Friday, 19 September 2014

What do the Scottish Independence referendum and the Anglican Church have in common?

To the great relief of some and the consternation of others (on both sides of the border), Scotland have voted "no" in the independence referendum. The status quo is maintained and we remain the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Whether it was fear of the unknown (or, fear of troubling knowns), the lack of a positive vision for an independent Scotland or simply that many Scots are more conservative than they let on, it is clear most did not share the belief of the Scottish National Party that Scotland is better as an independent nation. Sadly for those seeking independence, a referendum of this order comes around once in a lifetime and, for them, it seems the boat has sailed.

It occurs to me that discussion within Anglicanism mirrors, on some level, the Scottish independence debate. Calls for a mass exodus of bible-believing evangelicals from the Anglican communion have certainly been around for decades (possibly centuries). Yet, evangelicals within Anglicanism - despite their own growing discontent over an increasing number of issues - continue to hold fast their denominational allegiance.

Perhaps, like Scotland, it is a lack of any positive vision that is the stumbling block. It is one thing to heed the voice of Martin Lloyd-Jones and remove oneself from Anglicansim but it is quite another to do it without any positive vision of what to do thereafter. Breaking ties with all one has ever known is not as straightforward as one may think. There are a handful arguments advanced for remaining within the denomination which, without similar positive reasons to leave, mean making the break is not the no-brainer it seems to those of us in the Free Church.

Maybe it is simply a fear of the unknown (or, certain concerning knowns). Not only is it unclear what some would do after their disassociation but there are some known problems associated with leaving. Buildings, land and stipends are often tied up with being part of the wider Anglican communion. It would be no small step of faith to remove oneself from the denomination and trust that buildings, land and stipends (not to mention a raft of other things) will follow suit.

Alternatively, the issue may be one of timing. Many evangelical Anglicans I meet speak of "now as the right time" to begin making a stand on X, Y or Z issue. What is rather unfortunate is that Lloyd-Jones encouraged evangelicals to leave Anglicanism decades ago based on a commitment to the gospel. Today, discussion centres on issues of headship, female ordination and homosexuality rather than the gospel itself. Like it or not, even if evangelical Anglicans now decide the church has taken a step too far, it will be cast as a separation on the current issues, not on theological concern for the purity of the gospel.

As with Scottish Independence, the opportunity to make a stand on the right issue tends to roll around but once. Unlike Scotland, evangelicals within the Anglican Communion could still leave the denomination if they so choose. What is less likely is that they will be able to do so on both the issue, and the terms, they might like.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Is God's greatest pleasure to make us happy?

Many of you will have come across Victoria Osteen's most recent internet hit. In leading the audience to participate in a time of worship, she offered her case for why they should be motivated to do so. Her argument, without trace of irony, was the following: “You’re not doing it for God, you are doing it for yourself, really.

If you haven't seen it, here is a clip of the aforementioned video:

If you have seen it already, here is the clip as it ought to be viewed:

Here, we are given an example of some specious reasoning: (1) God wants you to be happy; (2) Whatever makes you happy makes God happy; (3) Therefore, God is glorified whenever you do whatever makes you happy.

Stated another way: (1) Obeying God makes you happy; (2) God is pleased when you are happy; (3) Therefore, obey God for the sake of your own happinness

This is the unfortunate logic of Victoria Osteen's exhortation. Obey God because it will make you happy. That sounds fine. That is, of course, until I find my supposed happiness and God's commandments seem to conflict. It suddenly makes my happiness my central purpose in life. Glorifying God takes second place to my happiness.

As Ligon Duncan comments here, "the fundamental purpose of human existence is God’s glory". The summum bonum of our existence is not our own personal happiness. Rather, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly states, the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy him forever".

God is the focus of our worship. Our primary purpose in worship is to glorify God. Yet, that does not mean our happiness and God's glory are in opposition. As the catechism says, when we glorify God we "enjoy him forever". Our chief end is not our own happiness, it is to glorify God. Yet, when we glorify God, we enjoy him. It is impossible to glorify God and not enjoy the blessings that come from such a pursuit. There is blessing to be had in worship. It is not a case of glorify God and there's nothing in it for me. When we truly give ourselves over to the pursuit of God's glory (as opposed to the pretense of God's glory in the pursuit of our own happiness) we receive from God far more than we could ever give.

If our happiness is our chief end, propped up by a God-just-wants-me-to-be-happy mentality, we can justify anything we please, no matter how sinful it may be. I obey God because it makes me happy quickly becomes I won't obey God on this issue because it won't make me happy, and that's all he wants for me, right?!

It is one of those amazing paradoxical claims of scripture. Pursue your own happiness, even if we pretend we are glorifying God, and we will find ourselves wanting much. Pursue God's glory, making it our chief end, and we will be happy to enjoy God forever, sharing in the blessings he promises.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Cliff is not the last, just the latest. How do we respond?

Sir Cliff Richard is the latest celebrity to be accused of an historic sex-crime. He has yet to be formally charged with anything but an accusation has been made and the police have begun their investigations. Although unconnected to Operation Yew Tree - the police investigation into child sex offences following the Jimmy Saville revelations - it marks yet another chapter in the seemingly endless slew of accusations following just about every celebrity that was famous pre-1990.

What is especially disheartening about this particular accusation is that Cliff Richard is a Christian. He has suffered professionally for his religious stance. Upon his conversion, he planned to quit music altogether but, deciding against this, changed his act, which had been labelled "too sexy for TV". In later years, he lost credibility within the music world seemingly for no other reason than his Christian stance. This is supported by the fact that he released a number of tracks in the 1990s under the pseudonym Blacknight, receiving widespread airtime and critical acclaim until his true identity was revealed as the artist. There have been plenty of people waiting for Cliff to fall in the most public of ways and, certainly until now, he did not oblige. Whilst no Christian is beyond any form of sin, it is astounding to think it possible, after such a long-standing and clear Christian witness, that this might be true.

What are we to draw from this latest saga? 

We should presume innocence until proven otherwise

It is a well establish principle of law that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Many of us let the phrase trip off the tongue so easily. Yet, in the emotive case of child sex offences, this principle is rarely applied outside the court room. Trial by tabloid seems to be the order of the day. Phrases like "he looks like one" and "I always knew he was a bit weird" belie claims to impartiality. Very few people acknowledge that many accused celebrities, even those formally charged, have ultimately been found innocent. William Roach, Michael Le Vell, Jim Davidson and, long before the floodgates opened, Matthew Kelly have all been found innocent following charges. In this case, as yet, Sir Cliff has not even been formally charged. Let us call off the dogs and hold our fire until a trial has taken place and a verdict been reached.

We should see Moral Relativism for what it is

We have seen plenty of celebrities charged with offences. In the cases of Stuart Hall, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford the charges have been upheld and prison sentences given out. Others have been charged and find cases ongoing, recurring or new cases arising. The defence that seems to crop up time and again is that the culture was different back then, nobody really thought these things wrong. 

Aside from the fact such offences were against the law even in the 1970s, showing the authorities evidently thought these things wrong, the victims themselves clearly don't share that view either. The problem we have is that a moving moral compass opens the door to such nonsense. Today, we believe we have advanced so far that previous social mores simply do not hold. If such is the case, then existing social mores cannot be pressed retroactively. If morality is ever-changing, we cannot hold people to account historically for things that were not deemed amoral when they were committed. If we want to see justice done in historical cases, moral relativism simply makes it impossible to do so consistently.

We should recognise why we have an appetite for these stories

What is it that makes us buy tabloid papers screaming about these things? Can we honestly say that it is nothing more than a desire to keep informed? More likely, it is because we enjoy feeling superior. We feel good when we see others fail and that is not because we particularly enjoy watching heinous acts of sin. Rather, it is because in judging others worse than ourselves we make ourselves relatively good. An unchanging moral compass means that the sin of another does nothing to effect the value of my own sin. Moral relativism allows me to look at those committing worse acts than me and justify my own shortcomings by arguing I'm not as bad as that.

Knowing a number of people involved in prison outreach, it may surprise you to know that moral relativism is as alive in gaol as it is on the outside. Murderers, though guilty by their own admission, justify themselves as not as bad as the paedophiles. Paedophiles have their own sliding scale. The barrenness of this view is evident. it leads us to conclude, despite the Biblical claim "there is none who does good, not even one", that all do good, except one... the one who is the worst person in society. Really, our agenda is driven by counting ourselves good and doing so by deeming all those worse than us as bad.

We should acknowledge Christians are not beyond sin, even of this magnitude

Even a cursory reading of the Bible will show that none of us are beyond the reach sin. Christians, like everyone else, may fall in public and disgraceful ways. Any reading of Paul or John that does not lead us to understand our inherent propensity to sin shows we haven't understood either the Bible or the gospel. 

Bearing in mind the point above, I do not want to accuse Cliff Richard of anything here. Yet, we cannot pretend that Christian people are beyond even gross acts of sin. A common perception is that "sin" is what Christians talk about when they point the finger at unbelievers. Such a view misunderstands the Biblical position. Far from pointing the finger, Christians know all too well how sinful they are and take both Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8 very seriously indeed. The wonder shouldn't be that people do such heinous things, the wonder should be that less of us do. God's grace holds back the tide of sin.

We should remember, though some escape justice, none escape justice

The spark that ignited the fire was the Jimmy Saville revelations. Many are frustrated and angry that Saville not only indulged in this grotesque behaviour for so long but was never brought to justice. For many, Saville simply got away with it. The Bible tells us we have a loving and merciful God. Yet, the Bible is also clear that God is just. All will have to stand before him and give and account of our life, both Christian and non-Christian alike. Though justice may not have been done on Earth we can rest assured that it will be done by Almighty God.

We should not be fooled. Judgment is not only for those who have committed the most heinous crimes. If moral relativism is flawed, God's justice cannot only extend to the worst of all criminals. Indeed, his justice must simply extend to all those who have fallen short of his glory. If scripture is to be believed, none of us have lived up to that exacting standard.

We should rejoice that God welcomes those who repent, even repentant celebrities

The God of justice is not only concerned with what is just. Though his justice demands satisfaction, his love and mercy demand a means of escape. In Jesus Christ, God simultaneously satisfied his justice and mercy. The central message of the Bible is not that all are sinners. The central message is that Jesus Christ welcomes sinners who repent. Moral relativism keeps us from recognising that we have all fallen short of God's perfect morality. Yet, if we acknowledge our shortcomings and look to Jesus in repentance, the just wrath of God that we deserve can be laid upon Jesus Christ.

It is sad that there was no evidence of repentance on the part of Jimmy Saville. In the cases of Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, the same seems to apply. They seem sorry at having been caught but not all that sorry for what they have done. Whatever views one has on the British prison system, they will ultimately have to answer to the Lord and face the real punishment for their crimes and not just those for which they have been sent to prison.

But God does welcome repentant sinners. The apostle Paul states "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am foremost" (1 Tim 1:15). And that was not moral relativism at play or false modesty, Paul had well documented reason to think of himself as the chief of all sinners. Yet, Paul - who was a murdering, religious persecutor not unlike IS, formerly ISIS - repented of even this heinous sin and the Lord Jesus Christ welcome him. Likewise, he offers forgiveness to you and I if we turn in repentance to him. If he can save a repentant Paul, he can save any of us!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

"Christian" assemblies and cake

This week has seen a furore over a couple of, dare I say, non-issues.

In the first, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev'd John Prtichard - Church of England head of education - has opined on whether assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature" should continue in schools. He has concluded they should not. Unsurprisingly, the British Humanist Association (BHA), whose sole raison d'etre is to see the removal of all expressions of faith from public life, applaud the comments. The Daily Telegraph, amongst others, were less than impressed.

Let's not pretend that the Bishop of Oxford and the BHA are singing off the same hymn sheet. The BHA want to see any hint of faith removed from schools and other public arenas altogether. The Bishop of Oxford is less keen on that and more interested in "liberating" schools and offering a time for "spirituality" of differing forms.

Now, I can't say I agree with the reasoning of either the Bishop of Oxford or the BHA. However, I do agree that assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature" should no longer be enforced in schools. I take this view for three main reasons:

Firstly, removing the compulsion for "Christian" assemblies does not mean that we can no longer have assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature". All this would do is remove the compulsion for it to be "broadly Christian". Second, the makeup of schools in the UK is not "broadly Christian". In some areas, schools are majority muslim and in other areas there is a clear mix of beliefs. Even in majority white British schools, to say most are from "broadly Christian" backgrounds is probably false. Finally, and most significantly, assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature" - certainly stretching back as far as when I was at school (and I suspect further) - means, in practice, asinine rubbish that barely accords with any conceived notion of Christianity. I would far rather we had assemblies that didn't even purport to be Christian - whether they also amount to asinine nonsense or otherwise - than we keep up a pretence of "Christian" assemblies that are no such thing.

In the second cause of consternation, a Northern Irish bakery is being taken to court over their refusal to bake a cake containing a slogan in favour of gay marriage, which is still unlawful in the province. The cake was also asked to contain a logo for the campaign group QueerSpace and photograph of Sesame Street characters Bert & Ernie hugging. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland are seeking to argue the bakery has discriminated against Gareth Lee, the volunteer LGBT activist who ordered the cake, on grounds that refusal breaches equality legislation outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Asher Bakery argue they are not discriminating against homosexual people - whom they are happy to serve - they were simply unwilling to bake a cake containing the requested content.

On this particular issue, I rather have sympathy for the bakery. Should they have simply refused to bake a cake for a homosexual person, or refused to bake a cake because it would be used at a gay marriage ceremony, I should think Mr Lee would have a legitimate case. This would be open and shut discrimination. Indeed, in my personal opinion, it would be equally unnecessary for the Christian conscience to refuse such a request as they would have no part in the actions of the individual nor any part in the day. That they inevitably serve cakes to others - whose lifestyles and parties they no doubt do not endorse - would rather support the claim.

However, the bakery have not refused to serve Mr Lee. They have not refused to bake a cake for any particular gathering. What they have done is refuse to bake content that they find goes against their conscience. It is also worth noting this is not the first cake they have refused. The bakery have turned down cakes containing pornographic images, profanity and other offensive material. The issue is not the person ordering, nor the occasion for which it is ordered, but the content of the cake itself. 

Though this is obviously an emotive and current issue, let us make the same case for a white supremacist asking for a cake containing racially offensive material. Now, most of us would have no problem defending the bakery for refusing such business. Nobody would be screaming political discrimination here and, were they to, most would ignore it and side with the bakers. Yet, on the actual issue at hand - again a matter of content rather than buyer - we have a discrimination case being brought. Aside from their mainstream palatability, what is the difference between the two cases?

If this discrimination case goes ahead, and is won, a series of questions will follow. Most significant of these would be are there any grounds to ever refuse business now? Would the bakery be forced to produce any content, no matter what it contained, or face legal action? If so, would this extend to any and every service provider? Would Christians be forced to produce content for people specifically seeking to belittle their own faith?

I broadly think anti-discrimination legislation is good. I am certainly not arguing that Christians should never serve people with whom they disagree. It is quite right that people should be served equally as people. Nevertheless, in this particular case, I find myself siding with the bakery. They aren't refusing to serve people equally, they are simply refusing particular content regardless of whomever it is that was asking for it, LGBT or otherwise.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Can credobaptists consistently accept paedobaptists into membership?

I have recently seen three articles relating to traditional credobaptist views on baptism. Firstly, Bill Kynes at The Gospel Coalition outlines his view as a baptist willing to admit paedobaptists to membership. In response to this article, Jonathan Leeming at 9Marks argues this position is simply not credible. Finally, an independent yet related post by Andrew Wilson at Think Theology helpfully and briefly outlines the central problem (without giving any solution). Here, he considers the issue with the added complication of subscribing to a Strict Baptist position (which, I should admit, I do). So, comes the question, can baptists consistently admit convinced paedobaptists into membership?

Jonathan Leeming offers two central arguments as to why membership for the paedobaptist is simply inconsistent for the baptist. Firstly, he argues if you are willing to admit paedobaptists to membership you are, by default, a paedobaptist. Secondly, he argues baptism is an objective, subjective, and social sign. However, he contends there is no objective or social sign if the subjective belief of the individual is not present. He states the contention that the objective and social signs happen at baptism, whilst the subjective sign catches up retrospectively upon belief as an adult, is false as without the presence of subjective belief the objective and social signs simply don't exist.

His first argument is particularly poor. Simply because one accepts paedobaptists into membership - who themselves fully believe they have fulfilled Jesus' command to be baptised - does not make one a de facto paedobaptist. It is simply not true to argue that accepting the paedobaptist into membership is the same as telling yourself "paedobaptism is essentially okay". 

Leeming's appeal to views on slavery and abortion simply don't help his case. Firstly, the reason "pro-choicers" cannot credibly be anti-abortion is because they actively promote the right to choose. The issue is not that they personally oppose abortion, it is that they specifically and actively encourage it as an acceptable practice (whether they themselves would do it or not)! The convinced credobaptist is not actively encouraging, or practicing, paedobaptism. They do not carry out paedobaptism nor do they teach that it is the prescribed mode of baptism. Unlike "pro-choicers", they cannot in any serious way be considered to be promoting paedobaptist principles.

Secondly, the logic of Leeming's argument is flawed. There are many areas in which we allow individuals freedom but with whom we vehemently disagree. To take Leeming's argument to it's logical conclusion, we must say that permission of anything with which we disagree is, in reality, to support the act no matter how much we oppose it. That would mean Leeming himself must insist upon an American, theocratic Christian state or else he must be, in reality, OK with apostasy and false religion. Worse still, this view would mean God himself - who permits, yet does not condone, sin - must actually be OK with it really. The argument is clearly a nonsense.

The argument that there is no social or objective sign without subjective belief is much more cogent. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced this is insurmountable if one is Reformed (as 9Marks certainly are). If we hold to the traditional Reformed ordo salutis, we note that election, calling and regeneration all occur prior to conversion. Though I'm not sure I'd want to make this argument or press it too far (I am thinking aloud here), one could argue that paedobaptism mirrors the ordo salutis. Baptism, symbolising our regeneration, coming before conversion. Though it wouldn't be usual, nor the proper mode of baptism, if conversion did actually and really come later, it follows (on a reformed schema) that the person was elect at the point they were baptised (though they were unaware of the fact at the time). Therefore, we could view their baptism as effective in retrospect despite it not being the proper mode. Likewise, could one not argue the subjective belief - coming after the fact - makes good the social and objective signs? As above, though it is not the proper and usual mode of baptism, why could paedobaptism not be considered effective following conversion? Though it is 'out of order' does not necessarily mean it was ineffective altogether and carried no significance.

Kynes argues that humility (effectively, "I could be wrong") means he would not refuse to admit a paedobaptist into membership. This is not a good appeal to humility. If one is a convinced baptist, this is something of a moot point as he evidently doesn't believe he is wrong. If he did, he would practice paedobaptism alone, or as well as, credobaptism. That he doesn't promote paedobaptism suggests that he doesn't think he is wrong. Equally, this appeal to humility would not hold water on other issues. One would not argue that "I could be wrong" over the deity of Christ so we better admit those that reject this doctrine to membership. We rightly work out  our doctrinal positions prayerfully and then submit to what we believe scripture to teach. I don't see how this issue of baptism is any different. However, Kynes appeals to charity and theology seem more legitimate.

Of course, it is right that those in open disobedience to Christ should not be admitted to church membership. However, the committed paedobaptist would contend they are not disobedient; they have fulfilled Jesus' command to be baptised (albeit out of order and an improper mode). Based upon our agreement of the truth of the gospel and the nature of salvation, does charity not allow us to view the paedobaptism as retroactive? Indeed, as I commented above, the individual was elect at the point of baptism if conversion later truly occurs.

On this basis, I see no reason for baptists to be viewed as inconsistent for admitting paedobaptists to membership. The baptist is not encouraging paedobaptism nor teaching that it is a valid and acceptable mode of baptism. What they are saying is, given the conversion of the paedobaptist, the baptism can be considered "in effect" albeit out of order. As such, the baptist can consistently admit the paedobaptist to membership without condoning or promoting that mode of baptism. 

For the Strict Baptist, the addition of communion adds no further complication. If a believer is admitted to membership, that same believer is permitted to partake of communion. The issue for the Strict Baptist lies, not in the communion table but, in the admission to membership which has been handled already.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The loathsome introduction of judicially enforced eugenics

Here is a most troubling story. Lord Justice Munby - Head of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in England and Wales - has ordered a 13 year old girl to have an abortion despite her clear desire to the contrary. The Cranmer blog comments here.

The basic facts of the case are these: The girl in question has an IQ of 54 and the comprehension skills of a seven year old. She has been deemed "very damaged", "impaired" and "largely out of control". The father of the child was a 14 year old boy, evidently reckless and irresponsible himself. Nonetheless, it was manifestly clear the girl "had set her mind against termination" and expressed "unambiguous hostility towards termination".

One expert argued "If the pregnancy were terminated I believe that this would cause considerable harm to this young girl, who would see it as an assault. Continuing the pregnancy...may have a less detrimental effect on her given her current circumstances". Nevertheless, Lord Justice Munby argued "a clinical psychologist showed the girl lacked capacity to decide for herself" and ruled "it was clearly appropriate for me to supply the necessary consent to enable the termination to proceed". All of this is over and against the desire of the girl herself and the recommendation of clinical experts.

Cranmer has previously commented on Lord Justice Munby and his underlying legal presumptions (accessible here). Whatever view one holds is rather by the by in this case. It matters not whether one believes, like Cranmer, Christian mores and values should underpin our legal system. Nor should it make a difference if one prefers Lord Justice Munby's position that "the law of this country is secular, and that Christianity no longer informs its morality or values". What really matters - and I see no reason to reach a different conclusion based on a Christian or secular worldview - is whether enforced eugenics (and let's make no mistake, that is precisely what we are talking about) is ever acceptable.

The decision made by Lord Justice Munby was clearly not made on the basis of the girl being a minor. A month earlier, Mr Justice Mostyn had ruled that another pregnant 13 year old girl "had the mental capacity to understand options open to her" and that she was free to "decide what she wishes to do". This makes it evident the decision was based on IQ alone. Moreover, despite expert testimony that continuing the pregnancy would have been preferable for the mother, Lord Justice Munby ruled for a termination. This rather suggests the best interests of the mother were not at heart (for the best interests of the mother were expressly stated as continuation of the pregnancy). 

What then are we to make of the decision to terminate? Seemingly, it was based on little more than the mother's low IQ and comprehension. Given the best interests of the mother were to continue with the pregnancy, it follows the mother's best interests cannot have been forefront in the decision-making process. We are thus forced to conclude that although the low IQ of the mother was the basis for the decision being taken out of her hands, it was also the fundamental basis of the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Though Christian and secular values may differ over the rights and wrongs of removing the decision-making process from the mother (though not necessarily), surely both would agree that the "best interests" of the mother must be taken into account when reaching a decision. Though, when discussing abortion in the abstract, Christian and secular worldviews may differ over what constitutes "best interests", in this case the best interests were made manifestly clear by expert witnesses. They concluded the best interests of the mother were to continue with pregnancy. 

This begs the question: why did Lord Justice Munby rule to terminate the pregnancy over and against the wishes, and the best interests (in the view of experts), of the mother? One can only conclude that Lord Justice Munby was concerned the child would inherit the mother's low IQ and level of comprehension. The mother's wishes and best interests were apparently moot.

Cranmer gives undue credit by inferring that Lord Justice Munby believed he was acting in the girl's best interests, despite his palpable wrongness predicated on his secularist presumptions. Rather, it seems Lord Justice Munby, despite expert testimony clearly stating the girl's best interests, reached a conclusion contrary to this measure. It is hard to escape any other conclusion but that this represents judicially enforced eugenics. Whatever differences exist between Christians and secularists (and those with a foot in both camps), one finds it hard to believe that many would find this acceptable.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Romans 11 and "all Israel"... another wisdom of crowds job

Romans 11:11-32 outlines the climax of Paul's dialogue regarding the inclusion of Jews & Gentiles into the kingdom of God. As hotly contested verses go, these are up there. Doug Moo notes most scholars 'agree that the key verse is 11:26: "All Israel will be saved." But the identity of "Israel" and the manner and time of its salvation are contested' (Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 2002).

Whilst there are a broad range of potential solutions, there are only three credible possibilities:

  1. "All Israel" refers to a significant number of Jews who will turn to Christ and be saved at the parousia (so Tom Schreiner, Bob Mounce, Doug Moo, et al)
  2. "All Israel" refers to the entirety of the church. So, the elect Jewish remnant and the fullness of the Gentiles will "come in" ushering in the eschaton (so most Reformers, Stuart Olyott, Tom Wright, et al)
  3. "All Israel" refers to ethnic Israel but, rather than a significant number at the end of time, only those elect Jews throughout the course of history (so C.M. Horne)
I am pretty happy rejecting one of the above options without too many qualms (I simply don't think it fits the data). However, I am rather torn between the other two options.

I have an inclination as to which option I favour (not much more than that) but I thought the wisdom of crowds might be useful.

So, those so inclined, what are your thoughts?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Steve Chalke, Evangelical Alliance & why Cranmer is wrong about a new schism

Yesterday, the Archbishop Cranmer blog commented on the expulsion of the Oasis Trust from the Evangelical Alliance (EA). EA have released a statement regarding the issue. Oasis have responded in kind.

His Grace is quick to note that "The EA do not expel members who support abortion; nor do they sever links with those who marry divorcees or accept pre-marital sexual relations as a forerunner of marriage. They do not even expel a member for repudiation of the foundational Evangelical doctrine of substitutionary atonement, which the Rev'd Steve Chalke terms "cosmic child abuse", as though God casually murdered His Son for the salvation of the world, and penal substitution is barbaric and utterly morally indefensible."

It is this that causes him to argue we now see a new schism in Evangelicalism. He states "And so we now have (another) schism - Conservative (or 'Traditional') Evangelicals, who welcome fornicators, adulterers and abortionists, and Liberal (or 'Accepting') Evangelicals, who welcome all of the above plus gays and lesbians." 

Worse still, claims Cranmer, the EA are themeselves guilty of this error. He argues removal of Oasis Trust from the EA is hypocritical since Gavin Shuker MP sits on their Council of Reference and has voted consistently in favour of gay marriage. This, says Cranmer, is hypocrisy and should see Gavin Shuker MP removed from the Council of Reference.

On two fronts, I believe His Grace has gotten this one wrong.

Firstly, in respect to Gavin Shuker MP, it is entirely possible to uphold the traditional Christian positions on marriage and homosexuality whilst allowing for a recognition of same-sex partnership in law. As Tim Keller has noted: "you can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal. Those are not the same issues. They overlap" (1). I have commented similarly herehere, here and here.

Now, I have absolutely no idea about the specific position of Gavin Shuker on marriage and homosexuality. But, it is entirely possible he holds a view not dissimilar to the Anabaptist position outlined by Keller. Unless Mr Shuker openly and repeatedly espouses a view that homosexuality is not sinful, his voting in favour of Gay Marriage is not reason to expel him from the EA Council per se. 

Neither does this represent any hypocrisy on the part of EA. As Cranmer himself notes, "the Evangelical Alliance has excommunicated the Oasis Trust simply because its founder has stated (time and again) his support for committed monogamous same-sex relationships". Unless he has repeatedly made similar comments in the public square, the EA are perfectly entitled to "excommunicate" Steve Chalke whilst retaining the counsel of Gavin Shuker. Should His Grace produce evidence that Mr Shuker has stated monogamous homosexual relationships are blessed by God and do not represent any form of sin, his argument may stand. In lieu of this, we cannot say the EA have erred on this issue.

On the matter of a supposed Evangelical schism, His Grace argues "we now have (another) schism - Conservative (or 'Traditional') Evangelicals, who welcome fornicators, adulterers and abortionists, and Liberal (or 'Accepting') Evangelicals, who welcome all of the above plus gays and lesbians." Evidently, this is a false classification of the two sides.

Though the EA may defend the traditional position on homosexuality, they fail to defend orthodox views on abortion, penal substitution and a range of other issues. For this reason, most Conservative (or 'Traditional') Evangelicals in the UK would describe the EA as outside the 'Conservative' or 'Traditional' camp. Given, as His Grace rightly notes, the differences between EA and Oasis Trust seem based on homosexuality alone (rather than the more heinous theological errors for which they should have withdrawn fellowship long ago), one struggles to see how they sit on different sides of a schism.

Surely, if schism exists within Evangelicalism, it is between those who uphold traditional, Conservative theological positions and those who do not. Clearly it is possible to hold to traditional, Conservative theology whilst not seeking such implementation in law. Yet, schism does not exist between those who accept legal recognition of certain positions and those who do not. Rather, it is between those who argue that scripture itself permits and blesses those things which are clearly sinful which we may, or may not, choose to legally permit. That being the case, despite his expulsion from the network, Steve Chalke and the EA seem to sit on the same side of the divide. 

That EA have said "thus far and no further" does not alter the fact that the lengths to which they were willing to go before expelling Steve Chalke well and truly write them out of ever being credibly labelled 'Conservative' or 'traditional'. Compare Spurgeon with the Baptist Union or Lloyd-Jones with the Evangelical Alliance itself. If you want to see real schism within Evangelicalism, they occurred long before the EA kicked Steve Chalke out of membership. If the lines drawn by Lloyd-Jones still hold (and I think they probably do), EA and Steve Chalke - despite their recent separation - still remain part of the same camp.


  1. Keller has specifically clarified this statement. He says "In explaining the Anabaptist tradition, I was quoted saying, "You can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal." I did say that—but it was purely a statement of fact. It is possible to hold that position, though it isn't my position, nor was I promoting or endorsing the position. I was simply reporting on the growth of that view."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Four problems with "claiming" promises

Many people seem to make a habit of "claiming" promises from scripture. Here are four major problems with doing so:

1. You can't "claim" promises

As Barnabas Piper outlines here, you simply cannot "claim" promises. To do so is to miss the point. As he comments "A promise tells a little bit about who God is and what He will do. It is anchored in His holiness, goodness, power, and sovereignty. It is based on his omnipotence and omniscience. And it will come to pass in a way only God knows and ordains." We cannot "claim" it and take control of it. Were we to do so, we would change both the nature of the promise and they way it is ultimately realised. A promise is a gift that one receives from God and He will make it happen, not us.

2. The promise we claim may not be directed at us

As Graeme Goldsworthy reminded us in Gospel and Kingdom, it is false to read the Old Testament as a series of stories we can mine for moral lessons that relate directly to us. That being the case, we cannot simply "claim" the promises of the Old Testament and relate them directly to ourselves. When God makes a promise to King David, for example, he does so in his capacity as the Lord's anointed. It would, therefore, be misguided to presume the promises to David relate directly to ourselves in the same way. The way those promises come to us, if at all, is through our relationship to Christ. David was a type of Christ who is the Archtype. Jesus is the ultimate heir to those promises and they relate only to us by way of Him.

Other issues arise when we try to "claim" certain supposed promises. It has become fairly common to cite the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) as a basis for claiming health and wealth. Firstly, there is no promise from God anywhere in scripture that he will do this for us (in fact, there is plenty which suggests the opposite). All we are told is that the Lord did this for Jabez. Secondly, we simply don't know why the Lord did this for Jabez. Perhaps there was a particular reason. What we do know is that plenty of other passages in scripture speak against wealth for wealth's sake. Thirdly, and most significantly, this simply isn't a promise. Jabez prayed and the Lord granted his prayer. This wasn't a promise from God that he would do this for Jabez nor is there any suggestion this is a promise of what God will do for us.

3. Claiming promises turns them into magic spells and silver bullets

At heart, we must ask why we see fit to "claim" promises. If we are working on the premise that claiming a promise will make it happen, we are really turning God's word into magic spells. We suggest that by reciting a mantra, or prayer, God will somehow honour us. The Lord never worked that way in scripture. More to the point, He does not appreciate being treated like a genie who exists only to grant our wishes.

4. We only ever seem to claim the promises we like

As in (2), associating ourselves with the bits we like and ignoring the less attractive parts is a particularly poor way to read scripture. Psalm 139 is a good case in point. Many of us like to associate with vv1-18, applying it directly to our situation and "claiming" these truths for ourselves. I am yet to meet anyone who "claims" vv19-22 for themselves! It is simply not credible to cherry pick the nice parts and ignore the less pleasant bits - especially within the same Psalm! Again, as in (2), these things only really relate to us so far as they relate to Christ and we are in Him.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

On idols

Some time ago, I posted here regarding the difference between the first and second commandments. I argued that idolatry is best understood as anything that changes, obscures or alters the true character, or nature, of God.

It is worth noting that the incident of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 was not an exercise in worshiping a false god per se. The people said "This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt!" (Neh 9:18) and simultaneously dedicated the following day "a feast to the LORD" (Ex 32:5). The people were not attempting to worship another god. Rather, they had changed the character and nature of the true God so that they were, in fact, worshiping a false image. The list of idolatrous behaviours in Col 3:5 is such because, as Christians, we are called to be Christlike and pursue godliness. In indulging such behaviour, we suggest God's character is in line with these things. We change God's character and worship a false image.

Now, it wouldn't be false to say those things that vie for our affections are idols. If we suggest the key to our happiness and fulfillment lie anywhere other than in God, we may not put these things before God but we certainly fall foul of the second commandment. In effect, we suggest God cannot, or will not, meet our particular need and thus we change his character and obscure his nature. If we put this false image before God, we would then fall foul of the first and second commandments simultaneously. Yet, those things that vie for our affections, and by which we suggest God will not meet our needs, are modern day idols. They may not be before God but they are nonetheless gods we worship and seek as a means of fulfilling particular needs.

What is worth bearing in mind is that an idol is only an idol so long as we treat it like an idol. If Paul's comments in 1 Cor 8:4-6 and 1 Cor 10:19f teach anything, it is that idols are nothing. They are either lumps of clay, pieces of wood, bits of stone, moulded metal or conceptual ideas. What they are not is gods.

This is an issue with which many people tie themselves in knots. I have a bust of C.H. Spurgeon on my office desk. Most people rightly conclude this is not an idol - I don't worship it, I don't find any fulfillment in it and I don't believe, nor act, in any way to suggest it is a god. Now, suppose it wasn't C.H. Spurgeon but was one of those Buddha statues, or one of those Hindu deities. Presuming I treat it the same way as my Spurgeon bust, are these any more idols to me?

We may want to have a discussion about the wisdom of associating yourself, as a Christian, with the idolatrous statues of false religion. It may not be helpful to people coming into your home and may lead to all sorts of conversations that are not particularly profitable. However, Paul is clear, in and of themselves, they are nothing and have no power.

I knew somebody who was given a Hindu statue by a colleague (it was a genuine gift in an attempt to be thoughtful). They concluded it would be wrong to smash it to bits, or throw it in the bin, in front of their colleague. I think they were right. In fact, I think - partly because they decided it wouldn't be helpful to display and partly because it was so grotesque - to shove it in the garage out of the way. Did they invite evil into their home? I don't think so. Did they engage in idolatry? I don't see how. Were they sinful to have this thing in the house? No. Paul is quite clear idols are nothing. They have no power. They are simply lumps of clay, wood, stone or metal. It would certainly be wrong to worship these things but an idol is only an idol so long as you treat it like an idol.

If you believe these statues have some sort of power, if you think you are inviting evil into your home by keeping one (perhaps having been given it), ironically you are being idolatrous. You are investing into a lump of material the characteristics of God. You are making out that something God says is nothing is actually really powerful. 

Again, we may want to have a discussion about the wisdom of associating yourself with such things. But that is not a sin issue. That is not an issue of idol worship. It is purely a matter of sensitivity and that which is helpful to others in the gospel.