Why Blog?

10 August 2009

Whoa! It’s been a little while since I’ve visited this blog—much less posted. Now that I’ve broken the Cardinal Rule of posting regularly, I am less bothered by breaking another in apologising for it. Sorry.

I was recently challenged about my motivation for blogging. (Although to be fair: I haven’t exactly been keeping it up). It came from the minister of my church, Andy Gemmill. Essentially, Andy said that it is very difficult indeed to blog without being self-promoting.

He started off by countering the common view that technology is neutral (ie morally). He made the point that we, as rebels before God in our natural state, are not spiritually neutral; therefore anything we produce cannot be neutral—but will more easily be used for harm than good. Although he was clear that technology can be used for good, as well as bad.

I am inclined to agree with him, although I am not sure to what extent. Can a mere artifact, lacking moral capacity, have a moral implication (without a person acting upon it or with it)? Or does the very act of creating an artifact impress some moral aspect? Andy leaned towards the latter. And the more I think about it, I do as well—though I am not sure how it works. What do you think?

Anyway, he made a good point: whilst a blog can be a very good thing indeed, it will be an uphill struggle to do it right. He noted that blogs will easily—naturally—be full of triviality and self-promotion. And before you think that self promotion need not be a bad thing, take a look at the following verses from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

How is that self-promoting? Wouldn’t you rather read a blog (or be friends with someone) like that?

I know I have fallen into the trap of self promotion often, and I will have to think carefully about when and what I write. Feel free to call me out when you think I am promoting myself too much.


Reason vs. Revelation

28 September 2008

Perhaps you can help me. I was discussing the nature of Christian belief – specifically knowledge – the other day with a good friend, and I felt like I hit a wall. This wall is certainly not one that is unique to my friend, but is common to most everyone. The wall is that of human reason and intellect.

It was my friend’s opinion that while they could clearly observe that Christianity is mostly internally coherent, there is still a large gap of belief and understanding preventing full acceptance. And my friend is not able to cross this gap for intellectual reasons. I know that given the truth of Christianity, there should be no true intellectual gap; and indeed, I have been able to defend Christianity on the occasional issue. But I also believe there is more to this gap than mere reason.

I suppose you could see the void in a number of ways. In one sense I suppose it’s about Christianity being externally coherent: i.e. matching up to our sense of reality. But I do not believe this is possible without revelation from God. This is true for two reasons: first, God’s plan for salvation appears to be foolish when judged by human reason alone (1 Corinthians 1:18-28); second, mankind actively suppresses the truth of God’s existence (Romans 1:18-23). So it takes a divine intervention for people’s eyes to be opened.

So think of it this way: proper intellectual acceptance of God is not purely intellectual, it has a moral dimension. It is this moral dimension that is affected supremely by our inherent sin; and thus our intellectual capabilities are suppressed.

I know that for most Christians, the above is quite obvious and well-understood (assuming I got it right). However, I struggle with the implications of this with regard to human reason. It is clear that human reason is subordinate to God’s truth; and that human reason, in its purest form, is a gift of God. But what about when reason doesn’t appear to lead to God? Of course, from the Christian’s point of view this is a result of incomplete reasoning. But I can’t always argue around that.

Sometimes I just have to say that I don’t know: or rely on the foolishness of man and the wisdom of God. But I must say I don’t like it very much! So, what do you think? Do you think I have fundamentally misunderstood something; or do you have any advice?


Our Greatest Sin

14 September 2008

Rebellion against God. It’s the primal crime of the human race. And the guilt of it lies over every man, woman, child and nation: trying to live without God in control.

Your average person is not living a life of dramatic wickedness, only one of mundane godlessness and average selfishness; and yet the biblical warning is that this is the root of all sin: godlessness.

Rebellion against God; in which your decent, nice, and friendly neighbour is neither decent, nor nice, nor friendly to God.

He is the God who made us for himself and who sustains their lives every day. And yet he’s un-thanked and unwanted, and kept on the margins of their lives and their societies. They may have a kind of religion, because that kind of tames God, and keeps him in a box. But it’s not the true God and its not true religion. Our fallen humanity substitutes religion for God.

– Peter Lewis, Cornerstone Church


Church History (What is it good for?)

14 September 2008

I am almost finished reading a superb book about Church history by Bruce L. Shelley. It is called ‘Church History in Plain Language’ – and it’s most certainly that. It is written in a wonderfully narrative-ish style, and is gripping enough for me to get through the 490 or so pages.

Before I began the book, a Christian friend of mine expressed surprise that I would bother to read up on such a topic (especially such a lengthy one). He was also unconvinced about the usefulness of Church history knowledge – particularly for the layman. So the question I’d like to address is: what is Church history good for?

To begin with, I’d like to use the reasons that Shelley himself outlined in the prologue. He wrote that “many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. That is hardly what God had in mind. The Old Testament is sprinkled with reminders of God’s interest in time…” Shelley further pointed out that ignorance of our history leads to vulnerability to cults (distortions of Christianity), a “shocking” case of spiritual pride (our way is the only way), and a lack of a wider context for any work in the Church (e.g., “how shall we use our time and effort?”). Shelley pointed out that study of Church history can give us the means to separate the “transient from the permanent, fads from basics”.

In addition, I would like to add that although we have the Bible for our own study today, our interpretations of the writings are coloured and shaped by our Christian ancestors. Why do we take this passage to mean one thing, that passage another? A quick glance into the past can make it clearer. There are also many valuable lessons to be learned looking though the corrective lens of hindsight. We don’t want to make the same mistakes again, do we?

For me personally, it has been a humbling experience. As I glimpsed into our past, it became surprising to me that God would choose to get anything done by us at all! We made so many stupid mistakes. It became obvious that God has his plan (whatever it may be), and manages to accomplish his will through us, by his choice.

My study also gave me an appreciation for the wider body of Christ, which is the true Church. I was suffering from some of the spiritual pride Shelley described. Now, I am in favour of denominationalism, but I was interested to discover that this idea came about in order to encourage unity though diversity (or at least, it stopped those who differed from killing each other). A denomination, by its original definition, did things the way it felt was right, but at the same time recognised that Jesus’ Church is much bigger – and there may be other ways of doing things. It seems now that I had too high a view of my particular way of doing things, and too high a view of mankind’s capability in the Church.

With this in mind, I encourage any Christian, even the layman, to investigate our Church history.


Leaflets Anyone? (The A-Z on Leaflet Giving)

14 September 2008

Today at my church (Beeston Free Church), our assistant minister, Craig Langstaff, gave an illustration that I thought very instructional. He outlined how to effectively administer leaflets to passers-by. While highly amusing (and culturally insightful), a quick scan may be quite appropriate given that this week is my university’s mission week, and there will certainly be a lot of leafleting…

The tips are as follows:

  1. You must be absolutely convinced that the leaflet you hold is the most important thing the recipient could read.
  2. As a result of the above, you must be ‘on the front foot’. That is, leaning torward the person, confidently handing them pure gold. Mind you, it is not good to be over-confident, lest they thing you are trying to assault them.
  3. Perfect timing is essential. You cannot offer the leaflet too soon (and they have enough time to think and get flustered), and you cannot be too late (and they have too little time to think).
  4. If you are proffering to a large group (say at a bus stop), it is essential that the first person accepts – in this way the rest of the group is likely to follow suit. Whatever happens, a group of people is likely to follow the first person.
  5. If you find that a number of people have refused a leaflet, you are better off pausing for a bit, until the people passing do not know why you are there. You are thus more likely to give a leaflet, and so to subsequent passers-by.

I can’t wait to put this into practice!

(By the way, the above was used to illustrate an inherent fear that we all have, of being outside the group. We are all sheep at heart!)


God Ordained that Evil Be

14 September 2008

I recently read a very intriguing article entitled, ‘Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?’ by John Piper. The paper seeks to reconcile a Sovereign God and the inescapable presence of evil in the world; without implying that God is not fully in control, or that he does not see all ends. The following is a summary of the article (including direct quotation).

“God does not delight in evil as evil; rather, he wills that evil come to pass” (as evidenced by his control over natural and moral evil in this world) that good may come of it.

What good?

“It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionally effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all…

Thus it is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not e, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also that the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . .

But is this beneficial to us? Piper explains that because our happiness consists in the knowledge of God and the sense of his love (he made it that way), evil is necessary as the means by which we gain the greatest insight and knowledge of God.

But if God ordains evil, is he evil himself? The short answer is no. “God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his ‘positive agency’”.

But is permitting evil, evil? Again, Piper explains: “God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.”

So we have a God who is in control of everything, and knows everything that will pass; who, in his perfection ordained that evil come to pass in order that his character may be perfectly manifest, resulting in his highest glory, and our greatest capacity for happiness. In that light, it seems possible to conclude that (considering all ends) the entirety of human history has been wrought by God to display his glory in the most perfect manner.

Remarkable – and challenging at that! It is not easy to accept first hand; so please study the topic further if you need to. Let me know what you think…


What is Your Assyria?

14 September 2008

Last night, our nine20 group (part of the Christian Union) studied the first chapter of Hosea. The book starts off with some pretty shocking stuff if you think about it – God commanded the prophet Hosea to marry a known prostitute.

Why?

God was making a point about how Israel had treated him. Hosea’s life was to be a ‘microcosm’ of Israel’s relationship with God, and in turn, how God felt and reacted. The following points summarise the understanding of the passage that we discussed:

– Israel’s relationship with God was like a marriage – and Israel was an adulterous wife because she was worshipping other things (Baal and more), and also turning to other nations such as Assyria for security. Israel should have been faithful to God, not turning to other ‘lovers’ for satisfaction and security.

– Because of this, they were destined for destruction, rejection and no forgiveness (these are illustrated by the names of Hosea’s children). This was to happen regardless of Israel’s future actions.

– But God also promised to remain faithful to his ‘Abrahamic’ promises (Genesis 22:17, 32:12) and restore something of the Davidic line. It gets a bit tricky here: was this section only applicable to Judah, or to both Israel and Judah? And if the latter, should it then be more applied to sometime in the future (as Israel has not since been reunited). It seems to me, on the face of it, that it applies to the return of the exiles (Judah), and to the future – where Christ is the one head of verse 11.

– We noted that the book was written to both Israel and Judah, so it can be concluded that the prophecy was what will happen, and a warning of what could happen (in the case of Judah).

So, considering that the God of Israel then is the same as the God now, what can we learn? We can see that God is faithful, beyond that which we can imagine (verses 10-11). Also that God is merciful – like Israel, we at one point were not a people; we really shouldn’t be saved, but thank God for his mercy! We also can see that God is just, and serious about sin (and our actions have real consequences). Finally, it is possible to see that God’s love is a real thing. He is intimately involved with Israel – he cares how faithful they are.

So what about us? We can praise God for his faithfulness, mercy, love, justice and Sovereignty. We can also rejoice because Christ is that head of Israel – and he was the perfect Israel (and we receive God’s mercy because we are united with him).

We should also look soberly at ourselves. What is our Assyria? God is very serious about our trust in him. Who, or what, do we look to when things are tough, or simply ordinary? What is our Baal? How do we get our pleasure and satisfaction? Is it from our husband, Christ?

I was reminded of the sermon at Beeston free, on Sunday. I tend to get by autonomously – without much help from, or reference to, God. Our culture worships the self – and preaches self survival. Make you own life, and “live it your way”… But that is clearly wrong; Israel was punished for as much! Not only that, but we are God’s people, called to live for each other, and with the help of our family.