Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Pre-Holiday Rant

Off on holiday to take James to the land of his fathers (Ulster).

No posting until September.

So let me just get this off my chest.

John Redwood, in the process of defending his proposals for abolishing inheritance tax (hurrah!) argued that he wants to "tax the rich more as well." What he meant was: free people from silly taxes which disincentivise productivity (like inheritance tax), let them produce more wealth, and then of course they will pay more income tax.

Whatever one thinks of the detail, why the nasty rhetoric. Modern political consensus is that the rich must be bled dry. Why? Do they receive a higher level of service for their greater contribution? No. Do they receive thanks and the plaudits of society for their generous (enforced) giving? No. Do they have a covenantal/familial duty to provide for the rest of the population of their nation-state? No.

Two possibilities:

  1. Christians read 1 Tim 6:18 and wrongly arrogate that to the state. No. If the rich are miserly and trust in their wealth, God will call them to account. Not every sin is a crime.
  2. The politics of envy. You're rich, I'm not. It's not fair (Rubbish. It's not equal - equality and fairness are not the same thing). You must have come by your wealth by some shady means. You must be punished for being rich.

Neither is right. So, politicians, lay off the wealth-producing, job-creating, service-providing, non-welfare-dependent rich for a bit, why don't you?

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Predestination and Human Choice

So many (both opponents and supporters of predestination) struggle to maintain both God's complete sovereignty and man's complete responsibility.

Part of the problem is that it is treated as a zero-sum game. If God's got 100% of the control, then man has nothing left.

J. K. S. Reid, who is by no means infallible (he is worryingly Barthian in many places), makes this devastatingly brilliant observation in his Introduction to his translation of Calvin's Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. Read it frequently and carefully - it is dense and complicated, but brilliant.

Philosophically, when we deal with the relation of a finite magnitude to a greater but also finite magnitude, the independence of the one is conserved only at the expense of the other; when we deal with a really infinite magnitude and its relation to a finite magnitude, this is no longer the case. Theologically, God is not simply the magnification of man, and His qualities are not simply the qualities of man increased to the power of n. If this were true of Him, then predetermination would be merely determination on a greater, grander scale, and there would be even less hope of securing the independence of the finite magnitude which man is. But just because He is really infinite, the Predestination of which He is the author does not rob man of his independence and therefore of his responsibility.

The Unmerciful Servant

I have found Don Carson's EBC Commentary on Matthew to be variable in quality, largely I think due to the limits of the series. However, on the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matt 18, it is full of insight.

  1. Jesus' hyperbole (humour?). The first slave owes 10,000 talents, possibly around 1 billion dollars in contemporary value. Clearly, no master would allow a servant to run up this sort of debt, even if the servant was a "high-ranking imperial civil servant." The story is not meant to be 'realistic.' It demonstrates the incomparable magnitude of man's debt to God.
  2. The second servant owes a significant debt. 100 denarii was probably 100 days' wages for a soldier or labourer. In one sense, the first servant might be rightly angry at not being paid back, if he himself had not just been forgiven a ridiculously sized debt.
  3. The first servant abuses his position. "Even an inexpensive slave sold for five hundred denarii, and it was illegal to sell a man for a sum greater than his debt." Yet this is what happens.
  4. In v. 34, the first servant is handed over not to the jailers (NIV), but to torturers, until he pays back what he owes. We've already seen that he will never be able to do that. Let the reader understand, he is being handed over to be tortured for ever.

Thank you, Don. Now I just have to put it into a sermon!

Thank you Father for such astonishing love; thank you Jesus for accomplishing such forgiveness; thank you Holy Spirit for calling me to receive it.

Monday, 13 August 2007

All off to Heathrow?

NB: I am not a scientist!

As a balanced response to this, take a look at a variety of links, thoughts and articles from David Field.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Is the Church of England hierarchy really anti-evangelical?

Answer: Yes.

To see the disturbing results of the survey conducted by the Association of Ordinands and Candidates of Ministry (AOCM) during my Chairmanship, click http://www.aocm.org.uk/ and click on the link at the bottom of the page.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Is darkness neutral?

Last week on camp we did Bible studies in Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 22.

Following my previous post, let me highlight that this is a tentative suggestion.

For the first time I noticed the disruption in the pattern "And God saw that it was good." Usually, this phrase summarises God's judgement on a whole series of creative acts (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).

In 1:3, if it anticipated the other instances we might expect, "God called the light 'day', and the darkness he called 'night'. And God saw that it was good." But, the phrase comes earlier. Specifically, we are told that light is good, but we are told nothing evaluative about darkness. What do we make of this?

Is it the case that darkness is bad? Can anything in God's original creation be bad? I doubt we would be comfortable saying this.

Is darkness neutral? Is anything morally neutral? Again, I feel uncomfortable with this.

Is darkness less good? Perhaps. In 1:2, we have darkness and no light. I assume, though we're not told, that creation is good even in its formless and dark state. But the clear message of Genesis 1-2 is that order and form and fullness are better than disorder and emptiness. Just as creation without man is good, but with man, it is very good, perhaps we may say, creation with light is better, more good, than without?

Of course, the new creation has no darkness at all (Rev 22:5).

In biblical theology, darkness (John 3:19) comes to be wicked, through association with sin and contrast with light. Must that mean darkness is bad in the beginning?

Thoughts please?

Disciplines of a Godly Blogger

You may be familiar with Kent and Barbara Hughes' terrifying books:

Disciplines of a Godly Man
Disciplines of a Godly Woman
Disciplines of a Godly Family

They are immensely challenging, and helpfully highlight that true freedom and true discipline are companions rather than opponents.

As I embark on the blog, I thought it would be helpful to me to lay down some blogging disciplines, most of which are plain, Spirit-wrought Christian virtues (in no particular order).

  1. Aim to edify believers and/or evangelise unbelievers with every post.
  2. Assume everyone is reading. Tim Keller says of church services that they should speak to the Christian, assuming that the unbeliever is listening in. So a blog may address a particular audience, but with the awareness that anyone can and may read it.
  3. Avoid personal attacks. If they are justified on rare occasions, don't say what you wouldn't say to someone's face.
  4. Don't criticise someone or something you wouldn't criticise elsewhere.
  5. A blog post is not a journal article or doctoral thesis. Therefore, ideas which are not fully-researched are legitimate. However, speculative, uncertain thoughts should be flagged as such to the reader.

That'll do for now.


An odd name to launch on the blogosphere. Where does it come from?

Dorothy L. Sayers, in her 1947 lecture in Oxford, "The Lost Tools of Learning" comments on the oft-mocked question of how many archangels could dance on the point of a needle:

Scorn in plenty has been poured out upon the mediaeval passion for hair-splitting; but when we look at the shameless abuse made, in print and on the platform, of controversial expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations, we may feel it in our hearts to wish that every reader and hearer had been so defensively armored [sic] by his education as to be able to cry: "Distinguo."

[HT: David Field]

Distinguo is simply the Latin for "I distinguish." More than anything, my training at Oak Hill taught me that many questions could be answered, many controversies reconciled, and many heresies avoided, if only we approached questions with careful distinctions. This is true of the whole of life, not just theology (though, of course, theology properly understood is the whole of life).

I hope my posts, and readers' comments (yes, all three of you), will always cry "Distinguo."