Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dealing with heresy in the Church: the Issues, etc. interview

If you are interested you can have a listen to the interview I did with Issues, etc. on dealing with heresy in the Church here. Nice to have a bit of Coldplay for the introduction too. Take a look at the other interviews that they recently conducted.

Todd, the host, asked some great questions, some of them would make for great discussion starters for small groups.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The abiding relevance of the first commandment

Here's Martin Luther on the first commandment from the Large Catechism:
A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.

That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.

Ask and examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it cleaves to God alone or not. If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good, especially in want and distress, and that, moreover, renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God.

If, on the contrary, it cleaves to anything else, of which it expects more good and help than of God, and does not take refuge in Him, but in adversity flees from Him, then you have an idol, another god.

Some thoughts on theological labels (1)

When shopping we have an implicit trust that the information on the label and the contents inside the packaging actually correspond.
Sometimes mistakes are made through being careless, at other times there can be a deliberate attempt to tamper with goods and not to declare that information when the product is sold. Either way there can be a difference between the claims of the familiar label and the reality of the product itself.

When that happens, being wise consumers, we don't take deep reassurance from the label that all things must be well because the wording is right. Instead we dispose of the faulty product, and rightly so. It is, after all, not what it claims to be. And not necessarily having all the knowledge or expertise that we need we are grateful for those who monitor and regulate these matters (like the Food Standards Agency who once pulled some Welsh lamb packed with veterinary drugs off the supermarket shelves...that would have livened up a Sunday afternoon).

Well if this is true in everyday mundane matters like shopping and eating how much more so it it true in matters of doctrine.

Our assumption is often to treat claims at face value and to gain reassurance from the use of familiar biblical and theological phrases. But heresies and false doctrines involve the preservation of orthodox words and phrases whilst at the same time replacing the intended meaning of those words. 2 Corinthians 11 is a case study in this kind of deception.

This, after all, is what makes error plausible and dangerous. It is able to make inroads because the labels it carries appears to be perfectly normal. As Irenaeus of Lyon put it:
Lest, therefore, through my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men--because they outwardly are covered with sheep's clothing (against whom the Lord has enjoined us to be on our guard), and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different.
At this point the intellectual and moral dimensions of error are both involved. It is one thing to sincerely misrespresent the truth through a lack of understanding, it is quite another to misrepresent the truth by this misuse of language. Two obvious ways in which this occurs is in the use of biblical terms (e.g. God, Jesus, Spirit, gospel, hell etc.) and the use of more theological and confessional language (e.g. Trinity, substitutionary atonement, infallibility, covenant of grace).

There is of course an overlap where biblical terms have been understood within a certain theological tradition where their meaning has been well established (justification, election). I have no strong assurance that someone suspected of theological mischief is orthodox just because they are able to role out phrases like "I believe that Christ died for our sins" or that we are "justified by faith alone." It is what they mean by those words that matters.

J. Gresham Machen was conscious of this issue during the Presbyterian conflicts of the 1920s and 1930s. His wise observations are still relevant today, the passage of time has not diminished their worth one bit:
Traditional terminology is constantly being used in a double sense. Plain people in the church are being told, for example, that this preacher or that believes that Jesus is God. They go away impressed; the preacher, they say, believes in the deity of Christ; what more could be desired?

What is not being told them is that the word 'God' is being used in a pantheising or Ritschlian sense, so that the assertion, 'Jesus is God,' is not the most Christian, but the least Christian thing that the modernist preacher says. The modernist preacher affirms the deity of Jesus not because he thinks high of Jesus but because he thinks desperately low of God.

Formerly when men had brought to their attention perfectly plain documents like the Apostles' Creed or the Westminster Confession or the New Testament, they either accepted them or else they denied them. Now they no longer deny, but merely 'interpret.'
Gresham Machen, God Transcendent, p. 44-5

Interview at Issues, etc.

Yesterday I recorded an interview at Issues, etc. (a Lutheran radio station based in Illinois). You can check them out here and I will post the link when it goes online. They asked some great questions, I can't vouch for the quality of the answers. On reflection there is always more that you could have said, or said in a different way...

It is a real privilege to have these opportunities that have come from the publication of Risking the Truth, and I grateful too for the ongoing work of Christian Focus in creating these opportunities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

After the Lord Mayor's show

Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity is not released by Amazon in the UK for another two days, but already reviews are coming in thick and fast from the other side of the pond. McLaren has been an influential voice in the last five years and his writings hve been big sellers, so it is important to interact with him.

The flavour of the book, judging from the reviews, puts a premium on discussion and dialogue and not on definitive answers, and yet at the same time polices that discussion so that the Greco-Roman Platonic corruption of Christianity is unmasked and barred from the conversation. One wonders if Adolf Harnack's ghost was peering over Brian's shoulder as he sat at his keyboard.

But as we are so behind the Americans and Canadians in getting the book that any review of mine will be appearing well after the Lord Mayor's show has ended, a fact that diminishes my willingness to write one. All I can say to those across the pond is at least we got to read Pierced For Our Transgressions before you did. Hey we even had Tom Wright's book on justification before you. So there.

In addition to the ongoing review by Mike Wittmer, he is now up to Question 5 "What is the Gospel?" (part 1 and part 2) there is this review by Tim Challies, and there is to be a three part review by Kevin De Young.

The demands of love and the pastor's calling

To be a pastor is to be entrusted with a profoundly humbling office and task. You are to be a faithful undershepherd of that Great Shepherd of the sheep whom God brought back from the dead (Heb. 13:20). It is an inestimable privilege to feed, nurture, and care for those for whom the Good Shepherd died (John 10:11; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-4) and to do that in a local setting where your life and theirs is bound together by mutual prayer, fellowship, love, witness, and suffering.

The fact that this is a task conferred not only by the body of elders and the consent of the congregation, but by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), is at turns, a deep source of joyful encouragement and a reality that provokes sober minded gratitude.

What is set before you in your work could best be described as the demands of love. There must be a growing deepening love toward Jesus Christ out of which flows a gracious, patient, thoughtful love for his sheep (John 21).

These dimensions of love, toward the Lord in heaven and his people on earth in the local church, cannot remain strong, sincere and refreshed without that knowledge of the love of God toward us in Christ. And it is Christ crucified and raised, Christ clothed in the promises of his gospel, who must be the object of faith, and the source of our ongoing spiritual happiness.

The resources for the work are in him. Or perhaps it would be better to say that all the grace that we need for spiritual life and communion with God comes to us in union with Jesus Christ and is applied to us by his Spirit.

The demands of this love then, in the pastor's calling, must be constantly replenished and supplied by the outpouring of that love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit as he enables us to see by faith God's love demonstrated for us at the cross (Romans 5:5, 8). If we do not drink from this stream again and again all our labour in the gospel will be weakened. It is the love of Christ that is to compel us (2 Cor. 5:14).

One aspect of the demands of love is the guarding of the sheep from the danger of error. Heresy has a siren's voice and the devil uses its sweet sound to lure the Church away from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. A false Christ, who can never be the proper object of our affections, can never make the new Eve fruitful in the world (2 Cor. 11:2-4). That is why heresy is destructive, it cannot produce spiritual fruit, there is no power in it to bring a new creation.

Pastors, elders, the demands of love require you to protect the Church from heresies, even when people will call you unloving for criticizing the views of others. To do so, in our age, may well be called unloving, for our age has confused tolerance with love, but the insult is ill judged.

Protecting the Church from error is a loving act, and, therefore, it must be done with the appropriate affections. We are not to love a fight, we are to fight because we are motivated by love.

Indelibly woven into the fabric of the text

The battle to refute heresies and to affirm and apply orthodox doctrines is primarily an exegetical battle. That is not to say that matters of synthesis, theology, and philosophy are far removed from the fight. They always lie close at hand. But as Hilary of Poitiers memorably put it:
...there have risen many who have given to the plain words of Holy Writ some arbitrary interpretation of their own, instead of its true and only sense, and this in defiance of the clear meaning of words. Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text.
There is a great danger that texts have not only be wrongly interpreted, but also read through the lens of a world view that has been imposed upon, rather than arisen from, the text. Anyone engaged in polemical theology must be aware of this danger.

The goal is to show that the words of Scripture cannot bear the heretical meaning imposed upon them, that at the exegetical level error offers abitrary interpretations. Of course, there is a short route from collecting a few texts together to the construction of an non-negotiatible hermeneutical grid through which all texts are then filtered.

Not that those with an orthodox theology are themselves entirely free from the danger of misinterpreting the text, or that the texts are always used in the right way to support the right doctrines. To have the humility to admit this should not be confused with opening the door to the teeming hordes of postmodern special interest groups who want to bend the words of Scripture to fit their particular agendas.

I know that every time that I get into my car I can take a wrong turning, but not every wrong turning is a big deal, and knowing that I can take a wrong turning is not the same as actually taking one and protesting that it is in fact the right way. Something of Hilary's attitude is essential for every expositor of the sacred text:
We look to Thee to give us the fellowship of that Spirit Who guided the Prophets and the Apostles, that we may take their words in the sense in which they spoke and assign its right shade of meaning to every utterance.

All of which brings me to the reason for writing this post. Sound doctrine does not sit loosely to the text. It is not one of many options offered to us by the text. The text is not an amorphous mass. We are not to press it into the shape of our theories but to listen to the truth it proclaims, to quote from WCF 1:10, to "the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." The Westminster divines were sensitive to the fact that some passages of the Bible are hard to understand and interpret, and so they gave valuable counsel on that in 1:7:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

Does that mean that arriving at sound conclusions merely follows from a surface reading of the text? Sometimes, to be frank, it does.

The truth of God, which enable us to speak of some doctrines as orthodox and others as heretical, is indelibly woven in to the very fabric of the text. No amount of talk about the historic development of Christian doctrine should be allowed to obscure the fact that the doctrines we are to believe, teach and confess are to be done so on the basis that they are found in the Word of God written.

Given that Scripture presents us with its own doctrinal vocabularly and categories the choice of heretics is to give the words and concepts of the Bible distinctly unorthodox meanings. Thus, in Church history Paul's catholic, creedal, affirmation that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3) has been assigned totally opposite meanings. To the Socinians and their successors it is interpreted in such a way as to deny penal substitutionary atonement. That is why combatting error and affirming truth must get down to the issue of "what do these words mean" and not simply repeat them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In denial: A New Kind of Christianity (review links)

Michael Wittmer is doing a pretty good job of that as he works his way through Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity, offering a good blend of exposition and analysis. It is worth following his commentary on Brian McLaren's answers to, to quote from the book's subtitle, "ten questions that are transforming the faith."

Christian orthodoxy is a definable, stable, reality. You can know what Christians believe and there are objective ways to assess whether someone is moving toward or away from orthodoxy.

That means you can also assess whether a proposal to transform the Christian faith is in fact a deviation away from the Christian faith as biblically understood and historically believed, taught and confessed. It is one thing to say that, here in the year 2010, you have discovered the true nature of the Christian faith that former generations have misconstrued, it is quite another to overturn what has been previously believed by superior exegesis and theology.

Here are the posts so far:


Question 1: What is the overarching story line of the Bible?

Question 2: How should the Bible be understood?

Interlude: The Defining Issue

Question 3: Is God violent?

Question 4: Who is Jesus and Why is he important?

Scotland swept away by an irresistible red tide

Five minutes, seventeen points, an almost unbelievable comeback, and a nation's hopes swept away by an irresistible red tide. As the Scottish commentator Andrew Cotter put it "Shane Williams has won the most dramatic game in this Six Nations, perhaps in any Six Nations"


Dear Scottish friends,

I'm so sorry that we robbed you on Saturday. You were the better team, well at least until the last five minutes.

Dear American friends,

Enjoy the video. This is how to play rugby, and why rugby is so much better than what you call football. Observe the score and watch what happens..

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A New Kind of God?

Michael Wittmer continues his review of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity. In his latest post he looks at McLaren's answer to the question "Is God Violent?" Have a read and see what you make of it. I cannot help but wonder whether the next stopping point on this journey is atheism. I say that with absolutely no pleasure at all. There is a way back from error.

Here are the opening paragraphs from Michael Wittmer's assessment of McLaren's third Q & A:

Brian begins this section by admitting that he has a big problem. It helped his new kind of Christianity to assert that the Bible is our cultural library rather than authoritative constitution, but he still has to wrestle with the fact that this library contains many bloody books. In Brian’s words, he needs a way to deal with the numerous “violent images, cruel images, [and] un-Christlike images” of God that are found in the Bible.

Most troubling is the God who appears in the Noah narrative. Brian complains that “a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can you ask your children—or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors—to honor a deity so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life?”

And here are his five key observations:
1. Brian seems to agree with Feuerbach that religion—and in this case the Bible—is merely our human projection of God. Our view of God tells us everything about ourselves and nothing about what God is like. If this is his view—and his endorsement of Pete Rollins gives more reason to suppose that this is the case, then he needs to find another line of work. If we don’t have a revelation from God, then we’re all wasting our time here.

2. Brian writes that he treasures the Bible, even calling it God’s inspired Word, but then he says that much of it, especially the older parts, is just wrong. I am not able to make much sense of that.

3. Brian solves the problem of a violent God in Genesis 6 by saying that this immature deity is later replaced by the New Testament perspective on God. I wonder how this coheres with Brian’s comment in question 1 that he prefers the earlier Hebrew God Elohim over the later Greek God Theos. It seems that Brian only accepts the Bible when it says something he likes, and then fishes for a reason to justify his decision, even if the reason contradicts his argument for another passage.

4. Brian has embraced the red letter Bible, where Jesus’ words and actions count more than what Paul or Peter wrote. He said that one evangelical’s “transparent willingness to grant Jesus no more authority than Paul renders me speechless.” I am not necessarily trying to shush Brian, but I will second what the evangelical said: Paul’s epistles have the same authority as the words of Jesus, for both are the Word of God.

5. Here’s the kicker which you knew was coming. Brian alleges that those of us in “seminaries and denominational headquarters” who say that every description of God in Scripture is authoritative are guilty of “conceptual idolatry,” for we are “freezing” our “understanding of God in stone.”

Conversely, I think that God’s problem with idolatry is not that the idols don’t develop but that the idols are false gods. Did God oppose Baal simply because he didn’t move? Also, if a static understanding of God is conceptual idolatry, then wouldn’t God, who I assume has a perfect, unchanging understanding of himself, be guilty of this sin?

You can read the whole post here

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Walking in the truth

We are prone to separate what God has joined together. Evangelicals are beset by the tendency to separate doctrine and life, and to favour practice over theory.

By way of digression I ought to say that even those who frequently lament the divorce of the two, deep down know that there is a linguistic card trick being played. We are always living out of the ideas that we hold to.

Now, in reality, there is no gulf between truth and life because they never can be, and never are, divorced. The question is not whether we are living in the light of doctrines, but what doctrines are we living in the light of? What view of God, what view of the world, ourselves, sin, redemption, grace, the last things, are we being shaped by even when we are talking about separation between doctrine and life?

To return to the main road, perhaps it would be better to say that there is an evangelical impatience with theory, doctrine, intellect, anything that seems academic, for fear that it encourages mere speculation and proves to be unrelated to life.

The trouble is that the cry for application is, in reality, just a sound, unless there is something to apply. And for that we need truth, doctrine, knowledge. But as I have argued, truth, doctrine, and knowledge have never been absent in reality. The lingering question is always "which truth are we applying?"

What is the antidote to this way of thinking that speaks as if there is a separation of doctrine and life? How can this would be healed?

Pause and observe the almost inconspicuous recurrence of an everyday image employed by Old and New Testament writers to describe the relationship between doctrine and life. It is the simple image of walking in a particular way, as the following representative passages from the NT indicates:

In Ephesians we are reminded of how we used to walk in a state of death and disobedience (2:1-3), before being made alive by God, saved by grace through faith, and set on a new path of obedience. God has prepared good works beforehand for us to walk in (2:10). We are to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), and not walk in the way that the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking and darkened understanding (4:17). Instead we are to walk in love (5:2), and walk as children of light (5:8), taking care how we walk (5:15)

In Colossians we are told that just as we "received Christ the Lord" so we are to "walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (2:6-7).

We are exhorted to "walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time" (4:5). We will only know how to do this because "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Christ (2:3).

The Colossians heard the familiar call to walk worthy of the Lord. But notice the setting for this walk:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (1:9-10)
In Galatians we are to walk by the Spirit since we live by the Spirit, and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16, 25)

In John's letters the same emphasis is repeated. We are to walk in the light as he is in the light, and not in darkness (1 John 1:7). Indeed we are to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).

Yet, for John, the setting for this walk is that of his proclamation of that which was from the beginning, the eternal life, which was with the Father and which was made manifest to us (the "us" being the apostles, 1 John 1:1-2). Moreover, unless this authoritative, authentic, original apostolic message and testimony is believed then no fellowship with the Father and the Son is possible (1 John 1:3-5). The truth supplies the boundaries, map, and direction for the walk.

The same note is struck in 2 & 3 John:
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father (2 John 4)

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it (2 John 6)

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4)
To separate truth and life, doctrine and practice, may well be a contempoary evangelical theory, but on the surface of these texts, and many others, it is an absurdity.

A New Kind of Christianity

Michael Wittmer, author of, among other things, Don't Stop Believing, is currently reviewing Brian McLaren's latest book A New Kind of Christianity.

I've read several of McLaren's earlier books in my time but was not aware of this one. It strikes me that it belongs in the "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" section of the bookstore, and we wait to see what beautiful orthodox items we must jettison in the process. An after reading the commendations for the book from Steve Chalke, Phyllis Tickle and Pete Rollins I'm half wondering if it will make a greater impact than the Bible.

Here are Wittmer's reflections on the introductory chapters:

I read the introductory three chapters of A New Kind of Christianity, and so far it’s an updated version of the Brian we’ve seen before. He claims to be “a mild-mannered guy” who is only looking for a new way to be a Christian that will boost the declining numbers in our churches, and he can’t understand why his critics respond with “fear,” “clenched teeth,” and “suspicion and accusation.” Brian’s really good at winning sympathy, and soon I was loathing myself for ever politely disagreeing with such a nice man.

But then I remembered that this debate about the Christian faith—which he and his friends started—is not a personality contest. You can’t dismiss what Christians have always believed and then expect a free pass because you’re likeable. And just below the surface of Brian’s humble, can’t-we-all-just-get-along vibe is an accusatory tone that repeatedly compares his critics to a religious Gestapo whose leaders defend their conservative beliefs because they don’t want to lose their jobs.

That doesn’t sound like me. I am an easy-going guy who just wants to love Jesus. But to love Jesus, I have to know and believe something about him. Jesus is not an elastic symbol for whatever we happen to value (e.g., inclusive love), but is an actual person who can be known, trusted, and loved.

So why doesn’t Brian want me to know and believe the truth about Jesus? He says that his new kind of Christianity is led by Doug Pagitt, who isn’t sure that Jesus is God; Marcus Borg, who argues that Jesus is dead; and Harvey Cox, a Harvard Divinity professor who wants to blow the whole thing up and construct a new view of God that will connect with our secular age.

The rest of the post can be found here

The next post is on McLaren's first question, "What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?" On which Wittmer comments:

Brian’s real beef with Creation-Fall-Redemption is not the C or the R but the F. He does not believe that there was a Fall (or original sin or total depravity or hell) but that what we have traditionally called the Fall is actually “a coming-of age story” which—wait for it—describes “the first stage of ascent as human beings progress from the life of hunter-gatherers to the life of agriculturalists and beyond.” I have quoted him verbatim so you know I am not making this up. I asked my Old Testament colleague where Brian may be getting this from, and he said that this sounds like modern Judaism (which doesn’t believe in a Fall or original sin), except that even it wouldn’t say that Genesis 3 represents a step up.

Brian says a lot of other things in Part 1, but as you can see, he is no longer having a Christian conversation. He prefers the Hebrew God Elohim over the Greco-Roman God Theos, for the former prefers the messiness of story and evolution while the latter is a “perfect—Platonic god” who “loves spirit, state, and being” and is “perfectly furious” with his fallen creation and just wants to smash it all to hell. Theos may be popular with the “fire-breathing preacher” (does anyone know anyone like this?), but he “is an idol, a damnable idol.” Brian writes that he would rather be an atheist than believe in the God that most of us think is found in the Bible.

Four observations follow this:

1. Brian seems to be offering a modern Jewish rather than Christian perspective on the opening chapters of Genesis. His flat-out denial of a Fall, original sin, and total depravity and his dismissal of Theos raises questions about his view of Paul, who clearly teaches the former in Romans 5, and the New Testament, which refers to God with the Greek term Theos.

2. Brian does not seem to believe that there was a first man and a first sin, but that Genesis 3 is a myth which describes how the entire human race became farmers. This view fits with his acceptance of evolution, as most who embrace evolution find it hard to believe that there was a first man who rebelled in a cataclysmic Fall. I don’t know how the farmer bit fits, but it is funny.

3. The fourth question which Brian will address in this book is “Who is Jesus and why is he important?” Given that Brian doesn’t believe in a Fall, original sin, or hell, that is a very good question. I can’t wait to hear why God would come and die for a world that didn’t need his help.

4. Brian seems incapable of writing a book without taking repeated cheap shots at seminary education. He often reminds us that he missed out on seminary and is better for it, that he would not see what he sees in Scripture if he had gone to seminary. On that we agree.

You can read the whole thing here

(HT: Todd Pruitt)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Saturated with the truth

The following extract from Hilary of Poitiers' letter "On the Councils" to the Western bishops in 359 AD makes good theological and pastoral sense:
Every separate point of heretical doctrine has been successfully refuted. The infinte and boundless God cannot be made comprehensible by a few words of human speech.

Brevity often misleads both learner and teacher, and a concentrated discourse either causes a subject not to be understood, or spoils the meaning of an argument where a thing is hinted at, and is not proved by full demonstration.

The bishops fully understood this, and therefore have used for the purpose of teaching many definitions and a profusion of words that the ordinary understanding might find no difficulty, but that their hearers might be saturated with the truth thus differently expressed, and that in treating of divine things these adequate and manifold definitions might leave no room for danger or obscurity.

You must not be surprised, dear brethren, that so many creeds have recently been written. The frenzy of heretics makes it necessary.
On the Councils, Ch. 62 & 63

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Morality without God: How will that work?

It is curious how the media freely makes moral pronouncements on the behaviour of politicians and sportsmen. How can they navigate this moral terrain whilst treading on the God given internal moral compass and dismissing the external one in the Word that alone can set the right moral direction?

For all his efforts to re-write the constitution of the universe man remains a creature on the run from God, never fully able to escape his created identity and accountability.

The Times has a brief but interesting set of comments on the state of Britain from N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and doyen of new perspective thinkers, with the title "Labour has erased God from political life." You can read the whole thing here. But given that I have mentioned the new perspective(s) then you may want to stroll over to the Ligonier site and take a peek at the latest edition of Table Talk and their resources page on NPP matters is here.

Here are some highlights:
The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, the fourth-most-senior in the church hierarchy, warned that the British public had been left to “lurch in a sea of amoralism”. The Prime Minister had become akin to an “absolute monarch” with little or no accountability, he added.

In a scathing attack on Labour’s record on issues such as Iraq, assisted dying and equality legislation, he said: “Our present political class are probably the last people to be making decisions about a constitution and the last to be pronouncing on the place of God in politics and government.”

...he warned. “We have lived as a Western society by a particular set of stories which are substantially Enlightenment stories, about science solving all our ills. The Enlightenment kicked God upstairs like the elderly relative in the attic,” he said. This meant rulers felt free to do what they wanted and they had forgotten they were answerable to God.

The expenses scandal was one consequence. “Theology abhors a vacuum. If you get rid of God you inflate yourself to be divine instead.” He feared this was what had happened in Britain, where Tony Blair’s spokesman Alastair Campbell famously said: “We don’t do God.”

Friday, February 05, 2010

God the Father and God the Son

Read this and you will say "of could it be otherwise?"
For there never was a time when the Father was and the Son was not, but always the Father and always the Son, Who was begotten of Him, existed together. For He could not have received the name Father apart from the Son: for if he were without the Son, He could not be the Father.
John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 1, Ch. 8

The Apostles' Creed

I'm a little late with this (in blogging terms) but the next volume in the Classic Reformed Theology series, Olevianus' Exposition of the Apostles' Creed, is now avaliable.

Scott Clark explains:
Caspar Olevianus (1536-87) was a significant figure in the Reformation of Heidelberg in the 1560s and 1570s and one of the pioneers of Reformed covenant or federal theology.

As a teacher he influenced several other significant pastors and teachers in the period and inspired others such as Johannes Cocceius. Olevianus published a number of biblical commentaries, including a massive 700 page commentary on Romans.

He also published three explanations of covenant theology via an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed. Now, for the first time since the 16th century, Olevianus’
Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed is available in English in a new translation, by Lyle Bierma, as volume 2 in the series Classic Reformed Theology.

This is a brief, clear, account of the Reformed faith. In an age when there seems to be considerable ignorance of and even greater confusion about what the adjective “Reformed” means, volumes such as these provide a much needed beacon of light.

One of the more interesting features of this work is the way Olevianus tied together the themes of covenant and kingdom. According to Olevianus the Kingdom of God is fundamentally eschatological (heavenly) but it breaks into history and manifests itself in the visible institution church. That place, the church, also the place where the covenant of grace is administered. Indeed, the administration of the covenant is also the administration of the kingdom.

This volume will be useful for pastors, elders, students, and anyone who wants to know more about how the Reformed faith reads the Scripture, what covenant theology is, and how it works out in Reformed piety and practice.

You can also listen in to Scott being interviewed about the book here

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Euan Murray interviewed in The Guardian

Euan Murray is the Scottish tighthead prop, and a British Lion. He's also a Christian and will not be turning out for his country this Sunday when they play France in their opening Six Nations game.

The Guardian newspaper has an interview with him about why he's not playing and in that interview he explains the gospel:

He suggests that the path many professional sportsmen follow is "rotten". He tries to explain. "All the shiny bubbles," he says, holding out his big hands and shaking his head in sadness. "The money, the possessions, the fame, the great elusive relationship – all bubbles that appear perfectly spherical, all the colours of the rainbow. They're bright and shiny and light as a feather, and you chase them because it's good fun, but the minute you get them they burst and they're empty." He pauses. "I'd had enough of chasing bubbles."

What were the "bubbles"? "The attraction of all the glamour and glitz that society puts up on a pedestal and says is the be all and end all. All the tinsel, you know? The success. There are many ways of measuring success – it could be in popularity, the funniest guy, or the guy with the best scores, it could be money, it could be getting the best-looking girl, lifting the most in the gym, having the best clothes, it could be being the best rugby player in the world." He trails off. "It's not wrong to be funny, or have a great-looking wife. It's not wrong to have money and to want to be the best player in the world, but if that is your idol then that is wrong."

In finding God, he says, Murray was able to change his path. He picks up a mug of tea and a glass of water and holds them out in front of him. "This is the tea, all dirty and horrible, this is me, yeah? That's Jesus," he says, motioning to the water. "Pure. He's taken that filth upon himself and before God he says, 'Punish me for it'. He's been punished and look what he's given me. That perfect goodness in the eyes of God. He's declared me innocent." He swills the dregs of the tea and smiles. Can it be that simple? "I'm ashamed of the things I've done. Of course I am. But I'm thankful I have a saviour. He's saved me from that lifestyle. He's given me a new life."

You can read the whole thing here

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Just Love? A Day Conference with Dr. Garry Williams

If you are a pastor and live in North or Mid Wales, Liverpool, Cheshire, Manchester, Shrewsbury etc. then this is for you (if you are prepared to travel from further afield then don't let me stop you).

The Evangelical Movement of Wales has a day conference on the atonement on Tuesday 2nd March at the Bryn-y-Groes Conference Centre in Bala, North Wales.

Drop me a line by email (see Contact: Martin in the left hand sidebar) if you would like a booking form, or just email me to let us know if you are coming. If you would like lunch at the conference centre you will need to send a booking form. The cost of the day is just £10.

Here are the details:

Just love?

The atoning work of Christ and the attributes of God

Tuesday 2nd March


Cost: £10

Speaker: Dr. Garry Williams, Director of the John Owen Centre at London Theological Seminary.

Coffee will be served at 10.30am and the first session will be at 11am. Lunch is available at the venue for £7, or you can bring sandwiches, or buy locally.

There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion at the end of each of the two main sessions.

Here's the blurb:

The sessions will explore the relationship between the attributes of God and the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Should we still speak of God’s attributes? Given who God is, was the atonement necessary? Was it necessary because God is just, or merciful, or both? Is he more loving than he is just, or more just than he is loving, or neither?

Having explored these theological questions we will then consider their consequences for preaching and teaching the cross today.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The doctrine of the atonement

I'm delighted to see that George Smeaton's two volumes on the doctrine of atonement are back in print. Many thanks to the Banner of Truth Trust for doing this.

Check out Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement and the Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement

Here are some gems:
Jesus was visited with penal suffering because he appeared before God only in the guise of our accumulated sin; not therefore as a private individual, but as a representative; sinless in himself, but sin covered; loved as a Son, but condemned as a sin-bearer, in virtue of that federal union between him and his people, which lay at the foundation of the whole. Thus God condemned sin in the flesh, and in consequence of this there is no condemnation to us.

Were the atonement not the principal matter of the gospel, and the highest exhibition of the united wisdom, love and faithfulness of God,--in a word, the greatest act of God in the universe,--that terrible anathema on its subverters would seem to us something inexplicable, if not intolerable. But the doom is justified by the nature of Christ's death, and by the great fact of the atonement.

Contend for the faith

"The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever changing...
fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster...
your defences must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the Arts you seek to undo."

Severus Snape

Churches need external and internal defenses against heresies.

1. The external defense comes in the form of clearly worded confessional statements.

These statements need to be comprehensive enough to state the truth with clarity and to safeguard the truth against particular errors. They ought to be as concise as possible in order to serve as useful churchly documents, but not so brief that they fail to express the definite contours of a doctrine.

Those responsible for framing, explaining, and enforcing confessional statements must be aware that, in the history of the church, heresies have often been passed off as orthodox interpretations of biblical and creedal words and phrases.

This is one reason why confessional statements have become more and more elaborate. Time and again it has been necessary to show the clear demarcation between truth and error, or, for this is what it has amounted to, between truth and something that appears to be the truth.

2. The internal defense comes in the form of a Spirit-wrought satisfaction with the truth

Without this internal delight in the truth the external defense is certain to crumble. It is not theological statements that preserve the truth so much as men filled with the Spirit and wisdom, taught by God to follow the pattern of sound words and able to guard the good deposit.

For some churches and denominations the vibrant confessional testimony of their forefathers in the faith became no more than a museum piece, a relic that gave witness to what was once believed before the church moved on with the times. The truth remained the truth, even if you were told to look at it behind a glass case, but long gone was the atmosphere of orthodoxy.

John Owen both expressed and embodied the conviction that an external, objective, truth and an internal, subjective, experiential grasp of that truth was necessary for the survival of orthodoxy:
This I am compelled to say, that unless the Lord, in his infinite mercy, lay an awe upon the hearts of men, to keep them in some captivity to the simplicity and mystery of the gospel who now strive every day to exceed one another in novel opinions and philosophical apprehensions of the things of God, I cannot but fear that this soul-destroying abomination will one day break in as a flood upon us.
(Vindicae Evangelicae, p. 42)