Good letter in the Times last week
Just every now and then there is one, you know (a good letter, that is). It was last Thursday, but it's taken me until now to post it.
Sir, Delighted as I was to hear of Professor Turner’s warning on biblical exposition (Canon Stagg, letter Jan 10, responding to Edward Solomon, letter, Jan 7), we candidates for the Congregationalist ministry at the former New College, Hampstead, London, were even more solemnly warned by Principal John Huxtable during our 1960s sermon classes: “Gentlemen, I wish you would read the Bible more: it sheds such light on the Commentaries.”
The Rev Dr Peter C. Jupp
Department of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
I heartily concur. Commentaries are friends and helps. But please, not first, not second even. Read, read, read and use a little brain first, second and even third. And, in fact, the second letter of this correspondence will sound familiar to any well trained preacher:
Sir, The way Edward Solomons quoted Deuteronomy xxx, 19 (letter, Jan 7) in connection with issues relating to terminal illness reminded me of the warning Professor H. E. W. Turner used to give to Durham theological students in the 1950s and early 1960s: “a text out of context is a pretext”.
Canon Michael Stagg, Norwich
New Credo issue available now
One of the best new things on the internet is Credo magazine, OK, as a baptist, I may be biased, but this serious publication is not in-your-face baptistic. In fact, in this particular issue, you might not even know. The main topic for the issue is inclusivism, which itself is a varied thing. At its least extreme, it is that people will be saved without responding to the gospel which many, many evangelicals believe (for example, in the universal salvation of infants – although I am a dissenter when it comes to this doctrine). More overtly, inclusivism means being saved without hearing about Christ or even, in extremis, being saved outside of Christ. There are some thought provoking articles, not least that by UK all round hero Mike Reeves! He's live at this year's EMA by the way! Download the full and free edition here.
Urgency in preaching
I was teaching John 9 at Cornhill earlier in the week and we were puzzling over Jesus' words when he says "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Here's our puzzle: presumably Jesus is speaking of the time when he is arrested, tried, crucified and buried, as the time of "night". But given that he will be raised, will ascend, and will pour out his Spirit to continue his ministry through the apostles (Acts 1:1-5), what does he mean by speaking of his ministry before the Cross with such a sense of urgency? After all, there was never a sense of panic about Jesus' ministry; he wasn't rushing around in a hurry trying to give sight to everyone, and so on. To put it bluntly, we wanted to ask, "What exactly is the urgency?"
Had a brief chat the other day with John Sparks who is a trustee of Parish Nursing. This is an interesting organisation which encourages the provision of nurses to churches (not just Anglican ones, despite the name). It's not going to fit into every church situation, obviously, nor is it going to be a ministry around which a church is structured or driven. Nevertheless, there may be some merit in thinking through the concept and getting in contact with them if you want to find out more. I guess the exact nature of how it works would depend on your circumstances and the particular individual you had; we'd want to make sure that gospel was central, for example.
How to be a younger minister
We've got a great tape archive that we are gradually getting around to putting online. Here's one we've been meaning to do for ages. It's Phil Jensen on "How to be a younger minister" – one talk from way back when that has some really helpful, realistic and clear guidance and advice about starting out in ministry. 15 years old but still fresh and relevant.
And don't forget the Spring younger ministers conference (8-11 May 2012), this year with David Cook and John Dickson – it promises to be a great time. There's still space available but it's going fast so book soon to reserve a place. We had an amazingly refreshing time last year and this year should be a good time of fellowship too. If you have a younger minister in your church (first six years of ministry) why not encourage them to come along? You can book online here.
Weekday evening training with David Cook
For those in or within reach of London, we've got three weekday evenings planned with the excellent David Cook. These evening lectures are an introduction to the book of Acts, especially for those who might preach or teach a book, but for everyone who wants to read the Bible better. David is an excellent communicator and is recently retired as the Principal of Sydney MIssionary Bible College. The three evenings are Mondays 16/23/30 April 2012. More details and booking here. This is the kind of evening you might want to encourage, for example, your preaching team to come along to together – or perhaps a group of younger men you are encouraging to think about being preachers or teachers in the church? Either way, it will be a great help to them.
god in a box
My favourite piece in last week's newspapers was a story about Indian airport security. There is already a list of categories of people who do not have to go through security (army chiefs, state ministers etc). Now the list of 22 has been extended by one to include some holy men.
[A] holy man has successfully contended that he should not be frisked because no human hand must touch him, after Ajay Maken, the Sports Minister, wrote to the Ministry of Civil Aviation last month.
My favourite part, though, was the story of the holy man from Ramachadrapura Mutt. a Bangalore institution. Their leader carries a box of deities with him and has had to ask special permission for it not to be opened. A spokesman said,
His Holiness has to open the small box by taking a bath and this may create embarrassment.
The Bible pours scorn on idols and invites us to do the same. However, it seems to me that sometimes they need no help whatsoever.
Yep, it’s another one
'Of making many [marriage] books there is is no end' (Ecclesiastes 12.12). Everyone seems to have to have a marriage book. The latest is Mark & Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage, the truth about sex, friendship and life together. It was launched at the beginning of this year and comes (yay!) with a tour! I've just finished reading it. I'm not sure I've got a lot to add to Tim Challies three reviews here, here and here. The latter two are a helpful deconstruction of the grid that the Driscoll's use to analyse various sexual practices based on 1 Cor 6.12.
Challies is pretty downbeat about the book and, on the whole, I feel he's right, though perhaps I need to give it a second more careful read. I don't need to repeat all his critique, though sometimes I think he goes too far. For me, I found the book pretty cringeworthy because (a) it is written in that US folksy style which grates with British readers and seems (I say, seems) to make light of things which require greater weight and sobriety and (b) it is perhaps too honest: I agree that some discussion of dealing with past hurts is necessary but I'm not sure I wanted all the graphic details that Mark and Grace give about their previous sins, nor all the details about whether anal sex is OK or not.
I would hesitate to use it then, though there is some good material here. I'm not a prude when it comes to talking about sex; indeed, as part of couple counselling we have sometimes done irreparable damage by not doing so. But this is too much. Too jokey. Too honest (!).
For my money, Piper's book of sermons This momentary marriage is a whole heap better. I've yet to read Keller so I can't comment on that, but Christopher's two volumes are also excellent. The simpler one is great for all. The 'dull' one (Christopher's words not mine) is important for pastors as it contains a lot of the background, research and theology. I prefer it, actually.
The glorious church
Here's an excerpt from PT's latest title (publication expected in the summer) – Teaching Ephesians by Simon Austen. It's strong, as you would expect, on the doctrine of the church and my heart was really stirred just by editing it!
It is both humbling and exhilarating to think that the local fellowships of believers, of which we are all a part, are pictures of what God is going to do in eternity. Until that day when the new heavens and earth are created and the visible unity God purposes are seen in their fullness and glory, the only visual point of contact between the heavenly realms and the earthly realms is the church. That is why church is so important and why church is so difficult. Satan does not want the church to be what we are – for when we live rightly, then it becomes apparent to Satan that his days are numbered, and to the world that the power and purposes of God are in operation. As we love one another and live as the church, the world sees that we are disciples and the principalities and powers get a foretaste of their future destruction.
Preaching as an encounter with Christ
I am reading through 2 Corinthians very slowly in my quiet times and was struck by this (from an older commentator quoted by C.K.Barrett), commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:20 "…God… making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf…". Although spoken by Paul the apostle, there must be a sense in which everyone who speaks the apostolic gospel is the mouthpiece of God, speaking "on Christ's behalf". Here is the quote:
"With the cross, God instituted the office of reconciliation, the word of reconciliation…; in other words, the preaching itself belongs to the event of salvation. It is neither a narrative account of a past event, that once happened, nor is it instruction on philosophical questions; but in it Christ is encountered, God's own word to man is encountered…"
It is worth remembering that as we preach at Carol Services and Christmas services; as we speak, Christ himself speaks to men and women through our mouths. In our preaching, "Christ is encountered". Amazing, but true.