Monday, October 26, 2009
'They are fruitless trees - twice dead - uprooted...' Jude 12.
When studying Jude for this sermon I was struck that Jude's response to people perverting the doctrine of grace, was not merely to restate the doctrine correctly - but to remind readers of lots of Bible stories. It seems that the Bible stories embed grace (rightly understood) deeper in us, than merely understanding the doctrine - which is of course necessary.
I tried to use the issue of teaching children the Bible as a way of exploring our need to be excited and thrilled by the Bible stories-
Thursday, October 08, 2009
The general tendency of evangelicals today is to view 25 minutes as the optimum length of time for a sermon. Over 30min is usually regarded as excessive or more than people can bear.
Obviously, if a preacher is dull, then even five minutes will be tedious - but assuming a preacher is competent, gifted and faithful in exposition - are we selling ourselves short in aiming to be the generation which has the shortest sermons in the history of Christianity?
Perhaps secular wisdom ought to give us pause for thought - In the above video David Cameron discusses his conference speech with William Hague and his wife. Cameron is asked how long his speech will be, and he replies,
'I'm trying to get it down to under an hour...'
At first I thought he was joking, then Hague admits that he sometimes spoke for over an hour and that was indeed too long.
Hague observes that the optimum attention span of the human mind has been shown to be 50min - and that applies to listening to a speech.
Cameron justified the hour long target for his speech by saying that the matters and occasion that he is speaking to merit time.
Might that not be even more true for the content of the Bible?
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
These proposals will be a terrible blow to British people's freedoms to minister and raise their families as they see fit. It will in due course hinder not only people who currently homeschool, but also Christian camps and Sunday Schools.
It is indicative of this government's statism that their ideology drives them to such authoritarian proposals. It is a sad situation when councils say they cannot intervene in horrific cases of abuse, such as baby P - due to not having enough resources. But they do have the resources to plan a massive further infringement of middle class freedoms.
The Christian Institute have more details - go to their site and get link to EMAIL your objections. There is only a few days for your view to be registered. (I guess the government wants consultation, but not too much!)
Monday, October 05, 2009
One of the most insidious temptations for evangelical Christians is to understand and accept the Gospel initially, then over time, begin to build an identity and sense of security upon our response to that Gospel.
It is almost inevitable that this problem manifest itself in our lives in one way or another. Changes inevitably flow from becoming a Christian - battling sin, changing relationship patterns, beginning church attendance, trying to evangelise. With time, one begins to feel that doing these things makes you a Christian. Intellectually, a person believes the Gospel; functionally, security and identity are built upon the good things that form a response to that Gospel.
One of the distinctive features of Augustine's theology was his deep appreciation of the Christian's ongoing need to depend on God's grace.
So, he preached against the ever present danger of building upon our response to the Gospel:
'When one relies on one's own virtue, the result is great sin.' Sermon 163.10.
May we have a deeper, fresher sense of the reality of God's grace!
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Tim Keller has done much to popularise reformed teaching on the subtle dangers of idolatry. Previous generations of evangelicals have focused upon sin as transgression; Keller reminds us that idolatry is also a fundamental Biblical way of viewing sin.
The reformed teaching on idolatry is associated with John Calvin, who famously wrote that the human heart is a 'factory of idols.'
The reformed idea of idols in the heart is rooted in Biblical texts such as Ezekiel 14:3: "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?"
Augustine of Hippo ought to receive some credit for highlighting the Biblical theme of heart idolatry, long before the 16th century reformation.
There had been some civil disturbance as a result of some physical idols being destroyed on property which a recently converted owner had donated to the church. Augustine took up the theme in Sermon 62.18:
'The land was given to the church. Should idols remain on church property? It is not enough for the pagans that we don't destroy idols in their country villas - they even want them preserved on our property?
We preach against idols. We remove them from people's hearts. We persecute idols; We don't deny it. Should we preserve idols? I don't destroy them where I have no authority to; I don't do it where the owner of the property objects - but where he desires it done, where he is grateful it is done - I would sin if I held back.'
In this sermon, we can see Augustine using a real life case of contentious idol destruction, in the physical sense, as a springboard to preach about what he really wants to see done - the dismantling of idols which reign in our hearts.