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Thursday, 21 July 2016

On Reading Books

"I don't read books"

I have met Christians who make boast of the claim that they don't read books, even that they don't do much reading fullstop. Invariably this turns out to be part-tale because they're on social media or online much of the day. What they normally mean is that they don't like the serious discipline of sitting down to read a book.

It's a hard position to defend as a Christian because we are, by definition, "people of a book", the Scriptures. It is the truth that sanctifies us, comforts us, leads us and teaches us. So frankly if we are not readers of The Book, at the very least, we shall be poor followers of the Word.

The tale of Les
What is more, love for The Book often leads to a great love of reading in general. I once worked at Yale Locks in Willenhall where I met a labourer by the name of Les. Recently converted his mind had come alive. Not just his heart but his mind. He would have been one of those "I don't read" types (except of course The Sun) but God's word, like yeast in a batch of dough was shaping every part of his life including his mind. He became a great reader - and some of those books were heavy stuff. (It is a complete myth that working class blokes are thick - this man had more intelligence than most graduates I have met).

So reading books and being a Christian kindof go together.

But this can be a problem: it's possible to be a reader and not be a learner. Unless the reading is disciplined you can end up deeper in the trenches of tradition and prejudice than ever before.

The example of Holy Scripture
The divinely inspired Scriptures set for us a noble example of how to read. We are given many different varieties of reading material in the 66 books of holy writ. We have biography and letter, poetry and prophecy, law and song. Some books are easy to understand and some hard. Some can be read "off the surface" others require a whole lot of background study. With the divine example in mind, we might draw up a few guidelines for reading books.

Suggested guidelines for reading books
(1) Read widely. It would be a mistake to limit your reading to one class of books. Read Christian books (mainly) but read secular books as well to understand the world you are living in. Read doctrine, read history, read biography, read poetry, read generally.

(2) Read the best. Since life is short, choose carefully. Make sure the book has good reviews (good=written by layman, "I found it helpful", ignore the comments of the doctors and teachers of the law, "a praiseworthy summary of the author's PhD manuscript"). Best is often old. Why? Because time sifts out the rubbish. A new book bigged up by a publishing company spending millions to earn millions may be worthless and tomorrow consigned to the (big) dustbin of history. If in doubt, speed-read before reading.

(3) Read outside your comfort Zone. Reading can actually make a man more ignorant if all he does is read to confirm his prejudices! Some do that until they are experts in dots and commas. Read books you do not want to read! Let them challenge you. Example: I am correctly reading a whole set of books on the Anabaptists. These guys were despised by the Reformers - especially the big shots like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin - (of whom I once thought of a tad too highly!). I am quickly becoming an Anabaptist as a result! Or, to correct myself, I think their contribution to Christianity has been greatly underestimated by history and the Reformed churches.

(4) Read outside your interest Zone. So you read outside of your comfort Zone: you read the Anabaptists if you are Reformed, the Calvinists if you are Arminian. But what about something totally different. Do you read enough biography? Enough history? Some fiction (a little)? (Steady!)

(5) Read One Book the Most. Some years ago a good man, a good pastor went astray seriously. Those around him had sensed this drift many years before. The man admitted that for every Christian book he read, he was determined to read a secular one (ratio 1:1). Perhaps that's a poor balance. Because we can be tainted even by standing in the way of sinners and turn into chaff that the wind blows away. We need to guard our thoughts and fill them with the law of the Lord. And if we meditate on that law we will become like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season. Above all else, disciplined above all else, make the reading and study of God's most holy Word, your primary reading. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

How to defeat Satan

The Victory of Jesus Christ
According to the Scriptures, Jesus appeared to"destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8). He disarmed and  "made a public spectacle of them (the powers and authorities), triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15). This means that Satan is a defeated enemy and that "he who is within us (Christ by his Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world (Satan)." (1 John 4:4).

Satan's ultimate - and total - defeat lies in the future and for now he still is granted a limited amount of power over the world, "the whole world is under the control of the evil one." (1 John 5:19). That's the world,  but how does Satan influence believers? He cannot possess them, but he does oppress us: how does that work?

Satan's chief influence upon believers is through deceit and LIES.

Satan tells us lies. know this because the spiritual weapons of our warfare given in Ephesians 6 include the "belt of truth" and "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." We know this because he stumbled our first parents with lies (Genesis 3). We know this because Jesus answered him with truth (Matthew 4) and we know this because Jesus called him "the father of lies." (John 8:44).

Satan tells believers lies.

And if we believe those lies, we shall find ourselves "under his spell." Understanding this fact is truly liberating. Because immediately then you are equipped to evaluate all the lies you have been listening to and equipped to respond with truth, "it is written."

Some of Satan's Lies 

LIE 1: "Your sins of the past have not been forgiven"

THE TRUTH? "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." (Is 43:25)

LIE 2: "You will never be able to change!"

THE TRUTH? "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3)

LIE 3: "God doesn't love you!"

THE TRUTH? "For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you.." (1 Thess 1:4) "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)

LIE 4: "If you do that, it will be good"

THE TRUTH? "In the day you eat of it you shall surely die!" (Genesis 2:17 ) "sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:15)

LIE 5: "This Gospel advance will never succeed!"

THE TRUTH? "All authority has been given to me... Go and make disciples... I am with you always." (Matthew 28)

Examining our hearts
When Satan whispers a lie in our ears, and we find ourselves falling for it, it always produces a negative feeling in our hearts. It may produce guilt, fear, loss of courage, whatever. This is a major way to recognise his lies:- what's the effect upon our hearts?

When Paul was writing about the spiritual battle in Ephesians 6, he owned up to one of his own feelings - fear. His task was a preacher, so Satan would whisper dark thoughts into his ears, "You're not a good preacher" "You'll get in trouble if you say that", and so on. And so twice, right at the end of this letter Paul asks for boldness. Instead of believing the lies of the evil one and backing off preaching, he wanted to preach with courage.

Examine those dark emotions. Where do they come from? Are they the result of believing the lies of Satan?

Overcome them with Truth!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Curse of the Academy

The beauty of Jesus' Method
The way Jesus trained the Twelve has never been improved upon and never will be. He took twelve ordinary men and spent tons of time with them over three years. He taught them by word and example without one classroom, except the open  fields, without one exam, except the tests of prayerlessness, pride and impotence.

I think he probably meant - No! I know he meant - when he gave the great commission that the way to make disciples (and leaders too) was the way he had just done it.

But we think we're cleverer and smarter than Jesus and so we adopt the academic model, and what a mess we are in!

The academic model (classroom, textbooks, exams and so on), is fine for learning physics, maths, medicine and such like, but it is completely inadequate for training believers or church leaders. 

I had thought, until very recently, that this curse was a plague only visited upon middle class churches, but I have recently discovered that so appealing are "qualifications" that even modern day proper working class fishermen-type leaders have bought into it.

So here are seven reasons why the academic modern model is wrong, so very, very wrong.

The curse of the Academic Model

1. The academic model is termly! Let's teach folk 3 terms a year, say each nine weeks long. What about the other 25 weeks a year? They don't need to be taught then? Minor point......

2. The academic emphasises the wrong kind of knowledge - head knowledge! What matters most is not what we know in our heads (which fades so quickly) but what has come down into our hearts and shaped our lives. "Apprenticeship knowledge" is knowledge about how to actually make a certain kind of wood joint, not the theory of making the joint, and its apprenticeship knowledge we should be developing, not head stuff.

3. In emphasising the wrong kind of knowledge, the academic model generates pride! Of course! Pride puffs up! Not rocket science, this! I know stuff you don't. I've got a BA you don't. I've got an MA, you don't.  I've got a PhD, you don't. I went to ABC you only went to abc. Ridiculous! What we are after is humble servants so we put them through a machine which is designed to generate pride! A PhD in the kingdom of Christ, let's be straight, is worth no more than an ASBO (Google it).

4. The academic model of training takes people away from church! What! Can we imagine Jesus sending the Twelve out of the real world into some kind of institution to learn? The world, no the church, is the only place where learning can or should take place.

5. The academic model has some serious - and stupid - spinoffs. Perhaps the most serious is that it skews one gift - the preaching gift - above all others. Of course, the teacher-man knows the most. This is bad news not only from the body-ministry point of view, it is bad news from the "all eggs in one basket" point of view. We wonder why no-one is converted - must be the preaching. We wonder why no-one is growing - must be the preaching! Most people, actually are converted by one-one conversations, not by preaching. Most spiritual growth, actually, takes place in body fellowship, not through preaching.

One sad spin off is the way Christian Conferences model themselves on the classroom. They have "papers" from the experts instead of fellowship and sharing between conference delegates. Of course, that's how a university works. Can we really imagine "papers" at the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15?

6. The academic model makes boring Christian books. Why? Because they constantly put in distracting footnotes and also write their books first for the approval of the geezers who will boast on the back of their qualifications to asses this book as good, whatever.

I notice with interest that all truly great Christian writers like Tozer, Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon never put in foot notes. Because they were more interested in helping the common saints than impressing boffins.

7. The academic model skews giftings in the church. I recently read of a conference that was seeking to attract people to it by telling them that their main speaker had two PhDs! It's one of the main reasons I shan't go! Why? Because in the New Testament the qualifications that warrant a man to lead are things like being filled with the Spirit and filled with wisdom, having suffered greatly for the Gospel's sake, not having letters after your name. As long as we appoint the boffin types, we will appoint the wrong types.

Away with it all!
We have only just begun our list, but seven will do! Away with the whole system and back to the supreme model set by the Son of God. Train people in geology and literature that way, but leave that method behind at the university gates.

I guess the only problem with his model is that you get no fame by adopting it.

Fame, rising in the ranks, certificates, all that jazz: isn't that the real reason the western evangelical church loves the academic model? I think so.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

My Favourite Pagan Philosopher

All my favourites are rebels!

All my favourite writers, whether Christian or non-Christian have to be outsiders, rebels, prophets. They have to stand outside the paradigms in which they were born and think as the OT prophets, and as the Greatest Prophet of All thought - new wine for new wineskins.

In other words they must be madly unPC. They simply won't follow the herd, the crowd or the norm -they refuse to think and act just because everyone else does the same.They want to find truth.

Of course there are two kinds of rebel. There are the kind that simply go off the rails with mad and maddening ramblings. These we discount as one would discount a madman.

There is a right rebellion and wrong rebellion. Wrong rebellion is rebellion for rebellion's sake. Right rebellion is rebellion for truth's sake.

 My favourite Pagan Philosopher
I don't know if you should have a favourite pagan philosopher, but the apostle Paul quoted a few in the seventeenth chapter of Acts, so I seem to be in good company.  I am not looking for a philosopher who everyone looks up to - such a man or woman is likely to be simply a parrot of modern thought and modern morality.

No I'm looking for someone who has two criteria about them: (i) they've been rejected by their community - or at least criticised, and (ii) that criticism has been on account of truth, partial or whole.

Mary Midgley is one of my favourites, so is Raymond Talis, but Thomas Nagel of New York is my current favourite. This is because he was (i) recently criticised by some in his community, "the writings of a once-great philosopher" said one critic and (ii) he is inching towards truth, partial truth in any case.

Mind and Cosmos - the book that made Nagel Great
Mr Nagel trusts his instincts and trusts common sense. In his wonderfully readable "Mind and Cosmos" he says that he is highly sceptical of Darwinian tales of our origins because we are required to put away common sense (p.7). Good 'ole common sense says that whenever we come across an object of great beauty, craftsmanship or intricacy, we automatically assume a great mind was behind it. Darwinian thinking requires us to deny what we know from all common experience.

Mr Nagel knows that as we go up the complex tree we finally reach the human mind (in this world, the most complex 'thing'). And no way can this absurdly complex mind come from matter - without a Mind. That is just plain daft. And daft because of the sheer complexity of thinking (theory of mind). How wonderful and amazing is the human mind! And mind in general.

Partial truth
So Nagel rejects the foolish common western notion that mind can arise from non-mind, from matter just by itself. This idea he thinks will be the stuff of the comedians in generations to come: "When I was a lad, they believed that our minds just "happened" over billions of years of chance and necessity from nothing!" H!a Ha! Ha!

"I would be willing to be that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a gerenartion or two." (p.128) 

OK so if mind can't come from matter, where does it come from? Here is where Mr Nagel, the good Professor from New York University is not such a prophet after all. Because he does not accept the existence of God (that would pretty much cast him out of the universe of universities) he believes that a new way of looking at the universe which starts with mind in the mix from the start is a better way about things. (If you don't put mind in the ingredients how can you get it out in the cake?) You need mind right there at the start.

"I would like to say something the polar opposite of materialism, namely the position that mind, rather than physical law, provides the fundamental level of explanation of everything." (p.21)

OK Prof, but why not accept that this "mind providing the fundamental level of explanation of everything" is  God? That would make sense?

Because then my whole life - and perhaps my whole career - will need to be examined. In man's desire to sin, to move away from God, he suppresses the truth about God, even when he gets so close.

It will take the miracle of faith to bring Nagel all the way to what the Hebrew Bible writers said before Plato (and all his followers, the philosophers), "In the beginning God..."

I pray for Thomas that one day God will open his eyes. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Modern Western Oppression of Women

Two kinds of oppression
All forms of oppression involve some combination of  "negative" and "positive". The person oppressed is either  forced to do something they don't want, or can't do ("positive" oppression) or prevented from doing something they wish to do ("negative" oppression).

In the ancient oppression of women, called patriarchy - women experienced both kinds of oppression. They could not vote, they were prevented from certain careers, they were paid less than men for the same jobs, and so on. And, yes, they were also forced to do things they did not want to do.

Modern Oppression
In the modern version of oppression called radical feminism - women continue to experience oppression. We are thankful that feminism has done away with a lot of negative oppression. Made in the image of God men and women should both have the same opportunity for education, the privilege of voting, and should be paid the same as men for the same job. There are many aspects of modern feminism for which we should rejoice.

But westerners imagine therefore, because they have eradicated some negative oppression, that women are now free. But that is a myth. No secular culture uninformed by God's Word can set anyone free.

Positive Oppression
Positive oppression is the pressure to do what we are not designed to do. In the name of  "equality" - that pseudo-wise weasel word of modern culture - women are encouraged to live lives they may not feel they want to live or feel they are equipped to live.

Modern oppression denies biological and psychological  facts:

A woman is very different from a man:
  • A woman can give birth
  • A woman can feed a baby
  • A woman has a natural predisposition to care for little ones
  • A woman is more emotional than a man - her hormonal make up is different

A man is very different from a woman:
  • A man cannot give birth
  • A man cannot feed a baby
  • A man is much stronger than a woman (in sports men are not pitted against a woman for this reason)
  • A man has far more testosterone running around his body 
  • A man is better psychologically equipped for leadership 

Common sense and psychological tests reveal these vast differences between the sexes:

"In an article published in the online journal PLoS ONE, psychologist Marco Del Giudice and his collaborators compared the personality traits of men and women in a sample of over 10,000 people and found huge differences. Women scored much higher than in men in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension, while men scored higher than women in Emotional Stability, Dominance, Rule-Consciousness, and Vigilance."

- this is just what anyone who lives in the real world would expect. While men and women are equal ontologically, that is in terms of value, they are not created (made by God, designed by God) to perform the same roles and tasks.

The very confusing equality mantra of radical feminism says that in the name of "equality" men and women must do the same tasks even if they are not designed to do the same tasks.

(The logical conclusion of radical feminism is to insist that the Government provides the medical services for a man to have a baby: only then can men and women be truly "equal", using that word in the way they define it. Only then will men and women be truly "equal." This absurd example illustrates the absurd nature of modern political correctness: men and women, when you think about it for 10 seconds are actually not "equal" in every way).

Positive oppression takes place when a woman is put under pressure to be or to do what she is not created to be or to do, all in the name of  pseudo-righteous confused "equality"; and positive oppression takes place when a man is forced to be or do what he is not created to be or do.

Example? Suppose in our day a young woman comes to this conclusion, "I believe that the very highest calling in life for me at the present time is to give my life and time to bringing up the children God has given to me and my husband. This calling is far more significant than being a managing director, a Professor, pursuing a career or making money. It will have a much greater impact on the world than any of the options just listed because the hand that rocks the cradle ends up ruling the world. And I believe that I myself will be far more satisfied in doing it than any of the options I am forced into by my culture. All my gifts will be used to the nth degree, from organisational gifts to intellectual gifts."

She then takes this view into the modern world and what does she get? "You are liberated to pursue this wonderful goal?" "Go for it sister!" Not at all! In our oppressive western culture, all she will get is negative oppression - "don't do that",  and positive oppression - "this is what you should be doing, pursuing a career for yourself."

So she gives up her own dream and gives up her maternal instincts and feels forced to do something she does not want to do - pursue a secular career.

If that is not oppression, I don't know what is. "You may not do what you want to do! You must do what you don't wish to do."

So while our culture prides itself in the advances it has made over the inequality of patriarchy, it continues to oppress women (and men) by radical feminism.

Only Jesus sets us free
Only the Gospel sets men and women free! By setting us free to be who God  made us to be - equal in value but created very different in gifts and abilities. True freedom can only take place when we are in possession of the truth about who we are, then truth sets us free.

It is high time for a new feminism which will truly liberate women, and that New Feminism can only be discovered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Overwhelming Theory

Facts are more important than theories
Something is happening with our science magazines.  National Geographic, Scientific American, Science, and the like are moving away from facts and focusing on theories.

As our understanding of God's amazing world advances, what matters most are the new findings, the new facts. The theories which attempt to tie these facts together are interesting, but very much secondary - why? Because they are in constant flux.

Theories now dominate
But this is not how science magazines now see things. Today's science magazines rush to theory and hardly present the facts at all - facts which are of primary importance - and which readers would really like to know about!

Example 1: Almost Human, National Geographic
Recently National Geographic published an article about some research on apes in some jungle and entitled it "Almost Human." No-one in their right mind  would have called the behaviour described in the article as "Almost Human." The researchers found a few apes using sticks to poke around trees and labelled all of this as tool behaviour. Did they find an ape making a metal chisel, sharpening it, and then carving out a Michelangelo David? That would be tool use and that would warrant the title "Almost Human." No, they found - the few paltry facts -  a few dumb apes doing dumb ape stuff (no offence meant to apes, that's their design limit, compared to the vast glory of man made in the image of the Glorious Creator).

In this example the very few true facts were completely overwhelmed by the doubtful theory of evolution. What would have been far more honest - and interesting - is a chart comparing the behaviour of humans to the behaviour of the apes they found in the forest. Then readers could have made proper judgements instead of being bullied into foolish and misleading theory-laden headings "Almost Human."

Example 2: Birth of the Solar system, Scientific American, May 2016
This May's Scientific American is all about the remarkable uniqueness of our solar system. But I had to really work hard to wheedle out the paltry details of this fact whihc is scattered about, one sentence here, another there. It turns out that as we discover hundreds and thousands of new planetary systems going around other stars, guess what? Ours is radically unique. In most other planetary systems, you find massive "hot Jupiters" close in to the star (not like our Jupiter and Saturn who are far away) or / and some massive earths (not like our puny earth). It would have been wonderful to have charts showing the differences between our solar system and these new ones. But no, it is really hard to gather the facts out of the article.

What dominates the article, then? Theory. Astronomers have had to tear up the old models of how the solar system formed and come up with totally new ones, and it is these new multi-part theories that dominate the charts and diagrams of the article. The theories are interesting, but they are also most likely, just like their predecessors, to quickly pass.  I want to know the new findings, the new facts - which will last - much more than I want to know the new theories, which though interesting I mentally register with a pinch of salt.

A lesson for science students: go for the facts, be sceptical about the theories
Science students who don't study the philosophy of science or the history of science can so easily be taken in by the stories (passing theories) of modern science. And unfortunately, the science magazines don't help here. What science students need to learn well is the data, the new findings, the new figures and facts. Yes, by all means read the theories, but know this: those theories will change with the seasons, unlike the facts.

Love facts, question all theories - that is good science folks.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Time to ditch the word "evangelical"?


Once upon a time....
There was a day I would have proudly called myself an "evangelical." The word "Evangelical", taking its cue from the New Testament word "Evangel", "Message" or "Gospel" was a wonderful way to describe every true Christian believer. It was shorthand for "Bible Believing Christian" and many of us were proud to wear the T shirt. It was a one-stop title.

Evangelical stood for:
  • Born Again - someone whose life had been supernaturally transformed by the Holy  Spirit.
  • Bible Believing - someone who accepted the Scriptures, old and new Testaments as the revered Word of God
  • Orthodox- someone whose doctrine was in line with the historic creeds and confessions of Christianity
  • Gospel-centred - a believer who loved the Good News of Jesus Christ and made sharing the Great Commission of Matthew 28 a priority

....but words change
However over time the word evangelical has changed its meaning. But unlike the word "enthusiasm" which once meant something unpleasant (a radical) but now means something positive, the word Evangelical has moved in the opposite direction. The word has become so elastic it includes those who no longer take the Bible seriously. And conversely, it has narrowed to refer only to one group of Christian people.

"Evangelical" means "Charismatic"
If you google "Evangelical" images you will see what I mean. An evangelical now is someone who has pentecostal or charismatic beliefs. Pentecostals and Charismatics are brothers and sisters in Christ who are evangelical (old meaning) in their belief systems, but they don't represent the whole of the evangelical (old meaning) world. There are millions of Christians who believe that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for the foundational era of the church and are no longer available or necessary today.

"Evangelical" means "liberal"
But far more concerning is the rapid widening of the "evangelical net" to include those who deny the plain teachings of the Bible or accommodate the liberal theological academic establishment. Men like NT Wright have had huge influence among some evangelicals (because he is "clever" and has all those weird and perfectly irrelevant letters after his name, which some find apparently authenticating: all you need for God's approval is something like "fisherman" or "tax-collector" after your name.) Academics like this are wedded to the intellectual establishment, with all its foolish passing fads, and write for the approval of fellow academics, making their work contorted, convoluted, and worst of all polluted by the liberalism of the secular academy. The moment they die their work will be fortunately undermined (for they are no longer around to defend their ideas) and thus quickly forgotten. Their followers, such as Steve Chalke, take the teachings of their revered professors to their logical conclusions and end up as Gospel-deniers. But, the point: these men still cling to the word "evangelical" and pollute its meaning.

"Evangelical" means "immoral"
And then, thirdly, there are the growing number of immoral men and women who have infiltrated the "evangelical" church with same-sex sinful lifestyles. It is truly astounding how many recent authors "defending" the sin of homosexual pratice have continued to call themselves "evangelical." By incredibly selective choosing of texts and deliberate exclusion of the main texts they have spun a web of lies - but, the point: they cling to the word "evangelical."

In this confused morass, before you call yourself an evangelical you need to add a few more sentences "I am a historic evangelical" or "a confessional evangelical" or "I am not a liberal evangelical" or "I am not a practising homosexual evangelical" or whatever, which sort-of undermines the value of a precious one-stop title.

So regrettably, its probably time to ditch the word evangelical, but what can replace it? Bible-believing Christian is probably the best alternative.