Tuesday, May 30, 2006

the demystification of the person

From time to time, I come across the idea of demystification. As far as I can tell, it means that there's something everyone thinks is special, and someone explains why it's just ordinary. There's some areas (some conincidences, especially the kind that lie behind conspiracy theories) where I quite like doing it myself.

And then I come across it applied to normal people, and I really don't like it.

Here's the first big example I can remember getting annoyed about:

I was at teacher training college, and due to the government's cunning device to reduce the number of Physics teachers, I was having to teach biology (and specifically sex ed). The head of biology at the school, who was supervising me, told me that the school policy was to teach just the mechanics of what went on, without reference to relationships.

The text book, likewise, only referred to the mechanics of what was going on, though it called the process "making love" instead of "sexual intercourse", which was odd. To my mind, "sexual intercourse" is the closest polite term to meaning a purely physical act without necessarily reproductive consequences. But "making love" implies the context of love, which was not otherwise mentioned. Were they saying that this is all that "love" is?

My problem with the sex ed lessons was that, in removing the relational context from sex, they were implying that it was a merely physical act. They were taking something special, and making it seem normal.

Another example comes in what some medical schools teach about abortion. A not-yet-Christian "pro-choice" medical student told me that they are taught that the fetus is essentially a parasite on the mother's body - it depends totally on the mother for all its sustenance, potentially damaging the mother in doing so.

How is that different from a newborn baby, a disabled child, a seriously ill relative?

Yes, the dependancy relationships might be one way, but people consist of more than just their dependancy relationships. A fetus might be a bundle of cells that draws support from the mother at cost to the mother, but that does not mean that is all it is. Again, they are taking something special, and making it ordinary.

In many respects I agree with them. As far as souls and stuff are concerned, I'm a materialist. I think that I am a complex collection of atoms obeying the laws of Physics. But that is not the only level on which a description is possible. I can relate to other such complex collections of atoms obeying the laws of Physics. And while it might well be possible to reduce my interactions with them to the merely physical, to do so makes the description poorer.

On a physical level, I could say that many of the interactions between such complex collections of atoms are at a very high level of complexity, and to reduce them to simple mechanics is to simplify them too much.

In the same way, to reduce a film to a large number of photons passing through a complex coloured filter and scattering off a screen is a valid description, but in reducing the descrption to that level, it impoverishes it by missing off the detail of complex interactions that is the real point.

I could go further. I might be a complex collection of atoms obeying the laws of Physics, but by his awesome grace, I can interact at a complex level with the God who made the laws of Physics. Yes, it might be possible to describe that in terms of what the ions and molecules in my brain are doing, but such a description would completely miss the awesome glory of God.

Friday, May 26, 2006

truth changing lives

If truth doesn't change our lives, either it doesn't matter or we don't believe it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rejoicing in what God is Doing

Why am I so often so negative about things?

Anyway, one emphasis I've come across a bit recently is the idea that when we praise God, it is primarily about what he is doing at the moment in people's lives and so on. I'm not for one moment suggesting that we should stop praising God for that, but I think that there's a real danger if that's what we base our praises on.

What if everything seems to be going horribly wrong? What if people are going through really hard times? Are they meant to search for little threads of consolation. "Dear God, thank you that I've still got one arm left." What happens if they lose that arm too?

No, our praise should be based primarily on what does not change - on God's character, on what he has done, supremely in Jesus, on what he will do in restoring us perfectly in his image, so that his name may be praised forever. Do we value the gifts more or the giver? Which should we be praising God for more?

This is what the prophet Habakkuk could pray, knowing that God was about to come and judge his people and drive them out from the land.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV

Monday, May 22, 2006

Piper - God is the Gospel

As some of you will know, I'm a bit of a fan of John Piper.

I think he is great at reminding those of us who claim to take the Bible seriously the importance of joy, the importance of delighting in Christ, the supreme wonders of God's glory. I think without people like him to remind us, it would be easy for sections of the Church (me included) to slip into a dry intellectualism.

A while back, I posted this quote from one of Piper's most recent books, God is the Gospel. I thought the quote was so striking I bought the book. Now I've started reading it. I've only read the introduction so far, but already it is a wonderful and much-needed wake-up call to the Church. I was in tears by the second page.

Here's a brief idea of it...

The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ....
In place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight of being made much of. The acid test of Biblical God-centredness - and faithfulness to the gospel - is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God's worth forever?

This distortion of divine love into an endorsement of self-admiration is subtle....If his love for us is at bottom his making much of us, who is really being praised?
John Piper, God is the Gospel

He's got a good point. Wow.

(Edited 13th June 2006) - Having now finished the book, I can add that Piper spends most of the rest of the book justifying what he has written in the introduction, then towards the end starts explaining it and expanding on it. Great book.

Friday, May 19, 2006

In the Image of God

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan asks what it means for us to be in the image of God. Here are some of my thoughts...

In Genesis 1:27 (NIV/ESV), it is written

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

But what does that mean? Are we still in God's image? How does it affect us?


What did it mean for Adam and Eve to be in God's image? We get a good idea from looking at the context of the passage.

Then God said "Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number... Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the ground."
Genesis 1:26-28 (NIV)

What it meant for Adam and Eve in part was that they were given the power and the authority to rule, under God, over the rest of creation. We see this again when we consider what the Bible says about Jesus being the image of God.

It is clearly not something physical - both male and female were created in God's image, and they are not the same as each other physically.

So, being in God's image was a gift of God to Adam and Eve. It was linked to their God-given authority and ability to rule over creation.


Possibly surprisingly, there are only two other references in the Bible to man being in God's image.

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
Genesis 9:6 (ESV)

With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
James 3:9 (ESV)

Both of these references say that in some way there is a dignity attached to human life because we were made in the image of God. So therefore we should not kill others, nor should we curse them.

Are We Still in God's Image?

However, I would like to suggest that both of these verses still hold true if they refer only to the original creation of people as in God's image. We aren't now in the image of God in the same way that Adam was created. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, we are sinful. We all reject and ignore God. By contrast, God is holy and we are forbidden even from making an image and claiming it to represent God (Exodus 20:4-6). Since God is holy, isn't it blasphemy to say that anything made by human hands is his image (Exodus 32)? Isn't it also blasphemy to say that sinful human beings are the image of God?

Secondly, it's not what Genesis teaches us. After the creation in Genesis 1 and 2, people start rejecting God and come under his wrath in Genesis 3 and 4. Then, in Genesis 5, we get a family tree running from Adam - the first man to sin - to Noah, from whom we are all descended. This is how Genesis 5 begins:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived for 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
Genesis 5:3 (ESV)

Genesis is explicit that Seth (Adam's son, through whom all modern humanity is descended) was made in Adam's image, whereas Adam was made in God's image. But between the creation of Adam and the birth of Seth, we have Adam starting to sin and coming under God's judgement. We see that in the family - all of Adam's descendants sin, just like Adam did.

The New Testament is very clear, as we shall see later, that we are all naturally in Adam's image rather than God's.

But Adam's image is not totally distant from God's. We still retain some of the abilities which God gave us to worship him and rule creation. We still retain a little of the dignity (hence the prohibition to kill).

Jesus is the Image of God

The next major aspect of the Bible's teaching about the image of God is that Jesus is it. So we see in Colossians:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created.....
Colossians 1:15f (ESV)

We see the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:4

...Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV)

Remade in God's Image

Before the fall, humanity was in the image of God. Now we are only in the image of Adam. But in Christ we can again become the image of God.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
Romans 8:29 (ESV)

As was the man of dust [Adam], so also are those who are of dust, and as is the man of heaven [Jesus], so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:48-49 (ESV)

[Christians] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge, after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:10 (ESV)

Christians will be in God's image again! It is therefore clear that we are not now naturally in God's image, otherwise we would already be like Jesus.

As Charles Wesley wrote:

Adam's likeness, Lord efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Oh to all thyself impart,
Born in each believing heart.
from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"


What really got me thinking about this originally, and why it matters, is because of a discussion I had with a Christian friend about why Jesus died for us. She said that God loves us because we are in his image, and that did not sound right to me.

We are not now in God's image in the way that Adam was. We do not deserve God's love at all - all we deserve is God's wrath and judgement. But praise God that he has shown mercy to us not because of who we are but because of who he is! Praise God that though we, through our own sin, are no longer in his image, he will remake us into the image of his Son, who is the image of God!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

when the vulcanised poly-cis-isoprene hits the road...

I'm tidying my house at the moment, in preparation for trying to sell it. Well, not actually at this moment, as I'm writing a blog entry, but you get the idea.

At the weekend, I moved the remains of my most recent bike out of the house into the garden shed. This is the bike that tried to kill me in November by having the chain seize up, jump off and throw me over the handlebars onto a potentially busy road. Thankfully the road was not quite so busy and what traffic there was swered round me. Anyhow, I moved it into the shed to make the house tidier and so I could tidy round where it had been.

What I wasn't anticipating was for a group of local recourseful people to climb my fence, unbolt the gate (the padlock on which had rusted shut a while before, so I'd removed it), get into the shed and, for their own nefarious purposes remove my afunctional and potentially homicidal bike, especially since you'd need to be 6ft to be comfortable on it. Nor was I expecting them to come back yesterday and remove the ruins of my previous bike (missing a wheel and saddle, chain rusted) as well, especially since that had been there for the best part of a year.

Now there is a part of me that instinctively hoped that they would try riding it and find that the chain did catapult them into oncoming traffic, that I won't miss this place at all when I leave, especially if targeting it with tactical nuclear weapons.

Looks as if it's time to grow out of that attitude. It isn't Jesus' way. Jesus said:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 6:44-48 (NIV)

I'm glad I don't have to either take it to the tip or go through the hassle of taking it to Oxford then getting it fixed. All the best to those guys who stole it - hope they can get it working, but above all I pray that they will come to know the same hope that I know in Christ.

All the crime here could really get me hating the place, but I find as time goes on I get more and more of a heart for the people here who are lost, who are crying out for Christ if only they could see him, but there is virtually no culturally relevant witness, and I'm not in a position to provide one. We need an eden project or something.

Friday, May 12, 2006


The more we fear crosses, the more reason we have to think that we stand in need of them: let us not be discouraged when the hand of God layeth heavy ones upon us. We ought to judge of the violence of our disease by the violence of the remedies which our spiritual physician prescribes for us. It is a great argument of our wretchedness and of God's mercy, that, notwithstanding the difficulty of our recovery, He vouchsafes to undertake our cure.
Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Spirituality of Youth" (or lack thereof)

There was an interesting article in The Times the other day, about the new Church of England report Making Sense of Generation Y. Basically, they conclude that while there might be some interest in spiritual matters among the young, there doesn't seem to be any great spiritual hunger - there is no sign of a "God-shaped void".

iMonk has written helpfully about this. I guess I'll just try to throw out a few quick thoughts as to why there is no hunger...

I might expand on these at a future date:

  • No sense of God's holiness
  • Failure to recognise the transcendent authority of God - he isn't just the God of Christians, he is God
  • Lack of awareness of their own mortality. More to the point, it scares them, so they don't think about it.
  • Almost complete absence of any sense of enduring guilt, sin or unworthiness
  • They don't see that true joy can be found only in Christ

Why don't they understand? Why don't they hear? Why don't they hunger after Christ?

Because those failing aren't just the failings of society, they are also the failings of the church in this society. I don't know which came first, whether the Church lost its awareness and that caused society to lose it, or whether the Church blindly followed society.

Perhaps if we as Christians lived those out, then people might notice and might start hungering after God.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Here are a couple of fun sites I've come across that use nice computer algorithms. Enjoy...

the golden ratio, φ

The Da Vinci Code makes quite a bit of the so-called Golden Ratio, φ, which is mathematically equal to (√5+1)/2. [In the DVC, it is described as being 1.618, which is accurate to 4 significant figures, but not exactly.]

It comes up all over the place in nature, but not as often as claimed in The Da Vinci Code. Wikipedia's article on φ is pretty helpful on clearing up some of the fallacies about it. It doesn't mention the "sacred feminine" at all, and I've never come across references to φ in that context outside the Da Vinci Code.

But why should it matter?

The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.
Galileo Galilei

As Galileo said, mathematics is a very profound and useful tool for describing the world we live in. One of the simple tools used in mathematics is the Quadratic Equation, an equation which looks like this:

ax² + bx + c = 0

where a, b and c are any number at all. The simplest non-trivial quadratic equations have a, b and c all as either 1 or -1. This gives us 8 possible equations.

x² + x + 1 = 0 (equation 1)
x² + x – 1 = 0 (equation 2)
x² – x + 1 = 0 (equation 3)
x² – x – 1 = 0 (equation 4)
-x² + x + 1 = 0 (equation 5)
-x² + x – 1 = 0 (equation 6)
-x² – x + 1 = 0 (equation 7)
-x² – x – 1 = 0 (equation 8)

Of these 8 equations, only four have real solutions (equations 2, 4, 5, 7). The solutions to those four equations are:

equations 2 and 7: -φ or φ – 1 (which is also 1/φ) equations 4 and 5: φ or 1-φ (which is also -1/φ)

Because φ is so heavily involved in the solutions to those equations, that means it has a few useful properties:

  • If you square it, you add 1
  • If you divide 1 by it, you take 1 off
  • If you cut a line into two parts, one bigger than the other by a factor of φ, then the ratio of the total to the longer section will also be φ.

Those properties of the number mean that it does come up in nature and in geometry a fair bit, but not as much as claimed in the DVC.

Nothing mystical, just maths.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

madness - Anthony of Egypt

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, "You are mad, you are not like us."
St Anthony of Egypt (attr)

Thursday, May 04, 2006


When I was a child, the World Wide Message Tribe did quite a bit of stuff at our church. They were a group of Christians who did a lot of songs, some of their own and some from hymnbooks, in a kind of house / rap / dance style. They went into schools and did missions there. I thought they were pretty good.

Later, through the influence of some of the people they'd come into contact with, particularly Soul Survivor, their theology started heading more in a kind of wacky charismatic direction. They claimed that revivals were taking place (sometimes despite external evidence), they claimed that OT verses were being given specifically to them and applied directly to them, and so on. I still went along to some of their stuff, and God kept on using them, but was less keen than I had been.

About the time I went away to university, they started trying to put lots of Christians into some of the rougher areas of Manchester, in what became known as the Eden Projects, not to be confused with the dome things in Cornwall. To be honest, I was put off supporting it by the ropey theology and seeming craziness of it generally. Some of that was snobbery.

Since then, the Worldwide Message Tribe has ceased to exist, but the Eden projects have multiplied and kept going. I've stayed in touch roughly with what was going on, but last week I read this book about Eden.

It basically tells the story of what happened - how what started out as a theologically wobbly and unsustainable attempt at urban regneration ended up being a network of church plants / grafts / transplants / reboots doing what seems to be a really good job of incarnational evangelism and working out fresh expressions of church in a series of difficult urban contexts in Manchester. In terms of how to go about planting churches in situations like that, I think it's probably better than mission-shaped church.

It's been really encouraging and challenging to see how God, by his grace, uses the commitment and risk-taking-ness of his people, even when we get stuff wrong, for his glory. Really challenging because I'm far too good at playing it safe.

...till all our strivings cease

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind is a famous and much-loved hymn. I can see some of the attraction - in a busy world it reminds us of the importance of reflection on God, of silence, of peace. It's a good sentiment and a lovely tune.

Just a few quibbles with it...

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

What the hymn seems to be aiming for isn't total rest in God, it's total rest with God but on our terms.

Why else "all our strivings"? Or should we not be striving for God's glory? Was Paul wrong to strive (1 Tim 4:10)?

Is the ideal Christian someone who spends their lives in quiet contemplation, or someone who labours and strives? Probably a bit of both, but that's not what the hymn seems to be aiming for. I therefore propose an ammended version.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The passions of eternity,
Interpreted by love!

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till godless strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Transform the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.