Why the fault line isn’t sex
This article in last week's Independent is alarming if not surprising. I was pointed towards it by a friend who was similarly alarmed. It reflects a two pronged challenge to orthodoxy:
- the challenge to the moniker evangelical which we all know is understood more broadly in the world than it deserves to be. Clearly the breadth is growing.
- the challenge to biblical standards on sexuality. Again, no surprise. Those who have been watching the scene carefully will know that Tony Campolo, once doyen of evangelicals, is leading the charge.
As I say, alarming, but not surprising. The danger of course is that people think we conservatives have become a one issue party. Evangelicals are obsessed with sex. There's a danger that might become true. But of course, that is not the fault line. The fault line is the Bible, properly understood. It so happens that in the hedonistic world in which we live, this fault line is seen most obviously in the church's position on sexuality, but it could equally be seen in a number of different areas. Preachers need to work hard in their preaching to communicate this important truth – our fault lines are drawn for us because our primary fault line is Scripture itself.
There will always be a danger of being misheard on this. But if there must be an error, let it be with those who mishear rather than with those of us who speak.
Sometimes major series replace volumes in their commentaries for excellent reasons. Sometimes this is because the original volumes were not up to the same standard as the rest of the series. More often, scholarship has moved on and in order to reflect modern discovery and insight, a new volume is required. This is certainly the case with Eerdmans New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (NICOT and NICNT). Some of these volumes are simply superb.
But it is also the case that the new volumes sometimes replace very good volumes indeed. The NICNT series updates an older series known as The New London Commentary on… These are often worth searching out. Two examples will suffice:
- John Murray wrote the volume of Romans and this has some real insight. You might think that everything that needs to be said about Romans has been said. Perhaps. But I enjoyed working with Murray. The volume has been replaced by Doug Moo's enormous work (RRP £35). Murray's work was first penned in 1960.
- Philip Edgcumbe Hughes volume on 2 Corinthians is likewise great value. It was originally written in 1961 but still seems pastorally very fresh. It has been replaced by Paul Barnett's work (RRP £32).
In both cases the replacements are obviously very good. But the lost commentaries are worthy too. Hunt around for second hand copies. At the time of writing you will find Murray for £12.50 (abebooks) and Hughes for £5.42 (also abebooks). Murray's was originally published as two volumes and you may find them separately. It's also, of course, a very reasonable way of building up a theological library.
Happy new year
Banner of Truth have put all the Valley of Vision prayers online – a great resource here. It seems appropriate to start the new year with the preacher's prayer:
My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task; Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee; Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction. Present to my view things pertinent to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men’s consciences. Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy. Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and to set before them comforting considerations. Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience. May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee; Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, from lack of warmth and fervency. And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.
We wish you….
The PT office will be closed over Christmas, so this is it for now. We should not be writing blog posts over that time…and you should not be reading them. Enjoy church time together. Enjoy family time together. Enjoy a break from the regular pattern of ministry, even if you're going to be serving and working hard, your work pattern will almost certainly be different from usual.
We count it a privilege to serve you in ministry and trust that as you faithfully proclaim Christ this Christmas time, your own heart will be stirred once again with the good news of the gospel – and we pray that your preaching will be used by God to bless others. We're closed up here until 7th January.
A Christmas prayer
Can I commend the English prayer book available on the Church Society website ? I'm far from being Mr Liturgy (possibly as far as it is possible to be) and yet I still love this helpful little book. And some of the short prayers are simply delightful. Here is the collect for Christmas Day:
Almighty God, who gave us your only Son to take our nature upon him and to be born of a pure virgin, grant that we, who are born again in him and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
It might seem a bit odd to be talking about away days the week before Christmas, but they're in my head. We've got a PT staff away day early in Jan and we're also planning an elders' away day at church. So, even though we're drowning in festive yuletide tat, awaydays are in my head. I want to commend them. Take the question of church leadership, for that is the sharp end of church life. I don't know how your church works, but my guess is that a large part of your leadership time is spent firefighting or carrying over items to the next meeting. Prayer time is squeezed – especially praying together for those big ticket items. You spend so much time thinking about the next preaching series, for example (and please hear me, that is Very Important), that you never have time to read the Scriptures together in a meaningful way and measure up the church against biblical values and visions. Training is relegated to a quick agenda item. And as for pastoring one another….
This is the value of time together away. We've asked our working elders to take a day's annual leave to make it happen (it's unrealistic to just add another Saturday to the mix for most). We aim to pray, read the Scriptures and try to not have just another elders' meeting. We want to think ahead and look at the church critically and thankfully as we see what God plans and purposes for his people in the Bible. Have a think about planning such a day. It may just be the best Christmas present you can give your church.
Sending wives away – Ezra 10
I'm getting to the end of prep for teaching Ezra at Cornhill and must deal with one of the most perplexing parts of the book – what is going on when the foreign wives (and their children) are sent away in Ezra 10. Some of the most helpful comments I have read on this come from Carson in his For the love of God volume 2. This two volume devotional commentary is often a good go-to place for initial thoughts and it is now available online for free through the Gospel Coalition website. Basically he outlines two views:
- that the sending away is akin to a revival. Serious steps are taken to maintain purity.
- that the sending away is a wrong response to a rightly discerned problem and the Law does not sanction such inhumane treatment.
His conclusion is worth repeating in full. Note the last line which is full of pastoral wisdom for anyone ministering in a local church context.
Without meaning to avoid the issue, I suspect that in large measure both views are correct. There is something noble and courageous about the action taken; there is also something heartless and reductionistic. One suspects that this is one of those mixed results in which the Bible frankly abounds, like the account of Gideon, or of Jephthah, or of Samson. Some sins have such complex tentacles that it is not surprising if solutions undertaken by repentant sinners are messy as well.
A book I really like
Every now and again it's good to read books you really agree with. I don't think it's always a good idea, but it's good to be reminded that you're not a total goofhead and that some things you hold dear and feel passionate about are probably right.
This is one of those books. It's called The most misused verses in the Bible and is by Eric Bargerhuff, published by Bethany House. That does mean it is not too easy to get hold of in the UK – though Amazon and the Book Depository already have it – perhaps others will follow?
There are 19 short chapters focusing on 17 of the most misused verses in the Bible – how they are mistreated and what they actually mean. It's essentially a lesson in understanding the Bible well in the context in which it was written. As such, it ticks two useful boxes:
- First, it demolishes some shibboleths. I agreed with Eric's assessment of every one save James 5, where I'm more inclined to go along with Doug Moo in his little Tyndale guide.
- Second, it establishes a wonderful paradigm for understanding Scripture correctly. It's not just – in other words – here's not how to do it, but here's how to do it.
It's written at a popular level and would be useful for church members, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers and so on. Pretty much everyone really. Brilliant. And I'm not a complete goofhead. Here's the complete list:
- Matthew 7.1
- Jeremiah 29.11-13
- Matthew 18.20
- John 14.13-14
- Romans 8.28
- 2 Chronicles 7.14
- Colossians 1.15
- 1 Timothy 6.10
- 1 Corinthians 10.13
- Proverbs 22.6
- Philippians 4.13
- Exodus 21.23
- James 5.15
- Acts 2.38
- Proverbs 4.23
- Proverbs 29.18
- John 12.32
Ministry and suffering (5): contentment
What is the answer to suffering? How, as a minister of the gospel, do we endure the slings and arrows that come our way? How do we learn to live with tension, illness, family trouble, disgruntled church members, divided leaderships and so on?
We don't pretend that they aren't tensions. Gospel ministers are not called to be ostriches. We have to face up to difficulties, deal with them head on when necessary and realise that the world is sinful. It is sinful corporately – sin is in the world and the world is broken. It is sinful individually – the world is made up of sinners whom we interact with every day and the greatest sinner of all is closer to us than we imagine (work it out). That means that sometimes life is rubbish.
The answer is not to make the rubbishness go away. That could easily become the focus of our prayers. Whilst I don't want to play down praying for the particularities of situations we find ourselves in we must, at the very least, begin to recognise that every moment is a teaching moment given by a gracious father and the one quality we must learn above all is CONTENTMENT.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4.10-13).
Ministry and suffering (4)
In the midst of current struggles, a colleague wrote us a very helpful and encouraging note. He too had been through some tough times and he took the time to write down (for his church) some of the lessons he had learned. I offer here the headlines…some of them really need a little more explanation but there is not really room – perhaps I will encourage him to write it up in a form we could publish…?
Anyway. with "the important caveat that sometimes the most profound lessons defy neat explanations in words" here are the lessons he learnt:
- God is infinitely sovereign and kind, even in the midst of difficulty when it doesn't seem like it.
- God is the only One who is control of my life and to desire control is, in effect, to desire to be God.
- To be conformed to Christ who was bruised, necessitates being bruised ourselves.
- It is a good thing to consider [one's own] death.
- It is good not to cross bridges until you have to cross them.
- Physical illness is part of a much bigger spiritual battle.
- God is more interested in building character than giving us explanations.
- The local church is a wonderful instrument in the Redeemer's hands.
- Above all else, guard your heart.
- The weight of glory far outweighs any number of momentary afflictions.
These have been really helpful for us. And here is John Ryland's great hymn (ALL the verses!):