Thursday, March 30, 2006

You Must Be Born Again, O Israel!

It’s my birthday on Thursday (6th April) and, God willing, I’m going to be giving an evangelistic talk to a holiday club for seniors on John 3v7: “You must be born again”.

If this is right, and there seems to be something in it, John is primarily talking about the resurrection of Israel.

So can I still give my talk from that text calling for individual sinners urgently to believe in Jesus that they might be personally regenerated and enter Christ’s heavenly kingdom, or does it need a speedy rethink? Would it be better to say: believe in Jesus and you will be grafted into the re-born people of God, the True Israel?

The former certainly seems the more accessible message, once you've decoded the jargon. The latter seems to call for a grasp of the whole plot-line of Biblical theology. No, on seceond thoughts perhaps both are equally alien to your average unbeliever.

What do you think, talk team?


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

They Work For You

There seems to be so much to protest about in the current government, these tools might help:

They Work For You - - lets you find out about your MP and search
everything said in the Commons since 2001 by key word, or for an MP or constituency. “Jesus” got 87 mentions, “Mohammed” 199.

Public Whip - - lets you search how MPs voted by name, postcode, constituency or subject.

Write to them - - allows you to email for fax your political representatives.

These clever things were set up by the (largely volunteer?) boffins at
mySociety - - who "build websites which give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives”.

You can keep tabs on what the Bishops in the Lords are up to with these. We could use similar things for General Synod and the House of Bishops, if there’s a techy with lots of spare time....

John 2 talk – evangelistic interpretative maximalism?

I’m due to give an evangelistic talk on Jesus’ turning of water into wine (John 2) on Monday and am puzzling away over the significance of this first of Jesus’ signs and how much of it I should try to explain in 15 minutes over supper.

I fear that “interpretative maximalism” might seem like “making it up” to my hearers. The exegetical rabbits might seem to pop out of the hat. Looking at the text might be like squinting at one of those magic eye books: is the supposed picture really there? How much Bible-study-proof of every point is needed and how much of it can your average non-Christian bear without nodding off into the crème brulee?

Any thoughts (and illustrations!) most gratefully received.

My one sentence summary so far is already a bit of a mouthful. It might be something like:

Trust in the transforming power of Jesus’ perfect cleansing death and you can be confident of the great joy of God’s heavenly kingdom.

Here’s some of the way I got there:

This sign (v11) reveals Jesus’ glory (v11). Jesus’ glory in John’s gospel is above all his death (17:1). Jesus’ coming hour (v4) is his cross (7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1).

With the institution of the Lord’s Supper, wine will become a sign of the blood of Christ shed for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).

The wine replaces the water of Jewish ceremonial purification (v6). The number 6 suggests the imperfection and incompleteness of ritual cleansing (in contrast to the perfect number 7).

The wedding feast is a biblical description of the great eschatological wedding feast of the lamb (Matthew 26:29; Revelation 19:7, 9).

Wine is suggestive of joy and gladness. It is a luxury for rejoicing. Jesus is no kill-joy.

Assuming all the water is turned into wine, Jesus produces an extravagant, abundant supply: about 150 gallons, 570 litres or 750 bottles (c.f. John 10:10).

Jesus makes better wine out of water than men can make out of grapes (v10). Jesus’ creative power is suggestive of the fact that he is God Himself.

The correct response to the sign is to believe in Jesus (v11; 20:31).

But how to try to say everything? I could speed-talk. Mmmm.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What's Up My Street?

The Up My Street website is a convenient source of local info and the odd interesting insight.

I've just been looking up the ACORN profiles of the place I live and the place I'm off too on mission. Hypothetically speaking, the site might also be a useful short-cut for the college Community Survey Project too - not that you'd want such a thing!


ACORN stands for ‘A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods.’ There are approximately 2 million postcodes in the U.K. (the average postcode being shared by around 14/15 addresses). The marketing-data firm CACI has produced this classification to include every street in England, Scotland and Wales, fitting them into 17 distinct groups, which, in turn, contain 56 ‘typical’ ACORN neighbourhood categories.The basic idea is that streets of broadly similar people are grouped together. Your postcode is assigned to the type which is the best match with the unique characteristics of your street. Please note that the description is for the type as a whole, not your specific street. When your street matches a type it doesn’t mean the description applies to you, as an individual.

Here's the profile for the Oak Hill College postcode (N14 4PS). It doesn't entirely sum up the typical Oak Hill student.

Often, many of the people who live in this sort of postcode will be affluent urban professionals living in flats. These are known as type 15 in the ACORN classification and 1.17% of the UK’s population live in this type.

Neighbourhoods fitting this profile are found primarily in London (Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham, Merton, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond-upon-Thames and Ealing) as well as in Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Here is an overview of the likely preferences and features of your neighbourhood:

Family income Very high
Interest in current affairs Very high
Housing - with mortgage Medium
Educated - to degree Very high
Couples with children Low
Have satellite TV Low

These people live in affluent urban areas, where large attractive houses have often been converted into flats. Whilst many do own their home, the proportion of rented accommodation is relatively high.

People in this type are very highly qualified; one in four have postgraduate and professional qualifications. They work in professional and senior managerial occupations, with many spending very long hours at work.

Most residents are either young singles or couples. There are very few children and those there are tend to be under five, which suggests that young families move on from these areas.

As one of the highest earning types, they have relatively high disposable incomes. They invest in a broad range of products including high interest accounts, ISAs, and stocks and shares. They are comfortable using the Internet to do their financial research.

In the winter, this type is the most likely to go skiing. They will then take at least one other holiday which is usually foreign and often far flung. When at home they take advantage of the range of theatre and arts available to them from living in the city. They also enjoy good food and wine, both at home and in restaurants.

They are interested in current affairs and are very likely to buy a daily paper, which they probably read as they commute to work. They usually choose from The Guardian, Independent, The Times and Financial Times. At the weekend they like The Sunday Times and Observer.

Evangelical Economics

Here are some jottings about evangelical perspectives on economics (about which I am very ignorant).

There are a few good quotes from Samuel Gregg, David Chilton and Stephen Perks, some thoughts on Ron Sider, the Jubilee, fair trade, taxation, the charging of interest and a bit of bibliography.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cartoon Confusion

The Church in Wales has published a magazine with a cartoon of the "prophet" Mohammed, which it has now quite rightly recalled.

The Archbishop of Wales has written to all the magazine's subscribers asking them to return the offending publication and informing them that they will be sent a replacement version, which does not contain the unfortunate material.

The cartoon apparently “satirizes Mohammed by depicting him sitting on a heavenly cloud with Buddha, and Christian and Jewish deities.” (?!) The other religious figures say to the “prophet”: "don't complain...we've all been caricatured here".

Yes, the cartoon is offensive and should be withdrawn.

But surely it is offensive to our only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Is the cartoon not rather flattering to Mohamed and optimistic about his eternal destiny, given that Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6)?

Perhaps the Church in Wales should concentrate on standing up for the honour of King Jesus.

The relevant BBC news article is here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Tony's Absurd Housekeeping

I don't know anything about economics, but it seems to me that Stephen C. Perks is right to say that "borrowing represents one of the more absurd aspects of government policy".

Given that the government seems to feel free to set tax rates at whatever exorbitant level it likes, if it's short of cash, why not a tax hike? Borrowing seems like ridulous politically oportunistic short-termism. Could it be that Tony doesn't want us to know how much of our money he's actually blowing?

Government loans don't seem to come cheap. Perks says:

In 1992 the government raised nearly 11½ per cent of its revenues from borrowing. It spent more on funding this debt in interest payments (7 per cent of total expenditure) than it did on law and order (5½ percent of total expenditure) and nearly as much as on defence (just over 9½ per cent of total expenditure).
The Political Economy of the Christian State (Kuyper Foundation, 2001) p203f citing United Kingdom Accounts, 1993 edition (HMSO)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Preacher: King or Politician?

Colin Wright argues that Elders ought to get to sit down for preaching in his interesting article Restoring the Idea of the Throne to Christian Preaching on The Kuyper Foundation website.

Though we might find some things to quibble over, Wright has some worthwhile reflections about how thrones might benefit preaching, for example, making it more like authoritative teaching than histrionics or haranguing.

Here’s a taste:

In this essay I want to put forward an idea that will seem novel. It is not really novel, but its neglect for centuries by Christians will make it appear so. The 'novel' idea is this: That preaching - preaching in church, that is - should be done from a seated position and not from a standing one. It should nearly always be preaching from a throne and rarely preaching from a platform.

This flies in the face of centuries of tradition, in Reformed and non-Reformed churches alike. It is the pulpit that has been the arena of the preacher. Interestingly, the word pulpit is derived directly from the Latin pulpitum, whose definition in a standard dictionary is,

. . . a staging made of boards, a scaffold, platform, pulpit, for public representations, lectures, disputations; and esp. as a stage for actors.

This idea of the pulpit is now sacrosanct, and any attempt to tamper with it will be ill-received - especially by those who preach. Nevertheless, I believe there is a good biblical warrant for abandoning the idea of the pulpit in favour of that of the throne. If we are to truly follow our motto as Reformed Christians - ecclesia reformata reformanda est (the reformed church is always reforming) - then we must be open to reforming even the most cherished of traditions.

Peter Tatchell

The BBC and the radio listings seem to have accepted pro-gay activist Peter Tatchell's re-branding of himself as "Human Rights Campaigner".

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Reformed Theonomists?

John Frame has some sensible things to say about the highly polemical debate between Theonomists and other Reformed theologians here. He argues that theonomy and a more conventional Reformed third use of the law approach – what is the catchy title for that view, by the way? - are points on a spectrum of how commandments are to be applied today.

Here are some useful bits:

Theonomy can be defined simply as adherence to God's law, which would make all Christians, especially Reformed Christians, into theonomists. Here I define the term more narrowly as a school of thought within Reformed theology which prefers literal, specific, and detailed applications of Mosaic civil laws to modern civil government. The word "prefers" gives us some leeway. At points, the theonomists, like the rest of us, apply the law only in general and non-literal ways….

Clearly theonomy so defined is not a clear-cut hermeneutic which prescribes the answer to every exegetical question. Theonomists differ much among themselves as to how the civil laws are to be applied. …the difference between theonomists and more conventional Reformed thinkers is not sharp but fuzzy. Rather, theonomy as defined above is an emphasis, a tendency….

Historically, Reformed thought has shown elements of both relatively theonomic and relatively non-theonomic emphases. I do not believe that either approach may claim unequivocally to be "the Reformed position." Of course, Reformed people are not antinomian. They believe that Christians are governed by God's law, and that includes the Old Testament. But Reformed exegetes including Calvin have varied greatly as to how literally and specifically they apply the details of the Mosaic legislation to their own situations.

Both Bahnsen [Theonomist] and Kline [more conventional view] make broad, bold programmatic statements which they modify considerably in their detailed discussions. This happens to such an extent that in my opinion their bold programmatic statements do not really or fairly represent the views they are presenting. In actual fact, they are much closer together than their rhetoric would suggest.

I’m not so sure Frame is right when he suggests that:

I suspect that few of us would disagree with theonomy if it were simply presented as a future ideal. Sure: if the postmilennial hope is realized and the world-society with its institutions becomes largely Christian, then most of us would find very attractive the prospect of living under something like the Mosaic civil law.

No doubt we would all say we want to see the social justice witnessed to in the Mosaic law implemented, but I imagine Reformed Postmillers might differ very considerably over how "like the Mosaic civil law" the ideal statute book will be. Even if we follow Frame’s advice, cut out the insults and accept the clarity of his fuzzy-thinking, there’s still a debate to have.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Perhaps we can be a bit quick to cry "legalism!" when the law of God seems uncomfortable.

David Chilton tries to clarify what legalism is and is not in Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, his response to Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, in which Chilton often has the polemics at full volume:

Legalism cannot be defined simply as rigorous obedience to the law: after all, Jesus Christ obeyed the law fully, in its most exacting details – and He, certainly, was no legalist. The true legalist is the person who subscribes to one or more of the following heresies – ideas which are roundly condemned in Scripture:

(1) Justification by works…. The only basis of salvation is the finished work of Jesus Christ, in fully satisfying the demands of God’s law, and suffering its penalties, in the place of all His people….

(2) The requirement of obedience to Old Testament ceremonial law… These received their completion in Jesus Christ, and are no longer literally binding upon us. There is a very real sense, of course, in which we still keep these laws: Jesus Christ is our priest, He is our sacrificial atonement, and we cannot approach God apart from Him. Thus, in their real meaning, all these laws are observed by all Christians….

(3) … The requirement of obedience to man-made regulations. (Romans 14; Colossians 2)

(4) Another form of legalism … is confusion of sins with civil crimes. There are many things the Bible condemns as sins, for which there is no civil penalty attached…. Where God has not provided examples of legislation, we may not legislate. To do so is legalism….

The antinomian is opposed to the authority of God in human affairs. While he may cloak his humanism in a garb of extreme religiosity (as did the Pharisees) or “radical Christianity,” his primary goal is to abolish God’s law and replace it with his own laws. He wants to be “like God, knowing [i.e. determining] good and evil.” On the surface, antinomianism and legalism appear to be diametrically opposed; in reality, they are both rooted in the sinful attempt to dethrone God. (pp22-24)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gary North

You've got to love the spirit with which North writes. Here's a random example:

I am not advocating the legalization of prostitution, pornography, or the sale of cocaine to eight-year-old schoolchildren in exchange for homosexual favours. What I am saying... is that we do know the general outline of what an explicitly Christian political economy would look like.

Clouse, Robert G., (ed.) Wealth & Poverty: Four Christain Views of Economics (IVP), p161

Well, thanks for clearing that up for us, Gary!

Although its US focused, there's all sort of wonderful stuff on North's website including his tip of the week, the latest outrages of the government. Enjoy!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Daddy State Becomes The Heir

inheritance tax seems to me a particularly wicked tax on saving and dying. This form of compulsory wealth redistribution is very like theft, especially as the assets / money being taxed was very often taxed when it was earned too.

The average UK tax burden which, considering all forms of taxation, is, I believe the best part of 40% is surely excessive. It is interesting to note that in 1 Samuel 8:15, God warns against the king who will take a whopping 10% of their production in their taxation. And recall that Pharaoh, the great tyrant, took 20% (Gen 47:24-26).

But surely the state needs all this cash is levels of service are to be maintained? The answer is for the state to do much, much less.

Rushdoony argues that:

The state, moreover, is making itself progressively the main, and in some countries, the only heir. The state in effect is saying that it will receive the blessing above all others. It offers to educate all children and to support all needy families as the great father of all. It offers support to the aged as the true son and heir who is entitled to collect all of the inheritance as its own. In both roles, however, it is the great corrupter and is at war with God'’s established order, the family.
Quoted in North, Gary, "Free Market Capitalism"” in Clouse, Robert G. (ed.), Wealth & Poverty: Four Christian Views of Economics (Downers Grove, IVP, 1984), p57 citing R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, Craig Press, 1973), p181

North says:

God'’s law is clear enough: The family is the primary agency of welfare - in education, law enforcement (by teaching biblical law and self-government), care for the aged. The church as the agency for collecting the tithe, also has social welfare obligations. The civil government has almost none. Even in the case of the most pitiable people in Israel, lepers, the State had only a negative function, namely, to quarantine them from other citizens. The State provided no medical care or other tax-supported aid (Lev 13 and 14). (p57)

Preaching that changes the world

Here's Gary North's observations about doctrines that can be preached to capture hearts and minds so as to bring about social change:

The most effective social movements of the twentieth century’s masses – Marxism, Darwinian science, and militant Islam – have held variations of the three doctrines that are crucial for any comprehensive program of social change: providence, law, and optimism. The Christian faith offers all three of these, not in a secular framework but in a revelational framework. The failure of Christianity to capture the minds of the masses, not to mention the world’s leaders, is in part due to the unwillingness of the representatives of Christian orthodoxy to preach all three with uncompromising clarity.

North, Gary, “Free Market Capitalism” in Clouse, Robert G. (ed.), Wealth & Poverty: Four Christian Views of Economics (Downers Grove, IVP, 1984) , p57

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sad Statistics on the family

25% of children can expect their parents to separate
About 15 000 children in England and Wales experience the divorce of their parents each year

20% of children live in lone parent households

23% of conceptions end in abortion

40% of births are outside marriage

Quoted by Schluter and Ashcroft (Jubilee Centre, 2005) taken from a review of national statistics in Roberts (2003)