Dr. Mike Ovey asks if current evangelicals are in denial about some important matters
A week ago I was at a major Church of England jamboree as a friend was installed in a new and more senior post.
The cathedral was packed, hats and dog collars were on view and just for a moment it was easy to pretend. Easy to pretend that the Church of England was central rather than peripheral in the life of our country and its citizens. Easy to pretend that we are a success story rather than a tale of failure. So too, frankly, with evangelicals. We meet at our conferences, theatres are packed, cafés overflow and for a moment we forget.
Some encouragements but…
I quite appreciate that it is emotive and depressing to talk of ‘failure’, and that most of us prefer something more upbeat. On the other hand, isn’t there a risk of denial? Again, I am not saying there are no encouragements. It is great to hear of church plants, of sinners turning by God’s grace to the Lord Jesus through our outreach. And there certainly is a contrast between an evangelical movement that clings on and just holds its own numerically and the catastrophic downturn in churches that thought theological liberalism was some kind of answer. Obviously, by almost any measure, liberalism has failed in our country, failed numerically, failed in the popularity stakes and failed in faithfulness. If anything, I think those obvious points need to be made even more forcefully now.
Who are we not reaching?
But I wonder whether this doesn’t lead us to gloss over some of our own realities. We rightly admit that there are unreached people groups in the UK, thinking largely of race. We are far less comfortable admitting there are also increasingly unreached classes, and not just the various underclasses in our cities, but classes of entrenched interest and power in the creative and media sectors.
These classes have enormous influence, not wrong in itself, but that influence has been used to reframe what counts publicly as right and wrong. Notable examples have been the support for…(to read more click here)
Half a lifetime ago, a good friend, David Porter, a gifted writer and editor, now with the Lord, spoke at our church on the subject of rock music and the Christian. It was a fascinating evening, illustrated by a number of rare recordings. What stuck in my mind was the similarity between the Stones’s 1965 hit The Last Time and an ancient tape of a US black church choir. The choruses seemed very alike, but the choir’s theme was the return of Christ. No one knows the day or the hour. This could be the last time we meet as a church. And similarly we could say this could be the last time we meet for prayer, or for a Christmas carol service. He comes at an unexpected hour (Matthew 24.44). ‘This could be the last time – I don’t know.’ Quite a thought! …(to read more click here)
A couple accused of child abuse had the charges against them dropped. They had taken their 6-week old baby to hospital worried about blood in the child’s mouth. Medical staff spotted what seemed to be bruises on the baby and X-rays appeared to show fractures. The couple were indicted. For three years they maintained their innocence. On 7 October, with the prosecution’s medical evidence proving consistent with rickets rather than violence, they were declared innocent.
However, meanwhile the local authorities had facilitated the baby’s adoption.
The couple, understandably, want their baby back. But legal experts believe it is extremely unlikely that such an appeal against the adoption would be successful. A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: ‘With any case like this we only have one thing in mind and that’s the welfare of the child.’ Imagine that. You take your baby to hospital out of parental concern and you end up having your child taken away from you.
But here’s the real sadness of the situation……(to read more click here)
There has never been a shortage of books about the Christian ministry. So, when yet another one appears, one might rightly ask, ‘Why buy it?’ – especially if you happen to be a minister, or student, already too busy to read the books you have.
And, given the propensity in our day to look for the latest ideas on ministry, why bother with the counsel of someone from the 19th century? James Garretson’s work on the life and works of Samuel Miller gives good answers to both these questions.
Miller, along with Archibald Alexander, was one of the founding fathers of Princeton Theological Seminary He played a key role in laying the foundation and setting the tone for what that institution was to become during the decades that followed. Garretson introduces him to us in two biographical sections at the beginning and end of this book, interspersed with two sections providing a comprehensive overview of his teaching on what it means to be a preacher and a pastor.
The genius in this rather unusual approach is to let us see the close connection between what Miller was as a Christian and what he taught about ministry. Indeed, as we follow through the excerpts gleaned by Garretson from the Princeton archives – not only from Miller’s lectures and letters, but also from what was said about him by his students and colleagues – we quickly realise that his influence came as much from what he was as through what he taught.
Trust and obey
The scope of his instruction about the work of the ministry was extensive: covering everything from sermon preparation through to how a minister should conduct himself towards women in the congregation. The keynote that is sounded again and again as being the hallmark of this man’s view of ministry is the fact that faithfulness to the truth of the gospel is inseparable from a life that reflects the Christ of whom that gospel speaks.
Not surprisingly, Miller’s wisdom and insights are presented in the context of a culture that is very different from our own and carry something of the quaintness of that era. But that should not stand in the way of seeing how strikingly relevant this material is to the church of our day. If we are concerned about cultivating the kind of ministry that will mould the church for its lasting good, this is a book that deserves to be read.
Mark G. Johnston, minister designate, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cardiff
The world is full of non-Christian religions. What do we make of this? Can we really believe that Christianity alone has the truth when so many people hold different beliefs? Can we learn from them – perhaps they are stepping-stones towards the truth? How are we to think biblically about other religions?
These are some of the questions which Daniel Strange has set out to answer in this engrossing, challenging, thought-provoking and excellent new book. Although he says he is simply standing on the shoulders of earlier Reformed theologians – particularly J. A. Bavinck, Hendrik Kraemer and Cornelius Van Til – in fact, he has produced a volume which opens up the issues in a profound, fresh, illuminating and, above all, biblical manner. It is not an easy read (and his occasional use of academic language – ‘the religious Other’, for example – can occasionally be irritating), but it will repay careful study many times over. Strange argues consistently (and expressly) from a Christian, Protestant and Reformed theological position.
The main thesis of the book is that other religions are idolatrous human responses, sovereignly directed by God, to divine revelation; behind them lie demonic forces; and they are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel. Various strands make up the argument. The image of God in man was not totally destroyed at the Fall. Common grace means that humans have a conscience and tend to ask similar big questions about existence. Humanity after the Fall seems to have benefited from remains of God’s revelation to Adam and Noah, though that revelation has been distorted and suppressed. These factors mean that humanity worships, even if that worship is idolatrous.
Strange argues that the main way in which we are to understand other religions is as idolatry. He interacts extensively on this issue with Chris Wright and John Goldingay who in different ways take a rather more sympathetic view of other religions. Strange concludes that other religions are parasitic on the truth and counterfeits of it, and that they rob God of his glory and cause humanity ‘radical self-harm’.
Gospel of fulfillment
And so, Strange concludes, the gospel is the ‘subversive fulfilment’ of other religions. ‘Subversive’ because the gospel confronts and condemns them; ‘fulfilment’ because the gospel alone provides true responses to the essential questions that all religions seek to answer. Why then does God allow false religion? Ultimately, a Reformed theology has to affirm that they are for God’s own glory, shown in his judgment of sinners and in his mercy towards them.
This book demonstrates Reformed theological writing at its best. It refuses easy answers, takes contrary views seriously, is eirenic in tone but uncompromising in content and is careful in biblical exegesis and theological argument. It has significant implications for mission and Strange promises a further volume on this which is eagerly awaited.
Robert Strivens, Principal, London Theological Seminary
Knights of the King is holiday club material produced by CEP (an Australian Evangelical Anglican youth publisher). The director’s pack contains all the material to run a week’s club for children aged 5-12, based on Matthew’s Gospel.
The theme is medieval, and we meet a knight who is trying to find the one true king to follow. The booklet has a teaching programme, timetables, crafts, drama, song suggestions, games, memory verses and Bible study material. The pack also contains a CD-ROM and DVD with animations, visual aids, powerpoints, publicity material and other printable resources.
In our church, we had grown tired of trying to use other off-the-peg holiday club material and editing it so heavily that all we really ended up using was the name! It was such a relief to discover this resource and find that we could use the Bible teaching as set out in the book because it is robustly evangelical and Jesus-centred. The teaching programme doesn’t play down sin and also includes a gospel overview (a sort of Two Ways to Live, but medieval style). What a joy to read that the aim of the whole week is ‘to explore Matthew’s Gospel and learn that Jesus is God’s great king who came to save us from our sins and whom we should follow all our lives’. I also found some of the advice really helpful – particularly on thinking about how to make the Sunday service at the end of the week effective for reaching families
Tweaking the Aussie
The material is Australian and occasionally needs to be tweaked for a UK audience (too many surfing jokes, and an assumption that you’ll get good weather!). But apart from minor changes, I would highly recommend this pack for any evangelical church looking for biblical holiday club material.
a Sunday School leader in a rural Anglican church in Devon
Krish Kandiah’s Paradoxology addresses some of the biggest questions Christians wrestle with – questions such as God’s sovereignty and the human will, God’s transcendence and immanence, divine compassion and judgment, and his victory in defeat at the cross.
Krish argues that the very paradoxes which seem to undermine belief actually lie at the heart of a living faith in an awesome and infinitely majestic God.
In tackling such questions Krish takes the reader through the Bible’s story to meet many of the characters who grapple with similar issues. Chapters include: ‘The Moses Paradox’ – the God who is far away, yet so close; ‘The Joshua Paradox’ – the God who is terrible yet compassionate; ‘The Job Paradox’ – the God who is actively inactive; ‘The Esther Paradox’ – the God who speaks silently; ‘The Jesus Paradox’ – the God who is divinely human; ‘The Judas Paradox’ – the God who determines our free will; and ‘The Cross Paradox’ – the God who wins as he loses. In these chapters and others, with a combination of scholarly care, potent illustration and pastoral application, Krish guides the reader to a place of humble wonder at things too wonderful for us to fully grasp or understand.
This book helpfully steers away from overly neat or glib answers to the sorts of questions people really struggle with. It’s well written, accessible and deserving of a wide audience. My guess is that this might be particularly useful for students initially engaging with these sorts of questions. Cornelius Plantinga has said ‘dogmatic myopia … subvert[s] the richer understandings of life within the gospel’. This book resists such dogmatic myopia and, as such, presents a compelling vision for the deep riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
Monyhull Church, Birmingham
In this book, Amanda Robbie gives us an honest, humorous insight into her own messy life. She takes each area of life in turn, exposes the mess, then ‘chats with us’ about how we should think biblically about it.
It is written for Christian wives and mothers. As a mother of three boys, reading it was like drinking a cup of hot chocolate. Comforting. I felt as though I was sat at her cluttered kitchen table while she peeled the potatoes for lunch.
Her main message is that only God’s grace gets us out of the mess of our sin. God’s grace is seen most clearly in our weakness and mess. God’s grace is leading us to heaven where the mess will be gone.
She, very helpfully, challenges us to get our heart motivation right. For example, our motivation for tidying our house should be that those in it can rest and relate to one another.
She reminds us that the Bible is full of mess – messy people, messy family situations, messy mealtimes. Problems become opportunities in the providence of God.
She encourages us just to have a go and not to wait until everything is perfect. Even a single Bible verse snatched while semi-comatose with a breast-feeding baby, is better than waiting for the perfect moment for a perfect quiet time.
This book didn’t really go beyond comforting, but it made me laugh (‘God does have a view on the state of my skirting boards: his command to me is to subdue them’ was my favourite line!). It helped me to press on, imperfect as my attempts are. I can trust God that his word will do his work, even though I missed a few days of the daily Bible reading plan! She points us to Jesus on every page, which for me is a good book.
pastor’s wife at Bush Hill Park Community Church, Enfield
He uses it as an illustration.
But it is a powerful one. When the apostle Paul says ‘if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?’ he is speaking in the context of the messages given by the church (1 Corinthians 14.8).
There are contradictory messages on some of the most important issues we can imagine coming from those looked upon as Christian leaders in our country at present. The Church of England has said no to same sex marriages in church. But simultaneously Archbishop Welby has opened Church schools to be taught by the gay activist group Stonewall. Then the ex-Archbishop, Lord Carey, has performed a truly acrobatic volte face on the subject of assisted suicide. I picked up my Saturday newspaper in mid-July to find the headlines reporting his incredible moral gymnastics. Having once been against it, now he is for it. Meanwhile, the present Archbishop confirmed the Church’s opposition to Lord Falconer’s Bill promoting assisted suicide. Mixed-message-tastic?
The arguments against assisted suicide have often been rehearsed. The Bible never allows the taking of human life apart from in the context of an act of a legal earthly government as an expression of the wrath of God for wrongdoing (Romans 13.4, Genesis 9.6). This means there is no place for either deliberate abortion or euthanasia. Lord Carey defends his about turn by referring to developments in medical technology. But actually nothing has changed. As far back as 1973 a report to the Third World Congress on Medical Law said that the majority of deaths in the present day can be made peaceful whatever the nature and character of the preceding illness. Modern medicine can almost always overcome pain without shortening life.1 In a recent conversation with me a retired senior pathologist confirmed this.
What about those who are not in pain but who feel their lives have become pointless? The problems here are: first; the assessment of pointlessness will be invariably in secular terms, and second; why limit the pointless idea to people with medical conditions? Why not assist everyone who at some time decides their life has no value to die? Dr Harold Shipman would rub his hands with glee.
Where’s the gospel?
But beyond this, what is Lord Carey saying about the gospel? If a person is cogent enough to decide that their life ought to be ended, they are cogent enough to understand the gospel, which says without personal faith in Christ they go to a lost eternity. Their life here may be perceived to have become unbearable, but what about the unbearable nature of God’s eternal judgement? That doesn’t seem to figure in Lord Carey’s calculations. It’s like ‘tacit atheism’.
The real reason for the mixed messages from these senior figures is that they try to satisfy a godless society which has inevitably redefined all moral issues in therapy terms (Ephesians 4.17-19). Categories such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have become what ‘feels’ good and what ‘feels’ bad to us rather than what is good or is bad in the sight of God. In 2006, Lord Carey warned that if assisting someone to end their life was allowed it would soon be ‘treated as casually as abortion.’ He was right then. He is wrong now.
Christians are being confused. And these leaders’ contradictory trumpet calls, adrift from Scripture, are in danger of becoming mere ‘noises off.’ Meanwhile we are in a ferocious spiritual battle for the soul of Britain and its future.
1. See Francis Schaeffer & Everett Koop, in Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol. 5, p.336