Thursday, 31 December 2009

A new year, a new you

2 Cor 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

New years are a good time for big changes. Time to move house. Or look for a new job. Maybe time to start a new diet & exercise routine. But - change is difficult. That’s why new year’s resolutions are so depressing. It’s so much easier not to have any changes. It’s so much easier to just give up. This is who I am, this is what I do. I’m not gonna change.

When TV ads talk about “a new year, a new you”, they mean makeup and gym classes and clothes. But it’s not actually a new us, it’s the old us, with makeup on. Or the old us, with new clothes on. That’s why the changes don’t work most of the time. It’s not actually a new us.

But 2 Cor 5 tells us we can actually have a new “us”. But this passage tells us – we actually can have a new you! It’s so new, that Paul can call it a new creation. The old person’s completely gone; it’s a whole new you. And there’s three great things about it.

First, God does it. We don't have to do this big change ourselves. When we go to the gym, we have to work out, we have to sweat and strain. But this change that Paul’s taking about is more like getting your hair and nails done. You just sit there, nice and comfortable. Someone else fusses over you, and you leave looking and feeling marvellous.

Second, the way God fusses over us is by fixing up our sin problem. We reject God; but God does the work needed to fix that. Most of the time, if someone upsets us, we get angry and wait for them to come and say sorry. And if they do, we might forgive them – slowly – because we really want to punish them. God’s not like that. He comes to us first – even before we say sorry – because he wants to fix up the relationship more than we do.

Thirdly, this change now gives us a new identity. We don’t belong to ourselves any more – we belong to God. We can give up our boring, petty, self-obsessed, world-bound ambitions and values and priorities. We can trade them in for much more interesting, eternal, useful ambitions and values and priorities. Like living for God-in-Christ, every hour of every day.

Nice for a change, isn’t it?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Biblical Theology and Geerhardus Vos

Sydney Evangelicalism is known for its Biblical Theology. Biblical Theology means more than just theology that is based on the Bible - any Christian theology should do that. It means a detailed, sophisticated approach to reading the whole Bible as a single, connected narrative, which climaxes in Christ. Biblical Theology is based on three premises:
1. the whole Bible, old and new testaments, is one connected story...
2. ... which climaxes in Christ: the old testament looks forward to him, the new testament looks back to him...
3. ... and especially Christ's death and resurrection.
Through the work of Graeme Goldsworthy, generations of ministers - both "professional" and laity - have been trained to think of the Bible in terms of God's people, in God's place, under God's rule.

Goldsworthy's approach to Biblical Theology, indeed the whole project of a Calvinist-Reformed integrated understanding of the Bible's overarching narrative, owes a lot to one man: Geerhardus Vos. He was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 19th - early 20th century, as its first professor of Biblical Theology. His inaugural address, The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline, is still considered a classic defenition of the nature and scope of Biblical Theology.

Biblicaltheology.org is now making Vos' work available to the public for free. A great resource for learning. Enjoy!

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Christmas meditation

A great and mighty wonder,
Redemption drawing near,
The virgin bears the infant,
The Son of God is here.

Repeat the hymn again:
"To God on high be glory
And peace on earth to men."

The Word becomes incarnate,
And yet remains on high,
And angels sing their anthems,
To shepherds from the sky.

Repeat the hymn again:
"To God on high be glory
And peace on earth to men."

He comes to save all people,
The earth shall hear his word,
The infant born in Bethl’em,
Is Saviour, Lord and God.

Repeat the hymn again:
"To God on high be glory
And peace on earth to men."

All idol forms shall perish,
And error be no more,
For Christ shall wield His scepter,
our Lord for ever more.

Repeat the hymn again:
"To God on high be glory
And peace on earth to men."

(Words originally by St. Germanus, 734AD. Slightly altered & modernised. )

* * * * *

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The benefits of taking Christ out of Christmas

Why do we celebrate Christmas on 25 Dec? There's at least two possible reasons:
  1. Nine months from the date when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become pregnant (generally taken to be March 25 - but I dunno why);
  2. A Christian adaptation of the Roman, pagan celebration of the northern hemisphere winter solstice. At the winter solstice, the days stop contracting and start getting longer. So it's the sign that the world won't spiral into endless winter. Pagan, earth-worshiping religion take that a sign to celebrate the continuity of life.
I don't know how reliable the dating of the annunciation is - I'll sideline that issue, if that's okay.

I want to propose something. How about we deliberately ditch 25 Dec as being Christmas, and rename it "summer festival of life"? The benefits are:
  1. It's more in line with the original pagan festival - Christians can just pick a different day, some other time in the year;
  2. That's what it is for most people anyway - an excuse to eat & drink & generally enjoy unrestrained indulgent pleasure, which, in a radically hedonistic society, is what it means to 'really live';
  3. For the less crassly indulgent among us - it's a chance to catch up with friends & family and enjoy a holiday from work;
  4. We can get rid of the traditional clutter that pushes Jesus out - Santa Clause, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, trees, gifts, carols...
  5. As Christians, we agree with point 3. above, and even, to a limited extent, with point 2. God gives us all good things to enjoy - including food and drink, but especially friends and family and relationships. In Australia, we are so wealthy, as a society, that we can take a week or two to rest from our normal work, and refresh our bodies and our relationships. These are all good things, from a Christian point of view. If we call this time of year the "summer festival of life", we can point to the God who gives us life - both the good life in this world that we all enjoy, and eternal life, in the death & resurrection of Christ - and call people to worship him.
Thoughts, anyone?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Calvin's political theology - is it Biblical?

This is my last post on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

I think Calvin rightly explains the breadth of Paul and Peter’s command to submit to authority. Both Rom. 13:1-7 and 1 Pet. 3:12-14 call on Christians to submit to authority. Paul says that a pagan, Roman ruler was instituted by God. Peter and Paul both assert that secular rulers do good by punishing evil and praising good. They thus evidently envisaged some duality of government, where a pagan ruler, who did not serve God in the religious sphere, and enacted evil in that realm, could still serve God and do good in the civil sphere. Similarly, Jesus’ reply to the Pharisee's famous question concerning taxation - "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" - implies the possibility of simultaneous loyalty to God and an ungodly civil authority – a possibility which subverts the basis for the Pharisees' trick question. In Rom 13, Paul notes that the ruler’s bear the sword because of human propensity for evil – just as Calvin asserts. Paul’s appeal to the conscience, and Peter’s appeal to God's will, indicate that, just as Calvin says, such obedience should not be merely external and coerced, but from the believer’s new, internal, Spirit-wrought disposition.

But the new testament does NOT assert that civil government must establish and defend true religion, nor does it indicate a preference for conciliar, republican government. For that, Calvin relies on the old testament, especially pre-monarchical Israel. The hermeneutical manoeuvres he undertakes, and key texts he relies on, are:
  1. the old testament law illustrates the universal moral law (Rom. 2:14-16);
  2. pre-monarchical Israelite polity, which is part of the law, was democratic-republican and upheld true worship (Exodus 18:13-27; Deut. 1:9-18);
  3. therefore, the best biblical pattern for civil government is a democratic-republican theocracy.
Calvin did NOT assert that republicanism was the one biblically mandated form of civil government; but it was the best one, a ‘fixed and a well-ordered government […] by the common consent of all.’ He got around the Davidic kingship by focusing on the problems of monarchy set out in 1 Sam. 8, and connecting the Davidic kingship with Christ.

These hermeneutical manoeuvres are all contestable. But Calvin’s general view of the need to limit power rests on a simpler basis: his doctrine of sin. Calvin scholar Douglas Kelly says:
Governmental principles for consent of the governed, and separation and balance of powers are all logical consequences of a most serious and Calvinian view of the biblical doctrine of the fall of man. But some generations would pass before these consequential concepts were clearly drawn out and defined, under the impact of varying historical circumstances and intellectual currents.
Douglas F. Kelly, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th through 18th Centuries, Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1995 page 17

Sunday, 20 December 2009

21 today

Today, my parents & I celebrate 21 years in Australia.

We landed in Melbourne in the morning of 20 Dec 1988. Lived with my uncle (mum's brother) for three weeks, then moved to Sydney because mum had a job offer at what was then the Cumberland College of Health Sciences - which later became part of the University of Sydney - which job mum still has.

Lots has happened in 21 years. Amongst other things:
* Visited New Zealand, England, Belgium, France, Germany, Thailand & Canada;
* Got myself 3 undergraduate degrees (Bachelor of Commerce, Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Divinity);
* Lived in Homebush, Parramatta, Minchinbury, Rooty Hill, Newtown & Croydon;
* Changed careers from accounting to church ministry;
* Became a Presbyterian;
* Got 1,260 friends on Facebook - and yes, I do actually know them all, even if only remotely;
* Got this blog.
Wonder what the next 21 years hold - if the Lord gives me that long? Check back in 2030.

Morrow Music Online

'Nother news flash.

Michael Morrow's an up & coming evangelical music writer - keep an eye on him. The scores for his songs are available for free download from his website, morrowmusic. I think "I know your love" is my favorite so far. Or maybe "nothing but the blood". You can buy Michael's CD from the EMU online store.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Calvin on Submission to Government

This continues my series on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin calls the people to respect and submit to the rulers that God has providentially put over them. He does not permit the people to rebel, even against bad rulers, for they too have been instituted by God. Even a tyrannical ruler enacts some aspect of good governance.

The one apparent exception is if an ungodly ruler exceeds the bounds of civil authority and coercively legislates false religion. Even in this case, the disobedience must be both passive and limited, so it is not a true exception to Calvin’s general non-resistance. The people must privately refuse to participate in the particular area of false worship. They must not actively, publicly rebel against the ruler, and therefore the whole system of government which God has providentially placed over them.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Sovereign Grace comes to town

New flash!

Sovereign Grace ministries plan to plant a church in Sydney, probably somewhere around Hornsby. Dave Taylor, their founding pastor, explains here that one of the main reasons Sovereign Grace are coming to Sydney is because people have asked them to do so!

For more info, have a look at their Sovereign Grace Oz website.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Calvin on the Form of Civil Government

This continues my series on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin did NOT believe Scripture mandated a particular form of civil polity. Calvin affirmed that monarchy and democracy were legitimate, but he preferred ‘aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy’, not because it was divinely mandated, but because it limited the excesses of monarchy. Calvin saw monarchy rapidly degenerating into tyranny, and democracy to anarchy. He preferred a system which contained checks and balances to power, and which reflected, at least to some extent, the consent of the people.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Calvin on Civil Law

This continues my series on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

John Calvin was no theonomist – he did not hold that the Bible prescribed precise laws which must be applied today. He, along with other magisterial reformers, followed the medieval division of old testament laws into ceremonial, civil, and moral. Ceremonial laws were specific to the old testament forms of worship and are fulfilled, therefore abrogated, in their ceremonial capacity, by Christ. Civil laws were specific to the nation of Israel, and in the internationalisation of the gospel in Christ, they too are fulfilled and abrogated.

But the moral law ‘is the true and eternal rule of righteousness, prescribed for men of all nations and times, who wish to conform their lives to God’s will’. Indeed, the ceremonial and civil laws are themselves expressions of the moral law – the ceremonial pointing to the first table of the decalogue, illustrating what it means to love God, and the civil pointing to the second, as examples of love of neighbour. Hence, while ceremonial and civil laws have been abrogated in their ceremonial and civil functions, they are still binding in their moral aspects.

Calvin was not, strictly speaking, politically egalitarian: he did not hold to the radical equality of all people in all aspects which has become the post-Enlightenment norm. But he was adamant of the equality of all people before law – both God’s law and human. He affirmed the right to sue, and ‘held to an equality of disciplinary treatment for all Genevans, rich or poor, celebrated or inglorious’.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Calvin on the Role of the Magistrate

This continues my series on John Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin divided political order into the magistrate, who rules the people by law; the laws, by which the magistrate rules the people; and the people, ruled legally by the magistrate. When these three elements work together harmoniously, they would create a healthy civil society, where all people could flourish. This visible, peaceful civil society would be both an expression of Christian piety, and an analogical witness to the gospel’s invisible, internal peace and harmony.

Contra the Anabaptists, Calvin affirmed the legitimacy of political office, going as far as to call it ‘the highest gift of his beneficence to preserve the safety of men’. God providentially raises up civil rulers as his ministers, carrying out God’s judgements. God gives this authority to the magistrates, not to feed their own lusts, but to serve him, though serving the people and enhancing the common good. While rulers are primarily accountable to God, because God invests them with authority for the people’s sake, not for their own, they should also consider themselves accountable to the people.

Godly rulers use the law to establish true religion and care for the people. They exhibit modesty, both in the pomp of their office, and in the burdens they put on the people, including tax. They establish wholesome civil behaviour, through achieving the right balance in promulgating and enforcing the law, avoiding both severity and undue clemency. Tyrants, in contrast, contradict the rightful relationships of magistrates, laws and people. Instead of using the law to serve the people and advance God’s kingdom, tyrants serve themselves, break the law, oppress the people, and often explicitly oppose God.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Calvin on Church and State: Two Co-ordinated Governments

This continues my series on John Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin did not hold to a two-kingdom view of church and state, properly speaking, but a two-government (duplex regimen) view of God’s unified kingdom.

This was different from the Lutheran view, which drew a sharper antithesis between internals and externals, the world and the spirit. It was also different to the Anabaptist separation of church from state. Both these views effectively denied that the state had any useful role in establishing piety.

Calvin also differed from the Zwinglian delegation of church governance to secular authorities. Calvin insisted that church officers, not secular magistrates, control spiritual matters, including the right to communicate. This insistence caused his 1538-41 exile from Geneva. To achieve their independence, Geneva had relied upon military assistance of the Swiss Protestant cities of Fribourg and Bern. In 1538, the Senate instituted a Zwinglian submission of the church to the state, which conformed with Bern’s ecclesio-political arrangement, but which Calvin opposed. The Senate responded by exiling Calvin.

Calvin maintained a distinction, though not separation, between church and state. The church establishes God’s inner kingdom, in the believer’s conscience, through word and sacrament. The church must not bear the sword – it must not use coercion to achieve Godliness. We experience a true, partial realisation of the Kingdom of God in the church, not the state.

The state’s jurisdiction is ‘secular’ insofar as it is focused on ordering external, visible, ‘public’ life. The state must not intrude into the internal realm of conscience, nor attempt to use its weapons of coercion in that realm. ‘[N]either the laws and edicts of men, nor the punishments inflicted by them, enter into the consciences.’

Nevertheless, this outward public order is an aspect of true piety, and, by analogy, a testimony to the internal peace and order that the gospel establishes. Negatively, civil government restrains sin. Positively, it establishes humane relations among all people, and establishes true religion. Human government is therefore not just a necessary evil, but is God’s good provision for human flourishing. It is a providential aid to Godliness, which helps us enact the earthly aspects of our heavenward pilgrimage.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Calvin on Government and Freedom

This continues my series on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin’s view on secular government intersects with his view on Christian freedom. In the first edition of Institutes, the section on freedom immediately preceded those on ecclesial and civil power.

Against Rome, Calvin asserted that the Christian’s conscience was freed, through justification by faith in Christ alone, from slavery to rituals, works-righteousness, and earthly authority in this justificative sense. Christians are saved not by being rightly related to Rome through the institutional church, but by being rightly related to God, in Christ, through the Spirit. Against the Anabaptists, he asserted this freedom was not for license or insurrection, but for obedience to God’s commands, expressed in an ordered life, submissive to earthly rule.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Political Significance of Calvin's Institutes

This continues my series on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin intended his Institutes to be an introduction to the study of Scripture, and thus nourish piety. It is not first of all a political manifesto.

Nevertheless, it begins and ends with political statements. In the prefatory address, Calvin reminds Francis that a ‘true king’ must ‘recognize himself a minister of God in governing his kingdom’, and warns him that a king who ‘does not serve God’s glory exercises not kingly rule but brigandage’, and that a kingdom which is ‘not ruled by God’s sceptre, that is, his Holy Word’ will not prosper. The whole preface is a plea that Francis give the Protestants a fair hearing, and not associate them with Anabaptist turmoil. These themes are repeated and expanded in the Institute’s final chapter, which remained virtually unchanged from the first edition of Institutes to the last.

Calvin’s Institutes is an apologia for the magisterial reformation, and therefore a highly political document. It is an appeal to secular rulers to exercise their God-given privilege and responsibility of leading their subjects into true religion.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Calvin's Geneva

This continues my series on Calvin's political theology

* * * * *

Calvin first arrived in Geneva in 1536. Geneva had recently become theologically Protestant, freeing itself from the Roman prince-bishop, who, along with the cathedral canons, had wielded political, economic and ecclesial authority. It had also recently become politically republican, freeing itself from the French Duke of Savoy – who was Catholic. Geneva’s republican form of government was expressed in its hierarchical councils, headed by the Senate of twenty-five native-born citizens, elected annually, supervised by four executives called Syndics, also elected annually.

Calvin invented neither political republicanism nor ecclesial presbyterianism. Other Swiss and German cities had previously experimented with hierarchical conciliar rule since the 14th century. Calvin’s contribution was to develop and formalise them in his civil and ecclesial constitutions, the Ordinances for Offices and Officers, and the Ecclesial Ordinances, which he drafted upon his return to Geneva in 1541. The way he structured the consistory was a novel contribution to co-ordinating without confusing the two spheres of church and state. The consistory was a church court, not a civil one. But it heard cases concerning public behaviour – theft, lying, vandalism, marital issues, etc. Calvin wanted the consistory, as the highest church court, to hold the power of excommunication. But it took until 1555 to establish that power. Until then, the consistory could only admonish, and recommend excommunication to the Senate.

Catholic persecution of Protestants in places like France, Italy, England and Scotland brought a flood of Protestant refugees into Geneva. This brought Calvin into close contact with the effects of persecution, and also disseminated his ideas all over Europe. But it also caused unrest by local Genovese patriots, led by Ami Perrin, who happened to be a hero of the recent independence from the French Duchy of Savoy. Xenophobia against the (mainly French) refugees led to the 1555 riot where the anti-Calvin Perrinistes were defeated, and Calvin’s status strengthened to a position he enjoyed to the end of his life.

Friday, 4 December 2009

AFES National Training Event


I'm off to Canberra for AFES National Training Event ("NTE"). More than 1,000 Christian uni students from all over the country are descending on Canberra to get trained for ministry, then heading out for various mission locations. My church, Merrylands East Presbyterian Church, is hosting a mission team next week. Stay tuned for updates.

Meanwhile, through the power of scheduled posts, my series on John Calvin's political theology will continue :)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Calvin's political theology

Political theology is the art of analysing human government – the state, the polis – through the lens of theology. It asks: what does God say about ordered human community in this world? How, according to God, may we create societies which maximise human flourishing? Evangelical political theology finds the answers through a Christ-centred understanding of the Bible.

I just handed in an essay on John Calvin's political theology, in his context in 16th century Geneva. Here's some of my thoughts.

John Calvin was never a ‘politician’ in the sense of holding public office. In Geneva, he was officially Lecturer in Holy Scripture, and for his whole life he saw himself as a pastor-teacher of God’s flock. His personal impact upon Geneva, and perhaps on the whole Protestant movement, was due mainly to his preaching. Calvin preached several times a week. His preaching was clear, simple, and rhetorically powerfully. Through it, he shaped the minds of the Genovese population and their leaders.

However, Calvin saw politics as a necessary aspect of godliness. Consistent with the medieval church, other magisterial reformers, and indeed most of history, he saw an ‘indissoluble link between religious faith and public order’. The ‘secular’ state was not a ‘faith-free zone’ – this is a modern, post-Enlightenment innovation. For Calvin, both church and state had been established by God, as distinct but coordinated jurisdictions, which serve God by establishing true piety. Even pagan philosophers founded their political philosophy upon theology and piety.

Calvin’s desire for a Godly, republican commonwealth stems from at least four sources: old testament Israel’s polity; classical Greco-Roman polity; existing European republicanism; and the medieval Catholic tradition of conciliar governance. He was trained as a lawyer, a training which included philosophy and theology as well as legal studies. Civil government was a major theme in his 1532 Commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia. He sometimes preached in light of political incidents, eg: on November 4 and 11, 1545, Calvin preached on Psalms 115 and 124 in light of a military incident involving the Schmalkaldic League and a German Roman-Catholic duke. He wrote letters to politicians all across Europe, and dedicated commentaries to Protestant rulers: his commentary on the Epistles to Edward VI of England; his commentary on Isaiah to Elizabeth I; and his commentary on Hebrews to Sigismund, king of Poland.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Calvin on the right to resist tyrannical government

John Calvin was, generally speaking, against popular rebellion, even against an oppressive government. He called Christians to respect and submit to the rulers that God has providentially put over them - even the bad ones. He did not permit the people to rebel, even against bad rulers. "The magistrate cannot be resisted without God being resisted at the same time" (Institutes, 4.20.23). If an ungodly ruler persecutes believers, they are to humbly suffer. They may flee, but they are not to rebel.

The one apparent exception is if an ungodly ruler exceeds the bounds of civil authority and coercively legislates false religion. Even in this case, the disobedience must be both passive and limited, so it is not a true exception to Calvin’s general non-resistance. The people must privately refuse to participate in the particular area of false worship. They must not actively, publicly rebel against the ruler, and therefore the whole system of government which God has providentially placed over them.

Calvin authorised the people’s magistrates to act to restrain tyrants. Indeed, he saw that as part of their divine duty. Any action by these people’s magistrates against higher magistrates is categorically different from popular rebellion, because the people’s magistrates have been providentially appointed by God to protect the people. In exercising this power, they are not denying God’s providential government, but upholding it, in the manner God intended. Indeed, to not use their power to protect the people, and thus implicitly side with a tyrant, would be ‘nefarious perfidy’ (Institutes, 4.20.31).

Who did Calvin mean by the 'people's magistrates'? He could have meant unelected aristocrats, or elected parliament. Later Calvinist political theology developed it in the latter direction. This 'popular magistrate's' right of resistance was a crucial basis for the parliamentary war against the king in the English civil war, and the American war of independence.

Resurfacing

Orright - been quiet recently coz I've been clobbered with a coupla essays. Am now resurfacing. Expect a few posts based on aforementioned essays. Topics coming up:
1. Calvin's political theology;
2. Calvin on the sacraments;
3. Mission, church, and missional church.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Friday, 13 November 2009

CASE book review: Andrew Parker, "The Genesis Enigma"

Trevor Cairney of CASE has just reviewed Andrew Parker's book The Genesis Enigma. Parker is a researcher at Oxford University. He's not a Christian, but he's willing to think that the author of Genesis might be divinely inspired. Sounds like a fascinating read.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Kirkplace is online!

Kirkplace - Steve Chong's church in Kogarah - has brought their new website online. Their new building opens this Sunday.
Steve & I were in the same year at Moore College. And there the similarity ends. He's got a new church building; leading a regional evangelism and church planting movement; and being coached by Mark Driscoll. The amazing thing about the guy is - he's so humble & cheerful about it all. Hope he goes far. Well, I hope the gospel takes him far. Ah, you know what I mean. Go kick some gospel butt, brother.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

How do they see us?

Novels can give an interesting insight into what people think of the church and Christianity. Take this little episode from Ian Rankin’s novel Mortal Causes. It’s set in Scotland; the action switches between Edinburgh and Glasgow – Calvinist Presbyterian heartland. At this point, Inspector John Rebus is chatting with Father Leary, a Catholic priest.

* * * * *

“A bit morbid for a Sunday, John?” said the Father.

“Isn’t that what Sundays are for?” Rebus retorted.

“Maybe for you sons of Calvin. You tell yourselves you’re doomed, then spend all week trying to make a joke of it. Others of us give thanks for this day and its meaning.”

Rebus shifted in his chair. Lately, he didn’t enjoy Father Leary’s conversations so much. There was something proselytizing about them.

* * * * *

Ian Rankin, Mortal Causes, page 17.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Popular impact of the New Perspective

Christianity Today has an interesting article on the popular impact of the New Perspective. Basically, it's providing a route back to Roman Catholicism - which is what everyone's been saying ever since it became an issue in academic theology, some fifty years ago or so.
Collin Hansen, 'Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together', Christianity Today 10 Oct 09.
Thanks to Roger Gallagher for drawing this to my attention.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Fun with Ian Rankin: Graffiti artists

From Ian Rankin’s novel Mortal Causes. An Inspector Rebus novel.

* * * * *

Rebus drove out along Queensferry Road and parked outside the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Hell, noting with guilty pleasure that no one had yet corrected the mischievous graffiti on the noticeboard which turned ‘Help’ into ‘Hell’.

* * * * *

Ian Rankin, Mortal Causes, pages 16-17.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Reformation Day!

On this day (31 Oct) in 1517, a German monk names Martin Luther nailed a set of 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg. The theses were a scholarly objection to several medieval church practices, including, but not limited to, the sale of indulgences. The Protestant Reformation had a variety of sources and can't be limited to one starting point. But, this was a key date in the movement gathering public momentum - so let's celebrate it!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fun with Colin Dexter: Theologians

From Colin Dexter’s book The Daughters of Cain – an Inspector Morse novel.

Chief Superintendent Strange is trying to comfort Inspector Phillotson, who’s just lost his wife. Strange is surprised when Phillotson tells him he’s just received a comforting letter from Inspector Morse.

* * * * *

“I can’t imagine him being much comfort to anybody”, said Strange. “He’s a pagan, you know that. Got no time for the Church and… hope and faith and all that stuff. Doesn’t even believe in God, let alone in any sort of life after death”.

“Bit like some of our Bishops”, said Phillotson sadly.

“Like some of our Theology dons in Oxford, too.”

Monday, 26 October 2009

Fun with Frederick Forsyth 2: Tourists

"Ray, do you think he'd mind if I took his picture?"

"Be right with you, honey. Who?"

The Bedouin was standing across the road from her husband, having apparently walked out from between two dunes. One minute he was not there, the next he was.

"Dunno", Ray Walker said. "Guess not. But don't get too close. Probably got fleas. I'll get the engine started. You take a quick picture and if he gets nasty jump right in. Fast."

Maybelle Walker took several steps forward and held up her camera. "May I take your picture?" she asked. "Camera? Picture? Click-click? For my album back home?"

The man just stood and stared at her. His once-white djellaba, stained and dusty, dropped from his shoulders to the sand at his feet. What little skin of forehead and eye sockets she could see was burned brown by the desert.

She raised her camera. The man did not move. She squinted through the aperture, wondering if she could make the car in time should the Arab come running at her. Click.

"Thank you very much", she said. Still he did not move. She backed towards the car, smiling brightly. Always smile, she recalled the Reader's Digest once advising Americans confronted by someone who cannot understand English.

"Honey, get in the car", her husband shouted. "It's all right, I think he's OK", she said, opening the door. Ray Walker's hand reached out and hauled her into the car, which screeched away from the roadside.

The Arab watched them go, shrugged, and walked behind the sand dune where he had parked his own sand-camouflaged Land Rover. In a few seconds he, too, drove off in the direction of Abu Dhabi.


* * * * *


Frederick Forsyth, The Fist of God, pages 40-41. Some sections omitted because they're redundant to the humour & text altered slightly to flow smoothly.

Incidentally: the 'Bedouin' turns out to be Major Mike Martin of the Special Air Service - a British army officer.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Anglican Social Issues Executive website: www.sie.org.au

The Anglican Social Issues Executive have just launched their website. www.sie.org.au. Plenty of resources about living as a Christian in the world. Helps us think Biblically about issues like the environment, sex & marriage, human rights, abortion, war... stuff like that.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Fun with Frederick Forsyth 1: Journalists

The last few posts have been intense. Time to lighten the tone.

* * * * *

These were the days when readers had no objection to a foreign correspondent having a pretty vivid imagination and it was not unknown for a journalist far from home, unable to garner the true facts of a story, simply to make it up. There is a glorious example of the American from Hearst Newspapers who arrived by train somewhere in the Balkans to cover a civil war. Unfortunately he overslept on the train and woke up in the next capital down the line, which happened to be rather quiet. Rather perplexed, he recalled he had been sent to cover a civil war so he had better do it. He duly filed a vigorous war report. The next morning this was read by the [Balkan] embassy in Washington who sent the report back to their masters at home [...] The local government mobilized the militia. The peasants, fearing a pogrom, revolted. A civil war subsequently began. The journalist woke up to a telegram from New York congratulating him on a world scoop.

[Frederick Forsyth, The Phantom of Manhattan, page 17.]

Monday, 19 October 2009

A novel approach to apologetics & evangelism?

I like novels that deal with deep life issues. They seem more, well, real, than novels that are just action or romance, and are too obviously formulaic.

Also, novels can be apologetic or evangelistic. They can have Biblical-Christian elements as part of the drama, which invite people to think about life from a Christian perspective, without being "preachy" - it's just part of the fun of the story. Like the philosophical musings that I noted in the past six posts were seamlessly woven into the story. Kind of an anti-Da Vinci Code.

Might this be how Jesus' parables worked for the original hearers?

There's gotta be lots of ways to do this - the gospel's so basic to human existence. Lots of stories have the main character seek "redemption" from some "sin" (eg: the recent movie Seven Pounds. Thought-provoking.). Thriller novels have "good guys" and "bad guys", and the hero saves the world - or the heroine - or whatever. Romances deal with love, loss, relationships, betrayal. So many dramatic devices resonate with the gospel: hope, disappointment, guilt, lies, forgiveness, master-pupil relationships...

The famous examples of this are of course C. S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, and his less well-known Space Trilogy. Though I'm not actually sure whether Lewis meant to have evangelistic-apologetic elements in the books, or just wrote for fun, consciously using Christian elements. Anyone know? Australia's own Kel Richards was much more deliberately evangelistic. Anyone know anyone else who's tried something like this?

Or - more interestingly - anyone wanna have a go at trying something like this...?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Book review in Case

If I may be permitted a bit of self-promotion...

I've just had a book review published in Case, the newsletter of the Center for Apologetic Scholarship and Education at New College UNSW. Review of Kant and the Early Moderns, edited by Daniel Garber & Beatrice Longuenesse. The book looks at - er - Kant and the early moderns... as in it examines Kant's appropriation of, and criticism of, five of his philosophical predecessors: Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.

Case 20 (2009), pages 30-31. Or download from the CASE Website.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Novel theology 6: Militarism

Russia and the USA are on the brink of nuclear war. Andrey Il'ych Narmonov, President of Russia, stops to think...

* * * * *

'How do wars begin?' Narmonov asked himself quietly in the corner. In history, wars of conquest were started by strong men who wished to grow stronger still. But the time for men of imperial ambition had passed. The last such criminal had died not so long before. All that had changed in the twentieth century. The First World War had been started - how? A tubercular assassin had killed a buffoon so unloved that his own family had ignored the funeral. An overbearing diplomatic note had prompted Czar Nikolay II to leap to the defense of people he hadn't loved, and then the timetables had begun. Nikolay had the last chance, Narmonov remembered. The last of the Czars had held in his hand the chance to stop it all, but hadn't. If only he'd known what his decision for war would mean he might have found the strength to stop it, but in his fear and weakness he'd signed the mobilization order that had ended one age and begun another. That was had begun because small, frightened men feared war less than showing weakness.

* * * * *

Tom Clancy, The Sum Of All Fears, page 931

Monday, 12 October 2009

Novel theology 5: Capitalism

More from Frederick Forsyth's novel The Phantom of Manhattan:

* * * * *

[Darius, slave to the great god Mammon, boasts of his exploits to his master:]

It is I who, for the world, conduct the great takeovers, construct an even bigger empire of mergers and investments. It is I who destroy the weak and the helpless, rejoicing in the pleas. It is I who raise the rents in the slum tenements, order the clearances of the homes and schools for factories and marshaling yards. It is I who suborn and bribe the city officials to ensure their compliance. It is I who sign the purchase orders for great stakes of shares and blocks of stock in the rising industries across the country.

[And Mammon replies, speaking of Darius' benefactor Erik:]

Rarely does one come across a true genius in the matter of gold. He is such a one, and more besides. Inspired only by hatred of Man, guided by you in my service, he is not simply a wealth-creating genius but immune to scruple, principle, mercy, pity, compassion, and, most important of all, like you, immune to love. A human tool to dream of. [...] All the kingdoms of the world was the phrase I used once, to another. To you, all the financial empire of America.

[Pages 73-74]

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Novel theology 4: Materialism

Not John Sandford - Frederick Forsyth this time. The Phantom of Manhattan.

* * * * *

I needed someone who could do my bidding in daylight; he needed my ingenuity and skills to get us out of this place. He became my subordinate and representative in all things [...] To this day I know him only as Darius.

But if I taught him, he also taught me, converting me from old and foolish beliefs to worship of the one and only true god, the great master who has never let me down.

[...]

[T]his is Mammon, the god of gold, who permits no mercy, no charity, no compassion and no scruple. There is no widow, no child, no pauper wretch who cannot be crushed a little more for a few extra granules of the precious metal that so pleases the master. With the gold comes the power and with the power even more gold in one glorious and world-conquering cycle.

[Pages 49-50, 54-55]

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Matthias Media Bible study sale


BARGAIN BOOK NEWS:

Matthias Media have put their Bible studies on sale for $5 each!

[Usual disclaimer: I have no financial or other interest in Matthias Media, blah, blah...]

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Novel theology 3: Altruism

Still more theological musings from John Sandford's Certain Prey.

* * * * *

"Three people dead because of that tape", Rinker said, shaking her head.

"Ah, they were nothing, a bunch of druggies", Carmel said. "Nobody'll miss them."

"Even druggies have families, sometimes", Rinker said. "I hated my step-dad and my older brother, I don't like my mom anymore, but I've got a little brother, he's out in L. A., and he does drugs, sometimes he lives on the beach... I'd do anything I could for him. I do everything I can for him."

"Really", Carmel said, impressed. [...] "I've never been like that with anybody. I mean, I give to charity and all, but I have to. I've never really been where... I do anything for somebody."

"Not even for Hale?"

Carmel shook her head. "Not even for Hale."

"You killed for him", Rinker said.

"No I didn't", Carmel said. "I killed for me - for something I want. Which is Hale."

* * * * *

Pages 119-120.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Christian Books Australia: books on Calvin

As you all probably know, this year is John Calvin's 500th birthday. The day itself was back on 10 July.

Christian Books Australia have a number of excellent books on Calvin. I personally recommend:

  • The AGES Software Calvin Collection - incl. both English translations of Institutes, as well as sermons and a selection of tracts;
  • Joel Beeke, The Quest for Full Assurance - examines how Calvin, the Puritans and Dutch Reformers understood assurance, and argues for basic continuity between them;
  • David Hall, The Legacy of John Calvin - a simple overview of Calvin's influence over the last 500 years;
  • Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists - in response to R. T. Kendall's Calvin and English Calvinism, Helm argues that English Puritan theology is consistent with Calvin's, and does not have the negative pastoral impacts Kendall accuses English Puritanism of;
  • Susan Schreiner, Theater of His Glory: Nature and the Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin - looks at Calvin's 'natural theology';

The other books are probably great too, but I haven't read them so I can't comment on them.
Incidentally - I have no personal or financial interest in this bookstore, I'm just glad to publicise cheap books on Calvin! :)

Labour day & workaholism

Phillip Jensen has an excellent article on modern workaholism, including an analysis of three motivations for work:
  • Hobby or pleasure;
  • Career;
  • Money to survive - the poor have to work long hours just to survive.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Novel theology 2: Determinism

More theological musings from John Sandford's Certain Prey.

* * * * *

"How about you?" [Carmel asked,] "How do you justify all this stuff?"

"I'm kind of religious, I guess", Rinker said.

"Really?"

"Yeah. I don't think really happens in this world that isn't part of God's plan. And if God wants somebody to die, now, if that's that person's fate, I can't say no."

"So you're just what... the finger of God?"

"I wouldn't put it exactly that way. It sounds too... vain, I guess. Too important. But what I do is God's will."

* * * * *

Pages 121-2.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Novel theology 1: Nihilism

I like novels that occasionally explore deep life issues. Like this:

* * * * *

"None of this means anything, this..." Carmel looked around. "... this life. We're just a bunch of meat. When we think something, it's just chemicals. When we love something, it's more chemicals. When we die, all the chemicals go back in the ground, and that's it. There's nothing left. You don't go anywhere, except in the ground. No heaven, no hell, no God, no nothing. Just... nothing."

"That's pretty grim", Rinker said. She pointed a fork at Carmel. "I've seen people like you - philosophical nihilists. People who really believe all that... eventually, they can't stand it. Most of them commit suicide."

Carmel nodded. "I can see that. That's probably what I'll do, when I get older. If I live to get older."

"Why not do it now?" Rinker asked. "If nothing means anything, why wait?"
"No reason, except curiosity. I want to see how things come out. I mean, killing yourself is as meaningless as not killing yourself. Makes no difference if you do or you don't. So as long as you're not bored, as long as you're feeling good... why do it?"

"But you'd do it if you had to. Kill yourself."

"Hell, I might kill myself if I don't have to", Carmel said.

"Really?"

"Sure. For the same reason that I'm staying now. Curiosity. I can't be absolutely one-million percent sure that there's nothing on the other side; so as long as it's one-millionth of a percent possible, why not check?"

* * * * *

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Websalt article on Dating & Relationships

I've just had another article published on AFES Websalt - on the murky world of dating and romance. This from someone who's never had a girlfriend. Maybe the article will demonstrate why...

This is the last in my series on sexuality and relationships. The articles are on:
All of them were introduced by an article co-authored with my mum on the role of sex in forming relationships.

Feedback welcome!

Children's drawings

When I was in Melbourne last month, I came back to Sydney with two pictures by my second cousins (= my cousin's sons).

This was drawn by six-year-old Sam:

And this by three-year-old Isaac, with, I suspect, parental assistance:

Both pics now have pride of place on the fridge.