The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

And now …

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That was interesting.

After all the argument, debate, discussion, bombast, hubris, scaremongering and threatening of recent months, some of it – it must be said – rhetoric of the highest order, Britain woke this morning to the news that we are almost certainly leaving the EU in the next couple of years. I say “almost certainly” because the timeframe is uncertain, and because we should probably be careful before we make absolute statements in such things. Apparently it was so important that even Lindsay Lohan was getting stuck in. At one point, it seems, she thanked Fife. I kid you not. This, it seems, warrants a fairly significant note in the BBC’s news coverage. Such is the world we live in.

But, regardless of such minor meddling, the deal seems to be done. Geographically, Britain is in  Europe. Politically, it is on its way out. Philosophically, sociologically, culturally? Harder to say. It is too easy to look at the Leave/Remain map of the country this morning and to start making simplistic, rash and unfounded judgments, the kind that begin, “Well, it’s obvious that they would have voted to …” At the same time, the map is fascinating. Scotland, without exception, has voted to Remain. Wales, with the exception of a couple of westerly counties and more urban areas to the south, wanted to Leave. Northern Ireland was pulling toward Europe. London is overwhelmingly In. Most of the rest of the country, pretty firmly Out. My county was In. My town was Out. And now, indeed, we shake it all about.

Because if all that was interesting, what happens next is fascinating. I confess that one thing that I struggled to work out was the motives that people, especially some of the movers and shakers, had in their voting. It was fascinating, both politically and theologically, to listen to the voices. It was sometimes amusing, as men and women cut about them with two-edged swords, sometimes attacking arguments on this vote that they had stridently defended with precisely the same blade on other matters. So, what was driving us? Was it fear? Greed? Hatred? Anger? Pity? Sympathy? Pride? Perhaps, on both sides. Did people vote with or against certain personalities? That got difficult, because there were some compelling characters on both sides of the debate. What convictions, attachments, and principles, or lack of them, lay behind such emotions, on both sides of the debate? Did that unavoidable but almost-unquantifiable variable of class play a big part? These are not unimportant questions, because those realities and motives may now drive the practical outcome of this vote and colour the mood of the nation for years to come.

What that practical outcome, in all its far-reaching variety, will be, is much harder to predict. What that mood will be might yet change. Now that the die is cast, the strident voices will probably rise shrilly in the next few days. The prophets of doom will predict catastrophic meltdown. Some of their predictions might be right. I can only imagine that the mainland architects of the EU – France and Germany prominent among them – will do what they can to punish Britain, not least as a disincentive to others who are watching with interest to see what can be done and how it goes. The prophets of boon, on the other hand, are telling us that we are entering a brave rather than bleak new world, in which national sovereignty and good, old-fashioned British pluck will enable us to carve out a new and vibrant place in the global economy. The markets are already taking the mother of all kickings. Facebook is, doubtless, awash with populist banter and insult (I confess that I am still building up to having a look).

And then, once the dust immediately kicked up begins to settle, and people realise that society is not about to implode, the long and perhaps difficult reality will set in. Article 50 must be triggered, setting the date for the final act of departure. There will be two years or so of wrangling about what precisely it will involve. What does it mean that our borders might soon be harder to cross? How porous should they be? How much free movement do we want? How much will we get? Will it make Britain less susceptible to international terrorism or more susceptible to our inherent instability? What does it mean to be economically unyoked from the mainland and free to negotiate our own trade deals? Is it the dawn of a new age of innovation and bullishness? Is it the collapse of the pound? What will it mean for the ‘special relationship’ with the US? Will America find that they do not need us as their ally/lapdog now that we don’t have quite the same voice at the European table? Will the EU find it easier to forge ahead with some of their more radical proposals without Britain dragging its (Britain’s) heels while holding its (the EU’s) hand? Will the Little Englanders get their way? Will an ugly nationalism rear its head or a more positive patriotism inspire a measure of endeavour?

This vote radically changes the political landscape, and sets the political agenda for the next couple of parliaments at least, and perhaps the next couple of generations. It is a moment of real risk and real opportunity. Such usually walk hand in hand.

And what of the people of God? I confess that I have found some of the Christian and allegedly-Christian contributions to this debate curious and even distasteful. I believe that pastors should help their people work out why and for what reasons to vote, and not to tell them how to vote, implicitly or explicitly. Party and partisan politics does not belong in the pulpit. Aggressive and sometimes frankly xenophobic assertions of the UK as a Christian country are simply wrong-headed. Declarations of the brotherhood of man as a reason to pursue and promote global unity are also not looking good. The breadth and depth of our heritage and much of its Christian influence I will by no means deny, but the idea that we have somehow beaten back the antichrist with this vote I find curious. At the same time, there can be little doubt that the European influence was, by and large, one which tended to undermine Christian morality and promote a more secular agenda. Other Christian voices, more careful, have argued about the impact it will have on our capacity to take the gospel to the world and our ability to withstand some of the godless and idolatrous influences within and around our society. We might also need to be at least as much concerned about how to take the gospel to the many parts of our country, the cities and the parts of them, and the countless towns and villages, which are in almost entire gospel darkness, regardless of the national origin or cultural inheritance of the people who inhabit them.

You see, what seems to be overlooked by many, both within and without the true church of Christ (the company of the redeemed), is that nothing in this vote changes the hearts of men. It may change our circumstances. We have no idea how much that might prove to be the case. But it does not change our nature. If we think that Britain will rediscover a native rosy glow in the aftermath of this debate, and vaguely and confusedly patriotic strains of “Jerusalem” will once more arise from the corners of our sceptred isle, then we should get out more. If we fear, on the contrary, that we are now entering the darkest of days, we should look up more. In both cases, we need to read our Bibles more. We must not build our hopes or stir our fears on the words and deeds of mere creatures. It will invariably disappoint.

I write and wrestle with these things as the pastor of a church that rejoices in its happy variety: on any given Sunday, I am likely to preach to people from England, Wales, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Ukraine, Romania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Italy, India, America, and possibly a few others. Our fellowship meals are a thing of many-splendoured wonder! I have had the privilege of travelling to various parts of the world to enjoy real fellowship with the family of God in countless places. I still remember with some fondness the first time I read Andrew Fuller’s sermon on Christian patriotism, delivered when Britain was under threat of Napoleonic invasion. Though these circumstances are vastly different, I think that Fuller’s guidance is still extremely valuable. John  Newton, too, is fairly robust. I have made some sort of contribution to the literature with a chapter on “Respect the Authorities” and other related material in a recent book, Passing Through (see sidebar for details).

So what do we do now? Is now the time for triumphalistic bombast? For prognostications of disaster? I think not. It should make us pray for magnanimity and wisdom on both sides as we deal with the aftermath. We should remain profoundly concerned for the peace and wellbeing of the nation in which we live and of which God has made us earthly citizens. But none of this changes our fundamental identity nor our basic activity. The apostle Paul tells us that in the last days (the days between the ascension of Christ and his return) there will be perilous seasons, marked by people who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2Tim 3.2-5). In or out of Europe, it seems to me that this is a fairly accurate description of the dangerous time in which we live. In or out of Europe, that is the spiritual landscape in which we labour.

So what do we do? We do, in our place and according to our part, what the Lord Christ told us through his apostles: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2Tim 4.1–5).

A proper and genuine patriotism, in the sense of a warm regard and earnest concern for the country where God has put us, is not just compatible with but required by a genuinely Christian soul. We are to serve where we are. Our battle is not so much for borders as for souls. Our gospel compassion must be extended to our neighbours, whoever they are. Our expectation is of a new heaven and a new earth characterised by righteousness, a city populated by the nations of the earth under the kingship of Christ. And that is not yet, though it is already glimpsed in the churches made up, Lord’s day by Lord’s day, of people from every kingdom, tribe, language and nation who gather to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords. In that sense, not much has changed. There may be some particular political challenges in the days ahead, and yet the challenges for the church – the demands upon and opportunities for the kingdom of God – will not change. We may yet have our City of God moments and seasons in the modern West, and God may yet grant us theologians like Augustine for such moments and seasons. Our hopes are not, and never should have been, in England or Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland, in the UK or Great Britain, in or out of Europe.

Perhaps you know the older English translation of “A safe stronghold our God is still,” written by Martin Luther, that German reformer? It was written at a time when much was shaking in the world, and Luther faced the spiritual realities of the time with candour and courage, and with this conviction and conclusion:

God’s Word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
’Tis written by His finger.
And though they take our life,
Goods, honour, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all:
The city of God remaineth!

It is as citizens of heaven that we are to live and to love and to labour, for the glory of God and the good of men. We need not, we should not, panic. If we feel the need for some sort of radical change this morning, it may be because we were not being and doing what we ought to have been and might have been in the first place. These are not to be the first things in our hearts.

There will be, this morning, much fear and much uncertainty for some, much rejoicing and glee for others. Some, perhaps many, more phlegmatic or less engaged, will not give two hoots about what has happened. For so many, there is too much pain and too much pressure in the next hours to worry about the next years. But, if Christians, we always knew that the world shakes, and one day soon will so shake that nothing is left except that which cannot be shaken. This must be our confidence and our conclusion, too, and our hope for the future, and our message to our neighbours: the city of God remains!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 24 June 2016 at 08:50

Posted in General

Review: “For the Glory”

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For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell from Olympic Hero to Modern Martyr
Duncan Hamilton
Doubleday (Penguin), 2016, 384pp., cloth, £20
ISBN 978-0857522597

for the gloryFor most of us, the strains of Vangelis are the soundtrack to the dramatised life of Eric Liddell. And that’s pretty much it: effortless running on beaches … getting up after falling and beating the opposition … taking a stand on the Lord’s day … beating all comers at a less-favoured distance. And yet, for most of us, the truth lies largely hidden or slightly murky behind the veil of entertainment. That is where a book like Hamilton’s can be a real help. Though it lacks the explicit Christian tone of John Keddie’s Running the Race, for example, it provides a largely clear lens through which to view our subject’s life. I do not think that Mr Hamilton is a Christian. That makes his testimony all the more powerful, even if his discussion of Liddell’s Christianity sometimes seems to lack awareness or sensitivity. He seems to stand in awe of Liddell without being quite able to understand him. For those of us who believe we better grasp his motives, his simple pursuit of cheerful obedience leaves us, perhaps, as far behind him as men of God as many of his rivals on the track were as athletes. Hamilton seems stunned by Liddell’s consistent virtue, constantly having to explain that Liddell really was everything that people claimed him to be: a shining example of Christlikeness. In fact, he protests so much that one is even tempted to wonder if he has fallen under Liddell’s spell himself. It may be the sports writer’s desire for a hero or love of the underdog. Certainly Hamilton seems possessed of an animus against any institution, especially the more bureaucratic, which leads to the working assumption of something on the far side of incompetence though generally just short of actual malice. Where the book really excels is giving a straightforward and thorough account of the whole of Liddell’s life, probably rising to its peak away from the earthly glories of the Olympic running track and focusing on the tireless, selfless labours of Liddell the missionary and his experiences in a Japanese prison camp in China. It is, for various reasons, hard to tease out much of Liddell’s theology from the book, but his godly character lies on the surface. Some readers may wish to be warned that, in telling the tale, Hamilton slips in a couple of profanities and vulgarities, sparse but present. I genuinely enjoyed this volume and would warmly recommend it to anyone seeking to know the man behind the film legend. The specious romance of certain elements of the screen tale is stripped away to be replaced by the substantial beauty of the simple truth. In doing so, it is Liddell’s determination to glorify God by a commitment to consecrated obedience that is the lasting impress his life’s race leaves upon the reader.

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 30 May 2016 at 05:00

Posted in General

Review: the Schuyler New King James Version

with 4 comments

IMG_1213(Yes, this is a longer review, but it’s written to be enjoyed as well as employed. It also reflects the measure of the investment concerned. So stay calm, grab a brew, settle in, and ride along.)

The background bit

They called him Brownie. He played village cricket at the level at which a few of the more debonair players would agonise over the weight and balance of their bats and fuss about various aspects of their other equipment. Not so Brownie. He would pillage the dressing room before going out to bat, and – like some latter-day Shamgar with his ox-goad, or Samson with the jawbone of an ass – simply grab whatever came to hand and stride forth to smite lustily about him in order to slay his thousands. Meanwhile, at the boundary, the poor unfortunate whose bat Brownie had accumulated as he headed for the wicket would often be in agonies as he watched his beloved willow being so abused. At the other end of the scale was the occasion when, in the Louisville Slugger Museum, I picked up a casual bat and give it a twirl. “That,” intoned the solemn attendant, “is designed specifically for Derek Jeter.” Our eyes met and a frisson of understanding passed between us. He knew instinctively that I could not afford to damage it, and this was silently communicated to me. Even this uneducated Britisher knew enough to pause for a moment’s reverent silence before, with a slight bow, placing the aforementioned piece of wood back in its pillowed cradle. Apparently, the care with which that particular club was honed would put the most pedantic village cricketer to shame.

So it may be with the physical Bibles that we use for reading and preaching. For some of us, form is of little regard. We will pick up whatever comes to hand and go forth to battle. Others, more particular, or with a measure of permanence and precision in mind, look for the specific implement that best accentuates whatever natural and honed abilities we might have. That may be true for the general Bible reader, and is likely to be more true for the regular Bible preacher. I want to address both the reader and the preacher in this review, with an eye more to the aficionado than the barbarian.

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The subject of my critical gaze will be the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version. As a private and public reader and also a preacher of the Bible, I have a keen interest in a physical volume that lends itself to the rigours and demands of consistent and varied use. I would contend that there is real value in the preacher actually carrying a Bible into the pulpit (or any other preaching arena) with him. There is significance in evidently returning to the book in the course of one’s preaching, both by way of spoken and visual reference. It grounds one’s discourse in the very Word of God, with all the implications of authority and sufficiency that such reliance should communicate. And herein lies the problem. Depending on the regularity with and manner in which one refers to the Scriptures, a number of challenges arise. Many preachers, especially as they age, will find that the text of some Bibles is simply too small, or becomes so, leaving the congregation either with the sight of a man’s face replaced by the back of a little book, or regular close-ups of the top of his head as he bends to scour the page. In addition, with repetition comes familiarity, and many preachers can find even the most obscure text in the book and on the page by its location, almost instinctively thumbing to the right spot and casting an eye on the right portion. All this adds up to a more natural and even seamless relationship to the written word in the act of preaching. After a few years, even if one is careful, the Bible over which one pores and paws, perhaps in the armchair and the study, as well as in the pulpit, starts to wear out. The search begins for a new copy, but the desire may be for one which effectively mirrors the previous copy, so that the familiarity and facility are retained. And then the horrific discovery is made that some blighted publisher has only gone and decided to issue seven new editions, none as readable as the earlier ones, and none retaining the same format, often completely retypeset, and all that is now available is the Slovenian Basketweaver’s Edition with hessian cover for the horny-handed sons of toil, available in canary yellow or puce. The disappointment is crushing. One begins to search for some local bookbinder with the requisite skills to get another few years out of your increasingly haggard copy of God’s word.

All facetiousness aside, this is why I would counsel any young man setting out into the ministry, if he is able, to consider investing in one of the Bibles of superior craftsmanship that are currently available. In the same way as an old soldier might become so familiar with his weapon that it pretty much fits in his hand and can be stripped down and built up in his sleep, so a particular copy of the Bible might become almost a part of you, immediately familiar and readily wielded even under the most inauspicious circumstances. The same applies to the reader of the Scriptures: habits of time and place aid retention. Furthermore, familiarity not just with the text in itself but with a particular copy of the text can be a real help in knowing and using our Bibles as individuals, in families, and among friends. For those with a particular kind of memory, looking for something “about there on the page” is an easy way of working.

To be sure, there are times when, like Brownie, one must simply take up whatever lies at hand and go forth to conquer. But it may be that you can invest in a Derek Jeter special that will, because of its superior design and manufacture and catering to your specific capacities, augment your natural abilities and become a lifelong companion and perhaps even a bequest. That may be where a high-end Bible like the Schuyler Quentel NKJV comes into play.

I confess that I am not really an expert when it comes to these things. For years I used the same copy of the Scriptures, a nice but not overly-impressive leather-bound NKJV, purchased for me by my parents for some auspicious birthday. I did indeed have it resewn once, and the brother who did it did what he could with what he had in hand, leaving me with a serviceable but fairly tight volume that lay reasonably flat but pulled at the seams a bit when under strain. It travelled long distances and did sterling service. After a while, it simply began to pull apart once more. It was at this point that I began the search for a serviceable replacement. In addition, as I preached in other places, I found many that had lower pulpits and poorer lighting than I enjoy in my home church building. Readability became more of an issue. Many readers of a review like this might immediately point me toward the excellent work of R. L. Allan (whose efforts are also available through EvangelicalBible.com). I found ‘my’ copy of the NKJV in a slightly larger font but the same layout (the Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition) and have used it now for a year or two. It does the job, but it’s a little larger to carry and the paper is sufficiently thin that – even with use – it is still not too easy to manipulate quickly in the pulpit, though it is familiar and functional. I therefore had my eye open for an alternative, and was pleased to be given the opportunity to review the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version.

The technical stuff

IMG_1212This is a beautiful Bible. Mine is the dark green, black letter edition. A red letter edition is available, and the ability to differentiate between the two is an immediate bonus for those who – for reasons of principle or aesthetics or something else – prefer not to have the garish splatter of red across the pages of the New Testament or who like or wish to be, or are simply accustomed to being, able immediately to pick up the physical speech of the incarnate Christ. In the black letter edition, red is reserved for the chapter numbering and the footnote numbering, giving a helpful touch of distinctness and emphasis without overdoing things.

But let us begin on the outside and work in. The binding is beautifully done. I don’t need much persuading of the beauty of green, but it’s far more than this – or any other colour – that commends the Quentel. What hits home is the quality of the work.

IMG_1211The yapp is not particularly broad, as it is in some of the Allan Bibles. I guess that’s a matter of taste. It’s not something that fusses me too much. The Allan Bibles have a certain loucheness about them, while these Schuylers feel a little more rugged. The edge lining and stitching are all neat and precise, while the pages themselves enjoy red-under-gold art-gilt edging. There are raised spine bands that feel quite substantial but not aggressive, and the same could be said for the gilt lettering on the spine and the stamped cross on the front cover. Different customers might push for less (would many push for more?) but this is not over the top.

Everything is as tight and trim and clean as one would hope for the price and the promises. Three ribbons, a rather fetching combination of copper-gold-bronze colours (I am reasonably persuaded that mine are three different colours, but cannot say why) with the dark green cover, are really as much as most of us would need, while providing plenty of scope (though why they couldn’t be green as well, I don’t know!).

IMG_1210The binders have put in very dark brown endpapers – good in quality if not particularly striking. Again, one asks if a very dark green might have completed the look, though the brown does offset the green nicely – ask almost any tree. The hinges are reasonably stiff, but this is one of the places at which books – especially Bibles opened repeatedly and read regularly – start to suffer. I know that for some the sine qua non of a good binding is that the thing lies open, flat, as supple as an old rag, the first time it is opened – that Allan limpness comes to mind. I imagine that these will work in with use, especially given then overall weight of the book. That initial ‘pull’ does give some assurance that the main block will not break away from the spine if slightly manhandled or dropped. In fairness, this one drops open without too much lift, but – again – that physical robustness is properly tangible. The spine is Smyth sewn, as it should be, but beyond knowing that it’s there, it something you will only realise when it doesn’t start dropping apart within a few years.

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Schuyler on left, Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print right

Inside, the text is a punchy 11 points (the font is Milo for those who like to know such things) and seems larger on account of the crispness of the print. In practice, that means that it is a very good size, almost to the degree of reading somewhere between large and giant print. For the sake of comparison, side by side with an Allan edition of the Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition you simply cannot argue with its readability.

The paper is a creamy 36gsm with an opacity rating of 83%. “Hooray!” I hear almost no one bellow. “Who knew?” cry the few. “Who cares?” cry the many. So what does that even mean in practice? Well, the initial fear is that black on cream will lack the potentially helpful contrast of the whiter page, but – once more – such is the quality of the print itself that the contrast is not an issue. In fact, the creamier paper is quite easy on the eye, even over time, neither demanding excessive strain to see the text nor offering any of the glare that might result from brighter lighting. The fair weight of the PrimaBible paper does help prevent ghosting – the tendency of the text on the back of the page to be visible from the side you are reading. What helps to reduce the impact further is the effective line-matching i.e. the fact that the lines on both side of the page match each other and don’t overlap and produce shadows on the other side. All in all, that combination produces a distinctly readable page with few obvious frustrations or distractions.

IMG_1214Bear in mind too that the volume contains a concordance and maps. That adds to the bulk a little, but is of value to those who still use such things in concrete rather than electronic form – I must confess I don’t mind having them to hand. The maps are beautifully done, it must be said, though the one of Paul’s journeys suffers a little with being stretched over two pages – great for scope, tricky to follow the detail in the centre. With all this, I knew that it would be a good size, but I was still slightly surprised by its heft. Of course, this is partly a consequence of the weight of the paper, which brings its own benefits. It feels like it will last. It may be a little heavy for some to tote around, while others accustomed to hauling around a study bible or its equivalent might feel this a frisky little number by comparison.

The practical considerations

For the reader, this is a delightful experience.

I actually love reading a paragraph Bible, especially with big blocks of text set out in single columns. For personal devotions and more intense reading sessions, there is not much to beat a single column Bible. The Schuyler reading experience is sufficiently pleasant that I had no real complaints. For those accustomed to such reading, the Schuyler will be a joy. If I were being snarky, I would ask why we need to have the text broken up with headings rather than paragraphed, but it does have the virtue of opening out the page, despite my personal distaste for it.

IMG_1156For the preacher, there is so much to commend. I have only used the Bible for preaching and teaching a couple of times, and was concerned that my lack of familiarity with the layout might become an issue. In particular, paragraph Bibles do not always work well for the preacher, especially if he is working very specifically. Finding individual verses in the text block can become extremely difficult, especially when working at speed. The Quentel largely overcomes that by simple virtue of its excellence of design and production. The font is sufficiently large to make it easy to follow, the verse numbers are picked out in bold, giving them that extra visibility, and the print clarity of the whole means that the eye very easily begins to work with and around the text, even in larger blocks, allowing one to zero in on a particular verse or verses.

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Spine bends out, good flexibility on the cover but DO NOT make a habit of doing this to your Bible – demonstration purposes only!

Perhaps the downside for the preacher, especially one who travels more often and might need to travel light, is the size and weight of the Quentel. It is simply quite bulky: you cannot have what it offers without that bulk, but the bulk itself might make it slightly awkward as a travelling companion. On the other side, if someone were looking for a pulpit Bible, and did not want to go for one of the weighty tomes that often fall into that category, the Quentel’s readability means that you do not need to go large in order to benefit.

In short, if you are looking for that one Bible which will be with your in your home and home church, and not many other places, and are content to carry something quite massy around with you, you will hardly be able to go wrong with the Schuyler Quentel. For all-purpose reading and use in private, family and public settings, it might be hard to beat. It is, in terms of its reading ease, outstanding; in terms of its physical construction, magnificent. It is the kind of Bible that, God willing, you might hand on after your pilgrimage is done to others who will be able to go on using it in the same manner. On one level, you could argue that it is somewhat overbuilt. On another, it’s just going to keep going. Of course, I cannot guarantee what state it will be in in twenty years, should the Lord tarry, but – well cared for and gently handled – I cannot see it being in anything other than better shape as it gets worn in.

There may be times when you need simply to pick up whatever copy of the Word of God is to hand and go in swinging. However, in summary, if you have the luxury of and the capacity for selecting a more expensive Bible edition (all $222) that will be suited to your particular needs, the Schuyler Quentel begs your consideration.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 May 2016 at 08:25

Faithful and fruitless?

with 3 comments

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked a question: “How would you encourage a faithful brother who had been pastoring for several years and has not, in that season, seen a conversion directly from his preaching, though the church is growing and health with saints being built up and believers joining the church?”

It is a good question, and one which many faithful men might face. In itself, the question makes a number of what are good and proper assumptions, as well as wrestling with some significant issues that cannot be avoided. Here are some thoughts for pastors and preachers in such a position:

  • Do not underestimate the work of building and equipping, for this is fruit, and it can be – as well as an end in itself – a means to the end of reaching others with the gospel.
  • Do not presume that what you are preaching is not the gospel, but do not presume that you are preaching that gospel as clearly and pointedly as you might. Go back to your Bible to ensure that you are preaching truths rooted in the person and work of Christ, but also preaching the person and work of Christ in themselves – preach Christ, not just about him!
  • Are you preparing the way by a thorough and plain explanation of the problem of personal sin and impending judgement? Are you preaching the law in the good old-fashioned sense?
  • All your preaching should be evangelical, but consider whether regular and specific evangelistic sermons might be an extra avenue of pursuing this end.
  • Is the church actively and specifically praying for conversions in its public meetings (Lord’s days and prayer meetings) and its private occasions (personal and family worship)?
  • I think it is worth considering whether or not there is any sin in your life or the life of the church that might be a reason for God to withhold a blessing. I say this not to cripple you in conscience, but because it is worth taking into account.
  • Do not fall into the mentality that ‘the nation is under judgement’ and that therefore, in effect, your labours are doomed to failure – the gospel remains the power of God to salvation for those who believe. Preach it in that confidence. You must cultivate this confidence actively.
  • Consider whether and to what extent these growing members are personally engaged in making Christ known in their families and among their friends and neighbours and colleagues.
  • Consider whether there are specific evangelistic avenues that could be pursued e.g. home and personal (1-2-1) bible studies, door to door, open air preaching. As we engage in such, the Lord sometimes sends blessing by another route.
  • Are you setting a personal example of evangelistic endeavour (not merely pastoral-professional duty)?
  • Are you equipping the saints for this work in your public ministry? Is this one of the areas in which they are being built up?
  • Are you giving the impression that the church is a place for those believers to come and rest (it is) but not also to work (that too)? Some believers who seek out a faithful ministry do so because of weariness. They need, under God, to be healed, equipped, stirred up and sent out.
  • Are you yourself given to prayer for God’s blessing upon your ministry in all these respects?
  • Consider that Satan will particularly assault the church and ministers who particularly pursue this. Expect it to be hard, and to bring hardships.
  • Are you prepared to accept that this could be a testing time in which the Lord is challenging your faith as to whether you believe God’s promises, and so will go on relying upon God’s means to accomplish God’s ends in God’s time? Such patient persistence is one of the hardest things to maintain.

In offering such counsels, I convict myself over again. None of them are accusations, but examples of the kind of questions I would ask and continue to ask myself. When you do so, preach in the prayerful expectation that God will bless his gospel.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 19 May 2016 at 14:03

Posted in General

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

Picking and choosing

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Studying out some of the verses from Ephesians 4, I came across the following from Paul Bayne, calling upon the saints to appreciate the diversity of Christ’s present gifts to the church. He speaks against the kind of pickiness that demands or critiques a certain kind of minister in accordance with one’s taste and choosing, rather than receives different kinds of ministers in accordance with Christ’s gracious giving. The language is more than a little archaic, but the point is clear. Bayne says that a

consideration of diversity of gifts doth reprove those that will take mislike at this or that kind, because it is not as they would have. If one speak treatably and stilly, though he lay down the truth soundly, if he apply not forcibly, he is nobody, as if every one should be an Elijah, or a son of thunder. If others, on some plain ground, belabour the conscience, Tush, he is not for them; he doth not go to the depth of his text. They could themselves, at first sight, observe as much; as if every barque that sailed did draw a like depth, yet all sorts carry their passengers safe to their haven. So in ministers, every one hath not a like insight into doctrine, yet all be God’s instruments to thy salvation. This is a malapert, itching humour, which, if you will be Christians indeed, you must lay aside. (Bayne on Ephesians, 258-259).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 April 2016 at 11:21

Posted in Christian living, General

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Gospel resources in Farsi

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Anchored in Grace in FarsiThe Gospel Coalition recently launched a site entirely in Farsi, offering a small variety of resources translated into Farsi, among which was Anchored in Grace (see sidebar). I must confess that, while I recall someone at Cruciform Press mentioning the translation, I had rather lost sight of this. However, for those with an interest, either for themselves or for Farsi-speaking and -reading friends, here is the blurb from Cruciform:

We’re thrilled and honored to be part of The Gospel Coalition’s first “language landing site,” a website entirely in Persian/Farsi. As Bill Walsh of TGC International Outreach has said,

We’ve labored for a long time to get solid, biblical resources translated into this key language for sharing with Iranian Christians and the Persian diaspora around the world. Our hope is to…have [the site] serve as a prototype for other languages such as Arabic. The Internet has enormous capacity for reaching some of the hardest places to spread Christian content.

The site is currently offering seven foundational books in Farsi, one each from John Piper, R.C. Sproul, David Platt, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Chris Bruno, and our own Jeremy Walker (Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith). If you haven’t yet checked out Anchored in Grace, you really should.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 March 2016 at 18:09

Posted in General

In everything give thanks

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I have a dear old godly friend. He will be 89 this year, if the Lord preserves him. I spent a couple of hours with him this morning in the sheltered accommodation where he lives, not far from the church building. He’s not a member of the church I serve, but a man who delights in God and in his word. He’s suffering from a chest infection at the moment, which adds to woes from a stroke of some sort last year, when he lost quite a lot of memory capacity and speech facility (especially on days when he is tired, as he is at present, because of his illness). One of his particular joys before all these afflictions was his singing, a joy of which he has now been robbed until Christ restores his body at the resurrection. All in all, you would say he is having quite a rough ride.

I sat with him and we read and talked through Psalm 1. How his eyes gleamed with joy when we talked about what it meant to be planted by rivers of water! How he wept when he thought of some of the other residents who are like the chaff, which the wind blows away! How he urged me to wait on and see if there would be an opportunity to speak with them later on! We talked about our love and prayers and words to those for whom we are concerned.

As we spoke and wept and prayed together, he told me that he was very thankful for the illnesses he has suffered. He was really struggling with his speech this morning, so I was not sure that I had got quite the right message. I checked. He insisted. He was grateful for what he had been through. I probably looked at him quizzically. He explained. He patted his Bible, his eyes gleaming once more.

“If it had not been for my illness last year,” he said, “I would not have been given the opportunity to learn this book all over again.”

Blessed indeed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in which law he meditates day and night. It makes us truly thankful, genuinely and lastingly happy, even in the midst of great affliction.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 March 2016 at 16:03

Christian greatness

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J. C. Ryle, as so often, has the knack of speaking plainly, even painfully, to our hearts, in these comments on Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verses 24-30:

Usefulness in the world and the Christian church, a humble readiness to do anything, a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ’s army is not the man who has rank and title and dignity and chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who is not concerned about himself but about other people. It is the man who is kind to everyone, tender to everyone, thoughtful toward everyone, ever helpful and sympathetic. It is the man who spends his time binding up the brokenhearted, befriending the friendless, comforting the sorrowful, and enlightening the ignorant. This is the truly great man in God’s sight. The world may ridicule his efforts and deny the sincerity of his motives, but while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 7 March 2016 at 18:42

Posted in Christian living, General

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“Solus Christus”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 February 2016 at 21:59

Posted in Conferences, General

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Baptist and general resources

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There are a couple of interesting volumes that have been produced in recent months that Baptists might appreciate. But first, and more generally, may I draw your attention to a new bi-annual journal called Unio Cum Christo: International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life? Never knowingly undersold, it intends to show itself an international scholarly and practical journal for the global Reformed community; to encourage deeper fellowship, understanding, and growth in faith, hope, and love in the Reformed community at large; and, to support small and isolated Reformed witnesses in minority missional situations. It is a proper journal, weighing in at 332 pages, costing $20-35 for a year depending on your status, and sponsored by Westminster Theological Seminary and International Reformed Evangelical Seminary. The first number contains a long and stirring editorial by editor-in-chief Paul Wells, followed by sections on biblical studies (on the theme of witness), historical theology (covering a great deal of chronological and geographical territory), contemporary issues (persecution the topic du jour), an interview and a series of book reviews (including a stimulating brief review of Metaxas on Bonhoeffer by William Edgar). Surveying the contributors, one finds a few of the usual suspects, but also an interesting range of writers from a variety of backgrounds and differing degrees of reputation (not bad or good so much as better and less well known). Both the editorial committee and the board reveal a genuinely and refreshingly international scope (though it must be said that Baptists appear to be at a premium!). These strengths are evident in the opening number, and I hope will be sustained in coming years (the second number focuses on the text of Scripture). Those with the requisite interests, appetites and capacities are likely really to enjoy this new journal. I hope it does much good in its sphere, and holds its tone and line for as long as the Lord grants it life.

Then, on to Baptist books. The first is called Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk), edited by Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman. This is a spirited study and defence of a robust and well-defined church polity (authority structures and government) from Baptist convictions. It is neither brief nor shallow, but substantial and thorough, academic in timbre. It is nevertheless both enjoyable and profitable.

An array of historians and theologians – many of whom are also pastors – blend their notes within and among the nineteen essays that make up this work. Five broad elements are addressed: congregationalism, ordinances, membership and discipline, elders and deacons, and inter-church relationships. In reading, careful attention must be given to definitions, which should not be assumed. For example, the mantra of “congregational rule that is elder led” must be fairly handled. Indeed, the tensions between those two phrases are evident in the book itself. British readers should also recognise that the book arises primarily out of a Southern Baptist environment, which means some strands of the discussion are less relevant in a conservative evangelical British context.

Even so, what we have here drives us back to first principles. From a careful hermeneutic base it offers a fairly coherent, consistent, cohesive pattern for Baptist churches without being overly prescriptive. It is deeply-rooted Baptist high churchmanship, sometimes wrestling with difficult questions (such as the nature of apostolicity). It gives the lie to crass assertions or accusations casually tossed off that Baptists have no ecclesiology, while poking a necessary finger in the eye of those Baptists who have not bothered to cultivate it.

This is, then, a volume that will both confirm and challenge those of Baptist convictions especially. We must work through and work out the principles and practices raised here if we are to be faithful to God’s word and our heritage.

The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement, edited by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn and Michael A. G. Haykin (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk) is another work of a more academic tone, but of a very different outlook, being intended primarily – as far as I can tell – for students within American (Southern) Baptist seminaries, and more in light of the so-called Reformed resurgence. This is one of those catch-all introductions to a subject, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre, buttressed and mollified or undermined and exaggerated by the qualities of the editors and contributors. In this case, the strengths are more buttressed and the weaknesses less exaggerated, but all present and correct.

The book is divided into four sections, covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the nineteenth century, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and Baptist beliefs. The three editors each take the reins for a particular period, and then, presumably, combine for the rest. With minimal footnotes, and with a brisk tone and at a good pace, the book carries us through the events, personalities, sermons, churches, tensions and efforts of Baptist history. Excerpts from sermons and documents are scattered throughout to give some flavour from primary sources. There are even a few pictures for those who weary of words. Depending on your appetites and predilections, you will either be delighted or devastated at the inclusions or exclusions. The recommended reading must fill in the gaps.

Sadly, Baptists outside America will find the book less and less useful as it advances, because the focus is more and more on the States and its distinctive groups, denominations, interests and battles. In addition, the concern for ‘balance’ sometimes leads to the inclusion of what seem to me to be rabbit trails or aberrations of greater or lesser degree. Although the closing historical chapters make every effort to give a global sense, it is still a survey through American eyes. Of course, as the stream of Baptist history broadens, one has to sit on a particular island in order to take one’s view – the ever-widening topic makes a complete and thorough survey almost impossible in a book of this order.

The chapter on identity and distinctives is also fascinating. After a little to-ing and fro-ing on the Baptist attitudes to confessions of faith, the authors suggest that Baptists are marked by regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, congregational polity, local church autonomy, religious freedom. To all of which the only answer can be, “Yes, but …”. It is undeniably true that many Baptists (especially the kind of Baptists who are likely to be reading this book) do hold to such distinctives, and those who give others this textbook might think that they should. However, the issues over what these things look like in practice, and who embraces them, and how many are embraced at any particular point and in what way, even by those who call themselves Baptists, make this a quite surprising absolutism. I don’t disagree that it should be so, more or less, but I query whether or not it is so. The conclusion suggests that promoting liberty of conscience, following Christ’s will in our individual lives and churches, and proclaiming the gospel everywhere, are the three interrelated themes of Baptist history that crop up again and again. Again, that’s frustratingly exclusive and maddeningly broad at the same time. Up to a point, it is indisputable; in other respects, it leaves much to be desired.

So much for the inherent strengths and weaknesses of books like this and this book in particular. It is an introduction to its topic, and should not be assumed to be anything more. If you are an American Baptist history student, or indeed a student of American Baptist history, this will be a fine volume for you. Others will find much of real value and genuine interest, but will feel more as if we are looking over the wall than playing the game.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 4 January 2016 at 22:53

Posted in General

Janet Mefferd interview: “Passing Through”

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For those who may be interested, I was interviewed by Janet Mefferd at the end of September. That interview will air on 30th December, God willing. The audio can be heard under the podcast link at JanetMefferd.com, or it is also streamed at 10pm Central Time at the BottRadioNetwork.com site. Enjoy!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 28 December 2015 at 21:25

Posted in General

Five stars?

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Drop into some Amazon site or an equivalent at some point and have a look at the reviews for fairly substantial books by reasonably substantial authors of a fairly solidly evangelical stripe. Or look at the endorsements on some of the slim volumes and weighty tomes that issue ceaselessly from the presses of more or less evangelical publishing houses.

I had cause to look at some reviews recently, and I still contribute my own from time to time. I also check out various new books and even get asked to consider writing an endorsement from time to time. I confess to being concerned by a lack of properly critical engagement that borders on the lazy on the one hand and the dishonest on the other.

With regard to reviews, it is far from unusual to see the fanboy reviews in which, because Author Smith has written it, it gets a five star review because … well, how could it get anything else? Either that, or some other book gets an absolute slamming because it is written by Author Jones, and it goes without saying that Author Jones produces nothing but unmitigated tripe. Has anyone stopped actually to engage with Authors Smith and Jones and to consider and assess their assumptions, reasonings, and conclusions? Another class of laziness is seen in those middling reviews in which the reviewer seems disappointed to discover that the book was not the one which he had been expecting, and still less the far better one he clearly would have written had a cruel world not deprived him of the opportunity. Really? How about judging the book on its merits and intentions, or would that require stepping away from pre-judgments and presumptions and necessitating a little careful and critical participation?

One is tempted to conclude that if this is the vox populi, then it really needs to get its act together before it makes a future pronouncement. I am not suggesting that every reviewer needs to be an expert, as if every response must be a genuine peer review, but such contributions really help no one and offer no valuable insights. I recognise, too, that most reviewers review because moved to do so by a strong reaction, which tends to skew the system. However, when so many ordinary books are awarded five stars or the equivalent, it devalues the whole rating system, and robs one of the ability to recognise the rare but genuinely outstanding title.

If anything, the situation is even worse when it comes to endorsements. Given the amount of written applause generated by some blokes, it would not be surprising to read in a future biography that Pastor Brown had dedicated the year 2015 to the perusal of unpublished manuscripts, while Professor Green was grateful to be offered a sabbatical for the same purpose in 2013. I know that a lot of the top men know and appreciate and esteem one another, and that there is some kind of pecking order to differentiate those of us who lie in the gutter gazing at the stars. In some respects, I don’t have a beef with that, especially with regard to rightfully earned credibility and genuine relationship.

However, whether it comes from the top of the tree or slightly further down among the branches, it is disconcerting to read of decidedly average books that they are destined to be instant classics, read for years to come. Really? How often has that actually been the case? Will some of these instant classic really be recognised as such in fifty or one hundred years time? We open the pages of a treatise which we have been guaranteed will revolutionise our spiritual life (such a claim should always provoke the raised eyebrow). We find ourselves confronted with recycled mundanities or eccentric novelties communicated in a decidedly flat fashion or with self-important extravagance. Perhaps more troubling is the kind of professional puff that announces a triumph of insight and a model of precision on the back of something that is anything but. One is tempted to ask, “Has Endorser McKay actually read this dangerously vague and evasive tosh?” One begins to fear that Endorser MacDuff may be a little too close to Author McTavish to give a properly thoughtful and careful endorsement, or that McTavish saw fit to hint to MacDuff that favours in kind were available in return for something generous. I have seen evangelical cheeses of the largest sort give two thumbs up to volumes which border on the suspect and even flirt with the heretical, though whether by accident or design cannot be discerned thanks to the ineptitude of the apparently “brilliantly perspicuous” writer in question. The good stuff may benefit from a few honest and reliable voices underlining its value. Derivative and diluted drivel is not worthy of entering the arena to the kind of fanfare reserved for an unusually unrestrained Wrestlemania. I have wondered how this strange state of affairs has come about, and whether or not anyone cares that said big cheese seems to have lost or suspended his alleged capacity for spiritual discernment.

I appreciate that an endorsement is not a review, but neither is it a hearty pat on the back for trying hard and failing. It is a commendation intended to demonstrate to the reading public that the book in their hands or on their screen is indeed worthy of their investment and attention. Surely all the more reason for endorsers, especially those who name the name of Christ, only to give their stamp of approval to those volumes that they have properly read, and then to do so only in terms that they could properly explain if asked to do so? When endorsements prove to be nothing more than overcooked soufflés, they provide neither flavour nor sustenance for those who hope to be nourished by them.

It would be grand if 2016 would prove to be the year of the thoughtful review and the sincere endorsement. For those of us who seek them, write them, or read and use them, surely honesty and integrity, fairness and openness, ought to be appreciated above all? Sure, they may not be as dashing or glowing as the vacuities we presently endure, but at least they will be true and substantial. So here’s to crisp and clear endorsements that carry weight, and to truthfully appreciative four star and necessarily stinging two star reviews! Here’s to a bit more honesty and integrity! May we cultivate a spirit of generous but genuinely critical engagement that serves authors and readers well, promotes the health of God’s kingdom, and reflects a desire for righteousness even in the smallest things.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 December 2015 at 09:30

Posted in General

A warning

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Not so long ago I received the kind of warning that puts you to and keeps you looking over your shoulder. It came from an older and wiser man in the aftermath of a particular event, and it sent chills down my spine. In essence, I was warned to look out for the assaults of the wicked one, because – in his estimation – the distinctive circumstances suggested to him that the Adversary would be bristling.

Needless to say, this put me on my guard. I would not go so far as to say that I was on tenterhooks, but it would be reasonable to suggest that I left in a heightened state of spiritual alertness. Conscious of some of my particular, personal weaknesses and frailties, I sought to guard my heart, keeping Eye-Gate, Ear-Gate, Nose-Gate, Mouth-Gate and Feel-Gate well defended. My prayers took on a particular edge. Having had reason to mention the excellent little book by Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, I was left considering what might be the particular points at which I should expect the warned-against assaults.

As I pondered, a number of possibilities passed through my mind. And then I realised that several of them I could substantially discount. In themselves, it seemed that they were less likely to be the immediate occasion of the attack. Specifically, I did not need overmuch to fear physical death or damage. To be sure, there might be pressures associated with those circumstances which could be the assaults, but that is not, typically, the way Satan seeks to attack pastors.

He does not so much seek to harm or destroy us physically as to hurt or damage us in our role as ambassadors of Christ. He would no doubt be very content to see certain warriors carried away from the field of battle, but his greater concern is to damage the cause of Christ, if he could. He is much more likely to seek to destroy our reputations, and so to bring dishonour to our Saviour, than anything else. It is not trials alone, but trials as a means to temptation, that are most to be feared. Sufferings, even to death, can be occasions for the glorifying of God and his grace in Christ. However, the temptations that come in suffering, or the danger of being drawn or driven into the kinds of iniquities that allow men to mock our testimony and discount our witness – those are the things most to fear.

I know of at least one man of God who prays that the Lord would rather take his life than permit him to discredit or dishonour his Saviour by acting in a way that would be contrary to his testimony and would undermine his witness.

And so, if not quite on tenterhooks, it is good for God’s servant to cultivate this heightened sense of spiritual alertness. We should buttress the various gates that give entrance to the heart. We should consider afresh the distinctive points in our own humanity at which the Adversary is most likely to strike. We should watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation, and succumb to it in ways which not only bring us to disgrace but – in doing so – expose the name of Christ to dishonour. May the Lord in his mercy, and for his own name’s sake, rather take us away, than allow us to be the means of bringing scorn upon the name and cause of the best of Masters.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 19 December 2015 at 11:05

Posted in General

Review: “Do More Better”

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Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
Tim Challies
Cruciform Press, 2015, 132pp., paperback, $9.99
ISBN 978-1-941114-17-9

In the kingdom of the distracted, the focused man is king. I often wonder if one of the prime saleable skills in the job market of the near-future will be the ability to concentrate over an extended period of diligent effort. If that is so, too many of us are going to be out of work.

As Christians, we accept that work is a gift, a privilege, and a duty. Before Adam fell, he was put in the perfect garden to tend and to keep it. Now, we contend with thorns and with thistles that cumber the ground – a host of obstacles and awkwardnesses that make our work hard. We contend, too, with our own sinful laziness. We contend with streams of diversions and distractions from our vocations and their moment-by-moment expressions.

Into that environment have come a number of books from Christian authors intended to assist us. Two that spring quickly to mind are Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, a book which could have been entitled Deeply Distracted as I think it has as much if not more to do with the problem of distractedness than busyness. Then there are more developed volumes like Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next?, a sort of holy Getting Things Done book, full of helpful counsels.

Somewhere in the space between comes Tim Challies’ Do More Better. Challies’ book is shorter than Perman, more personal than DeYoung. Let me confess that I know Tim a little; I like Tim very much; I respect Tim a great deal. I am also in the slightly awkward situation of discovering that my own attempts at productivity use a very similar system to Tim, and some of that is due to the fact that I have taken his counsels once or twice over the years.

In brief, the author has spent a lot of time trying to work out how to be genuinely and responsibly productive to the glory of God and in the service of others, and here is the counsel he passes on. His definition of productivity is “effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” The answer is not so much a checklist as the cultivation of a certain kind of character.
The productivity process begins with definition: working out what you’re actually supposed to be doing then defining your mission(s) in those spheres. Tim then identifies three tools: one for task management, one for scheduling, and one for information, each one organised around the simple principle that there is a home for everything, and like goes with like. As a creature of the digital age, Tim suggests three programmes (and some equivalents and alternatives) that provide these functions. Those who have turned their backs on (or never turned their faces to) the digital realm will have to find their own equivalents. Basically, Tim has a well-ordered set of filing cabinets and calendars floating in the electronic ether and well-stocked with information. With each tool comes some comments and counsels on how to make the most of each in integration with each other. Planning and prioritising and reviewing and maintaining also get a few words, before the whole is closed with some thoughts on taming email and twenty miscellaneous tips.

In short, it’s short and sweet. You may not use all the tools that Tim recommends, but the overall approach is – I think – a good one, and the structures within which Tim is operating are profitable to work through even if one does not necessarily arrive at all the same spots. I found myself going back over some of my own systems and fine-tuning under the gentle prods and reminders of Do More Better. This book may not have all your answers, but it contains very good questions and offers very helpful pointers. Like so much in this and other spheres, it provides the toolbox but it requires diligence and effort to learn and use the tools. Do that in dependence on God, and you will very likely thank God that someone like Tim bothered to write something like this.

And now, having checked off this task, Tim urges me on to another. Thank you, brother!

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 December 2015 at 12:54

Posted in General

Baptist covenant theology study day

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 29 October 2015 at 13:35

Posted in General

A praying man

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I wonder if you have a praying man? In God’s kindness, I think I have just gained another. I know I already have at least one. He is an older friend, a man who assures me that I can safely get on with the work that the Lord has given me to do, because he is interceding for me. I know he is entirely reliable. I have heard him pray. It is a blessing to my heart to know that this father in the faith is storming heaven on my behalf day by day, that I need only to drop him a note with a particular request and he is sure to take it to the Lord. It is almost a dangerous confidence – so certain am I of his efficacious dealings with God through Christ that I could become inclined to pray less for myself (and how I wish I were inclined to pray more). I also know that he is not the only one.

And now I have at least one more. A man who has lived a long, first very painful but now very fruitful life. A man who feels he cannot do much any more as he might wish, but a man who knows that he can still pray. He is the kind of man who does not talk about ‘only’ praying or ‘just’ praying as if it would be nice if he could do something worthwhile, but is now disappointingly reduced to dealing with God at the throne of grace. This is a man who is confident that he is accepted in Christ, and who enjoys a holy familiarity with his heavenly Father. And he asked if he could pray for me. Not just once, but daily. He asked if, should I need it, I send him prayer requests and he would be sure to carry them to our God and plead for a blessing.

I know that we have one who ever lives to intercede for us, and that his pleadings on our behalf are those pleadings upon which our continuing and advancing experience of salvation depends. But I also know that there are some choice servants of God who can be relied upon to go to God, through Christ, to seek his face and favour: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you” (2Thes 3.1).

I cannot forget that when Spurgeon was asked the secret to his ‘success’ he replied, “My people pray for me.” If I desire a blessing, if I am to see fruitfulness, if I am to know particular mercies in my particular labours, I need people who pray for me. This man I mention is not ‘my people’ but I know he will pray for me, and I am grateful. With such a Moses on the mountaintop, a Joshua can fight with confidence in the valley, and anticipate that God will give the victory. May God give us more praying men and women.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 26 October 2015 at 14:58

Posted in prayer

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A deal on “A Portrait of Paul”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 October 2015 at 16:02

Posted in Book notices

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Moved by Christ’s love

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Richard Baxter to gospel ministers:

O then let us hear those arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless: ‘Did I die for them, and wilt not thou look after them? Were they worth my blood, and are they not worth thy labour? Did I come down from heaven to earth, to seek and to save that which was lost; and wilt not thou go to the next door, or street, or village to seek them? How small is thy labour and condescension as to mine? I debased myself to this, but it is thy honour to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation, and was I willing to make thee a co-worker with me, and wilt thou refuse that little that lieth upon thy hands?’ Every time we look upon our Congregations, let us believingly remember, that they are the purchase of Christ’s blood, and therefore should be regarded accordingly by us.

And think what a confusion it will be at the last day to a negligent Minister, to have this blood of the Son of God to be pleaded against him, and for Christ to say, ‘It was the purchase of my blood that thou didst so make light of, and dost thou think to be saved by it thyself?’ O, brethren, seeing Christ will bring his blood to plead with us, let it plead us to our duty, lest it plead us to damnation.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 October 2015 at 15:57

Posted in Pastoral theology

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Dispensability

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It would be unfair to say that I am plotting my own demise. It may be that there are plenty of people more than willing to plot that on my behalf. However, I do think it makes sense to take full account of my own expected and intended dispensability. The fable of indispensability afflicts most of us almost naturally. We come to see ourselves at the centre of a particular web, the one without whom some sparkling edifice will most assuredly collapse. If God gifts one or another with an unusual measure of gift or degree of grace, paradoxically, that one can be all the more inclined to imagine themselves irreplaceable. Some learn it a hard way: try falling sick for a couple of months, and watch the kingdom of God stutter and stumble along without you … or not. Even Paul, lest he be exalted above measure, was blessed with a thorn in the flesh.

To be sure, we must take account of certain realities. By the grace of God, each of us is what we are, formed, forged, fashioned by a sovereign God for his wise and perfect purposes. We must not deny that it is for the Lord to appoint those formed, forged and fashioned instruments for particular purposes in particular times under particular circumstances, to raise up men to meet the needs of the hour. At no point can we or need we trespass upon the divine prerogative. God employs us in his kingdom for his glory; he does not rely on us.

oak and acornAnd yet, this confident humility and humble confidence should not prevent us using the means that God has provided to do and to continue the work he has appointed for us and others to do. Paul might have been considered indispensable in a robust sense of the word, and yet, with confidence in God’s means to accomplish God’s ends, Paul began to invest in men who would follow after him. We see him taking the Marks, Timothys, Tituses, Demases, and others, under his wing. Some of them disappoint him rapidly or eventually. Some of them are subsequently rehabilitated. Some of them depart, having loved this present world. Others always were and remained like sons to him. Some went on to break new ground. Some cultivated what had been planted. In his relationship with them, he models the principle that he impresses upon Timothy: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2Tim 2:2).

We know that there are always those who will hang upon a personality, and cultures and circumstances in which that disposition seems more ingrained. When the personality fades, so does the commitment and attachment of the mere hanger-on. This can happen in a church or in any other institution. Someone or someones build the momentum around himself or themselves, or allow that to happen. There is no investment in those immediately behind, and a yawning gap begins to develop. When the figurehead droops, the work drops into the chasm, or is barely rescued from it. In such a way begins a dreadful cycle of progress, collapse and recovery, the whole stilted and staggering. In a church, it can happen when one man is seen as the key figure. Sometimes he preaches the place full and then empty again, or builds the behemoth, only to see it begin to wane. Sometimes the work continues to advance, but everyone is fearful of the moment when the leader is taken away. Wittingly or unwittingly, the leader and those around him buy into the myth that it hinges upon him; structures are put in place to keep the figurehead propped up, postponing the inevitable. Acolytes rally round to try to maintain the progress that the Great One had when his energy levels were higher and his gifts not quite so worn. Churches that should be and in many ways are healthy roll on until the inevitable rolls in. Then there is almost of necessity a painful period in which a variety of men prove that they are not up to scratch. They cannot match the great personality, and too often there is despondency, despair and desertion before enough time passes and enough people leave to pick up the threads once more and to build again from the ground up.

But where is the investment in succession? I happen to be persuaded that the scriptural model for church rule involves a plurality of elders, under Christ exercising an equal authority while manifesting a diversity of gifts. Ideally, even where that diversity of gifts allows for greater public prominence or usefulness for one or some, or the guidance of God’s Word and Spirit directs the church into certain avenues of service which puts a greater onus on certain men, this provides for a measure of real stability and continuity. Of course, sinful men can and do conspire to muck up the best system, but the principle is sound. When the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul, they sent away two of the five prophets and teachers that the Lord had gifted to the church there. Paul himself took pains to invest in those who followed him, taking Timothy and Titus and others with him, discipling them, acting as a mentor in word (spoken and written) and deed (seen and reported). When Paul was directing Titus in his work in Crete, he directed him to appoint elders in every city, men who would take up and pass on the baton of apostolic truth and labour: “Titus, make yourself effectively redundant; prove you are ultimately dispensable.” When you pass from the scene, moved on, sent on, pulled on, taken away, make sure that – under God – you have invested in those equipped to follow you. This does not sap the energy. It need not encourage armchair Christianity. It is not building for retirement, but providing for future investment. We should wish to be part of a line, not the end of one. Even once-in-a-lifetime men (and who, at best, is not that?) can make sure that when the curtain falls on a particular scene, or on the whole play of life, there are other players already stepping into the roles that they have played. Even the inimitable do not have to be irreplaceable. They still play Hamlet though Gielgud is no more.

And so we should plot our own demise, plan for our obsolescence. Our inimitability is, for most if not all of us, a mercy of God. Really, does the world need anyone else like you? But we should never plan or hope to be irreplaceable. In fact, we should cultivate and establish our own dispensability. I think I can genuinely say that it would be a moment of profound pastoral thankfulness for me to say, “I hope these saints still want me, but I do not believe that they need me in any pressing sense.” I hope that before then we have already sent the painfully but joyfully dispensable out as investments into other work in other places. That is likely to involve real sacrifice, but be a mark of real progress. Perhaps there will come a moment when they will send me on to other things? In this way the church of Christ can send out its ones and twos and threes, and see other disciples made, other churches established, other efforts undertaken, without the compromise or collapse of those who began that work.

Are you planning your demise? Have you learned and embraced the lesson of your own dispensability? By God’s grace, you might even at some point become properly superfluous where you are, and be the one who gets sent away to do something else, where you may seem briefly and uncomfortably indispensable until you are able once more to establish afresh your own dispensability.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 25 September 2015 at 07:11

Posted in Ecclesiology

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Baptist covenant theology

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1689 covenant theologySome readers of the blog might be interested to know of an upcoming study day at London Theological Seminary on Baptist covenant theology. The day is planned for Monday 23 November, to run from 10am to 4pm. If you are interested in coming, please book by emailing registrar@ltslondon.org and registering your name for the day. There is a fee of £5, payable on the day itself if you wish. Lunch is not included in that fee, but tea and coffee will be available.

If you need a little more information, here’s a taster from the blurb:

Who or what are Reformed Baptists? Are they the same as Particular Baptists? Confessional Baptists? Calvinistic Baptists? Independent Baptists? Grace Baptists? Covenantal Baptists? Can Baptists even be Reformed?

More importantly, perhaps, who am I and what do I believe? What does it mean for me to be a Reformed Baptist, or whichever one of these other labels is used? Is that what I am? What about the church to which I belong? Does it make a difference? Ought it to make a difference?

The purpose of this study day is to introduce the topic of covenant theology in a Baptist context. We need to consider the matter historically and practically, but primarily biblically and theologically. Seeking to ground our studies in the Word of God, we will consider the various expressions of covenantal thought of Reformed or Particular Baptists as it began to find particular expression in the 17th century in the writings and confessions of our spiritual forefathers. From there, and taking account of how other Baptists addressed these issues, we will look at how modern Reformed Baptists of various stripes have wrestled and continue to wrestle with these issues. Along the way, we will, in some measure, be interacting with our paedobaptist brothers (Presbyterians, Congregationalists and others), as well as taking some account of Dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology (all of whom and which, in some measure, stand apart from the mainstream of Reformed Baptist thought, which is itself not monolithic).
Our goal is a positive declaration and discussion, grounded in the Scriptures. We will be less interested in figuring out which camp one ought to belong to, more interested in identifying and clarifying the issues that need to be addressed, and the lines along which our thoughts should run. The pastoral and practical implications of the principles and patterns understood and embraced will be at the forefront of our thought.

So, if you’re interested, please sign up and I shall look forward to seeing you there, God willing.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 10 September 2015 at 15:20

Sentiment and principle

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There has been an outpouring of grief and shame following the horrific pictures of a Syrian child lying drowned on the shore of the Mediterranean. If you think those photographs are painful, read the account of the father who tried to fight his way through the surf to the beach, losing his wife and then his two sons to the waves, one by one. It is truly agonising. Many have agonised.

It has prompted a spurt of sympathy for the flood of refugees pressing into Europe from various points east. News footage pummels us with insights into the horrific sufferings of their previous lives and their often-incredible journeys. We are stirred by video of them arriving in ‘free Europe’ to the acclaim of cheering crowds who pour out their affection verbally and practically. Nations are – to use the dry rhetoric of government – increasing their refugee quota, spurred on by the feeling of the populace and their knee-jerk reaction to what they have seen.

This is not a comment on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of offering refuge to some or all of these men, women and children. It is not a question about whether or not the flood of refugees contains a trickle of terrorists. It is not in any way an attempt to dismiss the gut-wrenching misery suffered by people made in the image of God, or the gut-wrenching grief we feel as those made in the image of God when we see that suffering before us. It is not a comment on compassion fatigue or our almost voyeuristic fascination with suffering.

But I wonder how long such a response will last, and what kind of investment it will sustain? It won’t be long before those refugees, if they are permitted to stay, are no longer wrapped in the warm embrace of liberal sentiment, but facing the cold reality of life in foreign countries which will not prove to be the Promised Land. They will quite likely be living in enclaves where either they are banding together for security, or among – even surrounded by – others who quite possibly resent them and will manifest their resentment. Even many of those moved to tears by their sorrows and sufferings will find those tears drying up as the realities of life bite and time passes. The tears will be stimulated again by fresh atrocities but the old ones will quickly drift away. Many will feel much and do nothing.

I wonder if the same thing has happened or is happening with the Planned Parenthood videos. Remember those? Yes, just a few weeks ago many were up in arms because of the footage of those who work for Planned Parenthood negotiating the transfer for gain of the body parts of murdered children. Even many of those for whom abortion per se is no issue were stirred by the graphic nature of some of the pictures and the callous nature of the conversations. But again, the consequence has not been the sustained mobilisation of a great mass of committed humanity against the murder of the unborn. Rather, we are troubled by the gross appearance of the thing. Doubtless, if it can be tidied up and carried out in a ‘humane’ way – because there’s nothing like a properly humane murder to assuage the conscience – then we shall go on quite content with the fact of abortion. Sentiment will be assuaged, and life can go on as normal.

I wonder if we could go back even to the slave trade. There is, it seems, little doubt that the primary opponents of the slave trade used powerfully emotive arguments to raise the profile of their cause and enforce their principles. The appalling testimonies of ex-slaves, the diagrams of human beings packed like sardines into the squalid interiors of slaving vessels, the protestations of ex-slavers, some of them converted – all of these served to further the cause. But the cause itself did not advance because of this, nor was it eventually won because of this. It was advanced and won, under God, by men and women who were moved by more than sentiment. It was carried forward by those who were governed by principle.

Reasonable sentiment need not in itself be sinful, but it is not always substantial. Sentiment can be swayed, one way or the other. Sentiment in one direction can be turned back by an opposing sentiment that seems equally reasonably. Sentiment tends to be reactive; it is rarely proactive. It bubbles up in a moment and melts away just as quickly. The sentiment that wishes to find a home for poor refugees might be overcome by a different sentiment when they move in next door. Principle – especially Christian principle – should be grounded in enduring truth. It is anchored in such a way that tides of sentiment or waves of feeling (whether that be weariness in pursuing principle or opposition to the principled) will not carry it away. Principle stands against pressure. Principle identifies and reacts to the fundamental issue, not the peripheral and perhaps unpleasant phenomena surrounding the issue. Righteous principle takes full account of misery, but it is moved by a regard for fundamental reality – matters of truth, mercy, justice, peace, righteousness. Righteous principle acts proactively out of allegiance to God in Christ. Christians need to be a people of principle.

Mere sentiment can be dangerous. In the unprincipled – and, once we have abandoned any notion of enduring, fixed, eternal truth, truth grounded outside of our experience and feelings, we have no real basis for true principle – sentiment can move individuals and groups far and fast. It can even leave them horrified by what they accomplished under the influence of sentiment and in the absence of principle. Principle can also be dangerous if it is the wild-eyed conviction about things that are foul and vile. Then unrighteous zeal can drive a person or group to truly terrifying extremes. But principle grounded in divine truth, with appropriate sentiment yoked behind, can and should accomplish much.

So, we will, in this fallen world, hear or see many things that horrify us. Many of them should horrify us. But they do not properly and persistently move us because principle is lacking. Perhaps we also hear and see things that ought to horrify us and move us, but do not because principle is lacking. How many vile things do we see – perhaps even enjoy – without a proper feeling reaction? Principle is not unfeeling; it actuates and directs feeling in proper channels. When faced with a moral challenge, we would do well to ask not only, “What do I feel?” but “What should I feel and what should I then do?” We must dig down to and stir up righteous principle. Reasonable sentiment might galvanise and stir us, but only righteous principle will guide and sustain us.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 September 2015 at 13:11

John Fletcher’s self-examination

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The Wesleyan preacher and theologian John Fletcher of Madeley drew up a series of questions for self-examination. I found them a helpful stimulus.

  • Did I awake spiritual, and did I keep my mind from wandering?
  • Have I got nearer God this day in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy idle spirit?
  • Has my faith been weakened or strengthened this day?
  • Have I this day walked by faith?
  • Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts?
  • Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I was able to?
  • Have I kept my heart pure?
  • What have I done for God’s people?
  • Have I spent money on myself when I might have used it for the cause of God?
  • Have I governed well my tongue this day?
  • In how many instances have I denied myself?
  • Do my life and conversation adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 August 2015 at 08:18

“Only One Life”

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I quoted a couple of lines of this poem by C. T. Studd, a missionary, in our Sunday morning sermon. The whole poem is worth pondering. It usually goes by the title, “Only One Life.”

Two little lines I heard one day,
Travelling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfil,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me, Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervour burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say ’twas worth it all;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

— extra stanza —
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

C. T. Studd

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 28 July 2015 at 20:01

Austin Walker talks Keach

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 18 July 2015 at 09:17

Posted in Interviews

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