The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

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“The Evangelical Times”

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A friend draws my attention to the website of the Evangelical Times, a British Christian newspaper, with the opportunity to sign up for a monthly newsletter. Other resources include suggestions for prayer topics and material to encourage prayer for particular countries, including powerpoint presentations which introduce a particular country and provide relevant  prayer points. Also available, though I have not seen or used it, is a developing resource library for church youth groups, with a monthly presentation suitable for young people based around a question from the Shorter Catechism. Enjoy!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 23 April 2013 at 18:45

Posted in Current affairs

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Defining marriage

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For British readers (although I am not sure how this impacts upon the Scots), the issue of how marriage ought to be defined is a current and significant concern. It is presently the subject of a government consultation with a view to potential ‘redefinition’ providing for a shift away from the notion of marriage as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” toward something that would provide for homosexual couples to marry (as opposed to the current provision for so-called “civil partnerships”).

How ought Christians – individually, as citizens of a particular earthly nation as well as citizens of heaven, and corporately, either as concerned groups or as churches, conducting their business as such – to respond to this? To some extent, this will depend on your view of the relationship between the church and the state, and the rights and responsibilities of believers – individually, corporately, and ecclesiastically – to address the powers that be.

There have been at least two responses with differing emphases.

The bigger and more prominent of the two to date has been the Coalition for Marriage (C4M). My sense of this organisation is that it addresses the matter primarily as a civic issue, relies more on general revelation (depending primarily on traditional and evidential arguments), and thereby and therefore embracing quite a broad sector of religious and irreligious persons who support the notion of marriage, an expression of an extensive co-belligerency (for example, the prominence of Roman Catholics has been noted by some commentators).

However, others – while not necessarily rejecting the propriety and reasonableness of such an approach – have wished to make a more distinctively Christian response on the grounds of special revelation (drawing arguments from the Word of God and seeking to express convictions either as a church or as individuals that reflect the convictions of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians) and therefore and thereby expressing a more pointed response which addresses the responsibilities of the civil magistracy to the God who appointed it. In this regard, my attention was recently drawn to Real Marriage, a relatively new player on the field, and the brainchild of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. Rejecting the Romish, Erastian and radical Anabaptist perspectives on the relationship (or lack of it) between church and state, their website allows for individual Christians to sign a petition calling for the preservation of the existing definition of marriage on Biblical grounds, and further provides for churches which consider it legitimate to be involved to identify themselves as supporters. My understanding is that these brothers would encourage people to sign the C4M petition, but also to sign their petition as a more distinctively Christian expression of concern.

I imagine that most of the readers of this blog would believe that citizens of heaven have certain duties and obligations and responsibilities grounded in a right relationship to the God-appointed civil authorities. However, of those, some may feel conscience-bound not to embrace the co-belligerent approach of the Coalition for Marriage, others would be happy to make an individual and/or ecclesiastical statement through something like Real Marriage (perhaps in addition to the C4M approach), and perhaps others still would wish to operate entirely outside such organisations.

So, if for some reason you have been wrestling with this matter and have been trying to work out how to respond in principle and by what means to do so in practice, I hope that by drawing your attention both to the Coalition for Marriage and Real Marriage, you will find illumination on the former and perhaps an opportunity for the latter.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 March 2012 at 12:21

Posted in Current affairs

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The New Calvinism considered #4 Conclusions and counsels

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Thanks to those who are still following this little sequence. Today we are finishing off.

Caveats and characteristicsCommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Conclusions and counsels

 My conclusion essentially is this: be Calvinists. Don’t be New Calvinists or Old Calvinists, whatever those distinctions really mean. Live before God rather than before men. You do not need to capitulate and ride the current of the moment. There is no need to jump on the bandwagon just because it is going past at speed, glowing with the power of the newest technology and applauded by adoring fans. You do not need to panic and circle the wagons, eminently suspicious of everyone who may not be “one of us.” You do not need to lash out, making your wagons in chariots of war in which to ride down and trample upon the enemy.

We may not always agree with them, but we must remember that we are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, and should treat them in all respects as such until their doctrine or practice prove that they are otherwise. That means that we must recognize that we are united in Christ, although we do have differences of opinion, some of them significant. God is their Father and our Father, and He is in control of all things for the glory of His name and the good of all His redeemed people. None of Christ’s will be lost. The purposes of our heavenly Father are being accomplished in the earth. His kingdom is advancing. Our responsibility is to live before God to the praise of His glory. We must set our own house in order first, and ensure that our doctrine and our practice marry, that we manifest degrees of heat and of light that are coordinate with and complementary to one another. We neither know all we should do, nor do all we know, and it is in the equal march of faith and life,  knowing and doing, telling and showing, that we gain the platform that will enable us to serve our friends who differ from us in other respects. C. H. Spurgeon, speaking of the attitude of some toward those holy Arminians John and Charles Wesley, said, “I am afraid that most of us are half-asleep and those that are a little awake have not begun to feel. It will be time for us to find fault with John and Charles Wesley, not when we discover their mistakes, but when we have cured our own. When we shall have more piety than they, more fire than they, more grace, more burning love, more intense unselfishness, then, and not till then, may we begin to find fault and criticize.”

I can sincerely say that it is in this spirit that I have written. Our first responsibility is to set our own house in order, and to set out to live in accordance with the light we have received, stirring up our fires of grace and piety and holy endeavor. But be Calvinists. I presume that you believe what you believe because you actually believe it, and have not simply inherited or assumed it. You have, I trust, thought through your convictions. You have searched the Scriptures to see whether the things you have learned from godly men are true, and you have anchored yourself at certain points of doctrine and their corresponding practice because you are persuaded that those things are true and right before God and that you will live accordingly.

If we have done this with a good conscience, then we should hold fast to our convictions and live them out to the praise and the glory of God. Enjoy these things! Enter into the sweet realities of the God that we know in His Son, Jesus Christ, and graciously defend the truths you have come to love and the practices that flow from the principles. You are not obliged to give them up any more than our New Calvinist brothers are obliged to give things up just because we disagree with them. There is and should be scope for us to speak together as those who love the Lord: “To the law and to the testimony!” Let us be ready both to learn with humility where we have something to learn and to teach with modesty where we have something to teach.

The New Calvinism is in some respects a splendid and many-colored thing. It contains within it some fearful tensions. It has within it some wonderful prospects and it contains within it some significant dangers. But remember that mere fads never last. I am far from saying that the New Calvinism is a mere fad, but there is an appetite for novelty in the world and among professing Christians that will carry people into this movement on a wave of enthusiasm. The novelty will not last forever. I suspect that when the freshness and the newness wears off, we will be left with many people asking at least two questions. Some will say, and are already saying, “What next?” They will look for the next fad, the next new wave, and will jump aboard and be carried on to whatever seems new and stimulating. But some will ask, and are already asking, “What more? What else is there? What am I missing? This is the God that I want to know and serve. How can I know Him more?  How can I know Him better without losing that sense of wonder because of God’s love and grace toward me in Christ Jesus? How can I grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? How can I grow in holiness, becoming more and more like Christ Jesus?”

We need so to live and so to speak that when somebody asks, “What more?” we have a reputation and a relationship that enables us credibly to hold something out, to offer with humble joy the blessings that we have received, just as much as we receive with humble joy whatever blessings we may be offered.

So be Calvinists. Do not panic blindly. Do not capitulate foolishly. Do not strike wildly. Live before God and be determined to learn of Christ in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Serve the triune God and be ready to serve His saints wherever you find them.

Caveats and characteristicsCommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 December 2011 at 08:55

The New Calvinism considered #3 Cautions and concerns

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Over the last couple of days I have been posting some material on the New Calvinism, the fruit of a reasonable period of time trying to get my head around the phenomenon and seeking to work out my relationship to it (and to those who populate the movement at their various points on the spectrum).

Other parts of the series can be traced using the links below. Of course, all being the irenic types that we are, this will no doubt be the least popular of the posts . . .

Caveats and characteristicsCommendations ∙ Cautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Cautions and concerns

I also have some cautions and concerns about the New Calvinism. While enjoying some of the emphases and appreciating some of the engagement that these brothers have with the world at large, is there anything here of which to take a more careful and less positive account? As I sought to understand and appreciate the New Calvinism, I was asking myself whether or not there is anything that I might wish to strain out, anything which particularly needs to be tempered? Let me suggest some of my cautions and concerns that may ring true with you.

First of all, there is a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism. I usually enjoy the American entrepreneurial spirit, the “Go west, young man” mentality that I still see in American culture but which is often lacking in Europe (having said that, west of Europe is the Atlantic, so there may be some legitimacy to our cynicism there). However, I wonder if in some parts of the New Calvinism the entrepreneurial spirit has run amok. A principle of pragmatism is applied where it was never meant to be applied. I see a more commercial attitude toward “doing church.” Listen to that phrase: how do you do church? The idea is to get big, stay big and then get bigger. You need to market yourself well and make sure you have got the right people in place. So, if Brother Barry is getting in the way of progress and Brother Barry is a deacon, you remove Brother Barry and replace him with someone who can actually do the job that Brother Barry is not prepared or able to do. That is almost a commercial hire-and-fire model. You need to expand the business? You get rid of the wrong people and find the right people, bringing in workers with the right skill sets to move things forward in accordance with your church (business) model. At points it seems to be a principial lack of principle, as if where the Bible does not overtly speak to a matter we are free to do whatever we please. I am not suggesting that I have heard that said, but if you step back and consider, it seems as if that is how it actually works in practice. It is almost as if a Normative Principle of Life is being applied, as if to say, “If God hasn’t explicitly said this isn’t a good idea, let’s try it!” Here is the flip side of that desire to engage and get the gospel out. The questions becomes not, “What is right?” but “What will work?” If something seems to work, it must be good because it is advancing the mission. Someone might respond by querying whether there are Biblical principles to apply, but – “No! We have to get the Word out and we’ll use whatever means we can to accomplish that.” This can lead to a pursuit of bigness, of numbers, of profile, almost for their own sake. When Time magazine proclaimed the New Calvinism as one of the “ten ideas changing the world right now,”[1] immediately the blogosphere was awash with self-congratulation: “Oh, wow! We’re important, we’ve got a seat at culture’s table!” Really?  Is that what it is all about?  Is that what we are pursuing? What happens when the world does not recognize us? Will the gospel have lost its power, or will we need to change things to win back the world’s commendations? Does God not delight to turn these things on their heads? “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of Hosts.

Alongside and because of this we are faced with reams of statistics – they love statistics! Listen to some of the sermons: the introduction is, “Statistics say that this is important, so this is a good and relevant topic to deal with this morning.” This survey says this, and churches are like that, and so we need to adapt and respond to what this latest survey says about the state of the church and the state of the world. Furthermore, there is a showmanship about some of it. There is an element of performance, something overly dramatic or slickly cultured in some of the preaching and presentation. There are gimmicks that creep in at points and I do think there are times in which men in this movement run the church more like a commercial enterprise than they minister to it as the body of Christ.

The second concern is an unbalanced view of culture. A neo-Kuyperian perspective dominates the movement. Perhaps the keynote is this statement from Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not shout, ‘Mine!’” That translates into some parts of New Calvinist spectrum almost as a sense that this world is neutral territory. We are in no man’s land and therefore culture is all up for grabs. We are conquering culture for King Jesus. Therefore nothing is out of bounds. We can take anything this world produces and we Christianize it. One of the classic examples would be something like musical forms. We can take all musical forms, and the uniforms that go with them. We can apparently take the structures that communicate those particular things and embrace them as Christians. We can do this because the forms and the uniforms and the structures are all neutral and we just need to make them carry a Christian message. I think that this is over-realized, almost an over-realized eschatology, a confusion between what is “not yet” and what is “already” in the life of the kingdom. Such thinking has gone beyond the Scriptural norm. Some New Calvinists can be so concerned to be relevant and accessible that they become slaves to hipness. You read some of their books and everything is defined by a narrow target audience. You have to reference The Matrix and then The Lord of the Rings. Then you go for the artsy-fartsy bunch and reference Flannery O’Connor and then for the intellectuals by talking about C. S. Lewis. You get a mass of cultural buzz words, riding the wave of the latest big film series or the book that everyone is talking about. There is a sense in which our friends are doing something well here. They are looking into the sphere in which they are operating. They are trying to understand the language and the culture with which they are dealing and they are sincerely trying to bring the gospel to bear, but it sometimes feels like a checklist to prove how cool they are: “I’ve read all the latest books and I’ve seen all the latest films.” It is an almost-obsession that becomes very easy to mock and mimic. The assumption seems to be that culture is neutral and therefore up for grabs; we just need to use it as the vehicle to bring Christ to bear.

There are two particular areas in which you will see this working itself out: one is worship and the other is evangelism. Again, generally speaking, the New Calvinism does not embrace the Regulative Principle of Worship. It seems to me that the vast majority of New Calvinists believe that all of life is worship (that is one of the phrases you will hear time and time again). There is a sense in which that is true: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). But what happens if everything becomes worship in precisely the same way? What happens if everything is flattened out? Then there are no peaks or troughs in our experience of coming before God to bring glory and honor to Him. There are no high points and rather than everything being worship, nothing is worship. It is this very reversal that often leads to an aping of the world. A deliberate process takes place in which our worship will be as much like the activity of the world as possible (after all, all of life is worship) but we will just Christianize it. So if our target audience is basically indie kids, we’ll get an indie-style Christian band to sing Christian lyrics in indie style (or indie lyrics with a Christian flavor – either way will work) and then we will preach the gospel. This process is embraced at various different points in various different spheres. So with regard to worship, if we accept that we are always worshipping God and all of culture is up for grabs, there is no needed distinction between the sacred and the profane. That also bleeds over into evangelism because the issue becomes a matter of finding that which attracts people, whatever seems to work. As long as they are coming to hear and as long as we have claimed this thing – whatever “this thing”may be – for Jesus than it no longer matters what forms it takes. I am not suggesting that no people are being reached and none of them are being saved, but the underlying pragmatism together with this view of culture have a tendency to make evangelism drift toward becoming more like the world in order to win the world. Some have suggested that this is really a Calvinistic soteriology allied to an Arminian methodology. The motive may be good, but the means are wrong.

The third caution or concern is a troubling approach to holiness. There are two elements here. The first is what I consider to be incipient antinomianism. Antinomianism in this context refers, in essence, to those who do not believe in the abiding validity of the moral law for those who are in Christ Jesus. I call it incipient because it is there in seed form even if it is not yet fully broken out in doctrine or in practice. As so often, the fourth commandment – the matter of the new covenant Sabbath, the Lord’s day – is almost the first point of contact. Many of the leading lights in the New Calvinist movement would formally embrace or at least align themselves toward what is sometimes called New Covenant Theology. This is where we come back to the fact that these are holy men who seem to be able to hold some curious things in tension – things that, frankly, are in conflict – and yet continue to pursue godliness. They are not always saying that there is no law; often it works out more as a neonomianism (like that of Richard Baxter). We are repeatedly informed that we are no longer under law but that we are under grace, and – here is the corollary that is argued over – that what that means is that we follow Christ but that is not related to embracing and obeying the Ten Commandments.

The second element is related to this. An ongoing discussion continues about the nature of sanctification. Two men who have engaged in this most recently are Tullian Tchividjian of Cape Coral, Florida, and Kevin DeYoung in Lansing, Michigan. Kevin DeYoung is pushing for the more orthodox perspective, and doing so very helpfully, whereas Tchividjian is concerned that there is not enough grace in that process and suggesting more that we are sanctified by faith. You might well ask, “But can you be sanctified without faith? Can you become more like Jesus Christ without faith? ” Of course you cannot! This is a process in which we continue to rely upon the grace of God in Christ. It is in union with Jesus Christ in his death to sin and resurrection life that His power works in us. It is on account of our relationship to Christ that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, and we are then conformed to the image of God’s Son. This is a gracious relationship grounded in faith. So there is certainly a need for faith if we are to be sanctified, and we depend upon the grace of God every moment in our sanctification, but we are not sanctified by faith in the same way that we are justified by faith. Rather, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. A false dichotomy is being established between faith and duty or effort and I think that some of this goes back to Piper’s idea that we glorify God by enjoying Him forever (although I know that John Piper speaks very definitely of the need to pursue and attain genuine holiness as a part of our being saved). But why be afraid of the words duty and obedience and commandment? Our friends are so concerned to talk about grace that it is almost as if an overreaction has occurred against some of these notions of effort and obedience and duty and commandment, which are part of what we do as those who enjoy the grace of God in Jesus Christ. A concern not to be or become legalists has driven some back toward antinomianism. But I am liberated in order to be holy! What is the pattern and framework of my holiness? It is God as He makes Himself known in Jesus Christ, Christ being the perfect transcript of what God is like and the perfect embodiment of God’s holiness, a holiness also made known in His law.

Where this incipient antinomianism makes its entrance, together with this concern that we do not evacuate grace and faith from the process of sanctification to such an extent that you are left with a process that consists in faith alone, these tensions take root. As you work down and out from the men who seem able to hold these things while simultaneously pursuing Biblical holiness, the patterns of history suggest that succeeding generations will fail to hold those elements in tension and the result will be an increasing abandonment of genuine, full-orbed new covenant holiness. I am not suggesting that this is the intention, but I believe that this will be the result.

I recognize that by suggesting that many New Calvinists are in principle antinomians I will be accused of being grossly uncharitable: “How dare you call us antinomian!” But the very next accusation is likely to be that I am a legalist, so at least we are all square! However, in all seriousness, I have seen some insightful comments on this: someone had dared to use the word “antinomianism” to describe the kind of approach outlined above, and it had immediately sparked the usual accusations of a legal spirit in the man who had used the word. It was at this point that someone else who did not believe in the abiding validity of the moral law stepped in with a sensible and sincere response: “Why,” he said, “are we getting so angry about the use of the word ‘antinomian’? If they are right, that is precisely what we are. I do not believe that they are right, and so I would deny the label. But if they are right, then that is the accurate term for what I believe.” This is refreshing honesty! If then, we are right in our assessment above – and I am persuaded from Scripture and history that we are – then this is a nascent form of antinomianism. My fear is that this view will become very attractive to people who want the privileges and benefits and eased consciences of a Christian profession without the demand for holiness being pressed into their hearts resulting in the vigorous pursuit of godliness. Clearly this is not the intention of the New Calvinists by and large. They are not saying, “Let us sin, then, that grace may abound.” My concern is that this teaching may create an atmosphere in which liberty is made a cloak for license.

A fourth caution or concern is a potentially dangerous ecumenism. There is a concern for unity that may end up being at the expense of truth. Remember that this is an eclectic movement, a spectrum not a monolith. There are men all along the spectrum who do not see eye to eye on certain things. The fact that they can be united on things that are of critical and central importance is a wonderful testimony to Christian unity. It is a good and a healthy thing and peace among brothers is a genuine blessing and much to be desired and pursued. However, within New Calvinism a distinction is sometimes made between state and national boundaries. So, for example, the national boundary is what make us all part of the same kingdom: we are all Christians together. State boundaries, for example, are the distinctions between denominations, or with regard to certain practices or convictions. So some of us are more confessional; some of us are more charismatic. Some of us are baptists; some are paedobaptists. These are lower walls between states within a single nation under God, as it were! But who gets to decide which are the state boundaries and which are the national boundaries? I would suggest it is not just those who like the idea of state and national boundaries! My perspective or yours on what should or should not be a national and what should or should not be a state boundary might be different – perhaps radically different – from someone else’s perspective. Depending on who is allowed to categorize and to draw the boundaries, the result can be some very strange bedfellows.

In giving specific examples, it is necessary to identify particular individuals. In the last few years John Piper’s national conferences have included – among some who many of us would be more than eager to hear preach and who a few of us might cross oceans simply to hear pray – such speakers as Douglas Wilson and Rick Warren. These men are receiving what is in essence the Piper stamp of approval. Remember that John Piper is one of the men who is prominent to the point of pre-eminent, one of the figureheads of this movement. I would suggest to you that, however attractive their personalities and impressive their profiles, such men as Douglas Wilson and Rick Warren are moving – if not already – beyond the pale of historic Biblical Christianity. To bring these men in and to give them one of the most visible platforms in this movement is an exceedingly dangerous thing. Again, although Piper may be able to say, “I’ll take this but I won’t take that,” the result for many will be, “Well, Doug Wilson must be good to go,” or, “Rick Warren must be a credible guide.” It easily leads to a suspension of discernment in which one is tempted to take a draught of poison alongside a drop of tonic. While the desire for Christian unity is a good thing in itself, there is a potentially dangerous ecumenism in which some of these men are reaching beyond the bounds of what is safe and orthodox in terms of credible Biblical Christianity.

Furthermore, there is a genuine tension with regard to spiritual gifts. This has been identified even within the movement itself as a potential faultline, a point of division which could cause significant dissension. I think the men who have recognized that tension are right, but the present response is often to keep papering over the cracks even while some are driving in the wedges (please work with the analogy!). So for many the issue of spiritual gifts and the nature of the continuing work of the Spirit of Christ seems to be a moot point: it will not be addressed; it will be overlooked; it will not be allowed to become an issue. In a recent book a number of prominent confessional figures were interviewed (for not only the New Calvinists have their figureheads!), some of whom are working within or on the fringes of this movement. The only contributor to those interviews who specifically suggested that the charismatic influence is a dangerous one was Conrad Mbewe, a Zambian pastor. Almost no one else wanted to address the fact that actually this is a point of genuine tension, a point of potential and actual divide. But it is a significant issue. Indeed, it is becoming more so: just recently Mark Driscoll suggested that the “current global movement in Christianity” is characterized by four theological distinctives: Reformed theology, complementarian relationships, Spirit-filled lives, and missional churches.[2] In the course of this address he made the assertion that “cessationism is worldliness,” a sort of rationalistic, modernistic, Cartesian, Humean skepticism with regard to the supernatural. Not long afterward, John Piper asserted that “God humbles Charismatics by making their children Calvinists; and Calvinists by making their children speak in tongues.”[3] Ahem!

So who is this person, this Holy Spirit, and what does He do? How does He do what he does? When and in what ways does He do it? Is there any difference of nature or of degree between what He was doing in the days of the Apostles and what He is doing now? There are some men within the movement who would, I think, be very close to a more orthodox Reformed perspective (a narrower spectrum), but I think the broad stream of New Calvinism is essentially a continuationist stream. I do not like that language. I do not like being labeled a cessationist, because of the implications that language often carries. I do not believe, in any absolute sense, that the Holy Spirit has stopped working. We depend upon Him entirely, in every moment of our living, our serving, our worshipping. He is the One by whom Christ is made known to us and through whom we enter into and experience and enjoy our union with the risen Lord. We do not want to be driven into a corner where we become so worried about abuses regarding the Holy Spirit that we give Him up.  If so, we would become absolute cessationists, and that would be blasphemous. We are in danger of saying, or of seeming to say, “We are so worried about abuses regarding the Holy Spirit, we will relinquish Him altogether. You charismatics may have Him. We will be absolute cessationists and you will be the continuationists.” That is a caricature of us that we must not embrace. But we must answer the questions: What is the nature of His work? What are the nature, extent and degree of His work in times past, present and future? Are we to expect prophecies, healings, miracles?

When people gather at some of the big New Calvinist conferences, some of these things get put aside. Everybody gets together and gives the impression of a quite complete unity (ironing over a few choppy patches during some of the singing, perhaps). But what happens when everybody goes back to their individual churches? At that level there are radical and significant differences in approach to these things. Ultimately, though, this is not just about whether or not one church believes in prophetic utterances and speaking in unknown or angelic tongues, but with the whole nature of authority in its relation to divine revelation. Where does God speak to us? How does He make His will known today? That has become and must be a flashpoint; it is another place in which many have a strong desire to hold together things that simply do not belong together. You will hear the phrase “Reformed Charismatic.” Some would suggest, with some credibility, that those two things are mutually exclusive, precisely because of this issue of authority and revelation. The questions surely arise, which of those two influences is going to take the ascendancy, and what will be the outcome?

My sixth concern is with what I perceive as a degree of arrogance and triumphalism. I say that exceedingly conscious that I am prone to the very same spirit, but – while recognizing our own frailties in this area – let me suggest more specifically what I mean. This is a young and seemingly successful movement. What tends to happen when you are young and successful? Often you get a big head and you think that you must be right and you just need to keep going and that everyone and everything will eventually fall before you. I fear a developing – and, in some, developed – sense of being above contradiction, that they have it made, and that the movement will continue to roll over all that stands in its way. This is true especially of some of those who are coming in just behind and around some of the figureheads. Such triumphalism breeds overconfidence. At times you will hear men speaking as if they have just reinvented the wheel. For example, one treatment of the church was introduced with the staggering assertion that there has not been a serious consideration of the issue since the days of the Protestant Reformation, the implication being that the gap was about to be plugged. Now if that isn’t a dose of hubristic nonsense, kindly fax me an explanation of what is! I think there may have been just the one or two books dealing with ecclesiology written since the Reformation. Could it be that our friend simply failed to read them? Again, it goes along with the enthusiasm of the movement: “Hey, look! I am just discovering these things!” “That’s great,” we respond, “but so have other people.” “I’ve discovered Edwards,” says one, “let me tell you what Edwards says!” “That’s wonderful!” we reply, “but other people have been reading Edwards before and with you and they  also have some valid perspectives on what Edwards says.” Some of these areas or interpretations of theology have simply been co-opted by the New Calvinists. It is seen in their handling of history; I think at times they can give the impression if you just read history properly you will see that it vindicates the New Calvinism. This is not an isolated problem, and certainly not one from which Reformed Baptists are immune. When you read history, what you tend to find are the examples that say that you are doing the right thing right now, and so we vindicate ourselves: in my own reading, history proves that I am right.  This is not a legitimate way of handling the past.

Alongside of this is a tendency only to dialogue and receive criticism within their own, relatively closed circle. They talk to each other, even about each other, they interact with each other, but if you are someone who has been judged or placed “outside” for some reason, and you have the temerity to suggest that one of the figureheads may have something wrong, then woe betide!

But the issue should not be whether something seems to be working or failing, whether it is big or small, or if one of the big dogs is barking; the issue is whether it is right or wrong. I do think that there are times at which the sense that this movement is young and vigorous and moving – really going places and fast – can blind some of my brothers to some of its inherent weaknesses and can close their ears to those of us who desire their good and believe we have something to offer them as much as they have something to offer us.

Caveats and characteristicsCommendations ∙ Cautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

To be concluded . . .


Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 December 2011 at 08:28

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

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Earlier this week I read The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Peter Hitchens. Today, in a curious conjunction of circumstances, I discover that Peter’s older brother, Christopher, has died. Peter’s book was written in the context of his deep difference of opinion with Christopher over faith, subjectively and objectively.

I just looked out my Christopher Hitchens books. I never made it to God is Not Great. Maybe I will sometime. My first Hitchens volume was Prepared for the Worst, which – despite the date that I have in my personal copy – I know I read while in secondary school. It was a loan from one of my teachers and I was delighted by Hitchens’ wit and skill with words (I remember it distinctly because I recall the conversation which followed in which I bemoaned the fact that Hitchens could get away with writing things with words that I was told were inappropriate, and that particular teacher replying that the use of a word by a writer like Hitchens in a thoughtful context made it, by definition, a suitable word in that context, an argument that signally failed to move the aptly named Mrs Ironside when I later employed some of Hitchens’ richer invective). I moved on later to Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies, which has the more accurate date of “Autumn 93″ scribbled into it.

Justin Taylor, in a gracious obituary, writes:

He was a brilliant and entertaining man. He was enormously gifted, and in his final years he took those gifts and used them to mock God, using his considerable wit and sharp tongue to convince as many people as possible to do the same.

I knew that Hitchens was no believer, but I did not realise the extent of his antagonism to God. Perhaps it intensified over time, as such things are apt to do. As one who can recognise at least some of Hitchens’ contentions and antagonisms in his own history, I grieve that every indication is that he went to his grave and to his judgement with his brilliant stubbornness intact:

Even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)

I say this not because it is impossible that, before his death, Hitchens turned from his sin. Rather, I say it with the penetrating knowledge that, in the paraphrased words of (I believe) John Bradford, “There but for the grace of God goes Jeremy Walker.” I say it, too, fully confident that, if he did turn from sin, repenting of those aggressive blasphemies so characteristic of his later output, and if he put his faith in Jesus, the blood of Christ is sufficient to have made him clean. This, indeed, is the hope of sinners like you and me, and the hope of all the world.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 16 December 2011 at 09:45

Resurrection hope in a tsunami world

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My friend Alan Dunn has penned a brief piece trying to make Biblical sense of the tsunami. Does the Bible have anything to say about such disasters? Is there any hope in a world wracked by such tragedies? Alan’s answer, drawn from the Bible, is a resounding “Yes.” For a longer and more developed argument, you can download Catastrophes. I am grateful to Alan for his permission to make these available.

Existentialists have a word for the feeling of disconnection, the free-fall into the void of subjective meaninglessness, the disorienting bewilderment of detachment from everyone, everything and even from self. The word is “anomie:” without law, without order; chaos and confusion caused by a disconnection from everything secure, and familiar. All points of reference are gone and existence is intrinsically strange. The pictures coming from Japan depict anomie as people meander through once familiar neighborhoods now strange and severed from any point of connection. Anomie is the feeling of death, the severance of the unities that God created to constitute the fabric of life.

Does Scripture have anything to say to men when an earthquake and a tsunami so alter the landscape of life that one no longer has points of connection to the very earth upon which we walk? What do we say to people whose very relationship to the ground itself is severed?

First, we need to understand that God established a relationship between our bodies and the earth. God created man from the dust of the ground and named him “Adam,” meaning “red earth” (Gen 2:7-9,20). This “very good” creation is one in which Adam is essentially united to the earth. He is made of the same material. He lives in a symbiotic reciprocal relationship of mutual interdependence with the  earth. By his labor, Man would cultivate and keep the earth (Gen 2:15) and the earth would respond, yielding sustenance for man’s life. Man is not man apart from his union with the earth. For man to be man there must be a cosmos, a physical world over which he has dominion. God relates to the earth through the headship of the Man and as goes Adam‟s relationship with God, so goes earth’s relationship to God. But realize is that man is not man apart from the earth. He is red earth, animated dirt, made of the dust of the ground: he is Adam.

Second, we must understand the impact of the Fall on man’s relationship to the earth. When Adam sinned, he brought the earth under the sentence of the curse (Gen 3:17-19). In grace, God salvaged the original created order, but the dynamic of death now conditions man’s relationship to the earth. Man still exercises dominion, but the life-union between him and the ground is broken. The earth was subjected to futility (Rom 8:20,21) and although by his labor Man still obtains his food, he also harvests thorns and thistles, and experiences physical dissolution as his relationship to the earth disintegrates and he returns back to dust. The earth likewise is in slavery to corruption – not to moral corruption, but to decomposition, entropy, decay, rot. It will wear out like a garment (Isa 51:6). The ground has been judged through Adam with the sentence of death. Therefore from one perspective, earthquakes and tsunamis are evidence of the Fall: a world broken, convulsing in the throes of death; a world bound to the destiny of its Adam – for as it goes with Adam, so it goes with earth. Adam and his planet live or die together.

Thirdly, we hasten to bring to bear the grace of God, for this fallen earth is yet the stage upon which God’s redemptive love and saving purposes are being worked out. Immediately after the Fall, the planet was salvaged from total death. God intervened and sustained the original order of creation and announced that He would send the promised Seed who would crush the head of the Serpent and deliver the fallen cosmos from the curse (Gen 3:15). That Seed has come. He is Jesus Christ: the incarnate God/Man. His incarnation is crucial to the salvation that He has wrought for this tsunami world. Jesus taught us to see earthquakes and tsunamis not only as visitations of judgment, or as precursors to the great earthquake which characterizes Final Judgment (cf. Rev 6:12; 8:5; 11:13,19: 16:18). Jesus also spoke of earthquakes using a hopeful metaphor, albeit a painful one: the metaphor of a woman writhing in birth pangs. Earthquakes are part of those things which are the beginning of birth pangs (Mat 24:8; Mk 13:8; cf. Jn 16:20-21; 1 Thes 5:3). With the coming of Jesus, this present order of creation has been impregnated with the life of the age to come and is in the agonizing process of giving birth to what Jesus calls the regeneration (Mat 19:28; cf. Acts 3:21): the renovation of this fallen creation into the new physics of the age to come. Throughout this age earthquakes, like labor contractions, will erupt and relax in limited ways and progressively intensify until the climatic contraction which will grip the whole world in a final hour of testing (Lk 21:34-36; Rv 3:10). That hour will entail the purging fire of judgment (2 Pt 3:3-7) during which the present order of things will be destroyed (2 Pt 3:10): loosed, untied, unhinged – when the unities of creation are finally severed in a cosmic death brought on by death-cursed Adam.

But there is hope for this tsunami world: resurrection hope, glorious hope!

In 1 Cor 15:44,45 Paul calls the resurrected Jesus, the last Adam. In resurrection victory, He has obtained a new order of human existence: life-giving Spirit – resurrected human life, a body alive with the vitality of God‟s Spirit as its animating principle. This is in contrast with Adam, the first man’s natural body. Paul not only contrasts our resurrection body with our post-Fall, sin-riddled, perishable, dishonored, weak body. He also contrasts Jesus’ resurrection body with Adam’s natural body which became a living soul (citing Gen 2:7 concerning Adam’s pre-Fall body). Jesus‟ resurrection body is more glorious than Adam’s original created body! The point is this: by His resurrection, Jesus has become the last Adam. Now remember, Adam is not “Adam” without the earth, the dirt, the planet which must be bound to him. Without the ground, Adam is not man. For man to be man, he must have earth. Therefore Jesus, the resurrected last Adam, must have a resurrected earth! This tsunami world has hope because Jesus was resurrected and His resurrected body is the guarantee of the resurrected earth. Originally the earth was created then Adam was taken from it and placed upon it. In the new creation, the last Adam is resurrected and the recreated cosmos of necessity follows in His train. Jesus’ physicality is this planet’s only hope. Jesus is the incarnate enfleshed Son of God. He was physically conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Spirit. He physically lived in sinless obedience to God and succeeded where Adam failed. He physically died on the cross bearing the punishment of death that Adam incurred. He was physically buried in the tomb. He physically rose from the grave. He physically ascended to the throne of God. He will physically return at the end of this age to transform our bodies and all things into conformity with His resurrection glory (Phil 3:20-21). Ours is a flesh and blood salvation, a water and mud salvation, a space and time salvation. All who are in Christ inherit His Kingdom of unimaginable glory: a recreated cosmos depicted in the final chapters of Revelation as a pristine Edenic garden in which a resurrected humanity begins again, only now remade in union with the last Adam, gloriously conformed to the first born among many brethren (Rom 8:29).

God made the earth and then He made Adam from the earth and then Adam went through death back into the dust. Jesus, incarnate sinless Man, went through death into the dust and conquered death as He bodily rose again, and as the last Adam, He pulls the dirt which is this planet with Him out of its grave into resurrection glory. Death into resurrection. It is the paradigm of redemption, a redemption for which this planet eagerly longs: the redemption of the bodies of the sons of God (Rom 8:18-23) and the cosmic regeneration. The way to that glorious regeneration is the way of the cross. It is the way Jesus went. It is the way we who will populate the new heavens and new earth must go, and with us, at Christ’s return, so too it is the way our planet will go. But as the earth undergoes its own sentence of death, it will convulse and give us anomie. At times it won’t look familiar to us, and we’ll feel separated from it, as though it has turned against us. Yes, we’re being judged. But we who are in Christ have no condemnation and we’re being saved! We see the earth’s convulsions as eschatological contractions which will result in the birth of a new and glorious cosmos of resurrection life. This world has been impregnated with the life of the age to come. The Spirit of the risen Christ has been given to His spiritually resurrected people, and the world writhes in labor pains, awaiting the birthing of our resurrected bodies so that with us, it too will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom 8:21).

If we would experience that glory, we must get into Jesus. Jesus, the resurrected Lord, the last Adam, is our only physical connection to the world to come. This world and its works will be burned up, but all who are in Jesus, as those who were in Noah’s ark, will be saved to populate this same but revitalized cosmos where we will live and labor for eternity, making the entire universe the temple of our covenant keeping God.

So next time you sense anomie, that bewildering sense of disconnection from this world and this life, exercise faith in your risen Lord. The Spirit in you will give you a sense of being securely connected to the resurrected Jesus and assure you that your connection to Him is more solid than the ground beneath your feet. Lift up your head and know that your redemption is drawing nigh. And begin singing: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 17 March 2011 at 13:21

A desperate orthodoxy

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It has been a little interesting to watch not just the immediate engagement over Rob Bell’s Love Wins but also the spread of it and the reaction to it. Some of it has been useful, but some of it has been a little desperate. It is as if some of the people with a reputation for being cutting-edge, relevant, front-line, ahead of the game, theologically savvy, culturally aware, movers and shakers in the Great Game of modern evangelicalism, are trying with all their might to prove that they are just that, and orthodox to boot. Recycled material, obvious material, lists of material (with their own contributions prominent in them) – all of it looking more like an attempt to surf the wave and demonstrate engagement than anything else.

Is it genuine concern for the glory of Christ? Is it pastoral concern for the flock of God? Is it genuine interest in the kingdom of Christ?

Or might there be a danger that at least some of it is an attempt to make sure that those writing and speaking are not left out, and that people remember that they are the great guides, the ones who speak truth, the almost-omniscient gurus who can be relied upon to keep their finger on the pulse and tell us how to think, or – at least – that they are still there and saying something also?

I am grateful for the men who saw this coming and blew the trumpet of warning. I think it is often helpful that others have spread the word. I am not so sure about all those who have joined the ruckus, as if merely to demonstrate that they have a horn, too.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 15 March 2011 at 17:24

British evangelicalism: a snapshot

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The Evangelical Alliance has published a report on a survey of British evangelicalism. The report is available in various formats.

Scott McKnight highlights some characteristics of those “typically evangelical”:

  • 91% think Jesus is the only way to God
  • 96% attend a church once a week
  • 77% are in small groups
  • 83% read/listen to the Bible a few times a week
  • 96% pray a few times a day
  • 96% have given money to their church this year
  • 88% strongly agree that their faith is the most important thing in their life
  • 94% believe in creation care
  • 85% voted in the General Election
  • 83% believe in miraculous gifts today
  • 94% agree that Christians should be united in truth
  • 93% think Christians should have a voice in the media.

More incisive issues:

  • 83% agree the Bible has “supreme authority” in beliefs, views, and behaviour
  • 71% believe it is a Christian’s duty to be involved in evangelism (58% talk about their faith to someone once a month)
  • 62% think sex before marriage is wrong.

But there’s variation:

  • On inerrancy, 54% believe it; 32% are for it or unsure.
  • Abortion: 37% think it’s wrong; 46% are straddling (unsure/disagree a little); 17% disagree.
  • Hell: 37% strongly agree that hell is a place where the condemned will suffer eternal conscious pain; 13% agree a little with this; 31% are unsure; 8% disagree a little; 11% disagree a lot.
  • Women in leadership: 51% are strongly in favor; 20% disagree only a little; [71% are in favor]; 9% are unsure; 10% disagree a little; 10% strongly disagree.
  • Homosexuality: 59% agree a lot that homosexual sexual acts are wrong; 14% agree a little; 11% are unsure; 8% disagree a little; and 8% disagree a lot. [That is, about 16% of UK evangelicals are more or less in favor of homosexuality as acceptably Christian.]

A rather mixed bag, to say the very least.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 January 2011 at 09:54

The other way around

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Al Mohler comments on the recent ruling against Peter & Hazelmary Bull, a Christian couple who refused to allow unmarried or homosexual couples to share a single bed in their Cornwall hotel. He writes:

The late Maurice Cowling, one of Britain’s most significant intellectuals of the twentieth century, argued that when the public influence of Christianity wanes, the space is not then filled with anything truly secular. Instead, some new religion takes the place of Christianity. In this case, the new religion is the religion of sexual anarchy.

I think that there is much credible and concerning in this assertion, but Mohler also says this:

The real bomb embedded within Judge Rutherford’s ruling is this sentence: “Whatever may have been the position in past centuries it is no longer the case that our laws must, or should automatically reflect the Judaeo-Christian position.”

There can be no doubt that this logic is fast taking hold in legal circles, pointing to a severe constriction of the rights of Christians to live by their own convictions. At the same time, this decision serves as yet another sign of how swiftly the moral revolution is happening all around us. When Judge Rutherford said that the moral consensus is now “the other way around,” he wrote that revolution into law.

I accept that this is happening, and that it will severely threaten to constrict Christian attitude and action in the world. My question is this: to what extent ought we to be shocked by this? Have we been so privileged in the West as to reach the point at which we think we are entitled to have “the world” on our side? Is not this kind of opposition more the Biblical norm, however much we may pray for peace (1Tim 2.2)?

I cannot deny it is happening; I am not welcoming it, or suggesting that we fail to resist it; I appreciate the protections offered by centuries of Judaeo-Christian ethics at work in varying degrees in our society. But, am I entitled to expect anything else?

Are things really turning the other way around, or are they reverting to type?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 January 2011 at 13:48

The glory and tragedy of the human spirit

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I heard on the wireless this morning that the Chilean miners are finally arriving on the surface after 69 days underground. To see them stepping out of that pod is quite a gripping spectacle. We see the dignity, determination, vigour, passion, drive, imagination, invention, and grit of humankind. We see love and hope and faith, after a fashion. We see much to commend, and much that makes us glad.

Here is man, made in the image of God, and we rejoice.

And then we hear the testimony of our leaders that this goes to show that when we are united, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

And it seems that no-one has yet learned the lesson of Babel, and we weep.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 13 October 2010 at 10:44

Posted in Current affairs

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Dan Walker says “Good morning, Sunday”

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A few days ago my brother, Dan Walker, was interviewed by Aled Jones for his Radio 2 show, Good Morning, Sunday.  The interview was broadcast yesterday morning, and – with the World Cup looming – the first section was about all things sporting, and then they got into a discussion of what it means to be a Christian, and my brother’s desire to honour the Lord’s day.

You can listen to the interview for the next few days at BBC iPlayer here, with Dan’s interview beginning just after Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary (Rollin’ On A River) at the 2:25:30 mark.  I admit that the interview is marred by the selection of an utterly random piece of music, which my brother seems to blame on his father-in-law, but he actually asked Aled to play it, so I don’t think he can slope the shoulders.

I have previously posted some of my Dan’s thoughts on sport and Sundays, and, as I say, you can also listen to the interview, beginning at 2 hours, 25 minutes, and about 30 seconds into the show.

Dan has since flown to South Africa where he seems to have some kind of roving remit over the next five or six weeks, doing a job he loves and does well.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 7 June 2010 at 05:00

Long night, strange morning

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What a fascinating night, and what a curious situation we face as a nation.  Perhaps not so surprising that we have a hung Parliament, but very intriguing is the degree of hungitude (new political word alert).  Looking at the pattern of voting, there does not seem to be a single pattern, and even some of the collection of patterns are more trends with notable exceptions than consistent patterns.  What the immediate and longer-term future holds, who can say.  Expect not many people to know what is really going on for a long time.

Here in Crawley, Henry Smith, the Conservative candidate, secured quite a substantial majority.  Congratulations, Henry!  Commiserations to the other candidates, a couple of whom ran excellent campaigns.

And for the people of God?  We are exactly where we were before: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12.28).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 7 May 2010 at 09:16

Quizzing the candidates

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If you have been following the blog recently, you will know that the pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  All three candidates were kind enough to respond, and their answers are now posted, as follows (alphabetically, by surname):

I am very grateful to all three gentlemen for taking the time to answer.

I should also point out that another Crawley congregation, Three Bridges Free Church, are hosting a hustings on Thursday 29th April from 8-9.30pm to which all the Parliamentary candidates for Crawley have been invited (though I am not sure how many have confirmed their attendance).  If you would like to know more, or would like an opportunity to follow up the answers provided here, that is the place to go.  In addition, the Christian Institute has made an election briefing available.

Quizzing the candidates: Chris Oxlade (Labour)

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The pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  Chris Oxlade, the Labour Party candidate, has kindly provided his answers.  Links to the other candidates’ answers are below.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

I don’t beleive our society is broken. I believe there are issues and problems which need a fresh look at and tackling but society isn’t broken. I’ve had the honour of working with charities, faith groups, voluntary groups and residents associations in Crawley for the last 15 years with the Mercury FM Charity Appeal, which I run. So many people are caring, giving, dedicated people who care about society and want to make a difference. To label their work as a “broken society” which some opposition politicians like to do is pretty offensive and degrades the community spirit which is building all the time in Crawley.

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

I do. I had a Christian upbringing, (was even a choir boy at Worth Church!) and it has given me a passion for trying to help others and care about where we live. It should be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe.

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

I strongly believe that the family unit is the bedrock of society and I’d like to see more done by the state to strengthen this.

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

I believe in free speech, I also believe that people have rights to a personal life, and that’s exactly what it is. A personal life, which if not hurting anyone else, has nothing to do with anyone else.

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

Yes, I do.

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

Yes.

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

Yes.

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

I’m not against more open licensing laws in principal, restricting free choice is something I’m not for, however, more careful implementation of 24/7 licensing needs to be considered.

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

Yes.

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

About right.

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

This is a very complex and emotive issue and more research needs to be done into this first

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?

Crawley is a great place to live. I was born and grew up in the town and work in Crawley all my life. It does get a rough deal locally by our town neighbours, but Crawley’s is where most people locally can fly off on holiday from, work in, shop in and visit reguarly. I’d like to see more independent stores in the town centre to help Crawley have a better identity locally, more new green business on Manor Royal and many more community events.

  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?

I would not rule out a second runway at Gatwick. I would like to see the new owners bringing up capacity for the airport, as it’s a long way off of reaching passenger capacity

  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

Yes. With full a&e and maternity. In the meantime, I will fight for more services to be brought back to Crawley Hospital.

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

I’m passionate about Crawley, I love the town. I would be honoured to represent Crawley at Westminster, but more importantly I would put Crawley first in everything I do. I want things to change, a new hospital, better housing, more youth facilities, a stronger green ecomony. Crawley is a great place to live. I believe I can make a difference in Crawley in the years to come.

Thank you, Chris.  I know you stayed up late and got up early to get these answers to us as soon as possible.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 April 2010 at 09:22

Quizzing the candidates: John Vincent (Liberal Democrat)

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The pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  John Vincent, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has been kind enough to provide his answers.  Links to the other candidates’ answers are below.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

Our society is not broken but it is troubled in many ways.  The pressures forced upon people are causing problems in society.  Some of the e-mails I have received during this campaign have highlighted the difficulties and stress some suffer.  An MP can not alone cure all society’s ills but if in a term things can be made a bit better than they were before then it’s a job well done.   Each of us can do a little.  Yes and unlike Mrs T, I believe there is such a thing as society.

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

Undeniably Christian values are a core part of our history.  People should live by their values.  I will live by mine.

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

Please keep the State out of the bedroom as much as possible.  I believe marriage is the basis of healthy families.  The duty of the State is to support families, single people and all the constituent parts of a healthy society.

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

I believe in freedom of choice and freedom of individual conscience. As long as someone is not causing harm to another or breaking the law then I believe in allowing people to live their lives in the way they wish and also to have the liberty to express their beliefs freely.

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

You use the word “employ”.  There has to be one set of employment laws in the UK.  However this should not stop churches/religious groups making whatever choices they prefer with respect to voluntary work.

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

The reality is that children need some knowledge of sex as soon as they become of an age where they are active.  Ignorance or moral lessons on abstention are of little help when we are faced with a large number of teenage pregnancies and a growth in sexually transmitted diseases.  A degree of consistency is needed in the messages given but there should be some limited scope for flexibility where religious sensitivities are concerned.

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

Yes.  I like the concept of quiet hours that is in place in Cologne where I work.

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

The hours of pub opening were once at the centre of this debate.  Now the problems associated with excessive drinking can’t simply be controlled by licensing hours.  Alcohol is freely available and relatively inexpensive.  I believe we now have a culture of binge drinking that has to be addressed by more than just Government.  There is no magic wand to solve this one but as your MP I would focus on ensuring that Crawley develops an attractive social environment that does not depend on cheep booze.  For example there is great potential to get an ice rink for Crawley.

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

I would be open to a review of the idea.

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

I acknowledge that abortion is an issue of individual conscience.  Not all Liberal Democrats agree on the way forward.  There should never be a ridged Party line on this subject in any Party.  I support a woman’s right to choose.  All women should have access to a legal abortion on the NHS within 14 days of asking.  I do not agree that the time limit for abortions should be changed from 24 weeks.  However the subject should be periodically reviewed on the basis of scientific evidence.

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

I believe in the individual’s right to choose. The issue of voluntary euthanasia needs further debate and the law on suicide needs to be clarified.

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?

Many of England’s new towns have similar problems.  However I see opportunity in Crawley.  It has the potential for a very bright future.  It’s a dynamic place that needs some better organisation to capitalise on that fact.  The local authorities have been slow and unimaginative in many cases.  Also, I agree with others that Crawley needs more visible policing to tackle anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime.

  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?

Not in my first term as Crawley’s MP.  That said Gatwick airport is a vital part of the local economy and should be recognised as such.  On its part the airport must take its impact on the environment seriously.

  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

If a new hospital is built in Crawley it will cost a great deal of money. That cost can partially be offset by the freeing up of the land of the present Crawley Hospital site.  However wining this argument will not be easy and require a strong commitment from all Crawley’s public bodies.  As you MP I would fight for this.

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

I believe I have the necessary knowledge and experience.  I work hard.  I’m independent minded.  I’m a pragmatic West Countryman.  I’m not a lifetime politician.  I know what public service requires of a person and I have much that I can bring to the job.

Thank you, John, for taking the time to answer our questions, and for the care you have taken with your answers.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 April 2010 at 08:24

Blue skies

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We live a few minutes from London Gatwick, one of the UK’s major airports.  Although we are not in the flight path, and noise is very limited, we can see the planes landing and taking off and the skies around us are criss-crossed with vapour trails.  With the ash clouds from Iceland still causing havoc in UK airspace (at least this far south), this is the view toward Gatwick this morning from our back garden: no clouds, no planes, no vapour trails, no noise.  Beautiful.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 April 2010 at 12:19

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Quizzing the candidates: Henry Smith (Conservative)

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The pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  First out of the blocks with the answers was Henry Smith, the Conservative candidate.  His answers are below, and there are links to the other candidates’ responses.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

There are many great examples of communities working well and harmoniously, often with faith based organisations at the centre of that. I believe, however, that there are too many people, often the young and under privileged, who are excluded from our society or who have decided to exclude themselves. In this sense I think significant sections of British society are broken.

I believe that part of the problem over the past half-century or so has been increased pressure on the family; pressures from changing work patterns, societal attitudes and a lack proper recognition from the state. My personal belief is that the family is a God given structure and the ‘bedrock’ of our society for millennia and that fact has not changed simply because we live in modern times.

I believe there is such a thing as society, it is just not the same as the state.

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

I believe in the values of freedom and faith. The Christian community and other faith groups have a positive and essential role in our society and believers should of course be free to express their faith.

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

As the family is the basis of a healthy society so I believe marriage between a man and a woman is the basis of healthy families. Unfortunately it is not currently the case but the tax and benefit system should recognise and support marriage.

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

I believe in freedom of choice and freedom of individual conscience. As long as someone is not causing harm to another or breaking the law then I believe in allowing people to live their lives in the way they wish and also to have the liberty to express their beliefs freely.

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

Yes.

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

Yes.

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

Yes.

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

Yes.

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

Yes.

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

I believe that the current law on abortion is about right.

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

I believe in the individual’s right to choose. The issue of voluntary euthanasia needs further debate and the law on suicide needs to be clarified.

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?

I think Crawley is a good place to live with just about everything on our doorstep, that is why I chose to live here when I got married and why we are raising our young family here. However, I think our town could be better still. As a local resident, if fortunate enough to be elected MP, I will speak for local people’s interests in Parliament, not be simply a Government mouthpiece here at home. Crawley needs more visible policing to tackle anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime. In addition we need to bring important hospital services, such as A&E and maternity, back to the area.

  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?

My view on the future of Gatwick is exactly the same as the opinion of the airport’s new owners – that it should grow in terms of passenger numbers but on the current ‘one runway, two terminals’ configuration. the Department for Transport estimates that numbers can increase by an extra ten million throughput passengers per annum without the need for an additional runway. Gatwick and its effect is vital to our economic success and local employment. I believe economic growth can be achieved without runway expansion which would damage the local environment.

  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

Yes. This is the most important local issue. An important town like Crawley with a growing and aging population; major transportation links, such as Gatwick, in addition to being at the centre of the sub region, needs a new hospital. East Surrey Hospital is ten miles away over congested roads, is overloaded and receives bad hygiene reports. My wife, Jennifer, used to work at Crawley Hospital until her job moved to East Surrey, from home in Maidenbower some mornings it could take her up to an hour to reach work – inconvenient for residents at best, life threatening at worst.

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

I am local, am raising my family here and have represented the area on the County Council for over a dozen years.  As Leader of West Sussex County Council I have been pleased to realise investment of over £100 million into three new Crawley schools, the new library (twice the size of the old library and the most sustainable public building in West Sussex) and the recycling centre at Metcalf Way which is now achieving a recycling rate in excess of 50%. I believe I have local knowledge and experience.

Thank you, Henry, for taking the time to answer our questions, and for your swift and precise answers.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 April 2010 at 08:53

Quizzing the candidates

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Taking a leaf from the book of Guy Davies, and drawing on some briefing from DayOne, the pastors here at Maidenbower have submitted a series of questions to our local Parliamentary candidates (from the three main parties).  The Christian Institute has also produced an election briefing.

With the first of the UK’s televised debates by the leaders of the main parties threatening to alter the political landscape, this could be an interesting election.  We sent the note and asked the questions below of the three candidates with a view to discerning their personal opinions on various issues, and helping the people of God here – and in Crawley more widely – to make a decision about their vote in the upcoming election.

I will post the answers as they become available.

Dear Candidate,

We are writing on behalf of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, and other Christians in Crawley.  We are taking a keen interest in the election, and consistently pray for the government and other civil authorities at local and national level.

As a means of helping the individual members of this church and other churches, we should be very grateful if you would take a few minutes to consider and respond to the questions below.  These are some of the questions that may help Christians in Crawley decide how to vote in the upcoming election.  We hope to make your answers available to the members of the church at Maidenbower and other interested Christians.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions.  We very much look forward to reading your answers.

Questions for candidates standing for Crawley at the General Election (May 2010)

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?
  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?
  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

Chris Oxlade ∙ Henry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 16 April 2010 at 09:31

The 99

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The Daily Telegraph tells us about a new craze heading for the UK: Muslim superheroes.  Brought to you by Endemol (of Big Brother infamy), they are part of “a mission to instill Islamic values in children across all faiths.”  Of course, it is not as if we can simply point to Western superheroes as exemplars of so-called “Judaeo-Christian ethics” (as opposed to empty moralism or rampant carnality), even if we wished to do so.  Nevertheless . . . Jabbar the Powerful, anyone?

Jabbar the Powerful

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 August 2009 at 13:16

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Pandemics, panic and peace

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Death is in the headlines.  Michael Jackson seemed to think he was God.  Bobby Robson was, in his time, as much the Geordie Messiah as Kevin Keegan.  At a Swiss clinic, Dignitas clients play God with their own lives.  And, up and down the UK, and in many other countries (some far less equipped to deal with the problem), disease runs rampant, and men panic over the pursuit or lack of God-like control over their health.

swine flu (samples)In a culture increasingly obsessed, at least in popular media, with doomsday scenarios, the swine flu statistics and reaction can be bewildering.  The country is generally described as “unprepared” (sometimes the adjective “woefully” is thrown in for good cheer).  The government seems to veer between crying “We’re coping” on the one hand, and “We’re doomed” on the other: the net effect is the agitated cry of a frantic Corporal Jones: “Don’t panic!”

In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond?  God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.

Think clearly.

Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6).  This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful.  God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales.  Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused.  Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge.  God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10).  He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.

swine flu (close up)Secondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease.  Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes.  The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25).  Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always.  His actings and permissions are absolute.  His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16).  All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us.  Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.

Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures.  It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45).  It is an instance of common grace.  God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received swine flu (child and pig)and trustingly employed.  So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21).  Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him.  Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality.  In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!”  True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them.  Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!”  Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them.  Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.

Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses.  Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone.  It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12).  God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10).  Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15).  To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable.  This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20).  It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15).  It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7).  It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear.  Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8).  In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.

Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how.  Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes?  Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish?  When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made.  We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified.  His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8).  His name will be made known.  One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).

Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.

Prepare to live.  Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11).  Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers.  When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands.  Like Christ, we are to go about doing good.  It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10).  Be ready to preach.  Let your deeds be matched and explained by words.  Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways.  Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever.  Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved.  Be ready to pray.  Begin now.  Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul.  Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days.  Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death.  Pray for the salvation of many.  Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16).  Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.

church bellPrepare to die.  John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  Take these things as intimations of your own mortality.  Heed them as a call to readiness.  Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12).  The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things.  There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15).  Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27).  If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon.  If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away.  Life is brief, and eternity beckons.  That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.

The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus.  She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment.  When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”  There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin.  The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well.  That is preparation both for life and for death.

Listen to a sermon on this topic here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 09:32

True patriotism

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john-newton-2My friend at Grace Gems recently sent out this sobering reminder from the letters of John Newton.  It is worth our while to remember in these days of activism in which we can lose our way all too easily.  Newton does not deny that God makes us part of particular nation-states, but he does remind us of where our primary attachment belongs.  A robust perspective on our citizenship in heaven best equips us to do lasting earthly good.  This is very much of a piece with Spurgeon’s words that I posted a few days ago.

Dear friend,

Allow me to say, that it excites both my wonder and concern, that a Christian minister such as yourself, should think it worth his while to attempt political reforms.  When I look around upon the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me, to be no less vain and foolish, than it would be to paint the cabin – while the ship is sinking! Or to decorate the parlour – while the house is on fire!

When our Lord Jesus was upon earth, He refused to get involved in disputes or politics, “Friend, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Luke 12:14. “My kingdom is not of this world! If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight!” John 18:36. God’s children belong to a kingdom which is not of this world; they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and a part of their Scriptural character is, that they are the “quiet in the land.” Psalm 35:19.

Satan has many contrivances to amuse people, and to divert their thoughts from their real danger!

My dear sir, my prayer to God for you is – that He may induce you to employ the talents He has given you, in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of every existing evil; and to engage those who love and fear Him, (instead of wasting time in political speculations, for which very few of them are competent,) to sigh and cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, by prayer, that God’s wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged! This, I think, is the true patriotism – the best way in which people in private life may serve their country.

I consider the ungodly as saws and hammers in the hand of the Lord. So far as they are His instruments, they will succeed – but not an inch further! Their wrath shall praise Him, and be subservient to His designs!

If our lot is so cast that we can exercise our ministry free from stripes, fines, imprisonments, and death – it is more than the gospel has promised to us! If Christians were quiet when under the cruel governments of Nero and other wicked persecutors, when they were hunted down like wild beasts – then we ought to be not only quiet but very thankful now! It was then accounted an honour to suffer for Christ and the ‘offence of the cross’!

Those are to be greatly pitied, who boast of their ‘liberty’ – and yet they do not consider that they are in the most deplorable bondage – the slaves of sin and Satan, under the curse of God’s law and His eternal wrath! Oh! for a voice to reach their hearts, that they may know their true and dreadful state–and seek deliverance from their horrific thraldom! May you and I labour to direct them to the one thing, which is absolutely needful, and abundantly sufficient.

If I had the wisdom or influence to soothe the angry passions of mankind – I would gladly employ them! But I am a stranger and a pilgrim here in this world. My charter, my rights and my treasures, are all in heaven – and there my heart ought to be. In a very short time, I may be removed (and perhaps suddenly) into the unseen and eternal world – where all that now causes so much bustle upon earth – will be of no more importance to me – than the events which took place among the antediluvians!

In the hour, when death shall open the door into eternity – many things which now assume an ‘air of importance’, will be found as light and unsubstantial as a child’s dream!

How crucial then, is it for me–to be found watching, with my lamp burning, diligently engaged in my proper calling! For the Lord has not called me to set governments right – but to preach the gospel, to proclaim the glory of His name, and to endeavor to win souls! “Let the dead bury their own dead – but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Luke 9:60. Happy is that servant, whom his Master finds so doing, when He returns!

As you have forced me to respond – both duty and love have obliged me to be faithful and free in giving you my thoughts.

I recommend you to the care and blessing of the great Shepherd and Saviour; and remain for His sake, your affectionate friend and brother,

John Newton

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 24 June 2009 at 12:53

The work of the law written in their hearts

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David Anderson has an excellent post about the current expenses scandal among British Members of Parliament, in which he asks where all the critics of the MPs get the notion that they have done wrong, even though they are operating within the rules they have set for themselves.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 June 2009 at 20:20

“A sensible reformation of attitudes”

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That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today.  The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which

the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.

Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”

Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:

He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”

Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:

He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”

So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth.  This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally.  In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional.  “Yes, we can.”

We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel).  Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.”  But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them.  They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.

The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals.  It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us.  Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25).  The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous.  Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)

See: absolute equality.  Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .

But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty.  And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26)

True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart.  It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven.  The apostle Paul describes such sinners:

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Romans 1.26-32).

Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss).  In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.

To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.

Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable.  What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm?  Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition?  If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new?  This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.

Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery?  Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West.  Is it time to ring the changes once again?  It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today.  Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?

Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all.  He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him.  Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.

What a heap of confusion!  We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not.  What a miserable and empty vision for religion.  What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?

How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 09:21

Me the exhibit

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Carl Trueman has some helpful thoughts, carefully put, concerning the death of Jade Goody and comparing her to Princess Diana, and critiquing the empty outpouring of grief that hit the UK in the aftermath of both deaths.  Carl doesn’t touch too much on the religious elements of Jade’s very sad last days, such as the brink-of-eternity desperation to be right with God.  How sad that the only avenue this society and its churches had to offer for a woman who wanted to know that she was heading into unending day rather than night, the only solution she could think of after some thirty years walking God’ s planet, was a christening a few days before her death.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 4 April 2009 at 08:04

Posted in Current affairs

Tagged with ,

Gently murdered, and with the best intentions

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In the UK, we like to call euthanasia “assisted dying.”  It makes us feel better than calling it “assisted suicide” – we phrase it in a way that makes it all nicely passive and neutral.  Certainly it’s not murder, any more than “aborting a foetus” is killing a baby.

Al Mohler picks up and comments on thoughts from Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Professor of Palliative Medicine at Cardiff University.  Here is the core of her argument:

Proposals to allow “assisted dying”, while undoubtedly well intended, have an air of unreality about them that is worrying to anyone who works with seriously ill people. They assume the existence of a perfect world – a world in which all terminally ill people are entirely clear-headed and make life-or-death decisions on completely rational grounds; and a world in which all doctors know their patients well and have limitless time and skill to assess requests for euthanasia.

Hers is not a Christian argument, but we can be grateful that she is making one.  Mohler himself offers a more vigorous Christian perspective:

This world is not just imperfect — it is fallen.  The reality of human sinfulness explains why no human agent is morally equipped to determine who should live and who should die.  But human sinfulness also explains why humans will try to act as if we are God — even in seeking our own death.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 2 April 2009 at 11:24

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