Thursday, June 29, 2006

Vaughan Roberts 'True Worship' (Authentic Lifestyle)

Having been asked a few weekends ago (on a church weekend away at which I was one of the musicians) what I thought of this book, I was ashamed not to be massively clear - having read it during the Summer of 2002 and forgotten much since then. So I read it again yesterday, and here's some of what I think...

This book contains much that is good, and serves as a great introduction to modern Evangelical (by which I probably mean Conservative Evangelical, which is what Evangelical should mean) thought in the areas of worship and the gathering. In this sense it is paradigmatic of much theology and practice one may observe around Britain and probably further abroad too: Evangelical. Not Liberal, not Charismatic, not Catholic... but then not Reformed either - just Evangelical.

The strengths of VR's book really are multitudinous: clarity, sensitivity, biblical focus, a teaching both of positives and negatives (things he agrees with and commends as well as those he disagrees with and warns against). All this is great. And VR makes many many vital points, so that this is almost certainly my first book to give to anyone who wants to think about worship.

Highlights include:
  • p. 124 (which bears marked resemblance to my post on the Lord's Supper here!)
  • The challenge to come as servant rather than consumer is well put & one I certainly need to keep being reminded of...
  • I love the Bassoon illustration (pp. 75-6). Having an older sister who used to learn the bassoon helps me visualise it: the piece she tried to play was called the Can-Can, and I swiftly nicknamed her rendition the Can't-Can't!
  • The distinction between covenant member and Christian (p. 11).
And there are loads of other great things...

But (and I feel a degree of humility in saying this) he just doesn't go far enough. He makes exactly the same mistake as David Peterson (and I'm feeling humble here too) in Engaging with God (review forthcoming) in negating the gathering as a meeting to worship. Does VR really think
(p. 34) that we only gather to worship in the same sense that we go to bed to breathe? Surely not! This is 'slightly feeble Evangelicalism' as opposed to 'full-blooded Reformed Theology' - and hence my disappointment with the book. Specifically:
  • VR is weak on the importance of the gathering, when we do really gather to worship - as the Lord's people (on the Lord's day) to embody the Lord's new creation, as Raised people (on Resurrection day) to embody Risen-ness. (Sabbatarianism is not vital to the argument here, though it does strengthen it; I'm not yet decided, but am increasingly sympathetic to it.) Given that we are to draw near, that we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and so on, clearly our corporate worship matters precisely because it is just that: corporate worship - with eachother, with angels and archangels, with the saints who have died in Christ...
  • VR is also weak on John 4:23-4 (chapter 1). He makes some good & valid points, but I'm not sure they come from Jn 4! Further, I am sure that there's loads more in this concept than he shows us.
  • It appears, in common with much Evangelicalism, to be so scared of Catholicism and Charismaticism that it runs a mile from anything sacramental or emotional - which is a massive loss.
  • Following that, p. 62 suggests that it is possible to have a church without the sacraments. This is madness! Obviously, any church that exists for too long without baptisms is clearly going to be asking itself some questions - so why would you want to plan one, or set one up! But leaving that aside: the Lord's Supper is commanded by Jesus for his people, and church discipline is exercised at that meal. So the church without the sacraments is either going to be involved in saving the lost & have to develop a baptism rite, or is going to submit to Jesus' command and take the Lord's supper, or is going to realise it may have to "expel the immoral brother" and so develop discipline, necessitating the Supper... Of course (this is very important) there can be regular gatherings of Christians without the sacraments, and my prayer triplet is one of them... But that's not church. Calvin defines church as a body in which the Word is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered - and he came very close to adding church discipline rightly administered to that list (and it is opaque to me why he didn't - I don't understand his logic at that point). We must distinguish between church and a gathering of Christians.
In short, despite many strengths, this book embodies gentle (and eventually weak) Evangelicalism as opposed to firm (and thus strong) Reformed Theology. So I both love much of it, and at the same time regret its major weaknesses. The sooner all Evangelicals become Reformed the better (of course I know that many Evangelicals subscribe to many Reformed doctrines, but, as this book proves, there is still some way to go!). Reformed is the only logical place to be if you believe in the authority of God's Word!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Beynon & Sach 'Dig Deeper' (IVP)

I should first declare my lack of objectivity, in that Sachy is not only a much-loved friend, but has been my housemate over the past three years, in which proximity we continue for the next 12 months too... That said, he'd be hurt if I pulled any punches, so I wont!

I'm not exactly sure what to say, given the endorsements from David Jackman, Vaughn Roberts, John Chapman and Mark Dever, but never let it be said that Towner kept quiet when there were things that could be said!

This is an extremely useful book. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but it isn't meant to be. This really is a book of great usefulness. It is well described by the subtitle: Tools to Unearth the Bible's Treasure. It presents 15 tools for faithful Bible-handling, with an introductory chapter on what the Bible is and a concluding chapter on why how we read it matters.

First, it is an absolute pleasure to read, being clear and concise. It is then encouragement, challenge, inspiration and tool.

It encourages because it is full of the Bible, speaking great truths excitingly. Whilst being a manual of how to use Scripture, the primary joy for me was just being in the Word - seeing new things & being reminded of forgotten things... It is encouraging to hear great things said well, and it is an encouragement to be in the Bible.

It challenges by setting a great standard for Bible-handling. The old 'it feels good and sounds vaguely right' approach doesn't figure as highly in the descriptions of good-practice as it might in my general technique, and the 'I heard a famous Christian once say that x means X' approach, which I almost prefer to the 'feels good and sounds vaguely right' one, is no-where to be found. Rather: clear, wise, practical, real-life, road-tested methods are presented as the basic aspects of the science behind interpreting God's vital, urgent Word.

It inspires because it motivates our right use of good technique when reading the Good Book. There is no sense in which biblical interpretation is presented as merely a science (pp. 16-17), yet the methodical methodologies are so well presented as to be eminently comprehensible and achievable - inspiring me to be more deliberate in my use of them. This is not beyond me, nor any vaguely serious Bible-reader.

It is a tool, because it is a great book to use with others or to teach others from, as Ed Shaw's appendix testifies. I intend to make much use of this book with students, staff-teams, youth-group leaders, and so on... This is the main aim behind it, an aim it is perfectly fit to meet.

OK, so I've been nice about my housemate's book. But what are the negatives? What would I change were I to edit it for a second edition? Well, I'd like it to come with actual cut-out cardboard tools, so I could pick up my screwdriver or mallet or whatever, and I'd also like there to be an acronym so I could remember all 15 tools nice and easily, and I'd certainly want to think very carefully about the cover... But I wouldn't change anything else. In the coming re-prints and further editions, let it be known that this one has my seal of approval! Whenever I found myself wishing for further details at some points, I remembered that they do exist in other books - and that the longer this gets, the fewer will read it... I think the authors get that call pretty much exactly right. It is exactly what it aims to be - making it a very useful book indeed.

So: buy, read, give away, use with others, and await the many many further editions - as this print-run should sell out very quickly indeed!

Supply Teaching

The great thing about the fact that I'm supply teaching at the moment is that I've had loads of time to read... What a joy! I'm being paid good money, doing my job very well (ie not shirking or anything) and still getting loads of reading while the classes watch videos or create posters or do exercises (it being the last week or so of term).

So far I have managed 4 small-ish books: Donnelly's 'Heaven & Hell', Moody's 'God-Centred Life', Roberts' 'True Worship' and Beynon & Sach's 'Dig Deeper'. I've also got through my 1st-year Chris Green notes on Mark's Gospel. While doing this I've had opportunities to testify, witnessing to many non-Christians (and I'm generally rubbish at this) because they know I'm training as a minister... And I'm getting paid very generously.

So God's provided money and the chance to catch up on my reading pile (not that you ever get to the bottom of such a pile, but I've made more progress in the last three days than the previous six weeks) and a chance to witness... All praise to our glorious and generous God!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Josh Moody 'The God-Centred Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today' (IVP)

If you've ever tried reading Edwards you'll know that it is hard work; delightful, inspiring, awesome, mind-expanding, pulse-lifting and so on, but still hard work. So you then wonder not only how to synthesise this giant among theologians, whose breadth of vision is simply flabbergasting, but also how to introduce his thoughts to your brothers and sisters at church. Realistically, few will read 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God', let alone Religious Affections or any of the other, longer works. Here is the solution!

[If you're not sure Edwards deserves even the next minute of your life as you scan this blog, look here (on the happiness of the righteous in eternity) and here (on how Christians possess all things even now) for two of the great highlights of this amazing gift of God to his church. Then read on!]

JM is uniquely qualified to write this book, having a PhD on Edwards from Cambridge, and now serving as a Pastor in New Haven. He offers us what is a very clear, and certainly seems (with my very limited reading of Edwards) a fair summary of the main streams of his thoughts and foci. Sure, there are other books in this area: Marsden's Life is a total delight, but long enough to put off many readers, and Murray is not at all bad, though slightly dated and tending to peddle his favourite themes.

So, JM's book is short enough to read easily, and thus to lend out or give away. But the subject-matter is massive, is exactly what it should be if one writes of Edwards. Great!

JM sees eight areas where Edwards' insights are particularly useful today, dedicating a chapter to each, as follows:
  • Revival is biblical.
  • True experience of God is heart experience.
  • Analysing new Christian movements.
  • Attacking humanism - God at the centre.
  • Consistency to God's Word is vital.
  • Leadership must be biblically intelligent.
  • Human leaders fail.
  • Family life & effective ministry can be reconciled.
Here we are learning both from the man and from his insights. JM has written a book for today - as we are attacked by the same cultural shift Edwards faced. C.S. Lewis reminds us to read two old books for each new one, so as to avoid prevalent modern errors. This book certainly helps in that regard (we are such a self-centred generation) calling us to hold God at the centre, fighting whatever personal and communal battles that might entail. The title is apposite, and challenging.

The weakness of such a book are obvious before one reads a single page: summarising someone whose thoughts were so wide and deep, whose impact so profound, into about 150 pages is essentially impossible. JM leaves you wanting more in many places, and leaves those familiar with other Edwards biogs happy to skim-read a few pages. But I can live with this, since I want any reader of a book like this to be left with things to chase up - and that's why I'm currently reading it with a friend in Christian ministry: I'm hoping he'll want more, and turn to Edwards!

But even if this doesn't inspire its reader to look at Edwards, it is a great vehicle to get his thoughts out there. You can't read everything, and might think Edwarsd missable. You're (probably) wrong - but at least read this anyway! Great for personal study, 1:1, Elderships, PCCs or whatever.

[Next stop Marsden and/or Edwards in his own words: Freedom of the Will, Original Sin, Religious Affections or just get into his sermons online here.]

Sure, it'd be better if we all read the whole of Edwards. But since very few of us will, it'd be brilliant if as many people as possible read this challenging summary of some of what Edwards might have said to today's church, what he certainly would have said to today's Christians.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Our Relationship to the Damned in Eternity

This was my one question after reading Donnelly's 'Heaven and Hell', but I didn't want it to cloud my review since it is relatively minor. Basically, in the context of how we will relate to those we have loved in this life if/when some of them are not with us in Glory, ED says that Christians will hate the damned in eternity because God will (p. 117).

My thought is that God really and truly loves all people now, and so must do so in eternity because he is constant, unchanging, faithful... God really and truly loves all men and women and longs that all are saved (Matt 23:37, 1Tim 2:3-4). Now this real and true love is not acted-upon in the sense that God's decreed will includes there being both sheep and goats, there being both heaven and hell... But will not that same love for the lost (who God knows to be eternally lost) which beats in his heart now not beat there in eternity too? And if in his heart, why not also in ours? Jesus knew that many in Jerusalem were not of the elect, yet wept over the city... Will he not weep over hell? If not, why not?

So there will be a real sense in which we will love the damned in eternity. They won't be our bosom-buddies then, as they may be now on earth; we will have no personal contact with them. But that is not to say we will hate them. Donnelly has it that we will neither miss them nor sorrow over them, but I disagree. Their loss will not marr the eternal perfection of Glory, but just as God regrets their eternal damnation though recognising it as fair, so will we - neither more nor less - being made exactly like God, perfected in the Perfect One.


Edward Donnelly 'Heaven and Hell' (BoTT)

This is a great book, tackling a subject we need to hear & keep hearing: heaven and hell really exist, and we must live for one, saving as many as possible from the other.
  • Lacking motivation in evangelism? Read this book & remember where the lost end up.
  • Lacking joy in the Christian life? Read this book and remember what & where you were saved from.
  • Lacking motivation in discipleship? Read this book, and remember where you really live.
What is so good about this book? After all there are many good books out there on the same subject (David Jackman & Bruce Milne stand out amongst recent publications, and there are some great Puritan treatments too).

This book's strengths are:
  • The pastoral heart with which it is written, flowing through every word, phrase, paragraph and chapter. ED writes to and applies for the Christian and non-Christian.
  • The clarity with which it is constructed. It is just brilliantly comprehensible: simple without being simplistic. It could be read by any keen 6th-Former, and yet its contents would feed any pastor or theologian.
  • Its commitment to Scripture, which is obvious on every page - as ED clearly shows his working and reasoning.
  • Its accuracy. ED basically gets it all right. Obviously I've not yet found a book I don't disagree with bits of, with one notable exception! Yet within that obvious caveat, ED is on the nail with every important doctrine, as far as I can see.
So: faithful, clear, challenging, pastoral... Read it! Preach it! Live it!

Or at least: buy it, put it on your shelf & feel guilty for not reading it - until this then motivates you to getting round to reading it! Then preach it & live it...

Time reading this will not have been wasted - and your neighbour or sister or colleague might just be thanking God in eternity that you did read it!

New Brother & Sister

Today I started supply teaching at Brentwood School, where I taught for four years before coming to College. And I met two members of staff I have known (if somewhat vaguely) since September 1999, and discovered that they have become Christians. How exciting is that!

A new brother and sister - what a great day! All praise to our glorious, mighty, saving God!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hymns: Re-writing a Classic?

No I'm not (yet) posting about the whole 'do we up-date the words' debate (fearing the wrath of Ros, and thus waiting until she is safely in Westminster!).

Instead, I thought this might be considered mildly amusing - as written by one of my father's organists. (I should make it clear that I have never been in this choir - though the end of verse four isn't entirely without foundation!)

Immortal, impossible, God only knows,
How tenors and basses, sopranos, altos
At service on Sunday are rarely the same
As those, who on Wednesday to choir practice came.

Unready, unable to sight-read the notes
Nor counting, nor blending, they tighten their throats,
The descant so piercing is soaring above
The melody only a mother could love.

They have a director, but no-one knows why,
No one in the choir deigns to turn him an eye,
It's clear by his waving he wants them to look,
But each of them stands with his nose in the book.

Despite the offences, the music rings out,
The folks in the pews are enraptured, no doubt,
Their faces are blissful, their thoughts are so deep,
But it is no wonder, for they are asleep.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who Can Stand Before the Lord?

We learn lots of our theology through songs. So 'when Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within' it is great that 'upward I look and see him there who made an end of all my sin', and so on...

So: here's a great new hymn by Daniel Newman celebrating the completed work of Christ - more formally, the great doctrine of particular redemption a.k.a. limited atonement. Born in adversity (see here) it is almost worthy of Toplady - and this is only Daniel's first attempt! More please!

Also, here are some other exciting offerings from Liam Beadle, spread throughout his blog.

My one vague effort last year was to have added a couple of verses to a great song by Geraldine Latty based on Pss 15 & 24. I love her song, but it stops far too early in the whole salvation/eschatological process, and states the individual aspects of redemption without celebrating the communal ones too...

Who can stand before the Lord in his holy place
Who can walk upon the hill of the Lord
Only he whose hands are clean
Only he whose heart is pure
Can stand before the Lord.

I will stand, I will come before the presence of the King:
For His blood, washes me from sin
I enter in.

There is one who stands for me in the holy place
And he walked the lonely hill to the cross
And I know his hands are clean
And I know his heart is pure
He is Jesus Christ the Lamb.

I will stand, I will come before the presence of the King:
For His blood, washes me from sin
I enter in.

Now the whole church stands with him in that holy place
We are purified in Christ our Lamb.
And in him our hands are clean
In him our hearts are pure
In Jesus Christ the Lord

We now stand, we have come before the presence of the King:
For His blood, washes us from sin
We’ve entered in.

For eternity we’ll stand in the holy place
God’s new Zion, glorious hill of the Lord
With our hands forever clean
And our hearts forever pure
Praising Jesus Christ the Lamb.

We will stand, we will come before the presence of the King:
For His blood, washes us from sin
We’ll enter in.

verses 1&2 and chorus (c) Geraldine Latty & Carey Luce
verses 3&4 and modified choruses (c) Andrew Towner (2005)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Balaam's Donkey & Christian Leadership

From Josh Moody's excellent The God-Centred Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today (IVP):

"Given that Balaam's donkey was used to convey God's message, we might go so far as to say that, biblically speaking, it is quite clear that intelligence is not necessary for usefulness in the Lord's service." (p. 113)

[The thought is Moody's, not Edwards' - just to be clear!]

Who or What is your Saviour?

That to which I turn when needing salvation is my saviour.

So, having had a bad day, being conscious of sin, being stressed, being tired, what do I do? Do I exercise? Do I eat? Do I play music? Nothing wrong with these of course - they may well represent gospel wisdom... But do I turn to Jesus?

Seems to me my life is full of mini-saviours - which may just mean that I'm bad at enjoying God's great and generous gifts without reference to him (and probably does mean this, at least partly). Yet it also means that I do not turn as often as I could to the great Saviour.

How great, then, to turn first to him, and then
consciously through, with, in, by & near him to turn to wise things and nice things - to chocolate and mates and Mozart.

Superficially indistinguishable, yet utterly different...

What excellence to enjoy the world in/with/through/near Christ! What poverty without

Monday, June 19, 2006

Creation and Mathematics

This is great - from Vern Poythress in 1974, but I've only recently found it online. Full title is: Creation and Mathematics or What does God have to do with Numbers. There is absolutely no need for any higher-level mathematical knowledge prior to reading and enjoying and being edified by it!

You may particularly enjoy spotting Van Till behind much of it, as well as asking the obvious epistemological and presuppositional questions as you go along. Tom Watts will be writing his MTh Dissertation in this sort of area (God & Mathematics) during 2007-8 (God willing) which I certainly look forward to reading...

It goes without saying (so I'll say it anyway) that the whole Frame-Poythress website is a total delight, and there is more of Frame's stuff on ThirdMill. (Obviously their thoughts have been published in real books for those, like me, who prefer a page to a screen - but these two websites are a great online resource, so go & enjoy!)

Tim Chester 'The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness' (IVP)

Read this book!

I am by nature a fairly critical critic, but in this case there is very little negative to say: Chester knows the human heart, knows the Scriptures, and brings the two together in a very challenging yet constructive way. I've put an overview of its contents below these thoughts.

Why read it?
This is a particularly important book in the current climate of massive busyness - which we all notice in ourselves, in our diaries, at church, and everywhere... It is a topical book getting at an obvious flaw within much modern Christian practice.

It would be a great book to read 1:1 as part of ongoing discipleship, or to read before a men's or women's dinner and then discus after food. I will be reading it with a number of people over the next 6 months, and we are currently wondering how it fits into our church programme as we plan the next year or so.

And although it is not aimed at ministers / pastors specifically, we can certainly learn a lot from it - being challenged ourselves to model this as well as teaching it! Just as we can probably think of many working in the city who live fairly dysfunctional lives for the sake of their careers or bank balances, so also many ministers forget that running our households (and thus ourselves) is a criteria necessary for Elders (1Tim 3:4-5). We excuse our excessive busyness (which may very well be because our lives are out of control, our priorities unconsidered, our idols still worshipped, etc) because it is busyness in gospel work. How silly we are! All work done by Christians on earth is gospel work - and the kingdom grows despite our feeble ministries not because of them (1Sam 5:1-4 shows Yahweh overthrowing the Philistine 'god' all on his own, without the help of the Israelites). We can exhaust ourselves in Christian-looking things still craving popularity or recognition or positions or power - and not understanding & living in the rest of God.

Anyway: enough rant; read this book!

These overview the business of life, with all the negatives that entails for the Christian, and remind us of the right focus for Christians: working and resting for the glory of God.

These talk through 4 key steps to addressing busyness:
  • use your time effectively,
  • sort out your priorities,
  • glorify God all the time,
  • know your heart's desires that drive you to do more than God expects of you.
These examine and expound 6 reasons for busyness and offer Christian defences against them, with meditations from the Psalms at the end of each chapter to help those counter-measures stick.
  • I'm busy because I need to prove myself
    • The liberating rest of God
  • I'm busy because of other people's expectations
    • The liberating fear of God
  • I'm busy because otherwise things get out of control
    • The liberating rule of God
  • I'm busy because I prefer being under pressure
    • The liberating refuge of God
  • I'm busy because I need the money
    • The liberating joy of God
  • I'm busy because I want to make the most of life
    • The liberating hope of God
The conclusion then summarises these, in teaching us to find rest in the midst of busyness - rest in God.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"We will devote ourselves to..." (Acts 6:4)

So the question is, what comes next in this quote?

Have a think...

The answer: "we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (ESV).

Notice the primacy of prayer. Now it seems to me (as a trainee minister currently at Bible college) that many of us have those two the wrong way round in our heads - devoting ourselves to the ministry of the word, and fitting in some prayer when we can. We can end up giving talks we haven't prayed about, or at least haven't prayed much about. We can be so busy in ministry that although reliance on God is within our heart and on our lips, it doesn't really feature in our diaries. It is the easiest and most tempting thing in the world to skip a morning's quiet-time...

So: when we hear Christian leaders, ministers and elders being apologetic about how weak their prayer-lives are, we should offer a gentle and loving rebuke - and in no way excuse them because we know the problem to be prevalent (imagine where that trajectory leads!). We might even need eventually to get as far as asking at what point they would step back from the ministry...

Which leads to the question: at what point should one either step back or encourage/tell others to step back? Presumably a week without prayer is (while very far from perfect) not a straight red card... But there must be a point at which one is not living as "devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the word". Obviously it is not always going to be a black-and-white issue, but have any of us any ideas where that line is (I'd love thoughts / answers, by the way!)

And as a trainee minister, do I know where my line is? What would my prayer-life have to look like before I stepped back? How bad in my final year at College for me to look at teaching jobs rather than elderships next year?

[Is this legalistic? Only in as much as Paul gives descriptions of elders. Wise gospel-motivated rules are not legalism.]


Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup Final on a Sunday

I was planning to post about this, but can now be lazy and point you here instead. Winner!

Universal Infant Salvation?

This came up at church yesterday. Obviously it is a massively emotional issue, and I've no wish to cause offence; but because it is important, and affects some vital doctrines, it seems good to write a few thoughts.

With respect to the salvation of children who die in infancy within covenant households, it seems clear that we may presume them saved (children are included within the Abrahamic covenant, the Bible speaks of saved children e.g. Pss 22:9-10 & 71:5-6, and the logic of 2Sam 12:23 points there, and there are other examples too). Thus the issue below is not for the children of Christian parents, where we can have great confidence that covenant children, whether dying before birth or soon after, are with Jesus awaiting the New Creation.

The issue is that of the death of children not born into covenant families (sparked yesterday at church by the children of Ai in Joshua 8).
So far, I think that I think the following...

If all humans who die in infancy are saved then:

Either 1) the doctrine of original sin is lost,
Or 2) Christ's death is partially applied to all.

1) The Bible is clear that all humanity died in Adam, that we all sinned in him. If children do not have Adam's sin imputed to them, or do not posses fallen natures, and are considered saved on this basis, then obviously the doctrine of Original Sin is lost. Then, does anybody have a fallen nature? If so, but not as a child, then from which point onwards? If we want to consider ditching the doctrine of Original Sin, then if Anglicans we could consult Article IX or if not Anglicans, the Westminster Confession of Faith. We don't want to lose this doctrine, so must affirm that all who are conceived are conceived in sin. This leaves the option below.

2) If all sin in Adam, is Christ's death partially applied to all (including non-covenant children) in payment for original sin? But this would then negate Paul's argument (see 2Cor 5, Rom 6 and Rom 8) that if Christ died for you then you can be sure God will give you everything else. On this argument for universal infant salvation, Christ died for everyone's original sin, and so Paul's assurance is universalism (which it clearly isn't) or meaningless (which it cannot be either).

So I therefore think that we cannot teach universal infant salvation - much as we would like to. Further, to allow God as unfair in condemning infants is basically the same as condemning God as unfair that we are born imperfect in an imperfect world. Shall the pot speak thus to the potter? Is God really unfair? No. Rather, the perfectly loving God has sovereignly and fairly decided from eternity to save some but not all.

In summary: if we want to hold to universal infant salvation we must either deny the doctrine of Original Sin or hold Christ's work as partially applied to all people without exception. Since neither of these is a biblical possibility, we cannot teach that all infants are saved.

[Of course the Arminian (by requiring humans to have the freedom to choose salvation) must deny any possibility of infant salvation unless holding to the possibility of either post-mortem evangelism, or children growing up in limbo so that they can then exercise their free choice.]

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Worship: the Heavenly Pattern

Thanks to Thomas Renz for this great link, looking at the worship paradigm throughout Scripture.

There will be more thoughts on worship appearing here soon (as requested by Marc here, though for other reasons as well!).

Marcus Honeysett 'Finding Joy' (IVP)

Having just read this book, here are just three observations, one positive and two negative, in lieu of a review...

Finding Joy: A Radical Rediscovery of Grace
Part 1 addresses the issue 'If someone has no Christian joy, are they living in grace?'
Part 2 the related issue 'If we have received grace, but show little joy, is this because we fail to prioritize our lives by the biblical concerns that bring joy?' (pp. 76, 135).

Positive: We need to be challenged to live by grace
MH has discerned an important issue: the Bible speaks of great joy in the Christian life, and often we neither experience it, nor observe others doing so. He is writing to push us on this, and rightly so. We too naturally live by works and forget the gospel of grace. This, then, is a vital subject entirely deserving a 150-page IVP-readable treatment.

There are other positives. MH notes our individualism, and the corresponding lack of communal efforts towards growth. This is another right critique of many modern Evangelical churches and Christians... MH rightly sets the bar high in many ways - and we need to hear them.

But with the discernment of such an important issue, and together with many great insights, there are two major problems with the book

Negative: Lutheran on the Law
First, MH incorporates a huge amount of the Lutheran view of Law & Gospel into this work - in a way that is totally unnecessary. You needn't be a convinced Lutheran on the Law to live by grace under the New Covenant - and if MH thinks you do then he has not understood the Reformed position very well! This theme is so strong in the book that I'm not even sure I can recommend it on to people - which is a shame given that a book could have been written challenging us on living by grace without incorporating such a divisive (and surely not 'primary' issue - and I'm deliberately ignoring all the nuancing [not sure if that is a real word or not] I need to put here, purely for the sake of brevity) subject so strongly. Why not have written this book so the whole Evangelical church could enjoy and be challenged by it? It seems illogical both theologically (you needn't be Lutheran on Law to live by grace) and pastorally (why alienate a load of possible readers who need to hear your main message?) to include this theme so strongly.

Negative: poorly nuanced on works/grace nexus
Secondly, MH is so keen to push towards the 'grace' end that he fails to nuance important issues, such as the role of works in the Christian life. He is right to say that we are not saved by them, but does so in such a way as to imply their unimportance. While we are not saved by our works, they are one of the ways that we know we are Christians. I know that teaching can die the death of a thousand qualifications - and particularly teaching such as this, where we are many of us so far from hearing
and doing it. But since MH cannot be unaware of the issues, why not work very hard to be clear and fully accurate without losing the rhetorical force?

These two issues really are a shame, since this is a book addressing an issue that I need to work at and be challenged on. A book without these two flaws would have been much more helpful to me personally, and would have been a book I could have passed on to others with great joy. As it is, they seem pretty big flaws!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Dan Brown Code!

I just wrote this review of four of the 40+ books that are out there responding to The Da Vinci Code. It was written for Christ Church, Mayfair, but I thought I'd stick it here in case it was helpful to anyone else...

Engaging with the Da Vinci Code

This world-famous bestseller offers great opportunities to Christians and non-Christians alike. For Christians the chance to re-examine the foundations of faith in Jesus Christ, and discover the strength of the evidence for the facts. To non-Christians, the opportunity to examine almost all of the major challenges to Christianity, and to see whether it holds up under such scrutiny.

Further, as Christians we are not always brilliant at giving clear and simple answers when our non-Christian friends question us; the four books here reviewed are great examples for us to learn from others who have spent many hours honing their answers for clarity and brevity.

Thus I would encourage both Christians and non-Christians to read around this subject. Christians will learn things to strengthen their faith, and non-Christians will be challenged as to the sheer reasonableness of faith in Jesus Christ.

Four books to help this examination; the most difficult and technical is first – and all come highly recommended.

Darrell Bock Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nelson)

This is a biblical scholar’s critique of the fallacies and errors in DVC, which also helps to show the agenda behind Brown’s re-write of the church’s history. Very strong in clear detailed arguments, but probably not a first read.

Great for a Christian to read as background or further detail on one of the others, or non-Christian who wants more detail.

Greg Clarke Is It Worth Believing? (Matthias Media)

This examines why we come to believe one thing over another, particularly with respect to Christianity. While dealing with many of the errors of DVC in some detail, Clarke focuses more on what forms our beliefs – critiquing DB’s paradigm and then offering and defending some great reasons to believe as a Christian.

Great to read as a Christian for background to what may motivate our friends to accept DB’s view, and to give away to non-Christians who are interested in thinking through what they believe (which probably presupposes some conviction that it needs examining).

Garry Williams The Da Vinci Code (Christian Focus)

This is the best starter-for-ten on DVC, being about 50 small pages and very readable. Garry Williams is a lecturer in Church History at Oak Hill College, so he knows his onions! He presents two simple chapters, one critiquing DB’s errors, breaking down the problems with the DVC, and one presenting the positive counter-case for historical Christianity. His book’s subtitle is From Dan Brown’s Fiction to Mary Magdalene’s Faith – which describes it perfectly.

This book could be given to anyone to start the discussion. It could easily be read on a single tube journey, and would be a great start to some Gospel conversations about the truth of Jesus. For a non-Christian this would be a straight-forward introduction to the issues and why they matter.

Mark Stibbe The Da Vinci Code (Word & Spirit Resources)

This 14-page booklet contains a scratch-card detailing 10 ‘fact or fiction’ claims, with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option, so you can take a test to see how clued up you are. Mark Stibbe then offers two paragraphs on each claim, giving the briefest of introductions to the issues. Anyone can read this, and it might be a great conversation starter. It would naturally lead on to Williams or Clarke, for a little more detail and a stronger presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.


The Da Vinci Code is an opportunity for Christian and non-Christian alike to examine the historical bases of faith in Jesus Christ: God made man, living on earth 2,000 years ago and knowable today, who alone is truth, in whom alone is eternal life.

Further Reading

For more on the bases of the Christian faith, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan) is a great start.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Some More Highlights from Pilgrim's Progress

On turning to legalism:
"So Christian turned out of his way to go to Mr Legality's house for help: but behold, when he was got now hard by the Hill [Sinai] it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the wayside, did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the Hill should fall on his head... Also his burden, now, seemed heavier to him, than while he was in his way... And he now began to be sorry that he had taken Mr Worldly-Wiseman's counsel."

On the model Pastor:
"Christian saw a picture of a very grave person hang up against the wall, and this was the fashion of it: it had eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of books in its hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, and the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head."

On talking with those who talk a good game, but do not know Jesus as Lord and Saviour:

"Go to him and enter into some serious discourse about the power of religion; and ask him plainly (when he has approved of it, for that he will) whether this thing be set up in his heart, house or conversation."
How Talkative at first lifts up his plumes!
How bravely doth he speak! how he presumes
To drive down all before him! but so soon
As Faithful talks of heart-work, like the moon
That's past the full, into the wane he goes;
And so will all, but he that heart-work knows.

Held captive by Giant Despair in Doubting Castle:

'What a fool,' quoth he [Christian] 'I am, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a key in my bosom, called promise, that will (I am persuaded) open any lock in Doubting Castle.

On the Valley of Humiliation:

"There is nothing here to hurt us, unless we procure it to ourselves. 'Tis true, Christian did here meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore combat; but that fray was the fruit of those slips he got in going down the Hill [into the Valley of Humiliation]."

On Mr Fearful's crossing of the River:

"the water of that River was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life; so he went over at last not much more above wet-shod."

Listening in at the Door to Hell:

So she hearkened, and heard one saying 'Cursed be my father for holding my feet back from the way of peace and life'; and another said 'O that I had been torn in pieces before I had, to save my life, lost my soul'; and another said, 'If I were to live again, how would I deny myself rather than come to this place.' Then there was as if the very earth had groaned, and quaked under the feet of this young woman for fear; so she looked white, and came trembling away, saying, 'Blessed be he and she who that is delivered from this place.'

Mr Standfast's End:

'This river has been a terror to many, yea the thoughts of it have often frightened me. But now methinks I stand easy, my foot is fixed upon that upon which the feet of the priests that bare the Ark of the Covenant stood while Israel went over this Jordan. The waters are indeed to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet the thought of what I am going to, and of the conduct that awaits me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart.'

If you have not yet read J I Packer on The Pilgrim's Progress in Kapic & Gleason 'The Devoted Life', I very strongly recommend it. Themes of the good word, news, way, guide & end are insightful, heart-warming and challenging.

The Lord's Supper: Evangelical Blind-Spot?

It seems that, by habit, when we take the Lord's Supper we receive it silently, not looking at anyone else or engaging with anyone else. We then go back to our seats (or stay in them) and pray quietly on our own, neither looking at or engaging with anyone else. To me this seems strange. Why?

First, the Lord's Supper is a communal activity; unlike Bible study or intercession or meditation on and memorisation of Scripture or many many other integral parts of our Christian lives, it cannot be done on our own. So why do we basically do it on our own in a crowd, rather than expressly and excitedly in community?

Secondly, though it is right to be in awe of God's majesty and holiness, and to sit before him in abject acknowledgement of our sin, that time has passed in a service by the time we get to the Lord's Supper (or it should have!) so why do we still maintain those postures and thoughts and styles suited to confession after we have been forgiven and assured that we may approach the throne of grace with confidence.

Thirdly, it is a feast, and an eschatological feat at that; we are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes; we are celebrating; we are looking forward; we are being fed. Why do we celebrate by sitting quietly with our heads in our hands?

Put all this another way:

A man is stuck out in a horrible, wet, sticky, muddy, smelly jungle. Someone with a huge house in a much more beautiful part of the world sends a messenger to him, to bring him to live in that lovely huge house. The benefactor provides new clothes, washing facilities, boat and taxi to the airport, flights, taxi at the other end and more washing facilities on arrival. He then promises that he can live there for ever, that he will be fed whenever he needs food, clothed whenever he needs clothes, washed whenever he needs washing, and so on...

He then invites the man to his first dinner - the first of many many to come - and the man is pretty silent; seems happy, but is hardly effusive. The benefactor thinks it must just be that he doesn't trust the promise of future provisions , or is just shell-shocked. But this continues for years and years; every amazing feast is received with silence. He looks happy, but hardly shows it; he never expresses excitement, nor looks forward to the next one...

The benefactor has brought the man at great personal cost to live with him, has provided all he needed and will ever need, and the man isn't even excited about it. Isn't that a little strange?

So, OK there's some flaws in the parallels, and I could probably have put that better, but you get the idea. Why are we so silent and minimalist at the Lord's Supper.

What could change? We could be testifying to each other as we sit waiting to receive or having received; we could sing exciting songs like 'When I was Lost' or 'Thine be the Glory' or something; we could do almost anything to represent the fact that we are happy, pleased, delighted, and longing for that great final feast...

But sitting silently with our heads in our hands trying to avoid any contact with anyone else... Surely not!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Best Bit of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress?

Those familiar with this work will remember, and enjoy remembering, the following. Mr Valiant-for-Truth has just been called to cross the river and be with his Lord:

Then he said this, 'I am going to my fathers, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword, I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill, to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.' When the day that he must go hence was come many accompanied him to the River side, into which, when he went, he said, 'Death, where is thy sting?' And as he went down deeper, he said 'Grave, where is thy victory?' So he passed over, and the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

If anyone can think of a better start to a blog, please do let me know!