Right Thinking In A World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response To Today’s Most Controversial Issues by John MacArthur (and the leadership team at Grace Community Church)

519Uw2Rl-fL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I have not read a great deal by John MacArthur. But I was intrigued  with this book. It’s contents page tackles some great topics including Video Games And A Biblical World View, Making media Choices for You And Your Family, Euthanasia, Suicide and Capital Punishment, Illegal Immigration and Border Control – all from a Biblical perspective.

The book is divided into four parts and each part tackles a theme; Entertainment and Leisure, Morality and Ethics, Politics and Activism & Tragedy and Suffering.

These are solid, biblically based essays on important topics. This is a great introduction to these areas for people who want a relatively short introduction. If you have read some theology, then what is in here will not be new, but drawing together into one volume such topics will prove to be a useful resource. I will be tutoring a seminary level course in Christian Ethics this fall and several of these essays are already photocopied and ready to be given to the class as ‘further’ reading.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

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With Dan Brown’s writing there is no finesse, subtleness, or creativity in revealing the plot lines/secrets. Dan Brown is like an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator rather than a Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom.

Yet, like a Schwarzenegger movie, Brown is a good story teller and it is difficult not to enjoy his novels. Of course his views on Christianity and the Bible is ludicrous but they are now quite irrelevant. In fact in this book Brown simply blends in with the general view of our culture regarding Christianity and the Bible. He is obsessed with the world of suppressed secrets and religious freedom – freedom to have any belief and still be credible. The Lost Symbol focuses upon the Freemason’s and the search for the pyramid which will lead to a Masonic ‘map’ which in turn leads to the revelation of the all powerful ‘word’.  Washington DC is the  center of this plot. A city riddled with secret meanings. The main ‘bad’ guy is Mal’akh, a man who is intent upon discovering this all powerful ‘word’ and thus be given power beyond belief. He is violent, angry, clever and ruthless in his quest. Robert Langdon is drawn into the plot deceptively, as is the CIA.

I will not give away any plot spoilers, so you will have to decide whether or not to buy the book or borrow the book, and read it for yourself. Is it a profitable thing to spend a day or so reading this book? I am not sure. It depends if you refer an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Richard Attenborough classic.

Baptism: Three Views (Paperback) by David F. Wright (Editor), Sinclair B. Ferguson (Contributor), Anthony N. S. Lane (Contributor), Bruce A. Ware (Contributor)

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As a conservative evangelical and an Anglican priest, I have often been in discussions where I am asked how I can possibly defend infant baptism.

And it is a good question. I often have conflicted sense within me. I was brought up within a Free Church tradition, which baptized adult believers and dedicated babies. My transition into ministry within the Anglican church, first as a youth minister required to teach confirmation classes and then as a priest, required to baptize babies, I have had to spend some time thinking this through.

This book sets out the position for each understanding. Each chapter consists of the defense of one of the positions (Bruce Ware is for believers baptism, Sinclair Ferguson for infant baptism and Anthony Lane is for a mixed practice). Then the other two contributors give their response to that position, and the chapter concludes with a final response to the two other responses. Hence this book is just under 200 pages and three chapters long!

However, despite being under 200 pages, these are densely packed pages – filled with historical theology and exegesis of passages. Bruce Ware in defending believers baptism is somewhat aggressive, beginning his chapter with these words: …the sad fact is that our different views of baptism mean that in all likelihood significant portions of Christ’s church are failing to carry out what Christ has commanded, even if this failure stems from good motives.

For Ware there is no evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic or post apostolic period – not until the third century do we have any firm evidence for infant baptism practice. Biblically Ware argues that Paul, in Colossians 2:12 rules out infant baptism, for he says that new life becomes a reality through faith. Hence, for ware, baptism is a sign of regeneration. Also, Ware rejects any symbolic link between circumcision and baptism. He argues that if such a link was meant to be then why is it not stated as such in scripture.

Sinclair Ferguson disagrees. He argues (in a brilliant chapter) that circumcision and baptism share the same core symbolism which points to and is fulfilled in Christ. Ferguson, very interestingly asks whether baptism is a seal of faith or a seal TO faith. His belief is that it is TO faith. He writes:

Baptism signifies and seals the work of Christ crucified and resurrected and the communion with God which is ours THROUGH FAITH.

This was the point of circumcision; it was not a seal of Abraham’s faith response, but of the (covenant) righteousness which he received through faith.

What is Ferguson’s response to the silence of infant baptism in the apostolic and post-apostolic period? I am not sure he answered this as thoroughly, but for Ferguson, you cannot argue from silence and thus that is why the issue demands theological engagement. Also, he uses Acts 2:39, which says:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you  in the name of Jesus Christ  for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive  the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and  for your children and for all  who are far off, everyone  whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Coming from a covenantal position, Ferguson argues that the phrase for the promise is for you and for your children means the covenantal principle remains inviolable. The children of believers receive the same promise as their parents and are therefore to be baptized.

Of course, Ferguson reminds the readers that infant Baptists are not against believers baptism and indeed practice believers baptism. The issue is never infant or believers baptism – but whether infants can biblically be baptized as well as adhering to the practice of infant baptism.

Without disrespect, the strength of the book is in the interaction between Ware and Ferguson. Anthony Lane’s position (that both practices are allowed in Scripture) is the weakest and it is clear from Ware’s response that he does not think it a valid view. Ferguson engages far more respectfully with Lane.

This book is worth the money simply for Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter defending infant baptism, but it is also a great way of seeing the issues involved between infant and believers baptism. While the chapters are dense, they are well written and engaging, giving a lot of information. Whether anyone will actually be persuaded by the arguments to the extent of changing their position is doubtful. But you will come away will a strong respect for the positions and maybe, for the believers baptism advocates, not quite as quick to dismiss or disregard infant baptism.

Grey Areas Of The Christian Faith?

The first chapter in a new book from the leadership team of Grace Community Church (Right Thinking In A World Gone Wrong) is by the Senior Pastor, John MacArthur. It’s entitled Glorifying God In The Grey Areas. What is our attitude towards movies, video ames, internet, ipod, music etc. The following are 7 principles for living a godly life in the grey areas:

1. The Edification principle: Will this activity produce spiritual benefit?

2. The enslavement principle: Will this activity lead to spiritual bondage?

3. The exposure principle: Will this activity expose my mind or body to defilement?

4. The esteem principle: Will this activity benefit others, or cause them to stumble?

5. The evangelism principle: Will this activity further the cause of the gospel?

6. The ethics principle: Will this activity violate my conscience?

7. The exaltation principle:Will this activity bring glory to God?

Acts – An Introduction…

After a year and a half in the gospel of John, we began a new book this fall for our men’s breakfast Bible study – Acts!

The following is the introduction to Acts study – they are my notes,  with the questions.

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Men’s Tuesday Morning Bible Study

Acts

Introduction

Today we start our study of the book of Acts.

Most Bibles entitle this book The Acts Of The Apostles, and this has the support of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian. But interestingly, apart from listing the 12 apostles in the opening chapter, Luke discusses only the ministry of Peter and Paul. John accompanies Peter to the temple in Chapter 3 and to Samaria in chp 8 but Luke records no specific words or deeds of John. So maybe we should call it the Acts of Peter and Paul. But the problem to that is that this book also relates the ministry of Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Silas and Timothy.

Maybe it should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. While Luke does emphasis the outpouring of the spirit in Jerusalem, (2:1-4), Samaria (8:17), Caesrea (10:44-46) and Ephesus (19:6) the content of the book is much broader. And, as the first verse of Acts says, he is writing a continuation of the gospel. The emphasis then falls not so much on the Holy Spirit, but rather on what Jesus is doing through the HolY Spirit in developing the church in Jerusalem, Samaria, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy – the continuation of the ministry of Christ through those who are his servants.

So maybe we should just call it ACTS – the book which relates the history of the early church.

Acts is unique among the NT writings in that it’s main purpose is to record a selective history of the early church.

READ ACTS 1:1-2

To whom is this book written to?

Theophilus!

Anyone know what the name means?

It means the friend of God.

How does Luke’s gospel address Theophilus?

Most excellent – which seems to suggest Theophilus was a real person who was part of the ruling classes – and a gentile who was a god fearer. A God fearer was someone who might worship in the synogugue but objected to circumcision – like Cornelius in chp 10 – so he was not a convert to Judiasim.

Some commentators have argued that Theophilus is not a real person but symbolic for any Christian seeker or convert – but I think that is needlessly obscure for it to be valid.

Both Acts and Luke are anonyomous. The early church of the first and most of the 2nd centuries are silent on who wrote Luke and Acts. 175AD is the first mention of Luke being the author. In 185AD Ireanus talks of Luke as the author. Why Luke? The latter chapters of Acts (starting at chp 16) begins a first person narrative which happens throughout the later chapters. This strongly suggests that the author was a companion of Paul.

Luke is mentioned 3 times in the NT – Col 4:14 Our dear friend Luke the physician and Demas greet you. 2 Tim 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help  to me in ministry. Philemon 24: Mark, Aristarchus,  Demas  and Luke, my colaborers, greet you too.

Also, Eusebius and Jerome testify that Luke was from Antioch. Out of the 15 times Antioch is mentioned in the NT, 14 of them are in Acts. For the writer of Acts, Antioch is important. If Luke did reside in Antioch then this is almost certainly where he would have met Barnabas (11:22 – A report  about them came to the attention of the church in Jerusalem,   and they sent Barnabas  to Antioch.). V26 of Acts 11 tells us that Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch, while Gal 2:11 tells us Peter and Paul were at Antioch at the same time. Luke would have undoubtedly have heard the gospel message and converted and became a disciple of the apostles.

This, along with the fact that in the ‘we’ narratives in Acts, the names of Silas and Timothy are referred to in the third person, Luke is most likely to the person who composed the books.

When was Acts written?

Some argue for 70AD. However, the book ends fairly abruptly – with Paul in Rome under arrest. We know that Paul was released before 70AD and Luke does not mention this, nor his subsequent journeys. A better date would be 62AD.

There are two major distinctive features in Acts.

First, are the Speeches and sermons. In fact they constitute nearly a third of the total text of Acts: Peter – 2:14-36, 3:11-26, 10:34-43 – Stephen – 7:1-53 – Paul – 13:16-47, 17:22-31, 20:18-35, 22:1-21, 24:10-21, 26:1-29.

Second, the frequent summaries where Luke provides broad generalization about the life the church, e.g:

READ ACTS 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 5:12-16

What are the Key Themes?

There are a number.

READ 1:8

What is a key theme from this verse?

The witness of the gospel is now worldwide.

READ 16:34

What key theme might come from this event?

The witness is inclusive of all kinds of people, Jews, Gentiles, physically handicapped, pagan’s and women.

READ ACTS 12:6-11

What key theme might come from this event?

The witness is guided by the providence of God

READ Acts 5:41-42

What key theme might come from this event?

Faithful witnesses must be prepared to suffer for their testimony.

READ ACTS 9:13-16

What key theme might come from this event?

The Christian witness of the church continues the ministry that Christ begun.

CONCLUSION

Here is a summary of the book of Acts:

After his ascension, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to empower the apostles as witnesses to spread the message of the gospel and to draw to himself people from all nations.

Implications Of The South Carolina Supreme Court Ruling on All Saints

I have been reading some of the liberal blogs on the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling in All Saints and its implication on our Diocese regarding the Dennis Canon, especially Mark Harris. He has a post on which he cautions people to step back in blogosphere as people comment and analyze to decision. Mark is a priest in the Episcopal Church, and I have really been thinking about one of his comments in his post. While he acknowledges that you can  discuss the ruling and its implications, he says

I am interested that the Canons of the Church hold for members of this church, which I understand includes its lay and ordained leadership. So when leaders are ordained, elected, or chosen they lead within the pledge to uphold the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. The results ought to be that quite independent of the legal status of the deeds for land and proofs of ownership, the leadership has pledged to abide by the CandC of the church.

As a Priest here in South Carolina, I agree, we should. But NOT if the church hierarchy  is heretical. I do not think you can always bring your argument back to upholding the constitution and canons of the church when the Presiding Bishop has clearly said things which reject the historic doctrine of the Church. If she believes that the historic doctrine of the church is not applicable today, or needs reinterpreting then any adherence to the constitution and canons needs to be reviewed – or appended to. The C & C of the Episcopal Church MUST STAND UNDER scripture and the truth contained in scripture. ANY departure from that, or a departure by the Presiding bishop into heresy means you must follow scripture if you are to remain biblical.

You cannot remain faithful to something which is unfaithful, regardless of how much you defer to it and ask people to come back to it.

The American Patriot Bible… Oh No!!

1418541532 I was in a Bible Study recently when someone began to say that God was obviously blessing America because America is a great christian nation. Excuse me for being honest, but it took everything within me not to shout out in anger – WHAT RUBBISH! And then I come across this – the American Patriot Bible. Now, i confess, I have not read this Bible – I do not own a copy. And I never will, unless Thomas Nelson (for whom I  review books for) makes it available to me for review. However you can read excerpts online and Greg Boyd has written (and spoken) about this Bible. You can read Greg Boyd’s review of it HERE. But from what I can glean this really is an appalling way to promote the Bible. God is not for America, or England, or France or for any country. In fact scripture clearly says that believers have only ONE citizenship – ONE Lord, ONE president, ONE King – Jesus Christ and the kingdom of Heaven. One of the things I have heard is that this Bible places the 4th July as the second most significant Christian holiday behind Christmas. If this is true, then its ludicrous!! To even entertain the thought that God favors the USA is delusional. Ahhhhhh!! Please, if you still think that the Patriot Bible is OK then read Boyd’s brilliant book The Myth Of A Christian Nation. Please, lets not elevate love of country above Biblical reality and truth.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

31FEzxERWfL._SL500_AA215_This is a monster novel – 650 pages. But it is a wonderful read. This is a novel about Thomas Cromwell set mostly in the period 1527-1535. Cromwell was in the service of Cardinal Wolsey when Wolsey was the senior advisor to Henry VIII. Wolsey fell from favor and eventually died on his way to trial and Cromwell became a trusted advisor to Henry rising to the position of Secretary – master minding Henry’s desires. Cromwell was lawyer. The novel begins with Cromwell’s childhood – the hard life he lived – the running a way from home – the independence desire to survive – but it soon moves into his life as a married man in the service of Wolsey. Mantel makes it clear that Cromwell was a reformer – owning a copy of Tyndales New Testament – a book outlawed at that time in England. She also creates wonderful moments between Cromwell and Thomas More whom she paints as an eccentric – often shabbily dressed, but also as a champion for the mother church. Historically this is a very accurate novel – fictionally, it is very clever. The dialogue is swift and sometimes complex, not knowing if you are reading the characters thoughts or actual conversation with someone. However, Mantel draws you into the story as she develops the characters. She never makes Cromwell a hero – is he good, bad, amoral? You find yourself feeling strongly for him when he loses his wife and child to the sweating sickness, but she also draws out his ruthlessness in his pursuit to do Henry’s will. The novel ends mid-way through Cromwell’s career. He is still in power at the end and she does not tackle his downfall. If you love historical fiction then this is a must read. It is currently on the Booker shortlist.

All Saints AMIA Church Win SC Supreme Court Decision

The South Carolina Supreme Court has published its decision on the All Saints litigation, giving a complete victory to “big All Saints” (Chuck Murphy and Terrell Glenn’s church, and the AMiA), and rejecting the claims of the minority All Saints’, the Diocese and TEC to rights in the All Saints’ property.  

In brief, the court found:

1) that the 1745 Pawley Trust was no longer valid, and thus that All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, Inc. held legal title to its property under South Carolina’s Church Act of 1767, and, 

2) the Dennis Canon declaring that the Parish held its property in trust for the Diocese and the National Church under the Dennis Canon had any legal effecton title to the All Saints’ congregation’s property.  The court cited the “axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity [i.e.TEC] must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another….” [decision, p. 13 – internet copy].  Since TEC and the Diocese did not hold title to All Saints’ property, no TEC canon or diocesan action could create a trust interest in that property.

The court went on to hold that All Saints’ had properly/legally amended its by-laws and constitution in January 2004 to sever the church’s legal ties to TEC and the Diocese.  In reaching this conclusion, the court overruled the decision of the lower court to apply “the deference approach” – a judicial approach to resolving church disputes which gives great deference to how the higher-up authorities in the church attempted to resolve the dispute – and instead applied the “neutral principles of law” approach which resolves the dispute using, in this case, principles of corporate law, property law and the law of trusts that would be used for any litigation.  Since All Saints’ had properly complied with applicable “neutral principles of law” when it severed its ties to TEC and the Diocese, that severance was legal and binding.

Movie About Howard Winstone

This is a British Movie which will release in 2010. It is about the life of the great welsh boxing champion Howard Winstone. This is the latest trailer.

Ironically, my cousin is in this movie – he plays promoter Jack Solomons. More ironically, they have Enzo Maccarinelli , former world WBO Cruiserweight Champion, playing my cousin when he was young. My cousin Eddie was part of the same stable as Howard Winstone when he was a pro fighter. You can find more about the movie HERE

Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear by Max Lucado

_225_350_Book.72.cover Fear is something that can paralyze us. Fear of the future, fear of the present, even the fear of the past can all make life impossible to live. And then comes the fear of people, of illness and death.

We all have fears. And the issue is not that fear will ever go away – but how do we cope with our fears. Do we suppress them, ignore them or submit to them. Max Lucado’s new book Fearless gives us a guide to how to put faith before fear.

Each chapter tackles an aspect of fear – some more general (Fear of worst case scenarios), some specific (fear of not protecting my kids). Through illustrations, stories and scripture references, we are shown the broader view (God’s sovereign presence and his promises) that scripture gives us, and through this to draw comfort, faith and strength that fear is not the place to retreat to when we encounter the difficulties and tragedies of life.

This is certainly a ‘hope’ book. You are meant to be able to read each chapter and come away feeling strengthened and encouraged. But this may also be a slight weakness in the book. Not everything turns out well, and while Lucado does acknowledge this, I would have liked a chapter called  “The Fear Of When Things Don’t Turn Out Well.” More biblical exegesis, or digging deeper into some of the passages used was, in my opinion, needed.

Also, on a minor point, I found the switching of Bible translations a little annoying. Lucado uses everything from the Amplified Bible, The Message, to the NIV and NASB. It at times seems that the translation is used to prove his point.

This is a great introduction to the topic of fear and will be a wonderful first step in giving people encouragement. But it should be only a first step book – further reading would be required to truly have a life that is without fear.

The Curse and Evil of Bullying

This breaks my heart.

A teenager committed suicide just a day before he was due to get his GCSE results after suffering a campaign of bullying.

Michael Miller, 16, was found dead by his mother Helen, 42, on Aug 26. After more than 10 years of hurtful taunts during his school life, he had hanged himself. Now his mother, of Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has decided to speak out to highlight the damage that bullying can do.

What A Statement About Our Culture!!!

The Daily Telegraph has an amazing article written by a guy who has spent half his life in prison. What a statement about our world and culture today – that a man would prefer living in jail than to live outside – or to even try to make his life work outside. Read it below:

A PRISONER who has spent half his life behind bars admitted that he now enjoyed life in jail so much that he never wanted to be freed.

Allan Baker has been locked up for 20 of his 40 years for a string of crimes including violent offences and is currently serving life in Elmley Prison in Eastchurch, Kent, for attempted murder.

Writing in a prison newspaper, he claimed: “I have more freedom here than I could ever hope for in the outside world.

“I have total freedom from responsibility, free food, laundry services, health care, a job I love and my Open University course is costing me nothing.

“I don’t have to worry about my probation officer, being recalled or endure the heartache that relationships bring because I don’t get lonely in prison.”

The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God’s Transformation of the World by Darrell Johnson

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On one level all the ingredients that you might expect to be in a book on preaching is here in this book; the process from reading, to exegesis, to preparing the sermon, to the delivery and, of course, on the life of the preacher.

But this is far from a standard book on preaching.

Johnson’s assertion  is that the task of a preacher is to open the text in such a way that the text itself does what only the text can do.

It is HOW he unpacks this assertion which is so different and refreshing.

Johnson’s strong conviction in this book is that (1) when the living God speaks, something always happens, (2) when the preacher speaks God’s speech, God speaks; (3) therefore, when the preacher speaks God’s speech, something always happens.

And the process by which this happens is through expository preaching

Now, before I go on, I will address one area of disagreement I have with Johnson (a minor one). While I am in total agreement that expository preaching is necessary and indeed vital, he comes close to lessening other modes of preaching (i.e. topical preaching). Topical preaching, Johnson writes leaves too much to the preacher’s ability to come up with the content of the sermon….[and[ topical preaching can give an impression about the Bible that is not accurate. On this I would disagree with Johnson, although I do understand his point.

Johnson’s definition of  expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do only what the text can do. This is what Johnson means when he says “when the preacher speaks God’s speech, something always happen” – and this is what makes Johnson’s book so much more than just another book on preaching.

Part 1 of the book examines this fascinating and exciting point – preaching should mean something ALWAYS happens. How that happens is through the Holy Spirit. Divine transformation takes place; the preacher is participating with what the risen Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is doing in and with and through the text.

Part 2 of the book (Human Mechanics of Participating)  looks at how to develop the sermon, the person of the preacher and the life of the preacher – all good and useful chapters.

Part 3 looks at both the physical and spiritual place the preacher stands when they enter the pulpit – standing in the mystery – standing in the spiritual  power of the gospel which has been proclaimed to the world.

The epilogue is in the form of a sermon, while there are some wonderful suggestions for preparing sermon series in regard to the church year.

Johnson quotes extensively from various sources and books on preaching.

It is, however, Chapter 7, Walking the Sermon into Everyday Life which is worth the price of the book alone, and a chapter EVERY preacher should read.

Johnson begins the chapter with applying the text is not the preachers responsibility. This goes against most homiletical teaching (and congregational expectation). He goes on to make a distinction between applying the text and implying the text. No, this is not semantics to Johnson – he argues that a preachers job cannot be to apply the text – that is the role of the Holy Spirit. What a preacher should do is to imply the text – to present the congregation with the truths of the text so that they see that this is what necessarily happens. Imply conveys the idea of accepting the logical inherent consequences of the truth.

This leads us to change from the standard question (how should we apply the word) to asking a different question, where is the word leading us and will we co-operate and enter in. What is the reality into which the text is introducing us. Once we know this we have the answer to how should we apply this, an answer which can only be fulfilled through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

This I loved. You can literally hear a collective sign of relief from preachers around the world. I also think  it is a vital piece of teaching in this book.

The Glory of Preaching combines in a very real way the spiritual aspect of preaching as well as the practical aspect without losing its focus or direction. In this short review I have only scratched the surface of this book – but it is a book I thoroughly recommend to ALL preachers and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Goodbye TNIV

It has been announced that the TNIV will be withdrawn. I liked the TNIV – I thought it was a good translation and a good revision of the NIV. Read some good thought about this HERE