Friday, 30 May 2008

Bargain books!

Hey everyone - check out these excellent books from http://www.cbd.com:
Scripture & Hermeneutics Series, Volumes 2-4
Craig Bartholomew (ed.)
This set is made up of three books:
* After Pentecost: Language & Biblical Interpretation
* A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically & Biblically--A Dialogue with Oliver O'Donovan
* Behind the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation
Retail Price: US$ 104.97 CBD Price: US$ 19.99
The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Introductory Articles, Volume 1
Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.)
Includes articles by Carl F. H. Henry, F. F. Bruce, Geoffrey Bromiley, Bruce K. Walke, R. K. Harrison, Fordon D. Fee, I Howard Marshall... and other cool guys.
Retail Price: US$ 37.99 CBD Price: US$ 4.99
Incidentally - in case anyone's wondering - I got no personal or financial interest in http://www.cbd.com; I just like getting good books out into people's hands... :)
Happy reading!

Turning up the HEAT on Strathfield

On 8-15 June, St David's is gonna turn up the HEAT on Strathfield - we're gonna have a Heightened Evangelistic Activity Time (HEAT)! (*boom-boom*...) We crave your prayers.
On Sundays 8 & 15 June, we'll have a visiting speaker - Josh Kuswadi, from Evangelism Ministries (http://www.evangelismministries.org.au/). On 8 June he'll speak on Rom 3:21-25, under the title "God's Amazing Gift". On 15 June he'll speak on the rich young ruler, under the title "Do you want to be really rich?".
On Sat 14 June we're going out door-knocking, trying to chat with people in the suburb and invite them to church. We're also trying to organise a men's social event for the afternoon and / or evening of that day.
During the week, I hope church people will organise low-key evang events - socials, dinners, lunches; the sort of thing we can invite our non-Christian friends to, without embarrassment.
Like I said, we crave your prayers for this week. Let's see what happens...

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Neat, comfortable theology

At a conversation over dinner last week, a Christian friend of mine was critical of "academic theology" - as in theology that's very neat, but theoretical - not relevant, not applied. He said it very gently & apologetically - 'coz he knows I'm academically inclined. But I told him not to worry. I share his annoyance.
Why do we want theology to be so neat? I suspect it's a safety thing. If it's neat but abstract, I feel comfortable both ways. It's neat, so I can say "I know God", "I have all the answers". But it's abstract, it's not applied. So I don't have to do anything about it. Least of all repent.
The solution is not to have messy theology. Confusion has no value in itself. If God really speaks through the Bible, which points to Jesus and his work, then we can clearly know things about God - ie, we can have a clear theology.
The solution, I think, is to clearly think through how this theology impacts us. Theology must be personal and doxological. That is, it must engage the whole person of the theologian, bringing the theologian to glorify God. Our theology won't be abstract, but evangelistic, doxological - it'll praise God, and call people who hear us to praise God as well.
But that means we will be perpetually uncomfortable. 'Coz our theology itself will keep prodding us, challenging us, calling us to repent. And that's not comfortable.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Sola Panel

Hey I just found the Briefing - Matthias Media blog site: http://solapanel.org/

Friday, 23 May 2008

Pulled in three different directions

At the moment, I'm being pulled in three different directions. All of them worthwhile, all of them quite enjoyable. It's just hard keeping up with all three.
They are:
1. St David's Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
I'm technically the Assistant to the Minister, but we don't have a senior minister, so I got no-one to assist. In practice I hold myself accountable to the Board of Elders. I'm quite enjoying preaching regularly, and meeting with people, and running the youth group, and trying to get about cross-cultural evangelism happening. It's just that there's other things I'd like to do... but I don't have the time.
2. Study at the Presbyterian Theological Centre ("PTC")
When I finished my study at Moore, I still had lots of questions in my mind. My study at the PTC is addressing a lot of them. I'm really enjoying getting clarity on these issues - like natural theology, the significance of Jesus' positive obedience to the Father, the interaction between God's longing and his purposeful in sending Jesus to atone for people's sins. I'd like to spend more time, chase down more issues... but I don't have the time.
3. Sub-continental Bible Ministry ("SBM")
My para-church Bible study is effectively already a church. We do evangelism, weekends away, socials, all in our own name. I'm really excited with SBM - we've got a lot of potential. Everyone's really keen, committed, and competent. I'd like to meet with people more, do more training... but I don't have the time.
It's frustrating to be pulled in three different directions...

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Why do the Nations Rage in Vain?

I'm in a musical mood :)
Here's a meditation on Psalm 2. Anyone wanna put it to music...?

Verse 1
The seers and the prophets,
They had promised long ago,
The seed would come, born of woman,
To lay the serpent low.
A conqueror, a saviour,
His glory he would show,
For he would be the Son of God,
And all the world would know.

Chorus
So why do the nations rage in vain?
For as one man they take their stand
Against the Lord who reigns.
“Let us break off their bonds”, they say,
“And throw away their chains”.
But the Lord of all, He has installed,
His Son – the Lamb once slain.

Verse 2
Jesus Christ, our sacrifice,
Was nailed upon the tree.
He took for us the wrath of God,
In pain and cruelty.
But on the cross, the king he was,
If you have eyes to see.
For with one blow, salvation flows:
New life for you and me.

Chorus…

Verse 3
Brothers, our Lord Jesus Christ,
He shall return again,
And not in shame and weakness,
But in power will he reign.
For on that day, what’er [whatever] men say,
His glory will be plain.
From shore to shore, we shall adore,
God’s son, the Lamb once slain.

Chorus…

Friday, 16 May 2008

Father, hear the prayer we offer

There’s a hymn that begins "Father, hear the prayer we offer". It's in the old English Hymnal, and also in the Australian Hymn Book.
I think it's supposed to be a hymn about being willing to take the hardships that come with following Jesus. The problem is - it’s not focused enough on Jesus, and following him, as the cause of this hardship. It sounds like it’s asking for hardship as an end in itself. That’s not discipleship. That’s masochism.
Christians suffer because we want to be faithful to Jesus. The Bible assumes that true Christians are usually going to be a minority, in a world that’s against the Christ they follow. And that means they’re going to suffer. Not because that suffering’s good in itself. But because it comes with loyalty to Jesus. See Rom 8:18-30; 1 Pet 2:18-3:22; etc.
So I re-wrote the hymn. To be about the cost of discipleship.
Here it is.

Father, hear the prayer we offer.
Not for ease will that prayer be.
But the path our Saviour followed,
May we follow faithfully.

We have heard the Saviour call us:
“Lift your cross, and follow me!
When this world rejects and hates you,
Will you to me faithful be?”

Following the crucified one,
We are sure to share his shame.
Give us grace, come loss, come suff’ring,
Faithfully to own his name.

When at last the race is over,
Fought the fight, the battle won,
This alone shall be our glory:
“Good and faithful one, well done!”

Anyone wanna put a tune to it...? Meter: 8.7.8.7.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The pastoral role of creeds & confessions

Any creed or confession provides a summary of Biblical doctrine, for the nourishment and edification of church members. They do not replace the Bible; they are a ‘subordinate standard’. But they have ministerial authority, and efficacy, subordinate to the Bible, to pass the benefits of accumulated reflection upon the Bible, from the historical church, on to the contemporary church. They are an expression of intergenerational catholicity: the church of the past, testifying to the present, ‘here is the way; walk in it’. They may also be a means of international, intercultural catholicity, demonstrating that faith in Christ transcends nations, cultures and ethnicity. Finally, they are polemic devices, pointing out error in the process of clearly staking out the truth.

Creeds… are a testimony of the church’s belief to the world; they offer a summation of Christian doctrine for the instruction of the faithful; they form a bulwark against the incursion of error by providing a standard of orthodoxy and a test for office-bearers. In these ways creeds also serve to protect and to foster the bond of Christian fellowship as a unity of faith and doctrine, of mind and conviction, and not merely of organization or sentiment. [1]

[T]he confession is not co-ordinate with Scripture nor the primary ground of faith. It is derivative and thus subordinate but yet not opposed to Scripture. It merely seeks to set forth what Scripture teaches on various subjects so as to be a suitable bond of union for those agreed as to the teaching of Scripture. [2]

But to have this unifying function, creeds or confessions must adequately summarise Biblical doctrine, and church members being convinced of this fact. If church members don't think the creed is Biblical, it won't serve its pastoral function. Therefore, it's more important to teach people from the Bible, and use the creed or confession to summarise the Biblical teaching - which is, after all, the confession's role.

[S]ubscription [to a creed or confession] is not the answer if one is seeking to create theological unity out of diversity. Rather it is an instrument of enforcement and preservation of existing orthodoxy and consensus... First there must exist a consensus to guard, before one discusses how best to guard it. [3]
Because no creed or confession is inspired, it may be changed or restated. If it is unbiblical, it needs to be changed. If it is outdated, it may be restated in language that better communicates with the current generation.

[S]ubscription in the Scottish tradition is to the doctrine of the [Westminster] Confession and not to its words as if they were inspired. A restatement or reformulation of the teaching of the Confession which preserves the doctrine is fully in line with the duty of the church to proclaim the truth to each generation. It also agrees with the practice of the church at an earlier time: when the Westminster Confession replaced the Scots Confession of 1560, it was regarded as ‘in nothing contrary to the received doctrine’ of the Church. [4]

In all of this, the pastoral purpose of creeds & confessions must be kept in focus. They lead the flock into the green pastures of the Bible, they nourish and strengthen believers in the faith "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude, verse 3).

[1] Robert Rayburn. "Biblical and Pastoral Basis for Creeds and Confessions," in The Practice of Confessional Subscription (ed. David W. Hall; Langham: University Press of America, 1995): 21. [2] Rowland Ward, "Divisions and Unions in Australian Presbyterianism 1823-1901, with Special Reference to the Church's Attitude to its Creed" (Doctoral Thesis, Australian College of Theology, 1994): 13.
[3] Ligon Duncan III. "Owning the Confession: Subscription in the Scottish Presbyterian Tradition," in The Practice of Confessional Subscription (ed. David W. Hall; Langham: University Press of America, 1995): 87.
[4] Ward: 13.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Long have we thirsted!


In the mid 16th century, Mary of Guise, Queen Regent of Scotland (NOT Bloody Mary of England - NOR the Mary who was executed by Elizabeth I. Too many Marys around those days...), was a thoroughgoing Papist. But upon her death in 1560, the Protestant nobility of Scotland - who controlled the Scottish Parliament - declared Scotland a Protestant nation, and asked the clergy to frame a Protestant confession of faith. This confession was drafted by six Johns - Knox, Willcox, Winram, Spottiswood, Row and Douglas - in four days flat.
The Scottish Confession of 1560 was has a refreshing declaratory fervour that testifies to its genesis. It is the first act of a church freed from the shackles of Papist oppression; the testimony of that church to the gospel that freed it; and, for these reasons and more, a jolly good read...
http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/ScotConf.htm
There's lots of copies of this confession on the web - but make sure you get one with the preface. It's an important part of the vigour of the document.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Christian Leadership

To be a leader, by definition you have to be taking people somewhere.
Jesus is the first and most important Christian leader. He shows us what leadership means, both in where he takes us to (the goal), and in how he treats those who follow him (the manner).
The goal of Jesus’ leadership is to take us to the Triune God. The manner of Jesus’ leadership is by dying as a sacrifice. Because of this, Jesus’ leadership is unique. Only he can say “come to me… and I will give you rest”. Only he can say “the Son of Man came… to give his life as a ransom for many”. We must say “go to Jesus – he gave his life as a ransom for many; he will give you rest”.
But not everything about Jesus is unique. We can be like him, in his goal and manner. The first thing about Christian leadership is that it must be Christian. It must all be founded, shaped, and driven by Jesus. Jesus must be our goal, and Jesus must shape the manner in which we exercise leadership.
Everything we do – whether explicit “evangelism” or not – must point to Jesus. The way we do socials, prayer time etc must all point to Jesus. This is how we make Jesus our goal.
The way we treat each other, and especially those under our care, must be with a sacrificial love like Jesus. We must demand a cost from ourselves, for the sake of those under our care. This especially shows in being patient when we feel like the people under our care are unreasonable, obstinate, ungrateful etc. This is how we follow Jesus in our manner.
Incidentally – this is how we put the Sermon on the Mount into action, and be salt, light & the city on the hill. This is also deeply counter-cultural. In the world, leadership means taking. For Jesus, leadership means giving.
But shouldn’t all Christians live like this?
Yes. But not all Christians are leaders. If we are given the title of “leader”, then we have an added responsibility. Leadership is a ‘public’ status. People are entitled to follow our lead, and look to us as examples. And God will hold us responsible for how well we impact those under our care.
This responsibility before God is not all negative. Sometimes (often?), even if we lead ‘well’ – faithfully point to Jesus, faithfully serve people like Jesus would – people won’t follow our lead. They’ll be unreasonable, obstinate, ungrateful etc. We won’t get the ‘rewards’ of leadership now. But that doesn’t matter. We can wait for God’s approval. And meanwhile, we continue to point to Jesus, and serve those under our care.