Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Where will you find the best expression of the essence of Pharisaic piety?
It lies in what Jesus says about the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple:
God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. (Lk. 18:11-12)It is a prayer that makes the wrong comparison because it looks upon a fellow sinner with a sense of elevation. It is a prayer that makes the wrong appeal because it imagines a sense of righteousness that comes from being free from certain sinful acts committed by others. It is a prayer that compounds that wrong appeal by placing confidence in works-righteousness.
But it is still a prayer.
And it discloses the very essence of Pharisaic piety. It makes it's boast not only by a wrong comparison, not only by a wrong appeal, but in the presence of the Holy and Righteous God. Its unseemly piety is expressed coram deo.
It is said that Pelagius taught the following prayer:
Thou knowest, O Lord, how holy, how innocent, how pure from all deceit and rapine, are the hands which I stretch forth unto thee; how just, how unspotted with evil, how free from lying, are those lips wherewith I pour forth prayers unto thee, that thou wouldst have mercy on me.In that prayer you can hear the same cadences of Pharisaic piety that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18.
The atmosphere of true piety is found in the words of the tac collector: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
That same atmosphere can be found in the pastoral counsel of Anselm:
Put all thy confidence in this death alone, place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death, cover thyself wholly with this alone...
And if God would judge thee say 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy judgment...'
And if he shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner, say, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and all my sins; and I offer no merits of my own, which I should have, and have not'
If he say that he is angry with thee, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy anger'.Elsewhere Anselm wrote:
My conscience hath deserved damnation, and my repentance is not sufficient for satisfaction; but most certain it is that thy mercy aboundeth above all offence.Ambrose also gave expression to the essence of true piety when he wrote these words:
Let no man arrogate anything unto himself, let no man glory in his own merits or good deeds, let no man boast of his power: let us all hope to find mercy by our Lord Jesus; for we shall all stand before his judgment-seat.
Of him I will beg pardon...what other hope is there for sinners?
Friday, November 04, 2011
"From now on, wearing his clothes,
I would be treated the way he had been treated."
In 1944 British soldier Denis Avey willingly walked into Auschwitz III. Already a POW he freely exchanged places with a Dutch Jew from the concentration camp. The following is his recollection of that crucial moment:
He closed the door on the turmoil of that hideous construction site and shuffled out of his grimy striped uniform. He threw the thin garments to me and I pulled them on without hesitation. Then I watched as he dragged on my British army battledress, casting looks over his shoulder at the door as he did it.
He was a Dutch Jew and I knew him as Hans. With that simple exchange between the two of us I had given away the protection of the Geneva Convention: I'd given my uniform, my lifeline, my best chance of surviving that dreadful place, to another man.
From now on, wearing his clothes, I would be treated the way he had been treated.
It was the middle of 1944 when I entered Auschwitz III of my own free will.The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 3-4
This extraordinary tale of courage, a story that could so easily have been lost to human memory, is but the faintest echo of the decisive moment in the great saga of redemption: that Christ should bear our sin, and that we should be clothed in his righteousness. That he should be treated as our sins deserve, exposed to our merited punishment, and that the Father should see us in the Son of his love, his Beloved, with whom he is well pleased.
As Calvin expressed it:
Christ was put in place of evildoers as surety and pledge -- submitting himself even as the accused -- to bear and suffer all the punishments that they ought to have sustained.Institutes, 1.2.XVI.10
The nineteenth century Scottish NT scholar George Smeaton was right to state this truth as follows:
The element of substitution, that is, of an exchange of places, constitutes the very core of the atonement; and this is also the Gospel in a single word...
But this substitution was no make-believe, no mere semblance, but a true exchange of places -- the most real of facts. He was accounted as the sinner not by a mere as if He were so, but because he was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21), and hence was treated as a sinner.Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement, p. 93, 95.
And finally these apposite words came from the pen of Herman Bavinck:
The mystical and moral interpretation of Jesus' suffering and death cannot be maintained if it is not acknowledged beforehand that in a legal sense he suffered and died in our place...
For when it says that Christ, though personally without sin, has been put forward as an expiation to show God's righteousness [Rom. 3:25], has been made to be sin for us [2 Cor. 5:21], became a curse for us [Gal. 3:13], bore our sins in his body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]...then we can construe the interconnection between all these scriptural pronouncements in no other way than that Christ put himself in our place, has borne the punishment of our sin, satisfied God's justice, and so secured salvation for us.Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, p. 398
Thursday, October 06, 2011
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
"Si momumentum requiris circumspice"
("If you seek his monument look around you")
The epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren
Friday, June 17, 2011
Dr. Lloyd-Jones once spoke to a group of doctors about the essentials needed to counsel men and women. He said this:[The counsellor] is not doing something outside himself. He is giving something of himself and his experience, and there is an exchange taking place between the patient and himself. Hence the most important thing of all in counselling is the character and personality of the counsellor.
What is the greatest essential in a counsellor? I would say that it is a quiet mind, and that he is at rest in himself. You will remember how our Lord put this on one occasion — ‘Can the blind lead the blind? If the blind lead the blind they will both fall in the ditch.’
In other words, if a man is in trouble within himself, and is restless, he is really in need of counselling himself. How can he give useful counsel to another? The first requisite, therefore, in a counsellor is that he himself is possessed of a quiet mind, a mind that is restful. It is at that point, of course, that the importance of the Christian faith comes in.
I am prepared to defend the proposition that no man ultimately can have a quiet mind, a heart at rest, and at leisure from itself unless he is a Christian. He needs to know a true peace within — the peace of God which is able to keep both mind and heart. The patient comes in to see him in an agitated troubled condition, and can detect if there are similar manifestations in the counsellor.
Geoff Thomas has written a foreword for a new hardback edition of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' classic book Spiritual Depression: It's Causes and Cure. Here's the start of the foreword:
There was no one in the twentieth century more suited to preach, counsel and write on this subject of spiritual depression than Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This subject has always been addressed by pastors, but particularly so from the time of the Reformation when the wrappings of human traditions were removed from biblical Christianity.
The Puritan period especially excelled as an age when sermons were life and power, and many kinds of men and women were drawn to faith in the Lord Christ. They brought their past with them into the kingdom of God and were troubled with doubts and periods of darkness. Their pastors became physicians of the soul and learned to deal with various conditions of spiritual desertion and depression and their books on this subject are read today. Dr Lloyd-Jones was a living representative of that tradition. He was exceptionally gifted in dealing with this subject, and Spiritual Depression has done much pastoral good in the last fifty years.
We ministers give it to particular people whom we believe would profit from it. Perhaps we point out to them one of the sermons in the book which we feel could help them. I am especially fond of the message entitled 'That One Sin' and a striking incident recounted there by the Doctor from the days of his ministry in Wales. It has often done homiletical duty for me. Why was Dr. Lloyd-Jones so well-equipped to write on a subject like this?
i] He was such a well-rounded, intelligent, and tender personality.
Although a mighty intellect with a formidable presence, he was accessible and not at all intimidating. There was not a trace of snobbery in him whatsoever; he loathed that sin. He had a particularly blessed marriage. Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones, herself a qualified doctor, came from one of the foremost Calvinistic Methodist families in Wales rooted in the ethos of the local countryside of south Cardiganshire, an evangelical home where warm affection, godly living, the importance of education and reverence for God were prized and natural graces. Her father was an ophthalmic surgeon and her grandfather was one of the leading preachers in Wales who ministered in one congregation in Newcastle Emlyn for half a century, preaching there throughout both the 1859 and 1904 revivals. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones was also a descendant of the Baptist preacher Christmas Evans.
Out of the harmony and affection of that home with the two daughters they were given came the pastoral ministry and counselling that strengthened multitudes. I remember telling the Doctor on one occasion that my parents were moving from South Wales to live just around the corner from us in Aberystwyth, and his face lit up with delight at that news. His family was vitally important to him.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones once spoke to a group of doctors about the essentials needed to counsel men and women. He said this:
[The counsellor] is not doing something outside himself. He is giving something of himself and his experience, and there is an exchange taking place between the patient and himself. Hence the most important thing of all in counselling is the character and personality of the counsellor. What is the greatest essential in a counsellor? I would say that it is a quiet mind, and that he is at rest in himself. You will remember how our Lord put this on one occasion — ‘Can the blind lead the blind? If the blind lead the blind they will both fall in the ditch.’
In other words, if a man is in trouble within himself, and is restless, he is really in need of counselling himself. How can he give useful counsel to another? The first requisite, therefore, in a counsellor is that he himself is possessed of a quiet mind, a mind that is restful. It is at that point, of course, that the importance of the Christian faith comes in.
The eight points in the foreword are:I am prepared to defend the proposition that no man ultimately can have a quiet mind, a heart at rest, and at leisure from itself unless he is a Christian. He needs to know a true peace within — the peace of God which is able to keep both mind and heart. The patient comes in to see him in an agitated troubled condition, and can detect if there are similar manifestations in the counsellor.
1. He was such a well-rounded, intelligent and tender personality
2. He was utterly committed to the faith of the Scriptures
3. He was a man who maintained the disciplines of private devotion
4. He was a man to whom people went for spiritual help
5. He was a man confident that to grasp the person and work of Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the ethical demands of the Bible is itself a mighty power to transform people, to elevate, ennoble and enrich their lives
6. He was a man who was prepared to help people in every way that he could
7. He was a man with a lucidity in explaining the human condition
8. He was a man persuaded that the person who had come to seek his counsels had more knowledge of all the circumstances involved than he himself had
You can read the whole thing at The Banner of Truth site
(HT: Heavenly Worldliness)
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Here are some fascinating extracts from the closing chapters of Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy:
On Boxing Day  he asked for the Gospel account of the birth of Christ and the massacre of the innocents, and also the entries in the Encyclopedia Biblica, remarking when she [his wife Florence] had finished that there was not a grain of evidence that the Gospel was true.On the final day of his life Tomalin notes the following incident:
Then he dictated to Florence two rough and rude epitaphs on disliked contemporaries. One was George Moore, who had attacked him and was now accused of conceit. The other, ungrammatical but clear in its intentions, went for G. K. Chesterton:
The literary contortionist
Who prove and never turn a hair
That Darwin's theories were a snare...
And if one with him could not see
He'd shout his choice word 'Blasphemy'.
It was his final word against Church doctrine and in favour of rational thinking, exemplified by Darwin -- a magnificent blast from the sickbed.One of the final comments in the book breathes an air of sadness:
He knew the past like a man who has lived more than one span of life, and he understood how difficult it is to cast aside the beliefs of his forebears. At the same time he faced his own extinction with no wish to be comforted and no hope of immortality.The contrast between this ending and that of the seventy third psalm could not be more pronounced:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Those who have chosen to deny God's exhaustive foreknowledge, whether in the seventeenth or twenty first centuries, have always been met with able defenders of the Biblical doctrine.
Here is an extract from the Puritan Stephen Charnock's discourse on God's knowledge. Archaic language aside, his foot on the head of this snake remains as forceful as it was in the days when it was thought acceptable for men to have big gold buckles on their shoes.
His truth hath depended on his foresight.
Let us consider that in Gen. 15:16, but 'the fourth generation, they shall come hither again;' that, the posterity of Abraham shall come into Canaan; 'for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.'
God makes a promise to Abraham of giving his posterity the land of Canaan, not presently, but in the fourth generation. If the truth of God be infallible in the performance of his promise, his understanding is as infallible in the foresight of the Amorites' sin: the fulness of their iniquity was to precede the Israelites' possession.
Did the truth of God depend upon an uncertainty? Did he make the promise hand over head, as we say?
How could he with any wisdom and truth assure Israel of the possession of the land in the fourth generation, if he had not been sure that the Amorites would fill up the measure of their iniquities by that time?
If Abraham had been a Socinian, to deny God's knowledge of the free acts of men, had he not a fine excuse for unbelief?
What would his reply have been to God?
Alas, Lord, this is not a promise to be relied upon; the Amorites iniquity depends on the acts of their free will, and such thou canst have no knowledge of. Thou canst see no more than a likelihood of their iniquity being full, and therefore there is but a likelihood of they performing thy promise, and not a certainty.
Would not this be judged not only a saucy, but a blashemous answer?
And upon these principles the truth of the most faithful God had been dashed to uncertainty and a peradventure.
Thursday, June 09, 2011
This affirmation is about as convincing as buying a cheap Rolex at a car boot sale. The word 'Rolex' isn't enough to inspire confidence that the time piece is the genuine article. Open theists redefine omniscience and then affirm the redefinition. But if you look closely you can see how the magic trick works.
The following quotations from the late Clark Pinnock are taken from his chapter “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology.” He frames his journey, throughout that chapter, in the language of being freed from Calvinist logic. In his new found emancipation he was now able to listen to what the Bible was saying.
A careful reading of the whole chapter, and from the extracts below, reveal, however, that there is a commitment on his part to following the logic of a non-negotiable premise, namely libertarian free will:
Finally I had to rethink the divine omniscience and reluctantly ask whether we ought to think of it as an exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that will ever happen, as even most Arminians do.
I found I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.
I knew the Calvinist argument that exhaustive foreknowledge was tantamount to predestination because it implies the fixity of all things from"eternity past," and I could not shake off its logical force. I feared that, if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong.
It makes no sense to espouse conditionality and then threaten it by other assumptions that we make. (Clark Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” in Pinnock [ed.], The Grace of God and the Will of Man, p. 25)The same pursuit of consistency, even at the cost of revising divine omniscience can be found in author Richard Rice:
In the earlier part of this discussion we noticed the considerable difficulties encountered by those who seek to reconcile the concept of absolute divine foreknowledge with an affirmation of creaturely freedom. Now we can identify the basic cause of these problems. They arise from the attempt to combine contradictory elements from different views of God, specifically from the attempt to incorporate elements of the Calvinist view of God with the Arminian model.
The concept of absolute foreknowledge retained from Calvinism is incompatible with the dynamic portrait of God that is basic to Arminianism. Absolute foreknowledge--the idea that God sees the entire future in advance--is incompatible with the concept that God interacts with his creatures on a momentary basis.
But we cannot make such changes in our concept of God coherently while clinging to the traditional concept of divine foreknowledge. To be consistent, we must reformulate our understanding of omniscience. (Richard Rice "Divine Knowledge and Free-Will Theism" in Pinnock [ed.], The Grace of God and the Will of Man,p. 133-4)Compare the position adopted by Pinnock and Rice with the description of the Socinian denial of God's exhaustive foreknowledge found in William Cunningham's Historical Theology Volume 2 (1862).
Summarizing the Socinian argument Cunningham wrote:
That they may seem, indeed, not to derogate from God's omniscience, they admit indeed that God knows all things that are knowable; but then they contend that future contingent events, such as the future actions of responsible agents, are not knowable,--do not come within the scope of what may be known, even by an infinite Being; and, upon this ground, they allege that it is no derogation from the omniscience of God, that He does not, and cannot, know what is not knowable. (Historical Theology Volume 2, p. 173)
Commenting on Jeroboam's fear of orthodoxy (represented by the house of David and the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, in 1 Kings 12), "that is, orthodoxy focused on a royal person and on an atoning place" Dale Ralph Davis has this stellar footnote:
We rightly trace this person-place scheme straight into New Testament orthodoxy. David's dynasty reaches its crescendo in that rascal Rehoboam's premier descendant, Jesus the Messiah (hence Christology is at the heart of orthodoxy); and Yahweh's temple, where, as Jeroboam stated, they 'make sacrifices', was therefore the place where atonement was made and reaches its fulfilment in the cross.
Orthodoxy revolves around person and place, around Christ and the cross, or, as we might put it, around the person and work of Christ. It is this area of belief that false religion invariably skews.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
In Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (tragically I began reading this in 1992 and finished it in 2010) Elizabeth is reprimanded for her use of dialect words.
In time "she no longer spoke of 'dumbledores' but of 'humble bees' ... when she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been 'hagrid', but that she had 'suffered from indigestion'" (Chapter XX, p. 200 in the Penguin Classics edition).
I'm not the first person to spot the names subsequently made famous by J.K. Rowling.
As an undergraduate I believed that I had some original thoughts about the Trinity only to discover that much deeper thinkers, namely Richard of St. Victor in the thirteenth century and Augustine in the fifth century, had already meditated on the same matters.
True originality is the preserve of a limited number of heretics. But upon closer examination one can usually find evidence of borrowing from philosophical sources. Most of the heresies of today are a rehash of bad old ideas that you can find in the archives of Church history.
Curiously Thomas Hardy has a line or two about open theism in his poem "God's education" (published in 1909). God is the speaker in the final stanza:
He mused. "The thought is new to me.
Forsooth, though I men's master be,
Theirs is the teaching mind."
What the Bible says about...
Heaven & Hell
This Saturday – 11th June 2011
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea
from 10am -3.30pm
Talks from Paul Blackham and David Meredith
Cost £10 (£3 for members)
Crèche facilities and a lovely lunch will be provided
Let me heartily recommend this day conference to you even though there is no vitally important Church History talk, a dangerous omission in my book, and it is sad to see a fine conference going down hill in this way (I'm not bitter about it though).
More info here
"Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess's guardian angel? Where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was on a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked."
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891)
"What has Providence done to Mr Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessex
and shake his fist at his Creator?"
and shake his fist at his Creator?"
Edmund Gosse (1896)
I re-read Hardy's magisterial Tess of the D'Urbervilles last summer some fifteen years after my first exposure to it. For all his invectives against the doctrine of providence, that lie in the text like sermons in miniature, for all his widening of the fissures in Victorian Christianity and undermining of confidence in the God of the Bible, the name of the malevolent deity who causes Tess Durbeyfield to suffer so much at the hands of men is of course none other than Thomas Hardy.
As the author of the tragedy Hardy is both primary cause of all the events and the determiner of how the secondary causes fall out.
When Tess joins in with the laughter directed toward Car Darch, the Queen of Spades, Car singles her out for retribution. Tess, says Hardy, "could not help joining in with the rest" but "It was a misfortune -- in more ways than one." The confrontation is soon followed by the untimely arrival of the would-be rescuer Alec D'Urberville. As they ride off Car's mother remarks that it is "Out of the frying pan into the fire!" Tess will soon be "Maiden no more."
Later in the volume Tess's attempt to reveal her past to Angel Clare, before their marriage, is thwarted by a trivial occurrence. Having slipped her written confession underneath the door of his den at Talbothays she finds it unopened a few days later having "in her haste thrust it beneath the carpet as well as beneath the door." With the revealtion still sealed Hardy comments that "The mountain had not yet been removed."
Hardy's own explanation for invoking the "President of the Immortals" whose work of sporting with Tess ends with her execution, was that it was not uncommon in imaginative prose and poetry for "the forces opposed to the heroine" to be "allegorized as a personality." The offering of the explanation was one thing, the plausibility of the explanation another, especially as so many of his principle characters suffer at the hands of the author.
The observations of Hardy's critic Irving Howe are worth noting:
Because Hardy remained enough of a Christian to believe that purpose courses through the universe but not enough of a Christian to believe that purpose is benevolent or the attribute of a particular Being, he had to make his plots convey the oppressiveness of fatality without positing an agency determining the course of fate ... The result was that he often seems to be coercing his plots ... and sometimes ... he seems to be plotting against his own characters.A similar assessment has been made by Claire Tomalin in her biography of Thomas Hardy:
To suggest that readers should see that "the President of the Immortals" is meant only to symbolize the forces of society that brought Tess down will not do as a defence. There is something more there, something that makes sport with her sufferings, and making sport with suffering is cruelty.Given the opaqueness of his bleak fatalism, even though he regarded himself as a meliorist, Tomalin offers the following summary:
Neither Hardy nor anyone else explained where his black view of life came from. I have suggested that something in his constitution made him extraordinarily sensitive to humiliations, griefs and disappointments, and that the wounds they inflicted never healed but went on hurting him throughout his life. In a sense he never got over his loss of Christian belief, which removed hope.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
To those who, mistakenly, thought that the rapture would happen today you'll just have to get over the disappointment. After all it's not as if it's the end of the world.
For an informed Reformed assessment of Harold Camping false prediction go read the thoughts of Kim Riddlebarger
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The Telegraph has noticed the Richard Dawkins has declined to debate with William Lane Craig this Autumn:
"I have no intention of assisting Craig in his relentless drive for self-promotion,” he said.
Some of Prof Dawkins’s contemporaries are not impressed. Dr Daniel Came, a philosophy lecturer and fellow atheist, from Worcester College, Oxford, wrote to him urging him to reconsider his refusal to debate the existence of God with Prof Craig.
In a letter to Prof Dawkins, Dr Came said: “The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.
“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”
Prof Craig, however, remains willing to debate with Prof Dawkins. “I am keeping the opportunity open for him to change his mind and debate with me in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford” in October, he said.
Prof Craig will be using his UK tour to analyse The God Delusion and to present his own “strong rational grounds” for belief in God.
His tour will include a London conference on the defence of Christianity and a debate in Manchester with the atheist, Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, on the existence of God.Read the whole thing here
In this video clip from two years ago Dawkins explains why he refuses to debate William Lane Craig:
I would also heartily encourage you to read Cranmer's take on the CV of Richard Dawkins. Whilst I cannot write a blank cheque for everything that is written in the blogs that I link to, I will say that Cranmer never fails to provide stimulating analysis and a model of how to write with style.
Here is a clip of William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins in debate:
"The Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig" is being sponsored by Premier Radio, UCCF and Damaris.
The details of the tour are still being arranged, and the schedule below will be updated as events are finalised.
17th October 2011 at 7.30pm
Westminster Chapel, London
Premier Christian Radio Debate on the existence of God with a well-known atheist (TBA)19th October 2011 at 7.30pm
Public lecture on Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design22nd October 2011 from 9.30am - 5.30pm
Westminster Chapel, London
Bethinking National Apologetics Day Conference
Opening and closing lectures from William Lane Craig. Further lectures from Gary Habermas, John Lennox and Peter J. Williams25th October 2011 at 7.30pm
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
Lecture "Is God a Delusion?" A Critique of Dawkin's The God Delusion26th October 2011 at 7.30pm
Debate "Does God Exist?" with Dr Peter Atkins
"Why isn't there more of this kind of thing being preached from church pulpits? If there were, I'd go more often and I'd stay awake during the sermon!"Comment from a self-confessed irregular churchgoer during the 2007 Reasonable Faith Tour.For more details, and to book, go here
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Excellent words on this subject from David Murray over at The Gospel Coalition site. He is far clearer on this than the other contributors to the article:
I’m massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.
However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.
Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”
I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:
1. They were saved by obeying the law.
2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.
3. They were saved by a general faith in God.
4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.
Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
As a teen the great English novelist Thomas Hardy was friendly with the Moule family and their seven impressive sons. Mr Moule was vicar at Fordington, his son Charles became president of Corpus Christi in Cambridge, Handley became Lord Bishop of Durham (I can see his book on Ephesians, squeezed in amongst my commentaries, as I type this) and two others went to China as missionaries.
Thomas Hardy was a year older than Handley Moule but became close friends with Horace Moule, eight years Hardy's senior. Horace became 'Tom's special friend', he was 'the charmer, handsome and gifted' but also 'a tender-hearted son to his mother, writing to her almost every year on the anniversary of the death of the baby brother who had died before he was two'.
Horace had studied at Oxford and Cambridge but failed to gain a degree from either university. Hardy's biographer, Claire Tomalin, describes the changes in Horace's thinking that put him at odds with his upbringing:
Horace introduced Hardy to the newest and cleverest of the weekly magazines, the Saturday Review, London based naturally, in which social issues were discussed and religion treated with small respect. He bought himself books on geology and science that alarmed his father, because they cast doubt on accepted religious ideas, and handed them on to Hardy.
Horace's upbringing had been more robustly Christian than Tom's, but, making his way in metropolitan literary journalism, he could not miss the spread of scepticism, and he was too quick and intelligent to ignore it.Tomalin also notes the impact of all this on the young Hardy:
Tom's situation was different and easier. Christianity was something he had taken for granted as part of the fabric of everyday life, and Christian theory was never discussed in the family. He read the Bible, he knew all the church services and most of the psalms by heart; indeed, the year was a sequence of church festivals quite as much as it was a sequence of the natural seasons for him.
And he remained a fully practising Christian into the 1860s, but his mind was on the move, and with Horace he began to see that there were questions to be asked and lines of thought to be followed that eroded the old faith. As their friendship ripened, they read the notorious Essays and Reviews of 1860, religious pieces that offended the orthodox by their attacks on doctrine and by their textual criticism of the Bible.
Hardy also claimed to have been an early admirer of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, though it is not clear exactly when he read it, or how much it influenced his thinking at the time. He could well have found his own way along the path towards free thought, but Horace was an encouraging companion on the journey, and with his access to books, guided his steps at many points.Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, pp. 54-55
I don't think that it is necessary for me to spell out the implications here. It seems to me self-evident that this was a form of discipleship, and that it possessed many of the elements that we associate with and encourage in that type of relationship. Tragically, in the case of Horace Moule and Thomas Hardy, it was a path along which the younger man was led to follow the counsel of the ungodly.
Concerning the impact of Essays and Reviews (1860), and the climate of plausibility that a new approach to Biblical scholarship brought in, Roger Beckwith made the following remarks:
The ‘accepted results’ of critical study tend to be taken for granted as a basis for one’s own further study, and radical questions are rarely asked about them. When they are asked, and in a public manner, the presumption is against those who ask them, and any attempt the questioners make to turn back the tide of critical opinion is disregarded, as self-evidently perverse. New ideas receive an open-minded reception, but attempts to revive old ideas are, not unnaturally, seen as simply reactionary.There is more to the clash of orthodoxy and heterodoxy than learning. There is also more to it than spiritual conflict in the lives of individuals. There is also this sociological dimension, and the embedding of new orthodoxies in institutions, guilds and in the public mind. All of which makes the championing of older, historic, mainstream views appear to be little more than a retrograde step, a recrudescence of ideas considered untenable, obsolete and unworthy of re-examination.
Beckwith's conclusion is fitting:
All things considered, therefore, the revolution in Biblical study which began in England with Essays and Reviews, and the similar revolution which preceded it in Germany a hundred years before, is a revolution which did more harm to the Church than good...in so far as it taught us to approach the Bible unbelievingly, it has hindered the mission of the church ever since. It lies at the root of many of the calamities which have afflicted the church in our own day, and from which, until we repent of unbelief, the church will never recover.
Monday, May 02, 2011
Next Saturday, 7th May, I will be giving a church history lecture at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Swansea on:
Heresy Never Dies
How the ideas of the enemies of the Reformation have made a comeback
The enemies of the Reformation in question were the Socinians: deniers of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, original sin, eternal hell, justification by faith alone, penal substitutionary atonement and God's exhaustive foreknowledge.
Faustus Socinus may well be long forgotten but some contemporary evangelicals have found some of the Socinian ideas to be very attractive. They were in their day the Reformed and Puritan nemesis, powerful and influential enemies, and their ideas continue to be plausible and attractive options draining the blood of authentic Christian truth and life.
Last year I gave a lecture on this subject at the Twin Lakes Fellowship focussing on the conceptual link between the contemporary open theists and the Socinian views on God's foreknowledge. The audio is available here I will touch on that again as part of the lecture, but will also take a look at original sin and the atonement.
The lecture is at 4 pm, followed by a tea, and after that I will be preaching at 6 pm. As the church hold this as an open meeting and are expecting visitors I'm sure that you would be very welcome to come along. It will also be my privilege to preach at Ebenezer on Sunday 8th May.
You can find out more about Ebenezer Baptist Church and where to find it here
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Augustine eventually came to define heretics as those who "in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself," as distinguished from schismatics, who "in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe."
Basil's distinction was only slightly different: heretics were "men who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith," and schismatics were "men who had separated for some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution."
Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 69
You can find heretics and heresies everywhere. In the church, outside the church, on the internet, in books, under rocks, inside donuts, the list is almost endless.
There are of course heresies and heretics in the political realm. Their identity is determined by those who define, control, regulate and uphold orthodoxy. A point made by Peter Hitchens.
Russia is no longer an ideological state, externally or internally. It no longer seeks global power, and in some ways is less interested in the minds of its citizens than are 'Western' countries which demand increasing obedience to the formulas of political correctness. In Russia, you may hold what private opinions you like. Just do not challenge the state. In Britain, your private opinions may be reported to the authorities and get you into trouble, even if you believe your actions are part of normal life and you have no wish to challenge the state.Peter Hitchens, The Cameron Delusion, p. viii
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Four voices. Only one of them resembles the tone and accent of the Master.
Faustus Socinus (1578)
As we saw elsewhere Paul likewise instructs us to be imitators of God: just as he forgave our sins through Christ, we should forgive each other, but if God so forgave our sins through Christ, that he yet demanded the punishment of them from Christ itself, what prevents us from seeking satisfaction for ourselves for the offenses of our neighbours?Brian McLaren (2006)
The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.Steve Chalke (2004)
Is it not strange for Jesus (God incarnate) on the one hand to say ‘do not return evil for evil’ while still looking for retribution himself? Similarly wouldn’t it be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to ‘love our enemies’ when he obviously couldn’t quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement? If these things are true, what does it mean to ‘be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48)? If it is true that Jesus is ‘the Word of God’ then how can his message be inconsistent with his nature? If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution then Jesus teaching becomes a divine case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches!
John Stott (1986)
'Why should our forgiveness depend on Christ's death?'...'Why does God not simply forgive us, without the necessity of the cross?'...'After all', the objector may continue, 'if we sin against another, we are required to forgive one another. We are even warned of dire consequences if we refuse. Why can't God practise what he preaches and be equally generous? Nobody's death is necessary before we forgive each other. Why then does God make such a fuss about forgiving us and even declare it impossible without his Son's "sacrifice for sin"?'
For us to argue, 'We forgive each other unconditionally, let God do the same to us', betrays not sophistication but shallowness, since it overlooks the elementary fact that we are not God. We are private individuals, and other people's misdemeanours are personal injuries. God is not a private individual, however, nor is sin just a personal injury. On the contrary, God himself is the maker of the laws we break, and sin is rebellion against him.
The reason why many people give the wrong answers to questions about the cross, and even ask the wrong questions, is that they have carefully considered neither the seriousness of sin nor the majesty of God.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Sebastian Faulks' Introduction to his emotionally overwhelming World War I novel Birdsong is full of fascinating insights. He makes a telling remark about 'sitting for hours in small cemeteries' unsure as to what he was looking for but soaking himself in this world 'hoping perhaps to acquire the authority to write about it'.
There is also this vivid remark about his last journey to the continent before setting home to write:
I stood beneath the great arch at Thiepval, where the names of the missing -- not the dead, just those of whom no trace was found -- are like small print footnotes in the sky.I found his comments about the order of the major elements of the novel thought provoking. He wrote that the major theme was 'How far can you go? What are the limits of humanity?...the answer seemed to be that there were no limits to humanity' (by which he means human depravity). Then came the following about the process of writing:
This is the ideal sequence, I think -- from theme, to event, to character -- though it is seldom this orderly.And then it struck me that when it comes to the universe we begin with character, or to be precise we begin with three persons, and what follows in the eternal counsels, and through the works of creation and providence in time and space, in the Fall and work of redemption, and stretching forward into eternity, is the outworking of character.
Character is plot on the biggest stage of all, beginning with the pactum salutis and the eternal decrees and from creation to new creation. For upon all his works is impressed and embedded the wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth of the Triune God.
The poignant epigraph that Faulks chose for the book he took from Wilfred Owen's final letter to his mother before he returned to the front lines, where he would die one week before the signing of the Armistice. Owen had chosen some words from Rabindranath Tragore:
When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassableNow we see in a glass darkly, now we see his glory by faith, then we will behold his glory world without end.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
According to the SCM's (the Student Christian Movement) 1919 "Aim and Basis" this is what the cross means:
It is only as we see on Calvary the price of suffering paid day by day by God himself for all human sin, that we can enter into the experience of true penitence and forgiveness, which sets us free to embark upon a wholly new way of life...This is the meaning of the Atonement.Reading these words afresh it struck me that this statement resonates with several, shall we call them 'Emergentesque' for want of a better word, affirmations of the cross.
This is hardly surprising since the SCM statement is the impulse of a certain caste of heart and mind, and it rests on specific presuppositions concerning God and man, and concerning the breakdown in divine-human relations and how they are to be restored. If those presuppositions are shared we should expect contemporary authors to assemble, using Biblical vocabulary, a message about the meaning of the cross akin to that of the non-Evangelical SCM.
John Stott offered the following observations on this statement in the preface to his book The Cross of Christ:
But we have respectfully to respond that the meaning of the atonement is not to be found in our penitence evoked by the sight of Calvary, but rather in what God did when in Christ on the cross he took our place and bore our sin.
This distinction between an 'objective' and 'subjective' understanding of the atonement needs to be made clear in every generation.Whilst I agree with what he wrote back in 1986, we should be able to see that the SCM statement has an objective element ("the price of suffering paid day by day by God himself") as well as a subjective one ("we can enter into the experience of true penitence and forgiveness, which sets us free to embark upon a wholly new way of life"). In fact we can say that the SCM statement acknowledges that the objective act of God precedes the subjective response on our part.
The crux of the matter is not the distinction between the objective and the subjective aspects of the atonement but the nature of the objective understanding of the atonement, the meaning of what God did at the cross, why he did it, and why it was necessary for him to do it in the first place.
On this point the SCM position and that of the classical Evangelicalism with its roots in the Reformation really represent two different religions both using the same stock of language. Look at what they are saying about God and his nature, man and his fall, sin and its effects, and you begin to see that no amount of verbal similarity can compensate for the fact that they represent diametrically opposed theologies.
Friday, April 08, 2011
One of the main deficiencies in writings about hermeneutics is the failure to include a chapter on Satanic interpretations. The devil is after all an interpreter of reality, his words are offered as an alternative explanation of the things that are made (including human nature), and a better explanation of how things work.
Genesis 1-3 is all about interpretation. God interprets reality (1:10, "God called the dry land earth...And God saw that it was good"). The man and the woman are to acquiesce in the interpretation of God concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:15-17). The serpent offers a rival interpretation of what God has already interpreted (3:1, 4-5), and so on.
There are plenty of other examples in Scripture of both the link between Satan (and his demons) and heresies, and also the manifestation of Satan's activity in the preaching of false Christ's and false gospels (2 Cor. 11; Gal. 3:1, 1 John), or in other words, false interpretations offered by malevolent interpreters (they shudder at God's existence but oppose his rule and have no love for him). We also need to bear in mind that when Christ is tempted in the wilderness the successive attacks of Satan focus on questions of interpretation ("If you are the Son of God...")
Why has this dimension of hermeneutics failed to get any coverage in evangelical writings about interpreting Scripture? And it really is a failure, this aspect is almost entirely ignored. Does this neglect shed any light on the loss of nerve concerning our confidence in there being a God-given right interpretation accessible to us? Is the Serpent not still whispering "But did God really say"? If we neglect his presence in our thinking on this subject would he have it any other way?
If we confine our thinking about interpretations and interpreters to those offered by mere flesh and blood we are being desperately naive about the whole subject. We need to go back to the beginning and read Genesis with a bit more care.
Here is what Tertullian had to say on the matter:
The same being, possessing still the same genius, both set his heart upon, and succeeded in, adapting to his profane and rival creed the very documents of divine things and of the Christian saints--his interpretation from their interpretations, his words from their words, his parables from their parables.
For this reason, then, no one ought to doubt, either that "spiritual wickednesses," from which also heresies come, have been introduced by the devil, or that there is any real difference between heresies and idolatry, seeing as they appertain both to the same author and the same work that idolatry does.
The consequence is, that every lie which they speak of God is in a certain sense a sort of idolatry.Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. XL
Monday, April 04, 2011
It is worth watching Rob Bell's promo video for Love Wins and this sparkling rejoinder from Canon Press back to back. It would be remiss of me not to mention that you really should avoid swallowing Federal Vision theology, it will just have you coughing up blood.
Video 1: Straight from the pit of Bell
Video 2: Wring that Bell
Robbed Hell - C.A.S.T. Pearls Presents from Canon Wired on Vimeo.
Video 1: Straight from the pit of Bell
Video 2: Wring that Bell
Robbed Hell - C.A.S.T. Pearls Presents from Canon Wired on Vimeo.
The Bible contains songs about salvation and songs about judgement (Rev. 15:3-4; 19:1-3). Not of course that they are held far apart, or that you can sing the one and go mute on the other because you only want to sing the nice ones. You can't skip verses about judgement when you sing Exodus 15:1-18.
God's acts of retributive justice are praiseworthy because he is just (Rev. 16:5-6), and because he is just in his holy character we can say 'true and just are your judgements' (Rev. 16:7) and worship him because his 'righteous acts have been revealed' (Rev. 25:4)..
Where did we learn to sing songs about judgement? Surely it is because we have joined the choir that sings a 'new song' about the Lamb slain, who bore the wrath in our place and purchased men for God (Rev. 5:9-10). If you don't want to sing God's praises for his true and just judgements you will also find yourself departing from the original lyrics of that 'new song'.
Our trouble, if we refuse to sing these songs, is that we are like the failed applicants at the audition stage on the X Factor or American Idol. We think we know enough about sin, and the judgement that sinners deserve, that we don't need to be corrected when we are off-key. We think we are pitch perfect already.
Listening to these discordant notes is not an expert behind a desk, but the Composer, Lyricist and Conductor of heaven's songs and heaven's choirs. And he is seated upon a throne.
When it comes to singing and speaking about judgement don't think that you have the right to judge the Judge when you are hitting all the wrong notes.
Today is the day of salvation. Earnestly, winsomely, prayerfully, we plead with people to face up to the reality of judgement and to come to Christ. Their lost condition grieves us and moves us. We long to have them join us in singing the song of the Lamb. But, this day of opportunity will end, and our God will not be unjust when Jesus judges the living and the dead..
The final judgement is not a final act of cruelty but an awesome, public, display of justice. Or, in other words, sinners will be treated as their sins deserve -- 'they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done' (Rev. 20:12, 13; 'He will render to each one according to his works' Rom. 2:6; see also Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Job 34:11; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Matthew 16:27).
Here is Augustine's take on the matter:
Now the reason why eternal punishment appears harsh and unjust to human sensibilities, is that in this feeble condition of those sensibilities under their condition of mortality man lacks the sensibility of the highest and purest wisdom, the sense which should enable him to feel the gravity of the wickedness in the first act of disobedience.
Luther was singing from the same hymn sheet:
Since God is a just Judge, we must love and laud his justice and thus rejoice in God even when he miserably destroys the wicked in body and soul; for in all this his high and inexpressible justice shines forth. And so even Hell, no less than Heaven, is full of God and the highest good. For the justice of God is God himself; and God is the highest good. Therefore even as his mercy, so his justice or judgement, must be loved, praised, and glorified above all things.
If you lean toward universalism, because you are so compassionate, just how tender-hearted are you? Will you extend salvation beyond the worst infidels in the human race? Is Satan himself doomed to be saved?
That is the question that Augustine asked of Origen and those like him:
I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man’s sin.
In respect of this matter, Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels.
But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors, especially for his theory of the ceaseless alternation of happiness and misery, and the interminable transitions from the one state to the other at fixed periods of ages; for in this theory he lost even the credit of being merciful, by allotting to the saints real miseries for the expiation of their sins, and false happiness, which brought them noAugustine, De Civitas Dei, 21:17
true and secure joy, that is, no fearless assurance of eternal blessedness.
Very different, however, is the error we speak of, which is dictated by the tenderness of these Christians who suppose that the sufferings of those who are condemned in the judgment will be temporary, while the blessedness of all who are sooner or later set free will be eternal. Which opinion, if it is good and true because it is merciful, will be so much the better and truer in proportion as it becomes more merciful.
Let,then, this fountain of mercy be extended, and flow forth even to the lost angels, and let them also be set free, at least after as many and long ages as seem fit! Why does this stream of mercy flow to all the human race, and dry up as soon as it reaches the angelic? And yet they dare not extend their pity further, and propose the deliverance of the devil himself. Or if any one is bold enough to do so, he does indeed put to shame their charity, but is himself convicted of error that is more unsightly, and a wresting of God’s truth that is more perverse, in proportion as his clemency of sentiment seems to be greater.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most famous preachers of the twentieth century. In addition to the many published works of his still available, most notably his expository series on Ephesians and Romans, his previously unpublished diaries will soon become available in three volumes.
The first two volumes cover his early years as the minister at Westminster Chapel after the retirement of Campbell Morgan, and continue up until the late 1950s. The third volume, due to published first, covers the crucial controversial years of the 1960s and early 1970s and carries his reflections on the parting of the ways with J. I. Packer and the public controversy with John Stott.
This third volume is being transcribed and should be available twelve months from now. No publisher has been announced but I understand that several large evangelical publishing houses are interested in this project. They would be fools not to be.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
"It is not great talents God blesses
so much as great likeness to Jesus.
so much as great likeness to Jesus.
A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God."
Robert Murray M'Cheyne
Poignant words from the 19th Century Scottish preacher Andrew Bonar written on the 29th May 1869:
Three pictures in my study often rebuke me -- [those] of Robert M'Cheyne , William Burns, and John Milne; and at times the photograph of Samuel Rutherford's tomb suggests to me what coldness of love is in my heart compared with such a man. And the little I have learned from affliction is a constant grief to me.
I got a very awful view of my long life's sinfulness in the evening. I seemed to myself to be one standing amid mercies of every kind, but specially divine grace. The Spirit has been, since my conversion forty years ago, continually putting to my lips full cups of blessing, and I have done little else than just take a few drops and then let the cup pass by!
The Bible day by day; precious sermons; great books of truth; the lives of holy and happy saints; events of providence; all, all these, and my own preaching and the ordinances in which I take part; these, these have each been a full cup of blessing put to my lips; but scarcely ever have I done more than merely taken a sip.
O what have I lost! O what have I lost! My heart sinks within me. I can only once again put my hand on the head of the slain Lamb, and look up.Andrew A. Bonar, Diary & Letters, p. 279