Saturday, October 30, 2010

Has Science Disproved God?

Earlier today, I did a talk called "Has Science Disproved God?" at Apologetics in Manchester. It seemed to be very well received. You can find audio of the talk here, and the handout here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Richard Baxter - The Reformed Pastor

I recently finished reading the classic book The Reformed Pastor by the great Puritan Richard Baxter. It's basically a book length plea for clergy to work hard rather than slacking off, and to devote their time especially to visiting for the purposes of evangelism and discipleship, specifically by teaching the catechism (and Baxter didn't really mind which catechism...)

It's the kind of book that ought to be a must-read for clergy, and I can well see why it was so heavily recommended at college. But last time I mentioned it in a gathering of clergy, no-one there had read it. Here's a sample quote:

For my part, I study to speak as plainly and movingly as I can, (and next to my study to speak truly, these are my chief studies,) and yet I frequently meet with those who have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth and life and death, as if they had never heard it before... I have found by experience, that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour's close discourse than they did from ten years' public preaching.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking at the UK

There's a really interesting report here on the UK - always interesting to see our culture from an outside point of view.

In quick summary, the UK is one of the nicest places in the world to live, but if you went by what people think of it, you'd think it was one of the worst. For example, we're ranked 101st out of 110 countries for financial confidence and 40th for feeling safe walking home alone at night (though we're actually 23rd).


Then let me go further: the man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive. We all know about this, do we not? Is it not one of the greatest curses in life as a result of the fall - this sensitivity about self? We spend the whole of our lives watching ourselves.

But when a man becomes meek he has finished with all that; he no longer worries about himself and what other people say. To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending. So we are not on the defensive; all that is gone.

The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, "You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you." He never thinks "How wonderful I really am, if only other people gave me a chance." Self-pity! What hours and years we waste in this!

But the man who has become meek has finished with all that. To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realise that nobody can harm you. John Bunyan puts it perfectly. "He that is down need fear no fall."

When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad. You need not worry about what men say or do; you know you deserve it all and more. Once again, therefore, I would define meekness like this. The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do. That, it seems to me, is its essential quality.

D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount Vol 1, p57-58
Quoted in The Briefing, July-August 2008

I think Lloyd-Jones is spot on in some ways. He is right in terms of what meekness looks like. But I think his definition fails when it comes to look at Jesus - Jesus surely sees rightly and therefore knows that he does deserve all honour and glory.

And of course I am a sinner and deserve nothing more than God's righteous indignation against me, but if I also recognise that everyone else is a sinner as well, it should surprise me less if I do some things better than some other sinners, just as they do some things better than me.

It seems that the essence of meekness is more than just recognition of our sinfulness - it is also choosing to lay down any claims to status that we might have which are based on ourselves. And the helpful and challenging stuff that DMLJ writes then follow...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The De-Churched and God's Judgement

Here's a graph I find absolutely terrifying. It shows church attendance stats for the UK (I think it's for 2005).

On the horizontal axis is a breakdown on the population by age. And on the vertical axis is the proportion of the population as a whole. The three colours on the chat represent those who are currently regular attenders at church (at least once a month), those who used to attend church but no longer do so and those who never attended church.

Roughly 60% of the population have never attended church. Roughly 30% of the population used to attend church but now no longer do so.

What terrifies me is what this means for those who have been leading the church over the past few generations. God entrusted the care of his people to them, and they presided over the decline of the church so severely that nearly 75% of those who are now 85-year-olds were once part of a church, but only 15% or so of children currently are. Roughly 80% of living Brits who have been part of a church are no longer part of the church.

42The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:42-48, NIV

I can hear in my head the sort of conversation God will have with people who were ministers during that time. When God tells them of the privilege it was to be made a steward over his household and family, and asks them what they did with it. When they try to make their pathetic excuses for how they did their job so poorly that 5 out of every 6 people in their churches left and the church went from being seen as the foundation of society to being a boring irrelevance in just two generations.

And the church leaders today who carry on the trend - who don't see that their job is about bringing people to know Jesus - it is about saving lives rather than making sure the few already in the lifeboat have more comfortable cushions as they watch the rest of the world drown. Is their lot going to be any better?

God's judgement and wrath against the vast majority of British church leaders over the last few generations is going to be terrible. And that scares me, because God has called me to follow after them, and I am beginning to see something of what an awesome responsibility it is...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Extraordinary Interview with Russell Brand

It isn't often your opinion of someone changes totally over a very short space of time. I just watched an absolutely extraordinary conversation between Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand. Well worth watching - here are a few snippets.

No-one cares about religion any more... because we've been fed this grey sludge of celebrity glittered up and packaged and lacquered and sent directly into our brains by the media.

If you are pursuing [celebrity] for its own end, that's absolutely ridiculous.

[Paxman]Do you ever worry you're going to burn out?
[Brand] Well, I'm going to die, so yes.

Growing up, I wanted to be famous and now I am famous, and what does it mean? Ashes in my mouth...

Hat Tip to Marcus at Digital H20.

Monday, October 11, 2010

J.S. Bach - the point of music

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. If heed is not paid to this, it is not true music but a diabolical bawling and twanging.
J. S. Bach (1685-1750), Glory and Honor: the musical and artistic legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach, Gregory Wilbur & David Vaughan, Cumberland House Publishing, 2005, p. 1

What Bach says of music goes for pretty much everything else too! And yes, there can still be good in music not written by Christians, because we still retain a remnant of the image of God, but in terms of anchoring and purpose, it's totally adrift.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Spurgeon - Lectures to My Students - Quotes on Preaching

Here are some more excellent quotes from Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, this time on the subject of preachers and preaching, but also including evangelism and apologetics...

Painfully do I call to mind hearing one Sabbath evening a deliverance called a sermon, of which the theme was a clever enquiry as to whether an angel did actually descend, and stir the pool at Bethesda, or whether it was an intermitting spring, concerning which Jewish superstition had invented a legend. Dying men and women were assembled to hear the way of salvation, and they were put off with such vanity as this! They came for bread, and received a stone ; the sheep looked up to the shepherd, and were not fed.

Some ministers need to be told that they are of the same species as their hearers.

But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words.

Is religion to be tabooed the best and noblest of all themes forbidden? If this be the rule of any society, we will not comply with it. If we cannot break it down, we will leave the society to itself, as men desert a house smitten with leprosy. We cannot consent to be gagged. There is no reason why we should be. We will go to no place where we cannot take our Master with us.

It is to be hoped that we shall never, in our ordinary talk, any more than in the pulpit, be looked upon as nice sort of persons, whose business it is to make things agreeable all round, and who never by any possibility cause uneasiness to any one, however ungodly their lives may be.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Jim Collins, Good Leadership and the Gospel

The gospel should make us better leaders.

The other day, I heard a talk by leadership guru Jim Collins, at the GLS. Jim Collins isn't a Christian as far as I know, but quite a bit of what he said ties in rather strongly to the Gospel.

For example, the first stage he identified in "how the mighty fall" was hubris born of success - failing to recognise that success isn't all our own doing. He even suggested that one of the best exercises for leaders of successful organisations to do was to "count their blessings" - to write out a list of good things that have happened to them or that they have that they haven't earned. It seems that understanding something of grace and having something resembling a healthy gratitude is key to being a great leader.

Another key feature that Collins identified was the importance of listening to feedback that is critical of you, especially when you are succeeding rather than having your sense of self invested in your achievements.

Or take the Stockdale Paradox. General Stockdale survived being a prisoner in the "Hanoi Hilton" POW camp because he never gave up believing that he would be let out. But at the same time, the optimists in the camp did not survive, because they kept saying things like "we'll be out by Christmas", and could not cope with the repeated disappointment. What is needed, said Collins, was both faith in the eventual outcome, but also willingness to face up to the brutal facts of the present. And isn't that exactly the Christian attitude to faith in a God whose victory will become clear in the end but often isn't in the present.

Yet another example. Collins said "the enduring greats are driven by a passion beyond money and value", and emphasised the need to be non-negotiable on core values, but very flexible when it came to aiming to achieve our objectives. Once again, it's Biblical.

And all of this got me wondering two things.

1) If the gospel implies great leadership, why is the quality of Christian leadership so often lower than great?

2) How do non-Christian great leaders manage it? My boss wisely suggested that they substitute some other aim for the gospel, effectively becoming idolaters and slaves of an ideal. But I'd much rather serve the real thing!