Friday, 28 March 2008

A great doorstop

One of the books I purchased with my $1,000 Geneva bursary was the huge volume by Greg Beale and Don Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker, 2007). A comprehensive commentary on every quotation, allusion, and echo of the Old Testament that appears in Matthew through Revelation. 1152 pages. How do people write that much?!? Amazing!
I was gleefully looking forward to plumbing the depths of its scholarship. Then a couple of days ago, I heard Professor Carson himself, speaking at Moore College. He made a passing reference to this volume. What's his assessment of his own work? "It's far too long. It'd make a great doorstop".
Oh dear. And an expensive one, too...
I'm sure he's underestimating the quality of his own work. Still, takes the wind out of my sails a bit.
Anyone used this volume yet? Is it any good? Should I keep it, or exchange it for something else...?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Apologetic and Missional questions in preaching

Some of my ministry colleagues and I were discussing preaching. One of them said he'd been listening to a conference address by famed church planter Mark Driscoll. See http://www.acts29network.org/sermon/preaching-the-mission--chicago-2008.
Among other things, Driscoll, when preaching, asks an "apologetic question" and a "missional question". The apologetic question is "why do we resist this truth?". It tries to anticipate the objections of sinful minds and hearts. The missional question is "why does this matter?", and connects the content of the sermon to a missional purpose for our lives, families,church, and ultimately God's glory.
I really like these two questions. If the apologetic question is basically "why don't we naturally want to do this?", the answer is "because the world, the flesh & the devil war against the Spirit". It's a way to identify the personal, cultural/environmental and supernatural reasons why living God's way is difficult. And if the missional question is "what difference does it make", it gives us a way to explore the other side of the coin - how would things change if we did live God's way? How would it change us individuals, our families, churches, neighbourhoods, cities, countries, the world? And that makes us look forward to the new creation, too - only then will this difference be complete and eternal.
Well, that's my thoughts, anyway. Comments, anyone...?

Monday, 24 March 2008

Sermon series are fun


Over the last four years, while I was in full-time Theological College, I only preached at church occasionally. The talks were inevitably one-off: I'd fit in with someone else's schedule of talks, or do a one-off gap filler... or something like that.
So I'd have to do all the work in putting the Bible passage in the context of its book... and think on how it builds on the previous sections of the book... and sets the foundation for the next section... and the unique message of this passage in light of that context-setting... and all that sort of thing.
That was always exhausting. I was terrified by the thought of having to do that week after week, for Sunday after Sunday. I couldn't understand how people manage it. I was really impressed with them.
This month (March 08), I've been preaching through the last chapters of Matthew, from the garden of Gethsemane, through the cross, to the resurrection and great commission. Unlike when I did one-off talks, I've only had to study the overall context of the Gospel of Matthew once - and it's informed all of my sermons in the series. And as I've studied each passage, the work I've done on the previous passage has been fresh in my mind, and has helped me think about how this passage builds on the previous one. And I've been able to capitalise on what I've been saying in the past weeks - metaphors, stories, particular turns of phrase I've used - and recycle them, for added impact.
So doing a sermon series has been easier - and more fun - than I expected. I've got good feedback from people in the congregation, they've been encouraged - so it must be doing some good.
Only problem is - I'm not in awe of regular weekly preachers any more...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

F-R-E-E-E-E-E-D-O-O-O-O-M...!

Calvinism strongly affirms that God chooses us before we choose him. The only reason we decide to follow Christ, to trust him for our forgiveness, is that God works in us to humble us, give us a sense of our sin, and make Christ attractive to us. This is the famous Calvinist doctrine of Predestination.
Calvinism therefore destroys freedom. Predestination inevitably leads to a depressing, destructive, life-denying fatalism. God decides who’s going to be saved and who’s not; it’s all his choice in the end. So what’s the point of doing evangelism, or any other human activity at all? We’re just toys in the hands of the cosmic vivisectionist (pardon the mixed metaphor...).
Right?
Not according to P. T. Forsyth.
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What was it that made the tremendous strength of Calvinism? What makes some form of Calvinism indispensable and immortal? It was this: that it cared more to secure the freedom of God than of man. That is what it found in the Cross. That is why it has been the greatest contribution to public liberty ever made. Secure that God be free. Seek first the freedom of God, and all other freedom shall be added to you. The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination was the foundation of modern public liberty; and, deeply, because it was an awful attempt to secure God’s freedom in Grace at any cost […] We must put God’s free grace first – far before our free thought or action […] Let us be more concerned about the freedom of the Word than the freedom of the Church, or the pulpit. Let us care fast for such a free Word as secures God in His freedom. Let the historic Word of Grace have its way with us. Then the Church must be free. But a Church freedom which, in the name of free–thought individualism, or spirituality, feels itself free to abolish that apostolic Word and succession, is destroying Word,
Church, freedom and future, all together.
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P. T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority: In Relation to Certainty, Sanctity and Society. Blackwood, South Australia: New Creation Publications [Independent Press], 2004 [1913], pg 255.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Bibliophiles dream come true

This is so good as to be almost embarrassing.
I've just been awarded a $1,000 bursary to buy books from the Presbyterian College bookstore. Well, it's not just the Presy bookstore - it's actually run by a group of people from the Reformed church, so it's full of high Calvinist theology - the Puritans, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jim Packer, Michael Horton... all that sort of thing. Check out their website: http://www.reformers.com.au/.
They see their mission as propagating good ol' fashioned Reformed theology. As part of that, they give students in their first of study at the Presy college a $1,000 bursary to buy books from them. Generous Reformed people propagating Reformed theology...! These are the sorts of books that made me decide to be Presbyterian in the first place. Now I can stock up on some more!
Right - let's go shopping...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Moore College graduation

Last night (Wed 12 March 08) was my graduation from Moore Theological College. 104 people were graduating, 45 of us with the Bachelor of Divinity degree.
It felt funny to be with my Moore College buddies again, but in such a formal environment. I'm used to just hanging out with them, seeing them in t-shirts & jeans - not those huge bulky heavy hot academic gowns.
My parents were there; I also had guests from church & Subcontinental Bible Ministry. Everyone congratulated me, told me how proud they were of my achievements... my host family, George & Lyn, gave me a bunch of roses (!), SBM gave me a card. It was a great celebration, I felt very honoured.
I hope this doesn't sound overly pious... but I never thought of my studies as academic achievement. The real value for me was always the increased clarity into what the bible actually says - so I can explain it to other people more accurately, and worship God more thoroughly myself. So getting the actual degree is almost an afterthought. The real value is in being deeply confronted by the word of God, and having it work me over for four years.
Which is why I like the way Moore graduations always emphasise the ongoing ministry that the graduates are involved in. It's not the degree itself that matters; it's what the experience of study has done to you: who you have become; and what you're going to do with it.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Should I tell them it's my third time 'round...?

This is insane.
The Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia ("BHS") is the state-of-the-art Hebrew old testament for students. Not only does it have the Hebrew from the best old manuscripts; it's got notes that give additional information - about variances in old manuscripts, unusual words, occurrences of words... etc. These additional notes are called the "apparatus".
Usually a second-hand BHS would be at least $100. I just got one for free. From the Bible society. As a gift to first-year Hebrew students.
Should I tell them it's my third attempt...?

Monday, 10 March 2008

Finally official

Yesterday (Sunday 9 Mar) I officially became the part-time assistant minister of St David’s Presbyterian Church, Strathfield. I’ve been performing this role since 3 Feb; but the way Pressy polity works, an assistant minister needs to be officially appointed at a congregational meeting. Which happened yesterday.
It was our annual congregational meeting – where we hear reports on how ministry’s going, discuss the budget for the coming year… etc. When it came to discussing my appointment, I was asked to leave the room. No problem. So I left.
I thought the appointment would be merely a procedural thing. I feel very welcomed and accepted by the congregation.
So I waited outside the church building. And waited… and waited… and waited.
I started to get worried. What’s going on in there? Was there some problem with my appointment? Were there some people who didn’t want me? Had I upset people and not noticed? Was there a problem with the budget – not enough $$$ for me?
After about half an hour, I was invited back in. And told that I had been appointed, and the decision had been unanimous.
And the delay?
They were discussing whether they were paying me enough. And trying to make sure I’m not put under too much pressure to do ministry, but allowed the time to study and rest. In the words of the chairman of the meeting: “we want you to learn lots from your studies, and be emotionally and physically healthy”.
Oh me of little faith…! Why did I doubt?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The Trinity, the cross, and the love of God

A friend of mine emailed me a question about the Trinity. Here's my response.
What do you think?
------------------
Hi
The classic way of trying to talk about the fact that God is simultaneously three and one is by talking about three "persons" with one "essence". The three "persons" of the Trinity are the Father, Son and Spirit. They are not to be confused with each other: the Father is the Father, not the Son or Spirit; the Son is not the Father or Spirit; the Spirit is not the Father or Son.
Each of the persons is fully God. Therefore they should be worshipped. When the disciples worshipped the risen Jesus, they did right thing (Matthew 28:17).
However, they are not three gods but one God. This is because the members of the Trinity define each other. While each is fully God, they do not exist independently, but depend upon each other. Throughout church history, this has been called “perichoresis”. The word is not Biblical (so you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to), but the idea it refers to is thoroughly Biblical. The Father, Son and Spirit exist in deep relationship with each other, such they literally cannot exist without each other. See, eg, John 3:35, 5:20, 15:26.
This interdependent one-ness of the Trinity is unique. There’s nothing like it in the world. People talk about three leaf clovers, ice-water-steam, etc – but none of these pick up on how deep, and how relational, the unity of the Trinity is. The closest I can get is a marriage, where the two partners really are in love with each other and their lives revolve around each other. But even this doesn’t really work, because they’re still two independent beings. If one of them dies, the other will grieve, but continue to exist. While each one of the persons of the Trinity is fully God, they cannot exist independently from each other. The three persons of the Trinity define each other, and exist with reference to each other, in a uniquely deep manner.
This means when John says “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), he means it – literally. God is love. The being we call “God” exists in love. The three persons of the Trinity love each other, and in that love they constitute themselves as the one God.
This also means that God is simultaneously completely relationally satisfied – he is totally in love with himself – and completely focused on the other – each of the three persons of the Trinity spend eternity loving the other two.
Also, the Triune God is completely independent of anything and anyone. He, in his Trinitarian being, is completely self-sufficient. Everyone and everything else in the universe depends upon other things. Humans need light, water, food. Rocks exist because of the geo-chemical processes that created them. But God is self-existent and self-sustaining. In his Triune being, he is complete: completely whole, completely happy, completely satisfied, completely alive.
The amazing thing is that this full, happy, living God decided, purely as an act of generosity, to share this relational fullness with someone else – with creatures; rebellious, sinful creatures. When we trust in Jesus, we come into relationship with God. God – the God who is love – loves us. This means God gives us his whole self. He is love – he loves us – he gives us his whole, Triune self. We share in the quality of relationship that defines God’s Godhood.
God’s love is not theoretical or abstract. In his love, God acted to save us. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are God’s love in action (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10). Christ’s death on the cross is more than a demonstration that God loves us; it is the enactment of that love, the ultimate embodiment of that love - it isthat love.
This is why God calls us to respond to him in love. We are to love God the same way he loved us – by committing our whole selves to him: heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6:5; see also Mark 12:30 & parallels in Matt & Luke).
This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so vital to the Christian faith. The only way we can understand God, and our relationship with God, is through the Trinity. Every Christian should think about, and enjoy, the doctrine of the Trinity. And that thoughtful enjoyment should move us to worship the Triune God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.