Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Charlatan

Peter was a preacher – the ‘was’ is important.  His ministry focused on miracles; thousands of people attended his crusades and church conventions in the seventies and early eighties.  Peter would stand at the front and call out the names of people he’d never met, describe their illnesses in detail, sometimes give their addresses and assure them that God wanted them well.  Somehow, Peter’s ministry prospered – and so did Peter himself.

Some people were suspicious, though – some people always are!  One of them was very suspicious, and in 1983 employed the aid of an investigator with high-tech radio scanning equipment.  They discovered that Peter’s wife, and a team of helpers, were meeting people as they arrived, chatting, getting personal details, asking if they had particular needs  - then writing them on index cards.  Elizabeth, the wife, would then use simple radio transmission to transmit the details to Peter on stage.  Not surprisingly, he was never wrong.

After he was exposed in this way, with exposure made on national TV, too, Peter and his ministry went bankrupt.  ‘Good,’ you say; and I agree.  But by 2005, Peter was back in business.  His website makes no mention of the scandal, but does invite you to send in for your bottle of miracle spring water and debt cancellation kit – stick with Peter, and you can be healthy and rich.  Sadly, once more, Peter is a preacher. 

There are frauds and charlatans in every walk of life.  In the US at least, one of the best ways of making a fortune from flim-flam is the religious way, and Peter is by no means alone.

There are charlatans in every walk of life; crooked accountants though don’t destroy our confidence in  accounting or accountants, crooked lawyers don’t destroy our faith in the law.  Crooked ministers, though, can all too easily inoculate us against the real thing.

My Sunday morning sermon this past week dealt with one of the dangers of the charlatan and how to recognise him;  Jonathan Hunt has linked to another ministry that appears to be - shall we say? - dubious.  It's a perennial problem.

Monday, August 30, 2010

An unusual duet for Monday

'If I could live for ever, and all my dreams come true - my memories of love would be of you.'

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

John Piper - on what you really need if you're to learn to preach

John Piper's one of my favourite preachers - I know, he's one of yours too.  But it nearly wasn't so.  How'd you learn to preach, John?

I don't know. Watching my dad when I was six, eight, ten, twelve. Watching how not to do it in lots of places. Being unable to speak in front of a group from grade five to my sophomore year in college. I think I was learning to preach during that time because I was so hurt, so wounded, so discouraged, and so desperate that I had to go way down into God, and way into Scripture, and way into pain, and God was making a preacher by shutting my mouth.

You don't become an effective preacher by becoming a loquacious and effective communicator at age sixteen. You become a clever communicator, but you don't become a preacher of the holy things of God. So that was a piece.

I don't know. The courses that I took on preaching were marginally helpful. I got the lowest grade in seminary in my preaching class. I think I got a C minus in James Daane's preaching class at Fuller Seminary. We never agreed on anything except the principle that every sermon should have one point, he said that over and over again. So I made a terrible grade there. But there were other teachers that...

I think the way that I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary. Passionately thrilled! When Philippians began to open to me, Galatians open to me, Romans open to me, the Sermon on the Mount open to me in classes on exegesis (not homiletics, but exegesis), everything in me was feeling, "I want to say this to somebody. I want to find a way to say this because this is awesome, this is incredible!"

So for preachers today that go everywhere but the Bible to find something interesting or something scintillating and passionate, I say, "I don't get it. I don't get that at all!" Because I have to work hard to leave the Bible to go somewhere to find an illustration, because everything in the Bible is just blowing me away. And it is that sense of being blown away by what's here—by the God that's here, and the Christ that's here, and the gospel that's here, and the Spirit that's here, and the life that is here—being blown away by this, I just say, "That's got to get out."

And then I suppose how it gets out. What is that? I don't know what that is. That's just the way I'm wired that I would say it a certain a way. It's owing in part to me being a lit major, you know, I studied language a little bit. Goodness, a thousand things go into your life and nobody can copy anybody else. I don't know. God makes us who we are. I don't think there is much you can do to become a preacher except know your Bible and be unbelievably excited about what's there. And love people a lot, that is, you want to make the connection with people and what's in the Bible.

You can watch the 4-minute video of this here

Monday, August 23, 2010

A little different music...

There is some music here, but not a lot! Following on though from last week's two videos, I thought that if you hadn't seen this, you might like it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A 21st Century Puritan Preaching Hall?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where have all the preachers gone (3)?

A while ago, I asked the question. It was prompted (as you will read, dear reader) by our experience in London - where should we worship? And in a follow-up I suggested that several preachers whom we might have expected to be significant in our nation by now had, instead, been called to America.

One good brother pointed out that I hadn't mentioned Grove Chapel, Camberwell where Mark Johnston is the pastor. 'Of course!' I thought. 'What an idiot! Why didn't I think of that? That's where we'll go next time.'

And now news has reached me that Mark has left Grove Chapel. Can you guess where he's gone?

Philadelphia. America. United States thereof.

'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign LORD, 'when I will send a famine through the land-- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD,' (Amos 8.11)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My only hope in life and death

Question 60. How art thou righteous before God?

Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

(from the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, question 60)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Power of the Cross

No comment necessary

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Temporarily out of order

This blog isn't closed for business - but I'm getting over a virus and don't have much brain-power, or time, to add to it; hope to be back next week.

Meanwhile, take a look at my friend Gary Brady's blog where he's reviewing (favourably, unfortunately) yet another book arguing that modern songs are inappropriate for worship. [Yawn] According to Gary, the argument is that the modern idiom is ill equipped to convey serious and soul-searching message Two things spring to mind:

  • First, how do we know that the author is right? (Gary says 'if he is' - but implies that he really is)
  • And second, isn't it obvious that no idiom can convey any message at all to people who aren't there?
It's desperate reasoning. Like that of a friend of mine who told me recently that 'people like him' were increasingly disenfranchised from attending conferences because of the modern-idiom worship - and that 'most' Christians felt the same. 'Thousands go,' I responded. 'Yes,' he said, 'But even more stay away.' True - most Christians don't go to conferences. Obviously, it's the worship that does it - not the cost, or lack of time, or a desire to do something else on holiday. Still, they could go to the excellent Aberystwyth conference that has very little - if any - modern idiom music. Thousands do. But then again, many more don't... including, as it happens, my friend!

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Ultimate Musician

At last, the piece of Monday music you have all been waiting for - the immortal Grieg Piano concerto, played by the unbelievable Eric Morecambe (and Mr. Preview). 'The bit' is at 9 minutes - but give yourself a treat, and watch it all.

Friday, August 06, 2010

John Stott on Calvinism
Part Four of a little diet of sweet truth

(Yes, Stott. John R.W. Stott. What - did you think he's an Arminian just because his books aren't published by Banner of Truth?)

The doctrine of election is a divine revelation, not a human speculation. It was not invented by Augustine of Hippo or Calvin of Geneva. On the contrary, it is without question a biblical doctrine, and no biblical Christian can ignore it. According to the Old Testament, God chose Israel out of all the nations of the world to be his special people. According to the New Testament he is choosing an international community to be his 'saints'... his holy or special people. So we must not reject the notion of election as if it were a weird fantasy of men, but rather humbly accept it (even though we do not fully understand it) as a truth which God himself has revealed. It seems natural that at this point we should seek help from Calvin. He preached through Ephesians, from the pulpit of St Peter's church, Geneva, in forty-eight sermons beginning on 1 May 1558. Here is one of his comments: 'Although we cannot conceive either by argument or reason how God has elected us before the creation of the world, yet we know it by his declaring it to us; and experience itself vouches for it sufficiently, when we are enlightened in the faith.'

Stott goes on to argue i) that the doctrine of election is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse fo sin, and ii) that the doctrine of election is a stimulus to humility, not a ground for boasting. Good stuff - it's in his commentary on Ephesians 1:4

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Calvin on Calvinism
Part Three of a little diet of sweet truth

Here's an extract from Calvin, commenting on Ephesians 1:4 and following.

According as he hath chosen us. The foundation and first cause, both of

our calling and of all the benefits which we receive from God, is here

declared to be his eternal election. If the reason is asked, why God has

called us to enjoy the gospel, why he daily bestows upon us so many

blessings, why he opens to us the gate of heaven, the answer will be

constantly found in this principle, that he hath chosen us before the

foundation of the world. The very time when the election took place

proves it to be free; for what could we have deserved, or what merit did we

possess, before the world was made? How childish is the attempt to meet

this argument by the following sophism! “We were chosen because we

were worthy, and because God foresaw that we would be worthy.” We

were all lost in Adam; and therefore, had not God, through his own

election, rescued us from perishing, there was nothing to be foreseen. The

same argument is used in the Epistle to the Romans, where, speaking of

Jacob and Esau, he says,

For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good

or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand,

not of works, but of him that calleth.(Romans 9:11.)

But though they had not yet acted, might a sophist of the Sorbonne reply,

God foresaw that they would act. This objection has no force when

applied to the depraved natures of men, in whom nothing can be seen but

materials for destruction.

In Christ. This is the second proof that the election is free; for if we are

chosen in Christ, it is not of ourselves. It is not from a perception of

anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced

us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the

name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their

own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in

ourselves we are unworthy.

That we should be holy. This is the immediate, but not the chief design; for

there is no absurdity in supposing that the same thing may gain two

objects. The design of building is, that there should be a house. This is the

immediate design, but the convenience of dwelling in it is the ultimate

design. It was necessary to mention this in passing; for we shall

immediately find that Paul mentions another design, the glory of God. But

there is no contradiction here; for the glory of God is the highest end, to

which our sanctification is subordinate.

This leads us to conclude, that holiness, purity, and every excellence that

is found among men, are the fruit of election; so that once more Paul

expressly puts aside every consideration of merit. If God had foreseen in

us anything worthy of election, it would have been stated in language the

very opposite of what is here employed, and which plainly means that all

our holiness and purity of life flow from the election of God. How comes

it then that some men are religious, and live in the fear of God, while others

give themselves up without reserve to all manner of wickedness? If Paul

may be believed, the only reason is, that the latter retain their natural

disposition, and the former have been chosen to holiness. The cause,

certainly, is not later than the effect. Election, therefore, does not depend

on the righteousness of works, of which Paul here declares that it is the cause.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Jim Packer on Calvinism
Part Two of a little diet of sweet truth

Now, there are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance…

Now the real nature of Calvinistic soteriology becomes plain. It is no artificial oddity, nor a product of over-bold logic. Its central confession, that God saves sinners, that Christ redeemed us by His blood, is the witness both of the Bible and of the believing heart. The Calvinist is the Christian who confesses before men in his theology just what he believes in his heart before God when he prays. He thinks and speaks at all times of the sovereign grace of God in the way that every Christian does when he pleads for the souls of others, or when he obeys the impulse of worship which rises unbidden within him, prompting him to deny himself all praise and to give all the glory of his salvation to his Saviour. Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ, whereas Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate. Calvinistic thinking is the Christian being himself on the intellectual level; Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh. Calvinism is what the Christian church has always held and taught when its mind has not been distracted by controversy and false traditions from attending to what Scripture actually says; that is the significance of the Patristic testimonies to the teaching of the “five points,” which can be quoted in abundance. (Owen appends a few on redemption; a much larger collection may be seen in John Gill’s The Cause of God and Truth.) So that really it is most misleading to call this soteriology “Calvinism” at all, for it is not a peculiarity of John Calvin and the divines of Dort, but a part of the revealed truth of God and the catholic Christian faith. “Calvinism” is one of the “odious names” by which down the centuries prejudice has been raised against it. But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel. In the light of these facts, we can now give a direct answer to the questions with which we began…

You cannot have it both ways: an atonement of universal extent is a depreciated atonement. It has lost its saving power; it leaves us to save ourselves. The doctrine of the general ransom must accordingly be rejected, as Owen rejects it, as a grievous mistake. By contrast, however, the doctrine which Owen sets out, as he himself shows, is both biblical and God-honouring. It exalts Christ, for it teaches Christians to glory in His Cross alone, and to draw their hope and assurance only from the death and intercession of their Saviour. It is, in other words, genuinely Evangelical. It is, indeed, the gospel of God and the catholic faith.

(From Packer’s ‘Introductory Essay’ to John Owen’s ‘The Death of Death in the Death of Christ’)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Spurgeon on Calvinism

Part one of a little diet of sweet truth

(But first: a cautionary tale. Take care, gentle reader, if you are but young in the faith. Once upon a time when I was even younger, I saw a husband and wife converted under my ministry. They went on holiday and heard a preacher who told them - quite fairly - that I was more Calvinistic than he was. (Arminius himself may have been more Calvinistic than he was - but let it lie.) They had never heard the word, and made the mistake of looking it up in a secular encyclopaedia. Thereafter, they wanted nothing at all to do with me.) GB. The rest of this post is Spurgeon.

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer—I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer—I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

Now, you are aware that there are different theories of Redemption. All Christians hold that Christ died to redeem, but all Christians do not teach the same redemption. We differ as to the nature of atonement, and as to the design of redemption. For instance, the Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ's death does not in itself secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man's will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ's atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and speciality in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in Hell as for Peter who mounted to Heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was a true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High.

Now, we believe no such thing. We hold that Christ, when He died, had an object in view, and that object will most assuredly, and beyond a doubt, be accomplished.

We measure the design of Christ's death by the effect of it. If any one asks us, "What did Christ design to do by His death?" we answer that question by asking him another—"What has Christ done, or what will Christ do by His death?" For we declare that the measure of the effect of Christ's love, is the measure of the design of it. We cannot so belie our reason as to think that the intention of Almighty God could be frustrated, or that the design of so great a thing as the atonement, can by any way whatever, be missed of. We hold—we are not afraid to say that we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving "a multitude which no man can number;" and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in blood, before the Father's throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned; we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in Hell when Christ, according to some men's account, died to save them.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Janine Jansen #2

Last week I promised you more of this girl's beautiful playing. This time, it's my all-time favourite piece (except for the others( - the second movement of Bruch's Violin Concerto. Don't miss the beginning!