading the ESV Study Bible, which my daughter and her husband kindly gave me for Christmas last year.

I made a simple Excel file to track my progress and was amazed this morning to find that I was further through the Old Testament than New Testament, because, mostly, it is easier to read the New Testament and it is also much shorter. [There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, but only 260 in the New.]

So I read Titus to bring me up to 50% with the NT so that the two testaments would match.

I recommend reading through the ESV Study Bible, but I think reading through the Bible alone in a version such as The Books of The Bible: a presentation of Today's New International Version before you read a version with notes and introductions is a good plan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

John Donne's Christmas sermon

John Donne was not just a great poet. If the rest of his sermon was as good as the opening, it must have been a cracker:

The whole life of Christ was a continuall Passion; others die Martyrs, but Christ was born a Martyr… His birth and his death were but one continuall act, and his Christmas-day and his Good Friday, are but the evening and morning of one and the same day.

—John Donne, opening his Christmas sermon (Dec 25, 1626).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Old quote on The Bible

THIS BOOK contains
the mind of God,
the state of man,
the way of salvation,
the doom of sinners
and the happiness of believers.

Its doctrines are holy,
its precepts are binding,
its histories are true,
and its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise,
believe it to be safe
and practise it to be holy.

It contains
light to direct you,
food to support you
and comfort to cheer you.

It is
the traveller’s map,
the pilgrim’s staff,
the pilot’s compass,
the soldier’s sword
and the Christian’s charter.

paradise is restored,
heaven opened
and the gates of hell disclosed.

Christ is its grand object,
our good is its design
and the glory of God its end.

It should
fill the memory,
rule the heart,
and guide the feet.

Read it
and prayerfully.

It is
a mine of wealth,
a paradise of glory,
and a river of pleasure.

It is given you in life,
will be opened in the judgement,
and will be remembered forever.

It involves the highest responsibility,
will reward the greatest labour,
and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

Suggested TNIV marketing slogans

I like these cheeky slogans, from Scripture Zealot. Good fun
NIV – the bad boy Bible. Hated by Piper, Sproul and MacArthur enough for them to mention it in their sermons!

TNIV – not your father’s Bible

TNIV – we like chicks

TNIV – the best Bible you’ve never heard of

TNIV – Christianity’s best kept secret

TNIV – we catch the flack so the NLT doesn’t have to

The NIV is yesterday’s Bible; use the TNIV

Spurgeon comments on the teachings of Calvin and on Arminians

C H Spurgeon:
There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer — I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one ‘of whom the world was not worthy.’

I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

Australians Think Highly of Jesus

Survey by the Centre for Public Christianity finds that Aussies think highly of Jesus.
The majority of Australians think Jesus was a real historical figure who was a good influence on the world, and that Christian Christmas carols should be sung in public, according to a survey commissioned by the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX).

A national representative research-only panel survey by McCrindle Research of 501 Australians of mixed beliefs (55% Christian, 45% other) has found that 91% are supportive of religious songs in public at Christmas time, with only 1.7% strongly opposed to it.

Only 3% of Australians think that Australia would be better off without Christianity and 63% of us think we would be worse off without it.

Dr Greg Clarke, Director of CPX, said, “This is the opposite view to that of a New Atheist such as Christopher Hitchens, who claims that religion poisons everything. When it comes to the Christian faith, the Australian public doesn’t buy that.”

Australians seem to have a very high regard for Jesus, even when they are not Christians themselves. Half (49%) of all Australians think Jesus was the most important figure in history and 72% think he was “a good influence on the world”. But even among non-Christians, 22% consider Jesus to be history’s most important figure and 32% of non-Christians consider him to be the “Son of God”. 6% of Australians think Jesus was not a real historical figure.

When asked about the historical accuracy of the account of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, 60% consider it to be “accurate” or “roughly accurate”. 29% of Australians consider it to be “biased, inaccurate” or “myth”.

Director of CPX, ancient historian Dr John Dickson says, “It is fascinating to see people’s enduring trust in the basic historical nature of the Gospels—something that professional historians would applaud”. Dr Dickson said, “It’s in stark contrast with popular anti-religious writers who suggest that the Gospels are myth — a view shared by only 14.7% of Australians.”

Australians seem to enjoy Christmas, with 88% of respondents describing it as a “happy” time and 86% finding Christmas “enjoyable”. However, this comes at a price, with 68% of us also finding Christmas “exhausting” and 48% finding it “stressful”. It’s a darker experience for 12% of Australians, who find Christmas “miserable”. 46.7% of Australians find it a “spiritual” time, suggesting that for half of us there is more to Christmas than retail opportunities.

Despite the strong positive associations with Jesus, 72% of Australians consider “spending time with family” to be the most important thing about Christmas and 42% say they definitely won’t attend church this Christmas. However, more people remain undecided than anything else (44.5%), giving churches a last-minute opportunity to win people to their services this year!

Losing your religion?

Love this quote from John Dickson:
Rejecting Christianity for the failure of Christians to live Christianly is a bit like rejecting Johann Sebastian Bach after hearing your child attempt one of these cello suites...We have to learn, however hard it is, to distinguish between the beautiful composition, and the sometimes crappy performance of the church" (John Dickson - "Losing My Religion")

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Helping someone feeling badly

Mark Baddeley [hence the title] has written a lengthy, very helpful article at The Sola Panel about how we can help our friends who are experiencing depression.

It is a terrific article, as are the comments and comments on comments.

Here is my summary of what he says.

Don't tell your friend to just get over it.
Don't even tell him to trust God.
The effect of this is giving him one more thing to whip himself with, because he is already accusing himself of failure for not trusting God.

And your solution can sound like telling him to fix himself up by his action of trusting in God.

Some people have burdens greater than they can bear, which is why God tells us to bear one another's burdens. The only way some people will get through is with others helping to carry their burdens.

Instead of telling your friend to pray, pray for him yourself. Do for him what he would do, if he could.

Instead of telling him to trust God, give him a reason to trust God.
Talk about how great and good God is; how his mercies are ever renewed; how we don't have to muster up faith to get access to his grace; how he holds us up even as we trip and fall; how the Father who gave up his eternally loved Son for us when he and us were at each other's throats is a Father who is really there for us now that we are his children.
Talk about God to them—as though that is life itself.
Finish by saying, “He's on your side; he's going to carry you through this, however bad it gets”. Sometimes it's okay to just declare the promises of God and not ask for any response in the short-term.

Sometimes people need to be told, “Trust God!”; sometimes people need to hear “God can be trusted!” The downcast are in the latter camp. Serve them by sensitively exalting the God of life in the face of death.

Steve on Bill

Steve Runge reckons Bill's article does not accurately explain the use of αυτος in the beatitudes.

And he argues persuasively.

However, I still think we are left with Jesus telling us that the poor in spirit are those who will be blessed, etc, etc.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bill on the Beatitudes

Thanks to Gordon Cheng for this one.
One of the most theological powerful and provocative uses of the emphatic third person pronoun is in the beatitudes. All have the same construction. “Blessed are the … for they (αυτοι) will ….” The nuance of αυτος is that they they alone will receive the blessing.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
3. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is not saying that the poor in spirit, among others, are blessed. He is saying that they and they alone will inherit the kingdom. The merciful, and they alone, will receive mercy. Only those who are persecuted with inherit the kingdom. The meaning of the αυτος is nuanced, but it is there, and its force is devastating to much of modern theology and its easy believism.

Notice that it does not say, “Blessed are those who have had a conversion experience, for theirs is the kingdom.” In fact, Jesus later says that many who claim to have done great things for him are in fact strangers (Matt 7:23). What will you do with this?

My suggestion is to first of all confirm that I correctly understand the emphatic use of αυτος. (I am.) Secondly, ask yourself if your theology can handle this. If you have been following my blog for very long, you have probably gleaned that I am moderately reformed. But what I most try to be is biblical, and the Bible says that God shows mercy only to those who have shown it themselves. That the only people who will be filled are those who hunger and third for [His] righteousness. That the only ones who will inherit the kingdom are those who are poor in spirit and have been persecuted for that fact.

Talk of this kind is often met with angry blog comments, but the fact of the matter is that this is what the Greek text says. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs, and theirs alone, is the kingdom of God.”

If a person’s theology can’t handle that, then their theology is simply wrong. How does the emphatic αυτος fit your theology?

Support for School Chaplaincy

I have just read a great article in my wife Joan's War Cry. [A great weekly magazine that is always worth reading.]

On 21 November, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd became the first serving PM to address the Australian Christian Lobby’s national conference.

He spoke positively of the role of school chaplains and argued that it is proper for governments to fund them.

In part of his speech, he spoke about Allan and Kari Taylor, a couple in their 50s, who were killed in the most tragic circumstances in a road accident on the Sunshine Motorway. They were both involved in school chaplaincy. The impact of their lives was so great that more than 3000 people attended their funerals.

Mr Taylor believed so much in the value of the school chaplain that he stood down from being a school principal and took a big pay cut so that he could serve in that role.

The title above is a link to his speech in which he commits the government to ongoing funding.

David McKay

Monday, December 14, 2009

Three truths that change your life

The article below comes from The Gospel Coalition website, but was written by Justin Buzzard, a San Francisco pastor.
This fall I’ve been thinking through 3 truths. These 3 truths have been changing my life. If only one or two of these truths were true, the change wouldn’t be dynamic—you need all 3 to be true for the power of fear, anxiety, and insecurity to shrink in your life.

#1. God is Sovereign

God is sovereign. Nearly every page of the Bible proclaims God’s absolute sovereignty, his supremacy and power over all things. Every detail of your life, the decisions of kings and presidents, the lifespan of sparrows, swine flu, today’s weather, and each passing second of human history takes place under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty. God is in control of everything. Nothing is outside of God’s control.

If a single circumstance in the universe could occur outside of God’s sovereign control, then God is not God and he cannot be trusted. But the Scriptures reveal that God is completely sovereign and can be completely trusted.

For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:5-6).

#2 God is Wise

God is wise. Nearly every page of the Bible speaks of God’s infinite wisdom. God looks down upon the galaxies and upon your problems, plans, and prayers with perfect perspective. God is never confused, worried, or uncertain about the course of this world or the course of your future. God never makes mistakes. Yesterday God governed the universe with infallible wisdom. Today God is doing the same. Tomorrow and forever God will govern the galaxies and the ghettos with absolute wisdom.

If God were sovereign, but not wise, we could not trust him. We’d always be worried about him making a mistake, always thinking we know better than God. But from Genesis to Revelation we encounter the portrait of a completely sovereign and completely wise God who can be completely trusted.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes (Proverbs 3:5-7a)

#3 God is Good

God is good. Nearly every page of the Bible testifies that God is good, that God is loving. Not an inch of evil, deceit, or indifference dwells in God. God is love. God abounds in steadfast goodness, love, mercy, and grace. The Bible tells a single story of a good God taking relentless action to love, rescue, and bless people who don’t deserve it. God has always been good and always will be good. God’s goodness is not a mood. God’s goodness is not a mood that changes based upon your performance or circumstances, his loving goodness is an eternally-solid attribute that the fires of hell cannot melt.

If God were sovereign and wise, but not good, you could not trust him. People who are powerful and smart, but not loving, scare me. We’d live endlessly insecure lives if we knew God to be sovereign and wise, but not also good. But the Bible consistently presents a threefold picture of God as totally sovereign, wise, and good, as one who can be totally trusted.

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made (Psalm 145:8-9).

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).

Preach These 3 Truths to Yourself

For the past few months I’ve been preaching these 3 truths to myself over and over again.

I do this because, by default, I don’t navigate life as though God is sovereign, wise, and good. Over the past year I’ve been convicted that my actions and attitudes reveal that I operate as though God is mostly sovereign, somewhat wise, and kind of good. I would never say I believe this, but my living reveals that I’ve built much of my life of a vision of God that is much smaller than the Bible’s gigantic vision of God as completely sovereign, wise, and good.

I feel Satan has been quick to attack me in this season, quick to lodge in my mind doubts about God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness. And I imagine, in these uncertain times, Satan is quick to attack many of you, quick to tempt you to view God through your circumstances rather than view your circumstances through a biblical lens.

So, join me. Fight back. When you wake up in the morning, when you feel anxious or discouraged, when you’re driving home from work, preach to yourself: “God is Sovereign! God is Wise! God is Good!” Say this to yourself over and over again. Choose to live by faith, rather than by sight.

Forget your past. Forget how you used to operate, how you used to be a prisoner to your circumstances and feelings. Build your life on the truth. Preach more gospel to yourself. Tell yourself every hour that God is sovereign, wise, and good. The truth will set you free. Your emotions will begin to come in line with the truth.

Doubt your old doubts and saturate yourself in the Scriptures. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Read and meditate on and pray through your Bible with this threefold lens, always on the hunt for indications of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love. Meditate on Romans 8 or Matthew 6 or Psalm 139. Soak in a book like Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God.

Let your imagination begin to be filled with true images of God. See him as sovereign. See him sitting on his throne, wise and good. See Jesus—behold what he did for you at the cross, the place where God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness show in clearest expression. Never again think of yourself or your problems or your plans without Jesus and his blood shed for you in clear view. Let the Spirit sanctify you and your brain chemistry as you rebuild your life on a true vision of God.

God is Sovereign. God is Wise. God is Good.

These 3 truths have been changing my life. God is changing my life. May he change yours.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Justin Buzzard is a pastor at Central Peninsula Church on the San Francisco Peninsula and Editor-in-Chief of Commit magazine. Justin blogs regularly at the Buzzard Blog.

Being Gospel-centred

Justin Buzzard is publishing a new Christian magazine called Commit. This is a terrific article contained in the first edition, in which he reports on Don Carson's answers to four questions:

1. In a paragraph, what does it mean to be gospel-centered in one’s Christian life?

Some think of the gospel as so slender it does nothing more than get us into the kingdom. After that the real work of transformation begins. But a biblically-faithful understanding of the gospel shows that gospel to be rich, powerful, the wisdom of God and the power of God, all we need in Christ. It is the gospel that saves us, transforms us, conforms us to Christ, prepares us for the new heaven and the new earth, establishes our relations with fellow-believers, teaches us how to work and serve so as to bring glory to God, calls forth and edifies the church, and so forth. This gospel saves — and “salvation” means more than just “getting in,” but transformed wholeness. It would be easy to write many pages on how a gospel-centered ness affects all of life, but one must begin with a full-orbed understanding of what the gospel is and does.

2. What do you see happening with the gospel and my generation, the twentysomethings of the American church? Are you encouraged?

Cautiously, yes. It is still a day of relatively small things. But it is always encouraging to observe the substantial number of twentysomethings who want to learn what the Bible says, who are looking for faithful mentors, who are tired of the endless openness of some strands of postmodernism but who do not want to drift back into isolationism or privatized religion. Some from very culturally conservative Christian backgrounds are engaging in a pendulum swing toward “hip” stances that are barely orthodox, but they are winning almost no one except other people like themselves. In God’s grace, the future lies with that part of the younger generation that is passionate to understand, believe, and obey the truth, and who to that end are diligently studying the Word of God for themselves and learning lessons in contrition and joy, in humility and courage, in faith and obedience, that every generation of believers must learn.

3. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we have a lot of work to do. This is a highly unchurched metropolitan area with great hostility to the gospel. What are a couple brief points of counsel you’d give to church leaders wanting to build (or re-build) a gospel ministry in a region like this?

Trust Christ; believe the power of the gospel; abandon short-term gimmicks; think big but start small and be faithful; meet with, work with, pray with, learn from, those who have a common set of commitments and vision.

4. What are a few key resources you recommend to your average church member who wants to better understand how the gospel is meant to drive the entirety of the Christian life?

Once again, the first step is to understand the gospel, for in doing so, its ties to all of life become luminous. Many of the sermons on thegospelcoalition.org treat such matters. At the risk of calling attention to individuals:
(1) Not a few of the sermons of Tom Nelson (on the site) talk about how the believer serves God in the normal responsibilities and cycles of work.
(2) Many of Tim Keller’s sermons do the same, with a greater emphasis on working in the arts, journalism, music, and so forth.
(3) For a challenge across the field, read John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life.
(4) To think through faithfulness in gospel proclamation and doing “deeds of mercy,” begin, perhaps, with a ten-page essay by Tim Keller in Themelios 33/3 (also on the site).
(5) For those especially interested in Christianity and the arts, see the lovely 64-page booklet by Phil Ryken, Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (2006).
(6) For those interested in more global/political/theological analysis, try my Christ and Culture Revisited.
(7) Similarly, it is worth reading Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.
(8) There are some workshops that were offered at both the 2007 and the 2009 Coalition conference that bear on these matters, and they are available as acoustic downloads. Some of them are quite moving.

This is but the merest introduction. What you must not do, however, is become so interested in questions about how the gospel should drive our entire life and impact every dimension of life, that one begins to neglect the study of the Bible itself, and remove one’s focus from Jesus, his cross and resurrection, his gospel.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Progress report

I completed reading Deuteronomy and thus the Pentateuch today in the ESV Study Bible.

I have now read about 48% of this terrific study Bible and am currently reading Isaiah and Romans, with a Psalm every now and again.

Aussie Paul Barker's introduction and notes on Deuteronomy were very informative.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Lying: must we always tell the truth?

Some very helpful comments by John Frame, suuplemented by David Field
To be faithful to all of Scripture on this issue requires careful reading and thinking, as these two brothers have done.

The third and ninth commandments, especially, commend the truth to us, as do many other teachings of Scripture. God is a God of truth. He doesn’t lie (, , ). He wants us to image him in that as in other ways. Note the biblical polemic against lying in such passages as Psm. , , , , . Satan is the father of lies, , and sinners are dominated by lies, Cor. Thess. . Scripture condemns false prophets, who tell lies about God, .

But there are other passages in which people mislead other people without incurring biblical condemnation. Note:

1. , the Israelite midwives in Egypt.
2. , , , Rahab’s deception. Note that apart from what Rahab told her countrymen, even hiding the spies amounted to a deception.
3. , the ambush at Ai. As John Murray recognizes, God himself authorized this deception.
4. , Jael and Sisera.
5. , Samuel misleads Saul as to the reason for his mission.
6. , Michal deceives her father’s troops.
7. , David’s counsel to Jonathan.
8. , David feigns madness.
9. , David lies to Achish.
10. , another military deceit.
11. , Hushai counseled to lie to Absalom.
12. , women deceive Absalom’s men.
13. , God sends a lying spirit against Ahab.
14. , Elisha misleads the Syrian troops.
15. , Jeremiah lies to the princes.
16. , Jesus acts as if he intends to go further.
17. , God sends powerful delusion so that his enemies will believe a lie.

Nevertheless, the predominant view among Reformed Christians is that we should never tell lies under any circumstances. This view was held by Augustine and has more recently been defended by John Murray in Principles of Conduct.

Murray explains the above passages by the following principles: (1) In some of them, such as #2, Scripture commends what the liar accomplished without commending his/her lie. (2) As in #5, it is legitimate to withhold the whole truth from someone, but not to misrepresent. (3) As in #3, we need not always act in ways consistent with the mistaken interpretations of our acts made by others (in this case, the residents of Ai).

The first explanation is inadequate in regard to Rahab, for what Scripture commends is precisely her concealment, her creating a false impression in the minds of the Jericho officials.

As for the second principle, we can grant that it is sometimes right to withhold truth. But the question is whether it is ever right to withhold truth when withholding it may reasonably be expected to create a false impression in someone else’s mind. If it does, as it did in and other passages on our list, then it can scarcely be distinguished from lying.

And the third principle depends on a sharp distinction between words that mislead and acts that mislead. Murray is saying in effect that we should never mislead with our words, but we may mislead people by the way we behave. That distinction is not cogent.

And none of these explanations helps us to understand why God himself deceives people in passages #13 and #17.

Charles Hodge says that we are obligated to tell the truth only when there is a “virtual promise.” Essentially, Hodge here is placing the burden of proof on those who wish to require truthfulness. But it is not clear what a virtual promise is, or what the criteria are for concluding that one has or has not been made.

Meredith Kline explains the biblical examples of deception as “intrusion.” In his view, the ethics of the end-times differ from the ethics God has given to us in the law and Jesus’ teaching. In normal times, we are to love our enemies and protect them. But in the end times, the enemies of God will have neither a right to life or a right to truth. Now sometimes, Kline says, the end times enter our present time (and so “intrude”). The intrusion is a time of divine judgment, and, in that time, it is legitimate to kill the opponents of God (as did Joshua and David) and also to withhold truth from them.

Scripture, however, does not distinguish two different ethics. Some of God’s commands (like God’s command to Joshua to kill the Canaanites) are for temporary situations. And Kline is right to say that often those situations are instances of special divine judgments. But capital punishment and just war are also subjects of regular, normative ethics. There are times even in advance of final judgment when the wicked deserve to lose their lives. Perhaps even such “normal capital punishment” can be assimilated to the intrusion model, but if so we need to know that intrusion is a normal part of our ethical life, as limited and defined by God’s revelation.

It does appear that the Bible passages listed above all have to do with the promotion of justice against the wicked who are seeking innocent life. Whether or not we speak of these as intrusions, we should note that in the ninth commandment the requirement to tell the truth is conditioned on a relationship, that of “neighbor.” In context, that relationship is specifically legal. The neighbor is the defendant, and the individual “you” is called to the witness stand, in which he must not lie.

This is not to say that the commandment is limited to legal witness, for many other Bible passages, as we have seen, condemn lying more generally. But in these passages, our obligation to tell the truth is based (as in the ninth commandment) on a relationship. In , the relationship is our union with one another in Christ.

Now when one person seeks illegitimately to take the life of another, are the two people neighbors, in the sense of the ninth commandment? The Good Samaritan parable does, indeed, extend the meaning of “neighbor” to all needy people who cross our path. But in the situation where someone is seeking to destroy innocent life, rather than to help and heal, does such a neighborly relation exist? I think not. At least, I doubt that those who misled others in the seventeen passages mentioned earlier were in a neighborly relation to their opponents. Certainly those who deceived in those passages didn’t think so. And I think Scripture concurs in their judgment.

There are also other, more trivial situations where questions of truth enter the discussion. Is it wrong to mislead people as a practical joke? No, if it’s a sort of game that will bring enjoyment; not if it hurts. Is it wrong to engage in the flatteries that are a normal part of social etiquette (“Sincerely yours,” “I had a lovely evening.”)? In my judgment, many of these phrases have come to mean far less than a literal reading of them would indicate. Since everybody knows that, it is not hypocrisy to use them that way.


DF – some other considerations:
a) we are not obliged to say everything about everything every time we speak. Our communications are necessarily marked by deletion, generalizations, selection, and framing;
b) context – as seen above (deliberately deceiving in a rugby game etc). Frame touches on this above;
c) what is being sought – if asked about how clothes look, what is being sought might be affirmation rather than information – e.g. not “I don’t like the colour” but, “you look lovely whatever you wear”;
d) the use to which what is said will be put. In war, the enemy has already forfeited the right to life (by being guilty of murder / attempted murder) and may be thought, therefore, to have forfeited also the right to truth. Or, another example, if the use to which the truth is going to be put is itself sinful (murderous, for example) then I am under no obligation to give the truth;
e) the person we are speaking to. Children may not be able to process some truth and so we withhold it from them. The same may be true of some patients. Love means seeking and working for the well-being of the other person and at times that well-being is not secured by telling them the truth;
f) however, the temptation to “play God” and decide that we know best is great. So is the temptation to withhold truth for selfish reasons and then rationalize using one of the arguments above.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jesus Has AIDS

Arresting message from Russell Moore, reminding us of Jesus' words in Matthew 25.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pericope Adulterae

The story of the woman caught in adultery is obviously later than the New Testament, if you accept the fact that the earliest Greek manuscripts are the most reliable.

But this lovely story sounds so much like the Jesus we meet in the rest of the gospels that I cannot give it up.

I cling to the Jesus who condemns religious hypocrites, forgives sins AND says Go and sin no more.

Is it wrong to take the story as genuine and believe it be part of the Christian gospel although it is not part of any of the original gospels?

It seems to be a very different kettle of fish to the longer ending of Mark, which would appear to have been written to harmonise Mark with Acts and which could be taken to be encouraging us to drink poison and pick up deadly snakes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can Christians fall away? asks Andrew Heard

Andrew Heard wrote a very good article for The Briefing, issue 299, in which he addresses the issue of whether Christians can fall away and be lost. This is his summary, posted in a later issue:
I believe born again Christians can fall away, but I am convinced God won't let them, by making them take heed to the warnings. Although this statement appears contradictory, I think it not only does best justice to the full revelation given us in the New Testament, but also reflects the experience of Christ during his earthly life. The fact that Christ suffered when he was tempted surely meant that he could have fallen into sin. But God's promises concerning his victory must have meant he wasn't going to. It may be difficult to hold together but I cannot see how we can avoid this tension.

Just as Jesus lived knowing each temptation was make or break, born again Christians must live knowing that they cannot take their genuine repentance and faith for granted.

If this understanding is right, then there is no need to resort to the intricacies of exegesis that Wayne Grudem, and others, must resort to in order to avoid a plain reading of Scripture. The writer of Hebrews is speaking to those he believed to be born again Christians and warning them of the real possibility of falling away. Significantly, in 2:1, he includes himself in the warning. He is aware in his own life of the danger of genuine Christians drifting. It is my conviction that even if the author knew that all of his audience were born again Christians he would still issue exactly the same warnings because this is the means by which God keeps his people.

Now, I hasten to say again, I don't believe this means genuine Christians will fall away. They won't. My point is rather that they won't fall away because genuine Christians will recognise the warnings as real warnings to genuine Christians and take heed of them.

Great rejoicing in Outer Galukistan over new NIV

I'm looking forward to the New NIV in 2011, but I did have a chuckle over this from Tominthebox news network:
From the deepest recesses of South American Jungles to the coldest corners of Siberia, native people groups everywhere are rejoicing over the latest announcement that the English-speaking world will be spending millions of dollars for yet another English translation of the Bible. The excitement erupted after Zondervan Publishers announced that it would be making a major revision and update to its New International Version, first released in 1978

"Our goal is to put the NIV into modern English so that people born after 1988 can understand the Scriptures," said Ronald Overbeck, head of research at Zondervan. "We're going to spare no expense to make sure we update the archaic terms and references so that people can read the Bible clearly and easily."

Celebrations erupted throughout the world at the announcement. In some parts people took to the streets for celebrations that went on for days.

"This brings much joy to our hearts," commented Elena Namaeeva, a native Sakha from the Far Eastern Siberian region of Yakutia. "We just got the New Testament in our Sakha language about 3 years ago. We are waiting anxiously for the Old Testament to be released, though they tell us it could still be a while because of a lack of funding. But I'm so happy for our American friends that they will have yet another Bible in their language."

"We are happy for our brothers and sisters in the English-speaking world and rejoice with them," said Amin Modu of the Kanuri people of Nigeria. "While 4 million of my people are still waiting on the complete Bible in our language, it always brings joy to our hearts to know that the Americans will be spending millions of dollars to have yet another Bible in the English language."

With over 100 known complete translations, English Bibles by far dominate the world of Bible publications.

"If you just think of the number of people out there born after 1988, it's staggering" noted Overbeck. "This is virtually an unreached people group in and of itself, a whole generation of x-box playing college dropouts still living with their parents who can't understand the Bible because it's so archaic and hard to read. I think it's high time someone reached out to them."

The revision is expected to take 3 years. Incidentally, there remains some 200 million people worldwide who do not yet have a Bible in their own language.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why Churches have tax free status

This letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald explains why churches have tax-free status in Australia.
Tax and religion

Allan Lewis (Letters, November 20) suspects the tax-exempt status of religious bodies is a function of the ''socially beneficial works they undertake''. That is incorrect. The tax status of religions relies on the 1891 Privy Council Pemsel case, which confirmed four categories of charitable purpose: relief of poverty; advancement of education; other purposes beneficial to the community; advancement of religion.

This was confirmed in Parliament by Senator Peter Walsh on May 1, 1984, when he said: ''Legally, the advancement of religion is a charitable activity.'' It follows that religions, including Scientology, are charities in themselves, because they ''advance religion''. This means taxpayers are subsidising religions to proselytise.

This should be abandoned on the grounds that religion is a private matter. At the same time, as Mr Lewis recognises, activities by religious bodies that are of public benefit could continue to have tax-exempt status as ''other purposes beneficial to the community''.

Max Wallace Australia New Zealand Secular Association, Gosford

Charles Darwin and the Children of the Evolution

TIMES ONLINE has a fascinating account of some of Darwin's other ideas, often linked to his big idea, and the way that some psychopaths have eagerly adopted them.
The naturalist outraged the church, prompting a bitter debate that still sets creationists against evolutionists. Now a sinister link has emerged between his work and the recent spate of high-school killings by crazed, nihilistic teenagers.

You wouldn’t know from the celebrations of Charles Darwin’s life this year that the amiable Victorian gent portrayed in those TV drama-docs pottering around the garden of his home in Kent has been fingered as a racist, an apologist for genocide, and the inspiration of a string of psychopathic killers.

The Darwin double anniversary (2009 marks both the bicentenary of his birth and 150 years since the first publication of On the Origin of Species) has featured much vanilla hoopla: the Royal Mail issued commemorative stamps; Damien Hirst designed the dust jacket for a special edition of Darwin’s masterpiece; Bristol Zoo offered free admission to men with beards, and the Natural History Museum served pea soup made to a recipe devised by Darwin’s wife, Emma. The conclusion of dozens of lectures, articles and education packs for schools has been that Darwin wasn’t just a brilliant scientist, but a thoroughly good egg.

With hardly a mention that his name has been associated with some of the most infamous crimes of modern history, it is as if there has been an unspoken agreement to accentuate the positive. Certainly, the milquetoast Darwin played by Paul Bettany in the recent film Creation provided little hint that there might be a dark side to the great man’s bequest to posterity. The film focuses on Darwin’s inner conflicts in the years leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species. The scientist is reluctant to make his ideas public, not because he has foreseen dire social consequences, but chiefly because he fears that the theory of evolution will upset his wife and the Church of England.

In America, where Darwin’s writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin’s theories and a rash of school shootings. In April, 1,000 people gathered at sunset in Littleton, Colorado, to commemorate the victims of the Columbine high school massacre, 10 years on. Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was the first of the 13 children to be murdered, and whose son Craig narrowly escaped being shot, cannot understand why so little attention has been paid to the motivation of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and their interest in Charles Darwin’s ideas. “Harris wore a ‘Natural Selection’ T-shirt on the day of the killings. They made remarks on video about helping out the process of natural selection by eliminating the weak. They also professed that they had evolved to a higher level than their classmates. I was amazed at the frequent references to evolution, and that the press completely ignored that aspect of the tapes.”

Much of the evidence remains sealed under a court order issued to minimise the risk of copycat killings, but from those documents that are in the public domain, it is clear that Eric Harris fantasised about putting everyone into a violent computer game that only the fittest could survive. And, like Darwin himself, he noted how vaccination might be interfering with nature’s weeding process. In his rantings Harris said he wished there were no vaccines, or even warning labels on dangerous goods, “and let natural selection take its course. All the fat, ugly, retarded, crippled dumbass, stupid f***heads in the world would die… Maybe then the human race can actually be proud of itself”.

As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, the Denver lawyer Barry Arrington has come across more in a similar vein. “I read through every single page of Eric Harris’s journals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes… It became evident to me that Harris consciously saw his actions as logically arising from what he had learnt about evolution. Darwinism served as his personal intellectual rationale for what he did. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.”

In 2007, detectives following up a tip-off about a planned school shooting in Pennsylvania discovered that their suspect often logged on to a social networking site called Natural Selection’s Army and a number of related chatrooms that were later tagged by the media as the “cyber school for killers”. These sites were quickly shut down by their service providers, but today “Natural Selection” is the name of a popular computer game in which competing teams attempt to annihilate one another — a sign that Darwin’s term is still associated by many teenagers with sudden and extreme violence.

“Natural Selection” T-shirts have proved a popular line through web-based outlets, and it seems that the Columbine killers have spawned a gruesome personality cult — there is even a computer game in which players adopt the roles of Harris and Klebold, which features original CCTV footage of the killings.

Among those reported to have frequented the original Natural Selection’s Army website was an 18-year-old Finnish student, Pekka-Eric Auvinen. On November 7, 2007, in Tuusula, Finland, Auvinen forced his head teacher to kneel down in front of him before he shot her with his pistol. He slaughtered a further seven victims before turning the gun on himself. Some of the Jokela high school students afterwards described the way Auvinen prowled through the building pointing his gun at people’s heads. Sometimes he would squeeze the trigger and kill them; sometimes, after looking long and hard through the sights, he would suddenly turn away and let his terrified target go free. One witness said he seemed to be choosing his victims at random, but in fact he was making a very deliberate selection. He was trying to weed out the “unfit”.

Before he embarked on his shooting spree, Auvinen posted a lengthy apologia on the internet. Styling himself a “social Darwinist”, he said that natural selection appeared not to be working any more — had maybe even gone into reverse. He had noticed that “stupid, weak-minded people reproduce faster than intelligent, strong-minded ones”. The gene pool was sure to deteriorate if society continued to guarantee the survival of the second-rate. He had pondered what to do about this problem. He understood that life was just a meaningless coincidence, the outcome of a long series of random mutations, so there might not be much point in doing anything at all. But eventually he had decided he would do his bit by becoming a natural selector, aping the pitiless indifference of nature.

Auvinen left a special plea for his motivation to be taken seriously and for the world not merely to write him off as a psychopath, or to blame cult movies, computer games, television or heavy metal music, before concluding: “No mercy for the scum of the Earth! Humanity is overrated. It’s time to put natural selection and survival of the fittest back on track.”

Of course, it is not unusual for homicidal maniacs to cite great writers when seeking to justify their crimes. The Chicago spree-killers Leopold and Loeb (the models for Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope) claimed Friedrich Nietzsche as their muse, as did the Moors murderer Ian Brady. Other deranged misfits have nominated Albert Camus, Jean Genet and André Gide. But it may take a keener intellect than was possessed by Harris, Klebold or Auvinen to negotiate such a reading list. The basics of evolution are much more accessible and are taught in every high school, so it should not be surprising that Darwin seems to be emerging as the inspiration for the more dim-witted schoolboy sociopath.

Darwin would no doubt have been horrified by all this, but it’s easy to see why some of his ideas might appeal to the disturbed adolescent mind. One conclusion implicit in evolutionary theory is that human existence has no ultimate purpose or special significance. Any psychologically well-adjusted person would regard this as regrettable, if true. But some people get a thrill from peering into the void and acknowledging that life is utterly meaningless.

Darwin also taught that morality has no essential authority, but is something that itself evolved — a set of sentiments or intuitions that developed from adaptive responses to environmental pressures tens of thousands of years ago. This does not merely explain the origin of morals, it totally explains them away. Whether an individual opts to obey a particular ethical precept, or to regard it as a redundant evolutionary carry-over, thus becomes a matter of personal choice. Cheerleaders celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday in colleges across America last February sang “Randomness is good enough for me, If there’s no design it means I’m free” — lines from a song by the band Scientific Gospel. Clearly they see evolution as something that emancipates them from the strict sexual morality insisted upon by their parents. But wackos such as Harris and Auvinen can just as readily interpret it as a licence to kill.

The American conservative controversialist Ann Coulter is one of Darwin’s fiercest critics, lambasting him in her book Godless and via cable TV. Coulter claims she is not surprised that psychopaths gravitate towards Darwin’s ideas. “Instead of enshrining moral values,” she says, Darwin “enshrined biological instincts.” Coulter believes Darwin’s theory appeals to liberals because it “lets them off the hook morally. Do whatever you feel like doing — screw your secretary, kill Grandma, abort your defective child — Darwin says it will benefit humanity”.

Today’s evolutionary scientists go some way towards Coulter’s view when they describe ethics as merely an illusion produced by genes. From a Darwinian perspective, there is nothing objectively wrong with shooting your classmates; it’s just that most of us have an inherited tendency to kid ourselves that it’s wrong — and that’s something that helps our species in the longer run by keeping playground massacres to an acceptable minimum.

Darwin looked forward to a time when Europeans and Americans would exterminate those he termed “savages”. Many of the anthropomorphous apes would also be wiped out, he predicted, and the break between man and beast would then occur “between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon; instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla”. He took a sanguine view of genocide, believing it to be imminent and inevitable. “Looking to the world at no very distant date,” he wrote to a friend in 1881, “what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.”

Convinced that the various races of mankind had travelled different distances down the evolutionary highway, and that two races could be fairly described as more or less evolved even when both had a track record of cultural achievement, Darwin insisted that natural selection explained why the Europeans had been able to see off serial invasions by the Ottoman Turks. Some of today’s Turks understandably resent being designated as genetically second-rate, which perhaps explains why the editor of Turkey’s most popular science magazine was instructed by his proprietor to cancel a special edition celebrating Darwin’s anniversary.

For many years after his death, Darwin’s racial theories remained the consensus position of the international scientific community. In 1906, the director of the Bronx Zoo decided to give New Yorkers an object lesson in human evolution by putting a 23-year-old Congolese pygmy on public display in his monkey house. The pygmy, Ota Benga, shared his cage with an orang-utan. The spectacle drew enormous crowds. Before long, they were asking the questions the exhibitors hoped they would: was Ota Benga an ape or a man? Or, as the zoo-keeper himself speculated, was this perhaps a transitional form between the two, the elusive missing link?

When a group of African-American clergymen objected to a human being being put on show, they were told that Darwin’s theories were now accepted scientific facts, that the “lower races” were psychologically closer to pigs and dogs than to human beings, and that a different value should be put on their lives. Truths that the founders of the United States had held to be self-evident — that all men are created equal and had certain inalienable rights — were being denied by the promoters of Darwinian science. By the end of the first world war, it was not only blacks who were deemed genetically inferior by many of America’s top geneticists and biologists, but Italian, Greek and Jewish immigrants too.

In their book Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James A Moore argue that, far from nursing racial prejudices, Darwin was driven to advance a theory of common descent by his hatred of slavery. But how can the idealistic abolitionist be reconciled with the man who so casually contemplated the extermination of entire races? Some argue that he grew more racist as he got older; others that his racism followed logically from his theories.

Nowhere was the toxic doctrine of racial superiority more enthusiastically taken up than in the Third Reich. The Nazis believed that the Aryan race was already the most highly evolved, but could evolve further if defective genes could be eliminated. To purify the German gene pool, they decided to exterminate all the physically and mentally handicapped.

Darwin summed up his moral philosophy by saying that a man could “only follow those ideas and impulses that seem best to him”. Darwinian ideas, eugenics and its ugly sister, eugenic euthanasia, were accepted by the mainstream of the German scientific and medical professions. Indeed, so convinced were the staff of the clinic at Kaufbeuren-Irsee in Bavaria that they were acting rationally that, even after Germany’s surrender in 1945, they carried on killing handicapped people under the American occupation, until a US officer led a squad of GIs to the hospital and ordered them to desist.

The connection between Darwin’s ideas and the Holocaust remains hugely controversial, not least because many creationists try to reduce it to a crude blame game. The writer David Klinghoffer, an advocate of intelligent design, which many regard as creationism in disguise, claims: “The key elements in the ideology that produced Auschwitz are moral relativism aligned with a rejection of the sacredness of human life, a belief that violent competition in nature creates greater and lesser races, that the greater will inevitably exterminate the lesser, and finally that the lesser race most in need of extermination is the Jews. All but the last of these ideas may be found in Darwin’s writing.”

The debate between Darwin’s bulldogs and religious fundamentalists over the truth of evolution and the existence of God has become a sterile one. There are, however, many interesting questions about how Darwin’s views chime with our values of liberal democracy and human rights, or the simple lessons of right and wrong that most of us teach our children. But our society cannot begin to address these issues while we are fed only a bowdlerised account of Darwin’s work. The more sinister implications of the world-view that has come to be called “Darwinism” — and the interpretation the teenage nihilists put on it — are as much part of the Darwin story as the theory of evolutions

The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics (Picador, £18.99) by Dennis Sewell is available at the BooksFirst price of £17.09, including p&p. Telephone: 0870 165 8585

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baptism: why so many different views?

I've just finished reading Baptism: three views, edited by David Wright, with contributions by Bruce Ware [Baptist], Sinclair Ferguson [Presbyterian] and Anthony Lane, who argues that both the paedobaptist and credobaptist views are acceptable.

All three authors had interesting points to make, though I found Sinclair Ferguson the least helpful.

I'm now reading Understanding Four Views on Baptism, edited by John Armstrong, with contributions from Tom Nettles [Baptist], Richard Pratt [Reformed], Robert Kolb [Lutheran] and John Castelein [Churches of Christ].

But these books do not cover all of the major views on baptism, because there would appear to be at least these:
Roman Catholic
Eastern Orthodox
Churches of Christ
Salvation Army
popular evangelical "don't-rock-the-boat" view
ultra-dispensational baptism is not for this age view
Lane's dual-practice view [also held by David Wright]
Have I missed any?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scripture Alone?

Wise words from Michael Jensen:
The Christian sitting at home reading their Bible should get out of their chair and go to church or Bible study, and sing God's praises and say the creed and have the Lord's Supper and listen to the sermon and talk to other Christians. The point is not that 'you need to be an expert in the whole 2000 years of reflection on the Bible', but rather to acknowledge that reading Scripture is a communal and corporate practice - and thank goodness it is.

William Tyndale translated the Bible into plain English so that the ploughboy could read it and understand it. But he always imagined the ploughboy coming in from the field and going to church to hear it read and explained.

Monday, November 16, 2009

When Russia Spoke French

This interesting article tells us that in the early 1800s
France, its fashions, its art, and its language carried away the hearts in the Russian capital.
The aristocracy ate, drank, dressed, flirted, and cultivated themselves in French, while the Russian language was reserved for ordinary people and personal matters. Though official correspondence and social conversations were carried out in the language of Voltaire and Diderot, so close to the heart of
Catherine II, a fervent believer in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, billets-doux and family letters
were written in Russian. This complicated duality was mocked irreverently by Astolphe de Custine in his
travel-journal cum scathing attack on Russia. Without any regard for Czar Nicholas I whose hospitality
he had enjoyed from May to September 1839, and egged on by Balzac and the perfidious Talleyrand, the
eccentric marquis penned “Russia in 1839.” The book mocked the “Tatars” who used two languages, but
neither of them perfectly: one for social relations, the other for informal situations. Ironically, the first edition
in 1843 was an immediate success in Russia as well as in France. In fact, this linguistic duality was used as a façade that enabled the nobility to mask their true feelings, which suited the Russian mentality perfectly.

However, unaware of the future criticisms of the caustic Custine, Pushkin and his friends indulged themselves with Bordeaux wines and Veuve Clicquot champagne when they dined “chez Dumé,” a famous restaurant that had succeeded in subtly marrying Russian and French dishes. In fact, though the nobility swore only by Paris, it was also in order to adapt the style to the Russian way of life. They copied and borrowed while at the same time insisting on the specificity of their own language. Indeed,there was no question of slavishly copying French fashions. On the contrary. Those who did not know how to strike the happy medium were mercilessly mocked and dubbed copycats.

Memo from God, via Annabel

And Annabel Crabb also gave God an outing in the same Saturday Herald. She seems to have a better idea of what God is like than Dorothy McRae-McMahon the other rev in the following Monday's paper. Amazingly, they both prefer Joe's dreamed up one, to the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ.

I like what she supposes God would say to Joe:
And to his disciple and Mine, Joe Hockey: Joe, thank you for the sentiment behind your speech to the Sydney Institute, ''In Defence of God'', on Monday night.

As an omnipotent being, of course, I am fortunate enough not to have to rely on human defenders to keep my end up - particularly when the opponent is a white-suited mongoose like Christopher Hitchens - but I appreciated the thought.

My quibble is that, like Kevin, you adopt the bits about Me that you like, and don't mention the bits that you don't.

I am to be used as "an analogy of faith in all its forms"?

For goodness' sakes, Joe, man up!

Is that the best you can do?

Just as your old sparring partner, the Prime Minister, was very attached to the Good Samaritan parable right up until the point at which he found himself obliged to enforce it, I got the feeling you were making excuses for me in your speech.

I'm not always reasonable, you know.

And my ways are never easy.

That goes for both of you, Kevin and Joe: it's fine for you to worship the Sunrise.

Just don't forget Who created it - OK?

God in the Herald

God was not only on Phillip Jensen's mind in Saturday's Herald. Rick Feneley also had some things to say about Joe Hockey's speech, and Joe's God:
Hockey ventured out this week with his treatise In Defence of God. Sources close to God could not be reached to comment on whether He wanted Hockey as a minder. In any case, Hockey made God in his own image. Your average Joe, really. A sharing, caring kind of guy who'd appeal to people of all faiths and constituencies should the proverbial bus, well, you know …

Hockey says we should not read the Scriptures too literally. Certainly a literal reading of Hebrews (God's people are the ''strangers and exiles on earth'') or Matthew (''I was a stranger and you invited me in'') or Matthew again (when the refugees Mary and Joseph escape Herod's wrath by fleeing into Egypt with the baby Jesus) will cause discomfort to any God-fearing politician who has sermonised on the need for tough border protection in the face of a pathetic trickle of Tamil boat people to our shores. These Tamils wouldn't have made a ripple in the human tide crossing into India.

It's all very silly. Or as Pope John Paul II once said: ''Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn't misuse it.''

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Phillip Jensen's reply to Joe Hockey's speech is worth reading.

Joe Hockey has followed his old sparring partner, Kevin Rudd, by going public about religion while serving as a member of the shadow cabinet.

For Rudd this was an important attempt to regain the Christian credibility of the Labor movement. He argued against the assumption that the conservative side of politics owned the religious vote.

He aimed to show the Christian foundations of Labor and the existence of a Christian within the party.

Rudd startled those commentators who had so wrongly assumed "the religious right" of America had traction in Australia, or that conservative theology meant conservative politics.

It had been a long time since a Labor politician had so openly expressed their Christianity.

Now Hockey has played the same card. He has carefully articulated the place of faith in the secular politics of a multicultural society by confirming his own personal faith.

He has positioned himself as a defender of the faith. Or to be more accurate, like Prince Charles, he positioned himself as a defender of faith.

His explanation of faith has all the appeal of motherhood and apple pie. His god is full of sugar and spice and all things nice. It is the religion of those who have no religion. Warm, positive values that he admits do not have religion as "an essential prerequisite". He admits that his own political values were shaped in part by the agnostic or atheist John Stuart Mill.

Hockey's faith is the religion of the middle ground - the voters of Australia. His speech explored the religious statistics of the electorate noting the widespread belief in God and the smaller adherence to organised religion.

With inclusive grandeur he insists that Australia "must continue without fear to embrace the diversity of faith". But then, with nothing other than fear, he qualifies which religions are acceptable "provided that those Gods (sic) are loving, compassionate and just".

He marginalises the extremists: the fundamentalists and the aggressive atheists. His defence of faith from the attacks of the atheists (Hitchens and Dawkins) is twofold. Firstly to attack religious literalists for teaching their outmoded texts instead of the values that everybody agrees upon. Secondly he exposes the atheists' use of a political debating technique.

They define their opponent in terms that suit themselves "usually selecting the extremes, and then send in the wrecking ball".

This twofold ''defence'' enables Hockey to demonstrate his own mastery of this political debating technique. For he defines religious literalists by the Scopes trial of the 1920s, a fictional example drawn from The West Wing and, of course, Islamic terrorists. He rightly says we must not judge a religion by the misguided actions of some extremists but then lumps all who take the text of their various scriptures seriously as just such extremists.

Hockey says his own faith is inspired "by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ". And indeed some of Jesus's attitudes can be seen in his views. Jesus critiqued his contemporaries for their concern over minutiae while "neglecting the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23). Jesus portrayed it as "straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel".

But Hockey's expression of values, with or without belief in any particular god, scarcely defends faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus - the man who is God. Christianity, void of Jesus's divinity or sin bearing crucifixion - is hardly Christianity. Such a statement is not extremist literalism.

The cross, not the golden rule, is at the very centre of Christianity. All religions do not teach the same truth when the death of Jesus is central to Christianity and denied by the Koran.

He noticed that the Opera House usually is playing music inspired by faith. But his kind of faith did not and will not inspire such music. He noticed that members of religious organisations are nearly twice as likely to be community volunteers. But his faith has not and will not lead to more community volunteers. He noticed the decline in religious observance in Australia. But he fails to notice that it is those who take their scriptures seriously who are retaining adherents and growing.

From the outset of his speech Hockey wants to "use God as an analogy of faith in all its forms". Of course it is his privilege to talk this way in a free country. But this hardly counts as a robust defence of faith. It is postmodern religion that talks of "my" god, not out of politeness to others who believe in a different god, but out of a denial that there is only one God who can be known by the humans he created in his image. It is great that leaders such as Joe Hockey are raising the issues of faith in the public arena. Let's keep the conversation going.

Phillip Jensen is the dean of St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Sydney.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Excellent article by Peter Adam on Expository Preaching

Peter Adam writes good stuff.
I appreciate this great article on Expository Preaching. Maybe bunging it here will help me to find it again.
Part one: fifteen incontrovertible arguments in favour of expository preaching

In his book “The Contemporary Christian”, John Stott describes the preacher’s task as follows: “To preach is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and God’s people obey him”. I want to argue that best [but not the only] way of preaching is Expository Preaching – that is preaching and teaching through books of the Bible one by one.

I’m not arguing for boring Expository Preaching, nor do I think that the expository method will by itself ensure that the full message of the Bible is heard. We need a sound Biblical Theology to do that. For is to quite possible to use the expository method and yet give merely moralistic sermons:

Genesis 1, the importance of creativity
Genesis 2, how we should value family and pets
Genesis 3, all families have problems
Genesis 4, we must learn how to forgive. Etc.

We need both Biblical Theology and Expository Preaching to show the full depth and breadth of the Bible’s teaching.

I am arguing that as a general practice Expository Preaching makes sense and is of great value to the preacher and the congregation.

Expository Preaching is the preaching of the message of a book of the Bible, usually verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, by explanation and application of it to the congregation. It was the preaching method of the Reformers, and that of Early Church preachers like Augustine and John Chrysostom.

Here are 15 Incontrovertible Arguments in favour of Expository Preaching:

(1) Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not gives us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

(2)Expository Preaching reflects God’s respect for human authors. One of the most beautiful features of the Bible is the way in which God causes his truth to be written and yet does not over-ride the individual writer, but respects their place in history, their vocabulary, their spoken and literary style. If God is so careful to respect the human authors of the Scriptures we should endeavour to do the same by reading, studying, preaching and teaching their books in the order in the way in they wrote them.

(3)Expository Preaching respects the historical context of each part of the Bible. The Bible is not a set of timeless truths removed from historical context, but each book of the Bible is firmly rooted in history, and the perspective of its human author. We do most justice to this historical context when we preach texts in their context, that is in the writing in which they occur.

(4)Expository Preaching respects the context of salvation history. The unfolding drama of salvation is brought to us within salvation history; and each text, verse, chapter and book has its place within that salvation history. The best way to preach these books is to link them to their place in salvation history, not to extract from them trans-historical, theological, pastoral or devotional themes.

(5)Expository Preaching should help us to unfold the deep Biblical Theology of the Bible, the content and message of God’s unfolding revelation, and seeing every part of the Bible in the light of the gospel of Christ, and the message of the whole Bible.

(6)Expository Preaching preserves Biblical shape and balance. It gives the same focus and concentration that God gives in the Bible. Other people’s topical preaching inevitably misses this balance. It is more difficult to see the same imbalance in our own topical preaching!

(7)Expository Preaching ensures that we preach on difficult topics, verses and books. I would not choose to preach from the text ‘I hate divorce’ unless forced to do so by a sermon series on Malachi. I would not choose to preach on Romans 9-11, but preaching my way right through Romans forces me to do so. Lectionaries are no help, because modern lectionaries seem to go out of their way to avoid difficult topics, even cutting poems and stories in half to avoid embarrassment. Expository Preaching will at least make us preach on the difficult parts of the Bible.

(8)Expository Preaching saves time in preparation and presentation. Preachers need to do a lot of work in preparing their sermons and finding the historical context, and need to convey the context of verses in which they preach in the sermon as well. If we move from text to text as we move from sermon to sermon, or if we move from text to text within sermons, we will be less and less inclined to give the context of those texts and more and more inclined to take them out of context. [Of course ‘the text’ is actually the whole book: only preachers think of ’the text’ as a short extract!]

(9)Expository Preaching provides a good model of exegesis. We ought to preach and teach the Bible in a way in which we hope people will read it. People should pick up good models of using the Scripture from us. We do not want to encourage people to flip through the Bible, picking out verses that look encouraging or inviting. If we want people to read the Bible as it is written, that’s the way we should preach it.

(10)In Expository Preaching each sermon forms part of a divine sequence. The sequence is that of the writer of the book of the Bible. Following this sequence means that our teaching and their learning is cumulative as each sermon prepares the way for the next, and each sermon summarises the message of the last and shows its sequence in biblical thought.

(11)Expository Preaching makes sense! Even the most convinced post-modernists among us still read books from beginning to end. This is because it’s a remarkably sensible way of reading a book. Why would we adopt a different model in our reading and teaching of the Scriptures?

(12)Expository Preaching teaches people the Bible. Its assumption is that the Bible is relevant and effective as it comes from the mouth of God. It assumes that the information in the Bible is important for us; that these things were ‘written for our learning’.

(13)Expository Preaching provides an accessible, useable and safe model of Bible teaching and preaching. If one of our tasks is to encourage lay people in ministry, then the best thing to do is to provide them with a model of teaching which they can use at any level. It is not good to encourage people to flip through the Bible, taking their favourite verses out of context. It is a good work to show the people a model of Bible teaching that they can use to their benefit and the benefit of those who learn from them.

(14) Expository Preaching helps people to avoid repeating their ten favourite themes. Every preacher has ten sermons. The difficulty comes for the preacher and the congregation when they are repeated for the tenth time. Of course, no method can stop the determined preacher from mounting a hobby horse and riding it to death!

(15)Expository Preaching follows God’s syllabus for us. One helpful way of viewing the Bible is to see it as God’s syllabus. In it God lays out the way of salvation and what human beings need to learn in order to turn to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. The Bible is the syllabus that God has provided – why would we replace it with another of our own invention?

One of the Homilies on the reading and knowledge of Scripture includes the following memorable words “let us reverently hear and read Holy Scriptures which is the food of the soul. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination.”

Why is it that evangelicals are so enthusiastic in theory about the centrality and importance of the Scriptures, but have in many places given up on the serious educational task of teaching them to their people and of using them in evangelism?
Part two: five completely effective ways to avoid boredom in expository preaching

In part one I wrote of Fifteen Incontrovertible Arguments in Favour of Expository Preaching. Those who oppose Expository Preaching often do so because they think it must breed boredom. And those who practise Expository Preaching sometimes intentionally or unintentionally im­pose boredom on their hearers, per­haps as a kind of spiritual discipline! In my chapter in the book The Angli­can Evangelical Crisis (ed. by Melvin Tinker, Christian Focus Publications, 1995), I wrote an appeal for ‘passionately applied expository Biblical Preaching’, and in this article I want to show five ways to avoid boredom in Expository Preaching. We can be Expository in theological method without being rigidly and predictably expository in style.

1.Be grabbed by the excitement, wonderful privilege, and awesome duty of speaking God’s words to his people and his world!

God has spoken, and our task is to summon people to hear the very words of God. In teaching through the Bible, we can follow God’s syllabus for the education of the human race. As we explain what the Bible says, we explain what God has said. As we bring the message of the Bible in the words of the Bible with the purpose of the Bible, God’s voice is heard, God rules his people, and God calls humans to faith and obedience.

It is a sign of Liberal Theology to set aside what God has said in order to set the agenda and content of the sermon by the issues that we humans want to raise.

It is a sign of Roman Catholic theology to give too much room to human traditions. I am amazed when Evangelicals follow these theological methods in practice in their preaching, when they set aside as too difficult or irrelevant what God is saying in his words of Scripture, or preach about Evangelical traditions of the Christian life or church practice.

It seems bizarre to assert the authority, relevance, and sufficiency of Scripture, and then not put it into practice in their preaching.

We must be aware of contemporary social analysis, community needs, human issues, and what seekers after God are looking for, but while this forms the context of our preaching, and shapes our application, it must not create the agenda. It is God’s right to address us, and we must listen to his words.

Kevin Vanhoozer in his book Is there a meaning in this text? (Apollos 1998) has argued for the moral imperative in allowing the human author of a book to say what he or she wants to say, without being ignored by those who intend to be readers. The same moral imperative applies to our treatment of God, the author of scripture (as it also applies to our treatment of the human authors of Scripture). We preachers must practise and model to our people the priority of letting God speak in the method and way that he has chosen, in the words of Scripture. Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not give us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

2.Release the eloquence of the text! Let the text speak: let God speak!

It is one of the weaknesses of our tradition of Expository Preaching that it is so formed by the distancing and analytical style of commentaries.

It helps to ask the question ‘What is this text trying to do?’ or perhaps even better ‘What is God doing in this text?’ not just ‘What does this text mean?’.

It also helps to think of words as speech-acts, and of the Bible as ‘God’s mighty speech-acts’ (see Kevin Vanhoozer in P. Satterthwaite and D. Wright eds. A Pathway into the Holy Scripture, Eerdmans 1994). We can then ask the question ‘What is the intended result of these speech-acts?’

Let me give an example from a sermon series, where I am preaching through Romans 12-16, having already preached through Romans 1-8 and 9-11.

One excellent commentary gives the following analysis of Romans 12:

1-2 Our relationship to God
3-8 Our relationship to ourselves
9-16 Our relationship to one another
17-21 Our relationship to our enemies.

This helps us to understand what the text is about, but not what the text is doing, or the response that Paul wanted in his readers and hearers. It is good and necessary analysis [What is the text about?], but not so helpful for the next step towards the sermon [What does God want the hearers of the text and sermon to do?].

Here are my sermon titles:

1-2 Present your bodies!
1-2 Renew your minds!
3-8 Join the body!
3-8 Do your ministry!
9-21 Let love be genuine!

The sermon should more beyond information and education to edification. It must be act of ministry, discipling the body of Christ as intentionally as we disciple individuals within the body of Christ.

We must not muffle the text by remote analysis. Clear analysis is a necessary part of the preparation, but should not govern the presentation.

But we should use our analysis to show the logic or sequence of the text, and thus be able to avoid that familiar phrase ‘And now we look at verse 10’!’

The well prepared preacher will be able to speak two languages, the language of the Bible and the language of the people. Bringing these two together will help the people to hear the text speak.

To release the eloquence of the text is to let the text speak, to let it do what it wants to do, to let God say what he wants to say through the text.

3. Express the particularity of the text!

We must resist the temptation to take texts out of context, to make them timeless truths. The excitement of the Bible is found in its historical particularity, its gradual revelation, its Biblical Theology, its salvation history, its move from promise to fulfilment, from Christ promised to Christ revealed.

Its creative tension is found in the fact that it never sinks to the level of ‘The Christian Life’, or ‘Five hints for happy families’, or ‘Six clues for a successful church.’ It does not reduce Christianity to a formula. Formulas are useful for new Christians, but do not bring about mature Christians or mature churches, for formulas always reduce the Bible’s message.

We must avoid our hobby-horses, and avoid what we always say when we see the word ‘faith’ or ‘Lord’ or ‘church’ or ‘gift’ or ‘Spirit? We must search the text to find what it is saying in particular.

The key is what we leave out in order for this text to speak with clarity and particularity.

It is only Expository Preaching which will in the long term do justice to the text in its context, and so only this way of preaching will communicate the exciting particularity of the text.

Generality is boring: particularity is exciting!

4. Employ as much variety as possible!

Here is a table which can help us to employ as much variety as possible, while continuing to expound the Scriptures as God caused them to be written, that is, in books.

Of course the choices we make will largely be determined by what the text is saying, but there is still plenty of scope for variety. The true artist is the one who can use a given form, but use it creatively.

We should also note that different genres of Biblical material call for different kinds of expository styles. The verse-by-verse approach which can work well in Paul’s letters is not the best method for the book of Job! And for variety’s sake we should sometimes do Paul’s letters in big chunks, so the people can see the big argument, and not get lost in the detail. Predicability is deadly: variety is fascinating.

5. Release the passions of the text!

We should release the passions of the text, as the Bible calls us to faith. Here are some relevant New Testament words:

‘call, denounce, warn, rebuke, command, encourage, appeal, urge, debate, contend, persuade, convince, insist, cry out, remind’

Calvin commented on the preacher’s task in these words:

‘If a man do no more than expound Holy Scripture it slips away, and we be not touched to the quick. Therefore if teaching be not helped with exhortations it is cold and pierces not our hearts.’ ‘we add a vehemency to the end that the doctrine may touch their hearts to the quick, and that they not only know what is good but be moved to follow it’ (Sermons on Timothy and Titus, reprinted by Banner of Truth, 1983).

We should be passionate because God is passionate; Jesus is passionate; the Holy Spirit is passionate; and because Scripture is passionate.

We can subdue the passions of the text in these ways:

* merely lecture, preach, or teach in an academic mode
* never apply
* never exhort
* never refer to yourself
* have so much to say that there is no time to make best use of it
* have too little to say, and so repeat it endlessly
* preach timeless truths
* use clues to passion which do not communicate to your congregation
* get tired doing other things so not have enough energy to prepare or preach with passion

We can release the passions of the text in these ways:

* discover and communicate the passion of the text know and communicate with clarity the message of the text
* increasing the contrasts in the text
* making the most of the illustrative language of the text
* asking not only ‘what does the text mean?’ but also ‘what is the text trying to do?’ or ‘what is God trying to do through this text?’
* impersonations
* having a dramatic shape to the sermon
* using key words in the text to dramatic effect
* pauses and questions
* relevant application
* use the Bible as we are instructed, to ‘convince, rebuke, encourage’ (2 Timothy 4: 2)

God is not boring. His words are not boring. We must work hard so that we do not make his words boring!

Good preaching!