Archive for September, 2007

Thanks, for John Stott

September 24, 2007

87 year old John Stott gave his final address at this summer’s Keswick conference. I was sad to hear that the grand old man had received criticism through the letters page of Church Times newspaper. Stott of course has had his faults over the years like every other church leader. But the worldwide church in the last half century is deeply indebted to him. He did much to shape what has been good about evangelicalism in the 20th century. His humility, his careful scholarship, his statesmanship and winsomeness have done much to commend contemporary evangelicalism to an increasingly sceptical post-war generation.

I’ve read many of his books and heard his sermons both in audio and in the flesh. I recall him giving a lecture one evening and at there was rapturous applause. Smiling, Stott raised his hands upwards ‘to Him,’ to God alone be the glory. It was the mark of his ministry, a labour of love for God alone. We should be thankful to God for John Stott, for Stott was indeed God’s gift to the church.

The Protestant Revolution- Part Two

September 20, 2007

Another curious programme- did a quick shot of a naked woman during mardi gras really help us understand Protestantism and its cultural impact? Last night’s programme focussed upon sex and the family. Hunt pointed out that Protestantism changed the view of sexuality within Christianity.  Where Protestantism gave a much more positive view of sexuality. Although he did insist upon arguing that there was a tension in Protestantism between it democratic tendency and the patriarchy of the Bible.

Again the programme tended to jump about a bit. The most dissatisfying part of the programme is the presenters inability to distinguish between cultural trends and the impetus that arises from Protestantism itself. For example was the move for woman’s sufferage something that arose from Protestantism or was it part of a wider cultural trend that some Protestant woman latched onto? Protestantism is in the series as a whole very loosely defined.

To be honest the programme is really rather dull.

Eight Things to do with Evil

September 17, 2007

In a recent sermon on the fall of Satan in his sermon series’Global Sins and their Spectacular Purpose in the Glory of Christ’ John Piper offers 8 things that we ought to do with evil-

  1. Expect evil
  2. Endure evil
  3. Give thanks to God
  4. Hate evil
  5. Pray for escape from evil
  6. Expose evil
  7. Overcome evil with good
  8. Resist evil

Then he also offers four things not to do with evil-

  1. Never despair that evil is out of God’s control
  2. Never give in to the sense that because of random evil life is absurd
  3. Never yield to the thought that God sins, is unjust or is unrighteous
  4. Never doubt that God is totally for you in Christ

Mark Dever and Evangelism

September 14, 2007

I just had my first look at Mark Dever’s new book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. It is an honest look at the problems both we and the author often share in personal evangelism. As you would expect from Dever there is also some- at times painfully so- straight- talking. From what I’ve read it looks to be a book all we well-intentioned evangelists should take time to read.

The Protestant Revolution-Part One

September 13, 2007

BBC4 began a 4 part history of Protestantism last night. I watched it today (catching up on missed tv as I have the flu). It is presented by Tristram Hunt. It is good to see this subject tackled especially since it is recognising the huge influence of Protestantism on western culture. The programme was however somewhat disjointed- leaping for example from the dissolution of the monasteries under HenryVIII in the 1530’s to the the Scottish National Covenant in 1648. Also the programme made a few dubious connections. Were the Methodists really the descendants of the Levellers? Did Protestants forget about the eternal emphasised by Catholicism for the sake of temporal politics. I also thought that the programme assumed too much background knowledge.

The programme whilst seeking to emphasise the radical nature of Protestantism never really got to the heart of the matter- the real religious convictions that inspired many Protestant figures. Nor did it ever really get to the reasons why it got to the very heart British identity. Why for example did Britain remain staunchly anti-catholic well into the 20th century? Nor did Ireland merit any more than a passing mention in one of the last parts of the western world where the issue of Protestant identity remains to the fore.

A good subject to tackle but a bit of a light-weight treatment, even allowing for the fact that it was made for tv. I was left wondering what the real point of the programme was- we all know about George Bush’s ideals. There are interesting subjects to follow-family, art, capitalism- how they are treated remains to be seen but this was not a promising start.

Evaluating Ministry

September 10, 2007

Like all in Christian ministry I have that tendency to try to evaluate my work. It is in part the desire for sight rather than faith. It is also a pressure from the evangelical sub-culture to proclaim success based on numerical growth. When i think like that I am often reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians,

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.’

In similar vein CH Spurgeon offered these words to his students, ‘We are laboring for eternity, and we count not our work by each day’s advance, as men measure theirs; it is God’s work, and must be measured by His standard. Be ye well assured that, when time, and things created, and all that oppose themselves to the Lord’s truth, shall be gone, every earnest sermon preached, and every importunate prayer offered, and every form of Christian service honestly rendered, shall remain embedded in the mighty structure which God from all eternity has resolved to raise to His own honour.’

May all of us who labour for Christ’s kingdom be content with the epitaph George Whitefield wished for himself, ‘the day will declare it.’

Jonathan Edwards and Christian Authenticity

September 10, 2007

I have spent the last week reading Jonathan Edward’s sermons. It was at times a spiritually exhilarating and humbling experience. There was much that was quotable but perhaps this quote struck me more than any other. It is striking not only because of its thrust but also given Edwards’ view of preaching. Writing on Psalm 139:23,24 he says,

‘If those who call themselves Christians, thus walked in all the paths of virtue and holiness, it would tend more to the advancement of the kingdom of Christ in the world, the conviction of sinners, and the propagation of religion amongst unbelievers, than all the sermons in the world, so long as the lives of those who are called Christians continue as they are now.’

It is a great challenge to a life of Christian authenticity. As noted in previous posts the world is looking for authenticity and we face the question as Christians whether or not they discover it in our lives. In a church culture where we are so often urged to market ourselves well, the Christian life well-lived is the way in which we will truly commend the gospel to the world.

A Cautionary Story

September 2, 2007

I was saddened to learn that Jonathan Edwards, the Olympic gold medalist and triple jumper has renounced his Christian faith. Edwards has been one of the most high profile Christian figures in the public eye overt the last two decades. For a time like Eric Liddle he refused to compete on a Sunday. I was always slightly puzzled that having taken that stand, which I didn’t agree with, that he then did a complete u-turn.

Seemingly his reasons are intellectual. In a recent interview in the Times he said, “During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.” Such reasoning led me to a number of conclusions.

The first is I again became aware of the continued impact of liberal ‘Christianity’ in our day. That this kind of nonsense is still perpetuated and sadly still believed by some.

Secondly, Edwards was an avowed evangelical but sadly he seems to have belonged to that weak, unquestioning strain of evangelicalism, that raises less than robust Christians. The suggestion that Paul had an epileptic fit is pitiful. Yet, sadly, Edwards, hears this type of thinking and his faith is blown away. It reminds us of the need for a spiritually and intellectually robust faith where followers of Christ are able to stand firm in the faith of such feeble rationalism.

Thirdly, it of course raises the question as to whether this is the real reason that Edwards departed from the faith he once professed. I doubt it. I also doubt that he realises that himself for ‘the heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things.’ Perhaps Edwards story is not so surprising for a man who has been elevated in the public eye as a world class athlete and media star.

Fourthly, it raises the issue of how churches use Christians in the public eye uses. Edwards was a headline act and speaker. Yet he admits that his own understanding of the faith was shallow. It is perhaps inevitable that he was pushed forward into such a role. But it should be a sobering reminder that that is not God’s way. That he uses the things of no repute to shame the things that are of repute.

Edwards says he has no interest in returning to Christianity. I hope that God in His grace surprises him.