Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Yet another celebrity (that I've never heard of) has come out as 'gay' and been lauded in the media as 'brave'.
- There's nothing brave about marrying a woman when you know you prefer men.
- There's nothing brave about being unfaithful to her with men.
- There's nothing brave about taking solemn vows that you know you're not likely to be able to keep.
- There's nothing brave about telling your teammates when you know that if any of them express disapproval, warn you of the serious health consequences or even crack a joke they'll be visited by the police and accused of a hate crime.
- There's nothing brave about breaking your wife's heart.
- There's nothing brave about saying you've always been in love with her and are still in love with her when you plainly don't understand what it means.
- There's nothing brave about putting 'the way I want to live my life' above everybody else's hurt.
- There's nothing brave about treating sex as if it's the most powerful thing in life that cannot be resisted and somehow justifies whatever you want to do.
There are loads of brave men and women in our land today - men and women in marriages that are not all they hoped for, coping with stress they'd never expected, remaining faithful and working hard at what they have. They don't leave, they don't pout, they don't expect anyone to give them a medal. And no-one does: the BBC doesn't laud them for their bravery, they don't have articles written about them. And they don't hurt anyone by their selfishness. And there are others who bravely cope with betrayal from those they loved and should have been able to trust. They rebuild their lives; they seek new partners. They raise their children, refusing to teach them any bitterness towards the mum or dad who left. There are single men and women who are also sexual beings with powerful sex drives who yet practice long-term abstinence because they believe it to be right and proper and good.
They're brave - and this unknown blogger salutes them.
I wish Mr. Thomas well. And that means I wish him genuine repentance and faith in Christ - not because he's gay but because he's a sinner. I wish him to see how wrong his unfaithfulness and lying has been - not 'wrong to his sexuality' but wrong to his wife and to God. I wish him to see it not so that he can endure further years of torment (which is a strong word to describe 'not being able to have sex with who I want, or having to lie about it when I do', don't you think?) but because without seeing, and feeling, his wrong there's no hope for repentance and no hope for forgiveness. There is hope, for while 'neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who preacise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God', the Scriptures can say 'And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.'
There's hope for all of us.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Hmm -what a buzz my comments on the Banner of Truth article by Stuart Olyott have caused - though not half so big a buzz, I gather, as the article itself.
Look - here's where the rubber hits the road. The other Sunday one of the elders here prayed for me just before I went out to preach, like this: 'Lord, he's prepared the sermon. The altar is built, the sacrifice is made. But we need your fire to descend.' (The imagery, for any Biblically illiterate who read this blog, is taken from 1 Kings 18.) Now - was said elder right? Or was the altar and the sacrifice (the time spent in preparing the sermon and crafting it) enough?
Friday, December 04, 2009
I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble… I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.
Olyott says he should have written:
I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf, God, working with his Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: God did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble… I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Lord, having pleaded with him to accompany his Word.
(Banner of Truth magazine, December 2009)
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Of course there are many places where Luther got it wrong, and some of them Banner wouldn’t write about (infant baptism, anybody?). But this is a different issue.
Famously, Luther wrote ‘I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing… I did nothing: the Word did it all.’
Not so, says Stuart: ‘The truth is that he did nothing and the Word, on its own, did nothing either. Yes, the Word, on its own, did nothing. When the gospel has success, we can’t write about it as Luther did.’
The error, says Stuart, is called ‘mediate regeneration’ and it ‘did terrible damage to the Lutheran movement’ and ‘is on the march once more…[and] has taken over vast sectors of British Evangelicalism…. If we don’t wake up, it will soon take us over completely. From then on, gospel work in this country will be ruined.’
Strong words. What on earth is he talking about? WHO is he talking about?
The error is this: ‘the Spirit, or the principle of new life, is shut up in the Word… Just sow the seed and people will get converted! If they don’t, it will be because they have persistently resisted the appeals of God’s Spirit coming to them through that word. His power is resident in the Word, but that power has been resisted. Where the gospel has little success, there is a human explanation.’
Stuart goes on to argue that the Holy Spirit does not Work through the word, but that (normally) his operation accompanies the Word; sometimes, however, he can work without the Word.
It is, I think, (some of) our Anglican brethren that Stuart has primarily in his sights, including the Proclamation Trust, though they are not mentioned. ‘The great emphasis among those of this mind-set is therefore on what they call ‘Word Ministry’.’ And what it leads to, among other things, is ‘Most British preachers study more than they pray.’
I can only speak for myself. I ‘came under the influence’ of the Proc Trust in the early 90s. They taught me a great deal about careful exegesis. About structuring sermons. About care to make sure that the sermon said what the text said. About using illustrations. About compelling introductions and conclusions. They're all good things.
I shuddered a bit when one of their star preachers (rightly much respected) told me that all-night prayer-meetings in Korean churches were a sign that they hadn’t shaken off Buddhism properly (!); but generally, I lapped up what I heard.
And gradually, ever so gradually, I began to realise that I was putting my confidence in the sermon: if I structured it right, exegeted the text right, illustrated it right – then that’s all that was necessary. Nice of you to show up, Holy Spirit – but we don’t need you thanks. We’ve got your Word.
And that’s not right. Is it?
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Why are British ministers so depressed? So low? So negative? So sure nothing much is going to happen? It may not be true of all (I hope not); but it seems to be 'the general tone' amongst the Reformed.
It came home to me with some power when I was at a well-known ministers' conference earlier in the year. I asked one friend - young, at the beginning of his ministry - what he thought to the conference and as far as I remember his answer was 'It's great to be among so many men who are as depressed as I am!' He wasn't joking.
So perhaps it's Calvinism? Perhaps it has a depressing effect?
Hardly: Spurgeon suffered from depression triggered by gout, but was not by nature (or grace) an unhappy individual. Nor, for that matter, is Piper. Ah, Piper - yes, he's American.
In fact, reading 'Young, restless and reformed' suggested to me that it's only British Calvinists who're so miserable. Across the Pond, Calvinists have great conferences, joyous conferences, with thousands in attendance and a vision of the glory of God that virtually forbids misery. Nobody there would say 'It's great to meet so many depressed people.'
So - it's a serious question. Why are British Calvinistic ministers so depressed? And what can we do about it?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’… I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’”.
I recognise the quote, and it’s authentic; though I haven’t checked its accuracy it is just as I remember it. And it’s as I remember it from the Banner of Truth edition of the autobiography.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? Banner of Truth – a cessationist publisher if ever there was one. They edited the biography before publishing it: why didn’t they remove this quote, if it promotes a charismatic understanding? Integrity, perhaps? That could be it; but surely a footnote would be in order then, to prevent misunderstanding? Yet there is none: why not? I think it’s because the story does not run contrary to Banner’s own cessationism; it certainly doesn’t run contrary to mine.
What the brother giving the quote doesn’t tell us – and he couldn’t, because he doesn’t believe it – is that Spurgeon was a cessationist. I’m not documenting it: if you’re interested, go look – reading Spurgeon is always worthwhile in its own right.
Historically, cessationism doesn’t mean that God never does anything remarkable, or even miraculous. Take a look at the Westminster Confession, chapter 5, paragraph 3:
God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
What does that mean? God can ‘work without means’ or ‘above means’ or ‘against means’ if he chooses: he can work miracles. And note, not ‘he could, in days gone by’ but rather, in the present tense, ‘God… yet is free…’
Historic cessationists believe that. I don’t know if Phil and the team do, but I’d guess so.
What is cessationism?
It’s the belief that some, at least, of the miraculous gifts known in the early church were ‘signs of the apostles’ – 2 Corinthians 12:12. They were given to authenticate the ministry of the apostles; once the apostles had passed from the scene, there was no longer any need for such things, and they passed. We cessationists believe that in particular the gifts of tongues and of prophecy were temporary, and also believe that the New Testament itself indicates that this would be the case. It's the historic view of the church: cessationists may be in a minority now, but that's purely a recent phenomenon.
Do we pray for healing, even miraculous healing? Yes, and some of us have stories to tell. Those stories don't threaten our cessationism. But we are not impressed by the dishonest claims of many present-day ‘healers’, nor, generally, by the naïve claims of many sincere brethren. We’ve discovered, all too often, that when careful investigation is made, the evidence isn’t there.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I became an evolutionist last week. I can't help it - sorry. The logic is so compelling.
See, I was watching this program on Channel 4 where they autopsied some kind of giant whale. And Richard Dawkins explained with such charm how it got to be the way it is. Here it is - at the moment.
The way it happened, said Richard, is that having come out of the sea and with a great deal of difficulty adapted itself to the land, it decided to go back into the sea. But the fur it had evolved on the land isn't a very good insulator in deep water, so it (or rather, they) swapped the fur for blubber. That's what he said. Swapped it.
And that did it for us. Suddenly, a mental picture formed of all these great bear-like creatures lining up to swap their fur for blubber, and everything slotted into place. It's so obvious. Light dawned. Let there be ligh -- oh, no, sorry; that's the Other Side. The penny dropped. It really did happen.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Partly because of a debate elsewhere on the blogosphere, I've started to re-read Bryan Magee's fascinating 'Confessions of a Philosopher'. Here's a passage that I think says something about 'the trouble with philosophers':
All the problems that plagued me were questions about the situation in which I immediately found myself. Some of them were questions about me, some were questions about the world around me, but all of them were practical questions, which is to say questions about how things are, to which something or other had to constitute a true answer, or so it seemed to me. To none of these questions would the existence of God have constituted an answer, and I never felt any inclination, no matter as how young a child, to believe in one. There is a story that G.E. Moore, when asked why he had never addressed himself to questions about God, replied that he had never seen any reason for taking such questions seriously, and the same applied in those days to me. The postulation of a God seemed to me a cop-out, a refusal to take serious problems seriously; a facile, groundless and above all evasive response to deeply distrubing difficulties: it welcomed the self-comforting delusion that we know what we do not know, and have answers that we do not have, thereby denying the true mysteriousness, indeed miraculousness, of what is...'
Well, where do we start? We could notice that he is, at the time, between nine and twelve years old, and since he was 'in a family in which religion was never mentioned', a little humility about the possibility of having missed something might be a good thing.
But look how he sees the existence of God: a theoretical thing, that might answer some problem, or be a cop-out as far as answers to the problems are concerned. He's missing completely the possibility that God might be an objective reality - and that, if he is, it's probably wise to know it. He thinks he's answering life's problems; or at least looking for them. But he's ignoring the elephant in the room because in his opinion it's no help at all. Sadly, Magee goes on to speak of the daily terror that his philosophic speculations brought: 'From that day on I wrestled with demons for at least a part of every day of my life...'
That's the trouble with philosophers - well, some of them. They think they're dealing with the big things and all they're doing is ignoring the big things in favour of academic games...
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
I've been thinking for a little while about a little series on my own pastoral blunders. Then I got this from Desiring God. When I make blunders, I don't do it in front of thousands. I don't get the video posted online. I don't have to apologise publicly on the WWW. There are advantages to being a little man!
Two things to note. First, Piper's written response is very good indeed. I'm sure Driscoll's wrong on this - he's ignoring the accumulated wisdom of the saints which says 'Be very careful.' Second - I'm not convinced Piper's video response is ungracious - are you?
Sunday, June 21, 2009
An e-friend sent me this copy of Phil Johnson's response to a question about the Masters' article that I referred to in my Friday post. I'd tried to be gracious, but Phil manages to make me sound sour by comparison. PJ's response can, apparently, be found on the sharperiron forum - wherever that is. Read and learn, O my soul.
Given Dr. Masters' stature, his age, and his history of usefulness for the cause of Christ, I'm happy to let him have his say without feeling the need to argue with him on the points where I disagree. As you note, he makes some valid points and says vital things no one else is saying. Like you, I can't agree with him on every detail of the worship issue completely, and I certainly wouldn't place the importance he does on matters of style per se. (The doctrinal content of our singing and the mindfulness we pay to the lyrics is of much more importance in my judgment than the question of whether we're being accompanied by instruments or not.)Anyway, he has given a message on this subject at every conference I have ever attended with him. In his mind it's the most vital issue facing the church today. No one is likely to change Dr. Masters' mind on that, so all anyone in your position (or mine) can do is listen with an open heart, glean whatever edification we can from his lectures on the worship issue, and be thankful to the Lord for the way He has used Dr. Masters.If Dr. Masters had come to central London and taken the pulpit of a thriving church and let it die while making worship style the one issue he was passionate about, even while his evangelistic testimony in the community completely diminished--then we might be justified in taking him aside and suggesting that his priorities are upside down. But since the opposite is the case, and he took a historic but nearly-dead congregation and shepherded it through a season of growth and fruitful evangelism, so that it is now full every Sunday, I think he is entitled to speak his mind on the worship issue, and I'm thankful to the Lord for all He has accomplished through Dr. Masters.I'm also deeply grateful for Dr. Masters' own faithfulness and clarity on all the crucial doctrinal issues of our time.Given all that, I have no trouble listening to him with great profit even when I disagree. I just have to keep all that in clear perspective.Hope that helps.
Friday, June 19, 2009
But I first began to suspect that there may be something wrong when I discovered – a quarter of a century ago now – that a commentary on Exodus that he had dismissed as ‘liberal’ had actually been written by Hywel Jones, one of my tutors. Now, Hywel may be wrong on the date of the Exodus (or not), but he’s no more a liberal than Rowan Williams is evangelical. I’m grateful for the discovery – it warned me not to take too much of what Masters says at face value.
Now, Masters has launched an attack on Piper, MacArthur, Dever, Mohler and Mahaney. They are, and are supporting, ‘the New Calvinists’, a shocking merger (says Masters) of Calvinism and worldliness. But even before you read the article, it’s just possible you might be given pause for thought. Leave out CJ Mahaney for a moment – he is, after all, a Charismatic and one who regularly points out his own lack of formal theological qualification. (‘I’ve no letters after my name – but I do have two in front of it!’) Any one of the others might be thought to be – at least – a match for Masters intellectually and theologically. If all four of them are on one side and Masters on the other – at the very least, we need to beware of 'just assuming' Masters is right. (I mean, if I challenge four heavyweight title holders to a street fight, don’t just assume I’m going to leave them all bloodied on the ground. I might – but don’t take it for granted!) One or two of my e-friends have commented; here's my bob's worth.
Now, Masters is a very good debater but (it seems to me) a very poor thinker. That is, he can make an argument sound persuasive, but seems unable to tell the difference himself between a good argument and a bad argument. (I remember some years ago pointing out to some of his acolytes that the arguments Masters uses to support Sunday Schools are very similar to the arguments he says are invalid when they’re used to support home groups. A good argument, for Masters, is one that supports his case. And his case is - always - that fifties church culture plus reformed doctrine is the Biblical ideal for the rest of time.)
Take, for example, his use of Scripture in this article. There isn’t any. Well, there almost is - there are two quotes from Scripture in the article – one at the beginning, one at the end. At the beginning, he says ‘When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.’ Indeed, Dr. Masters. And the need to be fully devoted to the Lord is a Scriptural teaching. But why – on what Scriptural basis – do you assume that the music style of worship shows they are not devoted? Would you think your Free Church of Scotland friends had a point if they attacked you for worldliness because you sing more than unaccompanied Psalms? If they said that the Met Tab promotes ‘a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a Sovereign God’? Would you not want them to do more – much more – than shout louder when you asked them to justify their position? ‘The author begins by describing the Tabernacle Summer School where several hundred people gather to revel in man-made hymns and listen to speakers such as Peter Masters proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments.’
His second use of Scripture is a quote from Joshua: ‘Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ Again – indeed. But do guitars – even loud guitars – take away ‘sincerity and truth’? Are Piper and Dever and MacArthur and Mahaney worshipping false gods? If not, what’s the relevance of this quote?
Actually, its relevance is two-fold. First, it is relevant because it shows the absolute inability of Masters to produce a Scripture that really does shore up his case – if this is the nearest he can get. And secondly it reveals what I can only call theological bullying. He frightens people. ‘If you don’t agree with me, you don’t stand with the past worthies. If you don’t stand with me, you don’t stand with God. Look, the Scriptures talk about consecration. The Scriptures talk about worshipping the one true God. If you disagree with me about music, there’s no point talking to you. No point reasoning with you. You’re an idolater. You’re worldly. And worldliness is enmity against God.’
Do you want another bad argument? Take this one. ‘Aside from pastors, we know some ‘new’ young Calvinists who will never settle in a dedicated, working church, because their views live only in their heads and not their hearts. We know of some whose lives are not clean. We know of others who go clubbing.’ Yes, and I know some ‘old’ Calvinists who never settle in a dedicated, working church – some of whom are so influenced by Masters that they can’t find a church sufficiently uncompromised! And I know one ‘old’ Calvinist who turned out – after his death – to have been living a double life, with a mistress and a second family. So – old Calvinism is evil! Evil! Well, no – of course not. Just the man. Just the man.
And here’s another one. He criticises Driscoll (who hasn’t?). 'He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship.' Yes, Puritan doctrine forbids teeshirts (isn’t it t-shirts?) and we should preach like them in a suit and tie, shouldn’t we? Oh, no – wait a minute… the Puritans didn't, did they? And if Masters responds – as I imagine he would – ‘Everything should be done decently and in order. The Puritans dressed decently according to their own day, and we should dress decently according to ours’ – then he’s shot himself in the foot. Because once you say ‘according to their day’ you’re admitting that dress modes change. For all I know, a t-shirt is decent attire in 21st –Century Seattle. (More important: worldliness includes being concerned about dress. To give too much importance to that is, frankly, being conformed to the world.) So many of Masters’ arguments turn back against him: he criticises rap: "‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction…") Awkward in construction? Man, have you tried singing from the Psalter?
Actually, I know no-one – no-one, not even Peter Masters – who is stronger on separation from worldliness than John Piper. In his teaching. In his life-style. It’s a shame to see Masters turning his guns on these men. But he’s only firing blanks –let’s hope too many people are not terrified by the loudness.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Sunday, June 07, 2009
A year ago, we spent a weekend in London and wondered where to worship. I couldn’t help reflecting on the situation 40 years earlier when people from all over the world came to London for a special Sunday – Lloyd-Jones in the morning, Stott in the evening (or vice versa). Where should we go?
There are many sound Biblical ministries in greater London. But where does the pastor on holiday go if he wants to hear a ministry that is shaping a generation? Where does the pastor of a small or medium church go if he wants – for a change – to be part of a large and enthusiastic congregation?
Greg Haslam now occupies the Lloyd-Jones pulpit at Westminster Chapel. By all accounts he’s a good preacher; but Westminster Chapel is now a small Pentecostal church (the description is from Geoff Thomas). We were staying very close to the Chapel; I might have been prepared to go but Elaine is very put off by charismatics. (Funny that; I’m the cessationist in the family!)
There’s the Met Tab, of course – Peter Masters coming to the end of a long and fruitful ministry there. But there seems to be more than a little of the Elijah spirit about him (‘I, I only, am left’) and we decided against that. So – where to go?
We settled for All Souls in the end, morning and evening. The incumbent – Hugh Palmer – was present but wasn’t preaching either time (Anglicans, eh?). In fact, it was a different preacher each time, both names I knew but men I hadn’t heard. Both times, we heard competent expositions – decent ‘Bible talks’. Not sure they were sermons, though – they never got to (what someone called) the ‘so-what hump’. If you went (as we did) already convinced that the Bible was God’s word and the sermon was important, they were easy to listen to – helpful, even. But not memorable; and for anyone who’d wandered in from the street, or been taken by a friend, there was no sense (as far as either of us could pick up) of ‘this is the most important thing you’ll ever hear in your life’; there was no sense of life or death about the message, no smell of eternity. We wouldn’t have gone back in the evening if the same preacher had been announced; and we wouldn’t have gone back, either, after hearing the second preacher.
What’s happened? There we are in one of the most influential cities in the whole world, a city that has seen some of the mightiest ministries in history – and we don’t know where to go. Where have all the preachers gone?
(Photo of London Skyline courtesty of Freefoto.com: http://www.freefoto.com/index.jsp)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
I’m going to talk about Driscoll now, OK? And some of it is criticism. So let’s remind ourselves: there’s every reason to believe he’s a brother in Christ, that his ministry in Seattle is remarkably blessed by God and that he is, in the end, answerable to his own Master who is able to make sure he stands (Rom. 14:4.) OK?
That said: I’ve always had a sneaking respect for Mark Driscoll. I recognise that he’s reaching people others are not reaching – tattooed punks do need Christ, after all. It’s plain from his heroes and his teaching that he shares a lot – I mean a lot – of my doctrine (though he needs to get sorted out on cessationism and stop attacking a straw man). And I do believe that the Bible has a lot of straight talking about intimate marital matters which ought to be preached on. All of that has made me sit a bit light to the criticisms of his ‘cussing’; in fact, his smugness has bothered me more. (‘Hey, you like that joke? Good one, eh? I’ll use that one in the next service too.’ Yuk.) And I’ve been impressed by the respect Piper and others have shown him.
But I confess, I’m running out of patience. It began when I was watching a video of a conference session and Mark gave John Piper a jacket. Nice thought, eh? But ruined when Mark embarrassed John in public with a salacious remark about John and his wife Noel. Unnecessary, boy; unhelpful. Unedifying. And he can’t keep saying ‘I’m young – make allowances.’ M’Cheyne was long dead at his age! Anyway, he either is mature enough to be leader of a vast church and the organisations around it, or he’s not. Which is it?
Dan Phillips (here and here) commented helpfully on Driscoll and linked to a Macarthur article. Macarthur is no great fan of Driscoll, it’s safe to say. He’s concerned by – well, things that would have concerned every Christian a decade ago and most non-Christians not so long before that.
Macarthur refers to a sermon preached in Edinburgh, and repeated in Glasgow – yes, that’s right: Scotland. Driscoll began by offering his congregation a choice of three sermons, like this.
I’ll tell you what I’m going to go ahead and do. I’m going to give you three options. I’ve prepared three sermons. You get to choose what I talk about. Okay. The three options are these: The first is we can go through God’s heart for your city and God’s future plan in the upcoming season for your church from Jeremiah 29, which is what the first service chose. Secondly, I can talk about Jesus as God, give you ten reasons why as Christians we believe and know that Jesus Christ is the only God. Or third, I can talk about sexuality and cover the most exciting parts of the book of the Song of Solomon. Okay. So those are your three options. Your dear pastor is a great man, and I love him and appreciate him, and depending upon what you choose, don’t blame him. So everyone gets to vote, and then I’ll teach on whatever it is you want. So those of you who would like Jeremiah 29 and God’s plan for your city, raise your hand. Okay, both of you are really excited about that. [Laughter from audience] Ten reasons on Jesus Christ being God? Okay, many of you. Alright, sex in the Song of Solomon? [Cheers and laughter from the audience] Alright. Alright. Okay. I brought along some PowerPoint slides to illustrate. I’m just kidding. Alright, well I should probably pray then before we get to work in what is my favorite part of the Bible. If you are single, I apologize in advance. This will be a very unpleasant sermon for you, because the Bible says to not merely listen to the Word but do what it says. And you can’t.
Now, you've read it. Tell me – is he really offering them a choice? Or is he planning to preach on sex, but wanting to blame somebody else for it? It reads to me as if he’s beginning to revel in his bad boy reputation, as if he’s saying: ‘Hey, I’m the guy who dares talk dirty in the pulpit.’
You may not agree with that assessment. OK. But he does then talk dirty, and Macarthur (elsewhere) links to the transcript. (Dirt alert – it may not be good for you to read this!).
Some things need to be said. Very little of that sermon needed to be said. (Very little of that sermon is a sermon…)
Driscoll says he listens to Piper because Piper is encouraging rather than condemnatory. Good; I’m glad. John Piper is a great guy. And now, it’s time for him to say ‘Mark – enough is enough. It’s time to stop. And until you give evidence that you have stopped – well, I can’t help you any more.’
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
John MacArthur's ministry in California has been a blessing to tens of thousands of people across the world, over more than forty years now.
Recordings of his ministry are available through Grace to You, which operates worldwide, and in the UK here. In addition, they give away a phenomenal amount of stuff - almost as if they really believe that getting the gospel out matters much more than profit!
The latest free gift they sent me is a book, 'Truth Endures' - a book presented to MacArthur in February of this year to mark forty years of ministry at Grace Church. It is a collection of his sermons from 40 years, gathered together in one book made to look already old (even down to unevenly cut pages). And among the most fascinating parts of the book is a brief (62 pages) biographical sketch by none other than Iain Murray.
It is, of course, an admiring study - and rightly so. But it isn't hagiographical, and in particular Murray chooses to criticise - critique? comment on? - the music at Grace Church. After showing how MacArthur has stood firm against the charismatic movement, in the Lordship debate and in 'Evangelicals and Catholics Together', he says 'I want to add a measure of regret that MacArthur does not seem to have given fuller attention to an issue connected with all these controversies... The place of music has been central in this change... Has the entire absence of 'anointed musicians' and music directors in the New Testament no relevance?' And he quotes Owen: 'Dislike of the purity and simplicity of the gospel worship is that which was the rise of, and gave increase or progress unto the whole Roman apostasy... Men do not like the plain, unspotted institutions of Christ.' Further, in a footnote, Murray argues that an argument from the richness of worship in the Old Testament 'misses the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit.'
Hmm. Two things. By 'the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit' Murray means, I'm sure, the ushering in of the new dispensation. The old covenant tended, so the argument goes, to focus on the outward: a temple, an ark, priestly garments and the like. And elaborate music goes well with those things. As temple and ark and priestly garments are dispensed with now that the reality has come (see the letter to the Hebrews), so elaborate music is dispensed with, too.
But it's not an argument that holds water, as far as I can see. I understand how Christ fulfilled the priesthood; how he is the perfect sacrifice once for all. I understand that his people are the new temple, and no physical temple is needed. But I cannot for the life of me see how any of Christ's offices - prophet, priest and king - fulfil (and therefore dispense with) Old Testament music.
And the second thing. While I understand it is true that the Reformers (at least on Calvin's side) reacted against the musical pomp of Rome, isn't it possible that they over-reacted? To talk about 'reformed principles of worship' is fine. But if such reformed stalwarts as MacArthur and Piper and Begg and Dever and Keller and Carson are ALL against you - it's likely that the 'reformed principles' are not quite as clear as you think they are - isn't it?For myself, I was taught early in my Christian life that a concentration on music would drive out truth. It was a visit to the Shepherds' Conference in 1994 that changed that. The standard and variety of their music was amazing; but MacArthur still preached for nearly an hour. No way - no way - could you say 'No place for truth' about Grace Church. And Iain Murray, of course, gladly acknowledges it.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Fortunately, she's asked advice from resident super-theologian Emily Bishop - a long-time Christian of the 'let's be nice to everybody because we're all right, aren't we?' type. 'But you're trying so hard to persuade yourself to try and believe,' she said (or something approximating to it). 'I think that's very, very brave.'
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Coronation Street conversion: it will end in tears
Before I begin I have to cover myself: I don't watch soaps, OK? Never have, never will. Except those that I do... But I have watched, from time to time (= followed slavishly), the great Coronation Street. Before you leap to criticise, I'm in good company: John Betjeman, Ian McKellen, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. They're good enough for me.
Now: this week, Sophie Webster announced her conversion: 'I've become a Christian.' A little background might help.
Sophie is the teenage (14) daughter of Sally and Kevin Webster. Sally and Kevin are typical salt of the earth characters: Kevin is a mechanic with his own business, Sally works in the factory. They have very high moral standards of course, like all soap characters - if you discount their affairs. (Sally at least five (!), Kevin at least three). And Sophie has an older sister, Rosie. Rosie's morals are on almost permanent show. Most recently, she's had an affair with teacher John Stape (Mum was after him too), who ended up kidnapping Rosie... So, Sophie's part-explanation of her conversion - 'I don't want to be like Rosie' - would certainly carry weight with me if I were her Dad.
Sophie has recently begun seeing teenage swimming star Ben. Ben is polite, gets Sophie back home on time, smiles a lot, calls Kevin 'sir'. But - horror of horrors - he... Well, look, younger eyes should be averted here, OK? Because Ben goes to church. Regularly. And one of his early dates with Sophie was the church youth club. Apparently, at some point in the evening, they - er, well - prayed.
Sally and Kevin's reaction to Sophie's announcement was realistic enough. Sally: 'You've always been a Christian.' And 'We may not go to church every week.' (Kevin: 'We never go to church!') Sally: 'But we've always brought you up to live by Christian standards.' (Well, yes. If that includes the morals of the Samaritan woman (John 4) before she met Jesus.)
Kevin did his fair bit of eye-rolling. But his considered opinion - after some minutes - was 'I think it's great.' Yes, Kevin: it could well be less trouble than her sleeping around like Rosie.
But you know what? I fear it won't be: it will end in tears. TV programs just don't know how to handle Christians - still less, Christian conversions.
Coronation Street is to be commended for tackling this subject. After all, in the real world, conversions happen all the time. Throughout Britain, every week, people with the most unlikely backgrounds are turning to Christ. In the soaps, it's rarely acknowledged. Every soap has its token gay (Coronation Street currently has two, who're not partners or even the same generation). They all have an ethnic minority or seven. They have good guys and bad guys. They have faithful marriages and unfaithful ones. (No, wait a minute: they don't have faithful ones - at least not for long.) But if they have 'Christians' at all, they're hypocrites - and conversions are rarer than cautious bankers. (Radio 4's 'The Archers' had one a couple of decades ago, when Billy Graham was over here. But it didn't last.)
But my bet is: it will end in tears. Ben's church will be a cult and full of dangerous madmen. Or Ben himself will be worse than John Stapes - Son of the Ripper, perhaps. Or Sophie herself will get pregnant and the church react with cold, bitter judgement. Because drama thrives on conflict. And someone turning to Christ, growing in grace and - faults and all - growing in holiness just doesn't give scope for conflict. But listen: it does happen all the time. It really, really does.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Riddle me this: what do rapists and the Social Services have in common? Consider this scenario:
'You can't stop what's going to happen. If you resist, you'll make things far worse, and you'll get even more hurt. And if I find out afterwards that you've been talking - if I discover that other people know what's happened - I'll be back. And it will get much, much worse.'
It could be a scene from a movie, or from (no doubt) countless incidents in real life, where the rapist threatens his victim to protect himself. Or: it could be Edinburgh Social Services threatening grandparents.
I reported here how social workers in Edinburgh took two small children away from their grandparents to place them with two gay men. ('You can't stop what's going to happen.') Then, they threatened the grandparents that, unless they dropped their opposition to gay adoption, they would lose all access to their grandchildren. ('If you resist, you'll make things far worse.') Now, it's reported that a social worker has since telephoned and said that 'the furore surrounding the case meant the grandparents would not be recommended for twice-yearly visits once the children were adopted' ('If I find out afterwards that you've been talking - if I discover that other people know what's happened - I'll be back. And it will get much, much worse.')
Frederick Forsyth suggested a remedy for such things in yesterday's (13th February) Daily Express. I can't find the column online, but he suggests quite simply that when such outrageous behaviour occurs, the 'jobsworth' responsible for the outrage should be named. Anonymity, he argues, makes such behaviour possible. (He may be right -we'll see. For in the - quite separate - case of little Jasmine Cain, we do know who's responsible - the head teacher, Gary Read.)
In the meantime, there's some good news for the grandparents; the article referenced above tells us that a millionaire benefactor will pay for them to fight their case. God bless you, my friend, and multiply your riches.
For now, let me apologise for comparing the behaviour of Edinburgh Social Services to vicious rapists. I do most sincerely apologise - to the rapists.
My reader may be interested in the interview with me here. Don't worry about The Exile's inability to understand what I'm saying; I'm sure it's nothing to do with the fact that he's Welsh. Gary Brady couldn't understand it, either. He's Welsh, too, by the way.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Election and Tears
I heard CJ Mahaney cry. I can't quite remember how it happened that I was listening to one of his tapes. I mean -he's a charismatic with an apostolic ministry! I'm a cessationist with an extensive international ministry (= 'has preached long sermons in England and South Africa'). Perhaps it was the obvious respect that Mark Dever has for CJ, or that of John Piper.
Anyway, however it happened we (beloved bride and I) were driving back from the-nearest-thing-to-heaven and listening to one of CJ's sermons on Ephesians. (Perhaps this one.) Once or twice, he paused. Then, it became obvious he was sobbing. And he explained: 'I'm sorry, but this is my story. God chose me... '
My wife and I smiled in a superior way at one another. And I said 'Typical American' (sorry, guys!) 'Typical charismatic.' (Again, sorry...)
Then I began to think (I could feel the strain). I can preach on Sovereign Election without being moved. He can't. Who's wrong?
CJ is now one of my favourite preachers. And, for what it's worth, I've yet to hear him say anything 'charismatic'. His big thing is Grace. Sovereign Grace.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Ever since I 'accidentally' created a blog with a less-than-modest title, I've wondered how to change it. Today, Guy Davies told me. So here it is - and it may well change again. 'Blend of gray', Mr. Brady?
Favourite definition of a Yorkshireman: a Scot, with every ounce of generosity squeezed out of him.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I went to the Affinity Study Conference last week - the first such conference I've ever attended. It was on 'The End of the Law' - any serious Bible student knows that the Christian’s relationship to God’s law is not an easy relationship to tie down, and that the Scriptures contain many statements on this that are hard to hold together: ‘Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven,’ (Matthew 5:19) and ‘But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law,’ (Gal. 5:18) to name but two.
The format of the conference was as follows: six papers were distributed in advance so that all conferees could be well primed. Then, at the conference itself, the authors of the various papers had twenty minutes or so (usually ‘or so’!) to introduce their papers. Questions could be asked for clarification, and then the conference broke into small groups for discussion. After half an hour, the whole conference came together for plenary discussion. Papers included Bob Letham on the history of covenant theology, philosopher Paul Helm on the use of the Mosaic law in society today, Iain D Campbell on the three-fold division of the law, and Douglas Moo on ‘The Covenants and the Mosaic Law: the view from Galatians.’ Some other bloggers were present: this one and this one and this one are the ones I know about.
It was particularly the presence of Moo that attracted me – that and the fact that FIEC were prepared to pay. Moo is a vocal (and gracious, humble) representative of ‘New Covenant Theology’, but so far I’ve failed to understand what he (and they) are saying: I hoped this conference might help. In some ways, it did.
There were many good points about the conference: the papers themselves, though complex, were helpful and provocative. The debates were conducted with grace (although one Presbyterian brother who seemed to want civil sanctions on any who wouldn’t follow Jesus left a couple of us Baptists remembering that Presbyterians used to advocate drowning as a suitable punishment for us!). And who would have imagined that a philosopher could be funny?
Less helpful points included the standard of the plenary debates. Some people seem to love theology for its own sake, and at times they left me wondering if it would be more profitable to ask how many angels could dance on the point of a pin. It will surprise my gentle readers, no doubt, that I was not only unable to keep completely quiet but also unable to raise the standard of debate much by my own contributions. (‘Surely not!’ I hear you cry; but alas! It’s true.) It would, I think, have been more helpful if the speakers themselves had debated among themselves, and allowed us to listen in. For example, Campbell’s paper presented the best argument for the three-fold division of the law that I have seen, but Moo’s paper seemed to rely almost completely on the repeated assertion that the three-fold division is not valid. Yet at no point (unless in the last session, which I had to miss) did he deal with Campbell’s arguments.
And when pushed, the two main New Covenant advocates (Moo, and Chris Bennett) said things such as ‘of course the Mosaic law is not irrelevant for the Christian, but it has to be seen from this side of Calvary, through the lens of Christ.’ Well, yes – but whoever doubted it? I was left asking ‘Is that all that the fuss is about?’
And the Sabbath, of course. In practical terms it’s about the Sabbath, said Moo; New Covenant theology leaves us with nine (or nine and a half) commandments. In fact New Covenant theology seemed to be little more than an attempt to justify theologically what used to be called ‘the Continental Sunday’ and should now, perhaps, be called ‘the American Sunday.’ And as justification, it seemed (at least to this mild-mannered moderate Sabbatarian) to be rather thin, rather sloppy.
One brother present complained to me that the whole conference was too cerebral. That can hardly be a valid criticism of something billed as a ‘theological study conference’. But to attempt to close on a constructive point, I come back to what I said earlier: some people seem to love theology for its own sake. They love to debate the relative merits of Bavinck and Hoeksema. Frankly, I could hardly care less: the point of theology is to glorify God by building up saints and reaching sinners – isn’t it? So, some more practical emphasis – even in a study conference – could be helpful.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
I may just have mentioned it before. And I may just mention it again: I became a grandfather recently. No need to congratulate me; it was easy.
Social workers in Edinburgh have taken two small children away from loving grandparents – Mum is a heroin addict – and placed them with a gay couple for adoption.
Gran and Grandad have spent all their savings challenging the decision to put them into care in the first place. Now that the kids are with a gay couple, Gran and Grandad have been told that, if they continue to fight, they will lose all access to their grandchildren.
Even Andrew Pierce – gay columnist at the Daily Telegraph – regards it as outrageous: ‘This case, even by the standards of what we have come to expect from social services, is shameful.’ And he continues, ‘Not because the adopters are two gay men but because they are strangers. The children not only lose their mother but are then torn from a warm embrace they know and trust.’
I almost agree with Pierce. It would still be a shameful decision if these kids were placed with a married, loving, experienced, heterosexual parents. But the truth is: it wouldn’t happen. This kind of decision is only ever taken in order to fulfil the perverted PC standards of Social Service departments which in practice argue, not that gays have equal rights to everyone else but that they have more rights than everyone else. That, and that alone, is the reason why Gran and Grandad aren’t allowed to argue anymore. Plainly, anyone who is remotely unhappy about placing two children with two gay men isn’t a fit human being, never mind a fit grandparent.
And the Mum? She said: “I did not under any circumstances want my children to be placed with gay men. I wanted them to have a mum and a dad. I have nothing against gay people. I’ve got gay friends, but children need a mum and a dad.” Be careful, dear; even if by heroic effort you conquer your heroin addiction, SS Big Brother may well not allow you to be a Mum ever again if you continue to spout such filth…
Friday, January 23, 2009
(Here's another go at posting this post, this time without frills. Will those who let me know they couldn't see it, please let me know if they can see this?)
I was recently asked ‘Do you believe that the gospel is to the Jews first?’ It’s a bit like being asked ‘Do you believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit?’ or ‘Do you believe that a Christian can fall from grace?’ The answer to both those questions is ‘Yes, of course, because the Scriptures speaks of both’ (for example, Matthew 3:11, Galatians 5:4). But a fuller answer to those questions may well be ‘But I probably don’t think those phrases mean what you think they do!’
Do I believe the gospel is ‘first for the Jew’? Yes, the Scripture says so - once:
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
But a fuller answer would be ‘But I may well not think the phrase means what you think it does!’
There are two other uses of the phrase ‘first for the Jew’, and they’re both in the same passage:
Romans 2:9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile;
Romans 2:10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
If we take all three uses of the phrase together – which is not unreasonable since they’re in the same letter – it seems most natural that ‘first’ in this context means little (if anything) more than ‘both’: the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, both for the Jew and for the Gentile; there will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, both for the Jew and for the Gentile; there is glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: both for the Jew and for the Gentile.
Why do I say that? Because context is king. What is Paul doing in the early chapters of Romans? He is establishing that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners, and both Jews and Gentiles are to be saved by Christ. He is far from arguing that the Jews have a priority; he is arguing that they are in the same boat!
‘Well,’ says someone, ‘The Jews are the covenant people of God’ (see for example the excellent Peter Parkinson: ‘The Jews are still the elect of God; he hasn’t withdrawn his covenant.’ (Accessed at http://www.cwi.org.uk/Heralds/Archives/HAGP.htm on January 20th 2009). But who says God has not withdrawn his covenant? Certainly not God: ‘By calling this covenant ‘new’ he has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear,’ (Hebrews 8:13). How can 'obsolete' mean 'still in force'?
I don’t want to be too dogmatic on any of this: I realise that there are godly men on ‘the other side’ here. I am aware that the Scriptures can be read as if the Jews have a priority, a superior right. Peter Parkinson again in the same article says ‘The Jewish people have the greatest right to hear and receive the gospel because Christianity is uniquely theirs.’ But it is wrong, altogether, to talk about a ‘right’ to hear and receive the gospel. No-one has a right to it, not Jew, not Gentile. The gospel is always free grace. If God in his mercy arranges that one community shall hear the gospel, that is God’s free and amazing grace to that community. If a neighbouring community never gets to hear the gospel, God has not violated their rights. Remember, Jesus compared the privileges of Capernaum with the lack of privilege enjoyed by Sodom: ‘And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day,’ (Mt. 11:23). Has Sodom a right to complain? No. Why not? For none of us have a right to the free grace of God.
But: though I am aware that the Scriptures can be read as if the Jews have a priority, I am increasingly persuaded that (like infant baptism, for example) it is something that is being read into the Scripture, not derived from it.
Perhaps the difference looks like this. Those who believe that Jews have a priority speak as if salvation is for Israel, and God also welcomes Gentiles. I believe, on the other hand, that salvation is for the world, and God used Israel to bring it. So God said to Abraham when he was still Abram ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through you,’ (Genesis 12.3). God’s choice of Abram, and then of Israel, was in order to bring blessing to the world. He did not bring blessing to the world in order to exalt Abram, or Israel. In fact, that idea would put Abram/Israel in the place that belongs to Jesus Christ: for God brought salvation to the world in order that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.’
Is Jewish evangelism important today?
Of course it is. They are a people group. They are a uniquely knowledgeable people group, and privileged in that sense. And there are promises still to be fulfilled about the salvation of Israel. (Unfinished; comments welcome)
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Monday, January 05, 2009
Perhaps it's time to tell the truth about that photo. The truth is, I didn't apply for the job at all. But the story is an odd one - at least I think so. I was on my way to preach in York where Mark Troughton is pastor; Mark is son of the second (and greatest) Doctor Who - Patrick Troughton. I'd never met Mark but knew who he was.
Imagine my surprise then when I stopped at a petrol station just near to the church for a little 'personal comfort' and found myself outside the Tardis - picture attached. I know these things were supposed to be on every street corner once upon a time, but I had never actually seen one before. But perhaps Mark still uses his Dad's old 'car' to get to church?
Question (and answer) for British Christians. Two men are known in Britain simply as 'The Doctor'. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one. Who is the other?
And another question. Back in the halcyon days of William Hartnell, the Tardis was malfunctioning, which was how it always looked like a police box, wherever it travelled. Is it still malfunctioning? Or is there now some other excuse?