Slavery, Oppression and Providence

June 24, 2009

I’ve just read this quote from Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church in the USA.  He stated,

‘There’s always been a mystery why the impartial Father of the human race should have permitted the transportation of so many millions of our fellow creatures to this country to endure all of the miseries of slavery. Perhaps his design was that a knowledge of the gospel might be acquired by some of their descendants in order that they might become qualified to be messengers of it to the land of their fathers.’

It is a remarkable view of God’s providence rooted in the biblical portrait of the God who is able to transform terrible evil into eternal good. It also, in a very Pauline way, puts the sufferings of this life in their eternal perspective. Like the children of Israel in Egypt, like the church in the 1st century slavery, slavery in Africa is an evil that God used for good. That is the eternal good of not only our African-American brothers in Christ but for teh church as a whole as they in turn became a blessing to the very peoples who enslaved them.

You can read the quote in the context of the article at

The BNP and Christianity

June 9, 2009

With the election of BNP candidates in the recent European election we are seeing the party become more mainstream. Part of their appeal to the electorate has been to present themselves in pseudo- Christian terms.  It is a concern that they would create confusion and perhaps bring unsuspecting Christians under their influence. Carl Trueman’s post linked below offers some useful pointers on the BNP and Christians

Susan Boyle and the Reality of Reality TV

June 2, 2009

I’m sure it is global news by now that the widely feted Susan Boyle has been taken into a private clinic following her failure to win Britain’s Got Talent. She seems to have suffered some kind of mental breakdown. It has been clear from the outset that Susan is a vulnerable woman. I’ve read at least one report that states that she has a learning difficulty- I would not be surprised if that were true. She is clearly vulnerable and the strain she was under was written all over her face on last week’s shows. Her story raises a number of issues.

1. The format of BGT has long disturbed me. While they have unearthed some great talent- the dancers who won the show were fantastic- the format is concerning where in the auditions anyone and everyone is put in front of the public. The result is that people who have no talent, who are deluded and obviously suffering from different kinds of disorder are put on display so that they might be humiliated. It reminds me of the old Bedlam and side shows where people who ought to have been protected because of their weakness became a curiosity. The finals are great as talent is put on display. The auditions I find hard to watch.

2. Susan was clearly thrown to the wolves aka the tabloid press. She was clearly offered no protection so that her life was sifted in an attempt to create a monster. The tabloid press could not be happy celebrating her talent. They wanted to destroy her. This is what reality tv creates- tabloid fodder as the press tries to destroy people. The blatant hypocrisy surrounding the death of Jade Goody is another clear example. In such an environment ‘giving them their chance’ is no defence of the treatment of vulnerable people

3. No doubt the powers that be on BGT will argue that Susan deserved a chance. We are constantly fed the mantra by these shows that the greatest thing anyone can be given in stardom. There are of course gifted people but the last thing they need in their state of vulnerability is to be thrust into the limelight. Susan’s case makes clear that there are more important things- such as peace of mind- than being rich and famous.

4. We keep hearing the line that success on shows like BGT will change people’s lies forever. No it won’t. Winning a talent competition has nothing to do with anyone’s eternal destination. That is determined by being in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In our fame, obsessed, money drive, show biz driven, society we need to recognise that this is the most important thing about us. Celebrity is at best fleeting. It is always a two-edged sword. But God’s love is everlasting.

I hope Susan recovers well from her problems. that she finds support from people who truly have her best interests at heart. And I hope above all that she comes to know the peace of God in her life.

Exemplary Theories of the Atonement

May 30, 2009

Spurgeon makes this apt comment on exemplary theories of the atonement. These were common in his day and are becoming common again in our own day.

‘Oh the number of books that have been written to prove that the Cross means an example of self-sacrifice, as if every martyrdom did not mean that! They cannot endure a real substitutionary Sacrifice for human guilt and an effectual purifying of sin by the death of the great Substitute. Yet the Cross means that or nothing!’

-From The Cross our Glory– preached 1882

Speaking God’s Words

October 22, 2008

I’ve read a number of books on preaching over the years and have just finished reading another- Peter Adam’s Speaking God’s Words. It is possibly one of the most helpful and challenging of all the books that I have read on the subject. It is useful on a number of levels. First of all it seeks to present a biblical theology of preaching which is very helpful. Secondly, he deals not only with preaching but what he describes as a ‘ministries of the word’ which I found stimulating and challenging. Thirdly, he deal with preaching within the context of the work of ministry which is a very helpful section for thinking through the place of God’s word in church ministry. Fourthly, he gives quite a bit of space to the issue of application which I again found helpful and challenging.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a theology of preaching or anyone engaged in ministry. Sadly it i no longer in print from IVP and second hand copies are ridiculously expensive. But there is now a reprint available at a reasonable price on the Internet. Very helpful.

Keller’s Reason

October 14, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Tim Keller’s Reason for God. I enjoyed it greatly, found it encouraging and also a challenge to engage others with the great gospel in a world that is tossed about with all kinds of ideas. It’s always difficult when you’re already persuaded to weigh the arguments made in an apologetic work. But Keller’s work is helpful on a number of levels.

First of all, the arguments he is dealing with are contemporary arguments and how they are put in the contemporary world. He does not try to engage with straw men as some apologists seem to do. Secondly, there is much to learn from the clear yet irenic tone of his work. I’m reminded of Francis Schaeffer’s words that the aim is to win a  convert not an argument. His tone is very different from the virulent tone of Dawkins, Hitchens et al. Thirdly, he deals very well with the whole demand for ‘cast iron certainty’ that many seem to seek today. His approach that in building the case for Christianity we are not trying to make the whole case rest on our ability to make watertight arguments but to encourage others to weight the overall evidence is a useful approach. Fourth, and perhaps above all, Keller is writing from his own experience. These are the arguments he has engaged in and with as he has engaged New Yorkers as he has seen the church grow in the city.

My biggest problem with Keller’s work, and it’s my problem rather than his, is how we deal with these arguments not with the intelligentsia of New York but the middle class, apathetic materialists I encounter. A book about that is one I would really like to read.

Velvet Elvis Has Left the Building-IV

September 23, 2008

I stumbled across my copy of Velvet Elvis and decided to finish it and complete my postings on it- you can read the others elsewhere on my blog. What I read in the concluding chapters alarmed me but did not surprise me in the light of the earlier chapters. His suggestion that at the heart if the gospel is the message that Jesus believes in me and God has faith in me is just downright unbiblical. What did Jesus say, ‘The Son of Man came to help mankind fulfill its potential’? No,He came to seek and to save the lost. What did the early church proclaim, ‘Believe in yourself and everything will be fine’? No, repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Bell’s message is a travesty of the gospel.

The chapter where he then goes on to tell us that hell is full of forgiven people who have chosen to live outside God’s story is another travesty of the gospel. As is his half-baked suggestion that hell is this world gone wrong and that we are created to bring heaven to earth. This a shambolic distortion of the gospel.

Whilst I appreciate his call for the church to seek to make the gospel more of a practical reality in the world I disagree that the church has been created by God to serve the world. No, the church has been created by God to worship Him. Also his suggestion that the early church did not preach the resurrection because everyone believed in gods dying and rising displays a basic ignorance of Scripture. (What Scripture Bell uses throughout usually displays his complete inability to handle Scripture accurately).

This book is simply a terrible book and I continue with that sense of alarm that it is being widely promoted in Christian book shops. Much of what Bell says is simply not Christianity. I know some of you will think I’m too hard on Rob Bell. This is not a personality thing. So if you want to respond to this post don’t try to defend him as a great guy- I’m sure he is. But let’s deal with the ideas he is pushing in the name of Christianity.

And Darwin Replied….?

September 15, 2008

The ever entertaining hierarchy of the Church of England are at it again. This time they are apologising to Charles Darwin on the 200th anniversary of his birth. They are apologising to him for the Church of England’s negative response to his theory of natural selection. Its good knock-about stuff from the Cof E. Of course they are more interested in being pc than they are in being historical. It wasn’t only Christians who reacted negatively to Darwin’s theory it was also the scientific community who were much more severe on Darwin that Christians. Some Christians found the theory preposterous. Others were more ready to accept it but were worried about how some people, like Thomas Huxley, were pushing the theory to atheistic conclusions.

But here we have the Cof E making a pointless apology to a man who is dead and like so many of the pc brigade failing to accept that ideas and debates are part of the evolution of the historical process. They might be of more service if they actually encouraged serious interaction between the scientific and Christian worldviews today. On second thoughts maybe not, who knows what they might come up with.

I rather like the response of one of Darwin’s descendants to this apology. He says, ‘When an apology is made after 200 years, it’s not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organisation making the apology feel better.’ Exactly.

Watch this space for an apology to those atheists who have been offended by the CofE’s historic belief that God exists

And that is what some of you were…

September 13, 2008

I was saddened to hear of another high profile Christian figure in the US come out as being a homosexual. I was more sad to hear of his rationale for his behaviour. Ray Boltz writes, “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.” It is a sad distortion of the Christian message and one seems to be gaining greater popular credence.

1. The Bible treats homosexuality as a sin and warns us that we cannot blame God for our sinfulness- James 1:13

2. Boltz has divorced his wife. Clearly his divorcing of his wife to pursue other sexual behaviour doesn’t register on Boltz moral scale as being a sin.

3. Where does the ‘God made me this way’ defence end? Can we therefore justify every behaviour- infanticide, incest, etc on the grounds that God made me this way?

4. Boltz ignores the basic Christan teaching that how we are is not a sign of God’s goodness to us but of how sin has corrupted God’s good gifts including our sexuality. Sin must have no place in Boltz’ s theology.

5. Boltz distorts the gospel as so many do today. He takes the line that God accepts us just as we are. This is often a partial truth and distortion. God meets us where we are in the sense that no amount of self-righteousness can make us acceptable in His sight. Sin creates a level playing field for us all in the sight of God. Yet whilst God in that sense meets us where we are  He does not leave us there. The heart of the gospel is that God changes us. He deals with our legal guilt but He also breaks the power of sin in our lives and sets us free from the sin that enslaves us.

Paul writing in 1 Corinthians of the sins (including homosexuality) that had enslaved the Christians there does not say ‘but hey this is the way God made you!’ Instead he writes, ‘And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ (6:11)

Sadly it seems that Boltz never really has grasped the essence of the gospel and is now using it as an excuse for his sin. I am not hopeful that given this distortion he will come to repentance unless God opens his eyes and changes his heart.

The Name on Everyone’s Lips

September 6, 2008

Sarah Palin has been the news story both sides of the Atlantic this week. You would almost think she was running and not McCain. As Palin comes to the fore so does more about her background. Seemingly one of the most common search terms has become ‘Sarah Palin Hot Pics’ although this it seems has come up with poor results! What has become clearer is Palin’s religious background- baptised a Catholic she then became a member of AOG and currently describes herself as an independent. And whilst I’m in favour of Christians being involved in the public square alarm bells have started ringing regarding Palin.

In one news report this week it has merged that she made a speech in Alaska urging support for both the Iraq war and an oil pipeline as being God’s will. When people advocate public policy on the grounds that it is God’s will this leads us into a very scary place. Of course God’s will is clear with regard to certain matters as in the abortion issue and is set out in his word. But to bring the idea of God’s will into matters of general policy where His word of not clear and God’s will is nothing more than a kind of gut feeling is a very alarming pattern. It sends non-Christians running for cover to find that Christians like me are already there.

Coming from N Ireland where religion and politics have long been mixed up it has long been my contention that we should not vote for anyone on the basis that they are a card-carrying, church-going Christian. Instead in politics, as in every walk of life, our concern should be to see those who are most able for the position filling it. Christians, as we know here only too well , and as people like Dubya have proved in the US, do not make infallible leaders. Indeed they often do not know how to combine personal belief with the administration of public policy. Indeed there is such a thing as misplaced Christian zeal.

Whoever becomes President in the US will have a influence on world events. So my American voter friends- choose wisely for all our sakes. Try to see beyond the rhetoric and see who will actually provide the best and most able leadership.