Friday, January 29, 2010

And I think I buy a lot of books.....

Al Mohler has the most popular religion blog on the web. He is a theologian, preacher and seminary president and the keeper of an incredible study and personal library.

Al Mohler - Study Video from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.



(H/T Between two worlds)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking your breath away

A friend sent me this from Ukraine's Got Talent. Wow.

This is what he writes:

"This video shows the winner of "Ukraine's Got Talent", Kseniya Simonova, 24, drawing a series of pictures on an illuminated sand table showing how ordinary people were affected by the German invasion during World War II. Her talent, which admittedly is a different one, is mesmeric to watch.

The images, projected onto a large screen, moved many in the audience to tears and she won the top prize of about $130,000.00

She begins by creating a scene showing a couple sitting holding hands on a bench under a starry sky, but then warplanes appear and the happy scene is obliterated.
It is replaced by a woman's face crying, but then a baby arrives and the woman smiles again. Once again war returns and Miss Simonova throws the sand into chaos from which a young woman's face appears.
She quickly becomes an old widow, her face wrinkled and sad, before the image turns into a monument to an Unknown Soldier.
This outdoor scene becomes framed by a window as if the viewer is looking out on the monument from within a house.
In the final scene, a mother and child appear inside and a man standing outside, with his hands pressed against the glass, saying goodbye.
The Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Ukraine, resulted in one in four of the population being killed with eight to 11 million deaths out of a population of 42 million."


Tim Keller resources

A pal has collected all Keller's sermons into Zip files at his blog Curates Chronicles. This is a free treasure trove:)

I have listened to 00's of Keller's talks over the last decade but yesterday I listened to one called Grace-therefore Holy and it blew me away.

I'm still reeling.

iPAD is here......

Here's what Stephen Fry thinks (H/T Mark)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blog-sweep

Seth Godin's blog is very good (H/T Outhere)

Check out a couple of his posts on faith and everything is not going to be OK

Nelson would have agreed with Godin and was a plain sailor

One of the best things I did at Oxford was take a journey with Simon Walker and happily I find he now has blog. Read his books.

5 biggest church planting mistakes

Stott has written his last book.

Don't be a cynic

Driscoll's sermon on Haiti

A final thought on the applause of nail-scarred hands

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Candy

A friend sent me this and I have been tapping my toe to it ever since.

Are you a manager or a leader?

"Warren Bennis, one of today's most prolific writers on the subject of leadership and management, makes a clear distinction between leadership and management in his book On becoming a leader. The manager, according to Bennis, is preoccupied with doing right things. That is, the manager is focussed on following procedures and gaining compliance from those she manages. It is a role in which the successful execution of established practices and adherence to standard policies determine the effective manager. On the other hand, the leader Bennis argues, is concerned with doing the right things. Rather than simply executing existing procedures and gaining compliance with accepted procedures, the true leader will first question whether or not the accepted procedures are the right thing to do. The true leader is the one who may determine that existing practices are no longer moving the organization in the direction of its vision and mission and create a whole new set of procedures and practices. Rather than being content to transact business within the parameters of the existing paradigm, the leader looks to transform the existing system into something more effective. In essense, according to Bennis, leadership is by very nature transformational not transactional."

Leading from the Inside Out (The Art of Self-leadership) by Samuel D. Rima

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ad Man

TED was held in Oxford in 2009 and no one sadly wanted to buy me a ticket for £5000 which was rather disappointing, fortunately the talks are now on line. I watched this one recently and enjoyed it not least because Rory Sutherland is extremely amusing.

A Praying Life

Paul Miller's A Praying Life is as good a book on prayer as I have read in a long time. Firstly, it is an easy and practical read, full of honesty and is not scared of dealing with difficult questions. It acknowledges straight off how glibly we say "I'll pray" and then either forget or become guilt-ridden at our lack of dedication or competence.

The praying life, he says, should feel like dinner with good friends. Miller has a particular take on prayer gleaned from his genuine experience, biblical knowledge but also through the things he has learnt through being father to his mute and autistic daughter Kim. He movingly tells stories of his own communication with his daughter and hers with him and shares the insights this has given him into how and why we pray. The book is packed with wonderful stories and grace-filled help and I cannot commend this highly enough if you want to cultivate a praying life.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday smile

Blog-sweep

I started the day with breakfast with the men of my church. We had a wonderful reflection on the power of community from Psalm 95 and we listened to Keller quote C S Lewis on Friendship

Tim Keller sermons can be found here

John Stackhouse is 50 and asked what was the best advice you have ever been given?

Do you agree with J I Packer that we should return to the Catechism?

Urgent Action needed on the Equality Bill

5 tips for effective delegation

Driscoll in Haiti

A new moral duty?

I am enjoying reading A Praying Life

When watching John Mayer the other night and seeing all on the mobiles I had the thought that we are perhaps Everywhere but nowhere

This talk by Andy Stanley is a really good one.

Don't lead on empty

Finally two mistakes on thinking about the redeemed life

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gossip vs Flattery

R. Kent Hughes:

Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face.

Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.

Disciplines of a Godly Man, p. 139

(H/T Adrian Warnock)

The God who smokes

Books offer each of us a journey. How we travel the journey I think much depends on how we are built. Some people when they go on a trip get the maps out, plan the route, make a picnic and decide when and for how long they are going to stop. They probably also leave plenty of time.

I am not that man

I just get in the car and drive and feel my way (usually quite poorly) to my destination. When I get lost, I pull out the map and get my bearings. For me reading is discovery. Books comes across my path and catch my eye. People recommend them, reviewers recommend them, you discover them in bookshops and sometimes in reading one book the author of that book leads you on to another.

An example of how this works is my experience of reading The Life you always wanted. All the way through, John Ortberg refers to Dallas Willard. I had never heard of him but the persistent praise and reference told me this was someone worth a detour on my reading journey. It awakened me to the joys of Willard who I may well have remained completely ignorant of.

Over Christmas I read The God who smokes which I loved- in it the author recommends a book called The Three Philosophies by Peter Kreeft and I really liked the way it describes the wisdom books.

Ecclesiastes -Life as vanity

Job- Life as suffering

Song of Songs- Life as love

It was also clear that this book had greatly impacted Timothy Stoner. I knew that this may offer me an interesting read at some point this year so it has gone on the list. Here is the quote from Kreeft that caught my attention.

C S Lewis said that the meaning of life is about getting a face, about becoming real and about becoming yourself. Becoming real is all about gaining substance."It is not easy getting a face. It is done by suffering not sinning, by saying No as well as Yes: by climbing against the gravity of the selfish-self, not by the direct paths of self-realization and self-actualization." Then he drops a little bomb, "The meaning of life is war"

You may or may not agree that "The meaning of life is war" but I have been pondering the idea ever since.

May these couple of books, among the many, perhaps offer you a discovery or two on your reading journey. They are worth a detour.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blog-sweep

I listened to a great interview on the Today program about the new film The Boys are Back. Gary has had a cheeky preview.



Type tells a story and some advice that you should find a calling and then deliver.

A post for the more geeky on one man's Top Ten Linksand one on IPOD apps

How much difference would it make?

This man seems to know a thing or two about small groups which you might want to check-out and some books to read on the subject.

Finally, I am looking forward to going to this exhibition at the RA that you should go to even if you don't like art (one of my readers went to the last one I recommended and although he won't admit it he really enjoyed himself!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Heart of Life

I went to see John Mayer last night at the Apollo.

The man is a musical genius- a troubled one- but a genius nonetheless

A few things.

I have been pondering on whether I am a sinner or a saint and this led me on to Terry Virgo's blog and the discovery of 'Rain mountain'. I am going to read about this seemingly inspiring and prayerful chap.

Do you let your kids do dangerous things?

And a challenge- in what you can do in three pages a day (H/T Dash House). I have taken it up and am reading through the Institutes. Eugene Peterson read them through every year for his first 13 years of pastoral ministry so I can probably manage once through:)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chocolate soldiers

I came across this post where C T Studd uses the expression 'Chocolate soldiers':

"HEROISM is the lost chord; the mission note of present-day Christianity!
Every true soldier is a hero! A SOLDIER WITHOUT HEROISM IS A CHOCOLATE SOLDIER! Who has not been stirred to scorn and mirth at the very thought of a Chocolate Soldier! In peace true soldiers are captive lions, fretting in their cages. War gives them their liberty and sends them, like boys bounding out of school, to obtain their heart's desire or perish in the attempt. Battle is the soldier's vital breath! Peace turns him into a stooping asthmatic. War makes him a whole man again, and gives him the heart, strength, and vigor of a hero.
EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN IS A SOLDIER--of Christ--a hero "par excellence"! Braver than the bravest--scorning the soft seductions of peace and her oft-repeated warnings against hardship, disease, danger, and death, whom he counts among his bosom friends."

Following Christ at times requires a soldiers courage and this is especially so when trouble comes. So often when trouble comes, people want prayer for them to get out of the trouble but James 1 vs 5 says in the midst of the trouble what we need to pray for is wisdom. This is what Matt Chandler (whose story I have posted about in the past) asks for, as well as for his full healing and strength for the next few weeks as he battles cancer. You may ask why I would be interested in someone's battle who I don't know- it is particularly because a friend faces a similar battle. Matt is helping me pray and understand the things she has faced and the areas she continues to need encouragement and prayer in .

Here he is describing where he is at.

Piper preached at The Village recently on the subject of suffering which you might also want to listen to.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

T S Eliot Prize

I awaken each morning to the Today Program on Radio 4. This week has been a poetry week listing the finalists for the TS Eliot prize and one poem stuck in my mind. A Hugo Williams poem called 'Marital Visit'. You can listen to them all HERE.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti : How should we respond?

Last night I was talking to a friend while washing up dishes. She works for Tear Fund and we were discussing Haiti and then our discussions turned to loans for businesses in the developing world. This is one of her particular passions.

I asked if she had heard of Kiva?

She hadn't, so I thought some of you might not either.

The story of how Kiva came to be as told by its founder Jessica Jackley is inspiring.



So I think there are two ways to connect with people through this horror:

1. The first is to respond to a specific incident like Haiti with money and that is a good thing to do. I would commend giving to a charity you know or one you have friends who can keep you updated-mine is Tear Fund-and you can give here.

2. The next thing is to connect with other nations, poverty and giving longer term hope in a more sustained way and this might be where Kiva comes in. You can lend resources and make a difference and this sort of action lasts so much longer than the headlines do. It is also very easy to do.

So I hope this goes a tiny way to offering you a way to respond.

Blog-Sweep

I spent the day yesterday with the Curates of Southwark visiting Ascension Balham to discuss leadership. We were wonderfully looked after and blessed so thank you all.

How are you getting on with your resolutions? Henry Cloud suggests the process of maturity.

Haiti is greatly in our thoughts and prayers and of the many things that I have read on the subject Tim Challies, Kester and Donald Miller have made me think the most.

The most famous preacher of the last century was Charles Spurgeon and the thought is 'We can all make a difference'. One man Spurgeon inspired is Driscoll and here he reflects on what he would done differently in his church plant which had very, very small beginnings. I think Driscoll now seems to be making a bit of a difference?

Piper in this Q&A describes reading the bible like a love letter and how this relates to study and it has really really stuck with me (28 minutes in) Peterson might call it Caveat Lector

My friend looking like Rowan Williams:)

And a final observation on preaching - and make sure you give it more than five minutes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chase the lion

I am full of zip-a-dee-doo-dah today.

I think it was stepping into fresh snow at 6.15 this morning and then having breakfast with friends.

I read this on Mark Batterson's blog and it was all very positive and uplifting so I share it with you all. It comes from his book called 'In a pit with a lion on a snowy day' which all seemed very joined up:)

"Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Accumulate experiences. Consider the lilies. Criticize by creating. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. Don't let what's wrong with you keep you from worshiping what's right with God. Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don't try to be who you're not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself. Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Quit running away.

Chase the lion."

Still loving this song

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blog-sweep

I liked Rick Warren's call to discipleship and his belief that we must move from "Come and see to come and die"

How different generations see work

Now I read a book or two but this is premier league.....10 million words

Keller on creation and evolution and Global Cities.

Piper answers lots of questions for prison inmates including "Can you lose your salvation?"

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Sweet and Bitter Providence



(H/T Buzzard)

Calvin and Predestination

I have been reading through Acts as one of of my McCheyne 4-a-day. I have seen grace anew but a couple of verses have stuck with me and made me ponder.

'..all who were appointed to eternal life believed' Acts 13 v 48

'On arriving he was a great help to those who by grace had believed' Acts 18 v 27

I have been asked about predestination a lot recently-not sure why- just have. So perhaps it is spending a week in Geneva with friends that has turned my mind to Calvin once again on this issue?

So, in response, I have dug out an essay I wrote at Vicar Factory on the subject for your perusal. This is what one might therefore call 'a long post' but as I wrote so many blooming essays that are now destined to remain collecting dust unread I thought I might share it on this vexing question.

I hope it is a help to some and comments welcome! A link also to Pastor D answering a Q&A on predestination and the full text of this can be found in Religion Saves and Nine other misconceptions.

Outline Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and assess its importance in his theology?


Concerning the eternal election of God by which He has ordained some to be blessed and some to be damned’ (Institutes III,21)

Introduction

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a diamond of combined simplicity and complexity that is unchanging, yet is able to be viewed in unfathomably different lights. If there is any doctrine that causes this to be the case it is that of predestination. If the Gospel is thought about to any level of depth then its implications cause a furrowed brow that sets out in search of answers. If what Jesus says is the truth, then all is potentially not well with, in Calvin’s view, ‘…some to be blessed and some to be damned’ or to use Calvin’s later terminology, predestined. There are things to be explained as to the fate of those to whom the Good News has not been preached. What about those to whom it has been, but they have not accepted? Calvin rises above all others in theological history in his courage to explore what he sees as radical implications of the words of scripture on this issue and takes them to a logical conclusion; a ‘double’ one with implications for the lost and the saved, both at God’s initiation.

To mention Calvin’s name is in the modern world is to hear this doctrine spoken of in almost the following breath. Is this a fair reflection of one of the great towers of human history and the work that he has left behind? Was this his only contribution to theological thought or was it simply a single brick in a far larger building? Have his followers done Calvin a disservice or sustained his fame longer than is rightly due? These questions desperately in need an answer and this survey will attempt to provide a framework for a balanced understanding of Calvin and his theology. He is, in truth, very much more than this single doctrine and it will be argued that this is deservedly so.

Setting the scene

Calvin is one of the giants of Christian history and his influence still pulses its theological shockwave across history. He was born in Noyon in 1509 and lived a generation later than Luther. If Luther had been concerned with the overthrow of the papacy then Calvin’s challenge was new modes of power . He was unique in being both a churchman and a theologian and it is as the former that history has primarily documented his activities. However, the two are intimately related. His challenge was how, in a newly reformed world, were things to be organised, prioritized and overseen? The church needed to agree and implement alternative modes of authority and structure if a vision of a new, purified and moral ecclesiology were to be achieved.

It is fair to say that history has not been kind to Calvin and if his actions are taken out of the context they seem draconian and harsh. Legislation on everything from wearing slashes in breeches, annual home visits to assess parishioners morality and the banning of non-biblical names seem a great distance from the modern articulation and understanding of reformed Christianity. But where did he get the basis for this re-ordering of things? For Calvin, this could come from one source and one source only, the Bible. His understanding of what it said and how it should be applied are outlined in his magnum opus, ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’. As Packer observes, ‘..the Institutes transcends any supposed dichotomy between the intellectual and moral aspects of Christianity, and stands as a classic of both orthodoxy(right faith) and orthopraxy(right living)’

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

It is not possible to explore the doctrine of predestination without first seeing it as part of the Institutes of Christian Religion, particularly in this exploration critiquing it within the wider theology of Calvin. The Institutes began life as a pocket book for Protestants on biblical Christianity and were originally about three-quarters the length of the New Testament. They grew over time into a technical polemic on Reformation questions for Christian leaders . By the time the fifth edition was published in 1559, twenty three years after the original, they were as long as the Old Testament and the Gospels together, arranged differently with eighty chapters instead of six. They had become an integrated whole of Christian doctrine, experience and behaviour- the knowledge of God- and encompassed knowing about God (theology) and knowing God relationally (religion) . It is therefore clear to see that the theology of Calvin and his vision for the church were encapsulated in this work.

If we are to evaluate Calvin’s theology, it is important at the outset to be clear on what version of his thinking we are to assume. Any academic or theologian would acknowledge that their thinking is transitional, in the sense that a view espoused in the early part of a career may well be different at the end of a lifetime of reading and new experiences. For Calvin, his initial ideas on predestination were not even called that, instead, he opted for the lighter term ‘providence’. Only later, as the doctrine grew in infamy and controversy, did he add to his terminology predestination (in 1539 retaining the word ‘providence’ in Book I) and lengthen it with his arguments in favour of it and strong rebuttals to his critics. We must therefore take the Institutes in the 1559 fifth edition form as Calvin’s final word on the matter and the ultimate resting place of his theology.

The Doctrine of Predestination

Calvin is best known by Christians for his doctrine of predestination. It is understandable that the thinking Christian, who understands the gospel, is lead on to explore the implications of a theology that so clearly divides the believer from the unbeliever with seemingly dramatic consequences. As Calvin observed in his introduction in the Institutes, ‘a baffling question it seems to many’ .In reality, few ever look to Calvin’s source arguments laid out logically in the Institutes and even fewer have the time or inclination to set the doctrine in the wider theology of the bible and the Institutes. It has to be said, they are the poorer for this lack of additional enquiry.

The first thing that becomes apparent on reading the original is Calvin’s sense of perspective and the caution he gives to the reader. He warns that you are ‘penetrating the sacred precincts of divine wisdom’ and as such there is mystery and unknown in such an exploration. However, for Calvin, it was the pre-eminence of Scripture that seems to have driven his mind to explore these questions and he argues coherently from this position. Above all else, the Bible moulds his writing and without it, by his own admission, he would have no basis at all. He states this profoundly and movingly in Book I of the Institutes:

‘Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it ….owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him we…feel perfectly assured-as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it-that it came to us, by instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God…we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it…I say nothing more that every believer experiences in himself, though my words fall far short of reality’

Calvin had an awesome knowledge of the scriptures, particularly if you consider he did not have recourse to a concordance as we would have today. His scriptural foundation meant that he was not a man who could easily overlook the bible’s claims and certain verses seem to have propelled him into a desire to try to fully explain their meaning. As Neisel rightly observes, ‘He develops the doctrine of election because he feels constrained to do so obediently to the word of Scripture’ Key texts for him were those from Romans (Chapters 9-11), Ephesians and, in the Old Testament, the fact that God in his providence had revealed himself to a chosen people and to chosen individuals. This, and Calvin states this strongly, was not on the basis of merit but somehow on the basis of ‘choice’ (he cites particularly the anomaly of the choice of Jacob over Esau). For the purpose of this exploration we can narrow the texts, as Calvin does in his introductory argument, to Ephesians 1:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ , in accordance with his pleasure and will’…
Ephesians 1:5-6

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with his will, in order that we , who were the first hope in Christ , might be for the praise of his glory.


Ephesians 1:11

We are quick to think that predestination was a revelation of Calvin alone but he had, as we do today, his own mentors from whose wisdom and work he was able to draw; Augustine, Luther and Bucer would be the obvious three. However, what he did was start with their arguments and then he extends them, coherently and courageously, to their logical and, for some an unpalatable conclusion. His doctrine can be summarized in three words, according to Timothy George: absolute, particular and double. Absolute in that predestination rests solely with the immutable God, particular in referring to individuals and double in God’s justice ordaining both eternity and damnation . A classic summary text from the Institutes is:


We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created for one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death’

Augustine had used the term predestination to refer to the availability of grace as the mean of redemption. After the fall, human kind was corrupted and needed God’s grace in order to be restored. He used the term ‘predestination’ as the action of God giving grace to some . But what happens to everybody else? Augustine omits to give a view on this and as such implies passivity on God’s part or, at very least, leaves it as a theological ‘I don’t know’. In contrast, Calvin applies a more activist and logical approach in believing that God must choose either to save or to damn. Luther also looked to Augustine and Calvin had his thinking on predestination also available to him. McGrath is helpful on where they differ in their understanding on this issue and he distils it down to the difference of one word. For Luther, God saves despite the sinners demerits whereas, for Calvin, God saves irrespective of their merits .

The brilliance of Calvin’s thinking on predestination is that he explores a timeless question asked by all Christians. Why are some saved and some not? He does not however sensationalize it but he suggests it is part of the fabric of human experience. Life shows you some are rich and some are poor; some intelligent and some not. Why can one child find the breast milk from its mother and another fail to do so and therefore perish, comments McGrath, concluding that on predestination that, ‘It raises no difficulties which are not already presented by other areas of human existence.’ Calvin’s specific question was why, when the gospel is preached, do some accept it and some seemingly not?

‘ that the covenant of life is not preached to all men in the same way and that even among those to whom it is preached it does not in all cases fall on the same ground nor always retains the same hold’


Are we to conclude that the gospel is in some way inadequate or to be found wanting. A theology that includes acknowledgement of ‘election’ is simply, in Calvin’s eyes, consistent with both the truth of scripture and that of the Gospel. Yet, it remains a mystery and we must ultimately leave it in the hands of God, as he ably states in his own words:

Predestination rests in the inscrutable judgements of God

‘God’s decisions reflect God’s wisdom and justice, which are upheld, rather than contradicted, by the fact of predestination’

The Doctrine’s Opponents

Calvin’s theology went where other’s had feared to go and forced people to ask “For whom then did Christ die”? The traditional view is that Christ died that all would have the potential to be redeemed but it is only effective for those who choose to allow it to have an effect . The thought of God premeditating an elect to be damned was horrifying to many-then as it is now. Calvin himself had coined the term dercretum horribile which is best translated as ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘terrifying’ decree . In the ninth century, a monk called Godescalc had caused controversy saying it was, ‘quite improper to speak of Christ dying for the eternally damned, for if he had, he would have died in vain, since their fate would have been unaffected’. He said Christ had died only for the elect. In his own time, Melanchton objected strongly fearing that it might lead Christian to despair. The debate broadened into one over the fundamentals of the Gospel. Pighius argued that if there were to be an elect and a non-elect then God must have a foreknowledge of our merits and decide accordingly. This struck at heart of the Gospel for Calvin who would never allow it to be seen as calculated on the basis of works. As he did so often, he concluded that the answer lay in the sovereignty of God. Why were some damned? Because …’ it pleased him to do so’. He would no doubt point the scandalized detractors to Ephesians 1:6; for Calvin scripture would always have the last word.

Predestination’s Theological Context

Whilst predestination is the marker by which Calvin has come to be remembered, it does him an injustice to see this as the central part of theological framework. Francois Wendel’s comprehensive survey of Calvin’s theology draws some perceptive and interesting conclusions. He observes that there is, as with any theologian, a desire to look for the central point for their ideas. However, Calvin offers us a plurality of themes each of which has taken differing primacy over the centuries. You could identify the themes of the glory of God, the sovereignty of God, eschatology, the church and, the most popular focus in recent years, the divinity of Christ. Simply analysing the 1559 edition shows you both in order (predestination comes last after faith, regeneration, the Christian life and justification) and also in quantity of writing (Calvin allocates it only four chapters). It cannot objectively warrant its preoccupation in importance given to it by some .

It may be argued that its attention is deserved because of the paradox election seemingly holds together, thereby unduly heightening interest in this doctrine specifically. Wendel rightly states that this is not a unique tension in the Institutes or in theology more generally: God combines love for his creation with wrath for fallen man, offers justification but leaves man a sinner, imputes immediate righteousness yet regeneration is slow and always incomplete . He concludes, ‘it cannot be over-emphasised: faith on predestination is a long way from being the centre of Calvinism; much rather it is the last consequence of faith in the grace of Christ in the presence of the enigmas of experience.’ It is to Jesus that Calvin unswervingly points:

‘ In the person of Jesus Christ we have a mirror which represents for us the universal providence of God which extends through the whole world, unyet shines especially in ourselves’

Conclusion

The starting point for Calvin’s theology was always Jesus Christ. His followers wanted general principles, not a specific historic event . The attempts of Calvinist’s to distil his work into one theme of predestination ignore the role of reason, logic, coherence and method in his theology and in the Institutes themselves. They are a work of extreme complexity, profound genius and timeless relevance. We will be tempted to perplexity when, as Calvin said, ‘the sky is overcast by dense cloud’ when thinking about predestination .

Are we left any clearer in our own day on the issue and the doctrine means for the preaching of the gospel? Ronald Wallace is helpful in his assertion that with regard to the Gospel, Calvin speaks with two voices and offers us a hidden secret . As Calvin says:

‘ Because we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined or does not belong, our desire ought to be that all men be saved’

This is the double will of God. On the one hand his Word tells us that the Gospel should be universally preached and that all should be saved. On the other, this does not prevent God decreeing before the foundation of the world what he will do with every individual . He concludes, ‘ If anyone objects that it is absurd to split God’s will, I answer that is exactly our belief, that his will is one and undivided- but because our minds cannot plumb the profound depths of his secret election, to suit our infirmity the will of God is set before us double’ …..’we see through the glass darkly and must be content with the measure of our own intelligence.’

Calvin is vastly bigger than the doctrine of predestination, important though it is both in its brilliance and in sustaining on-going interest in him and his work. The last word and a wonderful captured summary of the answer to the question must go to J I Packer, possibly Calvin’s most ardent living fan. His wonderful essay entitled, ’Fan mail to Calvin’, is a letter of praise to John Calvin and separates the man from his followers and offers us the happiest of conclusions:

The way you dealt with predestination, in particular, strike me as an all-time brilliancy. Like Paul in Romans, you separated it from the doctrine of providence and postponed it till you had spelled out the gospel, with it’s bona fide, whosoever will promises; then you brought in the truth of election and reprobation, just as in Romans 8 and 9, not to frighten anyone, but to give believers reassurance, hope and strength. It’s a beautifully biblical and powerfully pastoral treatment.

The irony is, as I expect you know, that in the…[nineteenth] century the idea spread that all serious theologians arrange everything round a single focal thought, and yours was predestination, so they lost sight of your biblical breadth and balance and pictured you as a speculative monomaniac who pulled Scripture out of shape to make it fit a scheme of your own devising. That’s still your public image, and Biblicists like you are still called Calvinists in a way that implies they have lost their biblical footing. Such is life! I expect you are glad to be out of it.


Bibliography


J. Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion Edt John T Mc Neill Translated by Ford Lewis Battles, (SCM 1960)

H.Chadwick Reformation (Penguin 1972)

T. George Theology of the Reformers (Broadman 1988)

S. Larson Indelible Ink: Chapter 10 ‘ Calvin, The Institutes and Me’ J.I Packer (Waterbrook 2003)

A. McGrath Reformation thought: An Introduction, 3rd Edition, (1988 Blackwell)
W. Neisel The Theology of Calvin (Clownes 1956)

B. Rearden Religious Thought in the Reformations (Longman 1982)

R. S Wallace Calvin: Geneva, and the Reformation (SAP 1988)

F. Wendel Calvin: Origins and Developments of His Religious Thought (Baker 1997)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jesus and the racing rat

Before I was a pastor I spent nearly 15 years working in an office.

Most people, not all, but most have the sorts of jobs that they look in their diary on a Sunday evening and the most interesting thing they have in prospect a slightly dull meeting in a hotel just outside Leighton Buzzard (on Thursday). The subject in question will be the quarterly sales and brand share figures of a brand that you and I glance at as we sweep up a supermarket aisle. To us it is something we clean our sink with -to them it is their life.

Simply living life can be a major challenge. Getting the kids fed, up and out the door, sitting in traffic, paying bills, difficult relatives coming to stay for the weekend and a boss that thinks your priority in life should be getting some information to HR for him by Wednesday. On top of all this, there are all the things you are meant to be doing 'for church'.

It is so easy to forget the stress, complexity and demands of modern living.

One person who really understands this is Geoff Shattock. He gets the fact the most people spend most of their lives at work. That's why I think I enjoyed his book so much. He gets what so many people who run churches don't.

Here is the first page of his book which I love and hope will convince you to read it....

YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK IF:

1 You would like to reduce the unnecessary stress in your work and life
2. You would like to create a climate of encouragement at your work
3. You want to live a balanced life without being a bore
4. You want to work with integrity, being true to your values and beliefs
5. You want to do your job without becoming an obsessive perfectionist
6. You'd like to be yourself at work
7. You'd like to find daily meaning while earning daily bread
8. You are a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and would like to see how he tackled the exact same issues that face you at work
9. You are not a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and would still like to see how he tackled the exact same issues you face at work
10. You'd like to see how a man who changed the world can change the way you work

YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS BOOK IF:

1. You don't like thinking deeply
2. You believe that work is all about money, power and status
3. You are stress-free, always encouraging, perfectly balanced, completely integrated, always true to yourself, regularly get the job done, and never lose sight of the deeper meaning of things (If this is you, you should be writing your own book, not reading mine!)
4. You are allergic to any notion of "spirituality" or "Christian"
5. Your too busy to go on a journey of discovery.

On second thought, you just might like to read this book anyway....

I commend this book to you-you can buy it HERE

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A first 2010 selection of discoveries

Well, I have been away for a Christmas break and have been doing some listening, reading and watching. I have missed my three readers so Happy New Year to you:)

I was given the excellent Jesus and the Racing Rat for Christmas and think it is an absolutely terrific book. I would call this a book in the bridge-builder category and is particularly good to give those in business and work in general. I am always on the look out for books that I can give to people who do not yet believe in Jesus and do normal things (as I used to..) and this is up there with the best of them. Geoff takes the seven last words from the cross and works them into a 'seven habits' style apologetic. Again I say it- this a great book to give someone you work with or have started to discuss spiritual matters with. Buy it, read it and give it away to someone who is exploring the big questions (or use it as a Lent book for your community group or church?).

Some may not know, but I used to work in the tobacco industry -so when I spotted a book called 'The God who smokes' it demanded my attention. I loved this and will try and post some thoughts on it at some point but here is a review in the meantime.

My holiday read has been the truly captivating The Great Bridge. If you thought financial corruption was a noughties invention it isn't. The story of Roebling's amazing engineering achievement is hard to put down.

I picked up this book off a friend's shelf called Bible Difficulties and think it might be worth having for those scratchy-head moments.

On the music front on my long drives I have been loving this album Hobo by Charlie Winston.

If you don't own this you should. We laughed out loud and McIntyre really is one of the funniest men around (Here he is at the Apollo).

A bit of sermon listening too. I recommended my friend's two talks ("Do you love God?" and "Do you know God loves you") to a lady in my church and she was much blessed. Why not listen to A Year of Change while you are at it...All can be found HERE.

I have also been working through a series by Keller called The Faces of Sin ( Redeemer has a SALE ON) and enjoyed Driscoll's talk called Christ the Lord which gives such a clear overview of worldviews and some consequences. He also has a new one in the Proverbs series called Marriage.

I took my eldest nephew to see Sherlock Holmes which was quite a bit of fun.

Will try and do a Blog-sweep soon