Monday, 8 December 2008

OUP goes PC

I am horrified by the words removed from and added to OUP's new Junior Dictionary.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The New Economy

Also from The Week's Wit & Wisdom, courtesy of Bob Battle in the Washington Times:

If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, you will
have $49 today. If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, you
will have $33. If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers, you
will have $0. But if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank
all the beer, then turned in the aluminium cans for a
recycling refund, you
would have $214.

And you would have drunk a lot of beer into the bargain. Brilliant!

Libertarianism in a sentence

I don't always read the Wit & Wisdom in The Week, but I'm glad I did this week.

There was a wonderful quote from PJ O'Rourke, which beautifully sums up a lot of libertarianism:

A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough
to take it all away.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Quis custodes custodiet?

Or who guards the guards? In the current financial crisis, this is just too funny!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Freudian Slip

I just saw this advert in the reduced section of

Is It Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God - Slightly Imperfect

You said it, though perhaps slightly is underplaying it.

The Dictatorship of Katharine Jefferts Schori

The Church of England Newspaper this week ran a story that the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church has brought a motion to depose the Bishop of Pittsburgh.
What caught my eye is the extent of control KJS either has or thinks she has over her House of Bishops and denomination. Some extracts from CEN:

While Bishop Schori conceded that Bishop Duncan's diocese had not yet voted to
withdraw from the Episcopal Church, it was her contention that his statements
that such a move was possible offended canon law. She also stated she would
reject readings of church law that did not conform to her own, adding that "any
ambiguity in the canon" should be resolved in her favour.

For the vote
[to depose] to be blocked, a point of order must be raised and seconded. Bishop
Schori will be asked to rule whether her [own] actions consitute a breach of
order. If she rules against the protesting bishops, an appeal may be taken which
requires a two-thirds vote to sustain her ruling.

So, judge, jury and executioner then.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Religious discrimination

Having referred to the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001 below, I was wondering how someone like the Rev'd Ian Paisley came to be in the House of Commons before this Act.

It turns out that clergy disqualification applied only to clergy who had been episcopally ordained (Anglican, Roman or otherwise), and not to others.

Perhaps we could argue mischievously that proves Parliament considers non-episcopal ordination not to count!

Though Parliament's track record wrt theological understanding leaves something to be desired (with the honourable exception of the 1928 Prayer Book).

Could I really vote Lib Dem?

That got your attention!

The Liberal Democrats have been saying some surprisingly sensible things at their conference:
  • replacing the National Curriculum in schools with a significantly slimmed-down version
  • getting rid of at least 2 Whitehall departments, including the elegantly-titled Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
  • cutting £20 billion from public spending
  • taking 4p off the basic rate of income tax

OK, there's still a long way to go. But it just looks as though they might be the most committed of the 3 main parties to small government (except for their continued baffling Euro-enthusiasm).

Also Nick Clegg has said he will not rule out sending his children to private schools, which shows he considers his children's welfare to be more important than his own career and electoral success.

He's still a little bit too much like David Cameron, who's a bit too much like Tony Blair, but let's go one step at a time.

Are you sure, Father David?

Yesterday, David Cairns, a previously anonymous Scottish Office minister, resigned, because he wants a Labour leadership contest. Big deal?

What was interesting was that Mr Cairns used to be Father David Cairns, a Roman Catholic priest, who came into Parliament after the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001. Despite his resignation, Mr Cairns commented that "For me it is an article of faith that the worst day of a Labour government is better than the best day of a Tory or SNP one."

Would that be the same Labour government which since 1997 has pursued the most aggressive legislative campaign in history for the normalisation of homosexuality? Or, to take another random worst day in Labour government history, the legalisation of abortion in 1967? Whatever your views on these subjects, it seems surprising that a good Roman Catholic could think those days would be better than the best day of a Tory or SNP administration.

Are we stumbling again upon the well-worn sacred/secular split, or perhaps the "my faith won't affect my politics" mantra?

Neither brave nor free

We're used to thinking of the United States as the home of libertarianism and small government, at least compared to the rest of the world, and within America, of the Republican Party as being particularly concerned with this restriction of government interference.

Yet, in the last week we have seen the Bush Administration effectively nationalising Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (much more interesting names than Halifax or Nationwide), to the potential tune of $200 billion. Combined, they guarantee mortgages of $5.3 trillion. Can any of us possibly comprehend these sums of money?

And yesterday, the government announced they would take an 80% stake in the major insurers, AIG, in return for an $85 billion loan.

Now, $285 billion is a lot of taxpayers' money. In fact, assuming we're talking American billions (9 0s), and assuming the US tax-paying population to be 170 million (which is probably on the large side), that's $1675 per person.

Yes, the collapse of Fannie and Freddie would have been horrendous, particularly for Americans, but also for the global economy, but why AIG and not Lehman Brothers.

Further, many people have observed the absurdity of the following argument: governments shouldn't punish financiers for massive bonuses because they're in a risky business where they can make massive losses as well. It seems that, provided you ensure your losses are really really massive, then there is no risk because the government will bail you out.

We're now seeing calls from Democrats for more regulatory intervention. And of course, if the government's going to bail companies out, then why shouldn't it poke its nose in the rest of the time.

Giles Fraser (don't worry, I shall never quote him approvingly again) pointed out the inconsistency of all this in the Church Times, noting that even the most ardent capitalists become state-loving socialists when their own jobs are at risk!

It just goes to show that, for all the talk of small government from Republicans, and from Tories and Lib Dems in the UK recently, no politicians really have the courage of their convictions. Ultimately, the problem is that all politicians really do believe that the State is the Saviour. And it isn't.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Is Hell in the presence of God?

I'm preaching this Sunday on 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.

In ESV, v. 9 reads "they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." Most translations follow the same idea.

But "away from" is simply apo in Greek. Apo can mean all sorts of things. It can mean away from in the sense of separation. Indeed BDAG, the main lexicon, gives this sense for 2 Thess 1:9. It can also mean from in the sense of source or origin, thus God is the agent of this destruction. It could even have a causal sense. Apo prosopou might then indicate that it is the presence of God which actually causes the destruction: "from the face of God."

As evangelicals, we're used to saying that Hell or our punishment is to be shut out of God's presence, completely and finally, so losing every good thing of common grace - love, friendship, food, happiness etc.

Yet, Jonathan Edwards suggested some 250 years ago that eternity for both believers and unbelievers will be "in the immediate presence and sight of God." Indeed, it is the presence of God which makes Hell Hell. He is so hated by unbelievers, and his glory and holiness so unbearable, that it is in the presence of God that they find the greatest torment.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Understanding Rowan Williams

Is it possible?

This was another gem from John Richardson at Lowestoft Living Word.

It's a major struggle for most Anglicans to understand why Rowan Williams is handling the Anglican crisis as he is. Liberals say he is being dishonest, hiding what he truly believes. Conservatives, while grateful for the small mercy that he isn't pursuing his personal position on homosexuality, also see an element of hypocrisy, and ultimate futility for someone to try to distinguish private and public belief.

No-one can understand how the Archbishop thinks the Communion will ever find a resolution, when the two sides are not just Christians in disagreement, but seem to follow two completely different religions.

Into this fray John Richardson stepped, suggesting that it is Rowan Williams' understanding of salvation which drives him in this, and that he is being utterly consistent with his own belief. I think I'd heard it before, but not so clearly.

Rowan Williams believes that Jesus, on the cross, is not bearing the penal wrath of His Father against sin, standing as a substitute for his elect. Rather God is rejecting rejection. Mankind rejects God, but on the cross, God rejects our rejection (stick with it...). God never rejects or judges anyone, but simply rejects rejection. Therefore salvation is found in rejecting rejection, it is embracing those who reject you, and rejecting their rejection.

Hence, salvation for Peter Akinola, is found in rejecting the rejection of those who reject him. But the same is true for Katharine Jefferts Schori. So, Rowan Williams is not being inconsistent or hypocritical in not siding with either side. Rather, as long as Akinola and Jefferts Schori are at the table together, rejecting each other's rejection, they are moving towards salvation.

Of course, in a sense, that's even more worrying, because it suggests that Rowan will never reach a place where things can no longer be held together. We may even guess that the stronger the resentment and rejection gets between the two sides, the more he will want to hold it together (a perverse version of "shall we sin then, so grace may abound?").

So, Rowan Williams, not hypocritical or inconsistent, just barking!

Monday, 8 September 2008

John Richardson on Eschatology 4


John treated us to an in-depth, in some ways standard, Bible overview. However, there were many treats along the way.

At the outset, John denied the Rapture using 2 Thess 2. Much as I agree there is no rapture, I am undecided on 2 Thess 2, and have heard arguments that it may refer to AD70, not the Second Coming.

John showed:
  1. that throughout the Bible Sabbath is always the carrot ahead of us.
  2. The irony of Abram's name meaning Mighty Father.
  3. Our astonishment at Solomon's failure should be ever greater than it is. There is no prophet active in Israel from Solomon's anointing to Jeroboam's anointing. John suggested that is because Solomon is so unbelievably close to God. Even David had to go through Nathan the prophet. God appeared directly to Solomon and Solomon needed no prophet. Thus our hope of the fulfilment of 2 Sam 7 is even greater, surely this King is God's Son. But he's not, so our hopes crash from an even greater height, and our expectation of God's true Son climb even higher.
  4. Pentecost picks up the story of God's blessing to the whole world from Genesis 11. Since Babel, blessing has always had to be mediated through Israel.

John concluded with the question, why does God do it this way? The answer from Eph 1 is because he wants to create a body to be united to his Son, which is a simply staggering proposition. How wonderful is the mind of God that he would conceive that whole story to make a redeemed people of all nations, who would be a body and bride for his Head/bridegroom Son?

In an earlier talk John noted an application I had not thought of from Christ's body in Psalm 110. If God's plan is to place Christ's enemies under his feet (Ps 110:1), what is his feet (sic)? Christ is the Head, and feet are not heads, so Ps 110 with Eph 1 is saying that God's plan is to place Christ's enemies under his church.


Thank you John Richardson for a thought-provoking and heart-warming week.

JR on eschatology 3

Thirdly, the Christian obscession with signs of the end is rather unhealthy. John pointed out that the two marks on the forehead of Rev 7 and 13 come from Ezekiel 9, in which they are part of Ezekiel's vision. John commented that he's never ome across anyone who expects to see a visible mark of the Lamb, or has wanted to make a film about it, but endless 666 films and theories. Why do our end-times fascinations always dwell on the dark side?

We spent most of our time in Mark 13, and you can see more of John's thoughts on his own blog.

[John had a number of background observations which were superb and eye-opening.
  1. Temple translates the Hebrew "house" and "palace", so we see in Ex 25, for example, that the Temple is God's house to live in the midst of his people, and his palace from which he rules over them. The Temple is also the dwelling from which God's rule extends to fill and subdue creation.
  2. In Gen 4 God puts a mark on Cain to preserve him as he wanders through the earth,which is remarkably similar to the mark of God in Ezek. 9
  3. After the expulsion from the garden Israel is never again able to enter God's presence. When the glory-cloud descends in Ex 40 on the Tabernacle, and 1 Kings 8 on the Temple, Moses and the priests have to leave.]

Back to Mark 13, much of that was background to show that the question from the disciples Jesus is answering is about when the glory cloud presence of God will return to his Temple, a la Malachi 3:1. At this stage John was very positive about NT Wright's work on this. We could add Dick France's excellent NIGTC commentary on Mark.

Jesus' answer is that it won't be as quick or smooth as the disciples hope. The lord's return will be preceded by a time of division, deception, proclamation and Israel will be found unready and unworthy. The abomination will render the Temple spiritually inoperable, and so it will not be this Temple the Lord comes to.

The coming of the Son of Man then in v. 26 cannot be the Second Coming. Also of course because of the this generation prediction in v. 30, which John said used to tie him up in knots until he realised it didn't have to be the Second Coming, an experience many of us have shared at times.

The coming of the Son of Man, Daniel 7, should be understood in the light of Mk 14:62. So John suggests that the resurrection and ascension and subsequent events, possibly up to AD70, are in view, those things whhich the High Priest and his cronies would have seen and experienced.

This coming of the Son of Man is his coming to the real Temple, that is the glory-cloud presence of his Father, the Ancient of Days in the heavenly places, which happens at the Ascension. This tallies with Acts 2:32-34 where Jesus is enthroned before the Gentile mission, the reference to angel/messengers in Mk 13:27.

Thank you John for a tour de force. I'd like to add that when I use to think this was about the Second Coming, I couldn't get past the language of apocalyptic disturbance in 24-25. Dick France has shown that this language is used in OT of judgement against Babylon (Is 13:10) and Edom and other nations (Is 34:4), son doesn't need to be understood of physical cosmic upheaval. In support of John Richardson, I would also add the contrast between Jesus' level of knowledge about those days, those days, those days (all the same time frame, vv. 17, 19, 24), and his ignorance [not getting into that now] about THAT DAY (v. 32).

JR on eschatology 2

Secondly, John took us to Rev 21 for a vision of the future.

I think I must have been slightly sleepy as I'm not sure I followed everything, but here's what I got.

Our life maps tend to be individualistic: where is the end of the world in relation to me.
The Bible's map is a map of the whole of creation, not of my life: where the world has got to, with me in it.

John wonderfully expressed this as, creation is not the stage on which the play is set, rather creation is one of the characters in the drama, which makes so much more sense, in my view, of Romans 8 etc.

John then looked at a biblical theology of Sabbath and rest, seeing that Sabbath is not rest from work, rather it is the work creation was aiming for in the first place.

Ultimately that future Sabbath is finally fulfilled in the reunion of heaven and earth. John combined this with a view of the future of the church as being the marriage-supper of the Lamb.

This vision complemented John's 2 lunchtime talks in which the big theme seemed to be that Christ-shaped-ness of creation and the future. Here John made a number of helpful observations:
1. Jesus is not a plan B, indeed salvation is not a plan B. Using marriage as the obvious example, John showed that creation is shaped with Christ in mind. Marriage was designed in order to show Christ's relationship with his church, not that Christ's relationship with the church was shaped to reflect marriage. In the mind of God, his Son always comes first, and creation is designed to reflect Him, not vice versa.
2. Protology (the study of the first things) and eschatology (the study of the last things) mutually inform one another. They cannot be divorced, precisely because God designed the creation in the first place to mirror his final goal of Christ the King with his redeemed people ruling the physical glorious creation.


Lessons from John Richardson on Eschatology 1

Last week John Richardson spoke at the Lowestoft Living Word Convention.

John preached for 4 evenings and 2 lunchtimes on the subject of eschatology, broadly, a Christian view of the future.

In the interests of short posts (which I like) let's go talk by talk.

First, we looked at Paul's speech to the Areopagus in Athens. John gave a helpful introduction to eschatology, and why it should concern us. As in church, so in life generally, if we have no view of the future, then we have no direction for the present. John suggested an absence of eschatology leads to an exclusively present focus, and an incoherence in our life and ministry.

John's main point from Acts 17 and the NT prominence of the Resurrection is that the big Christian hope is not "I go to heaven when I die" (John later affirmed that he does believe this, simply it is not the final destination) but rather "heaven is coming to earth when Christ returns". John observed that Tom Wright has been particularly helpful on this big idea, though many might disagree with his applications to cancelling 3rd World debt.

The Resurrection also affirms that matter matters. John said physicality is not bad. Where the Greek philosophers' future was a release from the burden of the physical, the Bible's future is bodily resurrection and a physical new heaven and new earth.

I couldn't agree more with John. It was a clear and helpful corrective to a faulty view of the physical which is all too common.

The challenges were: how often is our preaching shaped by the world's question, what happens when I die, rather than the Bible's emphasis on the general resurrection and its concern with the future of the world and the race. [In passing, John did show from Phil 1:21-24, we might add Luke 23:43, that the Bible does also talk sometimes about Christian experience between death and the resurrection.] Also, how do we view the physical? With suspicion and negativity and resignation, or positively and with hope and joy?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

What are the Rules?

The Church of England has two different types of 'rules', which we might call Legislation and Quasi-legislation. The first has legal force (in theory), the second has only 'moral' force (and it's often arguable whether it has that.

  1. Acts of Parliament
  2. Measures (of Church Assembly or General Synod, which require Royal Assent and, since 1919 Enabling Act, have the same force as Actos of Parlt)
  3. Canons (these also require Royal Assent, but are subordinate in status to Measures)
  4. General Constitutional Principles (39 Articles, BCP and the Ordering of Bps, Priests and Deacons - the fact that the current Declaration of Assent is weaker than the old one apparently does not change the legal status of the ancient formularies in the CofE)
  5. Judicial Decisions (the decisions of Diocesan Chancellors do not bind other Chancellors, but if the Court of Arches, CofE's appeal court, or the Privy Council rules, its decisions bind all the Diocesan Chancellors)
  6. Doctrinal and liturgical statements (the only example we were given of these would be the rubrics of the BCP)
  7. Pre-Reformation canons (this is largely theoretical. Canon B29 makes ref to a Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603, which concerns the seal of the confessional. Canon Parrott thought it would not stand up in court if set against the Children Act.)

Quasi legislation:

  1. Diocesan Handbooks (some of the contents will be form Canon Law, some will be the Bishop's or Diocese's interpretation of the law)
  2. Regulations
  3. Codes of Practice
  4. Ad Clerum letters/Pastoral Statements
  5. Guidelines (central or diocesan)

From this we were told that the only canonical obedience a Bishop can demand is where he is given the authority under a piece of genuine legislation (though Canon Parrott thinks the moral obligation of the oath goes far beyond that).

Thus, commenting on the recent 'gay marriage' in London, Canon Parrott thought that, even if Richard Chartres wanted to do something, there is nothing he can do except a slap on the wrist.

Essential Canon Law Reading List

Brilliant CME day last Saturday (really!)

Everything CME should be - entertaining, informative, telling you those things about the CofE that only the experts know. It was called "Help! I'm a Church Lawyer" and was led by Canon David Parrott, CME officer for Chelmsford Diocese, Education Officer of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, and self-confessed canon law anorak with an MA in Canon Law Studies from Cardiff!

This is what he told us we must have on our shelves if we ever become incumbents (also useful for Curates):

Anglican Marriage in England and Wales: A Guide to the Law for Clergy (from the Faculty Office, Westminster)

Suggestions for the Guidcance of the Clergy with regard to the Marriage and Registration Acts (possibly available from local Registrar)

A Guide to Liturgical Copyright (download from CofE website)

The Charities Act and the PCC, 3rd ed. (download from CofE website)

Church Representation Rules (always buy latest edition, currently 2006)

Canons of the Church of England (free download from CofE website)

Practical Church Management by James Behrens

soon to be published by David Parrott himself, Your Church and the Law: A simple explanation and guide


Thursday, 12 June 2008

Good Friday reflections

Don't know why I've only just thought of this now, but here's my Good Friday meditation on Matthew 27:

It is such a vivid story, such that you can almost picture yourself there. And inevitably, our attention is drawn to that man hanging there on the cross, at the end. But to look only there would miss out so many features and themes and details and messages of this story. A few days ago, at an assembly at the Denes, I explained that the message of Good Friday, why it is good, is that Jesus is the substitute for men and women as he dies to bear the full force of God’s anger. And when you have to reduce the message of Good Friday into one sentence, that is it. But there is so much more.

So this morning, we’re going to do something a bit different. We’re going to look at some themes which weave their way through this episode, and through Matthew’s Gospel, which we sadly miss much of the time in the crucifixion story, two in particular. The themes are the overthrow of old Jerusalem and old Israel in preparation for the new Jeruslaem and new Israel, and the dramatic rule of Jesus Christ, the king of kings, in every instance of this event.

First, let’s think about the calamitous failure and judgement of the old Jeruslaem and old Israel.

We saw last week on Palm Sunday that wonderful moment where Jesus is acclaimed by the crowds as he approaches Jerusalem. We saw the crowds going before him, the pilgrims heading up to Jerusalem for Passover, proclaiming their king. But the residents of Jerusalem, the people of the city of God, don’t recognise him. Imagine the Queen in her golden coach on the way to the State Opening of Parliament, with the crowds waving and shouting and praising her. But when she enters Parliament itself, the servants and security staff, the cooks and administrators, the MPs and Lords, they turn their backs and deny her. Those who should be most aware, most exultant, most obedient are instead the most rebellious and disobedient and murderous.

While the crowd outside Jerusalem cheered Jesus, the crowd inside Jerusalem in v. 22 shout “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

While Pilate, the ignorant Gentile governor, is amazed at Jesus in v. 14, and sees he is innocent in v. 18, 19, 23, 24, the chief priests and the elders, the men of God, the leaders with knowledge and wisdom, they accuse Jesus, they incite the crowd to murder, they mock the Son of God.

Verse 25 is particularly chilling. Throughout recent chapters, Matthew has talked of the crowd, different groups of people, mobs gathered around various leaders. Here he consciously changes. “All the people answered.” This isn’t just for variety. Matthew is saying, this group represents the whole of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel. Here are the chief priests, the elders, the teachers of the law, and the ordinary people. The people of God, and their leaders, in the city of God, are demanding the death of the Son of God. And what do they cry?

“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Pilate says, this is nothing to do with me (rather unconvincingly – he is after all sentencing a man he knows is innocent to death). He says, this is not my responsibility, and the people of God eagerly claim responsibility. No, this is our doing, and we’re proud of it.

Of course, it is true, the guilt of Jesus’ blood is on them. As Peter speaks on the Day of Pentecost he says “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The guilt of Jesus’ blood also does fall on their children. It is their children’s generation which suffers the catastrophic final invasion and destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, as the Romans sweep through the city, murdering all they can, and raze the Temple to the ground.

Jesus himself has anticipated this. In 23:35 he promises “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Barakiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” There is no blood more righteous than that of Jesus, and the people embrace the responsibility for his death.

Then, as Jesus hangs on the cross, the people and the leaders mock him. In v. 40, they say “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!” Little do they realise that this is imminent. As Jesus dies, the curtain in the Temple is destroyed, and with it all that the old Temple order stood for, while Jesus’ body, the new Temple, is built in his resurrection.

And God’s judgement on old Jerusalem, his sentencing of the old Israelite order comes at this point. People observe that darkness in the middle of the day is a sign of God’s judgement, his anger outpoured. But where is that judgement directed? Yes, God’s anger is poured out on Jesus on the cross, his anger at our wrongdoing exhausted upon the one who stands in our place. But is that all? The darkness is not just over Jesus. The darkness comes over “all the land.” What land? The land around about Jerusalem, Israel. Amos 8:8-10 promises that God’s own people, his own land, is ripe for judgement, that that judgement will be like the judgement that fell on Egypt in the Exodus, that that judgement will be marked by darkness in the daytime and an earthquake.

So, at the time of the Passover, when the people are remembering God’s judgement falling on the land of Egypt, a judgement marked by a plague of darkness, so that same darkness, accompanied by an earthquake in v. 51, falls upon Jerusalem. God’s judgement is falling on the innocent Jesus in our place, but his judgement is also being poured out on rebellious, disobedient Jerusalem. The tearing of the curtain is a foretaste of what is to come. God’s final judgement of Jerusalem and the old order is delayed until the Roman destruction 40 years later. We could liken it to the judgement and sentencing in a law court. God’s verdict of guilt on old Jerusalem is passed at the crucifixion, but the sentence isn’t carried out until AD 70.

This overthrow of Jerusalem of course carries good news and some warnings for us today.

The tearing of the curtain and the destruction of the Temple in AD70 points us to the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city. We no longer need to look to the old physical Jerusalem. Some Christians think the earthly Jerusalem still has some special claim n Christians: it doesn’t. It has been judged and abandoned by God. Now we look to the greater Jerusalem, the true city of God. The end of the Temple and its sacrifices, its no entry barriers brings in a time of free access to God. Jesus is the true Temple, and through Him we come to God the Father. We need no human priest, Jesus is our priest, we need no animal sacrifice, Jesus is our sacrifice. We can bring our prayers and thanksgivings to God at any time, in any place.

But the fate of Jerusalem also warns us. In v. 18, Pilate understands that the motivation for the priests’ opposition to Jesus was not religious zeal but envy. Jesus was attracting listeners and followers who should have been hanging on the priests’ words. Jesus made them look foolish in debate despite his lack of theological training. Jesus was threatening the positions of power and wealth and authority they had. Many of us have religious authority, be we clergy, churchwardens, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers. And it is easy to be more concerned with protecting our position than submitting to the challenges Jesus poses. Perhaps we are afraid to admit we got something wrong. Maybe we can’t face the fact that someone else with less training, less experience, less position, got something right. Maybe when a brother challenges our conduct we feel, who are you to correct me? Beware the protection of our position.

The other theme which we can miss is the astonishing kingship of Jesus. In the resurrection or the transfiguration, or as he is teaching, it’s easy to see Jesus’ authority. Less so, as he hangs on the cross, but it is clearer than ever there.

It comes throughout the story. First, his control of all that is happening. In v. 14, Pilate is amazed at Jesus. The judge is taken aback, stopped in his tracks, by the accused. Who is really in control of this trial? In v. 19, Pilate’s wife tells him not to have anything to do with that innocent man. She has been troubled in a dream. A Gentile woman understands that Jesus is innocent.

Back in 20:19 Jesus predicted that he would be “condemned to death, mocked, flogged and crucified” having been handed over to the Gentiles by the chief priests and teachers of the law. In 27:2, the chief priests hand him over; 27:26, he is condemned, and flogged; 27:29, he is mocked, and in 27:35 he is crucified. This didn’t come as a surprise to Jesus. He knew every little detail of what would happen to him before the chief priests or the Romans or the crowd knew it.

And finally, he is in control at the time of his death. Most crucifixion victims would be delirious or unconscious by the time death came round, but Jesus can speak lucidly, in v. 46, and has the breath to cry out in a loud voice in v. 50. Finally, he gave up his spirit, perhaps suggesting that he retained control of deciding the exact moment he would die.

In the midst of suffering and humiliation and imprisonment and death, it is easy to think that the cross was some terrible mistake, or that it was the moment of Satan’s triumph, which God was just powerful enough to trump with the resurrection. But, we see here that Jesus is in complete control throughout his trial and execution.

Secondly, there is Jesus’ depiction as a king. The charge against him is his kingship of the Jews, not his radical teaching, not his miraculous healings, not even his alleged Sabbath-breaking. The charge against him is that he claimed to be King of the Jews. And he does not deny this. Then, much of the focus on Jesus’ humiliation is to do with kingship. It is interesting that there is actually comparatively little space spent here in describing Jesus’ physical suffering. The focus is much more on his mock enthronement. In v. 28 they dress him wth robe, crown and sceptre and pay mock homage to him. In v. 37, his title, King of the Jews, is displayed for all to see. The final irony is the mocking of the chief priests in v. 42.

“He saved others but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

But of course it is precisely by dying on the cross, by not saving himself, that he saves others. And it is because he is the King of Israel that he is being crucified, because his kingship was a threat to those same chief priests. The cross, if you like, is his throne.

Thirdly, Jesus’s kingship is seen in his subversive threat to the power of Rome. Sadly, this is something that people often miss. First of all, look at Jesus’ parallel with Barabbas. From Mark’s gospel, we know that Barabbas was not just a petty criminal, but that he had led an insurrection against Roman government. He was a political prisoner. And Jesus takes the place of this political prisoner, indirectly he saves Barabbas’ life. Despite his reluctance, Pilate is willing to let a freedom fighter go free – he himself knows Jesus is a threat to Rome. In v. 38, the word Matthew uses to describe the two men crucified with Jesus is often used to describe rebels against Rome. So we have this picture of Jesus, with the title, King of the Jews, above his head, in the centre of two political prisoners. To many bystanders, the execution would have looked very political, defending Roman political authority against subversion. And finally, there is the cry of the Roman soldiers in v. 54.

These are the same men who mocked Jesus a few verses earlier. These are the same men who paid fake homage to the king. Yet here, as Jesus dies, they see with new eyes.

“When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, Surely he was the Son of God!”

I don’t think we are meant to understand that these Gentile soldiers had suddenly fully gasped Jesus’ identity, though certainly Matthew expects us to listen, to see they spoke better than they knew perhaps. But the title Son of God was a political one. The Roman emperor himself was titled Son of the God… These soldiers see someone on the cross, they see something in the way Jesus dies, that has supreme authority, at least on a par with their own emperor, the greatest authority in the world. And they were right. Jesus was a threat to Rome, to the emperor. Jesus’ gospel is inescapably political. Because Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, and he claims authority over all the kings of the earth.

Certainly Jesus did not come to cause a political rebellion. He told his disciples to put their swords away. He had not come to throw the Romans out of Jerusalem. But Jesus did not just come to be the king of our hearts. We cannot relegate him to some spiritual-only realm. As Jesus hangs on the cross, there is no sacred-secular split. He is the king of the whole world, which was why he was a threat to Rome, not because he would overthrow Rome, but because he claimed a higher authority and a higher allegiance from others than the Emperor could claim.

Christ crucified, the judge of faithless Jerusalem, and the king above all kings.

Why don't you waste your own money?

It appears that the Home Office has spent £29 million on an asylum detention centre which was never built.

I'm sorry, but I find this sickening. This is what happens when you have big government with big tax revenues and big public spending. No-one keeps track of the waste, no-one is held accountable for it, and worst of all, they know that if they go 'bankrupt', they can just force the taxpayer to bail them out.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: ordinary people work out what their income is, and then decide how they're going to spend it and stay within their budget. Governments seem to decide what they want to spend, and then think how they're going to get it.

If your ordinary Joe consistently overspends he will lose his house, go bankrupt and have all his assets taken away and his right to a bank account suspended - there are sanctions that follow from irresponsible economics. If a government consistently overspends, they just raise taxes.

Something not right.

What do you do with your hands?

We had lots of guidance last night on hand movements, some of which, particularly the eucharistic manual acts I find highly objectionable.

But, there were some interesting reasons provided for different gestures, which might challenge the anti-liturgist (or should I say unconscious liturgist - we all have a liturgy, it's just that some people don't realise it).

In corporate prayer there are two different gestures. When the minister is praying with the people, he holds his hands together in the traditional prayer gesture we always teach children.

When he prays on behalf of the people, he holds his hands in the orans gesture, which is a relaxed and open position with the hands held out either side of the body, arms pointing upwards from the elbow. The Precentor suggested this was an ancient position for prayer which is found in wall paintings in the ancient Christian catacombs, which led me to think, is that what Paul means by lifting up holy hands in prayer (1Tim 2:8).

Worth pondering perhaps.

Where's the epiclesis?

A common cry down our way.

This came back to me again last night at our Eucharist training. In the eucharistic prayer at the Lord's Supper, where is the epiclesis, and what does it mean?

Epiclesis is the liturgical anorak's term for the calling down of the Holy Spirit, and it happens in all the Church of England's eucharistic prayers, back to the BCP.

In Common Worship's prayers (A to H), there are basically two options. In some, the epiclesis is clearly on the elements. So, we pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to do something to the bread and the wine.

In others, the epiclesis is clearly on the people. So, we pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to do something to us.

In others, it's unclear (more yummy Anglican fudge), and in Prayer B you have a double epiclesis, on elements and people.

I don't think most evangelicals have any comprehension of the signifcance of this. The general response to Common Worship was, how lovely to have some variety, because of course you wouldn't want to repeat the same words too often in case they become meaningless would you? After all, you wouldn't want to tell your wife "I love you" too often in case it becomes meaningless. But of course, what the variety has smuggled in is Roman sacramental theology.

My advice, stick to Prayer C, which is basically Cranmer's BCP prayer. If you insist on variety, it seems to me Prayer D also has a clear epiclesis on the people rather than the elements.

I absolve you, or do I?

Yesterday evening we had a session at the Cathedral on Presiding at the Eucharist, led by the Canon Precentor. Inevitably, one didn't quite agree with everything. But there were some very interesting snippets from a man who knows his liturgical history.

Following confession in most Anglican services, the minister's absolution/assurance of forgiveness has two forms - Lord have mercy upon you, or upon us. Which to use?

In most of the evangelical churches I've been in, us is preferred. It shows the minister includes himself with the congregation as a sinner in need of forgiveness. And the assumption is that they you form is a bit too Catholic.

How ironic then, to discover last night, that the us form is an innovation the Church of England has borrowed from Rome!

In the 1960s (isn't it always?), the Vatican introduced the us form. They were concerned that the number of penitents attending confession was falling, and they wanted to make clear that the "absolution" offered in corporate worship was of a lesser order than the real absolution given by the priest in the sacrament of penance.

Now, of course we don't believe in the sacrament of penance, nor that the presbyter has that sort of power of absolution. However, the Reformed have always believed in the power of the keys - that the ordained ministers of the church are given the authority to declare Christ's forgiveness to the people. So it would be perfectly in order, and not at all Roman, for an evangelical minister to pronounce after corporate confession,

The Lord have mercy upon YOU.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Pot calling the kettle...

The Church of England Newspaper and Church Times are both reporting a leaked Ministry Division report that a third of bishops feel that up to half the parochial clergy are not equipped to cope with the demands of ministry.

Now aside from the fact that I might actually agree (for very different reasons), here's a few questions:

  1. Who ordained these people?
  2. Given that many clergy do (amazingly) look to their bishop for support, leadership and a model of ministry, why are they struggling to cope?
  3. How would they know? 12 of the current diocesan bishops have no experience of being a parish incumbent. And 3 of those (Canterbury - yes the big man!, Europe and Durham - sorry NTW) have no experience at all of ordinary parochial ministry. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Or as the famous Chinese proverb says - he who points finger, finds three pointing back at himself.

Government-sponsored swimming

I appreciate that there are some good reasons why people think the civil government should be responsible for health, education etc.

But whoever thought the State should concern itself with sport (except Communist dictators of course, who in East Germany, the Soviet Union and China, have always been keen on that sort of thing)?

Monday, 2 June 2008

New Labour: a despotic government?

Sir William Harcourt (Liberal Home Secretary and Chancellor under Gladstone) speaking in 1873:

Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world.

Not any more it isn't.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


That is what Jim Jordan's work tends to be (hence Through New Eyes).

Thanks to God for Jordan, via Matthew Mason for this on Mark 4:35-41.

How does a preterist understand Colossians 1:24?

Up until yesterday, I have accepted PT O'Brien's reading of Col. 1:24 as the least unsatisfactory one, and it has been my working theses for the verse.

O'Brien suggests that what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions denotes the apocalyptic expectation of a certain amount of suffering Christ's body will experience before his climactic return. I've always felt uneasy with that, but thought it's better than anything else I could come up with.

Unfortunately, all O'Brien's refs for this expectation are to verses that I no longer think are about his final return in judgement, but are about his parousia-judgement on Jerusalem in AD 70 (eg, Mark 13).

So, am I now to think:

1. O'Brien is half-right but the coming in view is AD70, not the big-E end?

2. O'Brien is completely right, and there are other Scriptural refs which make the point, which aren't about AD70?

3. O'Brien isn't right and I still don't understand Col. 1:24?

Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments box)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Should I wear a dog collar?

At the moment on Sundays I wear a jacket (or suit) and tie.

I am shortly to be ordained a presbyter in the Church of God (priest in the Church of England to be more specific). If I am going to change to wearing a dog collar regularly at Christ Church in the next 3 years, this is probably the convenient moment to do it.

Please give me all your reasons why I should or should not wear one for Lord's Day worship.

Jeremiah 31 doesn't actually say that

Wonderful day yesterday at Oak Hill School of Theology. Lots of nuggets of gold from Professor Tom Schreiner on the warnings in the NT, perseverance, faith and assurance.

It was a shame that we had to stop just as the interesting questions were coming out.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with my (vastly more learned, more clearly thought-through, more humble, more mature, elder) brother on his reading of Jeremiah 31 though.

Unsurprisingly, as a Baptist, he thinks Jeremiah's new covenant promise means every member of the New Covenant will be big-R regenerate by the Spirit (therefore showing they are big-E elect), because they will all know the Lord. I do not think that "all" is an all-without-exception (every individual). I think it is an all-without-distinction (every type of person). Why:

1. Don Carson (a Baptist), in Schreiner's own book, Still Sovereign, notes that what is in view is a time when there will be "no mediating teachers, no mediators, whose very office ensures them that they have an endowment not enjoyed by others." (p. 257-8) So the concern is with the extension of the frachise of the knowledge of the Lord to all sorts of people.

2. The least to the greatest phrase seems highly likely to me to refer to the full range of ages. While it can mean rank or social standing or wealth, in many places age is in view. Even within Jeremiah, 6:13, 16:6, and 44:12 certainly refer to age, while there are other possible occurrences. At least one major commentator (Holladay) agress with me that the reference in 31:34 is to age - thus the new covenant covers all from infants to the elderly.

Thus in the new covenant, all types of people, old-young, male-female, slave-free, rich-poor, priest-lay, will know the Lord, but there will be individuals in the new covenant who do not.

On this similar theme, I think the unbreakability of the New Covenant in Jer 31:32 is corporate not individual. The breakability of the old is directly contrasted with the unbreakability of the new, so the two must parallel one another. How was the Old Covenant broken? Corporately. I assume there were faithful Israelites in the OT who kept the covenant. But the people as a whole broke it. So, the people of God in the New Covenant will not be able to break it, but individuals will.

So we come back to the fact that covenant and election, even in the new covenant, are not the same thing in Scripture. Go and search David Field for more.

What then is my assurance?

If the trajectory of my last post is correct, then the question arises: what is my personal assurance?

Actually, I don't think the Reformed would ever have answered, "God will keep his elect". I think the answer has always been two fold (thanks Garry);

1. objectively, the finished work of Christ has done all that is necessary for salvation (because the atonement actually worked).

2. subjectively, the work of the Spirit in my life producing fruit testifies to my faith.

1 is obviously far more important and reliable than 2.

Might we add 3. objectively, the Church testifies to my faith by baptising, feeding and not excommunicating me?

For what and whom is election a comfort?

Isn't it typical that when you decide to stop blogging you suddenly have some thoughts. Well, it is almost the end of May.

Here's a question which has germinated recently from a number of sources.

I believe in the doctrine of election, viz., that God has eternally decreed there will be a people populating the new heavens and the new earth, glorifying his Son, and that he has also decreed eternally (before the creation of the world in Ephesians' more temporal language) the individuals who will make up that elect people (contra Barth et al.), simply according to his sovereign mercy, not on the basis of any good works, foreseen faith etc.

I am accustomed to thinking that a function of this doctrine is to comfort me that God will keep me persevering to the end, so I will not fall away (and that the warnings of apostasy are one means he uses to keep me - thank you Prof. Schreiner). Indeed I think Calvin says something similar.

However, is that right (this function, not the doctrine itself - I know that's right)? Where in Scripture is election meant to comfort me personally that if I am big-E elect, I will not fall?

Is the comfort not rather that God's plan cannot fail, that His Church cannot fail, that his new heavens and new earth cannot fail, which is great news. Obviously, if I am big-E elect, that certainty will cause me to rejoice, regardless of whether I have the personal assurance that God will keep me.

Have I gone mad?

Thank you to those who've pointed out John 10 - a good place to start.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Goodbye for now...

Rather than leave you all (both?) hanging for the next post, I'm going to take a break until the end of May.

I spend too much time reading blogs, and not enough reading Leithart, Schenck, Schreiner/Wright, Wikner, Wilson and Poythress.

If I'm to make any progress on my Jeremiah 32 article and Ecclesia Reformanda (let the reader understand), alongside preaching, pastoral ministry, Younger Ministers' Conference and preparing for my next ordination, then I can probably do without blogging for a while.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Christian Financial Planning

Thanks to Mark J-P, I just came across this guide to Biblical principles of financial planning.

I might want to say a few more things, but if your whole congregation took note of this, that would be a good thing.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

What happens when you cross...

a comedian and a theologian who thinks about the way the world is?


Thursday, 24 January 2008

Consistent inconsistency

2 stories from recent days:

The government's latest plan to save Northern Rock is to convert the £25 billion loan into bonds which will be guaranteed by the government, and then to try to get Northern Rock sold to a private investor.

So, the government (sorry, the taxpayer; as if the government would do that with their own money!) takes all the risk if it fails, gets none of the benefit if it succeeds, and the private investor can't lose.

Second is capital gains tax. As I understand it, if you buy an asset (property etc.), keep it for a while and then sell it for a profit, you pay tax on the profit (the capital gain).

So, the individual or business takes the risk of investing (the asset could appreciate or depreciate), bearing all the downsides of any loss; but woe betide you if you make a profit, you wicked capitalist - the government takes its cut.

Oh well, at least the inconsistency swings both ways!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Try these spectacles

Following my previous post, I also reflect how my own understanding of Malachi has changed as I have studied it.

This is a good example of how much your system affects your reading of a particular text.

As I have appreciated more postmillenialism, paedofaith, the Reformed view of the Law, so I see things in Malachi that I didn't see before:
  • the hope of 1:5, 1:11, 1:14 etc.
  • the expectation of godly offspring in marriage, 2:15
  • the contemporary relevance of the tithing challenge in 3:8-10
  • the possibility of material blessing in 3:10-12, without falling into a prosperity gospel.

The point of this post is not to argue for those things, but to emphasise how important it is to be aware of your own system. My current view of Malachi is the result of an interplay between my closer study of the text itself and my evolving systematic outlook. I must be cautious not to read my system into everything I see, in order that particular texts can still challenge my inconsistencies and errors.

The answer is not some supposed zone of neutrality or coming to the texts without preconceptions: that is dishonest and impossible. The more clearly I can articulate my system to myself and others, the more aware I will be of the danger points where system overrides text.

There's an argument for spending time on systematic theology.

God seeks godly offspring from marriage

Over the last few years, Malachi has been my book of choice to work on: a series of talks for a sixth-form houseparty, some undergraduate Bible studies on camp, and now all the home groups at Christ Church.

One of the things that has most struck me every time is Malachi 2:10-16. Aside from the very difficult Hebrew of vv. 15-16, it has a fascinating train of thought.

1. The people are criticised for marrying outside the covenant community (v. 11), and divorcing wives within the covenant community (v. 14).
[I think this is literal intermarriage, not a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God because:
a) In v. 14, Yahweh is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. He is a judicial third party, not one of the two parties in the marriage.
b) While marriage is a common OT picture of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, he is (always?) the husband, Israel the wife. Here Judah is the husband.
c) There is no other indication in Malachi that formal idolatry is a problem, eg., Baal-worship in the monarchy. Rather the problem is empty formalism.
d) Pagan intermarriage is a major contemporary problem in Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13:23ff.

2. Other than the biblical theology problem that divorce misrepresents Jesus' steadfast love for his church, the main problem with this intermarriage and divorce is that the purpose of marriage is to seek godly offspring (v. 15). So, at least in Malachi, it's not about companionship, or refraining from sexual immorality, but about populating the land with godly children. There is an implicit assumption here that the children of covenant members will themselves be godly.

3. The point of godly offspring, istm, is to contribute to God's program of 1:5, 1:11, 1:14, 3:12, 3:17-18. The hope of Malachi is that a repentant, godly, chosen people in the land will make the nations sit up and take notice, see how wonderful it is to serve Yahweh, and how awful it is to despise him, and so

"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations ... For I am a great king ... and my name is to be feared among the nations." 1:11, 14.

Malachi too was postmill!