The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

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The restoration of public worship (again)

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Having heard nothing yet from the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting for worship as soon as possible, and given recent developments, I have written again. And, again, I put it here not as the last word, but in the hopes that others might also be able to make representations along these lines for a recognition of our duty and our right to gather responsibly for the worship of the true and living God.

Further to my previous letter of Wednesday 27 May, I would like to raise once more the issue of the worship of Christian churches of the kind to which I belong.

As previously stated, in the matter of Christian worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship rather than the place of worship. While I am sure that many are glad that places of worship are now open for private prayer, for Christians who value the gathering of the church for corporate worship (that is, our worship as a gathered body of believers) it offers little help. We can and do pray at all times and in all places. As made clear in my previous letter, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct spiritual privileges of meeting together for worship as a church, according to the direction of the Bible and therefore our religious principles. Such gatherings encourage and express our deepest convictions and hopes as believers in Jesus Christ.

Recently, the Prime Minister tweeted this: “People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police. These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account” (@BorisJohnson, 9:13pm, 07 Jun 2020). Would the Prime Minister, and you, also be willing to assure us that people have a right to worship God peacefully while observing social distancing and not attacking the police? We believe we can and should be able to gather for worship outside of our church buildings, and to do so at least as responsibly, carefully and safely as any comparable activities.

In that connection, we are aware of moves toward the reopening of cafés, pubs and restaurants, perhaps allowing responsible service outside while maintaining social distancing. If this is the case, whether in June or July, then it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. My previous letter outlined some ways in which we might be able to do this responsibly, carefully and safely. Given the nature of our regular gatherings, especially with social distancing measures observed, the impact on the R number of meeting in this way for worship would, at worst, be minimal.

I appreciate that there are countless calls on your time and energy at present, and we do pray for God’s favour toward our country and those whom he has put in government over the nation. I look forward to hearing from you, and to positive suggestions as to how the church which I serve, and others like us, can honour God in our obedience to him, while also honouring the civil authorities which God has established.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2020 at 14:16

The restoration of public worship

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Encouraged by efforts in other places, I have written to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting again as soon as possible. The letter has been copied to Baron Greenhalgh, Faith Minister, and my local Member of Parliament. I put it here not because I think it is the last word, but in the hopes that others might themselves be encouraged to do more, better.

I hope that this communication finds you, and yours, safe and well during these still difficult days. My name is Jeremy Walker, and I am a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, West Sussex. I am writing about the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship in Christian churches.

As the government attempts to lead us out of lockdown, I am conscious of the difficult decisions and fine judgments that government and Parliament make and carry out, and the wisdom required. The church of Christ makes this a matter of particular prayer. We pray not as an issue of party political allegiance (1 Timothy 2:1–2) but because the church is a spiritual body rather than a political or even a social agency.

In this regard, I and others like me have been disappointed and even distressed to see the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship. At present, church buildings are in Step Three of the government’s plan (OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy), in which the ambition “is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons), hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas)” (page 31).

When it comes to the matter of religious worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship. The focus in government policy appears to be on the place of worship. When the focus is on the latter, the physical space and social dynamics of a church building lead to it being classified among other enclosed social spaces like cinemas, theatres and restaurants. When the focus is on the former, the question becomes one of facilitating our corporate gathering as what the Bible calls “the body of Christ”—the people who are joined to him by our faith in him, and who thus become the spiritual family of God.

I note that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has established a taskforce developing a plan to reopen places of worship. However, it seems that Christians who share my convictions about our faith and life (Protestant and Dissenting) are substantially absent from that taskforce. For the Christians of whom I am representative, both in Crawley and elsewhere, it is the act of worship more than the place of worship that is important. So, for example, the government suggests that places of worship may be open for private prayer before Saturday 4th July. While we commend any move toward the safe opening of our church buildings, we can privately pray anywhere and at any time, and we do, together with other acts of private and family devotion.

However, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct privileges of meeting together as a church under the Word of God preached to us in person. Christians like me join believers in other nations in making clear that neither confessional Christian faith nor the church as a body can faithfully exist without a Lord’s day gathering. As others have said in other countries, the Bible and centuries of habit oblige Christians to gather weekly for worship and witness around the Word of God and sacraments—we need one another to flourish in our service to Christ (Exodus 20:9-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:42, 20:7). This divine obligation and hard-won historic freedom supersedes all human legislation and regulation. The church is not comparable to any other social venue and cannot be dismissed as non-essential by an expert in any field. We say with respect that the church does not exist and is not regulated by permission of the state, for its establishment and rule is found in Jesus Christ himself.

The biblical rhythm of worship is weekly, gathering on the first day of the week to honour God and to receive spiritual blessings from him as his Word is preached. It is why the Bible commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). The language of weekly corporate gathering is used repeatedly in the New Testament, and to it are attached any number of divine encouragements to pursue it, divine promises regarding it, and divine warnings against neglecting it. It is essential for us, and we are beginning to see among us and around us the effects of the churches failing to meet, both in the impact on us and on those whom we serve in various ways.

We understand that love to God and to our neighbour, with respect for and cooperation with the civil authorities whom God has placed over us, has necessitated not forsaking but suspending our regular assemblies. As Christians who know the hope of resurrection through Jesus Christ we do not fear death but we do wish to preserve health and life. However, we are convinced that more needs to be done to facilitate a restoration of our regular practice.

At present, we are permitted to spend time outdoors subject to government guidelines. Step Two of the government’s plan begins on Monday 1st June. It includes such measures as phased returns for schools, opening non-essential retail, permitting cultural and sporting events behind closed doors, and re-opening some public transport. There is some scope for increased social and family contact (pages 30-31 of the plan to rebuild).

I respectfully suggest that during this second phase it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. While we recognise that this involves more than physical families gathering, we believe that we can meet and conduct our worship safely. For example, the church which I serve, and others like us, might:

  1. Use our own church grounds, where we have them, or sufficiently wide open spaces, where we do not, to prevent potentially obstructing or endangering others going about their own business. We would be willing to meet early or late, as common sense dictates, to enable us to meet at all.
  2. Communicate and enforce health protocols in our gatherings based on government guidance.
  3. Prevent access to our buildings to minimise any actual or potential risks from proximity.
  4. Ensure that individuals or family units attending outdoor services are and remain at least two metres apart from one another for the duration of our services, including arrival and departure.
  5. Encourage attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  6. Continue online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  7. Require attendees to affirm explicitly that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus.

I would also suggest that the third phase should explicitly provide for the safe restoration of public worship, whether within or without church buildings. For this to be done well, it might include the following:

  1. Communicating and enforcing health protocols in our churches based on government guidance.
  2. The initial limitation of access to our services and ministries to approximately 40% of our building capacities to permit physical distancing, expanding that number as circumstances permit. This will allow for plenty of room between persons well beyond two metres in most facilities and acknowledges that not all church facilities have equal capacity. If necessary, we could hold multiple or staggered services to allow as many as possible to attend.
  3. Providing a clean facility including hand sanitisers and wiping down of common surfaces between services.
  4. Encouraging attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  5. Continuing online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  6. Requiring attendees to explicitly affirm that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus in order to attend.

Our first concern is for the glory of God and the good of all those for whom the church of Jesus Christ brings God’s good news. We should be grateful for a response from you as soon as possible, and willing to consider any further advice you have to offer us. I look forward to your positive response, and to a continued good and respectful relationship with civil authorities as we seek to honour our Creator and Saviour in the country of which he has made us grateful and prayerful citizens.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 27 May 2020 at 13:51

It’s coming home

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This Wednesday evening something momentous is happening. All around the country, people will gather together. They will probably be keyed up all day, and it will only get more intense as the evening draws on. They will come together with expectation and hope in their hearts. Their songs will express these deep desires. After all, something will happen that is special in itself, with the prospect of much more ahead. By the end of the evening, those people might be rejoicing over something that has not happened, for most of them, in their lifetime.

And, if Wednesday pans out OK, there is more to which we can look forward. After Wednesday, Sunday. And on Sunday … well! Sunday could be the greatest of days! Sunday could be the day when glory, so long looked for and longed for, finally comes. Sunday could be the day we have all been waiting for. Again, that Sunday would be something special in itself, but it holds the promise of so much more. All those years of hurt never stopped me dreaming.

Yes, that’s right. For many of us, Wednesday night is the prayer meeting, and after that we look forward to the Lord’s day.

On Wednesday evening, many of us have the opportunity to seek the face of the Lord of hosts. Our brothers and sisters will expect us to be there with them. It is our assurance that, as we pray together, we shall do so at the very throne of grace, in the presence of our God. We gather together as Christians with the privilege of asking our Father in heaven for the blessings we most desire. As we do so, we anticipate that he will answer us. We shall do business with heaven. It might not be immediately spectacular, but there will be some celestial traffic, and we shall obtain good and needful things for our immortal souls and our often-painful pilgrimage. More than that, we might obtain not just drops but showers of blessing. This might be the night when the Lord draws near in a distinct way and shows his favour to us, granting the Spirit in a measure to which we are unaccustomed.

And after Wednesday, Sunday. And on Sunday … well! It is the day of resurrection. It is the Lord’s day. It is our chief of days. It is the day on which the risen Christ made it his pattern to meet with his disciples. It is the day when we anticipate that the Spirit will work among us so as to make his abiding presence with us sweet and profitable to our hearts. We shall, we trust, as the Word of the Most High God is declared to us, hear the voice of the Eternal. We anticipate the opportunity to enjoy the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We shall sing his praises with our blood-bought brothers and sisters, encouraging one another in the Way. We shall seek his face again as a congregation, pleading for those blessings which the Lord delights to give. We will spend time together considering the things of God and serving our great King. We hope that this might be the day on which friends we have prayed for come to hear the truth, and to heed it. We long to see people being saved. We hope that God might condescend in a distinct way and show us his glory, so that we shall be changed, and never be the same again. We pray that we might get such a sense of eternity, such a grip upon heavenly reality, that we would spend the rest of our lives with a more sure and sweet sense of the things which are not seen but which are most real.

The problem in the eyes of many is that on Wednesday evening England are playing a World Cup semi-final. If they win, the final is due to take place on Sunday afternoon. And so it may come down to a simple choice. Who or what is more important? Football is fine and dandy, and this is a great sporting occasion. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying football. However, if you choose football over the Lord God, if you choose to prioritise worship in that way, then football has become your idol.

So, will you miss this or spoil this for a game of football? You might say, “But what if it’s another ordinary prayer meeting? What if it’s another ordinary Sunday?” Remember what you are doing, or ought to be doing, when you gather for prayer, when the church congregates for worship. It is never, in that sense, ordinary or mundane. And with whom and on what basis are you engaging? What would a World Cup victory mean when you lose your job, or your health, or your wife or child? What will it mean when you come to the end of your own life? How will it sustain you against temptation? How will it uphold you and enable you in the battle for real godliness?

Some might say, “Think of the opportunities for witness!” Actually, the best witness you can give is the plain evidence that the Lord is supreme, and that not even an otherwise-beloved sport is allowed to rival him.

Some might say, “What about the scope for fellowship?” Fellowship isn’t simply being together at the same time in the same place, not even united around the same object or activity. It is Christian engagement designed to stir one another up to love and good works, a communion with each other that flows out of union and communion with God. Even a bunch of Christian friends gathering to enjoy a game of football on another occasion is not fellowship, though it might be a joy in other ways.

Some might say, “Can’t we just slide it all around and still get a blessing? Why can’t we do both? Why not get the game in and then get to church before it starts, or at least before it’s over? I went this morning, why do I need to or have to go again?” Would you say to your wife, “I just want to spend some time with this other lass, and then I will get straight back to you?” How do you think that would go? Did you really get your fill of God? Truly to meet with God stirs rather than sates the appetite of a healthy soul. It never leads us to neglect further opportunities to meet with the Lord, but rather to desire them. Would you say to God in as many words, “I simply want to give my idol its due, but I will turn my attention to you just as soon as I have bowed before my other god.”

The point is that the choices we will make or the priorities we will establish are not actually about football. These words are not against football: football does not inherently fall into the category of sin’s passing pleasures. The choice we will make has to do with our attitude to and expectations of God and his worship on his day. If football trumps God, or if we offer God a cold performance with a grudging heart, then we will be saying with our attitudes and actions what we might never dare to say with our lips.

We are told – and these are the words that are used – that this is the chance for us to witness the potential immortals. But we already have the assurance of meeting with the actual Eternal One. What or who is most important? What is most sweet? What is most real?

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 10 July 2018 at 22:20

Luther

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Some readers might recall the Through the Eyes of Spurgeon documentary released a couple of years back, directed and produced by my good friend, Stephen McCaskell. Well, Stephen is back on the trail, this time hoping to produce a documentary called Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.

At the moment, he is seeking to raise the necessary remaining funds through a Kickstarter campaign. At time of writing, he’s about 25% of the way there – only another $15000 (CAD) to go. Bear in mind that this means that a $100 CAD pledge is only about £55-60 GBP or $80 USD. There’s more bang for your buck here, so you can pledge more than you think!

Here’s the promotional trailer:


If you have a minute and a few shekels to spare, please consider heading over to Kickstarter to help. The Spurgeon documentary has been viewed over 120000 times, and seems to have been much appreciated. The Luther project promises to be just as excellent and just as profitable.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 6 May 2016 at 07:39

Not quite Charlie Hebdo

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It is not particularly surprising but it is disappointing. Furthermore, it is dangerous. It is in some respects the typical kneejerk reaction to current events (by which I mean events over the last few months, even years, rather than merely weeks), and the typical danger that you can never be entirely sure in which direction the knee will jerk and the foot will strike. It is the continued assault on freedom in the name of freedom.

In the last week or so school inspectors in the UK gave an unseemly grilling to primary school pupils at Grindon Hall Christian School, where the impression was clearly given (even if not intended) of a real hostility – in the name of promoting “British values” – to the school’s distinctive Christian ethos.

Quite apart from the inappropriateness and intrusiveness of some of the questions asked by almost-complete strangers to young children (questions which, in any other context, might have been taken in an altogether distasteful way), it rather opened a window into the attitudes of some of those who are appointed guardians of freedom.

But time marches on, and new challenges are already arising. The government is now rapidly pushing forward legislation that will preserve our “British values” and combat anti-extremism. Among the consequences of this legislation would be the opportunity – even the requirement – for university authorities to vet the addresses and materials of visiting speakers. That is the context in which I first saw the warning given, but the consultation document is pushing it across the public sector at the very least, with a variety of services and spheres impacted. Effectively, a proactive and preventative demand for censorship would be imposed in a variety of key public settings and environments.

I am sure that the opportunities for those who believe that “British values” demand, or provide the opportunity to pursue, a sort of amorphous atheistic amorality will not be slow to use the weapon put in their hands. As so often, the latest two-edged Excalibur, offered as the key to defending freedom, may become the very means by which freedoms are curtailed.

Naturally, the government provides all manner of assurances about how such things are enforced. With regard to school inspections, for example, Department for Education guidance makes very clear that in advancing our ill-defined “British values” schools are not required to promote “other beliefs” or “alternative lifestyles.” However, this seems to be precisely the point at which pressure was applied to the school in question not only corporately but individually and inappropriately with regard to particular students. We can expect that the same will happen with these new powers, should they come into law.

So, while our politicians line up with their pens and pencils aloft to trumpet their allegiance to free speech, they are simultaneously – and in the name of freedom – preparing to crack down on freedom of speech. It is, it seems, OK to be Charlie Hebdo (not personally, one understands, that would be a little dangerous, but it’s fine for other people to be Charlie Hebdo), and be able to poke fun at the fundies of all stripes. That must be defended. But I suggest that it must be made clear that such swipes and skewerings are not the only expressions of freedom of speech.

Generally speaking, and despite media attempts to push us into the first of the following categories, true Christians are neither violent extremists (dogmatic conviction need not translate into militant physical aggression) nor extravagant satirists (willing and able to undermine and offend for the mere sake of it, and call it wit and art – never having read Charlie Hebdo, I cannot comment on whether or not or to what extent they fall into this category). The Christian’s only real offense should be the offense of the cross, though the rugged edges and sharp points of that cross have a habit of puncturing pride and pomposity wherever it is found, and pride is of the essence of fallen man’s sense of himself. The weapons of our spiritual warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. The armoury of God’s kingdom bears little relation to those of the kingdoms of the world. However, those without spiritual discernment are quite prepared to lump true Christians in with the violent extremists and deny them any of the privileges of the extravagant satirists. Indeed, the very nature of our message indicates that the gospel will be among the first and most aggressively pursued targets of those who – in the name of freedom – wish to silence dissent.

Only a fool would deny the difficulty of ensuring genuine freedom of speech and expression while at the same time preserving a measure of social order and cultural decency. But the response to terrorism, even Islam’s militarised religious supremacism, should not be to diminish all freedoms. That will not halt the terrorists, not least those driven by religionised hatred. In some respects, it will simply simplify their task.

But watch this space, for this is the brave new world. As mentioned in a previous post, to the humanist unbeliever who denies that he or she exists in their own tightly woven cocoon of a certain kind of ‘faith’, the Christian is just one of a range of dangerously nutty voices in the gallery of the fruitcakes. Indeed, the offense of the cross means that our gospel words will prove the pre-eminent spiritual red rag to the bulls of mere human reason and religion. But, if we are true to our convictions, we know that we echo the one voice of true reason, the single declaration of spiritual sanity, the alone hope of salvation, in an otherwise unstable and disordered world, wrecked by sin and riddled with its consequences. Unbelieving humanism is one among the range of rotten systematised alternatives to the truth as it is in Jesus. To whom else should we go? Christ has the words of eternal life.

We should expect that our freedom to make known the hope of the world will be deliberately (whether incrementally or more abruptly) assaulted and where possible eroded and removed by the very world that needs to hear it. The patients will assault the envoys of the only doctor with a cure for their condition. We must therefore ensure that our declarations and their accompanying actions are entirely consistent, that we bring with us everywhere the savour of Christ. As citizens of earthly kingdoms, we are entitled graciously yet firmly to assert our rights as citizens. But as citizens of heaven, we do not expect to find the warmest of welcomes in a hostile world. So let us brace ourselves against the storm, hold fast to the Christ who holds fast to us, speak the truth in love, call sinners to repent and believe, love our enemies, serve our Redeemer, and press on toward glory.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 January 2015 at 12:08

The Untied Kingdom?

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Scotland is heading to the voting booths. The people of Scotland will shortly declare whether or not they wish their country to remain part of the Union, or secede. It is, by all accounts, a momentous decision with consequences which can in some measure be accurately predicted, some which can at least be observed coalescing, and some which no-one will have expected. The campaigning, especially as the vote looms, has become strident, even violent. Impassioned pleas ring out from both “Yes” and “No” camps. And many Christians are making what seems to be a watertight case as to how they and others should vote. And some are saying, “Yes,” and others, “No.”

We can and should recognise with thanksgiving the peculiar heritage of the United Kingdom and its constituent parts, with the blessing of genuine Christian influence upon some elements of our national systems and structures. At the same time, I aver that the United Kingdom – in whole and in its parts – is not and never really has been a Christian country. At times, more “a people of the Book,” but not a Christian country. There are Christian individuals, and there are Christian churches, and there is Christian influence, but there are not Christian countries. It’s just not how it works.

So, what difference does this make? What difference might it make in Scotland? In the rest of the Union? In Europe (geographically and politically)? Across the globe?

Andrew Fuller’s brief sermon on “Christian Patriotism” from his collected works is always a helpful read at such a time, whether one considers oneself English, Scottish, Welsh or British. Whichever dog we think we have in the fight, Fuller puts it on a proper leash.

The outcome of the Scottish vote will, in some measure, in the shorter and longer terms, change the circumstances in which the saints go about their business. But our business will not change. We are all still citizens of a heavenly kingdom. When all these things are shaken, as they are in time and most certainly will be when the end comes, the kingdom of Christ remains. Our hopes for the kingdom are not shackled to any particular country or individual or system of government. Our fears need not rise or fall with any fall of rise of any person, party, policy or process, need not be yoked to any particular nation-state. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world – not absolutely of any part or portion of it, but throughout it and above it.

As Christian citizens and Christian patriots, we have genuine and legitimate interests in such questions as those now being posed. Our responsibilities and concerns as Christians in particular nations are many. There may be pains and pleasures, profits and losses, progress and retreat, as an apparent or untraced consequence of the vote in Scotland tomorrow, one way or the other.

However, when the voting is done, and the dust has settled, and the fallout begins, Christ himself remains our peace. He has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And he came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

While, of course, Paul is not speaking about the English and the Scots – whose enmity, it might be said, sometimes seems to rival that of the Jew and the Gentile – the principle surely stands. What saints from every country have in common transcends all that divides us. When the end comes, these will not be the things that last and they will not be the things that matter. There will come a time when we shall behold a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Until then, all our wrangling and wrestling, all our voting and investing, should be conditioned by these heavenly realities. After all, whatever afflictions we suffer here – up to and including being (un)shackled (together) – they are but for a moment, and they are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Fix your eyes there before the vote. Consider it well when you or others vote. Hold fast to it after the vote. For we do not set our minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself.

Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith yet standeth fast:
God abides, His Word unchanging,
God alone the first and last.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 17 September 2014 at 21:46

Keeping marriage special

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Many Christians in the UK will be aware of one or more of the various campaigns opposing the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill currently passing through the Houses of Parliament. There was significant opposition to this legislation in the House of Commons, though the Bill did pass its Second Reading and is now heading for the Committee Stage (keep up at the back). After this it will pass to the House of Lords, where their lordships will hopefully give it a good kicking.

Anyway, one of the campaigns seeking to muster principled Scriptural opposition to the Bill is called Keep Marriage Special (other campaigns are available). This particular campaign deliberately maintains a narrow focus on the teaching of Scripture with regard to marriage, avoiding other concerns (however legitimate). They have been having some technical issues with their online petition, but it is now up and running here.

The petition is for UK residents only aged 16 and over. Anyone answering this description can sign even if one or all of the other similar petitions have been signed (there are also printable petitions for download for those who may wish to sign up but who do not have ready access to the interweb). So, if you are interested, please check out Keep Marriage Special.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 1 March 2013 at 20:33

Posted in Culture and society

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“Captivated: The Movie”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 July 2012 at 08:33

Know what you know

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Spurgeon offers an antidote to the epidemic of haziness in the allegedly-evangelical would-be mind:

Know what you know, and, knowing it cling to it. Hold fast the form of sound doctrine. Do not be as some are, of doubtful mind, who know nothing, and even dare to say that nothing can be known. To such the highest wisdom is to suspect the truth of everything they once knew, and to hang in doubt as to whether there are any fundamentals at all. I should like an answer from the Broad Church divines to one short and plain question. What truth is so certain and important as to justify a man in sacrificing his life to maintain it? Is there any doctrine for which a wise man should yield his body to be burned? According to all that I can understand of modern liberalism, religion is a mere matter of opinion, and no opinion is of sufficient importance to be worth contending for. The martyrs might have saved themselves a world of loss and pain if they had been of this school, and the Reformers might have spared the world all this din about Popery and Protestantism. I deplore the spread of this infidel spirit, it will eat as doth a canker. Where is the strength of a church when its faith is held in such low esteem? Where is conscience? Where is love of truth? Where soon will be common honesty? In these days with some men, in religious matters, black is white, and all things are whichever colour may happen to be in your own eye, the colour being nowhere but in your eye, theology being only a set of opinions, a bundle of views and persuasions. The Bible to these gentry is a nose of wax which everybody may shape just as he pleases. Beloved, beware of falling into this state of mind; for if you do so I boldly assert that you are not Christian at all, for the Spirit which dwells in believers hates falsehood, and clings firmly to the truth. Our great Lord and Master taught mankind certain great truths plainly and definitely, stamping them with his “Verily, verily;” and as to the marrow of them he did not hesitate to say, “He that believeth shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;” a sentence very abhorrent to modern charity, but infallible nevertheless. Jesus never gave countenance to the baseborn charity which teaches that it is no injury to a man’s nature to believe a lie. Beloved, be firm, be stedfast, be positive. There are certain things which are true; find them out, grapple them to you as with hooks of steel. Buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price.

HT: Pyros.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 1 June 2012 at 15:32

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 May 2012 at 16:59

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Mr Roberts to Mr Cameron

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Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Same-sex marriage

You must be aware that there are many Christians in this country who are experiencing a variety of reactions to the proposal (or is it decision?) to permit same- sex marriage. Reactions include disbelief, that such a major change in the family and social structures of this country could go through without a serious debate about the issues, or at least get a mention in your party manifesto to put people ‘on notice’; disillusionment that political power is being used to override the sincerely held convictions of millions on a major issue; and disappointment at the way our very valid objections and questions are being sidestepped or met with contempt or abuse. . . .

Read the rest of Mostyn Robert’s thoughtful letter to the PM here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 March 2012 at 12:24

Worship without knowledge

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Football (read soccer if you are from the US) fans will be deeply troubled by the news that filtered through from White Hart Lane earlier this evening. During the course of the match, just before half-time, the Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed – quite separately from the action on the pitch at the time – and was immediately attended by medics. Resuscitation was immediately attempted, including CPR and a defibrillator.

The other players were plainly deeply shocked and distressed. Muamba was taken from the field apparently not breathing independently and rushed to hospital. News of his condition has yet to be confrmed. The worst is feared and the best is hoped for.

Certain things become immediately plain in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

The first is that things quickly achieve their proper perspective. Bill Shankly’s idiotic observation that “some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that,” is immediately revealed for the nonsense it is. As Mark Lawrenson put it, “Football is absolutely and totally immaterial in comparison of what’s happened to Fabrice.” Watch the faces of the players and the spectators and it immediately becomes clear that when life and death are in the balance, football does not matter very much at all. If it did, someone would have dragged Muamba’s body to the side of the pitch to allow the teams to get on with the game. Rather, when a man’s life – when his immortal soul – is in the balance, suddenly the trophies and glories of this passing world are seen not to matter very much at all.

The second is that the religious instinct in men made in the image of God has not been eradicated. To be sure, there will be thousands who sincerely care about Fabrice Muamba and his recovery who will have no thought of God, but look at the tweets and Facebook updates, listen to the interviews, and what is the one thing that so many commentators are saying and encouraging? “Pray[ing] for Fabrice Muamba.”

A typical response reads, “”Doesn’t matter who you support. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t a football fan. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t religious. Pray for Fabrice Muamba.”

These are people who – by and large, and by their own admission – live day by day with no regard for God, acting as they please in accordance with their own desires, with God’s name usually no more than blasphemy on their lips. But then the crisis strikes, and what is the response? Let us pray. But why? Really? How? For what? To whom? In what way?

That these questions are not answered, and might not be answerable, does not alter the essential fact: the instinct of fallen man when faced with a situation he cannot handle is to cry out to God, or at least to whatever he believes crying out is to whatever God he may imagine. The point here is not so much to critique the theology of the praying as to point out the reality of the reaction.

Let us not imagine that secularism and irreligion and sinfulness have eradicated the image of God in mankind. Let us not forget that man is, by his very nature, a religious individual, a reliant, dependent individual, a worshipping being. When a real crisis occurs, that instinct – however marred and twisted – rises swiftly to the surface.

Prayer is a real hope for Fabrice Muamba. Those who know their God and know what prayer is might pray for his survival and recovery.

But let us also be ready to aim at the target once more revealed by the reaction to this terrible event. Let us be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Let us take the opportunity – when men who have nowhere else to go, being rendered powerless (and knowing it) by a turn of events for which they have witnessed, begin to cry out to God – to make God known: “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23).

It is not wrong for the thoughts and prayers of true believers to be concerned with Fabrice Muamba, asking that God would preserve his life and – without presuming to know his relationship with the living and true God – to save his soul. It is right for our thoughts and prayers also to be with those shaken and bewildered men and women who have had their deepest fears and their great weakness and ignorance suddenly revealed, and to ask that they would come to a knowledge of the truth, seeking and finding the God whom we proclaim, the living and saving Lord of heaven and earth.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 March 2012 at 20:22

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Reverse missionaries

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I have not watched it all, and I am not recommending all the perspectives (as usual, the commentary is awfully misguided in its assumptions and vocabulary, and I don’t know what all the ‘missionaries’ will turn out to be), but this BBC programme called Reverse Missionaries looks like it might be interesting: it is tracing the steps of three people who are apparently seeking to carry the Word of God back to the country from which it first came to theirs. It will be available for a few weeks, perhaps only in the UK.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 March 2012 at 08:53

Orthodoxy and race

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Because I did not know where to start on this risible nonsense, which ought to be an embarrassment to all involved, I will simply suggest that you read Phil Johnson on Elephantiasis:

How does 2000 years of Christian consensus on the doctrine of the Godhead get sent to the back of the bus so blithely in the name of unity and racial reconciliation?

PS Just realised. Even saying this proves that everything McDonald and company said to be true, and shows that Phil Johnson is, indeed, a racist. Allegedly.

PPS Voddie Baucham is helpful. Unfortunately, he’s a sell-out and a traitor. Allegedly.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 1 February 2012 at 09:20

Dispatches from Blighty: the Don and Driscoll

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Don Carson has weighed in on his friend Mark Driscoll’s recent comments (see also the craven follow up) about pastoral ministry in Great Britain; Phil Johnson chips in with his two-penn’orth here (pointing out the irony of the fact that the Gospel Coalition can overlook claims of divinely-inspired pornography in Driscoll’s mental cinema, can ignore his crass book on marriage, can sweep under the carpet his validation of a false-gospel preaching modalist, but is not prepared to allow the man to get away with casting nasturtiums on the manly vigour of us allegedly beardless Brits).

Anyway, Mr Carson has a longer history of significant connection with the UK than Mr Driscoll, and offers an alternative perspective. At the same time, Mr Carson is no more a native of the UK than is Mr Driscoll, and his perspective raises the quizzical eyebrow at one or two points, reflecting as it does his distinctive convictions. So, to use Mr Carson’s own language, “you might be interested in hearing another perspective,” while we are about sharing them. I include below Carson’s six observations, and offer some comments.

(1) Mark correctly observes the low state of genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK. Still, it varies considerably (as it does in the United States, though with lower figures over there). There’s a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of the people go to church, many of them evangelicals; the percentage in Northern Ireland is higher, though falling. By contrast, in Yorkshire the percentage that goes to church once a month or more is 0.9 percent; evangelicals account for only 0.4 percent. Both figures are still falling. This is comparable to the state of affairs in, say, Japan.

I am not sure that Mark had much at all to say about “genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK.” I am not sure what Mr Carson means by “genuine Christian confessionalism” but if he is referring to a genuine adherence to one of the classic statements of Reformed doctrine among Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, he is seriously overstating his case. I mentioned the claim that there is “a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of people go to church” – perhaps we might call it ‘the ring of choir’? – to a group of mainly London pastors yesterday, and – subject to queries about how wide the ring is, where it might be placed, what sort of church is involved, when these people go and how often – the claim was substantially laughed out of court. I should be fascinated to know where these statistics come from, and what lies behind them, but they painted an overly rosy picture for the men I asked.

(2) The phenomenon of the state church colors much of what is going on. Whether we like it or not, in England itself (the situation is different in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy, as well as of everything in between. It has produced men like Don Cupitt and men like Dick Lucas. Exactly what courage looks like for the most orthodox evangelicals in that world is a bit different from what courage looks like in the leadership of the independent churches: their temptations are different, their sufferings are different. Although I have found cowardice in both circles, I have found remarkable courage in both circles, and the proportion of each has not been very different from what I’ve found on this side of the Atlantic.

Mr Carson correctly identifies the phenomenon of the state church as a real issue. However, I would seriously contend with his assertion that “the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy” in England. In my experience, there is far more heterodoxy and theological blancmange than anything else coming out of the Church of England, despite the existence in it of men of the calibre of Dick Lucas; to call it the source of “much of the orthodoxy” in England is over-egging it more than a little. He makes the good point that courage may look different in different spheres, although I think that a bit more readiness to walk away from the culture of compromise in the national church would do some good to all involved.

(3) As for young men with both courage and national reach: I suppose I’d start with Richard Cunningham, currently director of UCCF. He has preached fearlessly in most of the universities and colleges in the UK, and is training others to do so; he has been lampooned in the press, faced court cases over the UCCF stance on homosexuality, and attracted newspaper headlines. Then there’s Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, in constant demand for his Bible teaching around the country. I could name many more. In Scotland one thinks of men like Willie Philip (and he’s not the only one). Similar names could be mentioned in Wales and Northern Ireland.

I am curious as to the Don’s circle of contacts if the men he mentions in England are all associated with the national church. I could mention a good number of young and older men of real courage and conviction among the Independents, but some of them – precisely because they are men of courage and conviction – may not be moving in the circles in which Mr Carson moves, or which might receive his blessing.

(4) More important yet, the last few years in England have seen the invention and growth of the regional Gospel Partnerships. In my view, these are among the most exciting things going on in England at the moment. They bring together Church of England ministers and Independent ministers who are passionate about the gospel, who see the decline, and who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free), and raise up a new generation of preachers. They are broadly Reformed. They are annoying the mere traditionalists on both sides of the denominational divide; they are certainly angering some bishops; but they press on. In the North West Partnership, for example, they’ve planted about 30 churches in the last eight years, and the pace is accelerating. That may seem a day of small things, but compared with what was there ten years ago, this is pretty significant, especially as their efforts are beginning to multiply. Elsewhere, one church in London has about 17 plants currently underway, all led by young men. The minister at St Helen’s-Bishopsgate, William Taylor, was formerly an officer in the British Army: there is not a wimpy bone in his body. The amount of flak he takes on is remarkable.

This is, for me, Mr Carson’s most contentious statement. These Gospel Partnerships are all the rage at the moment, and here we are asked to applaud those who “who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free).” But such applause must deliberately overlook the definite and even definitive differences between national or state and free church ecclesiology. These differences become even more pronounced when a Baptist considers the national or state church model. Perhaps I fall under the condemnation of Carson’s withering dismissal of “the mere traditionalists;” perhaps I simultaneously escape the watery label of “broadly Reformed,” which may be a fair trade-off. Let’s be clear: to know that churches where the gospel is being preached are being planted is no small joy. Furthermore, there are many Anglicans whom we esteem and admire for their courage of heart and clarity of thought on a variety of issues. But the idea that a principled Dissenter can overlook the inbuilt rottenness of Anglicanism as a system is a nonsense: the state church is, by its very nature, flawed. The nature of the church (its very constitution, including issues to do with the manner and reality of one’s entrance into and continuing participation in the visible body of Christ) is no insignificant matter, and the fact that it is too often treated as a moot point is dangerous. Here again, if I may also nod to the American scene, we may be dealing with those for whom “Coalition” or “Partnership” sometimes seems a weightier word than “Gospel,” and for whom the reality of the church is, if not overlooked, then perhaps underdeveloped. These may seem to be gains, but I fear that they are short-term gains which will leave long-term confusion and even damage.

Let me again be clear: I do appreciate true gospel preachers among the Anglicans, and my contention is not with people first, but with systems. I am properly impressed at the zeal and wisdom that my brothers show in evangelising and teaching and church-planting, and I acknowledge that it puts too many Independents to shame. But I do not think it any accident that now, as in the past, the most faithful and fruitful men in Anglicanism tend to be criticised, marginalised and even excluded; how I wish more of them would simply walk away and be free indeed! So I am willing to learn from the character and competence of such men; I am ready to benefit from their preaching and writing; there are times and places when I cheerfully congregate and cooperate with specific men; but I cannot abandon what I think is at stake: the very principle of the church and its nature, my concern over the generic credibility of national or state church in itself (qua church, you might say), and the specific incredibility of the Church of England.

I found something from Charles Spurgeon the other day. When I read it to my wife, she sighed in the way that only a wife can, commenting that she had not realised how mild my convictions really are. Said Spurgeon, at a prayer meeting in November 1868, on the eve of a General Election in which the establishment of the Church in Ireland was a live issue:

But there are some of us whose tongues will wax more eloquent because we are obliged to wait; and if this matter of the Church in Ireland be kept in hand for many a day, we shall be thankful, for it will come to the turn of the Church of England all the sooner: for we do not conceal our purpose,– we shall never rest until in England the Church is free, and until this spiritual adultery,– for it is nothing else,– by which the Kingdom of Christ is defiled, shall be for ever put away, and be remembered only as the darkest blot that ever disfigured the Church’s face. Pray earnestly for this blessing! I pray for it as devoutly as I ever asked for salvation. If I might but live to see the day when there shall be a free church in a free nation, and all this State-churchism done away, I could almost say with Simeon, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.’

C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Forgotten Prayer Meeting Addresses (Leominster: DayOne, 2011), 24.

It does matter whether the churches we plant are Anglican or Free, because the issues are of pith and moment, especially considering the long-term purity and fidelity of God’s people.

(5) But there is a bigger issue. We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace. I am grateful beyond words for the multiplication of churches in Acts 29, but I am no less grateful for Baptist ministers like my Dad, men who labored very hard and saw very little fruit for decades in French Canada, many of whom went to prison (their sentences totaled eight years between 1950 and 1952). I find no ground for concluding that the missionaries in Japan in the 20th century were less godly, less courageous, less faithful, than the missionaries in (what became) South Korea, with its congregations of tens of thousands. At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff). Just as the widow who gave her mite may be reckoned to have given more than many multi-millionaires, so, I suspect, some ministers in Japan, or Yorkshire, will receive greater praise on that last day than those who served faithfully in a corner of the world where there was more fruit. Moreover, the measure of faithful service is sometimes explicitly tied in Scripture not to the quantity of fruit, measured in numbers, but to such virtues as self-control, measured by the use of one’s tongue (James 3:1-6).

Agreed: there are dark places where a single glimmer of light is, in some senses, a greater demonstration of God’s saving power than it might appear in those places where the church has a relatively greater degree of freedom, however that freedom may be used or abused. This assessing on the basis of numbers is a modern and Western disease which reflects a far too commercial spirit in Christ’s church.

(6) Even where some ministries are wavering, it takes rare discernment to sort out when there should be sharp rebuke and when there should be encouragement. Probably there needs to be more of whichever of these two polarities we are least comfortable with! But I would not want to forget that the Jesus who can denounce hypocritical religious leaders in Matthew 22 is also the one of whom it is said, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Matt 12:19-21)—in fulfillment of one of the suffering servant passages. My read is that in some of the most challenging places of the world for gospel advance, godly encouragement is part of the great need of the day.

And, insofar as Mr Carson’s words are intended as such, we gladly accept them where we can, settling down as we do so to a lovely cup of tea.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 31 January 2012 at 19:47

My (American) wife endorses this message

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 31 January 2012 at 12:39

Posted in Culture and society

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Please, sir, may I have some more?

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I know this sounds like a crazy notion. I’m not 100% convinced myself. But I’ve begun to wonder if there might not be enough public teaching in today’s church.

Kevin DeYoung reasons through what he fears may be a lack of teaching in the church. I think he has some valid concerns. How much of an appetite for truth taught is there in the church of Christ today?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 January 2012 at 09:04

Knowing your place

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After being reminded of Taylor's advice, Mr Hyde receded and Pastor Jekyll was restored.

A friend in the US – in response, it must be said, to my asserting that he was “a crusty botch of nature” – sends me this link, in which the all-conquering, magnificently hairy, ever-erudite and splendidly insightful Mark Driscoll is alleged to assert

Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.

Now I am really hurt. I shall have to crawl back into bed and tuck up with blanky while I have a good cry to get it out of my system before finding a soothing herbal tea to calm the shattered Walker nerves.

I just hammered out a response of some length, but – at the point of publication – I remembered something that I read yesterday in William Taylor’s Paul the Missionary:

a time of excitement is not favourable for determining duty. . . . When we are in a passion, which we should be as seldom as possible, we ought to defer deciding on the matter which has provoked us until our calmness has returned. It is always a good rule to hold over a thing of that sort. Let the irritation subside; let reason, which is for the moment dethroned, resume its sway; let God’s forgiveness be asked, and his direction sought in earnest prayer, then gravely, deliberately, and soberly let us do as he may indicate. Never decide on any course when you are excited by anger. If something have [sic] occurred to destroy your equilibrium, and you feel you cannot restrain your wrath, then sit down and write a letter to him who has been the cause of your anger, put into it all that you feel, make it hot and strong, so that your soul is thoroughly relieved by telling him thus a piece of your mind, then fling it aside until the next day. When you open your desk in the morning, read it and see what a fool you were; then put it into the fire, and let it and your wrath burn together. After that, decide what you shall do, and you will acknowledge the truth of the old proverb, “There’s luck in leisure.” (303-304)

It’s good advice, and so the spleen-venting gets laid aside, and I leave you to judge the matter for yourself. Of course, if people mistake restraint for cowardice, I might have to do a bit of chest-beating later on to vindicate myself!

Anyway, Mr Driscoll subsequently writes that he really isn’t that important after all and we should not waste our time on him: “The best thing is to not waste time blogging, twittering, and talking about me.” That is pretty good advice, even though it is slightly ironic coming at the end of a post in which Mark spends a fair amount of time doing just that. He asserts that he has been taken out of context by the man who interviewed him who clearly didn’t like him very much (the self-protective tone doesn’t exactly tally with Mark’s cry for caveman Christianity). Sadly, Mark, when your national and international reputation is for boorish aggression and vulgar self-serving, this is just the kind of quote that people will anticipate, seize upon, and even doctor to play to your image, and so a man falls into the net that he himself has laid.

Besides, can Driscoll really say that he has honestly never heard of Paul Levy?

UPDATE: Never heard of this gent before, but he writes some interesting things of this issue.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 January 2012 at 09:25

Fission in mission?

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Carl Trueman gives us his top story of the year:

The Aquila Report, source of all world knowledge for confessional Presbyterians, has published its list of the top fifty stories which it ran this year. At the head of the list is an entry from Anthony Bradley. It is nearly a year old and I missed it first time around but, for any who do not yet check the Aquila Report with any regularity, it is well worth a read. The first point certainly seems to stand in anecdotal continuity with the experience of many of us in rural/suburban churches who have been left wondering in recent years if all of the urban success is the result of the Holy Spirit or simple demographic shifts — shifts which might actually end up subverting the overall mission of the church by concentrating fewer and fewer resources in fewer and fewer hands. Only time will tell. You can read the piece here.

“Here” tells us that the missional church planting movement is mainly attractional, has missed the value of education, has missed the target of real justice in cities, and fundamentally failing to keep up with the pace of cultural change in cities, largely because it has yoked itself to that cultural change. Ouch, and worth pondering.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 2 January 2012 at 15:30

Situational ethics

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Is it always wrong to abuse a woman? Is it wrong to respond to her response to abuse with more abuse? For example, would it be wrong for someone to cut off the ears and nose of a young wife who had tried to escape the clutches of a husband who abused her and kept her with his animals?

Not really, at least according to a good number of students taught by Stephen L. Anderson, who displayed to his class,

without comment, the photo of Bibi Aisha. Aisha was the Afghani teenager who was forced into an abusive marriage with a Taliban fighter, who abused her and kept her with his animals. When she attempted to flee, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead in the mountains. After crawling to her grandfather’s house, she was saved by a nearby American hospital. I felt quite sure that my students, seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, would have a clear ethical reaction, from which we could build toward more difficult cases. . . .

I had expected strong aversion; but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused. They seemed not to know what to think. They spoke timorously, afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize any situation originating in a different culture.

They said, “Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.” One student said, “I don’t feel anything at all; I see lots of this kind of stuff .”

Another said (with no consciousness of self-contradiction), “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”

Such a moral vacuum in our education system is hardly surprising, but it is still fearful. In occasional opportunities to teach in local schools (perhaps in religious assemblies), I usually receive instructions that essentially request training in ethics without instruction in morals, the moulding of attitudes and the avoidance of absolutes. In other words, please build a superstructure, but whatever you do, don’t lay a foundation.

As a result, we are left with a shifting spectrum of would-be ethics grounded in something as substanceless as one’s own subjective sense, pounded into compliance by the notion of cultural relativism and moral irrelevance.

Isaiah had sober words for such confusion: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Is 5.20-21).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 31 December 2011 at 22:35

The New Calvinism considered #2 Commendations

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Yesterday I began a well-intentioned survey of the New Calvinism with an attempt to capture some of its characteristics. Today we move on . . .

Caveats and characteristics ∙ Commendations ∙ Cautions and concernsConclusions and counsels

Commendations

The first thing that I particularly appreciate about the New Calvinists is that they set out to be Christ-oriented and God-honoring.  There may be questions as to the degree of their success in this, but I think it is right to acknowledge that it is their sincere intention. One of the springs of this movement has been John Piper’s concern that God should be glorified, bound up in his notion of “Christian hedonism.” He has recast the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism to suggest that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” We are repeatedly told by Piper and others that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is the kind of language that drives much of this movement, seeking that Christ be known and made known to the glory of God. What it means to glorify God in Christ is very much a matter of Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper, and this distinctive understanding is a keystone in the movement. What we cannot deny is that this movement is substantially galvanized by concern for the supremacy of God in Christ and that the Lord of Glory be magnified in all things. That is a good thing and something we should embrace. While we may fine tune some of this down the line, we should recognize that this is the sincere aim and it is to be heartily commended.

Secondly, it is a grace-soaked movement. If you read the books, follow the blogs, listen to the conversations, you will hear “gospel-this” and “gospel-that” and “gospel-the-other,” almost to the point of inanity (there has to be another adjective you are allowed to use sometimes!). Nevertheless, the gospel is the great thing and Christ and Him crucified is at the heart of things. Grace has become and has remained amazing to these brothers and sisters. There is a freshness and enthusiasm that comes with this sense of discovery. For example, when you hear John Piper talk about Jonathan Edwards, you hear the abiding excitement of a man who has discovered something that he once did not know but which now has gripped his soul, and that gives him a vigor, an excitement, a freshness. For many in the movement, they have recently come to begin to begin to understand the beauty and the splendor of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and there is a corresponding enthusiasm: it is not old hat but rather new and delightful, and so this contributes to what is in many ways a vibrantly joyful movement. These friends are excited about the fact that God has loved them in Christ quite apart from their own deserving and that results in a contagious and attractive enthusiasm. They delight to be loved by God in Christ.

Thirdly, it is a missional movement. You may or may not like that buzz word, but it is the one in use. The New Calvinism tends to be passionately and sacrificially missional. There is a desire that the glory of God be known in all the earth and so these friends seek to preach the gospel and to make disciples (there is a good and healthy emphasis on discipleship in many circles). They want to plant churches and to train preachers. Their concern is local, national and international. This is a good model; it is, in many respects, a reflection of New Testament Christianity, and obviously that is to be heartily commended. They are ready to overlook and overcome boundaries that may cripple other people. They are reaching the lost; many of these friends are reaching people that we as Reformed Baptists are not. They are going to places we do not and perhaps will not. They are dealing with people of whom we may be scared. They are having doors opened before them that have never opened to some of us and they are taking these opportunities and they are going in to tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that this is wonderful and I wish that it were more characteristic of us.

Then, fourthly, it is a complementarian movement. By that I mean it seeks to regard men as men and women as women in their proper places and spheres as God has appointed them. Nevertheless, I want to qualify this slightly in two ways. First of all, in keeping with the movement as a whole, this is a spectrum, and there are manifestations of this complementarianism with which not everyone will  agree: there would be differences in emphasis and perspective at certain points. Secondly, I find it rather amusing that – given all the things that the New Calvinism seems determined not to be about – complementarianism in the realm of gender and male/female relationships and responsibilities is such a big issue, so much so that I could almost put this in the list of defining qualities. The New Calvinists make a big deal about the fact that they are or intend to be biblically complementarian. That concern works itself out as a corresponding influence on what it is to have a healthy family life, what it means to have male leadership in the church, and other such areas. At times the masculinity that is presented becomes almost a caricature (drifting in some circles toward a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, breast-beating machismo) but generally they want men to be men and women to be women. They want that to be so in single life, in married life, in church life, in family life. This is a good and appropriate emphasis proving to be very attractive both to men and women. As women find men who really are men and as men are given opportunity to really be men (especially younger men who are finding models of masculine headship, of vigor, or passion, of endeavor in this movement) one gets a sense of deep answering unto deep.  It is probably one of the reasons why this is a movement of so many younger preachers. They have gathered a spearhead of stable (usually), active, energetic and committed young men to carry the gospel out alongside of whom are many vigorous, active, energetic, and committed women. I think that is, in essence, a good thing.

Furthermore, the New Calvinists tend to be both immersed and inventive. They are immersed in many things. They are immersed in theology, they are readers. If you talk to some of the book publishing houses, including some of the more conservative ones, you will find that some of their major sales are in New Calvinistic circles. The New Calvinists are lapping up high grade theology. They are reading good books and big books. They love to know more about God. They are thinkers. They want to know how God’s truth relates to and works out in the church and the world. They are inventive and immersed in the online world. Many are what are called “early adopters.” The latest smart phone technology comes out and they are the first in line.  And Apple – it’s got to be Apple. If you own a PC you are almost by definition not a New Calvinist. They blog exuberantly and exhaustively. They are at the cutting edge of technology in many respects. They are not afraid to use social media and to harness the power of online interaction. Again, you may have questions about the nature and impact of those media, the effect of the medium on the very message that it carries, but they – often taking account of those concerns – say, “It’s here, let’s get it, let’s use it in order to bring Christ and the gospel to bear on the people who are in these environments.” So they will use both old and new media very effectively to propagate the truth and the New Calvinist take on it. I put those two things together because it is very much the movement that carries along the gospel as they teach it. It is not quite one and the same thing, but they do not come separate from each other: the gospel comes dressed in New Calvinist colors and defined by New Calvinist convictions. All this makes them highly visible and very persuasive in the demographic group who are immersed in online culture, and that is almost everyone who is in their thirties and younger. When I first went to university not so long ago, students were encouraged to use computers to submit at least some of their essays; I wonder if anyone now uses a pen to write an essay. It is only in the last ten to twenty years that so much human social interaction has moved online. So anyone in their mid-thirties and younger is almost by definition immersed in that world unless they have deliberately decided to step away from it. And this is the world that the New Calvinist substantially inhabits, and it is this familiarity which makes them very potent in that narrow sphere. However, this raises other issues: What if you are not part of that significant online presence? What if you do not live online?  What if you know nothing about what a friend calls “TwitFace”? This concentration can lock out some who are not immersed in the same media, but – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever else it may be or may become – these will be men and women who will be there first and they will be looking to take advantage of these things to the glory of God.

A sixth and final commendation is that this is a movement committed in principle to expository preaching.[1] Again, there are styles and approaches to which I might and would take exception, and there are other things which adhere around the preaching which I would question, but the underlying commitment is to explain and apply the Bible as the Word of God. Many of the leading lights of the movement are pastors and preachers, committed either to systematic expository series or to some other form of expository ministry. The conferences are, by and large, preaching conferences. Discussions revolve around what the Bible says and what it means. Books are written expounding the Word of God. While there are and there will continue to be discussions about whether or not the expositions, conclusions and applications are accurate – the same sort of often-healthy discussions as happen within, across and between other circles – this commitment at least provides some common ground for the discussion to advance: “What does the Bible say?” Where this principle is espoused and not undermined, a common foundation allows for a mutual pursuit of the truth as it is in Jesus.

These are far from the only commendations, but they are at least six areas where I have appreciated and learned from some of the emphases of my brothers and sisters.

Caveats and characteristics ∙ Commendations ∙ Cautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

To be continued . . .


[1] This commendation has been added following feedback since the material was originally developed.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 21 December 2011 at 08:37

The New Calvinism considered #1 Caveats and characteristics

with 9 comments

As some may recall, many moons ago I produced a survey of the New Calvinism. Subsequently, and building upon that, I was invited to address the topic at a sister church in the US, which I sought to do. Following on from that, I was asked to put that material in print, to which I replied, “Tricky, as it’s only a series of headers with a few notes on a sheet of paper.” The upshot was that the original address got transcribed, and I got round – eventually – to editing it. I used the substance of that address recently for a series of adult Bible classes in the church which I serve, and it provoked a lot of profitable engagement. And, now, finally, I am posting it here in its slightly more polished, slightly less personable form. In truth, since I wrote this, the situation has moved on. When I dealt with the situation in the church here, I was obliged to deal with the Elephant Room fracas (where, as you will imagine, I dropped much of the language of brotherly engagement when dealing with those who deny the Trinity or or used it far more guardedly when dealing with those who welcome as brothers those who preach the same heresy), as well as to go into the issues of prophecy and other spiritual gifts in more detail.

[UPDATE: I see that Kevin DeYoung is also reviewing the Young, Restless, Reformed phenomenon at his blog.]

So, asking that you take into account that there are some elements, which – if I were writing it now – would be necessarily more robust, and that this is the briefest version without a lot of the colour and additional comments, I offer herewith . . .

The New Calvinism considered

Caveats and characteristics ∙ CommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Introduction

What qualifications do I possess for the task of assessing a movement like the New Calvinism? I first came across some of the men who are now known as New Calvinists a few years after John Piper first published Desiring God. A friend of mine was enthusing about this book and told me, “You have to read this book, it will change your life.” I thought that if a friend was speaking of a book in this way then I should at least do him the honor of reading it. Since then I have been engaged with the New Calvinism in various ways. A number of my peers have been very much caught up with it, and I have felt the pressure to imbibe it, to embrace it, to be a part of it.

This interest and engagement have continued even though this movement is largely an American phenomenon. I therefore have something of an outside perspective. (The New Calvinism in the UK is not exactly the same as it is in the US – it does not have the same breadth.) I have appreciated much of what I have seen. I have benefited from some of it and I have disagreed with some of it. The process of evaluation has been (and remains) a long one in which reading, listening, discussing, and going to conferences all played a part. My sense was that this was a significant movement. That was one reason for the pressure to jump on the bandwagon. However, while I did not want to dismiss what was profitable, but neither did I want thoughtlessly to embrace something without careful consideration.

It is out of that tension and that developed process that I hope to bring some observations, as a Christian, a pastor and part of a generation that has seen the New Calvinism take off and take hold over a period of years. However, I also want to issue some caveats, some initial warnings which we must take into account as we look at the New Calvinism.

First of all, this is a personal and pastoral assessment. I am not pretending that I have a monopoly on insights into individual men and movement as a whole. I may be mistaken in what I suggest. There are thousands of blog posts and books and videos and conferences that I have not read or watched or been a part of. If I am ignorant, mistaken, or misguided at any point, I am readily prepared to be corrected and thus to fine tune my understanding.

Secondly, this is a fraternal and irenic assessment. In other words, I speak as a brother with a desire for genuine understanding, true unity and gospel peace. I am not setting out to attack those I consider lunatics and heretics, neither do I intend to lay waste to everything that is before me (even where I disagree). I have several friends who would call themselves New Calvinists, friends whom I respect and appreciate. I am by no means seeking to dismiss them or to trample them into the dust.

Thirdly, I am seeking to provide a balanced appreciation. This is not intended to be a hatchet job. My wife is American, and she suggests with much legitimacy that the British can be professional cynics. I do not wish to give vent to a sarcastic strain, nor fall into the trap of painting a caricature of New Calvinism that could easily be mocked (even in a gracious, brotherly spirit!). Such a straw man is tempting to erect precisely because it is easier to knock down than the real person. I should also point out that I am not setting out to accomplish a sort of Reformed Baptist whitewash, in which I climb up above everybody else, confident in our own superiority in all things, and – looking down on everybody else with a smug air – say, “We are the best. If only you were like us, how much better this world would be.” I it is not my intention to ignore or to defend Reformed Baptists, but to deal with the New Calvinism.

The fourth and the most important caveat is that the New Calvinism is not monolithic, by which I mean that it is not a single and uniform entity. The New Calvinism is a spectrum. It is a broad river with many currents, having different eddies with varying depths and shallows.  In an assessment such as this I have to paint with a broad brush, not having the opportunity to nuance and finesse some of my comments. Exceptions to some of my general statements could easily be found. I understand that, but I am obliged to deal in generalities to some extent, recognizing that there will be exceptions. I will have to refer to points on a spectrum, but I do not mean to imply that all these things are universal or uniform when they are not.

Characteristics of the New Calvinism

What are the qualities of the New Calvinism? How do you define this movement, taking into account that it is a spectrum? Where do you start?

The first – and perhaps somewhat obvious quality – is Calvinism itself, but even this must be qualified. In general, this movement is united by convictions about the sovereignty of God in salvation, hence the name “New Calvinists.” Note, however, that an appreciation of God’s sovereignty in salvation is not necessarily the same thing as being “Reformed.” Furthermore, while there is a very real sense in which Calvinism is more than just the five points, it is not easy to argue that it is less than those points. Here we must take into account that not all the New Calvinists are, in fact, Calvinists. Some are what are called Amyraldians. Moïse (or Moses) Amyraut was a French theologian who developed what was basically a four point Calvinism. The primary point of contention is the nature and extent of the atonement. Several within the New Calvinist movement believe in what is sometimes described as “unlimited limited atonement” – the idea that the death of Jesus was intended for all men but that it is effectively applied only to the elect. (The Calvinist’s conviction would be that the death of Jesus was intended only for the elect and therefore did not fail or fall short in any degree.) Taking all this into account, we admit that the title of the well-known book by Collin Hansen which has become almost a label for the movement, Young, Restless, Reformed, is much catchier than Young, Restless and mainly Calvinistic, apart from those of us who are slightly Amyraldian. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, and my fingers and  keyboard, I will continue to use the phrase “New Calvinism” to describe this movement.

In sum, this movement can be described (slightly inaccurately) as Calvinistic insofar as it maintains a general unity around the notion that God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners. Indeed, one could argue that the true father figure of the New Calvinism is probably more Jonathan Edwards than John Calvin, and even then it is Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper.

Secondly, this is a movement of characters (or figureheads, personalities, celebrities or gurus, depending on how pejorative a label you wish to apply, or what kind of a follower you are dealing with). If you spend enough time in this environment you might eventually theorize that there is somewhere an inner sanctum where these magisterial figures sit. These are the men who appear on the key websites, videoed in cool monochrome sitting around discussing great principles and actions and movements while we sit in humble awe as they deliver their weighty opinions. Often these are established figures, the big names who need to be at the conferences in order for them to be real New Calvinist conferences. Alongside of them are the rising stars of the upcoming generation.

You will hear names such as John Piper, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, Don Carson, Josh Harris, Wayne Grudem. On the websites and in the blogosphere names like Justin Taylor and Tim Challies are prominent. More on the fringes perhaps, and with a more ambivalent relationship, are men like R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur[1] (they are referenced by the movement and have connections within it, but do not necessarily fit into the spectrum). When you enter the world of the New Calvinism these are the names that you will find in almost every place. For example, in the online realm you will find that the hundreds if not thousands of New Calvinistic blogs are rehashing the same videos, passing on the same references, locked in a potentially nepotistic world of self-reference.

This leads to at least two related dangers: the danger of mere imitation and the danger of unintended disconnection. Early in his life Andrew Fuller – who was to become a preeminent Particular Baptist theologian – discovered that the mark of a master plowman was to be able to plow a straight furrow across a field. Fuller assumed that such a standard could easily be achieved simply by laying your plow alongside an existing furrow created by a master and following it. Putting his theory to the test, he took a plow and went along the straight line of the master plowman. When he had finished he looked back to see that although there was a degree of straightness because of the model that he followed, he had also copied and exaggerated all the kinks in the master plowman’s furrow. Fuller vowed at that moment never to be an imitator. The danger of these figureheads is that, in the minds of some, they become celebrities and gurus. Slavishly following them, their disciples reproduce not only much of what is good but also exaggerate them at their points of weakness or aberration.

Furthermore, as we consider some of these followers we find that there is a disconnect between some of the men at the top of the hierarchy – men of profound mental and emotional depth, who seek to hold unusual things in tension in their thinking and practice – and those lower down the tree with, perhaps, lesser vision and capacity. A struggle follows, often issuing in a failure to hold those potentially fruitful or perhaps implicitly contradictory tensions. One or the other side must govern, leading to deviations from the doctrine and practice of the greater man by those of lesser magnitude. In other words, some of what is happens on the ground at grass-roots level can be very far and very unhealthily removed from what is being proposed and modeled at the top.

Thirdly, this is a movement marked by conglomeration. It is a movement of coalitions, of conferences, of networks, and of networks of networks, numbers of men and churches operating together. As mentioned before, this can seem a little introspective at times (not that they are the only ones guilty of that!): they all endorse one another’s books and DVDs, they all refer to one another’s blogs and videos.  Together For The Gospel (T4G) and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) are two of the big overarching events or organizations that holding some of these things together. In addition, there are such groups as the Acts 29 network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, or the Resolved conference series. It is a broad and somewhat eclectic mix, reinforcing the idea of the spectrum and underlining the pursuit of a broad unity.

Fourthly and finally, it is a movement of consolidation. Since its beginning, I think it is discernibly evident that this river is broadening out and slowing down. At least one of its figureheads is very and vocally opposed to the notion of things slowing down. He says, in effect, “Things begin as missions, become movements, then museums and monuments . . . and we are on mission!” And yet it is already a movement, and such a change is of the nature of things; in part it is the process of maturation. The whole machine is slowing down. There is not the same buzz, the same energy, the same drive as once there was. The river is broader and it is slower. The enthusiasm has shifted slightly. I am not saying that there is any less vigor, but this is not the rushing mountain stream it once was, with the dynamism simply to carry things before it. Interestingly, one of the issues coming up more regularly is the idea of succession. Some of the father figures in the movement have sat around to be filmed in weighty monochrome talking about what is going to happen after they have moved on. I cannot be absolute, but there seems to be a slowing down and an awareness that we are entering a period of transition with regard to New Calvinism.

While this list of defining features is brief and broad and far from exhaustive, I trust that those familiar with the New Calvinism as a whole or with specific manifestations of it will be able to see some recognizable points of reference in this overview. Taking all these things about the New Calvinism into account, I want to offer first some commendations and then some cautions and concerns, engaging with these brothers as brothers, and as someone who has appreciated and learned from them in many ways.

Caveats and characteristics ∙ CommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels


[1] In recent days, John MacArthur has delivered a series of quite vigorous addresses to the ‘young, restless and reformed’ crowd, and several of his points were very poorly received, in the main, although some gave a more seasoned and dignified response.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 December 2011 at 15:26

Posted in Culture and society, Theology

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Modern religion

with 14 comments

I suppose one might suggest that the virtue on display is at least that of honesty. What is your religion? We all have one. Only one brings us to God and heaven.

chelsea our religion

HT: Heavenly Worldliness.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 5 September 2011 at 08:23

Posted in Culture and society

Tagged with , ,

“Ashes in my mouth”

with 2 comments

I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely stimulated by this interview. Paxo is on good form, and in Russell Brand he has an interviewee who, rather than revealing his hidden shallows, actually manages to uncover depths that I imagine many of us might never have imagined he has.

Now, to be sure, Mr Brand is deconstructing fame and celebrity and consumerism from a humanistic viewpoint, but it’s still a pretty brutal and intelligent desconstruction. It gets the more interesting toward the end when Mr Paxman begins to ask about sustaining his brightness, and Brand speaks of death, meaning, and substance in life. As this section develops, and Brand attests that fame is nothing but “ashes in my mouth,” I was powerfully reminded of Augustine’s dictum, that God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in him. How I would love to speak to Mr Brand and explain the good news to him! If God were pleased to save him, and take that insight, that passion, that intelligence, and sanctify it, we might have an Augustine for the 21st century. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?

Disclaimer: it is a pretty blunt interview at times, and some will find it crude at points, as they discuss some of Brand’s better-known misdemeanours, and how they are like and unlike other crudities and cruelties. I should also point out that I am not seeking to excuse the substance of Brand’s public persona and proclamations.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 27 April 2011 at 12:56

Online security

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 18 March 2011 at 16:31

Posted in Culture and society

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