Exaggerating to make a point
Or, as we call it, hyperbole. It's a key Biblical idea – used, for example, by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 6.6). But preachers should use it carefully because if people don't get it, it can give entirely the wrong impression. There's a fine line between hyperbole and overstating the case and we need to make sure our listeners get the difference. For example, this weekend past I read (in the paper and online) three statements -all of which are overstated:
- Christians against women bishops are misogynists
- Supersessionsm is a form of anti-Semitism
- Being against homosexuality is the same thing as homophobia
Such overstatement generates headlines, of course. But – and this is only an anecdotal observation – I think our society is less able to critically assess such statements (or perhaps, more accepting of them). The result is disastrous – with no one trusting anyone.
So, if a preacher is going to deliberately overstate his case in order to make a point – in other words to employ some kind of hyperbole, he needs to exercise great care. I'm not saying don't do it – but think to yourself – how will people hear it. Will they understand what I am saying? Will they understand the overstatement. Perhaps, in a more oratorical society, we wouldn't have to be so careful. But today, I think we do.
Christmas is coming around again. Had you noticed? That means that the choral societies are out in force with their Messiah's. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I love Handel's Messiah. The text is all Biblical and was chosen by Charles Jennens. We can't be sure exactly about his motive, nor his faith. True, he was a "devout Anglican" but quite what this means is not entirely clear from the various analyses of his life. What we can be sure about is that his libretto has given us some profoundly Christ centred Biblical theology before anyone even knew that term. You can read the complete list of texts here.
The reason for blogging about it is that I think it presents Christians with an underestimated evangelistic opportunity. It would be an easy event to take people to. And to get into a discussion about. It's even worth listening to yourself. Calvin Stapert's book is excellent for that, published by Eerdmans. I'm sadder – I follow along in a score – either a mini score (£7), a choral score (£6.70) or a large full size orchestral score (£12.50).
Roger Carswell even has an evangelistic tract on the Messiah (just 15p).
Listen. Soak in the Scriptures.
IX Marks Journal
The new IX marks online journal is available and this latest issue is about lay leaders. The focus is on lay elders (as you might expect). Nevertheless, there is useful wisdom here for lay leaders in the church whatever your ecclesiology. You may, of course, have to do some sifting. But the IX marks journal is always stimulating. Read more here. And a reminder that Mark Dever is one of keynote speakers at next year's EMA@The Barbican. Booking is open now.
Marriage and Ministry
In 2011 we started running 24 hour stopovers for married couples in ministry. This was born out of a belief that strong marriages are essential for those who are both married and in ministry and that Christian ministry places unusual pressures on marriage which many couples are ill equipped to deal with. So far these have been received as a really strong initiative. We'd love to invite you to the next one with Wallace and Lindsay Benn on 19/20 February 2013. "We thought it was brilliant. Spot on. Exactly what we needed" said one couple. "A perfect mix of stretching biblical theology on marriage (some of the best we have heard) and really useful practical help for day to day application. So much to chew on" said another. More information and booking here. The stopover is deliberately small and intimate, so places are very limited. Do pass the invitation onto someone who might benefit from it,
Help to pray
I'm having a tough old time at the moment. I won't bore you with the reasons. But have you noticed that during those tough times the discipline of personal prayer – especially praying for others – is even more difficult? I can pray about myself and the struggles I face. That comes naturally. But praying regularly for others seems to be the thing that disappears quickly. I'm easily distracted. I have less time in the day – and various other excuses.
I've been using an iPhone app – Prayermate – for some time, but it's during this sticky patch that it really has come into its own. It's been developed by our former IT guru Andy Geers and is well worth (if you have an iOS device) two of your English pounds.
Susie in The Times
Not surprisingly, The Times took a very pro stance on the vote on women bishops in their edition last Monday. But, to their credit, they also gave Susie Leafe from Fowey an op-ed column. Here it is:
The question of whether women should become bishops can be boiled down to one word: equality. And it is because I believe in equality that I am against women becoming bishops. Opponents of women bishops in the Church of England are often dismissed as being incurably dusty and out of date. That in 2012 — 12 years into the third millennium — this issue is being argued about is taken as proof that the Church is hopelessly behind the curve. But if you listen more carefully to the debate, you will find that opponents of women bishops are asking some very urgently modern questions — how, for instance, can equality ever really allow diversity?
I consider myself to be a radical feminist. It is not the feminism of my grandmother, who was a doctor in the 1930s, nor that of my mother; it is the radical feminism of my generation. But my idea of equality is very different from the conventional, secular version. Over recent decades we have grown used to seeing equality in terms of the State legislating to protect individual rights. The State, we are told, is there to ensure that everyone is treated in the same way. Individuals are considered equal when they are offered the same job or pay. Quotas are encouraged in our workplaces and universities and when they are fulfilled we are told that “equality” has been achieved.
This “outcome” view of equality is so prevalent that to question it is heresy. That is surely a mistake: 65 years ago, George Orwell recognised that often when the authorities claim that they are acting in the interests of “equality” it is usually little more than a thinly veiled attempt to establish the supremacy of one factional interest over all others. So we need a healthy dose of Orwellian scepticism, and toleration of dissenting opinions, when we debate tomorrow the issue of women bishops.
The “outcome” view of equality is at odds with how the Bible and the Church have traditionally regarded equality. This Christian equality stems not from what we do but from what God has done for us; God created each one of us and Christ paid the same price for each one of us, without regard to our status. The consequence is that we are freed for a life of discipleship patterned after the example of Christ, in which we regard each other as equally precious and exist to serve one another. In this context of mutual servant-heartedness, to describe one human being as more or less equal than any other is absurd. Our value is found in Christ, not in our role within the church or world.
This kind of equality allows us truly to celebrate diversity — to acknowledge, for example, that men and women are different and that those differences are good and a matter of divine design, not merely a social construct. The Bible teaches men and women are equal but not interchangeable. They complement one another because they are different and should be valued accordingly.
In marriage, the family and in God’s family, the Church, men and women are called to serve alongside one another, sacrificing themselves for the good of the other. For men this self-sacrifice shows itself in being prepared to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his wife, family and church. That is why I believe that only men can serve as bishops, shouldering the greatest responsibility for the direction of the Church. And it is also why I believe that women’s role at church and in the family is to offer loving, self-sacrificial support.
That does not mean that I think compliant “little women” should be kept out of the office or politics. Of course, women of talent should become CEOs or politicians, but in the sphere of church and the family, our role is different from that of men. I am not alone in thinking this. In May, I and 12 other women members of the Synod started a petition to ensure that our voice was not smothered by the blanket assumption that all women think the same; 2,228 women churchgoers joined us in signing it.
I pray the Church of England does not vote for female bishops tomorrow. I hope that it will not dismiss one view of equality that truly allows diversity to thrive. If the Church tries to legislate its way to equality, I fear some will end up being more equal than others.
This is priceless
Dick still on form.
Remembering John Chapman
Many at this time will wish to pay tribute to John Chapman, alias the unique and unforgettable ‘Chappo’. Allow me, as one such, to write very personally of a dear friend, a marvellously stimulating brother in Christ, a shrewd fellow worker and, of course, a superbly gifted evangelist and teacher. John knew his special calling, and, to his final days, was energetically gospelling and offering to all the possibility of a Fresh Start. This made his U.K. visits highly desired and valued.
Looking back, I recall another characteristic of Chappo – he was a great encourager of the brethren. I saw this in Australia at ministers’ meetings where John would always be present putting new heart and humour into everyone there. On one such occasion, when I was speaking, it was initially unsettling to have him lurking in the back row, making pungent and priceless comments sotto voce, causing a ripple of amusement to spread through the assembled company. With Chappo in attendance you had to be ready for anything, at any time!
As for his visits to this part of the world, when it was reported that Chapman was on the horizon, morale soared, and requests for his services poured in – this man was a tonic to have around. When in London Chappo often stayed with me. The day would begin with my calling him for breakfast, and delighting in the sound of his tread on the stairs, as he descended from his room on the top floor, humming, whistling, or otherwise making his happy noises, finally arriving, larger than life, full of cheerful talk, ready for the fray.
We commonly say of a person of note that we shall not see their like again. In John Chapman’s case I see this to be no less than the simple truth.. As for his many friends in Britain, we join with friends in Sydney in blessing the Lord, who has now taken John away to be with Christ in glory, for giving him to us for so long, and for such grand purposes of grace.
Great hymn, shame about the tune…
One of the best all time hymns on meeting together and gathering around the word is without doubt Leonardt Clock's great hymn from 1590. Christopher Idle, writing about this hymn, identifies that it has only ever appeared in one non-baptist hymnal which is a great loss to many Christians. It doesn't have a great tune, though. I tried writing a new one a few years back which we sung at church last week. It needs a bit of work, but the hymn deserves a place in our repertoire:
Our Father God, your name we praise,
to you our hymns addressing,
and joyfully our voices raise,
your faithfulness confessing.
Assembled by your grace, O Lord,
we seek fresh guidance from your word:
now grant anew your blessing.
2. Touch, Lord, the lips that speak for you;
by Scripture’s wisdom train us:
revive our hearts by what is true;
from every wrong restrain us.
Give us each day our daily bread;
may hungry souls again be fed;
may heavenly food sustain us.
3. Lord, make your pilgrim people wise,
the gospel message knowing,
that we may walk with lightened eyes
in grace and goodness growing:
your word supplies your people’s need,
one holy law for us to heed,
from heaven your wisdom flowing.
4. As with your people here we meet
your grace alone can feed us:
as here we gather at your feet
we pray that you will heed us.
O Lord divine, the kingdom’s powers,
the praise, the glory, all are yours:
may Jesus Christ still lead us!
The metre is 87 87 887 if anyone wants a go….
Whose gospel is it anyway?
Off to an EA day tomorrow entitled 'What is the gospel?' Hope it will be good. One of most alarming things for me is that we redefine the gospel from something that God does for us in Christ to something we do for him or with him. Whatever that is it cannot be the gospel.