Sunday, 30 November 2008

Double Predestination

Am trying to get my head round the whole double predestination thing in a way that doesn't make it explode and, more to the point, is firmly grounded in the glory of the Triune God, not some western philosophical construction of god that looks, to the untrained eye, like the God of the Bible, but isn't.

I have been informed that the early-mid 20th century theologian Karl Barth is a good place to dip, (not easy reading though, there aren't any pictures). I have done so here.

This seems to be the pivotal phrase in his writing on election and double predestination: Jesus Christ is the electing God and He is also the elected Man.

It will be a while before I have some concrete thoughts on this, but if anyone wants to ponder this with me a while, then please do. And do ask me about it, as it will help me to sort out my thoughts on what I am reading.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Lone Rangers Are Dead Rangers

This week, instead of our usual all together mid-week group meeting, our cell split into single sex groups and met at different places. The girls were with Rachel. I have no idea what they discussed, probably sugar and spice and all things nice. ;-)

Us guys are working through this book. We were discussing the chapter entitled Being a true spiritual leader and in it Artburn, (the author) quotes another guy Sam Keen who excited me by saying this:

At the centre of my vision of manhood there is no lone man standing tall against the sunset, but a blended figure composed of a grandfather, a father and a son. The boundaries between them are porous, and strong impulses of care, wisdom and delight pass across the synapses of the generations. Good and heroic men are generations in the making - cradled in the hearts and initiated in the arms of fathers who were cradled in the hearts and initiated in the arms of their fathers.

Now if you know me, hearing me saying that I got excited about this quote may sound a little strange as I have no sons of my own. I'm not even married. You might expect me to have a good old rant (privately if not in public) at the fact that single people often feel like they are the relational lepers of life, cut off from the highs and lows that are the relational adventures of marriage and family life, and instead being doomed to live in a world of gazing at their own navels. But I won't, not because I am hiding that reaction from you, but because I genuinely did not feel that way when I read it.

You see when God created the world, he intended that earthly families be a picture of his new spiritual family.  Membership of this family is not dependent on your life circumstances or relative successes, but on God's open invitation of mercy to the whole world.  When it works as it should; the love, tenderness, sacrifice and intimacy expressed in earthly families mirrors that which should be best demonstrated in the new family of God - the church.

So whilst I am not a father in the legal sense, I can be a father figure in a small part to many a young lad, both in the church family and beyond; through prayer, biblical instruction and practical life wisdom.

Blood may be thicker than water, but the Bible tells me that the Spirit of God who unites all God's children together as one is thicker still.
I can, (and I have a duty to) help cradle, nurture and initiate boys and young men into being real men, and better still, into being zealous and enduring disciples of Jesus.

This is especially poignant for me given that I work in a boys' school and only this morning had a boy tell me that he didn't know who his real dad was. He had never met him. My heart went out this little lad. He is by no means exceptional in our generation.

John expresses this vision for enduring godly men cradling and initiating the next (spiritual) generation a lot better than Sam, Stephen and I do.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Rediscovery of True Wonder. Part 3 - Rejoicing in Reality

So how, according to the realisation in the first post of this little trilogy, does creation declare/sing/shout to us about the death, resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ?

The Bible tells me that, it does it in too many ways to count, but I am blind to most of them. The following I have seen, but only because God in his mercy has opened my eyes to see it in the pages of the Bible, not because I was astute enough, or even inclined enough to figure it out for myself from scratch.

Dear blog-junkie. before I continue, you must tell me if I push the analogy too far. There's seeing the fullness of something and there's looking for something that is not there. No comments, assumes that you totally agree, and are impressed ;o) with everything I have said. Otherwise, please question or challenge.

Genesis 1:14 tells me that the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created the sun to be a sign. A signpost of what? The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the second post in this series is right then when Psalm 19:1-6 talks about the heavens declaring the Glory of God, they aren't declaring some abstract philosophical notion of perfection, but the nature and work of the Son of God - Jesus Christ.

The sun gives everything in this world light to see by and heat to live by. The sun is the source of all biological life and physical processes on the earth. Jesus is the source of all life in the universe.

The sun holds the earth in orbit around itself, not bringing the earth so close that it should burn up, nor letting it spin off into space becoming a frozen wasteland. Jesus holds the universe together,

The earth turns away from the sun and is plunged into the darkness of night. Jesus never turns his face away from us, but we in our rebellion against him, turned to the darkness.

(N.B. I was going to say that technological advance with the invention of mass electrical lighting, whilst not wrong in itself, has obscured the vividness of some of these parallels. But actually it continues the metaphor well. Humans in the darkness of their own rebellion create their own little lights to live by, but these little physical lights are nothing, they have no real light in them - nothing of God's life-giving, life-sustaining light.)

From the vantage point of the human eye, the sun is "buried," in that goes into the ground at dusk - a metaphor of the crucifuxion, death and burial of Jesus. At dawn, the sun is "resurrected" from the ground. Jesus was raised to life and now offers life to the world. I do not believe that Jesus' resurrection happening at dawn was any coincidence at all.

In the daylight of the sun we are active, - alive. At night we are asleep - a metaphor of disorder and death. With the dawning of morning, the world rises with the sun from its death-like sleep to life. So too, all those who are united to Christ through the Spirit of God will rise with Jesus to eternal life.

What an awesome saviour!

A dare to me and you. Next time you are out walking with someone, pause, look up into the sky and tell them that God created the sun to be a symbol of his own dear Son, Jesus, through whom we all can have true light and life in this world and the next.

Finally, two videos to illustrate:

1. A picture of the consequence of human rebellion against Jesus, his subsequent crucifixion and and rebellious human beings finally being cast away from God's presence for ever.

2. A picture of Jesus' birth, resurrection from the dead and second coming:


Saturday, 15 November 2008


In search of something else on the ubiquitous Google, I came across this.  Fascinating and terrifying all at once.  In the world of AI (Artificial Intelligence) the concept of making our own gods to rule over us may not be as far away as we think.  Whilst I make no theological connection with Rev. 13 symbolically, it certainly has echos of it!  

Also, if the article is right, it forces you and me to ask, what it really means to be human and, more to the point, what it means to be made in the image of God!  Some of our former assumptions about the image of God being in our functional superiority (ie what we do better than anything else) look like they may have a limited shelf life.  Watch this space.

God give me wisdom, love, power and boldness to live in such days as these.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Rediscovery of True Wonder. Part 2 - Revisiting the Fulness

The word "glory" is used in relation to many things in the Bible, including:

:: One's possessions/prosperity
:: The excellence or inherent goodness of something/someone
:: The shining out (or demonstration) of that excellence
:: The acts of God in the universe and in the lives of people
:: The act of praise

But there is also another meaning...

If you run a Bible search on the phrase "the glory of the Lord" or "the glory of the God of Israel" you will notice something curious about the references they throw up. Namely that these two terms often refer (perhaps even exclusively), not to some weird super-duper deluxe light bulb that comes down from Heaven, but to a person. See especially Ezekiel 3:23 and 43:2. That person, is Jesus Christ. This is even clearer in the New Testament in places like Hebrews 1:3

(BTW Knowing this gives us a fuller appreciation texts like Romans 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 3:18)

The giant Puritan thinker Jonathan Edwards assumes that the glory of the Lord refers to Jesus here (see second paragraph) when he gives his summary of how the Bible defines the word glory. (I pinched from him for my first paragraph.)

So when the Bible says in Romans 1 that the human race... exchanged the Glory of the Immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles, this is not the rejection of some abstract New Age divine light from Heaven but the flat rejection of and rebellion against Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that the whole world stands condemned and knows it (even if they suppress that knowledge) and thus in need of the mercy of God. We have not rebelled against "some benevolent, wise, powerful, detached-from-the-universe being – the construct of Western philosophy…" Intelligent Design type God. Rather, we have specifically scorned and rejected Jesus Christ.

So the person who asks: How can God justly condemn those who have never heard the gospel? is asking the wrong question.  Moreover, Christians like me get all emotionally twisted up in knots over this question because we ourselves, still don't see things as clearly as Paul did. God help me. God help us!  I humbly (and admittedly tentatively because I'm no giant like Edwards was) put it to you that the question we should be asking is not How can God justly condemn those who have never heard the gospel? but rather How can human beings be so dumb and rebellious that we cannot see the clear message of creation as it declares/sings/shouts to us about the death, resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ?  The question is not: What is wrong with God? but rather What is wrong with us?

(All thoughts/comments/contrary arguments gratefully received!)


PS I don't like cheesy pictures like the one above that make the Son of Man out to be some Arian superman and yet it is helpful in trying to ground these thoughts in something more concrete. After all what did Daniel see, if it wasn't some thing like this in Daniel 7:13?  Maybe it's like what Ezekiel saw too...

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remembrance Day

"Never before was so much owed by so many to so few."

All that is true. And as I stood there in the silence, I was reminded that this sentiment is so much more glorious and with it, eternal, when I think on Jesus and remember this...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Rediscovery of True Wonder. Part 1 – Recovering the Standard

There is a famous Christian hymn that begins with the words: Jesus is Lord, Creation’s voice proclaims it. If you have ever sung that song, let me ask you: Do you really believe that line? I mean really believe it?

If you took a poll and asked Christians (including me) what they thought creation said about God, I bet you most of them would say that creation points to a general wise and all powerful intelligent designer, but if you were to press them on whether it points specifically to the Son of God, and his rightful rule over the universe, they would probably say I can’t see that. Most Christians, if they are honest, in saying what they see, would have to rewrite the line of the hymn and sing: “Some benevolent, wise, powerful, detached-from-the-universe being – the construct of Western philosophy…” is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it, which is quite a mouthful to sing in the original 12 musical beats!!

Moreover, if you asked a Hindu what they thought creation said about the Divine being, I bet they would say that it says there are many gods, the Muslims; one god and atheists would be emphatic that it proclaims there is NO god!

In short, human beings, the world over, have suppressed the truth about God, which has been displayed in creation, and instead projected onto creation their own beliefs about God. We see in the creation what we want to see about God. What’s more is that we Christians also, myself included, still have trouble seeing the message that the Bible says Creation declares so clearly.

I know that the Bible is true, so when it tells me that God’s …invisible qualities such as his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they [all human beings everywhere] are without excuse, then if I don’t see those things, there is something wrong with me.

I need the help of the Holy Spirit to see what he meant when he inspired that bit of the Bible, rather than lower the Bible to my sin-polluted, truth-suppressing and depressing level of experience…


Saturday, 1 November 2008

Using the Bible to Praise God...

Below is the text of a handout I prepared for a workshop I was asked to run today. It was in the context of a training day put on by our church on how to worship God together and in all of life.


“If reading the Bible doesn’t lead you to awe, reverence and praise, then something is wrong!”

“It’s often easier to pray for each other than to praise God, because praying for each other falls well within the bounds of our everyday experience… God doesn’t.”

Why use the Bible to help you praise God in all of life?
1. Because through the death and resurrection of Jesus, you and I now have access to quality time with the whole Trinity, getting to know them (Ephesians 2:17-19). It doesn’t get any better than this.
2. Because whilst access to God is now open, it doesn’t mean that we can approach him in any old willy-nilly fashion (Psalm 2:11). The Bible shows us how to relate to him appropriately.
3. Because, as humans under the curse of the Fall:
i. Praising God doesn’t come naturally, we needs the Spirit’s help (1 Corinthians 12:3)
ii. We are not immune from being duped by wrong ideas about God formed in our own sin-polluted imaginations. (Isaiah 65:2)
iii. Even when we believe true things about God, we can quickly end up allowing the part to overtake the whole: e.g. only praising God for his love and never praising him for his justice in punishing sin. He should be praised for both, (see Luke 10:21).

Because in the Bible, God has given us everything we need to:
1. Nourish our minds with truth
2. Convict and strengthen our hearts with grace.
3. Inspire our imagination for good works and what it will be like when we meet him

How to use the Bible to help you praise God in all of life
:: By reading/hearing -> meditating on -> paraphrasing -> memorising -> internalising scripture. (Warning, this could lead to a Psalm 119:62 moment! ;o)
:: By declaring scripture back to God, reminding yourself, and him of what he has declared and promised.

Try saying these verses in your own words:

Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
Psalm 29:1-2

How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 104:24

Some verses (not an exhaustive list) to inspire you to praise and thank the One God who is Father, the Son and Holy Spirit for:
(Categories (and many scripture refs) taken in large part from: Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology, and Piper’s book The Pleasures of God)

A. Who they are.
1. How they are not like us
(Their incommunicable attributes – nothing in our experience is similar)
:: Have no constraints: Ex. 3:14, Rom. 11:35-36
:: Unchangeable: Ps. 102:25-27
:: Eternal: Ps. 90:2, Rev. 1:8
:: All-knowing: 1 John 3:20
:: All-seeing: Jer. 23:23-24
:: All-mighty: Isa. 46:9-10, Jer. 32:17
:: Unity in diversity: Ex. 34:6-7
:: Invisible: 1 Tim. 6:16

2. How they are like us
(Their communicable attributes – elements of our experience are similar)
:: Wisdom: Job 9:4
:: Truthful: Jer. 10:10-11
:: Faithful: Ps. 141:6
:: Goodness/Kindness: Rom. 8:32
:: Love: 1 John 4:8
:: Merciful/Gracious: Ps. 103:8
:: Patience: Rom. 2:4
:: Holy: Isa. 6:3
:: Peaceful (in the sense of not disordered): Rom. 15:33
:: Righteous and Just: Deut 32:4
:: Jealous: Isa. 48:11
:: Wrath: Rev. 19:1-4
:: Their will/desire: Eph. 1:11
:: Freedom: Ps. 115:3
:: Perfection (Completeness): Matt 5:48
:: Blessedness (happiness): 1 Tim. 1:11
:: Beauty: Ps. 27:4
:: Glory: Ps. 24:10, John 17:5

B. What they have done/do/will do.
1. …in “big-picture” history
:: Creation: Job 38:4-7
:: Keeping the universe in motion: Heb. 1:3
:: Hiding themselves from the so-called wise and revealing themselves to the simple: Luke 10:21
:: Standing up for the weak: Ps. 68:4-6
:: Redemption: Titus 2:11-14
:: Judgment: Acts 17:30-31

2. …specifically for you
:: For you to fill in if/when God has given/gives you scriptures for particular situations in your life.