Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens speaks with Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell. Sewell is the recently retired minister of a large Unitarian Universalist congregation in Portland, Oregon. She professes to be a "liberal Christian" and actually brands atheist Hitchens a fundamentalist.

His first comment to Dr Sewell about her version of Christianity:
I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

David Cameron on the King James Bible

It's great to be here and to have this opportunity to come together today to mark the end of this very special 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible.

I know there are some who will question why I am giving this speech.

And if they happen to know that I'm setting out my views today in a former home of the current Archbishop of Canterbury...

...and in front of many great theologians and church leaders...

...they really will think I have entered the lions' den.

But I am proud to stand here and celebrate the achievements of the King James Bible.

Not as some great Christian on a mission to convert the world.

But because, as Prime Minister, it is right to recognise the impact of a translation that is, I believe, one of this country's greatest achievements.

The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world.

And with 3 Bibles sold or given away every second...

...a book that is not just important in understanding our past, but which will continue to have a profound impact in shaping our collective future.

In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever.

I am a committed - but I have to say vaguely practising - Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith...

...but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.

But what I do believe is this.

The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history.

And none of us should be frightened of recognising this.


Put simply, three reasons.

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage...

....from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art.

We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it.

And it is right that we should acknowledge this - particularly in this anniversary year.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy...

...from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects...

...the Bible has been a spur to action for people of faith throughout history, and it remains so today.

Third, we are a Christian country.

And we should not be afraid to say so.

Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong.

I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion.

And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.

But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.

The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.

You can't fight something with nothing.

Because if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

Let me take each of these points in turn.

First, language and culture.

Powerful language is incredibly evocative.

It crystallises profound, sometimes complex, thoughts and suggests a depth of meaning far beyond the words on the page... us something to share, to cherish, to celebrate.

Part of the glue that can help to bind us together.

Along with Shakespeare, the King James Bible is a high point of the English language...

...creating arresting phrases that move, challenge and inspire.

One of my favourites is the line "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

It is a brilliant summation of the profound sense that there is more to life, that we are imperfect, that we get things wrong, that we should strive to see beyond our own perspective.

The key word is darkly - profoundly loaded, with many shades of meaning.

I feel the power is lost in some more literal translations.

The New International Version says: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror"

The Good News Bible: "What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror"

They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don't quite have the same magic and meaning.

Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud.

And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation.

It has also contributed immensely to the spread of spoken English around the world.

Indeed, the language of the King James Bible is very much alive today.

I've already mentioned the lions' den.

Just think about some of the other things we all say.

Phrases like strength to strength... the mighty are fallen...

...the skin of my teeth...

...the salt of the earth.

... nothing new under the sun.

According to one recent study there are 257 of these phrases and idioms that come from the Bible.

These phrases are all around us...

...from court cases to TV sitcoms...

...and from recipe books to pop music lyrics.

Of course, there is a healthy debate about the extent to which it was the King James version that originated the many phrases in our language today.

And it's right to recognise the impact of earlier versions like Tyndale, Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, the Bishops and Geneva Bibles too.

The King James Bible does exactly that...

...setting out with the stated aim of making a good translation better, or out of many good ones, to make "one principall good one"

But what is clear is that the King James version gave the Bible's many expressions a much more widespread public presence.

Much of that dissemination has come through our literature, through the great speeches we remember and the art and music we still enjoy today.

From Milton to Morrison...

...and Coleridge to Cormac McCarthy...

...the Bible supports the plot, context, language and sometimes even the characters in some of our greatest literature.

Tennyson makes over 400 Biblical references in his poems.

...and makes allusions to 42 different books of the Bible.

The Bible has infused some of the greatest speeches...

...from Martin Luther King's dream that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled and that one day "every valley shall be exalted... Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address which employed not just Biblical words but cadence and rhythms borrowed from the King James Bible as well.

When Lincoln said that his forefathers "brought forth" a new nation, he was imitating the way in which the Bible announced the birth of Jesus.

The Bible also runs through our art.

From Giotto to El Greco...

...and Michelangelo to Stanley Spencer.

The paintings in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire are some of my favourite works of art.

Those who died in Salonika rising to heaven is religious art in the modern age and, in my view, as powerful as some of what has come before.

And the Bible runs through our music too.

From the great oratorios like J S Bach's Matthew and John Passions and Handel's Messiah... the wealth of music written across the ages for mass and evensong in great cathedrals like this one.

The Biblical settings of composers from Tallis to Taverner are regularly celebrated here in this great cathedral...

...and will sustain our great British tradition of choral music for generations to come.

It's impossible to do justice in a short speech to the full scale of the cultural impact of the King James Bible.

But what is clear is that four hundred years on, this book is still absolutely pivotal to our language and culture.

And that's one very good reason for us all to recognise it today.

A second reason is this.

Just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.

The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised.

The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God...

....and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order.

Jesus said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy.

The Torah placed the first limits on Royal Power.

And the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality.

In the ancient world this equity was inconceivable.

In Athens for example, full and equal rights were the preserve of adult, free born men.

But when each and every individual is related to a power above all of us...

...and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God...

...we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights...

...a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery...

...and the emancipation of women - even if not every church has always got the point!

Crucially the translation of the Bible into English made all this accessible to many who had previously been unable to comprehend the Latin versions.

And this created an unrelenting desire for change.

The Putney debates in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1647 saw the first call for One Man, One vote...

...and the demand that authority be invested in the House of Commons rather than the King.

Reading the Bible in English gave people equality with each other through God.

And this led them to seek equality with each other through government.

In a similar way, the Bible provides a defining influence on the formation of the first welfare state.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that whatever people have done "unto one of the least of these my brethren"...

... they have done unto him.

Just as in the past it was the influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter... today faith based groups are at the heart of modern social action.

Organisations like the Church Urban Fund which has supported over 5,000 faith based projects in England's poorest communities...

...including the Near Neighbours Programme which Eric Pickles helped to launch last month.

And St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London's Bishopsgate...

...a building once destroyed by an IRA bomb...

...but now a centre where people divided by conflict, culture or religion can meet and listen to each other's perspective.

In total, there are almost 30 thousand faith based charities in this country...

...not to mention the thousands of people who step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations and yes, as churches....

...and do extraordinary things to help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society.

And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises - like the famine in Horn of Africa - again you can count on faith-based organisations... Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, Jewish Care, Islamic Relief, and Muslim Aid... be at the forefront of the action to save lives.

So it's right to recognise the huge contribution our faith communities make to our politics.

...and to recognise the role of the Bible in inspiring many of their works.

People often say that politicians shouldn't "do God."

If by that they mean we shouldn't try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party...

...they could not be more right.

But we shouldn't let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country...

...and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.

The Economist may have published the obituary of God in their Millennium issue.

But in the past century, the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased from around two-thirds to nearly three quarters...

...and is forecast to continue rising.

For example, it is now thought there are at least 65 million protestants in China and 12 million Catholics - more Christians than there are members of the communist party.

Official numbers indicate China has about 20 million Muslims - almost as many as in Saudi Arabia - and nearly twice as many as in the whole of the EU.

And by 2050, some people think China could well be both the world's biggest Christian nation and its biggest Muslim one too.

Here in Britain we only have to look at the reaction to the Pope's visit last year...

...this year's Royal Wedding...

...or of course the festival of Christmas next week, to see that Christianity is alive and well in our country.

The key point is this.

Societies do not necessarily become more secular with modernity but rather more plural, with a wider range of beliefs and commitments.

And that brings me to my third point.

The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.

Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, "we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible."

Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love...

...pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities...

...these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values.

And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.

But they are also values that speak to us all - to people of every faith and none.

And I believe we should all stand up and defend them.

Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality.

They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths.

And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour.

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.

And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people...

...what we stand for...

...and the kind of society we want to build.

First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths...

...simply don't understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.


Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.

And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.

Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others... to grasp the consequences of that neutrality...

...or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.

Let's be clear.

Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality.

There are Christians who don't live by a moral code.

And there are atheists and agnostics who do.

But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.

And whether inspired by faith or not - that direction, that moral code, matters.

Whether you look at the riots last summer...

...the financial crash and the expenses scandal...

...or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world... thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality...

...has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.

The absence of any real accountability, or moral code...

...allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society.

And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values...

... has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper... the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes.

Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong.

"Live and let live" has too often become "do what you please".

Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles.

To be confident in saying something is wrong... not a sign of weakness, it's a strength.

But we can't fight something with nothing.

As I've said if we don't stand for something, we can't stand against anything.

One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we've got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations.

The same is true of religious extremism.

As President Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope:

" reaction to religious overreach we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our politics with larger meaning."

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone.

It stands neutral between different values.

But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

We need to stand up for these values.

To have the confidence to say to people - this is what defines us as a society...

...and that to belong here is to believe in these things.

I believe the church - and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain - have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.

I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics.

To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.

So I don't think we should be shy or frightened of this.

I certainly don't object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics.

Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn't agree with something he's right to say so.

But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn't be surprised when I respond.

Also it's legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.

I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities.

But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country.

The future of our country is at a pivotal moment.

The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country...

...and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way.

From Politics Home

Friday, December 16, 2011

Reading Chronicles

I'm guessing that Chronicles is one of the least-read parts of holy Scripture. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles would put off all but the most determined, as they consist almost entirely of lists: mainly genealogies.

Today, I begin 2 Chronicles. I am reading through the Holman Christian Standard Bible, using Logos Bible Study software. I open How to Read the Bible, Book by Book and get an overview of what I'm reading, also consulting, The New Bible Commentary, and the Tyndale commentary on the book I'm reading.

Chronicles was originally one book, as was Samuel-Kings. It was called The Book of the Days by the Jews, but after Jerome remarked that it was a chronicle of the whole of sacred history, it gained its present title of Chronicles.

My first grandchild is named Jerome. He is sitting with me in the front of the car. His brother Hamish is sitting with my wife Joan in the back seat.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Clive's Rules for Modern Living

When Clive Robertson was presenting the morning program on ABC Classic FM, he gave this list to Limelight magazine [or was it 24 Hours?]

I don't agree with all of it, but think most of it is sound.

1. Have a picnic twice a year at least.
2. Listen to classical music.
3. Listen to pop music. Loud.
4. Walk a lot. Rest and eat properly.
5. Take photos.
6. When you're depressed, photograph flowers.
7. Drive to Broken Hill and stay a week.
8. Don't be disappointed in other human beings. We're all like that. You, too.
9. Consider not having children.
10. Learn self-sufficiency.
11. Believe in God. He's bigger than everything put together. He's either your best friend or your worst enemy. Choose now.

i need to take more of this on board, but I can't do anything about 9 and certainly wouldn't want to.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to be Bible-based and Bible-oriented

J I Packer, in his foreword to Todd Hunter's The Accidental Anglican, cites Bishop Stephen Neill's dictum
Show us anything the bible teaches that we are not teaching, and we will teach it
Show us anything we are teaching that the bible does not teach, and we will cut it out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The ministry mind-shift that changes everything?

The ministry mind-shift that changes everything is the audacious subtitle which Col Marshall and Tony Payne chose for their 2009 book The Trellis and The Vine. I don't know how other readers reacted to it, but it made me sit up and take notice. It also led me to wonder if they would be able to substantiate their promise.

The story begins with Col telling us about his beautiful, carefully preserved trellis with no vine, and his luxuriant jasmine vine, covering a rather ramshackle, disappearing structure that may once have looked like a trellis.

Throughout the book, the authors develop their theme that churches can be like the two trellises in his garden. Some of them are quite beautiful trellises, but there is no vine to be seen. Others have growth, without any structure, which is still necessary if the vine is to stay alive and grow.

As expected, it wasn't hard to describe the problems that many churches face. All too often we are busy with structures, but we aren't growing Christ's church: just running meetings, keeping the building in good order, collecting and distributing money and doing the many things that are thought to be essential parts of running a church in the twenty first century.

We may also be looking after people by visiting those who are sick or suffering, conducting weddings and funerals and getting the congregation involved in church meetings and small group, but Marshall and Payne point out that this is not our main function, which they say should be making genuine disciple-making disciples of Jesus.

In their view, training people to train others is growing the vine; everything else is trellis-work. Getting people to attend meetings and to be involved in small groups may be creating a useful structure on which the vine will grow, or it may be something which takes over and actually prevents us from growing the vine. We can be so busy doing good things, such as helping in crises, that we are crowded out from doing the essential thing, which is making disciple-makers.

Having described the problems with telling accuracy, they spend the rest of the book outlining their model which they have developed for identifying, recruiting and training co-workers. This has been a key part of their Ministry Training Strategy, in which new Christian workers are apprenticed for two years, before progressing to theological college for formal, academic training.

The case for training people to be disciple-makers is argued persuasively and many valuable suggestions are made for how churches can change from being (in Peter Bolt's words) in maintenance mode to being mission-minded. Marshall and Payne challenge us that if we are serious about building Christ's kingdom, we must be willing to change and even dismantle structures so that we can do the most important thing of all, which is making disciple-makers.

Have they lived up to their cheeky promise, or is this just another book that is being foisted on us, as the way to do Christian ministry? Is it going to turn out to be yet another short-lived fad?

Christian leaders from Chile, South Africa, England, the United States and Australia have written glowing endorsements of the book, which is the distillation of a view of Christian ministry which has been used by Phillip Jensen, dean of St Andrews' Anglican Cathedral, Sydney and Colin Marshall over the past 25 years.

The Ministry Training Strategy has been tested and incorporated into churches in Australia, Canada, Britain, France, the Republic of Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Chile and South Africa. (See page 143

Reading this book is confronting, but necessary. It is a superb book for everyone interested in serving Christ whole-heartedly. There would be few Christians and who would not benefit from reading it and changing practices so that their focus shifts to building Christ's kingdom through making disciple-makers.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Question 21

I see there is a campaign to get people to answer No Religion in this year's Australian Census.

In the Youtube video the narrator challenges viewers that if they no longer practise the religion of their childhood, they should mark No Religion on the census form.

This reminds me of Sunday School, where we were told that being born into a Christian family does not make you a Christian, any more than being born in a garage would make you a car.

(I found this amusing when the band born in a garage named themselves The Cars.)

Interestingly, his script assumes that people who believe in euthanasia and same-sex marriage should make sure they check the No Religion box. I wonder if some people would agree with one or more of these points of view, but not consider themselves to be atheists?

I have my own misgivings about the question, because it assumes that there are religions called Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church, Presbyterian, Baptist and Lutheran, which are put along side of Islam and Buddhism.

Firstly, wouldn't the grammatical equivalent of Islam be Catholicism?

And, secondly, are Catholic, Presbyterian, etc religions, or denominations of the Christian religion?

No such thing as atheism?

David Foster Wallace made the following powerful statement. Wallace was an avowed atheist, who committed suicide by hanging himself in 2008.

The full article appeared in The Wall Street Journal. He does not clarify or deny what he says here in the rest of the article.

Because there's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.

And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

I think Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody is complementary and explanatory.

Tim Keller cites this quote in his sermons.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Columbo Tactic

Peter Falk, creator of the unforgettable Lieutenant Columbo, a brilliant detective with a clever way of catching a crook, died on Thursday, aged 83.
In this enjoyable TV series, the inspector arrives on the scene in complete disarray, his trench coat rumpled beyond repair, his cigar wedged tightly between his stubby fingers. His pencil has gone missing again, rendering his notebook useless, until  a bystander takes pity on him and loans one to him. 
To all appearances, Columbo is bumbling, inept and completely harmless. He couldn't think his way out of a wet paper bag, or so it seems. However the lieutenant has a simple plan that accounts for his remarkable success. 
Greg Koukl, radio broadcaster and Christian apologist, has written about this technique in Tactics, an intriguing book  in which he provides a game plan for discussing your Christian convictions. (This technique could, of course, be used by anybody who wants others to think through the logic of their opinions.) 
Here is how Greg presents The Columbo Tactic:
After poking around the crime scene, scratching his head, and muttering to himself, Columbo makes his trademark move.
"I got a problem," he says as he rubs his furrowed brow.
"There's something about this thing that bothers me."
He pauses a moment to ponder his predicament, then turns to his suspect.
"You seem like a very intelligent person. Maybe you can clear it up for me. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
 The first query is innocent enough. For the moment, he seems satisfied by the answer. Then as he turns on his heels to leave, he stops himself mid-stride, turns back, raises his index finger and says, "Just one more thing."
This leads to another question and another.
Columbo's tactic is to go on the offensive in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation. Koukl concludes with this advice: Never make a statement, at least at first, when a question will do the job.
This is my light revision of Koukl's own words. A thought-provoking book. I've read it twice, so far. There are some interesting reviews of Tactics at

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Really exist?

John Collins wrote some terrific articles and notes in the ESV Study Bible, including the terrific article and notes on the Book of Psalms.

His book on the historicity of Adam and Eve looks well worth reading and digesting. I have so far only read samples and endorsements, but am confident it will be well worth our time.

Tim Keller's article which I linked to in the previous post is an extract from Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople.

More food for thought.

You wouldn't Adam and Eve it

Disclaimer: I was not a great Science student and happily gave up going to class in Fourth Form [aka Year Ten] in 1968.

However, I do like to ponder these matters.

In my opinion, if the Bible is reliable, it is there that we must start.

It seems to me that many Christians begin with current scientific thinking, and then attempt to get the Bible to conform itself to Science.

Other Christians, while aiming to affirm the Bible, adopt a particular understanding of the world's origins, which they think is in harmony with the Bible, but which actually goes way beyond the biblical data.

Christianity Today has several recent interesting articles on the issue of the historicity of Adam and Eve.

The current issue has an editorial provocatively entitled No Adam, no Eve, No Gospel.

The article begins with
Science as we know it grew from pagan, occult, and biblical roots.

Christianity Today likes to emphasize the biblical sources. The story of creation, told in Genesis and elaborated in the New Testament, pictures a rational intelligence creating an orderly and predictable cosmos.

Without that predictability in the natural world, neither Newton nor Einstein would have been possible. There are times, however, when a careful reading of the natural world seems to conflict with our reading of Scripture.

Sometimes, Christian ways of thinking must adjust.

It continues, by outlining the new challenge to theology made by Francis Collins, a Christian who was involved in describing the human genome:
Now we come to another great moment of tension between Christian readings of Scripture and science. This issue's cover story, "The Search for the Historical Adam," reports the claims of recent genetic research that the human race did not emerge from pre-human animals as a single pair, as an "Adam" and an "Eve." The complexity of the human genome, we are told, requires an original population of around 10,000.

The article comes down on the side of a conservative understanding of the biblical data by stating that
there must be an original pair of humans endowed with souls—that is, the spiritual capacity to relate to God in the special way Genesis describes.

Does it matter?
What is at stake?

First, the entire story of what is wrong with the world hinges on the disobedient exercise of the will by the first humans. The problem with the human race is not its dearth of insight but its misshapen will.

Second, the entire story of salvation hinges on the obedience of the Second Adam. The apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer to interpret Jesus' work, called Adam "a type of the one who was to come" (Rom. 5:14, ESV), and wrote that "[j]ust as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Jesus]" (1 Cor. 15:49, ESV). He elaborated an "Adam Christology" that described a fallen humanity, headed by Adam, and a new, redeemed humanity with Christ as its head.

This understanding, that Christ's obedience undoes Adam's disobedience, is not some late development, but is integrated with the earliest interpretations of what God did and is doing in Christ. This conceptual framework is almost impossible without a first human couple.

The article finally allows for the possibility that there may have been an original population of which Adam and Eve were the leaders, but this seems to me to conflict with what Genesis 1-3 tell us.

See also Richard Ostling's The Search for the Historical Adam, Justin Taylor's discussion of Jack Collins' new book Did Adam and Eve Really exist? and Tim Keller's Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ.

Friday, May 27, 2011

John Piper interviews Rick Warren

John Piper's discussion with Rick Warren shows that Warren is not the lightweight populist that many people have assumed. It shows he has a first class knowledge of the Bible and of Reformed theology.

The interview is long, but well worth watching. If you don't have an hour and a half to spare, at least please read what John Piper says about the interview at the linked site.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Everything Old Is New Again

It is a great mistake… to suppose that we who are called “conservatives” hold desperately to certain beliefs merely because they are old, and are opposed to the discovery of new facts.
On the contrary, we welcome new discoveries with all our hearts, and we believe that our cause will come to its rights again only when youth throws off its present intellectual lethargy, refuses to go thoughtlessly with the anti-intellectual current of the age, and recovers some genuine independence of mind…
…We are seeking to arouse youth from its present uncritical repetition of current phrases into some genuine examination of the basis of life; and we believe that Christianity flourishes not in the darkness, but the light.

J Gresham Machen,1925

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What To Preach To Yourself Every Day

A great quote from Tullian Tchividjian
I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking. To really mature, I needed to find a way to get more joy, more patience, more faithfulness, and so on.

Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn’t what the Bible teaches, and it isn’t the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation, but Christ’s external substitution. We desperately need an Advocate, Mediator, and Friend. But what we need most is a Substitute. Someone who has done for us and secured for us what we could never do and secure for ourselves.
The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of me and my performance and more of Jesus and his performance for me. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my effort over God’s effort for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.

Key sentence from Elyse Fitzpatrick, whom Tullian quotes: "If we fail to remember our justification, redemption, and reconciliation, we’ll struggle in our sanctification."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wise Words from Charles Simeon

there is not a decided Calvinist or Arminian in the world who equally approves of the whole of Scripture . . . who, if he had been in the company of St. Paul whilst he was writing his Epistles, would not have recommended him to alter one or other of his expressions.

But the author [Simeon himself] would not wish one of them altered; he finds as much satisfaction in one class of passages as another; and employs the one, he believes, as freely as the other. Where the inspired Writers speak in unqualified terms, he thinks himself at liberty to do the same; judging that they needed no instruction from him how to propagate the truth. He is content to sit as a learner at the feet of the holy Apostles and has no ambition to teach them how they ought to have spoken.

Cited in H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon (London: InterVarsity, 1948), 79.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Calvinist versus Arminian

The Calvinist says something like, "God's grace is irresistible and His
calling effectual."

The Arminian translates that as, "So, you believe in a God who zaps people
against their will and forces them to believe in Jesus? You think that we are
robots and that God has no regard for what a person really wants."

Someone who calls herself Mrs Webfoot posted this on the Yahoo Theology list.

I think it is well said, but I also wonder if an Arminian could give us a rejoinder on how Calvinists caricature their point of view.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A good resolution

I like Tony Reinke's Miscellanies blog and his post about a good New Year's resolution is a typical helpful post.

What are you resolving? Tony cites these words of the apostle Paul:
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. NIV

He points out that Paul is not anti-intellectual, but is opposing intellectual vanity.

Tony concludes with:
May each of us resolve to center our lives upon Jesus Christ and him crucified in 2011.