Two Reasons to Not Give Up Chocolate

11 02 2008

Bishops and scientists agree – you shouldn’t give up chocolate. At least, that’s the potential message which two news stories carried last week.

The first was the Bishop of London’s plea for people to avoid giving up the traditional things they abstain from at lent, and work to reduce their carbon footprint instead. Mini egg, anyone?

The other story was that scientists are now positing the thesis that childhood obesity may be more related to their genes than their ingestion. Studies have ‘proven’ that children who suffer from obesity may do so more because of nature than nurture. In typically clear, understandable language the scientists say: “These results do not mean that a child with a high complement of susceptibility genes will inevitably become overweight, but that their genetic endowment gives them a stronger predisposition.” Anyone fancy a Dairy Milk?

My conclusions are, of course, made (pardon the pun)tongue-in-cheek , but these stories do carry an important message about consumption and consequences.

On the one hand a Christian practice which is traditionally understood to focus the mind on the suffering of Christ, has turned its focus instead to the needs of others in the world. The Bishop’s ideas are laudable, given that the way we live our lives does seriously impinge on the poorest people on the planet, but are they legitimate in terms of the traditional view of lent? Is our focus solely on the sufferings of others, or should it not be on the sufferings of the Saviour? He is the One who has ultimately borne the consequences of our sinfulness in His body on the cross at Calvary – and He is the only one who can ultimately renew our ailing cosmos.

On the other hand scientists seem to be hinting at the fact that fault cannot be found for being obese. It seems that we cannot be held to account for certain consequences which result from our behaviours. Undoubtedly there are many people who are genetically predisposed to being overweight (and I’m no size 00 myself!) but is this really the message which the media should be presenting to our society which is growing both in waist and waste? Is the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ not at least a partial consequence of our consumer culture, and growing affluence?

These are just some random thoughts about carbon, cocoa and consequences, and don’t necessarily carry any weight. My own response to both stories will simply consist in cycling to the shop to buy my Mars bar…


Come Over Here and Help Us

8 02 2008

The world of missions work is changing. As inhabitants of Western Europe, we must acknowledge that the greater majority of Christians in the world are from non-European, non-westernised roots; and that while the Church in our part of the globe is not experiencing the growth and blessing that it once enjoyed, there are remarkable signs of gospel spread and health in other lands.

All of this affects the way in which we view mission. In a fascinating article in Evangelical Missions Quarterly in January 2005 Miguel Palomino (originally from Peru) writes about ‘Lessons from Latino Missionaries to Europe’. He writes that ‘new missionary winds are blowing into Europe from Latin America. The rapidly growing and maturing Latino church is fostering a vigorous, indigenous missionary movement that is at work in nations once regarded solely as missionary-senders’. He classes these Latino workers into three categories (itinerant missionaries, informal missionaries, conventional missionaries) and deals honestly with the benefits and difficulties which these individuals can bring to the Church in the West. Often these folks carry a zeal and love for the Lord which is sadly lacking in our own Church culture, but do not at the same time enjoy the same benefits of training and missiological exposure which is enjoyed by their European brothers and sisters.

All of this makes the phrase ‘come over here and help us’ reflexive, and it is amazing to think of the implications which this simple request now carries in terms of modern missions.

It demands humility from the Western Church, to admit that we are in dire need of help from those of our brothers and sisters who are experiencing God’s special blessing on their work. We can no longer think in terms of our land being solely ‘senders’, but must become ‘receivers’ from places where traditionally our own missionaries have gone to serve God. The centre of gravity in the body of Christ is no longer found in our own part of the world. We may be the ones who need a story to be brought from the nations that will turn our hearts to the right!!

It also demands mutuality. We can no longer think of them and us, but must itemise our missiological concerns in collective terms. Partnership in our current evangelical climate cannot be the benign handing on of responsibility to brothers and sisters in other cultures, but must literally mean a mutual dignity being invested by all Christians for the fulfillment of Christ’s commissions in all nations.

It also demands flexibility. My wife Carolyn and I are going to serve God in Peru, and we are grateful to Him for His call to that land. We feel a passion for God’s people in Peru burning in our hearts, and are eager to work for Him there. But could it be as we work with the national Peruvian church that the investment of training into local believers might be to meet global as well as parochial concerns? The sons and daughters of Peru must ultimately be the ones to lead the national church there, but they may also be required of God to come ‘here’ to bring the Good News of Christ to pagan Britain! This adds depth and dimension to the missionary task, and blows apart many traditional paradigms of ministry.

Come over here and help us’. How we need to simultaneously heed and issue this call for the glory of Christ in the world!

To Inerrancy and Beyond

7 02 2008

Geoff Thomas is in Northern Ireland at the moment, and I’ve been reading his latest book ‘The Sure Word of God’. It’s an excellent little volume, packed with practical, pastoral and expository reflections on the worth and wonder of the Word of God. While they are seldom referenced in the book, the effect of warm Puritan devotion is written between each line in the text. I have come to expect nothing less of Geoff’s preaching and writing ministry.

As he defends biblical inerrancy he makes an important point – while a belief in inerrancy is essential, it is not sufficient. His words, urging Christians to not merely believe but love the Scriptures, are packed with punch and blessing. I trust that they’ll warm your heart as much as they have mine:

“So let us hold fast to our confession of the inerrancy of Scripture. Let the infallibility of Christ drive us to that confession as we submit to him as our Lord and God. Then we ourselves will echo his words that Scripture is true – ‘Your word is truth’ (John 17:17).

But never stop there. Not only every member of every cult, but the very devils believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Demons are orthodox. There are no modernist demons. They confess that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. What I am saying is that we must go on from there, and love and delight in the Word of God. The devils never take delight in God’s Word. But all God’s people are summoned to love this Word more and more, until they meet in glory him whom they have met in its pages.”

Why Inerrancy Matters…

6 02 2008

A.T.B. McGowan’s latest book ‘The Divine Spiration of Scripture’ published by Apollos/IVP is causing something of a stir amongst evangelicals. Surprisingly McGowan, who is known for his commitment to Reformed evangelical doctrine, has a strange view of inerrancy and infallibility. This is something of a hot potato in current evangelical theology, and McGowan follows the early twentieth century scholar James Orr in his view that upholding the original autographs of Scripture as faultless is an unneccessary move, prompted by fundamentalist concerns. This represents something of a departure from traditional Reformed formulations and concepts of Scripture’s authority, although other Reformed scholars have held similar views as McGowan points out (Kuyper and Bavinck among them). As feedback and responses begin to unfold in the world of journals and monographs in the coming months, I’ll post a little bit more on this vital issue.

One writer whom I find very beneficial on the issue of inerrancy is Wayne Grudem. In his standard ‘Systematic Theology’ he writes of the problems entailed in denying inerrancy, and I find them pretty compelling. They are:

1. If we deny inerrancy, a serious moral problem confronts us: May we imitate God and intentionally lie in small matters also?

2. If inerrancy is denied, we begin to wonder if we can really trust God in anything he says.

3. If we deny inerrancy, we essentially make our own human minds a higher standard of truth than God’s Word itself.

4. If we deny inerrancy, then we must also say that the Bible is wrong not only in minor details but in some of its doctrines as well.

By anyone’s standards, those are pretty major issues and hurdles for a non-inerrancy position to deal with. It is a doctrine which really does matter, and which is vitally important to how we read, value, and understand the message and meaning of Scripture.

More posts on this issue will follow…

A Flavour of Flavel

5 02 2008

Post No.10 on the Timmy Brister Challenge.

As February dawns, the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge moves on from Richard Sibbes to John Flavel, and his majestic ‘Mystery of Providence‘. As with ‘The Bruised Reed’, this is a work of tremendous theological importance, and pastoral application, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the treats locked within Flavel. This month’s blog series on the Timmy Brister challenge will go under the title of ‘The Proof of Providence’.

But down to some biographical details first…

Name: John Flavel (or Flavell)

Year of Birth: 1628

Place of Birth: Bromsgrove, Worscestershire

Father’s Occupation: Minister (died in prison of the plague)

Education: Home-schooled (!) and studied at University College, Oxford

Ministry Experience:
1656: Accepted call as minister in Dartmouth
1662: ejected from his pulpit for non-conformity
1665: moved to Slapton and ministered after the Five Mile Act
1672: returned to Dartmouth for a year as congregationalist
1673: King’s indulgence revoked, preached secretly
1685: returned to Dartmouth and ministered from his home

Marital Status:
1655: married Joan Randall (died in childbirth)
1656: married Elizabeth Stapell (died around 1672/3)
1673: married Ann Downe (died 1684)

Died: 6th June 1691

Fascinating Flavel Facts:
While preaching covertly after his ejection in 1662, Flavel often found himself in strange and dangerous situations. On one occasion he ‘disguised himself as a woman on horseback in order to reach a secret meeting place where he preached and administered baptism. At another time, when pursued by authorities, he plunged his horse into the sea and managed to escape arrest by swimming through a rocky area to reach Slapton Sands’ [Meet the Puritans, p.247].

Testimonial from Others:
‘That person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected’ – Erasmus Middleton

The Vicar Factor(y)

2 02 2008

Amanda Lynch of The Times has had her concept of what makes a minister stretched and challenged. In a fascinating article in Saturday 26th January’s magazine, she followed the training and experiences of individuals enrolled for theological education in Oak Hill College, London, and Trinity College, Bristol. Many of her preconceptions were exposed as she wrestled with the fact that individuals in these ministry training programmes are not merely irrelevant incompetants who wish to become professional irrelevant incompetants. Instead, she encountered a group of people enrolled in a course which actually seeks to make people into clear and competent preachers, communicators of God’s Word to the modern world. She observes that ‘the days of the simple country clergyman droning his way through a tedious sermon before his uncomplaining flock have all but disappeared’. Her words carry a certain element of lament, as she likens the training programmes and sermon criticism classes to ‘the X-Factor for vicars’.

What emerges from the article, however, is a picture of evangelical training institutions which are deeply concerned about clarity and communication, and which eschew all images of the parish vicar whose life and ministry bear no relation or connection to the real world. Lynch follows student Olly Mears, aged 27, as he preaches in Redland Parish Church, Bristol. He is described as someone whose face ‘shines with eagerness and even his hair curls with a muscular Christianity’. She listens to his message, and then attends the sermon crit class which takes place the next day. Her main observations from this are the ‘clerical in-jokes’ cracked by those in attendance, the warm and friendly atmosphere, and the politeness and grace which characterises the criticisms offer. At the end of her piece, Lynch writes with a certain degree of admiration for young people who have turned their backs on other professions in order to serve God in preaching, showing an appreciation for the sacrifice involved that some Christian believers might struggle to attain. ‘Three cheers for Olly Mears’, she writes, ‘The Flock lucky enough to have him as their shepherd will be blessed indeed’.

It is refreshing to read an article like this from a secular source. It shows the changing face of evangelical ministry training, and the impact which authenticity, simplicity and clarity can have on an unbelieving world.