MOS – Worshipping with Calvin

It’s a while since I listened to the Mortification of Spin but this podcast (Worshipping with Calvin MOS podcast) is definitely worth a listen.

Podcast Notes (Follow podcast Link below)

‘Terry Johnson shows up at the Spin’s “totally awesome” worship band practice. Terry is the pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah and has written Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Reformed Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism.

The crew turns down the instruments, shuts off the spotlights and smoke machine, and listens intently as Terry makes the connection between theology and worship, tracing back to the Reformation period and the solas. He talks about the proper balance of freedom and form, and what the church is supposed to do when gathered on Sundays.

Why should you worship with Calvin? Find out, as you join the conversation.’

http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/podcast/worshipping-with-calvin

 

 

F. F. Bruce – The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable?

The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? by F. F. Bruce. IVP. 6th Edition, 2009.

It’s taken me till now to read this book. And what an excellent book it is. I was very encouraged by reading it. It does have a downside. So let’s get that out of the way first.

The latest reference to any work is 1990. To me, because I’m older, that sounds quite recent – modern even. But when I think it through, that’s 28 years ago! Many of the reference works are much older, even though the research may still stand up. It’s an obvious point of criticism.  I’m sure there are more recent books that build on and enhance the work in this book. A more recent book to recommend is Michael Kruger’s ‘Canon Revisited‘ Nov 2013.

Given that, it’s a great read. It’s very helpful. It isn’t long. Just 141 pages. It has page footnotes which I like, a scripture index, suggested further reading for each chapter, and an index which I also like. If you’ve never read anything on this subject before, this is a great place to start.

In the opening paragraph to his preface (p.7) Bruce writes:

‘Reliable as what?’ asked a discerning reviewer of the first edition of this little work, by way of a comment on the title. His point, I think, was that we should be concerned with the reliability of the New Testament as a witness to God’s self-revelation in Christ rather than with its reliability as a record of historical fact. True; but the two questions are closely related. For, since Christianity claims to be a historical revelation, it is not irrelevant (or irreverent, my comment) to look at its foundation documents from the standpoint of historical criticism’.

He doesn’t shy away from the problems but shows how in terms of their historicity the New Testament documents fair very well. In fact, they fair much better than other ancient texts (ch 2, pp 21-23). He mentions the Chester Beatty (Library) Biblical Papyri. I was able to see some of these on a recent trip to Dublin. I’m not quite sure which ones are referred to in the book but see one of the pictures below I took of the manuscripts.

He takes some time looking at the miracles (ch 5) but points clearly to the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ.

‘This response of faith does not absolve us from the duty of understanding the special significance of the several miracle-stories and considering each in the light of available knowledge, historical research and otherwise, which can be brought to bear upon it. But these are secondary duties; the primary one is to see the whole question in its proper context as revealed by the significance of the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection of Christ’ (p.82).

The chapter on Lukes Gospel (ch 7) was really excellent. Especially so when it came to the accuracy of places, names, and titles. Very encouraging. An obvious point, which I hadn’t thought about, was how there were many writings out there that Luke was able to use in order to write his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles.

Luk 1:1  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,
Luk 1:2  just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
Luk 1:3  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luk 1:4  that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

The most important aspect of the book wasn’t his proof of the NT Documents historicity, which he does admirably, but his confession that it takes a work of the Holy Spirit to make a person alive to Christ. In the final analysis, even if they are accepted as completely reliable, which they are, it’s only the Holy Spirit that can grant repentance and give life. The question Christ asks of us all is ‘Who do you say that I am?’.

Mat 16:13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
Mat 16:14  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Mat 16:15  He said to them, But who do you say that I am?
Mat 16:16  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Mat 16:17  And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

I should have taken notes or made comments and underlining in the book. I didn’t.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend this book to any believer or unbeliever for that matter. If your church has a library, put this book in it.

Here are the Chapter Titles:

  1. Does it matter?
  2. The New Testament documents: their date and attestation.
  3. The canon of the New Testament.
  4. The Gospels.
  5. The Gospel miracles.
  6. The importance of Paul’s evidence.
  7. The writings of Luke.
  8. More archeological evidence.
  9. The evidence of early Jewish writings.
  10. The evidence of early Gentile writers.

‘Tackling Mental Illness Together’ by Alan Thomas – Brief Review

The author is ‘Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at Newcastle University and works as a consultant psychiatrist in the National Health Service’. He is also a ‘church elder with preaching and pastoral responsibilities’. Professor Thomas explains in the introduction that this is not an academic work (as other books he has written) but is for ministers and leaders in the Church. I’m neither, but my wife (Sue) worked for a counseling organisation for several years so I have an interest, albeit as a layman. Also, I have friends that have suffered from or are suffering from some sort of mental disorder and I have experienced in a small measure anguish of the soul and mind. I also believe an appropriate measure of understanding is called for, by Christians of other Christians, that suffer in this way. Professor Thomas is a Christian and is writing from that perspective. My first wife Sue, surrounded as she was at work with political correctness, humanistic thinking and opposition to the Biblical message would have very much appreciated this book.

Just a personal preferential moan so I can get it out of the way. It doesn’t have an index, which is a little disappointing. It would have been helpful. I’m not a big fan of endnotes either but an additional bookmark works well. The endnotes give helpful explanations without being too technical and there’s a Glossary of the most used ‘technical’ terms. For what could be an incredibly dense text, given the subject, the style is easy to read with good divisions and (amusing) headings and at the end of each chapter he gives a bullet summary which again is really helpful.

The book is in stark contrast to the Nouthetic (Biblical) Counselling of Jay Adams.

Thomas lays out the Biblical teaching that we are all made in the image of God and designed for relationships yet fallen. Because we are designed for relationships the church can play an important part in the recovery (for some) and support of those in our churches that suffer from prolonged or continual mental illness. It’s often the carers that need the support. And these aren’t forgotten – especially in the last chapter.

There are several unidentifiable but genuine cases referenced throughout the book with some personal (anonymous) testimonies towards the end. These help to make it all the more relevant. This isn’t fantasy. The more serious cases, such as of schizophrenia, aren’t going to be cured by repentance. There’s a very interesting chapter (ch 6) on Personal Responsibility and Mental Illness.

The last chapter is probably the longest, and most challenging to our churches. I’m left wondering how equipped we are to help and support the mentally ill in our fellowships. How equipped am I?! I feel incredibly inadequate to the task because we will all have suffering Christians in our midst. One of the testimonies laments how when she had a heart attack there was prayer and support. But when she previously had a schizophrenic episode she was expected to ‘pull herself together’. She did say people were privately praying for her and their prayers were answered and that The Lord heard their prayers. Even so, the challenge is there. Physical illness and mental illness can be viewed very differently and yet both are consequences of our fall in Adam.

I don’t want to give much detail because I want you to read the book and be taken along as he builds up his case. He recommends you read it from the start and not turn to the testimonies at the end first. I would agree with this. You need the previous chapters! I’m not a professional or a church leader but I hope the book has at least made me more aware (of treatments) and sensitive to sufferers (and their families) in our fellowships. I have enjoyed reading it. It’s been an informative, challenging and helpful read. From my limited perspective, I heartily recommend it. Church Ministers and Leaders should read it.

Christians aren’t immune to any illness – including Mental Illness – that can overtake us in a fallen world. What of the Non-Christian that might read the book? They will have all the vicissitudes and pain of this life that will pale into insignificance compared with the awful pain of judgment to come unless they embrace The Saviour. It will be the opposite for the Christian; the suffering for the Christian will end and they will ultimately be ushered into the fullness of the Kingdom of Christ that He purchased at such cost – even with His own Blood.

Dr Nick Needham Lecturing on ‘The Synod of Dort’ at Aberystwyth

Dr Nick Needham will be coming to Aberystwyth Saturday 23rd June to give two lectures on The Synod of Dort.

If you are in Aberystwyth do come along. The lectures will take place at Alfred Place Baptist Church. Coffee at 10:30.

Lecture 1 (11:00). What on Earth was The Synod of Dort?

Lecture 2 (14:30). Why Should I Care?

Dr Needham is the author of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power‘ currently in Four Volumes.

Volume 1. The Age of the Early Church Fathers

Volume 2. The Middle Ages

Volume 3. Renaissance and Reformation

Volume 4. The Age of Religious Conflict

(Nick has an overview of the Synod of Dort in Volume 4 of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power’ Chapter 2, Section 2, p 127 – 142.)

 

 

The Gospel plainly stated.

Here’s another one from ‘Voices From The Past Vol 1‘ edited by Richard Rushing (BoT). This is from 14th May and taken from the works of John Flavel (Works, 1:176 – 187). If I’m reading it right he’s distilled eleven pages down to one. The result is a beautiful summary of The Gospel that plainly states the terrible situation of the one outside of Christ but the wonderful security to the one in Christ.

‘The curse of the law is the most dreadful thing imaginable…. Nothing can free the soul but Christ’.

And yet the dead sinner cannot see his predicament. Such is the blindness of man in sin. If you brush it of as mere religious dogma and are completely unaffected, please consider your situation. Call upon The Lord that He May have mercy on you.

12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson (Review Article by Dr John Ling)

Dr John Ling has written a ‘review’ article of ’12 Rules for life’ by Jordan Peterson (Follow this link and go to Articles). So this a few comments on John’s ‘review’. However, a review is understating it! John writes:

This article was not what I originally had in mind – I thought it would be a simple, snappy review.  Instead, it rather ran away with me to the tune of 19,000 words!  Also it has turned out to be a rather unconventional review-cum-synopsis-cum-précis with a multitude of quotations.

Whatever we call it, his review is worth reading. Why? Jordan Peterson is everywhere, mostly on YouTube ‘destroying’ someone. So we (Christians) ought to know something about his book. John’s review is so comprehensive I’m not sure I need to read the real thing now. Especially as it’s gone up to £11.99 I might have to wait for it to appear in The Works for a Fiver!

I should restate, that as far as we know, Dr Peterson is not a Christian – not yet anyway. Please pray for him. Please read the ‘review’. It’s a valuable contribution to The Peterson phenomenon.

One more quote from John:

It is reminiscent of the Enlightenment’s doomed attempt at Christian virtue without embracing Christian truth – a wanting the fruits without the roots.’  At base level, Peterson’s stance is one of moral rearmament – turn over a new leaf, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Maybe, just maybe, Peterson will come into a full-orbed understanding of true Christianity.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

For all that, given Common Grace, Peterson is saying many things we Christians can support (read the review). I certainly don’t reject him at all. If I do read the book – and I think I ought to – my ‘insights’ will probably be far less insightful but definitely briefer.

Thank you, John, for the article.

 

 

 

Bible Reading: Benefits and Warnings

When I say Bible Reading, I mean systemically reading it through in a year. There are quite a few plans available that take you through the OT and NT in a year. Here are three plans you might like to try.

No 1. The Murray M’Cheyne plan. This takes you through the whole Bible and through the Psalms and NT twice. It can be a lot of reading but then you do get Psalms and NT twice. Obtainable from The Banner of Truth to buy (cheap) or free to print off Here.

No 2. This plan is similar, going through the whole Bible once, so slightly less to read. Available Here.

No 3. Finally, there’s Reading it chronologically. Available to print off Here.

The advantage of the Chronological plan is you read events, Psalms and Prophets in ‘real time’. The disadvantage with this plan is you won’t reach the NT till October! So it is a bit lopsided. This is the plan I use, but as a ‘corrective’ I read a separate NT plan as well.

Go Here for more plans.

I accept there are many ways to ‘do’ your private devotions. And there are advantages to some of these methods. For example, some use commentaries or other things like The Geneva Bible notes – which are very good. I’ve never found that way helpful and they will not take you through the whole Bible. It’s my personal conviction that Christians should be primarily reading the Bibles. Ad Fontes if you like.

If I’m reading a book about doctrine or the Bible, I read that in addition to reading The Bible not instead of it. There are hundreds of excellent books out there that will grab our attention, but no matter how good it is, it isn’t The Word of God.

I have found that if I don’t read before I go out, the day and what it brings just takes over and I end up reading it when I’m far from my best, or I have to catch up. I know it isn’t easy with a family and work, but it can (normally) be done – even if, at times, done poorly. You may not agree, but I think better to do it poorly and out of duty than not at all.

Four Brief Benefits then, not necessarily in order of importance:

Benefit One: You get to read it all not just your favourite bits or what’s trending or topical in your particular Church circles. We rightly make much of The Bible and how all our doctrine and practice come from it, but have we read it. All of it. If you are a new Christian then you probably won’t have read through it yet. So let me encourage you to start doing it today.

Benefit Two: This is similar. You are reading what God Himself has decreed to be recorded and preserved. There are lots of things we might like to know that hasn’t been recorded for us but what we have is what God has left for us to read.

Benefit Three: By systematically and regularly reading it you will slowly become familiar with its contents. You will make connections between one Scripture and another. Names and places will begin to stand out and you get a ‘feel’ for the book as a whole.

Benefit Four: As you read pray. Let God’s Word speak to you and guide you. He will bring people, situations, your own failings and the wonder at what God has done for you in Christ before your mind. Thank God and pray.

Benefit Five: I decided to briefly add this one as well. God Himself tells us through His Word of particular benefits. We are warned, informed, encouraged, delighted, sanctified and cleansed! (Eph 5:26)

That’s the benefits. I’m sure there are many more but now for a few warnings.

Warning One: Just because reading it this way works for you – including the benefits – don’t be fooled into thinking God is going to bless you because of it. He might. He might not. It certainly won’t get you into heaven. Only Christ can do that! Take a look at your heart.

Warning Two: It isn’t always going to be great fun. There will be times when it will be a real grind and you’ll only be reading out of habit. The temptation will be to give up because your heart is cold and formal. Welcome to the real world. Press on. Don’t give up. Remember there isn’t just your own sinful heart to contend with, there’s also an enemy that would draw you away from God’s Word.

Warning Three: You find out other Christians aren’t or haven’t read it right through. Pride is always ready to overtake us. Imagine, getting proud for reading The Bible! It happens. However, God has a way of humbling the proud heart.

Warning Four: For whatever reason, there will be times when you will get behind and the task of catching up begins to look impossible. Don’t get overcome with guilt. Either of these options is fine. Option 1. Set some big chunks of time aside and catch up. Maybe a Sunday afternoon. Option 2. Start afresh from where you are and then keep going!

Finally: I might as well warn you now as there’s no way of getting around it, it won’t always be easy, it will take discipline and just sheer doggedness at times to keep going. But those glimpses The Lord will give you of Himself from time to time far out-way the hard work.

I hope you found this helpful and encouraging.

Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers

I was especially struck by the reading today. Christians in other lands know the reality of which we know next to nothing in our country. St Cyprian of Carthage (200 – 258) knew what he was talking about. Rome was at the height of its power. Just a couple of sentences from the brief Bio given at the start of the month.

He proved a wise, moderate, spiritually-minded leader of the mainstream Church amid fierce persecution, and crowned his life as a martyr. When the death sentence was passed on him, Cyprian’s response was simply, “Thanks be to God”.

Very challenging to us. What a bunch of pansies we are. Pray for our persecuted Brethren.

Thanks to Dr Nick Needham for editing the readings. (Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers, Edited by Nick Needham, Christian Heritage)

The Deceitful Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Another translation says the heart is not only deceitful but wicked.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (KJV)

In today’s reading (29th April) from ‘Voices From The Past‘ (Banner of Truth, Edited by Richard Rushing) we are treated to the writing of Thomas Manton (Works, 1:138-144) on the deceitful heart. I’ll probably post more from this book because it’s really excellent. Thanks to The Banner of Truth and Richard Rushing for editing it. There is a ‘Voices From The Past’ Volume 2 but that will have to wait.

If you are someone who isn’t a Christian then read this (below) and understand the dire predicament you are in. If God doesn’t do the work of Conversion in your heart you are without hope (Eph 2:12). The Lord Jesus Christ has said ‘… whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37). If you want to know what’s really wrong with the world then look no further than your own heart. Yes, systems and governments and laws limit its wicked out working to some extent but as Manton says ‘What a miserable, wretched creature man is!’. Even the Apostle Paul cried out ‘O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) But Paul was then able to exclaim from where deliverance comes:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) Can You?

 

Chance Events: Luck, Molecules or God

My bunch of keys sometimes get quite tangled. Maybe you have a set that does the same. The other day they got into such a tangle that it seemed like the only way to sort them out was to take the whole bunch apart. I didn’t have time just then so I put them in my coat pocket to sort another time.

The next day I reached into my pocket, pulled out the bunch of keys and you guessed it, they were completely untangled. I was so stunned by it – they were really tangled – that it got me thinking how this could be. Did the molecules of that bunch of keys just happen to perfectly align as they were before – untangled? I have absolutely no idea.

Was it luck then? Some would call it that. It certainly saved me some time, frustration and maybe a broken nail or two. To some, that explanation makes perfect sense. Not luck you say, that’s just how it is. We simply live in an uncaring impersonal world and my bunch of keys just untangled themselves. Who cares about your keys! But think for a moment and apply the same principle to a cancer diagnosis. It’s still an impersonal uncaring world and the molecules just happened to align into a death sentence or months of treatment. Suddenly it matters. Or what if the molecules uncaringly aligned in the shape of a car and ran you over. Suddenly it’s personal and your impersonal uncaring world is important. The way you see the world changed. It’s personal and it matters.

It’s funny and ‘hip’ (perhaps as a student) to have a poster that says ‘Shit Happens’ Except no one lives like that. Not really. Posters like that are a distraction at best and at worst a terrible lie.  But your attitude to something simple like an untangled set of keys or similar ‘unimportant’ event will speak volumes. One of my sociology lecturers would say, and did say when I briefly discussed ‘meaning’ with him – ‘but what if it doesn’t matter and there is no meaning’. Which is what he seemed to think. Well, what if it doesn’t matter. It’s ok (it isn’t really) to think like that in an academic high tower: but if I had randomly decided to smash his kneecap with a hammer I’m guessing that would matter an awful lot! If nothing else, the pain would communicate meaning.

But instead of it being luck, or a random favourable – or unfavourable – alignment of molecules; what if it were an intervention of God. What we call a Providence of God – good and bad. If we put it down to God that introduces meaning and purpose into even the most unimportant things like my set of keys. It changes everything. No ‘random’ lining up of molecules here.

Just to be clear I am uninterested in suggesting some random deity to hang every occurrence on, good or bad, but rather the Christian God, the God of The Bible, The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Years ago a man I used to work with said ‘The trouble with you Christians is that if anything good happens you put it down to God but if anything bad happens you conveniently blame the devil’. As if God needs excusing. That may be a popular misconception and if it is it could be our fault as Christians for miscommunicating. But I had to explain that both good and bad come from God. In fact, if you’re familiar with the book of Job you might recall the following exchange;

Job 2:9  Then his (Job’s) wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Job 2:10  But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job’s wife foolishly urges him to curse God because of the disaster that had happened. And let’s not call it something it isn’t. When things like this happen it is disastrous. Plastic Christian smiles will do no good in the face of tragedy. We need something substantial. I have observed, as you must have, that wishing someone ‘Good luck’ or ‘All the best’ or even ‘We’re thinking of you’ just doesn’t cut it. It’s good that people wish us well and it may lift our spirits momentarily. And, it might be you will breeze through life without a care in the world and tragedy and heartache will pass you by. It happens. But eventually, there is a God to face. You know this. Which is why I’m linking to a message that lays out the Gospel of Christ briefly but simply and truthfully. Follow this link to a message ‘Why I am a Christian’ by James White.


Since starting this article I bought a copy of Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centred Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. I’m not a mathematician, and there’s a lot of maths in the book! But there’s enough theology and plain sense for me to understand what I’ve read so far. The book is available free as an e-book here.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book introduction:

THE ISSUE OF CHANCE
[He described an incident where his family escaped from a serious ‘accident’]

What do we say about this incident? Some people would say we were “lucky.” We escaped “by chance.” It just happened to be the case that the oncoming cars found room to our left and to our right. Or was it the hand of God’s providence? We felt afterwards as if an angel had pushed the cars to this side and to that. God had sent an angel to protect us. But we did not actually see an angel. Nor did we see a hand reaching down from heaven to move the cars. Was it just our imagination? Was our escape a “miracle,” or was it just an “accidental” result of driver reactions and physical processes?

We escaped. But not everyone does. For every story of a narrow escape, someone else can tell a distressing story of not escaping. Someone tells of being in a horrible auto accident, nearly dying from the injuries, losing an arm or a leg, and spending months recovering. And the accident could have been avoided, if only the oncoming car had swerved a little earlier or a little later. Was the accident “by chance”? Was God in control? If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy? Or do tragic cases involve pure chance, beyond God’s control? And if God is in control, did he actually plan the events beforehand, or did he just react to the unfolding events at the last moment?

Big accidents and near accidents have drama to them. But what about the small things? Yesterday I could not find my checkbook. Today I found it in a pocket of my briefcase where it did not belong. Accidentally, it must have fallen into the wrong pocket when I dropped it into my partially opened briefcase. It got misplaced “by chance,” someone might say.

What about totally unpredictable events, like the flip of a coin or the roll of dice? Every time we flip a coin, the result is unpredictable. It comes up heads or tails “by chance.” What do we mean by the word chance? What is it?