Christmas Open Air
Tomorrow, with some trepidation, I'm going open air Christmas preaching at an East End market frequented by Muslim groups. Should be interesting (although that's not the word that immediately springs to mind). I've been reading up on a paper a colleague has prepared about the nativity in Islam. Here's an excerpt:
There are a number of similarities, but also important differences between Christianity and Islam in their narratives concerning the Nativity of Jesus. For example, in the Qur’an and Hadith (both Sunni and Shia), no Joseph is present, no manger, no Shepherds, no Presentation in the Temple, no Herod, no Magi, no Star of Bethlehem – indeed, any mention of Bethlehem at all, no Massacre of the Innocents, no Flight into Egypt or return to Nazareth. The Qur’anic narrative centres very largely on Mary. However, in an edited form, there are a number of similarities with Apocryphal material, such as the Protoevangelium of James, the Pseudo-Gospel of Matthew and the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, the latter being dependent upon earlier Syriac material.
Essentially, the paper argues, the Islam nativity is heavily influenced by pseudographic material in circulation at the time of Muhammad (no surprise, really). So, there are grains of truth, heavily distorted. For example, the location of Jesus birth (beside the river Euphrates). There are also wholesale inaccuracies carried over from the one pseudo document to another – for example, that Jesus spoke whilst in the cradle.
For me, my task is not to be apologetic – i.e. not to interact with the what the Koran says – but rather to preach the truth – i.e. to proclaim what the Bible does say. I'm going to take Luke 2.11 as a simple text: "for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord."
- Jesus is the Saviour
- Jesus is the Christ
- Jesus is the Lord (in this passage context that means God)
Pray, if you can, tomorrow from 1-3pm.
What not to wear
OK Trinny and Susanna. Do you know that preachers should think carefully about what they wear? Not that what they wear really matters, not eternally. But we "make sure that we put no stumbling block in anyone's path so that our ministry will not be discredited" (2 Cor 6.3). So, please, please, please….NO!
Review: Engaging with Martyn Lloyd Jones
Engaging with Martyn Lloyd Jones: the life and legacy of the "Doctor"
Edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, £16.99, Apollos, 365pp
I guess this is a book that is going to grab people in different ways. There will be those who are looking for critique, hoping it will supply and those who are likewise looking for commendation. As with many accounts of great men of God, the choice is often an either/or. To its great credit this book does both, nicely together. Perhaps that is the wisdom of leaving some time before analysing a man's life?
Thirty to fifty years usually proves to be the first really adequate viewing distance for looking at persons and events of the recent past.. (JI Packer, from the foreword) [Perhaps this is also the answer to Trueman's gripe that our response to Stott has been over-adulatory? – i.e. more time required?]
To its credit, though, and perhaps with the value of time, this book neither demonises nor makes a virtue out of Lloyd-Jones, but rather seeks to generously, but critically, assess his impact on evangelicalism. It is a series of papers given at a symposium which gives the book a wide ranging flavour. So, there are chapters on Lloyd-Jones and Calvinism, Wales, revival, charismatic issues, preaching (or rather, its demise), education, Barth and so on.
The strongest chapters are those where there is new material, or at least, the present material is only obscure. Robert Striven's chapter on the Doctor and Karl Barth is based almost entirely on an annotated Barth book found in MLJ's library. It reveals the mind of the man as well as his deep pastoral intent. The chapter on the Anglican secession crisis draws on many letters in the published press – all in the public domain but not necessarily brought together in one place like this before.
That particular chapter may well be the one most people read. Like the ‘steamy’ pages of a teenage book on relationships, it will almost certainly be the one that folk turn to first. It tries to set the whole 1966 issue in the context of what was happening at the time. But, ironically, this interesting and insightful chapter reveals one of the weaknesses of the book for a reader like me. Events like those of 1966 (and the same could be applied to the chapter on Lloyd-Jones and the charismatic issue) have been so widely written about and commented on that's it difficult to know whom to believe. Little ol' me, being young as I am, is interested in these events which have shaped evangelicalism in the UK, I'm sure it is right to be so. But it's not straightforward to assess the validity of the different arguments. I simply cannot say whether any particular author’s view is right or not.
In this particular case, I had the benefit of being mentored by someone who was both there and involved in the discussions (and he gets a few mentions in the book) which helps of course. Please hear what I am saying, this is not a weakness in the book – rather it is a weakness in how we think about and assess history. The same can be applied to the chapter on MLJ and charismatic issues. Everyone, I’ve noticed, wants to claim him as their hero and forerunner. They can’t all be right. I was certainly helped by reading this thoughtful book – I’m just not sure how much. As I’ve said, that’s in the nature of these things.
The weaker chapters are those which largely repeat material found elsewhere. I say ‘weaker’ but none of the chapters is really weak, they all seem rigorous and all are well written and accessible. For example, the chapter on the demise of preaching largely picks out information you may well have already read. But seeing it together and analysed was very helpful still. And by the way, I'm fully with the Doctor here:
Lloyd-Jones believed that the trouble with so many pulpits of his day was that they had forgotten [the] apostolic method and pattern….they had become too concerned with style and literary form. He argued that 'there must be form, but we must never give inordinate attention to it.' (p163)
The church must never forget her first principles: 'man's real trouble is that he is a rebel against God and consequently under the wrath of God.' It was the church alone, and preaching the gospel in particular, that was designed to meet this need. The church, as a specialist institution, alone was called and equipped to deal with humanity's most basic and fundamental need: one's relationship with God. The tragedy of the modern church was that it had abandoned this primary purpose for the sake of lesser causes. (p172)
Overall, we’ve got an excellent analysis. My reservations are two-fold:
- First, as mentioned above, my ability as a reader to determine the voracity of the assumptions
- Second, the paucity of the conclusions. Maybe this is a feature of books put together from symposia, but it feels like the conclusions are those of someone who has realised he only has a minute left to wrap up. I would have liked some more interaction or analysis of deeper implications.
The power of the gospel
Preacher, never forget the power of the gospel to change lives. I was reminded of this by a story from the life of Archibald Brown, our first pastor at the Tab. He was a remarkable man who presided over an incredible growth – a church which was about 150 members when he went and within five years they were in a new building with 2,500-3,000 at every service. (You can read more of his story in the new Banner of Truth biography by Iain Murray). Anyhow, this is the story.
A local man was indignant that his wife had been converted. He didn't really understand what it meant, but he was almost certain it was not good and he determined to make an end of Pastor Brown. So one Sunday, he loaded his revolver and found a seat at the front of the side gallery (see picture). He waited until the sermon for his moment to shoot Brown dead. But just before he preached, Archibald Brown read from Isaiah 52-53, his text for the day. As he often did, he commented briefly on the text as he read it. He wasn't shot, and in fact he was visited in the vestry after the service by a repentant man who handed him his loaded gun. "I was going to kill you" he said. But now the gospel had taken hold of him.
It's a dramatic story! I'm not sure we will have anything quite the same (but who knows!). The point is this. Do you really believe the gospel you preach has the power to make that kind of change? Or, was your first reading of the story one of skepticism? Preacher, if you do not believe in the power of the gospel to transform lives, what are you doing?
Sermon or lecture?
This morning I've got part three of four sessions with the Cornhill students on the book of Numbers. I'm going to start the day by preaching to them a sermon based on Numbers 5-6. It's a relatively old sermon, some of which I would change were I to preach it in church tomorrow. But I have deliberately left it as it is so the students can think about what is good about it and what needs to be improved. These are useful exercises, though painful for the preacher! We also try to make it real – I get the students to reflect on it first, rather than launch in! This is, after all, the word of God preached, even if it is in a slightly false environment.
Large passages such as this are not easy to preach. Here's a possible outline.
- Purity in the camp (5.1-4)
- Purity in relationships (5.5-10)
- Purity in marriage (5.11-31)
- Purity in service (6.1-21)
All rather worthy and dull and in great danger of being a lecture – where the text is simply explained. Of course, preaching is not less than "giving the meaning" (Nehemiah 8.8), but it is much more. We are called to proclaim Christ, warmly applying the truths of Scripture to our hearer's minds, hearts and lives. So, whilst this outline could work (with a very pliant and forgiving congregation), my outline is slightly different:
My aim is to proclaim the holy Lord:
- The Lord is holy (I will pick up this theme which permeates both chapters)
- The Lord is present (again, this is strongly represented throughout the stories)
- The Lord is concerned (ditto)
This then allows me to preach Christ who is not only the holy Lord but the one who makes us holy (Heb 2.11). The blessing (Numbers 6.22-27) is the blessing of the holy Lord for his holy people. That sort of outline is harder in some ways to carry off, but is much more likely to be a sermon rather than a lecture.
Advent. Both comings.
It's difficult to read the OT advent prophecies without coming to the conclusion that both the first and second advent belong together in Bible thought. This is sometimes seamless, sometimes not so. But take, for example, Malachi 4:
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Both the first and second advent are here. And as we preach through advent perhaps we would do well to keep that in view?
Interestingly, one of the best known advent carols speaks exclusively about this second coming. In fact, in my hymn book, it's in the second coming section. I wonder how many people will sing it this Christmas and think (incorrectly) it's about Jesus' first advent? Many, I guess. John Cennick's words (adapted and added to by Wesley – how dare he!) are worth dwelling on:
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!
Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!
Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!
The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
Archibald Brown, my new hero?
Banner of Truth have got a new biography out. Written by Iain Murray (one of our best biographers), it's the story of Archibald Brown, our church's first pastor. He led the church through amazing times of growth and blessing and I imagine the story is captivating. I know this because Iain is coming to take a lecture at the Tab this Saturday to tell us more about Brown's work in the city. I'm excited – come along if you're free. There is a memorial stone to him in the graveyard at the bottom of our short street. I regularly take visitors there. It mentions several of his wives (not at once! They often died in childbirth). For Sarah, there are these beautiful words, I paraphrase:
They were only married for 1 year, but for the shortest of times she made him the brightest of homes.
I'll review the book once I get hold of a copy and have read it.
Dick Lucas on 2 Peter
Here's the video for Dick Lucas' sessions on 2 Peter at our recent conference. Session 3 is particularly useful. You can access audio only here.
How to convey information without showing off
I preached 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1 this last Sunday. There's a curious sentence: "What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?" Who is this Belial? Some study work required. First of all, in Greek it is Beliar, not Belial. And a good commentary is going to help you.
The term Βελι?ρ (for this form, see Textual Note b.) is found only here in the NT. Paul’s usual word for the devil is (?) Σαταν?ς (10 uses; e.g., 2:11; 11:14; 12:7), but 4:4 (? θε?ς το? α??νος το?του) shows that his usage is not rigid. Βελι?ρ or the variant spelling Βελι?λ represents the Hebrew term belîya‘al, which means “worthlessness” or “destruction.” It is probably never a proper name for Satan in the OT, although it personified the forces of evil and chaos, so that the expression benê belîya‘al (“sons of worthlessness” = “wicked men”) is used of the homosexuals at Gibeah (Judg. 19:22; 20:13) and the wicked men who seduced people to worship other gods (Deut. 13:14; EVV, 13:13). In the Qumran texts belîya‘al is the angel of enmity whose domain is darkness and who counsels evil and superintends angels of destruction, “the lot of Belial,” who fight against the sons of light, “the lot of God.” “In the Pseudepigrapha (esp. in the Martyrdom of Isa. and XII P. [Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs]), Beliar is primarily the tempter who lures man into sin by his spirits and rules over sinful man.” Although Beliar is sometimes identified with the Antichrist in the Pseudepigrapha,44 there is no reason to assume that the antithesis in 6:15 is between Christ and Antichrist. Rather, as the embodiment of righteousness Christ is set over against Beliar as the embodiment of iniquity; Christ, the ruler in the kingdom of light, is contrasted with Satan, the ruler of the domain of darkness (cf. the two preceding antitheses, and Col. 1:12–13). As in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (e.g., Testament of Levi18:12), Βελι?ρ is here the name of the devil, the enemy of God. (Harris, M. J. (2005). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians : A commentary on the Greek text (502–503). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press.)
Belial, by the way, is simply an old-fashioned Jewish name for Satan.
Some useful links for Bible translation help
According to the Times last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the 400th anniversary of the KJV, warned "against making Bible texts more accessible." He is quoted:
What is a good translation? Not one that just allows me to say, when I pick it up, 'Now I understand'….[but] rather one letting me say 'Now I understand' one that prompts the response, 'Now the work begins.'
As is often the case, I've absolutely no idea what he's talking about! My generous side says the quote is taken out of context and if I'd heard it all I would have understood…..
But I am concerned that a translation is understood….and accurate. It's that balance that makes choosing a translation less than straightforward. For those thinking about changing from the NIV and wondering what to do, here are some useful, independent links. I've posted some of them before, but one or two people have asked for them again.
- There is a very helpful article in the new edition of Themelios reviewing the new NIV
- There is also a good article in this month's Briefing
- The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (!) does very detailed analyses of Bible translations which are careful and conservative. Read their evaluation of the ESV here, the HCSB here and the updated NIV here, with a summary of six translations here.