Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lee Gatiss on some church history heroes and big issues

I happened to stumble across these links on the Monergism website so this is really a note to myself that I might like to listen to some of these sometime:

The following MP3s are some very helpful talks by Lee Gatiss with Ermine Desmond

Luther – Salvation by Grace Alone (vs. Free Will) MP3

Calvin – Union with Christ MP3

Cranmer – The Lord’s Supper MP3

Owen – Infant Baptism MP3

Whitefield vs. Wesley - Calvinism vs. Arminianism MP3

Gresham Machen – Christianity & the Tolerance of Liberalism MP3

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2014 audio available

I am especially looking forward to listening to Vaughan Roberts on The Doctor.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Word and sacrament

Alexander Schmemann writes:

“Western Christians are so accustomed to distinguish the Word from the sacrament that it may be difficult for them to understand that in the Orthodox perspective the liturgy of the Word is as sacramental as the sacrament is “evangelical.” The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word. And unless the false dichotomy between Word and sacrament is overcome, the true meaning of both Word and sacrament, and especially the true meaning of Christian “sacramentalism” cannot be grasped in all their wonderful implications.  The proclamation of the Word is a sacramental act par excellence because it is a transforming act. It transforms the human words of the Gospel into the Word of God and the manifestation of the Kingdom. And it transforms the man who hears the Word into a receptacle of the Word and a temple of the Spirit… For the Gospel is not only a “record” of Christ’s resurrection; the Word of God is the eternal coming to us of the Risen Lord, the very power and joy of the resurrection.” (pp32-33)

Food as sacramental

Just dipping into Alexander Schmenmann, For The Life of the World. Stimulating quotable stuff.

"Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite - the last "natural sacrament" of family and friendship, of life that is more than "eating" and "dinking." To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that "something more" is, but they nonethless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life." (p16)

Friday, July 11, 2014

All language analogical

From my quick skim, there appear to be lots of good and interesting things in The Revd Dr James Robson's article, as one would expect. I liked this bit:

In reality there is always in the use of a word a component of “like” and a component of “unlike.” “Univocal” and “equivocal” are labels describing ends of an axis, rather than inhabited locations. Usage of words is always analogical, since no two understandings, no two situations are identical. There is, within analogical usage, a spectrum from more nearly univocal to more nearly equivocal.

J.E. Robson, 'Forgotten Dimensions of Holiness' Horizons in Biblical Theology 33 (2011) 121-146 pp128-9

Church non-growth

I think John Stevens said at EMA:

For every person who joins the UK church, 4 church members die.

Evangelical churches in the UK are experiencing 0% growth and are only avoiding decline because of the number of immigrants who are evangelical Christians. 

The Holiness of God

You have heard that it is said that the basic idea of the word "holy" in the Bible is seperate or set apart. God is holy because he is seperate from all evil and sin, set apart in his purity.

At EMA this year, Sinclair Ferguson suggested (if I heard him correctly) that this is an inadequate understanding of the holiness of God if we think of holiness as one of his attributes. Considered in himself as eternal, what sense does it make to describe God as set apart from evil? There was no such thing as sin.

Of course a similar argument could be made about other characteristics of God. If we called wisdom only lack of folly similar considerations would apply.

No doubt it is helpful to make such negative statements about God to distinguish him from creatures and indeed from fallen creatures. For example, it makes sense to say that God is timeless even though (if?) time is a created thing.

But what positive account of the holiness of God would we give? We want to think of God's holiness as more than a privation or lack of evil, right?

And how, if at all, would we distinguish it from God's goodness?

One thing we can say is that God has all his attributes in a holy manner: he has the kind of goodness and wisdom suitable to an unchangable, eternal, Trinitarian God. Something of God's holiness then is his uniqueness. He is special.

(I think Dr Ferguson may have gone on to speak of God as the intensity of his glory and talk about places in the Bible where the holiness and glory of God are associated such as Is 6:3).

Muller quotes Leigh who describes God's holiness as "original, absolute and eternal..., the incommunicable eminence of the divine Majesty, exalted above all, and divided from all other eminences whatsoever... (Is. 17:7; Hab. 1:12)." (PRRD vol 3 p498) For Brakel, God's holiness is "the brightness of all his perfections." (p499) Leigh says: "Holiness is the beauty of all God's Attributes, without which his Wisdom would be subtlety, his Justice cruelty [etc.]"  (p499) Ridgley says God's holiness is "not so much one perfection as the harmony of all [God's] perfections, as they are opposed to sin." (p500)

One way of describing holiness is as conformity to God's will. God's nature and will are one. God perfectly conforms to who he is, which is also who he wants to be. (Muller p500)

Muller says, "God's holiness is in a sense the foundation of all his other virtues or "excellencies. God's self-enjoyment and the fact that he has himself as his higest end and good depends on the purity of his nature or holiness (p500).

(In the article cited in the comments, James Robson discusses the connection between God's holiness and love esp. in the OT. Part of his conclusion is worth quoting in this connection:

Holiness as something proper to God has often been located along the axis of separation and moral perfection, expressed in unapproachability, on the one hand, and judgement against sin, on the other. These are important, and should not be lost. But from within divine holiness, rather than from a separate source, comes YHWH’s love, a love expressed in selfdisclosure, in saving activity, in a desire-to-be-in-right-relationship. There is a dimension of divine holiness that declares “Come close, but on my


Anyway, perhaps you'll forgive my thinking out loud. I'd like to think about this a bit more sometime. Do please tell me if this is heretical / where I'll find the best account of the holiness of God.

The Gospel as News

Somewhat sparked by John Stevens on the glorious message of the gospel from Romans 1 at EMA this week, I thought this might give a little hook for a parish magazine item:

5th July 2014 was the 60th anniversary of the first ever TV news bulletin in the UK.

The Christian faith is news – good news. That’s the meaning of the word gospel. In other words, Christianity is a message or an announcement. It’s the kind of thing a herald should proclaim. The good news comes to us not merely as a helpful suggestion or first of all as an invitation to a conversation but as a momentous and authoritative declaration of what God has done in Christ. For those who were the eye-witnesses of what Jesus did and taught there was no doubt that he was the best news in the world ever – news worth attending to and sharing. 

Although in our age of 24-7 media much of what passes for news is speculation or opinion, like real news, the Christian faith has at its core factual events, verifiable history. The Christian faith is not just a theory or a philosophy. It is the report of what God did in the man Jesus Christ in a corner of the middle east just over 2000 years ago. It’s a helpful analogy to think of some of the New Testament writers, such as Luke the evangelist, as somewhat like reporters, wanting to convey to us what’s actually happened and draw out its significance.  

In the ancient world gospel often meant an epoch-changing event. It could be used to describe the good news of the birth of a new king or a decisive victory in a battle. And of course the Christian gospel includes those very things: the birth of Jesus the God-man as God’s long promised rescuer king. It tells of how Jesus has brought in the Kingdom of God by defeating the forces of evil and winning the ultimate victory over sin. The official proclamations of the Roman Empire would have trumpeted all sorts of supposed good news, much of it propaganda. Jesus was a different sort of king with a counter cultural kingdom which was thoroughly good news, especially for those who knew themselves to be poor, weak, vulnerable or oppressed. This was news of freedom and flourishing.

The BBC’s first news bulletins didn’t show a newsreader. In striking contrast to the celebrity culture of today, the producers thought that news was a serious business that should be soberly delivered and that seeing a newscaster would detract from the stories themselves.

The Christian faith, however, is above all about a person. The whole purpose of the Bible’s good news is that we might “see” Jesus. He is centre-stage. The good news is all about him and what he has done for us.  

All Christians are meant to be messengers of this good news and there’s a tension here. For sure believers are not to hog the limelight but rather to point to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, their message is to point to Jesus and proclaim: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John was humble enough to say of Jesus, “he must become greater; I must become less.” The Christian is a servant who ought to be happy to fade into the background so that all eyes might focus on Jesus. Nevertheless, a Christian’s life ought to commend the Christian message. Part of the good news is the life-changing power of Jesus and despite all our faults and failures we hope that something of Christ’s on-going work in our lives might be evident in us.

Perhaps there’s another contrast here between your average TV news report and the Bible’s good news. If we’re honest, much of today’s news will make little difference to us. The Bible’s age-old message is ever relevant. There could be nothing more important to us than the offer of forgiveness of sins, friendship with God and hope in the face of death. Knowing Jesus gives fresh meaning and purpose to everyday life and affects everything. That’s not normally true of the 10 o’clock news.     

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Exodus 3 jottings

Well, according to my limited skills, I've been working hard at my PowerPoint for the family service on Exodus 3.

In textbook style, you might say it has at least 8 take-home points, some of which are probably incomprehensible.

And no gimmicks except for a few PowerPoint slides.

Perhaps it's not too late for you to suggest your improvements. Maybe I needed to decide on simple theme and aim sentences and go after those. Maybe less would be more.

As it stands, the take-home summary might be:

(1) God reveals himself so that we can know him

(2) God is holy and we aren’t
(Moses is rightly afraid of God)

(3) God is with his people in their suffering (as the fire is in the bush)

(4) Because of God’s mercy we are not burnt up

(5) God sees, hears, cares and promises to save

(6) God uses his people and will be with them

(7) God’s name is “I AM WHO I AM”

He is the (unique, eternal, self-existent, self-defining) unchanging, faithful God (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who keeps his covenant promises)

(8) Jesus is this God (John 8vv58-59): he reveals himself, is holy, suffers with us, is merciful, sees, hears, cares, saves, is faithful and unchanging

If you want to know God, look at Jesus
Trust in Jesus the Saviour

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Clothes as sacramental

I am trying to do some thinking about whether the Scriptures and other stuff might be said to be sacramental and came across this quotation on The Facebook:

"The traditional Quaker maid covers herself with the most voluminous and ugliest possible vesture of unrelieved black, while her shallow sister of the world thinks of nothing but 'fashion.' To the Christian woman, clothes can be as sacramental as anything else, they constitute something which can pleasingly express spirituality, that can be a quite joyful sign of the glory of God's intricate creation. 'Let *all* the world in *every* corner sing: My God and King'" -- Martin Thornton.

Possibly from Christian Proficiency

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Exodus 1 - jottings in place of sermon headings

(9 finely crafted and memorable headings which any homoletics class would be proud of, as ever. I would have been interested to talk about whether or not the midwives lied and, if so, were they were right to do so, but I have decided it may not be the most pressing issue for people).

God had been blessing his people and keeping his promises (vv5 & 7)

God’s people sometimes face terrible suffering -
trusting Jesus isn’t a magic insurance policy guaranteeing an easy life.

Suffering isn’t a sign that we’ve necessarily "done something wrong" or somehow "stepped outside God's will".

God's purposes are unstoppable

Pharaoh might think he’s in charge, but God is really in control.
The Hebrew midwives are right (v17) to fear God more than they fear Pharaoh.
These midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are a great encouragement to us that God can wonderfully use ordinary people who put him first.

It’s possible to know God’s blessing even in the midst of suffering (vv20-21)

God will eventually deliver his people from suffering.