Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Bits and Bobs - Abortion and the Titanic

This is a very interesting article (HT to Anglican Mainstream).

A large majority of French women say that there are too many abortions in their country, and that abortions "leaves psychological traces that are difficult for women to experience" according to a recent national poll.

The study, which was done at the behest of the French Right to Life Alliance (l’Alliance pour les droits de la vie - ADV), found that 83% of women believe that abortion does lasting psychological damage, and 61% believe that there are too many abortions in France.

Sixty-seven percent said that women should be educated about the possibility of putting their children up for adoption as an alternative to abortion.

Unrelatedly, Al Mohler wrote an interesting article about why so many women and children survived the Titanic (and why the film was wrong), but so few survived the Lusitania.

Put plainly, on the Lusitania the male passengers demonstrated “selfish rationality.” As TIME explains, this is “a behavior that’s every bit as me-centered as it sounds and that provides an edge to strong, younger males in particular. On the Titanic, the rules concerning gender, class and the gentle treatment of children — in other words, good manners — had a chance to assert themselves.”

Note carefully the assumption here that “the rules concerning gender, class and the gentle treatment of children” are ascribed to “good manners” and “socially determined behavioral patterns.” In other words, the male decision to give priority to the welfare of women and children is just a learned behavior, a social convention.

Is that all there is to it? There is a huge question looming in this — is it right for men to act with care and concern toward women and children, or is this just an outmoded relic of Victorian morality?

Bits and Bobs - Public Prayer, Introversion

Thirteen tips for leading the congregation in prayer is an interesting and good set of pointers. I'm thinking through the whole way we do church at the moment, and I seem to be coming to the conclusion we need one prayer time immediately after the sermon to pray it in, but a different prayer time for intercessions (which is what this article is discussing)...

On an unconnected note, here's an interesting and helpful article on caring for introverts and why culture is designed for extroverts (HT to Greg B).

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Prodigal Son

Earlier this year, I read two books on the so-called parable of the Prodigal Son. Actually, I agree with Keller that there are two lost sons, but that the Father is the central character... One of the things I love about the parable it is that it's possible to preach so many sermons on different aspects of it without too much stretching. Actually, I think that's probably possible on many bits of the Bible, just we don't bother with most of it.

I'd heard Tim Keller speak on the subject before, which was partly why I bought the book. And while his book was really good, I felt a bit cheated because it is very short, and having double-spaced lines didn't help. Keller's exegesis and application is brilliant, of course. But it was Nouwen who made me cry.

Nouwen misses a few of the theological points, but he feels the whole thing so clearly. Nouwen starts with both the passage and Rembrandt's famous painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son, interweaving what he says with both his own and Rembrandt's lives.

Keller is brilliant, but Nouwen really shows the power of testimony to encounters with God. Read both.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stupid Signs XVII

This one is from the London Underground. Needless to say, everyone I saw was disobeying at least one of these... But if they're going to have rules like that, they need dog dispensers at the entrances to stations...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Talk on Science and Religion

Yesterday, I did a talk on science and religion at a local-ish university Christian Union. Here's the talk. It's about 24 mins long...

The title of the talk was "Is the Bible Scientifically Reliable?".

Monday, March 22, 2010

Zombie Poets

I was at a meeting the other week, and people started discussing the interestingly-titled book "If you see George Herbert on the road, kill him." George Herbert died in 1633.

[Apparently it's a book about ministry and the fact that the "vicar does everything" model doesn't work any more, if it ever did. Of course, being an evangelical, I was reared far more on Baxter than Herbert in terms of writing on ministry, and we've ditched the vicar does everything model years ago. In fact, I've come across Herbert a lot as a poet (he's a very good poet), but hardly at all as a writer on ministry...]

Anyway, my initial reaction to the title of the book was to imagine a new squad of highly trained vicars being sent out to rid the world of the new menace of zombie poets. I shared this picture with other ministers in the room, but they didn't seem in the least amused. I'm not sure what this says about my suitability or otherwise for the ordained ministry!

Picture on right: George Herbert pre-zombification

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Interfaith Dialogue

Is conversion a legitimate goal in dialogue? Yes. It is perfectly legitimate for believers who take seriously the exclusive claims of their religion to try to persuade others of the truth they proclaim. There is nothing wrong with hoping and even expecting that some people, having carefully examined these claims, will make a life-changing decision as a result of transparent and free dialogue. Unless we accept conversion as a possible outcome for dialogue, our claim to be tolerant remains unproven.
Chawkat Moucarry

From here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tamar and Judah - Genesis 38

It tends to be omitted from people's pattern of the regular reading of Scripture - for example, it doesn't feature at all in the RCL. It is entirely surrounded by the Joseph story, yet it's almost always omitted from that too. But it isn't just a random bit of story from somewhere else that got caught here.

A few quick thoughts about Genesis 38...

See, the Joseph story ends in Genesis 50 with two sons being blessed - Joseph and Judah. It's actually the story of both of them - Joseph goes on to be the father of the largest number of Israel, and Judah becomes the ancestor of its kings. Judah's last action before Gen 38 was in chapter 37, where he suggests selling Joseph into slavery rather than killing him. That wasn't motivated by compassion for Joseph at all - it was rather because you can make more money by selling your own half-brother into slavery than you can by murdering him. He next features in chapter 44, where he offers his life in place of his half-brother Benjamin, who he thinks is guilty, and in doing so becomes a type of Christ.

In Genesis 38, Judah has three sons. The first one, Er, marries a girl called Tamar, but he dies. The second one, Onan, marries her in accordance with ancient custom, but he dies too because he is wicked. Judah won't let her marry the third son, and instead sends her back to her father. She recognises this as an abandonment, pretends to be a prostitute, and seduces Judah, taking his seal, staff and cord. It's also just the sort of story that would get decent viewing figures on daytime TV and sell quite a few books if it was turned into a novel well. Are we missing out by the way we try to sanitise the Bible and just present the "nice" stories. (Hint: the answer is yes).

In chapter 38, Judah is good at calling others to fulfil their responsibilities, even his own son Onan (v8-9), who fails because he doesn't want to endanger his own inheritance. But Judah himself fails to fulfil those same responsibilities because he doesn't want to endanger his own inheritance (v11, 14).

Tamar tricks Judah into sleeping with her. This leads to Judah pronouncing the death sentence on her, and then we get the stunning denoument.

About three months later Judah was told, "Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant."
Judah said, "Bring her out and have her burned to death!"

As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. "I am pregnant by the man who owns these," she said. And she added, "See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are."

Judah recognized them and said, "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah."

In the space of just two verses, Judah goes from saying "put her to death" to saying "she is more righteous than I". He understands for the first time just how much of a sinner he is, and that realisation transforms him.

It frees him to forgive Tamar. It frees him to offer his life for Benjamin. Little though he knows it, it enables him to become the ancestor of both David and Jesus, because they were descended from the twins that Tamar was carrying!

God reaches into the messy, mucky situation of this world, and uses it to transform Judah, to bring status to Tamar, and ultimately to redeem the world. That's the sort of God we serve and worship!/p>

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Blog Layout, etc

I've just redone the layout of this blog. Hopefully that's fixed the RSS bug too.

There are still a few improvements I'd like to make, but the basic stuff is done. If you find anything that isn't working, let me know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Science needing Christianity

Here's an extract from a talk I'm doing next week about science and religion:

As you probably know, people didn't always have science lessons in school and whatever. Science as a field of study in the modern sense only really got going in the 1600s, with people like Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton. And it's an interesting question why it didn't happen before that.

See, for people to even try to do science, you've got to have five basic ideas about how the world works.

Firstly, you've got to believe that the world is in some sense rational and by a single author. If the world is just full of lots of gods who are fighting each other, like lots of ancient people used to believe, then there's no point trying to do science. And as we've seen, the Bible teaches that.

Secondly, you've got to believe that there are underlying patterns to the way the world works. It isn't all just random. That's actually a bit of a problem for atheism – it doesn't give any reason why there should be patterns in the way the world works, it just assumes there are. But the Bible gives some reasons. In Jeremiah 33:25, God says that he has established a covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth.

Third, you've got to believe that people are somehow able to understand the patterns in the way the world works. Once again, atheism kind of struggles with that one, because the ability to do science doesn't really confer an evolutionary advantage, unless being a science geek has become sexy since last time I was single. Even Albert Einstein said that “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible.” But the Bible comes up with an answer. It says that God made the universe, and we were made in the image of God, so it makes sense that we should be able to understand some of what he's done.

Fourth, science needs us to believe that although we can understand the rules, our minds don't work that well – we need to believe that our human reason is fallen. That's where the ancient Greeks fell down. They thought that we could understand the world around us and they made a fair bit of progress, but they thought we could understand it so well that we could just sit and think and get the right answer and we didn't need to do experiments or actually look at the universe. That was one of the big things Galileo did – he started trying to test some of the Ancient Greek ideas like a big cannonball falling faster than a small one, and he found that they didn't work even though people had been taught them for over a thousand years.

Now why is it that our brains are good enough to make some sense of how the universe works, but not so good that we can do it by just sitting in a chair and thinking? Once again, the Bible has the answer. You see, we weren't just created in God's image, we rebelled against him and we damaged that image. It's still there, just messed up and broken. And so we can understand the world, but we need experiments to do it, and we need people checking our working and trying the same experiments after us. You need science, in other words.

The fifth thing that people need to believe for science to work is that it is possible for people to improve – that we aren't just stuck doing things exactly the way our ancestors did. And once again, that's an idea that's there in the Bible. Christians in the 1600s looked at people like Solomon, who the Bible says knew lots and lots of stuff about nature. They looked at Adam before the Fall, and they thought that they could try to get back there and try to recover some of what had been lost. They also read Daniel 12:4, which says that in the last days, people will go here and there and will increase knowledge, and they thought “that's us!”

And you know what? In the 1600s, just as modern science is starting, you actually get all five of those ideas being talked about, and being talked about from the Bible. Here's the great English physicist Richard Hooke of Hooke's Law fame, writing in the 1600s.

every man, both from a deriv'd corruption, innate and born with him, and from his breeding and converse with men, is very subject to slip into all sorts of errors.... These being the dangers in the process of germane Reason, the remedies of them all can only proceed from the real, the mechanical, the experimental Philosophy.

In other words, he's saying we need to do experiments because we're fallen human beings and so we make all sorts of mistakes.

So why did it take until the 1600s? Well, the answer is that in the 1500s, there was a big movement called the Reformation where people started taking the Bible seriously again. Before that, people hadn't been studying it much and trying to interpret it allegorically and all that sort of thing. But in the 1500s, people really started reading and studying the Bible again, and taking it seriously. Result – in the 1600s, modern science starts.

Now since then, of course, those 5 ideas have kind of become detached from Christianity, and we'd probably all agree with them, whether we're Christians or not, because science is doing such a good job of explaining the universe. But we shouldn't forget where they come from originally.

Some people today think that it's pretty much impossible to be a scientist and a Christian. Actually, I've got to say that I think that if you're a scientist it's much easier to be a Christian than an atheist, because if you're an atheist there's all these nagging questions going on in the background about how science can possibly work, and you've got to take a huge leap of faith to just get on with it.

And actually, historically, an awful lot of scientists have been Christians. The Royal Society is the top scientific organisation in the country. It was founded in 1660, and every single one of its founder members were involved in some religious organisation or other. During the whole of the 19th century, 30% of the members of the Royal Society weren't just religious – they were ordained ministers in the Church of England. 30% of the top scientists in the country were clergy during the 19th century. And lots of the very top scientists were Christians too – Kelvin, Faraday, Maxwell are maybe the top three physicists of the whole 19th century. And all of them were committed Christians.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Thomas Brooks - Holiness

I've been doing some reading on sanctification lately. Well, sancfication in the Reformation use of the word to mean growing in holiness and Christ-likeness... Here's a great quote.

Heaven is only for the holy man, and the holy man is only for heaven: heaven is a garment of glory that is only suited to him that is holy...

O sirs, do not deceive your own souls; holiness is of absolute necessity; without it you shall never see the Lord (Heb 12:14). It is not absolutely necessary that you should be great or rich in the world; but it is absolutely necessary that you should be holy: it is not absolutely necessary that you should enjoy health, strength, friends, liberty, life; but it is absolutely necessary that you should be holy. A man may see the Lord without worldly prosperity, but he can never see the Lord except he be holy. A man may to heaven, to happiness, without honour or worldly glory, but he can never to heaven, to happiness, without holiness. Without holiness here, no heaven hereafter.

Thomas Brooks, Crown and Glory of Christianity (1662), quoted in J.C. Ryle & J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness, p244-5


Some wisdom on the old "Can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?" question from Dinosaur Comics. Quick stuff about Dinosaur Comics - the pictures are always the same; only the text varies. And they're very weird. But this one made me laugh...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Pics from the British Museum

The other week, I had a very interesting look round the British Museum, looking specifically at stuff relevant to the Old Testament. Here are some of the photos.

The chap who is kneeling there is King Jehu of Israel...

Those are some Israelites being deported by the Assyrians.

That's the Cyrus Cylinder, which confirms that Cyrus the Great made the kind of proclamations that Ezra and 2 Chronicles record him as making.

It was a real eye-opener of just how much you have to twist the evidence to take the kind of minimalist position quite a lot of liberal "Biblical history" books take, especially on stuff after about 800BC (which is when Israel as a country started having large-scale dealings with civilisations that have been reasonably well excavated)...

School of Theology 2

The second School of Theology session was on Saturday, this time looking at the whole Bible through the lens of God's promise to Abraham. The main problem that came up in feedback was the poor acoustics, which are reflected in the quality of the recording - sorry! It'll be sorted for next time!

Slides and audio available.