Blogroll Category: Friends

I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 53 posts from the category 'Friends.'

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More training, or take a risk?

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 20/11/2017 - 21:05
The team leader looked me straight in the eye. “I’m only here because someone took a risk with me when I was his age.    I want to do for him, what someone did for me.”
Categories: Friends

Did Hebrew poetry rhyme?

Emmanuel Evangelical Church - Mon, 20/11/2017 - 00:00

It's quite often said that Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme - or, at least, that it's not characterised by rhyme in the same way as some modern western styles of poetry. Instead, we're told, Hebrew poetry relies on parallelism and rhythm and so on. Of course, people have seen spotted assonance and other sonic features here and there. But just last week I came across an extended set of rhyming lines in Habakkuk 2, which O. Palmer Robertson notes in his comentary. You've got successive lines ending with sounds like this (vv. 7-8):

keyka ... eyka
rabbim ... ammim
qirya ... ba

It's true that the endings of the first two pairs rhyme simply because they're the same suffix (a pair of 2nd plural possessives followed by a pair of plurals). And yet the word order seems to be chosen (deliberately?) to locate these words at the ends of the lines. I find myself wondering where rhyme began to be used self-consciously, and whether this is a kind of proto-rhyming style - the kind of thing that Habakkuk might have developed further if he'd not been living through quite such turbulent times. Who knows.
Categories: Friends

How does the kingdom grow?

Emmanuel Evangelical Church - Mon, 20/11/2017 - 00:00

Yesterday's sermon was on Habakkuk chapter 2, which touches (among other things) on the growth of the Kingdom of God throughout history. This growth arises in part from the impact that following Christ has on the way that all of us go about our daily vocations. So what difference should it make for us to be followers of Jesus? This extract from Peter Leithart’s superb book The Kingdom and the Power gives a few ideas. If your vocation isn't mentioned explicity, I'm sure you can figure out how to extrapolate from those that are:

Suppose a businessman is converted. In an obvious sense, his working skills as a businessman have not automatically improved. He still has the same training and skills in management, forecasting, and marketing as he had before his conversion. Nonetheless his faithfulness to God will make him a better businessman. He realises the God expects his “yes” to be “yes” and his “no” to be “no,” and he begins to acquire a reputation as a fair dealer. He treats his employees respectfully and sympathetically, and their personal affection to him makes them work harder. After sitting through a series of sermons on the prophecy of Malachi, moreover, he becomes convinced that, like Abraham, he should tithe if he is to accept bread and wine from the Greater Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20). He learns that the businessman who does not tithe is foolish. On the other hand, God has promised to bless tithing (Malachi 3:8-10). Other things being equal, a tithing businessman is a better businessman than a non-tithing businessman. A non-tithing businessman has not taken account of the most important economic factor in the business climate: God.

Suppose an English professor is converted. Does his conversion make him a better scholar? In one sense, no. He still has the same reservoir of knowledge, the same linguistic skills, the same trained sensitivity to the nuances of meaning in a literary text. But in another sense the faithful Christian English professor will be superior as a scholar. Because he seeks to govern his mind by the word of God, he will resist nihilistic and fundamentally stupid literary fads and will not waste his time pursuing what he knows to be barren theories. Because he is a Christian, he will know instinctively that radical deconstructionism is a dead end and Derrida a pretentious phony. The Spirit will give him boldness to say so, and he will seem prophetic to his colleagues. As he absorbs the Bible, he will begin to understand the patterns and archetypes that God has built into the creation, patterns and archetypes that are reflected in the literary texts that he studies as a scholar. He will begin to have a better understanding of those works as he begins to share the thought-world of the authors.

Suppose a physician is converted. Again, she will have no more technical skill after her conversion than she had before. If trained as an orthopaedist, she will not suddenly be able to practice obstetrics. On the other hand, being a Christian will make her a superior physician in a number of ways. As she studies her Bible, she will learn that it God is the One who heals, and she will begin to recognize the limited power of medical technology. As she draws nearer to the Lord, she will learn more and more that her patients are not machines, and that they are more than bodies. She will begin to see that physical illnesses sometimes have moral and spiritual causes. She will treat her patients as distorted images of God. Because that is the truth about her patients, she will be more effective as a physician. She may become convinced that socialized medicine is another pretension of the messianic state, and she will oppose the system on both professional and moral grounds.

Suppose an assembly line worker becomes a Christian. As with the others, there is an obvious sense in which he will not be a better worker after his conversion. Yet, because he goes to a church that practices weekly communion and is serious about church discipline, he is motivated to make every effort to get along with people. When he has an argument with a co-worker, he takes him aside to work things out. Realizing that he has been stealing his employer’s time, he stops taking the extra ten minutes on his lunch break and even offers to make restitution by working several hours of free overtime. Instead of concentrating on protecting himself, he tries to help his fellow workers do a better job – giving encouragement or nudging them when they slack off. His boss begins to see him as a potential shift supervisor.

“All this does not, of course, necessarily imply that the Christian businessman, doctor, or physician will be more “successful” by contemporary standards. The tithing businessman’s cash flow may actually decline; the English professor may be denied tenure; the physician may lose patients who expect a quick fix for their pain; and the assembly line worker’s fellows may resent his chances for advancement. But their conversion will, in an important sense, make them more effective in their vocations that they would have been otherwise. Eating with the King [at the Lord’s Supper] every weekend changes people.”

Categories: Friends

Your most important meeting of the week

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Fri, 17/11/2017 - 09:25
If this meeting happens, the week runs so much more smoothly.  And I’ve repeatedly learnt to my cost that if it doesn’t happen, I’m so easily derailed.
Categories: Friends

“Have you preached that sermon before?”

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Wed, 15/11/2017 - 18:42
When you hit on a secret sauce by accident, it’s worth jotting down what went into it, so that next time you can make it on purpose.
Categories: Friends

It’s never been easier to learn from the best

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Mon, 13/11/2017 - 17:26
Someone, somewhere, has cracked the puzzle that’s causing your team long meetings and headaches. Or, if they haven’t cracked it, they’re a bit further along the path than you.
Categories: Friends


The Hadley Rectory - Thu, 09/11/2017 - 19:42
Joshua Lim's essay Post Tenebras Lux?: Nominalism and Luther's Reformation has this summary of nominalism of which I want to keep a record:

"Nominalism, as it is commonly understood, is the philosophical view in which universals are regarded as having no objective weight, and no intrinsic correspondence to individual, concrete things. For instance, according to Nominalism, to say that Peter has a human nature and that John has a human nature is simply to say that both have extrinsically predicated of them a common name (nomen), which happens to be “human nature.” To predicate the same ‘human nature’ to both John and Peter is not to say that they share any metaphysical reality or nature in common; it is simply to say that we predicate something common to both on the basis of observation. The common features that are shared by John and Peter (e.g., intellect, will, arms, legs, nose, etc.) do not and cannot, from a Nominalist point of view, be understood to be based upon a common shared ‘human nature’ except in name. There is no ‘human nature’ that transcends or norms what it means to be human in anything more than an extrinsic sense; in other words, human flourishing is not based on an objective human nature that exists apart from the collection of individual beings called human, but can be only something imposed onto this group of individuals without any inherent reason that corresponds to their given nature (e.g., for vegetative beings, flourishing would be to grow physically and to do it well, while for rational beings, flourishing would pertain not only to physical growth, but also growth in knowledge and love of truth and goodness—this based on the objective nature of the being in question).

A common illustration used to explain Nominalism is found in the use of paper currency. Unlike coins that may be made out of silver or gold, carrying a value that corresponds to its ‘nature,’ paper currency, has a value imputed to it extrinsically. On this basis, a $100 bill would be identical to a $10 bill in nearly everything except for the fact that one is deemed to be worth several times more than the other—solely on the basis of what some authority judges. There is nothing intrinsic to the paper bill that gives it its value. The problem arises when this mode of understanding of the nature of things is applied across the board to human nature and other universals.1According to Nominalism, observations are made, a name is given from said observations, but this name has nothing to do with a shared nature or ‘essence’ of the thing, as such.2Such a process of exclusively extrinsic denomination stems from a radical emphasis on the reality of the particular accompanied by an explicit denial of an objective universal shared reality inherent to things.3

According to classical philosophy, by contrast, given the link between particular, concrete things and corresponding ideas or universals (whether these ideas or universals were thought to exist independently of the concrete individual or in conjunction with it), the ideal was seen to be something objective, rather than a result of extrinsic imposition. From a Nominalist perspective, focusing as it did solely on concrete and individual realities to the exclusion of the immaterial aspects of material things, and a fortiorianything purely immaterial, metaphysics as the study of being qua being (i.e., not necessarily material and therefore distinguishable from the empirical or sensible reality) could only appear as the height of speculative arrogance.4Such a view of metaphysics in the traditional sense remains today, not only within Protestantism, but also pervades our post-Enlightenment setting."5

1 And even in the case of paper currency, problems arise if there is no real corresponding value; the absence of an objective correspondence leads to problems like inflation. So this example is also imperfect as the extrinsic denomination is not based on pure will, but on some objective value.

2 This is not to say, however, that realists, such as Thomas, for example, believe that there is a separate form existing somewhere that is human nature (a view typically associated with Plato). Rather, it is simply to say that the shared nature between John and Peter corresponds to something inherent to both, and this shared nature is objective. Its existence is not the result of merely an extrinsic recognition followed by an arbitrary naming process; on the contrary, the name follows from a reality discovered to be present in both Peter and John.

3 Cf. with Aquinas’s treatment of man’s knowledge in ST I, q. 94, a. 3, s.c., where he asks whether the first man knew all things. Aquinas argues from the fact that Adam named the animals that he had to know the very natures of the animals, “Nomina autem debent naturis rerum congruere.” That is, the names should be congruent with the nature of the thing. This is a way of thinking about creation that is absolutely foreign to the view of Nominalism.

4 And the logical outgrowth of this is evidenced in later thinkers such as Hume and Kant, who have influenced all of subsequent philosophy, for better or for worse. Cf., Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, NY: 1995), 166-79. As Bainton recounts: “The Occamists had wrecked the synthesis of Thomas Aquinas whereby nature and reason lead through unbroken stages to grace and revelation. Instead, between nature and grace, between reason and revelation, these theologies introduced a great gulf. So much so indeed that philosophy and theology were compelled to resort to two different kinds of logic and even two different varieties of arithmetic” (169).

5 For varied accounts of the relationship between Nominalism, the Reformation, and secularization cf., Bradley Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2012), Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2007), Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), and Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2009).
Categories: Friends

A new idea – a Ministry Fair

Ministry Nuts and Bolts - Thu, 09/11/2017 - 18:27
‘Oh, I get it,’ she said, ‘it’s like a Fresher’s Fair for the church!’  Exactly.  Yes.
Categories: Friends

Forward with Foch: Lessons for the church in England or Ten Reasons to be cheerful (part 2 of 2)

God Gold and Generals - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 18:08

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"Mon centre cède, ma droite recule. Situation excellente, j'attaque. "(My centre gives way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent: I attack")
That sums up my view of the church in England. 
In my previous post - part 1 of 2 - I pointed out the terrible decline in the Church of England over the last 50 years (my lifetime) and posed the question from VI Lenin "What is to be done"? Now, I want in the second part, to pose a different question and seek inspiration from a different source than Lenin
The question is: Are there any good or encouraging things to say about the current decline? I want to look at the church in England as opposed to the Church of England (the latter being an important part of the former).
Are we in danger of talking ourselves into despair? Many recent posts that I have seen point out accurately the declining situation but fail to make any proposals for action. 

Here are I think some "reasons to be cheerful" or "reasons not to despair"
My inspiration is a French WW1 General, Ferdinand Foch. His statue (in London) is pictured above. 
Foch was a highly original military thinker, who is famous for his victory at the Battle of the Marne - the so called "Miracle of the Marne' in September 1914. (In fairness the victory was ultimately that of General Joffre). In August 1914, WW1 broke out. A vast German army of 110 Divisions, swept forward through Belgium, following the brilliant Schlieffen Plan which dictated that the right boot of the rightmost German soldier must be in the Channel. Meanwhile the French Army, fixated by avenging the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in 1870, was attacking German defences in the East, completely oblivious to their impending doom to the West. Like two men pushing on opposite sides of a revolving door. But the danger was of a complete German victory, and Paris looked doomed. Huge piles of smoke began to billow out of French ministries as panic stricken civil servants burned confidential papers. The sound of German artillery could clearly be heard in central Paris. A tiny British Army of 4 divisions (the BEF) was somewhere in the mix: like their French allies they were in headlong retreat before the advancing German divisions.  German victory looked assured. But, you are not beaten until you are beaten. Marshal Foch rallied his forces, including the BEF, and threw them into a last gasp attempt to hold the Germans on the last defence before Paris - the River Marne. The Germans had already crossed the river, but fighting furiously, the Allies threw them back. Legend has it that part of the victory were the Parisian taxi cabs who ferried mainly Colonial troops arriving from the South to the front, in their cabs, meters running. The French treasury reimbursed the total fare of 70,012 francs. Some elements of this story maybe legendary and the number of troops ferried that way were small but Wikipedia notes "The impact on morale was undeniable, the taxis de la Marne were perceived as a manifestation of the union sacrée of the French civilian population and its soldiers at the front, reminiscent of the people in arms who had saved the French Republic Campaign of 1794: a symbol of unity and national solidarity beyond their strategical role in the battle. It was also the first large-scale use of motorised infantry in battle; a Marne taxicab is prominently displayed in the exhibit on the battle at the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides in Paris." (see picture above). It was also the first battle in which aircraft played a key role: Allied pilots spotted large gaps in the German lines. As well as Foch's brilliance the German advance also contained the seed of its own destruction, though that was hard to see at the time. German troops became exhausted and supplies (which were horse drawn) struggled to keep up. Also German generals became over confident that they had already won and actually moved troops from the Western to the Eastern front in fear of the impending Russian “steamroller" — which was actually going nowhere due to the incompetence of its leadership.
Foch later commanded the entire Allies to victory in 1918 and although not everything he did was as successful as the Marne, his leadership and inspiration certainly turned what looked  like inevitable defeat into eventual victory. Some idea of his strength of character can be judged by the quotes below:-
"Accepter l'idée d'une défaite, c'est être vaincu..." (Accepting the idea of a defeat, is being defeated...)
"Une assemblée pour décider doit avoir un nombre impair, mais trois, c'est déjà trop" (A committee should have an odd number of members, and three is already too many)
"A la guerre, c’est celui qui doute qui est perdu : on ne doit jamais douter." (In war, he who has doubts is lost: one should never doubt.)
"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire"
So some suggested lessons and suggestions for action
1. Prayer
This is by far the most important. We are in urgent need of divine intervention. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. But the darker the situation, the more we should realise that the most urgent requirement is for prayer and Gods intervention. The example of Nehemiah praying for his people in Nehemiah 1 is striking. Nehemiah blamed neither God nor "them" - either the Babylonians or "the people" - for the disasters that had happened to the Israelites. He confessed using "we". The decline in the church is ultimately "our" fault — the Christians in the UK. Its important to note that when Nehemiah heard bad news his first instinct was to pray - although then he turned to action. Both are needed but the greatest and first need is prayer. Nehemiah prayed fervently and then he swung into action.
Now what has this to do with Foch? Well, its worth noting that in an Army where belief was a disadvantage (due to the strong anti clerical traditions in the French republic of the time) Foch was a staunch Catholic. Closer to home, like Foch we need to recognise that we are in a life or death battle - in our case a spiritual battle - and that we have to fight. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm."

2. Attack!
Foch saw that its demoralising to always be on the retreat. By imposing his will on the enemy he drove them back. But he was also realistic about what could be achieved — a defect in the pre 1914 French Army who tended to hold to the doctrine of "Attaque a l'outrance" — attack to excess. Faced with machine guns and entrenched positions this was not always smart. Foch counter attacked but he didn't or couldn't win the war in one battle, which then settled into four years of trench warfare. But he avoided defeat. 
We are of course not called to attack our enemies but to love them and try and persuade them of the Christian message. The equivalent is evangelism. But, in many churches this is almost a dirty word because it assumes (rightly in my view) that the Christian message is the only way to God. If it's not, why bother trying to share our faith? 
But we evangelicals shouldn't be complacent. What percentage of our collective time and effort goes into evangelism? We spend an awful lot of money on buildings, for example. If we were audited by aliens, as someone has said, they would conclude UK evangelicals are in the real estate business. Our conferences feature a lot of topics, many of them important like expository preaching, but shouldn't evangelism have a greater precedence? Same thing goes for social projects — it's a sobering thought that according to one estimate I read 95% of the churches giving in the USA goes to such projects and only 5% to evangelism. Yes, I am all in favour of both expository preaching and social projects and of course both help evangelism. My question is simply this: are our priorities right? Is evangelism given enough importance? 
3. Dont give up or wish we were elsewhere
Foch saw clearly that war was a battle of wills. By his own strong will he rejuvenated a shattered army. 
Our will to fight must be equally strong. But, we are of course aided in that by the fact that ultimate victory (unlike in 1914) is assured - I John 5 "For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith". And that we are not serving General Foch, but Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. 
The Bible though is also realistic — that by nature we are all cowards. Jesus's most repeated command to his disciples — by far — was "Dont be afraid". Our natural reaction to what is happening to our church is fear and even defeatism. But we are called to fight. Even out of retreats can eventually come victories — look at the shattered Allied armies in 1914 who were pushed back. But they didn't give up — unlike the French Army in 1940. 
What this means is that we must guard agains defeatism. This can manifest itself in "the country or the church is going to the dogs and theres nothing we can do". Or in a nostalgia for days gone by when things were better. Or in a sense of "circle the wagons and try and retreat from the world"
Things may be bleak — though we often view the past through rose coloured spectacles. Even the mighty prophet Elijah was rebuked by God for assuming that he was the only one left. Not so, said the Lord. We may wish we were at some other time,but God has placed us here in 2017 and our duty is to fight for his cause.  To quote Tolkien (who was also a devout Catholic, with a strong sense of "fighting a losing battle against evil" )

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo."So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

As this article in the Catholic Herald rightly says, it may well be that none of us alive today see the advance of the Christian faith in our lifetime: but the ultimate victory of Christ is certain
4. Desperate times call for desperate measures
Foch made some highly unconventional steps including using the taxi cabs because the situation was desperate. There was a strong element of complacency in the Allied Armies in 1914. As reports begun to filter through of the German advance, the view in Allied HQ was "so much the better" — the further the Germans came the easier for the Allied advance in the East to progress, it was thought. Only on the brink of disaster did the leadership realise the unutterable folly of their actions
So for the Church.  We have been complacent for far too long, asleep as the culture has drifted away from us. Because things didn't seem 'so bad' we resisted many things which are imperative. Just to take one example, look at the resistance to church planting, which seems to me one of the most important "offensive" weapons we can use. Yet in many circles (not just Anglican ones!) either outright resistance or foot dragging are the order of the day. I was really shocked when someone told me of a church plant in a large city in the UK where other evangelical pastors in the city were canvassed for support. Many were sceptical along the lines of "it wont work" or "it will poach people from our church". While the latter can sadly happen its just wrong to view church planting as a "zero sum" game where Christians are reshuffled around between x number of churches. 

I sense this is beginning to change partly driven by a realisation "things are so bad, what have we got to lose"? Barriers to change and even (shock) to radical change are being  broken down. I am not talking here about theological change but change in how we do things, including a much deeper sense of calling on God for help. 
5. Help comes in unlikely and even despised places. 
Both in 1914 and at other times in WW1 the Allies made extensive use of colonial troops, who fought very bravely, although initially their effectiveness was doubted, tinged no doubt by racial discrimination. Around 650,000 colonial troops fought for Britain and France in WW1, yet their contribution has often been overlooked.
In the same way, one of the most positive trends in UK Christianity is the explosive growth of BME churches. But, I wonder if we are doing our best to embrace them and in fact to encourage them to take leadership roles? Graham Miller the CEO of London City Mission has rightly pointed out that very often the traditional white church doesn't do a good job of supporting and pushing toward our black and Asian brothers and sisters. It is striking to me for example how few of them are given a platform to speak at major conferences. We quickly bring in well known speakers (white, male) from the USA but maybe we should be more supportive of people much close at hand? We should repent of the fact that when the parents and grandparents of todays black and Asian leadership arrived many (including some evangelical) churches encouraged them to go elsewhere and form separate churches. One of the most striking witnesses for the Christian faith is when you have  truly multicultural church that span all racial and socio-economic groups. One church that does do this well is East London Tabernacle, led by Ken Brownell. As various people have pointed out we need to build close bonds of friendship with BME churches and listen to what they want from majority churches, noit tell them what we think they want. 

6. Leadership and Organisation
The Allies were rudderless and a number of generals were defeatist. When Foch (and Joffre) took control they immediately removed a whole swathe of such men. A total of 50 corps, brigade or division commanders were removed by being sent far in the rear to the city of Limoges in SW France. This  was known as being "Limogé"
Do our church leaders need some similar (though less brutal)  intervention "pour encourager les autres" as Voltaire famously said of the execution of Admiral Byng? I just wonder why we relatively rarely hear anything from the leaders of the Church of England about evangelism and the gospel? Even if all else fails can't they just talk about Jesus? (To be fair Justin Welby, although I disagree with him on various things, is an exception on this, he often speaks about the Lord). We hear an awful lot about global warming, politics and social issues: I am not saying bishops should never speak on this but is that really the main thing? Read the Bishops Christmas messages and see what you think.
Nor is evangelicalism necessarily better. Where are the Lloyd-Jones and Stott's of long ago? There are capable men and women but it seems to be exceptionally difficult to get evangelicalism organised into an effective movement. Maybe we are so wedded to the principle of the local church that its difficult to get things moving on a broader scale? Is that biblical if we look at Acts? I am not arguing for a new denomination: we have too many already. The nearest thing to what we need is the FIEC which is a fellowship not a denomination and has been completely revitalised in recent years. Couldn't leading free church and Anglican evangelical pastors figure out some framework of co-operation which allows action that cant be tackled on a local basis to be dealt with?
7. Each victory contains the seed of its own defeat
As noted above, Foch spotted that the Germans had overreached themselves. In particular that they were advancing through a region devastated by the war and their supplies couldn't keep up with the front lines. While the Allies had the benefit of a completely intact rail network to rush troops and supplies to the front. the German troops were exhausted while the French could bring up fresh reinforcements quickly. 
The parallel here is I hope obvious. Secular materialism/atheism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. As its destroys the Judeao-Christian foundations on which our civilisation has stood for thousands of years it has little in the way of alternative moral foundations to support the collapsing buildings. "Money doesn't make you happy" is the crux of the problem with materialism while for atheists their message of "There is no God" is hardly going to fill the human heart. As society begins to unwind more and more people will feel deceived and look for alternatives. This may take some time, because "a lie can travel round the world while truth is putting its boots on". But eventually truth will out. I think here particularly of the relentless attack of both left and right on the family unit. Just wait - as that is damaged, all kinds of issues and problems will arise. This will give Christians the chance to say "There is an alternative".
For the last three 'reasons to be cheerful" I cannot find a parallel with Foch, but I want to make them anyway!
8. Clear who is a Christian and who not
In the past this wasn't at all clear. Many people considered themselves Christian because "they never did anyone any wrong" or "I'm CofE" (meaning they were English). These people were willing to "shelter" under the church label but they never went to church or had any mainstream Christian beliefs. They didn't believe that Jesus is God. (I am to be clear not talking here about fringe people who occasionally come to church and do have some Christian beliefs — in particular that Jesus is God. This is an entirely different question — these people need discipleship and encouragement and maybe in some cases a poke.) Now that church is becoming socially much less of a shelter the first group have re-labelled themselves (as Linda Woodhead has argued) as "none of the above"
Over the next twenty years therefore more and more only the committed (and hopefully more of the fringe) will self identify as Christian. We are told to produce fruit and the nearer we are to Christ the more fruit produced. Therefore, our non Christian friends should see something quite distinctive and indeed unusual in us. Whether they will see that difference is another question — which is why discipleship is also very important.
Tim Keller expresses this need to look and be different superbly in this post about the early church

9. Less people know the better: they are not vaccinated
This sounds like a paradox: are you really saying its better to know little or nothing about the Christian faith than something? Yes, exactly. Firstly many people were exposed not to true Christianity but to a version of it (often at school) which removed all the bits which were distinctive and made it about being "nice". This was (not surprisingly) also quite boring, whereas of all things true Christianity should be, boring is the last. It should be like Marmite — you either love it or hate it.  Result: like a smallpox vaccination protects you from smallpox this "gospel of niceness" was a "belief" vaccination against belief
Secondly, the fact that many people have little or no knowledge of the Christian faith means that it hits them with an immediacy. "Wow these stories are really interesting" I have found is a typical reaction. 

10. People are more open than we might think, but they have little (or a wrong) idea of Christian faith 
That has certainly been my experience doing 121 evangelism. People are very hazy about who Jesus actually was and think that the Christian faith is about "do gooding" or "be nice". 
Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University has pointed out in her extensive and helpful research on the "rise of the nones" that what is happening is that people who had a nominal Christian self labelling are now calling themselves "non religious". But relatively few of them are out and out Dawkinsite atheists. Most have a vague belief in something. 
Dr Lois Lee, another academic researching religion has written along similar lines. In a new article she notes that "Although 51% of the British population identify as non-religious, this hides some important differences within that population". Many people who identify as non religious actually have what she calls 'transcendent' world views.  
Part of evangelism must therefore be us finding out where people are at — by asking them questions. Which was very often the way Jesus worked (see John 4 for example). we need the courage of our convictions to share our faith: all of us, not just pastors and church workers. A tool like Word121 can be invaluable and i have found it tremendously helpful. See here

May God use all of the above for encouraging all of us to prayer and action. 

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Review of BBC 2 programme "Reformation: Europe's Holy War" with David Starkey

God Gold and Generals - Sun, 05/11/2017 - 10:53

According to recent reports, up to 200,000 mainly young people gathered recently in the main square of Kiev to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Ukrainian president passed a decree recognising the anniversary. Given that Ukraine was hardly an epicentre of the Reformation, the contrast with the UK could not be greater. Here we should I suppose be grateful for a one hour BBC 2 documentary fronted by the irrepressible and entertaining TV historian David Starkey on the Reformation. Like the proverbial  curates egg it was “good in parts”. Dr Starkey bounds around various historical sites, there were some clever graphics using printers ink to show the Reformation spreading through print and in the inevitably compressed one hour time frame quite a lot was covered. Though Calvin, Zwingli, the Counter Reformation and indeed the rest of Europe were not even mentioned: the focus was very much pre 1540 on Luther in Germany and Henry VIII, William Tyndale and Thomas More in England.  
On the positive side, the programme  paid careful attention paid to what Luther’s ideas were and especially how they spread. The importance of sola scriptura and sola fides came across clearly as did the way in which Luther’s early attack on purgatory and influences broadened out into a much more general attack of the whole doctrinal edifice of medieval Catholicism. As Starkey said “the church had forgotten Christ and become fixated on wealth”. Joel Osteen you see had his forerunners! Luther’s  central idea was of course the question (as now) of authority: once you accept “sola scriptura” as the cornerstone everything else flows from that. Andrew Pettegree, the author of an exceptional new book on Luther “Brand Luther” was interviewed. To understand Pettegree’s ideas more generally you need to read the book, but the programme managed to convey the gist of Pettegree’s ideas. Luther was not only a superb theologian but also what we might call nowadays a brilliant marketeer. He was not a theologian debating abstract ideas in Latin with other theologians but a man with his finger on the pulse of everyman  and everywoman. He boiled down complex theological ideas into short and easy to read pamphlets. The 95 theses in Latin became 20 points in a few pages in German. Rather than two hour sermons he produced snappy, pithy, easy to read pamphlets which were expertly marketed and attractively branded. Luther also was heavily involved in the business process of actually getting his ideas out. Of course all this was guided by the Holy Spirit but nonetheless it is amazing to realise how quickly Luther’s ideas spread. Within 5 years he had produced 60 original books and was the worlds best selling author. 
Similarly William Tyndale’s  massive contribution to the Reformation in England was recognised. Ironically, the first recorded arrival of the 95 theses in England was as an attachment to a letter sent by the humanist scholar Erasmus to the man who was to become Tyndale’s sworn enemy, Sir Thomas More. Debating ideas in Latin was one thing: Starkey points out the revolutionary impact of the bible in a language that everyone who was literate could read. Uniquely in England - because of the fear of the Lollards - the bible was unavailable in any shape or form in the vernacular. The bible as the programme made clear went from something the ordinary man or woman knew about only as a concept, which could only be accessed or interpreted by their priest, to something that was directly available for all. As Starkey says, thanks to Tyndale, “The bible comes alive”.
So far so good. What was disappointing about the programme was the question of motive. Why did the ideas spread as they did? What motivated men and women to be willing to die horribly for an idea? The answer, argued Starkey was effectively politics. He maintained that Luther’s ideas appealed to the German princes because it meant they could pay less tax and to the English because as proto Brexiteers they could shake off the papal European bureaucracy. Now there were of course elements of the Reformation that were political, especially in England. Had it not been for Henry VIIIs wandering eye catching that of an attractive lady in waiting to his estranged Queen Catherine of Aragorn, things might have been very different. Truly, God works in mysterious ways. As the programme argued, Anne who was accused by her opponents of being “more Lutheran than Luther”, was a decisive influence in propagating Lutheran ideas at court. Even to the extent of giving Henry one of Tyndale's books with relevant passages highlighted for his ease of perusal  Henry was always wavering theologically backwards and forwards, depending on where his marital interests lay, even burning three Protestants and having three Catholics hung drawn and quartered on the same day, in the interest of balance. But the fundamental claim of the programme, that the main motivation of the Reformers was nationalism and politics, and by implication that it was “ top down” is deeply flawed. The idea that the Reformation  was a top down imposition of Protestant ideas in the teeth of a devoutly Catholic populace, is that of the Catholic historian Eamon Duffy in his books such as “The Stripping of the Altars”. But recent historical research has shown that both in England and Germany the main drivers were rather “bottom up” — ordinary  men and women who believed that the ideas of the Reformation  were true and were willing to die for what they believed. Perhaps the most remarkable of all these in England was a young woman, Anne Askew. Unlike her namesake Anne Boleyn, she came not from the court but from an obscure corner of England -  Lincolnshire.  Anne became convinced of the truths of the new religion through reading the Bible in English and this led her, perhaps uniquely, to challenge not only the church but her own violent and abusive husband. So off she went to Lincoln Cathedral leaving her two young children behind and started reading the Bible (in English of course) out loud to the consternation of the assembled male clergy. Next thing she is repeating this act in London, promptly arrested, eventually tortured on the rack ( highly illegally) and running theological rings round her male persecutors. Her refusal as a woman to submit to all the assembled ecclesiastical dignitaries infuriated them. Her courage is simply, even five hundred years later, astounding. Replying to Bishop Gardiner she said " the Bishop said I should be burnt. I answered that I had searched all the scriptures yet could I never find there that either Christ or his apostles put any creature to death". So weakened was she by her torture that she had to be carried by chair to the site of the execution. Her example and that of others, inspired the watching crowds, in the same way that the Roman spectators were struck by the courage of unschooled men and women who were thrown to the lions. You can read more about Anne and similarly brave witnesses in a recent book “The Burning Time” by Virginia Rounding which chronicles the Smithfield martyrs. 

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This is the real reason the Reformation succeeded. The BBC programme ultimately fell down therefore in failing to even engage with the reason why the Reformation spread like wildfire: in the final analysis not because it was politically expedient but because the ideas revealed to everyone from the scriptures in their native languages lit a flame in the hearts of ordinary men and women that have continued to this day. Five hundred years later may God fan these embers again back into the flame of a new Reformation. 

This review first appeared in "Evangelicals Now"
Categories: Friends

Psalm 10 - an outline

Sussex Parson - Fri, 03/11/2017 - 10:09

Psalm 10: A poem

Not rhyme but parallelism
And a broken acrostic with Psalm 9
A poetic description not a systematic theology text book

A Problem: why is God far off in times of trouble? (v1)

A Picture of a bad person getting away with it (vv2-11)

A Prayer that God would act (vv12-18)

Promises that God sees and will act, judging and saving (v14, vv16-17)

Marc Lloyd
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Samey Psalms

Sussex Parson - Thu, 02/11/2017 - 08:39
There has been much discussion in recent years over the grouping of the Psalms. Presumably the editors of the Psalter did not merely throw them up in the air and see where they landed. And they are not obviously grouped according to form (for example, its not shortest to longest). So it seems fair to assume that there might be some kind of thematic grouping. And indeed that often seems to be the case.

This presents both an opportunity and a challenge to the preacher:

It is helpful to read the Psalm in conjunction with the surrounding Psalms. They can amplify or balance what an individual Psalm has to say.

But the preacher has to work especially hard to see the distinctive contribution of this Psalm. If preaching through the Psalter (which may or may not be the best approach) he can't say, well, Psalm 9, I repeat the sermon I gave on Psalm 7 and then shut up. Or at least he shouldn't. And, of course, this is especially so if he thinks the situation or feeling of his people is not immediately similar to the particular psalms he has before him.Marc Lloyd
Categories: Friends

A New Old Translation of Genesis 1-11

The Hadley Rectory - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 21:59
“Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through a veil.” ― Haim Nachman Bialik“Traduttori traditori” (translators [are] traitors) but linguists are also lovers and this came to mind as I finally get to read more of Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins, Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation For Readers, Scholars, and Translators(GlossaHouse, 2017). The book oozes love for the biblical text and love for the English as well as the Hebrew language. It is appropriate that it should become the first book to be warmly commended to the readers of my blog.This is a new translation of Genesis 1-11 (actually, 1:1-12:9 for reasons explained in the notes) which aims to hold together the virtues of old translations, namely staying close to the form and structure of the original language rather than aiming for smooth, thoroughly colloquial English, giving preference to traditional renderings, and being attentive to the aural quality of the text rather than optimised for silent reading. “It is true that some of the newer translations embody one or another of the old virtues. But the unity is gone.” (p5) This step forward is therefore also a step back. Hence the use of “New Old Translation” in the title.The actual translation is on pp. 19-38 and makes for a very enjoyable reading of these chapters. The translation is preceded by remarks to the reader which outline and briefly defend the principles behind it and followed by remarks addressed to “the persistent reader” (pp. 41-64) which elaborate on a number of issues, e.g., why the Masoretic Text is the basis for the translation even in places where we are able to conjecture an earlier text and why it is desirable to follow the ancient paragraph divisions. There is a discussion of how to deal with “fronting” in the Hebrew text. Sometimes the subject or object of the clause is placed unusually early in the Hebrew text, e.g., to introduce a new topic or for emphasis. Such “fronting” cannot easily be replicated in English where the subject usually comes first anyway and word order is more fixed. The authors introduce the various ways in which they sought to bring out this feature in translation. The knotty issue of gender is discussed and the question of how to deal with conjunctions. I am familiar with these issues and share the translation philosophy of the authors but enjoyed reading about them anyway. One aspect that had not been sufficiently on my radar is the use of double translation to solve some tricky translation problems. I am grateful to be made to think about this, and about the question what it means to call Genesis the first book of Moses.In short, there is a great deal here that persistent readers can learn about the task of translation. This is by no means of interest to scholars and translators only but should prove useful to anyone who wants to be a careful reader and the authors have made sure to keep the discussion accessible. The persistent reader will not need much by way of prior knowledge to benefit from this section.One of the authors, Sam Bray, has published several items in the Washington Post which relate to this:But that’s only the first part of the book! It is followed by almost 150 pages of annotations (pp. 65-200) which offer notes on nearly every verse, explaining the translation choices made in interaction with both ancient translations (Greek and Latin in particular) and modern ones (Roman Catholic, ecumenical, Protestant, Jewish). You will not get any closer to having the veil lifted to kiss the bride! Needless to say that there are plenty of insights here and studying these notes will both enhance understanding of the biblical text and an appreciation for the challenges of translation and the principles adopted here. “The arguments are consistently put in ordinary language” (p65) and, again, should be accessible to a wide readership.And there is more to come: a list of dramatis personæ in Genesis (pp. 201-206), a glossary (pp. 207-222), with entries on, e.g., important (ancient and medieval) Bible editions and scholars, a note “Of the Making of Books” (pp. 223-225) which offers suggestions for further readings, a list of abbreviations (pp. 226-234) and one of works cited (pp. 235-267) and no fewer than five indices (subjects, ancient sources, translations, authors, and “stories & genealogies” in Genesis).
I hold in my hands the paperback version. It is well produced. The pages do not stay open on their own, as they might in the hardback version, but the binding gives the impression that it will last a long time. I find the layout of the pages very pleasing on the eye. An impression can be gained from the publisher’s sample and Amazon’s “Look inside” function (e.g., on the UK page).Take and read!
Disclosure: I have known John Hobbins for a good few years although we have only met once or maybe twice in person. He had sent me a pre-publication manuscript for comments and subsequently a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Categories: Friends

More on the Minor Prophets

Emmanuel Evangelical Church - Fri, 27/10/2017 - 00:00

Next Sunday, we're having another Sunday Afternoon Bible Study at Emmanuel. We’re going to be looking at the so-called “Minor Prophets” – that collection of twelve shortish (hence “Minor”) books at the end of the Old Testament (from Hosea to Malachi) which tend to get left out of the list of most people’s Top Ten Most Read books of the Bible.

I mean, let’s be honest: when did you last read the book of Nahum?

We’re going to begin the afternoon with a quiz. Complete with prizes. (We’ll do it in teams, so don’t worry if you don’t know all the answers.) To make things easier,

I’ve even posted the questions online here, so that you can take a look at them in advance.

Now, do you fancy a challenge?  If so, here’s your opportunity. If you want to make the most of next week’s Sunday Afternoon Bible Study, here’s what I suggest you do. First, take a look at the questions.

Then, get yourself a Bible, a large cup of coffee, and one hour of undistracted time. Sit down and skim-read through the Minor Prophets from Hosea to Malachi at the rate of one chapter every 50 seconds. Seriously. Use a stopwatch if it helps you to know when to move on. Don’t try to read every word; you won’t be able to read fast enough. Just try to get a rough feel for what they’re about. Even just reading the bold-text headings in the Bible and glancing at a couple of the verses will give you a great sense of the flow and the flavour of each book.

Then come along next Sunday afternoon and hang on tight as we dash through all twelve books in two hours.

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