Addresses and Contact

16 11 2009

We just wanted to write a short post tonight to simply let you know that we will no longer be able to receive post at our ‘Apartado’ address here in Tacna. Thank you so much for your faithfulness in posting so many wonderful letters and gifts to us – they have been a real blessing to us. If you have sent anything up until today’s date we will still receive it, but other items possibly won’t reach us if sent later than that.

We’ve also disabled the comments on our blog for the time being, but we’d still love to hear from you. There is an email address listed in the ‘Contact Us’ tab at the top of this┬ápage, or you can send us messages to our private email address if you have it.


Quotes of the Week – 5th November 2009

6 11 2009
‘Free grace will fix those whom free will shook down into a gulf of misery’
– Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, p.54
‘There’s no way round grief and loss: you can dodge all you want, but sooner or later you just have to go into it, through it, and hopefully, come out the other side. The world you find there will never be the same as the world you left’
– Johnny Cash, Cash: The Autobiography, p.29

‘He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him’
– Psalm 126:6

Book Review: The Reason for God by Tim Keller

31 10 2009

In spite of the technology explosion which we have witnessed in recent years, the simple format of the book continues to wield considerable power in shaping our worldview and beliefs. Anyone in doubt of this needs only to think of some of the issues handled in recent works by Dawkins, Hitchens, or Humphries to realise how polemically and ideological important the printed word continues to be within our culture. As an evangelical Christian I find myself dismayed at the quantity of material pouring from the printing press which militates against the tenets of my faith and that of millions of other people. People browsing through the hoards of titles in Waterstones now have a veritable smorgasbord of titles to read which will assure them that there is no God, and that Christians are a bunch of outdated, unscientific, unthinking oafs who will eventually cease to populate the gene pool.

Given the militancy of this movement it is easy at times to feel overwhelmed, and uncertain of how to answer the claims levelled by those opposing the Christian faith. A substantial answer to that question is to be found in Tim Keller’s excellent book The Reason for God, published in 2008. This is a work which meets the claims of popular atheism head-on, but with grace, rigour and an intellectual force which are entirely endearing, and hugely convincing.

Keller’s tone throughout the book is free of shrill over-reaction, with a decision made on the part of the author to write about the issues of God and belief with sensitivity and clarity. The end result is a book which is easy to read without being intellectually light, and which manages to present the Christian faith in ‘reasonable’ terms without abandoning or watering down its doctrines.

The book is divided into two sections. The first deals with common objections to the Christian faith. Keller looks at seven individual issues ranging from the exclusive claims of Christianity in a multi-faith world, to suffering, injustice, hell and science. The mood of this section is at once devastatingly contrary to popular atheism, and respectful of those who may find themselves cynical or sceptical about Christian belief. No doubt Keller’s treatment of these issues will not convince all atheists who take the time (risk?) of reading it, nor will it necessarily reflect ALL that is true of historic Reformed belief in any one area, but speaking broadly these chapters offer an excellent critique of areas where writers such as Dawkins take a ‘leap of doubt’.

The second section of the book presents the case for God. It is here that Keller sets out his beliefs about how God has revealed Himself to us, whatis wrong with our world and our hearts, and how we might be made right with God. The chapters are clear and methodical and don’t shy away from presenting such historic doctrines as penal substitution etc. The epilogue shows those whom God has convicted through the argument of the book how they might come into relationship with him.

My overall impression of the book is that it is an excellent resource. For me a key section of the book is in the ‘Intermission’ where Keller deals with his approach to writing the book. In one paragraph he states:

It is important for readers to understand this. I am making a case in this book for the truth of Chrtistianity in general – not for one particular strand of it. Some sharp-eyed Presbyterian readers will notice that I am staying quiet about some of my particular theological beliefs in the interest of doing everything I can to represent all Christians. Yet when I come to describe the Christian gospel of sin and grace, I will necessarily be doing it as a Protestant Chriatian, and I won’t be sounding notes that a Catholic author would sound’ (p.117).
This must be borne in mind throughout the book. There are areas where I would diverge from Keller, particularly in his description of eternal punishment and his handling of some of the issues around Genesis 1-2. But in many ways these quibbles must be dismissed out of respect for the overall aim of the book which is a general apologetic for Christian belief.

Taken on the terms in which Keller sets his book it is a powerful resource for outreach, as well as the consolidation of one’s own faith. I don’t know how common an experience it is, but I have had sustained periods of niggling doubt at times in my Christian life – and a book like this is wonderful material for reminding one of the powerful spiritual and intellectual underpinnings of their faith.

As the Christmas season approaches this book would make a tremendous gift for unbelieving friends and family members, as well as to Christian brothers and sisters who will find their faith affirmed and their confidence for witnessing reinforced.

Tim Keller is to be thanked for this thoughtful, credible and God-honouring treatment of a very current and important theme. A tremendous book.

Quote of the Week – 30th October 2009

30 10 2009
The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don’t need to notice myself – how I’m doing, how I’m being regarded – so often
Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p.181

Music Review: Creation Sings by Stuart Townend

28 10 2009

Very little introduction or preamble is needed when discussing the musical ministry of Stuart Townend. His contribution to modern hymn writing and the worship life of the contemporary church continues to grow, as does the catalogue of ‘standards’ that flow from his pen. The modern evangelical church owes him a debt of gratitude for placing timeless truth in our hearts, minds, and mouths.

Townend’s latest album ‘Creation Sings’ sees him return to the studio, recording a number of new tracks as well as fresh arrangements of a few of his more well known pieces. The style is mostly English/Irish/Scottish folk with a tremendous blend of sounds and musical textures. The production values on the album are astoundly high, with a compelling clarity and depth of tone to every note and syllable. It really is a pleasure to listen to this album with the headphones cranked up loud!

Lyrically the album is all that one would expect. Timeless, evangelical truths are phrased in plainly poetic cadences, with a steady adherence and fidelity to orthodox expressions – while maintaining a fresh turn of phrase.

The first track Come People of the Risen King, is an open invitation to all who trust in Christ to come and worship. The jubilance of worshipping the Saviour is bracketed by an understanding that not all who come to worship do so with lightness of heart or happiness of circumstance – some are enjoying the blessing of sunrise, others still struggling through the night.

Creation Sings is an extrapolation of Psalm 19 with Townend writing of the sunrise, of God’s breath upon the spinning globe, and granting the newborn baby’s cry. The chief instruments here are banjo (played by Townend) and upright bass. The folksy simplicity of the arrangements belies the depth of truth conveyed here – with Christ’s federal headship lulling along to the sound of light-touch piano and lilting melody!

The Father’s Embrace is a more understated arrangement springing from Psalm 27 with simple confidence in God’s fatherly care set against the encroachment of the enemy.

All my Days (Beautiful Saviour) is a well known standard, set this time against what sounds like a DADGAD arrangement.

O for a Closer Walk with God is a new setting for Cowper’s classic hymn, with new chorus appended (‘O fire of God come burn in me, Renew a holy passion, ‘Til Christ my deepest longing be, My never failing fountain’). Normally I’m no fan of putting a chorus into a well worn hymn, but here it really works, with Cowper’s sentiment sensitively echoed in Townend’s composition.

The Light of the World is the most English-folk styled song on the album. Its a lovely song, with very strong instrumentation. For me it is one of the most audibly pleasing pieces, but lyrically most weak. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I love listening to it, but it just doesn’t carry the same depth and dimension as the other tracks.

There is an Everlasting Kindness (Compassion Song) is simply a piano piece recounting God’s kindness and grace to us – particularly in Christ’s death. It is a beautiful piece.

For many reviewers the highlight of the album is To See the King of Heaven Fall (Gethsemane) and one can understand why. This is typical Townend, stripped down instrumentation overlaid with compellingly powerful lyrics about Christ’s passion. The close of each verse is repeated with creating a refrain effect which emphasises the pathos of Christ’s position in the garden.

There then follow four well known tracks (O Church Arise, Speak O Lord, My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God) in new folk clothing.

My Fault, the closing track of the album, is something of an anti-climax. Having scaled the heights of God’s providence and glory, the depths of Gethsemane, and the inestimable kindness of God in previous trakcs, it seems a shame to end on a very subjective lyrics (the theme seems to be how to communicate with someone who is backslidden) and a disjointed melody and arrangement. It is the only bad track on an otherwise excellent album.

I heartily recommend Creation Sings, this is hymnwriting and Christian recording at its very best. Buy it. It won’t disappoint.

A Land without the Reformation

25 10 2009

So I’m back to the blog (again!), and this time I intend to follow through on my commitment to keep posting here. We’ve now arrived in Tacna and are setting up home, so hopefully there will be more time for thinking and writing here at Double Usefulness. Just to be safe I have a number of posts already lined up which ought to give me a head start! And what finer day to revive my blog than today – Reformation Day! Although the official date for celebrating this great movement of God is generally 31st October, most Protestant churches make the last Sunday in October their day for giving thanks to Him for His work and it’s lasting impact on our lives today.

In a sense posting about the Reformation from Peru is something of a strange experience. This is in some senses a land without the Reformation. True, evangelical faith is alive and well in this country, but the concept of the Reformation and its impact is an academic fact of history, rather than something which directly broke on the shores of Peru or shaped its history.

This came home to me most forcefully during our period in Language School. My tutor, Pedro, was also the Pastor of the church which we attended, and so we had much to talk about each day. Many of our conversations centred around the collision between our respective cultures and Christianity. While he was able to share with me some of the challenges of Christian work in Peru, I was also able to lament the tragic decline in moral standards in Western Europe generally, and the United Kingdom specifically. It soon became clear to me that the needs in Peru are more than equally matched in our home culture.

During one conversation we talked about the impact of the Gospel on society. I spokeof its positive influence in Northern Ireland as well as other parts of the UK, and how it had improved the educational, moral and social framework of our society in history. Pedro’s response, however, was loaded with impact. ‘Here’, he said, ‘we live in a land without the Reformation’.

The cultural implications of this statement rushed at me as Pedro explained what he meant. For Peru ‘Christianity’ came as an imported religion, brought by the conquistadores, and representing a military reality which had to be submitted to, with something approaching fatalism. While the work of God in the Reformation swept across Western Europe, the Spaniards swept through this land bringing an enforced form of belief which didn’t relate in any significant way to the realities of the lives which it affected. Here there was no call to rational, thought out, personal belief, but a simple subservience to a new culture and conqueror. The implications for this in Peruvian society, and in how it relates to the Gospel spread so faithfully by evangelical missionaries is enormous. Perhaps I may post on these issues at a later stage.

My preoccupation in this post, however, is with our home country. As I follow the media in the UK, it is clear that secularism is on the march and that Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalised and opposed. Tragically, the gifts of widespread education, literacy and social reform (affected in no small part by the Reformation) are turning on their progenitor and seeking the downfall of the very concepts which gave them birth. This is a tragedy beyond words, and bodes badly for the future of the United Kingdom in social, moral and spiritual terms.

But if the rational humanist agenda is guilty in a sense of patricide, seeking the destruction of structures and beliefs which have allowed thought, publication and understanding, then perhaps as Reformed Christians we are guilty of woeful neglect. How many today truly celebrate God’s hand at work in the Reformation? How many churches have gladly brought praise to God in their services today? No doubt many, but I wonder as individuals are we fully or even partially aware of the wonderful history and heritage we have as Reformed Protestants? No doubt the empty-headed, spiritually evacuated ‘Protestantism’ of Northern Ireland with its disingenous bigot-laden hatred has done much to ward off the thoughts, prayers and gratitude of my generation for their heritage. But it need not be this way. We have much to be thankful for, much to go to God about, much to rejoice in and celebrate.

But in essence we have much to pray for as well. Will our children or their children eventually say as they look across the barren landscape of a fully pagan/atheistic/Islamic (?) Britain ‘We are a land without the Reformation’? God forbid. How we need His Spirit to move in our churches and among individuals to praise Him for all that is past and to implore Him for more to come.

Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

22 08 2009

I’ve always been attracted to Russian literature in translation, and have found that time spent with it is universally rewarding. A few years ago I read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and promised myself that one day I would give Dostoyevsky a go!

Living in Arequipa means that I have limited access to book buying. I purchased this edition of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in a local bookstore, and was enthralled from the first page. Many reviews of the novel carry comments on the worth of the translation. I don’t speak or read Russian and therefore am incapable of giving any verdict on the faithfulness of this book to original Russian – but it reads tremendously well. The pace, tone and dialogue of the book belie the fact that it is a translation, giving the text a winning feel, and compelling force.

The story itself is at once bleak, intriguing, suspenseful, meditative, and inspiring. The main character, Raskolnikov, is bewitched by new and atheistic teaching, the ultimate consequences of which lead him to murder an elderly and wretched pawnbroker lady in St. Petersburg. The remainder of the book extrapolates the consequences of this action, giving an insight into Raskolnikov’s fevered reaction to his own iniquity, and ultimately leading to a thought provoking treatment of redemption and renewal.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and read it in just seven days. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read something which combines a well paced storyline, realistic characterisation, psychological depth, and moral weight.