Editors commentary: Theological nerds?


It was a familiar story.
The pastor had left the church after a few years of, sadly, fairly inconsequential ministry. Did I know of anyone I could recommend to take his place?
Probing further led to the comment that the problem with the previous pastor was that he tended to shut himself away in his study. At one level his sermons were excellent. People thought he was a good preacher. But somehow he was a ‘loner’ and there was something that didn’t connect with people. How does a preacher’s character affect his usefulness?

The priority of love
It is perfectly possible for a man to love preaching but not love the people. Sometimes he may not even love Christ (John 21.15-17). Hence things come adrift in churches.
I worry that some young men go to Bible college and think of proceeding into the pastorate almost as a substitute for an academic career. The delight of the theological nerd is to do with having the time to spend hours with fascinating books, and in coffee-sustained solitude to pore over the Puritans or the latest commentaries. He will then write a little essay on his findings and showcase it on Sunday morning to a captive audience. Unsupervised privacy for weekdays plus the celebrity of public ministry on Sundays is for him an ideal combination for job satisfaction.
But congregations need to hear the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15). A Mr. Great-heart is in the pulpit not because preaching is a vehicle for his ego or research interests, but because he loves his flock and longs to do them good. A sermon series is not chosen simply because there is some new monograph out on some book of Scripture which happens to have tickled the preacher’s scholarly fancy, but because, through his continual contact with the people, he is conversant with their spiritual needs, and so leads them into a part of God’s word that addresses their condition.
Even great men can be too detached. Mike Reeves of UCCF mentioned recently that perhaps some of the troubles which the great Jonathan Edwards encountered at Northampton might have been avoided if he had spent less time in the study and more time with people.

Truth through personality
This leads us to another consideration. It is true that the preacher must convey Bible truth and major on Christ rather than drawing attention to himself. Nevertheless, Phillips Brooks had a point when he spoke of preaching as ‘truth through personality’.
True preaching involves the man as well as the message. Bible colleges and training courses must avoid turning out preaching clones who are in such a straightjacket of exegetical method plus formulated application that nothing of who they are in Christ comes through. Biblically, truth is more than just a set of propositions. God’s truth is a living entity which is meant to shape our lives. Therefore something of how the truth has affected the preacher himself ought to be evident. After all, if the truth has not changed him, how can his hearers get excited about what he is saying? The man clothes the message. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was rightly able to say: ‘Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire’.
It is worth counting how often Paul mentions his own Christian experience in his letters. This is not attention seeking. Rather it is personal testimony that the truth works. At the funeral of a friend recently, her brother said that Hilary loved the truth but she wanted more than mere propositions from a preacher; she wanted to see a tear in his eye as a mark that the truth had affected him.

John Benton

This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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One year to live – the story of Esther Childress


One year to live

In the late summer of 2011 Esther was diagnosed with bone cancer.

She was only 12 years old and had just over one year to live. She died in December 2012. But she died in Christ and ‘her hope in God was incredible’, says her sister Miriam.

As a child of the manse, the daughter of Pastor Gavin Childress and his wife Kathy of Grace Baptist Chapel, Tottenham, in North London, Esther did not take to church to begin with. ‘Before I became a Christian’, Esther said, ‘I came to church because I had to, not because I really wanted to. I’d rather stay at my friend’s house or at home.’

The family had six children, including Esther. But ‘I was slowly moving away from God and my family’, said Esther. ‘I was never at home. I would bunk off school and deceive my parents. It wouldn’t really bother me that I was sinning against God and I was gradually becoming not a very nice person.’

But God…

But, through what happened in August 2011, God stepped into Esther’s life. Esther explained: ‘I remember going to St. Ann’s Hospital for an X-ray. I had been getting bad pain in my right leg and I wasn’t able to sleep. I was sent to North Middlesex Hospital for more scans and, shortly after having a biopsy, I was diagnosed with bone cancer’. This came as a great shock to Esther and everyone around her. It had been thought that the problem was simply down to some severe growing pains.

Over the next year or so Esther had six different types of chemotherapy, two operations to remove tumours, radiotherapy and an operation to give her a metal knee. But none of these treatments worked and the cancer eventually spread to her lungs. ‘It was hard going to hospital and keep hearing bad news’, said Esther.

As this terrible crisis broke upon young Esther, God met with her and she turned to Christ. As she gave her testimony before she was baptised last September, she said: ‘I have never felt angry with God or questioned him about why I am going through all of this. I feel like God is testing my faith and this illness was supposed to, and has, brought me closer to him. Over time, as I have needed God more and more, it’s made me put him at the centre of my life, and has made me into a changed person. I know that I am in God’s hands and I’m ready for whatever or wherever he wants my life to go, however hard it might be.’

Amazing Saviour

This sense of confidence in Christ came to pervade Esther’s life. ‘I have put my trust in God and I know he will do what’s best for me in my life. I have realised that Jesus is my Saviour and I’ve asked him to forgive me for all my sins. It is so amazing that someone can wash away all my sins, so that it’s like I never sinned in the first place.’ She also said: ‘I don’t expect God to heal me. He may have other plans for me. But, whatever happens, it’s amazing to know where I’m going to end up on judgment day. God has given me so many blessings in my 13 years of life. In this last year I went on a Mediterranean cruise, I have been able to spend time in Dorset and I’ve got a dog called Hope.’

Fruits of faith

Through her cancer and her hospital treatment God began to open Esther’s eyes to the needs of other people. Esther explained: ‘Before I got saved I was quite a selfish person. I always did what I wanted to do, even when I hurt someone else’s feelings. It wouldn’t bother me because I was not that person’. But she changed. Faith produced the fruit of love. ‘During this last year I’ve had to put myself in other people’s shoes because I turned into that other person. For example, because of having different operations on my leg, I have had to go around in a wheelchair. People look at you differently. It has made me realise how much other people have to go through in similar situations.’

And Esther’s sensitive thoughts became more than good intentions. They were turned into acts of kindness. It was this aspect of the change in her which particularly struck her sister Miriam, who describes some of the practical projects in which Esther got involved. ‘She raised lots of money for the homeless people of central London by selling Christmas decorations. Despite being in and out of hospital and in severe pain, she went out in the cold last November to distribute sleeping bags and hot food and drink to the homeless. And she wrote a will leaving her savings of about £12,000 to homeless charities, Water Aid and Christian Aid’s mosquito net appeal.’

This practical kindness reminds us of the apostle Paul’s words concerning the nature of genuine Christianity: ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5.6).

Changed for the better

At her baptism Esther summed up her experience like this: ‘It may sound crazy, but, although this illness has brought me a lot of pain and discomfort, and although I can’t do everything I would like to do, in some ways this illness has changed my life for the better. I don’t know what I would be like if I hadn’t got ill. I don’t know that I would have got saved or appreciated life, or realised that every day that I live is a blessing from God. I thank the Lord for making me ill. It made me recognise all these things. It made me accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.’

She concluded: ‘I’m so grateful that God has given me 13 years of life, loving parents who have supported me, friends and family who have continued praying for me and, most importantly, his Son Jesus Christ, who died for me’.

Esther lived to see her 14th birthday on December 3 last year and went to be with the Lord on December 27 at her home in Tottenham.

John Benton

(This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Love that drummer!


I’ve had a go when no one was looking, but I can’t play the drums.

I have no rhythm and no co-ordination between my feet and arms, which may seem strange as I was trained as an organist. Hmmm, maybe I’m not a very good organist either, but everyone’s been too nice to tell me.

If you hate drums, don’t read on!

I’m not going to go into all the arguments about why we should or shouldn’t have drums in church. This won’t be a theological defence or prosecution dealing with whether drums are evil because of their origins or vital for the Spirit to be able to work. That’s for another day. Suffice to say that if you really hate drums, please don’t read on — it’ll save me having to answer all the mail.

The reason I’m so fond of drummers is because when they play musically they can bring so much colour and energy to the music in a church meeting. Now I know the drummer jokes. What’s the best way to confuse a drummer? Put a sheet of music in front of him. What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer. How can you tell there’s a drummer at the door? The knocking speeds up. There are many more, but I have huge respect for church drummers for these reasons:

1. They have to play well, sensitively, rhythmically, focusing on the words of the songs, using different sticks for different parts of songs, listening to the rest of the band, linking in the bass drum with bass guitar, doing what the band-leader requires while at the same time being in control of the speed and rhythm.

I have a friend who says that drummers hardly ever smile. That’s probably because they have so much to concentrate on at one moment. I must admit to not smiling much playing a Bach trio sonata on the organ. Bass players don’t smile either, but that’s just because bass players don’t smile.

Humble drummers

2. Drummers can’t win. Sometimes they lose even before they’ve played a beat — even the sight of a drummer sitting on the drum stool before a meeting can give some people the heebie jeebies. The doubly hard thing for drummers is that even if they ‘make’ the music for those who like drums, they break it for those who don’t. I think it’s for this reason that many of the drummers that I know are also some of the most humble in a band, because they’ve had to deal with some of the most hurtful feedback.

There are lots of issues that surround drummers. Should they be miked up, should they be behind a Perspexª screen, should they be out of sight (that’s invisible, not ‘outa sight’), should they play for some of the older hymns, should they have mats on the toms, should they use cool rods, hot rods or sticks? I remember a drummer’s eyes lighting up when I asked him to use sticks at a wedding. He’d always had to play with soft rods and brushes.

Rumble, doink, der-dum!

3. Drummers have their own language that I sort of understand, but am not cool enough to use. Rim shots, fills, four-on-the-floor, ride, hat. I find myself always reverting to: ‘Can you give us some rumble, then a bit of boink, der-dum, karrang, doink into the chorus, and then a bit of blobbles for verse 2. Then we need it large for verse 3 into the chorus’.

Not much to say on this except that I wish I was a bit more cool.

All this and much more gives me huge respect for drummers. In my experience most of the rehearsal is spent getting the drums right — speed, feel of the song, keeping the song going, starting and, most tricky of all, finishing the song. For this reason, if I feel safe with the drummer, I have much more confidence that things won’t fall apart. That’s very important for the confidence of the congregation too. Praise God for servant-hearted, godly drummers.

P.S. One final tip for working with drummers. If they tell you they don’t like playing a song in 3/4, ask them to play it in 6/8 and see the relief on their face.

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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None of God’s business? The spiritual significance of our daily work


None of Gods business

Can you do a little mental arithmetic? Assuming you live to your early 60s, how many hours will you have spent at work? Now, do a similar exercise. Think about how many hours each week you spend on overtly ‘Christian’ activities, time at church in worship, at Bible study and in prayer groups, time at leadership meetings, teaching kids, or working with youth.

If you were to work 50 hours each week, then you would have spent about 100,000 hours at work by the end of your working life. If you were to spend (say) an average of ten hours a week in ‘Christian ministry’, then, over that same 40-year period, you would have spent 20,000 hours. In summary: 100,000 hours at work; one fifth of that time in so called ‘Christian work’.

Not in vain?

Park those numbers for a moment and consider the words of the apostle Paul: ‘Therefore my dear brothers let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15.58).

What is meant here by ‘the work of the Lord’? What is the ‘labour in the Lord’ that is not ‘in vain’? Does that refer to overtly ‘Christian work’? Many would say yes. Paul means the work of evangelism, discipling and building churches. But, if that were true, then for those of us who have day jobs in the secular world, what about the 100,000 hours we spend at work? Do they represent some sort of spiritual limbo land, just an infill between Sundays, a means of supporting our families, a necessary evil? In terms of value, is it all a second-best use of time for the Christian or, worse still, something ultimately meaningless, of no eternal value, time and effort spent in vain?

The Bible’s answer to those questions is a resounding no! Paul says: ‘Always give yourself to the work of the Lord’. Note the word ‘always’! That includes the 100,000 hours at work, not just the 20,000 hours spent in ‘Christian service’.

Divided loyalties?

But how can I work for the Lord when I am paid to make money for my business, or to serve the good of the public in government? If I need to concentrate 100% on the technical detail of my task, or on the people I am paid to help, then how can I be working for the Lord at the same time?

What meaning does my work have in the context of eternity? The equipment I repair, the report I write, the structures I build, the meetings I attend, what value do they have in God’s eyes?

These issues are not always addressed in our churches. When I first became a Christian, the only sermons I ever heard about work were along the lines of ‘don’t fiddle your expense accounts and tax returns and don’t steal pencils form the office’!

While some churches may not seem to have daily work on their priority list, God certainly does. The Bible makes very clear that our daily work is of great interest to him. It does have eternal significance, and it certainly does not have to be ‘in vain’.

Meaningful activity

So, what transforms our daily work into meaningful spiritual activity? The answer of the Bible is twofold. Firstly, it is because of why we do our work (our motives), and, secondly, how we do our work.

‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving’ (Colossians 3.23,24, NIV).

Notice that three times Paul underlines the same crucial point: ‘working for the Lord’; ‘you will receive an inheritance from him’ (note that our daily work leads to eternal reward); and ‘it is the LORD Christ you are serving’. Notice also the same all- encompassing scope of this command: ‘Whatever you do’; an interesting tie-in with the ‘always’ of 1 Corinthians 15.58.

Implications
This has several implications.

* It means seeing my job as a calling from God, not just a career that meets my personal goals. We are not to waste hours wondering what our calling is. Surely we are to get on with our job and serve the Lord where we are! If he wants us to do something else he will make that very clear in his time. Seeing our work as a calling is transformational.

* It means being accountable to God. I make it my aim to please him. I can’t please everybody, so if I work to please Christ it simplifies life a lot.

* It means we give it our best in terms of ideas, energy, and creativity.

* It means our primary motivation is not to earn money and accumulate wealth, not to promote our own prestige and boost our own ego. Rather, it is to serve God in and through our daily work.

In the same letter, Paul urges us: ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus’ (Colossians 3.17). Notice again the reference to all our activity, the secular and the spiritual.

To do our work ‘in his name’ means being consistent with his character and bringing honour to the Name of Christ. It means we work honestly, faithfully and with integrity; it also means that we aim to build quality relationships.

Working relationships

Most of the sermons, books and articles about work seem to me to be focused on either ethics or evangelism, but I’ve found that building relationships with people is often the biggest test for the Christian. After all, the Bible makes clear (e.g. 1 John) that we are fooling ourselves if we think we can have a good relationship with God when we can’t build relationships with other people.

Relationships at work raise many challenges for us: how we exercise authority; how we respond to authority; how we handle conflict. In these areas our professed faith is tested every day. But, every time we face a work situation where we seek to respond in a way that honours the name of Jesus, then our work is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. In becoming an act of service to the Lord himself, it becomes something of eternal significance, part of our worship of God and not ‘in vain’.

God is at work

But our work is of eternal significance not only because of what we do, why we do it and how we do it — there is a bigger picture — it is of eternal significance because of what God is doing. He is at work also.

He is at work in us. As our commitment to do our work for the Lord is tested, so we learn to rely on God and so we grow. At work we have to deal with long hours, pressure, difficult people, difficult customers, failure when things don’t turn out well. It is in the pressure cooker of work, in the rough and tumble of life, that God moulds us into the people he wants us to be. it is in those 100,000 hours (as well as in the home, of course) that much of God’s work of sanctifying us takes place, a work that is of eternal value.

He may also be at work in the lives of those we work with and that is always exciting to experience. Further, he may choose to work through us in bringing someone to faith or helping them along the road in some way.

When our work is ‘for the Lord’ and when we recognise God at work in and through us, and in the lives of others, then we can be confident that our labour is in fact ‘labour in the Lord’. It has a divine purpose and will have a fruitful outcome. It will not be ‘in vain’.

Graham Hooper is a consultant and former senior executive with a global Infrastructure company. He recently recorded four talks on the theme ‘Tested faith in the workplace’ for the LICC. To listen to these talks, visit http://www.licc.org.uk/resources/2012/07/04/testing-faith-in-the-workplace/

His book Undivided – closing the faith-life gap was published by IVP in April 2013 (http://www.ivpbooks.com)

(This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Letter from America by Josh Moody: Growing up in the manse


I grew up in a boarding school. My father was a boarding school house master, and we lived on the grounds of this community.

I did not grow up in a manse or vicarage or parsonage. My children, of course, are growing up ‘Pastor’s Kids’ (PKs). How can I help them flourish in that environment?

As I write, America is shocked and saddened to hear of the suicide of Matthew Warren, the son of well known megachurch pastor Rick Warren. I know Warren only by reputation, but, as I read his email describing the tragedy, I was struck by his remarkably compassionate and wise response. My heart went out to him as a father and I immediately tweeted: ‘Praying for Rick Warren and family’. Since then there have been several attacks launched against the Warrens, slurs and innuendos, and my heart is grieved again. Can you not give the man and his family some peace? Mark Driscoll blogged a fiery response to these critics, defending Rick Warren against such attacks.

How will they turn out?

It is also making me ask myself a wider and more personal question: how can I — as a father of four children — do all that I can to ensure that their experience growing up as ‘PKs’ is not only positive, generally speaking, but a place of spiritual, physical, emotional and cultural thriving? I hesitate to give any advice at this stage of our lives — our eldest is 12 and our youngest is one — as I may have to eat my words in 20 years’ time. I am trying certain things, but who knows how they will turn out? But, for what it is worth, I pass along my thoughts in five bullet point suggestions and would be interested if readers have any additional comments along the same lines.

* Actually care. I can fail to express my care for my children, I can fail to give them the time they should receive, but, as one elder at College Church said to me recently, children know when they are actually being loved. That love may or may not be exactly what they want, but if you love them, care for them, even if you fail to express it perfectly, likely as not they will realise they are being loved — and will love you for it, long-term, even if they think you are about as trendy as a goat on roller skates.

* Give time. I hate to confess it, but this is probably where I struggle most. I work hard. I always have. Too hard, no doubt. But time is short and I have a mission and I’m scared to death I won’t get it done before I die. But, part of that mission is being a dad. And being a dad means: time. Unstructured time. ‘Wasted’ time, ‘unproductive’ time.

Relational glue

* Find individual and specific ways to spend time with each of the children (if you have more than one). Now I have four, and I am astonished how different each of them is. Their ‘love language’ (to use Chapman’s phrase) is different for each of them, and finding a way to express that care in that specific way for each of them is critical, it seems to me. If there is an overlap between things I like and things he/she likes, all the better. That overlap space seems to create relational glue.

* Do everything I can to avoid the children overhearing the Current Report About Problems at the church. I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone much younger than 30, and with considerable spiritual maturity, is too young/fragile to hear about the underbelly of church politics, failures and general nastiness. I love the church, and most of it is great. But you know what I mean. Children cannot hear about this stuff.

* Spend personal devotional time with each child. Everyone has different theories about how to do this, but here’s mine: I think that if a parent can personally sit down, intimately, personally, with the Bible and with a child, then the chances of the Word digging into that deep mother-father, soul space is much increased.

Those are a few thoughts. But most of all pray for the Warrens — who no doubt have a better answer to all of this than I do, or ever will.

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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What kind of God? – a look at the work of UCCF earlier this year


What kind of GodOver 800 students each day in February heard compelling presentations of the Christian faith.

Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF: The Christian Unions) spoke at the university mission in my first year as an undergraduate in Cambridge 17 years ago, and the student evangelism bug that I caught back then hasn’t left me. So it was especially thrilling to see him welcomed back by the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) to speak at their ‘What Kind of God?’ mission event from February 4-8, alongside Os Guinness (respected author and social critic).

Preparing the ground

As with many Christian Unions around the country, the university was introduced to the mission speaker, before Christmas, when nearly 2,000 students heard Richard speak across the two CICCU Carol services at Great St. Mary’s Church. A specially commissioned Cambridge edition of John’s Gospel and an invitation to the mission events were produced for every undergraduate in each of the Cambridge colleges. All of this — undergirded by many months of prayer and planning — focussed attention on the launch of the CICCU triennial mission.

The Main Event

Over the course of five days, in St. Andrew the Great Church in the heart of Cambridge, Os Guinness gave apologetics talks (with Q&A) at lunchtimes, and Richard Cunningham gave evangelistic expositions from John’s Gospel in the evenings. Furthermore, each night the events were enriched with live music from a stunning jazz trio lead by Bill Edgar (professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and world class jazz pianist), with Ruth Naomi Floyd (vocals) and Randy Pendleton (bass). The first evening saw the trio take centre stage with a longer sequence of heart-rending songs interspersed by brief explanations from Bill as to the gospel roots of jazz. The climax was a powerful talk by Richard, continuing the theme of slavery and freedom.

Graham Shearer (UCCF Team Leader for Central region) commented on this more holistic approach to the mission: ‘The Main Event was shaped by a desire to address students as whole, integrated people, just like Jesus does in the Gospels. Os Guinness’s talks dealt with the most profound questions human beings can ask; Richard demonstrated from John’s Gospel that only Jesus meets our deepest longings and most pressing needs. The inclusion of high-quality jazz from Bill Edgar and his musicians came right under the guard and touched students in a deep and profound way’.

What was so distinctive about the lunch-time apologetics talks was the modesty of their aim. Os was committed to slowing the conversation down, working hard to take each student with him, and encouraging his listeners to take the next step in their quest for Truth. The vast majority of today’s students are a country mile away from a Christian worldview, meaning that just getting someone to stop and ask some of life’s big questions is a cause for celebration. And so, like an experienced rugby player, rather than attempting to score an unlikely try whenever he got the ball, Os’s primary concern was simply to advance the game line. Over the course of the week, more and more ground was gained, as students were urged to make ‘Time for Questions’, ‘Time for Answers’, ‘Time for Evidences’ and ‘Time for Choices’. As Socrates famously said: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. It was wonderful even to hear that unbelieving students were inviting their own unbelieving friends to join the discussion!

The lunchtime talks were predicated on the conviction that they were just one part of something bigger, under God’s sovereignty. The background was year-round friendship evangelism — witness through life and lip — and in the foreground were Richard Cunningham’s powerful evening talks from John. Combining gripping exposition, vivid illustrations and urgent appeal, this was gospel preaching at its finest. A number of students asked Richard for booklets at the end of his talks and indicated that they wanted to become Christians. Many others stayed around and chatted and signed up for the ‘Just Looking’ follow-up course. Mark Lewis, outgoing president of the CICCU, added: ‘It was great to have a rich and varied programme each evening, with jazz, interviews and dramatic readings, and a clear and passionate presentation of Jesus right at the heart. The gospel was explained straightforwardly in a welcoming and warm environment with hot drinks and cake following each evening event — delicious!’

Students intrigued to find out more

The ‘What Kind of God?’ mission has been a huge encouragement to many members of the CICCU. Students were emboldened throughout the week by the truth, beauty and power of the gospel, and thrilled at seeing so many of their friends engage with Jesus: ‘The lunchtime talks were so easy to invite people to because they were just so accessible. Free food, a really stimulating talk from Os, heaps of time to ask him questions and all over in 50 minutes. People became really keen to find out what all the hype was about!’

‘I really enjoyed the opportunity to stretch out in evangelism and share Jesus with others. The whole week made me more aware of how wonderful it is to know the living God.’

The work continues

Of course, the follow-up to such an event is vital. Charlie Butler (UCCF Staff Worker for Cambridge University) commented: ‘One of the best things about the week was how it prompted many people to begin thinking about Jesus. Christians have been following up on initial conversations with friends in all sorts of different ways — bringing them to the CU’s weekly apologetics talks, reading and discussing passages from John’s Gospel together, and inviting them to ‘Just Looking’, a five-week course to investigate Christianity in a bit more detail. We’ve been encouraged to see around 30 non-Christian guests at the course so far, and it’s growing each week!’

Partnership with churches

Students from at least nine different churches in Cambridge were involved in the mission, with many of these churches participating in the project in all sorts of ways: hosting, planning, sending people to give training seminars at the pre-term CICCU house party, changing their weekly schedule to accommodate the week, running evangelism training days in their churches, sending people to assist as CU guests and organising additional follow-up courses! Russell Winfield (senior student pastor at Holy Trinity Church) observed: ‘This year’s mission was a wonderful event from beginning to end. Many students were able to invite their friends to consider the claims of Christianity, as both Os and Richard expounded the truth in compelling ways, sparking conversations that otherwise may not have happened. Students working together from many different churches is proving to be a fantastic witness to the message of Jesus Christ’. Alasdair Paine (vicar of St. Andrew the Great Church) added: ‘Praise God for the CICCU, with students working so hard for their friends to hear the gospel.’ These are indeed exciting days. Please pray on!

Dave Gobbett is the Associate Pastor at Eden Baptist Church and was CICCU President 1997-98. 
To watch all this year’s CICCU mission talks for free, go to http://www.WhatKindofGod.co.uk

(This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Preaching Matters: William Taylor on Work


Here is the newest instalment of the video series from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate designed specifically to ‘equip, encourage and inspire those who teach God’s word.’

‘In this month’s Preaching Matters William Taylor helps us think about Genesis 1-3, particularly it’s application to work.’

How has this helped you as you teach God’s word?

Loving the little years – motherhood in the trenches (book review)


LOVING THE LITTLE YEARS Loving the little years

Motherhood in the trenches
By Rachel Jankovic
Canon Press. 102 pages. £7.50
ISBN 978 1 591 280 811

If you are a mother, know any mothers or one day hope to be a mother, then this book is for you.

In this book, Rachel Jankovic humorously unfolds the biblical wisdom garnered from raising five children. Its chapters, which can be read in a few minutes, consistently apply the Scriptures to the everyday challenges faced in discipling little ones. One clear way that this comes through is in the reminder that child-rearing often illuminates our own weaknesses and failings which in turn should cause us to run to the throne of grace. In other words, children are often used by God to help us become more the children he wants us to be. Thus, instead of viewing children as constant bothers, Rachel encourages the reader to take the long-term view and to consider children as a God-given blessing constantly aiding us in our sanctification. Ultimately, Jankovic’s book manages to amuse, encourage, rebuke and train in righteousness and if you’d like to bless any mothers, this book would be a fitting present.

Kiprotich Chelashaw, 
curate at St. James’s Parish Church, Audley, near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

 

This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

 

Marathon Men – the advantages of long-term ministry


Marathon Men

For a few years, I have been working on a book.

Persistently Preaching Christ is about what God has done in and through one particular local church fellowship in Cambridge over half a century1. Reflecting on the ministries of the two men who led the church during that time and considering their priorities has been a fruitful exercise. One thing that has struck me time and again is this: while there are clearly exceptions, long-term ministry in one place has very significant advantages.

Mark Ruston and Mark Ashton served one church family for a total of 54 years between them and, for both men, their ministry at St. Andrew the Great (formerly ‘The Round Church’)2 could be described as their ‘life’s work’. You can no doubt think of many other ministers who’ve done the same sort of thing. Perhaps the Scottish trio — Willie Still (52 years at Gilcomston, Church of Scotland), James Philip (39 years at Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh) and his brother, George Philip (40 years at Sandyford Henderson, Glasgow). How about: Dick Lucas’s 37 years at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate; EN’s editor, John Benton, who has already clocked up 33 years at Chertsey Street, Guildford; Jonathan Fletcher, who has just retired after 30 years at the helm of Emmanuel, Wimbledon; John Stott, who was anchored at All Souls his entire adult ministry life — five years as curate, 25 years as Rector and 36 years as Rector Emeritus? And there are, of course, many other current ministers who have served for two, maybe three decades and counting.

It strikes me that there are many good things about the ministry of a pastor who aims to be ‘in it for the long haul’ and to give himself to a single ‘life’s work’. I’ve heard some ministers say that they’re not wired up this way. Rather like the ‘golden eagle’ approach from the world of management consultancy, they feel they’re more gifted at swooping in, working out what’s wrong, then prescribing and delivering a solution. Other ministers opt for something in between — a stint of around seven to ten years in one place, perhaps, and then a move to pastures new.

The Bible doesn’t dogmatise about duration of ministry — and we do so at our peril. I don’t think there is anything in Scripture to prescribe how long a minister should stay in one post. Having said that, the words used in the New Testament for church — ‘household’, ‘family’, ‘fellowship’, etc.3 — would seem to imply duration, consistency and long-term commitment. But of course the example the apostle Paul gives us is that of peripatetic ministry — he travelled and moved around and ministered all over the place.

As I worked on Persistently Preaching Christ and read many hundreds of letters and emails from people who had appreciated and benefited from the ministries of Mark Ruston and Mark Ashton, several distinct advantages of long-term ministry struck me. My research and thinking are ongoing and I don’t want to dogmatise, so my list of advantages is in the form of questions.

1. Does long-term ministry provide the best environment for expository preaching?

As I started to compile a list of ‘long-term’ pastors, I was struck by how many of them have a reputation for fine expository preaching. A mere coincidence? Or is there something about remaining in one place, teaching the same group of people year after year, seeking to demonstrate that all Scripture is useful4 which enables the preacher to develop and hone his preaching gifts?

2. Is it best for developing good, solid relationships in the church family?

In Persistently Preaching Christ, Professor Bob White remarks: ‘I well remember Mark Ashton commenting soon after he arrived that it is relatively easy to breeze in and then to leave after a few years. But if you are in it for the long haul, then building and maintaining relationships through all the ups and downs of church family life is what will show the distinctiveness of the Christian way’.5 Staying in one place means that difficult relationships have to be worked at, not run away from. And, of course, there are the ‘ups’ as well as the ‘downs’ — passing the years together means shared joys, common experiences, real friendships. Mark Ashton’s comment from his perspective as a preacher is telling: ‘It is only with time that a minister gets to know and understand his congregation, and to be known and understood by them.’6

3. Does it help guard against reliance on human strategies?

The ‘golden eagle’ consultant can swoop in with lots of exciting new ideas and strategies — but that approach will probably pall somewhat after 20, 30, 40 years. And perhaps that’s a good thing. God’s word is living and active and that’s where ministers will find the wisest ‘strategies’ and ‘ideas’. Another couple of thoughts from Mark Ashton: ‘As time passes in a preacher’s ministry, it gets harder and harder to lead purely by innovation or human energy. … Only by faithfully teaching the word of God will an individual’s leadership stay fresh and revitalising over decades’.7 The minister who is preaching the word of God week in, week out will never run out of ideas and never run out of things to say — because neither the preacher nor the preached-to will ever finish understanding God’s word this side of heaven.

4. Does it help avoid the temptation of careerism?

Mark Ashton’s words again: ‘There may be a few men who are particularly gifted at leading a church through the early stages of growth, and then do best to pass the baton to someone else. But in general the best pastor-teacher will not be the one who is constantly wondering whether he should move on to new pastures or whether there is a better job on offer somewhere else. Patterns of church life which constantly move pastors from one church to another … rarely build a local congregation over the years. It is characteristic of most of the strongest evangelical churches in the UK at the beginning of the 21st century that they have all enjoyed prolonged ministries by their main preachers’.8

Each of us suffers from mixed motives. Might the thought ‘I’ve done all I can do here’ sometimes be a thinly veiled desire to have a more prestigious position?

5. Is it best for growth?

Statisticians tend to consider duration of ministry in terms of numerical growth. There are all sorts of theories about when greatest numerical growth is likely to occur and whether it tails off if a minister stays ‘too long’. But numerical growth is just one factor, surely. How about growth in spiritual maturity, godliness, unity, generosity, evangelistic zeal, perseverance and so on? I’m not sure statistics can measure those things very well, if at all. Under God, what kind of ministry encourages that kind of growth — is longevity better than several short-term stints? Is a strong, united, wholehearted, outward-looking congregation which is devoted to the Lord Jesus likely to emerge, under God, from a string of ministries — or from long-term ministry? Does it also enable a greater ability to look outwards — facilitating church plants and ‘grafts’, encouraging young men and women to train for ministry in this country and overseas, supporting like-minded gospel work in other parts of the country. And is it perhaps even more significant when it comes to building relationships with the wider community?

Of course there will always be times when a move will be the wisest thing. Personal circumstances involving children, spouse, ageing parents, or health perhaps. A pastor may be correct in concluding that he genuinely doesn’t have the necessary gifts or personality to lead the church forward to the next stage. There may be other factors too — perhaps the size of the church or the type of area (inner city, rural?) makes a difference. I’m still asking lots of questions — but my interim conclusion is that there are many significant advantages to long-term ministry.

Mary Davis is part of St. Nicholas Church, Tooting, in south west London, wife of the minister and mum of three children. Occasional editor of Christian books.

Footnotes

1. Persistently Preaching Christ (eds. Christopher Ash, Mary Davis, Bob White, ISBN 978 1 845 509 828) reflects on the importance of the local church, the ministries of Mark Ashton and Mark Ruston over more than 50 years, and includes Mark Ashton’s ‘Eight Convictions about the local church’. It is published by Christian Focus Publications and is available from them direct for £10.99, or from http://www.10ofthose.com for £8.79.
2. The fellowship was initially called ‘The Round Church’ after the building where the church met for many centuries. In 1994, the church family moved to the newly restored building of St. Andrew the Great. Mark Ruston was vicar there for 32 years (from 1955 until his retirement in 1987) and Mark Ashton for 22 years (from 1987 until his death from cancer in April 2010).
3. For example, Galatians 6.10, Ephesians 2.19.
4. 2 Timothy 3.16-17.
5. page 99, Persistently Preaching Christ, as above.
6. page 19, op. cit.
7. page 19, op. cit.
8. page 18Ð19, op. cit.

(This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Jesus, the Son of God (book extract)


Jesus Son of God

It is well known that the Qur’an denies that Jesus can be thought of as God’s Son.
At street level, many Muslims think Christians believe that God somehow impregnated Mary, and that the Trinity is made up of God, Mary and Jesus. They find the construction bizarre, not to say blasphemous, and, of course, they are right.
Aware of these Muslim sensibilities, some sectors of SIL/Wycliffe, Frontiers and other organisations have pursued Bible translations that have replaced many references to God as the Father and to Jesus as the Son. Intense debates about this surged into public view in an article written by Collin Hansen for Christianity Today in 2011. SIL/Wycliffe have issued a variety of statements, the most recent, in February 2012, indicates that all publication of these new translations will be suspended until further discussions have taken place. My own restricted aim in what follows is to offer six evaluations on the translation of references to Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ in Scripture.

Diversity of connotation
We should all recognise the extraordinary diversity of ‘son of’ expressions in the Bible. Probably they should not all be handled the same way. Yet the diversity of ways in which we translate Hebrew expressions such as ‘son of oil’ and ‘son of quiver’, for example, does not by itself warrant similar diversity in the ways we render ‘son(s) of God’.
My sister served as a missionary to a tribe in Papua New Guinea. How does one render, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ for people who have never seen lambs or sheep and have no word for such animals? On the other hand they were accustomed to sacrificing pigs. So would it be wiser to render John 1.29, ‘Look the Swine of God who takes away the sin of the world’? Doubtless one could make a case for such a rendering. But sooner or later Bible translators for this tribe would run into texts that talk about fleecing sheep and still others that designate pork an unclean food. What initially seems an easy fix begins to generate many problems.
On any reading of the evidence, the associations of the expression ‘Son(s) of God’ are complicated, theologically laden and inescapable. Why should it not be better, then, to render the original more directly, perhaps with explanatory notes?

Render it as ‘Messiah’
In one of his earlier papers, part of which he has now rescinded, Rick Brown, one of the premier thinkers for the new translations, rightly points out that one of the uses of ‘Son of God’ in the Bible is bound up with the appointment of the Davidic king, the Messiah. In such cases, it is frequently found in parallel with ‘Messiah.’ (e.g., Luke 1.31-33; 1 John 5.1,5; Matthew 16.16). ‘This establishes’, Brown insists, ‘that Jesus and Matthew saw these as synonyms…’ This reasoning, in Brown’s original view (which he has since repudiated), justifies substituting ‘Christ’/‘Messiah’ for ‘Son of God’ where the latter is likely to cause umbrage.
But this argument is flawed. First, Brown is fully aware that when two expressions are said to be synonymous, it rarely means they are completely interchangeable. If that were the case, then ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16.16) really means, ‘You are the Messiah, the Messiah’.
Second, why do Mark and Luke report less of the total of Peter’s confession than Matthew reports? If it is because it is ‘adequate’ to preserve only ‘Messiah’ and not ‘Son of the living God’ for their own theological interests and priorities, that means, of course, that for Matthew’s purposes it is not adequate to leave out ‘Son of the living God’ — that’s why he left the expression in.
Third, Brown’s analysis leaves out of consideration the biblical-theological trajectories of the Davidic king motif and of the ‘Son of God’ terminology of the Old Testament. Biblically informed readers pick up on the associations, say, of 2 Samuel 7.14, Psalm 2.7, Isaiah 9, Psalms 89, 110. It is not a responsible riposte to say that the envisaged Muslim readers of the new translations are not biblically informed so they could not conjure up biblical trajectories. That may be true, but it misses the point. For, once biblical translations are adopted, they become standard for the rising Christian community that would then be saddled with translations that fail to preserve the biblical trajectories which make sense of the pattern of the NT use of the OT.

Pragmatism?
It is argued that traditional renderings are bad translations because, for Muslim readers, they convey mental images of physical begetting, sexual union and biological sonship that are deeply offensive to Muslims. This is an important argument, not one to be set aside lightly. If traditional translations convey things that are not true, surely we are duty-bound to do our best to provide translations that do not convey what is false.
But it is often pointed out, correctly, that the deepest Muslim umbrage is not taken at expressions that have been falsely understood, but at expressions that have been rightly understood. The incarnation itself is deeply offensive, however it was brought about.
Another pragmatic appeal is that of the remarkable success of these new translations. It is hard to test the figures that circulate, but thousands have been converted, in some sense, through these new translations. Yet when certain tests are made, 46% of such converts avow they prefer to read the Qur’an than the Bible and 72% continue to think of Muhammad as the final prophet. How many of these conversions are spurious?

Theological glue
In Scripture, distinguishable uses of ‘Son of God’ can be used side by side, held together by nothing more than the expression itself, with the result that the entire conception of ‘Son of God’ is enriched.
For example, in Matthew 1-4, Jesus is the Son of God in that, like Israel the son of God, he recapitulates much of Israel’s experience — being called out of Egypt and being tested in the wilderness. But the latter event is preceded by the declaration of the voice from heaven at Jesus’s baptism: ‘This is my Son, whom I love’ — almost certainly picking up on the Davidic/kingly use of sonship, which in any case is certainly further developed in Matthew’s Gospel. There is no point asking: ‘OK, then, which kind of son is he really?’ The point is that Jesus is the perfect Israel and the perfect David, and the two notions are held together by the one rubric, Son of God.
In other words, the richest theological loading of the expression ‘Son of God’ as applied to Jesus springs from passages that deploy the expression to cross-pollinate distinctive uses. This fact constitutes a driving reason to translate ‘Son of God’ and ‘Father’ expressions consistently, for otherwise these crucial intracanonical links will be lost to view.

A personal word
I have had the privilege of working with SIL/Wycliffe personnel on three continents. I am a huge admirer of their work. But I have to say that not many of them are trained in exegesis, biblical theology or systematic theology. No one can be an expert in everything, but I hope that some of these diligent workers will begin to see the importance for Bible translation of the considerations I am advancing and will pursue advanced theological training.

Where is this leading?
I have three observations. First, the new approach to Bible translation is in danger of cutting off its ‘converts’ from the history of the confessionalism of the universal church. It is not a light thing to stand aloof from the authority of those early councils and creeds. Second, a considerable literature has arisen from Muslim-convert believers who are aghast at these developments, arguing on both technical and personal grounds that these new translations are the product of Westerners who are imposing their work on local churches. Third, the spread of the gospel in the early church saw the dissemination of Scripture along with the provision of missionaries and pastors. One wonders if at least some of the tensions over Bible translations spring from providing translations without simultaneously providing missionaries and pastors.

This article is a heavily edited version of the last chapter of Jesus, the Son of God by D.A. Carson, which is published by IVP (£7.99, ISBN 978 1 844 745 999), and is used with permission.

Editor:
Because it is so heavily edited, many details and nuances have had to be dropped from the original and we would, therefore, encourage interested readers to buy the book.

(This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)