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Archive for the ‘evangelicalism’ Category

Wedding-rings-300x274Here is Andrew Errington’s Same-sex marriage – what is really at issue?

His central point is that there are two visions of marriage going on behind the same-sex marriage debate.  One is set out in the Book of Common Prayer, in which the three purposes of marriage are:

  • the procreation and nurture of children
  • as the only proper place for sexual intimacy; and
  • for the sake of lifelong companionship.

As against this, the modern, romantic view of marriage disregards the first two purposes and is, essentially, two ‘grown-ups’, part-couple-part-sofa, watching boxed sets till they fancy another sofa-mate. (That’s my cynical overstatement, not Errington’s.  But marriage-as-companionship reminds me of Alain de Botton’s comment that love today is about finding someone in particular to save us from people in general).

One implication at the political level is this:

The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage. To be as equally married as anyone else requires that we never again question the various ways children enter these marriages, and whether these means of having children are best for children.

So there are some sobering implications for society at that level.  And if Christians want to exercise their political freedoms in pointing such things out they should be able to do so without being called bigots.  Calling Christians homophobic for having a view on sexuality is like calling Buddhists carnophobes for having a view on meat-eating. Errington’s contribution is a model of clear-thinking Christian engagement at that political level.

On this blog, Paul Blackham has written Legal Recognition of Marriage and the Way of Jesus. Without denying the gravity of the social shift we’re witnessing , Paul’s introduction gives a much needed sense of perspective:

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect…

Paul goes on to hold up the local church as the place where the true meaning of marriage needs to be fought for and displayed (read here).

(If the consequences for the Church of England concern you, Jonathan Chaplin offers a solution that works just fine in many other countries – it involves getting out of the registrar business!)

And if all this sounds like a retreat from the public sphere, let me assure you I’m all in favour of preaching the gospel publicly.  Not the fruits of the gospel, mind you.  The gospel.

Here’s an evangelistic talk seeking to make sense of the Christian vision of sex and sexuality (and these are some other posts: here and here).  You’ll notice that integral to these approaches are beliefs about Trinity, creation, fallen-ness and union with Christ.  It seems to me this is the properly Christian footing on which to stand. But these things are not at all obvious to anyone debating at the political level!

So, yes, let’s grieve for a society that has drifted so far from the gospel. Let’s prepare for more of the persecution that is the norm all over the world (not to mention in the Bible). Absolutely, we can be concerned for the freedom of Christian expression – maintaining our right to ‘appeal to Caesar’ as Paul does at points. But let’s not be shocked that new generations, so ignorant of the gospel, find gospel living incomprehensible. Of course they do. And let’s not be under any illusions about how to “fight” this trend.  Let’s look at our own marriages, our own churches.  And let’s get preaching the good news of Jesus.

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preacherFor more vitrio-verse on “preaching” check out this hymn.

And here is a poem to encapsulate all that’s worst about show-pulpitry…

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“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture,” he loudly proclaims
“Our rule and our guide, Our fount and our frame.
We stand on the bible, for better, for worse
But let me give vent to my own bluster first.”

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, so let me digress –
To warn you of others who do not confess
Our creed guaranteed to produce a revival:
We are the ones who honour the bible.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, though some shun our scheme
Daring to preach on one verse, or a theme!
I really must warn you about all our rivals,
And then I will ask you to take up your bibles.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, and so I rehearse
Our constant insistence on verse by verse.
Methodical, logical, slowly proceeding,
This is our system, now, what was our reading?

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, but don’t be naive,
The troubles with preaching you would not believe.
We must invest time in Corinthian Gnostics,
The value of genre and Hebrew acrostics.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, a difficult book,
But do not despair for to me you can look.
The dirty great chasm between then and now
Is bridg’d by my painstaking, expert know-how.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, The clock is against us!
I fear that I shan’t do this passage its justice.
We’ve only got time for a mere  bible dip,
Yet before we explore – a joke and a quip.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, but first let me quote
From Shakespeare and Churchill, a drole anecdote,
My children’s exploits and the signs of the times,
The state of the church, and, my, how time flies!

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, just time for essentials,
But, wait, have I listed my many credentials?
My friends in high places, the people I meet,
The man I converted in the aeroplane seat?

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, although it’s a drag
I’ll lighten the tone with a mother-in-law gag.
And stories I’ve stolen from preachers at will.
Consider it sugar to sweeten the pill.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, though sixty six books –
This story of glory’s more plain than it looks.
Distilling its filling through splendid oration,
You’ll see it boils down to this fine illustration.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, the detail’s not vital,
I’ve spent all my time on a memorable title
And quaint turns of phrase that will please only me,
And predictable points, beginning with ‘P’.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, my time is now through,
My pithy summation will just have to do.
You guessed it the moment my sermon began:
God is the Boss. Submit to His plan.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, And now let us pray,
‘I thank You my Father You made me this way,
Not like all those others about whom we’ve heard
For I am the preacher who honours Your word.’”

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preacherWe don’t need better preaching, we need a better gospel.

Yes I’m being provocative and hyperbolous.  Let me remind you that this is a blog.

What I mean is this: there’s a lot of focus on becoming better preachers.  The real need is to preach a better gospel.

These thoughts were prompted by a Spurgeon comment as quoted by CJ Mahaney at T4G 2008:

“Whitefield and Wesley might preach the gospel better but they cannot preach a better gospel.”

Spurgeon’s point is that the power is in the gospel, not the preacher.  Amen.  But if the gospel preached aint the gospel, then we need a better one.

‘Better gospel?’ you ask – how can you improve on the good news?

Well you can’t improve on the biblical gospel.  But you can darned well improve on the gospel preached by some.  Here’s a false one I hear around the traps (there are others, but this is the devil I know best):

‘God is power.  We must submit.  Since we don’t, God has a plan B.  It’s a wonderfully clever mechanism called penal substitutionary atonement.  For those who profess faith in penal substitutionary atonement (and submit the whole of their lives to God in total self-surrender and who pass on this ‘gospel’ and persevere to the bitter end), then… well… they will avoid hell.  Probably.’

Lord save us from well illustrated and applied, passionate, persuasive and prayerful preaching of this ‘gospel’.  Remember that the evangelism of the Pharisees made converts twice as much sons of hell as they were. (Matt 23:15)

What a thought! The perversion of a false gospel is multiplied in those it converts.  Preachers – don’t work on your preaching, work on your gospel.

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London Men’s Convention ended a few hours ago.  The subject was “Faithful”.  And, apparently, the Faithful One is me.  Or at least that’s how so much of it came across (the opening of Rico’s talk excepted).

Men leaving the Albert Hall could be divided into those saying “Grrrrr”  and those saying “Grrrrr”.

The vast majority of Grrrrrs were resolutions towards godliness.  And this time they really, really, really mean it.  My Grrrr was frustration.  A day spent together with men who want to hear the word of Christ.  What glories we could have been singing about on the train home.

Instead, all the conversation was about ourselves – “Gosh, that was convicting.”  And all the tweets I’ve read have said “Tough”, “Hard-hitting”, “Challenging”, even “Super-challenging.”  I found it none of those things.  It is not tough to tell conservative evangelicals they need to repent more.  It’s really not.  To tell bible guys who have paid good money to attend a conference called “Faithful” that they need to smarten up and get serious for Jesus is not challenging.  It is boring.  It is predictable.  And it is the safest preaching imaginable. It is 100% guaranteed to be lapped up by all.

Preaching the free grace of Jesus for sinners – that would be challenging.  Mega-challenging I’d say.  That would get the tweets in a flutter.  That would produce resistance and angry opposition.  But it’d also get people talking about Jesus.

If you were there, you might disagree with my assessment of the day.  You might disagree with my theology.  But my one plea is this – even if you want to argue that men need pep rallies like this in order to be “faithful” – don’t pretend that it’s brave to preach like that.  It is not brave to preach law.  It’s brave to preach gospel.

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Double Standards

Here are some double standards I’m aware of from my corner of conservative evangelicalism:

* When we preach “Come to Christ and you won’t have such a lousy eternity” it’s “God-centred.”

* When they preach “Come to Christ and you won’t have such a lousy life” it’s “man-centred”

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* When our preachers go outside the text for 6 historical witnesses to support its truth it’s because we value the word.

* When their preachers go outside the text for 6 inspiring stories to support its truth it’s because they don’t value the word.

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* When we run a toddler group for the community it’s gospel ministry.

* When they offer DIY around the local housing estate it’s a social gospel.

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Others???

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O thou brain — exalted, senior,
Holding forth from pulpit’s throne.
Feed us with thy academia,
Meted out in monotone.
‘We could never,
‘We could never,
‘Plumb such myst’ries on our own.’

Hear the classics now recited,
Tumbling from thy tutored lips.
Nooks ignored are now ignited,
By thy greek and latin quips.
‘O how richly
‘O how richly,
‘Wisdom from each sentence drips.’

Teach us frames to fathom glory,
Scriptures’ tale doth not agree.
Pure distil the Jesus story,
Into subtle sophistry.
‘All was darkness
‘All was darkness,
‘Till thou spoke and now we see.’

Pompous, ponderous, proud, pretentious,
Leaning o’er thy preacher’s perch.
Pressing out the sap that quenches,
Thirst for knowledge, Eden’s search.
‘Breathe thy wisdom
‘Breathe thy wisdom
‘Till inflated is thy church’

O thou noble mind pray guide us,
Through the darkness and the lies.
Warn us from thy foul deriders,
We shall fear, avoid, despise.
‘Raise a banner
‘Raise a banner
‘We shall chant thy tribal cries.’

How to mark our true devotion?
What could ever count as praise?
But to clone thy stale emotion,
Forced to feign thy learned ways.
‘Where’s my pulpit?
‘Where’s my pulpit?
‘I’ll abide there all my days.’

Marching strong into the brightness,
Resolute, we set our face.
Staunch persistence, clothed in rightness,
Rectitude, our saving grace.
‘Call us onward
‘Call us onward
‘Grimly to our resting place.’

Then one day in vindication,
Face to face at last we’ll see
Precious few in that location,
Gathered with thy coterie.
‘Now receive us
‘Now receive us
‘To thy ‘ternal library.’

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The tune for Praise My Soul works

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Those two things aren’t the same you know.  But often we forget that.  Especially as we try to live in community.  I mean, think about it – what helps our Christian communities function?

Surely we get along because we all play nice, right?  Empowered by the gospel of course.  We have to add that caveat.  But now that it’s added we settle down to the real glue for any community: being nice.  When people are nice, communities flourish.  When people are not nice communities fall apart.  This is obvious.

Just look at Colossians 3:12

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Yep.  See?  Be nice.  Be nice and everyone will get along.  Cover over all that nastiness with sweetness.  Or polite reserve.  Or effusive flattery.  Whatever you do, don’t be nasty.  The minute someone’s nasty, it’s over.

Really?

Well that would be the case if we were a part of any natural community.  What did Jesus say?  Pagans love those who love them.  (Matt 5:46-47).  You don’t need the Holy Spirit to do that.  You don’t need the supernatural grace of God.  You don’t need a new heart of flesh to be nice.

So what’s going to mark supernatural communities?

Look at how Colossians 3 continues…

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  (Col 3:13)

Natural communities don’t have this.  At the first hint of nastiness, natural community fractures.  But for Christians nastiness is an opportunity.  Here’s where we truly show ourselves to be the people of Jesus.  We forgive.

Many people think nastiness ends Christian community.  The gospel says nastiness is where Christian community begins.

What about blogging?  A million blogs can be nice.  It doesn’t make them Christian.  Now may Jesus deliver us from nasty Christian blogs.  Please Lord!  But niceness is not the cure.  Many may think they have a Christian blog because everyone is nice.  That doesn’t make it Christian.  It’s Christian if Christ is the glue.  It’s Christian if Christ in us answers nastiness for the sake of Christ and in the way of Christ.

We wouldn’t dream of getting right with our Father without going through the Mediator.  We wouldn’t dream of being nice enough for Him.  But we always assume that when we turn to family relations, the Mediator is surplus to requirements.  We imagine that we need Jesus for God but we need niceness for our brother.   How many Christian books on marriage, for instance, trumpet “communication” as the key to a good marriage!  But that’s just a gospel of works for community living.  No we need Jesus for God and neighbour.  Because we’re not nice.  We’re just not.  And communities that run on niceness haven’t begun to be Christian.   Inject some nastiness, then we’ll see if they’re Christian.

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