ETCW Again

Busy day today. It is the ETCW residential this week. (I can’t believe the summer has gon already.) So I travelled by car, dropping in on some friends in the Birmingham area on the way down. I will be here at ETCW tomorrow and travel back in the evening. This is, God willing, my last year of study. It could be a year of great changes!

ETCW Again

Sunday Report

It was an unusual day today. I expected to be taking both services at Derwent Free Church. It started badly. I use my mobile phone as an alarm clock. Last night, I set it for an early start. It is much better at waking me up that the ‘real’ alarm clock in our bedroom. Last night Susan also asked me what time I was getting up as she was setting the ‘real’ alarm. I assumed she was setting it for the time that I wanted to get up. “Aha! Additional backup”, I thought. But this morning I discovered a) my phone ran out of charge and so did not go off, and b) Susan actually set the alarm an hour and a half later than I wanted – she was not setting it for me at all, but for her. And why not.

I was not well prepared for the day as a whole so the late start meant a busy day in prospect. I was ready for the morning, but had some work to do for the evening. When I arrived at the church building in the morning, I discovered my colleague David had also prepared for the morning service. I thought he was visiting a church in Oxford today! It turned out that there had been a misunderstanding about the arrangements for the holiday period. My natural reaction was to be miffed because I was right and everyone else was wrong, of course! However, after a few minutes thought I realised what a blessing this was. David could preach in the morning, and what I was to preach in the morning, I could deliver in the evening instead. The benefit was that I could rest in the afternoon.

I preached on Eph 2:13 on alienation from and reconciliation to God, through the blood of Jesus. I think the first two points were ok. The last point, on the means of reconciliation (the blood of Jesus) was a but of a mush. It was too long, repetitive and flabby to be much use. It lacked the firm pointedness for the end of the sermon.

Such thoughts one time would have got me down badly. Now, after nearly a year of regular preaching, I am thankful to God for the chance to learn how to improve focus in my preaching. I am thankful to God for the change of my attitude. Susan is my best and most useful critic.

I was also tickled by one particular response to the first point of my sermon. We have a handful of children who who live nearby who come to the evening service. We don’t put on anything fancy for them – just a straight service. Of their own initiative they have been coming regularly now for a few months, which is a great blessing. I introduced the first point by telling the congregation that I wanted to talk to them about aliens – yes, aliens! All of a sudden the row of little heads looked up with smiles on their faces and some laughed. I was not expecting the strength of this response. Of course, they were thinking about a certain kind of alien, but it grabbed their attention for a while in order to be able to introduce the idea that anyone who is not a Christian is an alien to God and needs to be reconciled to him.

The evening was rounded off with fellowship at the home of one of the member families.

Praise God! A good day.

Sunday Report


Been a busy week this week getting ready for holidays, and preparing for when I come back – I’m preaching twice the day after we return.

But, at last, we’re off tomorrow to Normandy for a couple of weeks. I’m dozing already…


Fish and Water

George Galloway makes the argument that the environment that stimulated the London bombings is British and American foreign policy in Iraq. On the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, in a piece of typical Galloway sloganeering, I heard him argue, “A fish needs water in which to swim”.

Instead of wondering about the ‘water’, shouldn’t we be questioning why these people think they are ‘fish’?

Fish and Water

Evangelicals and the Middle Eastern Conflict

Many people in the UK get very concerned about the way in which the USA appears to give unbalanced support to Israel as opposed to the Palestinians. These people have linked US policy to the religious biases present in her politics. There is a strong evangelical influence, so it seems. Therefore, because of the apparent injustice in the Middle East (and this is not a point I want to argue one way or the other here) this adds to the reasons why evangelicalism is a bit of a dirty word in the UK.

I want to suggest that if the stand taken by the US government is indeed influenced by evangelical theology (and I am inclined to agree) then it is a glaring example of why theology matters in real life. It is a glaring example also of why theology must be right theology. It is not just evangelical theology that is at play here, but one form of it: ‘dispensational’ theology.

This is the view that the history of salvation is divided up into a number of periods, marked of by inaugural covenants. When a new ‘dispensation’ begins the old is gone. This is at variance with the classical Reformed view that there is an eternal covenant of grace the revelation of which grows and develops in history.

The upshot of this is that, for the dispensationalist, the physical nation of Israel holds a special place in God’s plan of salvation. The present ‘church age’ is a kind of ‘Plan B’ for the gentiles which runs in parallel with the Israelite ‘Plan A’. Part of the outcome of ‘Plan A’ is the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land. Dispensationalists believe this happened in 1948 with the establishment of a political entity, the state of Israel. Since this is obviously God’s outworking of His plans, Israel must be protected by whatever means.

With dispensationalism so strong in the US, it is no surprise that its politics take on the view of Israel seen today. It is not just a jewish lobby at work in the corridors of power, but a strong evangelical dispensationalist one.

But dispensationalism is flat wrong. It claims to be “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), by crassly marking off the dispensations in the way it does. As a result there is this biased view of the Middle East situation. The right view, which discerns the eternal plan of God expressed through his covenant relationship with his people, sees the true people of God only in Christ i.e. the church is the only people of God, who are citizens of His Kingdom, the spiritual kingdom which the nation of Israel under the Mosaic Law foreshadowed.

Politically, this means that there is no scriptural warrant to make a distinction between the modern day Israel and Palestine. To do so is to proclaim that God’s grace is given on the basis of race. The true “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) is made up people of many tribes and tongues, including converted Jews and Palestinians.

Those who hold to evangelical reformed theology have made this plain. In 2002 many pastors and academic teachers in the USA called evangelicals to reexamine their convictions in this area and not to take it for granted that the dispies are right in this.

Bad theology matters, and can matter with international consequences which affect millions of lives.

Evangelicals and the Middle Eastern Conflict

Calvin on the Sabbath

Calvin expounds the 4th commandment in the sections II.viii.28-34 of the Institutes. That’s the funny commandment about keeping one day in seven as holy to the LORD. Funny, because very few Christians I have met take it seriously, especially if they are a) of a dispy background, or b) liberal, and basically don’t care.

The WCF is pretty clear about the Sabbath in Chapter 21.7:

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

It teaches clearly that the difference between the Sabbath in the OT and the NT is simply the day on which it is observed. The reason for this

  • “the law of nature” (which, I guess, means rooted in the order of Creation), and
  • that the Decalogue is binds “all men in all ages”.

Seems reasonable to me.

Imagine my surprise, then, that Calvin does not seem to agree, at least not fully. He sees much greater differences than simply the day of the week. Calvin notes three reasons for the Sabbath in the OT:

  1. It represented spiritual rest for the people of God, i.e. it pointed forward to a future rest. The day was not just for its own sake.
  2. In order that the people of God may rest, meditate and assemble for worship.
  3. That servants and employees may rest.

Calvin makes a big deal out of the fact that the shadows are left behind, referencing Colossians 2:16,17. The fulfilment is in Christ. Thus the reality of the Sabbath day spreads over the whole week. His conclusion is that we must shun the superstition of days, which the Jews were under.

However, then Calvin sees that there is a need still to give servants and employees rest, there is still a need for the assembly of the saints, and for this to be done decently and in order, a day must be set apart. He seems to acknowledge that to meet every day would be desirable if it were practical, but isn’t usually. These pragmatic reasons are not to be confused with the almost superstitious reverence for a particular day in the OT. The difference was to be marked by the change of day. (Interestingly, Calvin suggests that superstitions about the Lord’s Day were being imposed in the Catholic Church too.)

Thus it seems that in Calvin’s mind there appeared to be much more discontinuity in the Sabbath teaching than there was in the later Presbyterians of the UK.

Can anyone shed some light on this for me? It is something I need to investigate more…

Calvin on the Sabbath

The Problem with Reading

Over a year ago I began to read Calvin’s Institutes. I decided that the only way to make progress was to read for 15-20 minutes per day. (Stuart Olyott once said that he only knew two people who had read the complete works of John Owen, and they had done so by this method. I decided to try out the method.) Unfortunately it has been fitful. I have always been a slow reader and I am a bit of a dreamer. If an idea comes up in a book, I often wander off into the distance with it, coming back much later to resume reading. Sometimes this is fruitful. More often than not is much more like a child chasing soap bubbles or dandelion seeds in the Summer.

The language of Calvin is slightly strange and it takes time to adjust, When I started reading it would take almost 3 minutes to get through a page (including those little bubble-chasing moments). So, in 15 minutes, a grand total of 5 pages would be covered. Given that the institutes is some 1600 pages, this means 320 days to read them. Not promising. In addition, I find that it is difficult to get into Calvin’s way of thinking (i.e. not just his style) in such a short time. It’s no surprise then that my daily dose of Calvin disappeared.

Since my exams have finished I have had some more time to devote to reading, an exercise I consider essential to Christian ministry, so I have resumed the Institutes. Two practical steps have made a difference:

  1. I can find an hour to read.
  2. I discovered that if I use the stopwatch/lap-timer function on my mobile phone, I can monitor the progress I am making. I can sit holding the top of it between my index and middle fingers (it’s one of these chocolate-bar rather than clam-shell shaped ones) while holding the book with both hands, and flip the lap-time button with my thumb when I turn the page.

With this method I can see how long a page is taking. As a result I have managed to get a Calvin-page down to 1m40s (making ~35 pages an hour). I also know from the numbers when my concentration is drifting. It is remarkable how time-consuming and wasteful it is! I have also noticed that the main reason my reading has been slow has been the tendency to skip back over words and phrases that I did not understand. This is a fruit of lack of concentration. I now major on trying to avoid skipping.

So, 1150 pages to go. What’s that? 33 days? We’ll see.

The Problem with Reading