Friday, December 6, 2013

The challengesof Multi-Ethnic Church outweighed by the gospel imperative

Ed Stetzer Over on the Gospel Coalition site  starts a useful conversation about the challenges and opportunities of being a multi-ethnic church.

First, just because your church looks diverse doesn't mean it is diverse.

Second, the multi-cultural ministry is a recipe for conflict.

Third, multi-cultural ministry slows down ministry.

Fourth and finally, being a multicultural church takes a lot of listening.

Maybe too much weight given to the challenges and not enough to the HUGE amount of positive stuff to say about the richness that comes from diversity as well as the challenges

Yet the conclusion is spot on...

"Scripture goes to great lengths to point out the diversity around the throne. Thus, it seems only right and perhaps pleasing to God that our churches might be signs of the kingdom of God today in increasing multiculturalism. I am encouraged by the efforts I see, and challenged to move forward in my own life and church as the conference theme suggested, For the Sake of the Gospel."

Much has proved true at Twynholm Baptist Church, a church of about 75 with 21 nationalities and pretty significant socioeconomic diversity.

But on the positive side I'd go so far to say that it is a gospel imperative to seek to reflect the cultural diversity of the community in which your church meets.

It is interesting in Galatians 3:28 that, where there were divisions between Jew and Gentile, Paul widens the implications of the gospel to undermine ALL natural divisions Jew/Gentile=ethnic, male/female=gender, slave/free=socioeconomic.
This is not an exhaustive list, but his widening the view of potential divisions undermines any other divisions we could think of: young/old, able-bodied/disabled, educated/uneducated,  sound mental health / mentally ill.  etc. etc. etc.

HT Dan Steel

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Timewasters telling people they are on the wrong path? Or are they park rangers?

"There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesnt matter which path you take.  The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone else that their path is wrong"

It's a sentiment on many posters, claiming to be an ancient Hindu proverb, though I've been unable to trace its original source.

The analogy clearly wouldn't work on real mountains.
I've only ever climbed one really tall mountain. I was very thankful for a guide, as most of the paths would have ended up with me getting nowhere near the top, but rather getting very very lost. the guy running around the mountain telling people they are on the wrong path is called a park ranger, and saves many lives.

This struck me particularly as I was preparing to preach Ecclesiastes 4-5 this morning.

There we see 5 paths that lead nowhere:

  • The rat race 4:4
  • The drop out 4:5
  •  The treadmill 4:7-8
  •  The popularity contest 4:13-16
  •  The money ladder 5:10-12

Amongst all these false paths, there is only one that gets to the top of the mountain:
  •  Standing in awe of God 5:1-7

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Too good to be false.

In preparing to preach on Revelation 22 tomorrow, I was thinking about how we are trained to think that if something sounds too good to be true, then it is almost certainly too good to be true.

It is, of course, a dangerous half truth.
Things are too good to be true when the promise seems not to match the reality of who is promising it.

For Jesus, the Risen Lord, who is God and man, who has paid for all our sin, who has conquered death, who reigns with his Father, and who has prepared a place for us with him, if the promises he made were anything short of perfection, they would not fit the one who promised them. They would be too bad to be true. And yet, as his perfect promises fit with his perfect person and his perfect work, they are indeed too good to be false.

When we think we are protecting ourselves from placing too high a hope in these promises we will hold back from selling all that we have in order to buy this pearl of great price.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The millennium 4: further avenues for exploration (and then I'm done!)

There are several useful resources for further exploring this conversation.

Perhaps one of the most useful, both in cordial tone, and in clarity of some of the issues is the conversation a couple of years ago between two godly brothers, Jim Hamilton and Justin Taylor

One of the arguments that Jim uses, that I heard first from dear Harold Hoehner when he was teaching me New Testament in the mid 90's. It goes something like this: Yes, much of the New Testament seems to suggest that when Jesus returns it will be 'curtains' for sin, death, suffering and pain. Obviously if the return of Christ is premillennial, then there are 1000 years of sin, death, suffering and pain to come even when Jesus returns. Yet, the Old Testament spoke only of the day of the Lord: the coming of the Messiah where there would be both the saving sacrificial work of the Servant, and the coming judgement. Only with the coming of Christ do we see that these are split: there have already been 2000 years of pain since the [first] coming of Christ.

I'm afraid that I find the argument deeply troubling. Because what we have with the first coming of Christ is the New Testament. We have 27 books of the bible showing how the shadows of the OT are fulfilled in the Realities of Christ and the NT.
Are we really to think that the NT is itself merely shadows? Yes, in a sense we are: now we know in part, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known -  but surely that at least is looking forward not to the millennium, but the consummation. (1 Cor 13:9-12)

Should we expect Christ in the millennium to inspire a ENT (Even Newer Testament)? 
And that adds another huge question: if Christ is to spend another 1000 years in bodily form on earth in a TV, Internet, (and list here another 1000 years of technology that don't yet exist) age, what do we do with all the records of his words, actions, and, if technology allows, thoughts?

Do they become a new, almost infinite canon that nobody would be able to begin to read in a lifetime? If John wrote that what Jesus did in the three years of ministry at his first coming could fill books that could not be contained in all the world, what of 1000 years of public rule?
What does discipleship look like in the geopolitical kingdom where Christ is physically king yet sin still reigns in the hearts of many?
Could this still be described as New Testament Christianity?

This Sunday I'm preaching on Revelation 22:6-21.
When I'm encouraging the members of our church to pray "Come, Lord Jesus!" it is not an earthly reign in an earthly Jerusalem but an immediate eternal reign in the New Jerusalem I'll be encouraging them to anticipate in that prayer, for Jesus promises,
"Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The millenium 3: Why I'm still amil.

Having posted a couple of posts outlining approach and methodology, I'll now state briefly why I remained a fairly convinced amillennilaist.

I have to admit, that, like many, on a first reading of Revelation 20:1-10 the 'most natural' reading to me was premillennialist.

It was not actually the reality of the chaining of the devil that I found hard to reconcile: this seems to be entirely consistent with the language of Jesus concerning the massive victory over Satan that we see during his own ministry, ahead of the cross. e.g. Luke 11:14-22, which suggests that the overarching defeat of Satan in the coming of Christ shows that the kingdom has come. The Parallel Passage in Mark 3:26-27 even uses the same term for "bind" as is used in Revelation 20:2. The result: that the nations are no longer wholesale under deception. The promise that was given in Genesis 12:3 that one day all the nations of Genesis 10-11 would be blessed comes to fruition through the ministry of Christ and the preaching of the gospel. Until Christ, the light of salvation was limited to the nation of Israel, and those who took shelter under her; after Christ the gospel is preached to all nations.

It was verse 4-5 that seemed to fit least naturally with an amil reading: I take the premillennialists' point that it is unusual (no, unprecedented) that the word for "resurrection" in verse 5 mean anything but a physical bodily resurrection. Yet, under the amil reading, that first resurrection must refer either to spiritual regeneration at the moment of belief, or the souls not bodies of the departed going to be with Christ after their death, before their souls are reunited with their physical bodies in the general resurrection.

However, when I looked at the other uses of "This is" or "these are" in Revelation, it was not always the case that all imagery is absent from the identification. i.e. the phrase is not always "This [image in Revelation] is that [literal explanation of the image devoid of imagery]"
So, for example we read in 7:14‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Robes are real physical robes. Blood is real blood, and they are really made white in them, but they are real in the vision corresponding to spirituality to the imputed righteousness of the saints due to the cross of Christ.
Thus, it is quite consistent with the language of Revelation to see the resurrection of Revelation 20:5 as a physical resurrection in the vision that correspond to a spiritual resurrection in reality, just as so many other physical images in Revelation correspond in reality not to physical realities, but to spiritual realities.

This reading of the first resurrection becomes even more likely when the most obvious contrast within Revelation is the second death.

There are (implicitly) two deaths and two resurrections that are contrasted with one another

First death - Physical                                           First Resurrection - Spiritual
    ↓ contrasts with                                                     ↓contrasts with
Second Resurrection - Physical                           Second Death - Spiritual

The first death and second resurrection are [almost] universal (apart from those who are still alive when Jesus returns). they are not mentioned in Revelation, but are implied: if there was a second death, there must have been a first one. If there is a 'first resurrection' it implies that there will be a second one.

The First resurrection and second Death are spiritual. Everyone experiences either one or the other. In revelation 20 we are therefore shown a choice: will we be those who overcome as those who experience the first resurrection, or will we experience the second death?

So, taking the methodology that I suggested for approaching difficult texts, we should ask two sets of questions and allow a conversation between them to resolve...

Set A
1) What is the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20?
2) Can the rest of Scripture be made to fit with that reading of Revelation 20?
3) If it can, I should adopt the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20, and allow it to influence my reading of other eschatological passages in Scripture
Set B
1) What is the most natural reading of the rest of Scripture concerning the millennium?
2)  Can Revelation 20 be made to fit with that reading?
3) If so I should adopt that reading of Revelation 20.
Set B clearly leads me towards an amil reading. Yea adopting even Set A, after subsequent readings of Rev 20, an amil reading not only makes more sense of the rest of Scripture, it also opens up greater depth in Revelation 20 itself, and, to me at least, makes it more satisfying rather than less.
You can listen to my sermon here

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Millenium 2:Methodology: Are you a Weathervane or stuck in stone?

In Tom Schreiner's Sermon that I referred to in my previous post he talks about methodology: About 20 mins into the sermon he says,

“I am just looking at this text... What is the most natural meaning of this passage? What do I think this passage says, most naturally?” 
Now, to be fair to Dr Schreiner, the manner in which he looks into 'this passage' is by referring also to other passages, and seeing how well it fits under different schema. 
There are a couple of ways in which I could do try to find the right reading (which, rightly understood is the most natural reading, so long as I'm looking for the reading that is most natural to the TEXT, not that which comes most naturally to ME).
I could use this set of questions.
1) What is the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20?
2) Can the rest of Scripture be made to fit with that reading of Revelation 20?
3) If it can, I should adopt the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20, and allow it to influence my reading of other eschatological passages in Scripture
Or, I could use a second set of questions.
1) What is the most natural reading of the rest of Scripture concerning the millennium?
2)  Can Revelation 20 be made to fit with that reading?
3) If so I should adopt that reading of Revelation 20.
If we only use the first set of questions, we will become theological weathervanes; whenever we come across the 'best text' for a certain position, our theology will wander off in that direction. We'll become premil when we preach Revelation 20, until we preach Isaiah 2, when we'll become postmil, until we preach 1 Thess 4-5 when we'll become amil again. That obviously won't do, and when we are weary of changing our minds for the umpteenth time, we'll conclude that Scripture lacks either clarity or consistency.
If we only use the second set of questions, we'll become theologically set in stone, and therefore exegetically insensitive. No text will be able to convince us that our current understanding of Scripture is inadequate. As sinful human beings this is a very dangerous place to be, because we become practised at dismissing the natural reading of the text of Scripture, and will end up doing so whenever it is inconvenient.
Better is to allow ourselves to be genuinely unsettled whenever the reading of the text that is most natural to us is not consistent with the reading of the whole bible that is most consistent to us. 
We should be very cautious of the first three set of questions when they seem to lead us to establish doctrines on a single text in such a way as they radically affect our reading of many other texts.
We should be very cautious of the second set of questions when they seem to make the reading of the single text  highly contrived.
We should not become settled once more, until either we see from the first set of questions that this actually sheds light on the rest of the bible in a way that brings out things that we previously hadn't noticed, but are natural to the rest of Scripture, or, as we look at the second set of questions, we look harder at that text, and see that it actually fits better than initially seemed most natural to us.

The Millennium 1: When Unity is more important than being right.

So, I'm preaching on Revelation 20 this Sunday (if Jesus doesn't first return first... and then my question will be answered before I have to preach the answer).
I'm therefore forced to give an interpretation of what the 'Millennium' of Revelation 20:2,3,5,6,7 refers to.

So much has been written about this and so much unnecessary division has taken place over this through the history of the church, that I'm a little nervous to preach on it: but praise God for expository preaching that means that I'm forced to preach on things I'd prefer not to!

Some initial thoughts.

1) It is 'unacceptable' in certain places to have certain views on this. This side of the Atlantic it is far less acceptable to be Premil. West of the Atlantic (certainly among baptists) it is less acceptable to be Amil.
2) People I deeply respect take different sides to this. In fact people I respect deeply have changed views on this in different directions to one another. (e.g. Tom Schreiner from Amil to Premil, Sam Storms from Premil to Amil)
3) As a tentative (actually, to be honest I'm only a little tentative!) amillennialist, I've just listened to Schreiner's sermon on Rev 20. I don't usually listen to other people's sermons before I preach or I'll be tempted to preach them. I thought that I ought to hear someone I respect teach the opposing view (particularly someone who was changing their mind from my view).

What I love most about his sermon is the sense of proportion: he is very gracious with those with whom he disagrees. but he is so without saying that the millennium is a not issue, or that we should just 'wait and see'.
We should all seek to understand every chapter of the bible and apply it to our lives.

In fact, in all I've read and heard from people on all sides of this debate, I've most enjoyed reading those who are most patient and charitable towards those with whom they disagree. I've not enjoyed reading those who characterise those who disagree as stupid or faithless.

We'll evaluate the arguments in subsequent posts, but for now I think that Tom is right, that grace and fellowship between brothers and sisters who disagree on this debate is FAR more important than where exactly each of us lands on this debate. Not to say that the debate is unimportant: It just isn't THAT important, and unity IS that important.

Friday, January 25, 2013

While we're on Wordles: how about every book of the Bible has a word occurrence cloud for each book of the bible (and for the whole OT the whole NT and the whole Bible)

Useful to see recurring themes of any book you are studying.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wordle for 2 Chronicles

We've been studying through the historical books at Twynholm Baptist Church.
This week I'm preparing 2 Chronicles: the longest book in the whole history section.

This Worlde helps us see what the main themes are

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Five New Articles on Baptism from different perspectives

The Latest Issue of 'Foundations', the Journal of Affinity tackles the issue of baptism with Five new Articles and two book reviews on the subject.

I've contributed the last article, on the age of believers baptism.

Here's the line-up...

Derek W. H. Thomas
Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta Campus), Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC and Editorial Director, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
John Stevens
National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).
Kevin J. Bidwell
Minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church (part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales).
Lee Gatiss
Director of Church Society, Visiting Lecturer in Church History at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Editor of Theologian (
Mike Gilbart-Smith
Minister of Twynholm Baptist Church, Fulham, London.
Jonathan Leeman
Member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
Editorial director for 9Marks and author, most recently, of Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012)
Justin Mote
Director of the North West Ministry Training Course