Sunday, July 30, 2006

God Unknown?

To say that God is incomprehensible does not mean that God is inconceivable. Rather we must affirm that, while God’s being and nature are beyond our full comprehension, outlines of his character and nature are not only possible but inescapable. We cannot avoid imagining or exploring these things. We have a sense of the divine because we ourselves exist in some form of relation to the divine. The concrete reality of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, does not exclude this ‘natural’ knowledge of God. We might say that natural knowledge of God is redeemed and perfected in the revelation of Jesus Christ. The scandal of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the knowledge of God that it contains, but the claims of God there proclaimed: God has reconciled all things to himself in Christ, and all must reckon with that declaration of divine authority, all must bow the knee.

In case you were wondering...

Every answer is always just the beginning of a new question.

Karl Rahner

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lists don't come easy to me...

While I’m utterly unable to match the style or wit of CG, I will attempt this rather childish game. This all started with Ben Myers, who has actually visited my blog! Ben seems to be a rising theological star – I just wish he didn’t post silly things like this and this – do these posts actually mean anything in normal Christian, or even theological, terms? Barth has got a lot to answer for…

I'm always unable to restrict these things to one item...

1) One book that changed your life:
Every book you read changes your life. Donald Macleod’s Behold Your God made me the theological nerd I am today. Everything he writes is worth reading.


2) One book that you've read more than once: Have I read any book more than once… the latest book to enter this category is The Last Things by Paul Helm. The first book to enter the club was Grow in Grace by Sinclair Ferguson

3) One book you'd want on a deserted island: my own compilation of songs, hymns and poems that have touched my heart. It would include Burns, Blake, Donne, Dylan, Faber, Frost, Harrison, Heaney, King, Lennon, McCartney and Springsteen. I’m embarrassed that there are so few females on that list.

4) One book that made you laugh: The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. I burst out laughing at a bus stop in Glasgow on reading the first page.

5) One book that made you cry: Don’t think I cried, but I vaguely remember being moved inwardly reading An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. The last story in Dubliners, James Joyce, is easily the saddest thing I remember reading - why do people continue to write after Joyce has produced that quality of stuff? Books don't make me cry - death, films, and girls make me cry…

6) One book that you wish had been written: I’d love someone to write a book on the nature of church membership in Scotland from 1400 to the present day. This would actually be a critique of ideas of what it has meant to be a Christian and a church member. It would also have to be the definitive social and theological history of the church in Scotland, including the difficult 20thC.

7) One book that you wish had never been written: I’m too liberal to deny any book the right to exist. I wish people would stop publishing biographies of Hitler, Stalin, et al.

8) One book that you are currently reading: Systematic Theology, Vol 2, Robert W Jenson (yes, I have read vol 1 already!!) I really really want to be conversant with writers like Jenson. But, I just find it so difficult to plug in, engage, and really feel as if it is all worthwhile. Does theology need to be blatantly nonsensical and tautological before it gets published?

9) One book you've been meaning to read: The latest books by Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro. Greavsie: The Autobiography

Tag: Danni, Dodds - I've no idea if they will respond

Things men start to think about as they get older...


Your favourite shirt has the 'Do not iron' code on its label. How do you get rid of the creases? (How did your Mum and Dad manage to get rid of the creases in the days when they looked after your favourite shirts?)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Preaching

This is a rather lengthy blog post because it includes notes that I used for a sermon this morning at this church. Before today I knew next to nothing about the church, its building or its people. I’d been asked to take the service by my current placement supervisor. He was in attendance, too, and tomorrow morning there will be a post mortem.

It was good fun. As far as I know (pre-post mortem) there were no disasters. Everyone greeted me with encouragements at the end, and some folks even picked up on some of the things I tried to say. Apparently, my heartbeat was picked up by the radio mic, which was resting on my sternum. Everyone could hear feedback that sounded like that noise you get at the end of an LP record. I’m told the signs of life are good; I was remarkably calm and cool given my role as guest preacher man.

It’s interesting leading services and preaching in new, unknown, churches. Looking at my notes from such occasions, including the notes below, I tend to prepare ‘utility sermons’. Sermons that are neither expository nor narrative sermons. Sermons that don’t really say anything, don’t really teach as such… what, in fact, do these sermons do? Are they the Word of God, or even gospel sermons, in any sense?

One person commented that I was provocative. And, I guess that’s all I try to do in these situations. I try to provoke thought, while offering some encouragement for people to think that they’re not wasting their time listening to me. After all, I am the guest of these people, and they are people who belong to, and attend, a church of Jesus Christ. Who am I to burst in with all sorts of weird, wonderful, and innovative preaching?

I’ve got hopes and dreams for how I would preach and teach in a settled situation. I’d aim for a mix of short, sharp, and snappy devotional sermons along side longer ‘teaching’ sermons, classic ‘expository preaching’ sermons, evangelistic talks, and thematic/topical thoughts for the day. People need a mixed and varied diet to remain healthy – in preaching and teaching terms, perhaps this requires more than one preacher/teacher.

All the same, I often think about how my style of preaching changes from situation to situation. Is such preaching really preaching at all? Can you find the gospel in any of the thoughts and words below?

(The notes are rough – and, in publishing them, I’m opening myself to all sorts of possible inquiry and misconception. But, for all that, what you read below are the words I had in front of me. Those bits in italics were missed out completely in my flow of thought during the delivery – other parts were paraphrased as I spoke – bold sections were read out to get the point across. I was told that I spoke for 19 minutes (thanks, DM!) The bible readings in the service were Ps10 and Luke 13:1-17 – my choice.)



(Read the final verse of the Luke 13 reading)

It’s an interesting time to be a Christian minister or a student minister, or to be someone who has to preach, teach or give talks in all sorts of Christian or church settings.

Have you noticed the increasing fascination with spiritual and religious matters? You see it in all sorts of ways, and all sorts of places. And, most of it is pretty vague.

Some of you will watch Deal or No Deal. Don’t you just love that show – it’s compulsive... (describe?)

My head tells me that the game is really a game of chance – it all comes down to luck whether or not you get rid of the low boxes first – but it’s incredibly clever how Noel Edmunds manages to hype up the contestants so that they have a positive attitude all the time.

He was on Parkinson a few months ago – and he explained his philosophy of life, a philosophy which says – there are good things waiting for you, just have right attitude and they will happen. The universe is stored with positive energy, you just need to have the right frame of mind to plug into it. Edmunds has had his ups and downs, he’s incredible successful, a very wealthy man. And yet, he puts his recent success down to a spiritual way of life, an almost supernatural approach.


But, it’s not just new spirituality – people are being exposed to more and more stuff about the traditional religions, including Christianity, and more and more about Jesus Christ in particular.

Look at Hollywood – more and more big budget films refer to Christian things – some are blatant – like The Passion of the Christ. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was praised and panned in like measure by different critics because it was so strongly based on the Christian view of life.

Others are more subtle – I’m told that in the new Superman film, Superman isn’t just a superhero – he’s a messiah, a saviour, sent by his Father into the world to save the world from itself, and from the evil Lex Luther. I don’t need to explain the Da Vinci Code – if you haven’t read the book itself, or seen the film, you must have read one of the dozens of books about it.

Think about the political world – on the one hand, it seems that you need to be a Christian to become a leading politician. The British government is full of Christians – the leader of the free world, Bush, is a Christian – before Bush, Clinton was a Christian.

On the other hand, these leaders are getting involved in all sorts of complicated issues that mean asking big questions about what we believe about the world – how can Christians, Jews, Muslims, live together in peace? How can governments recognise and protect the religious beliefs of all people, while protecting citizens from so-called extremists? How long before people are not allowed to express their opinions unless those opinions are politically correct?

Big questions in a world with a growing awareness of spirituality, a growing awareness of the different traditional religions – whether that’s Christianity or Islam, or some other brand. I’m only going to attempt one question this morning.

What was Jesus like? What did Jesus think? What message did Jesus speak into his world?
Some of my friends have little wristbands - WWJD – What would Jesus do?

I prefer WDJD – what did Jesus do? It strikes me that for all the interest in stuff like this, in all the confusion and information overload, few people seriously look at what we know and believe about Jesus.

So, I want to suggest two things about Jesus and his message – so that we don’t allow ourselves to follow another Jesus, a made up Jesus, a Mel Gibson Jesus, a Da Vinci Code Jesus, or a C.S. Lewis Jesus.

First, the bad news. I’ve been watching the golf the last two days. One of the commentators told a story about a press conference at the US Masters. A guy called Mike Weir had just won, and the conference was packed with journalists trying to get a question in – this one journalist got his chance, and the question he asked Mike Weir, ‘How did you get the nickname, Weirsy?’ Weirsy, how did you get your nickname?

Well, it looks like Jesus probably had to deal with stupid questions – people loved to ask Jesus questions – but so often they asked questions that were either silly or pointless or both.

That’s what happens in the first section of our NT reading this morning – people come to ask Jesus about the lastest headline news, and it was pretty gruesome stuff… and, from they way Jesus responds, it looks like people were speculating – why did this happen?, what does it mean?, what did the people do to deserve such a fate?, where was God in all this?

At first, you would think that Jesus ducks the issue – Unless you repent, you too will all perish – but, Jesus was actually addressing the point – don’t waste your time speculating about how these people have suffered, think about your own life, reconsider your own priorities, are you living in the real world? Do you live before God, and before other men and women, in a way that you can be proud of, in a way that stands up to scrutiny? Are you ready to die, can you look back on your life with any sense of meaning, satisfaction? What are you living for? There will be judgement…

Jesus is even harsher in the next little story – the leader of the synagogue is angry because Jesus has healed on the Sabbath, he is angry that the people are seeking help on the Sabbath –

And Jesus rages against him – You hypocrites! You care for your animals on the Sabbath, how, then, should this woman be left to wait any longer. Away with your rules, away with your misguided understanding of right and wrong…

And in ways that reflect our reading in Psalm 10, Jesus teaches against those who use and abuse power, those who appear to be right but are actually far from right. Just as in Psalm 10, Jesus speaks like someone who believes in justice – there will be reckoning for all that happens in the world.

Through the force of his compassion, the power of his loving personality, and his uncanny knack of pointing to the important issues – Jesus challenges the prevailing attitudes of his time, and he demolishes those attitudes – they are shown to be shallow and empty.

But if some of his words sound harsh, there is another side to the message of Jesus. After warning about the need for repentance, he tells a parable about a patient gardener – the owner of the vineyard is in a hurry, but the gardener pleads for patience – let me spend more time over the vineyard, let’s not be too hasty to destroy and start again. Yes, there will come a time when drastic action might be required, but let’s wait, let’s keep going on with the original plan for a time, we might yet see some fruit.

And this other side of the message is also seen in what Jesus did in healing the crippled woman. Jesus takes the initiative, calls the woman, and heals her in the synagogue, in full view of his critics.

The force of these words and actions is simply that God is not finished with this world. He cares for it. He is working in it, and there is purpose in all the suffering and chaos, in all the injustice and oppression – Jesus says God is working, God cares. He is acting and working in this world – the message of Jesus is a message of hope because it points us to a better world, a new creation that God is working towards – and the message is that we can begin being part of that new world now.

Death comes to all of us, yes, we don’t see perfection here and now, of course we don’t. But the hope of God’s new creation begins when we listen to Jesus and follow his lead, his example, in making this world a better place.

The message of Jesus is double-edged – on the one hand, it warns us not to place too much confidence in our own devices, our own wisdom, our own desires, our own systems of right and wrong. Jesus calls us to reconsider. He forces us to take him seriously, or not at all. The call of Jesus is always a call to repentance.

But it is also a call to hope in God, to hope in a better world, a call to believe Jesus when, in the words of Revelation, he says ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ That takes faith – we don’t see much to help us in that faith – all we have is his word, his promise.

And that’s why Jesus is such a difficult figure – that’s why the real Jesus is so often hidden. Either the harsh Jesus is paraded before us, usually to scare us into some political agenda, or the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is used to warn us against being too radical.

But, ultimately, you can’t put him in a box, or in a corner (here, I made a premeditated digression to discuss that brilliant section, Luke20:20-26) – either we listen to his warnings while striving to fulfil the hope of God’s kingdom, or we ignore him altogether, and live without him. There is no pick and mix with Jesus – he calls us to follow him fully, or not at all. He calls us to confess our need, trust his ability to meet that need, and join in his work of ministering to a world of need. Let’s renew our commitment to him this morning, let’s strive to see and hear the real Jesus among all the pretenders, and let’s love him and serve him as long as we are able.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This week I'll mostly be eating...









2 packs of four juicy BBQ burgers for £3 at a well known supermarket near you. That's 8 burgers, which equals 4 meals! Have to confess that I haven't checked if they are in any way eco-friendly. I doubt they are organic.


There are many ways to make your burgers just that little bit special. At the moment, I am discovering a taste for cheese and mustard burgers - but my advice is that you shouldn't buy cheap mustard. Nice, wholegrain, french mustard will add some spice to your burger. Add the mustard two minutes before your burgers are finished under the grill, placing some cheese on top too. Allow the cheese to melt to taste.


Of course, if you don't have mustard, a fine brown sauce always adds depth to your burgers. Accompany your burgers with anything from beans through to coleslaw and salad - just don't forget nicely boiled new potatoes - or, if you are feeling really greasy, chip shop chips with lots of salt and vinegar.


I will break the monotony of burgers with some chilli over the weekend, and I need to use up a microwave curry before Monday.

Baptism

I'm delighted to continue my support for anablepo. CG has recently posted about his reading of David F Wright's latest book on baptism. Here's the initial review, and here's a follow up based on review found in EQ journal.

This is all very alarming for a simple soul like me. I was reminded of this essay I wrote about B.B. Warfield on baptism - comparing Wright and Warfield might be an interesting exercise. I doubt if Warfield would agree with the caution of Wright: 'I am happy to acknowledge infant baptism to be agreeable to the Word of God, without being able to regard it as being prescribed by it.' In fact, I reckon Warfield would find this extremely wooly. If infant baptism is not prescribed by the Word of God, I'm not sure how it can be agreeable with that Word.

Is Wright saying that anything goes when it comes to baptismal practice? If so, how can this be squared with the current position in our churches - baptism remains the pre-eminent practice that divides (evangelical) churches. And yet, according to this leading scholar on the subject, 'the true history of baptism of itself favours dogmatism on neither side of the traditional divide'.

Ministers in the Church of Scotland are duty bound to be dogmatic about baptism. Will that church, along with other churches, ever listen to the voice of historical and theological reason on baptism?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Trinity

This morning I sang these words, to the tune Moscow. I don't think Moscow is the same as this tune, but my musical ear is untrained, so I might be wrong. It's more like this tune, although we didn't have the apocalyptic illustration to accompany our singing. You can read about the author, John Marriott, here, an honours student in the days when that meant something.

Blessed and holy Three,
glorious Trinity,
Wisdom, Love, Might,
boundless as ocean's tide
rolling in fullest pride,
through the world far and wide
let there be light

As I sang I thought about this post on Faith and Theology - I wasn't sure if I really needed to read any of the books listed to gain more practical insight. By now, as a would-be theologian, I should have read Barth, Rahner, Moltmann, Pannenberg and Torrance at least. Perhaps I'll get round to it, but, before you call the cliche-cops, I'll just say that Calvin, Owen, and Warfield say more than enough on the subject.

Israel Lebanon crisis

I’m glad to endorse many of the blogs that I advertise on I to the hills. However, I trust that readers will understand that this does not mean universal approval of all that these blogs publish.

When I started blogging I wanted to comment on all sorts of issues. It quickly became apparent that my interests are narrow. And, I have been reluctant to write about all sorts of stuff, partly because I’m beginning to realise just how little I know about anything at all.

So, with those opening thoughts, I have to share that I was disappointed with this post on John Armstrong’s blog. And, I was shocked by the naivety of Andrew Sandlin’s post, which John Armstrong links to in his own post on the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon.

It is with a little trepidation that I write anything on this topic. I am wary of saying or writing anything about the Irish troubles. Before anyone misunderstands, I am not comparing the problems in the Middle East with the problems of Ireland. The point is simply that Ireland is a lot closer to home, I am half-Irish, and I know Irish people. Yet, I barely understand the issues. How much more cautious should I be about commenting on other troubled lands?

Here’s my problem with the view of Armstrong and Sandlin. They claim that they support Israel on political grounds, not theological grounds. (I get this from Sandlin’s post, which Armstrong endorses.) Both these guys attack dispensational theology, and I guess they would both be close to the theological views in this Michael Bird post. I probably agree with their theological criticism of dispensationalism, and their opposition to views of Israel, 1948, as a fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

So, to some extent, I agree with Armstrong and Sandlin. But this agreement becomes meaningless in comparison with Sandlin’s practical outworking of his theology. Read it for yourself to check for reality. Sandlin claims to separate theology and politics. However, I think it is foolish and na├»ve to make this separation. Sandlin claims to do this, but he can’t argue politically without claiming Christian theological values to support his political argument. As I see it, Sandlin equates Western liberal democracy with the kingdom of God. Not just the ideal but the reality. Sandlin believes that the political development of the USA was founded on Christian principles. He believes that for Christians, to support Israel is ‘to support a form of government that is at root Christian’.

I don’t want this post to become a rant or a ramble, but most of you reading will be able to see where I’m going here. The kingdom of God can never be equated with human forms of government. I would do much to defend my freedoms as a subject in the UK. I often think about ways of justifying social and political liberalism on biblical grounds, because I benefit greatly from living in such a society. For one thing, I am free to write this blog post without fear of persecution. But, the best democracies in the world are still far removed from fulfilling the kingdom values of God’s promised reign. Christians are beginning to see and taste that kingdom in their experience. But I don’t think the culmination of the kingdom promises will be seen in some ideal liberal democracy. For starters, it will be a kingdom with a king, God himself!

So, I can’t support Israel’s actions against Lebanon on any grounds. I wish that Lebanon would fight against the terrorism of Hezbollah. I would plead for an end to the violence on all sides. I long for a time when all people see terrorism for what it is, an affront to God’s creation of all humanity in his own image. I pray that there will yet be some political/theological resolution to the troubles in the Middle East. And I long for the day when Christians don’t do theology in a way that smacks of Western ideological imperialism.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fiction


I was asked the other day if I read much. The answer was that I don't read as much as I used to, especially when it comes to fiction. I'm not sure what it is a sign of, but I find it increasingly difficult to finish novels in particular. I'd rather watch good TV, or a film, or browse blogs. Even my non-fiction reading is becoming functional - I read on a need to know basis.

Thing is, I still love reading good writing for its own sake. Whether it is fiction or not matters little. Whether I agree or not with the message makes no difference.


And this is the thing that worries me. Can a reader enjoy or measure the aesthetic quality of writing apart from its meaning or purpose? For example, the best contemporary writing I've read comes from those American literary giants, Updike, Roth, and perhaps (the Daddy of them all?) Mailer. But the technical quality of the writing often stands against the bleakness and darkness (the godlessness) of the subject matter.

The same thing can be said about other artistic work. The poetry of John Donne. The images of Andy Warhol. The pop music listed on my blogger profile. Technical excellence, yes, but do the artists mentioned in this post exhibit any moral beauty in their work?

I started writing this post after browsing upon www.fyodordostoevsky.com. I can still remember reading Crime and Punishment one summer in the mid-90s. I remember feeling as if I was Raskolnikov, as if I was the one who had committed the crimes. FD (pictured above) does what every writer and preacher should do - he doesn't tell the reader something, he shows us the scenes and the feelings so that they become our experience too.

But, how can it be good to evoke such feelings within my consciousness? Does common grace grant us such aesthetic tastes? Does special grace stretch to redeem us from imagined sin too? I often ponder 2Cor5:21. And I often think about verses like Hebrews 2:14. Did Christ have any sense of being like a sinner, even while he was without sin? Could he have read the penitential Psalms, and respond in the same way that I did to reading Crime and Punishment?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How to be an emerging pastor - it's the wife, stupid...

Check out this post - another fascinating piece on the supposed revolution in church in 21stC US - Church 3.0

Church growth of 168 to 2700 in 3 years(!) must take more work than reading some books from Dallas Theological Seminary, listening to John Piper every week, and letting your wife look after all your domestic needs. Alas, I am practically unable to do any of these things at the moment. I'm still trying to be well dressed, hip and funny - and on my return from Princeton I'll automatically be a heretic to most of my friends (that's a joke).

Are these kind of churches seeing some kind of revival (in the sense of lots of people coming to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit blessing the preaching and teaching of the gospel)? Or are they using some kind of clever but simple technique? This is a genuine question - I desperately want to know how to bring people to a life changing (life giving?) knowledge of the gospel.

I'm starting to get a bit wary of evangelicals who claim they are emerging - I think it's just a way of distancing themselves from the Christian Right, all those neo-con fundamentalists who are seriously uncool at the moment.

But, let's be honest, here: is there any ideological or theological difference bewteen Mark Driscoll and your typical evangelical pastor in Church 1.0? Answer - I don't think so.

Much as I strive to be culturally conditioned and socially well informed, I basically believe in, not quite Church 1.0, but certainly Pastor 1.0. Pastors are nothing if they are not servants and teachers.

PS:
Those of you who happen to visit local church websites frequently, for whatever reason, might wish to take part in an idea I have for a survey. What do these websites say or advertise about the beliefs of their church?

My observations are that very few such sites advertise historic confessions and creeds. I think that there must be some sociological insight/difference between those that do and those that don't.

Note here, because I think this is important, that I am writing about references to historic confessions and creeds, or statements that are fomrally endorsed by the church and its denomination - Westminster, the Baptist Confessions, not to mention the patristic creeds which I rarely ever see on church websites. Almost all church websites will have a summary statement or a modern statement of faith - but, if I am right, why so few references to formal statements?

It is only fair that I begin by referring people to my own church and its new website - www.thetron.org - no reference at all to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the subordinate standard of faith for St George's Tron church as a church in the CofS - see my essay on this subject here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Missional Rev in London

Dave Strain is a Free Church of Scotland minister in London. (I think there are two Free Church congregations in the city, so I'm guessing that Dave is not on his own.) Dave is a great guy, an artist, a theological thinker, and a man with a passion for mission and evangelism in cultural context. Although I don't know him very well, I did enjoy and benefit from his friendship while he was in Glasgow a few years back. I sometimes seek his advice on stuff that ministers and student ministers need help with now and again.

Dave is a progressive thinker - check out this post, where he describes his view of a church service. I believe one of the things Dave is trying to do is recover a high liturgical tradition in line with the 16thC Reformed (and Lutheran, perhaps?) orders of worship (this includes responses to prayers, vocal confession of faith, vocal confession of sin using a set text, etc).

Exciting stuff, indeed. I was given a taste of this kind of worship when Sinclair Ferguson was minister of St George's Tron, in Glasgow. I became aware of the opportunity that liturgy provided for safeguarding evangelical truth, while at the same time enriching Presbyterian worship experience. Quite frankly, bare hymn sandwich services, with the emphasis on children's addresses and sermons, are just not good enough. The people of God deserve more. I don't know if Dave has any sympathy for the emerging church movement - but, it strikes me that this kind of recovery of Reformed 16thC worship is essentially one expression of the emerging church movement - people are finding all sorts of ways to express their disgust at the poverty of so much that passed for worship in the modern (1700-1950?) era.

So, perhaps my dilemma of similarity thesis doesn't quite cover all church traditions or denominations - but it certainly can be applied within traditions or denominations - and, reading between the lines of his post, I think Dave might just agree.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The dilemma of similarity

I've had a really good day. Pottered about this morning reading, browsing, blogging - even managed to do some washing and some dishes. Got some really encourgaging and exciting emails from friends - it's great when you hear good news about people progressing in their chosen paths.

Part of my afternoon was spent chatting with my current church placement supervisor. We were working on the agreement or 'learning and serving covenant' that forms the basis of our time together. I guess our discussion was, strictly, confidential - but I really benefited from it, and was fascinated to here my supervisor's response to some of my thougbts. I shared with him my observation that all the churches I've known in the last two or three years are tending to sing the same hymns or worship songs. This, despite the fact that the leaders of these churches come from different ends of the theological spectrum (remember, the Church of Scotland is a 'broad' church.)

DM coined the phrase 'the dilemma of similarity' in our discussion. Churches, even new churches, all tend towards the same patterns or structures in their development. I think we shared a longing for the possibility that new churches, or established churches, would be able to grow or change in ways that reflected the gifts of local church people. This would lead to particular mission and service focused on local needs. But, the dilemma of similarity is working against our dream.

I also shared another dream that I have for my future ministry. In any given ministry I would work with the aim of making myself redundant. I would try and build up people so that they could be the church in all its fullness and maturity - without the need for teaching elders - an aim akin, perhaps, to Ephesians 4:11-16? With God nothing is impossible! Pray, then, for my early (and happy) retirement. And, given that prayer, pray for a fair and equitable solution to the pensions crisis...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Future

John Armstrong has this short post about the Left Behind series on his blog. I guess I agree with much of the sentiment, but I'm not sure I agree that 'we should not engage in serious speculation' about the last things. It seems to me that Christian theology is nothing if it is not serious about the fulfilment of God's plans for creation. Okay, we should not be speculative in the sense of taking conjecture too far (fiction is a powerful and dangerous medium, is it not?) But, I think Christians do need a vision of what a better world will be like. And, it is inevitable that our way of life and our values will be based on how we think God is going to act in the future.

This is one of the disappointing things about realist Christian liberalism (i.e. Christian theology that believes in a 'supernatural' or 'divine' realm, but which challenges historic orthodox views of the divinity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ). I'm never very sure where liberal theology thinks the world is heading. Is God working in any meaningful way to make the world a better place, or not?

The irony, of course, is that liberal theology has recovered emphasis on the kingdom of God in a way which conservative and evangelical theology is still struggling to do. So, the question remains, where is the world heading, and what will the end bring? Are we living for the next world? Or should we be working to make this world a better one? It is easy to deride a 'pie in the sky when you die' mentality - but, to my mind at least, that remains the basic position of most evangelicals. Is it any wonder, then, that all the power, wealth and influence of evangelicals seems to make so little difference to the moral well being of our societies? Should we be surprised that such evangelicals love to squeeze the last drop of milk out of a cash cow? They are only being consistent with their eschatological vision - and, as long as you are on the winning side, there's nothing wrong with that, is there?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Graduation - Trinity College, Glasgow, Class 2006



Professor George Newlands pictured with a graduate of Trinity College.



Trinity College, class of 2006.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Princeton mania

Here are some fascinating resources related to the history of Princeton Theological Seminary.

In the Special Collections dept of PTS library you can choose to browse from this list of stuff. And just look at this list of personal papers and archives. Talk about being spoiled for choice...

In the digital collection, I tried to read Hodge's manuscript of his trip to Europe, but his hand writing was too bad. Perhaps the real thing will be easier to scan!

And, interest in Benjamin Warfield's legacy continues to grow on the web. Here is one site with resources, including this link to a dissertation on Warfield's method that puts my own work in proper perspective. I have considered doing more work on Warfield over the next year or so, but I'm not sure where to go with it. Riddlebarger's essay is pretty good, but, like my own dissertation, it is basically a historical survey of aspects of Warfield's work.

I would love to be able to assess, theologically, Warfield's thought. It looks like his use of Scottish common sense philosophy is well acknowledged. However, his use of higher critical approaches to the Bible, his textual criticism, and his exegetical method still require anaylsis because they were far from being 'fundamentalist' even if they were still essentially conservative. In fact, despite Riddlebarger's claims that Warfield was not solely responsible for introducing higher critical methods to the Princeton tradition, I still think that, in conjunction with Warfield's doctrine of scripture, this is his main influence on evangelical theological method - the combination (the tension?) of a high view scripture with historical critical methods of reading (or defining!) that scripture.

bebo page

I’ve finally got round to putting some real photos on my bebo page.

Here are some snaps from my recent trip to Kenya on safari. It was a great experience, my first time in Africa. The place is so different, and yet the many Western influences are obvious. I guess Kenya is better off than many African countries, and still the poverty I saw was shocking. The roads were atrocious – for miles we would simply drive along side tracks because the actual road was so full of holes. We were on a package holiday, so we were very sheltered from the everyday realities. But everything I saw put me off any idea of living or working in Africa. Dare I say it – based on some of the church buildings I saw in Nairobi, the last thing Kenya needs is more Western Christians working as Christian missionaries, church planters or Christian teachers/preachers. Apparently, Nairobi is a dangerous place – but it is also the African centre for many international churches and Christian agencies. Every conceivable Christian group seems to have a presence.

And here is a gallery of my personal theological heroes – they have all contributed to my thinking (and practice) in significant ways for good. Most of them are professional teachers, academics or preachers.

A few other friends and mentors deserve a mention. Everett Julyan and Roland McCallum were my flat mates in the mid-1990s. Eric, Roland’s Dad, was my first bible class teacher – he basically gave me my first survey of the bible, its story and its teaching.

Ian Hamilton was the minister of Loudoun Church, Newmilns when I started going there in 1990. Through his ministry I became a Christian – in a sense he is my one and only theological teacher – more importantly, he is still my pre-eminent model for ministry. Every situation I find myself in as a student minister, I think: ‘What would Ian do or say or think about this?’


George Newlands is a truly liberal liberal. He supervised my dissertation on BB Warfield, introduced me to the thought of Karl Barth, and offered me the chance to spend a year at Princeton Theological Seminary. George and I disagree about many things – not least the value of Warfield’s theological legacy – but his kindness to me over the last two years deserves recognition. I hope our friendship will continue when I leave the student world.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Never mind the beautiful game… what are the odds?

Overheard in a pub on Saturday night, just after the final whistle of the Brazil France game:

‘Ma holiday's paid!’


Until then I’d assumed the Partick support for France was some homage to the Auld Alliance.

A double on Portugal and France to go through must have been a nice little earner. Still, despite the controversy surrounding Rooney and Ronaldo, I think all the teams in the semis deserve their place. One of my mates has a suspicion that the Germans ‘managed to fix things and get the tournament, I reckon they can bribe their way to winning it too.’ This same friend predicted Le Guen’s move to Ibrox months before it was confirmed. I’m not so sure. Yes, Germany are favourites. But it would be fantastic if Zidane, Henry, Viera et al upset the odds. And, given their performance against an admittedly disappointing Brazil, who would bet against them?