Monday, April 30, 2007

Spot the Difference

Poptastic Lyrics of Pop: No 1

'But you’ve been cold to me so long, I’m crying icicles instead of tears...'

From a Jim Steinman song.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Things I didn't know: Nos 11 & 12

If it hadn't been for the U.S. there would be no modern Europe. (Depends how you define modern I suppose. But Matt Frei is always worth reading. Go for it Gore!)

Jonathan Woodgate has had a rough time with injuries in his career, and never settled at Real Madrid. Another case of just how good could a player have been.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


As of this evening I am finished my work as a Th.M. student at Princeton Theological Seminary. Depending on how far my money stretches the next five weeks will be fun.

Mum and Dad arrive in New Jersey on May 16 for a one week stay. Otherwise I'll be taking things easy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

First Edwards Paper

Just got my first Edwards paper back today, (not this one). I've posted it here. Not sure I really say very much with this paper on Edwards and the incarnation, but I'm still curious about how Edwards manages to be 'at times on the brink of formal heresy' in his understanding. I might also post the complete version of my second paper, which amounts to a summary of The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


This goes out to all my good mates out there. Mates, I don't like to talk about it, but I tend to do a little bit of work for charity every now and again. This morning, took part in a fund raising walk for The Crisis Ministry.

In a day full of excitement, I also discovered that dollar bills can survive a standard wash cycle in a dorm laundry washing machine.

Tonight I'll be listening to some friends sing their little hearts out in Princeton University Chapel.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MLJ 'preached liberation theology' shocker

News is breaking that Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a famous 20thC Calvinistic preacher in the UK, known to readers of this blog, has been shown to be a preacher of liberation theology. An amateur church historian, currently working at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), claims Lloyd-Jones has been misunderstood for the last fifty years.

'I've been reading through some sermons that MLJ published under the title Spiritual Depression,' said David Shedden, a student coming to the end of a one year course in theology at PTS. 'I couldn't believe what I was reading near the end of the book. I'd always taken MLJ to be radically conservative in everyway.'

Shedden refers to MLJ's sermon, Learning to be Content, a sermon on Phil4:10-12. The sermon series was written for publication in the early 1960s. The following extended quote is at the heart of Shedden's thesis that perhaps MLJ was more radical than we tend to assume:

'It is characteristic of this particular generation in which we live to find a tendency on the part of large numbers of people to feel that the Christian gospel has been a hindrance to the forward march of mankind, that it has been a drag on progress, that it has been nothing but "the dope of the people". They say that it (Godliness with contentment is great gain, 1Tim6:6, cf Matt6:34) is a doctrine which has taught people to put up with all kinds of conditions whatever they may be, and however disgraceful and unjust. There has been a violent political reaction against the gospel of Jesus Christ because people have so misinterpreted this kind of text as to put it in this way:

"The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them, high or lowly, And order'd their estate"

Now that is just rubbish and a blank denial of what the apostle teaches here... "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate". Were men meant to be like that and to stay like that for ever? The Bible never teaches that; it does not say than man should be content to remain in poverty, that he should never endeavour to 'better' himself. There is nothing in the Bible that disputes the proposition that all men are equal in the sight of God and that all are entitled to equality of opportunity.'

p 279, Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1965.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


'Happy is he who has learned to expect little from Parliaments or Convocations, from Statesmen or from Bishops, and to look steadily for Christ's appearing! He is the man who will not be disappointed.'

The quote is taken from the 1867 preface to Coming Events and Present Duties. Being Miscellaneous Sermons on Prophetical Subjects. J.C. Ryle

I don't think Ryle's statement should be understood as anti-government, as if Ryle was necessarily a 'small government is good' conservative when it came to political questions. Too many recent conservative governments have squandered the trust that was placed in them by conservative Christians. I doubt there is a conservative political party today that Christians can vote for with a clear conscience, knowing that the party is worthy of trust.

I've got no idea where Ryle placed himself on the political spectrum of his day. I think the good thing about Ryle's statement is that it puts everything in proper perspective. Regardless of how we vote, Christians look forward to an event that will change everything. We should not look for heaven on earth apart from the heavenly reign that Christ will bring about when he chooses. But at the same time we should work for the good of all people, including our politicians and governments.


Spent second half of yesterday in NYC. Despite storms and flooding it was a great time. Ate real chips, had dinner in a French cafe, then ended up in a world famous jazz club - Birdland - which was... wait for it... niceee! Perhaps even... grreeattt. Or, smooth.

Of course, I couldn't help think about The Fast Show's Jazz Club skits. Check out this You Tube link for a reminder.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sounds like...

...the genuine article. This post is closer to the truth than it knows. One standing joke in Alex Hall is that I'm from up-state New York, or Glasgow, Montana! And I've been told, on good authority, that a Scottish accent secures a premium on your basic stipend. Nice work if you can get it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Things I didn't know: Nos 9 & 10

The Moon is moving away from the Earth at a rate of 4cm per year. The cumulative effect of this is that a few million years from now solar eclipses will not occur. The Moon will be too far away from the Earth to block out light from the Sun getting to the Earth.

Paul McCartney's first name is James. He is Sir James Paul McCartney.

Counterfeit goods

"It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it. Thus there are many more counterfeits of silver and gold than of iron and copper: there are many false diamonds and rubies, but who goes about to counterfeit common stones? Though the more excellent things are, the more difficult it is to make anything that shall be like them in their essential nature and internal virtues; yet the more manifold will the counterfeits be, and the more will art and subtlety be displayed in an exact imitation of the outward appearance. ... So it is with Christian virtues and graces; the subtlety of Satan, and men's deceitful hearts, are wont chiefly to be exercised in counterfeiting those that are in highest repute. So there are perhaps no graces that have more counterfeits than love and humility, these being virtues wherein the beauty of a true Christian does especially appear."

Jonathan Edwards, in this quote taken from Part I, section VII of The Religious Affections, struggles with the problem of discerning good love from bad love, real love from false love, lasting love from passing love. Edwards was writing in a Christian context, and he was in the middle of discussions and debates about identifying real grace, real religion, real marks of the life of God in human individuals. Can the principle Edwards introduces above be applied today? What excellent things are counterfeited in 2007?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Things I didn't know: No 8

Ian McShane, the English actor best known in the UK for playing Lovejoy in the BBC drama series of that name, had a secondary role in the US soap opera Dallas. The last notable role I remember McShane playing is gangster/mob boss in the film Sexy Beast, a gritty movie which includes a remarkable and chilling perfomance by Ben Kingsley as a psychotic mobster.

John Travolta is signed up to play J.R. Ewing in the planned movie version of Dallas.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What do you study?

Yesterday I needed to buy some goodies at Wawa. As I was standing in the cashier queue the woman behind me noticed my PTS sweatshirt:

'Ah, are you from the theological seminary?'

'Emm, yes, ...'

'Oh, wonderful. Good for you. What do you study?'

I've been asked this question before, and I never know the best answer. In this instance I was sure that 'theology' was not the right reply. At a party a few years ago, while chatting to some medical students, I struggled to describe what theology actually was. I didn't think it would be any easier this time round. So, I tried to change the subject, giving the woman the benefit of the doubt that she already knew what theology was:

'Oh, bits and bobs. I'm doing a one year course, doing different courses and modules. I'm from Scotland.'

'Ah, that'll be where you got your accent from.'

Brilliant! I had managed to change the subject using my well tested 'I'm from Scotland...' fall back, always a winner in New Jersey. But I'll need an alternative fall back when I return to Glasgow in June. Although, by then, I'll no longer be a theological student. Instead, I'll be a student assistant minister in the Church of Scotland. 'Eh? What's that all about then?' 'Emm, well, I used to study theology at university...'

This morning I read the first three chapters of Paul's letter to the Corinthians. I think Paul might have experienced something of the same struggle Christians have today in explaining our faith. Paul was not sent to Corinth to administer the sacraments, or to manage the church. He was not sent to help the poor directly, or challenge the powers and authorities directly. Although it was the poor, for the most part, that God called through the gospel proclamation, 1Cor1:26-29. And it was the powers and authorities that were doomed by the revelation of God's wisdom in Jesus Christ, 1Cor2:6-8.

I'm not sure he was sent to teach theology either. He was sent, by Jesus Christ, to proclaim the gospel, to proclaim the foolishness of the cross, 1Cor1:17-25. I once preached from this passage at a midweek bible study in my home church. I got into a real exegetical and homiletical mess. I struggled to explain what Paul was on about. I tried to illustrate the Jewish demand for signs, and the Greek desire for wisdom, in current terms. But I couldn't do it. I still remember the glazed look over the eyes of my audience. I remember giving up, in silent despair, saying, 'I think I'll just leave it there...'

Given my conversation yesterday at Wawa, I'm not sure I'm any better prepared to spread the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ:

'... What do you study?'

'A story about a man born of a virigin, who was crucified at age 33, and who then rose from the dead three days later.'

Who would believe such a thing?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Getting it right second time round

I need to rewrite and resubmit a sermon on Luke 4:21-30 for my Church of Scotland second placement assignment. My first effort was aimless, full of mushy sentences, and it lacked focus. The illustrations didn't work either, apparently. I've been asked to provide a sermon with one theme aimed at a specific need of the congregation I'm in at the moment. My supervisor has 'been to Princeton many times' so he or she must know exactly the kind of sermon that will work.

I'd love any help, by comment or email. Themes I could develop? Illustrations and stories to drive the points home? What kind of sermon does a person living in Princeton, NJ, need to hear?

Hmm... I thought my first attempt was okay. One mistake I made was choosing to include Luke 4, verses 14 to 20 in my reading and in my exposition - I thought that was just setting the context. Another mistake was assuming that notes used for preaching are the same as a written sermon. This is obviously not the case. My supervisor's comments display how badly notes can be misread or misunderstood.

From what I've been told my sermon went down well in Princeton. Perhaps no candidate minister is accepted in the candidate's own church?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Message of Eugene H. Peterson

Eugene Peterson's best known and most popular contribution to the world is his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. I love to read paraphrases of Bible texts, so I was delighted to receive a copy of The Message as a gift last October.

However Peterson has a substantial back catalogue of books on the nature of pastoral theology. I've decided to read a few of these for a pastoral theology paper I need to write. Although I am pretty close to being set in my ministry ways, Peterson may yet become one of those writers that I read totally and completely. He is currently working on a five volume series of books on spiritual theology. I have yet to read the first three volumes, so I might wait until the series is complete and read the whole series over a year or so.

Peterson is probably not in the same camp, and his emphasis is pastoral and 'spiritual' theology rather than systematic or dogmatic theology, but I think his work is comparable to that of David Wells (who did his Ph.D. at Manchester University!)

Here are two Peterson quotes.

'A sense of hurry in pastoral work disqualifies one for the work of conversation and prayer that develops relationships that meet pastoral needs. There are heavy demands put upon pastoral work, true; there is difficult work to be engaged in, yes. But the pastor must not be 'busy.'
p.61, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eerdmans, 1992 edition.

'Despite the unsurpassed academic training that American pastors receive, it looks very much as if no generation of pastors that we know about historically has been so embarrassingly ill-trained in the contemplation of Scripture.'
p109, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Theology, Eerdmans, 1993 edition.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Things I didn't know: No 7

The song, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?, perhaps best known as an Al Green song, was actually written and released as a single by the Bee Gees in 1971. The single did not chart in the UK but it was their first US Billboard No 1. Green covered the song for his 1972 album Let's Stay Together.

Paul Gambaccini is currently hosting a show on BBC Radio 2, You Win Again - The Bee Gees Story, Tuesdays at 8.30pm UK time.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Arrived back yesterday from my week in the UK. It turned out to be a really worthwhile trip. Meeting up with family and friends again was cool. I had no great sentimental feelings about being back in Scotland. But returning to Princeton feels like an exercise in tying up loose ends. I have effectively got four weeks of work left to do here. And this morning I discovered that I have less to hand in than I had anticipated this time last week.

Why encouraged? Well, the Church of Scotland conference I attended was fairly standard. But I got to know one or two colleagues a little better. On top of this I learned, and began to realise, that there is a real melting pot situtation in the church in Scotland at the moment. This may or may not end in some greater uniform good. My optimism comes from believing that I can stir the pot, and add a little seasoning of my own. The plan is to choose an area, perhaps a presbytery, and focus on reforming and reviving that area with the help of colleagues I have got to know in the last year or so.

You read it here first. Wherever I end up late 2008 or early 2009 will indicate the strategic choice for this plan. Chances are this place will not be one of the big cities in Scotland. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and perhaps Dundee are well served by churches. Why duplicate effort?

Preparation for this project will be 15 months probation ministry at Partick South Church of Scotland in Glasgow, working with Rev Dusty Dunnett. I had a great conversation with Dusty last week - the most encouraging chat I have had with a potential supervisor/boss. Bring on July 2007!