A book for your heart and your shelf
I guess our part of the evangelical world is divided in many ways, but one at least is along the fault-line of definite atonement (limited atonement to you and me, but this is an altogether better title). And here I have to lay my cards on the table. A book about definite atonement is preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned. But, as I discovered reading Lee's little book (here), even then there is much in this glorious doctrine to stir and delight in. So, I've been looking forward to the mama of all definite atonement books for some time: From heaven he came and sought her.
There's a website and some videos for each chapter. It's too early to say whether both those who agree with the doctrine and those who don't will find it equally useful – but I'm praying that would be the case. Just for the record, I also read books I don't agree with (and sometimes change my mind). I think that's an important Christian discipline. I learnt more about paedo baptism by reading The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism than I ever did by listening to less than irenical debates (even though that book didn't change my mind).
So, I'm hoping that this book on definite atonement will be a useful resource for those who already agree and for those who don't (as well as, of course, those who are undecided). I particularly like the look of the various approaches. The size of the book is due, in no small measure, to the attempt to tackle the subject from a number of angles – all of which interest me. But some may interest you more than others. You may have specific questions about pastoral approaches – and the way the book is organised is going to be a help.
I've got other big books on my shelf that I dip into from time to time and find enormously edifying. I think, hope and pray this is going to be another.
BTW, I particularly like Piper waxing lyrical about the book. He seems to be about to burst into tears at any moment, like a new dad!!
Creating false tensions
One of the things I hear younger Christian ministers do is to think carefully about setting priorities. That can be a really good thing (and I've met other ministers who need to do this more). The priority list goes something like this: God, wife, family, church.
In theory, fine.
But life is more complicated than this, and in fact, this over-simplification of the Christian ministry can create tensions that should not exist. The reality is that there are times in ministry where this kind of priority listing is wrong. Take a stupid example: if I go and see a grieving mother I am not going to cut off the pastoral visitation so I can go and pick up my daughter from school. That may have been higher up my list, but right at the moment, the list is wrong. It is, in fact, reversed and I will find other arrangements for my daughter. Mrs Jones comes – right now – before my family.
More than this – we are setting up a false antithesis by placing God in the list as though serving and nurturing wife, family and church are not also about giving ourselves to Christ.
Please hear me right. I am not advocating abrogation of family responsibilities or nurturing a good and godly marriage. Please God, no. But expressing priorities in the way some people do and then rigidly sticking to them helps no one. Most people in the real world understand this. Why shouldn't ministers?
What are you paid to do?
We had an open session last week at our minister's conference talking about prayer – the practicalities of prayer meetings and personal prayer. There was one very helpful comment arising out Acts 6:
'Brother, you are paid to preach and paid to pray.'
Both convicting and insightful. I guess most of us believe the first and ignore the second.
What a bore
One of my favourite moments from last week's autumn minister's conference with Wallace Benn:
'What a bore to be a liberal! What a trial to have to come up with something each week to say! What hardship to be always looking around and reading the papers and to think of something clever to say! No! How liberating to let God set the agenda, make the choices. What a joy to have a high view of Scripture.'
One of more unusual and lesser known conferences we run is the PT Cornhill London Week. This unique conference is designed to give those thinking about Christian ministry a taster of real life ministry in London. The conference runs from Thursday 12th December through Tuesday 17th December including the weekend in between. Each delegate comes into the PT office each morning for some Bible work and practical teaching on ministry with a group of four serving ministers. Then in the afternoons and over the weekend we send each delegate to stay with a London ministry couple to see ministr from the inside. Those who have been have said that it is this unique experience which makes this conference such a help.
The cost is kept low (£100) and subsidised by us as feel it is important to help people see the reality of ministry before embarking upon it. Perhaps you have someone in your congregation for whom this would be just right? Or perhaps it would be just right for you. We only have a dozen places, and it's first come first served, so get booked in today.
Christ on Campus
The good folks at Christ on Campus have produced a very attractive booklet version of Christopher's essay Christianity and Sexuality. You can read the whole thing online here. Everyone going to the ETS meeting in Baltimore will get one, but if you're not invited (!) here's you free online copy. The CCI looks like a good initiative from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and worth browsing, especially as more gets added over time.
At this autumn minister's conference we've planned two sessions with Wallace Benn on maintaining momentum in our personal walk with Christ and in ministry. The first session was gold dust – watch out for video and audio soon. Here are a few highlights:
- preaching is the primary ministerial duty, but though it is exacting, it is not the thing that drains and pressures most ministers
- going uphill (struggling) you need to shed needless baggage (secondary stuff)
- going downhill (doing well) you need heavy weights to keep you grounded (good doctrine)
Wallace based most of his talk on 2 Timothy 3.1-4.5. He pointed out that
- there will always be things to discourage us (e.g. 1.15, 1.8)
- there will always be things to encourage us (2.9, 2.10)
The answer therefore is always
- remember who showed you the faith (3.10, 14)
- remember your convictions, especially about the Bible (3.16, 17)
- remember your charge and its seriousness (4.1,2)
- remember what the future holds and who holds the future (4.1)
Preaching the psalms
Some basic but enormously helpful tips for preaching the psalms from David Gibb from our autumn ministers conference:
1. Remember their historical setting
Discern the original setting where possible.
2. Remember the post exile readership
They are compiled for people who are back in the land. What did they mean for those people, this wil help unlock the psalm. For example, we also live in the now and not yet.
3. Remember they all point to Jesus
Is this psalm quoted in the NT? Is the king or man anticipating Jesus in some way?
4. Remember they are Scripture to change us
This is why the psalms are given. Before they are my words to God they are God's word to us.
5. Remember the psalm in its context
In which of the five books does this psalm come? What's the flow?
6. Remember this is poetry?
It is right to ask "how does this feel?" We need to ask what emotion it stirs as well as what knowledge it conveys. This should be reflected in the way we preach. We should not preach Psalms the way we preach epistles.
Wallace Benn: What does a church do when it faces difficulties?
2000: Arrange a committee
1900: Call a day of prayer.
Speed affects what you see
It won't come as any surprise to be reminded that there are different speeds you can preach through a book. I'm nervous about saying there are any right or wrong approaches, though I do feel the extremes (very, very slowly or very, very fast) should normally be avoided. There's probably a place for variation. I'm seeing that at the moment as I prepare 1 Samuel. Here's a book where there's a tendency to go at a pretty speedy pace. It's a long book and will take a while to get through. Moreover, some of the stories, whilst long, are clearly single units. That is the case, for example, in chapters 9 and 10, where Saul is appointed king (though, and here's an interesting fact, he is never actually called that…).
A preacher might well think, there's a unit. And, at one level, he would be right. But there is so much detail here – and theological foundation – that a slower approach yields excellent teaching points. And maybe, just maybe, it's our pace which sometimes robs our congregations of seeing more of the depth of our faith and the knowledge of our God. Let me explain.
The big thing going on in this chapter is the rejection of God as King and the appointment of Saul. There's lots to say and teach about that – not least looking forward to the time when God will be King once again in his incarnate Son. If you've got 30 minutes on this passage you're not going to be able to focus on a lot more than that. But I also saw (helped by excellent David Firth) that the last few verses (1 Sam 10.17-26) introduce a key theological idea:
"There is a profound tension between what Yahweh desires to do and what Yahweh agrees to do…. although kingship was within his purposes, the model sought by the people was not."
Here is something important to say about the two wills in God – tough stuff that many Christians will not understand and be poorer for missing out. A slower pace would allow that to be developed and we might have more robust congregations as a result.