Residential

Arrived home from ETCW at about midnight last night. Too awake to sleep. Went to bed v. late. Got up late. Back in the saddle but struggled to get going today.

ETCW was fun. I was only there for about 30 hours. But I met some new students and caught with some ‘old’ ones. This is the most useful part of the Residential. Studying by distance learning can be quite a lonely existence. Catching up is important.

However, other than providing an environment for this kind of fellowship and support, I’m not sure what the College thinks it is doing. The residential is hardly an intensive learning experience. It is rare to have more than one lecture for each module and even then there is little time for more than an intro. Sometimes the lecturers just focus on the books we need to beg, borrow or … buy. Why can’t this be written down so that we can properly get into the subject matter? Seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

Anyway, I plan to cover

  • Hebrew Grammar II
  • Job
  • Pastoral Principles and Practice

The last one seems particularly interesting since it will involve the practice of diagnosing spiritual health. Scarey, full of pitfals I’m sure, but interesting.

Residential

Plans

I’m off to my residential at ETCW for a couple of days. I’ll be studying Job, Hebrew Grammar and Pastoral Principles and Practice next semester. The visit will give me the chance to use the library.

In the meantime, to keep us thinking: have you ever met a Christian who is godly and spiritual, but sometimes comes up with the craziest interpretations of Scripture? Or, have you ever come across (read or heard) someone who seems to have a very clear ability to interpret (exegete) Scripture and then find that he/she is not a believer? What’s going on there?

Here’s a quote from Moises Silva:

…our spiritual condition has no bearing whatever on the accuracy of our biblical exegesis.
Interpreting Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker) p.210

Is he right or wrong?

Plans

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

The public voice of the church to the world proclaims ‘God is Love’. And it’s true. Who can deny it? It’s in the Bible (see 1 John 4:8,16). So why is it amongst the first reactions to the gospel that people say, “If God is love, why is there so much suffering?” After all, a loving God would intervene and stop it all, wouldn’t he? It always surprises me that this reaction should be so swift.

It seems to me that the world can see the incompleteness of this message. God is love, but that’s not all that’s true. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t like the rest of the truth. It will stick with the ‘God is love’ idea when talking to our children, but in the real world it isn’t true. Granny and Grandpa have gone to heaven, but Mum and Dad are in the ground.

The other side of the truth is that God is holy. He altogether different from us. He is the Creator, we are his creatures. He is morally pure. But this does not become clear by measuring God against some objective moral standard. Who would be qualified to define the standard? God himself is the standard. He defines wisdom, goodness, love, truth – and holiness.

We are made in his image, above all other creatures, made for relationship – a covenant bond – with him. But, things as they are, we don’t care too much about that. There are too many things to be interested in, to worry about, to watch. We can sort it all, though.

God hates sin. His very nature is implacably opposed to it. In a sense, He does not choose to be against it – He just is. He is against us – sinners. Against you and me. We deserve to be cast out. The curse of death is upon us.

Every death reminds us of God’s opposition to us. Every tragedy. Every disaster. The fact that it doesn’t happen to each of us right now, is evidence of his patience with us. Every moment that we breathe we don’t get what we deserve. God is good – He gives us a chance. God is love.

The world is cynical about the ‘God is love’ message. When we preach ‘God is love’, without due regard to the holiness of God, the world smells a rat. It knows that can’t be all there is to it. True, the reaction is out of proportion. Man has no right to be cynical about any of God’s truth. But it is there, and the church has to deal with it. So she must be courageous and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Oops!

My last post was prompted by Tim Challies’ post on Total Depravity. I left a comment about the need for Christ-centred testimony and Tim challenged me to write more about it, which I did. However, he commented that testimony was not the main thrust of his post. Tim then took up the theme of my post and responded with his own excellent post, agreeing with me and giving his own take on the question.

Again he commented that testimony was not the main thrust of his original post. That worried me. Having gone back and read what he wrote I find that he’s right! I missed the main thrust. It’s always annoying when one gets the wrong end of the stick.

Total Depravity is a great leveler. All are equally without hope before a holy God. But further, appreciation of this fact makes possible the clear testimony to the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ and a shift of focus away from grubby self. The two are connected. A person who has not grasped the extent of his/her need is unlikely to see the relevance of a strange story 2000 years ago. Instead he/she will want to focus on personal spiritual experience.

Oops!

On Testimonies

I was converted through the work of the Navigators at Glasgow Uni back in 1980-ish. It was a great year for conversions – 10 in my hall of residence out of just over 200 in that year. One of the guys who was converted came up to Uni at the same time. I knew him in secondary and primary schools. Ken was converted some months before me and became something of a mentor to me. We would meet once a week, he would choose a topic on some aspect of Christian living and we would kick it around for an hour or so. It was great fun and immensely valuable to me.

One time we were talking about testimonies. It is always good to be able to say clearly how you came to Christ if there is ever the opportunity to tell someone. Ken was very wise. He said that it was important not to over-dramatise the story. You know the kind of thing, “I was hanging from the cliff by my finger-tips. At that moment I realised I needed to be saved and so I cried out to God, ‘Save me!’ Amazingly, God did! ” It was an important lesson.

Even so, it took some time to learn. I remember giving my testimony at a mid-week meeting at New Prestwick Baptist Church. I also did so when I was baptised there. Each time I was told “just a couple of minutes”. Each time I took more than five. My story was a long one with lots of interesting detail which I was sure everyone wanted to know.

I have heard many testimonies now, and quite a number in formal settings. Over the last few years there has been a number of young people baptised at my church. As is traditional they were given the opportunity to give a word of testimony. I have to say I have usually been disappointed and even a little concerned. Whereas testimonies used to focus largely on the experience of conversion, I have noticed that more recent offerings have focussed on the experience of being baptised. “It wasn’t the right time until now”, “I felt ready to be baptised”, “It felt like the right thing to do”. After all, it can be quite emotional experience with all your friends around you, singing etc. But I must admit, on the basis of what I have heard I really doubt whether some have been converted at all.

Why do I say this? Well, it seems clear to me that testimony has two aspects to it – the objective and the subjective. The objective aspect consists of the work of Christ. Paul testified to this clearly, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4. It was the substance of the apostles teaching – you only need to read the Acts narrative to see this.

Now, there is room for a subjective testimony. Paul does gives testimony in Acts 22 before the crowd in Jerusalem, and before Agrippa in Acts 26. He “tells his story” to the Galatian Christians in Galatians 2:13ff. However, it seems to me that he has two purposes in mind. The first is to explain Christ’s interaction with him. For Paul, Christ has not simply acted in history, but in his life personally. Redemption has been accomplished and applied. His second purpose is to explain why he is doing what he is doing. After all he was a zealous Jew intent on destroying the church. Now he was its strongest advocate. This takes some explaining. Further, as far as the Galatians are concerned Paul needs to establish the source of his gospel in order to bring them back in line. Thus his testimony has a specific objective in ministry.

Paul’s use of testimony seems to be a far cry from what we see today. The strong individualism of the surrounding culture affects us all, perhaps especially the young. It makes much of personal experience. True, this provides opportunity for Christians who have marvelous personal experiences of Christ to share. But it also can be a temptation to become self-absorbed. What seems to matters in ‘my testimony’ is the greatness of my problems before meeting Christ (‘poor you!’). But I decided to follow Jesus (‘good for you!’). Now my life is great and full of purpose. Is that really what it is all about? Substitute ‘Bhudda’ or ‘Krishna’ for ‘Christ’ in the above story and you have the testimony of many other people. No, this is not the testimony the Holy Spirit enables us to bear.

Christianity is not a recipe for self-help. Nor is giving your testimony an occasion for focussing on me. God save us from that! It is about a man whose life, death and resurrection are the only hope for the world. This is the only testimony that we have and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to share it.

On Testimonies