What is the meaning of sex?
I've just finished reading this new book by Denny Burk, published by Crossway and available in the UK for around £11.50 or as a £7 ebook. It's a comprehensive review of the purpose of sex (clue: it's to glorify God) and precisely what that means. It's well written and not plagued by too many anecdotes or imaginary couples (those kinds of things really get me going…..!!!). There are a lot of footnotes for this type of (non academic) book, and it's interesting that many of the footnotes are taken from books I have read and liked (Piper, Ash, Hollinger etc). Along the way, as well as affirming a robust and orthodox view of sex within marriage and its significance, Burk interacts with current issues: homosexuality, transgender and gender spectrum, admissability (or otherwise) of certain sexual acts, family planning and singleness.
This is an excellent book. It is well ordered, logical and begins with the things such a book ought to begin with. There's a flow to is which is natural and helpful. The footnotes perhaps indicate that much of its teaching is gathering together what is written well elsewhere, but even at that level, it's a helpful addition. Moreover, the number of footnotes also indicate that Burk is interacting closely and carefully with views with which he disagrees, partiuclarly revisionist hermeneutics. I found this really helpful.
I particularly valued his interaction with the Driscoll's chapter "Can I…..?" (which is – at best – sloppy in its exegesis and so leads to some alarming conclusions). Burk puts us straight. I also found his latter chapters on homosexuality and (especially) transgender, very helpful and thoughtful, although I wanted him to say more, but presumably the format and purpose of the book did not allow. Inevitably, there were some areas which I thought were overstated – he presents, for example, two views on whether the contraceptive pill is also an abortofacient in some detail. I'm not sure I agree with his conclusion. But these are very minor niggles.
However, here's the thing. I still prefer – as an overarching book – my colleague Christopher Ash's book on marriage: the big one. That may be familiarity. Burk certainly quotes it a lot, always (I believe) positively. But it's not available in the US, and because it is now 10 years old, it doesn't interact with some of the recent material in the same way Burk's does. That probably means Burk's will be out of date in a short season too. So be it. That's the way of things now. But for the moment, this is well worth a bit of your time and money and provides a useful, biblical, positive and thorough view of sex as the Bible presents it. Thanks Denny!
There's a good little afterword in this month's Modern Reformation magazine. Carl Trueman is writing about the kind of reductionism which makes pastoral responses to disaster and tragedy nothing more than "Well, it is God's will." He writes:
Divine sovereignty does not negate the emotion of the moment, nor does it relativise the agony of death or lead Christ to spout aloof and trite platitudes at a moment of devastation for Lazarus' family.
The next time there is a human catastrophe or natural disaster, beware those who think they can answer the problem in 140 characters or less. They cannot. Those who simply assert that it is all part of God's will will give such a small part of the truth as to be misleading. And that is what hyper-Calvinism is but one small example of: a small part of the glorious truth of God's sovereignty presented in such a way as to hide or obscure the true riches of the biblical teaching on God.
Perhaps this temptation is not your own – but when we become one issue parties, there is surely a danger of falling into this trap?
Preacher as DJ
I used to be a radio DJ. I know, I know – hard to believe, but true nonetheless. I guess, as a failed musician, the next best thing was playing other people's records. And it's not a bad picture for what a preacher is. I thought about this as I took some Sunday School teachers training on Saturday. It's always helpful to have pictures of what we're doing when we preach and teach God's word to others. I personally quite like the picture of preacher as chef. It's a helpful illustration and one I've used here before. But here's my latest – the preacher as DJ.
Some Bible preachers and teachers are like amateurs in the karaoke bar. Occasionally you get a really good singer and you can enjoy the moment. But even when you get a good singer, it's still the singer's voice you hear. The backing track is almost inconsequential. It's just helping the singer hit the note and shine through. It strikes me that many preachers – at least subconsciously – think this way. Or, at best, it's the way their preaching comes across. The living and enduring word of God is their backing track, and their preaching or teaching is the means by which they shine through.
But your people have not come to church to hear you. They've come to church to hear God. And – to be more precise – they've not come to church to hear you take liberties with the text and make it say things it is not meant to say. That's karaoke bar show off coloratura. No, you're the DJ. Your job is to spin the discs and play the music someone else has already recorded. Your task as preacher is to let God be the lead singer, backing band and vocals. Cue it up, by all means, get the volume right, mix it nicely.
But just play the record. It's what your people need.
Summer Wives. Get your church investing.
Just come back from a hugely encouraging spring wives' conference with 107 married women. Great ministry from John Samuel (Duke Street Church, Richmond) and Clare Heath-Whyte (from Frogmore). We also had Wallace and Lindsay Benn leading hugely important sessions on ministry and marriage. Audio and video will be online later in the week. It reminded me what a vital and urgent ministry this is. PT is very happy to invest and sponsor wives' conferences: it is good for those who come in themselves, as disciples of Christ. It is good for husbands/preachers to release them to come. It is good for churches to pay for them to come (does yours?). Yes, this is a great church investment.
Our spring wives conference is for those with over 7-8 years of ministry experience (though we do not draw the lines too sharply). Our summer wives' conference is for those in earlier years of ministry. It is cross denominational: perhaps this needs to be said (though it seems a shame). Our planning team includes free church wives (Mrs R and Ursula Stevens) and our helpers come from both Anglican and Free Church contexts. All are welcome. And even though those who come serve in a vast variety of contexts, many of the things we need to grapple with are the same. We plan the conference to encourage and equip those who find themselves in a unique position – being married to the minister! That carries with it great pressures – and also great joys. It is important to address the former and remind each other about the latter.
So, if you're a ministry wife, with your husband just starting out, it would be lovely to see you. If you're a ministry husband, just starting out – invest in your marriage and ministry by releasing your wife to come and join us. And if you're a church with a young married minister, this is something you should be getting behind for the sake of his wife, your sister in Christ, for your church, and – ultimately, therefore – for the sake of Christ.
Dates are Tuesday 23 June through Friday 27 June at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire. This year I'm speaking on Ezra and Liz Cox, family's and children's worker from St Giles church in Derby will be helping out with the teaching. Book here.
If you must…
And if you must… here is part 2 of the Chalke-Wilson debate from Premier TV. This is actually a helpful episode, because Andrew draws out from Steve what he really thinks about historicity, where events truly happen, but the Bible still is not literally true – for example, the man picking up kindling in Numbers 15 really is put to death, but Moses "mishears" God's instruction. This is not just an OT issue – Steve also falls at the Ananais and Sapphira test. This is liberalism and nothing more.
Watching over the flock
Chalke again (see here and here). And again today. Sad though it is, in a way I am glad that Steve’s statement is such a blatant expression of already existing liberal positions. Better to have openness than pretence.
We preachers have a key task, week by week, year by year, in making sure that our people aren’t swayed by attractively presented error when it happens to be promoted in their direction. The apostle Peter puts it in terms of watching over the flock that is under your care (1 Peter 5.2). A while ago I was helped by Timothy Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader to think through the elders’ vital task of protecting the flock from error through the right kind of regular preaching. (He did, though, fail to persuade me to turn Presbyterian.)
Some may fear that Chalke’s article will unsettle many believers. That is surely less likely to happen to those whose preachers have not just spoken the truth but have also denied the error. There are some who denounce others by name from the pulpit most Sundays, and their protective warnings probably lose impact according to the ‘boy who cried wolf’ principle. Others of us prefer not to be thought of as nasty name-callers, and by nature err on the side of too much just-saying-the-positive and too little pointing-out-of-the-negative. It’s vital for those who preach regularly to know our natural tendency and to keep working to correct it, so that the flock under our care develops the spiritual instinct to sense serious error when it comes their way, however famous and engaging its proponent.
As it happens, I am preaching this Sunday on 1 John 4.1-6: the ones who know God are those who bring their beliefs and conduct into line with the truth taught by the apostles who saw and heard the Truth himself. I think I will need to do some protecting.
A great book. A truly rubbish cover.
Book designs have come on leaps and bounds. But even so, there's no accounting for the 2004 cover of Eric Lane's Special Children. It is truly, awfully so bad that I cannot show it to you before the nine o'clock watershed. Which is something of a shame, because this is a great book. It's a theology of children for credo-baptists. It does interact with paedo baptist views, but it's not a paedo baptist book. Rather it answers carefully and thoughtfully some of the questions that credo baptists sometimes struggle with: can I teach my child to pray, for example? What about children who die in infancy? I must acknowledge an interest – Eric was my mentor, my Gamaliel as I trained for ministry. I love everything he writes. But I've found this especially useful – so much so I keep copies on the shelf to give to people. It's not a scholarly defence of one particular view, but it has very helpful wisdom for those of us who are consciously credobaptist.
So, here's a thought. What if our introductions and illustrations were not a function of the message but rather of the congregation? It's long intrigued me that some of the great puritan preachers could get away with no introduction whatsoever. Why? Were they that good as preachers? No. But their congregations were eager and hungry. This was brought home to me as two of us here discussed a sermon we'd heard. Hardly any introduction. Hardly any illustrations. But it all worked and was well received.
We think that we need good and engaging introductions to let those listening know why they ought to listen. That's going to be true in many congregations. Don't give up on good introductions just yet! But a hungry, eager congregation: do they really need that five minute story which loosely links to the heart of the message? Quite possibly not.
And illustrations are always good for illustrating hard things. But we also use illustrations as pause points and breathing space. Again, imagine an eager and hungry congregation. Do they really need this second kind of illustration? I'm not sure they do.
Of course, all congregations are different. And we're preaching into different contexts. But increasingly, people are coming to church because they want to, not because they ought to, and so we should not be surprised to see the nature of congregations changing. In which case, I gently ask, might our introductions and illustrations not be quite as necessary as they once were….?
“Of course I believe the Bible’s true”
Premier hosted a debate between Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson (NFI). Andrew is a good guy and this is worth watching to follow up on the issue I raised last week. It's a great camera angle. Andrew could not be more laid back. This is part one of four. Mark Thompson has also responded to Chalke's paper here. In this first episode, Chalke says some very alarming, but sadly, not unexpected things. I do notice, however, that much of his language is very orthodox-like. The Bible is indeed a library and we read each book in the light of this. But it also has a unifying inspiration, and so to set off, say Isaiah against Ezra/Nehemiah is just plain wrong. He's also rather poor at listening to someone else's argument. "Of course, I believe the Bible's true." Hmm. Yes. But what does that mean? See what you think.
Job, Satan and God’s governance
Many people are puzzled by Satan's appearance in heaven's throne room in Job 1. I'm just reading through Job in my devotions, making use of Christopher's forthcoming commentary on Job in Crossway's Preach the Word series. [It will be published in May and available first in the UK at the EMA – another reason for coming!]. I thought this little section on governance was very helpful. It comes after a rejection of two alternatives – polytheism (which essentially becomes dualism, a battle between good and evil) and monism, where one God rules the world absolutely. He is the only supernatural power, the absolute Power. This, points out Christopher, is essentially Islam. But it is not Christianity, even if it is how many Christians think the world is governed.
Neither does justice to the Bible’s picture, which is more nuanced and complex. The Bible portrays for us a world that lies under the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of the Creator, who has no rivals, who is unique, such that there is no god like him. And yet he does not govern the world as the sole supernatural power. He governs the world by the means of and through the agency of a multiplicity of supernatural powers, some of whom are evil. That is to say, “the sons of God” [Job 1.6] represent powers that are greater than human powers and yet are less than God’s power. They include among their number the Satan and his lying and evil spirits. (p41)