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

Rapists and the Social Services

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.
Blogging in the name of the Lord

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

A little more modesty - just a little

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

To Affinity, and beyond!

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.