A different kind of mid week meeting
Anybody in church ministry knows that it can be hard to make midweek meetings work. Substandard Bible leaders, unenthusiastic members, tired contributors, bypath meadows – these are the bane of small groups. Thankfully there are lots of good materials to help and some churches which model excellent midweek groups – e.g. St Helen's just up the road from us. But, increasingly, I think there is not one size fits all. Here's something we did for a few years back at our old church and we are now putting into place in one of the groups at my current church.
- We read Sunday's passage together
- We review the sermon. Did we understand it? What were the main points? Can we explain it to those who were absent?
- We spend some time in the passage answering 3 or 4 application questions that arise from the sermon
- We pray it in – specifically, intentionally and for one another
- We share pastoral concerns and encourage one another, praying for one another.
There are some immediately obvious advantages:
- it reinforces the whole church Sunday teaching
- it helps those who missed it
- it helps sharpen the application from the general to the specific
- it is easier at the end of a long working day
- it enourages us to support one another pastorally/spiritually
- it is easier to lead
I know several churches who do it. Perhaps (and I only say this if you are struggling in small groups), it's worth a try?
EMA 2011 music
Quite a lot of people have asked me for a list of the things we sung at this year's EMA – so here goes. Where they are available online, I've linked to the source. I've done them in the order we sang them. Hymn words we tend to sing from Praise! (which means slightly modernised words). For the hymns I've put the names of the tunes in brackets.
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Neander)(Lobe den Herren)
- The grace of my God (Giles)
- Your blood speaks a better word (Redman) with a verse/chorus of When peace like a river (Spafford)
- O Church arise (Townend/Getty)
- Yes, finished the Messiah dies (Wesley, tune by John Kelly)
- Hear the call of the kingdom (Townend/Getty)
- Behold our God (Altrogge/Baird)
- Alas! And did my Saviour bleed (Watts)(Crimond)
- Your glorious cause, O Lord (Kauflin)
- Preachers of the God of grace (Idle)(Aberystwyth)
- God of majesty and splendour (Alan Clifford)(Regent Square)
- Loved before the dawn of time (Townend/Small)
- Sovereign Lord, we sing your glory (Ninnis)(Abbots Leigh)
Carson article from EMA
What has the internet done for you?
David Wells second session at the EMA yesterday was about the effects of the internet. Sadly, I couldn't get to it all (conference director's plague) and I will have to catch up with the video/audio recording. But I did note down this interesting thought which got me thinking about things webbish. David had been explaining how technology has annihilated distance. You no longer "have to be there to know." Community, he said, has been a real casualty and we have replaced community with proximity thinking that if we are near people we are in a community with them (has significant implications for church life). This is the statement that got me thinking though:
We give the psychological appearance of omniscience because we have technological omnipresence.
EMA: a prophetic word
This year's EMA kicked off well yesterday despite rain storms, floods and power cuts (all included in the admission). I want to blog about David F Wells' session which which was extremely significant. I found it enormously helpful, I might even say, prophetic. I warm greatly to David. Not only does he hail from Rhodesia (which means he understands cricket, an important quality in a real man…) but he has lived in both Manchester and London thereby sampling all kinds of British extremes.
David's overall point was that we are ministering into a culture that is inherently spiritual, though not religious. How does this show itself? He suggested four changes that are all significant.
- Virtues into values. We used to treasure character traits. These have been trumped by competencies. We care more what someone can do than what kind of person they are.
- Character into personality. Character is embedded virtue: honour, duty etc. These qualities have been trumped by how you appear to be, not what you are.
- Nature to self. The trouble with human nature is that it is a great leveller. Everyone is the same. Self makes everyone special and unique.
- Guilt to shame. Guilt implies a moral code that has been transgressed. Shame is simply the feeling one has when one is caught doing something that someone else might find offensive.
Very, very insightful. More of David today and tomorrow (in a panel session). Great times.
Untranslated tongues: the lazy language of the Spirit
Out and about recently, I sat through several services where the mighty Spirit of God was talked about in a very unhelpful way. It's no wonder that our people have strange ideas about the Trinity if we're not more careful how we speak about each of the persons of the godhead. I'm probably guilty myself – and it's partly why I often write out prayers I use in public. We need to train ourselves and our people to talk about God rightly. I don't think this is being pedantic because our understanding of God often comes from how he is presented in church and our presentation of him often comes from our understanding. Here are some things I've heard that make me slightly squirm in my seat:
- most commonly, addressing the Holy Spirit as "it." No excuses for this mistake.
- perhaps more subtle is when we use impersonal parts of speech to talk about his work. This is what I heard "It's the Spirit that cleanses us; it's the Spirit that gives life." Surely more theologically (I'm not sure about the grammar!) correct is to say "It's the Spirit who cleanses us; it's the Spirit who gives life." A quick Bible search reveals that Spirit is never matched with "that" in this way in the NT. Spirit and "who" is common – e.g. John 6.63.
- Talking about the Spirit as anything other than a person. I heard this in a children's talk. "The Spirit is the power of God." Actually, no. The Spirit is God. Period. Therefore he is powerful and can do powerful things. Interestingly, my daughter (13) picked this up and said they had learnt why it was a wrong to talk about the Spirit at New Word Alive this year. Good for them.
What other unhelpful language does your public ministry tend to include? It's a question worth thinking about.
That bad? Really?
Well now. Dare I say it? I realise this is a political hot potato, but I quite like the new NIV (2011 the edition). I noticed recently that the Southern Baptists (who have their own translation, more of that in a moment) recently voted to reject the new NIV – though it was a motion from the floor rather than the resolutions committee. For what's it worth, here is the text of the resolution:
- WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and
- WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender neutral methods of translation; and
- WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and
- WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and
- WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and
- WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and
- WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it
- RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further
- RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further
- RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally
- RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.
Wow! It's quite a statement. I've been reading the NIV2011 in my quiet times and (whisper it to Southern Baptists) quite enjoying it. And, as yet, Bible translation in the UK has not quite become the acid test of orthodoxy that one friend (a US seminary professor) says it has become in the US. I'm grateful for that. At the moment the only other real option is the ESV which I use to study, but I'm pretty sure I would struggle to preach from regularly in the context where I serve. My favourite translation, the HCSB (ironically the Southern Baptist one) is great but just a little quirky (shame, perhaps this will get ironed out in a revision?).
If you want a critical assessment then there are some good resources from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (trust me!). There's a good evaluation of the HCSB here – which they mostly like apart from the quirks; it has the potential to be the new NIV with a bit of work. Also their translation committee's status on reviewing the NIV (not yet fully complete) here and another fuller report on the ESV here.
I guess what I'm saying is that the NIV (2011 as it will become) is the only option for the situation I'm in and, personally, I'm fine with that! There are things about EVERY translation I don't like and that will need to be explained. I'm no scholar, so perhaps should reserve judgement, but I can't see that the Southern Baptist motion is entirely balanced.
That bad? Don't think so.
Why Bibles make me see red
Just getting round to buying a print edition of the new NIV. I'm not persuaded by the negative publicity that surrounds it – not yet, anyway. But reading through the NIV catalogue from Zondervan I see that of about 400 editions, only five are not red letter Bibles – and those are hefty 12pt mamas. It would be a great irony if the new 2011 NIV was killed off not by the revised text but by a flawed typography. For all the words of the Bible are the words of Jesus.
Red-letter Bibles are neither necessary nor helpful for finding the words of Jesus
The obvious – but wrong – answer to the question of where we find Jesus’ words today is, “Well, of course, we can read them in the red parts of a red-letter Bible!” But this is misleading, for at least three simple practical reasons.
First, the red words are not in the original language that Jesus spoke. They have been translated from Greek, and even the Greek is most unlikely to have been the exact words his spoke, since he seems usually at least, to have taught in Aramaic. We know this from the few occasions when the precise Aramaic words have been preserved – “Abba”, “Talitha cumi”, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”. But apart from these, even if we read the New Testament in Greek, we cannot have access to the precise and actual words that Jesus spoke.
Second, there are no speech marks in the Greek manuscripts. Our translators – generally helpfully – add them in to make it easier for us to read. But there are times when we cannot tell when the direct speech of Jesus ends and the comments of one of the gospel-writers begins. The most famous of these is John 3:16-21. Jesus begins speaking in verse 10, and the context makes it clear that his direct speech continues at least to verse 15. But it is quite likely that verses 16-21 are the comment of John the gospel-writer rather than the direct speech of Jesus. So we cannot even tell if the most famous verse in the Bible (John 3:16) was spoken by Jesus or by John!
Third, it is clear by comparing parallel passages, especially in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that the gospel-writers summarise and paraphrase what Jesus said (as well as putting it into Greek, as we have seen).
For these three practical reasons, we do not and cannot have access – except in a few exceptional cases – to the precise words spoken by Jesus such as might in principle have been preserved by a voice recorder. Indeed, as we shall see, this is a good thing. For if we could, then our doctrine of scripture would be essentially the same as the Muslim understanding of the Qu’ran, and to read the Bible it would be essential to understand Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It would presumably also be forbidden to translate the Bible into any other language. One Muslim scholar asks precisely this question: “Would Christian theology be willing to say that the discourse of Jesus Christ in Aramaic (and not Greek; the distinction is important) at a precise time and in a precise place on earth is related to God the Father as the Qu’ranic discourse in Arabic transmitted by Muhammad is related to the Archetype [or “Mother”] of the Book retained in the presence of God transcendent?” Happily for Christians, the answer is no. Christian theology has never shared with Muslim theology a “dictation theory” of inspiration, that there is a divine “Archetype” transmitted to a Prophet on earth and then recorded verbatim in a book. (This is of course why the Qu’ran ought properly to be studied in Arabic and not in translation.)
So – paradoxically – red-letter Bibles encourage an understanding of the Bible that is more Muslim than Christian. It would be good if publishers ceased to print them. They certainly do not help us in our search to hear the words of Jesus Christ today. Happily, as we shall see in this chapter and chapter 4, we are able to hear the words of Jesus Christ with utter faithfulness in all the words of the New Testament, not just those printed in red.
Introducing the 2011 EMA exit books
Each year we secure a number of books available for just £1 at the EMA exit. We introduced this as an idea last year and it was enormously successful. This year, we've gone for three books of theological and historical substance, plus an introduction to one of our 2012 speakers:
- Wednesday's exit book is Bible Answers by Derek Prime. I've found this Q&A theology book a great help working with leaders and upcoming men in the church. It's a substantial book and well worth the normal retail price of £6.99, let alone a single squidoony.
- Thursday's book is My dear Erasmus by David Bentley-Taylor. This is quite a different book. It is a short biography of Erasmus – the forgotten reformer. Of course, we don't necessarily share all his view on everything, but his high view of Scripture was formational in the doctrine of Luther and some have said that without Erasmus we wouldn't have had the Reformation. A useful hole filled in my historical knowledge. Again, it retails at £6.99 and is a great read for £1.
- Friday's book is by one of our 2012 speakers, David Cook. David is the retiring (i.e. he abot to retire, not that he's shy!) principal of Sydney Missionary and Bible College and his book Romans; momentous news is a series of 50 undated Bible readings in the book of Romans. Great to use for yourself or to give away in church. Not so much of a bargain, but from £4 to £1 is still 75% off!!
Introducing the 2011 EMA books (3)
Our Day 3 stage recommendation for the EMA is Fred Sanders Embracing the Trinity (as it's known in the UK). It is also sold under its US title, The deep things of God: how the Trinity changes everything.
The author argues persuasively that evangelicals are deeply and profoundly Trinitarian, and yet we have let out "trinitarian-ness" (horrible made-up word by me!) drift into the background, with some dangerous consequences. He argues that we should learn to be Christ-centred without being Father-forgetful or Spirit-neglectful. Some of his chapters are hugely stimulating in getting us to make the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit explicit when talking about central subjects such as salvation, union with Christ, and prayer. We have been discussing a chapter a week on the Cornhill staff team, and finding our thinking challenged and sharpened. Warmly commended.