Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression' (I)

Since this is such an outstanding book, I plan to summarise & review it in a few sections - giving time for a detailed outline summary, as well as a few 'Towner's Thoughts' along the way. Hopefully there'll be more of him than me...

George Verwer called it 'one of the most outstanding books that has ever been written ... the greatest Christian book of all time.' To me, this seems a little hyperbolic, but it is a good book. The Doctor deals with what he perceives as 'the greatest need of the hour ... a revived and joyful Church' (from the original Forward) which is a message as relevant today as in 1965, when these sermons were originally preached.

1. General Consideration
"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance." (
Ps 42:5)

The Psalmist is unhappy, which 'spiritual depression' is the focus of this sermon series - a subject found frequently within Scripture. The issue is important for the sake of those suffering such depression, and also for the glory of God's kingdom: 'In a sense a depressed Christian is a contradiction in terms, and he is a very poor recommendation for the gospel.' (11) Both for our own sakes, and for the Kingdom of God we must aim to live so that n-Xns are drawn to us, whatever circumstances or condition we are in. This is a hard call - many nowadays want things so quickly [and he said that in '65 - what about today?] but a diet of junk-food will not produce well-nourished Xns.

What causes such a condition? Temperament is key, so we must know ourselves well because we are all different - introvert or extrovert, and so on - and thus know how to deal with our peculiar struggles and issues. Physical condition is also important, since it cannot be isolated from the spiritual, and when weak we at greatest risk of attack. The third and greatest cause is Satan, who loves to depress God's people. Thus finally 'the ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief.' (20)

What are the treatments? We have to take ourselves in hand. 'We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing 'ourselves' to talk to us!' (20) So: 'The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to yourself: "why art thou cast down" - what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: "Hope thou in God" - instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.' (21)

2. The True Foundation
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom 3:28)

The issue of spiritual depression is more common in those brought up in a religious manner than those not - and thus more likely to affect those brought up in Xn homes. At this point we need to be clear with them about what being a Xn means (which is not to presume them unconverted, but rather to think that they might be confused).

The area which most often demonstrates confusion in this type of person, leading to the depression we're thinking about, is their misunderstanding of justification - thinking it to be achieved by keeping the law.

First, a true conviction of sin is a great thing, driving many to Christ. Vital here is to compare ourselves to God, not other humans. Further, we must ask 'Do I know God? Is Jesus real to me?' Which is not to ask whether we know things about him, but whether we are enjoying God, whether he is the centre of life and greatest source of joy, as he is meant to be. If we have never realised our sinfulness, we may never have joy in Christ.

Secondly, we need to understand that God's way of salvation is in Christ, and his righteousness. He has been punished for our sins, being propitiation, having them placed upon him - and we have been clothed in his righteousness. If someone says that they know they're not good enough to be a Xn, this is very revealing - they are still thinking in terms of themselves. It sounds modest, but is a lie of the devil, a denial of the faith.

Look entirely to Christ and say:
'My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesu's blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust my sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesu's name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand..
'The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do,
My Saviour's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.'

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tim Chester's blog + John Owen

Tim Chester's blog is here. Worth a read - he's a great writer and speaker: Crowded House in Sheffield, Northern Training, The Busy Christian's Guide to Business (which I reviewed here) and so on...

His book with Steve Timmis, called Gospel Centred Church is an absolute delight, and well worth the (not huge) time it takes to read and (much longer) time it takes to reflect on, pray through, implement and so on. The forthcoming follow-up volume is more likely to be in the category of 'Sequels like The Two Towers' than 'Sequels like Rocky II or Home Alone II'. I'm looking forward to it (sometime in early 2007).

I was particularly struck by his review of a new book (well, three books in one volume) by John Owen, basically re-phrased for the modern reader, but not abridged. Remember Matthew's comments here about Owen's readability! I've benefited massively from Kris Lundgaard's The Enemy Within, which is also taken from these same Owen classics.

(Reason for week's pause in blog = great holiday in N Wales, not the general laziness I'm so regularly saddled with, Mr Pete Matthew!)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Music in Church (2) Training Session

This is one of the subjects I hope to get into on this blog, and I've already stuck up a couple of thoughts. I think it is fundamental to be clear what worship is and why we gather - without those two in place, all the other issues are almost impossible to address.

So that's what I taught the musicians and technicians at TBT and CCM (The Bible Talks and Christ Church Mayfair) the other Sunday afternoon. Though far from the finished article on worship and the gathering - much more the first base (being my first talk to these particular musicians on these issues) I think it a useful talk... It can be found for MP3 download here, under my name, titled 'Worship' and dated Oct 8th.

What it does is about 20 mins on 'What is Worship', some of which will be familiar to those who have read Engaging with God, 20 mins on 'Why do we Gather', with some marked resemblances to a paradigm given in True Worship, and 20 mins on questions. Each is particularly applied to church musicians and technicians, though there is a sense of the wider congregation's responsibility.

I offer it up in case it is useful...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jonathan Edwards

So Jonathan Edwards was an amazing theologian. Not sure you could find many people to disagree with that statement. Not only was he a brain on legs, but he had such love for Jesus as to seek to put every single thing he learned into practice. Brain the size of a small planet, and massive heart beating for God's glory - this is the man to read!

But the thing I want to turn attention to here is: how do you get into him? How do you get to know what he thought, etc... I've been asked this quite a bit at college, so here's my thought.

If you think you don't want to get into Edwards, try reading this & this & this - three top tasters from DF. Then repent, and read on! :-))

At the risk of running contrary to my CS Lewis post, I'd certainly advise secondary literature first - but only those books which are seeped in JE's thought. So I'd start as follows:
  • Moody The God-Centred Life (IVP)
  • Piper & Taylor A God-Entranced Vision of All Things (Crossway)
  • Minkema et al The Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale)
  • Murray A New Biography (Banner of Truth)
  • Marsden Jonathan Edwards (Yale)
The reasons: Moody has a PhD in Edwards from Cambridge, but the book is very readable (150 pages of IVP), giving a great, fair & challenging introduction to what JE would probably say today. Piper & Taylor take you on from that, with some brilliant summaries of JE's major works and overviews of his thought from guys like Piper, Packer, Dever & Helm. This means that the Reader is now worth spending time in. Marsden is excellent, but long - so I might read Murray first, to get my head round the basic overview. From this point on, there's more lists in the back of Piper & Taylor, which will guide you - particularly into modern editions of the sermons.

for me (and concurring with the good Dr Lloyd-Jones himself) it is into Religious Affections, and then the rest of the world of Edwards is there to be enjoyed...

Need it be said that the Yale editions are excellent, and available for £30 each through Solid Ground Books, for those of us who cannot manage the Banner of Truth's very very small print?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Men Preaching to Women

Obviously we men will be doing this - I'm ignoring any arguments as to whether women will preach to women, which is beside the point right now.

So, given that we will, it is incumbent on us to do our best to understand them (now, don't panic at this point!) so we can preach well for them, and apply rightly to them. I recently heard a sermon where the male preacher literally told the women they'd have to work this passage out for themselves, while he preached to the men. Shocker!

So, how do we do that? I've three ideas.

1) Plug and plumb appropriate friendships / relationships, at suitable moments, so as to learn this from Christian and non-Christian women as much as possible. I've often bounced things for sermons off our church women's worker, or other mature Christian women.

2) Read the Bible's teaching on and about women very carefully. We men will (should) know the men's stuff - what about the women's?

3) Read some books by women for women. I'd suggest (in ascending order of page-numbers):
  • Interactive Bible Study Biblical Womanhood (Good Book Co.)
  • Kirsten Birkett The Essence of Feminism (Good Book Co.)
  • Sharon James God's Design for Women (Evangelical Press, USA)
  • Barbara Hughes Disciplines of a Godly Woman (Crossway)
However, at this point I'm guessing there's more to be read. I'm particularly interested in a good / thorough non-Christian anthropology from a female, and maybe a Christian book aimed more at student age-group women.

Hoping my readers might help me out here - either with their own thoughts, or with thoughts from wives / other women... Please add comments, and I'll combine them into a post when we've got a good list.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

C S Lewis on Reading Old Books

Saw both of these in Piper's Contending for our All (Leicester: IVP, 2006).
Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them. We are not at all likely to be hidebound: we are very likely indeed to be the slaves of fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times. We serve One who said, “Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
“Christian Apologetics", ” In Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces (London: Harper Collins, 2000) p. 149.
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books... [Students are directed not to Plato but to books on Plato] - all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said... But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator...
Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light...
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books... We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness... The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.
Now printed as C S Lewis 'On the Reading of Old Books' in C S Lewis Essay Collection and other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins, 2000), pp. 438-440.