I am an atheist with regard to every sort of god Man has managed to invent.Of course, we differ on precisely what, or who, is left over after we excise that particular category. But here's one that falls straight into it.Physicists are keen on the word "god", because it lets them talk about some sort of universal observer. I was in a seminar recently in which a colleague was using the word "god" in exactly this way. "Suppose," he said, "that we talk about the wave-function of the universe the way god sees it…" The god my colleague was talking about was one who can see not only how the world is now, but also how the world could have been—and he sees all these could-have-beens not as lost possibilities but as actual realities. But in order to see this superposition of histories, his hands are tied from ever interacting with it, for as soon as he does so, he becomes necessarily embroiled in one particular history, favouring that history over all others.This god couldn't possibly act in history to save his people: he couldn't turn the hearts of kings nor destroy the armies of nations. He couldn't rain fire from heaven nor break floods from the earth beneath. He certainly couldn't do anything "as earth-bound, as petty, as trivial" as becoming a man and walking, living and dying on this earth. Whoever he is, he's not the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Richard Dawkins and I could, I think, agree on a joint statement:
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
…can't they decide whether it's unskilled or skilled immigrants we need? We get told that we need all these Chinese cocklers and Polish pickers because the British labour force is superabundantly furnished with skilled workers, and then apparently, the EU doesn't have enough skilled workers. So why isn't our excess of skilled workers filling the EU's shortage?Of course, the other option is that we don't have a glut of unskilled workers and we don't have a glut of skilled workers: we have a glut of jobs. But good business practice is to export things of which we have an excess. Sadly, we don't seem able either to import workers or export jobs in the current political climate.(This post was brought to you by someone who is genuinely keen on free movement of both capital and people, but rather wishes we could have a little more clear thinking in the area.)
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Those who know my views on mdern songs will know that Graham Kendrick doesn't command my respect in quite the way that, say, Stuart Townend does. In fact, it'd be fair to say that over the years I've been distinctly unimpressed by Kendrick's output, from the horror that is Shine Jesus Shine through I want to be a history maker and onto There's a sound on the wind, and that's without naming the ones that are just plain naff. Others have noted, as some of the selection I gave indicates, that Kendrick has lacked a sufficiently robust theology of the cross, preferring the kind of triumphalist dominionism commonly found among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. But then I see something like this, and I wonder if he's begun to move into a far more reflective mode. Perhaps it was there all along, I dunno. Anyway, whatever the faults of his other material, this is certainly good.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I was thinking over the issue of context, while considering Matthew Henry's commentaries. It seems to me that there we can delineate at least four levels of context, which are the following:
- the grammatical context;
- the literary context;
- the canonical context; and
- the redemptive context.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I would hazard to guess that most conservative evangelicals in the UK haven't heard of him, and there's no great loss there. But it does mean that for Wesley Owen to be claiming Osteen as a bestselling Christian author, that's an awful lot of non-conservative evangelicals buying his book. So it's worth just having a look at some of the things he said yesterday (16-Oct-2007) on Larry King, a popular American chat show. Transcript here.I'll save you the pain of long quotations, but suffice it to say that if you read the interview, the Gospel according to Joel is, twice, "us helping people in trouble" and twice, "Jesus coming so that we might have good stuff and overcome" (overcome what? one might ask; and, why not him overcoming?). The former is classic liberalism and the latter, classic Prosperity teaching.Repentance gets mentioned once, but not explained; sin is down-played as "mistakes"; and God's desire for our lives isn't Christ-likeness but success. To be conformed to the image of his Son, or to be conformed to the image of this world? It's that stark.Anyway, onto the kind of zinger I like from Joel Osteen, and these I will quote.
KING: You say in the book "Stay in a healthy environment. Don't hang out with negative people."J. OSTEEN: I encourage people to get around successful people, healthy people.Yeah, 'cause being the Friend of Sinners is so un-Christlike. Actually, that's unfair, because Joel doesn't think of any of us as sinners—we're victors, not victims! No, I guess he means we oughtn't to hang round poor people. Or people with a negative attitude. But wait a minute, those were—and are still—exactly the sort of people Jesus sought out.
I do believe God wants you to be blessed and he wants you to increase. He wants you to be successful in your career. God never wanted us to drag through life.Uh-huh. When Jesus said "take up your cross and follow me," what he really meant was…? Just prior to this, in what passes for the same thought, Joel told us all that, "it's not all about money." You could have fooled me.
And sure, I think Britney Spears can be helped by [my] book. I think anybody could because it's the principles of the Bible.Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."The White Horse Inn (link on the sidebar), an American radio show presented by Reformed, Baptist and Lutheran theologians and covering Reformation theology, has a webpage devoted to Joel Osteen here.Well, I'll give the last word to the author of "Letters from Kamp Krusty", who in a comment on his own blog-post wrote,
I think if you juxtapose Osteen's advice on "how to live the Christian life" with Jesus' own instructions for this, you wind up with what amounts to a debate.And that's why he's so bad.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
You see, that just doesn't hold water. Firstly, people claim all sorts of things are helpful in their "Christian walk"; I understand Catholics are wont to refer to the Mother of our Lord in such terms, as well as prayers to saints. But I don't believe Wesley Owen sells Madonna-and-Child statuettes or icons of the saints; I don't suppose that they sell rosaries focussed on Mary rather than Christ. So why do they sell books which focus on riches rather than Christ? *whirr*My correspondent claims that W-O takes stock selection criteria seriously, but there's no indication that they actually have any such criteria. *whirr*There's a neat little rhetorical trick, note, in the sentence "our inclusion of Joel Osteen’s book in our stores may not please some people, but many people claim these books are helpful" (my emphasis). So we few who are concerned that Joel Osteen is an utter heretic are being nasty for ruining the fun of the countless millions who derive great enjoyment and satisfaction from these books. *whirr* And, as we all know, if it makes you feel good, it must be true, right?The bestseller argument is utterly disingenuous. My point was that it's not a Christian book, not that it shouldn't be a bestseller!So in short, Wesley Owen look like they're trying to advance retailing through the Christian faith, *whirr* and have utterly failed to give any sort of rationale (unless "some people like it" counts) for stocking Osteen's book. Nice one, W-O.Oh, that whirring sound? It's two Johns, Wesley and Owen, rotating in their interrment facilities.
As I said, the reply from Wesley Owen was, to their credit, prompt; it was not, however, convincing.
Dear Mr Walker,Thanks for your email about the stock we carry. Our stock selection criteria is a matter that we don’t take lightly, our mission is too serve the Christian Church in all it’s diversity. So we do carry titles that represent the different theologies that exist with the Church. In my time with Wesley Owen I have had requests from customers to remove, for theological reasons, titles by many authors, including CS Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, Philip Yancey, Rowan Williams, as well as many more contemporary writers. I can understand how our inclusion of Joel Osteen’s book in our stores may not please some people, but many people claim these books are helpful in their Christian journey.The book is located in the bestseller section simply because it is one of the top 100 selling titles, rather our choosing to say it is a top Christian book.As a Christian charity the motivation of our stores and Head Office is to “Advance the Christian faith through retailing” not for any commercial gain.I understand that my answer may give you not total satisfaction but hopefully will explain why we carry the book.Many thanksxxxxxxx
A little over amonth ago, I wrote to Wesley Owen, a major "Christian" book retail outfit, inquiring as to why they stock Joel Osteen's books. I wrote as follows.
I am wondering why it is that Wesley Owen stocks books like those written by Joel Osteen? Even your own description of his most famous work, "Your best life now", is enough to demonstrate that he teaches that simple seven-step plan which, he claims, will result in people enjoying material, personal and social prosperity.He teaches that prosperity is the Christian's for the taking, whereas our Lord told us that we would have to "take up our cross and follow him". He teaches that his seven-steps will result, necessarily, in wealth and happiness, whereas the Bible encourages us to see wealth as a gift of God, whose arm cannot be twisted nor whose goodness faulted. He teaches a rules-based approach to an easy life, whereas the Lord would have us live in trusting dependence upon him. He implies that people who are ill or poor have little faith, when the Lord himself called the poor "blessed" while enjoining the rich to see to it that they did all they could to help those in that estate.The book has been criticised by serious reviewers for all these flaws, and even TIME magazine was able to recognise Osteen's teachings as contrary to the words of our Lord. I asked about this in one of your bookshops, and they informed me that they sell the book because it is one of the top 100 "Christian" books. Please say it ain't so!Wesley Owen has its limits: you don't run the Dawkins book but you run those by his opponents, and quite right too.So will you, in the interests of the responsibility you owe to Christ, his church and his gospel, review Joel Osteen's book without an eye to commercial pressures, and take a view on whether his teachings truly concord with Scripture?I received a prompt reply, which I shall post immediately. The third post will be a little commentary, and I think I will be returning to this topic again.Supplementary notes: the page for Osteen's book at W-O is here. The TIME article I referred to is here. The words of Jesus I referred to can all be found in the Bible, a book with which Osteen seems to have only a passing acquaintance.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Two sections of the recent debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox in the States gave me some interesting thinking—mostly because they exhibit on the part of Richard Dawkins exactly the sort of thinking the Bible describes with disapprobation.The first is about the source and nature of morality, and Richard Dawkins says that people who talk about morality with respect to God either get their morality from a fear of punishment or because they have some hope of reward. He also argued that the Golden Rule would take no particular moral genius to think up, and repeated the old canard that Jesus' application of it was parochially Jewish. John Lennox responded to that point be reminding Dawkins that the Biblical source for the Golden Rule, Leviticus 19:34, says "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." And that quotation answers Dawkins' first point, too. The Israelites were enjoined to love their alien neighbour as themselves because they, too, were once strangers who were poorly treated; but then the LORD rescued them from their slavery. Israel was called to behave rightly not out of fear, nor for reward, but out of gratitude. And so it is always has been for God's people. As Christians, we have seen the fulness of our punishment poured out on Jesus—no fear left—and he is our greatest reward—there's nothing left to earn—so all that is ours to offer is humble thanks, in word and deed.The second point of the debate which was interesting was one of Dawkins' closing remarks, in which he said, with I think just a hint of sneer in his voice,
http://spradbery.com/dawkins-lennox.mp3 http://www.richarddawkins.net/article,1707,Debate-between-Richard-Dawkins-and-John-Lennox,Fixed-Point-Foundation-Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/audio.htm
or even over BitTorrent. Oh no, that would be very bad. So if you're interested, I didn't tell you.
"the Resurrection of Jesus—it's so petty, it's so trivial, it's so local, it's so earth-bound—it's so unworthy of the universe."All I'd like to say is, "He would say that, wouldn't he?"Final note: because there were warnings that it shouldn't be recorded and wouldn't be available over the Internet—fire and darkness, gloom and tempest, trumpets and voices speaking, and all that jazz—I'm not telling you that you can get it from:
or even over BitTorrent. Oh no, that would be very bad. So if you're interested, I didn't tell you.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Thesis. As Abraham Kuyper once said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"Antithesis. We might also say that there is another statement which is true: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which rebellious human nature does not cry: 'Mine!'"Synthesis. Total depravity is why we need a Saviour who is all-in-all.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Last night at church, we had a very worthy sermon on "mission and the local church", based in Acts 11:19–30. It set me thinking, though, about quite where the passage takes us. The points made were very valid, particularly our pastor's observation that a church which is keen on local evangelism is keen on world mission. It's an interesting one, because you might think that a church which wants to avoid evangelism might use world mission as a sort of proxy ("I'm happy to pray for and fund people who are preaching the Gospel overseas, but you won't find me doing anything about it here!"). But it is true that churches tend to see evangelism either as being important—both here and there—or not important—neither here nor there. And would that the church I attend, me included, were keener on world mission!But how is it, then, that we motivate a church for evangelism and world mission? I suggest that there are two possible answers: either you preach to the church the necessity of mission and the urgency of evangelism, or you get the church excited about the Gospel. Given that Barnabas was an encourager (not one to lay down the law to a church when he could build them up) and given that Saul (later Paul) was the known firebrand evangelist with a passion for the Gospel, I suspect that it's no great stretch to suggest that Barnabas and Saul encouraged the Antiochene church in evangelism by speaking to them of the comfort of the Gospel and of its power. Indeed, I can think of no greater motivation to evangelism than Paul's words in Romans 1: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."For sure, this point doesn't come directly from the passage considered on its own, but what we know of Paul is enough to tell us what he thought would motivate them to evangelism, for he who wrote the words I quoted above also said to Christians that he resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. And we don't need, to forestall another oft-heard complaint, to hear the Gospel preached in the same way every week. "The Gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches." (Source.) So there's certainly ample room for new angles on the old, old story.So then, which do you find more exciting to hear about, evangelism or the evangel? Which more likely to make you an enthusiastic evangelist, pep talks or Gospel talk? Which more likely to give courage to your fearful soul, teaching on the importance of evangelism or the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified? What do you want to hear when you come to church?
A recent debate in the States over baptism was summarised by one blogger in his post concluding with a brief discussion of the fact that the Presbyterian defending paedobaptism was, himself, baptised as an adult believer.I wonder how many of us paedobaptists who were baptised as adults there are? More to the point, how many of us paedobaptists who are members in (debatably) good standing with a Baptist church there are?