Monthly Archives: June 2009

Notes from the 2009 Evangelical Ministry Assembly

Dan Green has helpfully put up all his notes from the sessions at the Proclamation Trust’s Evangelical Ministry Assembly last week.

I really enjoyed all the talks, so if you can’t wait for the mp3s (which I think they are planning to charge for), I’d encourage you to check them out. Brief thoughts on each speaker from me:

  • Don Carson was brilliant at packing lots and lots of snapshot thoughts about Biblically-grounded prayer from across the whole Bible into three talks.
  • David Jackman produced some model expositions that really paid attention to the literary techniques in the psalms, and hit home in his understated way.
  • Richard Coekin was passionate and clear with his two talks from Jonah on ‘God the Evangelist’. Good examples of some Christ-centred preaching from the OT too, with his application of the sign of Jonah from Matthew.
  • John Dickson was massively engaging and had some very interesting thoughts on evangelism that slightly contrasted with most of the stuff I hear.

You can read Dan’s notes here:

Here are the links to all my notes from this year’s Evangelical Ministry Assembly that took place last week.

David Jackman – Preaching and praying from the Psalms

1) Psalm 44

2) Psalm 86

3) Psalm 108

Don Carson – Prayer and Mission

1) Prayer changes things or does it?

2) Five prayer polarities

3) Improving our praying

Richard Coekin – Engaged in God’s mission

1) Preaching from Jonah (1)

2) Preaching from Jonah (2)

John Dickson – Strategy for Mission

1) Three dimensions of promoting the gospel

2) Three dimensions of proclaiming the gospel

Vaughan Roberts – Annual EMA Address

Strategic thinking for strategic times

I never did find out what the wind turbines were for

I never did find out what the wind turbines were for

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A glance at the Federal Vision from Don Carson

I was privileged to get to hear Don Carson (along with several excellent speakers) at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly held in London this week.

On the second day, there was an interview with him conducted by Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF). Among many topics posed, Carson was asked whether the Federal Vision presented sufficient problems that it requires a ‘99 call‘ by non-Federal Visionists – a reference to the British Lions’ tactic of combating the Springboks’ physicality by punching the nearest opposition player when the 99 call was shouted.

Don Carson

Carson, after taking issue with the analogy, suggested two thoughts to bear in mind.

Firstly, the content of the message matters. Secondly, the way the message is promulgated matters.

Under the first heading, Don noted that there are a range of views amongst FV advocates, some of which are wrong, some of which are perhaps worse than that (I don’t want to mis-quote him). More interestingly, he noted that various streams of orthodoxy are susceptible to different errors. High Presbyterians will be more attracted to the presumption of the salvation of believers’ children (one of the FV’s main distinctives) than Baptists. Other streams will be more attracted to other errors – e.g. Arminians to Openness Theology, Messianic Jews to the Galatian heresy etc (I just made those up).

Carson then went on to suggest that he thinks English Anglicans will be susceptible to following the FV errors because ‘they don’t have a strong theology of baptism’. If you tend away from the main stream of what the Bible teaches in one area, you will be inviting a ‘swingback’. If we don’t talk about the Spirit, we invite the extreme charismatic movement, if we ignore the issues involved in the end-times, we invite dispensationalism.

So similarly, he thinks English Anglicanism could be tempted by aspects of the Federal Vision: a practice of child baptism without a clear theology of it (unlike that ground out by American Presbyterians I assume). I’m not really qualified to comment on that!

He didn’t mention this, but obviously the presence of historical Catholic and Lutheran views of child salvation through baptism in the Anglican denomination may also make FV views on this issue attractive to conservative evangelical Anglicans who are seeking unity in a denomination that is so theologically fragmented.

baby+with+bathwater

Under his second heading, the way the message is promulgated matters, Carson was similarly irenic and helpful.

Don repeated what is a familiar line of his when he deals with various movements – students pick up what you teach, not your assumptions. So the next generation may have gotten your views on the gifts of the Spirit, or the timing of the millennium, or the salvation of believers’ children, but having forgotten the basic gospel of Christ appearing to save sinners and judge evil.

His concern is that for some Federal Visionists, their distinctives may become more central in their teaching than the gospel.

My general comments would be that Carso’s guarded approach to the Federal Vision echoes that of John Piper, who has invited Doug Wilson to speak at a Desiring God conference. It may be that Reformed Baptists are disposed to be generous to Federal Visionists, since they think the key error is in infant baptism, and may almost welcome the increased link between baptism and regeneration seen in FV theology. They both clearly think there are errors in the Federal Vision, but are not rushing to trumpet them.

I certainly appreciated Carson’s rejection of the idea of making a ’99 Call’ on the FV, and his willingness to be perhaps harsh on Anglicans in giving them a loving warning. I’d encourage anyone interested in the Federal Vision debate to read this superb primer on the Federal Vision issues and importantly how to approach them.

Threading the needle, Twitter style

An interesting blog post on the Economist’s Democracy in America blog yesterday claimed that

Iran’s likely-rigged ballot this weekend, and the protests that have erupted in response, present something of a dilemma for Barack Obama …

On one hand,

Iranian human-rights organisations appear to be in broad agreement that an appearance of American support for the opposition would only feed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s self-serving claims that the protests are somehow foreign-instigated, and in the words of one wag, risk a backlash of nationalism that “would make Lee Greenwood look like a flag-burning hippie”.

This would be a bad sign

But on the other,

it seems equally disturbing to simply wink at what is very probably a brazen fraud … Is there any way for Mr Obama to thread the needle?

Well the news coming in this morning is that Mr Obama’s team have found quite a cunning way to do just that.

One of the interesting sub-plots of the Iran story has been the massive use of the #iranelection Twitter feed to organise protests, share shock stories and generally spread information and misinformation. But this bubbling pot of discontent was in danger of going off the boil, as Twitter had planned some scheduled maintainance. So yesterday, a State Department official emailed Twitter to request that they delay planned maintainance to allow Iranians to continue to communicate their insurgency.

I haven’t seen it explicitly stated, but there’s a reason this story is in the Times this morning. It allows the US Government to look like it is supporting Iranians’ right to democracy and free speech. But by talking about things like Twitter and hashtags instead of making an Obama pronouncement there’s a significantly lower risk of inciting a backlash from the rural/working class Iranians who more likely to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and less likely to be up to speed on the social web.

An interesting example of how soft power may work in the web-enabled world – and another instance of the Obama admistration’s impressive grasp of the emerging potential of these new technologies.

For while you wait

I just wrote an update to the About page, and I thought I’d share it here too:

This blog is called ‘Stay Awake’. It’s all about living the Christian life well, to ensure that when Jesus comes, bringing the new day of the new creation, we’re not found to be slumbering in bed.

We’re the bride, patiently waiting for the bridegroom; the doorkeeper, watching for our master; children of light, living for the Day. We’re awake, sober, armed and ready.

It’s a blog about that little, unfashionable, word perseverence. A small subject in most systematic theologies, but one that really encompasses what the Christian life is all about. It’s about making sure we’re ready to meet our King when he comes.

A broad topic to be sure, and in practice I’ll write about interesting topics wherever I find them. But to stop things becoming too theoretical, and to make sure that this blog builds up I’ve given the categories an escatological cast. To encourage us to live now in the light of the not-yet.

Please do jump in and get involved with what I’m writing – it’s good to have you aboard! Let’s respond to the hope that we have in Christ by encouraging one another, and building each other up.

For the glory of God!

keeping watch

Checking our pulse

How much can you tell about our theology from our favourite Bible verses?

The Bible Gateway recently published a list of the top 100 most searched-for verses. I’ve rearranged the top 10 into a vaguely organised fashion, with the rank of the verse in brackets.

Gen 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (5)
Rom 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (3)
Jer 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (2)
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (1)
Rom 12:2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (8)
Prov 3:5: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (6)
Prov 3:6: in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (7)
Phil 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (9)
Phil 4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (4)
Matt 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (10)

How accurate do you think this is as a guide to the functional theology of the wider evangelical church? (CT, the Shack)

Are there any go-to verses we should really have?

A kingdom without a King?

Nick Mitchell has highlighted this modified gospel presentation from Scot McKnight, which emphasises the importance of God’s new community, the church. Read it and see what you think:

God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.

But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.

The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you – so you all can live as the beloved community.

If you enter into Jesus’ story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.

Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God’s community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.

Those who preach this gospel will not deconstruct the church. Instead, they will participate in what God is doing: constructing the kingdom community even now.

This gospel presentation appears on McKnight’s blog in the context of him working through the kingdom of God theme in Luke-Acts. So it’s possible that Scot wouldn’t use this as a gospel presentation away from that context.

But, Scot does give the above as the answer to the question, “If the kingdom is the solution, what was the problem?” The problem, says McKnight, is fractured community, with its solution in the kingdom community.

Concious or not, this feels like an over-reaction to individualised gospel presentations to me. Since McKnight’s presentation is being discussed out it’s original context, I think it’s worth showing how I feel it is unhelpful as a general gospel summary.

Firstly, community with God’s people is emphasised more than community with God, especially in the two key summary paragraphs.

Take a look at the definition of the gospel (the good news):

The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you – so you all can live as the beloved community.

Community of what?? “beloved” is too weak to clearly show the centrality of God in Christ being the source of this community.

And the closing paragraph:

“those who preach this gospel will participate in what God is doing: constructing the kingdom community even now.

Obviously a correct understanding of the kingdom community implies God reconciling himself to us, being King of his community and all the rest of it, but in McKnight’s presentation this isn’t clear. So God’s purposes come to mean God’s creation of a giant social club.

wheres the king

Secondly, the key point of “reconnection to God” is buried in a list of benefits:

“you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.”

“Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God’s community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.”

Thirdly, the problem of disconnection with God is not clearly given the root location it deserves. We have

a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.

Instead, it’s first among equals.

I would like to see more gospel presentations featuring the importance of community, but for my money this one is simply not clear enough about the Good News of what Christ has accomplished to make that community possible.

How about:

All of us have done wrong by rebelling against God and ignoring his commands, so instead of living harmoniously together with God as our king, we’ve been separated from God and divided from each other.

The good news is, Jesus took the consequences of God judging that rebellion, meaning those who are united to Christ by faith are reunited with God and united together in Christ.

HT: Rob Davis

Your hand, in Jesus’s side

Today I read this quite sad post where someone gives 20 reasons for walking away from Christianity. Although I’m not sure how much of the gospel message he really embraced, it’s always depressing to see someone turn aside from the source of eternal life.

I posted up a link to the article on Facebook, and asked friends to tell me which ones they connect most with and promised to try and respond to them.

One friend asked for numbers 9 and 20. So I’ll do number 9 in this post and number 20 in a follow-up.

Reason 9 was:

The authors of much of the Bible are unknown. And of these unknown authors, the men who wrote the gospels likely never even met Jesus considering they were written 40-70 years after his death. A far cry from reliable testimony.

Let’s go to the focus of this question: the authorship and reliability of the gospels, the four accounts of Jesus’ life that we have in the Bible.

Obviously, scholars, both Christian and non-Christian have spent a lot of time studying this crucial question.

I won’t attempt to cover all that scholarship here, but I will run through a few of the top arguments that convince me that the gospels are factually trustworthy. If you want the good stuff, check out these articles.

My top 4 reasons to trust the gospels:

  1. The date of authorship. The 40-70 years after Jesus’ death dating given to the gospels in the objection isn’t far wrong, if a little late. Jesus is believed to have died around 30 AD. Scholars generally think all the gospels were written before 90 AD. What is strange is that this is actually a very early date! The ancient world was nothing like today with Twitter etc.: to have documents from this recent after the events is pretty good going (especially when the event was the death of a Jewish carpenter killed as a heretic/revolutionary).
  2. The identity of the authors. Our friend seems to think that the dates mean the gospel writers probably didn’t know Jesus. Let’s do the maths: assuming Matthew and John were the same age as Jesus, and Jesus was born some time around 0 BC, and they wrote their gospels between 60-90 AD, that would put Matthew and John’s ages when writing their gospels at about 60-90 years of age!
  3. The authors and their ‘characters’ would have been known. The gospel writers don’t shy away from including verifiable details in their accounts. In particular they mention a lot of people’s names. Mark even goes so far as to reverse the convention of identifying a person by their father’s name (James the son of Zebedee), instead identifying people by their children – people who would have been known to the readers!
  4. The authors’ motives make sense. Sometimes people say that writing something down 30 years after the fact is a long time to wait. Not a bad point, but it’s again important to remember that we’re talking about a very different society to ours. In fact, if you work out the likely ages of the disciples when they wrote their gospels it looks like they were nearing the end of their lives. In a more oral culture this is exactly when you might think about ensuring that what you’ve been teaching gets handed down correctly. More importantly, the authors had a motive for wanting their knowledge of Jesus to be taken seriously as a reliable account. John writes at the end of a classic story about faith and reason:

    Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    John’s wants to tell people about the signs, then they’ll be convinced Jesus is the promised King, then they’ll get eternal life. So he expects his readers’ faith to be rooted in the facts of what Jesus did. He has an interest in recording what Jesus did accurately.

The amazing truth at the heart of the Christian faith is that, in Jesus, God stepped into history in a way that no other religion can seriously claim. While still being God it is appropriate to ask historical questions about him. This God is a disprovable God. And yet, the evidence points towards these extra-ordinary accounts being worthy of taking at face-value. So read.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas