Does the Reformation matter?
It’s a question which is going to become increasingly crucial for evangelical churches in the coming year or so as the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Luther’s nailing his radical ideas to the Wittenberg church door draws ever closer. The church is under terrific pressure both from militant/political Islam and militant/political secularism and forgetting the Reformation, sinking our differences and standing together with anyone who calls themselves a Christian seems a good option to many.
Who are we?
Separatism simply looks seedy to many ordinary Christians…(to read more click here)
On 30 September David Robertson participated in a debate with the Revd Scott McKenna, in his Mayfield /Salisbury Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
This debate had arisen because of Mr McKenna’s sermon on YouTube in which he declared that Christ dying for our sins is ‘ghastly theology’. David Robertson, who is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, wrote a response to which McKenna objected. The two men met and had a good conversation and decided to hold that conversation in public.
The subject of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross as substitutionary atonement is crucial for Evangelicalism and drew many to come and listen. Over 250 people gathered on a Wednesday evening to hear this theological discussion.
David Robertson reflected on the debate, answering a number of questions for en.
en: How would you describe the strength of the evangelical view of the cross?
DR: The liberal gospel cannot stand before the biblical gospel. The narrative is usually that an evangelical biblical understanding is a dumbed-down fundamentalism that is easily swept away by the enlightened, compassionate learning of the liberal interpretation.
The trouble is that contemporary liberal theology is a house of cards. When it comes into contact with a more robust, solid biblical theology it is easily blown apart. There were so many examples of this in the debate itself. (You can read the full transcript at http://www.theweeflea.wordpress.com/2015/10/0 8/a-theological-conversation-with-scott-mckenna/) The liberal often uses a simplistic version of theology/history and language to confuse people. Scott, for example, at first declared that the doctrine of the atonement came about through Anselm, but during the debate he said it was invented by Calvin! Scott tried to claim that the Church Fathers supported his view, but was unable to substantiate his claims (at this point I was very thankful for the habit I have had for many years of reading ten pages from the church fathers each day!).
en: What do you think the debate says about the Church of Scotland?
DR: Sadly, I think the liberal establishment of the Church of Scotland is rotten to the core. I don’t say this because… (click here to read more)
Paul Copan and Kenneth D Litwak critique Naturalism and Scientism from the Christian point of view
Most children read Dr Seuss at some stage.
In Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who, a mean-spirited kangaroo opposes the elephant Horton’s conviction that small persons can exist in an invisible world on a flower Horton found. Despite Horton’s conviction about what he clearly heard, the kangaroo announces, ‘If you can’t see, hear, or feel something, it doesn’t exist!’
This pretty well summarises the view of many scientifically-minded academics on campuses today. They are opposed to the postmodern mood embraced by many of their peers, but they venture into another form of academic dogmatism.
During the Protestant Reformation, renewed emphasis was give to certain doctrines that had been diminished over the centuries: sola scriptura (‘Scripture alone’ is ultimately authoritative and, when push comes to shove, trumps church tradition) solus Christus (‘Christ alone’ is the basis of our salvation), sola gratia (God’s ‘grace alone’ is the source of our salvation) and sola ﬁde (the means of salvation is ‘by faith alone’ rather than human effort). Well, in the academy, we regularly encounter the quasi-religious dogma of sola scientia, that ‘science alone’ can give us … (to read more click here)
This article is an edited extract from The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas by Copan and Litwak, published by IVP, ISBN 978 1 783 591 282, and is used with permission.
What set Mez McConnell on the road to becoming a Christian?
My story starts before I was even born.
My parents’ marriage was doomed from the start. I was only two when my mother ran off leaving my three-year-old sister and me with our grandparents. From that point, childhood memories are a mixture of anger, pain and loneliness. Abandoned by my mother, I was often clueless about my father’s whereabouts, while his girlfriend – a cruel, angry and violent woman ‘looked after us’. She wasn’t nice and would get angry with us kids and hit us. She would get angry a lot.
Dad wasn’t there
One day, Dad left us at a big house. He said we were there to stay for a while. I cried a lot, but nobody hit me and there were loads of other children. I celebrated my seventh birthday at the big house. They gave me my first-ever party with a cake and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’. But Dad wasn’t there. I felt so alone. This was my first experience of… (to read more click here)
Mez McConnell is the pastor for Niddrie Community Church, near Edinburgh. He is also the Director of 20schemes which is dedicated to revitalising and planting gospel churches in Scotland’s poorest communities. Previously he was a missionary with street kids in Brazil. He is married and has two children. This article is an edited extract from his book What’s the Point of Life, published by Christian Focus, £0.85, ISBN 978 1 781 913 550 and is used with permission.
How bad were the Canaanites?
The Israelites original arrival in the land of Canaan, after the exodus, brought a military judgment and destruction on the inhabitants of a number of its towns – including the destruction by fire of three cities. Critics complain that surely this period represented a low point in biblical history. Weren’t the indigenous inhabitants simply peace-loving pastoralists going about their daily lives?
Rotten to the core
The Bible makes it clear that as the Israelites arrived they were bringing judgment upon a culture rotten to the core. Most evil of all was their religious practice of sacrificing newly born babies by having them burned alive. The Israelites had to be warned not to engage in such wickedness (Leviticus 18.21). Sadly, even the wisdom of Solomon failed him at this point as he followed the local culture into such awful acts (1 Kings 11.4-11). The Hebrew word tophet original-ly identified such a place of sacrifice in the Hinnom Valley. Modern scholars use the term to identify any location where it is thought such rituals were carried out.
What is the evidence for such depravity? Outside of the Bible, many classic Greek and Roman writers, along with early church theologians, provide eyewitness accounts. Some modern sceptics have sought to dismiss this evidence. Were descriptions of child sacrifice mere propaganda? Did the Greeks and Romans seek to smear the reputation of their enemies, the Carthaginians? Did the Bible writers simply want to provide an excuse for their destruction of previous societies? Could not the tophets simply be ancient child cemeteries rather than anything more sinister?
Recent archaeological evidence from the largest known site at Carthage confirms the worst. 200,000 urns containing the cremated remains of very young children were buried here over a number of centuries. Inscriptions on standing stones indicate that they were dedicated to gods. Recent study has been able to ascertain that most of the remains are of babies between 1 and 2 months of age. This is clear evidence that the site is not a cemetery for natural infant deaths. Natural deaths would reflect a wider age spread from prenatal to early years. The tophet at Carthage is witness to a deliberate act of execution. A professor of Medical Anthropology at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem simply concludes, ‘the incinerated infants in the Carthage tophet were sacrificed to the gods’. (Patricia Smith, ‘Infants Sacrificed? The Tale Teeth Tell’, Biblical Archaeological Review, July/August 2014, p.56) This was a common practice in the ancient world and God used the Israelites to deliver his judgment on such child slaughter (Genesis 15.16).
One reason for the revisionists attempt to deny the evidence is that such wickedness seems hard to believe. Josephine Quinn, of Oxford University, having surveyed the dreadful evidence, comments: ‘We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t’. Is this the real reason for the rejection of the biblical claim that Canaanites deserved judgment? We find it hard to believe that they could be so wicked.
Except we are not so different, are we? We may not call it child sacrifice, but since 1967 there have been 8 million abortions in Great Britain. In 2012 there were 190,800 abortions in England and Wales. It is estimated that 97% of abortions are for social reasons, unrelated to the health of the mother. Babies are being sacrificed for the modern gods of convenience, ambition and self-interest.
Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer observed, ‘Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: how did it treat people?’ Nothing tests the humanity of our culture more than our treatment of the vulnerable, including the unborn. Writing in 1979, Schaeffer noted that having lost the biblical view of humanity, ‘Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography, the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us’. (Francis A. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) These were prophetic words and we need to question whether contemporary human beings are really so different from those of ancient history.
Chris is lecturer at Moorlands College and pastor of Alderholt Chapel. His books include Confident Christianity and Time Travel to the Old Testament published by IVP.
Biblical truth is never given simply to increase our knowledge, but always to change our lives.
At the end of his first letter, the apostle John reviews a number of Christian certainties, with sentences beginning ‘we know’ (1 John 5.15-21). Among them is a statement which we often forget, or ignore, as children of God: ‘we know that the whole world is under the control of the evil one’ (v.19). Whenever we are surprised or overwhelmed by the tidal waves of godless rebellion sweeping through our culture, we have forgotten what we ought to know and to expect. But a couple of sentences later, this knowledge is applied to our living, with John’s concluding exhortation: ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols’ (v.21).
Exchanging truth for lies
Idolatry has always been a major means by which the devil keeps the unbelieving world in his grip. From the time that Adam and Eve capitulated to his subtle invitation to ‘be like God’ (Gen 3.5), we human beings have always wanted to exchange the truth of God for lies and so to worship and serve ‘created things rather than the Creator’ (Roman 1.25). The way we do it is by idolatry, because worshipping what we invent or construct is ultimately about worshipping and serving ourselves, and that is what our sinful hearts most desire. We are not willing to let God be God.
David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for en.
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