Having a Double Will

More Calvin, I’m afraid. I am reading the section on the Christian life. In particular the section on self denial and bearing the cross. In it, Calvin comments on the tribulations that afflict Christians. He himself was no stranger to afflictions, being regularly stoned on his way to teaching and preaching.

In affliction there are, of course, the things that trouble everyone: poverty, illness, bereavement etc. And there is also suffering for righteousness’ sake i.e. because one is a Christian. These are not to be handled as the Stoic would, by ignoring all emotions and waiting patiently. Rather the full range of emotions must drive us to dependence on God alone. (Calvinists are often accused of being fatalistic, like the Stoics, and I suppose some are, but clearly Calvin knew nothing about it!)

I found this quote most interesting because it resonated with me. Speaking of Peter and his response to Jesus’ prediction of his manner of death (John 21:18), and his subsequent obedient life, Calvin says,

…even though he obeyed the divine command with the utmost fervor of heart, yet, because he had not put off his human nature, he was pulled apart by a double will. For while he contemplated that bloody death which he was to die, stricken with the dread of it, he would have gladly escaped. On the other hand, when it came to his mind that he was called to it by God’s command, having overcome and trampled his fear, he willingly and cheerfully undertook it. This, therefore, we must try to do if we would be disciples of Christ, in order that our minds may be steeped in such reverence and obedience towards God as to be able to tame and subjugate to his command all contrary affections. Thus it will come to pass that, by whatever kind of cross that we may be troubled, even in the greatest tribulations of mind, we shall firmly keep our patience. (Institutes, III.viii.10)

What struck me about this was his reference to the existence of a “double will”. All through my Christian life I have struggled with this phenomenon – a desire to do the right, in obedience to Christ, but at the same time a fear that it might hurt in some way. I’m in my 3rd decade as a Christian and I have come to believe that all Christians share the same kind of problem to some degree or other. What has troubled me though is the lack of treatment of this subject in any of my reading. Biographies of Christians, from my recollection, seem to present the subject of the biography as a great, fearless hero of the faith who would boldly and joyfully go into the most appalling situations for the sake of the gospel, and experience no emotion other than joy, joy, joy.

My own experience has been one of almost constant battle with self. I would much rather sit at home with a coffee in hand, reading nice books, writing blog entries, than going out and meeting and ministering to real people. People bring pain, sorrow, confrontation, anger. Oh, and sometimes joy too. In the quote above, Calvin recognises that such problems exist and are to be expected. This does not mean that he has a natty technique of avoiding the pain and keeping the joy – we still must “tame and subjugate … all contrary affections”. Nevertheless, his recognition that it is present and an expected problem is a great comfort and encouragement.

Having a Double Will

Quote from Calvin: Love of Neighbour

Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.
(Institutes III.vii.6, Battles translation)

Quote from Calvin: Love of Neighbour

Rant on Church and Youth

Recently there has been a discussion on the Warfield list about the necessity of youth ministry in churches. One of the contributers, Pastor James MacDonald, said this:

…youth ministry does not produce disciples. Every study, from Barna to the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention], tells the same story – few youth discipled through youth ministries stay the course – few embrace the faith of the youth minister, let alone their parents.

Where the SBC reports that 85% of their youth walk from the faith by their second year at university, Brian Ray with the National Home Education Research Institute reports 92% of homeschool graduates claim a faith similar to their parents.

This is not a call for home education – but it is a call for home discipleship.

The statistics are pretty shocking, and I wonder what the equivalent would be in the UK.

Now, I am not one who would want to ban all youth work, but I have to admit that over recent years I have increasingly become skeptical of the emphasis that churches often place upon it. It seems to become something of a sacred cow which cannot be questioned, and certainly not killed. But my own experience, where Susan and I led a youth work for a number of years, and that of some others leads me to believe that it is over-rated. Only one person out of the many 10s of kids that we worked with can I say for sure is a Christian. At best, it is a handmaiden to home discipleship. But if there is nothing in the home, then there is little hope for the youth group.

At Derwent we get some kids coming from the housing estate to our evening service. Recently we also had some visitors who were in the area for the weekend. When the visitors saw the children they were pleased and encouraged, as we all are. But then the fateful words came out which I have heard many times before,

“After all, they are the future of the church!”

I hate disagree with someone who is encouraged and wants to express it with these words. But they are wrong. Under God, the future of the church lies with adults, especially the parents. Evangelism (of Christians and non-Christians) needs to be directed to them. “Get” the parents, train them to be godly parents along the lines of Deuteronomy 6, and the children will follow.

Don’t you think?

Rant on Church and Youth


I have been reading some of Acts this morning. I came across 18:4,

Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (NIV)

Here is an important reminder about an aspect of preaching to non-Christians. We believe that the declaration of the gospel is a supernatural event. The message is to be handled as a holy message from God and not to be tampered with. But the method we use is to be one of reasoning with a view to persuasion. We preachers must not be content to simply stand up and declare truth. It takes more effort than that. We must seek to appeal to the mind. Win it, and hearers will have no excuse for the moral condition of their hearts.


Unloving Churches

There is a great piece here by Keith Ghormley entitled To serve or to be served? looking at those people who complain that their church isn’t loving enough. (You need to scroll down a bit to get to it).

It doesn’t pull any punches, so gird up your loins before you read…

(HT: Barb, who adds some advice of her own. No further girding-up needed.)

Unloving Churches

Just Checking In

It was a busy week last week. What with visiting my parents, taking the midweek Bible study at Derwent (and this is a teaching session, not a discursive, interactive, group, prophetically-get-everything-off-your-chest study), preaching twice on Sunday there was not much time for anything else. I still need a great many hours in preparation, so three preaching/teaching sessions in a week is a tall order. However, I still live.

Yesterday morning: 1 Peter 2:2,3 (“desire the pure milk of the word”). Headings – Being hungry, Feeding, Tasting.

Yesterday evening: John 17:20-26 – Jesus’ prayer for all disciples. Headings: Horizontal Unity (amongst believers), Vertical Unity (with Christ), Evangelism (“that the world may believe”).

The morning service was much easier to prepare for. Since I was filling in for someone else, I had free choice of what to preach. Isolating two verses means it is easier to focus on a few points in depth. The risk is one of losing context. In the evening I am making my way through the gospel of John. I have not found it easy. I keep finding myself saying, “Why does Jesus say that, in that way?” The temptation is always to try to make Jesus’ words say what I want them to say rather than what he actually said! In some ways I am glad to leave the Upper Room and get on to narrative again.

Just Checking In

ID to Win?

John Kilpatrick recently posted an interesting email on the Genevanet list server. I hope he does not mind me recycling his post, but he pointed us to an interesting article at Tech Central Station entitled Why Intelligent Design Is Going to Win by Douglas Kern. I don’t think Mr. Kern has a particular axe to grind in the argument – if he does then he covered it well – but the article made the following headline points:

  1. ID will win because it’s a religion-friendly, conservative-friendly, red-state kind of theory, and no one will lose money betting on the success of red-state theories in the next fifty to one hundred years. [“Red-State” = Republican-voting – Ed.]
  2. ID will win because the pro-Darwin crowd is acting like a bunch of losers.
  3. ID will win because it can be reconciled with any advance that takes place in biology, whereas Darwinism cannot yield even an inch of ground to ID.
  4. ID will win because it can piggyback on the growth of information theory, which will attract the best minds in the world over the next fifty years.
  5. ID will win because ID assumes that man will find design in life — and, as the mind of man is hard-wired to detect design, man will likely find what he seeks.

Read the whole article to see why.

ID to Win?

A Visit to Ayrshire

Grave Stone
Originally uploaded by Dancers.

I have spent the last couple of days at my parents home in Dalrymple. It was a brief visit because of the amount of work I have on.

I was talking to my Mum about my grandfather on Wednesday night. I realised as we were talking how little I knew about him. I knew he was killed in WWII while flying a Spitfire. I had assumed that this had happened in England somewhere during the Battle of Britain and that he was buried there. However, Mum told me that he had been buried in Ayr Cemetery. This came as a bit of a surprise, so we decided next day to go and visit.

We went assuming that the war graves would have been in a separate area in the Cemetery. But we discovered, that they were scattered all over. After spending an hour searching, we went home for lunch. Mum phoned the local authority and the gentleman at the other end of the phone very kindly agreed to meet us there and show us where it was. Ironically we walked past it, completely missing it, during our first visit. So here it is:

566178 Sergeant
E. A. Dancer
Royal Air Force
3rd October 1940 Age 25

It was quite moving.

I later discovered that he was killed while flying out of RAF Kinloss in what seems like a training exercise. Evidently the pressure on the RAF to train pilots was enormous, resulting in casualties:

The war seemed a long way off from Kinloss but as the months went by the Station flag appeared to be almost permanently at half mast as aircraft frequently crashed on training sorties. Unfortunately the inexperience of the pilots being pushed through training to supply front line squadrons, the worn-out aircraft and poor weather caused many accidents, over 68 in the first year of 19 OTU’s operations. Sadly, many of those arriving at Kinloss for the first time saw the remains of aircraft around the airfield and at one time, even on Tolbooth Street, Forres.(from RAF Kinloss website)

Perhaps most poignant moment was the discovery, later that afternoon, amongst some documents in a little brown case under one of the beds in my parents’ home, a letter to my grandmother written the night before he died. They had only been married earlier in the year. In it he expressed his love for his young wife. There was no sense of alarm or urgency. It was just an expression of everyday affection. He was shortly about to fly on routine night training. I can only assume that this was the flight that killed him.

A Visit to Ayrshire

The Church as Jesus Intended It To Be

Here’s an ill-thought out rant stimulated by a conversation I had in the car today.

There is much talk these days of getting back to the simplicity of being like the church found in the New Testament. If you were to ask an advocate of this view, they might turn, in a rather dreamy eyed fashion, to Acts 2:42:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Teaching, prayer, communion, real fellowship, sharing possessions, signs and wonders, people becoming Christians. How simple it all was. “How lovely! If only…”, we like to think. Just get rid of the denominations, the structures, the buildings and we could get back to that New Testament idyll: the church as Jesus intended it to be.

The trouble is, I have to zoom out a bit and try and get the broader picture. (It is a habit I picked up from years of good Bible teaching in various places.) Now, what early church do we mean? Do we mean

  • the early church in Jerusalem which tried to persuade gentiles to be circumcised and effectively become Jews before they could be called Christians?
  • The church in Galatia with a similar problem?
  • The church in Colossae with the Jesus-plus gospel?
  • The church in Corinth with their factions? their failure to recognise apostolic authority? their incestuous sexual relationships?
  • The churches which received John’s letters which were beset by pre-gnostic docetic heresies?
  • The wider early church with itinerant false teachers (wolves in sheep’s clothing)? which they had to deal with at a time when no church had yet received all of the New Tesament revelation?
  • etc, etc

Is this the church we mean? Do we really want to go back to all that?

The Church as Jesus Intended It To Be