Is deception the hallmark of our times?


As I write, the Dyson Report has just laid bare the deception used by Martin Bashir to obtain the interview with Diana.

But actually this is symptomatic of the whole realm of public and political life, where lies and deceit are commonplace. Truth has indeed stumbled in the public squares (Isa. 59:14), as Chris Wright reminded us in his article ‘The Modern War on Truth’ (en January 2020).

And it is no longer just in the public square! Deception now reaches down to every layer in society, as technology opens up all sorts of possibilities to counterfeit reality in a whole range of human experiences and activity. Our slightest acquaintance with social media makes us aware of its capacity to deceive, as people ignite rumours of one sort or another, or create false identities for themselves.

Meanwhile we endure a constant stream of scam phonecalls, emails and texts, as devious individuals scheme to separate us from our savings using every trick available to them in the digital book; everywhere we turn we are surrounded by a world of fake and deceit. In 2016, ‘post-truth’ was Oxford Dictionaries international word of the year; will ‘deepfake’ take its place in 2021?

But we must be careful not to throw stones in glass houses! We are galled, I expect, to discover that deception has infiltrated our own ranks, as we learn of Christian leaders who have been living double lives, fooling us, it seems, with their gospel rhetoric, while indulging their own sinful nature. They promise … freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity (2 Pet. 2: 2-3).

No surprise

None of this should surprise us. Deception actually forms the Bible’s ‘bookends’ – a pointer to its primary significance in the whole narrative: two chapters in, we read of Satan’s great deception practised against the man and woman in Eden; two chapters from the end, there is an account of Satan’s final great deception, when he is released to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth (Rev. 20:8). Although this final deception only takes up one verse on this occasion, it is developed elsewhere more fully – it features prominently in Jesus’s account of the end of the age (Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 23-26) and it is described in graphic detail by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. It is possible that this crescendo of deception is what we are witnessing today.

If we look back at the Old Testament, we see how deception has been a ruling characteristic in human affairs, even among God’s people, from the Fall onwards. It was a regular failing of the patriarchs – the very name Jacob, which often substitutes for Israel, is itself synonymous with deception (Gen. 25:26)! Despite the injunctions of the law (ninth commandment) and the rebuke of the prophets, the history of Israel as a nation continued to be one of a descent into ever greater duplicity and deceit.

This reaches its climax just before the exile, as we see in Jeremiah’s prophecy: ‘From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace’ (Jer. 6:13-14; 8:10-11).

Jeremiah’s conclusion is damning: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:9). It wasn’t just that the Jews in his time were practising deceit – they had fallen prey to self-deception, where they were no longer capable of recognising truth from error; they actually preferred to believe the lie (Jer. 28:15) – scarily reminiscent of 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – and were rendered ripe for judgment.

So what about us? What confidence can we have, especially in the light of the recent evidence of deception within the church, that our fate as God’s people of the New Testament will be any different from what happened to Jerusalem?

To be concluded in the next issue.

Lee N. Emerson

Lee N. Emerson is the Pastor of Scott Drive Church, Exmouth, and has recently published Deception! The Craft of Satan, the Folly of Man, the Wisdom of God.

Does art matter? If so, why?


WHY ART MATTERS: 
A call for Christians to create
By Alastair Gordon
IVP. 118 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 789 742 367

This book encourages every believer, indeed every human being, to recognise and use their creativity. We are made in the image of God, and creative is part of what he has made us to be.

The author is an articulate evangelical believer and an award-winning painter, recognised in the mainstream art world. He brings his great enthusiasm to underline the vital role that creativity has in human life, beginning with the importance of beauty to human flourishing, observing that in God’s creation of trees in Genesis 2:9 aesthetics (‘pleasing to the eye’) comes before utility (‘good for food’). Art is also vital in memorialising events and people; finding expression for emotions that defy words; posing questions that some might prefer to dodge.

The book does not pretend to offer an explanation of how art ‘works’ or how to read a painting. But using examples from his own life and work, as well as from a range of artists from Caravaggio and Degas to Malevich and Norman Rockwell, he explores a series of justifications for the title. Art matters because we – made in God’s image – matter; because the world matters; because God has given us imaginations; because art provides glimpses of how life should be and one day will be. As Christians we need clear statements of faith; but our experience of daily life is often messy, and a painting, a story or a piece of music can on occasion help us deal with that messiness more effectively than can a propositional truth.

Gordon’s book is commendably short and clearly written, which inevitably results in some questionable generalisations. His assertion that ‘Art tells us what people really think’ probably doesn’t describe everyone’s experience of Tate Modern. The interrelationship of beauty, truth and goodness needs a lot more unpacking. And the author’s suggestion of a possible prophetic use of the arts raises a bunch of questions.

But what the book lacks in detail, it makes up for in passionate advocacy for Christians to engage actively with their own creativity, and to encourage the work of professional artists.

It is an important addition to earlier works such as Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible, Rookmaaker’s Art needs no justification and Steve Turner’s Imagine. These authors helped to gain the arts an accepted place in the evangelical world, but this has not yet been turned into active engagement. The recent failure of any church or Christian organisation to buy up Liviu Mocan’s extraordinary sculptural group Archetypes, made in celebration of the Reformation in 2017 (reviewed in en October 2018), is a sad example of how far we have yet to go in putting our money where our mouth is.

The book is illustrated with a number of the artist’s own works for which you would otherwise have to pay a lot of money.

Read this work, embrace the creativity God has given you, and encourage your church to explore actively the powerful role that the arts can play in your life and witness.

Nigel Halliday

Nigel Halliday, writer, Saltford, Somerset

A Passion For Life 2022 – how is it designed to work?


One of life’s most enjoyable experiences and one that spans the globe in its cultural relevance is the joy of sharing a meal amongst family, friends or even on occasions with complete strangers.

In the journey of life, I’ve known the simplicity of an apple given at great sacrifice in a poverty-stricken African village, the elaborate feasts of civil gatherings, the splendour of wedding celebrations, the countless choices of restaurant menus and, my favourite, the gathering round the family table for home-cooked fayre where the main ingredient is love.

Created for community

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to followers of Jesus, for we believe that we are created for community. The loneliness and isolation of the recent pandemic has served to illustrate that we’re not made to be alone, but made for relationships. The practice of hospitality, which does take time, energy and money, is everywhere in the Bible and I love the way Jesus was often in the company of people in a context where food was involved. A key ingredient in the resources being served up under the banner of A Passion for Life, a nationwide initiative to unite churches in mission in the run-up to Easter 2022, is their creative bespoke menu of personal evangelism training sessions designed to give local churches the flexibility to equip their people in the areas they most need it. This fascinating menu for mission training is freely available for local churches and like every good menu, as with every good book, it seeks to tell an amazing story that people will find engaging, satisfying and that leaves them longing for future visits where they can deepen their experience of what’s on offer.

Menu-driven design

In keeping with its menu-driven design, the offering consists of 21 stand-alone training sessions for personal evangelism, with each one providing:

• A high-quality 15–20-minute video with core teaching from a variety of experienced trainers

• A variety of brief testimonies from everyday believers from across the UK and Ireland sharing in encouraging and honest ways their experience of making Jesus known and how the principles outlined have been applied in their lives

• Session guides for all local church participants allowing them to explore the subject further, deepen their knowledge and sharpen their ability in the chosen area including questions, further Bible reflection, practical exercises, and prayer points

• An outline and full transcript of the training content to allow it to be adapted for the local context where required

This is not a one-size-fits-all course, but it does come with set menu options for those who are struggling to decide. These mini-series offerings start by asking a good question about what the local church is like:

• Is your church theologically confident but struggling to connect with its community? Then we would recommend the series titled ‘Connecting and Journeying’.

• Is your church active in the community but struggling to communicate the gospel? Then we recommend the series titled ‘Communicating the Good News’.

• Does your church need help to welcome and involve people in the life of the church? Then we recommend the series titled ‘Welcoming and Discipling’.

So whether you prefer a set menu or à la carte, the strength of this menu is that all the resources are accessible and can be adapted by the local church to train their people in the areas that would best serve the local church context.

The training sessions are divided into four categories with each category offering a variety of options for consideration. The categories are titled:

• Loving Connection

This part of the menu is designed to help local churches equip their members to take the first steps in journeying with others towards life in Jesus. It seeks to provide people with the practical skills of connecting, listening, and getting to know people as we gently share our hope in Christ. Sessions in this section are:

• Making meaningful connections  – Lizzy Smallwood helpfully explores the intentionality of good conversation, welcoming hospitality, friendships, and kindness.

• Loving our neighbours – Nay Dawson helps us to identify the communities we inhabit and how our engagement with these communities presents us with the opportunity to love dearly and speak clearly.

• Loving through listening and asking questions – Lee McMunn demonstrates how a genuine interest in people joined to the art of good listening and the ability to ask well-crafted questions can lead to all manner of gospel opportunities.

• Sharing hope in today’s world – Jeremy Marshall, an author living with terminal cancer, poignantly shares from his own experience of suffering how our humility and vulnerability in everyday life allow us to sensitively share in a natural way the reason for our hope in Jesus.

• Answering tough questions with Jesus – Jeremy Marshall, no stranger to many tough questions, cites many examples of the way in which the stories of the Bible are the best answers that we have and how this approach, modelled by Jesus, is so liberating.

• Intentionally Bible-driven

In this category we are given the opportunity to get clear on what the gospel is, the theological foundation for journeying with others towards life in Jesus, including our role, God’s role, and how to depend on God in evangelism.

• Why the journey is needed – seasoned evangelist Rico Tice rejoices in the sovereign God’s strategic plan to put every individual believer right where they are in order that they might be used by Him to help others encounter Jesus.

• God’s heart for the lost – Ray Brown opens our eyes to see everyone as made in God’s image, under His wrath but not beyond His grace.

• God’s role and ours – Rico Tice presents the foundational truth of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. Understanding this leads to confidence and creativity in making Jesus known.

• What is the gospel – to make Jesus known we need to be clear about what is the gospel and Ray Brown provides the explanation of God the creator, our rebellion, Christ the redeemer, and what genuine repentance looks like. in • Prayer evangelism – John MacKinnon offers us insight into the importance of prayer in our evangelism and some creative and helpful ways in which we can be faithful.

• Depending on the Holy Spirit – it is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can be a witness to Jesus and, in this session, John MacKinnon exhorts us to keep in step with the Spirit who will magnify Jesus through us.

• God’s word in evangelism – Ray Brown rounds off these sessions with the priority of making Jesus known by using God’s word and how, in doing so, people hear His voice for themselves.

• Faithful Witness

Every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ wants to be an effective and faithful witness for Him, and this category helps us with the practicalities of doing just that. It considers some of the challenges and provides applicable tools to aid faithfulness in sharing the gospel and in helping people encounter God’s word and respond.

• Right expectations and crossing the pain line – Jesus told His followers that they would face hostility when they took a stand for Him, and in this session Rico Tice encourages us from Scripture with the motivation to cross the pain line – and to keep crossing it.

• Sharing God’s word one-to-one – Carl Porter firmly believes that more people are open to finding out about Jesus than we might think. He demonstrates how any Christian can be a Bible sharer by using resources like The Word: One to One.

• Making the most of courses and events – Lee McMunn shares ways in which we can maximise the effectiveness of events we organise and courses we run by doing them well and trusting Jesus with the results.

• Seasoning conversation with the gospel – Marcus Nodder illustrates practically and powerfully how using a gospel outline or being clear about our own testimony can have a significant impact upon others.

• Being a witness at work – sometimes viewed as the daily grind, Marcus Nodder shows Biblically how our work is a wonderful gift from God and potentially a gospel opportunity.

• Helping people become Christians – Lizzy Smallwood delights in practically preparing us for the opportunity to help someone as they move from darkness to light in Jesus Christ.

• Engaging with different cultures – Felix Aremo equips us to connect with different cultures and how to display the humility, patience, and courage it requires.

• Encouraging Discipleship

As God moves in people’s lives drawing them to Himself, they come to faith and live out their Christian life in the context of the local church. Encouraging Discipleship helps us to think about the way in which we welcome people into our churches and how we support new Christians as they grow in their discipleship. There are two options on the menu titled:

• Welcoming people into church – Felix Aremo helps us think through what our churches look like to new believers, how we welcome them, and the various ways our availability can be a blessing.

• Helping new Christians grow – it’s always a privilege to play a part in the nurture and development of new believers and Felix Aremo, drawing on the example of Paul, outlines the beliefs and behaviours that cultivate and encourage growth.

These resources have been shaped by the churches for the churches. Whilst they are initially there to help Christians get ready to play their part in a month of mission leading up to Easter 2022, they will remain available on apassionforlife.org.uk for any Christian and church to benefit from.

God’s word and the rich experience of our presenters provide a menu of wholesome fayre. Our prayer is that for many churches it will be a recipe for success, with that success being measured by an increased confidence in the gospel and inspired believers engaging in all-year-round evangelism.

John MacKinnon

John MacKinnon is Training Director – A Passion for Life http://www.apassionforlife.org.uk

How to deal with anxiety


HOPE IN AN ANXIOUS WORLD: 
Six truths for when things feel overwhelming
By Helen Thorne
The Good Book Company. 112 pages. £4.99
ISBN 978 1 784 986 261

What a timely book and what a well-equipped person to write it! We are indeed in an incredibly anxious world and I am grateful to God for Helen Thorne’s many years of service, particularly towards those who are distressed, afraid and worried.

Her latest book consists of two parts which both deal with our daily lived struggles with anxiety – first outwardly (reality, the messages of the world around us) and then inwardly (mentally, the lies we believe). The first part looks at the origin of anxiety, a Biblical framework for thinking about it, as well as covering the real physical effects of anxiety and practical strategies for dealing with those effects – like basic breathing techniques. Part Two deals with our internal heart struggles by going through a range of possible scenarios, painting them vividly and taking them seriously.

At first, when I saw the contents, I thought it looked uneven – Part Two with more sections than Part One. However, I soon realised that Helen knows what she is doing. Our internal struggles are where the most fierce battle and serious damage is found. Throughout the book there is a twin pulse of realism – sharp case studies that bring awareness of the daily anxiety that everybody can face, showing that nobody is totally exempt from this battle, we cannot escape it completely in this sinful world – and deep Biblical encouragement – the great truth that almighty God is with us, we are not alone, He has plans which are located ahead of the problems, He cares for us.

Initially I wondered whether such important topics could really be dealt with adequately in a relatively short book, but I found, after reading over just the first few pages, there is a tremendous depth and detail. It is practical and Biblical whilst short and intense. Most wonderfully, Helen helps us plug ourselves into the reality of the power of Scripture which leads us to focus on Jesus who is our perfect peace and hope. Ultimately, it helps the reader to see how we could become more mentally and spiritually stable and free by journeying with Jesus through an anxious world.

I hope that it can be published in many countries.

David Kim

David Kim, Far East Asian Ministries, London City Mission

How are your eyes?


Blindness is taken very seriously in my family. As the daughter of someone who lost their sight, it’s been drilled into me to make sure nothing is going astray with my eyes. I get regular check-ups – it wouldn’t even occur to me to miss. But I suspect few of us, myself included, are that diligent when it comes to spiritual sight.

In the Bible, spiritual blindness is a term used mostly of those outside the church – people whose spiritual condition means they can’t see Christ for who He truly is. His Lordship, holiness, goodness, graciousness all completely miss their gaze and will continue to do so until God opens their eyes. But that’s not the only time we find the term ‘blind’.

Peter picks up on the theme of lack of sight in his second letter and applies it to the local church. He draws our attention to the call to be increasingly known for our faith, goodness, self-control, perseverance and mutual love. If Christians aren’t growing in these areas? Well, ‘…whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins’, he says. Maybe partially-sighted might be a helpful rendering of the original there. Believers may be in God’s kingdom, they’ve had their eyes opened to the wonders of the cross, but they’ve lost sight of who God has made them to be and how He has called them to treat those around (2 Peter 1:5-9).

We find it a lot in churches. Believers hurting others within the body and being utterly oblivious to their sin, despite being faithful in many regards – spouses convinced they are loving well even though their marriage and family lay in tatters; leaders confident they are leading well even though their teams are crushed and fearful; congregation members sure they are maintaining unity well despite the fact every other sentence strikes like a dagger in the pastor’s back. The Christian call is to love others with our eyes wide open. Blindness hurts those around.

Sadly, we rarely notice our own waning sight. We need someone to show us our problem and put it right. It’s the same with spiritual blindness, we need others’ assistance. But how do we help those in our churches who are spiritually blind?

Firstly, we can normalise the concept of blindness. Whether we’re preaching, leading a Bible study or having a chat over coffee, we can remind each other that the chances are our self-perception and our perception of God is off (hint – if other people’s sins jump to mind more quickly than our own when reading God’s word, that’s quite probably blindness at play). After all, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer.17:9) – we want to see ourselves in certain ways, so objectivity is hard.

Secondly, we can encourage each other to adopt a posture of wanting to see ourselves more clearly. Echoing Psalm 139, we can say, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart!’ (v.23)– after all, He sees everything right.

Thirdly, we can gradually build relationships where we can speak to each other about our blindness. Not just relationships where we share what we want about ourselves (from our perspective), but relationships where others we trust (and trust is important) have an open invitation to speak into our lives about what they observe. Within those relationships we can take each other to Scripture and listen, humbly, to the uncomfortable truths and beautiful encouragements that are to be found.

Finally, we can be confident in the God who came to give sight. If we are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is already at work in us and – as we lead lives of repentance and faith – our sight will grow little by little. Until that day when all things will come perfectly into view.

Helen Thorne

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at http://www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk or you can contact them at info@biblicalcounselling.org.uk or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

From darkness and guns to God


Claud Jackson first held a gun in his hands at the age of six. Now, over 30 years later, he is working as a curate, studying for the ministry and preparing to return to the same London neighbourhoods – but this time with a Bible in his hands.

His story is one of poverty, abuse, drug dealing and violence – and of a life turned round by a loving God who refused to give up on him.

Born in Clapham, the youngest of six siblings, Claud grew up in the shadow of domestic violence, with a London-born mum and an abusive and controlling Jamaican dad. He spent his childhood treading on eggshells, keen not to provoke the anger which his dad would regularly take out on Claud, his mum, his siblings and their dog. ‘Terrible pain and darkness filled our lives on a daily basis’, Claud writes, with fear and anxiety being constant companions for him as a young boy.

Early sense of power

When Claud was six years old, he held a gun for the first time – a nine millimetre handgun belonging to his older brother. ‘The gun possessed power, and as young as I was, I could feel it. I could feel its darkness and I could feel its strength’, he recalls. Claud hero-worshipped his brother, who left home in his early teens to become a violent drug dealer and was in prison by the time Claud was seven.

When his brother came out of prison, he and Claud’s mum bought a shop, which his brother used as a base for shady dealings. Claud was struggling at school and, having been bullied, he learned to fight back, believing that ‘with fear comes respect’. Meanwhile the family were living in poverty and had to move house regularly – at one point, Claud slept on the floor under the stairs. At school, he became ‘a spiteful, screwed-up bully’ and an outcast.

Fleeting gospel contact

When Claud was 12, he joined a new school where he was one of only three black or mixed-race children in a school of 700 pupils, and experienced racism for the first time. Around this time, he started attending a Thursday night youth club with a friend, and heard Brian Greenaway speak and read his book, Hell’s Angel, which awoke a brief interest in Christianity and even led Claud to ask the youth leader for a Bible; however, when he wasn’t given one straightaway, he became resentful and stopped going to the club.

Claud’s passion for football and his natural talent led to him being invited for a trial at Wimbledon football club at the age of 13. But when his brother laughed at him for thinking he could make a success of football, his confidence was shattered and he didn’t attend the trial after all. Instead he started smoking, drinking and doing drugs with his brother and his friends, and selling cigarettes to his school friends.

Search for belonging

Underlying all of this was a huge desire to be accepted by other people – ‘I fully believe every person is responsible for their decisions,’ he writes, ‘but looking back, I was just a kid trying to belong.’ In the drugs world, ‘I felt accepted, that I belonged.’ But he also lived in a permanent state of anxiety with a sense that things were spiralling out of control.

His brother became increasingly violent and was arrested again, leading to the first of many searches of their home, often in the middle of the night. Claud’s own cannabis habit – taking, buying and selling – increased. Then, when Claud was 16, his dad died. As much as Claud had hated his dad at times, he also loved him too – ‘it was my father’s bravery and strength that sustained us and, ever since his death, our family has fallen apart’, he writes.

Full of anger, Claud felt ‘I wanted to somehow pay life back for all the hurt it had handed out to me, but against everything inside of me that told me not to trust others, I still wanted desperately to belong.’ He became entrapped in a life of drug dealing, credit-card fraud and greed, with frequent run-ins with the police. ‘I wanted what was owed to me and I wanted it immediately,’ he recalls.

Finally, the inevitable happened – Claud was arrested and, while being held in a urine-soaked cell, he was told by police that he was likely to be going to court and to prison. In desperation, he prayed to God to get him out of the situation – and was surprised to be released home the next day while his friend went to prison. Soon the buzz of drug dealing and the risks involved had sucked Claud in again. By the age of 19, he owned a convertible sports car and saw money as the key to power.

‘This whole lifestyle was about hiding,’ he reflects now. ‘Hiding from my hurts. Hiding from responsibility. Hiding from hope that could so easily disappoint.’ When Claud was involved in a car crash outside a church, he met a West Indian nurse in hospital who talked to him about her faith and the need for him to know Jesus – while this made an impression on him at the time, he quickly sank back into depression, drugs, panic attacks, self-pity and poverty after his release from hospital. Now 21 years old, Claud and his mum were forced to live off bread, milk, tea and potatoes – until his drug-dealing business started bringing in more money again. Yet this ‘success’ was tinged with darkness as a number of his clients died due to drug-related issues; he responded by becoming increasingly emotionally detached, dating multiple women, and suffering from a high level of paranoia.

Friendship, Alpha and Jesus

When Claud was approached about becoming a mentor for high-risk young offenders for the local council, it initially seemed like a handy ‘respectable’ cover for his drug-dealing activities. However, he found that he really enjoyed it and, one day, he heard a colleague (Pete) talk about his faith and knew that he had to know more. Pete recommended the Alpha course – as it happened, there was one starting locally the following evening, and Claud was bowled over by the warm welcome he received. He really looked forward to the sessions and, one evening, ‘my heart dared Jesus to come into my life and make a change’, giving him a sense of deep joy and peace. Shortly after, he confessed his life of crime to the vicar, who encouraged him to get a ‘proper, full-time, permanent job’. Leaving his old life behind, he started to read the Bible and pray daily, and surround himself with people who would point him in the right direction. By the time the Alpha course had finished, the desire to sell drugs had completely left him.

Sensing a call, Claud got a job as a barista and then in a supermarket, where he worked for over three years, rising to the post of assistant manager. He started to attend Holy Trinity Brompton, and successfully interviewed for a job at HTB’s homeless shelter, where he realised how quickly lives and fortunes can be turned around (for the worse). He was appointed as a church verger and started sensing a potential call to the ministry. As someone who had never done well at school, he was able to join the Peter Stream, a year-long course for those who ‘have sensed a call to ordained church leadership, but have felt themselves, for whatever reason, excluded from the process of discernment, selection or training’. During this time, he spent much time working with young offenders and other young people, mentoring young disengaged adults and visiting young offenders’ institutions, as well as holding weekly youth drop-ins at the church. In working with them, he recognised many of his own struggles as a young adult with issues of identity, self-worth, confidence the need to belong, and the urgent need for positive role models.

Claud has now passed his Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) and is in the process of training for two years to become a Church of England minister. Once ordained, he would love to plant a church and to work with young people to decrease gang culture and knife crime. As he approaches 40, he is deeply grateful for ‘God’s truly amazing grace [which] took a once successful London drug-dealing street trader all the way from deliveries to deliverance, from guns to God’.

Rhoda Hardie

Claud Jackson’s book Guns to God has recently been published by SPCK

Controversy and anger


In the midst of her controversy with the London pastor William Huntington over the gospel and the law, the Particular Baptist authoress and hymn writer Maria de Fleury made a telling point.

She rightly noted: ‘Angry passions and bitter words ought never to be brought into the field of religious controversy; they can neither ornament nor discover truth, but they can grieve and quench that Holy Spirit, in whose light alone we can see light, and without whose divine illuminations, we shall walk in darkness.’

This consciousness of the danger of controversy – the way that it engendered ‘angry passions’ harmful to the soul and fed into ‘bitter words’ that made deep emotional wounds and gashes in the souls of others – was a consistent theme in the best evangelical writers of the 18th century. One only has to read the writings of men like Jonathan Edwards, the American Congregationalist divine who once rebuked the great evangelist George Whitefield for unwise public comments about those who disagreed with the Great Awakening, as well as the Anglican John Newton, and his protégé, the Particular Baptist John Ryland, to see this. It was a long-held maxim of Ryland, for instance, ‘never to dispute with the infallible’, a reference to men who prided themselves on never having changed their minds on non-essential issues and who were utterly resistant to persuasion.

These men, and a host of other godly men and women of that era, knew the dangers of theological controversy, though there were some people who, by their public speech, seemed to live for a theological brouhaha. But Edwards, Newton and Ryland insisted that such men by such delight revealed that they were not men of the Spirit. Some of those who gloried in controversy came to deeply regret what they had done (e.g. James Davenport, and Gilbert Tennent – ‘the son of thunder’, as he was known to some), while others never learnt that such delight is not the way of the Holy Spirit (e.g. William Huntington, and Andrew Croswell – a Congregationalist minister from Connecticut, who has been well described as ‘implacable and choleric’).

A ‘lamblike, dovelike spirit’

Here is Jonathan Edwards – by common consensus, one of the pre-eminent guides to evangelical piety – speaking about this danger in his classic work The Religious Affections, in which he delineates 12 marks, or signs, of true spirituality. This is his eighth sign: where there has been a genuine conversion, Edwards notes, it is accompanied by a Christ-like character, ‘the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ’. This does not mean that boldness for Christ or Christian zeal are wrong per se, and that Christian spirituality must perforce be wimpish. Edwards, though, is concerned that sometimes a ‘boldness for Christ … arises from no better principle than pride’ and that zeal for Christ can be marked by ‘bitterness against the persons of men’. He had seen this failing first-hand in public comments that Davenport, Croswell, and even Whitefield, had made in their sermons about opponents of the Great Awakening. Christian boldness and zeal are ‘indeed a flame, but a sweet one’.

He instances Christ in His fiercest battle against the forces of darkness, namely at the cross and in the events leading up to it. What temper marked Him then, he asks. His holy boldness and valour were not shown in ‘fierce and violent speeches’, displaying ‘sharp and bitter passions’. On the contrary, there was an ‘all-conquering patience’, love and prayer for His enemies: ‘never did He appear so much a Lamb, and never did He show so much of the dovelike spirit, as at that time’.

A modern application

Are not these words of Edwards – and those of other 18th-century figures, like Maria de Fluery – an outworking of the vital advice of Paul to Timothy: ‘…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.’ (2 Tim. 2:24– 25a)?

Michael Haykin

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

A song of lament


ALWAYS GOOD 
EMU Music
£0.99 or watch on YouTube

It was EMU’s Philip Percival who helped me see that Christian music should not be understood just as ‘worship’ but as ‘edification’. This new single Always Good does just that, based around the lament of Psalm 13.

Laments are not common in church music, partly because they are hard to write for congregational use. Finding a voice for sorrow, while at the same time expressing faith in His purposes, means avoiding melodies that are overly mournful. EMU have succeeded in this song, having a rhythm and major key that keeps the song moving. The words for the most part reflect Psalm 13, and reach the excellent last line of the chorus – ‘You are always good to me’. The bridge section hints that there is a New Testament perspective to be added to sorrow, but the song does not veer into triumphalism. And that is why it should be added to the church’s songbook.

It is Ecclesiastes that sounds the note of frustration that is still part of our lives today. Congregation members should not come to church to escape their sorrows but to be enabled to face them with faith. Well-chosen songs like ‘He will hold me fast’ and ‘Always good’ will keep a congregation honest and faithful.

I have two suggestions. In Hilburn’s biography of Paul Simon, Simon is seen obsessively struggling to find the right lyric, something I wish I’d done more! So I’m not sure about about ‘weeping’ in verse 3. Perhaps ‘watching’? Finally I would suggest it works better for the congregation in a higher key, an option hopefully supplied on the website.

We should be very thankful for EMU’s seriousness in song writing for the church. Buy this and sing it! Your church will be grateful, and you will be singing what Scripture says.

Steve James

Steve James a song and hymn writer and was rector of Holy Trinity Platt Church.

Do you really love your church?


Some while ago, I left the church I first joined in 1996, and where I had served as an elder for a good part of a decade.

I was excited to leave. I hated leaving. And love is why.

Sixty of us departed to plant a church in our own neighbourhood. We meant to love our non-Christians neighbours with a congregation within walking distance. Yet leaving meant transitioning away from one-on-one discipling relationships; breaking up small groups; re-prioritising who got invited to lunch or dinner. It meant no longer sharing weekly fellowship and ministry opportunities with names and faces we love, like Bill and Careen or Daniel and Brittany.

And, oh, it was heart-rending.

The love shared inside a church is the love of a family – mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers (see 1 Tim. 5:1-2). And like a son or daughter who comes of age, sometimes you’re sent, with all the bitter-sweet joy that accompanies this sending.

What do you think love inside a church is? Do you love your church? How?

A church is where we first model loving our neighbours and enemies.

Trace out a Biblical theology of God’s people through the Bible’s covenantal storyline. You’ll discover that one of God’s purposes for His special people is to model what He expects of all people. God means for everyone made in His image to love Him and their neighbour. But He specially employs His churches to exemplify such love, like department-store mannequins modelling clothes.

We’re to clothe ourselves in love for the world to see.

But that’s not all. The church is where humanity – or a new humanity – begins to love its enemies, just like Christ loved us. Think about it. We were all wannabe kings in the flesh:

‘I want to be king.’

‘No, I want to be king.’

Which means, yes, your fellow church members are your natural-born enemies. You forget that – praise God! – because a church consists of wannabe kings who have laid down their swords and become citizens of Christ’s kingdom. It’s inside a church, then, that we practice loving our former enemies.

You should have seen how arrogant that young man was who showed up in 1996. Talk about being my own king. Yet the church loved and embraced me. How could I not learn to love them in return?

And you? Do you practice loving people with different agendas in your church?

A church is where the world witnesses God’s love.

It’s not some generic brand of love that the church models. It’s God’s love in Christ that we should display: ‘… just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35). Jesus emphasizes the fact that the world will know we’re His disciples not by our love for the world, though that’s certainly true, but by our love for each other. Through our gospel cultures of forgiving words and righteous deeds, we demonstrate what Christ’s love is like.

The world thinks it understands love. It doesn’t. It only knows zero-sum-gain love: ‘I want you to love others less so you can love me more.’

Yet God’s love is a generative love. It creates more of itself. Watch this: the Father loves the Son, and the Son the Father. The Father and Son then sends the Spirit to form a people who will receive the Father’s love for the Son. And through the Spirit they learn to love God and each other like the Father, Son, and Spirit. Learn about all this in John 17.

God’s love is a boomerang that goes out into the world and then returns to Him bearing the bounty of even more love. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

This is why my church can send 60 of us away as an act of love. Leaving friends behind doesn’t mean loving them less but more, because we go to increase the universe’s overall supply of love. We go to make disciples and create more lovers of God, more love within Christ’s church, more disciple-makers who in turn will love the non-Christian neighbours, too. The boomerang goes out and comes back, goes and comes back, the universe’s quantity of love always growing.

Our love for each other reveals his love. Sometimes that means staying, sometimes sending, sometimes going. Does your love for your church involve sending others away? Or going yourself?

Love involves sacrifice and obedience.

As I said, the young man who showed up in 1996 was arrogant and wanted to be his own king. It was a sacrifice for others to love me. I offered them little. Yet for me to receive that love and learn to love in return involved a sacrifice of my own: repenting of self-rule and trusting in Christ. It meant confessing sin and living transparently. It meant listening and obeying.

Our culture defines love as giving people whatever they want: love means prioritising self-expression and self-realisation.

Yet Jesus teaches that love leads to obedience, and obedience is a sign of love (John 14:21,23; 15:10-11; 1 John 5:3). It does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth, says Paul. It heeds the will of the Father. It desires good for others, but that good is always God, and nothing other than God.

Love even involves discipline. The Lord disciplines those that He loves. A church that never disciplines or corrects sin, is an unloving church.

Do you practice loving your fellow members by listening to them? Accepting their discipline? Offering gentle corrections when occasion requires? Are you willing to submit to the church’s leadership?

Love involves mercy and compassion.

Yet love in a church also involves mercy and forbearance, even as we have received mercy and forbearance. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Christ’s love for His church, like a bridegroom to bride, is not the love of a prince for a princess, but for a whore.

Some of your fellow members are easy to love. Some are difficult. And that’s just the point. The easy-to-love teach us how to love the difficult-to-love. The annoying ones. The immature ones. The ones who don’t show up for nursery duty on time or whose kids snub your kids. Don’t tell me you love all Christians everywhere if you don’t love a specific and sometimes troublesome group of Christians somewhere. Don’t tell me you have the gift of prophesy or faith or do good deeds, if you don’t love real live people who are different from you – older, younger, darker, lighter, richer, poorer, mature, immature.

If love is patient and kind, as Paul says, you can assume it will be people who tempt us to impatience and unkindness that best train us in the ways of love.

Love for the church starts in a church – a place with real people with real gifts and real problems. Get to work here, and then let your love for other churches, other denominations, and Christians around the world, grow out of this seedbed.

The world will love and hate the church’s love.

A last word: the world will both love and hate what your church calls love. If they only love it, you can be sure you’re offering them a false and worldly love. The love of the Father is not in the world, and so they will sometimes call love hate and hate love. Expect this.

Our church plant expected this kind of opposition. We live in a very progressive community. Still, our task together is to love them by believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.

Honestly, our new church, like your present church, can only offer a vision of heaven’s love as in a mirror dimly. The good news is, we can point our neighbourhood to the one who loves them and us perfectly, the perfect who will one day come to welcome us fully into His love.

That’s the heart of our faith and hope.

Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in suburban Washington, D.C., editorial director for 9Marks and the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics for a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson)

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in suburban Washington, D.C., editorial director for 9Marks and the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics for a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson)

How can I be a better apologist?


I am sometimes asked how to get training in apologetics. Given that I am a Bible College lecturer who teaches these things it may surprise you that recommending a college course is not at the top of my list.

If you are interested in apologetics, and feel the need for more training, here are the suggestions I would offer.

Read

First, I would say read widely. Of course you may prefer watching online videos to written words, but I doubt many competent apologists get away without the thoughtful reflection that follows the pace of reading books and articles. Reading widely includes the Bible, theology, sermons, history, politics, news, novels and, importantly, books by those who are not Christians.

Prayer and fellowship

Secondly (though first in importance), don’t neglect prayer and Christian fellowship. Prayer reminds us that we depend on God and that our walk with Him is primary. Fellowship with other believers keeps us grounded, encouraged and realistic. Some people who engage in apologetics end up hyper-critical and inflexible, something that fellowship can soften. Effective apologetics requires emotional intelligence.

Philosophy

Thirdly, do some philosophy. A good overview of the history of philosophers and a simple introduction to logic is enough to give us a basic sense of why ideas matter and how to spot a fallacy. With some tools like these we can watch a news interview or a political speech and evaluate the persuasiveness of an argument.

Non-Christian friends

Fourthly, maintain friendships with those outside of church. Too much apologetics is an internal pursuit – Christians talking to Christians about what we believe. There is a place for that, but we are called to share our faith with those who doubt. Not only should we care for our friends who don’t believe, but our friendships with them will help us to avoid the bubble of faith that can make us lose touch with how the world thinks and why people don’t believe. The very tone we use, and illustrations we draw upon, need an awareness of the shifting attitudes in culture.

Going further?

But what if you want to go further and develop more formal training? There are great courses, whether non-accredited programmes or higher-level postgraduate degrees, offered in the UK. With the rapid development of online delivery it is no longer necessary to move house or even give up a job in order to complete a relevant MA or PhD. But I would add a caution here. Even as a Bible College teacher I would discourage anyone from considering apologetics an end in itself.

Many of the greatest apologists in history have used skills acquired elsewhere for the task. John Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics, C.S. Lewis was a scholar of literature, Francis Schaeffer had been an evangelist and missionary, while Alister McGrath trained as both a scientist and a theologian. A simple observation is that some of the best apologetic material emerges from skills and expertise acquired elsewhere.

What really interests you? It could be history, politics, football, film, music or motorcycle maintenance. Develop your skills in the areas where you feel God has given you a particular calling or passion. Could you develop your expertise and depth of insight in that area as a Christian so that you can use it to share your faith, engage unbelief and make the case for Christ? Maybe the need is not so much for more Christians becoming apologists, but more Christians being the best mechanics, historians, film makers and nurses they can be and making the defence of their faith in those fields.

Chris Sinkinson

Chris Sinkinson is a Lecturer in Theology at Moorlands College.