Excursion into Uncharted Waters

You may have noticed for a few weeks now I have had a list of books I am currently reading on the right. (Incidentally, Librarything.com is a great, easy way to manage this list.) Some may have been surprised by the addition of Rudolph Giuliani’s Leadership to the list. Well, what happened was this. I came across a evangelical pastor (probably presby – I can’t remember) who recommended occasionally reading books like this. There is much common grace wisdom to be found in such works. So, I added it to my Amazon wish list (see right) and forgot about it. Lo, and behold! someone bought me it at Christmas.

I started reading it a few weeks ago on and off. I picked it up again last night. It has a funny effect on me. It takes me back to my days in secular employment – the world of people skills, decision-making, performance indicators de-dum, de-dum, de-dum. Enjoyable in a kind of nerdy way. Giulliani writes well and the book is not a dry scientific ‘how-to’ manual so much as an anecdotal account of what he learned in his time as mayor of New York. Interesting, though not for everyone.

I read a comment last night which got me thinking along a track I usually steer clear of, so forgive me if my comments seem superficial. One often hears of people complaining in the UK of the way the government seeks to manage public services. The problem is perceived to be that treating them as businesses somehow makes them more impersonal. This has been going on for a couple of decades or more in the UK, stimulated I think by Margaret Thatcher’s treating everything as a market place and users of services as ‘consumers’. In the NHS, for example, patients are treated as consumers of health services. Labour has steered clear of this terminology but is still strongly advocates effective management of resources, making ample use of performance indicators and targets to get results.

In response to this one hears a regular outcry that patients, or children in the education system, or victims of crime are people not statistics. They are quite right, but the statement is often made as though it is in opposition to management use of statistical data.

Now, what about Giulliani? Here is something he said that caught my attention. He was talking about the management of foster care in NY and commenting on the fact that no-one had really looked at the data before to see how effective the service was. But his system seemed to work:

One doesn’t want to think of children as inventory, but the fact that no-one wanted to look critically at the problem lest they be labeled insensitive meant that the actual conditions for these children declined. The old saying around the Child Welfare Administration was that the nobility of intention was enough. Because there were no performance criteria, there were no outcome measures. The bottom line for the 280 children removed from worst-performing contractor was that they ended up with an agency that had effectively fared much better. (pp. 94,95, emphasis mine)

Did you get that? People who are able to think macroscopically and think in terms of performance outcomes – i.e. that nasty word, statitistics – are extremely valuable in delivering better services to real individuals. So next time you hear some well-meaning person on the news waxing lyrical about the need to treat people as people as though this was what management of public services was missing, then perhaps we need to examine that statement more critically.

Now, I will get into my bunker…

Excursion into Uncharted Waters

Today I Took My First Funeral

Today I took my first funeral. I was extremely worried and concerned about it and have been for a number of days. In the middle of the night last night I woke up mentally preaching the message I was going to deliver! There are some things in life where it does not matter too much whether one makes a hash of it. But on an occasion like this, which can be so significant for a grieving family, one must get it right.

The situation was made so much easier by that fact that the man who died, aged 83, was a believer. He had been for some 50 years. He was a quiet man who loved the Lord and loved his word. On the several times I visited him and his wife and we read the Bible together, every word was savoured. No less so on the last occasion I visited him in hospital. Here was a man who had found the source of true life. He had discovered that though his body was decaying he was being renewed inwardly and that “the best is yet to come”, as he would often say. It was a delight to have known him.

Of course in a situation like this our thoughts inevitably turn to Christ. It was because of the grace of God in Christ that this man had become what he had become. Christ is the fullest expression of God’s being, the altogether lovely one, the fairest of the fair and it is his greatest delight to transform men and women into his own likeness, full of grace and truth. We give thanks to him for his amazing work of restoration, making the filthy clean, the wicked righteous, the poor rich, the ugly beautiful, all reaching its consummation with the resurrection of the dead, where God’s chosen receive new spiritual bodies, able to serve and worship him forever.

Today I Took My First Funeral

Books read in February 2006 – III

I managed to get a couple of books in while I was away this week:

The Mystery of Providence

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (Banner of Truth) 221pp.
First foray into the Puritans this year. I came away with the strong sense that this man Flavel lived in another world. He had learned to look at events from the vantage point of heaven. Not that he as a creature could make complete sense of them, but from that place he was able to trust in caring hand of God while experiencing them. I greatly enjoyed this book. If you can get over the antiquated language and perhaps verbose mode of expression, this is well worth the read, not simply for mechanically learning about what the Bible has to say about providence, but for getting inside the mind of someone who has learned about it.

The Deliberate Church

The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever (Crossway) 204pp.
I picked this up after hearing Dever speak at the Midlands Gospel Partnership meeting in Birmingham last month. Excellent book, apart from the strange views on baptism and church polity! However, it made for an interesting contrast with Mark Driscoll’s book. Whereas Driscoll’s book is a passionate popular plea for a radical approach to mission, Dever is a much more measured approach to building a healthy church centered around the gospel, from which all else flows. It is a very practical book and an excellent investment.

Books read in February 2006 – III

Successful Visit, at Last!

I’ve been away with the family for the last few days. At last we managed to get to my parents’ house in Ayrshire. If you have been following this saga you will know that we were to go at Christmas time but failed to get there. We have tried various times since but illness, car breakdown or Mum’s hospital appointments have got in the way.

Well, at last we had our Christmas dinner! I forgot to take my camera so there are no photos to show, but we had roast duck, Christmas crackers, party hats etc etc. It was good fun.

We just got back this afternoon, but now I need to prepare for tomorrow’s evening service (preaching on Ruth 2) at DFC, taking a funeral on Monday and leading the Bible Study on Tuesday.

Successful Visit, at Last!

Books read in February 2006 – II

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney (Crossway) 177pp.
I was looking forward to this book when I got it a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I found it more difficult and less satisfying than I first expected. I have a great respect for Clowney as a preacher. I have a few tapes of him from when he came to preach at the Tron many years ago. However, I have not found his written work so easy to penetrate. The first 50 pages or so are instruction on seening Christ in the OT and then preaching. The remainder consists of sermons Clowney preached on various passages. Though these are engaging, I found it difficult to see how the teaching of the first 50 pages was worked out in the examples. It would have been helpful to see his thought processes as he constructed the sermons, somewhat akin to the BT Briefings one finds at beginningwithmoses.org.

The Radical Reformission

The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll (Zondervan) 200pp.
As I have mentioned before, Driscoll is very engaging in a number of ways. Now this book. It is radical, earthy, even irreverent, but boy does it make you think. The structure is determined by the greatest command: love God, love your neighbour. Driscoll has a clear view on what needs to be held on to and what comes down to mere preference. For example, he is rock solid on the need for repentance – where do you hear that nowadays? – calling sin sin, but nevertheless loving people, even your enemies. He is uncompromising on churches that become holy ghettos, and uncompromising on the post modern movement. Then, disarmingly, in the last chapter he says,

The problem with my pastoral job is that I don’t really know what I am doing. So I read every book I can find and I cling to the Bible like a kid who can’t swim but somehow found a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

Don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good way to go about things.

Books read in February 2006 – II

Books read in February 2006 – I

Profiting from the Word

Profiting from the Word by A. W. Pink (Banner of Truth) 124pp.

This is a book that asks what are the expected results that show whether or not one is profiting from the word of God. So this is not a how-to book so much as one for self-diagnosis. As such it makes many good points, but at the same time was a little demoralising!

I once was speaking to a pastor’s wife about a book she was recommending that I read. Her summary description of it was that the author “had a good right hook”. My immediate reaction (inside – I kept up my outward smile) was, “That sounds awful!” I have not since read the book.

Pink’s work seems to have had this effect of making me feel I had been punched a few times. The constant demand for introspection is wearing and I cannot but feel is unhealthy. One is never good enough. I wish there had been more of Christ in it.

There is a good chapter on the place of good works in the Christian life.

The Call of Grace

The Call of Grace by Norman Shepherd (P & R) 107pp.
This has proved to be a controversial book since it was published in 2000. On the first read through it seems to make quite a convincing case for resolving the difficulties that the reformed face in presenting the free offer of the gospel without at the same time selling out to arminian methodology. There are some good points. However, underlying it are serious theological issues which challenge traditional reformed theology. Unfortunately, it is too short to deal with them, so it leaves the reader with more problems than perhaps s/he started with!

Books read in February 2006 – I