Saturday, January 31, 2004

The inventor of Ctrl-Alt-Delete retires from IBM. The self-effacing David Bradley admits, "I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous."

Friday, January 30, 2004

Alexander Schmemann on Infant Baptism

Thursday, January 29, 2004

A quick update on various items of news... Greek revision continues its rather fitful progress. At the moment the tedious sentences of revision are being punctuated by episodes of 24, which I am watching through with Mark. The exam is on Thursday. Richard has now moved out and is staying back at his own house. However, he is frequently coming over to do things with myself and Mark. I am still hobbling around and getting more than my fair share of ridicule. Richard still hasn't shown the slightest remorse for hurting my ankle in the first place... Jonathan managed to attend Steve's funeral. It went very well. Please continue to pray for Dave and his family. Steve was only in his very early twenties. Dave is now planning to move back down south to be with his parents for the immediate future. Snow has come to Stoke-on-Trent. As usual, we British are unable to cope with any extreme weather. Life ground to a halt yesterday and everything seemed to be cancelled. The schools were off and so Peter inflicted us with his presence for the day. ;-) We have just returned from attending a Rachmaninov gala performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Excellent. The family and a number of friends attended. One of us (mentioning no names) slept through most of the second half...

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

This must have been quite a sight!
There are many people who claim that the Old Testament is merely a type and shadow of that which was to come. Whilst such statements are not without their measure of truth, they frequently seem to serve as a cloak for the conviction that the New Testament reality is fundamentally different to that which existed in the Old Testament. What occurs in the New Testament is not so much a fulfillment of the saving work begun in the Old Testament, as it is a total disjuncture. This is why we must read the Old Testament in the light of the New, not because the earlier acts of God's salvation can be more clearly understood in the light of Christ, but because the Old Testament never really had any reality. The Old Testament is like a shadow, the reality lies wholly elsewhere. Many people argue that the Old Testament is merely a type of the New Testament. Their view of typology obscures the fact that typology operates within the Old Testament itself. It also can undermine the fact that the apostles were quite happy to read New Testament realities back into the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 10 being an obvious example). The very idea that we could in some way think of, say, baptism and circumcision as the same 'kind' of thing appalls many people. The very idea that the Church is Israel brought to maturity is scandalous. Israel is merely a sketch of the reality of the Church and bears no real living relationship to it. The notion that the New Testament references to regeneration, election, salvation, righteousness, justification, faith or sanctification should be understood as closely related to the Old Testament uses of those terms horrifies people. I don't know about others, but I find it very difficult to relate to such Marcionite approaches to Scripture. I would be the first to say that we need to recognize the newness of the New Covenant, but this newness is not, in my understanding, to be conceived of as totally unconnected to what happened before. Christ was active in the Old Testament, but the New Testament sees Him clearly revealed. Christ is the flowering of the Old Testament buds. Perhaps it is just that these people realize that some of the fundamental principles of popular evangelicalism would be totally undermined if they really started reading the Bible as one story. Now that's off my chest, I can get back to the elusive Greek revision.
Thoughts on Schmemann I will be posting occasional thoughts on Alexander Schmemann's Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism over the next few days on Sacramental Blog.
Credenda Agenda — A Pauline Take on the New Perspective. I have yet to read this, but when I have I might give some thoughts on the subject.
Another amazing parrot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

My computer seems to be working fine now, after I fixed some things in the registry. The virus is infecting one in every 12 e-mails at the moment, so look out! Want to know how to get rid of it? Find out here.
A BAD day Yesterday was quite busy. I had to give a talk on the subject of worship in the evening and so a lot of the day was spent in preparation, alongside my Greek revision. After the meeting was over I wanted to get some other work done. I checked my e-mail and received an e-mail with a zip file attachment. I thought I recognized the name of the sender and (oh so very foolishly) opened it. Immediately, my computer began sending out e-mails. I disconnected as soon as I could, but not before a few had been sent out. If you got one, I'm really sorry. They all went straight throught Norton AntiVirus (with the latest updates) without being picked up. Since then AntiVirus itself has stopped operating on my system. I checked my machine for viruses over our network but picked up nothing. I am toying with the idea of wiping and reinstalling everything. It might also help to remove the accumulated files from the many games and other programs that have been installed but never fully uninstalled. Fortunately I have back-ups of much of my material. At the moment I am using another machine on our home network whilst mine is quarantined. I have accessed some of my mail from this machine and have found another two or three messages just like the one carrying the virus. It must be something that is going around at the moment. Be very careful about opening attachments to e-mails, even if you know who sent them. It doesn't look like Greek revision is going to go so smoothly this week... However, on the bright side, I received copies of N.T. Wright's For All God's Worth and Following Jesus and Alexander Schmemann's Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism this morning. I had ordered these with Christmas money, and they all look very good. I have already read chunks of Schmemann's book whilst my computer has been inoperative. It has some very helpful observations. Expect some quotes on Sacramental Blog in the near future. If I manage to find a bit of time in the next few days I might also be able to write up my notes on my second study on worship and post them too.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

I was playing football yesterday and my foot collided quite strongly with someone else's, twisting my ankle around. It felt funny afterwards, but I played on for the next three-quarters of an hour, without feeling too much pain. In retrospect this was a bit stupid, because later on in the evening it began to become very painful. This morning I am unable to put any real weight on it. This is the third time the same ankle has given up on me in six months. It has always been weak, but this time it feels that bit worse than it has on previous occasions. I look kind of silly hopping and hobbling around, but I hope that this doesn't mean that I will have to avoid putting too much pressure on it in the future. I would really miss playing regular football.
Mark Mattison's 'The Paul Page' has now moved to this location. For those of you who have not yet visited this site, it is an invaluable resource for articles on Paul and the New Perspective. The new site no longer has the annoying pop-ups of the older site. Also, Tim Enloe's Grace Unknown site is back online. Again, if you haven't visited this, do take the time to have a look.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

24 — Season 1 This really isn't the sort of thing that you want to have delivered to your door a week before a major Greek exam.

On March 23, 1903, Lizzie J. Magie, a young Quaker woman living in Virginia, applied to the US Patent Office for a patent on a board game she had invented as an easy, fun-filled method of teaching the evils of land monopolism. Lizzie Magie was an ardent follower of the single tax movement originated by Philadelphia-born Henry George, who began preaching in San Francisco circa 1869 that the economic rent of land and the unearned increase in land values profited a few individuals rather than the majority of the people, whose very existence produced the land values. He therefore advocated a single tax, on land alone, to meet all the costs of government. He thought this would erode the power of monopolies to suppress competition, and equalize opportunities. That was all heady, abstractly theoretical stuff for plain working folks to comprehend. So, Lizze Magie decided to teach it through her playtime invention, which she called "The Landlord's Game." She got her patent on January 5, 1904. It's registered as number 740,626 in the US Patent Office. Copies of the original game board are still available.
A revisionist history of Monopoly.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Steve Cisler, a resident of Silicon Valley and former employee of Apple cuts the 'umbilical cord' and goes offline. He decides to stoop to the level of mere mortals and interact with people who have not yet been baptized into the self-transcendence of cyberspace. However, like a departed saint he does not wish to be unremembered and a friend will publish a regular newsletter from him on his weblog. The religious language that permeates the article is interesting. Whilst it is only half-serious, there is enough truth in it to suggest that a book-length Christian critique of the Internet as a medium might be worthwhile.
Every once in a while I get an e-mail like the one below (posted as I received it). I really wonder what sort of person would respond to something like this:—

Dear Friend I am a Branch Manager with STANDARD TRUST BANK(STB), My name is Mr.JOHN PETERS,a Banker. I am the personal Account Manager to the ENGINEER Ken Connie, a National of your country, who used to work with shell Development company in Nigeria. Here in after shall be referred to as my client On April 21, 2000 my client,his wife, and their three children were involved in a car accident along Sagamu express way. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost theirlives.Since then I have made several inquiries to your embassy to locate any of my clients extended Relatives,this has also proved unsuccessful.After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to trace his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you. I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the money and property left behind by my client before they Get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this huge deposits were lodged, particularly the STANDARD TRUST BANK PLC. Where the deceased had an account Valued at about ($10 million u s dollars) has Issued me a notice to provide the next of kin. Or have the account confiscated within the next ten official working days. Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over 2 years now, I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased so that this account valued at ($10million u s dollars) can be paid to you and then you and me Can share the money.70% to me and 30% to you An attorney will be contracted to help. All I require is your honest cooperation to enable us see this deal through. I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you. from any breach of the law. Please get in touch with me by my email or better still call me for more detail on how i intend to carry out this transaction with you. Do include your private phone and fax numbers in your response to my mail, hoping to hear from you soonest.Please repy to my private and confidential email address (jpstd2000@yahoo.com) Best regards Mr JOHN PETERS

I must admit, I have never been able to figure out why all of these letters come from people claiming to be associated with Nigeria in some way. I would have thought that this con would have been sufficiently well-known for alarm bells to start ringing as soon as you see the word 'Nigeria'.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Do take the time to read this thought-provoking blog:— Radical Orthodoxy Round Table

European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular. That conviction has had crucial, indeed lethal, consequences for European public life and European culture; indeed, that conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe’s contemporary crisis of civilizational morale. That crisis of civilizational morale, in turn, helps explain why European man is deliberately forgetting his history. That crisis of civilizational morale helps us understand why European man is abandoning the hard work and high adventure of democratic politics, seeming to prefer the false domestic security of bureaucracy and the false international security of the UN system. That crisis of civilizational morale is why European man is failing to create the human future of Europe.
Whilst I disagree with a number of the views expressed in this article, it does provide an interesting analysis in places. I don't think that it applies to Britain quite as clearly as it applies to Europe. I would find it almost impossible to think of myself as 'European', except in America. It is important to appreciate that British identity has always been distinct from European identity. The fact that we are an island nation has affected our view of the world and Europe in particular profoundly. One thinks of the memorable headline at the turn of the last century: Storm in Channel; Continent Isolated. Also the fact that we had an Empire upon which the sun never set — God would never trust us in the dark! — has served to mould our self-understanding in a manner that makes us quite distinct from the Europeans.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

This parrot is 104-years-old, foul-mouthed and may have belonged to Winston Churchill. That's some bird!
Tim Gallant responds to James White. He also makes these helpful comments. Kevin Johnson also has some good comments to make on the issue.
17 year-old student Mike Rowe vs. Corporate Giant Microsoft.

At the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity is the notion of perichoresis — the interpenetration of each part by each other, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The diversity of the Trinity is also its unity and its strength; it gains from the different characters and functions of its members. So it is with the UK, and with that much maligned sense of Britishness that speaks to so many beyond our shores of openness, tolerance and ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.

It seems to me that the popularity of dispensationalism in many quarters of the church can be largely attributed to the fact that people realize that the gospel commonly preached in evangelicalism is an utterly unconvincing dénouement to the story of the Old Testament. People believe that the gospel taught by the New Testament is to be understood to be invisible, internal, eternal, private, individual, spiritual and subjective. Many of these descriptions are valid. However, they are seen to be opposed to the message of the Old Testament, which concerns a visible, external, temporal, public, corporate, physical and objective community. How the Church can function as the fulfilment of Israel’s hope is beyond the understanding of many people. The merely functional ecclesiology of much of evangelicalism seems to be so utterly removed from the sort of community seen in the Old Testament as to make it impossible to bridge the gap. The expectations of Israel seem to be utterly sidestepped by the ‘gospel’ as many understand it. There are so many loose threads left in the narrative that people begin to become embarrassed by it. This embarrassment is the seedbed of dispensationalism. If the Old Testament narrative is to find resolution it must be somewhere other than the Church. I believe that this perceived incongruity of the two testaments results from a misreading of Romans and Galatians in particular. In many circles the gospel has been equated with a particular narrow understanding of justification by faith. This doctrine of justification by faith has to do with how the individual gets saved, and only applies to the church as a second step once it has passed through the bottleneck of the individual heart. The doctrine of justification outlined above is not bad because it is wrong; it is bad because it seriously reduces the biblical message. It tells half of the truth and pretends that it is the whole truth. Our whole understanding of salvation has been infected with individualism. Many believe that any community created by the gospel must grow out of individual human hearts. When we talk about such things as regeneration we mean an individual heart change, rather than a cosmic renewal that we become part of in the Church. Of course, this cosmic regeneration we participate in within the Church certainly changes us personally. Individual consciousness and identity is formed within the life of community. We are who we are because of our relationships. I am a Christian because I have been baptized into the Church. I am called to be faithful in my new identity by responding to the wrestling of the Spirit who indwells this community. Were it not for my ‘givenness’ and my ‘givingness’, I would have no personal identity. By starting with the autonomous self-defining individual whose true identity is untouched by such things as baptism, how can we claim to be Christian in our approach? Much of evangelicalism has assumed a particular philosophy that privileges the ‘internal’, the ‘private’ and the ‘individual’. In such a framework that which is ‘external’, ‘public’ and ‘corporate’ is distrusted as lacking in ontological weight. ‘External’ things such as personal relationships are grafted onto man’s more essential private, internal and individual being. If such a being is to be saved then something must happen to them inside; some metamorphosis must take place in their essential being. If such a being is to know that he is saved he must dredge the murky depths of his subconscious to find out. Salvation, if it is to be real, must exist in the internal realm; the external realm is little more than dancing shadows. Being made part of the Eucharistic community by baptism may be a ‘manifestation’ of (individual) salvation, but it should never be confused with salvation itself. This sort of approach, of course, leads to silly questions like: Will I lose my salvation if I am sinful and don’t attend church? If my external relationships are really only grafted onto the ‘real me’ then such questions are natural. All of this is radically different from the outlook of the Old Testament. Whilst we should expect the New Covenant to be very different from the Old Covenant, I do not believe that it should represent an utter disjuncture, but a full but surprising resolution. I am convinced that the time had come to send some well-worn theological terms to the dry-cleaners. These terms include, among others: ‘regeneration’, ‘justification’, ‘election’, ‘church’, ‘salvation’, ‘faith’, ‘grace’ and ‘law’. These terms, so sullied by individualistic philosophies, are the bedraggled garments that clothe the glorious gospel in many evangelical churches today. I long to see the day when the gospel is once more seen in all its finery, when terms like the ones above are delivered from their exile in a Cartesian Babylon. Individualism has emasculated the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation of the new world order introduced by the triumphal victory of Christ over the Satan. The gospel is a public fact. The gospel tells us that we all have to pledge allegiance to and entrust ourselves to the new Lord of the world, Jesus the Messiah. The gospel is far, far bigger than the individual human heart. The gospel creates new communities, moulded by such practices as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We deny the gospel by dividing with people who proclaim the Lordship of Christ, rather than by seeking to be drawn closer together. Fundamentalism, which is continually talking about defending the true gospel, is more practiced at denying it by continually dividing than almost any other part of the Church. As the gospel proclaims a new world order established by Jesus the Messiah, the Church can never merely be an implication of the gospel — it is the gospel. The Church is the salvation that the world has been waiting for. Individualism enables us to preach a gospel that is accommodated to the prejudices of our cultures. The rulers of this world are not challenged by a Church that teaches a voluntaristic membership. This is a club, not a Church. If the Church is truly a new society then infant baptism is necessary. Any consistent denial of the practice will leave the State free to rule the public sphere. ‘Jesus is Lord of all and Caesar isn’t’ is proclaimed when we surrender our children to God in baptism. I believe that the best way to recapture the message of the gospel is to retell the biblical story again, beginning from Act 1, Scene 1, rather than from the final act. If we are to grasp the sword of the gospel by the hilt, we must begin with the Old Testament. The mistreatment that the Old Testament has received in the hands of individualistic evangelicals has to be exposed for what it is. A Church that is unable to seriously engage with the Old Testament should not be trusted with the New Testament. Personally I would prefer not to keep going on about such issues. However I remain unconvinced that that the errors of evangelicalism on this issue are slight. I believe that they are errors of huge proportions. Only if we presume the priority of the individual will we be able to excuse the serious nature of these problems.

The Vatican has hosted a concert of classical music aimed at fostering reconciliation among Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Pope John Paul II, Israel's two chief rabbis and leading Muslim clerics were among the audience for a first performance of a new choral work by an American composer.

The Vatican says the musical evening was intended to promote the commitment to peaceful co-existence among all the children of Abraham.

Read the whole article here.
The Church of England is being asked to take its biggest step towards accepting the primacy of the Pope and the concept of infallibility since Henry VIII broke from Rome 450 years ago. A joint Roman Catholic and Anglican report arguing that the Pope should be recognised as the "universal primate" is to be debated by the General Synod next month.
Read the rest here.
This looks quite beautiful.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Dave's brother Steve passed away at about 9a.m. yesterday morning. Thank you to those of you who prayed. Dave has told me that he has really known God's strengthening and presence over the last few days. Please continue to pray for Dave and his family as they try to come to terms with their loss.

Friday, January 16, 2004

A response to James White 

I have just read Dr. James White’s criticisms of Tim Enloe on his blog. I felt that I might take a few moments to engage with some of Dr. White’s claims as Tim is not going to. The following are merely some of my own thoughts on the issues raised; I do not claim to be speaking for anyone else. I would echo Tim in saying that Dr. White needs to find other people to engage with on this issue. Tim is certainly very sharp, but to my knowledge he is a layman and has not been ordained to a position in the church. Whilst laymen like myself and Tim may discuss these issues, if Dr. White wishes to engage with people on this subject I believe that he should first seek out people who have been ordained to teaching positions within the church. Failing this, he should look for qualified academics, which neither Tim or I am. If the best representative of a particular position is an undergraduate like Tim (or an unqualified layman like myself), then something’s seriously wrong somewhere. The New Perspective The following are some brief thoughts on some of the issues that Dr. White raises. I’ll start with some comments on the New Perspective. Dr. White writes:—
The issue of whether there is, in fact, a positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness or not (the issues relating to New Perspectivism) is vital to how we view ourselves, our relationship to God, our standing in Christ, and any number of pastoral questions and issues.
I believe that the charge that the New Perspective rejects the essence of the doctrine of imputation is unfounded for a number of reasons. It should be obvious to Dr. White if he has read New Perspective material in any depth whatsoever that it is not about Paul’s understanding of imputation, but about Second Temple Judaism. I presume that Dr. White is thinking more specifically about the theology of N.T. Wright. I don’t believe that N.T. Wright undermines the central concerns of the Reformed doctrine of imputation; I hope to demonstrate this sometime in the next few months when, God-willing, I will post a full treatment (10,000+ words) of the subject on this blog. Wright rejects the traditional formulation for what I believe are biblical reasons. His approach on the subject is rigorously exegetical (see his Romans commentary in particular). If Dr. White has engaged with this exegesis anywhere, I would be very interested to see it. Christian Knowledge Dr. White writes:—
Folks, the foundation of the Christian life is knowing who God is, what He has done in Christ, and that I have peace with God not because of anything I have done but solely because of what Christ has done. Until that relationship of peace is established and understood, the rest is just window dressing. You can sprinkle water on somebody’s noggin until they drown, but without that foundation you will never build a proper, balanced Christian life.
I appreciate much of what Dr. White is saying here. However, I do have to take issue with a few points. The foundation of my Christian life is not my knowledge of who God is, what He has done in Christ, and that I have peace with God not because of anything I have done but solely because of what Christ has done. My Christian life is founded upon the reality of these things, not upon my knowledge of their reality. This is no small distinction. Someone can taste of the reality without being able to articulate it in an orthodox manner. Of course, what Dr. White says would be nearer the truth if you grant a broader meaning to the word ‘knowing’, along the lines of ‘tasting the reality’ (just as an infant can know a relationship with its mother without being able to intellectually articulate it). However, the wording of his statement does not make this reading easy. Furthermore, if he granted this, much of the rest of his argument would collapse. The Nature of the Christian Faith Much of Dr. White’s argument at this point rests on the assumption that baptism itself is not part of the ‘foundation’ of the Christian life. This does not surprise me. Dr. White, like most other Reformed Baptists, treats the Christian faith as something that is fundamental a system of doctrinal truths. The Church is ultimately bound together by common ideas, rather than by participating together in common practices and a common life. He should not be surprised that I strongly disagree with him. Our theologizing does not have to do with some abstract system of doctrine. Regeneration, justification and election are not abstract truths about how the individual is to be saved. They are facts, realities that are known within the physical, temporal and visible Church. These realities should be seen in the worship of the Church when she is faithful to Christ. The Church is not some abstract doctrine; it is a living reality. Our doctrine of the Church should not be too dissimilar from an OT ‘doctrine of Israel’. An OT ‘doctrine of Israel’ could never be abstract; it had to deal with the imperfect historical community of Israel. In a similar manner, our ‘doctrine of the Church’ must take into account the reality of the Church, in all its historical complexity and imperfection. Reformed Baptists try to define the Christian faith in such a way as to render any historical ecclesiastical community as peripheral. The Christian faith is fundamental a system of doctrinal truths. The church is the group of people who believe these truths. Of course, we can never know who really believes these truths deep down inside so a merely functional ecclesiology is generally adopted. I am convinced that the Christian faith is primarily to be understood as a public fact, rather than as a private belief system. Seeing a Christian society can never be a marginal concern to the gospel. The creation of a Christian society lies at the very heart of the gospel. The Church is the new nation in the midst of the world. The nations of the world are called to submit to the Lord of all — Jesus Christ. As the gospel is the public fact of Christ’s universal Lordship, I think that chopping down pagan trees is a perfectly reasonable way of going about proclaiming it. And, for Dr. White’s information, I don’t believe that this necessarily demands that we hold a particular form of postmillennialism. Can Baptists be Reformed? Defining the Christian faith in such a manner is one of the ways in which some Baptists can define themselves as ‘Reformed’, whilst denying the validity of the Reformers’ baptisms. They often claim that the Reformed faith is essentially TULIP and that the sacramental theology and practice of the Reformers and their ecclesiology are really peripheral to these more important issues. To me this smacks of hubris. It would be like my claiming the title ‘Eastern Orthodox’ whilst claiming that the Eastern Orthodox views of Mary and the use of images in worship are just peripheral. I have no right to claim this when the Eastern Orthodox tradition disagrees with me. ‘Reformed’, just like the term ‘Eastern Orthodox’ belongs to an ecclesiastical tradition, rather than to a set of abstract propositions rattling around in an individual’s skull. Baptists have a tradition to be proud of in many, many respects. But it is not the Reformed tradition. The Reformers did not believe that infant baptism was peripheral to their faith and I think it is fair to say that they would be more inclined to be ecumenical with Catholics than with Baptists. In case someone thinks that I am being overly harsh on Reformed Baptists at this point, I would point out that the definition above makes my claims to being ‘Reformed’ tenuous also. I am a member of a Reformed Baptist church, and happily so. I am happily a member of this church because I believe that the church’s purpose is primarily to incarnate people, not ideas or beliefs (as Zizioulas observes). The idea of the church as a confessional entity is not altogether helpful in this respect. We need to be more careful about our use of language. Only people who have a very low view of the sacraments and the Church (obviously not the Reformers) would define anti-Arminian Baptists as ‘Calvinistic’ or ‘Reformed’. Much of Dr. White’s criticism rests upon a view of the sacraments that sees them as little more than ‘visible’ expressions of belief in particular propositions and fails to recognize the formative role that common practices such as Trinitarian baptism play within the Church. Are Roman Catholics Brothers? I believe that we ought to recognize Roman Catholics as our brothers. I believe this for a number of different reasons. Firstly, they are part of a church that has historically been faithful. Whilst I deny that Mormons are part of the true Church, Roman Catholics most certainly are. Secondly, the Church exists where people are gathered together by the Word and the sacraments. Despite their mistaken understanding in many areas, the sacraments are still administered among them. The false doctrine of transubstantiation does not, in my opinion, empty the Supper of its significance, no more than the memorialism of most evangelical churches empties their celebration of the Supper of any significance. Their doctrine of baptism may be mistaken (I also believe that the standard evangelical understanding of baptism is also mistaken), but it is still administered among them. The Roman Catholic church may be far from perfect, but so is the evangelical church. Thirdly, the gospel is also proclaimed among them. They may have many errors, but the essential gospel message is still taught. We must not forget that the gospel is grossly distorted in many supposedly evangelical churches. Often the attention given to Roman Catholic abuses can serve to draw the attention away from our own abuses. Roman Catholics may be in error at many points. However, they hold to the Apostles’ Creed, which I believe teaches the essential gospel message. They hold to the Trinity and to an orthodox Christology. I would have problems with anyone who believes that we must believe more than these things if we are to be saved. They hold a number of doctrines which I believe compromise these truths. However, until they explicitly deny the validity of the doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed, the Trinity and the Person of Christ, they should be treated as fellow Christians, although they still harbour serious errors. Justification by Faith in Practice The doctrine of justification means that individuals are saved by believing the gospel proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Nothing else is necessary. To claim that belief in justification by faith alone is necessary if we are to be justified is to deny the doctrine. As Turretin observed, the doctrine of justification is a ‘negative and excluding doctrine’. It is not necessary that we believe justification if we are to be saved. However, a denial of justification will compromise (although not deny) certain doctrines that are central to our faith. In practice justification means that individuals are saved by believing in Jesus. The Christian church is marked out by a common confession of ‘Jesus is Lord’. To refuse to fellowship with people who seek to be faithful to Jesus as Lord on the grounds that they do not accept the doctrine of justification by faith alone as we understand it is to compromise the doctrine. This is not lowest common denominator ecumenicalism; this is recognizing the distinction between that which is essential and that which is secondary. Our Protestant distinctives are very, very important and I do not want to see them compromised in any way. It is my commitment to the truth of justification by faith alone that forms the foundation of my conviction that we should recognize Catholics who confess Jesus as Lord as our brothers. We are saved by believing the gospel (i.e. Jesus is Lord), not by holding a particular soteriology.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I have just posted A Critique of Murray’s defence of Paedobaptism on Sacramental Blog. Unfortunately, I think the comments option is still playing up.
Urgent Prayer Request
We have just heard from my friend Dave that his brother Steve has gone into a coma. Dave has been one of my best friends over the last few years and has been a real blessing to the church here. We have been praying for his brother Steve for a while now. He was diagnosed with cancer some time back and things have been terrible for Dave since then. One day things look hopeful and the next day that hope seems to be snatched away. I would really, really appreciate if you could join with us in praying for Steve, Dave and the family. Please pray that somehow God would use this situation to bring about the salvation of Steve and the rest of Dave's family. Please pray that Dave would be granted the strength that he needs at this incredibly difficult time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

How long does it take you to guess who wrote the following?—

The rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in so-called Reformed churches takes many forms.

Some deny that Christ earned anything for his people, because, they say, contradicting Scripture, God never deals with his creatures in terms of merit or justice, but only in terms of grace, which is unearned.

Some deny the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers, declaring imputation to be a legal fiction. One renowned New Perspective author, N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church, is so opposed to the idea of imputed righteousness that he compares the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to passing gas.

Some say faith alone is not enough; that one must also work (obey, remain faithful) in order to be justified, or to stay justified. These claim James as their authority, twisting his words to contradict Paul and to fit their works-religion.

Some say faith is enough, but the only faith that justifies is an obedient faith, a faith-with-works, for faith-apart-from-works cannot justify, they say, contradicting Scripture.

Some deny that Christian faith is knowledge, asserting that it is a personal encounter, or a personal relationship, or membership in a covenant community. They say that those who think we are saved by knowledge, such as the Apostle Peter, are Gnostics.

One of these miscreants has published a book in which he maintains that “Christianity is Gnostic.” To quote from an advertisement for (and endorsement of) his book in Douglas Wilson’s magazine Credenda/Agenda, “The Bible never mentions Christianity. It does not preach Christianity, nor does it encourage us to preach Christianity. Paul did not preach Christianity, nor did any of the other apostles.... The Bible speaks of Christians and of the Church, but Christianity is Gnostic.... we must stand against Christianity.” The author of this book, Peter Leithart, is “Senior Fellow of Theology and Literature” at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. His boss is Douglas Wilson, author of many cunningly devised fables. Leithart is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church of America.

Those attacking Christianity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ fail to consult Scripture to see what faith is and does. But one theologian has: Gordon H. Clark, etc., etc.

If you haven't guessed already, look here.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, DeterminismHaving just read a discussion of homosexuality on David Heddle’s blog, I thought that I might post some comments on the subject of genetic explanations for homosexuality. I recently read Steven Rose’s book Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, Determinism. Steven Rose is an atheist and holds to a materialistic worldview. However, he does have some interesting criticisms to raise against those who claim that our behaviour is determined by our genes. Rose argues that adequate explanations of our lives should not be explained in terms of nature or nurture; ‘the phenomena of life are always and inexorably simultaneously about nature and nurture.’ Rose takes issue with approaches to explaining behaviour that imply that ‘the world is divided into mutually incommensurable realms of causation.’ We need to learn to be suspicious of the ‘seductive dichotomies’ that we are all too often presented with. Rose argues that neurogenetic determinism is based on a ‘faulty reductive sequence whose steps include reification, arbitrary agglomeration, improper quantification, belief in statistical ‘normality’, spurious localization, misplaced causality, dichotomous partitioning between genetic and environmental causes, and the confounding of metaphor with homology.’ Reification Reification changes a dynamic process into a static phenomenon. For instance, reification converts violence into aggression. Violence refers to particular forms of interaction between individuals. Reification gives us aggression as something which can be abstracted and studied in isolation from the ‘interactive system’ in which violence occurs. The dynamic process has become something static that can be studied in the test-tube. If violence, sexuality, love and other such things can only occur in the context of real relationships then it is dangerous to believe that we can abstract them and study them in isolation from these contexts without confusing ourselves. Arbitrary Agglomeration Arbitrary agglomeration is closely related to reification. It takes many widely different forms of behaviour and categorizes them all as a ‘reified’ manifestation of ‘some unitary underlying property’. Under ‘aggression’ or ‘antisocial behaviour’ we might find rape, angry outbursts, hooliganism, arson and other such things. It should be clear that an act cannot be abstracted from its context in which it occurs, nor can it be ‘reified’. Taking one’s own life might in a particular context be courageous (e.g. Captain Oates); in another context it is the terrible sin of suicide. The meaning of an action cannot truly be understood apart from the circumstances in which it takes place. We should be very wary of how we classify a range of different actions, in different circumstances, under such a category as ‘aggression’. Improper Quantification TechnopolyImproper quantification argues that reified and agglomerated characters can be given numerical values.’ We like to believe that by measuring everything we can control them. Neil Postman has some very helpful observations on this issue in Technopoly. Improper quantification turns intelligent behaviour into some kind of static ‘intelligence stuff’ in our heads that can be quantified. IQ tests take a whole range of different human mental abilities and reduce them to one number. IQ tests often run on the ‘what this net doesn’t catch isn’t fish’ principle. They begin by presuming a particular understanding of intelligence to which a specific quantification can be given. Statistics and the Norm All too often people presume that the distribution of scores (e.g. from an IQ test) in any given population must approximate to a ‘normal’ distribution (a bell-shaped curve). If the test results do not form such a curve, then the test must be reformulated to produce such a distribution. Furthermore, many other assumptions determine the form of the test. For example, if girls outperform boys, the IQ test must be reformulated on the assumption that sex should not be a factor in IQ scores (this may not happen, however, when comparing results between blacks and whites). Prior ideological commitments can produce self-supporting data. A further problem is that a statistical pattern can be understood to imply biological necessity. The word ‘normal’ in statistics tell us something about the way things are; however, it does not tell us about the way things ought to be. The ‘normal’ distribution can never be normative. Spurious Localization Spurious localization has given us such things as the ‘gay gene’. Rose writes:—
Having reified processes into objects and arbitrarily quantified them, the reified object ceases to be a property even of the individual, but instead becomes a property of part of the individual.
Such things as homosexuality and aggression are ‘located’ in certain parts of our physical make-up. This is the sort of reasoning that explains such complex actions such as murder by referring to a part of a man’s anatomy or chemical balance.
The expression of same-sex preference is scarcely a stable category, either within an individual’s lifetime or historically — indeed, that ‘homosexual’ might be used as a term to describe an individual, rather than part of a continuum of sexual activities and preferences available to all, seems to have been a relatively modern development. What the reductionist argument does is to remove the description of sexual activity or preference from being part of a relationship between two individuals, reify it and turn it into the phenotypic ‘character’ resulting from one or more abnormal, gay genes. As always, it deprives the term of personal, social or historical meaning, as if to engage in same-sex erotic activity or even to express a same-sex preferred orientation meant the same in Plato’s Greece, Victorian England and San Francisco in the 1960s.
Misplaced Causation By reification and spurious localization we associate certain behavioural patterns with particular causative agents. We forget that a particular chemical imbalance may not be the cause of ‘alcoholism’, but a consequence or correlation. We should not confuse the chain of cause and effect. ‘After all, when one has toothache one can alleviate the pain by taking aspirin, but it does not follow that the cause of the toothache is too little aspirin in the brain.’ Dichotomous Partitioning Once we have argued that various behavioural patterns are caused by hormonal imbalances, or other such things, we are left with the question of what causes these things. More often than not, our genes are seen to provide the answers. The fact that most human attributes and beliefs show very high heritability statistics does not mean that the attribute or belief can be attributed wholly to the genes. The general result of such an approach is ‘to transfer the burden of explanation, and if appropriate of intervention, from the social or even the personal level to that of pharmacological or genetic control.’ Confounding Metaphor with Homology If first causes are genetic, to study such behaviour we need to find a model in which the behaviour can be more readily controlled, manipulated and quantified. If first causes are genetic then it is all too easy to argue on the basis of physiological and biochemical mechanisms associated with the aggression observed in an animal model (e.g. mice in a cage) to equivalent factors in human aggression. ‘Aggression’ in mice might be analogous to ‘aggression’ in humans. Indeed, the ‘aggression’ of a mouse might well be utterly incomparable with ‘aggression’ in humans. Rose argues that the methodology of reductionism can be very misleading when we try to deal with the complexities of the real world. Furthermore, reductionist methodology can result in reductionist philosophy, where all of science is physics, for instance. Rose claims that we require ‘epistemological diversity in order to understand the ontological unity of our world.’ Violent behaviour should not be explained by a particular gene in an individual, rather than by a variety of different social, personal and other factors. Sins like homosexuality can be blamed upon a person’s genetic make-up, rather than upon their sinful nature (we should not confuse the sinful nature with genetic make-up). Often the most important thing that we can do is to accurately define our problems. The reductionist approach, by trying to explain everything in terms of genetics, causes us to address our problems in the wrong way. Homosexuals may have a certain genetic tendency that contributes something to their homosexual desire. However, to fail to offer multiple forms of explanation is to fall into the reductionist trap. Many of the errors that Rose identifies can be found in some areas of modern medicine that fail to recognize the wholeness of man. They also can provide something of an antidote to those who would excuse such sins as homosexuality by appealing to genetic determinism.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

I will probably be quite quiet over the next few weeks. I have a lot of work to do for college and am hoping to catch up on some reading that I have set for myself. At the moment I am particularly enjoying reading Peter Leithart's The Priesthood of the Plebs, Fergus Kerr's Theology After Wittgenstein, Alexander Schmemann's The Eucharist and John Goldingay's Old Testament Theology, Volume 1: Israel's Gospel. I am also reading through the material of The Knox Theological Seminary Colloquium on the Federal Vision. Each one of these books is invaluable and very stimulating. I might get around to posting something on them when college work eases up and I have got some other things out of the way (e.g. concluding posts on Justification and Catholicity — no, I haven't forgotten! — and my discussion of Zizioulas' anthropology and soteriology).

Retired couple conquer the Channel in a canal boat

When Terry and Monica Darlington retired last year, they decided on two things - they wanted to visit Paris and also to have a bit of excitement in their lives.

In the end they went for both, and plumped for risking their lives by sailing their canal boat for seven and a half hours across the English Channel to France.

Sitting just two feet off the water and with a top speed of seven miles per hour, Mr Darlington, 68, admitted that the 60ft, flat-bottomed narrow boat was hardly equipped to face the rigours of two of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.


The couple and their whippet, Jim, set off on their seven-month, 1,000-mile journey last April from their home in Stone, Staffs, sailing the Phyllis May down through the country's canal network to Ramsgate, Kent, from where they crossed to Calais in an "epic" journey, weaving in and out of cross-Channel ferries and other traffic.

Read the whole article here (if you are in America you may not be able to access this for free).
Tintin is 75 today.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

For anyone who hasn't visited Just Mark recently, do make the effort. Mark has just linked to a online book on the subject of the AAPC controversy — well worth a read. He also has an open e-mail from a WTS professor that is must reading.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I have just posted the first part of a three or four part study on worship on Sacramental Blog.

Next month sees the launch of a unique new political party. A party with no policies, no ideology and, initially at least, no leader.

Your Party aims to break the mould of British politics by being the first party "directly controlled by the citizens".

Rather than a founding principle or set of beliefs, it will start with a blank piece of paper.

The idea is to canvass opinions and ideas from hundreds of online "participants", before formulating a set of policies to put to the electorate.

Frankly the idea of the average British voter having even more say in government scares me silly. Only those who idealize a world without leadership would like this sort of idea. Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Indeed, the cross itself, as it appears throughout Paul’s theology, is the central symbol of all that Paul was doing in transforming both Judaism and paganism. He lived by it himself, making his own life a walking, breathing symbol of the gospel: ‘I am crucified with the Messiah; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but the Messiah lives in me.’ That sharp and pregnant statement, which summarizes not only Paul’s personal spiritual experience but also Paul’s whole theological, cultural and political stance, could serve as a heading over all his life-work, and over all genuinely Christian cultural transformation. And at the heart of that transformation, as far as Paul is concerned, are cross-shaped communities, little true-Israel cells, little families of people who are learning to think straight with the true wisdom, little outposts of a counter-empire, giving allegiance to Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar.
Transforming the Culture by N.T. Wright
Even though I am a Brit, Steve Waugh is one of my cricketing heroes. It is a pity that we will never see him play another Test match. I also wonder how his departure will affect the Australians' position in international cricket. For those among you who do not have a clue what cricket is about, here is a helpful description:—

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.

Each man that's in goes out and when he's out, he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out.

When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.

When both sides have been in and out, including the not outs — that's the end of the game.

Only the English could invent a game that lasts for five days and ends in a draw.

Monday, January 05, 2004

And now for something truly bizarre... A forklift truck driver in a remote Australian town might be the rightful king of England.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Thoughts on a Christian Response to Homosexuality 

Many Christians have rightly tackled the notion of ‘homophobia’. It is a clever linguistic ploy, which seeks to turn the tables and give those who engage in homosexual practices the moral high ground. However, this is a danger that, in attacking this misuse of language, we fail to identify a sin that can lurk in the area termed ‘homophobia’. Many people in our societies condemn such sins as paedophilia and homosexuality as vocally as possible. Such condemnation can often serve as the means by which a society that has shed all morality can still seek to assert it. By treating those who commit such things as moral lepers, they believe that they can think of themselves as morally clean. For such people a condemnation of homosexuality can serve as a declaration that they are not in need of forgiveness. Moral judgment presupposes self-righteousness. Christians have not always sufficiently spoken out against this approach. Homosexuals and paedophiles can be subjected to vitriolic language. Many Christians have fallen in with the practices of their societies in this respect. It is my concern that we think carefully before doing so. As Christians we must always remember that we confront sin as forgiven sinners. The nature of such an approach should cause us to question our rhetoric when addressing such sins as homosexuality and paedophilia. The rhetoric of hate employed by many in the world is hardly a form of rhetoric that should be adopted by the Christian. The rhetoric of hate loves to place such people beyond forgiveness. This can only occur in a society that denies the truth of divine forgiveness; it should not occur in the church. The fact that many churches merely preach a bare message of condemnation at homosexuals makes me wonder whether we have seriously failed in this area. We need to learn to preach a message that is far more powerful than a message of mere morality. We need to preach a message of gracious forgiveness. Tolerance vs. Forgiveness Far more common in relation to the sin of homosexuality in our societies is the language of tolerance. Tolerance is substituted for forgiveness because the latter is far too unsettling. Tolerance denies the need for moral judgments and the need to speak truthfully about sin. In opposition to these approaches the Church should exemplify a community whose moral judgments are formed by the fact of forgiveness. Many churches have confused the world’s message of tolerance with the biblical message of forgiveness. The biblical message of forgiveness is not a message to reassure people that God is happy with the way they are living. The biblical message of forgiveness is quite radical. It enables us to make truthful moral judgments and yet to still know reconciliation. There are few things more painful than accepting forgiveness. We often focus on how difficult it is to forgive and forget how difficult it is to be forgiven. In the very act of receiving forgiveness we accept the implicit judgment that is being cast upon our actions. As James Torrance observes, God word of forgiveness in the cross is at the very same time the message of judgment and condemnation. By accepting forgiveness we accept that we deserve condemnation. I believe that the strongest condemnation of homosexuality occurs at the cross of Christ. As Emil Brunner observed:—
Real forgiveness would be an event of such a nature that in the very act of removing the great boulder which blocks the path its weight would become still more evident.
Only in the cross is the full depth of the guilt of sin unveiled for what it really is. Forgiveness is costly. Every sinner should learn to interpret his sin in the light of God’s word of condemnation and judgment at the cross. Many Christians believe that to bring the message of the Gospel to people is to fail to condemn their sin. They fail to see that no stronger condemnation of sin could be found than the condemnation we witness in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah at Calvary. If we are to attack the sin of homosexuality as Christians we must attack it with God’s message of forgiveness. If we are to proclaim this message faithfully we have to learn to be a community that speaks candidly about sin. A society of ‘tolerance’ lacks the language and will to speak truthfully about sin. A society of ‘tolerance’ can never truly know the healing of forgiveness. Forgiveness is only possible when we are willing to name our sins. Homophobia The correct response to a society that tolerates homosexuality is not to demonize homosexuals. The correct response is to preach the challenging message of the cross, to stop sinners in their tracks with a message of divine forgiveness. There are too many churches who breathe fire and brimstone whenever homosexuality is mentioned and fail to demonstrate the love for the lost exemplified by our Saviour. There are many homosexuals in our communities who have an unbearable, gnawing thirst for forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation and are confronted with nothing but condemnation, hatred and rejection from the church. We may find it hard to relate to those struggling with homosexuality. I cannot understand what it would be like to struggle with homosexual lust. Nor can I claim to know many people who struggle with these things. Our inability to understand their struggles alienates us from homosexuals. They are ‘other’. We will always be tempted to fear the other. If you have ever had a friend inform you that he is homosexual you will know what I mean — a distance is suddenly created. We can often react to our fears of the ‘other’ in irrational ways. A form of ‘homophobia’ can arise out of this. Our fear is a fear that our identity is being challenged. The idea that a person who struggles with homosexuality belongs to us as a friend challenges our identity. Many respond to this by denying the ‘otherness’ of homosexuality in a bare tolerance. Other people respond by denying any connection with the person struggling with homosexuality, unable to live at peace with the reality of any relationship between the person and themselves. The former friend is made wholly other. How do we overcome this response of fear? I believe that forgiveness is the key. Forgiveness enables us to live at peace with ourselves and with others. Forgiveness means that we do not need to live in denial. Forgiveness means that we need not be afraid to recognize the truth about sin, both within ourselves and within those we relate to. Homophobia often results from our inability to tell ourselves the truth about sin. We feel safe only to the degree that we deny the reality of sin in our lives and histories. People demonize the homosexual because they do not want to be able to relate to him. Relating to the homosexual might force us to start speaking the truth about ourselves. Homophobia might be an indicator of our inability to accept forgiveness. Forgiveness teaches us that security is found in the way of confession and not in the way of denial. Forgiveness challenges our claims to self-possession. Accepting forgiveness renders us powerless. It involves relinquishing our title to the moral high ground and giving control to the one who has forgiven us. There is nothing more threatening than this. The forgiven person has his life determined by God and not by the fact that he is in control. Consequently, he is able to accept the reality of his own sinfulness and no longer seeks to deny it. Living as forgiven people necessitates learning to speak the truth about ourselves. A Brief Answer to Some Objections It might be claimed that my approach leads to a denial of the seriousness of such sins as homosexuality. Surely the homosexual is not forgiven until he repents? Should we not delay the message of forgiveness until the point of repentance? In concluding I will briefly answer these objections. Forgiveness can never be a denial that our sins actually occurred. Nor can it constitute a denial of the seriousness of those sins. God’s forgiveness is not bare tolerance. God’s forgiveness is costly. God was so desirous to know reconciliation with fallen mankind that He sent His Son to the cross of Calvary to obtain it. Forgiveness cannot be received if we are unwilling to accept the justice of the sentence declared against sinful mankind in the death of Christ. For the homosexual, accepting forgiveness involves an acceptance of God’s verdict of condemnation on homosexuality. In effect the homosexual must say: ‘Yes, my sin was so evil that Christ had to die for it.’ Repentance is the ‘amen!’ that we give to the message of divine forgiveness given at the cross. Repentance can never condition God into being gracious. Repentance is the appropriate response to the fact of God’s graciousness. By God’s grace the forgiven person begins to live his life out of the reconciliation that he now knows. His appropriate response to grace is to abide in this renewed relationship by continual confession and cleansing. Were repentance to precede forgiveness, the message of the gospel would become a message of the meritorious nature of human penance — that is, no gospel at all. If we are to address the impenitent homosexual, therefore, we must address him first with the message of divine forgiveness. We must call him to repent and to submit to the sentence that God has passed upon the sin of homosexuality at the cross. We must call him to live a life determined by the forgiveness that confronts the homosexual at the cross of Christ. We must address him as people who have been delivered from denial, people who are at peace with their own histories through the forgiveness of God and can now speak truthfully about sin. We must address him as those who love him and are concerned for his spiritual well-being. We must address him as forgiven people — that is, individuals who have surrendered the moral high ground to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I trust that, as we seek to do so, many men might be delivered from the grasp of this evil sin and know the liberation of forgiveness that we can only enjoy in Christ.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

The Telegraph — Only stupid white men would believe Michael Moore
Of course, America would never consider going to war over oil! Although I think that many of the criticisms thrown at America on this issue are unfair (IMHO, America is not in Iraq just because of the oil), they are not altogether without foundation.
Happy Merry New Year everyone!

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