Ferguson’s Decalogue

The second table of Ferguson’s Decalogue for preachers. Points 8 and 9 particularly noteworthy.

Interestingly for me, Dr. F contradicts a comment I made on a similar topic in my previous post. He says this under point 6,

Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

So far so good. This makes sense. I take this to mean that the theatre must be prepared by laying out the grace in Christ before surgery can begin. But then in the next sentence he says,

Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace.

This seems to be the wrong way round. Surely, light drives out darkness, rather than darkness looking for and welcoming the light.

What say ye?

Ferguson’s Decalogue

Preaching Grace?

The Reformation 21 blog has had a theme this week on preaching grace rather than denunciation. When coming to the application of the scriptures to life it is easy to become severe. After all, what does not need to be done? However the answer to these needs is to more clearly proclaim grace. Rick Phillips makes some good observations.

I suppose a preacher who resorts to denunciation (and I cringe when I think of some of the sermons I have preached) himself needs to see grace in Christ more clearly.

Preaching Grace?

Quick Thought-Provokers from the Midlands Gospel Partnership Meeting

Random collection of things that struck me yesterday:

1. Peter Jensen quoted Henry Venn on the topic of Sending, “Everything under God depends on the quality of the men sent forth.” We are not hyper-calvinists. God uses means, and in his time he raises up those with the necessary qualities. The church still needs to identify, nurture and send those of quality.

2. Mark Dever gave a list of 30 ideas for Reaching (i.e. evangelism). As the bloke next me said, we thought he might have meant things like “Have evangelistic pizza parties!” However, it was clear from the list that evangelism flows from a healthy church life. Most of the ideas were to do with this.

3. People in churches need tools not programmes. Training in basics essential.

4. Big churches don’t find it any easier to send than small. Small churches must not entertain pipe dreams that the big church’s cavalry will come and help.

5. Limitations of budget and manpower are for a reason. God, in his providence, wants us to prioritise in forming mission strategy.

6. Peter Jensen observed that those in a small church who have been the most faithful to God over the years are often the most obstructive in building a sending church when they reach the 50-70 year-old age range.

7. Churches often bewail lack of funds. However, Jensen believes there is plenty of money around. It is just that evangelical Christians are not stupid. If the mission strategy is good then the money will follow and people will give sacrificially. If it is bad they will be reluctant to give. Seems obvious now that he has mentioned it!

A round seven. That’ll do for now.

Quick Thought-Provokers from the Midlands Gospel Partnership Meeting

A Kind of Jolly

I had the pleasure of attending the Midlands Gospel Partnership meeting in Birmingham today. I had been invited by the people at Solihull Presbyterian Church so I enjoyed meeting Al, David and Tim, all ministers with EPCEW, again. Also present were Ant and Mike from Woodlands, and Mark and Richard from Duffield Parish Church, with whom I worked on placement three years ago. In total, it looked like there were about 200-250 pastors and church leaders from the Midlands area.

Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and Peter Jensen, Archbish of Sydney spoke on the theme Building, Sending, Reaching in the local church. It was a very encouraging and enjoyable time and I’ll say a bit more about why tomorrow, perhaps. I’m a bit whacked at the moment.

Of course I had to pick up a couple of books to add to the pile of unread books in my house, but they were cheap and I’m a Scotsman.

A Kind of Jolly

Cool Theology

Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t tend to like the faddiness of modern evangelicalism. It was not always so, but I think I have learned something from previous mistakes. Call it experience, call it age, whatever you like. I don’t like fads.

For that reason I have been suspicious of the emergent thing. Yes, I like the community emphasis, all the relational, missional, U2, Starbucks feel about it all. Yet I find myself mostly going in the opposite direction. I don’t like what they seem to see as optional and debatable, things which I now see as vital.

Last Thursday, while taking a break from my exam prep, I had a poke around the net and came across the website of Mars Hill Church. The last time I had come across it was while it was being flamed on the emergentno blog, so I have naturally classed it as “emergent”. However, being a shallow sort on occasions, I lingered on the site because generally, to use the lingo, emergent sites rock (i.e lots of flash media stuff).

In turn this led me to the Acts 29 Network site, which rocks even harder. Acts 29 is a church planting network which was spawned out of the phenomenal growth of Mars Hill.

Now, look. I’m worried about myself already. Seduced by cool websites? That’s something to worry about, is it not?

Then I discovered that Mark Driscoll, the pastor at Mars Hill, was formerly of the emergent church but had distanced himself from the movement after having become concerned about about the theological drift that was becoming apparent in the emerging leaders of the movement. As a result Acts 29 has developed a strong theological foundation. This becomes clear from Driscoll’s talk on Theology at the 2005 Acts 29 Boot Camp for church planters.

I listened to a few of the presentations during my 6 hours travelling last Friday and was quietly impressed with Driscoll himself, though some of the others left a bit to be desired. (One of the other speakers spoke about the church as a “relational delivery system”!) He was strong scripture and christology, adopts a calvinist soteriology (i.e. accepts TULIP), in no doubt that preaching is “where it’s at” (as opposed to e.g. drama), and clear on male headship in the home and church.

Having listened to some of his preaching I am impressed with the simplicity with which he preaches, without apparently watering anything down. On top of that he unashamedly preaches for an hour or more and still people come to the church!

There is an area of concern for me. Churches often seems to find difficulty working out the relationship between public worship and mission. Since Acts 29 and Mars Hill put mission as top priority I believe that public worship must inevitably suffer. It seems to me that worship is for believers but that non-believers get to look in on this new creation activity. So many churches that try to put mission as tops make worship services as for non-believers at which believers get to look in and have to make do. I have gained the impression that latter happens in Acts 29 services, though I am willing to be corrected.

However, with this reservation, I am reasonably impressed.

Now some of you are worried. I can tell. Don’t. Just trying to play nice. 😉

Cool Theology

Divine Guidance

Wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds for us? How can we find out? Can’t we get everyone some Urim and Thummim so that everyone knows what to do and plan for?

Well, centuries of testimony tells us that there are no quick fixes apart from Christ-centred spiritual maturity. John Newton, one-time slave trader but converted to Christ, wrote to a friend on the question of divine guidance, and after listing what not to do he said this:

But how then may the Lord’s guidance be expected? After what has been premised negatively, the question may be answered in a few words. In general, he guides and directs his people, by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and to love the Scriptures. The word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgements and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct.

They who study the Scriptures, in an humble dependence upon divine teaching, are convinced of their own weakness, are taught to make a true estimate of everything around them, are gradually formed into a spirit of submission to the will of God, discover the nature and duties of their several situations and relations in life, and the snares and temptations to which they are exposed. The word of God dwells richly in them, is a preservative from error, a light to their feet, and a spring of strength and consolation. By treasuring up the doctrines, precepts, promises, examples, and exhortations of Scripture, in their minds, and daily comparing themselves with the rule by which they walk, they grow into an habitual frame of spiritual wisdom, and acquire a gracious taste, which enables them to judge of right and wrong with a degree of readiness and certainty, as a musical ear judges of sounds. And they are seldom mistaken, because they are influenced by the love of Christ, which rules in their hearts, and a regard to the glory of God, which is the great object they have in view.

The full letter is found here.

Divine Guidance

Freedom – for Now

Well, it was a bit of a marathon yesterday. I travelled down to ETCW in the morning, a 3-hour drive, sat my exam on Ruth in Hebrew in the afternoon and drove back in the evening. Got home about 9pm. I was pretty tired but didn’t sleep well.

The exam was OK I think. I did not find it easy, but I felt my performance was ‘adequate’.

Some people have left comments on previous posts which I will get back to, I promise. But I still have a busy few days ahead to get everything else back in order, so please be patient.

But hey! I’m free! Well, for a little while…

Freedom – for Now

An Uncontrolled Rant on the Topic of Discussing the Atonement

I have been studying Ruth today followed by the DFC prayer meeting this evening. Later, while soaking in the bath I was having a few random non-Ruth cogitations. I thought I should write them down to help me process them. I have done no research or checking. These are just off the top of my head and probably need correction. But hey! This is a blog, right? Just a conversation between guys, OK?

To business. There is a big kerfuffle going on about the atonement stimulated, it seems, by Steve Chalke and his book The Lost Message of Jesus. I read it and wrote on it some time ago. Lots of people are still writing about it, not least because the emergent church cool guys have latched on to it, as have the NPP not-so-cool-but-influential guys since N. T. Wright wrote some blurb for it.

In the book Chalke has some trouble with the idea of penal subtitution theory of the atonement (i.e. that Christ was our substitute in taking the penalty that we deserved for our sin). This is of course a red rag to the evangelical bull. Penal substitution has long been held to define the essential character of the atonement. James Packer played a key role in nailing this with his seminal paper at the The Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture in 1973.

Now I have a problem to do with the way evangelicals are characterised in the debate. I want to come at it from a couple of angles. The first is this. I am an evangelical. I believe the Bible. Now, I have almost finished preaching through the second half of John’s gospel. There, Christus Victor is a strong theme (e.g. key verse in 12:31). Substitutionary atonement is also there in the Passover lamb motif etc etc. Overall, when I look at Scripture, I have no problem as an evangelical affirming Christus Victor, ransom theory, even some kind of moral influence of the atonement. As someone said, these are all notes in the work of Christ. However, pen-sub is essential, because it has to do justice to God’s holiness and our depravity.

Here’s the second thing. I was converted when I was about 17 and have been in evangelical churches ever since. Yes, penal substitution has been taught. So has Christus Victor. So has Christ’s death as ransom, sacrifice, redemption. Now the problem I have is one of personal orientation in the debate. Those who I have read on this debate (and by that I mean Chalke’s views and the inferences drawn from NTW’s blurb) in blogland (and I am primarily thinking of Al and John – there are others but these I know best) set up their arguments by characterising evangelicals as pen-subs-only, teeth-gnashing, gum-grinding anathematising banshees who will not countenance other threads of thought. This I do not recognise from where I come from. The problem with this for me is:

a) What do they mean by ‘evangelical’? Nowadays it can mean almost anything! Who on earth are they talking about? Describe them. Name them! Finding out someone is an ‘evangelical’ these days is like asking the question, “What’s for dinner tonight?” and getting the answer, “Food”. Duh.

b) I have not met anyone who is like these funny ‘evangelicals’ that John and Al describe. It’s just not my experience. So maybe I’m not one after all! But I thought I was one. I’m disorientated!! (NB: this is satire – I know what I mean by evangelical!)

Or maybe their characterisations, being so general, are just not adequate. I have a funny feeling there is a lot of straw man building going on, followed by steam-rollering. Yes, evangelicals have deep concerns about Chalke’s writings. Yes, evangelicals (like me) want to defend penal-substitution. But no, evangelicals, as far as I can see (I admit there may be some out on the thin branches) do not deny other ‘notes’. And they can be quite nice. Let’s get things in perspective.

Let the counter-rants begin (but I’m off – exams).

UPDATE: I have amended the post a little from the original because I did not represent Al‘s views fairly, for which I apologise.

I have also added a link to the Packer paper for one’s perusal.

An Uncontrolled Rant on the Topic of Discussing the Atonement