Tuesday, 30 September 2008

I gotta slow down

All right, all right, I admit it - I'm hooked on blogging. I've found, to my pleasant surprise, that there's actually a lot of interesting info on the 'web. And I've quite enjoyed using this blog to digest it.
But there's no way I can keep posting at this rate. October's gonna be a heavy month - have a bunch of PTC assessments to get through. So, I'm going back to my old schedule of about one post in three days. Maybe it'll improve quality...?

New PCNSW website

Check out the new website of the NSW Presbyterians! Actually, it's been up since July - I just haven't noticed... (*shame*)
The site looks good - plenty of pictures, nice colours - and it's easy to navigate - simple, clear menus. But it seems more a portal into the Presbyterian denomination, rather than a mission resource. For example: at the home page, there's a button "for visitors" - that's good - but it takes you to a page with more info about the Presbyterian church. There's no overt evangelism. That's a pity.
The Sydney Anglican website is much more of a mission resource. There's always something there that could feed into evangelism, preaching, prayer... whatever. Although there's no overt evangelism there, either - only a very small button at the top right, "Christianity".
This isn't a big problem for the PCNSW site. All it needs is another button on the home page, with something like "What does it mean to follow Jesus", that links to some evangelistic material. Two Ways to Live would be as good as any - it's already in the links section. Or Christianity.net.au. And under the "resources" menu, creating a section for "mission, evangelism and church-planting", with links to stuff like Christianity Explained, Introducing God, the Acts 29 church planting network, and the Church Planting Village.
Any other suggestions, anyone?

Phillip Jensen on God's church-growth strategy

One thing about Phillip Jensen: his ideas are often simply brilliant. As in brilliant in their simplicity.
Phillip's excellent article on The Strategy of God, which appeared in the July edition of the Briefing, in now on-line (which, by the way, is very generous of the Briefing). He helpfully distinguishes between unchanging imperative to prayerfully tell people about Jesus, and the changeable, culture-bound ways we do that. His does this by distinguishing between "strategy" and "tactics".

Strategy is the big thinking—the overall plan and the means for getting there [...] Tactics is more immediate thinking: it's manoeuvring the pieces on the chessboard to achieve the smaller milestones that go together to make up the strategy. [...] Tactics sit under strategy, and are circumscribed by strategy. [...]

Phillip has no doubts that the Biblical gospel has an unchangeable, non-negotiable content. Early in his article, he uses "God's strategy" as shorthand for God's redeeming action in the world - God's mission - that is, the gospel itself.
Our strategy is understood by revelation. It is God's strategy—his cosmic plan—and his way of getting it done. [...] This is the strategy of God for gathering his elect people from all over the world: that the Christ should suffer and rise, and that the gospel of repentance and forgiveness should be preached to all nations.
Later in the article, Phillip uses "God's strategy" to mean the way we participate in God's work - our participation in God's mission - our mission. Phillip discusses this in terms of prayer (not fatalism); proclamation (not being distracted by other, worthwhile things); and people (not programs). These, say Phillip, are not negotiable; they have also been given to us by God.
I take it that Phillip thinks these three are the necessarily evangelical manner for us to enact the gospel, the evangel. If we really believe the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ, we would tell ("proclaim to") people about this crucified and risen Christ, and pray that they would accept the message.
That sounds about right to me - what do you think?
Tactics are the particular, localised, culture-bound means we use to prayerfully tell people about the crucified and risen Christ. They're infinitely flexible: kid's clubs, open-air preaching, music, drama, English classes... etc. I think (I, not the Dean) that when it comes to tactics we must make them fit our target demographic as closely as possible. We are free to be creative and flexible in our tactics; we are responsible to use our creativity so as to invent tactics that best connect with the people we're trying to reach.
Phillip warns us against making too much of our particular means of enacting the gospel.
Tactics sit under strategy, and support strategy. [...] Tactics are secondary, provisional, and almost always break down and fail eventually. [...] Our problem is that we think too highly of our tactics, and even confuse them with the strategy. We think that if only we come up with the right tactical moves, then success will be ours, and God's kingdom will explode everywhere. [...] Understanding the difference between God's strategy and our tactics [...] liberat[es] us to try different things, and to let other people try different things.
Again, this sounds correct to me. People and places change - especially in modern, multicultural cities. So our tactics, our methods, need to keep changing. We need to keep being creative, thinking laterally, coming up with new ideas. inventing new ways of reaching out.
I think that's both liberating and motivating.
What do you reckon...?

Monday, 29 September 2008

John Webster on the aseity of the Triune God

Dave Clancey has posted an excellent summary of John Webster's take on God's aseity. Prof. John Wesbter is Chair of Systematic Theology at the King's College, Aberdeen, Scotland.
God's aseity is his independence. He doesn't need us; we need him. Usually, this independence has been seen as a necessary implication of him as creator. Creation needs a creator outside of itself.
But, if I understand Dave's summary correctly, Webster rightly sees this as being too impersonal. Webster reconceptualises God's aseity to be an outworking of his triune life. God is independent of us, not merely because he is the foundation of the cosmos, but becuase he, as Trinity, has life in himself. The Father, Son and Spirit give life to each other, and therefore stand in need of nothing outside of each other. Creation and redemption are the outflowing of this intra-Trinitarian life.

The resurrection and the life

This is a response to Mark Barry's request for ideas for an AFES SALT issue on Resurrection. Some of it builds on my previous posts on Covenant Theology.
One theme that goes through Mark's three categories - past/present/future - is the issue of life and death.
What did Jesus mean when he said he is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)?
Jesus lived the "full" life, which is life lived joyfully under God, seeking God's glory in all things (Matt 4:1-11 & parallels [temptation in the wilderness]; 26:39-42 & parallels [Garden of Gethsemane]; John 2:17 cf Ps 69:9; 4:34; 12:27-28).
We try and live a "full" life by running away from God and stuffing ourselves with the best that this world has to offer (Deut 32:12-18; Rom 1:18-32). All of these created things are good in themselves (1 Tim 4:4), but not good enough to replace God, for we have been created to live in relationship with the triune God (Gen 1:26-28; John 17:3). Therefore, by running away from God, we starve ourselves of real life. Also, in running away from him, we anger him, and he subjects us to his active, judicial wrath. We therefore live in death (Rom 1:26-32; 1 Pet 4:4-5). Jesus died to take the death we deserve (Is 52:13-53:12; Rom 6:25; 1 Pet 3:18) - and that death was the culmination of his full life, lived joyfully under the Father (John 12:27-28; Php 2:5-11). That is the amazing grace of the gospel: that the highest point of the Son's full life would be to die for those who live in death.
In the resurrection, the Father retrospectively vindicates the Son - thus affirming that his life really was the "full" life - and grants to the incarnate Son, as the representative head of the new creation, eschatalogical life - eternal life (Heb 2:5-9; 1 Pet 3:21c-22) - the kind of life that we were always intended to enjoy.
We who trust Jesus receive this eschatalogical life now, as a gift from God (2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:1-4). We also have the privilege of living a life like Jesus - a life that is really life, because it serves people, in love, in Jesus' name (Gal 5:13). Our life can thereby give other people life, in small reflection of how Jesus gives us life. The highest act of life-sharing is to tell people about Jesus, and plead with them to start trusting him (evangelism) (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:58; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2) or keep trusting him (encouragement) (Gal 5:4-5; Heb 6:11-12; 2 Pet 1:3-4, 12-15). Evangelism and mutual edification are acts of sharing resurrection life. Also, as we meet together, our relationships with each other should represent the kinds of relationships we'll enjoy in glory (Eph 4:22-24; 1 Pet 1:22). Ordinary church should be an experience of resurrection relationships.
We can also do good to people in a general, practical way (James 1:27; Gal 6:10). This also enhances life - which is good - but it's not ultimate, eschatalogical life - which is best.
We can't enact this ultimate, resurrection, eschatalogical life; only God can. While we have resurrection life now, we don't feel it. It will only be proximate to our senses in the new creation, when we recieve new, glorified bodies, suited for glory (1 Cor 15:35-57). So, we eagerly look forward to Christ's return, where he will establish this new creation (1 Thess 1:9-10; Rev 22:16, 21). For Jesus himself is the resurrection, and the life - he, in his divine incarnate self, has enacted the new life that God always intended.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

KYLC becomes Next Generation!

Katoomba Youth Leadership Convention is a week-long conference that trains youth leaders in the basics of how to understand the Bible accurately, and write good Bible studies and Bible talks. It's operated by Katoomba Christian Convention. In 2009, it's broadening its base to include children's ministry, and changing its name to Next Generation.
KYLC was a formative experience for my personal Christian life. In fact, I'd say it's the one thing that's had the biggest marginal impact on me - in terms of short time, for deep results. I attended three conferences, each of five days - fifteen days total. But I'm still benefiting from the skills I learned in those fifteen days. In the first year, I learned how to take a single passage of the Bible and listen to it on its own terms ("Grammatico-Historical Exegesis"). In the second year, I learned how to read the whole Bible as one book ("Biblical Theology"). In the third year, I learned how to pull together what the Bible says on a particular topic, so as to come up with the consistent Biblical view on that topic ("Systematic Theology").
Years later, I learned the funky academic names for what I was doing.
Having benefited from the KYLC, I'm now contributing. I've been a leader for several years. Anyone involved in youth & children's ministry - come along! Next Gen will be a great time to train & be equipped & encouraged.

Craig Brian Larson on listening to preaching

Craig Brian Larson is editor of PreachingToday.com, and pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago. At the Christianity Today site, he's posted an excellent short article on the spiritual discipline of listening to sermons. Here's some gems:

If preaching is so important, how can some Christians listen to it for decades and not be transformed? ... [I]n some inadequate preaching, the Bible plays little to no role or the pastor preaches without authority...

But the explanation for un-transformative preaching may also be that people don't naturally know how to listen to a sermon. They listen for the wrong reasons: to be entertained (Mark 6:20), to justify their wrong actions (2 Tim. 4:3), or to earn God's favor (John 5:39). They seek knowledge rather than transformation (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 8:1-2). They listen without paying careful attention (Mark 4:23-25). They listen without prayer (James 1:5). They listen without an awareness of the deceitfulness (James 1:22) and hardness of their own hearts (Mark 8:1-21), or with an attitude of selective obedience (Matt. 23:23-24). They are not regularly warned of the dangers of a rebellious attitude (Heb. 3:7-16) and unresponsive hearing (James 1:21-25).

For decades the training of preachers has focused on how to preach better... [but] little attention has been paid to training preachers to train Christians to listen properly to a sermon... [S]piritual transformation comes not only from... excellent, anointed biblical exposition, but also from the spiritual discipline of listening correctly with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Online petition to UN against anti-Christian violence in India

Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad ("VHP"). The Indian National Commission for Minorities ("NCM") held Bajrang Dal responsible for the recent anti-Christian violence in Karnataka. The NCM also dismissed the idea that forced conversions led to clashes, and called for legal action against Bajrang Dal. This eventually led to the Karnataka Bajrang Dal convener being arrested, and to the Indian central government - the National Congress - considering whether to ban the organisation.
The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum ("CSF") of India has created an online petition, trying to bring this anti-Christian persecution onto the world stage. You'll see that some of the protests have a distinctly Catholic flavour. eg: "The Blessed Sacrament has been vandalized, cloistered nun-sisters attacked, crucifix & statues of saints desecrated...". I disagree with transubstatiation, enforced celibacy for ministers, and idolatry; but I still want to protest against this violence against them. I encourage you to join me in signing the petition.

Friday, 26 September 2008

More on anti-Christian violence in India

Anti-Christian violence continues in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, as reported by the Times of India, Hindustan Times, NDTV, and the BBC. It has also spread to the south-Indian province of Karnataka, report NDTV and the BBC. Even the top leadership of the pro-Hindu BJP are uncomfortable with the violence, which began when the murder of a Hindu leader (probably by Maoist insurgents) was blamed on Christians. This discomfort is interesting because the Bharatiya Janata Party ("BJP") have a policy of Hindu nationalism. They have no reason to protect Christians, and every reason to suppress conversion.
The Hindustan Times has two excellent editorials on the politics of the area. Here's some gems from Biswamoy Pati

[T]he activities of the [Hindu] VHP correspond to what they accuse the Christian missionaries of doing in western Orissa. Both work to attract and convert people to their respective faiths – something that is allowed under the Indian Constitution. Moreover, both have access to resources — internal and external — to be used towards the uplift of the poor. But then how does one explain the way in which the term ‘conversion’ appears to be synonymous with Christian missionaries?

[...]

It is indeed amazing that most of the reports on Kandhamal wrongly assume that tribals are Hindus. In fact, what the Sangh parivar has been attempting in Orissa — their post-Gujarat laboratory — is large-scale conversion of tribals to Hinduism. This is skilfully combined with terrorising sections of Dalits – who had opted to convert to Christianity after suffering social discrimination – to reconvert to Hinduism. This [...] makes the conversion of tribals appear as ‘re-conversion’. And this has been skilfully woven with terror directed against Dalit Christians over quite some time.

Then this, by Kolkata [Calcutta]-based writer Soumitro Das

Conversion [as the] individual repudiation of Hinduism [...] rattles the VHP beyond measure. It means that the tribal or the Dalit in question is no longer bound by any fate or destiny, but is, in fact, a free agent who can transform his life by changing his value and belief system.

[...]

The second dimension of conversion is that it is a political act. When, over a period of time, an entire community is converted, it has revolutionary implications.

What does it mean for a Dalit to convert to Christianity? To know that, one has to understand where the Dalit is coming from. He lives beyond the pale of ‘caste Hindu’ society — even his shadow is considered polluting in some regions of this country; the jobs that he does are considered the most filthy — dealing with animal hides
(chamars), disposing of the corpse after cremation (doms) and cleaning the night soil (bhangis). He does not have the right to use a mechanised transport, wear nice clothes, or jewellery. His house is frequently burned, his women are routinely raped. He lives in a night without end.

Then, he finds a God who, like him, suffered excruciating pain, who chose his disciples among the poor and the wretched and gave his own life so that others could find salvation through his suffering. The Dalit also understands that, in the light of Jesus’ story, the Hindus do not seem to have a moral order, that the only thing that counts for them is ritual purity and impurity. Instead of good and evil, Hinduism deals in the categories of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness. The community, fortified by its realisation that the Hindu world view is only one among many others and not even of the most superior kind, gradually revolts and crosses over to Christianity.

Thus what began as a conversion of an individual ends as a collective revolt against the oppression, the brutality and the inhuman humiliations of caste society. That is what the VHP and the Sangh parivar do not want. They want to crush this revolt.

New issue of Themelios is out!

The new issue of Themelios is available on-line!
There's an excellent editorial by D. A. Carson on the place of social work in a church's activities. Carl Truman reminisces on J. Greschem Machen, and his book Christianity and Liberalism, which identifies the two - Christianity and Liberalism - as different religions. Adam Sparks discusses whether God operates salvifically outside of Christ, by focusing on whether it is appropriate to draw an analogy between Old Testament believers and non-Christian religions. Paul Hartog examines what Paul meant by "work out your salvation" in Philippians 2:12. Dane Ortlund does some historical work on how Adolf Schlatter related faith and obedience. Keith Ferdinando looks at the vexed question of ethnic identity. Bruce L. Fields examines the question of leadership, with special reference to Senator Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for the presidency of the USA. All this along with the usual excellent book reviews. Tolle, lege!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Henty: cross-cultural ministry?

Y'know, the SPY mission to Henty is gonna be a cross-cultural experience for me. I'm a real city boy. I feel at home in a suit. I like crowds, noise, activity, energy: to me, they signify life, purpose, direction. I don't mind wide open spaces - for a little while. Then I need a bit of concrete again. Which end of a horse is the front? And whaddya mean, milk comes from cows - doesn't it come from a bottle?
Henty's a sleepy little village. Everyone there probably hates crowds, noise and bustle. I hope I don't get bored & restless. And how are they going to cope with an immigrant? I know the church people will welcome me, but what about the other townspeople? Might they still be racist?
On the other hand: the gospel doesn't change. And human nature is the same everywhere: people, made in the image of God, rebelling against him. It's just the form of that rebellion that differs.
More long term: the Presbyterians in NSW are stronger in the country than the city. At the end of next year, when I become eligible for a full-time posting, there's a small chance I might be sent out to the country. It's unlikely - everyone knows I'm interested in city multicultural ministry - but not impossible.
D'you think I'd cope?
Well, this Henty mission is one way to find out.

AFES Salt on Resurrection

The next AFES SALT Magazine's going to be on resurrection & eternal life. Mark Barry's asking for ideas. When you have a minute, give him some feedback.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Honoria Lau on Narnia

One for the C. S. Lewis fans.
Honoria Lau, one of my old friends from Moore College (not that she's old - the friendship is old - not in a bad way - oh, never mind...) has posted some thoughts on theology in Narnia and parallels between Narnia and the Bible.
Puddleglum ain't an Anglican: he's a Presbyterian! There's a reason we're called the Frozen Chosen, y'know...

Passed Hebrew mid-semester

All right! I passed the Hebrew mid-semester exam that I had last week. But I'm kicking myself for losing 5 marks in a simple question where all I had to do was write down a paradigm (*embarrassed*).
So, now I have one last hurdle: the final exam in November. If I get through that, I'll have finished my Hebrew language study at last!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

GAFCON Jerusalem statement - solidarity petition

GAFCON, the Global Anglican Futures Conference, was held in Jerusalem from 22-29 June this year. It's final outcome was the Jerusalem Declaration, a courageous statement of Biblical orthodoxy, which refuses to compromise with those who preach a different gospel. Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, has posted his reflections on that conference here.
There's a petition we can sign electronically, to show we agree with the Jerusalem Declaration (make sure you read it, first!). I encourage you to stand with our courageous Anglican brethren, even if you're not Anglican.

Deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan

As you know, for the past five years, the global Anglican communion has been in crisis over sexuality. I said in a previous post that the crisis is really a clash between two churches, with two different missions: one driven by culture, determined to marginalise the Bible; the other driven by the Bible, determined to challenge culture.
The battle between the two churches has reached Episcopalian proportions.
Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, has led the conservative Anglicans in the USA, who are opposed to the denomination's official policy of sexual permissiveness. On Thursday Sept. 18, he was officially deposed from his office in The Episcopal Church ("TEC"). He remains a Bishop with the Province of the Southern Cone, in fellowship with Archbishop Gregory Venables, who has also been an outspoken defender of a Biblically orthodox stand on sexuality.
This deposition was carefully planned by the Presiding Bishop of the TEC, Katharine Jefferts Schori. The first woman Primate in the history of Anglicanism, she has been instrumental in advancing the agenda of sexual permissiveness within the Anglican church in the USA. As far as I know, her actions have been totally within the letter of the law (but I'm no expert on American Episcopal canon law!). But this deposition indicates that the American Episcopal hierarchy is implacably hostile to anything remotely resembling orthodox, Biblical Christianity. They are totally unwilling to compromise their mission of radically revising the Christian faith to make it palatable to (post?)modern culture.
The Sydney Anglican diocese has supported Bishop Duncan. A website has been set up for further expressions of support. This is what Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, had to say:
It is with great joy that I welcome you alongside the ranks of St. Athanasius who, as Bishop of Alexandria, was deposed and exiled from his see. St. Athanasius did not waver and stood firm. History proved that his stance for orthodoxy was not in vain. I trust it will do the same for you! So please count it as honor my brother.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Corny Christian Cliches

Find more forehead-slapping moments at A Little Leaven, which catalogues both corny attempts at ministry and outright blasphemy.

SPY mission to Henty

SPY is Strathfield Presbyterian Youth. They're the - uh - youth group at Strathfield Presbyterian. Yeah - you wouldn't guess it from the name, would you (*sigh*).
Anyway - next week, we're off on a mission. To the little town of Henty, in country NSW. We'll be helping Henty Presbyterian Church put on a kid's club. We'll be presenting skits and plays from the Amazing Rescue program, created by Quizworx. The talks cover creation, sin, Jesus' death & resurrection, and looking forward to glory. The skits are about a hero jungle lad saving a damsel in distress from an evil tribe trying to cook her. No, I don't get to play the hero jungle lad - one of the youth group guys gets to do that - I have to play the part of the chief villain (*sigh* again).
The mission goes from Wednesday 1 - Sunday 5 Oct. We'd appreciate your prayers, that:
  • lots of children would come to the kid's program;
  • they'd clearly hear the message about Jesus, put their trust in him, and he saved;
  • we would perform the skits and talks in a fun, interesting, challenging way that clearly communicates the gospel to the children;
  • the SPY team would learn lots about ministry, and ourselves be deepened in our understanding of the gospel;
  • we'd have good relationships with our hosts at Henty, and be of mutual encouragement;
  • we'd have safe travel down on Wednesday, and back on Sunday.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Record no. of posts in Sept!

Holy cow - usually, I average one post every three days - but for Sept 08 so far, I've averaged more than a post a day!
Better blog about it...

Library Thing

ARGH! Why didn't I discover this years ago?
Library Thing allows you to catalogue your books on the 'net - and share them with other bibliophiles!
Hours of procrastination coming up...

Friday, 19 September 2008

AskChristianWriters.com

AskChristianWriters.com is a new site where you can send a query to a network of Christian writers - bloggers, reporters, pastors, publishers, professors - from all around the world. If you have a query you can submit it; if you're a Christian writer, you can sign up to contribute. It's been set up Andrew Jackson, who also runs the Christian Bloggers Network on Facebook.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A Ministry Undergirded by Grace

Joe Coffey, lead pastor of Hudson Community Chapel, makes some very honest admissions in his Themelios article How a Mega-Church is Rediscovering the Gospel. Three things struck me (the first two are tangential to the article itself):
(1) The senior minister really does have a big impact on the church. Yes I know that's obvious to most people - but can I tell you honestly that sometimes, from the perspective of us ministers, it looks like people completely ignore us, and we have no impact at all. I suspect many ministers would be surprised as to how big an impact they personally have on their church. Whether it's a pleasant or unpleasant surprise depends on their quality of that impact. Speaking of which:
(2) The corollary of (1) is that when a minister takes time to look after his family and his own godliness - read the Bible himself, pray, take a day off, talk to his wife, play with the kids - he's serving his church. A useful pastor is a godly one, with a godly family. Churches should encourage their ministers to look after their own godliness, and look after their families. Ministers should prioritise their families and their personal devotion to God. This is good for the minister, good for his church, and good for the kingdom of God.
(3) This is the main point of the article: all of this is underpinned by God's grace, not our efforts. Philippians 2:12-13: As we work, God works in us, to will and act according to his good purposes.

Failing vs successful churches

Richard J. Krejcir has written some challenging articles on why churches fail (part 1 and part 2) and succeed. I find these articles encouraging because Krejcir looks at statistics, but doesn't fall for business-driven marketing solutions. Quite the opposite: he roundly criticises the current trend of running a church like a business. Instead, he challenges church leaders to model Christ-likeness, apply the Bible to people's lives, and unequivocally challenge the congregation to be Christ-like and display the fruits of the Spirit.
Our churches fail when we fail to know and grow in Christ, when we fail to follow Him and Him alone! It is His Church; we are the stewards of it. We must act like it. All we do is for His glory, not ours, or even for the people in our neighborhoods!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Josh Harris: feeding the sinful nature

Josh Harris also has an insightful post about "feeding the flesh" - that is, giving in to the impulses of our sinful nature - including hilarious cartoons.

Josh Harris: preacher's notes

Josh Harris has accessed scanned copies of preaching notes from world-class preachers - with highlighting, scribbles & all! Have a look! So far he's got Mark Dever; Mike Bullmore; C.J. Mahaney; Ray Ortlund Jr; and Tim Keller. Also has links to the audio record of the sermon, so you can hear how it actually sounded.
It's fascinating to see each person's different style. I find Mark Dever's easiest to follow. Can someone please decipher Tim Keller's notes for me...?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Anti-Christian violence in India

For the past three weeks, Christians in northern India have been the victims of violent assaults. It started on August 23 when the leader of the radical Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was assassinated. VHP supporters have blamed Christians for the assassination, and for the last three weeks have smashed Christian property, and intimidated, injured and killed Christians.
Even the secular Indian media Hindustan Times and Times of India report that the violence is totally unjustified. It's the classic case of an established power base being threatened by successful Christian evangelism.
Please pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters - and for their persecutors, who will have to answer to the risen Jesus for how they treated his children.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Interesting post on Christian social convervatism

Fiona Lockett has posted some thoughts on Christian social conservatism. Note the ensuing discussion. I find this especially interesting in light of Mark Driscoll's criticism that Sydney Christians lack evangelistic fervour.

Vlogging

Oh great. Just when I was congratulating myself on being so technologically savvy as to have this blog, I discovered vlogging. Instead of typing your journal online ("blogging" = "web-log"), you videotape yourself, and post it on the web for public consumption. It's become possible because videotaping is now so cheap & easy - not only on traditional camcorders, but on mobiles, and computers (Macs come with an inbuilt camera). You can find vlogs on Youtube (search "vlog") or on specialist sites like VlogBlog.
I like blogging, but can't see myself vlogging anytime soon. I'm too tied to a keyboard. It helps me think.
Hmmm - first I start reminiscing, then I can't adjust to new technology - yep, I'm well and truly old.
Orright, you young 'uns - up an' at 'em - get vlogging!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Sydney Anglican Cathedral Podcasts & Vodcasts

Sydney Anglican Cathedral has got two new podcasts/vodcasts. In The Chat Room, Phillip Jensen (Dean of the Cathedral) and Kel Richards (Christian author and broadcaster) talk about various social & cultural issues: pornography, abortion, fatherhood... and other stuff. Cathedral Bible Study is Phillip Jensen's weekly lunchtime talk. He's recently been going through Genesis and Ephesians.

Other - personal - stuff

As I updated some of my links, I thought I'd link to some places & organisations that have personal significance to me.
... and the rest can be worked out from my other links.
Wait a minute - am I reminiscing? I must be getting old...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Brewin' up a storm

Here we go again.
Got a Hebrew mid-session exam on Tuesday. Prayer appreciated.
I am so un-motivated...
That's the problem with doing so much cool ministry at the same time as studying. And doing interesting subjects, like church, ministry & sacraments. I procrastinate from Hebrew by working on ministry projects, or reading random theology. (*Groan*)

Of Barns and Brains

Thanks again to all of you who prayed for my mum. Here's her own reflections on her recent illness (published with her permission):
* * * * * *
I have recently learned that my brain is my barn (Luke 12:15-21).
Let me explain.
Most of you know that I was ill last week, and wound up in hospital – a suspected stroke, but actually a labyrinthinitis (balance mechanism problem).
When I thought I was getting a stroke, I was terrified that I would be mentally incapacitated. I realized that material possessions mean very little to me – but intellect is what I value. In my illness, God taught me that I have built my ‘barns’ of personal significance on my brains and intellect.
Now that I am faced with the possibility that by brains and my intellect may be affected in the future (the MRI scans show some narrowing of the blood vessels supplying the brain), I am learning to come to terms with a possible loss of my intellectual sharpness. Praise God for teaching me this.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

More discussion of Driscoll's challenges

More discussion of Driscoll's challenges:

Trevor Hart's New College lectures on God and the Artist

New College (which established CASE) has an annual public lecture series. This year the theme was God and the Artist: Human Creativity in Theological Perspective. The lecturer was Professor Trevor Hart from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. You can get a summary of the lectures off the CASE Blog.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Covenant Theology: a concluding unscientific postscript

Well, that's enough from me on covenant theology. I've summarised it; talked about headship and reliability; discussed John Murray's view of the Adamic Administriation; briefly touched on covenant and politics; discussed the covenant of redemption; and union with Christ. It's time I moved on to other matters of multicultural ministry.
Theology should always lead to doxology. As I've written these blogs on God's covenantal dealings with humanity, I have often felt praise to God welling up inside me. So let me conclude with with the words of a hymn praising God for his sovereign grace:

Sovereign grace, o’er sin abounding!
Ransomed souls, the tidings swell;
’Tis a deep that knows no sounding;
Who its breadth or length can tell?
On its glories, on its glories,
Let my soul for ever dwell.

Who from Christ that soul can sever,
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in Him, in Him for ever;
Thus the eternal covenant stands.
None can take Thee, none can take thee
From the saviour's mighty hands.

Heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus,
Long ere time its race begun;
To His name eternal praises;
O what wonders love has done!
One with Jesus, one with Jesus,
By eternal union one.

On such love, my soul, still ponder,
Love so great, so rich, so free;
Say, while lost in holy wonder,
Why, O Lord, such love to me?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Grace shall reign eternally!

John Kent, 1746-1843

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Covenant theology links

If anyone wants more covenant theology, try these:

Covenant Theology and Union with Christ

There's a debate in theological circles about what it means to be "united with Christ", and it intersects with covenant theology. I'll try to summarise the debate - I hope I don't distort either position - sorry if I do.
To be "united with Christ" is to have a share in his benefits - to be able to say with confidence, "I have received the benefits of Jesus' death and resurrection". So it's synonymous with "being saved". There's too many passages for me to list them all - do a concordance search some time - but some good ones are Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:13; Hebrews 3:14; 1 Peter 5:10, 14.
Classic covenant theology states that being "in Christ" is a faith-union. When we put our trust in Jesus, he takes the punishment we deserve, and we receive the reward he deserves. This faith-union is grounded in God's electing purposes - he predestines those to whom he will give the gift of faith, whereby they will be united to Christ. But the actual union happens when the believer, under the convicting power of the Spirit, puts their trust in Jesus' death and resurrection. It is therefore focused on the cross and resurrection.
Neo-orthodox theology states union with Christ is an ontological union. It is focused on the incarnation, where the divine Son of God became human, and thereby united humanity with divinity.
Neo-orthodoxy criticises covenant theology as removing the basis of a believer's assurance. If our union with Christ is dependent upon God's predestination, then can we ever be sure we're saved? Also, it criticises covenant theology for making people focus on their subjective faith, rather than Christ's objective atonement. Only the elect have faith - I have faith - that must mean I'm elect. Hang on - that puts the focus on you, not Jesus! Neo-orthodoxy claims to restore the focus on Jesus, who is the elect one.
I agree that predestination, and the place of faith, are two tension points within covenant theology. However, I think this is because they're Biblical problems - they're tension points within the Bible itself. Furthermore, I think the neo-orthodox solution causes more problems than it solves - and these problems are un-Biblical. The neo-orthodox theological system (and here's where I hope I'm not over-generalising) is, I think, necessarily universalistic. If, in the incarnation, God took not just a human - Jesus of Nazareth - but all humanity into himself, then how can anyone not be saved? Most neo-orthodox theologians don't go this far; probably because they hold the Bible closer than their theological system - which is how it should be!
My preferred solution is to stick with the classic covenantal view, but within that, to highlight Christ as the object of faith, faith as only an instrument of salvation, and predestination as an outworking of God's purposefulness. What's important is to be united with Christ: he's the object of our faith; he's the one who's done everything we need to be reconciled to God. We're united with him by faith, but that faith is a mere instrument - it's not the object, we don't have "faith in our faith". What really matters is not the strength of our faith, but the strength of the Jesus we have our faith in. Even a weak, trembling faith in the real Jesus will achieve it's goal - reconcile us to God - because even if our faith is weak, our Jesus is strong. As for predestination: God, in his secret purposes, has chosen to give this reconciling faith to some, but not all. The rest, he "passes by" (Westminster Confession, chapter 3 section 7), still respecting them as free, responsible persons, and holds them accountable for rejecting him. So, we shouldn't turn ourselves inside out trying to discern whether we have true faith, whether we're predestined, etc. We should simply praise the glorious mercy of God, who draws us to himself in Christ.
I hope this maintains all the good things of the neo-orthodox view of Christ as the elect one, and the covenantal significance of faith-union with Christ, and avoids the dangers of over-systematisation in either direction. Incidentally, I don't think I'm saying anything that different from Calvin - am I?
This concludes my series on Covenant Theology. It's time I moved on to something a little less - ah - geeky. What will that be? Watch this space...

Monday, 8 September 2008

Covenant of Redemption

In my first post on covenant theology, I said “Covenant theology therefore presents salvation as a unified act of the Triune God, centered on Christ's death and resurrection.” Some covenant theologians systematise this cross-centred unity in terms of a pre-creation, intra-Trinitarian "covenant of redemption".
This covenant of redemption happens before creation, within the three persons of the Trinity. Logically, it therefore precedes the other two covenants - the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. These two covenants are outworkings of this covenant of redemption.
The content of the covenant of redemption is as follows: the Father appoints the Son a task: to redeem the elect, by dying and rising for them. The Father also promises the Son that as a reward for accomplishing this task, the Son will possess the church. The Father also gives the Son power to complete this task by equipping the Son with the Spirit.
This covenant of redemption is then worked out in history through the events of the gospel. The incarnate Son obediently dies and rises, accomplishing salvation for the elect, and earning the Father’s promised reward. The Spirit implements this reward by working in the elect, through the gospel of Christ crucified, to draw them to trust Christ, and thereby become Christians – members of the church – part of Christ’s prize.
The covenant of redemption highlights the Trinitarian, theocentric, Christocentric nature of salvation. Salvation is not primarily about us; it’s about God – the whole, Triune God. This agrees with the theocentricity of the whole Bible - we exist for God, not the other way 'round (Isaiah 40:12-31; Ezekiel 20:30-44; 36:22-23, 31-32; Romans ch 3). The covenant of redemption retains an order in the Trinity: the Father takes the initiative; the Son responds in glad obedience; and the Spirit is active in both empowering the Son to accomplish redemption for the elect, and applying the Son’s redemption to the elect (John 2:17; 4:34; 14:16-17; Eph 1:3, 10, 13-14). In terms of its actual outworking, it’s focused on Christ, especially on his death and resurrection - which is of course the focus of the whole New Testament.
Objection 1: Should we really talk about the Son “earning” a “reward” for “obeying” the Father? How could the eternal Son of God ever disobey the Father, anyway? That would break the unity of the Trinity – which is an ontological impossibility, because the Trinity is constituted by his mutual interpersonal indwelling. And if the Son couldn’t help obeying the Father, how could he deserve a reward?
Reply 1A: I agree that the terms “earning” and “reward” are problematic, because they imply uncertainty about the result. If someone “earns” a “reward”, that implies they could have failed, thus not earning the reward. Perhaps we should replace them with “establishing” the “desired goal”. The incarnate Son obediently dies and rises, establishing the Father’s desired goal: the salvation of the elect, whom the Father gives to the Son to rule, in love, forever. The Spirit implements this goal by working in the elect, through the gospel of Christ crucified, to draw them to trust Christ, and thereby become Christians – members of the church – members of Christ’s kingdom.
Reply 1B: I do not think the word “obedience” is problematic. The covenant of redemption does not deny the unity of the Trinity; on the contrary, it expresses it. The Father delights to honour the Son, and gives him the resource – the Spirit - necessary to perform the task set for this honouring – the task of dying and rising, to redeem the elect. The Son delights to obey the Father in performing this task. The Spirit delights to empower the Son to perform the task, and to implement the result once it has been achieved: convert the elect.
Reply 1C: I agree that the divine Son could not disobey the Father. Nevertheless, I think that obedience was costly, and the Son's willed obedience was necessary to establish the desired goal of redeeming the elect. How else could we make sense of the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-45 & parallels)? Or Philippians 2:5-11?
Objection 2: Being God-centered and Christ-centered is all well and good, but doesn’t it make people kinda irrelevant? The covenant of redemption makes humans sound like mere instruments – God uses us to make himself look good.
Reply 2A: And what’s wrong with that? The question smuggles in a hidden middle term: it’s somehow bad, wrong, immoral for God to use us to make himself look good. The question makes “use” sound like “abuse”. We – and all creation - were created for God’s glory. When we glorify and praise God, we are doing what which we were created for. It’s good for us to do that - it's not abusive.
Reply 2B: The way God draws us to glorify him is not by abusing us, but through redeeming us. The normal response to being saved is to give God heartfelt praise. How else could we respond when we survey the wondrous cross?
Reply 2C: That act of redemption establishes that while humans are instruments for God’s glory, we are not merely instruments. Viewing humans as tools for divine self-glorification is true but not sufficient. We are personal beings, who are objects of God’s redeeming love.
Objection 3: You talk a lot about the elect, the church – but what about the rest of creation? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christ redeeming a whole new creation?
Reply 3: Yes it does. I would adjust the statements about the church being Christ’s reward to state that the end goal of Christ’s death and resurrection was a whole new creation, with redeemed human beings as the crowning glory of that new creation.