Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The New Testament and the People of God

This volume, one of the early ones in Tom Wright's corpus on NT theology, was published in 1992. I have had a copy on my shelf for almost as long. This month I read it (mostly in Nigeria, during free afternoons whilst in Anyigba to teach at the seminary of the Christian Evangelical Fellowship of Nigeria and then preach at their annual Convention).

The book has about 150 pages of prolegomena on literature, theology and history and how they need to be studied to produce NT theology; 140 pages at the end on the church in the first century; and 200 pages or so in the middle on Second Temple Judaism (2TJ).

It is a good read. It helps to see Christianity in the light of the Judaism of the period (allowing for not taking Wright's interpretation of 2TJ uncritically) and this is certainly an area where I have done too little study in the past.

When reading Wright, one would really think that Jews of the era were just potential Christians waiting to hear of Christ, so friendly is his presentation of 2TJ. In reading the NT, one is in a different atmosphere altogether, whether in the letters of Paul or the gospels. But - it is interesting to note that when, in dealing with the areas of continuity between Judaism and Christianity, Wright seems to be drawing much more on the Old Testament - on which I am sure most of us would have little disagreement. 2TJ seems to feature rather less in this section, as if the degree of continuity between it and Christianity is not so marked.

Wright just hints at what will in later volumes become his re-interpretation of Paul and particularly the doctrine of justification.

Two things are particularly irritating about Wright's polemics against traditional evangelicalism: his setting up caricatures of his opponents, 'straw men', particularly that of the evangelical who apparently never does any serious study; and his little jibes here and there about conservative evangelicals who are (for example) 'more familiar with the Pelagian controversy than with 2TJ'. I have rarely met any evangelicals familiar with the Pelagian controversy. But the point Wright is trying to make of course is the hoary one about interpreting Paul through Lutheran or Augustinian lenses.

All I can say is that looking at the NT through Luther's lenses still gives a much truer and more consistent interpretation of the Scriptures than that informed by the Judaism of which Wright seems so enamoured.

Monday, 22 September 2014

What does 'Reformed' mean?

(This article, rather long for a blog, first appeared in slightly varied form in 'Reformation Today' last May, and was the basis of an address (at short notice!) to the Yorkshire Reformed Fraternal in September. I also used it in Argentina in August 2013 and I think it appeared on the Banner of Truth online journal. It may raise my audience to three figures if I put it here too!).

Key words for understanding Reformed Christians are radical and consistent.

1. We are radical because we trace biblical truths to their depths. We are not content with superficial definitions. ‘God’ must be explored for all he is worth. He is not an object of scientific study, but in his Word he has given us so much information about himself that not to analyse it and synthesise it as rigorously as possible would be an affront to his condescension and kindness. In what follows I shall indicate other areas where the Reformed Christian is radical. We want to get to the depths of ourselves; the depths of the way of salvation; the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

In practice, we want to live our faith. Reformed Christians have therefore been at the forefront of battles for liberty of conscience and have not infrequently been a revolutionary force in the church and the world. Any idea of ‘Reformed’ that sees it as a synonym for staid, boring and predictable is a travesty.

2. We are consistent in that we work the truths of Scripture through to their logical conclusions as far as possible. In this sense we are heirs of Calvin who was one of the most penetrating and systematic theologians of all time. We believe the Bible is the revealed Word of God and therefore has an internal consistency which does not have to be forced but is to be discovered. However, if there are two apparently opposing or apparently contradictory truths revealed in Scripture – the most obvious one being the sovereignty of God and the free will and responsibility of man – we leave them to stand together and do not force them into a false harmony. In this we are like Calvin himself who was always insistent on allowing Scripture to have the last word even if he could not make logical sense of it. In this, too, we are unlike some other traditions, such as hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism, which make the mistake of putting logic above Scripture.

Let us now look at some Reformed distinctives. It can be seen that while we share the ‘big issues’ with other evangelicals, our radicalism and consistency contribute to making Reformed Christianity the clearest and strongest formulation of Christianity that the church has yet attained.

1. Scripture.

Conviction of its authority is shared with others but we have a further emphasis on its:

a. necessity. We are in darkness without God’s Word to us. ‘By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God…’(Heb 11:3). Reformed Christians begin with a conviction of human spiritual blindness. This is a consequence of our greater insistence on total depravity.

b. sufficiency. We need nothing other than Scripture. This provides a bastion against the temptation of mixing Scripture with philosophy, Roman Catholic ‘tradition’ or modern claims to ‘prophecy today’.

c. internal consistency. As stated above, Reformed Christians have been foremost in systematising Scripture. We develop doctrines and from them Confessions. The great confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are of course Reformed. These provide great strength for Christian living derived from doctrine.

i. Presupposed is the unity of Scripture as God’s Word. ‘Men spoke from God’ (2 Peter 1:21) and acted feely in so doing, but God superintended their thinking and speaking so that what he wanted written they wrote. Can we grasp this ‘dual working’ with our minds? No, but we believe it and it is entirely rational. As a result the Bible is a unity, the work of one Mind.

ii. Presupposed too is the importance of the human mind as a receiver of revelation and the way reason can grasp revelation. God spoke and the universe came into being. He made man and woman in his image to respond to him, to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. Integral to this is the human mind. By it we receive God’s Word, we speak back to him (in prayer) and we speak God’s Word to others.

iii. The importance of the mind in living the Christian life cannot be over-emphasised - truth comes to us through the mind in conversion and as we love and understand the Word of God so we will grow as Christians.

iv. But Calvinists insist that the mind must always be subordinate to the Word and when we cannot understand we must not distort or ignore Scripture to fit our systems.

v. Typical of the Calvinist sense of the unity of Scripture is the development of the theology of covenant as the unifying structure of Scripture, and of God’s self-revelation in the twin doctrines of Law and Gospel. Law and gospel comprise a conversation throughout Scripture between God’s demand and his provision, between his righteousness and his grace.

vi. Covenant, Law and Gospel, as all else in Scripture, are fulfilled and culminate in Christ.

d. dependence for its reception on the witness of the Spirit - who confirms our faith in Scripture as God’s Word.

2. The Supremacy of God in all things.

The Reformed Christian is ‘God entranced’. We see the glory of God as the goal of all of life and eternity and God’s purpose in all his work. It is of immense and ultimate comfort to the believer that God is sovereign in creation and providence (Gen 50:19,20; Isa. 46:9-11) and in salvation (Acts 2:23, 4:28; John 6:37, Jonah 2:9; Eph.1:3-11).

3. The utter dependence of man in all things.

- though not merely passive or inactive. Although we have a deep conviction of man as totally depraved and work this out more consistently than other evangelical traditions, we do not have a low view of man as created. He is glorious, created as the summit of creation and his glory makes his fall only the more tragic and culpable.
In creation, God made us; in Providence, he governs us; in salvation, he saves us, for we are spiritually dead.

A combination of these views of God and man lead to the ‘Five Points’ of Calvinism which is not by any means all there is to Reformed Christianity, but Reformed Christianity is certainly not less: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election. Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.

The same combination of views gives us a profound dependence on the Holy Spirit in living the Christian life. Calvin was called the ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit’.

What is not so commonly understood about Reformed Christians is that they also hold

4. A high view of the church.

It is the body of Christ - Eph. 5:25-27. If we hold Christ as precious, the church must be precious. We are drawn together by Christ. We regard our assembling together, too, as precious.

a. The marks of the church are: preaching (Christ exercising his prophetic office among us); the sacraments (Christ exercising his priestly office) and discipline (Christ the King among us).

b. Our worship is to be governed by God’s word. The ‘regulative’ principle is that only what is prescribed in God’s Word or clearly implied in it, is acceptable in worship services. This liberating principle frees the church from human laws, for example the tyranny of Roman rites, or of human imagination such as in modern man-centred worship, or entertainment style worship.

So Reformed Worship will usually consist of: the Word of God read and preached (1 Tim 4:13; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim 4:2); prayer (1 Tim 2:1; Acts 2:43); praise (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Mt. 26:30); the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26).

The regulative principle is biblically based on the necessity of revelation to enable us to approach God and the sufficiency of Scripture for approaching him. In particular we look at the Second Commandment with its emphasis on spiritual worship, and at Leviticus 10:1-3 where Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, were severely punished for offering to God not what had been forbidden but simply what had not been commanded. See also Deut. 4:12-15; 23-24.

c. Worship is also to be rational, simple and Christ centred.

d. The task of the church in relation to the world is to obey the great commission – to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. It is in this way more than any other that we obey the ‘cultural mandate’ of Genesis 1. Historically Reformed Christians have been in the forefront of experiencing and praying for revival as the great means by which God advances his kingdom.

5. The Christian Life.

a. It begins with evangelical experience. The experience of Isaiah (6:1-3) though in itself unique also provides a great model for conversion – conviction of sin, cleansing by the sacrifice of Christ and glad response to his call to serve him.

b. It is lived ‘before God’ - coram Deo - a motto of the Puritans. Reformed Christians will have a grateful and positive attitude to God’s law – seeing it not as an imposition or as something from which the gospel and the Spirit release us, but as the form of life which we are now to live - ‘O how I love your law’ – Ps 119:97. We have been delivered from the bondage of law-breaking to enjoy the freedom of law-keeping. That includes the Fourth Commandment. Kevin DeYoung acknowledges the place of a high view of God's law in Reformed thinking when he says 'I support the third use of the law seeing as how this Calvinist understanding of the law is enshrined in every Reformed confession and catechism.' It is difficult to see how 'New Covenant Theology' can properly be called 'Reformed'.

c. It embraces all of life: home, politics, work, studies, culture, arts, sciences. The ‘cultural mandate’ (Gen 1:27) still applies to man. This means witnessing, in word and life, to Christ’s Lordship over all things. Reformed Christianity engages with all creation.

i. The Renaissance and Reformation of the sixteenth century opened up scientific discovery and Calvinism in particular made the gospel a real force in the world. In For the Glory of God, American historian Rodney Stark argues that though one cannot say that the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century was a particularly Protestant movement, it is indisputable that it emerged in western Europe and nowhere else at that time. It can be persuasively argued that a faith that presented God as rational, responsive, dependable and omnipotent and the universe as his personal creation thus having a rational and stable structure awaiting human comprehension, was the framework that made science possible. See A.N. Whitehead, Science and the modern world (1925). The emphasis is again on reason ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’. In no way has Christianity been an enemy of science. Calvin wrote, for example, ‘…there is need of art and of more exacting toil in order to investigate the motion of the stars, to determine their assigned stations, to measure their intervals, to note their properties’ (I.5.2) and again ‘If we regard the Spirit of God a the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself nor despise it wherever it appear…’ (II.2.16).
God’s laws undergird everything. They give consistency, order, reliability, predictability. Nietsche gave a back-handed compliment to Christianity when he said ‘I fear we have not yet thrown off belief in God for we still trust grammar’.

ii. The Calvinist principle of ‘vocation’ gives honour to every human enterprise however humble because God called you to it and you do it for his glory. ‘Vocation’ is not a preserve of the clergy.

Christians are being renewed in the image of God and should be foremost in subduing creation to the rule of Christ. We do so as we live obediently to his will in our calling.

iii. The Christian life centres on seeking after God and communion with him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John Owen’s Communion with God and The Glory of Christ reflect the dynamic of the spiritual life. Again, we are wholly dependent on the Spirit in this.

iv. There is a proper perspective on life - our ‘short and uncertain pilgrimage’ to the ‘city that has foundations’ yet we are to seek ‘the welfare of the city’ on earth to which God has called us.

v. We are longing for Christ’s return and believe in revival. Whatever our framework for the last things (and Reformed Christians would differ: most would be ‘amillenialist’ or ‘postmillenialist’ and have confidence in the flourishing of the gospel in this age even if we do not all hold the optimistic views of many of the Puritans or Jonathan Edwards) we look to Christ’s return for the ultimate demonstration of his glory, our own glorification with him, and the completion of his work of redemption.

vi. The Reformed Christian is always reforming. ‘Perfecting holiness out of fear of the Lord’; pursuing that ‘holiness without which no-one will see God’ (2 Cor 7:1; Heb. 12:14).

Friday, 19 September 2014

The War that Ended Peace

Margaret MacMillan's prize-winning volume on the causes of the First World War is a must-read for anyone interested in that complex but elusive subject; in modern history generally; and in how wars start - a nervous subject given President Putin's antics in the Ukraine.

Professor Macmillan begins in Louvain, Belgium, and the destruction in the early days of the war of the magnificent library by the advancing Germans. There follows a survey of Europe in 1900 by way of describing the exhibitions of the various countries at the Paris Exposition of that year.

Then begins the history proper as each of the big players is examined in turn from about the mid 19th century - Great Britain and 'splendid isolation'; 'Woe to the country that has a child for a king' (Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II); Dreadnoughts and -the Anglo-German rivalry; the Entente Cordiale (France and Britain); Britain's relationship with Russia and how the Triple Entente was formed to match the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy; the creaky empire of the Habsburgs - (Austria-Hunagary); the Balkans including Serbia and Bulgaria - and the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

After that - 'What were they thinking?' What was the mindset of the nations in the early years of the last century? What were the philosophies that motivated people? Social Darwinism gets a few mentions as a powerful influence - struggle is inevitable and the fittest will survive.

Then comes a description of the decade or two leading up to the war - crises in the Balkans and Morocco. War seemed very close more than once, and the climb-downs and compromises left a fragile and volatile legacy, a powder keg that only needed one crisis too many to set it off. Sarajevo and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the spark that ignited that keg.

What were the factors leading to war? Militarism, especially of Germany; imperialism as the Empires tried to protect their interests around the world and in Europe, or in the case of Russia and Germany, felt they needed to catch up with the older Empires; nationalism as subject peoples sought liberty. There was pride and the upholding of honour. There was sheer stupidity, stubbornness and incompetence - Macmillan leavens her history with delightful and often hilarious pen-portraits of many of the key politicians of the time. The crises in the Balkans and Morocco in the decade before 1914 slowly edged the world towards war so that before 1914 many observers were saying that war at some point soon was inevitable.

Macmillan concludes: 'Was Wilhelm II to blame for the Great War? Was Tirpitz (the German naval chief who began the naval race with Britain)? Grey (the English Foreign Secretary who, it may be argued, had he been more decisive and made it clear, earlier, to Germany that Britain would support France wholeheartedly if Germany attacked, may have averted the crisis)? Moltke (the German army chief)? Berchtold (Austria-Hungary's Foreign Minister)? Poincare of France? Or was no-one to blame? Should we look instead at institutions or ideas? General staffs with too much power, absolute governments, Social Darwinism, the cult of the offensive, nationalism? There are so many questions and as many answers again. Perhaps the most we can hope for is to understand as best we can those individuals, who had to make the choices between war and peace, and their strengths and weaknesses, their loves, hatreds and biases….And if we want to point fingers from the 21st Century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices'.

And that must be true. Mustn't it?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Abraham at the John Owen Centre

Monday and Tuesday of this week saw about 60 men and one lady meet at Kensit Evangelical Church for the annual John Owen Centre Conference. This was the third in a series on biblical characters - Adam, Noah and now Abraham.

First off was Philip Eveson with a wide-ranging overview of Abraham in Genesis which helpfully set out the ground to be covered.

David Green then focused closely on the theme of 'seeing' in Abraham's story, suggesting that God's self-revelation rather than (or at least prior too) faith was the real theme in Abraham.

James Mulroney gave a rather technical paper on typology (Christological, tropological and homological) drawing on the Isaac narrative in Genesis 22.

Peter Law gave a helpful 'Martyn Lloyd-Jones' lecture in the evening on the 'Three Abrahamic Faiths' but it was rather narrowed down to two as he rather skated, as he admitted, over Judaism. Much of it was a useful summary of Dan Strange's new book on the theology of religions, 'For Their Rock is not as our Rock'.

On Tuesday, David Shaw gave an excellent paper on 'The Justified Abraham', focusing on N.T. Wright's interpretation of Romans 4, and giving us a helpful survey of Wright's current thinking.

Martin Salter for credobaptists and David Gibson for paedobaptists gave their respective takes on how their traditions see Abraham and come to divergent conclusions. This was interesting and well done - it is not an easy thing to debate like this. My conclusion was that though Gibson probably spoke better (and for twice as long as Salter - which says something in itself) a few well chosen questions began to chip away at the credibility of the paedobaptist superstructure.

Finally Robert Strivens mercifully gave us a straightforward biblical exposition of NT texts showing how Paul's missionary vision was informed by the Abrahamic covenant. Good stuff to go home on.

Next year's conference is on 'How pragmatism is ruining the church'(or similar). We return to Big Names with Melchizedek (probably) in 2016.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Three Books about God

Three books about God have found themselves amongst my reading recently.

God is Impassible and Impassioned – Toward a theology of divine emotion – Rob Lister (IVP 2012).

Lister takes us helpfully through the arguments surrounding whether, and if so how, God ‘feels’ and ‘suffers’. His thesis is that God is impassible in the sense that he cannot be manipulated, overwhelmed, or surprised by an emotional interaction that he does not desire or have or allow to happen. This is not at all the same as saying that he is devoid of emotion (how could that be so when we have a God in Scripture who is angry, delights, loves and grieves?) nor is it the equivalent of saying that God is not affected by his creatures. On the contrary, says Lister, God is also impassioned, that is, perfectly vibrant in his affections, and he may be affected by his creatures, but as God, he is so because he wills to be so affected.

Lister outlines the historical context from the patristic authors onwards, looking at contemporary evangelical authors who reject impassibility - often because it is widely thought to be in conflict with God’s love and relationality, two modern pre-occupations - and then moves on to construct a biblical and theological model (summarised above).

Lister develops this a bit more: God’s passion transcends ours both in an ontological sense (who He is) and in an ethical sense (what he promises and does). The former (God’s ‘ontologically transcendent passion’) is what we term impassibility; the latter (God’s ‘ethically transcendent passion’) we may call his impassionedness. Passion now becomes the dominant factor, virtually equivalent to a description of God in emotional terms. Only now, in terms of God’s being, this translates as the quality of not being vulnerable to outside influences, while in terms of God’s actions and promises, it become his burning, vibrant affection.

One cannot help feeling that ‘passible’ in ‘impassible’ and ‘passion’ in ‘impassioned’ are used in different senses – the former from the original meaning of the word in Latin, that is, something that one suffers, while the latter is a strong (in God’s case perfect) affection. So how helpful it is to use it in these two ways, to call God ‘impassible ‘ and ‘impassioned’, or say that God’s ‘ontologically transcendent passion’ is his ‘impassibility’ is questionable. I know what Lister is saying, and his thesis is very helpful, but perhaps the vocabulary is not.

One other unsatisfactory part of the book is that in 284 pages only 20 are given to the incarnation and the atonement in a ‘Concluding Christological Reflection’. God’s revelation in Christ and the cross deserves more attention than this in a book on this subject.

But this is an excellent book, very full of useful discussion and Bible exposition, and is highly recommended for getting to grips with this important and difficult subject.

God’s Greater Glory – The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith - Bruce Ware (Crossway 2004)

In 'God’s Lesser Glory' Bruce Ware carried out a good demolition job on Open Theism. In this later (but now quite old!) volume he constructs a far better picture of God’s providential care of his creation. He has excellent material on God’s transcendence and immanence, the Creator–creature distinction, divine sovereignty and human freedom, and ‘concurrence’ – what he calls God working through creation.

The weakest part in my view is his section on ‘Calvinist middle knowledge’ which he constructs in an attempt to avoid God being charged with being the author of sin – in other words it is a kind of apologetic. His view of God’s government of good acts is that the government of the human will is direct, for God is the author of good and there is no conflict. But there is a difference in God’s government of evil. If we take the view that we are free when we act according to our strongest inclination, then if God, knowing how an agent will act in given circumstances, so ordains events that an agent will choose to do evil, then we cannot say that evil is done by God or due to the factors in the situation, but by the sinful nature of the agent acting freely.

This does not seem to be very effective apologetically, because is a God who prepares an evil act in all but final execution, any better morally than a God who actually moves the human will up to and including the very act (as Phil 2:12,13 seems to suggest God controls us; as also Genesis 50:20 suggests)? Give a bad man a gun knowing he will kill someone with it, or a naughty child a firework knowing he will put it through someone’s letter box – but then say ‘It wasn’t me guv’. Are you off the hook?

Of course the precise way God governs evil and good are different, but this is surely the place for a robust application of the doctrine of concurrence (which Ware discusses elsewhere), and to say with Calvin in commenting on ‘the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord’ (Prov 21:1) that ‘in general the will not less than external works are [sic] governed by the determination of God’.

So I was not persuaded by Ware’s argument here. But overall it is a very helpful book and I enjoyed it.

Simply God - Recovering the Classical Trinity - Peter Sanlon (IVP 2014).

Peter Sanlon is a rising star in the Reformed Anglican firmament, vicar of St Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells (sorry, Royal Tunbridge Wells), and a fine young theologian.

This book is primarily reminding us of the wonder of God’s ‘simplicity’, which Sanlon calls the basic grammar of language about God, ‘the engine in the car of a healthy theology’. God’s simplicity is the doctrine that he is one, not composed of parts, and that ‘he is what he has’. All God’s attributes are co-extensive with God himself. God does not ‘have’ attributes such as patience, truthfulness, love and knowledge; he is patience, truthfulness, love and knowledge, and all perfectly. God is love, not loving; in love he gives nothing less than himself.

Sanlon works the theme of simplicity through in relation to God’s eternity and omniscience, omnipotence and goodness, immutability and impassibility.

The second part of the book looks at God’s relationality and threeness, but the burden of the book is to remind us of the importance of the oneness and especially the simplicity and unity of God, perhaps redressing a Trinitarian overload in evangelical theology in recent years. The Creator–creature distinction is emphasised, as is the classical ‘perfect being’ theology of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and others, and the importance of remembering that language about God is always analogical rather than univocal (i.e. words cannot mean exactly the same thing when used of God as they do when used of us – he is a different order of being – but true communication is possible – hence analogy.)

Sanlon ends with a stimulating chapter applying his thesis to the areas of entertainment, religious freedoms, work and ministry, mission and church.

Every chapter concludes with a meditation and prayer.

This really is a great book.

I have enjoyed reading all these, and benefitted greatly from them. Do not let the fact that I have been critical in parts make you think that these are not good books – the overall quality is high. Ware and Lister are more overtly biblical in their treatment, Sanlon possibly more obviously philosophical and theological, really because of the nature of the subject; his final authority is evidently Scripture and where appropriate he cites it freely.

There is no greater subject for reflection than our great God, and although I did not set out to read these books with any single plan in mind, their different yet complementary theses have refreshed my mind, expanded my knowledge and spurred me to worship. Thank you to the authors!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Os Guinness on 'True Truth'

About 100 people gathered at the Round Church, the home of Christian Heritage in Cambridge on the evening of 15th May for a commemorative meeting 30 years after Francis Schaeffer's death.

Ranald Macaulay and Andrew Fellows began proceedings with fairly brief and light but enjoyable introductions, first to Schaeffer himself (Ranald is one of his sons in law, a former director of L'Abri and founder-director of Christian Heritage) and then to L'Abri(Andrew is director of English L'Abri in Greatham, Hampshire).

After refreshments, the 'main course' was Os Guinness on 'True Truth' - a very Schaefferish phrase. He spoke brilliantly for 45 minutes without a note. He spoke of the two sources of our present crisis of truth - ideas, and also social and cultural influences.

He encouraged us that scepticism is the fruit of the over-reach of rationalism and sceptical periods never last.

He exhorted us as to the importance of this moment for Christians - unless we have a biblical view of truth our faith will be vulnerable to quick dismissal. Truth is ultimately a matter not of philosophy but of theology.

For the west this means that if there is no truth everything is a matter of power games and manipulation. Education becomes just a matter of jumping through hoops to get your qualification. Also, freedom requires truth - not only freedom from, but positively, freedom for - and this is where Christianity comes in. We need to know who we are and what we are living for. The truth will set you free.

To answer the 'heavy sceptic', (following Peter Berger and Schaeffer) we must be able to 'relativise the relativiser' - point out where the relativist is holding on to an absolute somewhere, as he surely will. Positively, point people to signs of transcendence in their own lives - inconsistencies they cannot avoid as they are living in God's world. All of us are 'suppressing the truth' (Rom 1:18-20).

We must be people who shape our desires to the truth, not like Aldous Huxley (see Ends and Means) and others who shaped truth to their desires.

Truth he concluded is ultimately about the Lord - personal.

A full audio recording of this address is available on the Christian Heritage website from next week.

Banner of Truth conference 2014

This is a bit belated - the conference was 22-24 April.

It was good.

Andrew Davies was his usual warm, winsome and edifying self, preaching at the beginning and end of the conference.

Garry Williams was crisp, clear and challenging, on 'Always Reforming' and 'Metaphors for ministers'.

Donald John Maclean stood in at the last minute for Iain Murray and gave us a helpful biography of John Knox.

David Meredith spoke on preaching sin today, and preaching Christ today. My very personal opinion was that he failed to get to grips with the subjects but I know others found him very helpful.

Norman McAuley preached encouragingly on the church from John 17 and Ephesians 1.

Finally O.Palmer Robertson gave two stimulating papers on the Psalms, with a wonderful schematic overview which he strongly hinted may at some time see publication.

Three days instead of four - a bit short, but enjoyable and refreshening.

CDs will be available .